Archive for the ‘Social Awareness’ 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.

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

DECONSTRUCTING AN ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

“If we use fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly. This method is barbarous and wantonly wastefull. A far better way would be to avail ourselves of the sun’s rays.”
—Nikola Tesla

I wrote the other day, in this blog:

There seems no doubt that we have to continually find ways to retrofit and reshape what we have already, with sustainable practices, technologies, actions and creative genius. What could be more destructive than smashing it to rubble, or building everything new—which takes remarkable amounts of energy? I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read that it’s more sustainable to get full life (if we can call it that) out of your present car, then simply abandoning it and buying a hybrid—ie getting a new one built.

I still don’t know the facts with cars, but here’s a blog—the greenest building is the one already built—about the most sustainable homes (in general, of course) being homes that don’t get torn down for a long time. Tearing down and rebuilding homes evidently takes tons (or better put, decades) of energy.

It’s so difficult trying to figure out energy consumption when money (paying bills) covers our tracks—and our eyes. In other words, if we used X amount of energy, and then there was no, say, hot water left, we’d really get it. North America, if you have a little money, has this seemingly endless trough of energy, never stopping, never ending. This, of course, is false. But this is one of the reasons, among many, that the carbon tax idea is so dangerous, at least to my thinking. There is no real sacrifice involved. Just like fines for corporate polluting that are far lower than the resulting profits, it all becomes, simply, a trade off, and ultimately a hidden “tax” paid by the consumer, for as long as the consumer money is there. Clearly, Mother Earth has finite resources, although surely the sun offers us sustainable brilliance…

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ’til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
—Thomas Edison

Instead of paying for our waste, better question might be: must we create so much non-renewable waste to create a given product? Again, surely there is some sort of in-out ratio maximum and minimum that could be described as sustainable or piggy…

And here’s another site, called The Original Green. People are putting in a lot of work to figure these things out.

Sending you lots of sustainable thoughts. Love is the most sustainable thing going. And good, low-on-the-food-chain food, helps keep it flowing.

Pete xo

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.

ANIMAL CRUELTY ABOLITIONISTS

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

In the Philosophy of Civilization, Albert Schweitzer wrote:

“We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”

If that’s true, we’ve got trouble ahead, my dear friends. Heck, we have got trouble ahead. But hope too. And intelligence. And forced adaptation.

As for me, I eat vegan at home and vegetarian not in the home (and moving towards veganism outside the home). At the same time, I humbly understand that my vegetarianism is to a degree a privilege of financial advantage and living in the West (India or Hawaii or multi-crop places make full local vegetarianism easily possible), and my body responds easily and well to the diet. Some bodies, it seems, don’t, including the Dalai Lama’s, evidently.

Let me explain what I meant by privileged: if I lived on a local diet in the Pacific Northwest, it would be difficult to not at least eat fish in winter (assuming there are fish left). Dairy would likely provide some good things, with a well-treated cow in the backyard. In the meantime, and Copenhagen notwithstanding, bringing out-of-season vegetables and fruit (and almond milk) into Vancouver all year round is no meat-eating Hummer driver, but still less than perfect fossil-fuel wise.

That said, I unequivocally abhor the cruelty inducing aspects of factory farming and much of subsidized/state socialistic agribusiness in general. Most any air-breathing being capable of exploring the situation would surely have some problem with the relentless mistreatment of these unfortunate animals (yearly, some 49,000,000,000 [49 billion] chickens alone are pushed through this clinical meat grinder), and their lack of anything reflecting a decent or normal existence, even prior to becoming a fast food crap burger.

Some humans, of course, will be indifferent to this process, and will simply think it’s a dog-eat-dog, or rather a human-eat-livestock world, regardless of how brutally the animals are mistreated, and some will violently defend their right to be cruel to animals if they damn well feel like it.

But for one who sees the pet dog and the about-to-be butchered pig in the same light, the same spectrum of feeling and emotion, what is there to do? For one who is against the endless mistreatment of animals, what is there to do? What should their stance be? How should or could they begin? I can’t say, but personally, I think it’s personal. And within our person we develop or degrade integrity and character by the things we stand (up) for, whatever they may be. In the meantime, here’s a thought provoking piece from the Georgia Straight. An excerpt:

In a phone interview from Newark, New Jersey, [Gary] Francione pointed out that the whole raison d’être of the animal-rights movement, like all social-justice movements, is to extend compassion and respect—without discrimination based on factors like race, sex, ability, or species—to all beings.

“It doesn’t make sense to go around yelling and condemning people.…There is a very misanthropic pulse that runs through the animal-rights movement,” he said. “If I was a seal hunter, I would be highly offended and I would be saying, ‘Why are they coming after me?’ Well, it’s because I’m an easy target.

I even felt this way about Michael Vick, the quarterback who was involved and charged for his ring-leading role in dog-fighting. As wretched as that ‘sport’ is, the reflexive, blind attack on Vick’s undeniable ignorance and cruelty, even sickness, was, for me, a profound explosion of unconscious hypocrisy in the extreme. “Let’s go bitch about that bastard Michael Vick over a double bacon cheeseburger at McDonald’s.” Great.

Francione, who is a massive proponent for the rights of animals, continues.

Similarly, I will have nothing to do with anti-fur campaigns. Should women wearing fur? No. But am I interested in [targeting] women who wear fur? Not really. I’m much more interested in leather, wool—the sorts of things that are worn ubiquitously. The fur issue is so small…it just gives people another reason to go up to women on the street and give them a hard time.

“Listen, I don’t like what they [hunters and fur farmers] are doing to animals, but I don’t like what any of us are doing to animals, and so I don’t see why they should be treated differently from anybody else. We all share in this mess. We’re all responsible, and we all have to do something about it.”

He said that although these groups give us many reasons to be alienated by the animal-rights movement, they’re not giving us any reason to change the way we view animals in any meaningful way.

“Their focus on media [stunts], fundraising, and welfare reform is backwards. Welfare reform serves only to make people more comfortable with the perpetuation of animal use. What is the causal relationship between animal-welfare reform and abolition of animal use? I have been asking myself this very question now for 23 years and I’ve never found an answer. There is no empirical proof that it has worked.”

Love to hear any intelligent thoughts. Here’s to hoping all sentient beings may be treated better, even our very selves, day by day by day, be a little kinder, a little softer, a little stronger in defending the innocent, everywhere…

Pete

“[A]ll breathing, existing, living sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away.”
— Acharanga Sutra (Jain) at 4.1.1.

Something like 56 billion animals are killed every year by the meat, dairy and egg industries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (stats for 2007).

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

AN OPEN LETTER TO RICHARD DAWKINS: MAN-MADE CLIMATE CHANGE or is SCIENCE SUBJECTIVE?

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Dear Richard,

Hope all is well. With the Copenhagen Summit nearing its end, and little apparent consensus on anything, I read this quote from you today (from December 7, 2009):

“Whatever you think about global warming and whether humans are responsible, I think we have to salute this remarkable feat of international cooperation. Here is an account, by a Guardian journalist, of the difficult process of getting the joint editorial together.”

My wife doesn’t think I should take issue with you for saying “Whatever you think…” She’s probably right. She’s almost always right. Nonetheless, with thousands of life-forms supposedly in peril—including our own—it really pushed a button in me, and I do take issue.

For since when do you say, “Whatever you think…” about anything? With respect to believers in God, I don’t think you’d every say: “Whatever you think…” You’ve said, in fact, things like some religious believers are “pig-headed and ignorant.” Fair enough, as a passing comment.

But with climate change, and going by your scientific guidelines, shouldn’t we only “salute this remarkable feat” if it’s in support of something true? For Richard—and I don’t disagree with your condescension here either—you do not salute two million people from countless nations gathering in Rome to wave to the Pope, as “remarkable” a “feat of international cooperation” as that may be.

And, because my issue with the above quote might just be one of semantics, or a misinterpretation, I actually take issue with it in combination with this quote from you in 2008:

“I am not that well versed on climate science and don’t feel qualified to take on the deniers. I am well versed in evolution, however, and that is why I am happy to take on creationists.”

I apologize if I’ve missed a lot of your writing on the subject, but that quote just doesn’t cut it.

To the contrary, Richard, you take on creationists and spirituality and, thankfully, extremists, while actually having, admittedly, very limited knowledge about the nuance of, say, Eastern philosophy, religion and belief (not an insignificant part of the story and, admittedly, a topic of interest to me).

However, you are a scientist—a great scientist. So I wonder this: as virulently outspoken as you are against your religious opponents, when will you be similarly outspoken where your scientific colleagues are concerned—one group of which must be dangerously wrong—and state for the record what the scientific data shows to be true, or what it doesn’t show to be true, in terms of climate change?

SCIENCE WITHOUT INTEGRITY IS BAD RELIGION

Why is this important? I’ll give you my reasons, but keep in mind—and I’m serious about this disadvantage—my IQ is undeniably not nearly as high as yours.

Nonetheless, I think your integrity—your fairness and objectivity—as a human being may be dependent upon taking an aggressive stance, not to mention vital to a portion of world perception, with regard to so-called man-made climate change.

Also, can you please explain how the lay-person is to understand the so-called rationale and clarity of science, when all these scientists, often with access to the same “incontrovertible” facts, are truly at each others’ throats with insults and accusations?

Further, you are considered one of the world’s most important intellectuals and you are undeniably brilliant in the field of evolutionary biology. I have read several of your bestsellers, as well as your largely ‘non-evolution’ book The God Delusion. Are religious fundamentalists in fact an utter disaster for humanity? Dangerous? To be sure, some are.

But from your point of view—and mine—fundamentalists are known to be irrational, and religion tends to be pathologically speculative.

But scientists and science? Is that not all about being rational? Impartial? So if we are truly in danger of mass extinction by our actions, why aren’t you becoming “well versed in climate science” to aggressively oppose those scientists who deny man-made climate change?

I fear your hatred for religion combined with your unstoppable belief in science has stopped you questioning if in fact science can deliver all you promise it can deliver.

Let me explain.

SERVING LIFE, SERVING DEATH

Only a fool would deny that the way human beings have come to understand and interact with the planet, through science and scientific advancements, is jaw-dropping in the extreme—I’m talking a jaw dragging on the floor, where once only our knuckles dragged. That I am right now alive thanks to modern medicine and using a small machine in my office to write this open letter, and then with one click of a button will post it to millions (well, in my case, hundreds) of other humans, is mind-boggling.

But similarly, only a fool (or a liar) would deny the mountains of experimental and experiential evidence of human carnage that proves scientists have produced and continue to produce the most hideous yet mind-blowing array of military weapons and environmental poisons imaginable, seemingly forever unsatisfied with their previous subsidized models of utter destruction.

Indeed, some of the greatest scientists of the 20th century gathered during World War II in Los Alamos to relentlessly pursue and capture the secrets of atomic fusion and fission, and created weaponry capable of destroying the species. Some still argue it was the right thing to do.

MAN-MADE CLIMATE CHANGE and CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS

And here we are with so-called man-made climate change, which according to many scientists, threatens the species as we’ve never been threatened before. For the record, but only via the news and my limited understanding of science and the data, I tend to agree with this thesis—I’ve even written for desmogblog.com—and it makes me scared for myself and all species on the planet.

I also fear that the monstrous size and nature of this ugly debate, and its resulting confusion, may be pushing to the fringes utterly undeniable environmental disasters. For example, the increasing lack of potable water for billions of humans; or the pending disaster (or ingenuity) that will arise with the continued depletion of fossil fuels.

Further, as the deniers of climate change become more persuasive—and they are, evidently, thanks to scientists and the media—I believe a side-effect of this polarized debate is oozing into a significant percentage of the masses and suggesting that all loud environmental concerns are likely exaggerated Left Wing/ New World Order conspiratorial ploys. And you think you had problems with religious fanatics? This is devastating to intelligent life.

SO WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT SCIENCE?

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, 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.

Both conclusions, incidentally, seem to be anathema to your belief that the scientific method is the ideology to live by if we are to survive as a species.

As you have said:

“Science is actually one of the most moral, one of the most honest disciplines around—because science would completely collapse if it weren’t for a scrupulous adherence to honesty in the reporting of evidence.”

At this point, Richard, while the species waits to see if what you say about science is accurate—or accurate enough—I’m more worried that what will “completely collapse” is the biosphere.

And there may be “a scrupulous adherence to honesty” in the science behind creating, say, nuclear weapons—one of untold science-driven inventions of devastation—but I’d be hesitant to use the word moral.

MAN-MADE MAN

So where are you, Richard? Are you even a little bit aware or even ashamed, if not of science, of the limits of character and integrity within your scientific family, plagued as they seem to be by dishonesty and confusion—not unlike all others in all other facets of human existence? It’s obvious the exhausted George Monbiot is wringing his hands in lonely desperation. But George is a mere journalist. You are a scientist who declares science to be our only real hope. If we are truly in peril as a species, and being a scientist of great renown, shouldn’t you be a lot louder than George Monbiot?

THE EXTERNALITIES OF FREE SPEECH

In short, Richard, as of late 2009, most solidarity-inducing forms of listening, trust, debate and kindness between people of differing views but similar vulnerabilities seem to have gone to the dogs.

We lay people need you and other ‘rational’ scientists to step up with your detailed analysis of the evidence because it is vital for both the continued integrity of science and, evidently, life as we know it. And hopefully detailed analysis from outside a person’s scientific field will leave him or her less vulnerable to being sold out to big business or a rapacious desire for continued funding. Or perhaps not. Perhaps science, like politics, is to a frightening degree now run by corporations and lobbyists.

You alone have sold over two million copies of The God Delusion. Put some real clout behind the climate-change science. After all, so many of your colleagues are saying this is the greatest catastrophe in human history. Many other colleagues are saying it is a hoax. Ah, science—it’s beginning to sound like religion.

So I ask you, where do the scientist “deniers” of man-made climate change—with access to the same data as the “believers”—fit into your definition of science?

Many people undoubtedly want to know, including me, because as a non-scientist I’m truly confused by what are these days passing for science and freedom of speech—which has become a free-for-all led by the richest, rudest and most inflammatory. Are we not, all of us, unconsciously deafened by a cacophony of intentional lies, half-truths and unreason—sometimes our own?

Indeed, it is not solely the deniers of man-made climate change that make my belief in man-made climate change less stable, but also relentless boardroom manipulations like legalized theft for multinational corporations via carbon-tax speculation and the unconscionable lengths to which the financial sector will reshape reality to maximize profit.

And if the problem is largely the media—which have served your work so well—then, my god, rail against media (and use science if it helps).

SOLIDARITY

Either way, in my opinion, as surely as any decent religious person should aggressively disown foul and murderous commands within their given holy text, you are ethically obliged to come out in full force against either the fallibility of scientific consensus due to the subjectivity quotient of scientific data, or the accidental incompetence of some of your scientific colleagues, or the corruptibility of some of your scientific colleagues (on whichever side).

In comparison, your attack on religion was easy. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, you don’t by definition respect religious believers. Secondly, many aspects of religion are laughably and hopelessly irrational. But these scientists are the proponents of your ideology and your bread and butter. They may even be your friends.

Are the facts obvious or not? Or are we experiencing The Man-Made Climate-Change Delusion?

Richard, if man-made climate change is truly putting the species at severe risk, please put field selectivity aside as you have surely done before. We need your honesty, your wisdom, your integrity, your outrage and your commitment to humanity.

If not, we lay people may just resort to prayer.

Sincerely and with affection,

Pete

FOOD and HEALTH CARE: The Avoided Curse

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

“The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine.”
—Hippocrates

These days, truly eating nutritiously and consciously is not only good for you, it’s a political act. If we are what we eat, then we’re highly processed and a lot of vacuous calories. We are junk food. If it’s not real food, are we then not real people? Or mostly corn syrup?

I still think, like a red light district, we should have a fast-food district. Vacuous, environmentally-hateful food need not be prohibited, just put in its place, a sort of decriminalized zone where johns and food producers who despise nutritional food and don’t care what our children eat can hang out. Instead of this, the food owners—from Philip Morris to Kraft to Nestle to Pepsi—perversely rule massive chunks of our politics, our (un) consciousness and our (ill) health.

If they didn’t, wouldn’t bad food (fast food, processed food) be brought up—like it should be—as perhaps the biggest cause of spiraling health care costs? We need harm reduction on the Downtown Eastside to be sure, but how about with ourselves?

Our food habits are so bad, that even our staples have gone to hell: brown rice to white rice, whole wheat bread to white bread, tons of sugar, endless corn and corn syrup and most everything processed.

Our basic food choices, and even the foods doled out as charity (let alone at public schools—now that’s criminal) I think teach us a lot about the hatefulness and control over our lives that we ignorantly surrender to bad-food makers—the fast food/agribusiness ignorance/addiction to short term profit.

Anyway, this report from the Tyee reminds me of at least a portion of what is at the bottom (of the barrel) of our unpreventive medicine, our health care problems, and the simultaneously perverse combination of being obese and suffering from malnutrition—not to mention being artificially sweetened.

Poor nutritional health is one of the major contributors to sickness in low-income neighbourhoods like the Downtown Eastside, and socio-economic status is among the most important factors associated with health disparities in Canada. For Stephanie, an unhealthy diet will soon take its toll. The Hepatitis C, which limits her liver’s ability to absorb nutrients, will further rundown her immune system and reduce her body’s ability to respond to HIV-related infections. This means increased hospital visits and additional strain on the public purse.

The financial cost is borne by every Canadian who pays taxes. Health-care spending in Canada is roughly $120 billion a year [I have read—but can't verify, politics being politics—diabetes in the States costs $176 billion].

According to a 2004 study by the Health Disparities Task Group, the poorest 20 per cent of the general public (people like Stephanie) accounts for 31 per cent of health spending on people who aren’t institutionalized. That’s double the average spent on the richest 20 per cent.

Because a fifth of health-care spending can be attributed to income disparities alone, the study maintains that big savings could be had by raising the health status of low-income Canadians to middle income levels.

How about to all of us?

The full article is here.

Eat well and try to be happy,

Pete xox

MICHAEL VICK, BLIND HYPOCRISY and the SYSTEMIC CRUELTY of FACTORY-FARMING

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

“Just like a red-light district, I would also push all fast-food restaurants and slaughterhouses to a fast-food district, maybe call it an animal-cruelty district, and people can go there if they really can’t stop themselves.”

Every time I hear about professional football player Michael Vick, I feel both sadness and disgust at the dog-fighting racket he was a part of. Most people would. And then I feel sadness, disgust and hopelessness at the hypocrisy and blind stupidity of most of the articles written about him—that by their blindness promote mass animal cruelty.

For the record, how much of Vick’s rehabilitation was about decreasing his consumption of cruelty-produced meat? The first thing he probably did upon release was take his contrition and go to a McDonald’s drive-thru. Ah, yes, free again.

This is an article from the Boston Herald summarizing his interview on 60 Minutes.

[60 Minutes interviewer James] Brown asked, “You cried a number of nights? About?”

Vick replied, “About what I did. Being away from my family. Letting so many people down. Letting myself down. Not being out on the football field. Being in a prison bed, in a prison bunk, writing letters home … All because of the so-called culture I thought was right, I thought it was cool, I thought it was fun and exciting. It all led to me lying in a prison bunk by myself — with nobody to talk to but myself.”

Why else do we eat fast food other than “because of the so-called culture I thought was right, I thought it was cool, I thought it was fun and exciting”? It surely isn’t remotely good for us, and it runs the inherently brutal and cruel factory-farm food producing culture. Perhaps, like the undeniably sick things that were done to those poor dogs, both processes are, in different ways, addicting. We are blindly addicted.

Brown asked Vick whom he blamed for what happened.

Vick said, “I blame me.”

Yes, first and foremost, blame Vick, by all means, for the torture of those poor dogs, and then perhaps mention a culture whose biggest businesses are things like weapons that are too foul to describe what they do, drugs whose illegality support incarceration and massive wealth and privilege for suppliers, and utterly cruel animal slaughtering factories that produce the raw materials for disease-producing fast food. All this in a rich (okay, bankrupted) culture where millions of children have no health care whatsoever.

Similarly for the cruelty of fast food production, I blame first and foremost the fast food giants and their advertisements for addictive, disease-inducing food—food served in schools, no less.

And how about a political (and parental) culture that can actually continue this endless, vital, yet possibly hopeless debate about health care reform, and not mention such white elephant-in-the-room-reasons the costs are so out of control? Three main reasons: fast food (and processed food), alcohol and cigarettes.

I blame the consumer, of course, too. It ain’t easy being human.

The “60 Minutes” piece recounted the downfall of Vick, who bankrolled and participated in an interstate dogfighting operation called Bad Newz Kennels on a farm he owned in rural Virginia. Police removed 66 injured dogs and exhumed the bodies of eight more. Vick pleaded guilty to being part of an operation that engaged in a litany of cruel acts upon animals that included beating, shooting, electrocuting and drowning them.

Is this not an accurate description of at least a proportion of a massive (and thus the proportion is massive) factory farm industry that does this to multi-millions of animals everyday? Animals systemically abused for food that often is anything but healthy. Is that not, by some definition in a sane world, criminal?

Brown said pointedly [good job, James], “Horrific things, Michael.”

Yes James, they were horrific things. Please do a truly in-depth expose on factory farming, and the fast food market that is a monstrous and important reason health care reformation can never really work in America (and is difficult everywhere else)—people just do not take care of their own health. Politicians will barely, if at all, speak out against eating food that is a nutritional wasteland—indeed, supports countless ugly diseases, from heart disease to diabetes to obesity.

Imagine the outrage if a craze for putting shit into gas tanks actually swept the nation. But these aren’t gas tanks, these are consumers—I mean kids.

Vick said, “It was wrong, man. I don’t know how many times I got to say it. I mean, it was wrong. I feel tremendous hurt (by) what happened. I should have (taken) the initiation to stop it all. And I didn’t. And I feel so bad about that now. I didn’t step up. I wasn’t a leader.”

Will 60 Minutes, or any major media conglomerate or newspaper, be a leader?

Brown asked if he agreed or disagreed that it showed “a lack of moral character” that he did not stop it.

Vick said, “I agree.”

I agree too. For both parties. One, evidently a damn good athlete of not that great intelligence. The other party? Well, you decide what they are, if not hypocritical, unrepentant and ignorant…

I am a freedom guy. A vice is seldom a crime. I would not criminalize hard drugs, cigarettes, alcohol or fast food. However, fast food production in a sane society actually may be a crime for what it systematically does to other sentient beings, who have no choice in the matter (this includes not only the animals, but the kids who eat them ad nauseum).

Crime or not, if I had a bigger voice, I would make fast-food cost its true cost, which would be exorbitant. Why? Just take out all tax-payer subsidies to agribusiness—which are anti-free market after all—and charge companies (and the consumer) for environmental externalities.

And just like a red-light district, I would also push all fast-food restaurants and slaughterhouses to a fast-food district, maybe call it an animal-cruelty district, and people can go there if they really can’t stop themselves.

It wouldn’t be pretty, but at least it would be more honest. Both Jim Brown of 60 Minutes and Michael Vick could do the interview there, over the factory-farm carcasses I am sure they enjoy.

Here’s to trying to support as many beings at being as happy and free as possible, in a demanding world,

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

FACING ALI Academy Release July 10-16 in New York and Los Angeles

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Hope all is well. This is a blog for all those wonderful folks who have written or called or wondered where and when they can see Facing Ali. First off, I’d love you to see it! I’m not the only one. Check out this photo of ‘The Greatest.’

I’ve been lucky enough to be at full screenings in Seattle, Washington DC and Los Angeles, and I cannot say enough about how generous and enthusiastic the crowds have been. It was like family—families who really love each other. It’s also been shown in Nantucket and Maui.

For now, though, FACING ALI is opening June 10th for a limited one week engagement in LA and New York in what is called an Academy Release. This allows the film to have a shot at an Academy Award nomination. Wouldn’t that be something? That happens, and you’ll all see it.

If you happen to be near either of these two theatres, I’m so happy. If you know anyone near those places, please send an email or make a phone call.

New York:
New Coliseum Theatre
703 West 181st Street
New York, NY 10033

Los Angeles:
Laemmle Claremont 5
450 West Second Street
Claremont, CA 91711

If not, damn I’m sorry. Either way, spread the word if you’ve seen the film, or spread the word if you want to see it. You will love these ten guys who fought Ali, had their lives changed forever, and were a huge part of Muhammad Ali’s evolution. I loved ‘em.

The TRAILER is here.

And check this out for three online reviews.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

BANKS, BAILOUTS and BULLSHIT: If You’re Logical Enough, You Can Get Away With Anything

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

“By a continuing process of inflation, government can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.”

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

I read today:

President Barack Obama’s $75 billion plan to [refinance mortgages etc to] keep millions of Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure may be doomed to fail because banks simply don’t want to refinance mortgages.

That is the conclusion of a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which found only 3% of seriously delinquent borrowers (those more than 60 days behind in their payments) had their loans restructured by lenders.

Restructured doesn’t even mean saved (or bailed out). It just means helped. Now granted, as Jenifer McKim wrote in the Boston Globe:

The lenders [banks] may have compelling reasons not to find new borrowers to help, according to the study. For example, up to 45 percent of borrowers who did receive some kind of help on their loans ended up in arrears again, the study found. Conversely, about 30 percent of delinquent borrowers are able to fix their problems without help from their lenders.

But what does this say about the clearly known idiocy of this particular bail-out ideology—tax-payer money—in the first place? Is that not fraud?

And if it’s tax-payer money, it’s by definition money from a group of people who, according to countless statistics, are already, per capita, up to their elbows in debt. What kind of sense is that?

Suddenly a bunch of tax-paying citizens, massively in debt, and against their own desires and instincts (if we have any left), are, by the continuing stroke of a fast-writing pen, turned into little public lending institutions (actually aid institutions) to help out, well, uh, big, private lending institutions.

According to the prescient Federal Reserve, in 2007, consumer debt—not including mortgage debt—was around $8,500 for every person in the US. Every person. Extrapolating, if you and your partner (or ex-partner) have, say, three kids, on average you’re $42,500 dollars in debt. Again, before the mortgage. Or put another way, before the foreclosure.

However, if one considers cumulative debt, which would be calculated as follows: all government debt + all corporate debt + all personal debt all divided by the American population of just over 300 million, then the total debt per person in the United States is about $700,000 US, or, at 2.28 people per household, $2.17 million per household.

Geezuz Murphy. Think about it—without killing yourself or stockpiling ammunitions. What the hell does that mean? Something? Nothing? Everything? World Government Takeover? IMF restructuring? A big default because the US owns all the military hardware? I need a chai.

TANGLED UP IN BLUE (I mean Red)

Isn’t it fascinating how little can be understood with regards to what the heck is going on with the economy, with the bailouts, with banks, health insurance companies and everything else? Truly astounding. I can’t even comprehend my taxes. Seriously.

One thing is for sure, whatever is happening, it is so often utterly counter intuitive to the point—and this may be the point—that we abandon any serious involvement. It’s like living within the rules of quantum mechanics and thinking therefore we don’t really hurt when we fall off a building.

Despite all the economic collapse that the Federal Reserve fellas didn’t see coming (and, yes, countless others saw it coming for years), these same Federal Reserve non-seers get put back in a position to ‘repair’ or work on what they couldn’t see coming in the first place. And they get to use tax-payer money to do it. That’s got to fit the definition of a scam.

In fact I’m going to look up scam.

Scam, noun:

1. a confidence game or other fraudulent scheme, esp. for making a quick profit; swindle.

Further, there are all these ‘spooky’ things (to quote Einstein) that go on with banks, like lending nine times over the money the average-person deposits in a bank, or the blight of compound interest on loans, or offering sub-prime mortgages to countless would-be homeowners who they knew couldn’t pay back.

And I know we ‘consumers’—primed from birth—are also often moronic, believing debt has virtually no meaning. Meanwhile, consumer debt has increased in the past couple of decades beyond all other debt types (corporate and government), percentage-wise—so clearly we all have the disease. Of course, it doesn’t help that real wages have, for so many, been stagnant for a long time (there is great argument about how stagnant, and for how long, and what this means).

Anyway, back to banks and loans et al: The in-general-bubble gets so massive that it bursts, and certain banks go down (or so it seemed). So with great logic the federal government bails out these banks with tax-payer money that doesn’t exist, and with that money that doesn’t exist, puts the banks in charge of helping out the folks with bad mortgages who they already duped (or at least co-duped).

As usual, the possibly compassionate yet ultimately ineffective congressman Barney Frank put it this way:

“The problem is worse than we thought. The failure to do these modifications means the whole situation stays bad longer.”

Great. Thank you. Call a committee!

Admittedly, I don’t really know what’s going on. That silly summary is just the best I can do, loosely, trying to understand what’s going on. Either way, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston put out this study saying that the $75 billion bailout to banks to help with these foreclosure diasasters, is barely being used at all for that purpose.

And somebody is supposed to be surprised?

“Loan modification is not profitable for lenders,” Boston Fed senior economist Paul S. Willen told The Boston Globe. “If it were profitable, they would go out and hire staff.”

Willens goes on to suggest:

Instead of giving the $75 billion to banks, Willen and others believe the administration should distribute the money directly to homeowners.

Did the banks and their rational, logical, cool-minded economists mention that before they got the $75 billion bail-out for, well, loan modification?

If they did, it had no power.

The game was all but over when the bailout happened. “Here fox, look after these chickens!” “Hey, pedophile, look after these kids!” “Hey banker…!” Or should we say bankster, as in gangster, as I believe FDR did?

Now there will be (or already is) some committee and some commission to check out what might have been illegally or ignorantly done and in the meantime the money will be gone, reused, rechanneled, or spent on bonuses, holidays or prostitutes on weekends away.

Bright people in positions of power have to have known this would happen (that’s their job!). Ah, well, back to my screenplay. Why didn’t I get an education?

The full article with links to the Boston Federal Reserve study is here.

May you have a house to live in (and may it also be a home),

Pete xo

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

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

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

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

SUZAN MAZUR: Evolution, Epigenesis (and Epigenetics), Embryology and Funding

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Suzan Mazur, god love her, is on a relentless tear to force the media (and in some cases, the scientific community itself) to keep up and fairly and honestly promulgate the ever-expanding ideas on the Darwinian view of the theory of evolution. In some ways, evolutionary biologists have been the slowest to adjust (or maybe I just like to write that last sentence). Whatever, it’s a simply remarkable field, and Suzan Mazur is working it. Life, this wondrous life.

Suzan has written this online book—The Altenberg 16: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up?— which has wonderfully probing interviews, comments and quick exchanges in it (from Stuart Kauffman, Stuart Newman and Jerry Fodor to Richard Dawkins).

This is a revealing interview with Scott Gilbert, whose abstract from a recent paper is as follows, abbreviated:

In 1893, Thomas Huxley, wrote, “Evolution is not a speculation but a fact; and it takes place by epigenesis.” Note that evolution’s chief defender did not complete his sentence with the phrase “natural selection,” for Huxley was interested in the generation of the diversity needed for natural selection. That phase of evolution was regulated by development. Recent work has established five main mechanisms for the generation of anatomical diversity through changes in development, and this talk will review them and provide examples from the recent literature.

The short yet interesting interview with Gilbert is here.

An excerpt:

Scott Gilbert: They like the conflict theory. I found the Brooks’ article. It’s the February 18, 2007 David Brooks NYT column—and I’m quoting: “From the content of our genes and the lessons of evolutionary biology it has become apparent that nature is filled with competition and conflicts of interest.”

Suzan Mazur: Well he’s a vehicle of the economic status quo.

Scott Gilbert: Of the right. Yes. But I think that’s how evolution is taught. It comes around to what Huxley was saying about human nature, that we will use evolutionary biology to justify ourselves. And that in saying that nature is inherently amoral and self-interested—well, we’re just part of nature. We justify our doing evil things because we say our genes made us do it. Darwinian selection. We’ve been selected to be competitive bastards. We don’t usually hear about any other model, say, that we are the current pinnacle of the evolution towards cooperation.

Lots of love to you, and grand amounts of joyous, wonderful, even sexy cooperation in the complexity—and may such ideas find their way into National Geographic and the New York Times,

Pete xo

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