Category Archives: Poverty

An imperiled treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Huichol people live in Mexico’s Sierra Madre, in in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Nayarit.

They were rediscovered in popular culture north of the border in the 1960s because their religion centers on the use of peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus native to their mountains, and because of their colorful and utterly psychedelic artworks.

In this Wikimedia image of a Huichol mask, the symbol for peyote dominates the forehead, an apt representation of the central role played by the cactus in Huichol life:

BLOG Huichol mask

Huichol culture is in danger, in part because a generation of elders has died, often without leaving behind students who have mastered the rich and intricate oral traditions that bound the preliterate Huichols together.

Our first video offering, a short 1992 documentary by Ryan Noble, features Huichols from the villages of Las Guayabas and San Andreas, in which one remarks on the threatened loss of the ancient culture: “We want to live and remember so that it doesn’t end.”

Note also the system of agriculture employed by the Huichol, the traditional Mexican milpa, the only system of agriculture which has allowed for continuous cultivation for millennia without the use of either pesticides or fertilizers.

The Huichols: History – Culture – Art

Huichol art a sometimes take on a larger scale, as illustrated in this image from Mexico’s Museo de Arte Popular, a sight to stir twitches of envy in the souls of Berkeley’s own art car ornamenters.

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But the mountains that are home to the Huichols are coveted by multinational corporations, which have been logging the trees and devastating the landscape, forcing ever-larger numbers of Huichols to head to the lowlands simply to survive.

And the jobs awaiting them there are killing them, quite literally.

From Huicholes Contra Plaguicidas:

Huichols and Pesticides

Program notes:

Huichols & Pesticides, documents, through witnesses, reports and persuasive images, the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the tobacco fields, and the poisonings, and even deaths, resulting from the use of agrochemicals.

One notable effort to preserve the Huichols and their way of life is being undertaken by the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and the Traditional Arts:

The Huichol Center: A model for cultural survival

Program notes:

This documentary was produced to support The Huichol Center. The Center helps the Huichol people of Mexico maintain their culture, art and spirituality. The Huichols have been almost untouched by modern civilization, and have been able to maintain their ancient ways despite crushing poverty and disease.

With their ancient heritage, their system of sustainable organic agriculture, and an artistic tradition that merges the sacred and the profane in unique ways, the Huichol surely deserve protection from the ravages of corporate imperialism and agricultural toxins.

To close, a final image, via Wikipedia, this time of a Huichol yarn painting:

BLOG Huichol yarn

Climate change linked to rising terrorism

Is climate change a critical driver of the rising tide of terrorism?

That’s the plausible contention of New York University geographer/sociologist Christian Parenti, professor in the school’s Global Liberal Studies Program and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, and the subject of this interview by Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network:

The Pentagon and Bernie Sanders Agree: Terrorism Linked to Climate Change

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So Chris, is Bernie Sanders slightly daffy to link climate change and terrorism? I just want your quick response right there.

PARENTI: No, Bernie Sanders is not in error in that regard. And most of the U.S. defense establishment agrees with him. The quadrennial defense review makes an issue of climate change as a threat multiplier, as a dynamic that is going to increase all sorts of threats, including terrorism. There are numerous declassified reports from various branches of the military and from numerous militaries around the world that take climate change seriously as a driving cause of violence.

So it’s very real, and experts really across the political spectrum accept this. The question, then, becomes what do you do? You know, the classic rightist response is, well, then you have to build higher walls and you have to prepare for open-ended counterinsurgency on a global scale forever. And a more progressive response would be no, we have to, one, radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately, mitigate emissions, but also deal with adaptation. And provide technology and capital for people to cope with the new, extreme weather that is already happening.

DESVARIEUX: But I want to still talk about this issue, about linking climate change and terrorism, before we get to alternatives, because there are some experts–I have two authors from the libertarian Cato institute. They came out with a recent article from Huffington Post. They say these drought issues have more to do with serious history of bad water management policies and a population that has tripled in the past 35 years. Don’t they have a point in here, Christian? Don’t 300 percent more people create water scarcity issues?

PARENTI: Well, if there is also a drought. But the fact of the matter is Syria went through the worst recorded drought in terms of lack of precipitation. So Syria, between 2005-2010, was not getting enough rainfall. There’s also the precipitating issues–I wouldn’t blame population. I would blame, as I do in my book, neoliberalism. Free market economics totally undermine people’s ability to adapt to this extreme weather. When the state cuts back on agricultural extension, veterinary services, that means farmers whose crops fail due to drought have to leave the land and go to cities, and there they end up often struggling over state power, which is exactly what happened in Syria.

So the thing about climate change is that it doesn’t ever act in isolation to cause violence. It acts by exacerbating pre-existing crises. Crises that libertarians have, intellectuals like the ones you mentioned, have been important in creating, mainly the, the 30-year legacy of free market economic restructuring pushed by the United States and the Bretton Woods institution, the World Bank and the IMF, on the developing economies of the global south, which have mandated that in exchange for lifeline loans, state assets such as state companies, et cetera, must be sold off. [Inaud.] must be deregulated. State support for health and human services, et cetera, must be cut back. This is austerity, this is the neoliberal restructuring agenda. And it has created increased inequality and increased absolute poverty, which is an endemic crisis in many places.

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Chart of the day: Poverty, the real terrorism

From SHOCK WAVES: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty [PDF], a new publication of the World Bank:

BLOG Child killers

Map of the day: Sub-Saharan poverty

From HarvestChoice, a map of poverty in 24 nations of Sub-Saharan Africa:

BLOG Afropoverty

Ayotzinapa students get another beatdown

On 26 September 2014, 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa in Tixtla, Guerrero, Mexico, went missing after police and possibly soldiers opened fire after the students commandeered buses in nearby Iguala — an event which we covered in some depth.

The state teachers colleges produce poorly paid instructors for rural communities, instructors drawn from the regional poor, and at Ayotzinapa they live in cold, concrete-floored unfurnished rooms.

So if students want to go to events in nearby communities, they sometimes commandeered local buses, something that had gone without violent suppression until that night, which had the misfortune to coincide with a with an event of major importance to the mayor’s spouse.

Just what happened to the students remains a mystery, though one bone fragment has been identified as belonging to one of the 43.

Less than 14 months later, students again commandeered buses, along with a gas truck to keep them fueled. And police violence followed.

From the Los Angeles Times:

More than a dozen students were hospitalized in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero after they were detained and beaten by scores of state and federal police officers, according to human rights activists.

About 150 students from a rural teachers college were traveling in eight buses on the highway from the state capital of Chilpancingo toward the small rural town of Ayotzinapa just after 4 p.m. Wednesday when state police pickups began pursuing them, according to the Guerrero-based human rights group Tlachinollan and witnesses.

Cellphone video provided by one of the students purports to show a police pickup driving up to the back of one of the buses and breaking in the windows.

The students attend the Ayotzinapa teachers school; 43 of their were detained and subsequently disappeared in the nearby city of Iguala in September 2014. The students Wednesday were on their way back from raising money for their campaign on behalf of the missing, Tlachinollan said.

Here’s that video, via Anon Hispano, along with a Google translation of the Spanish text:

Federal police began assaulting students #Ayotzinapa 11/11/2015

Program notes:

Treacherous attack took place in the shed nearby Tixtla, Guerrero, by federal and state police to students of the Normal Rural ‘Isidro Burgos’ Ayotzinapa, under the pretext of the abduction of a pipe of Pemex, with a balance at least 20 injured and 10 arrested.

More context from Fox News Latino:

Wednesday’s confrontation outside the municipality of Tixtla occurred when the officers intercepted a tanker truck carrying 30,000 liters of gasoline that the students had commandeered in the state capital of Chilpancingo and were taking to Tixtla, where the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School is located.

The students, who were traveling in around 10 buses, tried to recover the tanker, leading to a clash in which the state police used batons and tear gas and the trainee teachers responded by hurling rocks and other objects at the officers.

An Ayotzinapa spokesperson told EFE that many of the students took refuge in nearby hills and that one of the 15 detainees was Ernesto Guerrero, a survivor of the deadly Sept. 26, 2014, events in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.

Al Jazeera’s AJ+ has more video from the scene:

Ayotzinapa Students Attacked By Mexican Police On Video

Program notes:

“The truth is these m*****f****** were chasing us, but this is how they chase criminals, isn’t it?” At least 8 Ayotzinapa students were hospitalized after they said they were attacked by Mexican police.

More in a video report from Telesur English:

Mexico: Police Attack on Ayotzinapa Students Repudiated

Program notes:

In the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, public opinion and social organizations are deeply concerned and angered over Wednesday’s police attack on Ayotzinapa students. The brutal attack, video of which was filmed by the students, left 8 students seriously injured and hospitalized. Critics say the attack is part of a strategy by the state government, now in the hands of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, to discredit the students and criminalize their protests. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

And a Telesur English website update has the latest on the conditions of the injured students:

In Mexico, eight students from the now-infamous teacher training school in Ayotzinapa from which 43 students were disappeared in 2014 remain hospitalized after they suffered police brutality Wednesday: four are in critical condition.

According to the students’ lawyer, Vidulfo Rosales, two people have fractured bones in their the arms, and another in the face. Juan Castro Rodriguez was left in the most serious condition, with a “grade one” head injury.

Rosales, a human rights attorney, demanded that the students be moved from the Raymundo Abarca Alarcon hospital to private facilities, paid for by the Guerrero state government, as he said a bed shortage meant the students were kept standing while waiting for medical attention and did not receive adequate care.

Along with the 20 injured students, 13 students were detained and 20 injured during the attacks by Guerrero state police Wednesday night.

And elsewhere in Mexico. . .

From Telesur English:

Hundreds of Afro-Mexicans in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero lived moments of terror when a group of men armed with AK-47s and AR-15s stormed their local celebrations and opened fire, killing at least 12 people, including two children and a women, according to local reports on Tuesday.

The attack was carried out Sunday night in the small, mostly Afro-descent community of Cuajinicuilapa, near the border with neighboring state of Oaxaca, the town mayor Constantino Garcia said.

Police officials also found shells that they say were fired by .38 caliber and 9 mm semi-automatic handguns.

Authorities have yet to reveal the possible motives of the attack, because as it stands now and based on the weapons used, federal security forces, including military, could be responsible, as well as organized crime.

Maps of the day: Two estimates of poverty rates

From the Los Angeles Times, two contrasting maps reflecting poverty rates as defined by two different measures, one a generalized national number and the other tailored to actual costs of living in individual states.

From the report:

[T]he official poverty rate fails to account for variations in public benefits and costs of living. A separate federal benchmark, known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure, shows a much higher poverty rate for California: 23.4%, the highest in the nation, according to the most recent data.

The rate reflects California’s high — and growing — housing costs.

“The fact that California housing is so much more expensive means the threshold to be in poverty is a lot higher,” said David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

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