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September 11, Puerto Rico and the Racism of Callous Indifference

September 11, Puerto Rico and the Racism of Callous Indifference
September 11, 2018
by William Rivers Pitt

It’s been 17 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks and one year since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico. The death tolls from the two crises are nearly equivalent, but the official US responses to these calamities have been starkly different.

After 9/11, the US government memorialized the victims while pouring trillions of dollars into the process of making millions of new victims by way of permanent war. In the case of Hurricane Maria, the US government has all but washed its hands of the Puerto Ricans — US citizens, all — who still struggle to recover from the storm. Taken together, the aftermath of these two tragedies opens a window on some grim truths the country has yet to face.

Everyone has their own 9/11 story. Mine is tamer than most. Seventeen years ago today I was a teacher on the first day of school. I happened to be grazing through the morning newspapers online before classes started when Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

An hour later, students who had gathered around televisions in the library were wall-eyed with fear when the towers finally fell. It was all over, I soothed them … but as I heard the low growl of fighter jets flying racetrack patterns over the city of Boston, I realized I was lying to children. It had only just begun.

Seventeen years.

High school seniors today have never known anything but a country at war, at several wars up front and by proxy. Those wars have eaten their future. I wonder if they know it yet.

I would like to think we’ve learned something in that wrenching, blood-soaked span of time, but that clearly isn’t the case. The last presidential election saw a Democratic nominee who had voted in favor of the calamitous Iraq war and the total surveillance of the PATRIOT Act. Her opponent, the Republican nominee, was for the war before he was against and then later for it again. Along the way he was also a bombastic liar, proud racist and sexual predator whose only credentials were five bankruptcies and a TV show.

The historical record states 2,996 people perished on September 11, 2001, hijackers included. There remains a lingering doubt as to the final accuracy of that number, as there were reportedly scores of undocumented immigrant workers in the building at the time of the attack, but their families did not inform the authorities they were missing for fear of being deported themselves.

Seventeen years later, and that fear is as present now as it was then, thanks to a president whose policies are grounded and founded in xenophobia and racism. We haven’t learned a damn thing.

One year ago this month, Hurricane Maria tore the island of Puerto Rico to shreds. On September 6, 2017, as the monster storm approached, Donald Trump spoke to the media during a meeting with members of Congress. Addressing the potential dangers represented by the oncoming storm, he said, “Hopefully we can solve them in a rational way, and maybe we won’t be able to.”

The latter half of that sentence has proven prophetic. Puerto Rico has yet to recover from the aftermath of Maria, due in no small part to the barking negligence of the administration and the man who pretends to lead it on TV.

Trump visited Puerto Rico in the immediate, catastrophic wake of the storm, telling Puerto Ricans who were complaining bitterly about wildly insufficient assistance that they “have to give us more help.” This was after he called them “politically motivated ingrates.” During the visit, he threw paper towels at storm victims and fished for compliments wherever he could find them. “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” he said. “But that’s fine, because we’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Odd comment, that. The Trump administration put the death toll in Puerto Rico at 64 people, and that number stayed put as the bodies piled up. Finally, in July of 2018, nearly a year after Maria, the official death toll was revised up to 2,975 people. A scant 21 fewer than September 11. Subtract the terrorists from the equation and the margin drops to two … and, like September 11, that final number is far from firm.

One day after Puerto Rico’s governor added 2,911 names to the victim’s list, Donald Trump praised his administration’s response to Maria in glowing terms. “I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we’ve done.”

Splinter News collected letters from people directly affected by the storm. “I remember seeing the Mayor of San Juan,” wrote one survivor, “trying to help her city and those in desperate need all over the island. The help never came and when it did sometimes it was too late, some had died. My God how can we let this happen.” There are many such letters.

The difference in the US responses to the 9/11 attacks and to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is stark. While the death count was the same in both cases, the responses were dramatically different. That difference cannot be chalked up simply to the fact that the former tragedy was an act of will, while the second was an act of nature.

After September 11, the US unleashed two ill-conceived wars that killed, maimed or displaced millions of innocent people, all in the names of those killed in New York and DC. In the 17 years this country has spent bombing the rubble in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, few here bother to spare a thought for those suffering the immediate consequences of our incoherent wrath.

After Hurricane Maria, in contrast, the US dragged its feet and hesitated to take the most minimal actions for the people of Puerto Rico as thousands perished. Given Trump’s calling-card disdain for those who aren’t a whiter shade of pale, the government’s lack of response to the yearlong disaster in Puerto Rico should come as no shock.

The core calamity, however, goes far beyond one man. In every way that matters, the victims of Hurricane Maria suffer from the US government’s negligence in much the same way the victims of the 9/11 vengeance tour do: Both are targets of indifference born of a strain of racism that goes bone deep and all the way, in both cases, to the White House.

It is all the same carcass to the carrion crows: The war profiteers redoubled their fortunes in Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11, and Wall Street hedge fund pillagers feast on Puerto Rico’s post-Maria debt. George W. Bush, like Donald Trump, walked away from the debacle virtually untouched.

Seventeen years since September 11. One year since Maria and Puerto Rico. We haven’t learned a damn thing.

Wheel Of Dystopia

180821 sorenson wheel of dystopia
180821 sorenson wheel of dystopia

Wheel Of Dystopia

I’m writing this after spending the day hunkered down indoors next to an air purifier, as I have the good fortune of being in Washington state while it’s home to some of the world’s worst air pollution. For the second year in a row, smoke from wildfires has rendered the normally refreshing air practically unbreathable. My primary source of entertainment these days is checking air quality monitoring websites for signs of ominous red and purple bulges making their way down from Canada. Fires in other parts of Washington aren’t helping.

As if things didn’t already feel apocalyptic enough, there’s something about these wildfire episodes, with their sickly grayish-orange skies and sense of entrapment, that truly give one the sense that the end of the Anthropocene is nigh. Scientists say that warming temperatures plus population growth in burn-prone areas are causing the surge in wildfires; meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is, of course, blaming environmentalists. Hard to see how we come back from this brink, since we’re already so far over it.

Why the Pledge of Allegiance Is Un-American

Why the Pledge of Allegiance Is Un-American
August 15, 2018
by Tom Mullen

An Atlanta, Georgia, charter school announced last week its intention to discontinue the practice of having students stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance during its school wide morning meetings at the beginning of each school day, opting to allow students to recite the pledge in their classrooms instead. Predictably, conservatives were immediately triggered by this "anti-American" decision, prompting the school to reverse its decision shortly after.

The uproar over periodic resistance to reciting the pledge typically originates with Constitution-waving, Tea Party conservatives. Ironically, the pledge itself is not only un-American but antithetical to the most important principle underpinning the Constitution as originally ratified.

Admittedly, the superficial criticism that no independent, free-thinking individual would pledge allegiance to a flag isn’t the strongest argument, although the precise words of the pledge are “and to the republic for which it stands.” So, taking the pledge at its word, one is pledging allegiance both to the flag and the republic. And let’s face it, standing and pledging allegiance to anything is a little creepy. But, then again, it was written by a socialist.

But why nitpick?

"One Nation"
It’s really what comes next that contradicts both of the republic’s founding documents. "One nation, indivisible" is the precise opposite of the spirit of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution ("under God" wasn’t added until the 1950s).

The government in Washington, D.C., is called "the federal government." A federal government governs a federation, not a nation. And the one persistent point of contention throughout the constitutional convention of 1787 and the ratifying conventions which followed it was fear the government created by the Constitution would become a national government rather than a federal one. Both the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights were written primarily to address this concern of the people of New York and the states in general, respectively.

Moreover, the whole reason for delegating specific powers to the federal government and reserving the rest to the states or people was to ensure there would not be "one nation," but rather a federation of self-governing republics which delegated a few powers to the federal government and otherwise reserved the rest for themselves.

By the way, the Bill of Rights as originally written applied only to the federal government and not to the states. Sorry, liberals, but the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee a "separation of church and state" within the states. It was written for the opposite reason, to protect the existing state religions of the time from the federal government establishing a national one and thereby invalidating them.

And sorry, conservatives, the Second Amendment wasn’t written to keep states from banning guns. Quite the opposite. It was written to reserve the power to ban guns to the states. That’s why most states, even those established after the Bill of Rights was ratified, have clauses in their own constitutions protecting the right to keep and bear arms. They understood the Second Amendment applied only to the federal government, not the states.

If there is one thing that is clear from all of the above, the Constitution did not establish "one nation." In fact, the states only agreed to ratify it after being repeatedly promised the United States would be no such thing, allowing the states to govern themselves in radically different ways, at their discretion.

"Indivisible"
Then, there’s "indivisible." One would think a federation born by its constituent states seceding from the nation to which they formerly belonged would make the point obvious enough. But the Declaration makes it explicit:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

It would be impossible to exercise that right — that duty, as the Declaration later calls it — if the republic were indivisible. The strictest constructionists of the time didn’t consider the nation indivisible. Thomas Jefferson didn’t threaten to send troops to New England when some of its states considered seceding upon his election. Quite the opposite. And in an 1804 letter to Joseph Priestly, he deemed a potential split in the union between "Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies" not only possible but "not very important to the happiness of either part."

The people advocating "one nation, indivisible" in those days were big government Federalists like Hamilton, whose proposals to remake the United States into precisely that were flatly rejected in 1787.

Proponents of absolute, national rule like to quip this question was "settled" by the American Civil War. That’s like saying Polish independence was "settled" by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939.

In fact, it is precisely the trend towards "one nation" that has caused American politics to become so rancorous, to the point of boiling over into violence, over the course of the last several decades. This continent is inhabited by a multitude of very different cultures, which can coexist peacefully if left to govern themselves. But as the "federal" government increasingly seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all legal framework over people who never agreed to give it that power, the resistance is going to get more and more strident. If there is any chance to achieve peace among America’s warring factions, a return to a more truly federal system is likely the only way.

Getting rid of the un-American pledge to the imaginary nation would be a good, symbolic start.

Enlightenment

ENLIGHTENMENT
180406 by Om Swami

“How do I gain enlightenment?” someone said to me the other day. “Can you not grant me some deep experience? I want a radical change in my life.”

I get this asked frequently by many enthusiastic seekers. They are in search of a panacea, some mystical reality that will solve all their problems (spiritual and emotional) forever. While many aspirants understand the importance of persistence and individual effort, most others are looking for a quick fix. Here’s a beautiful quote by Adya Shanti that mirrors my own thoughts in ways more than one:

Many seekers do not take full responsibility for their own liberation, but wait for one big, final spiritual experience which will catapult them fully into it. It is this search for the final liberating experience which gives rise to a rampant form of spiritual consumerism in which seekers go from one teacher to another, shopping for enlightenment as if shopping for sweets in a candy store. This spiritual promiscuity is rapidly turning the search for enlightenment into a cult of experience seekers. And, while many people indeed have powerful experiences, in most cases these do not lead to the profound transformation of the individual, which is the expression of enlightenment.

One of the greatest misconceptions about enlightenment is that it will just happen. Not so. It has to be earned, it has to be lived. Sometimes I find it challenging to explain to seekers that true enlightenment is not a one-off special moment, but more a culmination of lifelong experiences and practices that result in the dawning of a great insight. I don’t blame them for thinking that by the magical touch of some guru or maybe by being struck by lightning, they will arrive at a moment of enlightenment. Partly because we have plenty of spiritual books out there that give that impression. Even I may have inadvertently conveyed the same by sharing one of my most defining spiritual experiences in my memoir. For that matter, Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree is often construed as an isolated event of extraordinary significance. It was anything but that.

In comprehending and highlighting such experiences, we tend to overlook the tremendous amount of effort that goes in realizing that state. For a moment, think of enlightenment as winning the Nobel Prize. We can’t have it just by visiting other Nobel Laureates and we certainly can’t be awarded it just because we want it. After a lifetime of commitment to a cause or producing a phenomenal body of work, and assuming the circumstances are favorable, the committee might consider your nomination and grant you one. No doubt winning the Nobel Prize will bring about a change in your life and lifestyle to a degree, you will inspire more people and so on. But, beyond that, there’s not much. It’s not going to improve your relationships, it’s not going to fix your physical health etc. Those challenges will remain.

Without preparation and readiness, any spiritual experience is hardly transformational. And if an experience doesn’t trigger some kind of lasting transformation in you, however subtle, it holds little meaning ultimately. When you continue to walk the path sincerely, diligently, many learnings, lessons and experiences give you the wisdom to lead your life differently. Differently so in a manner that it’s more conducive to retaining a state of bliss. Having said that, even if you are enlightened, it doesn’t mean that you won’t experience pain or that you will always find joy in everything that goes on in your life.

R.K. Laxman (1921 – 2015), one of India’s most famous cartoonists ever, writes a lovely passage in his travelogue The Distorted Mirror.

People are curious about my profession and try to clear their doubts by putting all sorts of questions. Recently a lady asked me, “Do you do the drawings for your cartoons yourself?” I answered, “Yes, I do.” Then she questioned, “And the captions to the cartoons, do you write them too?” “Of course,” I said. And, finally, she asked, “The ideas for the cartoons, don’t say you think them up too?”

There is one that is rather rarely asked but which makes me go into deep introspection. This is: “When you look around, does everything appear funny to you?”

A cartoonist does not lead a charmed life of perpetual fun out of the reach of the cares and worries that bedevil his fellow men. The fluctuating prices of onions affect me in the same way as they delight or outrage a primary schoolteacher. Likewise, taxes depress my spirit. Bores at the mike, and traffic jams drive me crazy. Surely a doctor does not always look at life in terms of coughs, colds, allergies and bronchial inflammations. A star of the silver screen, I am sure, has enough sense to know that beyond the range of the camera life does not continue to be full of idyllic scenes, sex, songs and ketchup-blood. Why, then, should a cartoonist see living caricatures and hear rib-tickling dialogue all around him? So I comfort myself with the self-assurance that my view of life is normally as banal as that of the next man in the queue for sugar or kerosene.

Enlightenment is something like that. It does not mean that you don’t feel the pain or remain eternally unaffected by everything that goes around you. All of that we must go through based on our karma, temperament and attitude towards life. The only thing that changes is that you grow into a more spiritual being, you become increasingly resilient and kind. What life hurls at you doesn’t change, how you catch it or dodge it, does. When it builds to a tipping point, you become kind of independent, very independent. Less worried about what the world thinks of you, how it perceives you and so on. In other words, you draw your own cartoons, write your own captions and, much to the fascination or disbelief of others, come up with the ideas too.

As the famous Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment: chop wood, fetch water. After enlightenment: chop wood, fetch water.”

Being a jivan-mukta, a liberated soul, or an enlightened person does not relieve one of his/her duties. Self-realization is not, as Eknath Easwaran put it, a compensation for one’s good deeds. It is but simply an outlook towards life that you gain from experiential understanding. If you really wish to get a grip on the notion of enlightenment then look upon it as a way of life, a commitment to virtues, as a promise to carry yourself a certain way and leading your life in a manner that befits you.

Liberation is not plonking a glorious flag on top of Mount Everest, it is but a mindful and diligent journey meandering through many treks and hikes, stopping and camping along the way, meeting and greeting fellow travelers, absorbing the breathtaking views, appreciating the challenges, rejoicing in where you are already. All this while you remain inward focused but goal-oriented.

When you realize this, a better sense of wellbeing and happiness shrouds you. You understand that there are no dark moments, that you are already enlightened. You just need to live a certain way to experience it. Then you laugh at the discovery that how unnecessarily seriously you’ve been taking yourself. As Thích Nhất Hạnh said:

I laugh when I think how I once sought paradise as a realm outside of the world of birth. It is right in the world of birth and death that the miraculous truth is revealed. But this is not the laughter of someone who suddenly acquires a great fortune; neither is it the laughter of one who has won a victory. It is, rather, the laughter of one who; after having painfully searched for something for a long time, finds it one morning in the pocket of his coat.

A religious man called a monk and invited him to bless his new home. The monk politely turned down the request saying he’s busy.
“But, what are you doing?” the man insisted.
“Nothing.”
Thinking that the monk was perhaps not in a mood to visit that day, he let it be and phoned again the next day. “Can you come today to bless my home?”
“Sorry,” said the monk, “I’m busy.”
“Doing what?”
“I’m doing nothing,” replied the monk.
“But that was what you were doing yesterday!” said the man.
“Right,” the monk replied. “I’m not finished yet!”

Enlightenment too is an ongoing affair. No doubt, there can be a transformational moment that changes something in you forever. Living that change, however, is a matter of mindfulness and more. True enlightenment, that.

This is it. This life. It’s beautiful. Live it. Love it. For yourself, for others. Laugh it away. That’s all there is to know. Most of the rest, life can do without.

All Smoke Is Not Created Equal

All Smoke Is Not Created Equal
by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
January 7, 2016

Long-term exposure to tobacco smoke is demonstrably harmful to health. According to the United States Center for Disease Control, tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and chronic exposure to tobacco smoke is linked to increased incidences of cancer as well as vascular disease. Inhaling tobacco smoke is also associated with a variety of adverse pulmonary effects, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Does smoking cannabis pose similar dangers to lung health? According to a number of recent scientific findings, marijuana smoke and tobacco smoke vary considerably in their health effects. So then why are lawmakers in various states, such a Minnesota and New York, imposing new restrictions explicitly prohibiting the inhalation of herbal preparations of cannabis?

Marijuana Smoke vs. Tobacco Smoke
Writing in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2005, noted cannabis researcher Robert Melamede explained that although tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke have some similar chemical properties, the two substances possess different pharmacological activities and are not equally carcinogenic. Specifically, he affirmed that marijuana smoke contains multiple cannabinoids – many of which possess anti-cancer activity – and therefore likely exerts “a protective effect against pro-carcinogens that require activation.” Melamede concluded, “Components of cannabis smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways whereas tobacco smoke enhances some.”

Marijuana Smoke and Cancer
Consequently, studies have so far failed to identify an association between cannabis smoke exposure and elevated risks of smoking-related cancers, such as cancers of the lung and neck. In fact, the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. Summarizing the study’s findings in The Washington Post, pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin, Professor Emeritus at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, concluded: “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”

A meta-analysis of additional case-control studies, published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2014, similarly reported, “Results from our pooled analyses provide little evidence for an increased risk of lung cancer among habitual or long-term cannabis smokers,” while a 2009 Brown University study determined that those who had a history of marijuana smoking possessed a significantly decreased risk of head and neck cancers as compared to those subjects who did not.

Marijuana Smoke and Pulmonary Function
According to a 2015 study conducted at Emory University in Atlanta, the inhalation of cannabis smoke, even over extended periods of time, is not associated with detrimental effects on pulmonary function, such as forced expiratory volume (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FCV). Assessing marijuana smoke exposure and lung health in a large representative sample of U.S. adults, age 18 to 59, they maintained, “The pattern of marijuana’s effects seems to be distinctly different when compared to that of tobacco use.” Subjects had inhaled the equivalent of one marijuana cigarette per day for 20 years, yet did not experience FEV1 decline or deleterious change in spirometric values of small airways disease.

Marijuana Smoke and COPD
While tobacco smoking is recognized as a major risk factor for the development of COPD – a chronic inflammation of the airways that may ultimately result in premature death – marijuana smoke exposure (absent concurrent tobacco smoke exposure) appears to present little COPD risk. In 2013, McGill University professor and physician Mark Ware wrote in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society: “Cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or airway cancers… Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, (those) who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”

Mitigating Marijuana Smoke Exposure
The use of a water-pipe filtration system primarily cools cannabis smoke, which may reduce throat irritation and cough. However, this technology is not particularly efficient at eliminating the potentially toxic byproducts of combustion or other potential lung irritants.

By contrast, vaporization heats herbal cannabis to a point where cannabinoid vapors form, but below the point of combustion – thereby reducing the intake of combustive smoke or other pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and tar. Observational studies show that vaporization allows consumers to experience the rapid onset of effect while avoiding many of the associated respiratory hazards associated with smoking – such as coughing, wheezing, or chronic bronchitis. Clinical trials also report that vaporization results in the delivery of higher plasma concentrations of THC (and likely other cannabinoids) compared to smoked cannabis. As a result, the authors affiliated with the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research and elsewhere now acknowledge that vaporizers provide a “safe and effective” way to for consumers to inhale herbal cannabis.

The Bottom Line
Based on this scientific record, it makes little sense for lawmakers to impose legislative bans on herbal cannabis products, such as those that presently exist for patients in Minnesota and New York and which are now being proposed in several other states (e.g., Georgia and Pennsylvania). Oral cannabis preparations, such as capsules and edibles, possess delayed onset compared to inhaled herbal cannabis, making these options less suitable for patients desiring rapid symptomatic relief. Further, oral administration of cannabis-infused products is associated with significantly greater bioavailability than is inhalation – resulting in more pronounced variation in drug effect from dose to dose (even in cases where the dose is standardized). These restrictions unnecessarily limit patients’ choices and deny them the ability to obtain rapid relief from whole-plant cannabis in a manner that has long proven to be relatively safe and effective.