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/

The traumas and dramas of post-Cup, pre-Olympic Brazil

by Christopher Gaffney on August 25, 2014

Post image for The traumas and dramas of post-Cup, pre-Olympic Brazil

A decade of mega-events is unrecognizably transforming Brazil’s urban landscape, with the poor excluded and the benefits reaped unequivocally by the rich. 

Image by Edimar Soares for O Povo, taken during the 2013 Confederations Cup in Fortaleza.

Tied to a period of economic growth and political stability, Brazil has aggressively pursued a series of mega-events from the Pan-American Games in 2007 to the 2016 Rio Olympics. These events are used by the Brazilian national and local governments to showcase their economic prosperity and to promote the country as one that is on equal footing with global powers. However, with the comings and goings of the international sporting caravans, each requiring billions in public financing, the question remains: where is the benefit for the ordinary Brazilian that stays behind after the parade has moved on?’

For nearly a decade, major international sporting and cultural events have descended upon Rio de Janeiro. Starting with the 2007 Pan American Games, followed by the World Military Games, Rio+20, the Confederation’s Cup and World Youth Day in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, this year’s FIFA World Cup and, to conclude a decade of mega events, the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio too. To this list we can add Revellion (New Year’s) and Carnaval, both happenings drawing many hundreds of thousands of people.

Each one of these events is financed in full or in part with public money. Some of them leave behind infrastructure that is specific to the event and each comes with its particular demands and challenges. The events that have the most impact upon the city are undoubtedly this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

With a combined budget of an estimated US$40 billion, both events have been met with strong resistance as well as loud boosterism. Rather than having a clear, drawn-out plan as to how the hosting of these international sporting events would benefit Brazilians in the future, this question has been met with a careless “let’s wait and see” response. However, based upon experiences in the recent past, one prediction has proven true every single time: it will be the rich who benefit most, and the poor who will pay the highest price.

Human Rights for Sale

The legacy of the World Cup will vary depending on one’s position within Brazil’s socio-economic hierarchy. Wealthy Brazilians will look back on this decade of mega-events in an entirely different way than the average citizen, and thus the “legacy”, whether positive or negative, can only be framed in a wide array of class-specific analyses.

One of the defining elements of class distinction in Brazil is dependence on the state. The choice of the rich will always be for private health care, education, security and transportation. In neoliberal governance frameworks around the globe, the state is considered the provider of last resort. As education, transportation, environmental remediation and health care budgets are slashed and the private sector is favored, citizens are forced to look to the market for the provision of basic human rights.

One is entitled to clean water, good education, health care, mobility, leisure, and security to the degree to which one can purchase those “rights”. The World Cup has consolidated this tendency in Brazil and some of the most globally visible elements of this trajectory were the FIFA-standard stadiums, most of which have passed into private hands.

For wealthy Brazilians, the tournament will have very much been “worth it” (an economic calculus which we should also try to avoid) as they were able to see World Cup games in brand new stadiums that were constructed explicitly for their benefit. The upper classes in Brazil typically see the privatization of state-owned infrastructure as a step towards more efficiency and better service. These are, of course, the very same people who do not depend on the state for the provision of basic services. In post-World Cup Brazil, the Brazilian upper-middle and upper class will revel in their transfiguration from fans into clients.

The middle and lower-middle classes will likely feel that the World Cup was a wasted opportunity to materially improve their lives. Brazilian transportation, education, sewage, health and security infrastructure is notoriously poor and the World Cup has not been used as an opportunity to restructure cities in progressive and forward-thinking ways.

The vast majority of infrastructure projects associated with the World Cup did not pass through any kind of public contracting or permitting processes but were pulled out of the drawers of the civil construction firms that dictate public policy. Thus, the hasty insertion of major infrastructure into cities to attend to the short-term demands of the event and the medium-term interests of real estate speculators has wasted a golden opportunity to make use of unique political alliances and easy credit. As a result, billions of reais have flowed into the coffers of civil construction firms and bus companies under the guise of legacy projects.

The privatization of public transportation eliminates the public sector from taking responsibility for the expansion of mobility networks or the quality of service. On the contrary, the only guarantees in the contracts are for the profits of the private companies that run the transportation system. Many of the protests of 2013 and 2014 were focused around the disastrous state of mobility in Brazilian cities. The World Cup will have done very little to improve this situation.

In Brazil, the notoriously poor conditions of state-run infrastructure have facilitated the association of the word “public” with “belonging to nobody.” This is one of the reasons why Brazilians who can afford to escape public services do so at the first opportunity, and it is but one of the ways that middle class Brazilians can distinguished from the lower classes. More evidence that World Cup spending was targeted towards the elite were the contrasting investments in airports versus passenger rail service. The former received more than R$5.6 billion, while there was not a single real invested in intercity rail transportation.

Sacrificed for the Greater Good

The lower classes have been left both better and worse off with the World Cup. As within all levels of Brazil’s socio-economic scale, the diversity of social positions within favela communities and in lower-class, formalized neighborhoods makes it very difficult to generalize winners and losers.

However, in the realm of sports, one thing is certain: there will be a generation of poor children in Brazil that will never get to see a professional football match in any of the iconic Maracanã, Minerão, Castelão stadiums, or on any of the traditional football grounds of Brazil that have been reconstructed for the World Cup. Ticket prices for Brazilian football matches have increased 300% in ten years and are the most expensive in the world relative to minimum wage. The people’s game has been taken from them.

In the favelas themselves, and in particular in Rio de Janeiro, the arrival of the mega-events and the pacification process has radically altered political, social and economic dynamics. Most Brazilian cities have seen a sharp rise in real-estate values since 2009, when FIFA announced Brazil as World Cup host. This rise has been particularly acute in the “pacified” favelas of Rio de Janeiro: rents have increased by as much as 400% in some places.

While the majority of favela residents own their properties — even if they do not have legal title — they will not have benefited from a rise in rents. The only way they can benefit from the urban transformation projects is through increased access to manual labor in the civil construction sector. This extra money has generated a construction boom of sorts in the favelas as families are able to build extra square footage, which in turn increases the value of their property.

In the larger economy of a given favela, this additional constructed value benefits landlords and hurts small residential and commercial renters. That is, those who were in a position to benefit from price increases and entrepreneurial activity before the World Cup (and Olympics) will be those who benefit during and after.

The tens of thousands of families that were removed from their homes for World Cup-related infrastructure projects are the biggest losers of the month-long tournament. Hastily conceived and executed road building projects are to blame for the majority of these removals. In a country in which the poor have limited access to institutional democracy, those in the way of “order and progress” are simply considered collateral damage, sacrificed for the greater good.

Every World Cup host city, except Brasília and Manaus, expelled residents from their homes to execute publicly financed road projects that were managed by extra-legal authorities whose projects were largely exempt from environmental impact studies and due diligence in contracting. The state of exception that dominated the preparation for and realization of the World Cup radically impinged upon the constitutionally guaranteed right to housing. The stories are as innumerable and tragic as the human rights violations are grotesque.

Securitization, Evacuation and Fetishization

The differences in urban legacy predicated on class position also apply to the realm of public security and human rights. Brazil mobilized more than 150,000 armed police and army personnel and more than 50,000 private security guards for the World Cup. This means more jackboots and guns on the streets, in stores, around stadiums and in public spaces. It also means more data collection, less transparency and more aggression.

Before the World Cup final, dozens of activists were arrested as a preventative measure, and more than 25,000 armed security personnel were on high alert in Rio de Janeiro. Throughout the tournament, the police were under clear instructions to use maximum force against protesters. This security apparatus is intended to be part of the spectacle itself, but it acts very differently upon different populations. As ever, the presence of the state in the form of armed military police has its most devastating effects on young, black men.

The governor of Rio de Janeiro state called in the Brazilian army to “pacify” the Maré favela complex on the eve of the World Cup. The expanding pacification program in Rio de Janeiro is a hugely controversial and woefully partial measure to secure the city, its infrastructure, and its image for mega-events. The rapid up-scaling of military force in Brazilian cities brings to mind the military dictatorship. Journalists are beaten while covering protests; civil rights are suspended for the extraordinary conditions of the event.

The problem is compounded by the fact that cities are being managed so as to have an extraordinary event every year, every month, every week. The preparatory period for these events is filled with a sense of urgency, and the events themselves carried of within political regimes of exception. The positive results are always in the future, a “legacy” that will be forthcoming if we are only patient and gullible enough to wait for the delivery of a more just city, a better society.

The security apparatus is designed to protect the event, its infrastructure, its sponsors, dignitaries and the fans and tourists who are able to afford the party. When we see the white elites of Brazil posing in front of tanks and robocops on their way into the shopping mall-esque stadiums, we witness the fetishization of weapons of mass destruction. The right to consume is guaranteed by the state. Human rights are guaranteed by your ability to consume. The exercise of democratic rights, to protest, to freely circulate, to assemble — the right to the city — are curtailed by those same forces. The two-kilometer “zone of exclusion” that radiates out from FIFA stadiums is not offset by a “zone of inclusion” anywhere else.

Physical, Economic and Political Restructuring

In Rio de Janeiro, the epicenter of Brazil’s global mega-event production, the alignment of city, state and federal political forces stimulated investment and created a hegemonic discourse of legacy, urban development and valorization. As we approach an election cycle, this alignment is fraying somewhat, but the funding for the projects has been guaranteed so power and wealth can accumulate.

The extraordinary situation of preparing the city for a decade of mega-events has ushered in a state of exception that suspends ordinary paradigms of urban planning, security, construction and circulation. The privatization and militarization of public space, rampant real-estate speculation, exemptions to environmental regulations and zoning laws, illegal land grabs and rule by mayoral decree have defined the trajectory of the city since construction for the 2007 Pan American Games began in 2005. The 2016 Olympics will be the apogee of exceptional urban governance that will define the shape and texture of the city for the next generations.

Each of these events has brought increasing stakes for civil society. Having used each one of the previous events as a testing ground, the 2016 Olympics are being used as an excuse for the physical, economic and political restructuring of the city. Physically, major transportation lines are being directed to the residential suburb of Barra da Tijuca. Barra is the main site of the Olympics and is a closed-condominium, car-dependent landscape where the upper-middle classes have taken “refuge” from the expense and chaos of the traditional residential redoubts of Rio’s Zona Sul. The city government has called the Barra da Tijuca region a “natural zone of expansion”, but by design it is one of spatial fragmentation and social exclusion.

Economically, the Olympics are continuing with long-established traditions of public subsidy for private profit. The best example of this is the Olympic Village. Two of Brazil’s biggest civil construction firms, Andrade Gutierrez and OAS, formed a consortium to build closed-condominium residences for the 15,000 athletes who will compete in 2016. To do so they took a R$2.33 billion loan from Brazil’s Caixa Economica, a state bank.

After the Olympics, the consortium will be able to sell the apartments on the open market and use the profits to repay the loan. They will have risked no money of their own to build the Olympic Village yet will profit immensely from the real-estate deal. This scenario repeats itself endlessly across the Olympic landscape of Rio de Janeiro.

Politically, all of this makes very good sense for Rio’s elites. The current mayor comes from Barra da Tijuca and has civil construction and real-estate firms as his biggest campaign financiers. The tight and opaque relationships between big business and big government turn the Olympics into an excellent opportunity to make money and to consolidate political alliances. The lack of transparency in planning, bidding, financing and accounting for the Olympic projects makes it difficult to follow the money, but the general trend in all mega-event hosts is a consolidation of power and wealth at the top. In a city as unjust and unequal as Rio de Janeiro this is especially troubling.

The post-event utility of the mega-event projects is obviously questionable and may serve to distract from bigger debates of urban restructuring. The privatization of the Maracanã stadium is a tragedy for public life and culture and is indicative of the larger tendencies in the city.

The nearly complete absence of benefit from the 2007 Pan American Games appears to have been entirely forgotten. There is no facility remaining from that event that can be used without major upgrades. The Olympic Stadium was closed in 2013 for fear of a roof collapse; the velodrome was destroyed and a new facility must be built; and the swimming facility does not meet IOC requirements. The Maracanã underwent a R$330 million reform between 2005-’07, yet suffered a R$1.2 billion renovation for the World Cup and will likely need more public money for the Olympics.

Worryingly, the same people in charge of the Pan-American Games are heading up Rio 2016 — but now they are dealing with bigger projects, working under more pressure and with less time. How, then, can the result be any different?

Christopher Gaffney is an academic geographer who has lived in Rio de Janeiro since 2009. His research explores the wide-ranging impacts of sporting mega-events on cities. He is editor of the Journal of Latin American Geography and will be joining the Geography Department at the University of Zurich as a Senior Research associate in January 2015.

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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

The Carnage of Capitalism



Capitalism is expanding like a tumor in the body of American society, spreading further into vital areas of human need like health and education.

Photo Credit: JoeBakal/Shutterstock.com

Capitalism is expanding like a tumor in the body of American society, spreading further into vital areas of human need like health and education.

Milton Friedman said in 1980: “The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people.” The father of the modern neoliberal movementcouldn’t have been more wrong. Inequality has been growing for 35 years, worsening since the 2008 recession, as a few well-positioned Americans have made millions while the rest of us have gained almost nothing. Now, our college students and medicine-dependent seniors have become the source of new riches for the profitseeking free-marketers.

Higher Education: Administrators Get Most of the Money

College grads took a 19 percent pay cut in the two years after the recession. By 2013 over half of employed black recent college graduates were working in occupations that typically do not require a four-year college degree. For those still in school, tuition has risen much faster than any other living expense, and the average student loan balance has risen 91 percent over the past ten years.

At the other extreme is the winner-take-all free-market version of education, with a steady flow of compensation towards the top. Remarkably, and not coincidentally, as inequality has surged since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled. Administrators now outnumber faculty on every campusacross the country.

These administrators are taking the big money. As detailed by Lawrence Wittner, the 25 highest-paid presidents increased their salaries by a third between 2009 and 2012, to nearly a million dollars each. For every million-dollar public university president in 2011, there were fourteen such presidents at private universities, and dozens of lower-level administrators aspiring to be paid like their bosses. At Purdue, for example, the 2012 administrative ranks included a $313,000-a-year acting provost, a $198,000 chief diversity officer, a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.

All this money at the top has to come from somewhere, and that means from faculty and students. Adjunct and student teachers, who made up about 22 percent of instructional staff in 1969, now make up an estimated 76 percent of instructional staff in higher education, with a median wage in 2010 of about $2,700 per course. More administrative money comes from tuition, which has increased by over 1,000 percent since 1978.

At the for-profit colleges, according to a Senate report on 2009 expenses, education companies spent about 23 percent of all revenue on marketing and advertising, and almost 20 percent of revenue on pre-tax profits for their shareholders. They spent just 17.2 percent of their revenue on instruction.

Medicine: A 10,000 Percent Profit for Corporations

As with education, the extremes forced upon us by free-market health care are nearly beyond belief. First, at the human end, 43 percent of sick Americans skipped doctor’s visits and/or medication purchases in 2011 because of excessive costs. It’s estimatedthat over 40,000 Americans die every year because they can’t afford health insurance.

At the corporate end, drugmakers are at times getting up to $100 for every $1 spent. That’s true at Gilead Sciences, the manufacturer of the drug Sovaldi, which charges about $10 a pill to its customers in Egypt, then comes home to charge $1,000 a pill to its American customers. The 10,000 percent profit is also true with the increasingly lucrative, government-funded Human Genome Project, which is estimated to potentially return about $140 for every $1 spent. Big business is quickly making its move. Celera GenomicsAbbott LabsMerckRocheBristol-Myers Squibb, andPfizer are all starting to cash in.

The extremes of capitalist greed are evident in the corporate lobbying of Congress to keep Medicare from negotiating better drug prices for the American consumer. Americans are cheated further when corporations pay off generic drug manufacturers to delay entry of their products into the market, thereby ensuring inflated profits for the big firms for the durations of their shady deals.

Global Greed

Lives are being ravaged by unregulated, free-market capitalism, in the U.S. and around the world. According to the Global Forum for Health Research, less than 10 percent of the global health research budget is spent on the conditions responsible for 90 percent of human disease.

And the greed is getting worse. Perhaps it’s our irrational fear of socialism, peaking in the years after World War 2, that has inspired our winner-take-all culture. In the Reagan era we listened to Margaret Thatcher proclaim that “There is no such thing as society.”

In a more socially-conscious time, in 1955, after Dr. Jonas Salk had developed the polio vaccine, he was asked by reporter Edward R. Murrow: “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” Responded Salk, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

A free-market capitalist might remind us that a skillful hedge fund manager can make as much as a thousand Jonas Salks.

 

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/carnage-capitalism?akid=12138.265072.pC6w-o&rd=1&src=newsletter1015885&t=13&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Tech Industry Believes it Invented San Francisco, Burning Man, and Sex

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 7:30 AM

Inspired by Bay Area tech industry - FLICKR/CROWCOMBE AL

According to reports, the Silicon Valley-based tech industry has convinced itself that it invented everything it enjoys, including Democracy, rule of law, San Francisco, Burning Man, and sex.

“Techies are really innovative, so it’s only natural that they would hack human sexuality by coming up with a pleasurable use for what was previously just a reproductive process,” Google employee Miles Davidson said. “You’re welcome.”

Brent Sternberg, a Facebook engineer who started attending Mission Control sex parties a year ago, said that blow jobs simply wouldn’t have been possible without social media. “How could you have ever told someone that you like it?” he asked. “It would never work.”

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, said he believes that the tech giant is on track to invent S&M by 2025. “It will be incredibly pleasurable,” he said, “unless it hurts too much. Until we develop it, there’s just no way to know.”

Apple vice president of design Louis Harris is especially proud of the tech industry for inventing Burning Man, a 27-year-old annual arts event, in 2008.

“Prior to the tech industry, no one had really considered creating experimental communities, or going camping,” Harris said. “But then thousands of tech workers disrupted the desert and invented DJs.”

Not everything has gone well since then, Harris admitted. “The problem with Burning Man is that since the tech industry invented it, it’s gotten so popular that all these artists are showing up, and they don’t know anything about the culture.”

That’s also a problem with what many see as the tech industry’s crowning achievement: the city of San Francisco.

“We really knocked that one out of the park,” said Twitter Vice President Larry Johnson. “When we got here there wasn’t a single unaffordable building, there were musicians in lofts, and the place was just filled with women. But we’ve really turned that around.”

LinkedIn Senior Data Analyst Rod Suchet agreed. “San Francisco is famous the whole world over as a city of art, and art was originally an App for the iStore. It’s famous for its restaurants, and restaurants were originally developed so that Google’s cafeteria could telecommute. Honestly, was there even a music scene in San Francisco before Pandora digitized it? Did this town even have an economy before we started to displace it?”

As of press time, Suchet had meant to Google the answer but had been distracted by a cat video. Cats, for those not in the know, were invented by YouTube in 2006.

Benjamin Wachs is a literary chameleon. 

http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2014/08/12/tech-industry-believes-it-invented-san-francisco-burning-man-and-sex

Liberal, environmentalist organizations have a race problem

There are two environmentalist movements: One for rich whites, the other for poor minorities

There are two environmentalist movements: One for rich whites, the other for poor minorities
(Credit: NASA)

A report released in July has unfortunate news for the environmental movement: Thus far, it has failed pitifully in promoting diverse workplaces. The study culled data from three different kinds of environmental institutions — 191 conservation organizations, 74 government agencies and 28 grant-making foundations — and found that while the institutions have made considerable progress combating gender discrimination (women represent 60 percent of new hires and interns and occupy more than half of all leadership positions in conservation organizations), they still have a way to go when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity. Even though almost 40 percent of Americans are minorities, they make up less than 16 percent of employees at environmental institutions.

The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears has more:

The research was undertaken by Dorceta Taylor, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. Taylor found that of the 3,140 paid staff members at large groups such as the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and Earthjustice, 88 percent were white. On the boards that govern the groups, 95 percent of members were white …

Taylor wrote that an “unconscious bias” exists within the liberal and progressive culture of the groups, preserving a racially homogenous workplace. “Recruitment for new staff frequently occurs through word-of-mouth and informal networks,” the study said. “This makes it difficult for ethnic minorities, the working class, or anyone outside of traditional environmental networks to find out about job openings and apply for those jobs.”

Fears also writes of differences in the kinds of environmentalism promoted by various races:

The divide has resulted in two environmental movements. One is white and the other non-white, one rich and the other poor, one devoted largely to advocating on behalf of wilderness areas and the other for “environmental justice” in core urban areas where minorities tend to live.



The idea that poorer minorities don’t get to worry about protecting the magnificent natural world is not new. The entire concept of environmental justice is predicated on the reality that lower-income and minority communities often get saddled with unjust environmental costs. For example, toxic waste dumps and power plants are located in poorer neighborhoods, facts that are compounded by worse access to healthcare. As a result, residents of those poorer communities will become activists for environmental justice, while richer, white environmentalists can focus on broader issues of climate change and conservation.

Michel Gelobter, executive director of Redefining Progress, wrote that environmental justice has been so valuable because it offered “a home for activists who weren’t comfortable separating their concern over the state of the planet from their concerns about social justice.” Perhaps if more institutions took on a similar attitude, the diversity problem might begin to solve itself.

 

Joanna Rothkopf is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on sustainability. Follow @JoannaRothkopf or email jrothkopf@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/11/there_are_two_environmentalist_movements_one_for_rich_whites_the_other_for_poor_minorities/?source=newsletter

Here’s Why Republicans Should Not Be Getting into Burning Man

By Tom Berman

Photo by Vito Fun

If you pay attention to the American political scumbag carnival, you’ve probably heard of Grover Norquist. He’s the head of Americans for Tax Reform, a lobbying group known for keeping tight reins on the Republican Party through the anti-tax pledge they exact from elected officials. “The Pledge,” as it’s known, prevents Congress from reaching compromise on virtually every issue. However, Grover’s power is dwindling, as more and more lawmakers refuse his pledge. So, like a lot of white guys facing a mid-career crisis, he’s decided to go to Burning Man.

Burning Man, if you didn’t know, is a celebration of absurdity, art, and self-sufficiency that occurs every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. So far, Norquist is behaving like a typical first-year “Burner” by telling everyone he knows about his plans to attend. With a single tweet, he attracted an avalanche of commentary. Last year, Seth Rogen told the world he was headed to Burning Man—on TV, no less—and received just a small slice of the attention won by Norquist.

I’m like a lot of people who are into Burning Man, in the sense that I groaned when I chanced upon Norquist’s tweet. Aside from Rogen, celebrities tend not to announce their plans to attend, because it’s considered a faux pas to use the event for self-promotion. As LeBron James will tell you, self-aggrandizing announcements cast doubt on one’s intentions. In future communications, Grover would do well to follow the lead of this guy, who at least managed to stay off Twitter until he had a sweet picture to post.

Photo by Vito Fun

Norquist went on to do an interview about Burning Man with the National Journal, which really ought to know better. According to the Journal, he stated: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” He also claimed that “there’s no government that organizes” it.

Burning Man, like any city or nation, requires funding and organization to function. When people buy tickets, they help to pay for the event’s needs as a price of citizenship. It’s exactly the same as a tax.

Photo by Vito Fun

The annual event is organized by a series of departments that serve the event like a de facto government. They are managed by the Burning Man Organization, which maintains a year-round office in San Francisco and acts as an executive branch. Most of the people who work for the staff departments are unpaid volunteers, but each team requires gobs of resources in order to make the event a reality.

Burning Man’s Department of Public Works provides the event’s critical infrastructure. They institute a “City Plan,” survey street alignments, and employ an arsenal of heavy machinery to help build the art installations that Grover can’t wait to scope out. The DPW also coordinates the Playa Restoration Team that stays behind for weeks to clean the site, because the event is only allowed to re-occur if it picks up after itself.

Photo by Vito Fun

Then there’s Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus, who manage the event’s arduous entry and exit process. They employ radar, night vision, and elbow grease to thwart stowaways and fence jumpers, who are the Burning Man equivalent of tax dodgers. Grover Norquist knows all about tax dodgers, because many of them are his biggest contributors.

The Black Rock Rangers mediate disputes between attendees, and shut down and search the city if somebody’s kid gets lost. There’s also Burning Man Information Radio, which serves as the sort of public broadcast system that Norquist’s friends love to hate.

Photo by Flickr user Jon Collier

The Emergency Services Department partners with a nearby hospital to provide paramedic and medical services. If they can address an illness or injury without shipping the patient back to Reno, their services are paid for by the ticket proceeds. Norquist should be aware that his supposed libertarian Xanadu is a proud provider of single-payer health care.

In an echo of everyone’s least favorite government agency, there’s a Department of Mutant Vehicles, which inspects and registers the event’s famed Art Cars. Without them, Burning Man would turn into a janky demolition derby. This would be bad, because nothing sucks the fun out of a fire-shooting octopus encounter like vehicular manslaughter.

Photo by Flickr user Ian Norman

There are even staff teams looking out for Grover’s beloved One Percenters, like the airport that serves the growing share of people who arrive by chartered plane.

Finally, you’ve got the actual US government, which manifests itself at Burning Man as the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM enforces the 20-page Interior Department closure order that makes the event a reality. By my count, that’s two separate governments working at once. Without either, Grover wouldn’t get to rave. He’d be forced to settle for the creepy Porcupine Festival campout in New Hampshire, which nobody on Twitter is going to give a shit about.

Norquist probably knows all of this. He’s been itching to attend Burning Man since 2012. And he’s an alum of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding society, which means he’s a nerd. I’ll bet he’s reading up on the event the way a 15-year-old devours the Harry Potter books.

Photo by Vito Fun

Grover should expect to have a good time, though, because nerds excel at Burning Man. It’s like a political campaign: You learn a map, do a budget, and endure compatriots who use the whole thing as an excuse to binge-drink. Burning Man also celebrates recklessness, and Grover’s a proven daredevil thanks to his hard-ball debt-ceiling politics. How can any acrobat or fire spinner compete with a guy who can endanger all the world’s money?

Still, he shouldn’t stop at the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation on his way up from Reno. The locals may recall the time he helped scam Native Americans by laundering Jack Abramoff’s money. And he shouldn’t discuss his support for South African Apartheid in the 80s. Most of the people he’ll meet are California and Oregon neo-hippies, and Apartheid stuff will harsh their mellow.

He should, rather, expect a warm reception. Burning Man’s principle of radical inclusion doesn’t stop at K Street.

Photo by Vito Fun

So here’s a personal welcome from yours truly: Welcome home, Grover! Go forth with a reckless spirit and an open heart. Seize each day, and have the time of your life.

I hope you chance upon some synthetic psychedelics. I hope you wind up lying on your back in the dust, eating peanut butter with a spoon, and watching as hallucinations of zebras and baby goats cavort against the sunrise. I even hope you trip so hard that you realize what an asshole you are.

No matter what happens, keep one thing in mind: People move heaven and earth to reach this event to test their limits, to make friends, and to challenge their preconceptions. Nobody is showing up to serve as a thin, cherry-picked rationale for your sniveling politics.

 

http://www.vice.com/read/heres-why-republicans-should-not-be-getting-into-burning-man-804?utm_source=vicenewsletter