Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson: Just because you're religious doesn't mean you can discriminate

An    African-American    child at a segregated drinking fountain on a courthouse lawn in    North Carolina   , in 1938.

An African-American child at a segregated drinking fountain on a courthouse lawn in North Carolina, in 1938.

Via OtherWords.org

A bill in Texas would allow professionals of all kinds — doctors, pharmacists, electricians — to deny services to LGBTQ customers on religious grounds.

This comes alongside the Trump administration’s rollout of a rule that would allow health-care providers to actually deny service to LGBTQ people on religious grounds.

I’m sorry, but I don’t care if you have a strongly held religious conviction that says I’m going to hell, or I’m not worthy of being treated like a human being, because I’m gay.

If that’s the case, you can go ahead and stay far away from me, and you can hate me all you want. Or you can love me and hate my “sin” of being myself and loving who I love, and then you have the right to tell yourself that’s not hateful.

But you don’t have a right to legally discriminate against me or anyone like me. At least, not outside of your own church — though even there, is it really necessary?

First off, several sources say the passages in the Bible that condemn homosexuality have been mistranslated and misinterpreted. A more accurate reading, they argue, finds that homosexuality isn’t an “abomination” after all.

Even if the Bible is the literal word of God, God didn’t give that word to humans in English. Humans translated it into English. Humans are fallible.

Second, even the most devout Jews and Christians don’t literally follow every single word in the Bible. They pick and choose. If one followed every commandment in the Leviticus to the letter, the result would be gruesome murders (a theme the book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo explored in grisly detail).

For instance, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says that children who disrespect their parents should be stoned to death. If anyone actually followed that, few children would live long enough to get their driver’s licenses.

But you know what? Nobody follows that. Because they shouldn’t.

And although our Constitution protects religious liberty, if someone stoned their disrespectful child to death out of sincerely held religious conviction, they would still go to prison for murder — rightfully.

I support religious freedom. But when religious people pick and choose which (possibly mistranslated) commandments they want to follow — and they choose the ones that discriminate against a group of people for the “sin” of loving — I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that their right to discriminate is more important than an LGBTQ person’s civil rights.

Go ahead and do what you want inside your own church. You have that right.

LGBTQ support groups are filled with the fallout of anti-gay church teachings — people who’ve lost their entire families, their friends, and their faith. Plenty believe they’re going to hell for being LGBTQ, while others even entered into doomed heterosexual marriages that fell apart when they couldn’t hide their true selves any longer.

Our community has a lot of trauma in it, but I suppose you have the religious freedom to keep heaping more of that trauma on us — within your own home and your own church.

I support religious freedom, which I guess means I support the right of any faith to exclude LGBTQ people based on a cherry-picked misinterpretation of scripture if they wish. But that right does not extend to discriminate in a non-religious workplace, emergency room, or anywhere else.

Half a century ago, some people claimed they had a deeply held religious conviction supporting racial segregation. Our government passed civil-rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race anyway,

Jill Richardson, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is an OtherWords.org columnist. She lives in San Diego.

Jill Richardson: Why many women don't report sex assault

When Christine Blasey Ford came forward to report that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, sexually assaulted her in 1982, you could cue the response: Why didn’t she speak out then? Why didn’t she go to the police?

There’s a long, long list of reasons why a woman wouldn’t speak out even now, and no doubt it was even more difficult in the pre-Anita Hill world of 1982.

I can’t speak for everyone who has faced sexual assault, but I can speak for myself.

1. At first, I didn’t know that what happened to me was a crime. My first assault occurred in college, 18 years ago. He lived in my dorm. I knew what rape was and didn’t think I’d experienced that. But I didn’t know that sexual violations without consent that aren’t sexual intercourse are also a crime.

2. I couldn’t talk about it. Even now, I can’t describe what happened to my therapist in any detail. What happened involved body parts that are too private to discuss with those closest to me — let alone the police, a judge or a newspaper. Talking about a past trauma can be re-traumatizing. Some of us cope by staying silent.

3. I blamed myself. I physically resisted for a while and then I froze and it happened. At the time, I told myself that if I really didn’t want it, I would’ve kept fighting. I didn’t know that freezing is a normal human response in a traumatic situation.

4. Afterward, I wanted him to be my boyfriend. My therapist said this was my way of trying to improve the situation. If he was my boyfriend, then what happened could be reinterpreted as meaningful. It’s a perverse response, but it’s apparently not uncommon.

5. I know someone who reported a rape to the police and had a traumatic experience of testifying in court and getting cross-examined by her rapist’s lawyer in front of her rapist. And then the rapist was found innocent. I don’t want that to happen to me.

6. Now, 18 years later, the man who assaulted me is an instructor of neurology at a prominent children’s hospital. He did a terrible thing to me, once, nearly two decades ago. Should I attempt to ruin his career because of it?

The answer to that is: I don’t know. If I thought he was still assaulting women and my speaking out would contribute to making him stop, I would in a heartbeat.

What he did to me 18 years ago still hurts so much that I would only revisit that assault and expose him publicly if there was a very clear purpose to doing so.

I expect if I did attempt to expose him, I’d be attacked. People would say that it wasn’t an assault because I wanted him to be my boyfriend afterward. They would say I wanted it because I froze and stopped fighting. There are good odds I wouldn’t be believed.

I’ll tell you this: Like Christine Blasey Ford, if the man who assaulted me was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, I’d speak up. I don’t think a man who violates a woman that way is qualified to rule on cases of violence against women, or any other aspect of their well-being. I don’t think he could be impartial.

When a victim of sexual crimes comes forward, even if it’s decades after the crime took place, we shouldn’t use her past silence against her as “evidence” to discredit her. That urge to discredit is exactly why it takes so long for some to come forward in the first place.

Jill Richardson is an OtherWords columnist.

Jill Richardson: Food-stamp recipients probably to lose right to use the stamps at farmers markets


Via OtherWords.org

People on food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), receive their benefits on a card that can be read like a credit card. Crucial to allowing recipients to use food stamps at farmers markets are card readers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just canceled its contract with the company that makes the card readers. As a result, food stamp recipients will likely lose the ability to use food stamps at farmers markets.

I was all set to write about this terrible mix-up. But then I realized it’s not the part I really care about.

Of course, food stamp recipients should be able to shop at farmers markets. But it’s a tiny part of a much bigger issue.

The diets of food stamp recipients lie at the intersection of two issues: our food system and economic inequality.

On one hand, you have a system of food that uses industrial methods to produce a cheap and abundant but often unhealthy food supply. Healthier foods tend to cost more, whereas junk food is cheap. And low-income neighborhoods often lack outlets that sell healthy food in the first place.

The answer to this isn’t to pay farmers less. Farmers are struggling — and if anything, higher prices paid to farmers for food and fiber would benefit rural communities in much needed ways.

The other way to help the diets of low-income people is to reduce poverty and inequality. Ideally, this will require large scale social change.

For example, schools in Detroit are so bad that students are suing the state because they weren’t taught to read. How is a kid who graduates from a school like that, even the smartest and most motivated kid, able to keep up with one who graduated from school that actually teaches its students?

In my perfect world, we’d find a way to ensure all Americans have an excellent education, affordable health care (including mental health care), affordable housing, and safe cities in which they don’t have to fear that calling the police will result in their own victimization. Workers will be able to organize to defend their rights as well.

In that world, fewer people would live in poverty, and more could afford good food.

One quick and efficient way to help reduce poverty is to raise the minimum wage. The 1968 minimum wage would be equivalent to $10.90 in 2015 dollars. The national minimum wage is only $7.25. Workers have lost ground over the last 50 years.

Meanwhile, since the early 1970s, as workers’ wages have stagnated or grown only slowly, productivity more than doubled.

Workers today do more than they did five decades ago but they make less money. The profits for the increased productivity go to the top 1 percent.

Accepting food stamps at a farmers market is nice. No doubt it’s more than nice for those on food stamps who shop at farmers markets. That contracting snafu should be fixed.

But to really help all Americans access fresh, healthy food, we need to either fix the food system or address economic inequality. Or, better yet, both.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 

Jill Richardson: Time for an honest talk about 'free trade'


Via OtherWords.org

America, can we talk? We need to talk about “free trade.” We’ve needed to have this conversation for a while, actually. Like, since the 1980s.

For the past several decades, the U.S. political establishment has advocated free trade as part of a broader economic ideology called neoliberalism.

Now, you may need to ignore the word “liberal” in there — its meaning here is different from how most people use it in our politics.

Neoliberalism is not a Democratic idea. Ronald Reagan was a huge champion of it. In more recent decades, all of our presidents from both major political parties were on board with it — until, to some extent, Trump.

The simple way to understand neoliberalism is that it’s the package of economic and trade policies the U.S. has lived under since the Reagan administration. Deregulation. Privatization. That sort of thing.

One pillar of neoliberal ideology is free trade.

In business school, I was taught not to question it. The idea was that if countries removed trade tariffs, then everyone would benefit.

Each country would produce what it’s most “efficient” at producing: Developing nations will manufacture goods with cheap labor. The U.S. will grow lots of corn and soybeans and export them. And everyone wins because there will be low prices.\

The counter arguments are often humanitarian and environmental. If we’re going to buy clothing and iPhones from nations with cheap labor, lax environmental laws, and few labor rights, then the people who make the goods we buy will work in unsafe and inhumane conditions.

That’s essentially what happened.

For example, in 2013, a building housing garment factories in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring thousands more. Cracks had appeared in the building before it collapsed, and an engineer declared it unsafe. Factory owners ordered their workers back to work — and then the building collapsed.

The workers were producing clothes for export, including top U.S. brands. But, on the upside (say the neoliberals), clothing made in Bangladesh is nice and cheap in the United States.

Also, corporations get massive profits. You can make more money when you can pay workers only $3 a day.

Free trade may help our consumers and corporate CEOs — but it hurts workers. In the book Threads, Jane Collins details how the garment industry changed after some companies began sending jobs overseas.

Workers in the U.S. became limited in how much they could push for higher wages. They knew that if they pushed too hard, their employer would fire them all and move the factory to Mexico, Vietnam, or Bangladesh.

Furthermore, an American company that wanted to pay its workers well was limited in its ability to do so, because it was competing with other companies that paid less for labor overseas.

A similar trend has played out, rather more famously, with manufacturing jobs.

For some voters in hard-hit regions, part of Trump’s appeal is that he was one of the first major party candidates to oppose free trade.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s got a great alternative for it.

Pugnaciously declaring he’s implementing a steel tariff has so far done little more than outrage our allies and provoke Europe to retaliate by putting tariffs on American goods like bourbon and blue jeans, which could also hurt American workers.

Trade wars won’t fix the deeper problem of neoliberalism. But maybe future leaders will see that it pays to question the costs of “free trade.”

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

Jill Richardson: Exploding myths about 'chain migration'

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island about 1908.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island about 1908.


Via OtherWords.org:

Let’s do a mental exercise.

Imagine that Jose moves to the United States from El Salvador. He comes here legally — he applied for the diversity visa lottery and he won! Then he quickly gathered together the required papers to prove to the U.S. that he was who he said he was, and he wasn’t a criminal, and he moved to New York.

Once Jose’s here, he brings his kids, his wife, and his parents. In the next two decades, his parents bring their other children, who bring their families, and so on.

In all, 40 members of their family resettle in the U.S. over a 20-year period. They do this by applying for and obtaining family reunification visas.

What is the net effect of Jose bringing his entire family on overall U.S. immigration?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The U.S. has quotas for the number of immigrants who may come here legally in any given year. There are a few different types of visas, each with their own quotas.

Furthermore, there is a limit to how many people can come here from any one country, which primarily limits immigration from the countries with the most people coming here (like Mexico).

No matter how many relatives Jose wants to bring with him from his country, they still have to apply for visas — and there is a quota on how many visas will be given out.

You might have heard the term “chain migration.” It is a made-up, disparaging term for immigration for family reunification. It implies that allowing one single immigrant into the U.S. will unleash a flood of other family members all coming over the U.S. border.

It can’t. Not legally. Because we have quotas.

My family came here  about a century ago. My great-great grandfather came here first. He then sent for his wife and kids, including my great grandmother.

They probably came here in the steerage. They were poor Eastern European Jews. My grandfather says that they were from Austria. I’m sure they spoke no English.

I don’t know how that generation fared economically at first. The story my family tells is that my great grandmother was nuts. My grandfather once said to me, “It makes sense my mother is from the same country as Hitler!”

By the time she died, although she was an unpleasant person to her near-relations, she was also quite well off.

I know what happened later, though. My grandfather served in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and then owned a small business. His children all went to college. My mother has a master’s degree, as do I.

Many families have stories like this. Maybe the first person in the family to immigrate here is poor and uneducated, but they work hard, and future generations are better educated, speak English, and become better off.

There’s a good argument for allowing families to reunite in the United States. Families support one another. A single person who comes here alone will have no support system.

Furthermore, I imagine a lot of the same people who are yelling that we should limit family reunification immigration are also the people who call themselves “pro-family values.”

What kind of family values is it to force families to split up?

Jill Richardson is a columnist for OtherWords.org



Jill Richardson: About those expletive countries

Via OtherWords.org

We recently learned that Donald Trump referred to African nations and Haiti using a derogatory and profane term. (Accounts differ, but all seem to agree it ended with “hole.”)

Writing off an enormous percentage of the world’s landmass and population as inferior isn’t just nasty, it’s incorrect.

It’s true that some nations have oppressive, despotic, or corrupt governments. Some have high rates of poverty. I don’t envy the citizens of North Korea, as they have both.

But human nature is universal. Human beings in every country demonstrate the same levels of courage and bravery, compassion and kindness, and intelligence and ingenuity as we do here in the United States.

I’ve traveled to five continents (all but Australia and Antarctica) and I’ve met people in each place who excel in ways Americans value — such as by attaining college educations or succeeding in high paying careers.

But I’ve also encountered incredible people proving their greatness in other ways.

In Mexico, I visited boarding schools in which the children, some as young as seventh grade, grew, harvested, and cooked their own food every single day, in addition to attending class and completing homework.

They did this without tractors, refrigerators, or stoves. Making breakfast meant waking up before dawn to light a fire (with wood they chopped themselves) and cooking beans and tortillas from scratch.

In the Philippines, I visited a community that was being exploited by a multinational corporation. The community called in an international non-profit organization to investigate and publicize what was happening. Then they bravely gave their names and told their stories publicly, risking retaliation as they attempted to fight for their rights.

In Kenya, children spend far more time in school than Americans do. I stayed with a family whose two kids arrived at school earlier and stayed later than I ever had to — and they went back for more on Saturdays. In Kenya, such dedication to school work is normal.

In Cuba, I found people who could invent just about anything from simple materials. One man created a hydraulic irrigation device out of a few soda bottles and some plastic tubing. With no electricity, the device turned the water on and off at regular intervals, providing the right amount of irrigation to the man’s guava seedlings.

These were not unusually extraordinary people. Just as many Americans exhibit brilliance, creativity, and hard work, so do people everywhere.

However, there is value in diversity. By traveling and meeting people from five continents, I not only encountered diversity in skin colors, languages, and cuisines — I also encountered diversity in ideas.

Americans can only lose if we shun people from the rest of the world. When we meet and work with people from each different culture on earth, whether here in the U.S. or outside it, we gain from their unique perspectives just as they gain from ours.

Some of the most exciting developments I’ve witnessed have come from two or more cultures working together, combining the ideas of each to create something more than the sum of its parts.

A nation’s poverty isn’t a mark of its people’s intelligence — or their value. By all means, criticize oppressive governments. Hate poverty, war, and disease. But remember that people everywhere possess the same common humanity that makes each culture on earth great.

 Jill Richardson, an OtherWords.,org columnist, is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. .

Jill Richardson: Finding common language on global warming

Via OtherWords.org

If you don’t already agree with me on something, odds are I can’t convince you I’m right.

There’s plenty of science showing that the global climate crisis is already affecting us, that vaccines don’t cause autism, and that humans evolved from a common ancestor with apes. Yet many Americans don’t believe in man-made climate change, the safety of vaccines, or human evolution.

For the two-thirds of Americans who believe in human-caused climate change, the future is terrifying. If you fall in the other third, try to imagine for a moment how you’d feel if you did believe the planet was warming, ice caps were melting, seas were rising, and weather was getting more extreme.

I’ll be honest: I’m scared. Scared enough to seriously consider whether it would be wise or ethical to have children. And I’m frustrated and angry that our country isn’t doing enough to prevent the coming crisis.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s car or air conditioning. I don’t want to force anyone to go vegetarian, or limit the number of children Americans can have. There must be a way to decrease pollution and roll back the clock on climate change without compromising our lifestyles in an intolerable way.

But it won’t happen while we’re all bickering about whether or not the climate crisis is happening in the first place.

While the disagreement is most often on scientific terms, actual scientists don’t have any doubt at this point. The question isn’t whether the climate is changing, but how fast it’s changing and what will happen as a result.

But it’s only a small percentage of Americans who are truly scientifically literate. It takes a lot of education — not to mention time and access to academic journals — to actually comb through the literature and find the facts as researchers see them.

Most of us just base our conclusions on media reports of scientific studies or one of Al Gore’s movies.

Part of the problem is, perhaps, economic. It’s nice to talk about switching to clean energy, but that means jobs in fossil-fuel industries would go away. So far, this country hasn’t done much in the way of helping people transition to new careers.

No environmentalist wants coal miners or oil workers to be unemployed. We want them to have well-paying, satisfying jobs that allow them to live the lifestyle they enjoy — without hurting the planet.

The good news it that solar generation alone now employs more people than oil, gas, and coal combined. But in some places, the only alternatives to good coal jobs, for example, may be poorly paid service jobs with lower wages. Perhaps some people would have to move (or else demand their states invest more in renewables).

Ultimately, we need to find a common language to have a discussion, and we need to get serious about providing for anyone whose job will be lost by switching to clean energy.

Because the alternative is doing nothing — and then figuring out later how to help people whose homes are under water from sea-level rise or increasingly violent hurricanes.

Jill Richardson is a columnist for OtherWords,org.


Jill Richardson: 'Win' hungry Trump is now making a mess of National Parks, too



Via OtherWords.org

By most measures  Donald Trump’ has had an ineffective presidency.

If you oppose his agenda, as I do, this is no doubt a good thing. Like countless others, I rely on Obamacare for my health insurance. I sleep soundly at night only because Trump and congressional Republicans failed in their attempts to take my insurance away.

But, while Trump spews verbal diarrhea at press conferences, refuses to denounce Nazis, fires and replaces half of his top appointees, and attempts to convince us he didn’t collude with the Russians, there’s one area in which he’s getting a few things done.

While Trump cannot single-handedly pass new laws, he can alter the policies within the executive branch of the government. And that’s what he’s been doing.

Even as we’ve been distracted by Russia investigations and Nazis, Trump managed to find the time in between his busy golfing and cable TV watching schedule to trash a few Obama-era environmental programs.

To take one petty example, he eliminated a ban on plastic water bottles in National Parks.

Surely that’s less significant than other Obama policies he’s undone, like pulling out of the Paris Climate accord. But it speaks to two facets that have become clear in Trump’s presidency.

First, Trump’s guiding policy goal appears to be demolishing everything that Obama did.

Did Obama do it? OK, undo it. Was Obama for it? Trump’s against it. Down to the minute details, like a local D.C. bike-share station Trump had removed from outside the White House. (Apparently White House commuters used it during the Obama administration.)

Second, those who work with Trump say he wants to “win.” Of course, everybody likes to win. But most politicians have deep convictions that the policies they advocate will benefit the nation in some way, and they want to win in order to better the country.

Sometimes it seems like Trump just wants to win because he wants to win. And, in part, he wants to do it by undoing Obama’s legacy.

True, his poll ratings are extremely low. Perhaps that’s why he continues to have rallies — not because he needs voters to turn out to any upcoming election, but because he enjoys having his ego stoked by thousands of screaming acolytes.

It’s why he fixates on cable news, and sends off nasty tweets about anyone who says anything negative about him. And it’s why his staff has to give him a folder of positive news about himself twice a day — to keep him from typing uncensored tweets that harm his image and his agenda.

Trump’s presidency may eventually self-destruct if he continues going in the same direction. But in the meantime, how much harm will he do?

Being against everything Obama was for, and undoing everything Obama did, will result in making some poor decisions.

Banning bottled water from national parks was never going to get rid of all plastic waste. It wasn’t even going to get rid of all of the plastic waste in the parks themselves. But it would’ve at least removed the most unnecessary waste.

Many of our parks are in remote areas, and handling their garbage requires some finesse to avoid harming wildlife. So reducing waste in the parks can help preserve these precious places Americans love. Bringing or buying a reusable bottle is a small sacrifice to help protect a place you care about for the next generation.

With his hands tied in other areas by a dysfunctional Congress, low approval ratings, high staff turnover, and ongoing scandals, Trump is turning his drive to win for the sake of winning into the small petty victories he can achieve — and in this case, our national parks paid the price.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 

Jill Richardson: A push for urban chickens

Via OtherWords.org

If you live in Austin, Texas, the city will pay you to get chickens.

That’s right. Whereas in the past, cities often banned urban chickens, our nation has now crossed a threshold in which a city will pay residents to keep chickens.

The program is an effort to reduce waste in the city. And, while chickens will gladly eat your food scraps, weeds, bugs, and even mice or lizards if they can catch them, they don’t perform many waste-reduction duties that a good compost pile won’t do.

They’re just a lot cuter and friendlier than your average compost pile. And, of course, compost piles don’t lay eggs.

Unlike a large poultry operation with thousands of chickens in a confined space, backyard chickens don’t smell. A flock of five chickens in a tidy coop with ample bedding has no odor.

I just completed my master’s thesis about urban backyard chickens. Needless to say, I’ve visited many backyards and visited many flocks of urban chickens. In nearly all cases, the chickens were considered pets.

Unfortunately, none of the people I interviewed saved money by keeping chickens. Eggs are so cheap that saving money by raising them yourself is nearly impossible. But they all enjoyed having chickens, so they were getting benefits beyond just eggs.

Nearly all were gardeners, for example, and chickens produce an invaluable source of fertilizer: manure. Gardeners who aren’t fortunate enough to own chickens have to buy it by the bag at the store. Its effect on plants is practically magical.

One of the people I interviewed told me she got chickens after her husband joked that they should. She thought, “Chickens don’t belong in the city!” and began researching chickens online to show her husband what a ridiculous idea it was.

Only, the more she looked into it, the more she changed her mind.

Until the past decade, many city governments also thought chickens didn’t belong in the city. The laws have changed one by one, generally allowing residents to keep a small number of the animals.

Madison, Wisconsin, for example, allows only four. Seattle allows eight. San Diego allows five, unless residents can provide a sufficiently large enough space to keep more. And most cities ban roosters.

But Austin is unique in actually encouraging people to keep the birds.

Their stance makes sense. Taxpayers spend a lot of money disposing of waste in landfills. If it’s cheaper to taxpayers to incentivize families to keep chickens and divert their food waste from the landfill, then why not?

Perhaps Austin will take our country into a new era, one in which chickens are not just kept in the city by the quirky few. Imagine how much waste would stay out of the landfill if chickens became as common as dogs and cats. That day will not come soon, but I hope to see it in my lifetime.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 


Jill Richardson: Regulation should favor certain businesses and penalize others

Via OtherWords.org

As the Trump regime’s anti-environment onslaught begins, there are several terms used by men (and in the case of Trump’s cabinet, it’s nearly all men) attempting to turn us against protecting the air we breathe and water we drink.

Polluting industries become “job creators,” and the policies that allow them to pollute are “pragmatic,” “balanced,” and “common sense.” Meanwhile, the rules put in place to keep Americans safe and our environment clean become “government abuse” or “overreach.”

These are buzzwords, developed by polluting industries and their political allies, to convince us to let them keep trashing our planet.

Another favorite, already uttered by Trump’s new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is “picking winners and losers.” Any time the government attempts to rollback pollution, fossil-friendly politicians trot this phrase out.

Generously speaking, they mean this: New environmental rules allow some corporations to keep doing business profitably (the “winners”), while requiring others to make costly renovations or even shut down (the “losers”).

Sounds unfair, right?

Only, the “winners” are the responsible companies with cleaner business practices, and the “losers” are companies that profit by making Americans sick. Say, for example, an old coal-fired power plant spewing mercury into the atmosphere.

In fact, any government decision could be said to “pick winners and losers.”

Suppose the military drops a supplier making expensive, faulty weapons and instead gives its business to a company making equipment the military actually needs. Most of us wouldn’t criticize the government for dropping the dead-weight supplier.

Why should we apply different standards to environmental safety? Do we, the American people, have a responsibility to breathe polluted air and suffer the resulting illnesses in order to keep a polluting industry in business?

Of course not. Especially when the industry in question could have upgraded to cleaner equipment but refused to do so, in order to save money for themselves while sickening us.

Let’s re-frame the idea of picking winners and losers.

When the government allows companies to profit by polluting, they’re also picking winners and losers. The winners are companies that don’t have to invest in cleaner technologies, and the losers are the American people, who get sick from breathing dirty air.

No matter what the government does, whether it regulates or not, somebody wins and somebody loses. The only important question is who comes out on which side.

Oh, and a word about “job creators,” too. Drug cartels employ all kinds of people. That doesn’t mean what they’re doing is good for the rest of us.

Do we want policies that allow irresponsible corporations to win while the American people lose? Instead, I’d propose an ultimatum for dirty industries: Clean up your act or go out of business.

For ordinary Americans and responsible businesses, that sounds like a win-win to me.

Jill Richardson, an OtherWords.org columnist, is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.



Jill Richardson: Trump, the EPA and chaos

Via OtherWords.org

As Donald Trump was sworn in, my inbox filled up with concerns about the future of the Environmental Protection Agency. Allegedly, scientists were being censored. References to climate change were being erased.

But all that was just a warm-up act.

Before we could really act on the EPA, down came Constitution-shredding executive orders against refugees and Muslim immigrants.

The problem, for those of us who care about due process and the rule of law, is that it’s impossible to put out one fire before the next one begins — or to even keep track of everything.

For instance, as lawyers worked to ensure that Iraqis who’d put their lives in danger working for the U.S. weren’t deported back to Iraq, Trump removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from his National Security Council.

In their place, he installed the controversial white supremacist Steve Bannon (who’s stated that his goal is to “destroy the state”) and his own chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

With so much going on, some speculate that Trump is trying to create chaos, so Americans are too distracted to uncover and resist what he’s really doing.

On the environmental front, some believe that Trump is holding back on his plans until he can succeed in getting his pick for EPA administrator confirmed by the Senate. That nominee, Scott Pruitt, is a climate skeptic with several pending lawsuits against the agency he’s been picked to lead.

If that’s the case, we should re-examine what’s occurred with regard to the environment since inauguration, in preparation for what’s to come. Some changes were part of the normal change of power in Washington, whereas others were not.

For instance, any mention of climate change was wiped from the White House website.

This is in part because the entire website turns over with each new administration, removing all of the old speeches and press releases of the outgoing president. However, Trump’s new energy page presents a reality in which climate change doesn’t exist.

Moreover, the new administration froze all Obama-era regulations that hadn’t yet been finalized. In itself, this is actually a standard action new presidents take. However, the Trump administration went further than all previous presidents, also halting all EPA grants and contracts.

Another standard practice is to stop agencies from putting out press releases before the new administration has time to get its feet wet.

That said, the Trump administration has indicated it might muzzle its environmental scientists, threatening to subject their work to a case-by-case review by political appointees before their findings can be made public. That isn’t normal.

Initially, rumor had it that the EPA would remove its climate change website. This hasn’t occurred yet, but some believe it’s because Trump wants to hold back until he can get Pruitt, a longtime friend of the fossil fuel industry, confirmed.

Meanwhile, Trump has taken steps to reinstate both of the nation’s most controversial oil pipelines, the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Of course, with the Tweeter in Chief now in charge, some of the most interesting developments occurred on Twitter. When Badlands National Park tweeted data about climate change, their tweets were soon removed.

Shortly thereafter, “rogue” government twitter accounts appeared, purporting to give citizens the truth from our federal agencies.

In short, if this is the warm-up, what’s to come is scary.

The “environment” is an abstract concept, but it’s the air we breathe and the water we drink. We all must work to stay informed. Don’t get distracted by chaos when it’s used to cover up even more destructive harm to our nation and the planet it lives on.

Jill Richardson is a columnist for OtherWords.org and the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

Jill Richardson: Fasten your seat belt: 2017 may be led by a man with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Via OtherWords.org

If you thought 2016 was bad, I have bad news: Buckle up.

Hopefully 2017 won’t bring the deaths of more beloved celebrities, and I doubt we’ll see the killing of any more famous gorillas.

But one element that made 2016 terrible isn’t going anywhere. It’s actually getting worse.

You can call it the Trump phenomenon, polarization among Americans, or whatever you want to call it. From my vantage point, Trump’s transition team is making some troubling decisions that are going to reverberate well into next year, and the ones to come after it.

Even before the man’s in office, Trumpocracy is already beyond my worst nightmares. It’s so awful that it’s hard to even keep track of everything I need to be angry about. But here’s my best attempt.

First, there’s the strange personal behavior of the man himself.

Already some psychiatrists have raised alarm that he exhibits traits seen in people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  (See picture below.) They cannot ethically diagnose him without examining him, but they’ve called for him to be evaluated. One area of concern to them is his thin skin and impulsiveness. Instead of paying attention to the tragedy in Aleppo, for example, he took to Twitter to attack a comedy show and a magazine that gave his restaurant a lousy review.

Second, he isn’t bothered by facts, or perhaps cannot tell the difference between truth and lies. When the FBI and CIA agreed that Russia interfered with our election, he refused to believe them.

But meanwhile he claims that millions of people voted against him illegally, which got a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact.

Perhaps if he’d attended those boring intelligence briefings, he’d have the facts about Russian hacking, but he claims he’s too smart to bother with those.

This is a security threat. The Russians didn’t just hack the Democrats — according to more recent reports, they hacked the Republicans, too. They have leverage against Trump’s own party. Trump needs to know about information that could possibly be used against him, or against our country.

Third, there are his conflicts of interest. Since Trump has so far refused to put his assets in a blind trust, there’s the risk that Trump will use the presidency to enrich himself and his family.

Instead, he’s placed his children at the helm of his business empire, even as he also includes them in official government business. That’s not OK.

Previous presidents went to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest. Trump doesn’t care. He’ll continue to do as he pleases up to the point of breaking the law, and perhaps beyond it if he thinks he can get away with it.

After all, he knows his Republican Congress probably won’t impeach him, no matter what he does.

Fourth, there are his appointments. They run the gamut from white supremacists to anti-environment extremists. He so often places someone who wishes to destroy an agency in charge of that very agency that Saturday Night Live joked he picked Walter White, the meth dealer from TV’s Breaking Bad, to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As we enter 2017, I’m not among the crowd cheering the end of 2016. Whatever comes next, it’s not going to be good. Let’s prepare to fight our way through this thing

Jill Richardson is a columnist for OtherWords.org.

"Narcissus, '' by Caravaggio, shows the Greek mythological youth looking at his own reflection.   

"Narcissus, '' by Caravaggio, shows the Greek mythological youth looking at his own reflection.



Jill Richardson: And now naming rights in our National Parks!


Via otherwords.org

Imagine painstakingly making up your way up the cables of Yosemite National Park’s famous Half Dome peak — only to see swooshes and slogans encouraging you to “Just Do It.”

“Welcome to Half Dome,” a gleaming banner greets you, “sponsored by Nike.”

Unfortunately, it’s a possibility. As the coverage swells over Barack and Michelle Obama’s recent visit to Yosemite and Carlsbad Caverns, Americans are learning that National Parks will now start selling naming rights.

The parks are facing a hefty budget shortfall, so they’re turning to corporations — who are apparently more generous with cash than the current Congress.

Truly, this is a bummer.

We go to National Parks to escape the commercialism of modern life. Nothing is more spectacular than enjoying the beauty of a waterfall or the sunset over the mountains, or the magnificence of grizzly bears, wolves, and bison that one rarely sees outside of a National Park.

What’s more, we don’t have to buy this majesty because we, the American people, already own it. There’s no need to consider what to buy or how much it costs when enjoying the splendor of a National Park. For one thing, it’s worth more than money, and for another, it’s already yours.

But instead of properly funding our parks, the government will now auction off naming rights to the highest corporate bidders, thus cheapening the experience of the millions of Americans who visit the parks each year.

So Coca-Cola, which already wraps itself in the flag to peddle diabetes-inducing sodas, can now place its branding on the most iconic American destinations.

For now, there are limits to which assets businesses can name, and where they can use their slogans. But the next time there’s a shortfall, what else can we expect?

Maybe Angel’s Landing in Zion, brought to you by Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels bras? Or how about Apple, which named its latest operating system for the mountain El Capitan in Yosemite, buying naming rights for the actual El Capitan?

What about re-naming Utah’s Arches National Park for Dr. Scholl’s Arch Support shoe inserts? Or worse, for the Golden Arches of McDonald’s?

The only bright spot I can think of is that Pepsi changed the name of its lemon-lime soda to Mist Twist, so it’s unlikely that the soda Sierra Mist will be the sponsor of actual Sierra mist. Although I suppose that wouldn’t stop them from sponsoring Yosemite’s Mist Trail.

This is a bigger issue than just seeing a corporate logo or two on your next visit to a National Park. This is about how we, as a people, agree to pay for running our nation.

You’ve heard the phrase “you get what you pay for.” Well, we are.

After more than three decades of anti-tax rhetoric and a lot of blustering by members of Congress about stopping the old “tax and spend” ways, they’re cutting back on what makes us American.

Think about how you run your budget. You don’t just buy the cheapest car or the cheapest food, or get the cheapest haircut. You don’t decide to go without a medical procedure or avoid buying clothes just because they cost money.

You weigh costs against value. You buy what you need. Sometimes it makes sense to spend a little more for better quality. And you certainly wouldn’t avoid expenses related to your core values just to save a buck.

So should we as a nation. We should invest in our national parks, and we should invest in other areas too.

Let’s treat our National Parks like the treasures that they are — not as albatrosses to cut costs on by selling naming rights to the highest bidder.

Jill Richardson, an OtherWords.org contributor, is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It

Jill Richardson: Blaming the poor for being poor

Via OtherWords.org

If you’re poor, many Americans think, it’s your own fault. It’s a sign of your own moral failing.

I don’t personally believe that, but the idea has roots in our culture going back centuries.

In The Wealth of Nations, the foundational work of modern capitalism, Adam Smith extolled the virtues of working hard and being thrifty with money. That wasn’t just the way to get rich, he reasoned — it was morally righteous.

Sociologist Max Weber took the idea further in describing what he called the Protestant work ethic.

To Puritans who believed that one was either predestined for heaven or for hell, Weber wrote, working hard and accumulating wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Those who got rich, the Puritans thought, must have been chosen by God for heaven; those who were poor were damned.

Even major American philanthropists have subscribed to this idea.

John D. Rockefeller, a religious Baptist, thought that his vast wealth was evidence from God of his righteousness. Fortunately, he took this as a sign that he should use his money for good. He gave it to universities and medical research centers, and his descendants used it for great art museums, national parks, and more.

But Rockefeller also believed that the poor were often deserving of their fate. If they’d just worked harder, or budgeted their money wisely, then they wouldn’t be poor.

Plenty of Americans agree. Sadly, that’s often not the case.

The first factor determining one’s wealth as an adult is an accident of birth. If you’re born to wealthy parents, you’ll go to better schools and get better health care. Your odds of success as an adult are higher.

If, on other hand, you’re born to poor parents who must work multiple jobs instead of staying home to care for you — or who can’t afford healthy food, medical care, or a house in a good school district — your chances of earning your way into the middle class as an adult plummet.

In fact, if your parents’ income is in the bottom 20 percent, there’s  you’ll be stuck in that low-income bracket for your entire life. Thanks to racism, that figure rises to 50 percent for black people born into poverty.

Indeed, racial disparities crop up even at the bottom of the ladder.

Due to historic racism and discrimination, data from the Economic Policy Institute shows, low-income white families tend to be wealthier than black families making the same income. Furthermore, whites are more likely to have friends and family who can help them out of a financial bind.

Finally, thanks to decades of discriminatory housing and lending practices, black families are more likely to live in poorer neighborhoods. That impacts the quality of the schools they attend, among many other things.

So why can’t a hardworking family get ahead? For one thing, it’s expensive to be poor.

Try finding an affordable place to live. You need to have enough cash on hand to pay a deposit. Many apartments require you to prove your income is 2.5 times the cost of the rent.

Public-assistance programs only help the most destitute, and often don’t provide enough even then.

For the disabled, the situation is worse. In theory, Social Security provides for those with disabilities. In reality, getting approved for disability payments is costly (in both medical and legal fees) and difficult. Once you get approved, disability payments are low, condemning you to poverty for life.

In short, there are many reasons why poor Americans are poor. It doesn’t help that our society thinks it’s their own fault.

Jill Richardson, an OtherWords.org columnist, is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 

Jill Richardson: Believe it or not, no candidate is perfect

Let me tell you something people don’t often say when arguing about presidential candidates on Facebook: No candidate is perfect.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth choosing to support one.

For example, you can support Bernie Sanders because you believe he’s the best all-around candidate, while simultaneously accepting that he tends to be clumsy when it comes to matters of race.

It’s also possible to support Hillary Clinton while noting that you dislike her vote in favor of the Iraq War, or are concerned about the millions of dollars her family’s foundation accepted from Saudi Arabia.

The same goes for Republican candidates. Each of those contenders comes with advantages and disadvantages.

In other words, whatever your leanings are, you need to weigh each candidate’s pros and cons. How well do their proposals match your values? Do you believe they have a shot at actually getting something done?

It’s a balancing act.

Hillary has more foreign policy experience than Bernie, although you might not consider that a good thing if you don’t like the decisions she made as a senator and secretary of state. Bernie doesn’t have a history of supporting pro-corporate economic policies like Hillary, and that’s a perk if you share his economic populism.

A ridiculous way to choose a candidate, by the way, is by selecting the one whose genitalia matches your own. And it’s an insult to women to suggest that any of us ought to, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did when she said there’s a “special place in hell” for women who don’t support Hillary Clinton.

Even if you make your choice based on the issues, however, whomever you choose is still imperfect. In fact, it’s dishonest to claim that your preferred candidate is, by virtue of being the best person running in your eyes, without flaws.

And it’s dumb.

If you want what’s best for America, then it makes sense to pick the best candidate — and then push them to become even better.

On the flip side, it’s also foolish to abstain from supporting any candidate because no contender perfectly matches your views.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a good reminder of one of the most enduring legacies that any president can leave: Supreme Court justices. President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia, who carried on Reagan’s values long after he left office.

Our next president will remain in office for up to eight years, but his or her Supreme Court nominees will probably shape our legal system for decades to come. No matter your feelings on the individual candidates, a win for your party in November could create an opportunity to nudge the Supreme Court in the direction of your choice for the next 20 or 30 years.

In other words, we should behave like rational, logical grownups as we select the next leader of our country. All candidates have their own flaws. Our job as citizens is to pick the best one and push them to become even better after we vote.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 

Jill Richardson: Luxury vacation with no conveniences

When you read this, I’ll probably be out in the wilderness on a 220-mile hike along the John Muir Trail. Embarking on this journey through California’s breathtaking Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks reminded me of a conversation I had in Mexico five years ago.

I’m a relative newbie to hiking and backpacking — I didn’t grow up outdoorsy. Traveling to a rural part of Chiapas in 2010 to research indigenous farming techniques took me outside my comfort zone and helped me find a new hobby.

I went with friends I trusted, and they were comfortable with our accommodations. My discomfort started the first time I asked for the restroom and somebody told me to go behind a tree.

Wait, you mean there’s no — what?

About a week later, I noted to my fellow travelers that living among peasant farmers felt an awful lot like camping. Only camping is something Americans do for recreation for short periods of time (and with fancy gear).

In this part of Mexico, this was how people spent their entire lives — except without down sleeping bags or portable espresso makers. The closest thing many Americans can imagine to that is Survivor, the old reality TV show.

Imagine if the hiking boot were on the other foot. How about a reality show for rural Mexicans in which competitors commuted to work in heavy traffic and then sat at a desk for eight hours looking at spreadsheets, interrupted only by staff meetings?

My time in Mexico didn’t immediately lead me to take up camping, but it helped me grow a little more comfortable going without modern “necessities” like toilets or hot showers.

It was ultimately my love of North American nature that got me to take up camping. You can see a lot of magnificent beauty on short day hikes, but some natural wonders require days of backpacking to get there — and there’s no Holiday Inn on the trail.

So I’m giving up my beloved indoor plumbing and extra-firm mattress to enjoy what a 25-day hike through California’s Sierra Nevada mountains can offer. I’m spending nearly a month close to nature, without many modern conveniences. For fun.

You know what? The hot showers I take in my bathroom are fantastic, but not as good as bathing in a rain forest’s river like the people I met in Mexico do every day.

And beds are utterly fantastic — but I don’t get to see the stars very often when there’s a roof over my head. My friends in rural parts of Kenya, the Philippines, and Bolivia see them every night.

Between doing cardio in a gym and walking on trails, there’s no contest. The gym has no stream running alongside the treadmill, and even the best smelling gym can’t compare with the fragrance of a pine forest.

My comparison of life in rural Mexico to camping initially elicited sympathy for my Mexican hosts because of all the material comforts we have and they lack. Now, I’m heading out to temporarily seek a life more like theirs for a few weeks.

For everything Americans gain from our modern conveniences, perhaps we’ve lost a few too many old-fashioned pleasures. Like walking along tree-lined trails. Or observing wildflowers as they bloom throughout the warmer months. And looking up in awe at the stars every night.

Our national and state parks afford these pleasures to anyone who can get there and spare the time. The 25 days I’m taking to do this hike is an enormous luxury that many Americans will never enjoy. The wonders of nature should be accessible to all, not a luxury for the privileged few.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.  This originated at OtherWords.org.

Jill Richardson: Despite the PR, still bad food at McDonald's

McDonald’s is floundering. There’s no other way to say it. The global fast- food chain has had declining U.S. sales for well over a year now. But why? I’d love to gloat that Americans have finally caught on that the Golden Arches peddles terrible food, but that might not be the case. Theories for the slump abound. Some believe that the menu is too confusing, slowing down service. Others say that consumers are drifting toward fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Panera, even if their food costs more. And Consumer Reports notes that McDonald’s has the worst-tasting burger compared to 20 competitors.

Even McDonald’s itself doesn’t seem to be sure. The company has introduced a Create Your Taste option, allowing consumers to customize their burgers. It promised to stop serving chicken raised with some antibiotics. In Southern California, the chain even tried serving kale. McKale?

No, just no. Fortune magazine concluded that “A growing segment of restaurant goers are choosing ‘fresh and healthy’ over ‘fast and convenient,’ and McDonald’s is having trouble convincing consumers that it’s both. Or even can be both.”

Which brings me to the chain’s latest move: hiring former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as its head of communications. The talking point du jour is that McDonald’s wants to build a “modern, progressive burger company.” What does that even mean? You’ve got to give it to them, though — it at least sounds better than “Please forget about that Supersize Me movie.”

McDonald’s didn’t stop with hiring Gibbs, however. The Golden Arches brought on board another corporate superstar, Silvia Lagnado, as its head of marketing. Lagnado has previously worked for Dove, Unilever and Bacardi. Clearly, McDonald’s thinks it’s grappling with a marketing problem.

This points to a tactic that I learned back in business school: When consumers don’t like your products, you can either make your products better…or simply make your customers think they’re better. With this move, McDonald’s seems to be taking the latter route.

Articles analyzing the company’s poor sales underscore some reasons why consumers have turned their back on the chain. Instead of adding a few leaves of kale here and there, why not remove the anti-foaming agent in the French fries? In other words, instead of putting lipstick on a factory-farmed pig, why not switch to serving more ethical foods?

I have no love for the chain, but I hope that McDonald’s new marketing gurus guide them toward real change, and not just a new advertising campaign. Just because billboards and jingles repeatedly tell us we’re “lovin’ it,” that doesn’t make it true.

If McDonald’s opts for new slogans instead of making substantial changes, send them a message by buying better food somewhere else.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.  This first ran at otherwords.org


Jill Richardson: Love them for their flaws, too

My brother would have turned 29 the other day. Thus begins the season of difficult anniversaries.

Six years ago, my baby bro turned 23. It was 2008, a week before Barack Obama’s first presidential election. Hope and change were in the air. I had a new job and a new car, and life was good. Through a misunderstanding, a distant cousin gave me the news. It felt like an eternity as the words came out of his mouth. “I have bad news,” he said. “It’s your family.”Then, just a few weeks later, all the hope died. But boy, did I get some change.

“Not my brother,” I thought.

“It’s your brother.”

“Not dead,” I thought.

“He died.”

And that was it. No explanation why, nothing. I called my mother and got little more information. She couldn’t reach him for several days and finally they sent the landlord to check on him and, well…he’d already been dead several days. That was all they knew.

I found out the cause of death years later — something that respectable people in the upper-middle class suburb where I grow up “just don’t do.” So we don’t talk about it.

My little brother Adam was my best friend in the world. He was my only sibling. While we were different in so many ways, in other ways we were like one soul in two bodies.

My brother was no saint. He had a heart of gold, but in the years before his death he suffered failures and disappointment. At age 22, he told the family that he suffered from anxiety and he sought treatment for it. But two decades of anxiety aren’t cured quickly.

Most of his difficulties in life probably stemmed from his severe anxiety, but nobody realized that until the end. And in America, when you fail, it’s your fault. Bad grades? Work harder. Too fat? Eat less and work out, you lazy bum.

Adam was the smartest person I ever knew. He had no plausible deniability that any bad grades were because of a lack of intelligence. This kid sat home and read Faulkner and Shakespeare for fun during high school. Who does that? So the label that stuck on my brother — at least in his own mind — was lazy.

I’m not blaming my family here. These are messages our culture sends us and we internalize them. One generation passes them on to the next. We mistake our grades and our salaries for our self worth instead of measuring our lives in joy and love.

After Adam died, I sat at the computer writing his eulogy. I process my thoughts by writing, and only by writing could I begin to thaw my numb emotions. I didn’t even know what I was feeling until I saw the words I had written on the page:

“If you’ve been close to Adam these past few years, you know that life dealt him a few curveballs. He struggled at times, but he was a fighter. It challenged each of us to try and help him move ahead while simultaneously accepting his limitations and helping him accept them too.

I am sorry for all of the anguish these problems caused him, but I want to say this: I would not wish away Adam’s shortcomings. They made him who he was, and that is the brother I love.

Please, in honor of Adam, love the important people in your life not in spite of their flaws but because of them. Shame is toxic. Empathy and love are the cure.

Our flaws cause us pain, but they also make us who we are. By overcoming them, we grow stronger and deepen our understanding of the human experience.

Jill Richardson is the author of ''Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It''. This originated at OthersWords.org.