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Why tobacco is legal, but cannabis is not?



In the 1700s, cannabis and tobacco were both regularly grown crops.

In the 1800s, the same.

In the earliest part of the 1900s, the same.

Cannabis was to use to make rope and clothe and a new method for making it into paper was invented. It was also used – in tincture form, not smoked – as a medicine.

And then, after Prohibition was repealed, it was made illegal and became the biggest make-work program for cops and prison guards imaginable.

Posted in USA, Health0 Comments

The Devastating Impact of Plastic Waste: David Attenborough, Britain and “Environmental Missions”



Featured image: Sir David Attenborough (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Few documentaries have had quite this impact, so much so that it has ushered in the unfortunate combination of war and plastic, two terms that sit uneasily together, if at all.  Tears were recorded; anxiety levels were propelled as Sir David Attenborough tore and tugged at heart strings in his production Blue Planet II.  The oceans, warned the documentary maker, is becoming a toxic repository, and humans are to blame. 

More than eight million tons of plastic eventually finds an oceanic destination.  Decomposition will take centuries.  For Attenborough, one scene from the series stood out. 

“In it, as snowflakes settle on the ground, a baby albatross lies dead, its stomach pierced by a plastic toothpick fed to it by its own mother, having mistaken it for healthy food.  Nearby lies plastic litter that other hungry chicks have regurgitated.”   

For Attenborough, plastic supplies a certain demonology for the environmental movement, a vast and urgent target that requires mass mobilisation and action.

“There are fragments of nets so big they entangle the heads of fish, birds, turtles, and slowly strangle them.  Other pieces of plastic are so small that they are mistaken for food and eaten, accumulating in fishes’ stomachs, leaving them undernourished.”

To firstly declare war against something deemed valuable, even indispensable, to preservation, distribution and storage over a multitude of products, to name but a few purposes, is lofty.  To also identify the casus belli against the inanimate again finds haunting resonance with other failed conflicts: the war against drugs, for instance, or that against terrorism. Will this war go the same way?

Guilty consciences are powerful motivators, and fewer guiltier than the affluent, or mildly affluent.  Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is one, a figure who has decided to embrace the environmental cause with vote grabbing enthusiasm.

“In the UK alone,” she intoned, “the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.”

May’s direction is far from surprising.  There is Attenborough propelling a movement, and there are the votes that went begging in 2017.  A Tory think-tank, Bright Blue, found that many who refused to vote for her party in the last general election considered environmental initiatives key.  Its polling “shows that climate change is the second highest issue younger people want senior politicians to discuss more, second only to health, and actually the top issue for 18- to 28-year-olds.”

In getting on the cart against plastic, May has attempted, unconvincingly, to reassure critics that moving Britain out of the EU would not result in a lowering of environmental standards.  Britannia will remain responsible.  Her government, she spoke with confidence at London Wetland Centre, would “leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it”. 

What Sir David says, goes, though May has suggested a slow approach that would eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.  (What, then, is unavoidable?  The question remains unanswered.)  “Plastic-free” aisles are to be encouraged; taxes and charges on takeaway containers are being proposed.  None of these, it should be noted, entails Parliamentary regulation, retaining the old British approach of gradualism in action. No revolutions, please.

Supermarket chains smell climbing profits, luring the ecologically minded to shelves and fridges like willing prey.  One such outlet is Iceland, a chain that wasted little time getting on the radio and airwaves to ride the green belt.  Targets have been advertised, and it promises to remove plastic packaging from all its own labelled products over the next five years.  Even better, goes the fine print, it will enable those with less heavily laden wallets to shop and stay green.

Companies such as Proctor & Gamble, makers of Head & Shoulders Shampoo, have collaborated to produce a recycled shampoo bottle using plastic found in beaches.  This, in turn, pads out it advertising campaigns.  Use our shampoo, and feel good about yourself.

The guilty consciences were whirling and emoting on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday as callers spoke of efforts to spend a week free of plastic, but ignobly failing before their friends, neighbours and fellow citizens, all of whom had managed to go one day further.  There were accounts about how French and German supermarkets ensure that fruits and vegetables are free, emancipated from the confines of plastic, and, it would seem, ready to salve the conscience of the green consumer.

In Britain, Attenborough’s environmental influence has become priestly for such individuals as Oswestry schoolteacher Mandy Price.  She has roped her daughter in as well in what has become a social media campaign featuring #doitfordavid, shared 125,000 times within a matter of hours.

“It has been shared on every continent apart from Antarctica,” praises Emily Davies of the Border Counties Advertiser.

This arms race of satisfying a bruised conscience has an undeniable merit in so far as it acknowledges some of the disastrous consequences of humanity’s addiction to the accessible and the easy.  Ambitious Mandy, for instance, speaks of her Facebook page “receiving photographs from lots of different people who are collecting plastic, even from holidaymakers in Cuba who have seen the posts and have recorded their own two-minute beach clean on the beautiful oceans there.”

But within such wars lie the seeds of, if not failure, then the coming of another problem.  In the British case, enduring snobbery is pointed to.  In Australia’s Northern Territory, environmental groups conceded in dismay that a ban single-use plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness introduced in 2011 had not reduced plastic bag litter at all. On the contrary, the amount had increased.

This is a battle against human behaviour, against patterns of consumption and use in the human estate. It is, if nothing else, an attempt at behavioural adjustment and revolution.  Such a tall order, such a mission, but one that provides Mandy with rosy affirmation rather than dimming scepticism. 

Posted in Health, UK0 Comments

Trashing the Planet for Profit



Before I began this essay I read through some of my past forays that mentioned climate change and capitalism, the first I think, being in 2006 where I opined in a piece on the ‘War on Terror’:

Perhaps the impending climate catastrophe as well as the genocidal actions of the US will force us to finally start thinking and acting ‘outside of the box’ but without a clear idea of where we are heading or how to get there, currently the situation looks dire. — WOT is to be done?  2 November, 2006

In the intervening years, things have gotten even more dire on pretty much every front. It appears that the world’s political and business elite are even more entrenched inside their box. Except, we do know what has to be done, so why, in the face of the obvious, do we not act to forestall catastrophe?

Pessimism, Progress…

For the most part, us lefties are optimists. We believe in the future, in progress, that things will get better, eventually. That the ludicrous idea that capitalism is the ‘end of history’, that in spite of its relentless propaganda, and notwithstanding the defeat of the first socialist experiments, that there is a future beyond capitalism, conditional of course, that we come together to fight for it, as there’s nothing inevitable about it.

But as things stand, it may well be that the human race is not included in that future. Bacteria maybe, but not us.

Personally, I’ve always been an optimist, that in the future, eventually things would get better. Progress, revolution. Not in my lifetime perhaps but eventually we would move beyond capitalism to a sane society. One not driven by greed and short-term gain for the few. Until that is, the reality of climate change hit home, but more on this later.

And the Personal…

After my father died when I was 10, my mother got together with a family friend and he became not exactly a replacement for my father but let’s say, almost, for around 12 years (he died in 2016). Like most of my family and on both sides, he was also a lefty. A talented person. Royal College of Art, a designer, an actor, singer, song writer and lecturer, and a communist his entire life (he was 85 when he died). Like me, he was an optimist. He believed in a better future, better than this miserable present; until a year or so before his death that is (I think he starved himself to death because of his change of heart).

I surmise that what brought about this change was his belief that it was already too late, we had reached the proverbial ‘tipping point’ and there was no going back. He believed that the changes wrought on the biosphere by 200 years of industrial capitalism were now irreversible. We were on the slide toward catastrophe and there was nothing we could do about it given the stranglehold the 1% have on the world. Perhaps even worse, that no matter what we did now or in the future, it was already too late to halt, let alone reverse, catastrophic (to us) climate change.

Trashing the Planet, one plastic bottle at a time

When I was a child, in fact into my teens, containers came in only three types; glass/ceramic; paper/wood/cardboard and metal. All were recyclable and for most part, they were. Our milk was delivered to the front door in glass bottles, by our Coop milkman, Billy. There was no deposit on them, we left the (clean) empties for Billy to collect, returned to the bottling plant where they were washed and reused, at least three times before being recycled. And as a teenager I worked every Saturday on that Coop milk float, horse-drawn, would you believe. The horse knew the route better than we did. It knew at which house we stopped for tea and chocolate digestive biscuits and when to move on. Billy rarely touched the horse and I never did, I was frightened of it, it liked to bite.

And we bought our fruit and veg in paper bags from the local greengrocer, not a hundred meters from where we lived. Ditto the bread, from the bakery, fresh baked twice a day, one hundred meters past the greengrocers.

Nostalgia? Perhaps that’s a small part of it but the recent statistic that in a few years time there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish goes to the very heart of an economic system that can only see profit and worse, can’t see beyond today, beyond short-term gain, even if its actions threaten its own future as a class, as a system. Insane? You bet!

But as I’ve written many, many times before (herehereherehere, and here to name a few), the 1% think they can survive the coming conflagration, that their money, power, technology and weapons will enable them to ride out the coming storm, sacrificing the defenceless of the planet in the name of profit.

The problem is that we are witnessing exponential, negative feedback, so what was predicted say 10 years ago as a ‘breathing space’ of 30 or 50 years in which to take steps to halt the slide is now predicted to be ‘only’ 10 years and no doubt soon it will be upon us. No years! How can one be positive in the face of these revelations without entering a state of denial or resignation?

Even more repulsive, the 1% have no problem sacrificing vast swathes of humanity to preserve their privilege and the rule of capital. The ‘other’ are after all, ‘surplus to requirement’. A vast army of surplus labour, global in scope, not needed by the privileged few. And the effects of climate change are happening now, never mind ten years time, in places like Bangladesh and Puerto Rico. Firstly, by doing nothing to change the economic system that’s caused it and secondly by doing nothing where climate change has already caused unimaginable disasters and suffering.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned

56 years ago, in 1962, Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’, about the disastrous effects of synthetic pesticides on the environment and on us. For her trouble:

“Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a “hysterical woman” unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid — indeed, the whole chemical industry — duly supported by the [US] Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.” – Climate Change: World War III by another name? 4 December 2008, By William Bowles

Over 50 years later climate scientists have suffered comparable attacks, with the sociopath Trump, who far from being the exception to capitalist rule, actually personifies it in all its naked barbarity. The only differences is that Trump publicly avows that he doesn’t give a damn! What we witness with Trump’s irrational attacks is a system at the end of its tether so-to-speak. Enraged by its failure to achieve total hegemony over the planet, it lashes out like some wounded beast. Unless stopped, it threatens nuclear Armageddon to add to its list  of genocidal crimes against the planet and its peoples.

Is it too late?

But what are the chances of overthrowing capitalism before it’s too late to stop, let alone reverse the changes wrought by this insane system? Can organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and indeed, a whole slew of ‘green’ pressure groups, force the capitalists to reverse their suicidal trajectory?

Not until they stop avoiding the issue of confronting capitalism itself rather than the ‘morally uplifting’ but ineffectual route of the personal act e.g., not buying stuff in plastic bottles. Not that, as individuals, we shouldn’t stop buying stuff in plastic bottles but that real change can only come through collective actions, as a class that collectively opposes capitalism and furthermore advocates an alternative way of living. For myself, I don’t see any other alternative than to some form of socialism.

Thus the current drive against the production of plastic bottles once more puts the onus on us, or the current fad around plastic-lined paper coffee cups (all ten billion of them) again, it puts the onus on us. But there is no call to ban their production or ban the production of the endless stream of plastic cartons, wrappings and boxes that are filling up the oceans and our waste tips. Make us pay for it instead with a levy (tax) on their sale. A tax no doubt that will be used to wage ever more wars on the planet. And we have to face the fact that we can’t have our cake and eat it, when it’s the planet and its peoples that paying the price for our useless and unhappy lives, in spite of the gadgets and 4K TVs.

As ever, the public and the planet pay the price for capitalist, profit-driven production. But ultimately it is actually our responsibility but it’s of a different order than being obedient but ‘responsible’ consumers by recycling this and that. It’s by tackling the issue at its root, capitalism. This is a qualitatively different struggle that requires not individual actions (though they are important), but organised, collective action to transform the way we make our living; our economic mode of production.

Moreover, it will require sacrifice on our part. We will have to decide how want to live our lives. I fear however that by the time we decide that going into debt to buy all the crap that ends up sitting in cupboards unused across the nation (allegedly 30% of it), it will be too late for us to do anything about it.

What is to be Done?

So, is it hopeless? Everything in me cries out, no, it’s not hopeless! We can do something about it before it’s too late. But what exactly, are the somethings that we need to do?

I think some of the initial somethings are self-evident, well at least to me. For example, the existing environmental/green groups need to wake up and smell the coffee and join with what’s left of our left and in turn, what’s left of our left needs to wake and smell the coffee too and put a stop to its imperial thinking and stop telling the rest of the planet what to do and concentrate on the problem of how to deal with the contradiction of being privileged citizens of the Imperialist world and at the same time calling ourselves socialists. Furthermore, what’s left of our left needs to stop cannibalising itself by spending most of its time attacking the various left factions and focus instead on tackling the real enemy, capitalism.

There is another issue which I fear is probably even more difficult to deal with and that’s our understanding (or lack of it) of what happens outside the imperial ‘bubble’ we live in. A friend of mine pointed it out to me the other day, noting that I had the advantage of having lived on three continents, including Africa. I had, at least in theory, the advantage of knowing what it was like to experience the reality of a world shaped by imperialism, one that has enabled me to step outside that bubble of imperial privilege, that influences even the most allegedly radical lefty.

It comes down to the ability to empathise, or not, with another person’s reality. To be able to put one’s self in another person’s shoes. To see and experience their reality rather than impose our own onto theirs. Hence an alleged lefty, indeed a ‘professional’ lefty like Tariq Ali, who said in 2012:

“He [Assad] has to be pushed out” – Assad must go to save Syria from interventionRT, 15 February 2012

By what right does Ali say this? The issue really is not about whether Assad should or shouldn’t go but about Ali’s almost divine right to lay down the law about another country from his privileged position as a citizen of Empire. The fact that he said it allegedly in the context that it would avert Western intervention if Assad stepped aside, totally misses the point, for if Assad was to go, it would mean that Imperialism had succeeded in its objective without the need for intervention! Duh! Ali attempted to rationalise his position by stating that:

“[Ali] believes that once Assad falls, the new government will keep good relations with Iran, because this will be in the interest of the new democratic government.” – Tariq Ali says Assad has to go: I’m depressed – no, I’m outraged, By William Bowles, 15 February 2012

I responded, ‘What new democratic government?’ Total wishful thinking on Ali’s part as it assumes that that’s what the West wants, a democratic government and should Assad step aside, that’s what Syria would get. Duh! Talk about self-delusion!

It exemplifies the contradiction of being an alleged socialist at home and enjoying the privilege of being part of the Empire’s intellectual elite and paid very well thank you very much, whilst dictating to Syria what it should and shouldn’t do. I fail to see the distinction between Ali’s arrogance and that of the West, that called for exactly the same thing! Assad has to go!

Furthermore, it reveals the gulf that has to be bridged between us and the proverbial ‘them’, the ‘other’. No mean stretch. It also illustrates the problem we face here, at home, in the belly of the beast of coming to terms with our responsibilities to the planet that we have raped for the past 500 years and continue to rape in order to preserve our (relative) privilege.

Perhaps this in part explains why collectively, we refuse to accept responsibility for the state of the planet. Yes, ultimately, it’s the economic system, capitalism that’s doing the damage but surely it’s time we also accept responsibility for our role in maintaining an unsustainable economic system, a system that in the short term we all benefit from.

Posted in Health, Politics0 Comments

“Genocide by Prescription”: Drug Induced Death in America

The ‘Natural History’ of the Declining White Working Class in America

This pathbreaking analysis, which is currently the object of controversy and debate, was first published by Global Research in July 2016

The white working class in the US has been decimated through an epidemic of ‘premature deaths’ – a bland term to cover-up the drop in life expectancy in this historically important demographic.  There have been quiet studies and reports peripherally describing this trend – but their conclusions have not yet entered the national consciousness for reasons we will try to explore in this essay.  Indeed this is the first time in the country’s ‘peacetime’ history that its traditional core productive sector has experienced such a dramatic demographic decline – and the epicenter is in the small towns and rural communities of the United States.  

The causes for ‘premature death’ (dying before normal life expectancy – usually of preventable conditions) include the sharply increasing incidence of suicide, untreated complications of diabetes and obesity and above all ’accidental poisoning’ – a euphemism used to describe what are mostly prescription and illegal drug overdoses and toxic drug interactions.

No one knows the total number of deaths of American citizens due to drug overdose and fatal drug interactions over the past 20 years, just as no central body has kept track of the numbers of poor people killed by police nationwide, but let’s start with a conservative round number – 500,000 mostly white working class victims, and challenge the authorities to come up with some real statistics with real definitions.  Indeed such a number could be much higher – if they included fatal poly-pharmacy deaths and ‘medication errors’ occurring in the hospital and nursing home setting.

In the last few years, scores of thousands of Americas have died prematurely because of drug overdoses or toxic drug interactions, mostly related to narcotic pain medications prescribed by doctors and other providers.  Among those who have increasingly died of illegal opioid, mostly heroin, fentanyl and methadone, overdose, the vast majority first became addicted to the powerful synthetic opioids prescribed by the medical community, supplied by big chain pharmacies and manufactured at incredible profit margins by the leading pharmaceutical companies.  In essence, this epidemic has been promoted, subsidized and protected by the government at all levels and reflects the protection of a profit-maximizing private medical-pharmaceutical market gone wild.

This is not seen elsewhere in the world at such a level.  For example, despite their proclivity for alcohol, obesity and tobacco – the British patient population has been essentially spared this epidemic because their National Health System is regulated and functions with a different ethic: patient well being is valued over naked profit.  This arguably would not have developed in the US if a single-payer national health system had been implemented.

Faced with the increasing incidence of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans dying from suicide and overdose from prescription opioids and mixed drug reactions, the Armed Forces Surgeon General and medical corps convened ‘emergency’ US Senate Hearings in March 2010 where testimony showed military doctors had written 4 million prescriptions of powerful narcotics in 2009, a 4 fold increase from 2001.  Senate members of the hearings, led by Virginia’s Jim Webb, cautioned not casting a negative light on ‘Big Pharma’ among the largest donors to political campaigns.

The 1960’s public image of the heroin-addicted returning Vietnam War soldier that shocked the nation had morphed into the Oxycontin/Xanax dependent veteran of the new millennium, thanks to ‘Big Pharma’s’ enormous contracts with the US Armed Forces and the mass media looked away.  Suicides, overdoses and ‘sudden deaths’ killed many more soldiers than combat.

No other peaceful population, probably since the 1839 Opium Wars, has been so devastated by a drug epidemic encouraged by a government.  In the case of the Opium Wars, the British Empire and its commercial arm, The East India Company, sought a market for their huge South Asian opium crops and used its military and allied Chinese warlord mercenaries to force a massive opium distribution on the Chinese people, seizing Hong Kong in the process as a hub for its imperial opium trade.   Alarmed at the destructive effects of addiction on its productive population, the Chinese government tried to ban or regulate narcotic use.  Its defeat at British hands marked China’s decline into semi-colonial status for the next century – such are the wider consequences of having an addicted population.

This paper will identify the (1) the nature of the long-term, large-scale drug induced deaths, (2) the dynamics of ‘demographic transition by overdose’, and (3) the political economy of opioid addiction.  This paper will not cite numbers or reports – these are widely available.   However they are scattered, incomplete and generally lack any theoretical framework to understand, let alone confront, the phenomenon.

We will conclude by discussing whether each ‘death by prescription’ is to be viewed as an individual tragedy, mourned in private, or as a corporate crime fueled by greed or even a pattern of ‘Social-Darwinism-writ-large’  by an elite-run decision making apparatus.

Since the advent of major political-economic changes induced by neoliberalism, America’s oligarchic class confronts the problem of a large and potentially restive population of millions of marginalized workers and downwardly mobile members of the middle class made redundant by ‘globalization’ and an armed rural poor sinking ever deeper into squalor.  In other words, when finance capital and elite ruling bodies view an increasing ‘useless’ population of white workers, employees and the poor in this geographic context, what ‘peaceful’ measures can be taken to ease and encourage their ‘natural decline’?

A similar pattern emerged in the early ‘AIDS’ crisis where the Reagan Administration deliberately ignored the soaring deaths among young Americans, especially minorities, adopting a moralistic  ‘blame the victim’ approach until the influential gay community organized and demanded government action.

The Scale and Scope of Drug Deaths

In the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of working age Americans have died from drugs.  The lack of hard data is a scandal.  The scarcity is due to a fragmented, incompetent and deliberately incomplete system of medical records and death certificates – especially from the poorer rural areas and small towns where there is virtually no support for producing and maintaining quality records.  This great data void is multi-faceted and hampered by the problems of regionalism and a lack of clear governmental public health direction.

Early in the crisis, medical professionals and coroners were largely in ‘denial’ and under pressure to certify ‘unexpected’deaths as ‘natural due to pre-existing conditions’ – despite overwhelming evidence that there had been reckless overprescribing by the local medical community.  Fifteen to twenty years ago, the victims’ families, isolated in their little towns, may have derived some short-term comfort from seeing the term ‘natural’ attached to their loved-one’s untimely death.  Understandably, a diagnosis of ‘death by drug overdose’ would evoke tremendous social and personal shame among the rural and small-town white working class families who had traditionally associated narcotics with the urban minority and criminal populations.  They thought themselves immune to such ‘big city’ problem.   They trusted ‘their’ doctors who, in turn, trusted ‘Big Pharma’s’ assurances that the new synthetic opioids were not addicting and could be prescribed in large quantities.

Despite the local medical community’s slowly growing awareness of this problem, there was little public attempt to educate the at-risk population and still fewer attempts to rein in the over-prescribing brethren physicians and private ‘pain-clinics’.  They, or their nurse practitioners and PA’s, did not counsel patients on the immense dangers of combining opioids and alcohol or tranquilizers.  Many, in fact, were not even aware of what their patients were prescribed by other providers.  It is common to see healthy younger adults with multiple prescriptions from multiple providers.

Through the last few decades under neo-liberalism, rural county heath department budgets were stripped because of business-promoted austerity programs.  Instead, the federal government mandated that they implement expensive and absurd plans to confront ‘bio-terrorism’.  Often, health departments lacked the necessary budget to pay for the costly forensic toxicology testing required for documenting drug levels in suspect overdose cases among their own population.

Further compounding this lack of quality data, there was no guidance or coordination from the federal and state government or regional DEA regarding systematic documentation and the development of a usable database for analyzing the widespread consequences of overprescribing legal narcotics.  The early crisis received minimal attention from these bodies.

All official eyes were focused on the ‘war on drugs’ as it was being waged against the poor, urban minority population.  The small towns, where over-prescribing doctors formed the pillars of the local churches or country clubs, suffered in silence.  The greater public was lulled by media mis-education into thinking that addiction and related deaths were an ‘inner city’ problem, one that required the usual racist response of filling up the prisons with young blacks and Hispanics for petty crimes or drug possession.

But within this vacuum, white working class children were starting to dial ‘911’…because, ‘Mommy won’t wake up…’.  Mommy with her ‘prescribed Fentanyl patches’ took just one Xanax too many and devastated an entire family unit.  This was the prototype of a raging epidemic.  All throughout the country these alarming cases were growing.  Some rural counties saw the proportion of addicted infants born to addicted mothers overwhelm their unprepared hospital systems.  And the local obituary pages published increasing numbers of young names and faces besides the very elderly –never printing any ‘cause’ for the untimely demise of a young adult while devoting paragraphs for a departed octogenarian.

Recent trends demonstrate that drug deaths (both opiate overdose and fatal mixed interactions with other drugs and alcohol) have had a major impact on the composition of the local labor force, families, communities and neighborhoods.  This is reflected in the lives of workers, whose personal life and employment has been severely impaired by corporate plant relocations, downsizing, cuts in wages and health benefits.  The traditional support systems, which provided aid to workers damaged by these trends, such as trade unions, public social workers and mental health professionals, were either unable or unwilling to intervene before or after the scourge of drug addiction had come into play.

The Dynamic Demography of Drug-Induced Death

Almost all publicized reports ignore the demography and differential class impacts of prescription-related drug deaths.   The majority of those killed by illegal drugs were first addicted to legal narcotics prescribed by their providers.  Only the overdose deaths of celebrities manage to hit the headlines.

Most of the victims have been low wage, unemployed or under-employed members of the white working class.  Their prospects for the future are dismal.  Any dream of establishing a healthy family life on one salary in ‘Heartland America’ would be met with laughter.  This is a huge national population, which has experienced a steep decline in its living standards because of deindustrialization.  The majority of fatal overdose victims are white working age males, but with a large proportion of working class women, often mothers with children.  There has been little discussion about the impact of an overdose death of a working age woman on the extended family.  They include grandmothers in their 50’s living with three generations under one roof.  In this demographic, women often provide critical cohesion and stability for several generations at risk – even if they had been taking ‘Oxy’ for their chronic pain.

Apparently the US minority population has so far escaped this epidemic.  Black and Hispanic Americans had already been depressed and economically marginalized for a much longer period – and the lower rate of prescription drug deaths among their populations may reflect greater resilience.   It certainly reflects their reduced access to the over-prescribing private-sector medical community – a grim paradox where medical ‘neglect’ might indeed have been ‘benign’.

While there may be few class-based studies looking at comparative trends in ‘overdose deaths’ among urban minorities and rural/small town whites from sociology, public health or minority-studies university departments, anecdotal evidence and personal observation suggest that minority urban populations are more likely to provide assistance to an overdosing neighbor or friend than in the white community where addicts are more likely to be isolated and abandoned by family members ashamed of their ‘weakness’.  Even the practice of ‘dumping’ an overdosed friend at the entrance of an emergency department and walking away has saved many lives.  Urban minorities have greater access and familiarity with the chaotic big-city emergency rooms where medical personnel are skilled at recognizing and treating overdose.  After decades of civil rights struggles, minorities are possibly more sophisticated in asserting their rights regarding use of such public resources.  There may even be a relatively stronger culture of solidarity among the marginalized minorities in rendering assistance or an awareness of the consequences of not taking someone’s neighbor to the ER.  These urban survival mechanisms have been largely absent in the white rural areas.

Nationwide, US doctors had long been dissuaded from prescribing powerful synthetic opioids to minority patients, even those in significant pain.  There are various factors here, but the medical community has not been immune to the stereotype of the Hispanic or black urban addict or dealer.  Perhaps, this widespread medical ‘racism’ in the context of the prescription opioid epidemic has had some paradoxical benefit.

Whatever the reason, urban minority addicts, while experiencing overdose in large numbers are more likely to survive an opiate overdose than small town or rural whites, unfamiliar with narcotics and their effects.

In the rural and small-town (deindustrialized) US heartland there has been an enormous breakdown in community and family solidarity.  This has followed the destruction of a century-old stable employment base, especially in the manufacturing, mining and productive agricultural sectors.  Only post-Soviet Russia experienced a similar pattern of declining life expectancy from ‘poisoning’ (alcohol and drugs) following the nationwide destruction of its socialized full employment system and the breakdown of all social services.  Furthermore the loss of the tough Soviet police apparatus and the growth of an oligarch-mafia class saw the tremendous in-flooding of heroin from Afghanistan.

The growth of opioid addiction is not based on ‘personal choice’, nor is it the result of shifts in cultural life styles.  While all class and educational levels are included among the victims, the overwhelming majority are younger white working class and the poor. They cover all age groups, including adolescents recovering from sports injuries, as well as the elderly with joint and back pain.  The surge of addiction is a result of major shifts in the economy and the social structure.  The regions most affected by overdose deaths are those in deep, prolonged and permanent decline, including the former ‘rust belt’ regions, small manufacturing towns of New England, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania and the rural South and agricultural, mining and forestry regions of the west.

This is the product of private executive decisions to (1) relocate productive US companies overseas or to distant, non-union regions of the country, (2) force once well-paid employees into lower paid jobs, (3) replace American workers with skilled and unskilled foreign immigrants or poorly paid ‘temps’, (4) eliminate pension and health benefits and (5) introduce new technology – including robots- which cuts the labor force by rendering human workers redundant.  These changes in the relationship of capital to labor have created enormous profits for senior executives and investors, while producing a surplus labor force, which puts even greater pressure on young first-time workers and workers with seniority.  There have been no effective job protection/ sustainable job creation programs to address the decades of declining well-paid employment.  Good jobs have been replaced by minimum wage, service sector ‘MacJobs’ or temporary poorly paid manufacturing jobs with no benefits or protections.  All across this devastated heartland, expensively touted programs, such as ‘Start-Up New York’, have failed to bring decent jobs while spending hundreds of millions of public money in free PR for state politicians.

The drug addiction epidemic has been most deadly precisely in those regions of industrial job loss and working wage decline, as well as in the depressed, once protected, agricultural and food processing sectors where union jobs have been replaced by minimum wage immigrants.  The loss of stable employment has been accompanied by a slashing of social services and tremendous cuts in benefits – just when such services should have been bolstered.

Precisely because the so-called ‘drug problem’ is linked to major demographic changes resulting from dynamic capitalist shifts, it has never been the focus of elite-run government and corporate foundation grant research – unlike their fixation on the ‘radicalization of Muslims’ or ‘trends in urban crime’.  Research tended to focus on ‘minorities’ or merely nibbled at the periphery of the current phenomenon.  Good studies and data would have provided the rationale and basis for major public programs aimed at protecting the lives of marginalized white workers and reversing the deadly trends.  The decade-long, nation-wide absence of research and data into this phenomenon has justified the glaring absence of an effective governmental response.  Here the ‘neglect’ has not been ‘benign’.

In parallel with the increase in opioid addiction, there has been an astronomical increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs and anti-depressants to the same population – also highly profitable to ‘Big Pharma’.  The pattern of prescribing such powerful, and potentially dangerous, mood altering medications to downwardly mobile Americans to ‘treat’ or numb normal anxieties and reactions to the deterioration in their material condition has had profound consequences.  Such individuals, often on unemployment assistance or MEDICAID, may be expected to follow a complex daily regimen of up to nine medications – besides their narcotic pain medications, while trying to cope with their crumbling world.

Where a dignified job with a decent wage would effectively treat a marginalized worker’s despair without unpleasant or dangerous ‘side effects’, the medical and mental health community has consistently sent their patients to ‘Big Pharma’.  As a result, post-mortem toxicological analyses often show multiple prescribed psychotropic medications and anti-depressants in addition to narcotics in cases of opioid overdose deaths. While this may constitute an abdication of the medical provider’s responsibility to patients, it is also a reflection of the medical community’s utter helplessness in the face of systemic social breakdown – as has occurred in the marginalized communities where drug overdose deaths concentrate.

Demographic studies, at best, identify the victims of drug addiction.  But their choice to treat their despair as an ‘individual problem’ occurring in a ‘specific, immediate context’ overlooks the greater political and economic structures, which set the stage for premature death.

The Political Economy of Overdose Deaths

When the remains of a young working class overdose victim is wheeled into a morgue, his or her untimely demise is labelled a ‘self-inflicted’ or ‘accidental’ opioid overdose and a great cover-up machine is turned on:  The sequence leading up to the death is shrouded in mystery, no deeper understanding of the socio-cultural and economic factors are sought.  Instead, the victim or his/her culture is blamed for the end-result of a complex chain of elite capitalist economic decisions and political maneuverings in which a worker’s premature death is a mere collateral event.  The medical community has merely functioned as the transmission belt in this process, rather than as an agent for serving the public.

The vast majority of overdose fatalities are, in reality, victims of decisions and losses far beyond their control.  Their addictions have shortened their lives as well as clouded their understanding of events and undermined their capacity to engage in class struggle to reverse this trend.  It has been a perfect solution to the predictable demographic problems of brutal neoliberalism in America.

Wall Street and Washington designed the macro-economy that has eliminated decent jobs, cut wages and slashed benefits. As a result millions of marginalized workers and the unemployed are under tremendous tension and resort to pharmacologic solutions to endure their pain because they are not organized.  The historical leading role of trade union and community organizations has been eliminated.  Instead, redundant workers are ‘charged by Big Pharma’ to dig their own graves and class leaders are nowhere to be found.

Secondly, the workplace has become much more dangerous under the ‘new economic order’.  Bosses no longer fear unions and safety regulations: many workers are injured by the accelerating pace of work, longer hours, faulty job training and lack of federal supervision of working conditions.  Injured workers, lacking any judicial, trade union, or public agency protection rightly fear retaliation for reporting their work injury and increasingly resort to prescription narcotics to cope with acute and chronic pain while continuing to work.

When employers allow workers to report their injuries, the low coverage and limited treatments available, encourage providers to over-prescribe narcotics on top of other medications with potentially dangerous interactions.  Many pain clinics, contracted by employers, are eager to profit from injured clients while pharmaceutical companies actively promote powerful synthetic narcotics.

A vicious chain is formed:  The pharmaceutical industry’s mass production of narcotics has been among its most profitable products.  Corporate pharmacy chains fill the prescriptions written by tens of thousands of ‘providers’ (doctors, dentists, nurses and physician assistants) who have only a limited amount of time to actually examine an injured worker.  The deteriorating work conditions create the injury and the workers become consumers of Big Pharma’s miracle relief – Oxycontin or its cousins – which a decade of drug salesmen had touted as ‘non-addicting’.  A long line of highly educated professionals, including doctors and other providers, pathologists, medical examiners and coroners carefully paper over the real cause, the corporate decision makers, in order to protect themselves from corporate reprisals should they ‘blow the whistle’.  Behind the scientific façade there is a Social Darwinism that few are willing to confront.

Only recently, in the face of incredible numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from narcotic overdose, the federal government has started to release funds for research.   Academic-medical researchers have started to collect and publicize data on the growing epidemic of opiate deaths; they provide shocking maps of the most affected counties and regions.  They join the chorus in urging the federal and state agencies to become more actively involved in usual panacea: ‘education and prevention’.  This beehive of activity has come two decades too late into the epidemic and reeks of cynicism.

Funding for research into this phenomenon will not result in any effective long-term programs for confronting these small community-based ‘crises of capitalism’.  There is no institution willing to confront the basic cause:  the devastation of capitalist– labor relations in post-millennial America, the corrupt nature of state-corporate-pharmaceutical linkages and the chaotic, profit-driven character of our private medical system.  Very few writers ever explore how a national, public, single-payer, health system would have clearly prevented with epidemic from the beginning.


Why does the capitalist-state and pharmaceutical elite sustain a socio-economic process, which has led to the large-scale, long-term death of workers and their family members in rural and small town America?

One ready and convincing hypothesis is that the modern dynamic corporate elite profits from the results of ‘demographic change by overdose.’

Corporations gain billions of dollars in profits from the ‘natural decline’ of redundant workers:  slashing social services and job benefits, such as health plans, pension, vacation, job training programs, allowing employers to increase their profits, capital gains, executive bonuses and raises.  Public services are eliminated, taxes are reduced and workers, when needed, can be imported – fully formed – from abroad for temporary employment in a ‘free labor market’.

Capitalists profit even more from the technology gains – robots, computerization, etc. – by ensuring that workers do notenjoy reduced hours or increased vacations resulting from their increased productivity.  Why share the results of productivity gains with the workers, when the workers can just be eliminated?  Dissatisfied workers can turn inward or ‘pop a pill’, but never organize to retake control of their lives and future.

Election experts and political pundits can claim that white American workers reject the major establishment parties because they are ‘angry’ and ‘racist’.  These are the workers who now turn to a ‘Donald Trump’.  But a deeper analysis would reveal their rational rejection of political leaders who have refused to condemn capitalist exploitation and confront the epidemic of death by overdose.

There is a class basis for this veritable genocide by narcotics raging among white workers and the unemployed in the small towns and rural areas of American:  it is the ‘perfect’ corporate solution to a surplus labor force.  It is time for American workers and their leaders to wake up to this cruel fact and resist this one-sided class war or continue to mourn more untimely deaths in their own drug-numbed silence.

And it is time for the medical community to demand a ‘patient-first’ publicly accountable national health system that rewards service over profit, and responsibility over silent complicity.

Posted in USA, Health0 Comments

How UK Anti-Abortion Activists Use US Tactics to Shock and Shame Women


By Phoebe Braithwaite

Image result for Anti-Abortion CARTOON

Anti-abortion activists gathered outside the UK Houses of Parliament on 27 October to protest 50 years since the passing into law of the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act. Nina Naidu* was working nearby, and went to take a closer look.

Like many women in the UK, she had previous, personal experience with both abortion and virulent anti-choice demonstrators. Earlier this year, the 24-year-old decided to terminate a pregnancy, and was accosted by protestors on the way to her appointment.

At the Westminster demonstration, there were “deeply disturbing” billboards, Naidu told me. “Around 10-foot-tall, reinforced with aluminium scaffolding, they showed blown up images of bleeding foetuses alongside imagery of enslaved black people.”

There were also “Game of Thrones-style CGI pictures of babies being sacrificed in some sort of fantasy orientalised temple,” she said, describing the images on display at the protest, organised by the campaign group Abort67.

The self-styled “genocide prevention” group has used such graphic and emotionally-manipulative pictures since its formation, 11 years ago. Recently, its visibility has increased thanks to growing links with other anti-abortion groups in the UK and abroad.

Abort67 presents its campaigns as connected to the struggles of US civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. It has compared abortion to slavery, theHolocaust, and the hundreds of thousands killed on Burma’s ‘Death Railway.’

This is “the reality of abortion, how bad it looks, how violent it is,” Abort67 campaigner Andy Stephenson told me. “That’s not editorialising on the images, that’s just the images themselves, they really start… and end the debate.”

The group insists its work is emancipatory, saving lives and empowering women. To this Naidu responds: “It’s not a feminist cause, though it tries very hard to position itself in that way.” Rather, she said, Abort67 “de-prioritises women.”

Abort67 was named after the year, 1967, when the UK’s Abortion Act was passed. Introduced as a private member’s bill, amid heated debate, it legalised abortion in all of Great Britain — and not Northern Ireland — with certain, controversial restrictions.

There is a legal time limit — 24 weeks — and two doctors must approve a termination. If a woman ends a pregnancy outside of these restrictions, for example by buying abortion pills online, she could be given a life sentence in prison, along with anyone who assists her.

Half a century since the 1967 law was passed, British doctors’ associations have urged ministers to fully decriminalise abortion. In Northern Ireland, where abortion is almost always illegal, the road to reproductive choice is even longer.

Meanwhile the anti-abortion movement has not given up: instead, it appears to be consolidating, with new alliances being struck between different groups and increasing transatlantic cooperation.

Since 2014, Abort67 has held regular vigils outside Blackfriars Medical Practice in Southwark in London. It has also been active in Brighton and Manchester. When we spoke, Stephenson was travelling back to the capital from Nottingham, on a fundraising and recruitment tour across the UK.

He told me that the group is non-denominational and that its projects have, over the last six months, grown “in numbers and scale and the complexity” involved. Satellite groups are being established in cities including Cambridge, Brighton, Leeds and Nottingham.

Image-based campaigns are “more effective,” said Stephenson, though they “haven’t really been tried in the UK, that much, on the scale that we’re doing.” Recently Abort67 invested in a truck on which to mount their billboards, to increase their visibility.

“I got involved with this about 11 years ago when I saw a picture of a ten-week foetus that had been aborted, and my wife was pregnant at the time with a baby of the same age,” Stephenson, now 43 years old, told me.

“I’d never seen that before, and that was a catalyst to motivate me to change my path, and try and find a way of bringing it to an end,” he said, of the image which was circulated by infamous US anti-abortion group the Centre for Bioethical Reform (CBR).

Founded in the early 1990s, CBR says: “abortion represents an evil so inexpressible that words fail us when attempting to describe its horror. Until abortion is seen, it will never be understood.”

The group is led by attorney, war veteran, and former member of the Reagan administration Gregg Cunningham, who, as a two-term member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, introduced legislation to end public funding for abortion in that state.

Many of the images used by Abort67 are believed to be late-term miscarriages, taken in the US. Reproductive health groups such as Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International have alleged that the images are, in fact, of stillborn or miscarried foetuses.

Abort67 strenuously denies this, saying that “impugning the accuracy of our pictures is the same sort of tactic used by neo-Nazis in response to condemnation of the Holocaust.”

Stephenson said such pictures shocked him, and that Cunningham had a “convincing strategy to bring [abortion] to an end.” He then founded the Centre for Bioethical Reform UK (CBR UK), with Abort67 as its public campaigning — or “consumer protection outreach” — outfit.

“Not a man for numbers”, Stephenson said he works full time for the organisation, leading a team of “about five or six” staff members and around 120 volunteers.

For the 2016-2017 financial year, CBR UK reported receiving £100,000 in grants and other donations, up from £69,000 in 2015-2016, according to the group’s most recent filings at Companies House.

These filings also disclose an affiliation with the much larger CBR in the US, which has an annual revenue of more than $1 million, and say that CBR UK “shares some administration” with the lobby group Christian Concern For Our Nation, known as ‘Christian Concern.’

Stephenson said that Christian Concern have provided basic human resources and administration support over the past couple of years, but that they have less of a role in the organisation these days.

Meanwhile, he speaks to CBR’s director Cunningham “very regularly; about once every ten days at the moment.”

He said they are supporting the formation of a new CBR group in Ireland, where pro-choice activists and their opponents are preparing for for a referendum next year over that country’s regressive anti-abortion laws.

The US and UK groups also convene yearly in London at the Clarkson Academy, a kind of anti-abortion training camp to share tactics and how to “make an abstract concept concrete in people’s minds,” said Stephenson.

“Both pro-life and pro-abortion groups have links to the US, and I think it’s time both sides were honest about this,” he said, adding that he also has regular group calls with other affiliated organisations in Europe, Australia and Canada.

When we talked, Stephenson said CBR UK’s money comes neither from the US nor from the Church, but from individual donations from “people who want to see change.”

He also argued that shock tactics such as graphic imagery are “a very British way of campaigning, that the Americans adopted, going back 200 plus years,” rather than the other way around.

“Slave trade abolitionists were using graphic, disturbing images of Africans being brutalised by the slave trade. And the British abolitionists worked with Frederick Douglass and other American abolitionists,” he said.

The group made a similar argument in a 43-page response to a recent Channel 4 Dispatches exposé of Abort67.

“In every other subject, we use images as a means for teaching about moral issues. But as soon as you hold up a dead baby picture, you say, oh well, you know that’s American extremism,” said Stephenson, describing this as “just a way of avoiding the issue.”

Outside clinics in Ealing (a borough in west London) and Portsmouth (on England’s southern coast), “buffer zones” have been established to protect women seeking legal abortion services after persistent harassment by anti-choice activists.

Campaigns for such buffer zones, to prohibit protests immediately in front of clinics, are now picking up steam including in Richmond and Brixton (also in London), as well as Birmingham, supported by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s Back Offcampaign.

How to protect women from harassment by anti-abortion protestors has become a political issue. In October, 113 MPs, including the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, signed a letter to the home secretary calling for action.

Complaining of being bad-mouthed by people he calls “abortionists”, Stephenson said that buffer zones, and the pro-choice movement more broadly, are waging an assault on free speech, “trying to extinguish a countervailing perspective on an issue.”

Anna Veglio-White, from Ealing’s Sister Supporter group that helped lead the campaign for buffer zones where she lives, strongly disagrees.

“It’s not about belittling their beliefs or being aggressive towards them… it’s not even really about abortion — it’s about access to a legal healthcare service, and you’re trying to stop people from going in,” she said.

She described how protesters outside clinics in Ealing launched abusive phrases at women, offering them little pink or blue rosary beads for the soul of their “child”.

She told me: “They said things like: “change your lifestyle so you don’t end up back here”; “should have kept your baby today, Mum”; and “Mum, does the Dad know you’ve killed your baby?”

“What they were doing felt really violent,” said another woman I spoke to, in the US, who also described being subjected to shouting and “horrible photos” while on her way to an abortion appointment, “already nervous and also really nauseous and emotional.”

Pam Lowe, a sociologist at Aston University in Birmingham, said that these protests do not appear to influence the proportion of women who decide to go through with a termination after seeking such services.

But they are clearly distressing, she said. “This is a specific form of public harassment. This is violence against women, and this is how we need to address it.”

Lowe told me there is now greater cooperation between different strands of the anti-abortion movement in the UK, which she said is indicative of a “consolidation” similar to that which occurred in the US in the 1980s.

Primarily Protestant Abort67 has a growing presence at the Catholic-organised March for Life, for example, and its activities are becoming more visible as it embraces new relationships with other anti-choice groups.

Stephenson also told me that they work with “anybody of any faith or no faith” adding that they were “glad” to partner with “pagans supporters… Catholics or evangelicals”.

He said they have “been meeting up with some of these other pro-life groups that we’ve not really had a chance to sit down with before,” giving as examples the Good Counsel Network and the 40 Days for Life campaign.

In Lowe’s view, “if you start from the position where motherhood is women’s destiny, which is where they’re coming from… then pro-choice people just are forcing women to have abortions, or setting up an abortion culture.”

Such denial of female agency is the nub of the anti-abortion movement’s misogyny, and is also reflected in the 1967 law’s requirement that women get permission from two doctors to end an unwanted pregnancy.

The reality, Lowe says, is that “women will put their life on the line to have a termination of a pregnancy they don’t want.”

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

Posted in Campaigns, Health, UK0 Comments

Capitalism Exacerbates the Vulnerability of “Extreme Cities” to Climate Change


By Ashley DawsonVerso Books 

 An American flag flies near homes that remain damaged and mostly untouched since Superstorm Sandy hit the coastline, May 5, 2013, in Ortley Beach, New Jersey. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

An American flag flies near homes that remain damaged and mostly untouched since Superstorm Sandy hit the coastline, May 5, 2013, in Ortley Beach, New Jersey. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

No amount of technological innovation or small design fixes can ensure that extreme cities and their residents survive, so long as they follow capitalism’s founding principle of “grow or die” on a planet with finite resources. In this lightly edited excerpt from Extreme Cities, Ashley Dawson makes the case for radical solutions to transform economic and social inequality and to address the impacts of climate change in urban areas.

There is a precariousness to urban life in the face of climate change-induced disasters like Hurricane Sandy. After Sandy, endemic subway delays from heavy rain would no longer seem like mere temporary inconveniences, but rather prologues to a permanently drowned New York City. We wait anxiously for the next superstorm, fearing that the efforts of officials to prepare the city will turn out to be inadequate.

In Extreme Cities, I place Hurricane Sandy in a broader context, weaving together stories of cities around the world that are threatened by climate chaos. Extreme Cities draws on interviews with researchers at the cutting edge of climate science, landscape architects whose work uses natural processes to build our capacity to endure extreme weather, and activists fighting to diminish the inequalities that render cities vulnerable to climate chaos. Cities, I contend, are at the forefront of the coming climate chaos, their natural vulnerabilities heightened by social injustice. Cities are the defining social and ecological phenomena of the twenty-first century: they house the majority of humanity, they contribute the lion’s share of carbon to the atmosphere, and they are peculiarly vulnerable to climate chaos.

New York City is not alone in its vulnerability to flooding: almost all of the world’s great cities are sited on or near bodies of water. This should come as no surprise, since rivers, lakes, and the ocean have always been key to the economic and ecological health of cities. Thirteen of the world’s twenty largest cities are port cities. But this has generated a deadly contradiction that is one of the most-overlooked facts of the twenty-first century: the majority of the world’s megacities are in coastal zones threatened by sea level rise.

Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives within 120 miles of the sea; by 2025, it is estimated that this figure will reach 75 percent. In addition, urbanites all over the world are particularly vulnerable to deadly heat waves, whose intensity and frequency are increasing as a result of global warming, because of the “heat island” effect that makes urban areas hotter than their rural surroundings. Several decades of evidence suggests that people are migrating out of drought-prone areas in the developing world and into coastal cities that are prone to floods and cyclones. Whether we like it or not, anthropogenic climate disruption is going to dramatically alter the world’s cities, and it is here that the effects of climate change will be of most consequence.

The New York that Hurricane Sandy struck was experiencing a second Gilded Age. It was a city presided over by Michael Bloomberg, the consummate corporate insider and power broker, who embodied nearly four decades of big business-friendly neoliberal urban policies. During that period, as Occupy Wall Street activists tirelessly pointed out, the city became a place of extreme economic and social inequality. It was also a site in which a variety of high-profile initiatives were undertaken to turn the city into a green metropolis. Yet inequality in the city continued to spiral. Today, New York is the consummate example of the prototypical social form of our age: the extreme city.

The extreme city is not a city of a certain size, like the megacity or metacity, which designate, respectively, metropolitan areas with populations in excess of 10 and 20 million. Instead, it describes the specific character of the urban fabric. For instance, Tokyo and Lagos are both metacities, but the two are often taken as opposing poles in the contemporary urban imaginary, one a paradigm of technological sophistication and orderliness, and the other a sprawl of decaying infrastructure and informal settlements. By contrast, “extreme city” refers to an urban space of stark economic inequality, the defining urban characteristic of our time, and one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of urban existence. How a city copes with stratifications of race, class, and gender (or how such inequalities are left to fester) has everything to do with how well it will weather the storms that are bearing down upon humanity. It is in the extreme city that the most important struggles for human survival will take place.

Nevertheless, this global convergence of urbanization and climate change, which I call the extreme city, has remained surprisingly invisible. Scientific literature on climate change has largely ignored the disproportionate contributions of cities to global warming, while climatology tends to assess the threat on a global scale and in the future tense, often in terms of how much the planet as a whole will warm by 2100, for instance. As a result, scientists actively suppress specific information about climate change in cities, statistically adjusting data collected from urban weather stations in global temperature datasets. In seeking to record the overall fluctuations of a planetary environment, science ignores the specific places where most of us live — cities which also happen to be the sites of the most extreme transformation. This makes climate change seem distant and abstract, something that will happen in a remote future on a scale far removed from that of individual experience.

But climate change is happening right now, and above all in the cities where the majority of humanity now lives. Many have already exceeded the magnitude of warming projected for the planet as a whole over the current century.

Take São Paolo, the Brazilian metacity of over 20 million. São Paolo lies in a region that typically receives four times as much rainfall as Los Angeles, in a country that, with more than 12 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water, is often referred to as “the Saudi Arabia of water.” Yet São Paolo has suffered from a deep drought in recent years that is tied to anthropogenic climate change. The city’s main water reserves are perilously low, and in recent years the authorities have introduced water rationing.

The origin of São Paolo’s water crisis is no mystery. Since 1984, researchers have linked potential declines in precipitation in southern Brazil to the deforestation of the Amazon. The rain forest transformed what would otherwise have been a desert into a lush environment, by releasing massive quantities of water vapor into the air. Yet 224,000 square miles of the rain forest — an area nearly one-and-a-half times the size of California — have been clear-cut since 1980. This unchecked deforestation, which disrupts the rain forest’s ability to recycle precipitation from the Atlantic, is one of the primary causes of São Paolo’s drought.

Without adequate supplies of water, a city shuts down in a matter of days, and São Paolo has seen an exodus of “water refugees” as well as the proliferation of wildcat drilling for water that is polluting groundwater, a development that worsens the drought’s long-term impact. There is still much that the city can do to conserve water, but São Paolo’s plight makes the crisis tendencies of the extreme city dramatically evident.

Despite this, the predominant outlook on urbanization remains surprisingly sunny, even utopian. Numerous paeans have been devoted to the economic and civic benefits of urban development, penned by writers who are frequently economists by training and consultants by profession. Most of them recognize the inequalities that have generated what Mike Davis calls our “planet of slums,” but they also characterize cities as the breeding grounds for new entrepreneurship that will provide solutions to the “challenge” of poverty. Their “smart,” technologically enhanced forms of urbanism will usher capitalism into a new era of “green” urban growth and produce a “city fix” for climate change: a new era of efficiency and resilience based on compact green cities.

But these blithe predictions elide the glaring contradiction of capitalism’s destruction of nature, its material base. The perils of climate change in the city are either totally ignored in this literature, or cast as a mouthwatering opportunity for entrepreneurs to usher in the next wave of green technology.

Neither “smart” urbanism nor good design alone will provide safe harbor from the storms increasingly breaking on our shores. “Tactical urbanist” interventions, however noble, will remain isolated oases in the vast desert of neoliberal urbanization. We certainly need technology and planning to help adapt to the coming climate chaos, but under present social conditions, these tools are more likely to be employed by elites to create architectures of apartheid and exclusionary zones of refuge. The War on Terror has shown us that the computer networks that are supposed to make cities efficient and green can be used not only against dissident groups and targeted populations, such as Muslims, but against the entire US population. The oppressive character of surveillance in the “smart” city is sure to be stepped up as climate chaos intensifies.

Urban growth is driven at bottom by capitalism. As urban critics Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have emphasized, the city plays a central role in solving the economic crashes that periodically wrack the capitalist system. The shiny new buildings and spiffy developments that are constantly popping up in cities are a fantastic sink for the surplus capital that builds up in this economic system. In other words, profits are not left idle in bank accounts; they are always reinvested in other profit generating schemes, like urban development. But the city is also the primary site for the feckless depletion of natural resources that characterizes this economic system, which is founded on unbridled compound growth. There is consequently no “city fix” without addressing overproduction.

The city is where capitalism’s central contradictions play out and consequently where revolutionary movements have often been pushed into existence. This means that the movement for climate justice, which builds on anti-imperialist, antiracist, and feminist movements of the past, will necessarily grow through solidarities forged in urban terrain. To suggest this is to challenge the notion that the city is the antithesis of “nature.” We need to abandon such stale preconceptions. Not only are cities dependent upon nature, but they also structure our increasingly chaotic natural world. Climate change will unleash the greatest havoc in cities, but cities will also produce the most ferocious struggles against the inequalities of our urban age.

There is no green capitalist exit from the extreme city, when capitalism is founded on the principle of “grow or die.” The world does not have a limitless supply of resources for humans to exploit. Urbanization and climate change are the two great products of this dysfunctional system, the central contradictions that define our age. And while the urban dwellers of the global South are the most vulnerable in the face of the gathering storms, climate extremes will affect all of humanity, albeit unevenly.

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USA: Unethical medical testing on children ”VIDEO”


Image result for NAZI Unethical medical testing on children


Unethical medical testing on children.

They called it “research.”

Grim stuff and largely unreported.

The speaker is Allen M. Hornblum author of “Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America.”

Who ran it?

MDs and researchers. Well paid every step of the way.

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Nandos, Lidl and Asda Chickens Come Home to Roost After Animal Advocacy Group Goes Undercover


Animal Equality published footage showing chickens destined for Nando’s, Lidl and Asda were being kept in appalling conditions. One month later, has enough been done to ensure animal welfare and food hygiene standards are met? FRANCES RANKIN reports


Featured image: A chicken with a deformed bill appears unwell while living at a farm supplying Nando’s, Lidl and Asda. (c) Animal Equality International

Charity Animal Equality have said the farm that supplies chicken to Nandos, Lidl and Asda is not doing enough to secure the welfare of chickens, after footage filmed by undercover investigators has revealed cruel and dirty conditions.

Animal Equality a month ago published video including one clip showing a chicken lying on its back and exposing a purple, apparently swollen underbelly. The international animal advocacy charity claims the bird is unable to walk and is forced to sit in ammonia soaked litter, which causes burns.

The upsetting footage shows another chicken seemingly struggling to support its own body weight. Others sit close to the ground, lethargic and blinking or breathing slowly as if ill. The charity described birds being kicked, carried around flapping after their necks were snapped and dying on their backs unable to reach water.

Dr. Toni Shephard, UK Executive Director of the charity said:

“When Faccenda received our footage showing suffering and neglect on their farm, they said they would be investigating the farm and it would not be restocked with birds until they were satisfied that welfare standards had improved. But how can you assess welfare standards when the sheds are empty?

“Quite disappointingly, Faccenda gave the farm the all-clear just a week after our expose, conveniently timed for when the sheds were due to be re-stocked anyway. This leaves us questioning how rigorous the investigation was, particularly as there were no birds on the farm at the time.”

Dead chicks in bins

Cambria Farm in Taunton supplies Faccenda, the second-largest chicken supplier in the country, and houses over 150,000 chickens in four giant sheds.

Modern breeds of chicken are used because they gain weight very quickly. This leads the young birds to struggle to support an adult-sized body on small legs and puts their hearts under huge pressure.

The film shows farmers dumping buckets full of dead chicks in bins and wheelbarrows. One clip seems to show a chick dumped on the pile of bodies still breathing. Workers were also filmed picking up chickens and throwing them into crates.

Dr. Shephard, said:

“The birds were just a few days old when we first filmed, yet already hundreds of chicks were dying every day and the bins outside the giant sheds were full of tiny bodies, still with their yellow baby feathers.

Appropriate action

“Just a couple of weeks later, the skips were fuller still and many of the birds were suffering from painful lameness. By our last visit, the sheds were so crowded it was difficult to walk through them.”

Animal Equality has passed the evidence on to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (AHPA) for further investigation. An APHA spokesperson said “appropriate action is taken” where welfare regulations are breached, but were unable to comment on individual cases.

The charity says this footage shows clear breaches of the government’s welfare code which states that injured or sick birds should be “immediately be removed to a hospital pen and treated or humanely killed”.

Defra’s welfare code also states no animal must be transported in a way that may cause injury or unnecessary suffering to the animal. The undercover footage shows workers at the farm carrying birds by one leg and violently catching and crating the birds.

An independent vet

A spokesperson for Faccenda told The Ecologist the company is taking the complaints “seriously” and have had multiple vets visit the site to investigate the allegations, but have now decided to recommence activities on the farm.

They said this will occur with, “additional monitoring and ongoing support from our vet to ensure adherence to standards and practices.”

Paul Vaughan-France, owner of the farm, had told The Times:

“I will take the images as good feedback and will do everything I can to work on every aspect of my husbandry. I have had an independent vet on site to review my practices and he is satisfied with his findings.”

A spokesperson for Nandos said:

“The farm in question is being thoroughly investigated by both parties and we have been assured that it will meet Red Tractor standards before it will be allowed to supply chicken again. We intend to remain close to the situation to ensure that happens.”

A spokesperson for Asda said the company “take animal welfare very seriously” and have “strict processes in place to ensure all of the farms that supply Asda meet our own high standards and are Red Tractor approved.” They said:

“We have addressed this matter with our supplier who have conducted a full investigation following these allegations.”

A Lidl spokesperson said:

“Lidl UK takes the issue of animal welfare very seriously and were in close communication with the supplier on this matter, whilst their investigations carried out.

“We have a code of conduct in place with all of our suppliers, with agreed expectations regarding responsible business practices, which may be audited by an independent third party at any point.”

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“Influenza: Marketing Vaccine by Marketing Disease.”


 Report on Flu Vaccines in British Medical Journal

Report by John Hopkins Medical School Researcher


The CDC pledges “To base all public health decisions on the highest quality scientific data, openly and objectively derived.” But Peter Doshiargues that in the case of influenza vaccinations and their marketing, this is not so.

Promotion of influenza vaccines is one of the most visible and aggressive public health policies today. Twenty years ago, in 1990, 32 million doses of influenza vaccine were available in the United States. Today around 135 million doses of influenza vaccine annually enter the US market, with vaccinations administered in drug stores, supermarkets—even some drive-throughs. 


The CDC pledges “To base all public health decisions on the highest quality scientific data, openly and objectively derived.” But Peter Doshi argues that in the case of influenza vaccinations and their marketing, this is not so

Promotion of influenza vaccines is one of the most visible and aggressive public health policies today. Twenty years ago, in 1990, 32 million doses of influenza vaccine were available in the United States.

Today around 135 million doses of influenza vaccine annually enter the US market, with vaccinations administered in drug stores, supermarkets—even some drive-throughs. This enormous growth has not been fueled by popular demand but instead by a public health campaign that delivers a straightforward, who-in-their-right-mind-could-possibly-disagree message: influenza is a serious disease, we are all at risk of complications from influenza, the flu shot is virtually risk free, and vaccination saves lives.

Through this lens, the lack of influenza vaccine availability for all 315 million US citizens seems to border on the unethical. Yet across the country, mandatory influenza vaccination policies have cropped up, particularly in healthcare facilities,1 precisely because not everyone wants the vaccination, and compulsion appears the only way to achieve high vaccination rates.2 Closer examination of influenza vaccine policies shows that although proponents employ the rhetoric of science, the studies underlying the policy are often of low quality, and do not substantiate officials’ claims. The vaccine might be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza appears overstated.

Now we are all “at risk” of serious complications

Influenza vaccine production has grown parallel to increases in the perceived need for the vaccine. In the US, the first recommendations for annual influenza vaccination were made in 1960 (table1).⇓ Through the 1990s, the key objective of this policy was to reduce excess mortality. Because most of influenza deaths occurred in the …

To read the complete report published by the British Medical Journal click here 

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Smartphone Separation Anxiety or ‘Nomophobia’ Is Very Real, and on the Rise



CC0 / Pixabay

Researchers at Hong Kong City University and Seoul’s Sungkyunkwan University have concluded smartphone separation anxiety or “nomophobia” is becoming an increasingly widespread problem, with users feeling panic and stress when they’re unable to access or use their devices, and not merely because they can’t make or receive calls.

Nomophobia has been touted as the 21st century’s leading fad diagnosis — scientists, lawyers, therapists and even legislators have been quick to suggest claims of smartphone addiction are at best exaggerated, at worst self-serving fiction. However, the researchers believe they have conclusively identified the syndrome, based on how individuals perceive and value their smartphones — their research model found a clear link between personal memories and user attachment to phones, leading to pronounced tendencies to phone proximity-seeking behavior.

​Obsessional relationships with phones stem from their highly advanced and increasingly personalized nature — they in effect become an extension of their owner. After all, as well as storing meaningful photos and messages, mobiles act as a gateway to an enormous array of apps, websites and services that let users quickly access content that’s important to them.

While the researchers used a relatively small sample group, of 300 students, and conceded their findings may not be transposable to all smartphone users, they nonetheless contend the symptoms they identified will undoubtedly become more widespread in the future, as technology becomes even more personalized and humans grow ever more reliant upon it.

“As smartphones evoke more personal memories, users extend more of their identity onto their smartphones. When users perceive smartphones as their extended selves, they are more likely to become attached to the devices, which, in turn, leads to nomophobia by heightening the phone proximity-seeking tendency. Recent smartphone and app development seems to inevitably increase users’ attachment, as the technology and related services become increasingly personalised and customisable. This suggests that users should be conscious not to become overly dependent on smartphones while benefitting from the smartness of the technology,” the authors state.

The good news for those infatuated with their iPhones and Android devices is nomophobia is is far from incurable — the team believe “defined and protected” periods of individual separation from smartphones (not unexpected periods of separation) may allow users to “perform better” — not just by reducing interruptions but also by increasing available cognitive capacity.

​Nonetheless, while the syndrome is not officially classified as a specific mental disorder by any medical or psychological body or textbook, numerous studies have shown that smartphone attachment can cause significant problems.

For instance, in 2015 excessive smartphone use was found to facilitate cognitive dysfunction — and a June McCombs School of Business report found simply having a smartphone within reach, even if it’s switched off or placed face-down, reduces brain power. Even putting a smartphone in a different room was found to give brains a boost.

​Despite its lack of medical recognition, in time nomophobia may, along with fear of missing out (FoMo) and fear of being offline (FoBo), join international lists of recognized phobias and neuroses.

In May, the World Health Organization named spending too much time staring at digital screens a major health risk. Their report noted there has been a dramatic increase in the time people spend staring at digital screen time since the turn of the century, and spending a mere two hours in front of tablets, computers and smartphones daily is causing people as young as 11 to suffer an increased risk of poor mental and physical health.


: health risks and solutions (Fact Sheet) 

Photo published for Adolescents: health risks and solutions

Adolescents: health risks and solutions

WHO fact sheet on adolescents health risks and solutions: includes key facts and provides a definition, information on specific health issues, WHO response.

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