Ecstacy drug reborn as medicine

How MDMA is being used to treat trauma

Ecstacy isn’t just for fun anymore: the FDA says it provides real hope for treating PTSD

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

On Nov. 30 the FDA approved a Phase III clinical trial to confirm the effectiveness of treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with MDMA, also known as Ecstasy.

This news appeared in headlines throughout the world, as it represents an important – yet somewhat unorthodox – advance in PTSD treatment.

However, the media have largely been referring to Ecstasy – the street name for this drug – as the treatment in this trial, rather than MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). This can lead to misunderstanding, as recreational Ecstasy use is a highly stigmatized behavior. Using this terminology may further misconceptions about the study drug and its uses.

While Ecstasy is in fact a common street name for MDMA, what we call Ecstasy has changed dramatically since it became a prevalent recreational drug. Ecstasy now has a very different meaning – socially and pharmacologically.


Ecstasy tablets.
Drug Enforcement Agency Media Library

Social misunderstanding

It is understandable why the media have referred to this drug as Ecstasy rather than MDMA. Not only has much of the public at least heard of Ecstasy (and would not recognize MDMA), but this also increases shock value and readership.

But referring to a therapeutic drug by its street name (such as Ecstasy) is misleading – especially since MDMA is known to be among the most popular illicit drugs used at nightclubs and dance festivals. This leads some to assume that street drugs are being promoted and provided to patients, perhaps in a reckless manner.

About 80-85 percent of high school seniors and young adults disapprove of someone even trying Ecstasy once or twice. But stigmatizing attitudes tend to be much harsher than mere disapproval.

I investigated stigma toward Ecstasy users, and among young adults (age 18-25) who reported no lifetime use of the drug, many reported strong negative feelings toward those who use Ecstasy.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/RZJvg/3/

“Ecstasy” is in fact often used to refer to MDMA, but a lot of Ecstasy in the U.S. often contains little to no MDMA. While many assume the term Ecstasy means or at least implies MDMA, others believe (or know) that Ecstasy tends to be an adulterated drug when purchased “on the street.”

Pharmacological misunderstanding: A brief history of drug purity

When Ecstasy boomed in popularity in the early 1980s, it tended to consist of pure MDMA, or sometimes its chemical sister MDA (3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine). But after MDMA became illegal in the U.S. in 1985, purity began to decrease.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, drugs such as cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamine were common adulterants in Ecstasy.

As a party drug, many people didn’t know or even care that ecstasy was supposed to be MDMA, but others specifically sought pure MDMA, rather than adulterated products. Demand grew. While pills said to be pure MDMA were certainly marketed and sold throughout the 1990s, more expensive Ecstasy in powder form (sold in capsules) slowly grew in demand. Within a few years this exploded into what we know now as “Molly.”

Molly is commonly marketed as being pure MDMA. But in recent years we have found that Molly is often the furthest thing from pure MDMA. Synthetic cathinones, also known as “bath salts,” appear to be the most common adulterants or outright replacements.

Ecstasy-related deaths

Deaths related to Ecstasy use appear to have increased in recent years, but many of these deaths appear to have been largely dependent on environmental conditions. MDMA can raise blood pressure and interfere with regulation of body temperature, which can certainly make it dangerous, especially in large doses and to those with preexisting conditions.

But what we often fail to consider is that Ecstasy-related deaths have tended to occur after hours of dancing – often in very hot conditions (such as crowded nightclubs or at festivals in 85 degree Fahrenheit or higher temperature), without adequate rest or proper hydration, or both.

Would these deaths have occurred without Ecstasy? Probably not. But most of these outcomes were very much dependent on extreme environmental conditions.

Many deaths in the U.S. related to Ecstasy or Molly use have also involved co-use of drugs such as alcohol, or unintentional use of “bath salts” or other adulterants, or a combination. In Europe, however, deaths have been increasing due to use of very high-potency pills (over 200 mg).

Extreme environmental conditions, adulterants, use of high-potency Ecstasy products, and ignorance about drug effects are all potential recipes for disaster when Ecstasy is used, especially when harm reduction techniques are not applied.

Is it really appropriate, then, to compare the therapeutic use of MDMA in this study to individuals using illegal, adulterated, or high-potency ecstasy, and dancing for hours in the heat?

The researchers are using pure MDMA, and in low doses. The drug is also used under medical supervision in a safe office, and patients receive medical clearance before entering the trial.

Misconceptions continue

MDMA is by no means a new drug, but misconceptions have continued for decades. MDMA was discovered over a century ago, and the drug’s effects have been researched and documented for decades.

Knowledge about the drug’s potential therapeutic value is nothing new, either. We have known this since the 1970s, but have largely lacked the formal research supporting its efficacy. The drug was administered by thousands of therapists in the early 1980s before it hit the nightclub scene and was made illegal in 1985. Many therapists and advocates fought to keep MDMA legal when it was banned, and some of these fighters – primarily Rick Doblin and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), have continued to fight for decades, to gain approval for clinical trials of MDMA to be conducted.

It’s easy to view MDMA as just a dangerous party drug, but it was used for therapeutic purposes way before it exploded into nightlife. All our lives we’ve been taught illicit drugs are bad, but so few of us know the history of these drugs prior to their criminalization.

We also tend to focus on the negative publicized effects, and many individuals still believe misinformation such that MDMA use puts holes in the brain, drains spinal fluid, or causes Parkinson’s disease.
As drugs like MDMA and psilocybin move back into the spotlight as having therapeutic value, we must understand that while we may see various drugs as having “bad” uses, this doesn’t mean they are “bad” substances. Some of these drugs appear to be very useful in medical or therapeutic contexts.We also often forget to consider that these same stigmatized drugs may also have important medical value. For example, amphetamine has been a drug of abuse since the 1930s, but it is efficacious in treating ADHD under the trade name Adderall. And despite increasing abuse of opioids in the U.S., these pills are still highly efficacious in treating pain. Like opioids and amphetamine, MDMA appears to have its place in medicine.

The Conversation

Joseph Palamar, Assistant Professor of Population Health, New York University Langone Medical Center

The Oakland fire tragedy and the housing crisis in America

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7 December 2016

The death toll from last Friday’s fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California stands at 36, with 85 percent of the burnt-out structure having been searched. Among the dead, some of whom have yet to be identified, are young people and artists who made their home in the 86-year-old sprawling two-story structure known as the Ghost Ship. The building was leased to an artists’ collective in the Fruitvale district of the city.

It was the deadliest building fire in the US since a Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, which claimed 100 lives. The tragedy has horrified the San Francisco Bay Area and the world, leaving many asking how such an event could take place in 21st century America.

It is unclear at this point whether criminal charges will be filed against the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng, who owns several other blighted properties in Oakland, or against Derick Ion Almena, who leased the property, lived there with his wife and three children, and ran the artists’ collective. Looking for an individual to blame, the media has launched a campaign against Almena in particular, who lost many people he knew in the blaze.

Authorities have pointed to electrical problems and the lack of basic fire safety provisions in the dilapidated structure. At the root of the tragedy, however, lies the dysfunctional character of American capitalism, including a housing crisis born of poverty, social inequality, and years of neglect by government authorities.

The Bay Area, long known as a haven for artists and students, is now largely unaffordable for workers and young people. Along with the tech boom of the last six years, housing prices have skyrocketed. Warehouses and lofts in San Francisco’s former industrial areas have given way to high-end condos and workspaces to house tech start-ups and their employees. More than 2,000 people are evicted annually in the city.

This has pushed artists and others struggling to find affordable housing to Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, and beyond. Now these areas are also increasingly unaffordable, with the median cost of available rentals in Oakland standing at $3,000 a month, far beyond what is affordable for most Americans. People living in buildings such as the Ghost Ship are faced with the choice of living in substandard housing or being homeless.

Speaking to CBS, a city councilor from Fruitvale estimated that there are some 200 warehouses in Oakland “that have no papers, no permit, no fire code, nothing.” If occupied, these structures are disasters waiting to happen. And while building inspectors apparently ignore these deathtraps, no measures are taken to alleviate the growing crisis that leads to their use as housing.

The Bay Area’s economy has spawned a small army of billionaires, with 50 of them making it onto the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 2016. Oakland itself is increasingly socially polarized, home to the fifth largest cluster of “elite zip codes” in the US, ranked by a combination of high income and education level attained. At the same time, more than 800,000 people in the region live below the poverty line.

The housing crisis in the Bay Area mirrors that of metropolitan areas across the country. The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 20,000 rent-controlled apartments in LA have been taken off the market since 2011 to make way for pricey homes and condos for the wealthy, leading to hundreds of evictions this year.

Evictions are taking place not only in thriving real estate markets like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but also in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis, where deindustrialization and unemployment, combined with wages that do not keep pace with the cost of living, are driving people out of their homes.

According to a report released last year by Harvard University titled “Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters,” by 2025 nearly 15 million US households will devote more than half of their income to rent. Those unable to keep pace with their rent or mortgage payments will find themselves evicted and possibly homeless.

The federal government has long since abandoned any responsibility for the provision of decent housing, leading to disasters like that in Oakland last week. According to the US Fire Administration, an organization that tracks fire deaths based on media reports, there were 2,290 fire deaths in the US in 2015, many of them in mobile homes or other substandard housing.

The first US national housing legislation, passed in 1937, went beyond providing low-cost public housing and was aimed at improving the lagging economy by funding jobs to build affordable housing. Public housing today has largely ceased to exist, with units sold off to developers to turn a quick profit, and those in need of housing waiting years if not decades for openings to use their Section 8 housing vouchers.

The Obama administration, following the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has made no pretense of establishing a public works program to address the woeful state of infrastructure in the US—whether in housing, roads, bridges, energy grids or in other vital areas.

President-elect Donald Trump has made clear his attitude toward the housing crisis with his nomination of Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no professional housing policy experience, has declared his hostility to the entire concept of public housing and social provision in general, stating: “It really is not compassionate to pat people on the head and say, ‘There you poor little thing, I’m going to take care of all your needs, your health care, your food and your housing, don’t you worry about anything’” (Conservative Political Action Conference, February 26, 2015).

The Socialist Equality Party calls for an immediate halt to foreclosures and evictions and for the provision of billions of dollars to provide decent, low-cost housing to those in need. Housing is a social right that can be assured only by placing the home construction and financing industry under public ownership.

For tragedies like that in Oakland to be averted in the future, public funds must be poured into the construction of new homes for working families. Such a project can be undertaken only under a workers government based on a socialist program, which treats affordable housing as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/07/pers-d07.html

Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could Be Wrong

WORLD
Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism.

Emergency responders following a reported barrel bomb attack by government forces in the Al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 6, 2014

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.

Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.

In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.

One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance.

Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories.

For instance, the film coming out of east Aleppo in recent weeks focuses almost exclusively on heartrending scenes of human tragedy such as the death or maiming of civilians. One seldom sees shots of the 10,000 fighters, whether they are wounded or alive and well.

None of this is new. The present wars in the Middle East started with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was justified by the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Western journalists largely went along with this thesis, happily citing evidence from the Iraqi opposition who predictably confirmed the existence of WMD.

Some of those who produced these stories later had the gall to criticise the Iraqi opposition for misleading them, as if they had any right to expect unbiased information from people who had dedicated their lives to overthrowing Saddam Hussein or, in this particular case, getting the Americans to do so for them.

Much the same self-serving media credulity was evident in Libya during the 2011 Nato-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

Atrocity stories emanating from the Libyan opposition, many of which were subsequently proved to be baseless by human rights organisations, were rapidly promoted to lead the news, however partial the source.

The Syrian war is especially difficult to report because Isis and various al-Qaeda clones made it too dangerous to report from within opposition-held areas. There is a tremendous hunger for news from just such places, so the temptation is for the media give credence to information they get second hand from people who could in practice only operate if they belong to or are in sympathy with the dominant jihadi opposition groups.

It is always a weakness of journalists that they pretend to excavate the truth when in fact they are the conduit rather than the originator of information produced by others in their own interests. Reporters learn early that people tell them things because they are promoting some cause which might be their own career or related to bureaucratic infighting or, just possibly, hatred of lies and injustice.

A word here in defense of the humble reporter in the field: usually, it is not he or she, but the home office or media herd instinct, that decides the story of the day. Those closest to the action may be dubious about some juicy tale which is heading the news, but there is not much they can do about it.

Thus, in 2002 and 2003, several New York Times journalists wrote stories casting doubt on WMD only to find them buried deep inside the newspaper which was led by articles proving that Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the world.

Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism. They should keep in mind the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria. Speaking after he had resigned in frustration in 2014, he said that “everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third or not at all”.

The quote comes from The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which is one of the best informed and non-partisan accounts of the Syrian tragedy yet published. He judiciously weighs the evidence for rival explanations for what happened and why. He understands the degree to which the agenda and pace events in Syria were determined externally by the intervention of foreign powers pursuing their own interests.

Overall, government experts did better than journalists, who bought into simple-minded explanations of developments, convinced that Assad was always on the verge of being overthrown.

Phillips records that at a high point of the popular uprising in July 2011, when the media was assuming that Assad was finished, that the long-serving British ambassador in Damascus, Simon Collis, wrote that “Assad can still probably count on the support of 30-40 per cent of the population.”

The French ambassador Eric Chevallier was similarly cautious, only to receive a classic rebuke from his masters in Paris who said: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East Correspondent for the Independent. He has written four books on Iraq’s recent history—The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the Sunni Revolution, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, The Occupation, and Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession (with Andrew Cockburn)—as well as a memoir, The Broken Boy and, with his son, a book on schizophrenia, Henry’s Demons, which was shortlisted for a Costa Award. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/why-everything-youve-read-about-syria-and-iraq-could-be-wrong?akid=14961.265072.IftxtM&rd=1&src=newsletter1068352&t=16

Housing crisis and neglect at root of fatal Oakland fire, one of the deadliest in US history

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By David Brown
6 December 2016

As the death toll mounts, the horrific fire that broke out at a dance party in East Oakland, California Friday night is now one of the worst such disasters in the recent history of the United States.

The City of Oakland announced early Monday that the number of bodies recovered from the 86-year-old Fruitvale warehouse called the Ghost Ship had risen to 36. The warehouse was being rented out to artists, and the studios were also used as informal housing by about 20 people.

According to survivors and neighbors, the fire spread quickly through ad hocwooden rooms, cutting off any escape from the dilapidated building that lacked basic fire safety measures. Many were almost immediately trapped on the second floor, where a concert was being held, without any means of escape.

Recovery efforts were delayed Monday when one of the building’s walls threatened to collapse on firefighters. About 75 percent of the structure has been searched, but the Alameda County Sheriff told the Associated Press that he did not expect to find any more bodies.

Thirty-three of the victims have so far been identified. Many were in their 20s and 30s, but the youngest so far was 17. Three foreign nationals were identified, from Finland, South Korea and Guatemala.

According to one tally by “NBC News,”  the Ghost Ship fire is the seventh-deadliest building fire in the past 50 years, a list that includes the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. It is the deadliest building fire in the US since a night club in Rhode Island burned down in 2003, killing 100 people.

While the precise causes remain to be determined, indications are that the tragedy was facilitated by city officials who ignored unsafe conditions, a landlord who neglected basic safety measures and a housing crisis driving people to seek cheap rent in unsafe conditions.

There was no shortage of dangerous flash points in the structure. Shelley Mack, a former tenant who lived in the warehouse for five months, told reporters that the building had no sprinklers or fire alarms and that it regularly went without utilities. Tenants used gas generators or propane stoves to heat their water, and stayed warm in the winter with space heaters. Wires crisscrossed the uninspected wooden partitions that turned the first floor into a maze of studios.

A neighbor, Danielle Boudreaux, described to the Washington Post the precarious makeshift stairs to the second floor where shows were held to help pay rent: “It only took two people on it at a time. .. when you stepped on it, it wobbled, and there were ropes holding it up. If you had three people on that it was falling down.” Once the fire started, she said, “there was no way you were getting out of that building.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley spoke to reporters Monday afternoon, announcing that the fire was a “potential crime scene” and that her office would investigate whether there was any criminal liability. She said that it was too early to specify who might be implicated, but that charges could range from involuntary manslaughter to murder. Any serious investigation, however, would immediately turn to the city itself.

The unsafe conditions, as well as the warehouse’s role as an unlicensed apartment and music venue, was an open secret to the landlord and city officials. The Tumblr page for the Ghost Ship contains numerous advertisements for musical performances. Over the past two years, the city has received numerous complaints, including three this year, regarding construction without a permit and unsafe conditions.

Twice in 2014 and twice in 2016, building inspectors were sent to the warehouse in response to complaints. However, no action was taken to improve the safety of the building. The Oakland Police Department records also show officers responding to reports of a stolen phone at a 2014 New Year’s Party where they “canvassed the area and building.”

In 2007, Alameda County placed a lien on the property, owned by Chor Ng since 1988, for “substandard, hazardous or injurious conditions.” According to public records, Ng has four other properties that have been cited for blight in Oakland.

The conditions found in the Ghost Ship warehouse are far from unique and are well known by the city. Noel Gallo, a city councilor from the Fruitvale district, told CBS, “The reality is, there are many facilities being occupied without permits.” He estimated that there are about 200 warehouses “that have no papers, no permit, no fire code, nothing.”

The negligence of landlords and city officials is complemented by the broader housing crisis that drives poor people to seek out informal housing for cheap rent.

“What this tragedy really brings home is displacement and other impacts of gentrification: the high cost of housing and the lack of affordable housing,” Anyka Barber, co-founder of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, told the Wall Street Journal.

Rents have skyrocketed across the Bay Area in recent years. Oakland, which was once a haven for people avoiding San Francisco’s rent, is now the fourth most expensive city for renting in the United States.

The median cost of an available rental in Oakland in September 2016 was $3,000 a month, according to Zillow. This is up 71 percent from January 2013, when it was just $1,757. Median income for renters in Oakland remains just $3,000 a month, making most apartments wildly unaffordable to perspective tenants.

The Bay Area is riven with social inequality. While workers in San Francisco and Oakland can barely afford rent, massive new luxury apartments are under construction in the Rockridge and SoMa districts. Across the Bay from the Fruitvale district where the warehouse burned down is the home of Larry Ellison, who has a personal net worth of $51.6 billion.

The current spike in property prices is part of a broader economic bubble driven by financial speculation after the 2008 crash. In 2001, 41 percent of US renters spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing. By 2014, this rose to 49 percent, with 26 percent of renters spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

A UBS report in 2015 drew a direct connection between the amount of cheap credit central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve and the Obama administration, were pouring into the financial market and exploding rental costs. The authors wrote, “Loose monetary policy has prevented a normalization of housing markets and encouraged local bubble risks to grow.”

The Oakland Ghost Ship fire is a horrific tragedy, but one with definite roots in the reality of American capitalism.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/06/oakl-d06.html

RIP CHELSEA FAITH (Oakland warehouse fire)

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Chelsea Faith died in the horrible Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, CA last Friday night.

I’ve known Chelsea since she was a teenager coming to my Moksha Tribe Parties. She was a beautiful, talented, amazing person. Her loss, and the loss of so many friends and kindred souls in that demon fire, diminishes me and the rest of the communal dance community.

Chelsea Faith was an electronic musician based in San Francisco, California. Her passion for dance music history is evident in her work, which takes cues from Detroit techno, Chicago house, and classic rave sounds. A multi-instrumentalist since childhood, Chelsea began experimenting with electronics as a teenager, which lead to playing live techno and house at underground raves in the 2000s. She has been working as a live performer, producer, DJ, and remixer for over a decade, using her gear savvy and innate musicianship to create lush, retro-futurist productions. Cherushii (Chelsea) signed with LA-based dance music tastemakers 100% Silk in 2013, and released her second 12″ for the label “Far Away So Close” in November 2015.


http://www.soundcloud.com/cherushii

Apollo

Death toll at least 33 in Oakland warehouse fire

By David Brown
5 December 2016

Just before midnight on Friday, a deadly fire broke out at a dance party in Oakland, California. An estimated 70 people were inside the venue, an old warehouse that had been converted into artist studios known as Ghost Ship.

As of this writing city workers had recovered 33 bodies, but the toll is expected to rise as more of the building is searched. Only seven of the recovered bodies had been identified.

The building itself only had a permit to function as a warehouse, but it was being rented out to an art collective. The interior was subdivided into individual studios on the ground floor and a second floor that could only be reached by a single wooden staircase, where the music was played. The building as whole had only two exits.

A memorial near the fire

The currently confirmed death toll makes this the worst building fire in the United States since 2003, when 100 people died in a night club fire in Rhode Island.

It is not yet clear how the fire started, but it spread quickly through the artists’ studios, cutting off any possible escape for many. By the time the fire was controlled, the roof had collapsed onto the second floor and in several places fell through to the ground.

There were almost no fire safety measures in the building. Oakland Fire Department Operations Chief Mark Hoffman told reporters that the building had no sprinklers and that they had heard no reports of smoke alarms going off. Bob Mule, an artist with a studio in the warehouse, told “NBC News” that he rushed to a fire extinguisher only to find it did not work and then had to flee the flames.

Max Ohr, the creative director of the Satya Yuga art collective that rented the building, told the “Today Show” that he was working the door the night of the fire. After hearing someone report a fire he rushed for an extinguisher but realized it was too late: “The roof had already caught and the flames were coming towards the door at an alarming rate. It took about 15 seconds to go from notification of a fire to completely engulfed.”

Emergency crews outside the warehouse

City officials had received complaints of code violations over an extended period of time, including three so far this year, alleging residential use of the warehouse space and construction without a permit. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf stated that an inspector was sent to the warehouse on November 17 but was unable to get inside the building to examine it.

Russell Megowan, a former resident of Ghost Ship, told “NBC News” that roughly 20 people lived in the building, drawn by cheap rent.

Even hosting events would have required new permits for the building, but the illegal use of Ghost Ship as a music venue was something of an open secret. Two or three times a month they would host parties on their second floor. Sometimes the location would be promoted openly, while at other times it would be announced the day of the show.

Schaaf announced Sunday that the Alameda County District Attorney was launching a criminal investigation of the fire, but provided no details on whether it would focus on the fire itself or also address questions of negligence on the part of the landlord or city officials.

Ghost Ship stage

The use of antiquated and unsafe industrial buildings for housing and entertainment is driven by soaring property values. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland jumped 19 percent from a year ago to $2,700 in February 2016. The median income for renters in Oakland is only $3,000 a month. This creates a large gray market for informal housing and arts venues.

Landlords see no profit in bringing old buildings up to code, or even maintaining them, when they would make far more holding the land until they can sell it to a developer who would just tear the old building down. For their part tenants are hesitant to demand safety measures that would see them evicted, or result in their rent being increased.

According to tax documents, the 4,000 sq.-ft. warehouse was assessed as being worth only $43,000 in 2015. By comparison, individual artist studios in the area rent for more than that each year. Just a few blocks away from the Ghost Ship, an old cotton mill built in 1917 and closed in 1954 was converted into 74 live/work loft apartments in 2006. Each unit in the refurbished building rents for roughly $2,500 a month.

WSWS

 

BLOGGER COMMENT:

I lost many friends in this terrible fire.  I’ve known Chelsea Faith since she was a teenager coming to my Moksha Tribe Parties. She was a beautiful, talented, amazing person. Her loss, and the loss of so many friends and kindred souls in that demon fire, diminishes me and the rest of the communal dance community.  I’m grief-stricken.  

Apollo

The Ghost Ship artist collective is not to blame for the fire. Oakland’s housing crisis is

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Faces of the missing from the Oakland warehouse fire (L-R) Nex Iuguolo, Chelsea Faith, Ara Jo, Micah Danemayer

Everyone has been anxiously searching for answers about the cause of the horrifying fire that broke out on Friday, December 2, in an artist warehouse set to host the “Golden Donna 2016 Silk West Coast Tour.” As confirmed so far, the fire has claimed the lives of 30 people.

The death toll expected to reach as high as 40, according to authorities.

In between the need for locals to alert loved ones about their safety, health and well-being in light of what’s happened, there is a growing mainstream narrative that looks to pin the blame for this tragedy on the culture of the artists who inhabit the building.

Outlets such as CNN and DailyNews are making it a point to emphasize that residents were living in this warehouse illegally and making commercial use of it without a permit.

While mainstream media is intent on painting a portrait of irresponsible artists/ravers who should’ve never opted to reside inside the warehouse in the first place, no one is asking the larger question of why these artists are forced to work and make a living in these specific circumstances.

Related: 14 Ways Not To Act Like A Gentrifier (As Told By One)

Even some critics on social media have managed to find fault with the culture of tenants of this artist collective — which, in so many, they describe as pathological — blaming them for the incident:

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Nowhere in their narrow-minded criticisms is a consideration of the shrinking opportunities to legally secure residential and commercial property in the city of Oakland. Breaching this issue of the ongoing property crisis in Oakland would point the finger toward systemic forces that exceed the so-called excesses and personal flaws of individual behavior.

Oakland has been ravaged by this property crisis — including gentrification — for years now. Artist collectives have been among the hardest hit by this issue. For example, the tenants of the artist collective known as the LoBot, which set up shop in industrial buildings within the lower income community of the Lower Bottoms, had its lights cut off in July, after thirteen years in operation.

As East Bay Express documents it, “The underground artist studio and venue’s landlord had discontinued its lease, and the newly doubled monthly rent was too high.”

In a curious fashion, mainstream reporters have queried aloud in their coverage about why the tenants of these warehouses do not seek permits that would allow them to legally stay in these buildings and hire the necessary services that would get the interior structures up to code. Looking closely at the problem, the answer is pretty simple: they can’t afford it. And while the responsibility of staying up to code rested upon Ghost Ship’s owner  Derick Ion, the artists living and working in the space had little to no choice but to choose between stable housing and their own safety.

According to the SFGate, the LoBot is symptomatic of a bigger concern: Oakland rests among the 4 cities with the highest rental market in the entire country:

“One bedrooms increased 19 percent in the past year to $2,190,” writes SFGate “while two bedrooms increased 13.3 percent to reach $2,550.”

In its lamentation of the Oakland housing crisis, The Guardian portrays a similar dismal predicament that is citywide in scope, writing, “For many, the only way they can stay in Oakland is to sleep in their cars or on the streets.”

But, you won’t find economic considerations of this caliber in mainstream reports, for capitalism is far more comfortable and content with catering to the lie of atomistic individualism over deadly malfunctions in the infrastructure of the system and blaming the human disasters that are consequential to these systemic calamities on the psychological shortcomings of people viewed as willingly isolated from one another to their own detriment.

For anyone interested in helping with this tragedy, you can donate to this YouCare campaign.

http://wearyourvoicemag.com/more/social-justice/housing-crisis-not-ravers-blame-oakland-fire