Obama uses Ebola doctors as campaign prop

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By Patrick Martin
30 October 2014

President Obama appeared Wednesday with a group of doctors and other healthcare volunteers just returned from working in the Ebola zone of West Africa, in a cynical effort to put a caring face on the aggressive militarism of his administration.

The White House event was blatantly stage-managed, only five days before the US congressional elections, to allow Obama to posture as an advocate of humanitarian intervention overseas, while taunting his political rivals in the Republican Party, who he suggested were “hiding under the covers” in the Ebola crisis.

There was a striking contrast between Obama’s strident American nationalism and the humane and modest posture of the man who introduced him at the event, Dr. Kent Brantly, the medical missionary who contracted Ebola in Liberia but survived because he was transported back to the US and treated at Emory University hospital.

Dr. Brantly made reference to the desperate need for more medical personnel in West Africa, then declared, “At this time, perhaps more than any other, we feel the impact of our position as citizens of not only the United States of America, but as citizens of the world. We must strive together for the good of all mankind to put an end to this disease.”

Obama, however, spoke not as a “citizen of the world” but as the commander-in-chief of American imperialism, waving the flag and declaring his belief in “American exceptionalism” and “American leadership.”

“The medical professionals and public health workers serving in Africa are a shining example of what America means to the world, of what is possible when America leads,” he said.

Actually, in terms of deploying medical personnel, Cuba and not America is the leader, both in the world and in West Africa. One third of all foreign medical professionals in the Ebola zone come from that small island, with 11 million people, one-thirtieth the population of the United States.

While 165 Cuban health care workers are currently in the Ebola zone — the first batch of a planned deployment of 461— Washington has deployed a total of 65 health officials to Liberia.

Obama referred to the visit of his UN ambassador, Samantha Power, to the Ebola zone, where she toured Ebola treatment facilities being built by US soldiers sent to Liberia last month at his orders. This deployment has far more to do with imperialist geo-politics than humanitarianism,

The immediate goal of the Liberia deployment is the Pentagon’s quest for a permanent location for the headquarters of its Africa Command (AFRICOM), which has been stranded in Germany since its formation because no African country would host it. Now that US troops have been introduced into Liberia in a “humanitarian” guise, Washington calculates that its political puppet, Liberia President Ellen Sirleaf, will extend an invitation for an indefinite stay.

West Africa and the offshore Gulf of Guinea is increasingly important to the United States, Britain and France as a source of oil, and the disease-fighting actions of the imperialist powers and former colonial masters are thus happily conjoined with more profitable concerns.

Besides promoting the national interests of American corporations and banks, Obama seized on the occasion to gain leverage on his political rivals. Republican candidates for the US Senate and Republican governors have added criticism of the administration’s handling of the Ebola crisis to their political campaigning for the November 4 election.

Over the last several days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has deliberately postured as “tougher” on Ebola than the Obama administration, criticizing the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control on monitoring health care workers returning from the Ebola zone in West Africa.

Last Friday, Christie and his Democratic counterpart in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, announced a full-scale 21-day quarantine on all returning health workers, despite the unanimous consensus among public health experts that such a measure is unnecessary and even counter-productive, since it will discourage health care volunteers to go to West Africa, thus increasing the danger of a global Ebola outbreak.

For several days, representatives of the medical community have fought back publicly against Christie’s bullying, with a joint statement condemning the quarantine issued by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, and an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Journal said the quarantine “is not scientifically based, is unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source, which is the only satisfactory goal.”

The media has put a sympathetic spotlight on Kaci Hickox, the Ebola nurse who was the first victim of the New Jersey quarantine, and who was allowed to travel to her home in Maine on Monday. In that state, another reactionary blowhard Republican governor, Paul LePage, ordered Hickox confined to a home quarantine and stationed state troopers outside the house in Ft. Kent, Maine to enforce it.

On Wednesday Hickox spoke out on the NBC “Today” program, denouncing the quarantine as “not scientifically nor constitutionally just.” She said she would adhere to the guidelines set by the CDC, for twice-daily temperature readings and daily in-person monitoring by a CDC representative, but she would not accept home confinement through November 10, as ordered by the governor.

“If these restrictions are not removed for me by tomorrow morning, Thursday morning, I will go to court to fight for my freedom,” she said. “I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public.”

Obama sought to associate himself with the medical consensus and the courageous stance taken by Hickox, without, as usual, actually taking a stand. He made no mention of either Hickox or Christie, only declaring that neither a travel ban nor a quarantine could stop Ebola in a world of easy global travel.

He then tacitly accused Christie and those like him of insufficient aggressiveness in maintaining the world position of American imperialism. “When I hear people talking about American leadership, and then promoting policies that would avoid leadership and have us running in the opposite direction, hiding under the covers, it makes me a little frustrated,” he said.

“It is how we help others around the world that is important. It is not just massive numbers of troops and equipment — deployments of troops and equipment, as proud as we are of that.”

There is not a shred of genuine concern for the health of the American people or that of the people of West Africa in the political posturing by Obama and the Republicans. Both big business parties have facilitated the Ebola crisis through cuts in public health funding in the United States, through support for the giant drug companies that have refused for decades to develop an Ebola vaccine because it wasn’t profitable, and through support for the continued imperialist oppression of the impoverished masses of West Africa.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/10/30/ebol-o30.html

Marijuana’s History: How One Plant Spread Through the World

Ebola in America

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16 October 2014

Every new development in the Ebola outbreak in the United States further exposes the incompetent, indifferent and irresponsible character of the official US response to what the World Health Organization has called “unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times.”

On Wednesday, US officials announced that a second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital involved in treating deceased Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan had tested positive for the disease. She had been allowed to fly on a commercial aircraft twice, from Dallas to Cleveland and back, after having been exposed to the disease. She subsequently reported having a fever during her return flight.

On Tuesday, National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the US, revealed that nurses at the hospital had been instructed by administrators to provide care for Duncan, a native of Liberia, with part of their faces and necks exposed. They were told to compensate for their inadequate protective equipment by wrapping medical tape around their exposed skin.

Despite nurses’ protests, Duncan was left for hours in a common waiting area with other patients, potentially infecting them. His lab specimens traveled unprotected throughout the hospital’s tube system, potentially contaminating the entire system. Nurses forced to treat Duncan with inadequate protective garments were then told to carry out their normal hospital duties, visiting and potentially infecting other patients.

These outrageous violations of basic Ebola contamination protocols took place after Duncan had been taken to the hospital a second time in an ambulance because family members suspected that he had contracted the disease.

On Wednesday, President Obama responded to mounting public concern and criticism by staging a photo-op with cabinet officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. He issued a brief and perfunctory statement and took no questions from the press in what was clearly an exercise in damage control.

Nothing said by Obama or any other government official can be believed. Their overriding concern is to cover up their responsibility for the disaster, not to level with the people and do what is necessary to protect them.

The first known victims of the negligence of hospital and government officials are medical workers, whose lives have been recklessly endangered. The indifference to the safety and health of these workers sums up the attitude of the ruling class to the well-being of the population as a whole.

This is not the first time that an emergency has exposed the fact that matters relating to the health and social conditions of the general public are of absolutely no concern to those who wield economic and political power in America.

Nine years ago, the virtual destruction of a major American city by Hurricane Katrina exposed the lack of any preventive measures to combat the impact of a major flood in a region repeatedly inundated in the past, or protect the lives of New Orleans’ working class residents. The disaster itself starkly revealed shocking conditions of poverty, and the belated, desultory and hopelessly inadequate government response led to nearly 2,000 deaths.

Just five years later, the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig once again exposed the criminal negligence of the corporations and the complicity of the government. This was an entirely man-made disaster, the result of cost-cutting and unsafe methods on the part of BP that was facilitated by the government regulatory agencies. The cleanup effort was handed over to the company that was responsible for the disaster in first place.

In between and since there have been countless plant explosions, fires, coal mine disasters and industrial accidents in cities throughout the United States.

The American ruling class and its political frontmen such as Obama view issues affecting the safety and well-being of the American people as annoyances. They detract from the business of generating ever greater profits for the corporations and ever greater fortunes for the rich and the super-rich.

Like every other aspect of the social infrastructure of America, the health care system has been degraded as a result of decades of budget cuts and profit-gouging by pharmaceutical and insurance companies and hospital chains.

While it had been known for decades that an Ebola outbreak could happen in the United States, no effort was made to adequately prepare for one. No vaccine has been brought into production. Instead, the resources needed to address pressing health issues have been diverted to pay for war and conquest abroad and the ever-greater enrichment of the American financial aristocracy.

Earlier this week, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan explained the failure to develop an Ebola vaccine, saying, “a profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the US National Institutes of Health, told the Huffington Post that a vaccine for Ebola would likely already exist if not for multi-billion dollar cutbacks in health care research.

These disasters expose the bankruptcy and failure not just of one administration, but of the capitalist profit system itself. The subordination of all social concerns, including health care, to the corporate drive for profit and the money-mad greed of the ruling elite, together with the irrational division of the world into rival nation states, makes the rational and socially beneficial development and utilization of the productive forces impossible. Instead, obscene levels of wealth in the hands of a few are accompanied by the decay of basic social services and mounting poverty for the masses.

A serious campaign to halt the widening Ebola epidemic in Africa and its spread to the US and other countries requires:

* The establishment of an international team of doctors, scientists and health care professionals to take the response to the crisis out of the hands of corporate-dominated governments. This team, developing a global plan of action, must be provided with whatever resources are needed—however many billions of dollars—to treat all those already infected and prevent the spread of the disease.

* A state-funded research program completely independent of the profit interests of the health care industry, the drug companies and the insurance giants must be established to rapidly develop and make available to all an anti-Ebola vaccine as the first step in conquering this and other infectious diseases that are linked to poverty.

This is not merely a scientific task. It is a political question.

It is necessary to draw the appropriate conclusions from the Ebola outbreak and the string of catastrophes that preceded it. The implementation of a rational and humane response to the Ebola crisis, along with all the other social evils that are intrinsic to a society based on exploitation, requires a struggle by the working class to reorganize society on socialist foundations to meet social needs, not private profit. This includes taking the profit out of medicine and providing high-quality health care to all as a social right.

Andre Damon

Evo Morales has proved that socialism doesn’t damage economies

Evo Morales campaigns for the presidency
Evo Morales in the runup for the vote at the inauguration of a thermo-electric plant in Yacuiba in September 2014. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty

The socialist Evo Morales, who yesterday was re-elected to serve a third term as president of Bolivia, has long been cast as a figure of fun by the media in the global north. Much like the now deceased Hugo Chávez, Morales is often depicted as a buffoonish populist whose flamboyant denouncements of the United States belie his incompetence. And so, reports of his landslide win inevitably focused on his announcement that it was “a victory for anti-imperialism”, as though anti-US sentiment is the only thing Morales has given to Bolivia in his eight years in government.

More likely, Morales’s enduring popularity is a result of his extraordinary socio-economic reforms, which – according to the New York Times – have transformed Bolivia from an “economic basket case” into a country that receives praise from such unlikely contenders as the World Bank and the IMF – an irony considering the country’s success is the result of the socialist administration casting off the recommendations of the IMF in the first place.

According to a report by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, “Bolivia has grown much faster over the last eight years than in any period over the past three and a half decades.” The benefits of such growth have been felt by the Bolivian people: under Morales, poverty has declined by 25% and extreme poverty has declined by 43%; social spending has increased by more than 45%; the real minimum wage has increased by 87.7%; and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has praised Bolivia for being “one of the few countries that has reduced inequality”. In this respect, the re-election of Morales is really very simple: people like to be economically secure – so if you reduce poverty, they’ll probably vote for you.

It’s true that Morales has made enemies in the White House, but this is probably less to do with rhetoric than the fact that he consistently calls for the international legalisation of the coca leaf, which is chewed as part of Bolivian culture but can also be refined into cocaine (via a truly disgusting chemical process). Before Morales was first elected, the Telegraph reported: “Decriminalisation would probably increase supply of the leaf, which is processed into cocaine, providing drug traffickers with more of the profitable illicit substance.” In fact the opposite has happened – in the past two years, coca cultivation has been falling in Bolivia. This inconvenient fact is a source of great consternation to the US government, which has poured billions of dollars into its totally ineffective and highly militaristic war on drugs in Latin America. Morales has – accurately in my view – previously implied that the war on drugs is used by the US as an excuse to meddle in the region’s politics.

Having said this, it would be dishonest to argue that Morales’s tenure has been perfect. Earlier this year the Bolivian government drew criticism from human rights groups for reducing the legal working age to 10. But what most news outlets neglected to mention is that the government was responding to a campaign from the children’s trade union, Unatsbo, which sees the change in legislation as a first step to protecting Bolivia’s 850,000 working children from the exploitation that comes with clandestine employment. Although Bolivia has made massive strides in reducing poverty, more than a million of its citizens still live on 75p a day – a legacy of the excruciating poverty of Bolivia before Morales took office.

Nevertheless, Morales must make reducing the number of child workers a priority during his third term. Not doing so will be a serious failure of his progressive project. In terms of social reforms, Morales should heed recent calls from the public advocate of Bolivia, Rolando Villena, to legalise same-sex civil unions and pave the way for equal marriage. He should also follow the lead of Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, and completely liberalise abortion, which would be a good first step to tackling the country’s high rates of maternal mortality. And Morales must also address the criticism of indigenous leaders who accuse him of failing to honour his commitments to protect indigenous people and the environment.

But however Morales uses his third term, it’s clear that what he’s done already has been remarkable. He has defied the conventional wisdom that says leftwing policies damage economic growth, that working-class people can’t run successful economies, and that politics can’t be transformative – and he’s done all of this in the face of enormous political pressure from the IMF, the international business community and the US government. In the success of Morales, important political lessons can be found – and perhaps we could all do with learning them.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/14/evo-morales-reelected-socialism-doesnt-damage-economies-bolivia?CMP=fb_gu

Cannabis as addictive as heroin, major new study finds

Research conducted over 20 years links long-term cannabis use with mental illness, lower academic attainment and lower birth-weight of children

A man smoking marijuana

A man smoking marijuana  Photo: Alamy

The research, conducted over 20 years by Professor Wayne Hall, an adviser to the World Health Organisation, links use of cannabis to a wide range of harmful side-effects, from mental illness to lower academic attainment to impaired driving ability.

Smoking the class-‘B’ drug while pregnant is linked with reduced birth weights, while long-term use can cause cancer, bronchitis and heart attacks, according to the paper.

Prof Hall, a leading expert in addiction at King’s College, London, also found that:

:: One in six teenagers who regularly smoke cannabis become dependent on it, as are one in ten regular adult users;

:: Cannabis doubles the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, with withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite and depression;

:: Driving after smoking cannabis doubles the risk of a car crash, with the risk heightened yet further if you have had a drink;

:: As many teenagers now smoke cannabis as cigarettes.

The Daily Mail quoted Prof Hall as saying: “If cannabis is not addictive, then neither is heroin or alcohol.

“It is often harder to get people who are dependent on cannabis through withdrawal than for heroin. We just don’t know how to do it.”

Less than half of users stay off the drug for six months or more following treatment, Prof Hall found.

Despite the fact that no cannabis user had died from an overdose, long-term use could be seriously damaging to mental health.

“The important point I am trying to make,” Prof Hall writes, “is that people can get into difficulties with cannabis use, particularly if they get into daily use over a long period.

“There is no doubt that heavy users experience a withdrawal syndrome as with alcohol and heroin.

“Rates of recovery from cannabis dependence among those seeking treatment are similar to those for alcohol.”

Drugs campaigners said the study showed that heavy cannabis use by teenagers amounted to them playing “Russian roulette” with their mental health.

Mark Winstanley, of the Rethink Mental Illness charity, also called for the Government to focus on educating young people about the dangers, rather than classifying and then reclassifying the drug, as the last Government did.

Mr Winstanley told the Mail: “Too often cannabis is wrongly seen as a safe drug, but as this review shows, there is a clear link with psychosis and schizophrenia, especially for teenagers.

“The common view that smoking cannabis is nothing to get worked up about needs to be challenged more effectively. Instead of classifying and reclassifying, Government time and money would be much better spent on educating young people about how smoking cannabis is essentially playing a very real game of Russian Roulette with your mental health.”

Tony Blair’s government relaxed the law on cannabis, reclassifying it from class ‘B’ to ‘C’ in 2004. This was reversed after Gordon Brown entered Downing Street in 2007.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11145094/Cannabis-as-addictive-as-heroin-major-new-study-finds.html

Cancer, Politics and Capitalism

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by LOUIS PROYECT

After working for a series of unsavory financial institutions for 15 years, I accepted a position as a database administrator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in 1983 with an eager sense of anticipation. Finally I would be doing something professionally that was more in sync with my political values. Instead of using my skills to keep track of pension trust portfolios, I would be creating a data infrastructure for patient care.

For more than a year I worked on developing a data model based on “normalized” relationships that sought to eliminate redundancies and provide a reliable foundation for applications development. A few months after I presented the model to management, I learned that all my work was in vain. The hospital had decided to buy a package from SMS, inc. that was considered nonpareil when it came to debt collection. As happened too often, a loved one would check into the hospital for a couple of months of very expensive and painful treatments that came to an end with the patient’s death. Since the survivors often had a tendency to ignore the astronomical bills that went along with such an exercise in futility, the hospital decided to purchase a system that was very good at dunning if nothing else. That decision left me feeling deflated. Once again money ruled.

When I received an invitation to review “Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering”, a documentary described as “the remarkable true story of a young science-writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who risked everything by blowing the whistle on a massive cover-up involving a promising cancer therapy”, I knew that this was one I could not miss. (The film opens at Cinema Village in NYC on August 29, and at Laemmle Music Hall in LA on September 5. A national release will follow.)

Directed by Eric Merola, the film is made up primarily of Ralph W. Moss, the aforementioned young science-writer now 71, describing the events that took place when he was working at MSKCC in the mid-70s filled with the same sense of idealism I brought with me 8 years later. Like me, Moss was soon disillusioned but for another set of reasons.

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my first encounter with Moss was when I worked at MSKCC, through the intermediary of a book he wrote titled “The Cancer Industry”. As I noted in a May 2012 article about MSKCC’s purchase of the SMS software, Moss’s book was a good introduction to the slimy realities of cancer care under capitalism:

When I was working at Sloan-Kettering, I read a terrific book titled “The Cancer Industry” that along with “The Cancer Wars” is essential reading for those with a class analysis. To this day, I remember what the book said about Hubert Humphrey’s stay at Sloan-Kettering. I don’t have the book handy but these paragraphs from a 1990 review should suffice:

Among the horrors stories in The Cancer Industry is the case history of Senator Hubert Humphrey, who was operated on by a team of surgeons at Memorial Sloan-Kettering on October 6, 1976. His surgeon appeared before the press and television cameras to announce that the senator was cured by the operation, but as a preventive measure, to “wipe out any microscopic colonies of cancer cells that may be hidden in the body, treatment would begin with experimental drugs.” Moss describes the aftermath:

“Within about a year, Senator Humphrey was dead. In that short time he had withered from a vigorous middle-aged man to an old, balding and feeble cancer victim. Humphrey himself blamed chemotherapy … calling it `bottled death’ and refusing in the end to return to Memorial Hospital for drug treatment.”

Hired to work in the PR department for his writing ability and enthusiasm, Moss had an unsettling introduction. On the very week he started, he was shocked to discover that one of the hospital’s top researchers had been caught perpetrating a major fraud. After announcing to the world that he had completed an experiment that successfully transplanted skin from a black mouse to a white mouse, William Summerlin became an MSKCC super-star. Since the mice were of different species and the transplant had not been rejected, this could lead to major breakthroughs in human organ transplants. When a lab assistant discovered quite by accident that Summerlin had simply used a black magic marker to draw a patch on a white mouse’s back, the hospital looked incompetent. Lewis Thomas, the hospital’s director, explained the incident as one caused by Summerlin’s “severe emotional disturbance”. I would have called it greed.

(I should add that Lewis Thomas is not one of my favorite people. He is the author of an essay titled “The Iks” that makes the case that this hunting and gathering society living in the Ugandan wilderness were “an irreversibly disagreeable collection of unattached, brutish creatures, totally selfish and loveless.” Remembering Thomas’s essay from high school, filmmaker Cevin Soling traveled to Ikland to find out for himself whether this was true. Suffice it to say that Thomas’s essay was a bogus as Summerlin’s painted mouse.)

Around the same time, a more serious experiment was taking place at MSKCC. An octogenarian Japanese scientist named Kanematsu Sugiura, who had published 250 papers in a distinguished career, had begun treating mice with laetrile. The substance, also called amygdalin, was extracted from apricot pits. His findings: the mice that received laetrile benefited from injections. They were not cured of cancer but were able to live longer than non-treated animals. Most importantly, the tumors did not metastasize in the treated mice. Trained to be cautious, Sugiura thought the drug had palliative value. The implication, needless to say, was that further research was needed.

As word of Sugiura’s experiments filtered up to the MSKCC brass, they assigned Moss to cover them from a PR angle but just as much to snoop on the senior researcher. Not only did Moss fail to detect any irregularities, he became upset when he learned that the hospital had become convinced that Sugiura’s experiments were flawed and that research should be abandoned.

Convinced that he needed outside help to make the case for Sugiura’s experiments, Moss hooked up with Science for the People, a radical group that came out of the 1960s student movement. Working with a physician-activist named Alec Pruchnicki and without the knowledge of his superiors, Moss began publishing a newsletter called Second Opinion that was distributed outside of MSKCC just like most agitprop was in pre-Internet days. The newsletter soon became a sounding board for every kind of grievance at the hospital, including working conditions and patient treatment.

When the hospital called a press conference to disassociate itself from laetrile, Sugiura said that he stood by the hospital’s decision as well as his own findings. When asked by reporters how he could hold mutually opposed positions, he handled himself gracefully while standing his ground.

In a fascinating Science magazine article from December 23, 1977, Nicholas Wade—the NY Times reporter whose recent book on genetic inheritance most critics regard as a painted mouse—was loath to get on the anti-laetrile bandwagon despite the newspaper’s strong agreement with the top brass’s dismissal of Sugiura’s findings. Wade quotes Robert Good, the top immunologist at MSKCC: “If we had published those early positive data, it would have caused all kinds of havoc. The natural processes of science are just not possible in this kind of pressure cooker.”

In a phone conversation with Ralph Moss shortly after I viewed the film, I was struck by his unwillingness to assume the stance of a pro-laetrile activist even though he was obviously convinced that Sugiura’s experiments were valid. The film is making the case for considering alternatives to costly and often toxic medications that are making big pharma rich. He mentioned Avastin, a drug that generated $2.11 billion in sales in 2011. That, he added, was more than the GDP of many third world countries. The spirit of Science for the People continues in the work of Ralph W. Moss. See this film for a riveting account of the conflicts between corporate power and the public good.

Several weeks before I watched “Second Opinion”, I made a point of reading George Johnson’s recently published The Cancer Chronicles in order to get up to speed on current thinking about the disease. As I mentioned above, when I worked at MSKCC, I read Samuel Epstein’s “The Politics of Cancer”, a book that ties what was perceived at the time as a cancer epidemic to environmental toxins, especially pesticides. It was very much in the spirit of Barry Commoner’s “The Closing Circle” and amenable to my Marxist opposition to corporate indifference to our health and safety.

About ten years after reading “The Politics of Cancer”, I read Robert Proctor’s “The Cancer Wars” that backtracked from Epstein’s findings. Although very much a man of the left, Proctor warned his readers that finding a direct correlation between pollutants and cancer is very difficult.

With Proctor’s warnings in the back of my mind, I was not completely surprised by Johnson’s treatment of the environmental question. In chapter seven, titled “Where Cancer Really Comes From”, Johnson amasses some statistics of the sort that pro-industry hacks might repeat. For example, epidemiology studies conclude that cancer cases in the immediate vicinity of Love Canal were no greater than that in the rest of New York State even though there was a spike in birth defects.

In referring to cancer clusters, such as the supposed breast cancer epidemic in Long Island, Johnson concludes that they are “statistical illusions”. It is not so much that Johnson denies that there is a connection between cancer and the environment; it is that they are exceedingly difficult to prove.

Since I have like most people on the left become convinced that there is a connection between carcinogens in the water, soil and air and the incidence of cancer, I emailed Johnson with my concerns and referred him to a study of cancer clusters near heavily polluted rivers in China. Showing a grace uncommon to most well-established journalists, Johnson took the trouble to write back:

Thanks very much for your email. I appreciate the kind words about my book. I hadn’t seen that particular study and will make a point of reading it. Of course many industrial chemicals are carcinogenic, and it seems very possible that concentrations have been high and chronic enough in China’s water to expose the general population to levels known to cause cancer in the workplace. Nailing that down is very tricky though, especially in developing countries where epidemiological studies are just getting underway. Most of the research in China seems to concentrate on air pollution and lung cancer. Since the focus of my book was on cancer in the developed world, I may write a column in the future comparing the situation with China, India, etc.

Making the case about pollution—a negative indicator—is difficult but just as much so with positive indicators. Nutritionists are always urging us to eat fruits and vegetables, especially those with anti-oxidant properties such as blueberries and cabbage but there has never been a rigorous study of diet and cancer. This has a lot to do with the near impossibility of conducting a demographically representative study of the effects of eating “good” food and bad. Since cancer can take many decades to show up, tracking its roots and development is a near impossible task.

“The Cancer Chronicles” was motivated in part by his wife’s illness. Showing the difficulty of establishing a unilinear connection between diet and the disease, Nancy Johnson was something of a health nut given to daily exercise and a large intake of the very anti-oxidant fruits and vegetables nutritionists advise. Chapter four begins:

She always ate her vegetables. Obsessively, it sometimes seemed. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, throughout the day she would keep mental count. Never mind if it was 10:30 p.m., halfway through a Simpsons episode or a DVD. If she hadn’t consumed two or three servings of vegetables (some green, some yellow) and three or four servings of fruits, nuts, grains—whatever the food pyramidologists were recommending—she would slice up an apple or open a bag of carrots.

Confronted by the sheer anomaly of a person with such a lifestyle being susceptible to cancer, Johnson sets out on a trek that takes him to conferences and labs all around the USA when he is not accompanying his wife on her frequent chemotherapy sessions. His goal was to understand the basic biology of humanity’s oldest disease.

Indeed, it is not just ours. The dinosaurs suffered from cancer as well. In a trip to western Colorado, Johnson visits the site where six tons of Brontosaurus bones were discovered in 1901, including one that was the oldest one known to have contained a tumor. Using prose that has been polished over a long and distinguished career in science journalism, he reports on what he saw:

Viewed head-on, the fossil measured 6.5 by 9.5 inches. Lodged inside its core was an intrusion, now crystallized, that had grown so large it had encroached into the outer bone. Bunge [a museum curator] suspected osteosarcoma—he had seen the damage the cancer can do to human skeletons, particularly those of children. Oval in shape and the size of a slightly squashed softball, the tumor had been converted over the millennia into agate.

Johnson’s book is one of the finest on science that I have read in a very long time, perhaps in my life. As I told Marxmail subscribers, if I had run into such a book when I was in high school, I probably would have majored in biology at Bard College rather than religion (don’t try to get me to explain that choice.)

Johnson’s book ranges from medicine to physics, and from physics to philosophy without missing a beat. At the risk of sounding like one of those people who write the blurbs on book jackets, I would describe “The Cancer Chronicles” as a powerful examination of the biology of the human cell, including those that mutate into the most dreaded disease we face.

Between 2008 and 2012, three men died of cancer all within just about two years of each other. The first to go was Peter Camejo, who was responsible for helping me to understand what went wrong with the Socialist Workers Party. Peter, who succumbed to lymphoma, attributed his illness to pollutants he had been exposed to over a lifetime.

Next to go was Harvey Pekar, the comic book author who persuaded me to work on a memoir with him. Peter Camejo was a character in the memoir, as well as number of other colorful characters I got to know over a lifetime in politics and the bohemian underground. Like Peter, Harvey died from lymphoma or at least a system weakened by the disease.

Finally, two years later, I learned of Alexander Cockburn’s death. Alexander was a kind of bookend to Peter. When I quit the Trotskyist movement in 1979, I intended to put politics behind me and return to the bohemia of my youth. In an attempt to keep up with the NYC underground, I began reading the Village Voice. But the only writing that made any kind of impression on me was Alexander Cockburn’s weekly columns that lacerated the high and mighty. It was his writing that moved me to return to politics, the only damned thing I am good at.

The more our lives become entwined with the Internet, and social media in particular, the closer we become to people even if we never meet in person. Over the past few years, I have been at the virtual bedside of two people who I have enormous respect for. Using Facebook for both support and ventilation, Ed Douglas and Kristin Kolb have kept their friends abreast on their encounters with life-threatening illnesses. Additionally both were able to raise funds through the Internet, a necessity given the lack of adequate health care in the USA. Ed, a founding member of New York Film Critics Online—the group I have been part of for 15 years, developed an acute case of leukemia some years ago that ultimately required a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately he is in remission now and doing well. Kristin, a CounterPunch contributor of great distinction, is going through the final stages of chemotherapy for breast cancer. We who contribute to and read CounterPunch offer our support for her getting past this ordeal.

If the origins of cancer and its ultimate cure are shrouded in mystery, the same cannot be said about the need for adequate and affordable care. If it were not for the generosity of Ed and Kristin’s friends and admirers, their road would have been a lot more difficult.

Mike Marqusee, another long-time CounterPunch contributor, made the wise choice to relocate to Britain in 1971 where health care is free.

Around the time I started reading Johnson’s “The Cancer Chronicles”, I learned that Marqusee has been dealing with multiple myeloma for a number of years. He wrote a book recently that touches on his illness as well as Britain’s socialized medicine. Available from OR Books, “The Price of Experience: Writings on Living with Cancer” is both a personal history as well as a sharp-eyed analysis of the benefits of socialized medicine—as one would expect from a long-time Marxist.

You will notice that just above I refer to Marqusee “dealing” with cancer rather than the hackneyed term “battling”. As might be expected from an antiwar activist (Marqusee was on the steering committee of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain), Marqusee has little use for military metaphors. He writes:

Obituaries routinely inform us that so-and-so has died “after a brave battle against cancer.” Of course, we will never read that so-and-so has died “after a pathetically feeble battle against cancer.” But one thing that I have come to appreciate since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood) two years ago is how unreal both notions are. It’s just not like that.

The emphasis on cancer patients’ “bravery” and “courage” implies that if you can’t “conquer” your cancer, there’s something wrong with you, some weakness or flaw. If your cancer progresses rapidly, is it your fault? Does it reflect some failure of will-power?

Like one of the characters in Michael Moore’s “Sicko” who lives a country not befouled by big pharma and the insurance industry, Marqusee describes a system that is geared to human need rather than private profit. For all the years he has been receiving treatment at Barts, the nickname for St. Bartholomew’s, a London hospital founded in 1123 (!), he has never had to pay a penny. Despite the fact that it is free, the treatment has been equal to some of the premiere hospitals in the USA.

But the same forces that have imposed Obamacare on us are conspiring to privatize and/or reduce the level of treatment in Britain. Showing the same sense of worker and patient solidarity that Ralph Moss’s newsletter sought to imbue at MSKCC nearly 40 years ago, Marqusee writes and we conclude:

I hope staff at Barts resist this attack on their jobs, and on the essential, life-sustaining services they provide. It’s often seemed to me that Barts survives on their good will alone. They’ve already been hammered by a steady fall in real wages, and there is a sad fatalism among most, not helped by the patchiness of the union presence across the Trust. What’s vital is that they understand that what’s happening now is not about failings at Barts; it’s a manifestation of the general crisis in the NHS, a crisis brought about by cuts, fragmentation, and privatisation, and one that can only be addressed through a mass movement that forces a radical redirection in government policy.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

 

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/29/cancer-politics-and-capitalism/

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia

The rules are important at Burning Man. But being rich means you get to do what you want, just like anywhere else

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia
El Pulpo Mecanico, at the Burning Man 2012 “Fertility 2.0″ arts and music festival, August 29, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

“Burning Man culture,” writes Gregory Ferenstein in Vox, “discourages money or bartering; the entire economy is a gift economy.”

Ferenstein, a regular attendee at the Nevada desert counterculture festival so beloved by Northern California’s tech-hipsters, is defending Burning Man from critics like the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, who have noted that in recent years, rich attendees have been setting up their own luxury camps within the confines of Black Rock City. Ferenstein makes some good points explaining why tech billionaires love Burning Man, but it’s still difficult to square his point on “burning man culture” with the details reported by Bilton.

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

Such camps, reports Bilton, also included “Sherpas” that serve as servants.

Ferenstein writes that the tech execs have basically the same experience as everyone else. But he appears to be tone-deaf to the enormous offense of labeling paid employees “Sherpas” and doesn’t bother to mention the female models flown in from New York. That’s not the gift economy, and it’s not the sharing economy. And it’s surely not something that anyone even imagined possible when tripping around a very big bonfire on Baker Beach in the early ’90s.



Ferenstein also wanders into a self-combusting contradiction, of the sort that would look pretty good exploding  in the desert night. Burning Man, he writes, “is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation…. At Burning Man, sharing is the economy. It’s rather appealing to the Silicon Valley elite to see an entire city function on an economic idea that is at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s an important glimpse of why the founders are so optimistic that a loosely regulated field of tech startups can outweigh the potential downsides of unregulated sharing.”

But Burning Man is intensely regulated. It’s got its own police force. Gun control is absolute. Attendance is limited to a set number of people who can afford the not-cheap tickets. The very layout of Black Rock City is a paean to planning and organization. Central control is as much the essence of Burning Man as is hedonism and fire.

We can argue about the proper extent of regulation. Is Burning Man more like Houston, which scoffs at zoning restrictions, or San Francisco, where plastic bags are outlawed? (The rules on trash at Burning Man might come off as pretty extreme to your typical happy-go-lucky free market polluter, after all.) But to use Burning Man as a model for what tech billionaires want for a greater society is to actually argue that rules are extremely important, and anarchy is a failure!

The key point made by Nick Bilton is that the very existence of a camp inside Burning Man where tickets cost $25,000 and female companionship is imported is a demonstration that Burning Man, far from being an alternative to society, is business as usual.

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/22/why_burning_man_is_not_an_example_of_a_loosely_regulated_tech_utopia/?source=newsletter