Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

AYN RAND, The Tea Party, Goebbels, Goldman Sachs, Greed and Government

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

“Goldman Sachs is a great firm—as good as you get on Wall Street and that’s the problem.”
Matthew Bishop, Business Editor, the Economist

The always amusing Matt Taibbi is again entertaining in this commentary on Ayn Rand and Goldman Sachs etc. He writes:

In the [Ayn] Randian ethos, called objectivism, the only real morality is self-interest, and society is divided into groups who are efficiently self-interested (ie, the rich) and the “parasites” and “moochers” who wish to take their earnings through taxes, which are an unjust use of force in Randian politics. Rand believed government had virtually no natural role in society. She conceded that police were necessary, but was such a fervent believer in laissez-faire capitalism she refused to accept any need for economic regulation—which is a fancy way of saying we only need law enforcement for unsophisticated criminals.

Rand’s fingerprints are all over the recent Goldman story.

Great second to last line—and how damn obvious. It’s funny what some laws leave legal. The thing for me to remember is that Goldman Sachs and the ideology are, like a plant rising up in soil, a result of the soil, the seed, the sun, the geography, the geology, the advantages bestowed, disadvantages and the whole damn matrix. Human institutions are aspects of human nature, manifested from the mind and the opposable thumb—and some would include God or the Devil, or random selection, depending on their stock portfolio. What I’m trying to say, I’m not sure. But as sure as humans write poetry, they also write institutions.

The entire article in the Guardian is here. For the record, I too have never been able to get through a page of Ayn Rand, or a page of Das Kapital, for that matter. Terminally boring and over-wrought for my little brain. Hmm.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

PS Here’s that crude yet somewhat useful description of an aspect of what passes for legal—and, hey, for all I know, may be, in the words of the Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, “God’s work.” Hasn’t God got enough troubles with Hitchens and Dawkins breathing down his aged neck?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

And here’s a tongue-in-cheek bluesy, rock ‘n roll thing I wrote back in the 90s (remember them?) about conspiracy and/or truth, you be the judge: What’s Going Down. Some young video-savvy huckster/whippersnapper on line put this together and made a video out of it. The solo is actually Robbie Steininger playing the always raucous twelve string mandolin.

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

BANKSTERS (as in bankers/gangsters): MUST, MUST, MUST READ

Monday, July 20th, 2009

“Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.”
—Woody Guthrie

And this:

After the oil bubble collapsed last fall, there was no new bubble to keep things humming — this time, the money seems to be really gone, like worldwide-depression gone. So the financial safari has moved elsewhere, and the big game in the hunt has become the only remaining pool of dumb, unguarded capital left to feed upon: taxpayer money. Here, in the biggest bailout in history, is where Goldman Sachs really started to flex its muscle.
—Matt Taibbi

If you re-read that paragraph a few times, you can really get a sense of the disease that is taking place—the all-pervasive cancer. At the most obvious—ignoring all the ills that got to this point—the symptom of the disease is this ongoing public (tax-payer) bailout of crap fiat money for the economies’ collapsed financial sector.

Maybe it’s not even paper money. Maybe it’s just magic, punched into a computer. Who knows? Whatever it is, it is of no inherent value, and yet devalues whatever ‘money’ means now. That actually also describes cancer cells multiplying.

This symptom (bail-out) is simultaneously the sickest form of so-called socialism (financially) and the sickest form of capitalism (outright theft—stealing rapaciously from public funds and still calling it a free-market). And from inside cancer itself comes a now even poorer, blinded citizenry, and a richer elite, which at some point defines a feudal system, or a dictatorship (even with so-called democracy, as Honduras is showing).

But enough of my clap-trap. A must read from Matt Taibbi’s Inside the Great American Bubble Machine.

And listen to the video, too, please. Of course this is a one-sided piece, but how many people list Hitler’s strong points?

To me, this may be simplified, but how else can the average person, like myself, understand any of what goes on with economic heists? For example, people got hopeless sub-prime mortgages they couldn’t pay back.

Their fault? Sure.

But the problem is caused or instituted or continued because of…

“…banks like Goldman Sachs who found ways to chop up crappy mortgages [if some Wal-Mart worker in Boise should have known they were crap, surely Goldman Sachs...] into little bits and then sell them off as securities to unwitting pensioners.

And there’s nothing ordinary people can do about that stuff. People who are in this business have trouble with a lot of this stuff. It’s enormously complicated, even for insiders….

And if you don’t understand it, if you don’t get it, there’s no way to vote on it sensibly. There’s no way to demand your congressman take action, and that insulates these people from any kind of action…”

Let’s be honest: like lawyer talk, heretofore, wherein and screw you in perpetuity, the whole thing is mystified and complicated, at least partially, with the plan to blind with bull***.

Just appalling. Democrats, Republicans (in fact Democrats big time, in case anyone was feeling smug). My old man has been describing this, through other utterly marginalized economic experts (and still marginalized), for twenty years. Meanwhile, the same perpetrators keep cycling through the system, no matter how bad or even heinous their policies.

These major bankers knew everything. But like a person caught up in, say, drugs or an affair—the rush so great, and these money grabs are an addiction—they don’t notice or literally can’t stop. They literally can’t be ethical: “It was bigger than both of us…” etc.

And President Obama, by posting these people to continued high positions, and the list would be comical if not so tragic (as Taibbi painfully points out), is simply further institutionalizing the sickness.

Seeing as Goldman Sachs ‘donated’, ha ha, more money than anyone else to his campaign, period, he likely believes them. It’s like disowning dear old dad if he paid for where you are. Difficult.

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.

If Obama does have good intentions, I sure feel sorry for him.

But those insider banksters and then bankers in government and at the Fed knew and know what they are doing—that’s why and how they made the moves, deregulations, regulations, policy changes etc., they made and continue to make. It’s called uber-maximization of profit, regardless of the cost, the externalities, and it’s where the system ultimately collapses into an abyss of human aberration, greed and emptiness (but tell that to those getting this year’s bonuses).

Really, it’s just a free-for-all and a real picture of human nature, human greed, in the extreme. Why? As Clinton said about his White House indiscretions (and you can include Robert Rubin with Monica Lewinski), paraphrasing, ‘I did it for the worst possible reason: because I could.’

In the end, Monica was brushed off without a mention of her name, or the mental distress caused to her, while Clinton described Robert Rubin as the “greatest secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.”

Many do actually question Hamilton’s competency. Thomas Jefferson supposedly considered Hamilton aristocratic and unprincipled. How Rubinesque! Thank you, Bill Clinton.

And do you think most bankers really care if the credibility of their profession is at this point more or less nil? At $700,000 bonuses for Goldman Sachs employees after record quarterly profits in the multi-billions—mere months after the public bailout—and a 1% tax rate last year (seriously), I am sure they care not a wit. After all, it’s simply a good investment on their Obama stocks (formerly Bush, formerly Clinton stocks).

I am sure the theories are not exactly correct. How could they be? But please, have a read, educate yourself and others a little more via something not utterly complicated. And from there, stand for your rights, your intelligence, your grandchildren, and yourself with every new day, as best you can. It’s not easy. We’re all human, after all,

Lots of love,

Pete

CONSPIRACY! Now All We Need Is A Sustainable Counter Conspiracy

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Cool rational, educated people often mock so-called conspiracy theories. But conspiracies really do exist. For example:

In 1949, [nearly defunct] General Motors, [brutal colonialists] Firestone Rubber, and [stronger than ever] Standard Oil of California were convicted by a federal jury of criminally conspiring to replace electric mass transit with GM-manufactured diesel buses; in a noteworthy illustration of justice for corporations, the court fined GM $5000 and forced H.C. Crossman, the GM executive responsible for carrying out GM’s policy, to pay $1.00.

Before you mock the GM executive only having to pay one dollar in 1949, remember what that dollar was worth in 1949. In fact, here’s the answer. $1.00 from 1949 was worth the following in 2008:

$9.03 using the Consumer Price Index
$7.48 using the GDP deflator
$15.13 using the unskilled wage
$26.14 using the nominal GDP per capita
$53.37 using the relative share of GDP

Isn’t that fascinating? Here’s the page that calculates such things, from 1774 to the present.

Back to the original conspiracy.

Cities where GM managed to eliminate electric/rail systems, and replace them with buses and private cars, included New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles.

This also happened in Vancouver, where just after the turn of the (19th) century Vancouver had an electric car system that actually far exceeded the needs or at least the size of the city. There was a route, that still exists today I believe, from Vancouver to Port Moody. Port Moody was a toss-up loser at the time to be the hub of the burgeoning metropolis.

There perhaps is no reason to believe these companies forsaw the environmental problems. Indeed, the term externalities was barely, if at all—not unlike now—included in the corporate profit plan.

That’s too bad, because these externalities (the bad ones) have played an unmitigated, unpaid for role in damaging the environment, some say irreparably, at least for us humans—and for countless other miraculous species, now long gone.

Externalities also play a massive role in the financial sector, for example, negative like gross inflation, inconceivable debt and economic collapse via speculation, irredeemable credit (and money) and endless public subsidy (subsidy pledged although the subsidy—money—doesn’t actually exist).

But back to the car. Lord knows most of us in the West have felt the seeming and real physical freedom and benefit from having a personal traveling package (a car) to scoot around in. The farther away work got, the more essential it became. Or was that what the electric transport system would have fulfilled?

I don’t know, but the original article begins:

The automobile did not come to dominate American transportation by chance or by public choice. It happened as part of a plan by auto makers to buy up and destroy mass transit companies.

General Motors led the way.

As recently as the 1920s, many American cities and towns were connected by a network of electric railroads and interurban trolleys. Within cities, electric street railways, trolleys, and elevated trains, moved large numbers of people easily and cheaply, with minimal congestion and pollution. But steel-wheeled electric/rail mass transit systems did not serve the needs of the automobile manufacturers and their allies in the steel, rubber, glass, concrete, and oil industries.

Beginning in the 1920s, General Motors began investing in mass transit systems. According to historian Marty Jezer (and Congressional hearings held in 1974), between 1920 and 1955, General Motors bought up more than 100 electric mass transit systems in 45 cities, allowed them to deteriorate, and then replaced them with rubber-tired, diesel-powered buses. Buses are more expensive, less efficient, and much dirtier than electric/rail systems. (And of course automobiles are even less efficient than buses, by far.

The full short article from 1995 is here.

Anyway, what the conspiracy of (the nearly defunct) GM, (criminally colonial) Firestone and (stronger than ever) Standard Oil tells me, is that with the right leadership, the right intention, the right understanding, and endless, relentless citizen demand, an opposite conspiracy can develop. And evidently, the sooner the better, to say the least.

We’ll see what happens. Either way, start a positive conspiracy with love and language. Just do it. You deserve a break today.

Pete

THE PLIGHT OF REFUGEES, INTERNALLY PLACED PERSONS and BEING HUMAN

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

In June 2008, after a night of terror in a refugee camp for Darfur refugees in Chad (terror perpetrated by refugees living there), a group of courageous women living there decided to speak out. They created a document that has come to be called the Farchana Manifesto.

This short piece tells their story and discusses some of the problems with long-term refugee camps, a lack of refugee rights, a lack of citizenship, IDPs (internally displaced people), the treatment of women and the pressures and demands on the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

At the end there are a also a few more refugee/IDP statistics (footnotes to the right of the piece) from around the world. The numbers of Iraqis forced from their homes since the American invasion of 2003 is worth knowing, and its interesting to see which countries are willing to take in the most refugees.

There’s an informative interview on Iraq refugees from the wonderful journalist Deborah Campbell on Democracy Now here, from 2008.

Ivan Gayton, the friend I interviewed at the beginning of the piece (and who interviewed the unnamed and inspiring and courageous refugee woman above), is as far as I know in a deeply disrupted Pakistan right now, I think Peshawar, doing humanitarian work. I emailed him a week or so ago, I will try again today, and I’m hoping to hear back soon. if I hear from him, I’ll offer what updates I can.

Wishing you, and all sisters and brothers, lots of love, awareness, compassion and freedom,

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

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

REMOVING CORRUPTION IN INDIA: Manipal, Medicine and the MCI

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

For those who are wondering or have written to ask me what happened to the video interview with the president of highly regarded Manipal University, Dr. Ramdas Pai, about corruption, I have taken the piece down.

Why?

I’m not positive I should explain this, but something inside—something to do with integrity—tells me it’s the right thing to do. It’s done in the vital spirit of transparency, which I would imagine, is sought by all who are truly against corruption.

First off, why the interview in the first place?

Well, even though the the inspiration for my advocacy work is more often on behalf of, say, the poor, the marginalized or the truly disenfranchised, I greatly enjoyed Dr. Pai’s candor, and it seemed to me that on some very real level, corruption is corruption—and corruption in the medical system surely bleeds all the way down (if the poor receive any medical treatment at all—witness some 50 million people in the US, let alone India).

The interview itself and the unpaid yet not insignificant work it took to put the five minute piece together was undertaken with the goal of making as many people as possible aware of the alleged corruption that was taking place, and also to bring attention to a person willing to courageously speak out, to take a decisive stand.

Since that time (January 2009), the journey towards full re-recognition of Kasturba Medical College (KMC) Manipal by the Medical Council of India and the Health Ministry via the Indian justice system has supposedly made progress, and Dr. Pai kindly wrote and asked me if, temporarily, I would be willing to take the piece down.

Being that the case is currently sub-judice, the legal team of Dr. Pai thought it could at this time hamper positive inroads being made in a difficult situation, possibly delaying or even jeopardizing the status of the school and medical students threatened by the huge problem of de-recognition. This seemed to me not impossible, and counter to my hopes with the piece. Dr. Pai also thought that with the general elections in full swing, it could encourage vindictive political infighting—which I think almost everybody, everywhere, wishes to avoid.

Like change itself isn’t hard enough with a coalition of 27 political parties and a legal backlog of some 27 million cases!

Thus, knowing my original goal upon interviewing Dr. Pai was to speak out against corruption, not just for my own pride but for the sake of others—I agreed to take the video down.

I also put myself in Dr. Pai’s shoes for a moment (as best I could!), and realized how I would appreciate such a request being fulfilled, were I to ask it—and would hate to be punished for candor.

All that said, my hope is that this particular battle against so-called corruption, if judiciously successful, will not only serve KMC Manipal and its students, but will be in line with the original dreams of the founder of Manipal Education, T.M.A Pai himself.

From Poornima Mohandas’ article called The Pais of Manipal—from village to overseas education:

After graduating, [T.M.A Pai] was set on migrating to Hong Kong to make money but his mother held him back, urging him to serve his people. Thus was born T.M.A. Pai’s vision to eradicate poverty by providing education and health care…

Said differently, may a judicial victory against corruption here be not only for the benefit of one wealthy institution, but used to truly and more deeply help all people, in particularly India’s massive poor, to receive just treatment, both medically and in life.

Mohandas adds:

…what of the original [TMA Pai] vision—to use education to uplift the poor? Every year, the group spends Rs5 crore on scholarships, for the top 5% in every class.

But Ranjan Pai says he has plans to up this to 30-40%—if only to honour his grandfather’s wish.

May a victory against corruption make this truly so. It’s a challenging world. We’ll see if this happens…

Lots of love and integrity, and hope, and greater transparency everywhere it’s needed for deeper justice,

Pete

PS Supposedly Dr T.M.A. Pai was actually cited in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the individual person who has established the most educational institutions, period. Wow. I’m still at zero.

A WHALE OF A RE-PRINT? Maybe not. You be the judge…

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

My friends, I just had a good conversation about a possible Greenpeace project, about anarchism and peaceful protesting, about how to protest, and such things, and if we as a species are doing enough, or too much etc, and it reminded me of this Paul Watson post I did a while back.

The piece is longer than life, but here it is anyway, and surely the whales—those amazing giants that certainly play a massive role in this miraculous eco-system and feel joy and suffering—are worth it.

What is terrorism? What is right? How far is too far? What will be looked back upon in a hundred years as heroic? As spineless? As pointless? Or with pride as a human family? Will there be a human family?

The piece was called:

A note to PAUL WATSON of the SEA SHEPHERD SOCIETY: You’re fucking CRAZY!

I don’t like writing this way, but I’m pissed off. Let’s get one thing straight: Paul Watson, “President” of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (nice name, by the way—not!) and lover of sea-urchins, whales and conservation etc—or put another way, human-hater—is crazy.

He’s a menace to things civilized. Just like those suffragettes, or civil rights marchers—like they weren’t armed? Right. Or those people fighting for the 8-hour-work-day. Or worse, he’s like—and these guys really get my goat: abolitionists. Remember them? “We’re against slavery!” Well, hotshots, we’ve still got slave labour, slave trafficking and all kinds of stuff, so where are you now? I suppose there are people fighting to end that too. Geezuz.

But Cap’n Paul Watson?

This prick is Gandhi on crack—and everyone knows what drugs do.

Actually, you can read the rest here, and give all the comments you want.

Here’s to love and more love, and less hypocrisy…

Pete

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.

Hillary Clinton’s insight and then lack of sincerity on the War on Drugs

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

One might think from certain choices and statements made by politicians, they’re on drugs.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Mexico a couple of weeks ago. Mexico, for the record, has had tens of thousands of brutal War On Drugs/drug cartel-related killings over the last few years, and 7000 murders since January alone—and we thought it was bad in Vancouver lately, with our recent killings from drug wars here. In Mexico, common citizens, folks like you and me, have been flocking to the States and Canada, trying to get away from the violence resulting from the selling of illegal drugs.

And so Hillary, arriving in Mexico at the end of March, said, rightly:

MEXICO CITY, March 25—Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Mexico on Wednesday with a blunt mea culpa, saying that decades of U.S. anti-narcotics policies have been a failure and have contributed to the explosion of drug violence south of the border.

The major force of the policies in terms of tax-paying dollars are increased enforcement (enforcement-related activities in Canada’s drug strategy make up 75 percent of our anti-drug policy), literally no discussion of decriminalizing or regulating illegal drugs (except of course the big killers tobacco and booze), and increased incarceration.

The result? Massively rich criminals (and I don’t just mean politicians and the weapon builders), the funding of covert wars, vast amounts of armed killings, no decrease in drug use and a terrifying rise in incarceration, a big factor in America, the land of the free, being the most heavily incarcerated country in the world. Never forget the world includes beacons of freedom like China, Russia and the Middle East.

Clinton states:

“Clearly what we’ve been doing [our anti illegal narcotic policies] has not worked,” Clinton told reporters on her plane at the start of her two-day trip, saying that U.S. policies on curbing drug use, narcotics shipments and the flow of guns have been ineffective.

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,” she added. “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians.”

She even…

…acknowledged that proceeds from drugs sold in the United States—an estimated $15 billion to $25 billion a yearsupport Mexican drug gangs.

Good on her. Brave statement: Weapons. Criminals making massive profits. Bad news. Now we’re getting somewhere. And obviously, as any sincere person would do, she then at least mentioned the idea of decriminalization to, if not diminish drug use, help put the criminals largely out of business, right?

Not so fast, Mr Progressive. Hillary’s ‘change’ in policy? Well, here it is:

…two years ago, [Mexican] President Felipe Calderan unleashed the Mexican military on traffickers, a move that has contributed to an explosion of violence by drug gangs. More than 7,000 Mexicans have been killed in the bloodletting since January 2008, with the gangs battling authorities and one another for supremacy.

…[Clinton praised] Calderan’s “courage”…announcing that the Obama administration is seeking $66 million in new funding for extra helicopters for the Mexican police. She also pledged further unspecified steps to block the movement of guns southward

Hmm. Remember the old commercial: ‘This is your brain on drugs’? A revamp: ‘This is a politician’s brain. This line of thinking is a politician’s brain on drugs.’

Hillary Clinton increased the war by increasing the weapons, making weapons-dealers richer, surely making illegal drugs more expensive, thereby increasing profits to the dealers their fighting, and consequently increasing desperation and theft to support a more expensive habit for the users. And, of course, more citizens will be killed in the crossfire. Well done, Ms Clinton. Very courageous.

And here’s the rub: Clinton states that ‘America’s’ need for illegal drugs is “insatiable” but never asks why this insatiable desire exists. I don’t have a definitive answer, of course—who does?—but experts like the brilliant Gabor Mate and Bruce Alexander, both in Vancouver, ironically, sure can add wisdom to the conversation.

THE ROLE OF FEAR AND INTEGRITY

I’m going to write about it soon, but it occurred to me the other day that after having so wonderfully supporting these drug lords neo-capitalist dreams for so long, and benefiting in countless covert ways, the drug lords are currently so rich and powerful—as in Mexico—perhaps politicians are now terrified for their life to even speak of decriminalization or regulation of currently illegal drugs.

Such madness might already be here, and we don’t even know it. Wouldn’t that be a surprise in a democracy?

From an article in the Georgia Straight:

Where Canada’s war on drugs may lead to in the future worries Tony Smith, a retired 28-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department and also a LEAP member.

In Mexico, Smith noted, drug cartels have grown so powerful with profits from the drug trade that they can either buy off police, judges, and politicians or kill them at will.

“What’s really the difference here and there?” Smith asked in a phone interview with the Straight.

In the U.S., according to Smith, there’s much talk about drug corruption among law enforcers. That may not be the case in Canada, but he warned that once it starts happening here, “you won’t know which policemen are under the pay of the drug people and which policemen aren’t” and “it’s a very thin line once you approach that point.”

What if, Smith asked, somebody comes “stepping out of the line and thinks, ‘Well, you know, screw it. I’m in a bit of a problem here. I’ll just take out the policeman or the judge or whatever.’ And once that occurs, then we’ll have total anarchy.”

Not pretty. Keep your discernment sharp, and your compassion high, and your belief in freedom ongoing—including freedom from fear of violence and incarceration. Why? Because one day, maybe today, the chance to vote, stand or act will come, and solidarity, compassion and intelligence will be vital.

Love to you,

Pete xox

A little more on the indefatigable Ralph Nader, and how the only thing more important than right now is the future

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Continuing on the Ralph Nader story—the remarkable Ralph Nader, I might add.

Never forget, also, that in 2000, Nader, with a legitimate ticket to simply watch, on a remote feed in a public auditorium!, the ‘presidential’ debate between Bush and Gore, was not allowed on the premises. Period.

Who stopped him? The private Commission on Presidential Debates. They were established by—who else?—the oh so different Republican and Democratic parties in 1987, and led by Big Business. This unelected commission decides who will be in the debates. By actions such as this—but not only this—the Commission has proved itself shameful, self-serving in the extreme, and a conscious deterrent to participatory democracy. In short, no surprise to anyone.

When I say Big Business, I hate to sound cliché. A little detail. One co-chairman of the Commission is Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., president and CEO of the always edifying and squeaky clean American Gaming Association which is the national trade association for the commercial casino industry. This is important, because calling a limited democracy a full democracy and getting away with it is always a gamble.

The other co-chair is Paul G. Kirk, currently a lobbyist for a German pharmaceutical company. Great. Vee have vays of making you not vote—not to mention over-drugging the world and calling that legal.

Isn’t it sort of shocking to know or be reminded of this kind of, dare I say, conspiring?

Further, the commission is or has been financed by Anheuser-Busch, Philip Morris (now Atria) and other multinational corporations who often pay deep respect and gratitude to Ralph Nader for his civic contributions.

I hope my sarcasm is clear.

As for Nader at the time, he was threatened with arrest and escorted off the premises of the debate by one man (on behalf of Presidential Commission on Debates) who was backed by three Massachusetts State troopers. In short, a private institution, saying who will debate, and telling tax-paid State troopers what to do—and they did as they were told.

You try this with a State trooper one day, and see what happens.

The danger of this should be obvious to anyone. It’s remarkable. This is in America—actually, the ‘surprise’ in that statement has grown beyond weary.

For the record, Pat Buchanan would have received the same treatment, had he shown up. But Fat Corporate Cats or their henchmen of some sort ordered this refusal of entry, and it was enacted.

In sum, Nader was already refused participation on the actual stage for the debate. Why? He wasn’t considered a factor. He was not a legitimate contender. Suddenly he couldn’t even watch it.

And people criticize him for running against the Democrats? Where was Gore at this moment? He should have been outraged.

Political Analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, in An Unreasonable Man, put it this way:

But if what we’re picking is a poll number [percentage, as to whether Nader would be allowed in the Bush-Gore debate] then what we’re in effect saying is, ‘Well, we’ll allow you in the debates if we think you’re a factor in the election.’

And so, in an election, in which now, the Gore world wants to say, ‘Ralph Nader lost the election for us’—I guess he must have been a factor in the election. But you [Gore!] said he couldn’t be in the debates because he wasn’t a factor in the election.

Phil Donahue, of all folks, put that Democratic sour grapes to the true test—action—and their shameful yet predictable failure says it all:

They killed [Nader] for saying that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties [Democratic and Republican]. And then the Democrats spent the next four years proving that he was right. The Democrats folded on the war. They folded on health care and No Child Left Behind. They hid under their desks.

Alan Mass put it this way:

“If only they [one of the most shameful, for me, is the Nation columnist Eric Alterman] managed a tenth of this kind of venom when talking about Republicans. But instead, their sanctimonious and humorless diatribes are directed at the man responsible for seatbelts and airbags in cars, anti-pollution laws, any number of workplace safety regulations—and the most significant left-wing electoral challenge to the two-party political system in a half-century.”

When asked, on Democracy Now, why Nader would run in 2008, he replied:

One feels an obligation…to try to open the doorways; to try to get better ballot access; to respect dissent in America and the terms of third parties and independent candidates; to recognize historically the great issues have come in our history, against slavery, women rights to vote, and worker and farmer progressives, through little parties that never won any national election. Dissent is the mother of ascent. And in that context, I have decided to run for president.

When that’s wrong—and it will never be wrong—there isn’t anything more to say. The fight’s over. Thank god for fighters.

Lots of love to you, and lots of acting on your conscience, listening to your soul, and demanding more from those who are entrusted with your hopes, or beliefs, via the vote. And speaking of those folks, be careful…

Pete

NADER 2000, 2004: Unwanted At Any Truth

Monday, April 6th, 2009

The reasonable man adopts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adopt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
—George Bernard Shaw

I know, I’m a little late in my coverage.

Nonetheless, people often bemoan Ralph Nader for losing the election for the Democrats in the American elections of 2000 and 2004. If that’s all it took, as Nader himself said, with the awfulness of Bush’s record, they didn’t deserve to win.

The consumer advocacy bills passed by Nader in the late 60s and 70s are truly astounding—think about what he did!—and the dismantling of them in the 1980s, and the pathetic response from Democrats in Washington are equally startling. Okay, they’re kind of expected, so less astounding.

Anyway, some suggest (see here the wonderful and unsanitized An Unreasonable Man) it was this Democratic spineless surrender to its dismantling more than anything else that pushed Nader’s hand to run. The victory of Bush, in this way, was sewn, to a degree, via the pathetic efforts of Democrats during the Reagan years.

Further, if one looks at how relatively close the electoral vote was for Obama in 2008 (in terms of percentage, 52.92% to 45.66%), perhaps only the deep and often immoral disaster of Bush—and I think that’s a fair assessment—could have opened the way for a Democrat, let alone, black President.

Bush was historically low in terms of popularity.

So, if you’re happy or grateful for the Obama victory, maybe consider thanking Ralph.

Anyway, here’s a quote from Nader’s speech at Madison Square Garden in 2000. Nader, on ten days notice, filled Madison Square Garden, something the other Presidents could likely never have done with all their money. And if you want to know where the establishment media stood on it, the ‘liberal’ New York Times commented on the event at the bottom of page A16, and largely (or small-ly) not even as a legitimate voice, but as the problem for Gore.

Sad but unsurprising. And now the paper, like so many others, is virtually bankrupt. It used to be a joke the idea of getting one’s news from the internet. Alas…

From Ralph Nader, imperfect, of course, but citizen extraordinaire:

The students are not learning. They’re not learning citizen skills. They’re not learning how to practice democracy. They’re not learning the creative force of their personality and idealism and imagination…

Maybe if we started talking about citizen globalization, civic globalization, instead of corporate globalization the world would move forward…

Imagine seeing people everywhere as sisters and brothers? Teaching kids deeply about civic involvement and the meaning of citizenship, where things like, say, disgusting, health destroying food wasn’t the status quo? Where the scam of bottled water under Pepsi, Coke and Nestles etc didn’t exist virtually unnoticed by the mainstream? A world where the majority of our food wasn’t owned by napalm producing companies like Monsanto and and cigarette companies like Phillip Morris (now called Altria)?

Is that not a definition of insanity, or something profoundly Orwellian?

Imagine a place where people understood what exactly money is? I still don’t, but this endless printing of paper is confusing. A world where the word Government would stop being used as a euphemism for what is really being said: tax-payer?

That’s a good thought, and a great meditation. Keep talking using words that actually have integrity and meaning, and eating food that serves the body and mind, and spending money in ways that serve the environment, as if there is some inherent truth to these actions.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

The 360th Anniversary of the Diggers…

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I have some genealogical history from this time—an Uncle named Elias Ashmole, Loyalist, Astrologer and Alchemist and a collector of antiquities (always a bit dodgy)—which made this historical piece from Marina Pepper in the Guardian Online, entitled G20: In memory of the Diggers, all the more interesting.

But either way, it is timely and instructive, and just goes to show you about how with Power, ‘La plus ça change…’:

After a moving account of home displacements in Britain and around the world, Marian writes:

“[In Britain last year] 40,000 homes were repossessed; this year it could be 75,000. I’m taking action for our ‘common treasury’…

And then retells a little history:

In 1649 England’s revolution was over, the King’s head was off [Charles I] and Cromwell was mad [in every sense of the term—just ask the Irish]. The common lands, instead of being opened up for the people, fell into the hands of profiteering prototype money men [wow, that's so weird and primitive. Glad it's not like that now].

Demanding only self-sufficiency [how dare they!], suggesting land be held as “a common treasury for all” [imagine!], the Diggers occupied St Georges Hill in Surrey—where the likes of Max Clifford now play golf and tennis after a hard day making squillions.

…the Diggers were beaten and in some cases hacked to death for their troubles. Nice.

In their memory and in solidarity with the world’s diaspora, I’m taking direct action with the Black Horse at the Bank of England on Wednesday. We’re carrying pillows – a symbol of our fundamental human right to shelter, and to be used in self-defence should the coppers try to “cut us down”.

What a world. Thank god for pillow carrying activists saying, “You know, this may not be right.”

And I love this line from wikipedia, about my ol’ Uncle Elias:

“In 1646–47, Ashmole made several simultaneous approaches to rich widows in the hope of securing a good marriage.”

Fantastic!

Lots of love to you and yours, and may you have shelter and tenderness…

Pete

NOAM CHOMSKY ON DRUGS, yet again

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

I actually wrote a long paper called Noam Chomsky On Drugs, about the Insite safe injection site on the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, and the madness and hypocrisy of the War On Drugs. It was fascinating research. But I never heard this four-minute talk from Chomsky, largely about the perverse history of prohibition of marijuana.

Now remember, for what it’s worth, I do not use drugs. I do not even drink alcohol (maybe a sip of wine on rare occasions). But all the realities of the disaster of drug use aside (and alcohol and cigarettes are the worst), the delusion behind what we call the War On Drugs, and how we moralize against some drug use, is simply startling, fascinating and compelling in its hypocrisy.

This is from Chomsky, and he can’t even help but laugh as he describes studies in the 1930s showing the effects of marijuana on dogs—it makes them insane, evidently. One might even say barking mad. After getting stoned, all they want to do is watch TV, lick their balls and laugh at bad cat jokes (I made the last sentence up)

Here’s the kicker. According to youtube, this video is, or may be, offensive to minors! The world is insane. Have you seen the ‘kill anybody in sight’ video games minors can play with?

By the way, I hate the term minor. It’s like minor, as in not yet fully significant.

The audio is here.

Lots of love to you, and freedom,

Pete xox

NOAM CHOMSKY ON DRUGS: Vancouver and the Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

With the startling number of drug-related/gang-related shooting deaths/hits in Vancouver—ah, peaceful Vancouver—over the last couple of months, I found myself misquoting something I quoted a year or so ago in a long research essay I did called Noam Chomsky On Drugs (pg 30).

It was this:

Indeed, the criminal drug trade is protected by ‘legitimate’ society’s support for its continued criminalization. By definition, the trade would be largely defeated by decriminalization—while admittedly still not curing the problem of addiction.

Either way, in terms of profit-making ventures in a profit-oriented world of, at times, inconceivable inequity, the lure of narcotrafficking profits are overwhelming. Kash Heed, Chief Constable of West Vancouver, lays out the extraordinary market potential of opium:

“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)…

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.

A report in the National Post (Aug 17, 2007) discussed an RCMP annual report on organized crime that stated the number of gangs in Canada had increased from 800 in 2006 to 950 in 2007:

“Wherever there is profit to be made, organized crime can be found,” the study said. The illegal drug trade still makes up the bulk of organized crime activity in Canada, with about 80 per cent of all gangs involved in it.”

There’s too much money involved for the trade to be stopped, the main people aren’t stopped, disease spreads and crime continues.

Man, what does it take to see that one’s moral issue against the regulation or decriminilization of drugs (not even the legalization of drugs) is in lock-step with the drug lords and drug dealers, and war-funding hawks of the world—whether one admits that or not?

And this is just one aspect of the paradox. Ah, the disaster of drugs, on countless levels.

May you be intoxicated by life, love, and other abstractions,

Pete xox

‘TIS THE EVE OF THE ELECTION: The POLITICS of TRUST and the MANIPULATION of WORDS

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

I just read an article in the New York Times by one Edward Rothstein about the collapse of not only the economy, but trust. With undeniable pessimism, the writer finishes thusly:

What is strange is that we now depend on the state to re-establish trust by rescuing and even nationalizing financial institutions, relying on the same authority that gives paper money its value. But after the events of the last century, can anyone fully believe that the state should be the ultimate standard for trust and fiscal faith?…We are in for perilous times.

Look, I don’t understand these things too well—highly complex institutions built on years of conniving, manipulation, ideology and power etc. Heck, I’m as baffled by bullshit as the next person. Nonetheless, the last paragraph, for me, is symbolic of a grand epidemic of misunderstood and incorrectly juxtaposed terminologies.

I am no authority on language, but it’s still really depressing, and I’ll try to explain why. Feel free to correct me or add to the explanation or whatever.

IT SHOULD BE CALLED THE FEDERAL UNRESERVED

Firstly, there is a sort of implied link in the paragraph (perhaps unintentional) between “the state” and said state being “….the same authority that gives paper money its value…”

This is absurd, of course. The institution that prints the money (excessively) in the United States is the largely privately run (not state run!) so-called central bank known as the Federal Reserve; it prints money and sets policy as it sees fit, and has ushered in disasters like fractional reserve banking, where a bank can have next to zero currency in its reserves, and thus lend thin air.

Although far from perfect, I’ll let the almost-Presidential candidate Ron Paul explain, and again here.

THIS IS NOTHING NEW

This central bank, also know as the Fed, founded in 1913 and run by unelected personnel, has nothing to do with being state run unless one describes the state as elite business interests in bed with big government interests, giving birth to policy as the two parents deem fit and in their own interests—using a host of neo-Orwellian terms like the market, National Interest, free market, democracy and so on. That is to say, perhaps they once had clear meaning./p>

This, we forget and have forgotten in this election, is also how it is with the Democratic and Republican parties. They are two sides of the same coin, with relatively inconsequential differences, overall (hence the bipartisan ‘yes’ for the tax-paid war (and killing field), tax-payer bailout etc etc).

MIXING METAPHORS AND METAFIVES

Also, the writer asks “…can anyone fully believe that the state should be the ultimate standard for trust and fiscal faith?” The answer is a big no. This is so obvious as to evoke tears. But why on Gods’ green earth (green as in greenbacks) does he say “the state”?

The two people putting the bailout terms together are the team of Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasure Secretary (former Goldman Sachs CEO) Henry Paulson. Hardly Bolsheviks. In a June 12, 2006 Business Week article, it stated:

“Think of Paulson as Mr. Risk. He’s one of the key architects of a more daring Wall Street where securities firms are taking greater and greater chances in their pursuit of profits.”

The article also says, as if Business Week and Paulson are best buds—for everyone loves an indiscriminate capitalist:

Hank Paulson’s profound understanding of risk and reward makes him the perfect pick for the Treasury.”

That’s “Big” Hank Paulson to you. Okay, capitalist Bolsheviks, maybe.

Evidently, the bailout is one of the greatest transfers of public money—an economic coup—from the tax-payers’ pockets to private banking interests in history. Okay, Stalinists who allow free speech. And this system of public subsidy for private profit is endemic.

Anyway, this handout has very curious ‘regulations’ on how it will be distributed—hence the continued massive year end bonuses within the banks being bailed out—and how it will be ‘paid back’, ha ha, to the taxpayer.

A CHUNK O’ CHANGE

Finally, one of the huge problems of the writer using the term “the state” in this article is that he almost certainly didn’t write at the time of the collapse that either 1) this bailout should not happen or 2) if it does, that it should be a standard shareholder investment in the bank, by the tax-payer who have to pick up the tab. Not the rip-off it is.

In other words, with the bailout the state shouldn’t or won’t own the banks (and they don’t anyway), but rather the tax-paying people who bailed the banks out, because they bought it, broken, at a cheap price, like those foreclosure sales, should own a good chunk. A fair chunk. A market value chunk.

GROUCH MARX

A little too Marxist, perhaps—although I have but a rudimentary knowledge of what that word means. However, the words “worker owned” come to mind, heaven forbid.

Because why should the people who paid for the banks, pay into the banks, and bailed-out (saved) the banks, share in the ownership of the banks?

NEWSSPEAK AND DOUBLE TALK

Not much can be done about the manipulation of words, except the ongoing intellectual self-defense of having great mentors, reading good history, seeking alternative media, thinking more expansively, less-tribally, and with more compassion. Hopefully. And of course I know I’m wrong all over the place too, and lack in knowledge and clarity.

So let me state an aspect of my ideology here: my friends, I’ll take a kind conservative over a cruel liberal—or a kind liberal over a cruel conservative—every day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

He we let the rest of these details divide us (even though the devil is occasionally in the details) is one of the grand idiocies of our time.

Love to my sisters and brothers, and may we all get along a little better,

Pete

HUMAN FIGHTS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: HARLAN COUNTY USA

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

I just watched the 1976 Academy Award winning documentary Harlan County USA, for the first time in a long time. It is a compelling, staggering testimony to the historical—and in countless places—current fight for the rights of laborers. If anybody thinks Unions are awful, or unnecessary, watch this film and decide how you, as a worker, would fight for even minimal rights without an organized group around you.

You can’t. You’d be doomed, destroyed and dead.

In short, Harlan County USA is about the strike that took place in dirt poor Harlan County, Kentucky in 1973, over 13 months—a repeat of sorts of what had taken place there and all over North America from the late 1800s into the 30s and 40s.

Barbara Kopple was the young director, and to make an extraordinary film, she risked her life, along with the strikers, to be sure. Throw in Black Lung, foul and inhuman working conditions and wages (hundreds of feet underground), strike breakers with sticks, pistols and machine guns, strikers (also with the occasional gun), brutal poverty, a corrupt United Mine Workers Union, murder, wives with more guts than you can believe, and an utterly uncaring, brutal Big Coal Corporation, and you get yourself a jaw-dropping film.

Here’s what I think is the original trailer.

Some people—brothers and sisters, after all—have it so tough, all you can do sometimes is weep.

Lots of love to you, and may all beings be treated a little better tonight,

Pete