Creativity Online: The Internet Supports the Very Big and Very Small

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and the internet lately. Here are a few opening thoughts.

The internet provides the means for creative individuals and groups who are either very big (celebrities) or very small (me) to do pretty well. What it’s lousy at is providing the means to make a living. I don’t know that this is a problem, per se, but it is interesting.

My band just got their kickstarter funded. Hooray! We didn’t really need that much money, just a few thousand dollars that none of us could afford to front ourselves. We’ve been playing together for years now, in various ways, and have a lot of good friends and fans who like our music. We asked, they (perhaps you!) donated, and we are grateful. That said, making a living playing music would be very difficult. It’s possible for us to get 150 to contribute, not 1500, or 15,000.

I’m a writer and I make a little money on the side through my writing. I work very hard at it, but my day job is to be a history professor, and without that support, making a living writing would be very challenging.

I spend a lot of time watching writers on Twitter. In fact, for writers, Twitter is packed with rich conversations, networking, sharing ideas and story tips, and all sorts of other great community activities. I frequently think about how hard it must be for people stuck in the mid-range. Writing full time, but not yet at the big enough level to command a steady salary or full-time gig. Freelancing is hard. You have to spend at LEAST as much time hustling for writing gigs as you do writing. Sometimes I ponder what it would be like to make the leap to full time, and I tell myself, not yet, not now, perhaps not ever.

I think there’s something structural about the world of internet writing and crowd-funding for creative projects that it is very, very, good for the local band and the part-timer. It’s also great for the giants who can use their celebrity to communicate and direct attention on products to buy, shows to attend, articles to read, or even causes to support. In between, things get difficult.

This worries me, as I want artists to be able to make a reasonable living producing their art. I want people to feel like they can dedicate themselves to writing and put food on the table, even if they don’t go viral or have a NYT bestseller.

In the meantime, I’m having a really good writing week. Pitches have been accepted, drafts are on their way to editors, I finished my copyedits for my academic book, and I’m getting excited about teaching again. In the meantime, I’m now prepping to make a CD with my band.

Thank you, O Internet, for supporting my work. 

Down Syndrome must not be a Wedge Issue in the Abortion Wars

A few weeks ago, I hosted an essay on the Pro-Information movement and the threat it faced in the wake of a new law passed in Louisiana, with my comments the next day here. Pro-information is a short-hand for an approach to making sure that women who have received a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome also receive the most up-to-date and accurate information about the genetic condition.

It is a coalition of pro-choice and pro-life (and unsure) folks who respect the right of women to terminate their pregnancies after a pre-natal diagnosis, but really don’t want them to do it. Given the nature of the abortion debate in our society, it’s an uneasy coalition, with pro-life activists trying to ban any discussion of termination as an option. That’s what happened in Louisiana.

Yesterday, Nursing Clio, a wonderful blog on history and medicine, hosted a piece called:
Prenatal Testing and Counseling: The New Front of the Abortion Wars?. The piece places the Louisiana law in the context of the broader fight over women’s healthcare, and reveals some important details. You should read the whole thing, please, but here are a few excerpts and comments [edited and reformatted lightly. My emphasis]:

The Louisiana law, unlike the ones in other states, was not spearheaded by the Down syndrome community. As Stephanie Meredith … explains, “In most states, Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts, etc., the law was initiated by grassroots Down syndrome advocates who were trulytrying to walk a fine line between respecting both reproductive and disability rights. In Louisiana, the law was driven largely by the Bioethics Defense Fund, and my understanding is that the leaders of the local Down syndrome organizations were unaware that the law had been introduced.”

This distinction in the origins of the bill is a significant one. The Bioethics Defense Fund frames the change to the law as an issue of discrimination and argues that presenting termination as an acceptable option for women in the event of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome constitutes state-sponsored discrimination that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Bioethics Defense Fund is a pro-life group concerned with creating “prolife policy guides” for legislatures to further their anti-abortion agenda, and it has played a significant role in the recent legislative attempts to erode reproduction rights for women. Given the lack of Down syndrome advocates’ involvement in the development of the law and the Bioethics Defense Fund’s clear anti-abortion agenda, the change to the Louisiana law seems designed to co-opt a movement aimed at addressing the specific needs and concerns of those in the Down syndrome community and warping that movement to serve an anti-abortion, pro-life agenda.

It’s not just about co-opting a movement. If a fetus with Down syndrome can be discriminated against,  then that fetus is a person. If that fetus is a person, so is every other fetus, and then abortion gets criminalized. The “personhood” movement is, in fact, attempting to redefine personhood back to the fertilized egg, so that miscarriage becomes manslaughter.

Now you, dear reader, may believe that abortion is murder and that every fetus is a person. That’s your right. But the pro-information coalition depends on uniting pro-choice and pro-life individuals in order to help pregnant women after they receive a pre-natal diagnosis. I want them to choose life. I acknowledge, wholeheartedly, the choice part of that sentiment.

The BDF does not care about people with Down syndrome. It cares about using the issue of prenatal diagnoses as a wedge to further its radical agenda. From Nursing Clio:

The goal of groups such as the Bioethics Defense Fund seems to be to introduce as much “friction” as possible into the medical system when it comes to abortion. These groups chip away at our reproductive rights by disrupting the relationship between the medical provider and the patient, between the patient and the medical procedure, and between the patient and access to information.

As I wrote, I am pro-choice, pro-information, and anti-eugenics. It’s a fine line to walk, but I believe that learning to walk this line is going to be an essential task not just for families and people with Down syndrome, but for our species. 

How we handle the consequences of ever-more-accurate, early (in the pregnancy) and inexpensive prenatal testing for genetic conditions like Down syndrome is a test run for the future of human procreation in our coming genetic age. This attempt to use the issue in order to divide, restrict, and limit shows one of the perils ahead. That’s the long game.

In the short term, though, nobody I care about wins from efforts like the BDF and Louisiana. Not people with Down syndrome. Not expectant mothers. Not doctors. Not the activists working so hard to provide good information. It just feeds the radical right’s pursuit of control over women’s reproductive rights. Ultimately, I even suspect it will lead to MORE abortions, as good information and a broad coalition is the best tool that we have, but it only works while it’s not politicized.

TASERs and the Cult of Compliance

Heather Digby Parton, aka Digby, is one of the most important voice out there talking about police violence, with a particular focus on the TASER issue. In Salon, she has a piece in response to the chokehold death of Eric Garner and subsequent video of other use of the illegal restraint.

Digby writes:

The New York police commissioner has promised to investigate, as they usually do, and indicated that New York will consider the greater use of tasers in order that the police not be tempted to use illegal and brutal methods to force citizens to comply with their orders. But tasers will not solve that problem, it will simply legalize the use of pain compliance by allowing police to administer electro-shock rather than take a person down to the ground with a chokehold. Just because tasers don’t leave marks doesn’t mean they are not brutal and violent.

TASERs cause pain. The use of electric shocks to subdue someone reinforces the idea that it is appropriate for police to cause pain to make people comply, and because they are seen as not dangerous (i.e. not firearms and not as viscerally dangerous as physical altercations), they actually make the cult of compliance that much worse.

She continues:

But tasers are now commonly used for another purpose entirely: to make people obey a police officer’s orders with an application of searing pain that throws them to the ground writhing and screaming in agony. Situations that might have required some psychology, patience, training or plain common sense in the past are now commonly dealt with by shooting citizens with 50,000 volts of electricity.


The viral video incidents this week in New York, the first of which resulted in death and the second a beating in the face as well as the illegal chokeholds, were about suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes in the first case and jumping a subway turnstile in the second. These were not people who were suspected of a violent crime requiring that the police spare no energy in protecting the public. Indeed, it appears that the violent acts against these two suspects were entirely based upon the “crime” of failing to instantly obey a police officer. Have we decided that this crime is worthy of beating, torture and possibly death? Because that’s what’s happening all over the country. It’s happening to children, it’s happening to the mentally ill, it’s happening to the elderly and the sick, it’s happening to average citizens who merely assert their rights and it can happen to you too. (It even happens to NFL players.)

Digby is justifiably focused on the police. It’s where the cult of compliance most commonly leads to deaths, as the police have power. The schools are another place, though, where we see compliance played out in similar wars. It’s a rot at the core of our society. Part of the solution involves linking these disparate events, to see the pattern, rather than blaming bad cops, bad departments, or fixating on a technological solution.

More TASERS will accelerate the growth of the cult of compliance, rather than slow things down or help us reverse course.

Cult of Compliance: Protecting the Deaf; Protecting Us All.

The ACLU has a new petition on up-to-date guidance and training for police in dealing with people who are Deaf. I’ve signed it. It’s a good idea. Here’s some text.

For Pearl Pearson, a 64-year-old deaf man, a routine traffic stop led to a brutal assault by police. When an officer shouted instructions, he attempted to show the patrolman that he was deaf. That’s when the officer pulled him from his car and according to Pearson, beat him for not following verbal orders.
The Department of Justice can help put an end to these tragedies. Police departments need up-to-date guidance and training from the DOJ on how law enforcement must interact with deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as obligated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I hope something good comes from it. Predictably, though, I think there’s a deeper problem than response to deaf people. This story has dash-cam video and reports on the officers being cleared of any wrongdoing, as frequently happens in these cases. My emphasis.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol did not interview Pearl Pearson during the course of their investigation because of a disagreement about their interpreter.
However, Pearson and his attorney, Billy Coyle did submit an affidavit explaining that Pearson wasn’t reaching for a weapon during the stop, but that he was reaching for a hearing impaired placard so that he could communicate with the officers.
The troopers believed he was reaching for a gun.
“You have to comply with law enforcement.” Prater said. “They have to see your hands. Your hands can kill someone. That’s what you grab something with. That’s what you punch people with. That’s what you stab people with. That’s what you shoot people with: your hands.”
When the cuffs were finally on, and Pearson was in police custody his face bore the marks of the violent arrest.

Yes, by all means, the DOJ needs to update standards for dealing with deaf people. I’ve written about this specific issue before in various essays, and there are many other examples. But as always, I believe that the deeper issue is the cult of compliance.

The problem is that Pearson is deaf.

The problem is that Pearson is black.

The problem is that non-compliance justifies getting physical. 

I am increasingly skeptical that CIT training or better training for responding to deaf people or blind people or transgender people (the DOJ recently put out new standards for that situation), or whatever will really help. At best, it might carve our a small class of protected people, and that’s good, they need protection.

On the other hand, I think we all need protection.

Sunday Roundup – Higher Education Week

I had three essays published in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, 2 planned (they normally won’t post on the same day) and one a reaction piece.

I’m exceptionally proud of my university’s work on undocumented students, and in general of the way that many Catholic universities have responded to this issue. Making decisions about policy based on a moral or theological perception is a potentially dangerous thing, and as I wrote in my blog, it tends to lead to stories about taking away rights or closing off (Eden Foods, Hobby Lobby, Wheaten College). It doesn’t have to work that way.
I also wrote a piece about public engagement. It’s #ScholarSunday on Twitter today, and if you dip into that hashtag and other academic parts of the twittersphere you’ll find hundreds of scholars practicing various forms of public engagement. I also believe that every time a teacher goes into a classroom, they are working on public engagement. But we need to build pathways to take advantage of that expertise. More on this next week.
Finally, I responded to Senator John Walsh’s plagiarism with a blog about being wrong and an essay on Vitae about the military and why transparent sourcing of information matters so much. Warmongers want to take bad, untrue, or fragmentary information and use it to start a war. Demanding citation becomes pretty high stakes in that environment. Also, I’m still so angry about the Iraq War and all the lies.
In mid-week, I updated efforts on Eden Foods. I’m really interested in the phrase, “voting with dollars,” because what I want to know is who is counting the votes. I think it’s a way of shrugging off hard choices by stores. Don’t let them do it!
Finally, in the disability world, I wrote three posts: One was on the ABLE act. It’s a great act. I was going to write about it, but frankly I think it’s going to pass. I try to cover stories that aren’t getting enough attention.
The other two were about humor, one focused on Wyatt Cenac making fun of Down syndrome and speech on This American Life (I have an essay out on it I’m trying to land), and the second more generally on disclaimers (and antisemitism). Humor can punch up or punch down. It can shatter stereotypes or reinforce them. That’s how I judge it.

Next week should be a good writing week for me, as I’m done with copyedits. I hope to get a lot of pending essays out and off to publishers.

As always, thanks for reading!

I was wrong: Senator Walsh and Plagiarism

I have a new piece up on Chronicle Vitae on the alleged (but really not alleged) plagiarism by Senator John Walsh (D-MT) in his final paper at the War College, where he received his masters. In the piece, I talk about what we do and don’t need from military elites in terms of citation. Details of Chicago Manual of Style? No. Honesty about sources? Yes. I finish:

I am troubled by Walsh’s plagiarism. I don’t care whether our military elites know the intricacies of Chicago Manual of Style citation, but we cite in order to be transparent about the sources of our information. We cite to show how our ideas relate to the work of others. We cite to show that the evidence supports our conclusions. That’s something that I want our military elites to take very seriously. I hope the War College is responding to this scandal by examining their assessment norms and looking at other papers, not just those written by senators, to make sure their practices match their principles.
Walsh’s paper talks about the Iraq War. The Iraq War, as we now know, was started based off of faulty and biased information. One study found 935 false public statements from the Bush administration, many blithely reported as facts by the media. Many of the allegations about weapons of mass destruction came from “Curveball,” a single individual that claimed to have insider information, but didn’t.
Now there is a case where good footnotes might have helped.

I like to think that’s a good point, that information structure REALLY does matter when deciding whether or not to go to war, or bomb something, or otherwise engage in military actions.

Here’s the thing. I am a strong-willed opinionated writer. You have to have strong opinions to be an opinion writer; in fact, I am often toning myself down to seem reasonable when really I just want to WRITE ALL CAPS HOW CAN YOU BE SO WRONG kinds of essays. But there’s plenty of that kind of thing online, I like a lot of it, and so I try for a more measured approach. Just remember, inside, I am shouting.

This leads me to get accused of never being willing to admit that I am wrong. That’s not a new accusation for me, as I was a loudmouth extroverted-introvert as a kid (nerdy, pudgy, unpopular, argumentative) and some things don’t change. I’m not easily persuaded that I am wrong. But I can be persuaded. For example, yesterday I tweeted:

Fourteen pages? A thought piece without data? For a masters? Such was my gut reaction.

A friend of mine from a military family quickly called me on it, followed by another friend who is a veteran, and they both pointed out that this was not a degree of higher learning, but a credential system. An officer gets nominated and sent there, everyone is under a lot of pressure to pass people through (my friend made an analogy to the pressure sports teams are under to get people passed, except for the whole school, with the honor of the service on the line!), and so forth.

It’s still plagiarism. It’s important. It’s against the War College’s rules and honor code. And Walsh is going to lose his election (he was probably going to lose anyway), pending some other kind of big change. But it was an important reminder that although the words were the same as my world – masters, plagiarism – the context was in fact entirely different.

I was wrong.

Disclaimers and Stereotypes

I’m interested in disclaimers in comedy, as well as offensive language and its permutations more generally (see here and here). In general, I argue that the speaker doesn’t get to control whether or not something is offensive. The speaker only controls whether or not he/she cares.

Right now, I’ve got a piece working on comedy, disability, and disclaimers (see yesterday’s resource post).. Here’s a much more serious story on anti-Jewish hate in France. As you may know, there were riots in a suburb of Paris that damaged Jewish shops and a synagogue. For Jews, like me, as well as anyone who studies history, it raises the specter of historical mob violence against Jews and is very frightening. NPR had a piece this morning on French Jews moving to Israel despite the war there, because they no longer feel safe (in part due to anti-Islamic sentiment among French Jews, as well).

I want to focus on Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the comedian whose routines are all about the Jews. He’s mentioned in the NPR piece and has been in the news a lot, but here’s an excerpt from a Washington Post piece from June.

“I am not an anti-Semite,” French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala says with a devilish grin near the start of his hit show at this city’s Théâtre de la Main d’Or.

Then come the Jew jokes.

In front of a packed house, he apes Alain Jakubowicz, a French Jewish leader who calls the humor of Dieudonné tantamount to hate speech. While the comedian skewers Jakubowicz, Stars of David glow on screen and, as the audience guffaws, a soundtrack plays evoking the trains to Nazi death camps. In various other skits, he belittles the Holocaust, then mocks it as a gross exaggeration.

In a country where Jewish leaders are decrying the worst climate of anti-Semitism in decades, Dieudonné, a longtime comedian and erstwhile politician whose attacks on Jews have grown progressively worse, is a sign of the times. French authorities issued an effective ban on his latest show in January for inciting hate. So he reworked the material to get back on stage — cutting, for instance, one joke lamenting the lack of modern-day gas chambers.

But the Afro-French comedian, whose stage name is simply Dieudonné, managed to salvage other bits, including his signature “quenelle” salute. Across Europe, the downward-pointing arm gesture that looks like an inverted Nazi salute has now gone so viral that it has popped up on army bases, in parliaments, at weddings and at professional soccer matches. Neo-Nazis have used it in front of synagogues and Holocaust memorials. Earlier this year, bands of Dieudonné supporters flashed it during a street protest in Paris while shouting, “Jews, out of France!”

He starts with a disclaimer, then reinforces and promotes stereotypes. He finds the limits of hate speech, then slides just to the safe side. He reaps enormous publicity rewards, as the New Yorker puts it, “very little talent and a good deal of hate.”

A disclaimer means nothing except that you are aware that you are about to objectionable and don’t want to be punished for it. The cases I’m working on in regards to disability are NOTHING like the hate of Dieudonné, but I am a writer with a focus on epistemology and language, and the parallels are strong.This is an argument ad extremum. Does it work, do you think?

Resource Post: This American Life and Down Syndrome

Resource Posts on “How Did We Get Into This Mess?” provide full or partial transcripts of relevant documents, organized links, and minimal commentary on issues. 

A fellow parent and internet friend alerted me to a show on This American Life in which Wyatt Cenac, former Daily Show correspondent and comedian, made some jokes about Down syndrome. With the permission of my friend, I am posting excerpts of her email, the response from Ira Glass (producer and host of the show), and the transcript of the relevant piece.

Here’s the transcript of show 524: I was so High. You can also listen to it on their site.

And my phone rang. I answered the phone. But no words would come out. I couldn’t say anything. And I could hear my friend Laura on the other end. And she’s saying hello.
Then, I’m trying so hard. I’m just like, say something. Just talk. Talk damn it! And finally, I am like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) I am so [BLEEP] high. This is terrible.
And I did it in that voice. And I have never done that voice before in my life. I don’t know where that voice came from. But I heard myself use that voice. And in my mind, I went, oh [BLEEP]. I just gave myself Down Syndrome.
(NORMAL VOICE) Now let me just say, I know what Down Syndrome is. I know that Down Syndrome is something that you’re born with when you are born with an extra chromosome. I know all that information. I knew that information then. But something about eating this brownie made me think that somehow I had grown an extra chromosome and I now had adult-onset Down Syndrome.
And for people who have Down Syndrome, it’s something they grow up with. And they grow up and they have healthy and happy lives. I just got it.
And I start freaking out. I’m just like, I’m going to have to explain this to people. And I start panicking. And I just start freaking out, freaking out to the point where I start weeping in the middle of Dodger Stadium.
And then, I start laughing. And then, I start weeping again. And then, a bunch of cops start walking towards me. And something in my brain just clicks on. It’s like, Wyatt, you have to keep it together right now. I was like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) yes. Keep it together.
(NORMAL VOICE) Yeah, Wyatt, there are cops right there. They cannot know you are high. (UNUSUAL ACCENT) No, they cannot know I am high. (NORMAL VOICE) And now, my internal monologue has become my external monologue. And I start pointing at the cops.
And I’m like, (UNUSUAL ACCENT) you cannot know I am high. I have to fool you. I am fooling you.
(NORMAL VOICE) We thought maybe it’s time we should leave Dodger Stadium. I’m not sure exactly how far into the game we were. I know it was past the first inning. We might not have made it to the third inning.

My friend, J., wrote to complain and to ask that the segment was removed. That obviously hasn’t happened. She wrote:

I am writing you in reference to the “I Was So High” episode broadcast a few weeks ago. We are members of our local NPR station KERA and we enjoy listening to This American Life. On this particular Sunday, my husband & I were listening to the radio on our front porch while our children were playing nearby. We tuned in about ten minutes into the episode before Cenac’s piece aired. This episode was like most: entertaining, thought provoking, and amusing. We were laughing up until the moment we heard Cenac say the words “Down syndrome” – at that moment we feared what might come next. Both of my daughters, including my younger daughter, who happens to have Down syndrome, were watching us and listening to the story, which now had our complete attention.
 When Wyatt Cenac said “Down syndrome” we feared how it would be discussed in the context of a comic’s routine about drug abuse. We anticipated hearing the R-word, Retard (a term of derision). But Cenac was choosing his words carefully and he stopped short of using the R-word in his monologue. Yet his implicit denigration for those with Down syndrome was impossible to overlook. In essence, Cenac describes an incident of abusing marijuana: he is unable to speak coherently, compulsively uses the bathroom and his thinking becomes disorganized and paranoid. He describes being so inebriated that he fears he has “grown an extra chromosome” and is convinced he has acquired “adult-onset Down syndrome”. The punch line of his monologue is having a cognitive disability: “Oh Shit!” Cenac says, “I just gave myself Down syndrome” and the crowd erupts in laughter. “This is terrible!” he repeatedly states. 

The letter, which is excellent, continues to analyze Cenac’s reaction and says:

Even though Cenac avoids using the R-word, he tries to hide behind the medical term – believing it’s a safe, politically correct way to deliver an insult. As historian and author James W. Trent, Jr. writes (from Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the U.S.):

These words – idiot and imbecilefeeblemindedmorondefective and the like – are today offensive to us, and yet they reveal in their honesty the sensibilities of the people who used them and the meanings they attached to mental retardation…More recently, the mentally retarded have become mentally retarded persons and…persons with developmental disabilities or personas specially challenged…Behind these awkward new phrases, however, the gaze we turn on those we label mentally retarded continues to be informed by the long history of condescension, suspicion, and exclusion. While our contemporary phrases appear more benign, too often we use them to hide from the offense in ways that the old terms did not permit [emphasis mine]. 

To air a program that equates cognitive disability with the effects of drug abuse is far from humorous and entertaining – it’s reprehensible. I would no more laugh at this story than I would a racist joke. Try replacing the words “Down syndrome” for “Cripple” or “Transsexual”: disability-rights and LGBT activists would be alarmed and outraged! Hate speech against persons with cognitive disabilities is no less deplorable. 

In response to complains, Ira Glass wrote:

Hi J. –
Apologies for taking so long to get back to you.  Thanks for your thoughtful emails.  Sorry you’ve had to be so persistent in reaching out to get a response.

We’ve done many stories about people with various disabilities, including two about kids and parents of kids with Down Syndrome (Episode #311 <>  and Episode #358<> ).  I agree with you completely that nobody should have to listen to stories that mock and denigrate them.  This was a concern for me and my producers when we were working with Wyatt Cenac on his story for episode #524.  We talked about it as we shaped the story.  

But I don’t agree with you that his story mocks and denigrates people with Down Syndrome.  Perhaps we will never agree on this point, but just to share my side of it: In my view, the only people being made fun of in his story are people who get high.  Wyatt goes out of his way to point out that Down Syndrome means that you have an extra chromosome (not offensive).  He points out that people with Down Syndrome grow up with it and have healthy and happy lives (also not offensive).  And he talks about his own freakout.  The only thing that possibly could be offensive is his imitation of what a person with Down Syndrome sounds like, and again – we may disagree about that – I think that’s fair game for a comedian.  Black comedians imitate white people.  White comedians imitate black people.  Male comedians imitate females and females imitate men.  Wyatt isn’t doing a disability version of some racist comic making fun of Mexicans or something.  In my view, it’s clear he’s the butt of the joke.  

If I felt differently, I wouldn’t have put this on the air.  

If there’s something you think I’m missing here, I welcome your thoughts.  Let’s discuss it here in email.  Again, I say respectfully that it’s possible we are not going to agree on this one, but if it’s possible to come to some understanding with each other, I’d like that.

I’ve pasted below the transcript from our website, of this part of Wyatt’s story.
Best regards,

Ira Glass

There we have it. I think J’s letter makes the argument every strongly, but Glass wasn’t persuaded. Expect to see more on this in the near future.

The ABLE act

Today in the US Senate Finance Committee there is a hearing on the ABLE Act. It’s the kind of bill that ought to pass more or less instantly, as it allows people with disabilities to save some money for care without costing them their essential benefits.

And yet, in this Congress, it’s stalled. We clearly won’t get a vote before the August recess. I’m skeptical we’ll get a vote before the mid-terms, but maybe a lame-duck Congress can pass it?

Anyway, back later with more thoughts.

Eden Foods – Voting with Dollars in a Rigged Game

Eden Foods Beans for Sale,
Whole Foods, Ogden Road, LaGrange IL 7/18/14

Eden Foods is on sale at Whole Foods stores across the country (often quite a bit cheaper than in Illinois. Thanks to everyone who sent pictures). Let me be clear – I am not accusing Whole Foods of a conspiracy here. I have talked to their spokesman who assures me that Eden Foods is part of a national yearly calendar sales promotion for July 2014, a calendar set well in advance.

I post this picture not to accuse, but to remind us all of the forces that are arrayed against us as we work to 1) stop corporate person-hood, 2) ensure equal access to contraceptive care for all, 3) stop the war on women, 4) fight for the separation of church and state.

I believe, I hope you believe, that personally held religious beliefs, especially but not exclusively ones that are medically wrong (Hobby Lobby’s position in abortifacients), should not bring with it the power to discriminate against others. Moreover, I see the current law as benefiting conservative Christian religious principles only. For me, the fighting back takes place at the ballot box AND the checkout line, and my target is Eden Foods.

I’ve talked about this before. Eden Foods relies on a demographic that heavily skews liberals. If we simply stop buying their products, they will either go out of business or change their policy. This is on our turf. We can win this. And we are.

Last week I told you about Central Co-op in Seattle and their open letter to Eden Foods, revealing that about 80% of their products from the company were no longer selling, that consumers were voting with their dollars, so the coop was discontinuing products. I spoke to a spokeswoman at Central who said it amounted to about a $40,000 loss of sales a year for Eden Foods. One step at a time.

Here’s the problem, though, with the voting with dollars construction that Whole Foods has used in their statements, and that lots of other stores are using as well. Someone has to count the votes. Central Coop did so, publicized the results, and we should be grateful to them. Who is counting at Whole Foods? Moreover, with this nationwide sale going on, isn’t the game a little bit rigged, albeit unintentionally?

But Whole Foods has never really been my target, at least not yet. I think we win this fight in the locally-owned and operated co-ops across the country.

What I need you to do is to go to your store and ask about Eden Foods. When they reply something about “voting with dollars,” ask them how soon they will count those votes, how closely they will track Eden Foods sales, when they will make a decision, and then publicize the damning information about Eden Foods, contraception, and CEO Potter.

Some stores have just stopped carrying the products (Weaver Street in North Carolina, for example). We need to publicize those. But where I really want to focus efforts is on the stores that haven’t decided yet.

What is your co-op doing? If you vote with your dollars, will anyone count the votes and publicize the results? That’s how we win.
And I can tell you this – Eden Foods is worried. They are so worried that they released a statement which failed to mention contraception at all. Follow the bouncing ball.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, prescription drugs were an opt-in opt-out feature of health insurance plans Eden Foods offered its employees. Lifestyle drugs, as named and managed by the insurance industry, were excluded, such as viagra. Today, 34% of Eden Foods employees select prescription coverage for their plan, while 66% do not choose prescription drug coverage.
Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act all employees have all coverages required by the act, even those who do not want it.

1. Prescription drugs were an opt-in/out feature. Ok, fair enough.

2. Lifestyle drugs like viagra were not covered. This actually means contraception. They know they are on losing ground when they talk about birth control, though, so instead shift to viagra. Sneaky.

3. Today it’s a 34/66 split. Except since the ACA, all employees have drug coverage. Which is it? Is it all employees or a 34/66 split? (I think the latter, since they have SCOTUS on Hobby Lobby as precedent now. I’ve emailed for confirmation).

4. “We are grateful for our silent supporters sending us messages directly, avoiding abuse that may befall them on social media.” – As one of my friends said on Facebook, this is basically an argument that “all the lurkers in the thread are on our side.”

The online response to Eden Foods, your responses to Eden Foods, has been overwhelmingly negative All the company can do is claim a silent majority, claim that they have private emails, claim that their customer-base is strong. 
In the end, Eden Foods has to rely on ignorance, apathy, and a nicely-timed national sales event to ride out this wave of bad publicity. They have to hope that when a store encourages you to vote with your dollars, that no one will count the votes. And so keep talking, writing, sharing pieces on the issue, and, most of all, pushing your local stores to pay attention. 
Thank you.