Our Leaders Are Psychotic

          We have to take power over our own lives

                     Rulers love this stuff Photo by UX Gun on Unsplash

When powerful people are used to being right all the time, they may find it almost impossible to admit they are wrong. In his excellent book Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed gives examples of how unwillingness to admit failure has led to plane crashes, wrongfully convicted innocents, patients dying from malpractice, companies going bankrupt. Syed shows that people’s inability to change course when failing often leads to disaster.

How far does this psychological block go? The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) just told us; it goes all the way to eternity. WSJ headlined a full-page opinion piece on April 27, “The US Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.” Written by Seth Cropsey, a former undersecretary of the Navy, the piece is an unhinged recitation of lies about Russian “atrocities” and “intentions to dominate.” He acknowledges Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons if NATO continues to arm and support the Ukrainian government, but he sees the answer as increasing US nuclear power to intimidate Putin into backing down. He advocates increasing US military advantage with thousands of new nukes, to the point where Russia would not have the capacity to retaliate if we nuked them first.

This is madness beyond anything I’ve seen in my adult life. The US is so committed to being the sole dominant power in the world that, rather than share power with Russia or China or anyone else, they would blow the whole thing up. For 70 years, the world avoided nuclear war by the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD.) Neither the US nor the USSR could use nuclear weapons without being destroyed in return, so nobody used them. Even non-nuclear combat was avoided, because of the danger of escalation to nuclear war. Now experts like Cropsey are saying we must not only be able to “win” a nuclear war; we have to “show we can win it.”

What does “winning a nuclear war” mean? Cropsey doesn’t say, but it seems to mean having some kind of functional government left while your enemy is wiped off the face of the Earth. It would certainly mean mass suffering and death on a level never seen or imagined before, and that’s the best case scenario. More likely is a nuclear winter and death of most everything on Earth, an outcome no sane person in the US, Russia, Ukraine, or anywhere else would want to risk.

Image :science.org

Why do people act this way? Syed’s book attributes most reluctance to change to “cognitive dissonance,” meaning that admitting we have been wrong conflicts with our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world. This conflict is extremely uncomfortable and explains why powerful people will keep doubling down on failed strategies, long past the point where they are obviously not working.

The entire US power structure appears to be experiencing dissonance as China and Russia develop. US leaders have committed to “full-spectrum dominance” of the world. It’s not enough for them to be #1; they have to be the one and only. They will not allow even a potential rival, an approach clearly stated in the 1997 document Rebuilding America’s Defenses by the Project for The New American Century. After 25 years of this uniquely paranoid and destructive belief, it may be next to impossible for them to change voluntarily.

Vladimir Putin may be having similar cognitive dissonance now, with US and NATO sending massive amounts of weapons and money to Ukraine, making it a far more formidable foe than he had anticipated. He can’t back down, a dynamic that happens frequently in wars, so they don’t end until the enemy marches into your headquarters and kills you. We are now hearing analysts saying “Neither side can afford to lose.” If losing is out of the question, will they negotiate a compromise, or will they double down on winning and gamble away all of our lives?

At this point, Russia is throwing around threats of nuclear attack because, with US and NATO ganging up on them, they feel desperate. That doesn’t make them right, but they have been very clear about it for decades. Maybe they are having a national case of cognitive dissonance, or maybe the US and NATO are having one. Maybe they all are, but we don’t have to join them.

Capitalism’s built-in cognitive dissonance

The need to dominate the world isn’t only psychological; it’s economic. Cognitive dissonance is built into capitalism, when the rich willfully choose to believe their system is sustainable when it clearly isn’t. Then we get wars.

War can never stop for long under capitalism, because of what Karl Marx called its basic contradictions. Capitalism needs to continuously expand, so corporations can maintain profits and pay back the interest they owe. Profits always tend to drop, because competition drives down prices. Meanwhile, wages can only be reduced so much before workers quit or starve to death. So, corporations must keep growing to remain profitable, but other companies are trying to do the same thing. Wars happen because there’s no room left for companies to expand. All the spaces are taken.

This was the cause of World War 1, not all the assassinations and alliances we learn about in school. The imperialist powers of Europe had run out of countries to conquer and had no place to expand except by taking on other imperialists. When the violence of war had destroyed much of Europe’s economies, there was room to expand again as they rebuilt.

Capitalist economics, along with leaders’ inability to admit they were wrong, was the only reason for that war that killed between 15 and 25 million people. After 20 years of rebuilding, European imperialism was back in the bind of no room to grow, hence World War 2 that killed over 70 million people in Europe and Asia. To build support for these wars nobody wanted, civilians on both sides were fed steady diets of propaganda about how evil the other side was. Exactly the same techniques are being used on us today — atrocity porn: civilians (supposedly) massacred, hospitals (supposedly) bombed; fear of invasion (‘Putin wants to take all of Europe!’), glorification of our troops and allies (Zelensky the hero!). The playbook hasn’t changed in 100 years.

The fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s opened up huge space for expansion in Asia, so capitalism hasn’t needed a World War 3, until now. They had a long series of small wars in colonized countries instead, but now China is taking up too much space. We’re back in that primary contradiction of needing room to grow.

To summarize, we now have systems where individual leaders like Putin and collective leaders like tech, finance, and military industry oligarchs are trapped in a psycho-economic maze that leads inevitably to war. The whole capitalist system is running that maze which, since neither side can “afford to lose,” now means nuclear war. They won’t change course of their own accord. They can’t; it would be psychological and financial agony for them. We have to do it for them.

What can we do?

World War 1 killed everything in Europe for four years. It didn’t stop until the socialist revolution in Russia, something that scared the capitalists even more than economic collapse. Socialism doesn’t have the built-in need for growth and the boom-and-bust crises of capitalism. Although people weren’t very prosperous under authoritarian socialism, they could live with it, but the mega-rich couldn’t.

Could we prevent war with such a revolution now? I’ll tell you one thing: our rulers think we can and are doing all they can to stop us. They have their propagandists and their police agents working full time to suppress people’s opposition from the Left or Right to their murderous system. They’re cutting back on free speech with the help of the tech industry. They’re dividing us by color, gender, sexual preference, age, religion, taste in music, and every other way they can think of.

I doubt the rulers’ fear is justified. People are profoundly disorganized; we all think we’re on our own. In 1917 Russia, there were workers’ councils called Soviets that could take over and run things. Here, few workers even have unions, and those unions are far from revolutionary.

But maybe the belief system that can organize us has yet to appear. Look at what’s happening in Sri Lanka, where hundreds of thousands of people are coming out in a militant general strike, occupying town squares against their government’s crimes. People are doing similar things in France right now. They’re finding each other in the streets. They’re doing it because they’re desperate. We may not be desperate enough in the US yet, but we soon will be.

Rebellion in Sri Lanka Image Thilina Kaluthotage h/t Indrajit Samarajiva www.indi.ca

I don’t know what our unifying goal will be. I hope it has something to do with committing to regenerating our planet, living in harmony with Life, not focusing on death. That’s kind of a vague goal, but we need to unify on something, and we need to start now. Our leaders are psychotic; we need to be the sane ones, even if they kill us for it.

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Maximize Life, Not Production

Working with Nature heals; working against it brings profitable death

                       All this came from Mother Earth Image: Wikipedia

All life and all wealth comes from Earth. Everything we eat and drink, the places we live, the clothes we wear all originate in Nature. If we want Earth to keep giving, we can’t keep raping and taking from It. We must also give back. No matter how damaged it has become, Nature can regenerate itself, but it needs our help.

Indigenous people have been telling us to live in harmony with Nature ever since we colonized them, but colonists set up systems of private land ownership and a capitalist economy based on money instead. Now, sort of at the last moment, it seems people have realized their need to work with Nature instead of ruthlessly exploiting it. Regenerative farmers, foresters, gardeners, and others are taking effective actions to slow climate change, stop the spread of deserts, and return people to healthier, more connected lives, starting with our food.

Food is life

Food is our deepest connection with Earth. It comes from soil, which is the combined remains of living things that have come before, along with living microorganisms, and we return our bodies to the Earth daily through our bowels and our bladders and finally through burial. (At least, we did before modern plumbing and funeral practices.)

Farmers used to care for their soil so it could keep producing. They planted trees to hold the soil and cover crops to enrich and protect it. They kept animals, who aerated it with their hooves and fertilized it with their manure. They gave it seasons to lie fallow and recover from producing.

Those ways enhanced soil for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that money interests conquered farming and demanded maximum productivity at the lowest possible cost. They replaced the huge variety of natural grains with a few hybrids that gave high yields using lots of chemicals. They started planting every available space with salable product, used mechanical tractors that compressed the land, cut down trees, stopped using cover crops, and maximized growth with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

                    industrial agriculture Image: PermacultureNews.org

So, more food was grown for more people at lower prices, supporting a larger population with fewer farmers. Sounds good, right? But what about the soil?. The chemicals kill the fungi, insects, bacteria and birds, the web of life that is returned to us as food. Without the trees and cover crops, the soil dries out and blows away in the wind or washes away in heavy rain. Farming without giving back to the soil caused the American Dust Bowl in the 1930s and turns tens of thousands of acres of farmland to desert every year.

Indigenous farmers understood the need to cooperate with Nature. A-dae Romero-Briones, Director of Programs, Agriculture and Food Systems for the First Nations Development Institute says, “When we farm, we’re thinking about natural cycles, and how do we become more embedded into those natural systems. This is very much the opposite of what agricultural systems are today, which try to kill everything except the plant that you want to grow.”

The indigenous way, which many traditional farmers followed, was about maximizing life. Modern agriculture seeks only to maximize production. Farmers are forced by their economies to produce more at lower prices and often go broke.

Regenerative farming

Today some farmers are returning to ways that collaborate with Nature instead of exploiting it. Farmers are restoring land, growing healthier food, pulling carbon from the air and bringing water to thirsty land. These methods are called regenerative agriculture, farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR), biodynamic farming, or permaculture, and they are spreading around the world through books, teachers, web sites and videos. They borrow heavily from indigenous practices and also from science.

Each practice is a little different, but they share the goal of improving soil and environment, not maximizing yield of a single crop for profit. With these methods, soil gets more productive over time instead of wearing out.

Romero-Briones told Bioneers.org, “Our idea is that you absolutely need to be part of the natural cycles around you. You need to adjust to them in order to create not only a healthy food system, but also healthy people, a healthy environment, and a happy mental state.”

You can view the powerful effects of regenerative farming in a documentary called The Biggest Little Farm. The film follows John and Molly Chester, a young white couple from Santa Monica who set out to grow healthy food on 210 acres in Southern California. The land had been severely depleted by years of industrial agriculture. They knew next to nothing about farming when they started, but with mentoring, some investors, and a tremendous amount of work, they created an Eden amid the dry Southern California hills.

                        John and Molly Chester on their farm Image: Netflix.com

It wasn’t easy. Before they could plant crops, they had to turn the dry dirt back into living soil by planting cover crops and bringing in ducks, chickens, sheep and cows to fertilize the land. The new greenery brought all kinds of pests, but they worked with Nature to control them. No poisons.

Snails were eating their vegetables, while duck poop had caused a toxic algae bloom in their irrigation pond. So, they moved the ducks into the fields, and they ate the snails. Their poop fertilized the field. Pond restored, vegetables saved.

They grew beautiful organic fruit that attracted swarms of starlings, who took bites out of most of the fruit, rendering it unsaleable. John nailed up owl houses on their buildings; dozens of owls came and drove the starlings away. Coyotes were killing their chickens; gophers were eating their crops. They strengthened the chicken coops and brought bird-friendly guard dogs in to protect the chickens. Now the coyotes hunt down the gophers and keep them under control with the help of gopher snakes and birds of prey.

Their farm, called Apricot Lane Farms now produces large amounts of high-quality organic food and enriches the soil at the same time. They are not getting rich, but they are economically viable. They employ dozens of workers, make lots of connections with potential customers. They get additional labor from interns who come from around the world to help and learn.

When I first watched this film, I thought, ‘most people can’t do this, because they don’t have the resources.’ But then I realized, society has lots of money. Every farm in the world could be regenerative, and so could much currently un-farmed land, just using 10% of the resources presently devoted to war.

If you’re interested, a lot of investors are looking for regenerative projects to fund. Being “sustainable” or “regenerative” doesn’t mean withdrawing from society. It means connecting with society in new ways that focus on creating life, reconnecting farms to non-farm dwellers. So, Apricot Lane Farms gives tours to visitors, creates educational programs and children’s books about how to farm with Nature.

Life Vs. Production

How does maximizing life affect business plans? Before they had any crops, Apricot Lanes began with free-range chickens, running around eating bugs and seeds, laying delicious eggs. They sold out dozens of cases in hours at every delivery. Vendors asked if they could get larger quantities.

The Chesters replied, ‘No. The chickens wouldn’t have enough natural food to eat. They’d have to eat grain (like all commercially-raised chickens,) and the eggs wouldn’t be as nutritious or taste as good. More important, the land would be degraded and couldn’t keep producing.’

That’s how food systems should work. What maximizes life, not how can we make the most money. Land needs animals on it to thrive. But too many animals grazing too small of an area turn land to desert. Growing only one variety of plant in a field diminishes the life of the field and the nutritional quality of the crop, though quantity may increase for a while.

                                  indigenous farming Image: Yes Magazine

Permaculture and biodynamics are being widely used in India, as you can see in these videos. These farmers are preserving Indian varieties of rice and farming practices against agribusiness attempts to force them to use patented hybrid rice and agricultural chemicals.

Farmer-managed natural restoration is taking hold in Africa. Heat, drought and poverty make things much harder there, but it’s really inspiring what these farmers accomplish in Niger, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and elsewhere. According to an article by Chris Reij of the World Resource Institute, “Northern Ethiopia is now greener than it has ever been during the last 145 years,” and “Human investments have overridden the impacts of climate change.”

Life vs. greed, not socialism vs. capitalism

The question is not socialism vs. capitalism. Capitalism’s essence is turning Nature into products and selling more and more of it for private profit, so it is inherently anti-Life and unsustainable. But authoritarian socialism can be just as bad. Chairman Mao, one of the greatest of all socialists, said “Man must conquer Nature.” He wanted to help people at the expense of Nature. The result was a series of massive dams that flooded whole districts, drove out indigenous people above the dams and disrupted agriculture below them.

How do we maximize life? Others know far better than I, but I feel we need to connect with Nature as closely as possible. More of us need to farm or garden. People like the Black women in this article are farming places that weren’t growing food before. If you can’t start your own regenerative farm, can you join a group that’s doing it, or invest in such a farm, or buy their produce? We can also plant trees, or support people who do.

                           Image: Mother Jones

Politically, we can stop using chemicals and advocate for keeping chemicals out of food and water. Support indigenous movements fighting for water and against oil pipelines and wells. Support giving land back to indigenous people who know how to live on it. Cut way down on emission of greenhouse gases.

Certainly, none of these changes will help if governments keep fighting wars. If capitalism takes us into a nuclear war, all bets are off.  War is hugely destructive of Nature, and even in peacetime, the military is the world’s biggest polluter.

But there is still hope. Though many scientists say the greenhouse effect is too far gone and we are doomed, I remember that Nature, through soil, trees, shellfish and swamps can remove carbon from the air and reduce global warming. It can bring water to the surface and regenerate dead land if people cooperate. We need to use our science, technology, our hearts and and labor to help it. Indigenous people know how to do this and we can follow their leadership. If we commit to working with Nature instead of against it, if we make Earth sacred again, we may still survive current catastrophes.

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More Prisons Create More Crime

A society based on punishment makes us all less safe

                    Photo by Rajesh Rajput on Unsplash

Progressive District Attorneys such as San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin are being attacked with the insult: “soft on crime.” Boudin faces a recall election largely funded by wealthy donors who demand more people be jailed and more police be hired to “keep us safe.” But studies show punitive “law-and-order” policies can actually create more crime than they prevent.

This may sound counter-intuitive, because convicts cannot commit further crimes while behind bars, except against other prisoners. And data does show a reduction in overall crime of about 1–2% when rates of imprisonment go up 10%.

Even this small benefit appears to be self-limiting. According to a paper by Dan Sterman of the Vera Institute of Justice, “Analysts are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that continued growth in incarceration will prevent fewer, if any, crimes, and at substantially greater cost to taxpayers.” Against a slight short term benefit of removing potential criminals from society, he says, we need to weigh the long-term disruption caused by imprisonment and its stimulus of future crime.

District attorneys make a big difference in how many people go to prison for how long. They decide whether the justice system focuses on punishment or safety. When it comes to crime prevention, tougher is not necessarily better. We need well thought-out social approaches.

Crime-causing effect of incarceration

Sending people to jail or prison is like sending them to criminal trade school. An article in Crime Museum.org analyzed, “Inmates are segregated from the general public and forced to live in a society with people for whom crime is a way of life. For many, time spent behind bars will push them farther into a life of crime.”

Incarcerated people often suffer abuse at the hands of jailers and other prisoners. They are isolated from their families who would give them love and support if they could. They may well be traumatized, beaten, or raped, leaving them angry, fearful and potentially violent.

When they do get out, they have few job prospects , because few will hire ex-convicts. They may have lost their job or their home because of time spent in jail. They can’t keep up payments for child support or rent.They may have lost rights including the right to live in public housing, to apply for public assistance, to take out student loans, or to vote. That is why a ten year study of 401,288 state prisoners by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), found that “An estimated 68% of released prisoners were re-arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years.”

Ex-prisoners were arrested an average of 5 times each during the course of the study. Prison and social conditions had turned them into career criminals.

Some experts once hoped that prisons could rehabilitate prisoners through fear of re-imprisonment, therapy, job training, mentorship, or religion, but studies never showed significant benefit. Very few American prisons even try anymore. An article in the American Psychological Association Monitor found that, “A combination of strict sentencing guidelines, budget shortfalls and a punitive philosophy of corrections has made today’s prisons much more unpleasant — and much less likely to rehabilitate their inhabitants.”

Raising generations of criminals

Imprisoning parents traumatizes children, and many of them act out their trauma violently. According to the NIJ, ”Children of incarcerated parents are, on average, six times more likely to become incarcerated themselves.”

That’s a lot of additional crime, and it’s a totally logical outcome. Children of imprisoned parents will have less money, less secure food and housing, fewer educational opportunities and less parental support. They also have shorter life expectancy. They may not see realistic alternative paths. Having an imprisoned role model might lead some to figure, ‘Why not me?’ Although there are few long-term studies and no clear consensus, it seems clear that locking people up can create more crime.

Does fear of prison deter crime?

Other than getting criminals off the street, the main argument given for incarceration is deterrence of would-be offenders. Won’t people tend to avoid actions that could land them in prison? Seems logical, but again, data shows that the effect of deterrence is minimal.

A meta-analysis in Justice Quarterly by Christy Visher of the University of Delaware of found that higher rates of imprisonment may deter crime, encourage more crime, or have no effect. As sociologist Daniel Nagin explains in the journal Crime and Justice, if you have family, neighbors, and friends in prison, going to jail no longer causes shame. It’s just what people do. 

On the other hand, ignoring crime tells would-be criminals that society doesn’t care what they do. People funding the recall of Chesa Boudin charge him with releasing arrested people too readily. They call it, “Catch and release,” a policy they say causes more crime.

                                   Chesa Boudin and colleagues Image: Chesaboudin.com

True, as with raising children, there have to be some consequences for hurtful acts, or people will keep doing them. But taking crime seriously does not have to mean incarcerating those accused. Fortunately, there are dozens of alternatives to incarceration, including restitution, community service, probation, and rehabilitative services. Such alternatives call for people to be supervised and supported, not released and forgotten.

According to the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, these alternatives “keep people with their families, in their neighborhoods and jobs, and allow them to earn money, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities…They protect the public by addressing the causes of crime, such as drug addiction, mental health issues and poverty.”

Such programs, some of which are called restorative justice, focus on making victims whole and moving offenders toward healthier lives. Restorative justice takes time and resources, though usually not so much as jails and prisons. According to his web site, DA Boudin is gradually expanding restorative programs, but there seems a long way to go. In a couple of high-profile cases, drug-impaired offenders released without enough support have gotten into fatal accidents in stolen cars, killing innocent people.

To make sentencing alternatives and restorative justice work, ordinary citizens will have to get involved in the lives of troubled people to mentor and assist them. Programs will have to be created to monitor and protect them. It’s not as easy as locking them up, but it beats sending them to prison and having them come out as hardened criminals.

Crime’s social causes

A former District Attorney told me that in his experience, neither the justice system nor police have much effect on crime. Crime’s causes are social. People steal mainly because they lack money. They become violent because they are alienated or mentally ill. Foster children are especially likely to lack support and be pushed to crime to support themselves.

Some causes are cultural. In a society that judges people by material possessions, some people will try all means to get some. If parents are too busy, overwhelmed or absent, they won’t be able to guide their children. Youth may not have other adults in the community to advise them. They may pick up habits of cruelty and violence from authority figures, government and media.

Public support for incarceration also has social causes. People hate living in fear and will do almost anything to feel safe. Studies may show that punishing millions of people in prison doesn’t make anyone safer, but such punishment may soothe fearful people’s fears.

Incarceration has strong economic and political benefits for the imprisoning class, including capitalists, for-profit prisons, prison supply companies, and police. 19th century railroad multi-billionaire (in today’s money) Jay Gould, famously said, “I can hire half the working class to kill the other half.” (Sometimes quoted as “half the farmers” or “half the people.”) Modern billionaires hire half the people to lock up the other half.

In small towns and cities around the country, prisons are the main employer. Mostly white, mostly rural, mostly poor guards are hired to control mostly Black, mostly poor, mostly urban prisoners. How much social unrest would there be among these groups if their prisons closed? Who fears this unrest?

Prisons are a tool of class war against the poor. As Michelle Alexander PhD wrote in The New Jim Crow, incarceration replaced slavery and segregation as a way of suppressing African-American people and dividing the working class. Despite Black Lives Matter activism and COVID-related prisoner releases, police budgets and mass imprisonment continue to increase.

In the 1970s, there were around 340,000 Americans incarcerated; today, there are over two million, far more than any other country in the world. The surge in incarceration began in the Nixon presidency and accelerated through all succeeding Democratic and Republican administrations. Joe Biden is a huge advocate of mass incarceration and used COVID funding to set off a new prison boom, according to Slate.com.

Prisoners are people too

We often forget that people who commit crimes are still people. The punishment prisoners suffer goes far beyond that suffered by most crime victims. They are legally kidnapped, restrained, battered, and robbed. They lose huge parts of their lives and relationships. Some people may be too violent to live in society, but most convicts just need some help to change. Often, their “crimes” are lifestyle choices that don’t hurt anyone.

Eric Reinhart wrote on Slate.com, “The long and ongoing history of abuse of incarcerated people makes plain that incarceration harms the health and safety of prisoners, staff, and the public. Even before COVID-19, researchers showed that incarceration takes from two years of life for each year spent locked up to about five years of life expectancy lost by age 45. And, as recent studies have underlined, the health of entire communities ultimately suffers as a result of America’s high incarceration rates.”

In spite of the science showing mass incarceration generates as much crime and far more suffering than it prevents, people have for decades been voting for prisons. Lately, though, attitudes are starting to change. Anti-incarceration DAs like Boudin and Lawrence Krasner in Philadelphia, have been elected around the country.

The Real Justice Project is an advocacy group that seeks to “elect civil-rights minded prosecutors to reduce mass incarceration, police violence, and injustice.”In four years, they have elected 18 DAs who have saved their cities millions and kept thousands of people out of jail.

But when these progressive DA’s s file charges against brutal police, or exonerate and free wrongly convicted people, they inflame police agencies and ultra-conservatives against them. Several cities including Philly and SF have seen publicity campaigns claiming crime is out of control because of insufficiently punitive DAs. In truth, crime is up in most cities regardless of their police and DAs. Some pro-police, tough-on-crime DAs like Sacramento’s Anne-Marie Schubert have seen surging rates of violent crime in their cities, but their policies are never blamed for the suffering.

Several progressive DAs, including Boudin face recalls around the country. But so far, voters have embraced alternatives to incarceration. In Philadelphia, DA Krasner fought off a well-funded effort, handily beating a law-and-order challenger.

Boudin is trailing in the polls and being massively outspent by far-right big money contributors, but maybe he will beat this recall if enough people come out to support caring, smart-on-crime policies.

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SF Friends: On June 7, we can choose to return to lock-them-up policies that cost the city millions, wound families and communities, damage health, and increase long-term crime rates. Or we can give DA Chesa Boudin more time to implement alternative justice approaches. Some of us might even participate. Vote NO on Proposition H. Contribute to the Real Justice Project.

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Fight To The Last Ukrainian

Or to the last living thing on Earth

                         Photo by elCarito on Unsplash

While expressing support for Ukrainian civilians living in a war zone, US leaders are openly saying they don’t want the war to end. They want to trap Russia in a “quagmire” to “bleed” Vladimir Putin until his regime collapses.

Historian Niall Ferguson wrote on Bloomberg.com in early March “The only end game now,” a senior administration official was heard to say earlier this month, “is the end of the Putin regime. Until then, all the time Putin stays, [Russia] will be a pariah state that will never be welcomed back into the community of nations.”

When and if Putin falls, the US hopes to replace him with a government friendlier to US corporate interests, who will sell off Russian natural resources — and who knows — maybe their nuclear weapons. What could possibly go wrong ?

This regime change goal is why there have been no serious peace negotiations. Last week, Ryan Grim of The Intercept asked Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki what the US was doing to promote negotiations. She replied,”We are Ukraine’s largest provider of military and humanitarian and economic assistance, to put them in a greater position of strength as they go into these negotiations.”

In other words, we’re helping Ukraine to keep fighting and civilians to keep dying, but not doing anything to stop the carnage. Biden has not talked with Putin, nor Secretary of State Blinken with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. They don’t want peace.

Using wars to bleed countries they don’t like is traditional American policy. Before US entered World War 2, then Senator Harry Truman said, “If we see that Germany is winning the war, we ought to help Russia; and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible.”

I can’t even wrap my mind around that level of evil, but as Paul Atwood, author of War and Empire: the American Way of Life. writes on Counterpunch, the US has carried out this policy in Ukraine ever since WW2 ended.

“In the same year that NATO was formed,” he writes, “the Central Intelligence Agency trained Ukrainian anti-communists, some of whom had also been pro-Nazi collaborators, to use Ukrainians to bleed the Soviet Union, a gambit that demonstrated a cold ruthlessness on the part of the CIA, because the agency knew that the Ukrainian resistance had no hope of success without wider American military involvement.”

So, Atwood says, “America was in effect encouraging Ukrainians to go to their deaths.” CIA policy still encourages and arms extremist elements such as Ukrainian neo-Nazis, jihadists in the Muslim world and far-right militias in Latin America, because those groups are more likely to fight against governments and social movements the US doesn’t like. They literally tore apart the former Yugoslavia by exploiting historical conflicts and resentments to provoke separatist movements in places like Croatia and Kosovo. They inflamed anger between Shia and Sunni in Iraq to divide the resistance to US occupation, creating generations of jihadists on both sides, according to Moroccan journalist Zouad Muehkennet in her powerful book, “I Was Told To Come Alone.”

We’re still sending Ukrainians to their deaths and calling it solidarity. Former US Ambassador Chas Freeman says, “The US is fighting Russia “to the last Ukrainian.” This strategy is horrible for Ukraine, but could turn out far worse than one destroyed country. It could cause the end of higher life on Earth.

              Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

The nuclear option

For 50 years, US and Russian nuclear arsenals have grown far past the point where any sane person could consider using one. This policy was called “mutual assured destruction,” (MAD) the understanding that neither side could attack the other without being destroyed itself. MAD has prevented world war since the 1950s, although there have been constant proxy wars between client states, killing people in the global South.

Now US economic and proxy wars have forced Russia into a corner and Putin has responded by putting his nuclear forces on “high alert.” War hawks in Western governments and media are calling for a “No-fly zone,” which means sending US planes to keep Russian planes out of Ukrainian air space. What would happen when one of these planes gets shot down?

In such tension, even the slightest miscalculation could start a nuclear exchange that could kill everyone. Nuclear explosions and resulting fires could loft large amounts of dirt into the high stratosphere, where it could block sunlight for several years, a calamity called nuclear winter. Crops wouldn’t grow; everyone would go hungry.

Of course, nuclear winter theory cannot be tested, and some Western pundits are saying it wouldn’t be so bad. But on top of the hundreds of millions who would die in the war itself, the radioactive fallout killing for centuries to come, and the destruction of most necessary infrastructure, sane people consider the nuclear option an unthinkable risk.

But our rulers can apparently consider that risk. Putin seems to feels he has to risk it, and Biden and NATO apparently are willing to push him and see what happens. Otherwise, why would they pursue an all-out economic and propaganda war against Russia? Maybe they have bunkers that can last out a few years underground after a nuke war. Most of us don’t.

War against the Earth

Even if it doesn’t go nuclear, war kills millions. The huge arms shipments to Ukraine could be or are already being diverted to right-wing militias and organized crime around Europe. We will likely see long term mid level violence throughout the West because of this war, as we have seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan when they were flooded with weapons. We already have economic disruption and infrastructure destruction diminishing health and survival in Ukraine and in Russia.

           Photo by Jay Rembert on Unsplash

All wars make environmental problems worse. In previous wars, the US military has used depleted uranium (DU).shells that have turned areas of Iraq, Serbia, and who-knows-where-else into radioactive wastelands.

Even when not at war, the US military is the world’s biggest polluter and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Over 140 present and former US bases, perhaps as many as 600 are superfund sites because they are so polluted. Other countries’ militaries, including Russia’s aren’t much better, although they are much smaller than the American version.

Aside from direct pollution and blowing things up, war makes it impossible to confront climate change and other environmental crises. President Biden’s proposed 2023 budget would spend 18 times more on the military than on environmental issues. A visiting alien or an AI computer (or most of the world’s 8 billion people) might ask ‘Don’t you people have anything better to do? Your temperatures are rising; your forests are disappearing; animals and plants are going extinct; farmland is turning to deserts. Why aren’t you working on that?’

       Restore this or fight over it? Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Other questions: How can people collaborate on healing Earth when they are at war with each other? Which is more important, that our grandchildren survive, or that military industry profit margins increase?

It looks as though leaders like Biden and Putin, and all their oligarch billionaires in finance, tech, arms, drugs, and energy industries would go for the profits. But the world’s people and animals disagree.

We don’t have time for this crap

Imagine if our leaders made a worldwide commitment to restoring the Earth, instead of dominating it. This might seem impossible, but wouldn’t it just be a change in attitude? There’s nothing hardwired about endless militarism and war or about seeking power and wealth. They’re just habits society has adopted because it makes some people very rich. We could stop.

The time to stop is now, and the place to stop is Ukraine. As Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone writes, “Our civilization is like a patient wasting away as cancer spreads throughout our body. And the US empire is the tumor… The empire will happily feed every man, woman and child in Ukraine into the mouth of this war if it means unseating a disobedient leader from a nuclear-armed seat of power, which has become intolerably comfortable with intervening against US imperial agendas.”

“All the Ukrainian-flag-waving westerners,” she says, “with their #StandWithUkraine Instagram activism and blue and yellow profile pics will cheer for [regime change] every step of the way.” This war hysteria is what we have to stop.

We need to make peace the baseline of communication, not Russia-bashing. We need to bravely speak out and stand up against the world conflict narratives being pushed down our throats. This is not time to keep quiet. Tell people

No more sanctions.
● No more arms shipments.
● Immediate peace negotiations with US pressure for settlement, not against it.
● Guarantee Ukraine’s territory and Russia’s safety.
● Full attention to
healing Earth, not dominating it.

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Stand With Russia And Ukraine

Against the imperial war machine

“A weapons company has no more interest in ending war than an umbrella company has in ending rain. War is their business.” Indrajit Samarajiva

People need peace. Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash

Depending on which media they follow, people might believe the USA and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) provoked the war in Ukraine. Others think it was all Vladimir Putin’s fault, but isn’t the question really how they can get out of it?

Russians and Ukrainians both want peace. Presidents Putin and Zelensky have both said they want peace with security. So who wants to keep the war going?

Answer: the United States of America’s rulers do. This war is not between Russia and Ukraine. It’s between the United States and Russia, with the US using Ukrainians as sacrificial foot soldiers. This is a disaster for Ukraine, for Russia, and for all of us.

US officials have actively discouraged negotiations. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told President Zelensky, “You don’t negotiate with a gun to your head.” President Biden has called President Putin a war criminal. Instead of negotiating, the US and NATO keep sending weapons to Ukraine and imposing more sanctions on Russia.

America wants war

There are two main reasons for American war policies. Those arms sales and giveaways put billions of dollars into the military industrial complex (MIC). Top arms corporations Raytheon, Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing have seen their stocks rise to the highest level in decades. Not only the USA, but many NATO countries have ramped up their military budgets “because of Ukraine,” spending that goes to these war corporations.

The MIC essentially controls the Departments of Defense. General Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense is a former Raytheon Director (a one-man MIC.) As Sri Lankan critic Indrajit Samarajiva says, “An arms company being against war would be like an umbrella company being against rain.” That’s why our wars never end.

But there’s a deeper reason. Many US leaders want to draw Russia into an open-ended conflict that will drain their resources and erode Russian people’s support for their own government.

The US used this same strategy against the old USSR, getting them bogged down in a long war against Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. As a result, much of Afghanistan was destroyed, the Taliban and their terrorist al-Qaeda allies came to power, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and we got 9/11 and the War on Terror.

The US used the same strategy in Syria, trying to turn it into a “quagmire” for Russia, according to US Special Representative to Syria James Jeffrey. They destroyed Syria in the process. Now they’re following the same playbook in Ukraine, engineering a coup called the Maidan Revolution in 2014 and installing a government hostile to Russia.

Russia has vast mineral resources (it makes up 1/9 of the world’s land mass) and multinational corporations want to get their hands on that wealth. Putin’s government is blocking that takeover. And the US seeks to maintain what they call a unipolar world, in which they are not just #1, but the one and only.

Their goal is to grind Russia down and change their government to one friendlier to US corporate interests. Dead Ukrainians and ruined cities move the regime change program forward.

Hybrid war

The US war on Russia has several dimensions, starting with propaganda, which means emotionally loaded information, often false, designed to change people’s attitudes and beliefs. Do you remember the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the five years of Russiagate conspiracy theory that followed? Stories alleging Russian control of the Trump White House ran every day, and on outlets like MSNBC, every hour.

Even now, liberals call Republicans the party of Putin. Anyone who questions US war narratives, will be called a Russian asset, if not a traitor. People are being propagandized to hate Russia.

Blaming Russia for everything has become a compulsion for the US rulers, and it has reached truly sick and dangerous levels. I’m looking at the MSN news cover page now, and I see at least six different stories about a Ukrainian mother who died, an American reporter killed, a Ukrainian city shelled, Russia “planning an attack with bio-weapons”, and so on.

One or two of those stories may even have some truth, although most don’t hold up when investigated. But where are the stories of Russians killed in the Donbas or Ukrainian negotiators killed by their own security agencies? Where is the history of US meddling in Ukraine that led up to the war?

Not only the Russian government, but all things Russian are demonized. Their sports teams have been excluded from international competition; their musicians’ performances canceled, the books of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy removed from shelves, Beef Stroganoff removed from menus. For comparison, US teams were not banned after the Iraq invasion, nor Israeli teams after the destruction of Gaza in 2014, or since.

Without propaganda, there would be no war. Our government needs people’s active or passive support to carry out their war agenda. Since people don’t want war and are hurt by it, war mongers lay siege to our minds to win our support for things we would normally reject.

Economic war

The U.S. war on Russia is also economic. When the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991 and chose to move away from socialism, US economic advisers moved in and advised a “shock therapy” that involved giving away publicly owned institutions and resources to private individuals who became fabulously wealthy “oligarchs.” To facilitate this, US advisers managed to get Boris Yeltsin, a drunk who was happy to serve America, elected President. Without Soviet-type social supports in a collapsing economy, people fell into poverty; their lives got shorter. That crisis led to the election of Vladimir Putin, under whose leadership the now-capitalist economy and Russian life recovered. The US has been sanctioning Russia for one thing or another ever since.

Sanctions are economic warfare, the modern version of the sieges of medieval times. The sanctions on Russia include the outright theft of $600 billion Russia had saved for development and for potential crises. The idea is to strangle Russia economically and provoke uprisings among the people.

The US has used sanctions to provoke rebellion in Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela and many other countries, without much success. As one Serbian sanction victim said, “You’re too busy trying to survive to think about protesting.”

The sanctions on Russia may be the most extreme ever seen and amount to “cutting Russia out of the world economy,” according to Mitchell Hartman in Marketplace.org. This will mean poverty reminiscent of the 1990s shock therapy.

But sanctions will not bring peace. They are bringing food and fuel shortages around the world already. People in Africa and Asia will lose access to Russian grain exports and may starve. Europeans will shiver without Russian energy, and Americans will pay far higher prices. Western governments urge people to happily pay higher prices to “defend freedom” or “stand with Ukraine.”

                               photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash

Hybrid war hurts all of us

Hybrid wars have at least three parts: military war with proxy forces like the Taliban, ISIS, or Ukrainian nationalists, economic war through sanctions and seizures, and a propaganda war through media. This war hurts all of us through rising prices and spreading violence. It also pulls the world away from any attempt to heal our climate and our environment, which should be our top (only) priority. Instead, the military spending and bombs exploding make environmental destruction worse.

So, this is a critical time. What should we do to save Ukraine, Russia, and ourselves? Here are a few things we need to keep talking and doing something about.

Stop sanctions — not only on Russia, but on Venezuela and the dozen other countries whose people are suffering. Refuse to pay elevated prices that the sanctions create at the gas pump.

Stop sending weapons to Ukraine. Weapons just get more Ukrainians killed. No more weapons to Saudi Arabia, Israel and other violent governments either.

Demand negotiations now. People ask ‘So what do we do? Just let Putin have everything?” The answer is to negotiate; the US has tremendous leverage and could make a deal if they wanted to. Bring all the troops, mercenaries, and volunteer fighters home.

No NATO expansion and no new nuclear weapons in Europe. Rolling back NATO would be a good idea; it has no good reason to exist and has destroyed societies from Yugoslavia to Libya.

Turn off the TV and stop paying attention to corporate propaganda. As Malcolm X said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the oppressed and loving the oppressors.” If you watch corporate media, it will be very difficult to stay sane or see truth.

Don’t stand with Ukraine. Stand with everyone, because the empire is attacking everyone, even you, even the Earth.

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Don’t Blame Putin

U.S. Empire caused this mess.

                                 photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash

All day, every day, corporate media vilify Russia and its president Vladimir Putin for the crime of invading Ukraine. On social media, people who never heard of Ukraine until last month now display Ukrainian flags as their avatars. They want the US to hit out at Russia, because Putin is evil and must be stopped.

They have a point; the invasion was wrong. But as Caitlin Johnstone writes, “The US is the very last government on this entire planet who has any business talking about respecting the sovereignty of other nations.”

Putin ordered the invasion, but the US rulers created this war. US imperialism and their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) vassals have been attacking, threatening, sanctioning, and humiliating Russia ever since the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

As one part of this attack, from 2001–2005, they organized “color revolutionsin states bordering Russia, including the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the CIA, and several NGOs were involved in fomenting protests and divisions to bring down pro-Russian and pro-socialist governments.

In 2014, they helped organize the “Maidan Revolution of Dignity” which overthrew an elected president and installed a pro-US regime in Ukraine that includes neo-Nazis, who hate Russia. They have been killing thousands of ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the Donbas region of Ukraine ever since and now seek nuclear weapons. The US has used similar tactics in attempts to bring down the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and other governments friendly to Russia..

Why do they do that? Because Russia has refused to allow American capital to control its economy, the US treats them as enemies, and the war industry needs enemies to justify weapons spending. As leading Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California said at the impeachment of Donald Trump, “The United States aids Ukraine and her people so that they can fight Russia over there, and we don’t have to fight Russia here.”

How utterly evil and insane is that idea? Russia didn’t want to fight the West; that’s why they broke up the Soviet Union. They have floated the idea of joining NATO and/or the European Union (EU) several times but found no interest from the West.

“Fighting them over there” means the total destruction of Ukraine. There’s no risk of Russians’ coming “over here.” That’s more political disinformation. The US empire wants to crush Russia to maintain its paranoid fantasy of a “unipolar” world in which the US runs everything. It’s not enough for USA to be #1. It has to be the one and only. China, Russia, India, and everyone else should sit down and shut up.

But with apologies to Homey the Clown, Putin don’t play that. Like the Chinese and most other sane people, he wants a multipolar world where countries can do their own thing and develop in their own way. The neoconservatives who invented the unipolar fantasy, of US total dominance and the neoliberals who want to take over all wealth can’t accept such opposition. So they demonize Putin.

Maintaining US full-spectrum dominance requires constant war, and since the founding of the US, we have been at war for 225 out of 243 years, most recently occupying and destroying Iraq, Syria, and Libya. We now have about 800 military bases in over 75 countries. Military corporations like it that way, which is a major reason why peace in Ukraine is not coming soon.

Robbing other countries

American pressure on Russia is not just military; it’s economic. The US has tremendous power over the world’s financial systems. They have imposed a long string of economic sanctions for the last eight years, intending to cripple the Russian economy.

They and their allies in the UK and Western Europe control international banking systems, and they have used that power to simply rob the deposited money of targeted countries such as Russia, Venezuela, Afghanistan and others, literally starving people by preventing their governments from buying food in international markets.

Empire of lies

Why doesn’t Putin try harder to negotiate peace? He can’t; the USA is negotiation-proof. We don’t honor our treaties. According to history.com and other sites, the US government has signed about 370 treaties with Indian nations since 1776, and all have been broken. Treaties with Russia and its allies have also been trashed.

Just four years ago, the Trump administration pulled out of the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran and Russia. Then US politicians and publications started blaming Iran for violating the agreement we had torn up.

In the last decade, the US withdrew from two intermediate range nuclear treaties with Russia, and started building a new generation of missiles that could reach anywhere in Russia from European launch sites. These developments contributed to Russian fears around Ukraine. Putin has called the US an “empire of lies” and asked how one can negotiate with a government that doesn’t keep its promises.

Along with a lying government comes lying media. The CIA oversees all major US news sources. CIA official Frank Wisner called the operation his “mighty Wurlitzer,” on which he could play any propaganda tune. So, now Americans who follow corporate news, whether CNN, NPR, Fox, MSNBC or any of them believe Putin is killing babies, that he’s a psychopath, wants to take over all of Europe, shoots civilians and indiscriminately bombs cities. I’ve heard all of those stories from neighbors and friends who heard them on television. That doesn’t make them true.

Hitlers everywhere

Have you noticed how America’s rivals always turn into Adolf Hitler? Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gadaffi, Bashir Assad, Castro, Ortega, whoever, those against America are always uniquely evil. They must be killed and/or their countries destroyed. Putin is the latest Hitler, but isn’t this a classical case of projection? Maybe if everyone America sees reminds them of Hitler, they are the real Hitlers.

Hitler’s greatest crime was genocide, mass killing of Jews, Romani, (gypsies,) and Poles, but the US is a product of not one, but two genocides. The massacre and violent expulsion of the indigenous Indians who lived here, and the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans. More recently, we’re the only country ever to drop a nuclear bomb on civilians, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even Adolf never did that.

In Ukraine now, the US has empowered actual Nazis and neo-Nazis such as the Azov Battalion, the Svoboda party and right wing-militias like C14 who have been given roles in government and serve oligarchs as hired thugs. While calling Putin Hitler, we’re paving the way for new Hitlers. Saying ‘they can’t be Nazis because (Ukrainian president) Zelensky is Jewish’ is like Americans’ saying ‘We can’t be racist because Obama was president’. Most Ukrainians are not neo-Nazis, but a large, militant, organized group of fascists have been given prominent places in government and in the streets.

What do we do now?

I pray for peace in Ukraine but it’s becoming clear the US doesn’t want peace. They will fight to the last Ukrainian. So what can be done?

Remember: despite everything we’ve been taught from birth, we are not the good guys. The current war is just a continuation of an endless series of wars. Let’s stop pretending US armed forces will make things better by killing people. That’s not what they were set up to do. It’s not the soldiers’ fault, but we need to bring them home.

● As bad as the military is, the CIA, NED, the National Security Administration (NSA) and the rest of the so-called “intelligence community” are worse. Demand they be disbanded.

● NATO has no reason to exist and should be abolished. All it does is make billions for the military industry and destroy societies from Yugoslavia to Libya in service to the US.

● Fighting endless war during global environmental catastrophe is like fighting to be captains of a sinking ship. The world doesn’t have time for this shit. Stop weaponizing the world, start an economy that promotes health, not destruction. Countries have to cooperate to restore our Earth. Focus on this.

● Ordinary people have to reject demonization of enemies such as Putin. They’re just people we need to learn to work with. Don’t go along with this crap. Speak out for peace. Insist our leaders work for peace and environmental healing all the time. And I do mean insist. In the streets, nonviolently or violently, creatively, heart and soul. And not one by one. Join a group. Love each other and take care of yourself.

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Don’t Believe the FDA on New Drugs

         Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

They say, ‘Follow the science.’ But to find the truth, you also have to follow the money. Science as reported to the public too often follows the money and not the facts.

In 2020, the drug company Biogen applied for approval of their new Alzhheimer’s drug Aduhelm. In early trials, the drug slowed the development of “amyloid plaques” a sign of Alzheimer’s in the brain. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applied their “accelerated approval” process for vitally important new treatments.

Unfortunately, Aduhelm completely failed two Phase 3 trials, which test whether drugs actually help people. Both trials were stopped early, because the subject patients were showing no benefit. There were also dangerous adverse effects including brain swelling and bleeding in up to 40% of the patients who took it.

Biogen continued their application process. They set the price for this clinically ineffective, dangerous drug at $56,000 a year per patient. Since Medicare is legally not allowed to negotiate drug prices, if Aduhelm were approved and widely prescribed, Biogen would receive billions of dollars of Medicare’s money.

The FDA’s own advisory committee of expert scientists and doctors voted unanimously against approval in November 2020, but in June 2021, the FDA approved Aduhelm anyway.

Scientists pushed back against this decision. According to Jeffrey Toobin on CNN, three of the expert advisers resigned in protest. They wrote letters and told media that the approval process had been corrupted. One, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a professor at Harvard, said. “Usually there’s some distance between the FDA and the company, but on this one the company and the FDA were fully in line with each other in support of the drug.”

Top institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic said they would not prescribe Aduhelm. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said Medicare would have to consider more before covering the drug. Biogen meanwhile reduced their price to $28,000/year, although they legally didn’t have to negotiate. Were they trying to reduce the public outcry?

In January 2022, CMS approved the drug for patients with early Alzheimer’s. Even though later stage patients aren’t eligible, if all eligible patients got treated with Aduhelm, it would cost CMS up to $30 billion a year or even more. CMS announced that every Medicare recipient in America will have to pay an additional $20/month in Medicare premiums to cover the cost of this one ineffective drug. (They’ve since stated the actual increase may be less.)

According to an article in BioPharma Dive, Biogen has “earmarked $600 million for commercialization expenses,” for Aduhelm, which I gather means advertising and training, wining and dining doctors who might prescribe it.

According to Dr. Michael Carome of Public Citizen, FDA has been captured by the companies it regulates, a process that has happened in most regulated industries. “We believe that the FDA, starting back in 2019, worked in inappropriately close collaboration with Biogen,” he said.” They became a partner with Biogen; they were not objective.”

Similar stories surround other high-tech drugs such as the muscular dystrophy drug eteplirsen (Exondys 51), which post-approval studies found may cause “serious and life-threatening infections.” The drug costs between $750,000 and $1.5 million a year —How do you justify that? How many malnourished kids could we feed with that money? — and has shown “little long-term effectiveness”, according to a report by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER.) It’s easy to conclude that the money these drugs earn their creators sloshes around and helps get the drugs approved. But there is more to the story.

One doctor cited by Toobin said FDA may have felt they had to give Alzheimer’s families something, no matter how expensive, ineffective, or dangerous, to give them hope, even if it’s false hope. Desperate patient and family activism also contributed to the approval of Exondys 51 and other drugs for rare conditions. “We have to give them something” seems a successful argument, as I have seen repeatedly with the condition I have, multiple sclerosis.

MS was one of the first conditions for which expensive — although not so expensive as the ones mentioned here — drugs of limited effectiveness were approved and widely prescribed Some insurers, such as the UK’s National Health Service, refused to cover them because their benefit was so limited and the cost so high. But outcry from the MS community, organized by the drug companies, forced them to back down. By now, between drug companies’ lobbying and patient activism, it seems drugs have become harder to disapprove, no matter how ineffective and even dangerous.

Approving COVID vaccines

Does the Aduhelm story remind you of anything? What about the approval process for the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna to prevent corona virus disease (COVID-19)? Those were approved very quickly, out of a large group of less-experimental vaccines that were in development at the time. The usual approval process for new drugs takes 3–5 years, but Pfizer was approved in a matter of months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the usual process takes so long because of delays in designing studies and evaluating the results. Because COVID-19 was a crisis, the mRNA vaccines went to the top of everyone’s to-do list and those delays were avoided, so they could “do something” about COVID.

The problem is that bureaucratic delays are not the only reason it should take years to bring new drugs to market. The main reason is that new drugs may look safe in short-term studies, but turn out to cause major adverse effects in a larger population over a longer time. This famously happened with the widely promoted pain reliever Vioxx, which turned out to cause heart attacks and strokes and had to be withdrawn. It also happened with the diabetes drug Rezulin, which caused liver failure, and many others.

That is why I have always refused any new drug until it’s been in use two or three years. They might cause more problems than they fix. But in the case of COVID, we didn’t get that choice. Governments stated a public health emergency as the reason to override safety concerns. They started mandating that everyone take these drugs or face exclusion from work, school and public spaces.

Even though children almost never die from COVID, Pfizer and the FDA are now pulling to approve vaccines for children as young as 6 months. Pfizer is recommending infants get a 3-dose series of their “vaccine” for infants.

Remember, these drugs have not been proven safe and cannot be proven safe until they have been in use for a few years. It is already acknowledged that they increase risk of myocarditis and pericarditis, which mean inflammation of the heart muscle or membranes. Perhaps those conditions are not as serious as they sound, and COVID infection itself also causes heart inflammation. Still, it’s clearly too early to know these drugs are safe or effective in the long term. They already seem less effective against the omicron variant. Why are we mandating possibly unsafe drugs to children, who are at very little risk from COVID in the first place?

Maybe vaccinating everybody in the world is the right thing to do, although data doesn’t seem to support that. Africa, the least vaccinated continent, also has by far the lowest rates of COVID death. Or maybe it’s the vast amount of money Pfizer and Moderna are reaping from these drugs. Or the fact that the FDA receives much of its funding from drug company fees. Is it that regulators and scientists at FDA, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the CDC often come from the drug companies and go back to work there when they leave government?

We don’t know. Perhaps, even if drugs like Aduhelm and Exondys 51 are total rip-offs, the mRNA vaccines may turn out a net positive. But my point is, don’t trust the FDA, CDC, USDA or others who claim to speak for science. The system is corrupted in favor of corporations. Study all the information you can, and look into the financial connections before putting new drugs into your body.

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Decolonize the Earth

Capital has conquered the land – Return it to its rightful owners.

    Image: Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability

Last week I got to hear Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, director of the Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS). He described the effects of Israeli colonialism on Palestinian people, animals, plants, water and land. I came away with the understanding that if life on Earth is to survive, colonialism has to go.

PIBS tries hard to protect the land, but they face great obstacles. Imagine trying to preserve your natural heritage when you don’t control any of it. When someone far away decides what happens to your water and where you can live, or cuts down your trees and builds roads on which only they can drive?

Palestine has strict laws against pollution and deforestation, but they are not enforced, especially against Israelis. The Palestinian government has appointed people to oversee and conserve certain protected areas, but they are often not even allowed to visit them, much less start actual projects.

Journalist Zubayr Alikhan wrote on Mondoweiss, “Israel’s construction of roads, the methods used to do so, and a sheer disregard for their ecological ramifications all threaten and harm Palestinian wildlife. The destruction of animals’ natural habitat — particularly their breeding and nesting sites — through extensive land leveling and the fencing-off of settlement perimeters has disrupted natural passageways and endangered many species, affecting the food chain and local ecosystem as a whole.”

Does all that leveling and fencing remind you of something? Like what has happened to the whole United States of America in suburban sprawl since World War 2?

The colonial relationship to land is killing much of Earth. What’s happening in Palestine has happened all over the global South and in North America for centuries. It’s only because Palestine is being destroyed in current time, and because their scientists and journalists tell the world what’s happening, that we can see the destruction and try to stop it.

What is colonialism?

Colonialism means the domination of weaker countries, usually in the global South by richer, more powerful countries in the North. Most colonialism resembles what the British did in India and the Spanish in Mexico: the sustained looting of a colony’s minerals and other natural resources. But sometimes, like in America and Palestine, colonizers don’t just grab and run; they stay. This is called settler colonialism and usually involves the mass displacement or killing of the indigenous people and other life.

Colonizers see conquered land as a profit center. The land is a storehouse of treasures they can haul away, leaving a wasteland behind if it profits them. To the colonized, their land is home, and its long-term health is a top priority. Unfortunately, the colonial attitude toward land often spreads and distorts people’s attitude to nature in general.

In modern capitalism, the colonizers often can do without military control of the land (though that still happens, like the US military in Syrian oil fields.) Instead, multinational corporations can corrupt indigenous governments or install new ones willing to sell their resources to colonizers. If necessary, the rich countries’ military or their local proxies can push the native people out of the way.

This is how Japanese and Korean companies take the trees of Indonesia and Southeast Asia for sale in Japan, or multinationals turn them into pulp to make toilet paper for imperial bathrooms. It’s how oil companies spill lakes of oil into jungles in places like Ecuador and Nigeria, poisoning all who live there, far from company HQ. Colonized people may not be literally enslaved as the Americans were by Spanish conquistadors, but they lose their livelihood when they lose their land and wind up serving their colonizers for pennies to stay alive.

Strangers in a strange (to them) land

Even when they aren’t taking all a colony’s wealth, colonizers can make a mess out of conquered land by thinking they know more than the people who live there. When the French ran the West African colony of Niger, they encouraged farmers to remove trees from their fields so they could grow more food. But according to Smithsonian Magazine, in the climate of Niger, the absence of trees caused the land to dry out and grow less foods, while the people lost access to firewood, a main fuel source. The Sahara desert moved in. What worked in France didn’t work in Niger.

The colonial policy of trying to export European ways to the global South wreaks havoc in Palestine, too. According to Dr. Qumsiyeh, “Once Israel was declared a Jewish state in May 1948, native trees (such as oaks, carobs, and hawthorns) and agricultural crops (olives, figs, and almonds) were systematically uprooted and replaced by European pine trees. Pines shed leaves that are acidic and prevent the growth of understory plants, reducing biodiversity. These trees are also very susceptible to fire because of their resins.” Palestine had rarely if ever known forest fires before colonization; now they are a regular occurrence.

It’s not that indigenous people can always prevent land from degrading. Pressure of growing populations and climate change can wear land out. But the pressure from colonialism is far greater, because the people in charge don’t feel they are part of the land. They want to take all they can as fast as they can. This disconnect remains true when colonialism morphs into global capitalism, which gives control of land to investors who do not live there and who seek profit above all.

The two isms have the same core value, that land and living things are sources of profit, not valuable for themselves. And since humans also fall into the category of “land and living things,” it’s not hard to see where colonial capitalism leads. It leads to misery and death, as indigenous people have long known and is now becoming obvious to all of us with climate change and the mass extinction of species.

Decolonizing the land

If colonialism can be pushed back, people can rehabilitate land. In the 1980s, according to the Smithsonian article, farmers in Niger and neighboring Burkina Faso abandoned the colonizers’ advice to clear trees and started going back to traditional methods which grew trees and crops together. They supplemented their plan with other water harvesting techniques and learned how to re-grow trees from the stumps that remained on their land.

They did this without help from their government, the French, or the World Bank. Now large parts of Burkina Faso and southern Niger are turning green, growing more food and firewood for the people. US Embassy staff watching a slide show of regenerated farms commented, “This can’t be Niger. It looks like Ireland.”

In settler colonies, it’s harder to decolonize. Since Native people won’t abandon the land where they grew up,colonizers seek to remove them, as in Palestine. A farm called the Tent of Nations near Bethlehem, has a stated mission of bringing peace to Israel/Palestine, including to the land. They are under constant attack from the Israeli government and settlers who want to take their farm.

According to their Facebook page and the Friends of Sabeel website, their trees are burned and uprooted, crops are bulldozed, permits to build or repair are denied, roads to the farm blocked with concrete, electricity cut off. In response, they fight in court, block armed settlers from their land, and bring groups of volunteers from around the world to help them work the land.

                     International volunteers at Tent of Nations farm

In Bethlehem, Dr. Qumsiyeh and PIBS are trying to restore land and protect threatened species of wildlife. They research and educate about Palestine’s unique flora, fauna, and human ethnography. They create videos on subject such as water and desertification and show them to whoever wants to see them or finds them.

PIBS welcomes visitors and donations. According to their beautiful web site, they teach about biodiversity, history, and permaculture to “promote sustainable communities.” Based at the University of Bethlehem, they have created a natural history museum, large demonstration gardens and water reclamation projects. They teach traditional farming techniques online, on campus, and wherever they’re allowed to teach.

             Image: PIBS

In Palestine and elsewhere in the South, it’s easy to see how colonialism damages Nature. But colonial mindsets, seeing Earth and living things as profit centers and not as home, will always kill. They kill from Louisiana’s Cancer Alley to the burning rainforests of Asia, Africa, and Amazonia. Would capitalists destroy those places if they lived there?

People who live on the land, work it, or love it should be in control of it, indigenous people and family farmers first of all. We can’t save Earth until we take it back from colonizers. I can’t imagine how this process could happen, but can imagine it will at times be bloody and ugly. I doubt strict nonviolence will get it done, and it’s obvious who would have the advantage if things turn violent.

But where we are now, colonizing the world, is already bloody and ugly. It’s unlivable for our living cousins and ultimately for us. We have to act.

Dr. Qumsiyeh’s webinar is here.

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Heal the Earth, Heal Ourselves

We are part of Nature, so they’re the same process

Environmental leader Wangari Maathai (1940–2011) Image Biography.com

We are all part of Nature. When the world suffers, we suffer. We can medicate ourselves with drugs, material possessions and all the marvelous distractions of culture. Still, every day brings proof that industrial civilization is burning the world down, poisoning it and turning it to desert. No wonder so many people are depressed and anxious! No wonder our leaders do such crazy things. It’s time to devote ourselves to healing.

Kenyan environmental leader Wangari Maathai wrote, “If we live in wounded environments — where water is polluted, air is filled with soot and fumes, food is contaminated with heavy metals and plastic residues, or the soil is practically dust, it hurts us, creating injuries at a physical, psychological, and spiritual level. In degrading the environment, we degrade ourselves and all humankind.”

But this connection works both ways. “In the process of helping earth to heal, we help ourselves. If we see the earth bleeding from the loss of topsoil, biodiversity, or drought and desertification and if we help reclaim or save what is lost, through regeneration of degraded forests, the planet will help us in our self-healing and indeed survival.”

There is no other way. We can’t heal ourselves without healing our wounded Earth and our relationship with it. This can be done, as Professor Maathai’s life proves.

In 1977, Maathai founded the GBM), which plants trees and empowers women throughout Kenya and other African countries. In 2004, she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her book Replenishing the Earth explores how people can heal societies and environment together. GBM starts with planting trees to help local communities and employ women, but planting is only what she called “our entry point.” Trees can start big changes.

She describes returning to some hillsides where GBM had planted and cared for trees a decade earlier, and being shown how new streams were coming out of the ground. She went down into the valley and saw how the streams came together to form a clear-running river, where formerly there had been only a muddy wash. Farms were producing more food; people weren’t going hungry, wild animals were returning. People were cooperating with each other. Healing Nature helped everyone thrive.

                                       Water is life. Trees bring water.

Ignoring Nature leads to war and death

Maathai envisioned the movement she started as a template for a global transformation, political and spiritual. At the time she wrote her book, the neighboring countries of Sudan and Chad were in a state of over the border province of Darfur, trying to overthrow each other’s governments. There were constant battles between the Arab Muslim population in the North and the Christians in the South.

Meanwhile, as Maathai writes, the Sahara desert was spreading over Darfur, leaving the land they were fighting for unlivable. “I visited Chad during the rainy season. Although there was flooding everywhere, fields remained parched and the crops were failing. I saw hardly any efforts to harvest rainwater, plant trees or ground cover, or create terraces in fields to stop soil erosion. Now, wisdom would say, ‘Stop fighting. Combine all your resources to stop desertification and reclaim the land.’ Yet, the leaders and people continue to fight and destroy what little they have.”

As she describes it, the Darfur war was terribly senseless, but it was also a typical resource war. How is Darfur different from the wars the United States engages in month after month? Were Chad and Sudan any madder than US/NATO bombing and overthrowing governments in places and ? Why kill to control more oil reserves, when burning that oil causes global warming and pollution, killing you, too?

Water conservation expert Brad Lancaster put it this way: “We squander the vast resources that we already have, then spend vast amounts trying to replace what we squandered by taking it from other people in other places, worsening scarcity for everyone.”

Even those wars may be no worse than what corporations do on a daily basis. Companies massively pollute the natural world for profit: through chemicals, industrial farming, and mining. Disconnection from Nature — the one and only source of all life — leaves people adrift and liable to do horribly destructive things. Do we think society’s single-minded focus on material wealth is making us healthy or happy? ? We can and must focus on life instead.

How environmental restoration can heal

Maathai’s book lays out how people can heal themselves while restoring Nature. GBM has four key values: Love for the Earth, Respect and Gratitude for the gifts it gives us, Self-empowerment and Self-improvement, and a Spirit of Service and Volunteerism.

Start with gratitude. The gifts of Nature include water, air, food, shelter, clothing, pretty much everything we need and use. Human ingenuity can make things more useful, but they all come from Nature originally. We can’t live without it, whatever Jeff Bezos thinks.

When we realize the gifts we are given, we should pay them back. I think that every action we take should be guided by asking “Is this good for Earth, animals, and plants? If not, is this really good for me?

                                             Image: Biblio.com

There’s nothing in the core values about revolution. Maathai understood power and stood up to it, going to jail for opposing her government and winning 98% of the vote when she ran for Parliament. She accepted government’s power and tried to empower people to influence it. She didn’t think she could overthrow it.Instead, she tried to change values and hoped they would spread.

Professor Maathai believed the values the Green Belt Movement employs in the service of the earth serve people too. “We can love ourselves by loving the earth, feel grateful for what we are given, as we are grateful for the earth’s bounty, better ourselves even as we use that self-improvement to improve the earth, offer service to ourselves as we practice volunteerism for the earth.”

We are part of Nature, so healing Nature and healing ourselves are the same process. This is what indigenous people have always known, according to Robin Wall Kimmerer PhD in . Kimmerer’s people, like Maathai, believe environment is sacred, because to destroy what is essential for life is to destroy life itself.

A movement to heal the Earth

Modern society addresses social problems through politics of various sorts, and you may have noticed that politics tends to drive people apart. Political beliefs can separate people before they even begin trying to work something out. What if, instead, we recognized the far greater danger we face from environmental destruction, and agree to work together to heal it on every level :from to from the ocean to vastly reducing use of cars and planes, to repurposing militaries to restore forests, swamps, and grasslands?

This work is spiritual, social, and scientific at the same time. It’s driven by compassion for ourselves and all suffering creatures. If our rulers see the possibilities and provide resources, millions of people will come out to do the work. Refugees are already coming back to countries like Senegal to participate in the reforestation project called the which will stop the spreading Sahara desert with trees. Projects like that could

I’m saying believe in Mother Earth, believe in Nature. We are part of it. Our individualistic, materialist selves are just advertising gimmicks to make someone else money. Inside, we are parts of families, communities, a species, and Nature as a whole. It feels good to remember that.

Professor Maathai said, “If we were able to achieve this consciousness, we’d see that the planet is hurting, and internalize the spiritual values that can help us move to address the wounds. We’d recognize that it should be in our nature to be custodians of the planet and do what’s right for the earth and, in the process, for ourselves.”

If we embrace this sense of connection, we can make a beautiful world. If we keep going as we are, we might as well join Elon Musk on his .

Learn more

Maathai, Wangari, : Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the Earth

Kimmerer, Robin Wall, : Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants.

A wonderful, short about Professor Matthai’s life and work

about her work

The “When people see what we are doing with the green wall, they will stop the dangerous migrations by sea. It’s better to stay here and work the land.”

Brad Lancaster on to green cities. Practical ways to conserve water in dry environments.

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Return to Eden

Let’s create a global garden, not a parking lot.

                                  Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

How we lost Eden

         Eden was a busy place Image news.sky.com

China’s Loess Plateau after and before restoration Image greendeserts.wordpress.com

Becoming world gardeners

Fix what can be fixed

Living in Eden

Learn more

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