Ractopamine danger: Taiwan rejects toxic American beef but Americans don't!

By Dr. Mercola

Meat—and beef in particular—is a mainstay of the traditional American dinner. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is filled with harmful additives of one form or another, and is raised in such a way that it contributes to the degeneration of health...
This is no minor concern, as most of the animals are also fed genetically engineered feed that is loaded with the potent herbicide glyphosate that winds up in your body.
I am so convinced of the cumulative harms of consuming meat from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that the ONLY type of meat I recommend eating (and the only meat I will eat myself) is organically-raised, grass-fed or pastured meats and animal byproducts.
This applies to all types of meat: beef, pork, and poultry, including turkey. In a recent article published by the Cornucopia Institute,1 investigative health reporter Martha Rosenberg discusses the questionable yet widespread use of ractopamine in American animal farming.
According to Rosenberg, the controversial drug is used in as many as 80 percent of all American pig and cattle operations. It's also used in turkey farming.

FDA Sued for Withholding Records Pertaining to Ractopamine Safety

Ractopamine is a beta agonist drug that increases protein synthesis, thereby making the animal more muscular. This reduces the fat content of the meat and increases the profit per animal. The drug, which is also used in asthma medication, was initially recruited for use in livestock when researchers discovered that it made mice more muscular.
Interestingly enough, stubborn weight gain is also common complaint among asthma patients using Advair (a beta-agonist drug)—so much so that the manufacturer has added weight gain to the post-marketing side effects. Other adverse reactions to beta-agonist drugs include increased heart rate, insomnia, headaches, and tremors.
Beta-agonist drugs, as a class, have been used in US cattle production since 2003. The drug is administered in the days leading up to slaughter, and as much as 20 percent of it can remain in the meat you buy.
This is disconcerting when you consider that the drug label warns: "Not for use in humans," and "individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure."
While other drugs require a clearance period of around two weeks to help ensure the compounds are flushed from the meat prior to slaughter (and therefore reduce residues leftover for human consumption), there is no clearance period for ractopamine.
In an effort to get this dangerous additive out of American meat products, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) recently sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for withholding records pertaining to ractopamine's safety. As reported by Rosenberg:2
"According to the lawsuit, in response to the groups' requests for information 'documenting, analyzing, or otherwise discussing the physiological, psychological, and/or behavioral effects' of ractopamine, the FDA has only produced 464 pages out of 100,000 pages that exist.
Worse, all 464 pages have already been released as part of a reporter's FOIA...
CFS and ALDF have spent over 18 months meeting with the FDA and seeking information about the effects of ractopamine on 'target animal or human liver form and function, kidney form and function, thyroid form and function' as well as urethral and prostate effects and 'tumor development.' The lawsuit says the CFS has 'exhausted administrative remedies' and that the FDA has 'unlawfully withheld' the materials."

Why Is Ractopamine Banned in 160 Countries?

Ractopamine is banned from food production in at least 160 countries around the world, including countries across Europe, Russia, mainland China and Republic of China (Taiwan), due to its suspected health effects. Since 1998, more than 1,700 people have reportedly been "poisoned" from eating pigs fed the drug. If imported meat is found to contain traces of the drug, it is turned away, while fines and imprisonment result for its use in banned countries.
While Americans are largely unaware that the drug is even used, many other nations seem to be far better informed. Fear that the ractopamine ban might be lifted brought thousands of demonstrators onto the streets in Taiwan last year, demanding that the ban remain in place.
In February of this year, Russia issued a ban on US meat imports,3 warning it would remain in place until the US agrees to certify that the meat is ractopamine-free. As reported by Pravda,4 Russia is the fourth largest importer of US meats, purchasing about $500 million-worth of beef and pork annually. At present, the US does not even test for the presence of this drug in meats sold, even though animal research has linked ractopamine to:
  • Reductions in reproductive function
  • Birth defects (Canadian researchers5 found that, in rats, the drug produced a variety of birth defects, including cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing or fused digits, open eyelids, jaw abnormalities, limb abnormalities, and enlarged heart)
  • Increase of mastitis in dairy herds
  • Increased disability and death
In both pigs and cattle, FDA reports6 links the drug to: excessive hunger, anorexia, bloat, respiratory- and hoof problems, lameness, stiffness, stress and aggression, and—again—death. In fact, of all reported side effects, death topped the list as the most reported problem associated with ractopamine...
Ractopamine is also known to affect the human cardiovascular system, and is thought to be responsible for hyperactivity. It may also cause chromosomal abnormalities and behavioral changes. According to the Russian news source Pravda,7 the drug may cause food poisoning, and Center for Food Safety (CFS) states that8 "[d]ata from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations in humans."
"Two cousin drugs of ractopamine, clenbuterol and zilpaterol, cause such adrenalin effects in humans they are banned by the Olympics," Roesenberg writes.9 "Cyclist Alberto Contador failed a Tour de France anti-doping test in 2010 for levels of clenbuterol which he said he got from eating meat. Clenbuterol has been banned or restricted in meat after human toxicities. 'The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health,' wrote the journal Talanta.10"

Zilmax—An Even More Dangerous Beta Agonist Drug Used in Livestock?

Zilmax (Zilpaterol) is another beta-agonist drug used in cattle to increase weight by as much as 30 pounds of lean meat per cow. The drug recently got a slew of bad press when, in the beginning of August, Tyson Foods Inc declared it would no longer buy Zilmax-fed cattle for slaughter, due to concerns over behavioral problems in some of the cattle.11 Zilmax is already banned for use in horses due to severe side effects, including muscle tremors and rapid heart rates that can last as long as two weeks after stopping the drug.12 It's not a major stretch to imagine similar problems might occur in cattle... Zilmax is actually about 125 times more potent than ractopamine, and according to a 2008 veterinary report,13 this may be why side effects were overlooked in connection with ractopamine studies.
Merck, the manufacturer of Zilmax, has no plans on discontinuing the product however. After responding to Tyson's decision by stating it would halt US and Canadian sales of Zilmax pending research and review, the company recently told Reuters14 that it is in fact pushing to bring the drug back to market, both in the US and Canada. The company says it stands behind the safety of the drug and is working on developing a quality control program to "ensure its proper use."
The problem though is that even with proper use you're likely to end up with drug-laced meat. According to Randox Food Diagnostics,15 which has created tests for Zilmax residue in beef, use of beta-agonists prior to slaughter is of particular concern "as this poses a risk to the consumer and may result in consumer toxicity." (Remember, Zilmax is about 125 times more potent than ractopamine, making this drug an even greater concern in the large scope of things.) Research findings to this effect include:
  • A 2003 study in Analytica Chimica Acta:16 Residue behaviour of Zilmax in urine, plasma, muscle, liver, kidney and retina of cattle and pig was assessed. Two heifers and 16 pigs were treated with Zilmax and slaughtered after withdrawal times varying from 1 to 10 days. The drug was detectable at each point of time examined in all matrices except plasma after a withdrawal period of 10 days. It's worth noting that in the US, the recommended market window is three to 10 days after discontinuing Zilmax17
  • A 2006 study18 on residues of Zilmax in sheep found detectable levels in liver and muscle tissues up to nine days after discontinuation of the drug

Do Beta-Agonists in Meat Pose Human Health Hazards?

According to an article published in the Journal of Animal Science in 1998,19 there's data on "human intoxication following consumption of liver or meat from cattle treated with beta-agonists." The authors write:
"The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health, as was recently concluded at the scientific Conference on Growth Promotion in Meat Production (Nov. 1995, Brussels)."
Before it was approved for use in American livestock, scientists worried that illegal use of beta agonists could result in increased cardiovascular risk for consumers.20 Today we don't have to worry about eating illegally treated meat, since these drugs are approved and widely used, but should we be concerned about cardiovascular health risks from non-organic meat products? I feel it would be foolhardy not to...

Glyphosate Contamination—Another Hidden Hazard in CAFO Meats

The true toxicity of glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto's broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup—is becoming devastatingly clear, and it has far-reaching ramifications for the entire food system. Research published last year21 showed that Roundup is toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications, and ethoxylated adjuvants in glyphosate-based herbicides have been found to be "active principles of human cell toxicity." Cell damage and even cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated food crops, and the chemical has also been found to have estrogenic prT.
The reason I bring this up here is because factory farmed animals are fed a diet primarily made up of grains like corn and soy—and whether those grains are genetically engineered or not, they're likely to be contaminated with glyphosate. Once an animal has been raised on glyphosate-contaminated feed, its meat is bound to be of inferior quality. More so than any other contamination hazard, I believe glyphosate-contamination may be one of the most pressing concerns when it comes to eating CAFO meats and animal byproducts. Besides the potential for bioaccumulation of glyphosate, the chemical has a distinct adverse effect on the animal's gut bacteria, and hence its overall health.
Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway IS present in bacteria, and that's the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both animals and humans.
Groundbreaking research published this past June suggests glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate's mechanism of harm. The same applies to animals that eat feed contaminated with this agricultural chemical. If the animal is chronically ill, how beneficial can you expect its meat to be for your own health?

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Potentially Harmful Foods

If you live in the US, it's important to realize that antibiotics, pesticides, genetically engineered ingredients, herbicides like glyphosate, hormones, and countless other drugs—such as beta agonists discussed above—are allowed in your food. Most people make the mistake of thinking that "beef is beef," or that one slab of pork is no different from another, not understanding the vast differences between factory farmed, so-called CAFO, meats, and meats from organically-raised pastured animals.
While pastured, grass-fed meats and animal products are typically nutritionally superior, it's perhaps what these meats DON'T contain that can have the greatest impact on your and your family's health—especially your children, since we're then talking about the cumulative effect over a lifetime, including the developmental stages.
Organically-raised animals are not permitted to be given growth-promoting drugs, hormones, or antibiotics. They also aren't fed genetically engineered ingredients. Cattle, for example, eat a natural diet of grass, not genetically engineered corn contaminated with pesticides... In short, organic foods are FAR "cleaner" in terms of additives and contaminations, and that applies across the board, from fruits and vegetables to animal products.
It all boils down to this: if you want to optimize your health, you must return to the basics of healthy food choices. If you want to avoid these questionable drugs and other potentially harmful ingredients permitted in the US food supply, then ditching processed foods is your best option. Put your focus on WHOLE organic foods -- foods that have not been processed or altered from their original state -- food that has been grown or raised as nature intended, without the use of chemical additives, drugs, hormones, pesticides and fertilizers. This is the answer to a vast majority of our current health crises.
It is not nearly as daunting a task as it may seem to find a local farmer that can supply your family with healthy, humanely raised animal products and produce. At,22 for instance, you can enter your zip code and find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, all with the click of a button. Once you make the switch from supermarket to local farmer, the choice will seem natural, and you can have peace of mind that the food you're feeding your family is as safe as it will probably ever get.
For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, whether you live in the US or elsewhere, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan, starting with the beginner plan first.


The Good Life: Lessons from the longest study on happiness (Video/Transcript)

Source: TED
What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life? If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy? There was a recent survey of millennials asking them what their most important life goals were, and over 80 percent said that a major life goal for them was to get rich. And another 50 percent of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous.


And we're constantly told to lean in to work, to push harder and achieve more. We're given the impression that these are the things that we need to go after in order to have a good life. Pictures of entire lives, of the choices that people make and how those choices work out for them, those pictures are almost impossible to get. Most of what we know about human life we know from asking people to remember the past, and as we know, hindsight is anything but 20/20. We forget vast amounts of what happens to us in life, and sometimes memory is downright creative.

But what if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age to see what really keeps people happy and healthy?

We did that. The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life that's ever been done. For 75 years, we've tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

  Studies like this are exceedingly rare. Almost all projects of this kind fall apart within a decade because too many people drop out of the study, or funding for the research dries up, or the researchers get distracted, or they die, and nobody moves the ball further down the field. But through a combination of luck and the persistence of several generations of researchers, this study has survived. About 60 of our original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men. And I'm the fourth director of the study.

Since 1938, we've tracked the lives of two groups of men. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard College. They all finished college during World War II, and then most went off to serve in the war. And the second group that we've followed was a group of boys from Boston's poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.

When they entered the study, all of these teenagers were interviewed. They were given medical exams. We went to their homes and we interviewed their parents. And then these teenagers grew up into adults who entered all walks of life. They became factory workers and lawyers and bricklayers and doctors, one President of the United States. Some developed alcoholism. A few developed schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder from the bottom all the way to the very top, and some made that journey in the opposite direction.

The founders of this study would never in their wildest dreams have imagined that I would be standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that the study still continues. Every two years, our patient and dedicated research staff calls up our men and asks them if we can send them yet one more set of questions about their lives.

Many of the inner city Boston men ask us, "Why do you keep wanting to study me? My life just isn't that interesting." The Harvard men never ask that question.


To get the clearest picture of these lives, we don't just send them questionnaires. We interview them in their living rooms. We get their medical records from their doctors. We draw their blood, we scan their brains, we talk to their children. We videotape them talking with their wives about their deepest concerns. And when, about a decade ago, we finally asked the wives if they would join us as members of the study, many of the women said, "You know, it's about time."


So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we've generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

We've learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they're lonely.

  And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.

 Once we had followed our men all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn't. And when we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn't their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.

And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people's memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can't count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don't have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn't take a toll on their memories.
 So this message, that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being, this is wisdom that's as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we're human. What we'd really like is a quick fix, something we can get that'll make our lives good and keep them that way. Relationships are messy and they're complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it's not sexy or glamorous. It's also lifelong. It never ends. The people in our 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials in that recent survey, many of our men when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.
So what about you? Let's say you're 25, or you're 40, or you're 60. What might leaning in to relationships even look like?
Well, the possibilities are practically endless. It might be something as simple as replacing screen time with people time or livening up a stale relationship by doing something new together, long walks or date nights, or reaching out to that family member who you haven't spoken to in years, because those all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.
 I'd like to close with a quote from Mark Twain. More than a century ago, he was looking back on his life, and he wrote this: "There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that."
 The good life is built with good relationships.
 Thank you.


President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama Weekly Address December 25, 2015 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 25, 2015
THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas, everybody! This is one of our favorite times of the year in the Obama household, filled with family and friends, warmth and good cheer. That’s even true when I spend all night chasing Bo and Sunny away from the cookies we leave for Santa.

It’s also my favorite weekly address of the year, because I’m joined by a special holiday guest star: Mrs. Obama.

THE FIRST LADY: Merry Christmas, everyone. Here at the White House, we’ve spent the past month helping everyone get into the holiday spirit.

Our theme this year is “A Timeless Tradition,” and the decorations in each room reflect some of our country’s most cherished pastimes – from saluting our troops and their families to helping children dream big dreams for their future.

And we’ve invited thousands of families here to the White House to enjoy the festivities – because there’s no holiday tradition more timeless than opening our doors to others.

THE PRESIDENT: Today, like millions of Americans and Christians around the world, our family celebrates the birth of Jesus and the values He lived in his own life. Treating one another with love and compassion. Caring for those on society’s margins: the sick and the hungry, the poor and the persecuted, the stranger in need of shelter – or simply an act of kindness.

That’s the spirit that binds us together – not just as Christians, but as Americans of all faiths. It’s what the holidays are about: coming together as one American family to celebrate our blessings and the values we hold dear.

During this season, we also honor all who defend those values in our country’s uniform. Every day, the brave men and women of our military serve to keep us safe – and so do their families.

THE FIRST LADY: So as we sing carols and open presents, as we win snowball fights...

THE PRESIDENT: Or lose snowball fights...

THE FIRST LADY: Let’s also take time to pay tribute to those who have given our country so much. Go to to see how you can serve the troops, veterans, and military families in your community.

And together, we can show them just how grateful we are for their sacrifice. That’s a tradition we all can embrace – today and every day.

THE PRESIDENT: So on behalf of Malia, Sasha, Bo, Sunny, and everyone here at the White House – Merry Christmas. May God bless our troops and their families. And may God bless you all with peace and joy in the year ahead.


Evicted and Abandoned: The World Bank’s Broken Promise to the Poor

Children Suffer as World Bank’s Borrowers Upend Their Lives

 By Jocelyn C. Zuckerman and Michael Hudson 

Source: The Center for Public Integrity®

In the disappearing rainforests of Indonesia, a 9-year-old boy copes with the trauma of eviction

Revan Pragustiawan loved his home by the river. The little boy’s ancestors built the place in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, using local bark and leaves in the traditional style of the Batin Sembilan tribe. Over the years, his dad had improved the house with wood and a metal roof.
Revan felt safe there, sleeping on a plastic mat huddled up with his family, and spending his days playing with his sister and helping with chores. By the summer of 2011, he was 5 years old, big enough to help his mother fetch drinking water from the river and look forward to helping with a new garden his dad and some neighbors were planning to sow along the riverbank. 

Everything changed for Revan on the morning of August 10, 2011.

He was at home when he heard the crack of gunfire. Soon after, as many as two dozen police officers and 20 employees of the palm oil company PT Asiatic Persada pulled up in heavy vehicles.

Tensions had been running high between the company and the residents, who lived on land that Asiatic Persada had leased from the government so it could develop an industrial-scale palm oil plantation. Now the company intended to take action. The men fired shots in the air, called the people in Revan’s hamlet “pigs” and “animals” and ordered them to “run,” residents later claimed.

Revan fled with his family through the woods and down to the river, turning back to catch glimpses of bulldozers moving in. As the machines reduced his home to a pile of sheet metal and wood, Revan cried uncontrollably, tears streaming down his face. He was so terrorized by seeing his home destroyed, his dad recalls, he began speaking gibberish.

By day’s end, the men had destroyed all of the hamlet’s 35 homes. Revan’s community was gone, swept aside amid Asiatic Persada’s drive to satisfy its parent company’s growing appetite for palm oil. It was a demand fueled in part by more than $145 million in loans and guarantees from the World Bank Group that helped the corporate parent expand its planting and processing operations.

Revan’s story is a worst-case example of the trauma that children can suffer when they live in the path of initiatives sustained by money from the World Bank Group, the multinational financial giant that styles itself as an anti-poverty champion

Evictions, loss of family income and other hardships associated with dams, roads and other projects can be especially harmful to young people. Studies show that children whose families have been forced to relocate are at greater risk of disease, hunger and loss of education.

The bank’s social and environmental safeguards forbid sudden, strong-arm evictions. Families targeted for “involuntary resettlement” must be installed in new homes or compensated so their living conditions are as good or better than they were before.

But as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post and other media partners revealed in April, the bank is failing to enforce those rules, with devastating consequences for adults and children who live on or near land targeted for development.

Along India’s Gulf of Kutch, a study by human rights activists found, pollution from a coal-burning power plant backed by the World Bank Group damaged farms and fishing grounds, forcing many families to pull children from school so they could work to make up for lost income. This left adolescent girls who had to go to work as domestic servants vulnerable to sexual exploitation, the study said.

In Cambodia, children watched as their homes were demolished by a wave of evictions in an area of Phnom Penh that was supposed to be protected by a World Bank–financed land management program. As part of a presentation organized by children’s rights advocates, one child whose home was destroyed wrote to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, asking him not to “sit quietly while there are human rights violations with World Bank funds.” Another young evictee, a preteen girl, wrote: “They beat me even though I am a child! I lost all chance of education.”
The World Bank Group declined repeated requests for comment for this story.
“[Children] frequently develop post-traumatic syndromes, including nightmares, anxiety, apathy and withdrawal.” – U.N. report on forced evictions 
In public statements, it says its work in Cambodia, India, Indonesia and other countries has helped children by improving education, boosting health care for newborns and reducing child mortality. From 2003 to 2013, the bank’s fund for the poorest countries ensured immunizations for nearly 600 million children.

Yet the bank is also increasing its financial support for dams and other big-ticket initiatives that are the most likely to displace large numbers of people—even as it has acknowledged that it often fails to track the repercussions for people on the ground.

The World Bank’s 468-page guidebook on handling resettlements includes a page and a half outlining “good practices”—such as monitoring school enrollment—that borrowers can embrace to help reduce harm to children.

Human rights groups say guidelines aren’t enough—they want clear rules about what steps the bank and its borrowers should take to protect children. A 2012 letter from more than 75 advocacy groups around the world urged the bank to strengthen its safeguard rules by requiring that project planners do detailed assessments of likely impacts on children, “including the potential for violence and exploitation.”

Advocates were disappointed in July when bank officials released a new draft of a planned overhaul of safeguard policies covering loans to government-sponsored projects. The draft says the safeguard standards aspire to “remove barriers against those who are often excluded from the development process, such as women, children, youth and minorities.” But it includes no specifics about how children are to be protected if their families are relocated.

“Just considering children isn’t enough to solve any problems,” says Elana Berger, manager of the Child Rights Program at the Bank Information Center, a human rights group that monitors the World Bank’s practices. “You have to have a plan to address their needs.”

‘Still afraid’


It is a sweltering afternoon in May. Revan and his father sit in the cramped shack where the family now lives. Revan’s dad, a goateed 35-year-old named Irsan Saiful, built the structure from planks salvaged from the wreckage of their old home. After a flurry of bad publicity about the 2011 evictions, the company allowed the family and other community members to rebuild in an area about a mile away from their previous homes inside the 68,000-acre palm oil concession.

Revan is now 9 years old. But he seems far younger. His shorts, safety-pinned at the waist and falling to his knees, threaten to swallow his spindly body, and the lid of his baseball cap obscures his round, watchful face. Revan’s dad raises his hand to his heart as he talks about the evictions’ emotional toll.
For three days, the family had nothing to eat. Along with Revan’s home, the wrecking crew destroyed clothing, food, cooking utensils, marriage records, even the little boy’s birth certificate.

In the weeks after they were evicted, Revan and his family lived under a tarp provided by the government. Humanitarian groups contributed clothing and food. Some of the families were compensated for the damage—Revan’s family received roughly $1,000—in exchange for agreeing to rebuild farther from the river. Police remained in the area for weeks, firing guns into the air daily and harassing the evictees, the Batin Sembilan say.

As his dad talks, Revan is sitting so close he’s nearly in his father’s lap. It’s been four years, and he is still a worried, fearful child, unable to get over the shock of watching his home get demolished. He misses the hours he would spend playing alongside the river with his friends, and he still mutters words like “evil” and “evictors” whenever he sees a security guard or policeman.

“My son is abnormal,” Irsan says sadly. “If someone snaps a little, he is still afraid.”

The evictions have taken a toll on all the children of the Batin Sembilan community. Asked about the events of August 2011, a 12-year-old named Aldi says he can’t remember a thing.

“Trauma,” his aunt offers by way of explanation.

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights says forced evictions can have long-lasting psychological impacts on children: “They frequently develop post-traumatic syndromes, including nightmares, anxiety, apathy and withdrawal.”

Along with psychological damage, relocations and big industrial projects can affect children’s physical health and educational progress, research shows.

In the Akosombo region of Ghana, for example, the infection rate among schoolchildren for “snail fever”—a water-borne disease that can cause anemia, learning disabilities and colon damage—was 5 percent before construction of a World Bank–backed dam but grew to 90 percent after the dam was finished in the 1960s, according to environmental scientists who studied the project.

Michael Cernea, a former World Bank official who developed the bank’s first resettlement safeguards, has noted that relocation “often interrupts schooling and for some of these children it means that they never return to school.”

One survey found that nearly half of displaced families in the Indian state of West Bengal had pulled their children out of school because they needed them to work to make up for the economic blows from the loss of their land.

Berger, the children’s rights advocate, says even temporary disruptions in schooling, family income and living conditions can have devastating effects on a child’s development.
“Every year a child loses, you can’t get it back,” she says.

Before and after


On Sumatra, Revan’s parents and other adults who grew up before the proliferation of industrial plantations recall childhoods that were different from those that Revan and other young Batin Sembilan are now experiencing. “I played in the forest,” says the area’s tribal chief, a 38-year-old named Damsi (Indonesians often go by a single name). “I used to find wood and do farming. I collected sap that we used for paint. We used to collect rattan for building.”

The rainforest was lush with coconut palms, papaya trees, jackfruit, wild mango. The Batin Sembilan hunted deer, cultivated vegetables and caught catfish and crabs in the river. As a teenager, Revan’s dad grew cocoa, coffee and chilies.

Things began changing dramatically for the Batin Sembilan in the early 1980s. The semi-nomadic tribe lost tens of thousands of acres to a World Bank–funded “transmigration” scheme that resettled millions of Indonesians from the archipelago’s crowded islands to less-populated ones like Sumatra. New farms were created and given to the settlers, encroaching on lands where tribal people had lived, hunted and planted for generations. “Transmigration had a major negative and probably irreversible impact on indigenous people,” a World Bank internal review later concluded.

In the early 1990s the bank advised and financed Indonesia’s forest policy, which over the past quarter century has resulted in the loss of roughly one third of the country’s forest cover to timber, palm oil and other industries. Two-thirds of the forested area of Jambi—the province where the Batin Sembilan are primarily located—was signed over to forestry and agribusiness interests.

In recent years, Wilmar International Limited, Asia’s largest agribusiness, has become a big player in Sumatra’s palm oil fields. The company controls roughly 40 percent of the world’s trade in palm oil, which is used in cookies, toothpaste, lipstick, ice cream and countless other goods—at least half of all products on U.S. grocery shelves.

Between 2003 and 2008, the World Bank Group’s business-lending unit, the International Finance Corporation, supported Wilmar’s palm oil business with four investments—two loans totaling $62.5 million and two financial guarantees totaling $83.33 million. In 2006, amid that infusion of support from the IFC, Wilmar bought Asiatic Persada.

After the purchase, Wilmar backed out of a promise by Asiatic Persada that it would set aside more than 1,500 acres within its concession for use by the Batin Sembilan. Wilmar instead proposed to establish a cooperative on what would remain company-managed land 18 miles away from Revan’s village, to be shared with other indigenous groups. The Batin Sembilan rejected the offer, in part because of fears that they’d face conflicts trying to share limited territory with other groups.

Tensions between Wilmar and residents escalated, with the company eventually forbidding the Batin Sembilan from collecting fallen oil-palm fruits—the sale of which had been among the few sources of income left to them. In July 2011, the company called in government police. A month later, after a tussle with a resident accused of stealing fruit, the bulldozers rolled in. Work crews flattened Revan’s village and two other settlements, evicting 83 families in all, including dozens of children.

Wilmar declined to answer questions about the evictions or other issues relating to its operations, explaining “it is no longer our place to comment on this case” since it sold Asiatic Persada two years ago. In a statement released two weeks after the 2011 evictions, the company referred to the residents of the hamlets as “illegal occupants” and asserted that “no one has been forcibly removed from their land.”

“These incidents are unfortunate,” the statement added, “but we firmly believe that just as the local communities are entitled to human rights, law enforcement personnel must enforce law and order to underpin those rights, as well as protect themselves. Similarly, Wilmar has a duty to protect our employees from risk and harm.”

No sanctuary


The landscape that Revan and many other Batin Sembilan kids now call home amounts to an endless sea of oil palm. The native flora is all but gone. Everything here, including the dump trucks that ply the rutted roads around the clock, is dwarfed by the massive fronds that hang over the place like the wings of some giant, prehistoric bird. The rumble of the trucks and other equipment used for transport and maintenance often scares the children, a reminder of the bulldozers that destroyed their homes.
Amid the nutmeg-hued soil and the muted green of the trees, the only contrast in color comes from the shiny orange oil-palm fruits themselves, which glow from within the spiky palm bunches piled at intervals along the side of the road.

The area’s once-temperate weather is a thing of the past. The oil-palm tree, which consumes roughly 80 gallons of water a day, soaks up moisture from the ground like a giant sponge. The practice of clearing plantation land leads to warmer local water temperatures, according to a 2014 study by researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota. The lack of forest canopy means that air temperatures do the same, locals say.

During the evictions four years ago, the few fruit trees that remained in Revan’s village, which had been planted by the community’s ancestors, were dug up and tossed in the dirt.

Now Revan and other children eat mostly cassava leaves and government-issued rice. The single shop that operates near the communities inside the concession rarely has fruits or vegetables. Instead, brightly colored packages of candy and fried snacks share the shelves with multiple brands of clove cigarettes.

Revan’s mom occasionally gets fish from the river. Locals say that one hardy species manages to survive in the tea-colored water, thick with runoff from the plantation and contaminated, they claim, with fertilizer and pesticides. Once a month or so the family cobbles together enough cash to buy meat or eggs.

Revan’s family continues to use the river for bathing, and to wash their clothes. Getting there means spending money on fuel for their motorbike—it’s too far to walk—and driving past the site where their house once stood, now overgrown with tall grass. A sign nearby warns that “damage to this land” will result in five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 5 billion rupiah, or more than $350,000.

Downplaying risks


Indigenous peoples who have been forced from their homes because of the expansion of Wilmar’s plantations turned to the World Bank Group for help, filing a series of complaints with its Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, which deals with issues involving loans to corporate clients.

The complaints charged that the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, the IFC, had ignored its own social safeguard rules, allowing the company to take indigenous peoples’ traditional lands without due process or consultation. This has created social conflicts that triggered “repressive actions” by corporate and government security forces, a 2007 complaint said.

The ombudsman unit later found that IFC officials had downplayed the risks of their investments in Wilmar. The IFC was aware for more than 20 years that Indonesia’s palm oil sector was damaging the environment and disrupting the lives of local populations, but it gave in to “commercial pressures” to ignore problems on plantations within Wilmar’s supply chain, according to a 2009 report.

By early 2012, the ombudsman unit had helped negotiate a series of agreements that reduced police presence on the Sumatran concession and arranged for compensation to be paid to Revan’s family and others who had lost their homes. In April 2013, however, Wilmar sold off its stake in Asiatic Persada to a pair of companies, one of them owned by the younger brother of Wilmar’s co-founder. The new owners withdrew from the negotiations, effectively voiding all agreements.

The ombudsman later issued a report asserting that the sale “had direct and indirect adverse consequences for the affected communities.” The case, which opened the IFC to criticism that its safeguards could be evaded by a change of ownership in any offending parties, remains under investigation.

Asiatic Persada has resumed its aggressive tactics within the concession. In December 2013, it evicted 150 families and destroyed their homes, in a scene reminiscent of the 2011 evictions, according to reports by local and international news organizations. In March 2014, one resident was beaten to death and five injured during another clash with security personnel on the Jambi concession.

Repeated attempts to get a reply for this story from Asiatic Persada or its new owners were unsuccessful.

‘We belong here’


 Some families have moved off the Jambi concession, tired of the fights and the locked-down atmosphere on the inside. “We have more peace of mind outside the gates,” said a woman named Rogaya, who relocated with her husband and three children to a relative’s home in a nearby village. Revan’s family has stayed close to its old home place with the hope of maintaining the tribe’s—and children’s—traditional connections to the land.

For centuries, the Batin Sembilan have raised their sons and daughters to revere the soil, water and plants and to pay respect to the spirits of ancestors believed to inhabit the tribe’s territory.

Revan’s dad, Irsan, worries his son and daughters are losing their identities as indigenous children. Moving away would only make that worse. He says that even if the company offered what for him would be a fortune—200 million rupiah (roughly $15,000)—it wouldn’t be enough to drive him from the lands where the Batin Sembilan have given birth and died for as long as anyone can remember.
“I don’t care about how much the house costs. I care about the fact that our ancestors left this for us,” the father says. “We belong here.”

They are no longer alone. The company’s security guards are a constant presence on the maze-like roads that snake through the rows of oil-palm trees. Residents are jittery about engaging with visitors. As the sun begins to set, they nervously shoo people off company property. They suggest that a reporter and photographer leave immediately, fearing that all might be in physical danger if the guards were to catch them talking.

“There is a lot of intimidation,” Revan’s dad says. “I feel frightened and confused.”

His son hopes one day that he and his parents and sisters can regain their land and reestablish their lives by the river. As soon as it’s safe, Revan intends to help his dad dismantle the worn, mismatched planks of their new home in the relocation settlement so they can nail them back together on the place where his mother was born.

Yes, Revan says softly, he’s still angry with the palm oil company. But he knows his options for the future are limited. So he hopes one day to get a job working at the plantation.

Maybe as a guard.

“If I am security,” he says, “I will feel less scared. I might be able to carry a gun.”


President Barack Obama Weekly Address December 19, 2015 (Video/Transcript)

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 19, 2015
Hi, everybody. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Not just for spreading holiday cheer – but also for list makers. You’ve got wish lists; Santa’s list; and of course, a blizzard of year-in-review lists. So I decided to get in on the action. 

As a nation, we face big challenges. But in the spirit of 2015 retiree David Letterman, here – in no particular order – are my top 10 things that happened in 2015 that should make every American optimistic about 2016.

Number ten: The economy. Over the past 12 months, our businesses have created 2.5 million new jobs. In all, they’ve added 13.7 million new jobs over a 69-month streak of job growth. And the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent – the lowest it’s been in almost eight years.

Number nine: More Americans are getting health coverage. The rate of the uninsured in America dropped below 10 percent for the first time ever. In all, 17.6 million people and climbing have gained coverage as the Affordable Care Act has taken effect. And don’t forget, you can still sign up through January 31st at

Number eight: America’s global leadership on climate change. Last week, in Paris, nearly 200 countries came together to set the course for a low-carbon future. And it was only possible because America led with clean energy here at home and strong diplomacy around the world. 

Number seven: Progress in the Americas. We turned the page on an outdated, half-century old policy by re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and reopening embassies in both our countries, allowing us to build greater ties between Americans and Cubans.

Number six: Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. We succeeded in forging a strong deal to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  In fact, Iran has already dismantled thousands of centrifuges that enrich uranium. 

Number five: Standing strong against terrorism.  Even as we continue to grieve over the attack in San Bernardino, we’re leading a global coalition and hitting ISIL harder than ever.  In Syria and Iraq, ISIL is losing territory, and we’re not going to stop until we destroy this terrorist organization. 
Number four: A 21st century trade deal that makes sure our businesses can sell goods “Made in America” across the Asia-Pacific.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the strongest, most pro-worker, pro-environment trade agreement in our history. And it means that America – not China, not anyone else – will write the rules of the global economy for the century ahead.

Number three: A pair of Christmas miracles in Washington! This week, Congress passed a bipartisan budget that invests in middle-class priorities, keeps our military the strongest in the world, and takes the threat of shutdowns and manufactured crises off the table for 2016. Plus, I signed a bipartisan education bill into law to help our students graduate prepared for college and their future careers.
Number two: Love won. No matter who you are, here in America, you’re free to marry the person you love, because the freedom to marry is now the law in all fifty states.

And the number one reason I’m optimistic going into 2016:  It's you—the American people. All of this progress is because of you—because of workers rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done, and entrepreneurs starting new businesses.  Because of teachers and health workers and parents—all of us taking care of each other.  Because of our incredible men and women in uniform, serving to protect us all.  Because, when we’re united as Americans, there’s nothing that we cannot do.

That’s why it’s has been a good year. And it’s why I’m confident we’ll keep achieving big things in the New Year. So happy holidays, everybody.


The President Speaks at a Naturalization Ceremony (Video/Transcript)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, good morning, everybody.  Thank you Deputy Secretary Mayorkas, Judge Roberts, and Director Rodriguez.  Thank you to our Archivist, David Ferriero, and everyone at the National Archives for hosting us here today in this spectacular setting.

And to my fellow Americans, our newest citizens -- I’m so excited.  (Laughter.)  You are men and women from more than 25 countries, from Brazil to Uganda, from Iraq to the Philippines.  You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way.  But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”

What a remarkable journey all of you have made.  And as of today, your story is forever woven into the larger story of this nation.  In the brief time that we have together, I want to share that story with you.  Because even as you’ve put in the work required to become a citizen, you still have a demanding and rewarding task ahead of you -- and that is the hard work of active citizenship.  You have rights and you have responsibilities.  And now you have to help us write the next great chapter in America’s story.

Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants.  But there’s something unique about America.  We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals -- we are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional.

After all, unless your family is Native American, one of the first Americans, our families -- all of our families -- come from someplace else.  The first refugees were the Pilgrims themselves -- fleeing religious persecution, crossing the stormy Atlantic to reach a new world where they might live and pray freely.  Eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants.  And in those first decades after independence, English, German, and Scottish immigrants came over, huddled on creaky ships, seeking what Thomas Paine called “asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty…”  

Down through the decades, Irish Catholics fleeing hunger, Italians fleeing poverty filled up our cities, rolled up their sleeves, built America.  Chinese laborers jammed in steerage under the decks of steamships, making their way to California to build the Central Pacific Railroad that would transform the West -- and our nation.  Wave after wave of men, women, and children
-- from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, from Asia and Africa -- poured into Ellis Island, or Angel Island, their trunks bursting with their most cherished possessions -- maybe a photograph of the family they left behind, a family Bible, or a Torah, or a Koran.  A bag in one hand, maybe a child in the other, standing for hours in long lines.  New York and cities across America were transformed into a sort of global fashion show.  You had Dutch lace caps and the North African fezzes, stodgy tweed suits and colorful Caribbean dresses.

And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.  So life in America was not always easy.  It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.  Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.  There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them.  And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.

Just as so many have come here in search of a dream, others sought shelter from nightmares.

  Survivors of the Holocaust.  Soviet Refuseniks.  Refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia.  Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war.  Mexicans, Cubans, Iranians leaving behind deadly revolutions.  Central American teenagers running from gang violence.  The Lost Boys of Sudan escaping civil war.

 They’re people like Fulbert Florent Akoula from the Republic of Congo, who was granted asylum when his family was threatened by political violence.  And today, Fulbert is here, a proud American.
We can never say it often or loudly enough:  Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.  Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business.  Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by immigrants or their children.  Many of the tech startups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder.

Immigrants are the teachers who inspire our children, and they’re the doctors who keep us healthy.  They’re the engineers who design our skylines, and the artists and the entertainers who touch our hearts.  Immigrants are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen who protect us, often risking their lives for an America that isn’t even their own yet.  As an Iraqi, Muhanned Ibrahim Al Naib was the target of death threats for working with American forces.  He stood by his American comrades, and came to the U.S. as a refugee.  And today, we stand by him.  And we are proud to welcome Muhanned as a citizen of the country that he already helped to defend.  

We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.  And we are strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it may be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals.  We haven’t always lived up to these documents.  

From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will, and then toiled under the whip.  They also built America.  A century ago, New York City shops displayed those signs, “No Irish Need Apply.”  Catholics were targeted, their loyalty questioned -- so much so that as recently as the 1950s and ‘60s, when JFK had to run, he had to convince people that his allegiance wasn’t primarily to the Pope.

Chinese immigrants faced persecution and vicious stereotypes, and were, for a time, even banned from entering America.  During World War II, German and Italian residents were detained, and in one of the darkest chapters in our history, Japanese immigrants and even Japanese American citizens were forced from their homes and imprisoned in camps.  We succumbed to fear.  We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values.  We betrayed these documents.  It’s happened before.

And the biggest irony of course was -- is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.  How quickly we forget.  One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.  And we suggest that somehow there is “us” and there is “them,” not remembering we used to be “them.”

On days like today, we need to resolve never to repeat mistakes like that again.  (Applause.)  We must resolve to always speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms -- whether taunts against the child of an immigrant farmworker or threats against a Muslim shopkeeper.  We are Americans.  Standing up for each other is what the values enshrined in the documents in this room compels us to do -– especially when it’s hard.  Especially when it’s not convenient.  That’s when it counts.  That’s when it matters -- not when things are easy, but when things are hard.

The truth is, being an American is hard.  Being part of a democratic government is hard.  Being a citizen is hard.  It is a challenge.  It’s supposed to be.  There’s no respite from our ideals.  All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves -- not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient.  When it’s tough.  When we’re afraid.  The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration.  It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be.  It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding:  “E Pluribus Unum” -- that out of many, we are one.

Scripture tells us, “For we are strangers before you, and sojourners, as were all our fathers.”  “We are strangers before you.”  In the Mexican immigrant today, we see the Catholic immigrant of a century ago.  In the Syrian seeking refuge today, we should see the Jewish refugee of World War II.  In these new Americans, we see our own American stories -- our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins who packed up what they could and scraped together what they had.  And their paperwork wasn’t always in order.  And they set out for a place that was more than just a piece of land, but an idea.

America:  A place where we can be a part of something bigger.  A place where we can contribute our talents and fulfill our ambitions and secure new opportunity for ourselves and for others.  A place where we can retain pride in our heritage, but where we recognize that we have a common creed, a loyalty to these documents, a loyalty to our democracy; where we can criticize our government, but understand that we love it; where we agree to live together even when we don’t agree with each other; where we work through the democratic process, and not through violence or sectarianism to resolve disputes; where we live side by side as neighbors; and where our children know themselves to be a part of this nation, no longer strangers, but the bedrock of this nation, the essence of this nation.
And that’s why today is not the final step in your journey.  More than 60 years ago, at a ceremony like this one, Senator John F. Kennedy said, “No form of government requires more of its citizens than does the American democracy.”  Our system of self-government depends on ordinary citizens doing the hard, frustrating but always essential work of citizenship -- of being informed.  Of understanding that the government isn’t some distant thing, but is you.  Of speaking out when something is not right.  Of helping fellow citizens when they need a hand.  Of coming together to shape our country’s course.

And that work gives purpose to every generation.  It belongs to me.  It belongs to the judge.  It belongs to you.  It belongs to you, all of us, as citizens.  To follow our laws, yes, but also to engage with your communities and to speak up for what you believe in.  And to vote -- to not only exercise the rights that are now yours, but to stand up for the rights of others.

Birtukan Gudeya is here from Ethiopia.  She said, “The joy of being an American is the joy of freedom and opportunity.  We have been handed a work in progress, one that can evolve for the good of all Americans.”  I couldn’t have said it better.

That is what makes America great -- not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired.  If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.

That’s our great inheritance -- what ordinary people have done to build this country and make these words live.  And it’s our generation’s task to follow their example in this journey -- to keep building an America where no matter who we are or what we look like, or who we love or what we believe, we can make of our lives what we will.

You will not and should not forget your history and your past.  That adds to the richness of American life.  But you are now American.  You’ve got obligations as citizens.  And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them.  You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is.  It’s not something to take for granted.  It’s something to cherish and to fight for.

Thank you.  May god bless you.  May god bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)


I am a Muslim. But Trump’s views appall me because I am an American.

Opinion writer
I think of myself first and foremost as an American. I’m proud of that identity because as an immigrant, it came to me through deep conviction and hard work, not the accident of birth. I also think of myself as a husband, father, guy from India, journalist, New Yorker and (on my good days) an intellectual. But in today’s political climate, I must embrace another identity. I am a Muslim.  

I am not a practicing Muslim. The last time I was in a mosque, except as a tourist, was decades ago. My wife is Christian, and we have not raised our children as Muslims. My views on faith are complicated — somewhere between deism and agnosticism. I am completely secular in my outlook. But as I watch the way in which Republican candidates are dividing Americans, I realize that it’s important to acknowledge the religion into which I was born.

And yet, that identity doesn’t fully represent me or my views. I am appalled by Donald Trump’s bigotry and demagoguery not because I am a Muslim but because I am an American.
In his diaries from the 1930s, Victor Klemperer describes how he, a secular, thoroughly assimilated German Jew, despised Hitler. But he tried to convince people that he did so as a German; that it was his German identity that made him see Nazism as a travesty. In the end, alas, he was seen solely as a Jew.

This is the real danger of Trump’s rhetoric: It forces people who want to assimilate, who see themselves as having multiple identities, into a single box. The effects of his rhetoric have already poisoned the atmosphere. Muslim Americans are more fearful and will isolate themselves more. The broader community will know them less and trust them less. A downward spiral of segregation will set in.

The tragedy is that, unlike in Europe, Muslims in the United States are by and large well-assimilated. I remember talking to a Moroccan immigrant in Norway last year who had a brother in New York. I asked him how their experiences differed. He said, “Over here, I’ll always be a Muslim, or a Moroccan, but my brother is already an American.”

In an essay in Foreign Affairs, British writer Kenan Malik points out that in France, in the 1960s and ’70s, immigrants from North Africa were not seen as or called Muslims. They were described as North Africans or Arabs. But that changed in recent decades. He quotes a filmmaker who says, “What, in today’s France, unites the pious Algerian retired worker, the atheist French-Mauritanian director that I am, the Fulani Sufi bank employee from Mantes-la-Jolie, the social worker from Burgundy who has converted to Islam, and the agnostic male nurse who has never set foot in his grandparents’ home in Oujda?” His answer: “We live within a society which thinks of us as Muslims.”

Once you start labeling an entire people by characteristics such as race and religion, and then see the whole group as suspect, tensions will build. In a poignant article on Muslim American soldiers, The Post interviewed Marine Gunnery Sgt. Emir Hadzic, a refugee from Bosnia, who explained how the brutal civil war between religious communities began in the Balkans in the 1990s. “That’s what’s scary with [the] things that [Donald Trump is] saying,” Hadzic said. “I know how things work when you start whipping up mistrust between your neighbors and friends . . . I’ve seen them turn on each other.”

I remain an optimist. Trump has taken the country by surprise. People don’t quite know how to respond to the vague, unworkable proposals (“We have to do something!”), the phony statistics, the dark insinuations of conspiracies (“There’s something we don’t know,” he says, about President Obama) and the naked appeals to peoples’ prejudices.

But this is not the 1930s. People from all sides of the spectrum are condemning Trump — though there are several Trump-Lites among the Republican candidates. The country will not stay terrified. Even after San Bernardino, the number of Americans killed by Islamist terrorists on U.S. soil in the 14 years since 9/11 is 45 — an average of about three people a year. The number killed in gun homicides this year alone will be about 11,000.

In the end, the United States will reject this fear-mongering and demagoguery, as it has in the past. But we are going through an important test of political and moral character. I hope decades from now, people will look back and ask, “What did you do when Donald Trump proposed religious tests in America?”