War in the Middle East brings out the worst of U.S. media

America has spent the last seven or so decades shaping the rest of the world in the neoliberal pro-market, anti-people mold. An important component of that global plan is the Middle East, where Israel provides a foothold for Western interests in a region where the West is traditionally unwelcome. Continue reading

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Fear of the NSA is good for the NSA

In terms of policy, the most-remembered legacy of President Obama’s administration will likely be its escalation of the NSA’s warrantless spying on tens of millions of American citizens. It’s a substantial and unprecedented overreach of the corporate-state alliance that’s completely eroded privacy and introduced a whole new level of paranoia to the American consciousness. But maybe that’s the idea – Big Brother wants to scare you. Continue reading

Let animals make the case against Kendall Jones’s twisted “conservation”

Who’d have thunk it – the trouble with Africa’s big mammals isn’t trophy hunting, climate change or habitat loss; it’s that they just aren’t being killed properly.

That’s effectively what Kendall Jones, a red-blooded 19-year-old from Texas, would have you believe. The hunter has seen her name in headlines over the last couple of weeks as photos of her posing next to various dead animals went viral and caused an internet maelstrom.

Pictures of the pure-blonde Jones holding up the heads of dead African animals while she grins like it’s her birthday are profoundly unsettling, and the racial and imperialistic components of the imagery are striking. Her poses are also often oddly sexual, which makes sense from a marketing perspective: she’s supposedly in discussions to have a TV show by next year, and with America’s lust for young girls and violence, she will probably get it.

This man is actually saying, at the exact moment this picture is displayed, that hunting "places value on the animals."

This man is actually saying, without irony and at the exact moment this picture is displayed, that hunting “places value on the animals.”

Her Facebook page contains infographics and data extolling the virtues of hunting, all unsourced or sourced to pro-hunting magazines and lobbies. She claims hunting is simply misunderstood, repeating the common trope among hunters that it is actually they who are leading the world’s conservation efforts.

It’s not as though there’s no truth there. Hunting licenses and fees help pay to keep land free from private development. In some cases, hunters target members of a species that have become burdensome or dangerous to the population. Several months ago, just such an endangered black rhino’s life was auctioned off at $350,000. The rationale held that a post-reproductive male is a threat to viable bulls, and if there’s a bloodthirsty millionaire who wants to blow the rhino away, his money can be used for real conservation.

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Kendall Jones in her native habitat. When not cheering for the home team, wouldja believe she’s a leading expert on African wildlife? Me neither.

Yet no matter how these hunts are explained, there’s a reflexive revulsion to hearing about them. We’re not talking about hacking away overgrown vines or using dynamite to clear out rocks from a landslide – we’re talking about taking the life of a full-blown, flesh-and-blood, thinking and feeling mammal. Every creature Kendall Jones poses with, beaming her proud Texas smile next to its rolled-back eyes, lived a life she could not begin to comprehend and carried in it a wisdom she will probably never attain.

Jones would probably accuse me of allowing emotion to get in the way of science. She’d be wrong. Science narrows the intelligence gap between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom just about every day. Big mammals are more clever, emotionally sophisticated and complex than we ever dreamed, potentially surpassing humans in some cases. Elephants possess a humbling ability to express deep inner feelings. Whales and primates communicate using a form of language we’re just beginning to understand. Even non-mammals are full of surprises, such as the crow that cracks nuts under a car wheel at a red light or the octopus that escapes from her aquarium to feed on animals in another enclosure.

Despite using the hashtag #ScienceNotEmotion, Jones allows her passion for hunting to interfere with the way she understands the world. Her life’s calling is objectively psychopathic: the killing of sentient beings. In order to justify it, she touts dubious conservation figures, none of which could ever justify the frighteningly incongruous smile she gleams out in pictures with her victims.

On Monday, Jones posted a list of “10 Reasons Why Hunting is Conservation.” About half of the reasons were animal rebound statistics like this one: “In 1900, only 100,000 wild turkeys remained. Thanks to hunters, today there are over 7 million.”

Thanking hunters is odd – surely not even she thinks hunting the animal is what made its population explode. The North American Wild Turkey Management Plan, a pro-hunting group, gives credit for the rebound to “improved habitat management and increased conservation efforts focusing on population status assessment and harvest regulation.” For those who don’t understand the jargon, “harvest regulation” essentially means hunting them less. In other words, hunters, upset that they’d nearly extinguished wild turkeys just as they’d done to the dodo 300 years prior, decided to restrain themselves a little bit to ensure there’d be turkeys to hunt long into the future. So, “Thanks to hunters,” sure – but it’s a little perverse.

An infographic from Jones’s Facebook. This truly remarkable statement credits the rhino’s rebound to the fact that trophy hunters can’t get enough of them, as though that's a good thing.

An infographic from Jones’s Facebook. This truly remarkable statement credits the rhino’s rebound to the fact that trophy hunters can’t get enough of them, as though that’s a good thing.

Boosting a population so that there is more of it to kill is Jones’s idea of conservation. It’s the most vicious form of hypocrisy that exists – announcing yourself as a savior of the thing you’re slaughtering. It’s a bit like Paul Ryan branding himself a champion of the poor in his crusade against welfare, or those “civilizing” missions the U.S. undertook in the Philippines.

If Jones cared half as much about science as she pretends to, she would recognize these animals as having intrinsic worth apart from the market value of their horn or the tourist dollars of a hunt. In cases where an animal is truly going to cause an endangered species more harm than good, removing it should be a sober, solemn affair, not an opportunity to showcase her million-dollar smile to TV producers. Even tribal hunters who depend on their kills for survival display humility and respect.

It’s that despicable tastelessness that’s drawing Jones her flack. Even if hunters are the biggest supporters of true conservation – and that’s obviously highly questionable – her craven glee at murdering so many intelligent, emotional animals is bereft of even the most basic morality and sensitivity. It’s unimpressive on every level – cowardly, sadistic and opportunistic.

Knowing and respecting animals as complex, equal beings with a rich evolutionary history all their own would prohibit a sane person from enjoying their death. The hunting lobby to which Jones belongs sees the entire world as a resource pool for humans, but that’s not the kind of conservation we need. What’s needed is the kind of conservation that values every life as worthwhile, the kind that would only kill as a last resort, and the kind that treats human interference as the problem, not the solution. Only then will these animals regain the freedom to be governed by nature and their own wills.

Supreme Court chooses corporate freedom over personal freedom

On June 30, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most publicized decisions in years. In the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, the court insisted the “closely held” retail giant was under no obligation to provide its employees with certain kinds of contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

It’s a decision that’s being heralded on the right as an exemplar of constitutional adherence and derided on the left for being yet another barbarically regressive restriction on women’s access to healthcare.

It is much more the latter than it is the former.

Hobby Lobby is owned privately by the Green family, a phenomenally wealthy group of individuals who also claim to be devout Christians. They successfully argued that the portion of Obamacare mandating that an insurance plan cover contraceptives like birth control forced them to counter their religious beliefs.

The Green family may or may not actually be opposed to contraception on religious grounds, but their objection to the contraception mandate is purely an economic one. If they truly felt that contraception was an unconscionable evil, Hobby Lobby would not have $73 million invested in companies that produce it. The religious argument is an obvious smokescreen, meant to conjure up support from Christian conservatives and generate a thin constitutional argument.

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Protester Julia Mitchell holds up a sign as the Hobby Lobby case gets underway at the Supreme Court in March. The overt sexism of a case in which five men determined the fate of birth control for a whole nation’s females has been one of the most controversial aspects of the case. Image via ThinkProgress.

Another of the Supreme Court’s most famous recent decisions was in Citizens United v. FEC, where the court extended first amendment privileges to corporations. In doing so, the Supreme Court, and many of those who support Hobby Lobby’s cause, demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of what a corporation is.

Regardless of whether it’s owned by shareholders or by a family – which is, presumably, what the court meant by “closely held,” although the term is probably intentionally vague so as to be applicable whenever a corporation wants to apply it – corporations are not “people” in need of Constitutional protection. They are, essentially, autocratic, private governments. They want the right to treat their employees anyway they see fit and govern their own affairs according to their own constitutions, and the Supreme Court, as well as countless right-wing commentators and legislators, want very dearly to give them that right.

Telling a corporation what to do is one of the greatest cardinal sins in the eyes of the right wing. Most Americans are in no position to negotiate at all, desperate to accept whatever they can for fear of being discarded by the system entirely as government aid is aggressively stripped away.

That arrangement is perfectly acceptable to Republican lawmakers, who have waged an out-and-out war on working Americans for a century. They talk of de-regulation, lowering taxes at the expense of government aid and slashing the minimum wage. Corporate profits and Wall Street earnings are as high as ever, and in many cases, much higher; but they still want more. Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby is just one more case in which “liberty” and “freedom” have been hurriedly granted to the corporate giant requesting it and denied the poor people who really need it.

notachurchMother Jones ran the headline, “In Hobby Lobby Case, the Supreme Court Chooses Religion Over Science.” It’s easy to see what they mean – “birth control” is often associated with rampant, wanton sex, which the Christian right just can’t allow people to get away with. But birth control is actually a vital health need and an extremely useful method for proper family planning. The medical and social demands of birth control are more vital now than ever before, as the nation stagnates in widespread poverty and overflows with unwanted children who parents lack the means to care for and who lawmakers don’t want to help. But the science vs. religion interpretation of the case almost gives the court too much credit – the justices understand fully well that this case is really about the rights of employers to deny their employees benefits.

Another commentator argues that Hobby Lobby’s victory here should obligate them to provide excellent family benefits. If the women working for Hobby Lobby cannot afford birth control and end up with an unwanted pregnancy, will Hobby Lobby grant them leave? America lags woefully behind the rest of the developed world – and much of the underdeveloped world – in this department: parental leave, if granted at all, is often way too short, and working parents struggle with finding the time and the money to take care of their children. But those who are hopeful that Hobby Lobby will make up for the birth control deficit with outstanding family benefits ought not to hold their breath.

The for-profit dream is the formation of an America where corporations enjoy limitless profit, unburdened by the nagging costs of worker benefits, environmentally responsible production and livable wages. These good things have been fought ruthlessly by corporations under the pretense that corporate profit is good for everyone, and the more of it the better. But if corporations lobby extensively against environmental protections, operate massive propaganda campaigns dedicated to convincing Americans that government aid is bad, do everything they can to get out of paying taxes, and are willing to take a fight all the way to the Supreme Court over their intense desire not to spend money on basic healthcare for their workers, how much good is corporate profit really doing for society?

Hobby Lobby’s decision to fight against the contraception coverage mandate of Obamacare just goes to show how very concerned they are that their money not be used for anything that isn’t their own grotesque enrichment. That’s what that “individual spirit” Republicans are always talking about really refers to – people have to knock off this nasty habit they have of pestering employers for things like good wages, benefits, work/life ratio and a decent standard of living and earn those things for themselves.

Clearly, work is no longer the way to a good life. Marx was right to regard the employee-employer relationship as a profoundly antagonistic one. Many Americans “fortunate” enough to have jobs suffer from low wages, grueling hours, cruel bosses and ever-worsening benefits. Yet all we hear, even from commentators on the left, is how important it is to get Americans back to work, and how the way to do that is to make America better for business. With soaring profits and the Congress and Supreme Court on their side, it’s hard to imagine how much better things could really get for big business. The American people are the ones who are desperately in need of a victory right now, and the Hobby Lobby decision is a firm, forceful, sexist slap in the face of every single one of them.