Shots across the bow

Trigger waring: climate change, food insecurity, anti-Black racism

The attacks in Paris have dominated the broader news cycle all week as well as my writing on here. That’s exactly the type of situation I started Let Me Link You Fridays to help counteract, so here’s a short list of other events that caught my eye recently. Maybe the attacks in Paris put everyone on edge, because almost everyone was firing shots across the bow at someone or other.

GMOs: not all they’re cracked up to be?

Greenpeace, an environmental organization largely known for activist efforts other than opposing genetically modified (GM) crops, responded to the recent rebranding of genetic modification in agriculture. Seemingly encouraged by the defeat of GM labeling initiatives in 2012 and by the increasing market prominence of GM salmon, advocates of the new technologies have trotted out a number of older arguments for GM products. Chief among them is that the GM industry, which many GM advocates are critical of for its gene patenting and heavy use of pesticides, is separable from the GM technologies which might improve food security and yield other benefits for marginal communities around the rapidly crowding and warming world.

The report released by Greenpeace earlier this month doesn’t mince words on those arguments. The very title of it – “Twenty Years of Failure” – cuts to the core issue with many of those claims. If either GM technologies or the groups wielding them actually could resolve the problems in the world’s food systems, why haven’t they had any measurable impact in that way yet? It notes that literally all genetic modifications are designed with a highly industrialized agricultural model in mind – the same one that has outcompeted fragile food economies in some of the poorest parts of the world. What’s left in GM crops’ favor are only a few hypothetical improvements – better crop yields, ready-made adaptations to climate change, and other changes they haven’t yet been developed and for which local and traditional food production systems often have an already tangible alternative waiting in the wings.

Who doesn’t count in the Census?

More domestically, the American Prospect asked what might happen as a result of increased pressure on the Census Bureau to count the country’s population with online means. An aggressive inclusion of face-to-face counting was the order of the day in 2000 and 2010, and appears to have helped reduce the miscount discrepancy between White people and people of color to historic lows.

As the Census Bureau’s own website makes clear, the assessment of how many people live in a given area is among the deciding factors that “determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services.” Those are the medical, educational, and other community services that people of color in the US have inadequate access to – in part because censuses regularly undercount them where they live and overcount White people where they live.

The American Prospect notes that there is a partisan dimension to this. It’s a largely Republican effort to defund the Census Bureau. The loss of funds is mostly likely to affect the availability of the Bureau’s face-to-face services and other strategies key to creating the most accurate count, so that the government can serve all its citizens.

Who doesn’t count at the polls?


The Republicans weren’t just under fire for the racially-charged outcomes of their policies – they also showed they weren’t interested in backing down on those issues. A local court case about Virginia’s state legislative districts, which found that the Black population had been gerrymandered into a single district, has been appealed and may be heard by the US Supreme Court. Considering that the Republicans appealing the case neither live in the district nor represent it, they may be found to lack standing on the matter. Sticking their necks out like that seems a bit bold, possibly in a way that’s more likely to backfire than overturn the decision they disagree with.

One other act of boldness has been the claim from Virginia Republicans that the gerrymandered district was mandated under the (now defunct) preclearance system put in place by the Voting Rights Act. With the NAACP among the organizations arguing that this effectively disenfranchised the Black population of Virginia, and even presenting alternative maps, it’s a bit difficult to believe that the Republicans just had to limit Democratic-leaning Black voters to essentially a single district.

This is a bit of a warning shot that Republicans may argue in the many gerrymandering districts that the alternative to maps which pack Democratic-leaning demographics into “dump districts” are somehow what they were forced to comply with under preclearance. It’s also a bold move, if accepted by the courts, since it would force the plaintiffs to choose between supporting the reinstatement of preclearance (designed to prevent voter suppression measures) or advocating for non-gerrymandered districts. Those are two different issues, ultimately about different things, but Republicans look like they’re hoping to muddy the waters between the two.

The featured image was produced from 2010 census data of New York City. Red dots represent 25 White residents. Blue are 25 Black residents; green are 25 Asian residents; orange are 25 Latin@ residents; yellow are 25 who marked other. From here.

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