Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

WORLD PEACE AT LAST! THANK YOU MCDONALD’S!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Over the years I’ve wondered deeply if there is truly any way to achieve world peace, and over the years I’ve concluded: ‘Fat Chance.’ Why? Because most of us have a war going on inside our own heads, and that’s when things are going well. From there it’s all downhill. Families often can’t even avoid screaming at each other over who will do the dishes. Kind people celebrate the person they fall in love with as the greatest human being ever, only to hate them even more than Hitler a few months later. And finally, and less importantly, limited resources. I mean who has enough oil? I sure don’t. And these are often the emotions and actions of people who don’t want war. Then there are those who like war, feed off war, make money off war etc. You know, most lobbyists. So, peace is a difficult proposition.

Alas, it turns out I was unable to see a wider scope, a bigger truth: in short, the insatiable desire of the massive masses. My friends, McDonald’s (Vancouver’s Official Olympic Restaurant, if I can use that word loosely), who I constantly criticize for producing nutritionally vacuous food, negative labour conditions and cruelty to animals via factory farms, can no longer be criticized for anything.

Why?

Because what they do, it turns out, has all along actually been a secret peace plan that means I can only describe such non-violent dreamers as Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Tolstoy and Dr. Phil as complete morons. Or at least naive and idealistic. “All for the good of humanity” should be McDonald’s new slogan. Yes, it’s true, for according to two retired American military leaders in a BBC article:

More than a quarter of young Americans are now too fat to fight, they said.

Writing in the Washington Post, the ex-commanders said the fat crisis ruled out more potential military service recruits than any other medical factor [including intelligence].

They want Congress to introduce laws to give US children better nutrition in schools, with less sugar, salt and fat.

John Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton, both former chairmen of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote: “Obesity rates threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military.”

“We consider this problem so serious from a national security perspective that we have joined more than 130 other retired generals, admirals and senior military leaders in calling on Congress to pass new child nutrition legislation,” the commanders added.

Legislation! They’re socialists to boot!

So Ronald McDonald understood all along that kids are our ultimate hope for peace, and it’s easier to fatten them up like Christmas turkeys and make them unable to walk (thus unable to fight except for launching drone missiles from Arizona) than it is to change the way they think about violence and strangers—and, anyway, why get in the way of video game sales?

In short, my lame, depressive response of ‘Fat chance’, it turns out ironically, is the closest I’ve yet been to remotely grasping absolute truth; the closest I’ve ever been to hope, to peace, to all-you-can-eat smorgasbords.

I say now: “Pig out for peace!” Gandhi would have been a fatty had he truly stood for non-violence. Put another way, who, with his matchstick legs, was Gandhi really working for?

‘Peace in our time,’ Neville Chamberlain once promised the world after a meeting with Hitler beneath the coming clouds of World War II, but he was unable to fatten up Hitler, wasn’t he? Look what happened. Yes, I’m seeing the connection as clear as a trans-fatty acid; as sure as I’m the bastard son of Julia Childs and David Icke.

My only uncertainty now is with sumo wrestlers, who can be pretty aggressive yet difficult to describe as skinny. How can this be? Surely they’re an anomaly. After all, jolly Santa is nothing but fun! And at least sumo wrestling is basically hand-to-hand combat. Don’t get me wrong, those guys are truly tough and mean and strong, but there’s something disarming about the large diapers—at least from afar.

Anyway, I’m relieved. Thank you McDonald’s. Thank you Burger King. Thank you spineless policy makers! Thank you endless advertisements pushing for the addiction of precious little children to food that causes obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, depression due to chronic illness and, of course, motionless little peaceniks to fat to fire.

The desperate commanders also added:

“We must act, as we did after World War II, to ensure that our children can one day defend our country, if need be.”

It’s too late, my commander friends, we the insatiable population have chosen peace. In fact, wey’re lining up for it in unprecedented numbers and at unprecedented weights. At ease, men. You deserve a break today.

I am going to sleep well tonight, full belly, and plans for a cook-out tomorrow, Sunday and every day. And to think I’d recently given up excess sugar! Why was I choosing violence? Eat ’til you swell if you love humanity.

Wait. What if I’ve said the wrong thing? What if being unable to defend the country due to excessive weight gain becomes a treasonous act? Damn. Now I don’t know who to defend. McDonald’s or the military? Maybe it’s back to my salads and vegetarian meals and, of course, the side of war that goes with it. You can’t win. And there goes my ‘Porkers for Peace’ button.

Wishing you health, laughter, and lots of self-love, whatever your body image—you’re beautiful. Undoubtedly. Undeniably.

Pete xo

MAUDE BARLOW at BOLIVIAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

“There is a cruel irony to climate change. The poorest nations that did not create the problem are the ones who are feeling its effects most.”
—Naomi Klein

That may well be true, but ultimately, eventually, is it also not true, everyone will suffer from the problems caused by climate change? We say these things, perhaps, because the privileged in the world can’t really grasp the effects of scarcity.

In an interview with Amy Goodman, Bolivian president Evo Morales said, in describing the causes of climate change, instead of the effects, as he said was done in Copenhagen, he blames, firstly, “Capitalism…”

It is remarkable and just that Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia—a sign that democracy is unfolding to a greater degree in Bolivia. The campesino and solidarity movements there that led to getting rid of the multinational Bechtel, who had privatized Bolivian water to the -nth and shameless and brutal degree, were a stunning turn of events—as was the Morales election.

But when Morales says “Capitalism” just like that (out of disappointment, I didn’t listen to the rest of the conversation), it is so clearly an ideological statement, that I find it tremendously unfortunate. Neither capitalism of socialism innately support indigenous peoples.

Of course the “nature” of capitalism—almost always the maximization of profit at the cost of the environment—is a a major cause and problem.

But Morales stands for socialism, with Chavez and that group. Although every situation varies, it seems to me that, overall, so-called socialism causes the same environmental problems as so-called capitalism. Was the USSR environmentally friendly (plus it smashed trade unions from the get-go)? How about China under Mao? Recall the famines which are a sign of environmental and blockheaded ignorance. How about the big dams and massive undertakings in India after partition, a democracy of sorts, under Nehru, when India was considered socialist—a joke, actually, seeing as 95% of the population was utterly entrepreneurial and had no safety net offered by the state whatsoever. You get my point.

The terms socialism and capitalism, coming from various mouths, are used for mass disinformation or manipulation, covering everything, and meaning nothing—which by definition, means something. Handle with care, my friends!

American rhetoric is largely anti-socialism, in theory. Meanwhile the state pays for so much, through large taxes, from massive bank bailouts (the financial sector) to the military, police, fire, education and healthcare, not to mention massive subsidies to Agribusiness and on and on. Heck, even professional sports have an owner enforced salary cap. How about a cap on their profits?

As for, say, “communist” China on the flipside? I would hardly call its treatment of millions of workers environmentally friendly, state socialism notwithstanding. I would also say it runs its economy more by the state than does America, or Canada, but all three do and don’t. And with its human rights situation being often abysmal, it is still, combining so-called state and free-market principles, a relatively booming economy. This is not at all a defense of China, whose human rights record is deplorable and soul-breaking. This is just a reminder of all the hypocrisies of these huge nation states.

Isn’t one of the big problems simply how so many humans perceive the earth, feel the earth, work with the earth—the relationship to the earth, this inconceivably remarkable planet that feeds and shelters millions of species and all else. Is she to be owned? Dominated? Or co-oporated with?

Socialism, whatever that is, anyway, exalted by ideologues, is no answer, as far as I can tell. By definition both capitalism and socialism are based, essentially if not completely, on production—the exploitation of resources from the earth, and in endless cases, the exploitation of people. The difference is, in theory, how the earth’s resources are allocated: to the owners (in capitalism), or to the producers (the workers) in socialism. But tell that to the Chinese workers, or the Russian workers in Soviet times. I’d call it a joke if it wasn’t such a nightmare.

Democracy (another word thrown around) is utterly imperfect, but Evo Morales, although democratically elected, seems to put the socialist ideology before democracy, which may be why he, as far as I have heard, is never critical within his support for Fidel Castro, despite Castro being a dictator for fifty years.

CANADA

All that aside, one endless warrior for water rights, Canadian Maude Barlow, is at the Bolivian summit. Here’s what she says about the Canadian government at present:

I’m a Canadian, and I’m totally ashamed of my government. We’re the only government in the world that signed the Kyoto Accord and then backed out and went into Copenhagen announcing that we were—intended to fail, and we won’t touch our greenhouse gas emissions from the notorious tar sands. I call them Canada’s Mordor. So we have to sound the alarm…

There’s a brand new World Bank study that says that in twenty years our global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. I mean, that is a stunning statistic, if you can try to imagine the human suffering and the loss of biodiversity behind a number like that. There isn’t enough water, if we continue to treat it this way, for all of us. And now we know who’s going to go first: it’s going to be the poor, it’s going to be the marginalized.

It’s an interview worth listening to.

As for the socialism/environmental question, Barlow widened the parameters of what I said by saying this:

AMY GOODMAN: The British environment secretary Greg Clark called President Morales’s form of activism “watermelon environmentalism.”

MAUDE BARLOW: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Meaning?

MAUDE BARLOW: Green on the outside and red on the inside. It’s insulting. It’s insulting. And if he would come here and he would go visit the communities affected by glacial melt and global warming, I think he would—it would take his breath away. And the beauty of the people and the kindness and the tragedy that’s unfolding here and in communities around the world—if they would leave their ivory tower and their five-star hotels and their, you know, their fancy offices, and if they’d come here and they would actually meet people, they’d meet the miners or the people in the mining communities who are being so devastated by the terrible effluent, toxic effluent from mining companies—and many of them Canadian, I have to say—they might find their humanity. They might look to the core of themselves and find their humanity. That’s an insulting and racist statement, and beneath him, in my opinion.

I wish we would understand that we are bonded or not bonded (and improved) by things far more subtle and important than ideological proclamations. Unfortunately, at this moment in history that idea is excessively subtle for the political bandwidth.

Stay optimistic, stay engaged, stay informed.

Love more!

Pete

The Devil Has Landed: Ciudad Juarez, The War on Drugs, the Military Industrial Complex, and Mass Murder

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Last year, of those 2,600-plus murders in [Ciudad] Juárez, there were thirty arrests. Not solutions, just arrests.
—Charles Bowden

See Bowden’s The War Next Door.

The dangerous, mass murder capital of the world, Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexican-USA border, is in the news today after two American consulate workers were tragically gunned down there.

Who are we kidding? This place is a war-zone—how dissimilar from Afghanistan or Iraq, or even Darfur or the Congo? I don’t know, but this may be the worst place—or at least the most dangerous place—in the world to live. The CBC documentary show the Passionate Eye called the Ciudad Juarez “hell on earth” and “the most murderous city on earth”.

I think Ciudad Juarez offers the bystander (bystander way out of the city, thank god) the awful and life-killing mix of the military industrial complex* (90% of Mexican Drug Cartel’s arms come from the US), poverty, the abysmal War on Drugs*, and cutthroat capitalism all in high cancer mode. These potent forces all converge on this Mexican border city—Ciudad Juarez—about ten seconds (and maybe a world away) from El Paso, Texas.

See the Passionate Eyes’ Mexico’s Drug Wars (it mentions the 90% arms from the US).

It’s just atrocious and sad and desperate, and all Hillary Clinton could offer was more billions for military might in the War on Drugs—after admitting the War on Drugs was a failure! Orwell must have coughed up one of his poor tubercular lungs.

According to Charles Bowden:

The official line of the U.S. government, one most recently voiced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is that drug consumers in the United States are responsible for drug murders in Mexico. Only someone who is drugged could believe this claim. The sole source of the enormous amount of money in the drug business and the accompanying violence is the U.S. prohibition of drug use by its citizens. Since President Richard Nixon proclaimed the War on Drugs 40 years ago, there have been two notable accomplishments: Drugs are cheaper than ever, and they are of much higher quality.

Harper’s Magazine, from Charles Bowden’s very depressing, brutal and fear-inducing article called The Sicario: A Juarez Hitman Speaks, which basically describes the horror of how much endless brutality human beings willingly inflict on other human beings:

I have published two books on the slaughter of the city, reporting there from 1995, when murder in Juárez ran at two to three hundred a year, until 2008, when 1,607 people were killed. And that is only the official tally—no one really keeps track of those who are taken and never heard from again. I am a prisoner of all this killing.

Yet, in all of this, somehow—please, explain to me how!—this group, fDi (Foreign Direct Investment), in a contest with the label somewhere called, Global Direct Investment Solutions, actually voted Ciudad Juarez the fDi City of the Future for 2007/2008.

What possible planet could the people in this business group live on? What criteria must they use? This is the same mentality that leaves externalities out of standard economic statistics and conversations, including figuring out the GNP. Externalities, for the record, are by-products of economic transactions (drug commerce in Juarez, for example)—like, say, pollution or mass executions. Heartbreaking.

fDi Magazine’s website is obviously crap, but supposedly they are “…an English-language bi-monthly news and foreign direct investment publication owned by The Financial Times Business Group and edited in London.”

Well done, boys. So many of these despotic places are actually good for “business”—guaranteed cheap labour, no environmental laws, and a good paramilitary for business-to-worker relations.

For the record, I don’t want to paint Ciudad Juarez with a single brush, of course. After all, I know nothing, barely—okay, nothing—about what it’s really like there, writing from a laptop in my comfortable northern home. Further, the most challenging urban centres and even so-called slums, wherever they are, are profoundly diverse, always with many brave people fighting for social justice, for honest survival, for a chance to raise their kids in a decent way, and with widely varying politics, dreams and integrity. The word ‘slum’ can be used to inspire compassion, and with some truth, but it can also be used, and is used, as a euphemism for ‘not worth anything’; to allow the bulldozing over of areas where people have lived with great integrity but without property title or justice for generations—so building contractors can go in and gentrify, or whatever, expelling masses of people to Nowhereville. This happens in Mumbai, for example.

But the violence in Ciudad Juarez is undeniably extreme. America, the largest consumers of illicit drugs in the world, have to repair their drug policy, before fear runs everything.

WAR ON DRUGS/WAR ON CITIZENS

To everyone’s peril (other than drug trafficking cartels, smaller drug sellers and multinational weapons producers and their secondary black market sellers—and a few other fallout businesses including massive government spending), the War on Drugs just keeps bringing this violence closer to home, as we saw last summer with the drug-related shooting sprees in Vancouver. And these drug lords are now literally making the Forbes Top 100 richest or most powerful people—some grand title.

Here’s an important interview with Charles Bowden, today, on Democracy Now. An excerpt:

DEMOCRACY NOW: And can you paint a picture of Ciudad Juárez? How has it changed over the years?

CHARLES BOWDEN: Well, you know, what’s changed is—this is simple. Twenty-seven percent of the houses in the city are abandoned. That’s 116,000 units. This is in a city where people live in cardboard boxes sometimes. Ten thousand businesses have given up and closed in the last year. Thirty to sixty thousand people from Juárez, mainly the rich, have moved across the river to El Paso for safety, including the mayor of Juárez, who likes to bunk in El Paso. And the publisher of the newspaper there lives in El Paso. Somewhere between 100,000 and 400,000 people simply left the city. A lot of the problem is economic, not simply violence. At least 100,000 jobs in the border factories have vanished during this recession because of the competition from Asia. There’s 500 to 900 gangs there, estimates vary.

So what you have is you have—and then you lay on top of it 10,000 federal troops and federal police agents all marauding. You have a city where no one goes out at night; where small businesses all pay extortion; where 20,000 cars were officially stolen last year; where 2,600-plus people were officially murdered last year; where nobody keeps track of the people who have been kidnapped and never come back; where nobody counts the people buried in secret burying grounds, and they, in an unseemly way, claw out of the earth from time to time. You’ve got a disaster. And you have a million people, too poor to leave, imprisoned in it. And they’re going to be the people that the Mexican army and the Mexican police will make sure the President never meets today when he descends on Juárez for his sort of official visit. That’s the city.

Stand up for community, understand, as best you can, the profit motives for multiple parties with the War on Drugs and believe in love, and more love, and more love. Keep going!

Pete

*But don’t you think, most importantly, the War on Drugs (and how money is made) combined with the Military Industrial Complex (and how money is made) are the biggest gas-on-the-fire problems? Maybe? Of course poverty too. But the selling of two potentially horrid and soul-destroying (or at least body-destroying) creations—drugs and arms—for exorbitant and addicting profits are a problem to quality of life.

Indeed, with the Military Industrial Complex, the ghosts of former US President Dwight Eisenhower’s speech may have risen, all over the world (Eisenhower gave the famous 1961 leaving-office speech on the huge danger of the Military Industrial Complex). Those ghosts are working (fully armed) more and more close to home (and I don’t mean to downplay the effect of small arms all over the US already).

And Eisenhower, knowing the danger of the MIC, made some grand undemocratic policies of his own, particular in 53/54 at the start of his presidency. He backed the overthrow of two democratic-like governments (both for business interests). The first action was for the oil in Iran (yes, democratic Iran) and the overthrow of secular Dr. Mossadegh who was nationalizing that oil; the second was on behalf of or at least supported by the notorious United Fruit Company in Guatemala, and the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz.

WHO’S ON DRUGS REALLY?: Legal Drugs, Legal Killing, Illegal Drugs, the War on Drugs and Big Pharma

Friday, December 18th, 2009

The following couple of paragraphs and the mention of Big Pharma (the Pharmaceutical Industry) are from my Open Letter to Richard Dawkins a few days ago—he hasn’t written back! And then below them, I quote from an interview with Dr Barbara Starfield.

I’m not sure what you think, but it seems to me that if scientists observing the same scientific data can end up in such a war of words, insults and polarized results [ie with man-made climate change], one can conclude a couple of possibilities, or a combination thereof:

One, that a scientist’s perspective on scientific data is actually alarmingly subjective—despite being considered science. Thus, one could ask, under certain conditions, of what use is it—particularly with human existence under pressure?

Or, two, if the scientific data on, say, climate change, is as undeniable as scientists say (on whichever side), then a percentage of scientists obviously can be so easily bought as to leave scientific ‘fact’ in peril—as we’ve seen perhaps with countless conscious or unconscious scientific stooges for, say, Big Pharma, or the Military Industrial Complex.

Dr Starfield published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association a study/article called: “Is US health really the best in the world?”

In it Starfield states there are in the US, yearly, 225,000 medically-caused deaths—deaths caused by the health care system—with 106,000 of those deaths coming from FDA-approved medicines that I think she said were used “not counter to regulations.”

To put that in a bigger perspective, consider these stats (from an article called “Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000″, also in the Journal of the American Medical Association, March 10, 2004).

Tobacco: 435,000 deaths; Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,000 deaths; Alcohol 85,000 deaths.

Illicit drug deaths (both directly and indirectly caused) was 17,000.

And deaths by marijuana are actually zero.

Zero.

Although quite a few people were late for work, some got seriously paranoid, and one choked on a Cheezie (but, evidently, recovered). And I’m sure people have died being stoned and driving, undoubtedly. So zero isn’t quite accurate, to be sure. And chronic marijuana use, in my opinion, would undoubtedly cause some problems. Inhaling smoke into the lungs etc…

But what we do know is that there are thousands of people with chronic and terminal illnesses who undoubtedly used marijuana as pain relief and to decrease nausea, where nothing else would work. And I am not condoning casual marijuana use. I couldn’t care less—but I’m not condoning it. It’s just that its criminalization is such a perverse, dismal, giant, tragic joke!

Anyway, aren’t the legal prescription drug stats something to weep about? Heck, supposedly 7,000 people a year actually die from taking anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

Here’s an excerpt of the email interview, questions from Jon Rappaport, answers from Barbara Starfield:

Since the FDA approves every medical drug given to the American people, and certifies it as safe and effective, how can that agency remain calm about the fact that these medicines are causing 106,000 deaths per year?

Even though there will always be adverse events that cannot be anticipated, the fact is that more and more unsafe drugs are being approved for use. Many people attribute that to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is (for the past ten years or so) required to pay the FDA for reviews—which puts the FDA into a untenable position of working for the industry it is regulating. There is a large literature on this.

Aren’t your 2000 findings a severe indictment of the FDA and its standard practices?

They are an indictment of the US health care industry: insurance companies, specialty and disease-oriented medical academia, the pharmaceutical and device manufacturing industries, all of which contribute heavily to re-election campaigns of members of Congress. The problem is that we do not have a government that is free of influence of vested interests. Alas, [it] is a general problem of our society—which clearly unbalances democracy.

Can you offer an opinion about how the FDA can be so mortally wrong about so many drugs?

Yes, it cannot divest itself from vested interests. (Again, [there is] a large literature about this, mostly unrecognized by the people because the industry-supported media give it no attention.

Are you aware of any systematic efforts, since your 2000 JAMA study was published, to remedy the main categories of medically caused deaths in the US?

No systematic efforts; however, there have been a lot of studies. Most of them indicate higher rates [of death] than I calculated.

What was your personal reaction when you reached the conclusion that the US medical system was the third leading cause of death in the US?

I had previously done studies on international comparisons and knew that there were serious deficits in the US health care system, most notably in lack of universal coverage and a very poor primary care infrastructure. So I wasn’t surprised.

Has anyone from the FDA, since 2000, contacted you about the statistical findings in your JAMA paper?

NO. Please remember that the problem is not only that some drugs are dangerous but that many drugs are overused or inappropriately used. The US public does not seem to recognize that inappropriate care is dangerous—more does not mean better. The problem is NOT mainly with the FDA but with population expectations. [imagine how often eating more unprocessed food (and less processed food) and doing more exercise—walking even!—would so easily help meet and surpass "population expectations", and be self-empowering. We seem to have largely forgotten—in our all access culture—that we are simply machines, in a sense, complex energy systems in a bigger system that follows cycles and linear time simultaneously, and requires self-listening and constant maintenance.]

… Some drugs are downright dangerous; they may be prescribed according to regulations but they are dangerous.

Concerning the national health plan before Congress—if the bill is passed, and it is business as usual after that, and medical care continues to be delivered in the same fashion, isn’t it logical to assume that the 225,000 deaths per year will rise?

Probably—but the balance is not clear. Certainly, those who are not insured now and will get help with financing will probably be marginally better off overall.

Do the 106,000 deaths from medical drugs only involve drugs prescribed to patients in hospitals, or does this statistic also cover people prescribed drugs who are not in-patients in hospitals?

I tried to include everything in my estimates. Since the commentary was written, many more dangerous drugs have been added to the marketplace.

106,000 people die as a result of CORRECTLY prescribed medicines. I believe that was your point in your 2000 study. Overuse of a drug or inappropriate use of a drug would not fall under the category of “correctly prescribed.” Therefore, people who die after “overuse” or “inappropriate use” would be IN ADDITION TO the 106,000 and would fall into another or other categories.

‘Appropriate’ means that it is not counter to regulations. That does not mean that the drugs do not have adverse effects.

The full interview is here.

Intellectually arm yourself. Hope this helps.

Lots of love,

Pete

CARBON TAX: Another Speculative Bubble Opportunity for the Banks?

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

At the end of Matt Taibbi’s punishingly concise article in the Rolling Stone, called Inside The Great American Bubble Machine, he wrote:

Fast-forward to today. It’s early June in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama, a popular young politician whose leading private campaign donor was an investment bank called Goldman Sachs—its employees paid some $981,000 to his campaign—sits in the White House.

Having seamlessly navigated the political minefield of the bailout era, Goldman is once again back to its old business, scouting out loopholes in a new government-created market with the aid of a new set of alumni occupying key government jobs.

Gone are Hank Paulson and Neel Kashkari; in their place are Treasury chief of staff Mark Patterson and CFTC chief Gary Gensler, both former Goldmanites. (Gensler was the firm’s co-head of finance.)

By most any intelligent person’s judgment, this is undeniably a tag-team; mutual special interest operations digging into a guaranteed-by-law trough of unending cash from the tax-payer. What else could trillions of virtually inconceivable bailout dollars be? But here’s the bit that I don’t understand. Actually, I barely grasp any of it, so far from my instinctual interests.

Nonetheless, Taibbi goes on to say:

And instead of credit derivatives or oil futures or mortgage-backed CDOs, the new game in town, the next bubble, is in carbon credits — a booming trillion-dollar market that barely even exists yet, but will if the Democratic Party that [Goldman Sachs] gave $4,452,585 to in the last election manages to push into existence a groundbreaking new commodities bubble, disguised as an “environmental plan,” called cap-and-trade. The new carbon-credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that’s been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won’t even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Can anybody explain that, and how it would speculatively work (pun intended), or post a good link? My pre-economic mind can’t understand it. Suffice to say, it’s no surprise that anything moving toward sustainable living, not directly tied to fossil fuels and growth—in fact quite the opposite—would be co-opted by certain interests.

Keep loving, keep learning,

Pete xoxo

BILL MOYERS, WENDELL POTTER and UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

I haven’t had a chance to comment on this—I just read it—but it is certainly worth reading, and comprehending in a wider, all-system sense. It reveals, in stunning detail, the pernicious way in which not just health care, but so many institutions/policies/corporations are run: profit over human rights, supported through, for example, sold out Congresspeople (so many!) via their lobbyist friends. Speaking of lobbyists and shameless PR folk, see my previous blog on Honduras.

And this leads us to a Bill Moyers interview with former CIGNA health insurance PR man Wendell Potter—a real insider. He is like a Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, had Mr. Potter changed his position. This present-day Potter has had what is sometimes called a metanoia—a change of heart.

It’s just a shame, and shameful, what is often done relentlessly, recklessly, and without any concern for life-stealing externalities, on behalf of profit. The interview is here.

An excerpt:

I picked up the local newspaper and I saw that a health care expedition was being held a few miles up the road, in Wise, Virginia. And I was intrigued…I borrowed my dad’s car and drove up 50 miles up the road to Wise, Virginia. It was being held at a Wise County Fairground. I took my camera. I took some pictures. It was a very cloudy, misty day, it was raining that day, and I walked through the fairground gates. And I didn’t know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health—booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they’d erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases—and I’ve got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee—all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth.

There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me.

BILL MOYERS: What did you think?

WENDELL POTTER: It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost—what country am I in? I just it just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.

I hate to say it, but it sounds like a dust-bowl Woody Guthrie song, or some post-colonial disaster in the Third World. This cannot bode well for the future. Painful.

Lots of love and hopefully some fairness,

Pete

CANADA DAY CELEBRATION: Gratitude, Potential and Problems (oh yeah, and the inimitable Tommy Douglas)

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

“Nothing can be quite so resentful as a man who has ridden on your back for fifty years, and then you make him get off and walk.”
—Tommy Douglas

Tommy also said:

“The time has come for us to break away from the old-line parties and to elect a government that will represent all those who, with hands and brains, produced the wealth of this country.”

How can a country not be something special when the man voted ‘The Greatest Canadian‘ just a few years ago—Tommy Douglas—said such a bold statement—and actually meant it?

See some very untrivial Tommy Douglas trivia at the bottom of the page.

Tommy Douglas, for the record, was the father-in-law of Donald Sutherland, and the grandfather of Kiefer Sutherland.

CANADA DAY

With my sister, her husband and two children visiting Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, on Canada Day (July 1st), and after my friend Tim yelling at me for not mentioning Easter on Easter, I must say, a day late, how incredibly fortunate I am to live in Canada.

Concerns for political and religious freedom, limiting (visible) pollution, clean water, education, civil rights, our health care system and so on, are all remarkably positive—troubles notwithstanding.

I say this with the caveat that I am not a big State person. Compassion before patriotism. Human before Canadian. Borders, boundaries and exclusions are, in all their complexity, challenging to my belief systems and my heart.

Still, citizenship in this world, depending on the country, and for better or worse, is often the difference between rights and virtually no rights. Just ask the average refugee.

COMING HOME

But as I get older—and, yes, that is happening (I now comb over my back-hair to add thickness to my head hair. Just kidding—I actually use my relentless ear hair for that). Where was I? Yeah. The older I get, no matter where I have the good fortune of traveling to in this inconceivable world—where, to me, we are all brothers and sisters—the more grateful I am to come back to Canada.

CAPTAIN VANCOUVER

That feeling is deepened when I get back to Vancouver. It is a highly privileged lifestyle for a considerable percentage of the population. At least it is for me. Canada, as far as countries go, is a great country, with much to praise.

ENERGY

I do not say that naively, I hope. Canada’s per capita energy consumption is a disgrace, and shows a lack of personal initiative and hopeless leadership. I have heard we are the largest consumers of energy, per capita, in the world. Not a good event in which to win the Gold Medal—and here we are awarded the shameful Bronze Medal, “an embarrassing 27th out of 29 OECD nations in terms of energy use per capita.” Alberta, with the environmentally disastrous tar-sands, has been said to consume two-and-a-half times the national average.

THE DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE

In Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside remains, for countless reasons, a social catastrophe. And the fact that something like 30% of the disenfranchised in the area are First Nations, indigenous, is also a disgrace.

Hopefully the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over the crime of Residential Schools will continue to help a healing of which we can all gain more compassion, pride and traction. A friend of mine who works with indigenous people seeking compensation, and also works on the commission, was very happy with the three people appointed to oversee the proceedings.

Further, a First Nations person is something like nine times more likely than the rest of the Canadian population to be incarcerated in Canada. Without being able to offer solutions, I can still say this is repugnant. There was a thoughtful film on one sliver of the topic put out by Hugh Brody this year.

CAUSING MORE HARM

Our present government’s policies towards drug addiction also remain abysmal, largely backwards and still in lock-step with America’s disastrous War on Drugs Policies. Former Minister of Health Tony Clements actually called Insite, the only supervised needle injection site in North America (there are around 50 in the world), “an abomination.”

Thick ignorance—and not even fiscally pragmatic.

One of the main and most inspiring concerns and goals of Insite (and decent human beings): harm reduction. It seems to me a country’s commitment to harm reduction—perhaps even more so in deeply disenfranchised communities—is a marker for that country’s enlightenment, compassion, sustainability and leadership.

The above mentioned are some of our weaknesses. There are more, to be sure. It’s not easy being human. But there is greatness here, and great potential—as there is everywhere.

FREE SPEECH

And a mere glance at the Amnesty International magazine that comes every few months—and seeing true abominations in China and elsewhere with ten year jail sentences meted out over pro-democracy emails etc—reminds me to the core of my being the greatness (or at least sanity) of the Canadian government’s overall relative reluctance to use force against its citizens. This allows for the hope and brilliance of free speech, at least to a large degree (this freedom thanks to the efforts, over generations, of the people themselves, protesting on Canadian soil).

This freedom, earned by courageous people acting in solidarity, allows for the opportunity to have no excuse to not fight for increased social justice and freedom, here and everywhere.

And with freedom of speech, one can choose solidarity or division, all along the spectrum. One can choose love, and defending the vulnerable. How great is that? Think of the potential, even in a crazy world.

I am privileged to have grown up and live in Canada. I am grateful to be here. But at my best, my heart is with all sisters and brothers, everywhere.

Lots of love to you and yours, sisters and brothers, in solidarity. I encourage comments: agreements, disagreements and inspiring ideas and additions.

Pete

You have to check this fantastic audio recording from Tommy Douglas.

A LITTLE TOMMY TRIVIA

—Brought in North America’s first Medicare (universal health care in Saskatchewan). The mass of doctors, yes, the doctors in the province—backed up by the North American medical establishments—vilified Tommy, doing everything they could to stop its manifestation. Remember this! Showing no ability for working class moxy, the doctors abandoned their strike against universal health care after three weeks.

When Medicare passed in Saskatchewan in 1961/62—see also Emmett Matthew Hall—the rest of Canada wanted it too. A few years later, Medicare went national.

—Ushered in the first Bill of Rights (of its kind) in North America, outlawing discrimination for gender and race equality in Saskatchewan (1947), eighteen months before the United Nations! When he called for a national Bill of Rights in 1950, no one supported him.

—Balanced the budget for 17 straight years.

—Early and strongly outspoken opponent (1965) of the Vietnam War.

—Changed the liquor law to allow women to also drink in bars (Keifer, no!). Not bad for someone who was a Baptist minister before going into politics.

—Said a big fat “No” to Trudeau administering the War Measures Act (Martial Law) in 1970. In the day, this was very unpopular, but showed the measure of the man’s belief in civil liberties (geezuz, a socialist-libertarian).

—Basically brought paved roads, electricity and indoor toilets to rural Saskatchewan.

—Made employers guarantee employees a minimum of two weeks paid vacation every year.

—He brought in old-age pension.

—His Arts Board in Saskatchewan was a North American first.

And for all this he was accused of being a Bolshevik, etc etc, by the same ol’ fat cats…

Happy Canada Day!

EUGENICS ALERT!

Later in the day!

Wouldn’t you know it? After writing all of the above, I discovered an article on line from John Robson of the Western Standard talking about Tommy Douglas’ masters dissertation. Written in 1933, the paper is, evidently (I haven’t seen it), an ugly 33-page essay advocating eugenics—the sterilization of so-called “Subnormal” families (mentally disabled) to minimize the perpetuation of “morons” on society. In the paper, Robson says that Douglas also advocates physical and mental health certificates.

Eugenics was actually deeply popular at the time. Nonetheless, this is not pleasing or pretty.

Did Tommy have a change of heart afterwards and come to see the fascist nature of those ideas? I can’t say for sure, but all evidence seems to point that way. Tommy witnessed Hitler (a real pro-eugenics guy) in 1936 in Germany and called him a “mad dog.” He was also sure Hitler could not be appeased. Douglas pushed for war and offered to enlist himself.

THE KING OF DUPEVILLE

In contrast, the Canadian Prime Minister in 1937 said upon meeting Hitler:

“He smiled very pleasantly, and indeed had a sort of appealing and affectionate look in his eyes. My sizing up of the man as I sat and talked with him was that he is really one who truly loves his fellow man and his country…his eyes impressed me most of all. There was a liquid quality about them which indicated keen perception and profound sympathy (calm, composed)—and one could see how particularly humble folk would come to have a profound love for the man.”

Now that’s scary.

DELIVERANCE

Once Premier of Saskatchewan, Douglas pushed for and achieved better care for institutionalized mental patients, universal health care [unheard of] and he produced in 1947 the first Bill of Rights in North America (even before the UN). The Bill outlawed discrimination due to race and/or gender. Tommy also advocated workers rights, equalized gender drinking rights, brought in old-age pension and on and on.

Although not knowing the deepest thoughts of Tommy’s heart, he seems by his actions to be a profound and progressive champion of human rights, inspiring, indefatigable and utterly trend-setting for the time.

WESTERN STANDARDS

I don’t know, but I feel that John Robson has perhaps a political bone to pick. My guess is he is repulsed by the social democrat ideal. I could be wrong. Either way, Tommy’s life remains remarkable.

EUGENICS INC.

It should also be noted that in 1928, five years before Tommy’s dissertation, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta actually enacted the Sexual Sterilization Act, the objective being to prevent mentally disabled persons from producing off-spring.

In short, at the time, Tommy’s dissertation was not even particularly radical. On the other hand, his 1947 Bill of Rights and his 1962 Universal Health Care Plan were downright incendiary, futuristic and ushered in social revolutions.

I do agree with Robson that it is interesting that the dissertation is rarely if ever brought up by Douglas’ supporters.

I guess that’s human nature (curable, perhaps, by eugenics).

But perhaps as Robson himself said in his article, paraphrasing, Douglas is barely known, anyway.

EUGENICS

In 1883, Sir Francis Galton, inspired by his half-cousin Charles Darwin, coined the term. The popularity of eugenics in the early part of the century is fascinating and disconcerting. It was commonly taught in universities at the time, and according to Wikipedia:

“From its inception eugenics was supported by prominent people, [of wildly differing ideologies] including Margaret Sanger [birth control advocate], Marie Stopes [birth control advocate], H. G. Wells [science fiction writer], Woodrow Wilson [Democrat president], Theodore Roosevelt [Republican president], Emile Zola [French writer], George Bernard Shaw [vegetarian playwright], John Maynard Keynes [bail-out economist], John Harvey Kellogg [prudish doctor and cereal-namer], Winston Churchill [colonizer and mostly conservative British war-hero], Linus Pauling [scientist and Vitamin C guy] and Sidney Webb [can't remember].”

Hitler [bad person], of course, is the most famous proponent—and executer. In Sweden, evidently, a eugenics program was continued until 1975.

The wonderful GK Chesterton [fat, witty and insightful] was an early opponent.

And that’s it. Love ya!

Pete

EL CONTRATO—Mexican Migrant Workers in Canada

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Continuing from the previous blog, here’s a revealing and provocative film called El Contrato from the national Film Board of Canada. It is about the challenges facing Mexican migrant farm workers shipped to Canada from Mexico on eight month work contracts. Although the film only gives the side of the workers, the film is still very worth seeing. The conditions these brothers (I didn’t see any women) work under are often brutal and degrading and abusive—and who can be against giving a voice to the almost always voiceless? Not me.

The 49 minute film can be seen in its entirety here.

Workers who have left their family and sometimes children in Mexico and sign contracts in Canada have them being paid $7.50 an hour, working ten hours a day, seven days a week for eight straight months. Then something like a quarter of the paltry wage they make goes to government taxes and other payments. Perhaps it is better than what could be made in Mexico, but it is against the labour laws of Canada, that have been fought on behalf of human dignity and rights for for a hundred years or more.

Here’s to remembering how important it is that people, communities, continue to come together…

On that note, and speaking of Mexico, it is important to remember that the fight of the indigenous people in Chiapas continues unabated. I’m not sure of the accuracy of the numbers, but I have heard a third of Mexico’s military forces remain stationed in Chiapas, and human rights abuses and State terror continue. A friend of mine is traveling there soon to offer her expertise in helping those who have suffered terrorism and torture. See Nettie Wild’s film A Place Called Chiapas, from the mid 1990s.

Lots of love,

Pete

SALT OF THE EARTH: The Endless Struggle for Human Dignity Continues

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Lately researching the remarkable mining history and Union history in the Kootenay regions of British Columbia, Canada, and reading about the conditions of migrant workers in the farms in the Lower Mainland of wealthy British Columbia even today, the information continues to be eye-opening, disconcerting and heart-breaking—and these people deserve our support, for the love of god.

But reading about and remembering and seeing the vigilance and determination of people over centuries up to this very second, risking everything to live lives of dignity and anything resembling equality is endlessly inspiring.

SPEAKING OF IDEOLOGY: Startling Juxtaposition

In 1954, On The Waterfront (portraying longshoreman, and thus Unions, as corrupt) came out perfectly (and not coincidentally, I am sure) in time with McCarthyism and the ongoing House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. It received countless accolades (the movie, I mean, from most people, and the House Committee from many—and vitriol, too).

The director Elia Kazan, who was “…among the first to cooperate with the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities in 1952, which led to the blacklisting that ruined many careers in Hollywood because of their political beliefs”, won Best Director at the Academy Awards and Marlon Brando’s famous lines were uttered: “I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum

In life’s remarkable irony, and inherent counterforce, another movie was made that same Cold War year of 1954. It was called Salt of the Earth. It was banned in both Canada and the States—which is shockingly hard to believe.

Salt of the Earth‘s director was Herbert Biberman, one of the so-called Hollywood Ten, blacklisted and jailed for over six months for not naming names—of friends—as Elia Kazan had.

It was put together by black-listed writers and directors. Post-production services, evidently, wouldn’t even help them, likely, often, for fear of reprisals. The film was was paid for, at least in part, by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. It was based—I don’t know how closely—on the real-life and brutal strike by Mexican-American and “Anglo” miners against the appalling conditions imposed by the Empire Zinc Company.

I just saw it. My heart broke the entire time.

It is deeply worth watching, for its historical significance, the fact that it was banned, its use of professional and unprofessional actors, its (light) description of racism even within the Unions and the effect of hammering the Union men unintentionally pushing further the Women’s Rights movement.

Also, as a note, Will Geer (who played the Grandpa in the Waltons when I was a kid) play the sheriff.

Humans is as humans are, but the struggle for dignity, rights and something resembling equality will never end.

In an interview with Noam Chomsky, he said:

We don’t know anything much about human nature except that it’s rich and complex and common to the entire species and determines everything we do. Beyond that, it’s mostly speculation.

But a look at history and perception of what we see, does, I think, lend some credibility to a traditional view coming out of the Enlightenment—it is at the core of liberalism, the ideals we are supposed to honour but disregard—which says that fundamental to human nature is a kind of instinct for freedom, which shows up in creative activities.

This is actually the core of Cartesian philosophy, the core of Enlightenment political thought. And I think we see plenty of examples of it: people struggling all over the world for freedom.

They don’t like to be oppressed.

Are Unions perfect? Far from it. Were they racist in the past? Often. Are they monolithic in the present? In so many ways. Would there be the human rights we have today without them—the eight hour day, minimum wages, child labour laws, safety labour laws, health benefits, maternity leave? Not a chance.

NOT A CHANCE; NOT A PRAYER; NOT A HOPE. I try to always remember this fact.

And nothing, nothing, from my reading and observation, drove people towards so-called radical socialism, and into Unions, and nothing pushed women towards so-called equality, more than the extreme greed, oppression and self-defined superiority of so-called industrial capitalists, and their earlier incarnations.

The two live off each other, and define the other—and one lives a lot better off than the other. They have been used by despots and barons and tyrants since before their names were known.

Again, on many levels, I can’t recommend the film enough. Banned. Geezuz.

Tons of love, dignity and solidarity to you,

Pete

REFORM VIA STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES: From Anti-Immigration/Racism to Canada’s First Drug Law

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

“…it’s misleading to say the Left has usually been in favour of a strong State and the Right a weak State [what a joke, anyway]. The question is, really, what did they want the State to do? To smash poverty, or smash heads? To break up monopolies or break unions? To end poverty or exterminate native people? Much of the Left and the Right have called for State intervention; the real question is, for what purposes?
—Mark Leier

Why do reforms happen? Well, the reasons are infinite, of course, depending on time, place and circumstance, and who knows what else (follow the money). But I was just reading about how labour movements in Western Canada, around the turn of the century, and in a noble fight for dignity (safety, fair pay etc) were so against immigration from Europe (Italians, Slavs) and even more so China, Japan and India.

The policies were for some, I am sure, pragmatism gone awry—cheap labour killed whatever power a union could get—for others, thick racism.

I thought you might find this interesting, from the year 1900:

1900 – [Mega industrialist] James Dunsmuir is elected Premier of [British Columbia], after running on a platform that focused on Asian exclusion. He took this to a level that none of his competitors could match [or afford], by promising voters that he would replace all of the Asian workers at his Nanaimo mines with Europeans.

It gets even uglier seven years later:

1907 – 7 September – A rally organized by the racist Asiatic Exclusion League and the trade unions of Vancouver was held at city hall in Vancouver to protest increasing Asian immigration to Canada.

Many white workers perceived these immigrants as threats to their jobs in the resource industries, because existing white chauvinism was exacerbated by the employment of Asian immigrants at far lower wages.

The rally, which attracted 8000 people, quickly became violent, and an attack was launched on Vancouver’s Chinatown. Thousands of dollars of damage was done to buildings as marchers smashed windows and shouted racist slogans.

The Chinese community in Vancouver declared a three-day general strike in protest, and armed themselves with rocks, sticks and guns in preparation for a return attack. A second riot did occur, a few days later, when the local papers published accounts of Asians buying up guns. The police intervened in the second riot, but not before residents of Chinatown, perched on the roofs of their buildings, rained a hail of rocks and bottles down on the invading mob.

Despite the willingness of the attacked minorities to defend themselves when it came to physical danger, they were entirely without weapons in the legislatures, courts and popular press in Canada.

The full piece is here.

This, for me, is big pause for contemplation as to what is truly behind anti-immigration laws, and the opposite, in different countries. Racism? Labour protection? Labour crushing?

Anyway, just after reading the above, I read the following excerpt from a doctoral thesis by Catherine Carstairs called ‘Hop Heads’ and ‘Hypes’: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961 (my italics):

Canada’s first drug law was the indirect result of anti-Asian riots on the West Coast in 1907.’ [see above]

The government sent Deputy Minister of Labour, William Lyon Mackenzie King [who would later become Prime Minister of Canada], to investigate the riots and the claims for compensation.

One of the claims was by several opium manufacturers who up until that time had been operating openly and legally on the West Coast. When he was in British Columbia, members of a Chinese anti-opium league called upon King and asked for the government’s help in their efforts to discourage and prevent the manufacture and sale of opium.

King subsequently tabled a report that warned that opium smoking was not confined to the Chinese in British Columbia and that it was spreading to white women and girls. He quoted a newspaper clipping that told the story of a pretty young girl who had been found in a Chinese opium den.

His report reviewed the progress of the anti-opium movement in China [despite the British and the Opium Wars, their demanding free trade of the product!], the United States, England and Japan, leaving the impression that Canada was far behind in this international moral reform movement!

Some things really never do change.

A few weeks later the Minister of Labour introduced legislation prohibiting the manufacture, sale and importation of opium for other than medicinal purposes. The legislation passed without debate.

Three years later the government prohibited the use of opium and other drugs.

In 1911, the sale or possession of morphine, opium or cocaine became an offense carrying a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment and a $500 fine. There was no minimum penalty. Smoking opium was a separate offense and carried a maximum penalty of $50 and one month imprisonment. Again, there was no minimum penalty.

Racist unions, who by definition defend the little guy? The Democrats voting down the Civil Rights Act in 1965? The ‘fiscally responsible’ Reagan Republicans turning the USA from the richest creditor nation to the world’s biggest debtor nation? and so on, and on and on. The bail out in countries that claim to be free market (and have never been).

Funny how we humans yearn for words to make sense of things, when slowly, so many words have ceased to have real meaning—other than to obfuscate. Is that the right word? I don’t know—other than to confuse us.

Anyway, history I found tonight, that I thought you might find provocative.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

NOAM CHOMSKY on the RE-TELLING/SELLING of HISTORY, PAST and PRESENT

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Noam Chomsky, who is 80 now, has undoubtedly had a very difficult year. A few months ago his wife Carol, a brilliant woman in her own right, died from cancer. They had known each other forever, since Carol was five, and the two had been married for 60 years. I often hope he’s able to push on, having been such a remarkable source of information for so many, in multiple fields—and that he remembers and is energized by the important gift of his great intellect and work ethic.

Anyway, he wrote a powerful and sobering article that was published on his site the other day, and elsewhere. Even if you largely disagree with Noam’s political stance, it is highly recommended for the little reminders of historical facts that it gives—before such facts fall down the memory hole.

Entitled The Torture Memos, an excerpt:

Let us then turn to “reality itself”: the “idea” of America from its earliest days.

The inspirational phrase “city on a hill” [to describe the common American ideal of her own birth] was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, borrowing from the Gospels, and outlining the glorious future of a new nation “ordained by God.” One year earlier his Massachusetts Bay Colony established its Great Seal. It depicts an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth. On it are the words “Come over and help us.” The British colonists were thus benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is a graphic representation of “the idea of America,” from its birth. It should be exhumed from the depths of the psyche and displayed on the walls of every classroom.

The current difficulties of indigenous people in both America and Canada (in Canada, an indigenous person is nine times more likely to be incarcerated than a non-indigenous person) may also be a reflection of curious “benevolence,” past and present.

And another:

In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that US aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens…to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” That includes military aid, is independent of need, and runs through the Carter years.

Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation.

Not surprisingly, US aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, and this is commonly improved by murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists, and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

These studies precede the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear. And the tendencies continue to the present.

Small wonder that the President [Obama] advises us to look forward, not backward—a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

The man is still going strong, unstoppably, speaking as he does for the “wretched of the earth”, and whomever isn’t heard. I appreciate it—and learn from him—greatly.

The full article is here.

I had the privilege of interviewing Noam a few years ago. That interview is here.

Lots of love, and remembering, and action,

Pete

DR. PAUL FARMER, Partners In Health and Global Health Equity

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Every time I read Paul Farmer or about Paul Farmer (of Partners In Health), I get both inspired and I learn a lot. I was reading Pathologies of Power this weekend.

Farmer works predominantly in a Boston teaching hospital and in Haiti, among the worlds very poor, and he points out the painful unethical avoidance of global health equity by medical ethics boards. From Pathologies of Power (pg 203-305):

“These [ethics] consults [on which he sometimes serves] are [in the West] often about too much medical care. That is, we are called to explore cases in which care is painful, expensive, and prolonged well beyond the point of efficacy…

But being a clinician who works in both a Harvard teaching hospital and rural Haiti, I can’t help but make connections between the surfeit on one side—too much care—and the paucity on the other…

What does bioethics have to say about this, the leading ethical question of our times [the right to health care for all]? Almost nothing…

One gets the sense, in attending ethics rounds and reading the now-copious ethics literature, that these have-nots are an embarrassment to the ethicists, for the problems of poverty and racism and a lack of national health insurance figure only rarely in a literature dominated by endless discussions of brain death, organ transplantation, xenotransplantation, and care at the end of life.

When the end of life comes early—from death in childbirth, say, or from tuberculosis or infantile diarrhea—the scandal is immeasurably greater, but silence reigns in the medical ethics literature.

Isn’t that revealing? Surely a sickness in itself, if not of the body our collective heart and mind.

Here’s a little thing on youtube on Farmer and Partners In Health:

And this:

Lots of love to you—and here’s to greater equity, gratitude, and the seeking of greater justice and health for all, regardless of their birthplace…

Pete

Hugh Brody, the Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village, and The Meaning of Life.

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

There is a correctional institute in British Columbia (Canada) called the Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village (good luck pronouncing that)—a remarkably progressive, alternative and controversial penal facility, and simultaneously limited in terms of numbers. Kwikwexwelhp is a fifty bed facility.

At its heart Kwikwexwelhp is a minimum security facility, with even less restrictions, whose healing/rehabilitation practices are inspired by indigenous cultural and spiritual practices. Its inmates are generally prisoners who, over time, have ‘cascaded’—a term used by the director of photography after the film—from maximum security, to medium security, to minimum security, and through their own initiative and courses taken, qualify for Kwikwexwelhp.

I just saw a simple, provocative and moving documentary (DOXA) on it by the wonderful Hugh Brody (I didn’t know much about him until two friends filled me in—thank god for friends), called The Meaning of Life. At the core of so many of the inmates’ original fracturing are those shameful, horrendous, racist residential schools. My god, the damage—the structural violence—inflicted by some of the people in that god-forsaken institution. Of course, the past doesn’t by necessarily absolve a crime in the present (it does in some places, politically), but it sure as hell is good to know the nature of cause-and-effect in a deeply fractured world.

Here’s a newspaper link about the film.

Really worth seeing.

Structural violence, institutional violence, happens in countless, faceless ways. Eduardo Galeano (as quoted in Paul Farmers’ Pathologies of Power) sums up one form of institutional violence here, from his South American viewpoint. Perhaps the view can be extrapolated worldwide:

The big bankers of the world, who practice the terrorism of money, are more powerful than kings and field marshals, even more than the Pope of Rome himself. They never dirty their hands. They kill no-one: they limit themselves to applauding the show.

Their officials, international technocrats, rule our countries: they are neither presidents nor ministers, they have not been elected, but they decide the level of salaries and public expenditure, investments and divestments, prices, taxes, interest rates, subsidies, when the sun rises and how frequently it rains.”

And these decisions, by whom is left out, result in what Dr. Paul Farmer and others call ‘structural violence’—where limited options lead to violence, violence against the person with painfully limited options.

Galeano continues:

“However, they don’t concern themselves with the prisons or torture chambers or concentration camps or extermination centers, although these house the inevitable consequences of their acts.

The technocrats claim the privilege of irresponsibility: ‘We’re neutral’ they say.”

And the more privileged, the more affluent the country, would it be fair to say the more these sins are all of ours?

I don’t know the answer, but more compassion is always called for. Compassion with discernment, with love.

And here’s to all of us who are not (which is everybody), as Sister Prejean (of Dead Man Walking fame) once said, ‘the worst thing we’ve ever done.’

Lots of love to you,

Pete

THE BRITISH RAJ IN INDIA: Symptoms of Colonialism, Yesterday and Today?

Monday, May 11th, 2009

In the wonderful The Story of India from PBS/BBC, a Dr M Mukherjee talks about the shift of British colonialism in the 1850s, after the largest uprising in colonial history [the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857]. The Mughals [Islamic rulers for 350 years of often brutal, sometimes enlightened control—as far as control goes] are out, even the East India Company is out. Around the world, Africa in particular, the European powers are divvying up spoils to support the industrial revolution and Britain’s government has moved India from an indirectly ruled colony to direct rule.

But listen to this language, as Mukharjee explains one of the symptoms of a more pervasive colonial rule, and ask yourself if it doesn’t feel a little like modern times in terms of all-pervasive surveillance. Heck, what I am writing now is saved somewhere, and who knows, possibly monitored–or it would be if it was half interesting or subversive.

Anyway, from Mukharjee:

“From a relatively benign, what we call Orientalist, phase of colonialism, this is now [after 1857] an arrogant Britain, the first country of the Industrial Revolution ruling the world.

And then from the 1850s, the competition worldwide for colonies. Other countries are coming up and competing for colonies.

So therefore there is a great need to have a very systematic ordering of people’s lives, information, and everything related to them.”

I am sure even the British would be jaw-droppingly shocked by the inconceivable amount of “systematic ordering” and “information” of people’s lives that is gathered today by machine, leaving the door-to-door census in the dustbin of history.

So much of what we do, even in our own home now with the computer, is, in a sense, monitored or recorded somewhere. And we don’t seem to care too much. Should we?

In Canada, it’s illegal, or certainly fine-able, for example, to be pulled over in a car and not carrying ID, one’s license foremost. I’m not sure if that matters at all, but to reflect upon it is curious.

One could wonder if the average citizen is being colonized and doesn’t even know it. All I can say is that this “systematic ordering of people’s lives” may just be a fantastic reason to go for a walk in nature instead of the ten thousand other things that are tracked, from phone calls to computer to buying a latte on Visa.

Here’s to freedom and self-governance, on the micro and macro level,

Pete xo

Derrick Jensen: It’s Tremendous Fun To Fight Back

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I don’t even know who Derrick Jensen is, but this interview with him in Briarpatch: Fighting the War on Error is really wonderful, and gets, I think, to the heart and soul of many matters. It was sent to me by my lovely friend Buddy. He’s in his late 80s now, and just keeps on fighting.

From the interview:

Any way of living based on non-renewable resources won’t last. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about copper or iron or oil, because a finite amount of it is eventually going to run out.

But that’s not all. Any way of living that’s based on the hyper-exploitation of renewable resources won’t last, either. If fewer salmon return year after year because they’re being overfished, eventually there won’t be any left.

In fact, I would say that any way of living that’s based on resources won’t last, either. “Resources” don’t actually exist: salmon don’t consider themselves a fishery resource, and trees don’t consider themselves timber resources. They’re just trees and they’re just fish.

And this doozy:

It’s stunning how ignorant we are about the land bases that support us. I can talk about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and probably most people will know who I’m talking about, but do you know the indigenous name for the place where you’re sitting right now? An American five-year-old can recognize hundreds of corporate logos, but I can’t name 10 species of edible plants and fungi within 100 yards of my home. That’s insane.

We must recognize that the culture is a culture of occupation. The planet needs to be defended against this occupation. You know, if there were space aliens deforesting the planet or releasing tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, we would know what to do: we’d use any means necessary to stop them.

That’s fantastic. If I consider how short the time would be for survival, if left to my own devices, if food in the city stopped coming in (without stealing or begging), the answer is not pretty. About three days. I barely know a fungi from a fun guy, or how to plant my own garden, where waste goes, water and so on—let alone where my food and clothing comes from or how it is made, and how the people who made either were treated.

And think about this. A kid from wherever in 1500 may not have known the world was round, but he knew where his waste went, where his water came from, how his clothes were made, his food, and how to survive on his own, period. I have only slightly more than a clue, and like my tax forms, the whole process is cryptic and confusing to the point of inaction.

Ah, life. So much to learn. And you can’t just find some things out online or in a book. Eventually you have to get your hands dirty—that is, in the soil—and your mind clear. And talk to the trees. Just try it. And the water.

“Excuse me, tree, how can I help?”

The full interview is here.

Lots of sustainable love to you,

Pete

INDIA: Inequalities In The World’s Largest Democracy

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

“India is that place where the common man is perpetually looking for justice. There is no justice here, no justice at all.”
—A cab driver in Hyderabad

India is about to have an election that involves 714 million voters. Isn’t that unbelievable? But all is not celebration. This is a short and interesting op/ed sent to me by my friend Sue, and written by Professor Ananya Mukherjee Reed, York University, Toronto.

An excerpt:

Underneath this fractured polity, lies of course, a deeply exclusionary and unequal material reality. Some 200 million are chronically hungry, more than 90 percent of the workforce have no option but informal work with abysmal wages and no security; 80 percent live under $2 a day; 70 percent depend on agriculture for their livelihood; 182,936 farmers have committed suicide; and so on.

And further:

The wealth of 40 richest Indians have come to equal about 30 percent of its trillion-dollar GDP. Of the 47 Indian companies that have made it to the Forbes List of the Global 2000 this year, the sales of each of the top two equal the GDP of India’s poorest 12 states taken together. In a list of the top 50 economic entities in India—comprising of Indian states and Indian corporations—28 are corporations. Reliance Industries, the corporation that tops the list, has an annual revenue that exceeds the gross domestic product of Kerala by about $2-billion.

All of which makes the statement in the following piece about how something like half of India’s top 1,500 corporations don’t pay any tax at all, all the more ludicrous.

And life goes on, and on, and on—sometimes inconceivably beautifully…

Speaking of Kerala, the men pulling in the nets, among other scenes, are from Kerala. Never forget good fortune, that somehow, as one yogi said, ‘all moments are auspicious’, and try to speak out against injustice, especially where you can make change.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

The ADDICTION of the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: Insite and the Seeking of Insight on the War On Drugs

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

If it wasn’t for Insite or Onsite, I guarantee I’d be dead for sure. There’s no question about that. I didn’t see any future in my life. Now things are working out for me…We’re all human beings just trying to find our little spot in the world. And some people have got dealt cards that aren’t the greatest. Today I’ve got a choice, and before I didn’t see the choice. For me, the choice is never to use again, no matter what.
—Guy, 39, recovering addict. Started doing heroin at 16. He’s also had long term jail sentences for armed robbery.

As the Federal Government—still in direct line with American and Bush policies on the failed-miserably War on Drugs—goes to court to fight the judges’ ruling (I believe that Insite can continue to operate), this article from the Courier.

As I read how some of these people live utterly miserable lives on the streets or in bed-bug infested hotels, and desperately stick needles full of tainted heroin into veins in the head or neck (also, see the first chapters of Gabor Mate’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, if you dare), I can’t believe anybody thinks these actions are done by choice, in any sane sense of the word.

The Courier article is here.

Imagine for a moment if medications/painkillers for all life-style induced diseases were made illegal—like Type II diabetes (80-90% lifestyle induced according to the WHO), smoking or fat-eating induced heart disease, or alcohol induced organ disease, to name only some obvious medical and medical system disasters? Big Pharma would go broke.

Severe drug addiction often has root causes that the rest of us would flinch and cringe even hearing about, let alone having to experience. It seems to me that harm reduction is a compassionate and pragmatic objective.

In 1875, US Constitutional expert Lysander Spooner wrote:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

In vices, the very essence of crime—that is, the design to injure the person or property of another—is wanting.

Unless, of course, we criminalize the vice. Then the side-effects of a person’s vice begin to reach all of us in much larger amounts.

More love and compassion to you and yours, whether warm in bed, dreaming peacefully, or brutalized by the mere experience of being alive—and all else in between,

Pete xox

SOME TRADITIONS ARE HARD TO STOP: The Scramble for Africa Continued…

Friday, April 24th, 2009

The Scramble for Africa was a manifestation of colonialism and increased in force (notwithstanding slavery) after the outrageously racist Berlin Congress of the European powers of 1884.* The land-grab powers of Europe had started to fight amongst themselves about who would get what in Africa. To stop fighting, they got together and decided who would get what, with not one black person or African delegate to be found, questioned or even told, evidently.

Anyway, this article came from the Norwegian Council for Africa today and painfully reminds us—for those who didn’t know!—that the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is alive-and-unwell. One can only hope (pray, dream) that in this ‘land-grab’ by foreign business interests, some group(s) will truly have good intentions. Unfortunately, inside a model that puts shareholder profits (let alone owner profits) over human rights and dignity and freedom, virtually by law, this is profoundly difficult.

The short article, called The Second Scramble For African Land, is here (I actually quote most of it).

An excerpt:

Sub-Saharan African countries have of late become the target of a new form of investment that is strongly reminiscent of colonialism: investors from both industrialised and emerging economies buy or lease large tracts of farm land across the continent, either to guarantee their own food provisions or simply as yet another business.

In doing so, investors even deal with warlords who claim property rights, as in Sudan. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists in Europe are denouncing this land grab in Egypt, Sudan, Cameroon, Senegal, Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa as a new form of colonialism.

A list of the land grab investments of 2008 have been put together by the Barcelona-based NGO GRAIN, based on corporate reports. It confirms that several industrialised countries, like Japan and Sweden, rapidly growing developing nations, like China and India, and oil-rich countries, especially from the Arab Gulf, and even Libya, are buying large estates in Africa…

However, whether Africans will profit from these investments is another matter altogether. The wave of investments in foreign agricultural enclaves has led to new abuses.

“The most scandalous case yet is that of the U.S. investment banker Philippe Heilberg, who closed a deal with Paulino Matip, a warlord in South Sudan, to lease 4,000 square kilometres,” Hoering argued. Matip is a notorious warlord who fought on both sides in Sudan’s lengthy civil war. He is one of the profiteers of a dubious 2005 peace agreement, after which he became deputy commander of the army in the autonomous southern region.

Heilberg, now CEO of the New York-based investment fund Jarch Capital, previously worked for the now battered insurance company American International Group (AIG). Heilberg has been quoted as saying that, in his view, several African states are likely to break apart in the coming years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.

“If you bet right on the shifting of sovereignty then you are on the ground floor. I am constantly looking at the map and looking if there is any value,” he told U.S. media.

That may be savvy, but it is also cynical. One can also, with that kind of leverage, work to improve situations, no?

The article continues:

While denouncing the scramble for land, human rights groups have called attention to the vagueness and imprecision of laws on land ownership in south Sudan. They cast doubt on foreign investors such as Heilberg being able to claim legal rights over such estates. The deal, which became public last January but was closed last July, has prompted human rights groups to denounce Heilberg’s venture in South Sudan as a cynical, neocolonial enterprise.

“This is a case that recalls the worse colonial land grabs in Africa,” Hoering added.

And on this posted-a-year-ago-video piece from Uganda Rising, I wrote the not particularly original line, “For the record, the ‘Scramble for Africa’ is ongoing.” I hope the quick summary of the land and resource grab is instructive, to even help understand the present day plight.

*And for history buffs or even activists, here is a description from David Lamb’s “The Africans,” of how the “Scramble for Africa” began legislatively, is illuminating—with a virtually complete disregard that people on the continent of Africa have meaning.

If Africa’s quest for unity has failed so far, if Africa’s presidents get along no better than the European powers did with one another during the colonial period, no one, least of all historians, should be surprised.

Let’s step back a century [the book was written in 1983] to the time when Africa was Balkanized and brought under European domination. It happened in Germany at a conference that not a single African attended…

The acrimonious disputes [between the European powers], though all were solved peacefully, caused much apprehension in Europe, and it was finally decided the world’s powers had better sit down to determine some game rules for Africa.

Delegates from fourteen countries assembled for the Conference of Great Powers in Berlin in October 1884.

Four months later, on February 26, 1885, they signed the general Act of the Berlin Conference, which provided that any power that effectively occupied African territory and duly notified the other powers could thereby establish possession of it. The Berlin treaty, along with other accords signed during the next fifteen years, defined “spheres of influence,” which partitioned the continent among European governments and reduced their rivalry for domination.

The disease of cruelty and violence, by its force and inhumanity, spreads the disease of cruelty and violence.

Whoa. Again, may we humans turn the tide to where business interests can not come before human rights. That, my friends, would be a great and fine day.

Lots of love to you, and to the vulnerable citizens in so many African countries,

Pete xo

WAR ON DRUGS in CANADA: This is the best they can come up with?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

I know it’s a profoundly difficult situation for countless emotional, practical, economic and life-threatening reasons to leaders etc, I am sure, but the following approach to the so-called War on Drugs, whether somewhat necessary or not, is still symbolic of our collective myopic thinking. From the Vancouver Sun:

Tens of thousands of workers at B.C. airports and ports are among 100,000 people nationwide who may be affected by a security crackdown announced by the Conservative government.

The initiative comes through a new deal signed this week by the federal Transport Department and the RCMP to weed out organized-crime [re: drugs] operatives from restricted areas, Canwest News Service has learned.

And then this:

Government [re: state] officials were not immediately able to explain how the new Transport Canada-RCMP agreement would improve individual privacy risks, nor could they provide cost estimates of running the detailed background checks.

Of course. And then this:

The RCMP released a report last year that warned there were more than 60 employees with links to organized crime at the country’s eight largest airports, and many organized gangs were found to be using the airports for some of their activities.

No kidding.

The full article is here. My views need not be repeated. And I don’t even expect change, but I would love true and honest, non-fear based conversation in the highest echelons of power and corruption. And you can be sure, excessive drug use within a culture—including alcohol and cigarettes—is a terrible yet instructive expression of a society’s health as a whole (or lack of whole).

Gabor Mate writes, with pages explaining this on either side, before it’s sloughed off as bleeding-heart etc:

The drug addict is today’s scapegoat. Viewed honestly, much of our culture is geared towards enticing us away from ourselves, into externally directed activity, into diverting the mind from ennui and distress. The hardcore addict surrenders her pretence about that. The rest of us can, with varying success, maintain our charade, but to do so, we banish her to the margins of society.

And could it be, with this denial, our social policies fail accordingly, ongoingly, and expensively? Granted, there is no cure for all ennui, all dislocation. But should we not seek, with inelligence and compassion, it’s overall improvement?

Just imagine the military force, security, incarceration and all out war that it will take in a so-called capitalist society to shut down one of the most extreme profit-margin commodities known on the planet—oil, gambling, pornography and other blatant addictions notwithstanding? And, just as we see in Mexico today, a ridiculous portion of the society will end up scarred, killed, interrogated and violated by state edicts, by the process—common citizens, you and I, our children.

Who are we kidding? What’s the deeper purpose? Or deeper ignorance?

I will quote, once again, Kash Heed, former Chief Constable of West Vancouver, who lays out the extraordinary market potential of opium. In short, as a profit-making venture in a profit-oriented world—in a world in so many places of inconceivable inequity—the lure of narco-trafficking profits are overwhelming.:

“The price paid to a Pakistani farmer for opium is approximately $90 a kilo. The wholesale price in Pakistan is almost $3000. The North American wholesale price is $80,000. On the street at 40% purity, the retail price is $290,000 (World Drug Report, 1997)…

Hear that. Ninety dollars a kilo to $290,000 on the street at 40% purity. Heed goes on to say:

“…People making vast profits from the drug market distance themselves from the activities on the street. They do not commit the crimes themselves, they manage criminal enterprises…Cutting off the supply at times is hopeless. The drug business is simply too profitable.”

Even Milton Friedman, in Newsweek Magazine in 1972:

“Why not simply end the drug traffic? That is where experience under Prohibition is most relevant. We cannot end the drug traffic…

So long as large sums of money are involved—and they are bound to be if drugs are illegal—it is literally hopeless to expect to end the traffic or even to reduce seriously its scope. In drugs, as in other areas, persuasion and example are likely to be far more effective than the use of force to shape others in our image…”

It’s so intoxicating, if you’ll excuse the pun, vast numbers of policemen in NYC in the early 70s were paid off—and paid more—for being involved or turning a blind eye.

Do we believe this doesn’t happen today? Us against them? And non-addicts against drug-addicts? Excuse me while I have my eighth cup of coffee etc. And just wait till after work and the fun starts, so I can really forget my day, our collective predicament…

Big money is difficult to turn down, virtually impossible, I would guess, under certain circumstances of stress, envy, poverty and/or greed.

From Friedman again:

“I readily grant that the ethical issue is difficult and that men of goodwill may well disagree [i do too]. Fortunately, we need not resolve the ethical issue to agree on policy. Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse—for both the addict and the rest of us. Hence, even if you regard present policy toward drugs as ethically justified, considerations of expediency make that policy most unwise…

When I’m quoting economist Milton Friedman, I must be desperate. We are all addicts in one way or another. Some legal. Some not. Some destroying ourselves. Others praised, yet destroying relationships. Others praised and destroying the environment, and the lives of countless others. And a mix of all I’ve said.

Love more,

Pete xox

PS: The quotes from Friedman and Kash Heed, and their links, can be found here, and followed accordingly.

Thich Nhat Hanh and the ever-changing truth of truth

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and author from Vietnam who started a school in the early 1960s during the American invasion of Vietnam that set up orphanages, hospitals and places of refuge to help people left homeless, injured or orphaned by the war.

In the mid 1960s, Hanh traveled to the United States and urged Martin Luther King to speak out publicly against the Vietnam War. King finally did, and his speech is extremely powerful. It begins with this great line:

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice.

Hanh, for the record, was exiled from Vietnam in 1973 (I think for his involvement in the 1973 Paris peace talks, but I’m not sure), and ended up staying in France.

In 1967, Martin Luther King nominated Hanh for the Nobel Prize for Peace. The Nobel Committee did not offer a prize that year.

Anyway, here are some sweet words from Hanh:

All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views.

Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints.

Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth.

Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to open yourself to reality and the world at all times.

There are actually 14 precepts from Hanh of what he calls Engaged Buddhism. In other words, at least on one level, anyway, to be active in the world and speak out against injustice.

Hanh started practicing Engaged Buddhism in the 1960s, with the Vietnam War, but credits a Vietnamese King (Tran Nhan Tong) from the 13th century with the founding of the idea. Tran Nhan Tong gave up his kingly position to become a monk, and began what was called the Bamboo Forest tradition, which continues today.

Those precepts are powerful and humbling, at least to me. Hanh himself says he can’t follow them perfectly, and the only way is practice and more practice. Interestingly, I had the rare opportunity to sit with a renowned swami in Udipi, India, and I asked him how one is to see the soul—the atma/the eternal aspect of an individual and the whole—in everyone. All he said was, “Practice,” with a glint in his eye. There must be something to intelligent and compassion-inducing ritual after all.

Incidentally, the Vedic idea of the atma or soul is quite different from most Buddhist practices.

Lots of love to you, and your eternal, shining, miraculous nature,

Pete xoxo