Saturday, 25 October 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

May 10

Mother

By Andrew Lam, SpeakOut | Essay

Five years ago, my mother, who is now 81, was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's, and her short-term memories are almost non-existent. Unless something very dramatic—death, divorce, accidents, and marriages—happens to those very dear to her she retains nothing of the immediate past. She has, too, become paranoid and housebound, and the once vivacious, outgoing and beautiful woman has become frail and depressed. Though my two older siblings and I visit my parents in Fremont practically every week, as we all live in the Bay Area, my mother nevertheless feels isolated and confused due to her increasing dementia.

But when it comes to the distant past, and especially when it involves cooking, it is another story altogether. "Mother," I say her on the phone, changing the subject. "How do you make banh tom co ngu?" It's a Vietnamese fried shrimp cake made with yam. "Well," she responds with no hesitation, "you need both rice powder and starch. You need to make sure it's of equal part and the shrimp you keep the head, that's the best part. You need to have good, light oil." She rattles off the recipe with increasing confidence. "Be careful, if you use too much starch, it doesn't get crunchy."

There are several factors that have played into a continuing wealth disparity. For starters, non-home wealth has played a vital role in determining affluence. To illustrate, the Great Recession of 2008 and subsequent recovery saw the stock market bounce back and make investors money while the housing market remains relatively stagnant. Since lower income people tend to have a greater share of their wealth concentrated in home values, they have been disproportionately affected. This is one of several factors shaping the persistent inequality in the U.S.

While this reality seems grim, there is a silver lining. One practice has consistently been associated with getting a larger share of the American income pie: going to school. About one-half of all household income is brought in by someone with at least a bachelor's degree, and the gap between the share of income earned by those who attended college and those who did not continues to grow.

Contractors, lobbyists and officials attending the Homeland Security Congress in Washington DC yesterday did a "traditional" Native American circle dance to celebrate a fictitious new US government plan, the "American Renewable Clean-Energy Network" (AmeriCAN), to convert the US to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

The conference attendees—including a retired Navy Admiral, a retired USAF General, a former Seal Team Seven leader, an aspiring Republican Congressman, lobbyists, and many homeland security contractors—applauded frequently during the stirring announcement by the US Department of Energy's "Benedict Waterman" (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men), as well as the eloquent speech by "Bana Slowhorse" of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (actually Gitz Crazyboy, a youth worker from the Athabascan Chippewyan First Nations, whose land includes the Alberta Tar Sands).

WASHINGTON, DC - In the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past three years, consumers, workers and others harmed by unfair fine print in contracts are increasingly being shut out of the courthouse, a new Public Citizen and National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) report shows.

The report identifies 140 cases affecting thousands of consumers or employees over the past three years where a court enforced an arbitration clause and barred the claimants from participating in class actions. A Pennsylvania federal court last December enforced an arbitration clause and class-action ban against restaurant employees who sought redress against their employer for allegedly underpaying them. The court called its own ruling "lamentable" and "an unappetizing result." But it felt compelled to follow the law set by AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion in 2011 and American Express v. Italian Colors in 2013.

When Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 it included an important buffer assuring the organic community that we would never lose control over the true meaning of the organic label: a diverse 15-member stakeholder board that had true statutory authority and power — the National Organic Standards Board or NOSB.

Citizens and farmers created organics as an alternative to industrial-scale agriculture and food production. As companies like Dean Foods, General Mills (hiding behind the façades of WhiteWave and Small Planet Foods respectively), Smucker's and other agribusiness giants invested in gobbling up organic brands (Silk, Horizon, Cascadian Farms, Knutson, etc.), they sent their lobbyists and the Organic Trade Association to Washington.

I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not. The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration.

But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, and intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.

Washington - The Campaign for America's Future has thrown its support behind the student loan relief bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

CAF co-director Robert L. Borosage released the following statement:

"There are nearly 40 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt, which now averages $29,400 per graduate. That total increases with the rising costs of tuition, even at public colleges and universities, and by the failure of our own government to address college affordability."

On Friday, Uruguay released its long-anticipated regulations accompanying the law that was signed into effect last December, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for adults. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer.

The Uruguayan marijuana regulation system will allow Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 to choose between three forms of access to non-medical marijuana: domestic cultivation of up to 6 plants per household; membership clubs where between 15 and 45 members can collectively grow up to 99 plants; and sales in licensed pharmacies of up to 10 grams per week. Those operating outside the regulated and licit system will face penalties.

Negotiations to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to fruition are expected to come to an end by January 2017, with all 12 countries involved signaling an interest Monday to conclude talks as soon as possible.

U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun said Monday that January 2017 would be a realistic deadline for the stalled regional trade deal as it matches the end of President Barack Obama's presidential term.

Glenview, Illinois – During its annual meeting of shareholders today, Kraft Foods Group, Inc. will face a resolution filed by the Green Century Equity Fund urging the company to refrain from using corporate funds to influence any political election campaign. Kraft Foods spent millions last year to oppose legislation for labeling food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which shareholders argue exposed the company to significant brand and reputational risks without generating value for shareholders.

"Companies that spend millions to undermine key environmental and consumer protections put both our democracy and shareholder value at risk," said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management. "American consumers widely disapprove of corporate money in politics, and shareholders urge Kraft Foods to listen to its customers and keep money out of high-risk political gambles."

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Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

May 10

Mother

By Andrew Lam, SpeakOut | Essay

Five years ago, my mother, who is now 81, was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's, and her short-term memories are almost non-existent. Unless something very dramatic—death, divorce, accidents, and marriages—happens to those very dear to her she retains nothing of the immediate past. She has, too, become paranoid and housebound, and the once vivacious, outgoing and beautiful woman has become frail and depressed. Though my two older siblings and I visit my parents in Fremont practically every week, as we all live in the Bay Area, my mother nevertheless feels isolated and confused due to her increasing dementia.

But when it comes to the distant past, and especially when it involves cooking, it is another story altogether. "Mother," I say her on the phone, changing the subject. "How do you make banh tom co ngu?" It's a Vietnamese fried shrimp cake made with yam. "Well," she responds with no hesitation, "you need both rice powder and starch. You need to make sure it's of equal part and the shrimp you keep the head, that's the best part. You need to have good, light oil." She rattles off the recipe with increasing confidence. "Be careful, if you use too much starch, it doesn't get crunchy."

There are several factors that have played into a continuing wealth disparity. For starters, non-home wealth has played a vital role in determining affluence. To illustrate, the Great Recession of 2008 and subsequent recovery saw the stock market bounce back and make investors money while the housing market remains relatively stagnant. Since lower income people tend to have a greater share of their wealth concentrated in home values, they have been disproportionately affected. This is one of several factors shaping the persistent inequality in the U.S.

While this reality seems grim, there is a silver lining. One practice has consistently been associated with getting a larger share of the American income pie: going to school. About one-half of all household income is brought in by someone with at least a bachelor's degree, and the gap between the share of income earned by those who attended college and those who did not continues to grow.

Contractors, lobbyists and officials attending the Homeland Security Congress in Washington DC yesterday did a "traditional" Native American circle dance to celebrate a fictitious new US government plan, the "American Renewable Clean-Energy Network" (AmeriCAN), to convert the US to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

The conference attendees—including a retired Navy Admiral, a retired USAF General, a former Seal Team Seven leader, an aspiring Republican Congressman, lobbyists, and many homeland security contractors—applauded frequently during the stirring announcement by the US Department of Energy's "Benedict Waterman" (actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men), as well as the eloquent speech by "Bana Slowhorse" of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (actually Gitz Crazyboy, a youth worker from the Athabascan Chippewyan First Nations, whose land includes the Alberta Tar Sands).

WASHINGTON, DC - In the wake of two U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past three years, consumers, workers and others harmed by unfair fine print in contracts are increasingly being shut out of the courthouse, a new Public Citizen and National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) report shows.

The report identifies 140 cases affecting thousands of consumers or employees over the past three years where a court enforced an arbitration clause and barred the claimants from participating in class actions. A Pennsylvania federal court last December enforced an arbitration clause and class-action ban against restaurant employees who sought redress against their employer for allegedly underpaying them. The court called its own ruling "lamentable" and "an unappetizing result." But it felt compelled to follow the law set by AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion in 2011 and American Express v. Italian Colors in 2013.

When Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 it included an important buffer assuring the organic community that we would never lose control over the true meaning of the organic label: a diverse 15-member stakeholder board that had true statutory authority and power — the National Organic Standards Board or NOSB.

Citizens and farmers created organics as an alternative to industrial-scale agriculture and food production. As companies like Dean Foods, General Mills (hiding behind the façades of WhiteWave and Small Planet Foods respectively), Smucker's and other agribusiness giants invested in gobbling up organic brands (Silk, Horizon, Cascadian Farms, Knutson, etc.), they sent their lobbyists and the Organic Trade Association to Washington.

I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not. The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration.

But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, and intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.

Washington - The Campaign for America's Future has thrown its support behind the student loan relief bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

CAF co-director Robert L. Borosage released the following statement:

"There are nearly 40 million Americans with outstanding student loan debt, which now averages $29,400 per graduate. That total increases with the rising costs of tuition, even at public colleges and universities, and by the failure of our own government to address college affordability."

On Friday, Uruguay released its long-anticipated regulations accompanying the law that was signed into effect last December, which made Uruguay the first country in the world to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of marijuana for adults. The government will now embark on the implementation of the legal marijuana market, which is expected to be up and running by the end of 2014. The regulations for medical marijuana are to be released later this summer.

The Uruguayan marijuana regulation system will allow Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 to choose between three forms of access to non-medical marijuana: domestic cultivation of up to 6 plants per household; membership clubs where between 15 and 45 members can collectively grow up to 99 plants; and sales in licensed pharmacies of up to 10 grams per week. Those operating outside the regulated and licit system will face penalties.

Negotiations to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to fruition are expected to come to an end by January 2017, with all 12 countries involved signaling an interest Monday to conclude talks as soon as possible.

U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun said Monday that January 2017 would be a realistic deadline for the stalled regional trade deal as it matches the end of President Barack Obama's presidential term.

Glenview, Illinois – During its annual meeting of shareholders today, Kraft Foods Group, Inc. will face a resolution filed by the Green Century Equity Fund urging the company to refrain from using corporate funds to influence any political election campaign. Kraft Foods spent millions last year to oppose legislation for labeling food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which shareholders argue exposed the company to significant brand and reputational risks without generating value for shareholders.

"Companies that spend millions to undermine key environmental and consumer protections put both our democracy and shareholder value at risk," said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management. "American consumers widely disapprove of corporate money in politics, and shareholders urge Kraft Foods to listen to its customers and keep money out of high-risk political gambles."