Where The Violence Comes From

American dystopia is deeper than guns and mental illness

        
             American furnishings – Image TheGuardian.com

After 18-year-old Salvador Ramos massacred 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and another young man, Payton Gendron, shot to death 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, the usual arguments began. Liberals blamed the easy availability of guns; conservatives said the killers were mentally ill. Both of those arguments contain some truth, but both ignore the deeper causes, the reasons why these tragedies keep happening.

Yes, the USA has far more guns per capita than any other country, but other heavily armed populations don’t turn the guns on each other. Obviously, a teen who massacres 4th graders is not well, but very few people with mental illness commit acts of violence. There is a profound sickness here, but society has it. Individuals just act it out.

    
             We come in peace.  Photo by UX Gun on Unsplash

Americans live in a unique dystopia, an empire born in genocide and maintained with violence. Our armies bomb, shoot, and displace millions around the world. Law enforcement officers kill more than three people every day, while beating and imprisoning hundreds of thousands. These are our authority figures doing this, the representatives of our governments, keepers of our highest values. Why wouldn’t young men think killing is a normal thing good people do?

Our culture promotes violence in film, television and video games. Killing makes up a big chunk of the US economy. US corporations like Raytheon and Boeing sold $285 billion of weapons in 2020, about 50% of the world’s total. Private individuals spend about $11 billion on weapons each year. While most US manufacturing has been outsourced overseas, weapons factories are still working overtime.

Violence is built into American geography. Have you ever noticed how many American cities are named Fort Something-or-other? That’s because they started as forts from which to fight Indians. The USA has been at war 225 out of 243 years of existence. Our military occupies over 70 countries today. To quote Black activist H. Rap Brown, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.

But why? Other countries don’t fight constant wars and don’t have these mass shootings. What are the sources of this violence, and what can we do about them?

We’re all traumatized

Historically, American violence started in Europe. According to Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized trauma in America, settlers came from England already traumatized. 200 different crimes in 17th Century England were punishable by death, so most people had witnessed more than one hanging, burning, or beheading. Corporal punishments such as whipping were done in public to terrorize people.

In the 15th to 17th centuries, Europeans hunted witches. Thousands of (mostly) women were put to death for practicing healing or for offending some man in power. Can you imagine the trauma of having women you love burned at the stake?

Settlers brought this trauma to America and imposed triple rations of it on the Indigenous Natives and on African slaves. The Pilgrims started killing Indians almost as soon as they arrived in Massachusetts. African-Americans and Indians have suffered centuries of trauma, which for many still goes on.

What does it to people suffer such violence? What does it do to people to perpetrate it? Even seeing violence in person or on media can be traumatic. How many were traumatized by witnessing the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis?

The trauma of inflicting violence, witnessing it or hearing victims talk about it is called “vicarious trauma.” The ongoing depression and anxiety stemming from trauma suffered by our ancestors and passed down is called “historical” or “intergenerational” trauma. The effects of the witch hunts, of wars, slavery and genocide, still live on in most Americans, even if we’re not aware of them. Our history sets us up to become violent, and our culture triggers some of us to act it out.

Culture of violence

As I write this, the blockbuster movie of summer 2022 is Top Gun: Maverick, a celebration of fighter plane pilots. Created in consultation with the US military, Top Gun makes heroes of people who kill for a living.

America’s aggressive wars have been turned into entertainment in movies and television since those media were invented. Older readers might remember Westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel, set in the American West in the late 19th Century, in which the heroes were the best killers. After some years in which other violent genres like police shows took their place, Westerns are now coming back. Coming attractions at movie theaters often feature military recruiting ads, from which the films themselves cannot be distinguished .

Image from a 1st person shooter video game on YouTube

Video games often put their players in the role of killers and award points for killing well. First-person shooters wander through hellscapes, killing monsters and bad guys. When the player gets shot, it doesn’t hurt. They just start another game, and some of those players grow up to steer (by video) armed drones that kill people in places like Pakistan and Ukraine.

US armed forces visit violence on people all over the world and are treated as heroes in the media for doing so. Violent police are credited with defending our safety. How could a young man looking for something to do with their life not consider the path of violence?

Sri Lankan philosopher Indrajit Samarajiva wrote of politicians’ response to the shootings in Texas and New York, “Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, ‘I did not carry an assault weapon around a foreign country so I could come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen.’ They really don’t get it, do they? This is why your countrymen are getting massacred. The American culture and commerce of violence cannot be contained to ‘foreign’ countries.”

Violence takes over our political language. To US leaders, war is the preferred metaphor for all they do, and these metaphorical wars involve real violence. The War on Drugs caused huge increases in violent crime and in police violence. It led to the incarceration of over a million people, disrupting families and communities. The War on Poverty involved police raids on poor households (almost all Black) to ensure nobody was violating welfare rules. This program broke up Black families by excluding fathers from their children’s households.

Alienation and Anger

Even growing up in a violent culture, most people never kill anyone. Even if their leaders commit crimes daily, what drives people like Ramos and Gendron to do monstrous things most of us would never do? After all, they are giving up their own lives to kill people who never did anything to hurt them. We actually know some of these answers.

                   
                   Uvalde children’s memorial Image: abcnews.com

Psychologists Jillian Peterson and James Densley have studied, interviewed, and written about school shooters and other mass shooters. These men are alienated, meaning they don’t feel connected to their communities or families. Peterson told an interviewer, “There is usually a history of abuse, bullying, maybe sexual abuse, hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, oftentimes rejection from peers.”

Living in a culture that idealizes material wealth above other values, and in a time when wealth is increasingly hard to get, how can young people feel good about themselves? How many will turn against a society with such unfair and hypocritical expectations? People with strong families who treat them well, religious ties, social connection or grounding in nature might not lash out, but those who are abused and isolated might find enemies to attack, usually powerless enemies.

Dr. Peterson says, “They start asking themselves, ‘Whose fault is this?’ Is it a racial group or women or a religious group, or is it my classmates? The hate turns outward. There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety and also despair. Nearly all mass shootings are suicides. When you say, “I want to shoot the school tomorrow,” you are also saying, “I don’t care if I live or die.”

We could call this anger and despair a mental health problem, but when a behavior is common, by definition it’s not a mental illness. It’s a social illness, and the USA calls that illness “freedom.” America idolizes individualism and self-reliance; being alienated from others is called “independence.”

This philosophy is harmful enough in good times, but now people face insecure housing, food, and futures. They doubt they will be able to raise families or succeed at anything. If you’re free and you’re suffering, you must be a failure. Isolation disguised as freedom creates misery and anger.

American “freedom” involves frequent use of guns and cars. In 2017, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, then the highest rated figure on TV, said of the gun massacre of 57 people in Las Vegas, “This is the price of freedom.” O’Reilly may not have considered that price worth paying, but a lot of Americans do. A poll taken after Buffalo and Uvalde found that 40% of Republicans agreed with his statement. What kind of freedom is it when you can’t go to school or to a music festival without fearing for your life?

Alienation from Nature

We can’t really understand the depth of American (and European) violence without considering our alienation from Nature. Millions of people go through life in concrete worlds lacking contact with any nonhuman living thing. They never see things grow or regenerate. They never learn the attitudes of caring and reciprocity that Nature shows us every day. They don’t learn to give and to receive, only to buy and sell.

                       Things we like to kill. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The attitude of capitalism, science, and consumerism to Nature is, “Kill it, take it, and use it up.” If bugs are bothering us, we kill them, even if other creatures need them to live. If birds or rodents share our crops, we poison them with pesticides, even if we poison ourselves in the process.

With such a hostile attitude toward Nature, there is no sense of belonging or connection with Earth, so we don’t feel supported and loved in the world. Those who don’t get enough love from human sources may lash out at the world in response. This despair affects far more people than most of us realize. Salvador Ramos’ massacre was highly praised on some online forums. The Department of Homeland Security warned that some online were calling for widespread copycat shootings.

Racism and social division

You’ve probably noticed that some of the gun massacres are motivated by racism or misogyny, usually explicitly targeting Black people or women, although sometimes Muslims, or Jews, or gays. Identifying groups as evil or subhuman makes it easier to kill them, but many other shootings do not seem racially motivated. They’re acting out a culture of death, of which racism and woman-hating are part..

How do we stop killing each other?

Obviously, guns ARE a big part of the problem. I believe guns should be regulated like cars (which also kill.) One should need to take a class, pass a test and a background check, and get a license to buy a weapon. Assault weapons should be banned. But gun control will be an extremely difficult project when 40% of the people value gun rights so highly. And gun control won’t stop the stigma and despair that drove Salvador Ramos or the racist ideologies and anger that drove Payton Gendron. It won’t make people get along with or care for each other.

How to prevent shootings in a country and culture that exalts violence, material wealth, and individualism while creating poverty and handing out guns? A country that promotes alienation and calls it freedom? I have heard of some possibilities.

● Keep people connected. Have adolescent boys and young men spend time with children, like volunteering at a school. Get those who seem isolated counseling, mentoring, therapy or a support group.

● Investigate and crack down on people promoting and/or planning violence online, whether incels, white supremacists, or other troubled individuals.

● Put all young people in touch with Nature, maybe starting with a garden. Let them do some physical work and see some results.

● Stop creating role models for violence — disarm the police and make them helpers instead of occupiers. Stop wars and glorification of wars in media.

● House homeless people, and in general, move toward replacing cruelty with caring.

● On Second Thought — maybe it would be more realistic to just take away the guns. But we must do far more than that to heal the unique dystopia we have inherited and foisted upon the world.

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Care for Our Big Sisters

Planting and protecting forests can slow climate collapse

         New Guinea rainforest, Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo

Nature has tremendous healing power, and if we work with Her, we could still survive climate chaos and perhaps create a more beautiful world. Nature heals through the life force, which takes 1000 forms, but three of them stand out for climate: soil, trees, and water. I wrote about soil and farming here, and I’ll write about water next time. This piece is about our big sisters, the trees.

Our tall relatives can control climate, absorb carbon, bring rain, and create living space for thousands of other species. Although wood is a wonderful resource, trees are not just building materials with roots. They’re alive and active, constantly moving water, gases, and nutrients around to where they’re needed. They can transform environments, especially if we help them.

In The Hidden Life of Trees, German forest scientist Peter Wohlleben explains how forests make soil fertile, maintain the water cycle, and cool the ground with shade. In natural forests, life keeps getting more intricate and beautiful year after year. Their profusion of species and ecological niches keep each other strong and make surrounding land more productive.

                                          

Wohlleben says that lumber companies don’t understand what trees really are, a community of living things. They replace natural forests with tree plantations of pines grown in rows. That practice produces much lumber, but doesn’t provide the other benefits trees can bring. Natural forests bring nitrogen into the soil, stimulate the growth of fungi that enrich soil, and hold it from washing away in the rain or blowing away in the wind.

Land dries out and the world heats up when forests are cut down. Dried out soil won’t produce much food, and while enriching soil with regenerative agriculture is vital, you can’t grow much long term without trees. Along with the gradual loss of topsoil, tree loss can cause environmental disasters such as mudslides that wipe out whole villages, as is happening now in the Philippines.

Three ways trees cool the Earth

● Trees bring Water — According to Wohlleben, rain is evaporated sea water, and without trees, wouldn’t fall more than 200 miles from the sea. Trees soak up the rain and transpire it back into the air through their leaves, where it can blow in another 200 miles, and so on. Without forests, the interior of continents would all be savannas, prairies or deserts, as you can see in central Asia, Africa, and North America.

● Trees capture Carbon — Forest sequester huge amount of carbon. They absorb carbon dioxide from the air, combine it with water through photosynthesis, and link the resulting sugars into long chains to make wood. As long as they’re alive, or as long as their wood becomes housing or furniture, that CO2 is out of the atmosphere.

They also enrich soil, another place Nature stores carbon. Scientists estimate that soil could store up to 4 billion tons of carbon a year with best practices, and trees are vital to those processes.

● Trees give Shade — Tree crowns shadow and cool the Earth under them. Animals and other plants can live there when the surrounding land gets uncomfortably hot.

That is how trees help farms and start the reclamation of deserts, such as the Loess Plateau in China. There, over a million Chinese people under government scientists’ direction planted trees and shrubs on the hills, terraced the hillsides to keep soil from sliding, and dug lakes and canals at the bottom to hold water.

If the right trees are planted in the right places, the trees hold the soil and bring rain; their leaves and fallen bark turn dry dirt into living soil (with the help of fungi,) and can make wastelands back into fertile land.

Farmers in Niger have turned near-desert into farmland by caring for trees. Instead of removing saplings to plant crops, they planted around the trees and protected them from animals. The trees create soil and shade the crops from the Sahel sun.

Which trees go where?

Not all trees are the same. Different trees grow well in different elevations, temperatures and rainfall.

Wohlleben writes that some tree species get along together better than others. Some even feed each other, while others compete fiercely and don’t like each other’s company. Left to their own devices, trees will find their niches over 100 years or so, but if people want them to move faster, we have to know what we’re doing.

                             Image from a food forest by Dan Gold on Unsplash 

Most people in populated areas find benefits in fruit trees. “Food forests” have become a topic in urban planning, growing bushels of fruit to feed people. In China, urban forests help create “sponge cities,” which soak up water and enrich surrounding farmland. Skillfully planted mixed forests can provide some timber, some food, habitat for animals, and a healthier climate.

A lot of people have written about planting woodlands or farm trees as part of permaculture. Information on tree-planting and care is all over the Web, easily found on a search engine such as Google. A group called TreeSisters recommends that people “connect with your local Native Plant Society, university, forest service/commission, nursery, arborist, or arboretum and ask for a list of local tree species that are appropriate for your planting purpose.”

One very special kind of tree is the mangrove, which grows near salty and brackish water where other trees can’t. In places as diverse as dry Saudi Arabia and wet Bangla Desh, mangroves create soil by desalinating water through their roots and breathing it into the air, where it comes down as rain. Mangroves apparently sequester a lot more carbon for a longer time than almost any other species. Organizations like Sea-Trees and Blue Planet Ecosystem do large scale mangrove planting which we can support or join.

Ironically, the response of capitalist science to mangrove desalinization has not been “Plant mangroves.” It has been, ‘Figure out how mangroves do it and design machines to do the same thing.’ Head-shaking, but this response could in fact be useful in some places, because mangroves won’t grow everywhere. Perhaps technology can desalinate where mangroves don’t grow.

I have come to believe we can’t be narrow-minded about solutions. Maybe we have to let people be who they are, and figure out how they can serve, as with different species of trees. Science has to work together with traditional wisdom and Nature’s power. Science can hurt or help, and so can rich people.

Nature could not have healed the Loess Plateau without human help. We had damaged it too badly; it needed help from the local goatherds, the Communist Party, the World Bank and a million other people. Capitalist economics has the power to screw up the best natural solutions, but maybe their scientists and engineers, can learn to serve Nature as well as they have served bankers.

Most of us probably aren’t up to starting new forests, but governments can, and many nonprofit organizations are trying. You can find groups like Plant-for-the-Planet, Trees for the Future, and a dozen others on a Web search. Join with one you like (one that works with indigenous people) or support them with donations. Planting one tree at a time and taking care of it helps, too.

                 Trees and animals together     Photo by Skylar Zilka on Unsplash

Protecting the forests we have

Planting new forests is great, but it’s hard to keep up with the pace of deforestation. According to the United Nations, about 10 million hectares (24 million acres) of forest are cut down or burned in an average year. About half that much gets planted, but the lost old growth is an irreplaceable treasure. Without it, forest will turn to grassland, or at best, not-so-productive farmland. Millions of species will go extinct.

Many organizations try to stop the destruction. We can support groups like Cultural Survival and Rainforest Action Network. Empowering Indigenous people is key. People who consider themselves part of the forest will usually fight harder and more effectively than people from faraway cities.

I don’t want to kid anyone. Trees can’t overcome chemical pollution, fossil fuel burning, mining, deforestation, wars, and world-paving by themselves. We can’t water a tree and go on with life as usual. We need a mass movement of people recommitting to the land, learning from indigenous ways of life. We need to force corporations and governments to cooperate or disappear. We need to make Earth the highest priority in all we do. Money could serve Earth by paying people to plant and grow, as they have in Niger, China, Uganda and other places.

All this sounds extraordinarily difficult, but my point is that it is possible. If we value Nature first in all our decisions, trees will grow back and help the rest of us survive. For me, prioritizing Nature and committing to trees, soil, and/or water in our work is the most important thing we can do with our lives. We have to stand up for our tall Sisters. Just being with them will at least make us healthier, so why not join them and fight for them?

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Manipulating Our Need For Safety

SF recall is about power, not crime.

                     Feel safe now? Photo by AJ Colores on Unsplash

In the days of royalty, kings and nobles exploited their subjects by promising to protect them. They built huge castles where peasants could hide if attacked. They hired armored knights with sharp swords to keep enemies away.

In return, the lords owned the people (called “serfs” or “villeins.”) Serfs had no rights and owned nothing. Serfs did all the work, and nobles took most of the products and had sexual rights to all the women. If serfs got out of line, the knights could turn the swords on us, but without their protection, we’d have to face bandits and invading armies alone. Most people chose or were forced into the perceived safety of rulers’ protection.

This was the European system, now known as feudalism, but similar systems arose in much of the world. Centuries later, desire for safety still runs our lives. Cities aren’t walled; we don’t have serfs, but we are “protected” from (nonexistent) outside invaders by our country’s armies, and from nameless bad guys by our armed police. We are constantly warned of external and internal dangers by our media.

Just like in medieval times, the armed forces mainly protect the property of those who have against the have-nots. They use our desire for safety to enrich themselves, spending billions on police, prisons, weapons, and wars. But does any of this protection actually make us safe?

Safety in San Francisco

The fight over safety is happening right now with the recall campaign against district attorney Chesa Boudin in San Francisco. On social media and in the words of recall groups like Safer SF Without Boudin, I read messages like “We just want safe streets. That doesn’t make us right wingers.”

Maybe they’re not, but the recall takes society to the far Right. San Francisco-based journalist Annie Lowrey wrote about the recall in The Atlantic. It’s pretty balanced and reports studies showing that Boudin’s less-punitive policies have not increased crime, while acknowledging that he has made mistakes that have hurt people. Her overall conclusion seems to be that Boudin’s policies are mostly right, but he needs to do them better.

But The Atlantic, an unofficial organ of the US ruling class, titled the story “The People of SF vs. Chesa Boudin,” with a picture of Boudin that looks like  a mug shot and with the subtitle, “San Franciscans do not feel safe and secure.” It’s pretty clear what side the media are on. SF residents have been subjected to a long series of stories about a crime wave in San Francisco, while police department statistics show crime rates are roughly unchanged under Boudin.

Nationwide, Lowrey writes that, A “crime wave” wave has overtaken the media. Mentions of the phrase more than doubled from 2019 to 2021 in major U.S. print publications; the number of minutes the big cable-news networks spent on crime increased exponentially.

Crime wave publicity is one reason people feel less safe. Other reasons contribute to feelings of insecurity, and most have nothing to do with crime. They reflect a society that is falling apart. A study in SSM Population Health found that “neighborhood disorder:” such things as broken sidewalks and vandalized buildings, make people feel less safe, just as much as reports of crime or actual crime.

What could more disorder a neighborhood than mass homelessness? Though homeless people rarely commit crimes, maybe beyond shoplifting food, thousands of people sleeping in doorways or in tents make a city seem less livable and less safe. They remind everyone of the precariousness of our lives in American capitalism.

                        
                      Homeless camp trashed by SFPD Image SF Gate

The pandemic made people feel less safe. People were told to stay home; the air itself was unsafe to breathe. Economist Jennifer Doleac of Brookings Institution found in studies that fewer people on the streets mean more actual and felt vulnerability to crime. “Having more eyes on the street, having more people out and about — it genuinely does increase public safety,” she told Lowrey. The insecurity people felt, amplified by media, was attributed to fear of crime, and the crime has been attributed by recall advocates to DA Boudin.

Felt safety or actual safety?

It’s deeply natural to want safety. Safety is one of the primal urges of living things; seeking safety kept our ancestors alive for a million years. But how much will we give up to be safe? A dusk-to-dawn curfew would be safe. Armed officers on every corner stopping and frisking pedestrians for weapons might feel safe (to the people who weren’t being stopped.) Locking up millions of ‘bad’ people might give ‘good’ people a sense of security.

Such measures have all been tried during the last decades. But do they actually make people safer? Studies show the opposite is true. Lowrey writes that, “Lenient tactics like Boudin’s lower recidivism rates and thus crime rates in the longer term, as Jennifer Doleac and others demonstrated in a recent study.” Dr. Doleac said of her own results. “We were surprised. It seemed obvious to me that we would see some increase in criminal behavior, if people are not being prosecuted and punished. That’s not what happened. Crime went down.”

Doleac’s result make perfect sense to me. Sending people to prison is like sending them to crime training school. It also takes away their abilities to make a living when they get out, because of discrimination against convicts. And it disrupts the communities from which they come, creating new generations of criminals

Just letting troubled people go doesn’t work either, IMO. Offenders need counseling; they need to compensate victims; they may need drug treatment or close supervision. SF doesn’t have enough of those programs yet, but as research shows, doing nothing is still better than prison in most cases that don’t involve violence.

“Increased drug arrests, resulting directly from the War on Drugs, consistently increase overall, violent, and property crime.”Jared Grossi PhD

Tough-on-crime DAs have seen increases in crime rates similar or greater than SF’s. All this was observed years ago with the War on Drugs. Making street drugs illegal and harshly punishing their use and sale made everyone less safe. Sociologist Jared Grossi found that, “Increased drug arrests, resulting directly from the War on Drugs, consistently increase overall, violent, and property crime.”

                          
                                        Image: Standwithchesa.com

Boudin was elected to stop such failed policies, and he is stopping them. Yes on H (Recall) people want to bring them back.

No safety in a police state

When millions of people are incarcerated, as in the US, oppressed communities struggle to survive and are less able to demand equal rights. Meanwhile, under tough-on-crime prosecutors, upper class criminals like the crooked lawyers and employers whom Boudin’s office investigates can pursue their scams while DAs and police focus on drug dealers and petty thieves.

Corporate media has shown its ability to make Americans fear whomever our rulers want us to fear, foreign or domestic. Historically, Blacks, Latinos, Indigenous, Asians, and Jews (at times) have been targeted. Those seen as threats, like the Black and Brown youth the NY Police Department targeted for Stop and Frisk operations, and those imprisoned in the Drug War, are victims as much as a shop owner hit by shoplifters. But victims of tough-on-crime policies are working class, so their lack of safety doesn’t matter.

This is what is at stake in the SF DA recall. Do we want to feel safe, even if the result is more crime in the future, more police violence, inequality, and suffering for the working class now? Or do we want to address the causes for our fear and create communities where people are housed and, if needed, receive help putting their lives together?

As Boudin himself has said, he can’t create alternatives to incarceration on his own. We need more people and more resources than the DA’s $70 million budget. San Francisco needs to get on justice reform and housing the homeless if we want to really be safe. I recommend we start by voting No on Prop. H. Keep Chesa and help his programs work.

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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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