The biggest win for the working class in generations is within reach

The Guardian – Opinion

The biggest win for the working class in generations is within reach

Bernie Sanders         

If our budget passes, it would be one of the most important pieces of legislation since the New Deal. But we must fight for it.

Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders<br>epa09341205 Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders speaks to members of the news media regarding his meeting at the White House with US President Joe Biden, after arriving on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, USA, 12 July 2021. President Biden and Sanders discussed a budget resolution that would allow the Senate to move forward with a massive infrastructure plan. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS
‘This legislation will create millions of good paying jobs as we address the long-neglected needs of working families and the planet.’ Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA.
Now is the time.


At a time when the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, when two people now own more wealth than the bottom 40% and when some of the wealthiest people and biggest businesses in the world pay nothing in federal income taxes, the billionaire class and large profitable corporations must finally start paying their fair share of taxes.

Now is the time.

At a time when real wages for workers have not gone up in almost 50 years, when over half our people live paycheck to paycheck, when over 90 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, when working families cannot afford childcare or higher education for their kids, when many Americans no longer believe their government represents their interests, the US Congress must finally have the courage to represent the needs of working families and not just the 1% and their lobbyists.

Now is the time.

At a time of unprecedented heatwaves, drought, flooding, extreme weather disturbances and the acidification of the oceans, now is the time for the US government to make certain that the planet we leave our children and future generations is healthy and habitable. We must stand up to the greed of the fossil fuel industry, transform our energy system and lead the world in combating climate change.

As chairman of the US Senate budget committee I fought hard for a $6tn budget which would address these and other long-neglected needs. Not everyone in the Democratic caucus agreed with me and, after a lot of discussion and compromise within the budget committee, an agreement was reached on a smaller number. (Needless to say, no Republicans will support legislation which taxes the rich and protects working families.)

While this budget is less than I had wanted, let us be clear. This proposal, if passed, will be the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since FDR and the New Deal of the 1930s. It will also put the US in a global leadership position as we combat climate change. Further, and importantly, this legislation will create millions of good-paying jobs as we address the long-neglected needs of working families and the planet.

Why is this proposal so significant?

We will end the days of billionaires not paying a nickel in federal income taxes by making sure the wealthy and large corporations do not use their accountants and lawyers to avoid paying the massive amounts that they owe. This proposal will also raise the individual tax rate on the wealthiest Americans and the corporate tax rate for the most profitable companies in our country. Under this proposal, no family making under $400,000 a year will pay a nickel more in taxes and will, in fact, receive one of the largest tax cuts in American history.

We will aggressively reduce our childhood poverty rate by expanding the child tax credit so that families continue to receive monthly direct payments of up to $300 per child.

We will address the crisis in childcare by fighting to make sure that no working family pays more than 7% of their income on this basic need. Making childcare more accessible and affordable will also strengthen our economy by allowing millions more Americans (mostly women) to join the workforce.

We will provide universal pre-kindergarten to every three- and four-year-old.

We will end the international disgrace of the United States being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave as a right.

We will begin to address the crisis in higher education by making community colleges in America tuition-free.

We will address the disgrace of widespread homelessness in the United States and the reality that nearly 18m households are paying over 50% of their incomes for housing by an unprecedented investment in affordable housing.

We will ensure that people in an ageing society can receive the home healthcare they need and that the workers who provide that care aren’t forced to live on starvation wages.

We will save taxpayers hundreds of billions by having Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and use those savings to cover the dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses that many seniors desperately need.

We will rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater treatment plants, broadband and other aspects of our physical infrastructure.

We will take on the existential threat of climate change by transforming our energy systems away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

This effort will include a nationwide clean energy standard that moves our transportation system, electrical generation, buildings and housing and agriculture sector toward clean energy.

Through a Civilian Climate Corps we will give hundreds of thousands of young people good-paying jobs and educational benefits as they help us combat climate change.

We will fight to bring undocumented people out of the shadows and provide them with a pathway to citizenship, including those who courageously kept our economy running in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

In the midst of the many long-ignored crises that this legislation is attempting to address, we will not have one Republican senator voting for it. Tragically, many Republican leaders in Congress and around the country are just too busy continuing to lie about the 2020 presidential election, undermining democracy by suppressing voting rights, denying the reality of climate change and casting doubts about the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.

That means that the 50 Democrats in the US Senate, plus the vice-president, will have to pass this most consequential piece of legislation alone. And that’s what we will do. The future of working families is at stake. The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake.

Now is the time.

Bernie Sanders is a US senator, and the ranking member of the Senate budget committee. He represents the state of Vermont, and is the longest-serving independent in the history of Congress

Scientists understood physics of climate change in the 1800s – thanks to a woman named Eunice Foote

Scientists understood physics of climate change in the 1800s – thanks to a woman named Eunice Foote

Sylvia G. Dee                              July 22, 2021

<span class="caption">Eunice Foote described the greenhouse gas effects of carbon dioxide in 1856.</span> <span class="attribution"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Carlyn Iverson/NOAA">Carlyn Iverson/NOAA</a></span>
Eunice Foote described the greenhouse gas effects of carbon dioxide in 1856. Carlyn Iverson / NOAA


Long before the current political divide over climate change, and even before the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), an American scientist named Eunice Foote documented the underlying cause of today’s climate change crisis.

The year was 1856. Foote’s brief scientific paper was the first to describe the extraordinary power of carbon dioxide gas to absorb heat – the driving force of global warming.

Carbon dioxide is an odorless, tasteless, transparent gas that forms when people burn fuels, including coal, oil, gasoline and wood.

As Earth’s surface heats, one might think that the heat would just radiate back into space. But, it’s not that simple. The atmosphere stays hotter than expected mainly due to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and atmospheric water vapor, which all absorb outgoing heat. They’re called “greenhouse gases” because, not unlike the glass of a greenhouse, they trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere and radiate it back to the planet’s surface. The idea that the atmosphere trapped heat was known, but not the cause.

Foote conducted a simple experiment. She put a thermometer in each of two glass cylinders, pumped carbon dioxide gas into one and air into the other and set the cylinders in the Sun. The cylinder containing carbon dioxide got much hotter than the one with air, and Foote realized that carbon dioxide would strongly absorb heat in the atmosphere.

Image of the journal showing the article
Image of the journal showing the article


Foote’s discovery of the high heat absorption of carbon dioxide gas led her to conclude that “… if the air had mixed with it a higher proportion of carbon dioxide than at present, an increased temperature” would result.

A few years later, in 1861, the well-known Irish scientist John Tyndall also measured the heat absorption of carbon dioxide and was so surprised that something “so transparent to light” could so strongly absorb heat that he “made several hundred experiments with this single substance.”

Tyndall also recognized the possible effects on the climate, saying “every variation” of water vapor or carbon dioxide “must produce a change of climate.” He also noted the contribution other hydrocarbon gases, such as methane, could make to climate change, writing that “an almost inappreciable addition” of gases like methane would have “great effects on climate.”

Humans were already increasing carbon dioxide in the 1800’s

By the 1800’s, human activities were already dramatically increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Burning more and more fossil fuels – coal and eventually oil and gas – added an ever-increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the air.

The first quantitative estimate of carbon dioxide-induced climate change was made by Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist and Nobel laureate. In 1896, he calculated that “the temperature in the Arctic regions would rise 8 or 9 degrees Celsius if carbon dioxide increased to 2.5 or 3 times” its level at that time. Arrhenius’ estimate was likely conservative: Since 1900 atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from about 300 parts per million to around 417 ppm as a result of human activities, and the Arctic has already warmed by about 3.8 C (6.8 F).

Nils Ekholm, a Swedish meteorologist, agreed, writing in 1901 that “The present burning of pit-coal is so great that if it continues … it must undoubtedly cause a very obvious rise in the mean temperature of the earth.” Ekholm also noted that carbon dioxide acted in a layer high in the atmosphere, above water vapor layers, where small amounts of carbon dioxide mattered.

All of this was understood well over a century ago.

Chart showing rising CO2 concentrations in recent decades.
The Keeling curve tracks the changing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. Observations from Hawaii starting in 1958 show the rise and fall of the seasons as concentrations climb. Scripps Institution of Oceanography


Initially, scientists thought a possible small rise in the Earth’s temperature could be a benefit, but these scientists could not envision the coming huge increases in fossil fuel use. In 1937, English engineer Guy Callendar documented how rising temperatures correlated with rising carbon dioxide levels. “By fuel combustion, man has added about 150,000 million tons of carbon dioxide to the air during the past half century,” he wrote, and “world temperatures have actually increased ….”

A warning to the president in 1965, and then …

In 1965, scientists warned U.S. President Lyndon Johnson about the growing climate risk, concluding: “Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years.” The scientists issued clear warnings of high temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and acidification of ocean waters.

In the half-century that has followed that warning, more of the ice has meltedsea level has risen further and acidification due to ever increasing absorption of carbon dioxide forming carbonic acid has become a critical problem for ocean-dwelling organisms.

Scientific research has vastly strengthened the conclusion that human-generated emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are causing dangerous warming of the climate and a host of harmful effects. Politicians, however, have been slow to respond. Some follow an approach that has been used by some fossil fuel companies of denying and casting doubt on the truth, while others want to “wait and see,” despite the overwhelming evidence that harm and costs will continue to rise.

In fact, reality is now fast overtaking scientific models. The megadrought and heat waves in the western U.S., record high temperatures and zombie fires in Siberia, massive wildfires in Australia and the U.S. West, relentless, intense Gulf Coast and European rains and more powerful hurricanes are all harbingers of increasing climate disruption.

The world has known about the warming risk posed by excessive levels of carbon dioxide for decades, even before the invention of cars or coal-fired power stations. A rare female scientist in her time, Eunice Foote, explicitly warned about the basic science 165 years ago. Why haven’t we listened more closely?

Neil Anderson, a retired chemical engineer and chemistry teacher, contributed to this article.

Read more:

Sylvia G. Dee receives funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Republicans’ confidence in science has dropped significantly from 1975, poll finds

Republicans’ confidence in science has dropped significantly from 1975, poll finds


Science, welcome to 2021 — you’ve been politicized.

A new Gallup poll reveals that, in 2021, just 45 percent of Republicans report having a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in science, compared to 72 percent of Republicans in 1975. Democrats and independents have remained largely confident in science as an institution over the years, shifting from 67 percent to 79 percent, and 73 percent to 65 percent, respectively, between 1975 and 2021, per Gallup.

Gallup Poll.
Gallup Poll.


The current partisan gap regarding confidence in science (79 percent to 45 percent) is “among the largest Gallup measured” for any of the institutions in its annual Confidence in Institutions survey. It is “exceeded only by a 49-point party divide in ratings of the presidency and 45 points in ratings of the police,” Gallup writes.

Such distrust toward the scientific community can be felt in recent Republican attitudes toward mask mandates, the COVID-19 vaccine, and the seriousness of the pandemic as a whole, Gallup notes. Ironically, just 46 years ago, Republicans were actually more likely than Democrats to report a great deal of trust in science — but now, conservative thought and political leaders are seemingly pushing their caucus in the opposite direction.

Among all Americans, trust in science between 1975 and 2021 is down only 6 percentage points, from 70 percent to 64 percent, Gallup notes.

Gallup surveyed 1,381 adults from July 1-5, 2021. Results have a margin of error of three percentage points. See more results at Gallup.

Alcohol Abuse Is on the Rise, but Doctors Too Often Fail to Treat It

Alcohol Abuse Is on the Rise, but Doctors Too Often Fail to Treat It


Andy Mathisen sits in Thompson Park in Lincroft, N.J., after a difficult pandemic year in which his drinking became excessive. (Elianel Clinton for The New York Times).

Like many people who struggle to control their drinking, Andy Mathisen tried a lot of ways to cut back.

He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, went to a rehab center for alcohol abuse and tried using willpower to stop himself from binge drinking. But nothing seemed to work. This past year, with the stress of the pandemic weighing on him, he found himself craving beer every morning, drinking in his car and polishing off two liters of Scotch a week.

Frustrated, and feeling that his health and future were in a downward spiral, Mr. Mathisen turned to the internet and discovered Ria Health, a telehealth program that uses online coaching and medication to help people rein in their drinking without necessarily giving up alcohol entirely.

After signing up for the service in March, he received coaching and was given a prescription for naltrexone, a medication that diminishes cravings and blunts the buzz from alcohol. The program accepts some insurance and charges $350 a month for a one-year commitment for people who pay out of pocket. Since he started using it, Mr. Mathisen has reduced his drinking substantially, limiting himself to just one or two drinks a couple of days a week.

“My alcohol consumption has dropped tremendously,” said Mr. Mathisen, 70, a retired telecommunications manager who lives in central New Jersey. “It’s no longer controlling my life.”

Mr. Mathisen is one of the roughly 17 million Americans who grapple with alcoholism, the colloquial term for alcohol use disorder, a problem that was exacerbated this past year as the pandemic pushed many anxious and isolated people to drink to excess. The National Institutes of Health defines the disorder as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences.” Yet despite how prevalent it is, most people who have the disorder do not receive treatment for it, even when they disclose their drinking problem to their primary care doctor or another health care professional.

Last month, a nationwide study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that about 80 percent of people who met the criteria for alcohol use disorder had visited a doctor, hospital or medical clinic for a variety of reasons in the previous year. Roughly 70 percent of those people were asked about their alcohol intake. Yet just one in 10 were encouraged to cut back on their drinking by a health professional, and only 6 percent received any form of treatment.

Alcohol abuse can be driven by a complex array of factors, including stress, depression and anxiety, as well as a person’s genetics, family history and socioeconomic circumstances. Many people kick their heavy drinking habit on their own or through self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. But relapse rates are notoriously high. Research suggests that among all the people with alcohol use disorder who try to quit drinking every year, just 25 percent are able to successfully reduce their alcohol intake long-term.

While there is no silver bullet for alcohol use disorder, several medications have been approved to treat it, including pills like acamprosate and disulfiram, as well as oral and injectable forms of naltrexone. These medications can blunt cravings and reduce the urge to drink, making it easier for people to quit or cut back when combined with behavioral interventions like therapy.

Yet despite their effectiveness, physicians rarely prescribe the drugs, even for people who are most likely to benefit from them, in part because many doctors are not trained to deal with addiction or educated on the medications approved to treat it. In a study published last month, scientists at the N.I.H. found that just 1.6 percent of the millions of Americans with alcohol use disorder had been prescribed a medication to help them control their drinking. “These are potentially life saving medications, and what we found is that even among people with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder the rate at which they are used is extremely low,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, an author of the study and deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The implications of this are substantial. Alcohol is one of the most common forms of substance abuse and a leading cause of preventable deaths and disease, killing almost 100,000 Americans annually and contributing to millions of cancers, car accidents, heart attacks and other ailments. It is also a significant cause of workplace accidents and lost work productivity, as well as a driver of frayed family and personal relationships. Yet for a variety of reasons, people who need treatment rarely get it from their physicians.

Some doctors buy into a stereotype that people who struggle with alcohol are difficult patients with an intractable condition. Many patients who sign up for services like Ria Health do so after having been turned away by doctors, said Dr. John Mendelson, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and Ria Health’s chief medical officer. “We have patients who come to us because they’ve been fired by their doctors,” he added.

In other cases, doctors without a background in addiction may worry that they don’t have the expertise to treat alcoholism. Or they may feel uncomfortable prescribing medications for it, even though doing so does not require special training, said Dr. Carrie Mintz, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University and a co-author of the study last month that looked at nationwide treatment rates.

The result is that a lot of patients end up getting referred to mental health experts or sent to rehab centers and 12-step programs like A.A.

“There’s a stigma associated with substance use disorders, and the treatment for them has historically been outside of the health care system,” Dr. Mintz said. “We think these extra steps of having to refer people out for treatment is a hindrance. We argue that treatment should take place right there at point of care when people are in the hospital or clinic.”

But another reason for the low rates of treatment is that problem drinkers are often in denial, said Dr. Compton at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Studies show that most people who meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder do not feel that they need treatment for it, even when they acknowledge having all the hallmarks of the condition, like trying to cut back on alcohol to no avail, experiencing strong cravings, and continuing to drink despite it causing health and relationship problems.

“People are perfectly willing to tell you about their symptoms and the difficulties they face,” Dr. Compton said. “But then if you say, ‘Do you think you need treatment?’ they will say they do not. There’s a blind spot when it comes to putting those pieces together.”

Studies suggest that a major barrier to people seeking treatment is that they believe that abstinence is their only option. That perception is driven by the ubiquity and long history of 12-step programs like A.A. that preach abstinence as the only solution to alcoholism. For some people with severe drinking problems, that may be necessary. But studies show that people who have milder forms of alcohol use disorder can improve their mental health and quality of life, as well as their blood pressure, liver health and other aspects of their physical health, by lowering their alcohol intake without quitting alcohol entirely. Yet the idea that the only option is to quit cold turkey can prevent people from seeking treatment.

“People believe that abstinence is the only way — and in fact it’s not the only way,” said Katie Witkiewitz, the director of the Addictive Behaviors and Quantitative Research Lab at the University of New Mexico and a former president of the Society of Addiction Psychology. “We find robust improvements in health and functioning when people reduce their drinking, even if they’re not reducing to abstinence.”

For people who are concerned about their alcohol intake, Dr. Witkiewitz recommends tracking exactly how much you drink and then setting goals according to how much you want to lower your intake. If you typically consume 21 drinks a week, for example, then cutting out just five to 10 drinks — on your own or with the help of a therapist or medication — can make a big difference, Dr. Witkiewitz said. “Even that level of reduction is going to be associated with improvements in cardiovascular functioning, blood pressure, liver function, sleep quality and mental health generally,” she added.

Here are some tools that can help.

— Ria Health is a telehealth program that offers treatment for people with alcohol use disorder. It provides medical consultations, online coaching, medication and other tools to help people lower their alcohol intake or abstain if they prefer. It costs $350 a month for the annual program, cheaper than most rehab programs, and accepts some forms of health insurance.

— The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a free website called Rethinking Drinking that can help you find doctors, therapists, support groups and other ways to get treatment for a drinking problem.

— Cutback Coach is a popular app that helps people track their alcohol intake and set goals and reminders so they can develop healthier drinking habits. The service allows people to track their progress and sends out daily reminders for motivation. The cost is $79 if you pay annually, $23 per quarter or $9 a month.

— Moderation Management is an online forum for people who want to reduce their drinking but not necessarily abstain. The group offers meetings, both online and in person, where members can share stories, advice and coping strategies. It also maintains an international directory of “moderation-friendly” therapists.

— CheckUp & Choices is a web-based program that screens people for alcohol use disorder. It provides feedback on your drinking habits and options for cutting back. The service charges $79 for three months or $149 per year.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

Confederate Monuments ?

Posted on Amy Klobuchar -Progress for America
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A true daughter of the confederacy has written what should be the last words on the monuments:
By Caroline Randall Williams               June 26, 2020
I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.
If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.
Dead Confederates are honored all over this country — with cartoonish private statues, solemn public monuments and even in the names of United States Army bases. It fortifies and heartens me to witness the protests against this practice and the growing clamor from serious, nonpartisan public servants to redress it. But there are still those — like President Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell — who cannot understand the difference between rewriting and reframing the past. I say it is not a matter of “airbrushing” history, but of adding a new perspective.
I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow.
According to the rule of hypodescent (the social and legal practice of assigning a genetically mixed-race person to the race with less social power) I am the daughter of two black people, the granddaughter of four black people, the great-granddaughter of eight black people. Go back one more generation and it gets less straightforward, and more sinister. As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.
It is an extraordinary truth of my life that I am biologically more than half white, and yet I have no white people in my genealogy in living memory. No. Voluntary. Whiteness. I am more than half white, and none of it was consensual. White Southern men — my ancestors — took what they wanted from women they did not love, over whom they had extraordinary power, and then failed to claim their children.
What is a monument but a standing memory? An artifact to make tangible the truth of the past. My body and blood are a tangible truth of the South and its past. The black people I come from were owned by the white people I come from. The white people I come from fought and died for their Lost Cause. And I ask you now, who dares to tell me to celebrate them? Who dares to ask me to accept their mounted pedestals?
You cannot dismiss me as someone who doesn’t understand. You cannot say it wasn’t my family members who fought and died. My blackness does not put me on the other side of anything. It puts me squarely at the heart of the debate. I don’t just come from the South. I come from Confederates. I’ve got rebel-gray blue blood coursing my veins. My great-grandfather Will was raised with the knowledge that Edmund Pettus was his father. Pettus, the storied Confederate general, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the man for whom Selma’s Bloody Sunday Bridge is named. So I am not an outsider who makes these demands. I am a great-great-granddaughter.
And here I’m called to say that there is much about the South that is precious to me. I do my best teaching and writing here. There is, however, a peculiar model of Southern pride that must now, at long last, be reckoned with.
This is not an ignorant pride but a defiant one. It is a pride that says, “Our history is rich, our causes are justified, our ancestors lie beyond reproach.” It is a pining for greatness, if you will, a wish again for a certain kind of American memory. A monument-worthy memory.
But here’s the thing: Our ancestors don’t deserve your unconditional pride. Yes, I am proud of every one of my black ancestors who survived slavery. They earned that pride, by any decent person’s reckoning. But I am not proud of the white ancestors whom I know, by virtue of my very existence, to be bad actors.
Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.
To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof. I am proof that whatever else the South might have been, or might believe itself to be, it was and is a space whose prosperity and sense of romance and nostalgia were built upon the grievous exploitation of black life.
The dream version of the Old South never existed. Any manufactured monument to that time in that place tells half a truth at best. The ideas and ideals it purports to honor are not real. To those who have embraced these delusions: Now is the time to re-examine your position.
Either you have been blind to a truth that my body’s story forces you to see, or you really do mean to honor the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed, and you must at last acknowledge your emotional investment in a legacy of hate.
Either way, I say the monuments of stone and metal, the monuments of cloth and wood, all the man-made monuments, must come down. I defy any sentimental Southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels.
Caroline Randall Williams(@caroranwill) is the author of “Lucy Negro, Redux” and “Soul Food Love,” and a writer in residence at Vanderbilt University.

A Former NRA President Was Tricked Into Speaking At A Fake High School Graduation


A Former NRA President Was Tricked Into Speaking At A Fake High School Graduation

Instead, the 3,044 empty seats represented the students who did not graduate this year because they were killed by gun violence.

Amber Jamieson, BuzzFeed Reporter,                 June 23, 2021

Hundreds of empty white fold-out chairs
Change the Red

3,044 chairs placed in a stadium in Las Vegas to represent those seniors who didn’t graduate because they were killed by gun violence

In a speech to the James Madison Academy 2021 graduating class, David Keene, a former NRA president and current board member of the gun rights group, called on the teens to fight those looking to implement tighter gun restrictions.

“I’d be willing to bet that many of you will be among those who stand up and prevent those from proceeding,” he said, to a Las Vegas stadium of thousands of socially distanced chairs on June 4.

“An overwhelming majority of you will go on to college, while others may decide their dream dictates a different route to success,” said Keene. “My advice to you is simple enough: follow your dream and make it a reality.”

Except, they can’t. The students aren’t real. James Madison Academy doesn’t exist.

Without realizing it, Keene was actually addressing his comments to thousands of empty chairs set up to represent the estimated 3,044 kids who should have graduated high school this year and instead were killed by gun violence.

Change the Ref, an organization founded by Manuel and Patricia Oliver, whose son Joaquin “Guac” was killed in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, held a fake high school graduation for what they call “The Lost Class” of students.

They invited Keene and John Lott, an author and gun rights activist, to give remarks to a high school graduating class and filmed what they were told was a rehearsal in a stadium of empty chairs.

“Ironically, had the men conducted a proper background check on the school, they would have seen that the school is fake,” a Change the Ref spokesperson said in a press release.

Keene in a cap and gown is addressing a crowd in front of a Class of 2021 sign
Change the Ref

David Keene addressing the stadium

After filming, Keene and Lott were told the graduation was canceled and were not informed before the videos were released on Wednesday that the event was fake.

“You’re telling me the whole thing was a setup?” said Lott, when he responded to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. “No, I didn’t know that.”

The stunt was designed to highlight how powerful gun advocates speak. “These two guys are part of the problem,” Manuel Oliver told BuzzFeed News. “We need to call them out, we need to show everyone — this is how they process the logic behind the gun industry.”

“We need to show we’re brave and we’re not afraid of these guys,” Oliver said. “We’ve already felt the worst possible situation. There’s no threat that can make me feel different.”

In videos released on Wednesday, Lott and Keene’s graduation speeches — in which they call for gun rights protections and talk about James Madison, the Founding Father who proposed the Second Amendment — are interspersed with audio from 911 calls about school shootings and the sound of gunfire.

Both Keene and Lott traveled to Vegas and were excited to speak, said Oliver, who did not meet either of them to make sure the stunt did not get disrupted by anyone recognizing him. Advertising agency Leo Burnett and production company Hungry Man helped create the event.

Lott said he was disappointed about the way the video was edited — he does support background checks but believes the current system mainly prevents law-abiding Black and Latino people from buying guns and should be adjusted.

“You want to stop dangerous people from getting guns, but you don’t want to stop the people who are potential victims from getting guns?” he asked.

Lott said he’d driven down from Montana for the speech, which took 13 hours, and showed emails where he’d been promised that he would receive $495, the equivalent of a plane ticket, but was never paid back. In the original email inviting him, Lott was told he was to be given the “Keeper of the Constitution” award.

Originally Lott wanted to give more general life advice in his commencement speech but had been encouraged to speak about James Madison and background checks. After the rehearsal, he was told the ceremony was canceled because of a credible threat of violence and after discussion with police. A week later, Lott tried to call the person who’d been in contact with him and the number was disconnected.

“Unfortunately, the fact they lied to me many times is kind of illustrated by the way they edited and chopped up the video that’s there,” Lott said. “Is that the way we want to have political debate in the country? Where people lie and creatively edit what people say?”

James Madison Academy isn’t a real school (a Google cache shows that a website was created to help ensure the stunt’s success). But the experience of thousands of families who’ve lost children to gun violence enduring graduations in recent months is very real, Oliver said.

“We lost Joaquin three months before his graduation. We know exactly the feeling of being there and receiving the diploma without your kid being there,” Oliver said. “Because we understand that, we know there are a lot of people going through that same experience right now.”

Sun Sentinel / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Joaquin Oliver’s mother, Patricia, and father, Manuel, walk offstage after receiving their son’s diploma, which was awarded posthumously, during a graduation ceremony on Sunday, June 3, 2018, in Sunrise, Florida.

Oliver entwines his activism for gun violence prevention with art. To celebrate what would have been his son’s 21st birthday on Aug. 4, he is hosting Guacathon, a 21-hour festival of performances and exercise.

Gun violence is the leading cause of death for American middle and high school students. The 3,044 number was estimated by compiling firearm deaths by age since 2003 and matching it to student age.

“Never for a minute doubt that you can achieve that dream,” Keene said in his rehearsed speech to the seniors.

The contrast of knowing the students they are addressing are dead makes the comments appear deeply sarcastic, Oliver said.

“It shows them [as] weak,” he told BuzzFeed News. “But this is not about bragging about doing this to the former president of the NRA. No, this is about pushing our reps to move on with universal background check laws.”


This story has been updated with comments from John Lott.

Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Guns a danger to their owners most of all

Chicago Suntimes – Opinion

Guns a danger to their owners most of all


Gun sales leapt during the COVID lockdown, and a California judge just overturned that state’s ban on assault weapons. Here, a clerk shows a customer a TPM Arms LLC California-legal featureless AR-10 style .308 rifle an Orange County gun show.
Gun sales leapt during the COVID lockdown, and a California judge just overturned that state’s ban on assault weapons. Here, a clerk shows a customer a TPM Arms LLC California-legal featureless AR-10 style .308 rifle an Orange County gun show. PATRICK T. FALLON, Getty


There’s no hope for help from laws, but you can protect yourself from guns with common sense.

Or do — it’s your choice. I don’t want you to immediately clutch at yourself and collapse to the floor, writhing and moaning how wronged you are. I’m so tired of that. Grow up. My saying “Don’t buy a gun” isn’t a command from the ooo-scary, all-powerful media.

Rather, it’s just a suggestion. From me. A friendly suggestion. Please don’t buy a gun. Why? They’re dangerous, for starters. And apparently confusing, because the reasons that people typically offer for buying guns — to protect themselves and guard their families — are actually the top reasons not to buy a gun. Gun ownership imperils you and your family.

How? There’s suicide, for starters. Two-thirds of gun deaths are self-inflicted. I don’t want to start throwing numbers at you, since people are flummoxed already. Be assured the odds of killing yourself leap when you buy a gun.

Why isn’t this better known? Imagination trips people up. It’s far easier for men to imagine Freddy Krueger breaking through the door, while much harder to imagine themselves rashly deciding to end it all on some dark night of the soul.

Guess which happens more often? It isn’t that you can’t kill yourself without a gun. Just that guns are such efficient killing machines. Three percent of those who attempt suicide with drugs succeed; 85 percent of those using a gun do.

I know I’m applying rational thought to an area of emotion and frenzy. In the set piece fantasy of male power and safety, guns are a masturbatory aid. Why else would some guys get so worked up over them?

Guns are part of the whole Republican fear junkie scramble. Not only the fear of somebody coming through the door. But fear that guns might get taken away, a terror that gun companies profit by stoking. A reader sent me a laughable letter from the National Rifle Association with “NOTICE OF GUN CONFISCATION” in huge letters on the envelope.

I wish I could share the whole letter. It’s ridiculous. The first three sentences will have to serve: “Dear Friend of Freedom,” it begins. “Unless you fight back starting right now, you face the real threat of having your guns forcibly confiscated by the federal government after the next election. No, I’m not talking about run-of-the-mil gun control. I’m talking about armed government agents storming your house, taking your guns, and hauling you off to prison.”

What does it mean to “fight back ”— any guesses? Of course. Send $30 to the NRA.

If this prompts you to give even more money to the NRA, to spite me, no need to write your vindictive little note. Having rung the Pavlovian bell, I’ll also react here: “Curses, I am so shocked! Foiled again.” (Note to everybody else: ot-nay, eally-ray).

You don’t need a gun. Most police officers never use theirs, not once in their entire career. And in situations when you think you need a gun, you usually don’t. They’re worse than unnecessary; they’re problem multipliers. Guns take whatever situation you’re faced with and make it a thousand times worse.

Look at Deshon Mcadory. If the Lombard barber hadn’t been packing a gun, he’d be out the price of a trim after Christian McDougald supposedly refused to pay for a haircut at his Maywood shop. But Mcadory did — a legally purchased, legally carried gun — so now McDougald is dead, and Mcadory in jail, charged with first-degree murder. I don’t want to speak for Mcadory, but were it me, I’d rather simply be out the $20.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really care if you buy a gun. They’re like vaccines. I’ve got mine. I’m safe, relatively, if you don’t want your vaccine, well, it’s your funeral. I hope you’re OK, but if you’re not, the person to blame is as close as the nearest mirror.

With guns, I don’t have mine. I’m safer because of it. And, frankly, better. I manage to go to the hardware store to buy birdseed without arming or wetting myself; if you can’t do that, well, you have my sympathy. It must be awful to be that afraid without your comfort object, your lethal pacifier, your mechanical teddy bear that sometimes kills people.

Space dwindles, so let’s end as we began, with a sentiment you don’t read nearly enough:

Don’t buy a gun.

‘It’s insane’: Proud Boys furor tests limits of Trump’s GOP

‘It’s insane’: Proud Boys furor tests limits of Trump’s GOP

David Siders                              May 26, 2021


It’s been less than two weeks since South Carolina Republicans rejected Lin Wood’s Q-Anon inspired run for state party chair. In Arizona, the GOP is still consumed with infighting over a farcical review of November election results.

Now comes Nevada, where open warfare has broken out in recent days between state and local party officials over a pro-Trump insurgency involving far-right activists with ties to the Proud Boys.

More than six months after the November election, the forces unleashed by former President Donald Trump — election conspiracists, QAnon adherents, MAGA true believers and even the often violent Proud Boys — are attempting to rewire the Grand Old Party’s leadership at the state and local levels, including in some swing states that will be critical in the midterm elections.

It’s a reflection of Trump’s influence on the Republican Party, but also evidence of the breadth of interests seeking to define Trumpism in the vacuum left by his November defeat.

“It’s insane,” said Katie Williams, a Republican school board trustee in Nevada’s Clark County, where party officials canceled a meeting at a church this week, citing security concerns about extremists trying to take over the party. “We can’t have people acting the way they’re acting. That’s the problem. … It’s like an election hangover.”

The uproar in Nevada, which came on suddenly, suggests how far the GOP is from being finished with its post-election reckoning. After the Republican Party’s state central committee voted narrowly last month to censure Nevada’s Republican secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske — for “failing to investigate” Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud — Clark County party officials accused the state party chair, Michael McDonald, of tipping the scales against Cegavske by adding extremist members to the county’s roster at the state central committee meeting.

The state party, in turn, accused the Clark County chair, David Sajdak, of spreading “slanderous lies.” But one self-described member of the Proud Boys, Matthew Anthony Yankley, who goes by Matt Anthony, said on a recent episode of the Johnny Bru Show, a Las Vegas-based podcast, that he participated in the censure and that “our votes absolutely made the difference.”

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published an exhaustive account detailing an effort by Anthony and other far-right activists to gain control of the party in Las Vegas’ Clark County through its elections in July.

For Nevada Republicans, the timing of the feud is fraught. The state Legislature has been tilting Democratic in recent years, but Republicans picked up several seats in November anyway, while Trump lost to President Joe Biden by just more than 2 percentage points — a narrower margin than widely expected.

A well-organized Republican Party could help candidates who have at least an outside chance of upsetting Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — or first-term Gov. Steve Sisolak next year. Instead, state and local party officials are at one another’s throats — and the GOP’s connections to the Proud Boys are in the headlines.

“I’m really disheartened by this,” said Carrie Buck, a Nevada state senator and the establishment-backed candidate for chair of the Clark County GOP. “If we don’t get this fixed, we don’t win our state back.”

The conflict in Nevada is about more than just a loyalty test to Trump, which is the motivating concern behind Cegavske’s censure. There’s a more fundamental question about what kind of Republican is welcome in the post-Trump GOP. The Trump era not only mainstreamed conspiracy theories — a large majority of Republicans believing Trump’s baseless claims that the election was rigged — it also gave rise to militant, pro-Trump groups like the Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group. Nationally, several members of the Proud Boys are facing charges for their involvement in the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Last year, the group was emboldened when Trump declined to explicitly condemn white supremacists and militia groups during the first presidential debate, telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” (He later adjusted his tone, saying “they have to stand down.”) And other Republicans have struggled more recently with how accommodating to be to extremists within the party. In Washington, GOP leaders this week criticized Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for comparing coronavirus vaccine and mask requirements to the Holocaust, but they are not disciplining her, much less excommunicating her from the party.

In Clark County, Republican Party leaders are attempting to draw a rare line in the sand. Officials said they have barred seven people, including Anthony, from membership due to their associations with groups they said have disseminated racist and other hateful messages.

Noting the majority-minority composition of Clark County — the state’s most populous county, and a Democratic stronghold — Sajdak said at a news conference this week that “we welcome everyone that is a reasonable and decent human being” but that “I will never tolerate racist or hateful speech.”

Stephen Silberkraus, the party’s vice chair, said after the press conference, “This isn’t a problem within our party. It’s one at the gates that we have to fend off.”

Nevada Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, listens to colleagues pay tribute to her 18-years of public service during a Senate floor session on the final day of the 77th Legislative session at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, June 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

Republicans in the state Senate appear to be following that reasoning, calling for a review of the vote to censure Cegavske.

“News reports that state party leaders may have formed a relationship with members of the organization known as the Proud Boys to sway the censure vote of a public official is profoundly concerning,” the caucus said in a prepared statement. “If there is a determination that any member or employee of the Nevada Republican Party conspired with these individuals or had knowledge of any wrongdoing in the party vote, Senate Republicans call for their immediate removal and resignation.”

Amy Tarkanian, a former chair of the state party, said there may be enough frustration with McDonald among Nevada Republicans “to possibly not reelect him finally. So, he very well may just be either so desperate that he’s willing to bring in literally anyone of any background, such as the Proud Boys, to help boost up his numbers, or just let the whole ship burn and sink if he doesn’t get reelected.”

She said, “It makes no sense to be bringing people like that into the fold where they’re not welcome.”

McDonald did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Anthony.

McDonald told the Review-Journal he does not condone hateful or antisemitic rhetoric. Anthony said on the Johnny Bru Show that the Proud Boys are unfairly maligned and that he is “against hate of all kinds.”

In Clark County, the dispute over who can belong is now playing out in court. Anthony and several other activists filed a lawsuit against the Clark County GOP last week complaining they had “arbitrarily been denied membership” or are having their memberships in the party withdrawn, accusing the county party of “discriminatorily and arbitrarily picking and choosing what applicants to approve for membership in the committee.” County party officials said the lawsuit has no merit.

“What they’re clearly afraid of,” said Ian Bayne, a co-founder of No Mask Nevada, which has been supportive of the effort to challenge the local party, is that new activists will “take the entire party out from under them.”

Bayne said he does not know the local Proud Boys members, but added that denying Republicans membership in the local committee is discriminatory. Bayne’s group, though not part of the lawsuit, was encouraging its members to join the county committee to “replace the failures who now run the Clark County GOP,” promising that an unnamed former Trump staffer would be running for chair, likely announcing his candidacy next week.

Bayne said the intra-party tension in Nevada — as in the GOP elsewhere — is little different than past upheavals within the party, dating back to the days of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

In Clark County, he said, “the establishment is running and canceling meetings because they’re scared.”

‘It’s like a place of healing’: the growth of America’s food forests

The Guardian – Our Unequal Earth Food

‘It’s like a place of healing’: the growth of America’s food forests

Mike Jordan in Atlanta and Salomé Gómez-Upegui in Miami 

May 8, 2021


Atlanta is home to America’s biggest food forest which also offers composting, beekeeping and bat boxes.Atlanta is home to America’s biggest food forest which also offers composting, beekeeping and bat boxes. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

There are more than 70 ‘food forests’ in the US as part of a growing movement to tackle food insecurity and promote urban agriculture

America’s biggest “food forest” is just a short drive from the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, but there is a relative calm as you wander through the gravel paths that weave through its fertile 7.1 acres (2.8 hectares).


When the Guardian visits the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill there are around a dozen volunteers working on a warm morning. Among them are a mother and son clearing weeds from a secluded area soon to become a yoga and meditation space. “I wanted to help,” Rina Saborio said. “I thought it was a really cool opportunity for the community.”

Hundreds of volunteers have come before them in Atlanta, and thousands at similar schemes across the US.

Food forests are part of the broader food justice and urban agriculture movement and are distinct from community gardens in various ways. They are typically backed by grants rather than renting plots, usually rely on volunteers and incorporate a land management approach that has a focus on growing perennials. The schemes vary in how they operate in allocating food and policies on harvesting, but they are all aimed at boosting food access.

Organizers in Atlanta stress that they properly distribute the food to the neighborhoods that the food forest is intended to support and it’s not open to the public beyond volunteer workers. Other schemes have areas where the public is free to take what they want.

Atlanta’s Urban Food Forest opened in 2019 with a plan to be a model for urban agriculture and to increase food access, a challenge that long predates the pandemic but which has been terribly exacerbated by the economic crisis caused by Covid-19.

This scheme is located in Atlanta’s southside Lakewood community, less than five miles from downtown. Lakewood is a food desert, as defined by the USDA, and the nearest grocery store with healthy food options takes 20 minutes via public transportation. Most nearby “food marts” offer far more sweets, processed foods, and canned goods than fresh fruits, vegetables and produce.

Celeste Lomax, who manages community engagement at the Brown Mills forest and lives in the neighborhood, believes education is key to the forest’s success and beams like sunlight when sharing her vision for the fertile soil she tends. “We’re using this space for more than just growing food. We have composting, beehives, bat boxes, and this beautiful herb garden where we’re teaching people how to heal themselves with the foods we eat. We’ll be doing walkthrough retreats and outside yoga. This is a health and wellness place. It’s so much more than just free food.”

Celeste Lomax, top left, manages community engagement at the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill in Atlanta. Rosemary Griffin, bottom left, waters the garden. The food forest gives the community access to fresh, nutritious food with garden beds, herb gardens and fruit trees. Photographs by Peyton Fulford/The Guardian


The land, once owned by a pecan farming family, sat vacant for years and almost became a multi-family housing unit after being purchased by developers in 2000. It was acquired by the city in 2016, through a partnership with Trees Atlanta and The Conservation Fund, and a grant from the USDA Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program.

Food access has been a long-term challenge in the city. According to a June 2017 report in the Atlanta Studies journal, food insecurity rates were above 25% in downtown Atlanta and nearby in southern Fulton and DeKalb counties, where residents are mainly people of color with lower incomes. In Atlanta Regional Commission’s annual Metro Atlanta Speaks survey, 18% stated they received food bank assistance since March 2020.

Before the pandemic, Lomax had enough herbs of all types, to give volunteers tea packs for homebrewing after a day’s work. Today, the volunteer maximum is set at fifteen people, but back then as many as fifty volunteers worked the forest on scheduled days. She is hopeful that there’ll be enough catnip, lemon balm, chocolate mint, and other herbs to keep up with demand as members of the community near and far come back to help. “Once this stuff grows, and I can start giving things away again, I’ll be blessing the volunteers. They call it sweat equity; I call it blessing those who bless us.”

‘A living system’

Some 35.2m people lived in food-insecure households throughout the US according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture in 2019. Last month a Guardian/Northwestern University investigation showed the scale of the crisis in the past year with one in four facing food insecurity before Christmas, amounting to some 81 million people. It also highlighted the racial divide in the food system with Black families reported to be facing hunger four times more often than white families.

The Dr George Washington Carver edible park in Asheville, North Carolina, was the first public food forest to open in the US, back in 1997. Since then, many more have emerged around the country, and though there is no official data, according to the non-profit Sustainable America, as of 2018 there were more than 70 public food forests in the United States.

As Mark Bittman writes in his book, Animal, Vegetable, Junk, urban gardens, farms and food forests “can’t compare in scale, appearance, or yield to large rural farms but by supplying populations with real food, and bringing power and understanding of food systems to urban eaters, they become important pieces of the puzzle.”

As defined by expert Michael Muehlbauer, Orchard Director at the Philadelphia Orchard Project who is currently working to bring a food forest to public land in Philadelphia, food forests “are a gardening technique or land management system, which mirrors and works with woodland ecosystems by incorporating trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals that produce human food. This creates a living system with numerous benefits including wildlife habitat, resilient biodiversity, an abundance of food and medicinal yields, carbon sequestration, increased urban tree canopy, local food security, and an opportunity for community gathering and education.”

Muehlbauer was one of the very first volunteers at the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle. It began back in 2009 when four friends from the neighborhood of Beacon Hill came together to transform a seven-acre plot of public land into an ecosystem that could provide local food to neighbors.

The role of community and volunteers is crucial to places like the Urban Food Forest. Volunteer Rina Saborio, bottom left, pulls weeds in the learning area. “We do something unique where we empower people to show up,” said Elise Evans, a long-time volunteer and former board president of Food Forest Collective. Photographs by Peyton Fulford/The Guardian.

Elise Evans, a long-time volunteer and former board president of Food Forest Collective, the nonprofit that manages the Beacon Food Forest, shared that the forest has helped in many ways with food insecurity.

“We’re not a food bank,” she clarified, “but we do something unique where we empower people to show up. We accept all volunteers who are kind and want to have a sense of purpose in growing food together. It’s sort of a large-scale demonstration site. Anyone can do this in their ecosystem and we’re showing them how that can be done.”

The Beacon Food Forest in Seattle is mostly an open harvest site. Except for areas designated as food bank plots and City of Seattle P-Patches, they allow free foraging on-site. Over the past eleven years, they’ve seen successful results and haven’t observed anyone “wiping out” a harvest. Evans said: “In the golden hour of the evening, we see many people on site harvesting food for their dinner or food for a neighbor. They get to harvest something and walk two blocks away to go home and have dinner.”

The role of community and volunteers is crucial to keep these initiatives going. And Evans knows this from personal experience. She first became involved in the Beacon Food Forest after attending the first “ground making party”, a monthly community gathering that pre-Covid that would attract more than 100 people of all backgrounds to work on the forest while enjoying pots of soup and salads picked from the site.

“It was a glorious communal experience,” she recalled. “At first I thought I would learn about permaculture, but in the end, it was a vivid experience with energy from people of all backgrounds. So I ended up making friends and stayed for the people, which is a story of many people at the Beacon Food Forest.”

J Olu Baiyewu, Urban Agriculture Director of the City of Atlanta, says that as urban agriculture installations continue to come into communities, digging more deeply into community engagement and outreach is essential: “I think what has become clearer for everyone involved is the need for a continuous community engagement beyond the visioning plan, continuous kind of check-ins,” he said.

Yet, consistent community engagement comes with challenges of its own. There are issues of governance, organizing and commitment to be sorted out, and as projects grow, these matters become increasingly complex.

Muelhbaur, who has worked for the past five years to bring a food forest to public land in Philadelphia, emphasized that “challenges for public food forest projects include volunteer burnout, as it can be quite a bit of work to organize these projects, which often fall on the shoulders of passionate volunteers Finding the right structure is important to keep the project organized.”

Citing his experience with the upcoming food forest, he added, “it’s taken five years of community organizing, talking to the city, making sure we have the right insurance policy in place, and negotiating a lease”.

As Evans put it, many volunteers are driven by wanting a change from large mono-crop agriculture. And aside from knowing where their food comes from, they want to know their neighbors. “In a world that’s increasingly digital and stressful, it’s consistent that we need community and this provides that. It’s nourishing both for our bodies and our hearts to show up to this space.”

Celeste Lomax shares her knowledge of the food found in the forest with other volunteers.
Celeste Lomax shares her knowledge of the food found in the forest with other volunteers. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian
‘This is so much bigger than us’

“This is good for stomach ailments,” Lomax recommended, speaking to one of the Atlanta volunteers about anise growing near lavender. “It’s good for insomnia, so I would use this in a tincture and also in a tea.”

As she continues explaining the potential of the forest, including her excitement about meeting a volunteer earlier in the day who offered to lead a cooking class on the property using herbs and produce grown in its dirt, Rina Saborio walks over to say goodbye after finishing her day of volunteering. In her hand is a bunch of chives she’s carefully uprooted from the area she and her son were clearing. She offers them to Lomax, who says she can keep them in exchange for her service.

“This is so much bigger than us,” Lomax said. “We thought we were just gardening but it’s grown to be so much more. It’s like a place of healing. I’ve had a lady cry because she was able to release stress in this place. That’s when I said, “Wow, this place is really magical. It takes a village to raise a child but it takes a community to change the world.”

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Life ?

Life ?

May be an image of 5 people and people standingWhen Einstein gave lectures at U.S. universities, the recurring question that students asked him most was:  Do you believe in God?

And he always answered:  I believe in the God of Spinoza.

Baruch de Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher considered one of the great rationalists of 17th century philosophy, along with Descartes.

(Spinoza) : God would say:  Stop praying.

What I want you to do is go out into the world and enjoy your life. I want you to sing, have fun and enjoy everything I’ve made for you.

Stop going into those dark, cold temples that you built yourself and saying they are my house. My house is in the mountains, in the woods, rivers, lakes, beaches. That’s where I live and there I express my love for you.

Stop blaming me for your miserable life; I never told you there was anything wrong with you or that you were a sinner, or that your sexuality was a bad thing. Sex is a gift I have given you and with which you can express your love, your ecstasy, your joy. So don’t blame me for everything they made you believe.

Stop reading alleged sacred scriptures that have nothing to do with me. If you can’t read me in a sunrise, in a landscape, in the look of your friends, in your son’s eyes…  you will find me in no book!

Stop asking me “will you tell me how to do my job?” Stop being so scared of me. I do not judge you or criticize you, nor get angry, or bothered. I am pure love.

Stop asking for forgiveness, there’s nothing to forgive. If I made you… I filled you with passions, limitations, pleasures, feelings, needs, inconsistencies… free will.

How can I blame you if you respond to something I put in you? How can I punish you for being the way you are, if I’m the one who made you? Do you think I could create a place to burn all my children who behave badly for the rest of eternity? What kind of god would do that?

Respect your peers and don’t do what you don’t want for yourself. All I ask is that you pay attention in your life, that alertness is your guide.

My beloved, this life is not a test, not a step on the way, not a rehearsal, nor a prelude to paradise. This life is the only thing here and now and it is all you need.

I have set you absolutely free, no prizes or punishments, no sins or virtues, no one carries a marker, no one keeps a record.

You are absolutely free to create in your life. Heaven or hell.

I can’t tell you if there’s anything after this life but I can give you a tip. Live as if there is not. As if this is your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.

So, if there’s nothing after, then you will have enjoyed the opportunity I gave you. And if there is, rest assured that I won’t ask if you behaved right or wrong, I’ll ask. Did you like it? Did you have fun? What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn?…

Stop believing in me; believing is assuming, guessing, imagining. I don’t want you to believe in me, I want you to believe in you. I want you to feel me in you when you kiss your beloved, when you tuck in your little girl, when you caress your dog, when you bathe in the sea.

Stop praising me, what kind of egomaniac God do you think I am?

I’m bored being praised. I’m tired of being thanked. Feeling grateful? Prove it by taking care of yourself, your health, your relationships, the world. Express your joy! That’s the way to praise me.

Stop complicating things and repeating as a parakeet what you’ve been taught about me.

What do you need more miracles for? So many explanations?

The only thing for sure is that you are here, that you are alive, that this world is full of wonders.

 – Spinoza