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

Sanders’ Social Democracy vs. Trump’s Authoritarian Doctrine

What Trump’s semi-success at the Carrier plant means for the future.

adult experienced industrial worker during heavy industry machinery assembling on production line manufacturing workshop
Photo Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky

President-elect Trump scored a remarkable victory by saving 1,000 of the 2,100 jobs that Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, were outsourcing to Mexico. During the campaign, Trump pledged to stop those jobs from leaving the country and he has come through (much credit should be given to the United Steelworkers for keeping this issue alive).

Trump used the plight of those workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, as a battering ram to pummel Hillary Clinton on trade and the loss of decent paying U.S. manufacturing jobs. Now, his partial success could lead to a mass exodus of working people from Democratic party.

The Myth of the White Working Class

Post-election pundits are propagating the false equation that “industrial workers” equals “white working class,” and that Clinton’s crushing defeat in the Rust Belt was the result of a white worker revolt against political correctness — i.e., they’re racists!

But America’s industrial workforce reflects the future, not the past. The 1,400-person Carrier workforce in Indianapolis, for example, is 50 percent African American. Women make up half of the workers on its assembly lines, and 10 percent of the employees are Burmese immigrants.

This means Donald Trump, bigot in chief, has just saved the decent-paying, unionized jobs of women, African Americans, immigrants and white workers. Look out Democrats.

Benign Neglect at the Democratic Party

Trump’s effort to save these jobs contrasts starkly with the failure of the established Democratic Party to do anything at all about such devastating plant closures. President Obama has never used his bully pulpit to mention even one of the thousands of facilities that shifted abroad under his watch. Similarly, Hillary Clinton remained silent about Carrier during her entire campaign, thereby allowing Trump to morph into the champion of the working class.

But none of that is particularly surprising given how deeply Wall Street/corporate elites are embedded within the Democratic Party. More troubling still is that party elites believe these relocations are economically justifiable.

Neoliberal ideology (the holiness of tax cuts, privatization, deregulation, and the free movement of capital) has become the conventional wisdom of the entire political establishment of both parties. The media in particular echoes the inaccurate notion that these facilities must move so that the parent company can keep up with competition. (Carrier, in fact, is leaving in order to secure more funds for stock-buybacks to enrich hedge funds and top corporate officers.) All of this capital mobility is pictured as result of globalization—a force akin to an act of God.

Virtually every article on Carrier opines that Trump’s quick fix cannot alter the technological march that surely will displace these blue collar workers. What they are really saying is the corporations have the right and obligation to move wherever and whenever they wish in order to boost profits and “shareholder value.” Mainstream economists then assure us that, overall, society is better off due lower-cost imported goods and higher value-added domestic jobs, even if a few workers are sacrificed along the way.

But a “few workers” have turned into millions of family members and members of devastated communities who have seen their lives deteriorate. They are heading Trump’s way.

Sanders to the Rescue?

Bernie Sanders saw all this coming. That’s why he challenged Clinton in the first place, and that’s why he’s now trying to capture the Democratic Party and turn it into the champion of working people against Wall Street and “the billionaire class.”

In the case of Carrier, Sanders is calling on Trump not to accept a compromise that will still allow half of the jobs to be moved to Mexico. Staying true to his radical politics, Sanders also is calling for new “Outsourcing Prevention Act” that would:

  1. Bar companies from receiving future contracts, tax breaks, grants or loans from the federal government if they have announced plans to outsource more than 50 jobs to other countries;

  2. Require all companies to pay back all federal tax breaks, grants and loans they have received from the federal government over the last decade if they outsource more than 50 jobs in a given year;

  3. Impose a tax on all companies that outsource jobs. The tax would be equal to the amount of savings achieved by outsourcing jobs or 35 percent of its profits, whichever is higher.

  4. Prohibit companies that offshore jobs from enriching executives through golden parachutes, stock options, bonuses, or other forms of compensation by imposing stiff tax penalties on this compensation.

Reactionary versus Progressive Populism

The stage is set for an epic struggle between Trump’s right wing populism and Sanders-style social democracy. The corporate-driven Democrats may soon be irrelevant. Either they go along with Sanders and compete for the allegiance with working people, or they get pummeled by more working class defections to Trump’s brand of populism.

Sanders believes that neoliberalism is heart of our problem — that it leads to runaway inequality, a rigged political system, an exploitative Wall Street, and the full-scale assault on the living and working conditions of working people — black, brown, white, gay and straight. That system, he believes, also leads to the dramatic rise of incarceration, urban and rural poverty, and the stalling of real wages for the vast majority of the population.

Sanders understands we only can win significant social democratic reforms if we link together the full set of victims (most of the 99%). He’s talking about the kind of programs that will appreciably improve our lives — free higher education, single-payer health care, a major attack on climate change, massive public job creation, real criminal justice and immigration reform, a Wall Street speculation tax and now the Outsourcing Prevention Act.

Getting it Right

It’s too late to take the Carrier victory away form Trump. It won’t work to belittle Trump by claiming it only covers 1,000 jobs, or that too many public tax breaks were tossed to the corporation, or that globalization will eventually make those jobs go away. One thousand jobs means 1,000 families who will not see their incomes slashed in half, or worse. More importantly it means hope, that maybe outsourcing to low-wage countries can be ameliorated.

As a result, Sanders is making a difficult request both of the Democratic Party, and of progressive activists in general. He is asking us to place working people at the center of our work: “The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”

To get there, Sanders is fanning a contentious debate: He argues that the current practice of identity politics is not a complete political program. As he bluntly stated, “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”

So what does this mean for the efforts of tens of thousands of progressive activists who are deeply engaged in halting climate change, preventing police violence, securing equal rights the LGBTQ community, protecting immigrants, and working on a myriad of other significant causes?

Sanders implies that for any of us to succeed, we all must join the fight to enhance the lives of working people. No matter what our priority issue, we will need to devote time and resources to fight for universal programs that lift us all up. In short, we have to expand our issue silos so that fighting Wall Street and the billionaire class can link us together.Sanders could not be clearer: Either we become a broad-based class movement or we lose. The choice is ours, not Trump’s.

 

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (J. Wiley and Sons, 2013).

 

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/carrier-plant-jobs?akid=14975.265072.Got96S&rd=1&src=newsletter1068440&t=4

Will Trump Start a War on China?

WORLD

More than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships—and nukes.

puzzle with the national flag of united states of america and china .concept
Photo Credit: esfera/Shutterstock

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past 8 on the morning of August 6, 1945, her silhouette was burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, disappeared, a political embarrassment.

I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way, in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.

The great danger this beckons is not news, nor it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.

Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.

To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia,” which meant that almost two-thirds of U.S. naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one U.S. strategist, “the perfect noose.”

A study by the RAND Corporation (which has planned America’s wars since Vietnam) is titled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the authors evoke the Cold War when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn — “thinking the unthinkable.” Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the United States: the militarists and neo-conservatives in the executive, the Pentagon, the intelligence and “national security” establishment and Congress.

The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says U.S. policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us.”

For all the attempts to detect a departure in foreign policy, this is almost certainly the view of Donald Trump, whose abuse of China during the election campaign included that of “rapist” of the American economy. On December 2, in a direct provocation of China, President-elect Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province of the mainland. Armed with American missiles, Taiwan is an enduring flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States,” wrote Amitai Etzioni, professor of international affairs at George Washington University, “is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.”  This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons.”

The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war.”

In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. “The United States,” it says, “has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States.”

In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.”  China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However, “for the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack … This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy … Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”

Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of U.S. naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”

“That’s an understatement.”

In 2015, in considerable secrecy, the U.S. staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB — blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is such a provocation, and the fear of a U.S. Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and could be traced to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the U.S. military bases closed in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands—which lie more than 7,500 miles from the United States—a threat to U.S. “national security” and to “freedom of navigation.”

Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement with the U.S. This established five rotating U.S. bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.

The election of Rodrigo Duterte in April has unnerved Washington. Calling himself a socialist, he declared, “In our relations with the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy” and noted that the United States had not apologized for its colonial atrocities. “I will break up with America,” he said, and promised to expel U.S. troops. But the U.S. remains in the Philippines, and joint military exercises continue.

In 2014, under the rubric of “information dominance”—the jargon for media manipulation, or fake news, on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion—the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to “freedom of navigation.”

CNN led the way, its “national security reporter” reporting excitedly from on board a U.S. Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands “to see how the Chinese would react.” None of these reporters questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep.

The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the US military commander in Asia and the Pacific. “My responsibilities,” he told the New York Times, “cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins.” Never was imperial domination described as pithily.

Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq and much of the Middle East. In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was “ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China …If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery … and all our partners with their artillery.”

These “partners” include South Korea, the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea. As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.

In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to “tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea”. The imagery was front page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious “partner”; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the media are integrated into what is known as the “alliance”. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government “dignitary” is not uncommon.  The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.

Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, “confronting China” is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. “You in Australia are with us come what may,” said one of the architects of the Vietnam war, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important U.S. bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.

In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesman of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that “operational decisions” in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.

This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup — is reflected in the record $5 trillion America has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.

The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.

There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.

A popular Okinawan anti-base movement has been growing since a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by U.S. troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance has seen the election of Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s “peace constitution.”

The resistance includes Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The U.S. wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. “We have a choice,” she said, “silence or life.” As we gathered peacefully outside the U.S. base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.

Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi- tropical sanctuary  and World Heritage Site declared “an island of world peace.” On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for U.S. aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.

A people’s resistance to these war preparations has been a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.

One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me, “I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons, no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.”

I flew from Jeju to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the “man who changed China,” was the “paramount leader.” Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.

China presents exquisite ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today it stands in the heart of a capitalist shipping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada. Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. “China must industrialise,” he wrote, “This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.”

Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington “when the catatonic Cold War trance,” wrote the critic James Naremore, “held our country in its rigid grip.”

The fake mainstream news that once again presents China as a threat is of the same mentality.

The world is inexorably shifting east; but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The “New Silk Road” is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe. The world’s leader in rail technology, China is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kms an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity, and along the way is uniting China and Russia.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Barack Obama, evoking the fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Under the liberal Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable.”

In September, the Atlantic Council, a mainstream U.S. geopolitical thinktank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world “marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war.” The new enemies were a “resurgent” Russia and an “increasingly aggressive” China. Only heroic America can save us. There is a demented quality about this war-mongering. It is as if the “American Century” — proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine — has ended without notice and no one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.

 

John Pilger‘s documentaries have won Academy Awards in both the U.K. and the U.S. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/will-trump-start-war-china

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

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

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI is going to decimate middle class jobs

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British scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking gives his ‘The Origin of the Universe’ lecture to a packed hall December 14, 2006 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Hawking suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrigs disease), which has rendered him quadriplegic, and is able to speak only via a computerized voice synthesizer which is operated by batting his eyelids. David Silverman/Getty Images

Artificial intelligence and increasing automation is going to decimate middle class jobs, worsening inequality and risking significant political upheaval, Stephen Hawking has warned.

In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that“the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines.

Technology has already gutted many traditional manufacturing and working class jobs — but now it may be poised to wreak similar havoc with the middle classes.

A report put out in February 2016 by Citibank in partnership with the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. In the UK, 35% are. In China, it’s a whopping 77% — while across the OECD it’s an average of 57%.

And three of the world’s 10 largest employers are now replacing their workers with robots.

Automation will, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.”

Combined with other issues — overpopulation, climate change, disease — we are, Hawking warns ominously, at “the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.

Stephen Hawking has previously expressed concerns about artificial intelligence for a different reason — that it might overtake and replace humans. “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said in late 2014. “It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

 

 

http://www.businessinsider.com/stephen-hawking-ai-automation-middle-class-jobs-most-dangerous-moment-humanity-2016-12?r=UK&IR=T

Trump outlines right-wing program of extreme nationalism at Cincinnati rally

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By Joseph Kishore and Jerry White
2 December 2016

In a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio on Thursday night, US President-elect Donald Trump outlined the right-wing program of extreme “America First” nationalism of the incoming administration.

The Cincinnati speech was unlike any delivered by a president or president-elect in US history. It was a combination of blatant contradictions, exaggerations, wild hyperbole, empty demagogy and praise for himself as the man who would fix all the problems facing the country. It combined threats against political enemies with pledges to work with anyone and everyone to overcome gridlock and restore American jobs.

While couched in rhetoric about protecting the “American worker,” Trump’s policy proposals centered on massive tax cuts to corporations and deregulation, combined with increasing the size of the military, expanding police powers and sharply curtailing immigration. During the rally Trump also announced that his choice for secretary of defense is retired general James “Mad Dog” Mattis.

Trump’s remarks were clearly shaped and likely written by Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News who has ties to fascistic organizations. Bannon has called for the formation of a new “movement”—a term Trump repeated throughout his remarks—based on economic nationalism and opposition to “globalists.”

A major theme was the need to “unify” the nation in opposition to Washington politicians who have subordinated “American interests” to foreign powers. “There is a lot of talk about how we are becoming a globalized world,” Trump said, “but the relationships people value in this country are local… There is no global anthem, no global currency, no certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag, and that is the American flag.”

“From now on it is going to be America First,” Trump added. “We are going to put ourselves first… Our goal is to strengthen the bonds between citizens, to restore our sense of membership in a shared national community.”

As was the case during his campaign for president, Trump made a demagogic appeal to social anger over declining wages and social inequality. “Our government has failed to protect the interests of the American worker,” he said. “A shrinking workforce and flat wages are not going to be the new normal.”

There is a vast chasm between this empty populist rhetoric and the personnel that Trump has selected to populate his government. The speech followed a series of cabinet picks, including billionaire asset strippers, Wall Street bankers, and dedicated opponents of financial and corporate regulations, public education and Medicare and Medicaid, to lead the Treasury, Commerce, Education and Health and Human Services departments.

For all his talk of national “unity,” a Trump administration will be one of brutal class war. Trump’s “action plan” is centered on freeing corporations from any restraints on profit-making and exploitation. “Right now we punish companies for doing business in America,” he said. To bring back jobs, the new administration would “massively lower taxes, and make America the best place in the world to hire, to invest, to grow, to create and to expand.”

He added that he would “eliminate every single wasteful regulation that undermines the ability of our workers and our companies to compete with companies from foreign lands.”

Trump touted the deal with Carrier to continue production at its Indianapolis factory, which Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies Corp. (UTC), planned to shut by 2019 and shift production to Mexico. Carrier will retain only 800 of the 1,400 production workers at the plant, and the deal also sanctions the closure of the UTC factory in Huntington, Indiana, which will wipe out the jobs of another 700 workers.

In discussions late last month, Trump told UTC CEO Gregory Hayes that his plans to slash corporate taxes and gut labor, health and safety and environmental regulations would prove far more profitable for the company than the $65 million in annual savings it would gain from shifting production overseas. In exchange for the deal, Carrier was given another $7 million in state tax cuts and other subsidies. It is also likely that UTC, a major defense contractor, was promised even larger contracts under a Trump presidency.

Trump reiterated his proposal for major infrastructure projects, a plan that would be a boondoggle for corporations and essentially hand over public infrastructure to private companies. These measures, combined with greater restrictions on trade, would “usher in a new industrial revolution.”

Trump combined his program of tax cuts and deregulation with a call for sharp restrictions on immigration. “We will restore the sovereignty of the United States,” he said. “We will construct a great wall at the border” and “liberate our communities from the epidemic of gang violence and drugs pouring into our nation.”

Trump said little on foreign policy, except to criticize the $6 trillion spent on wars in the Middle East. He also said the US should “stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments” and instead focus on “rebuilding our country.” Under a Trump administration, he asserted, the US “will seek shared interests wherever possible and pursue a new era of peace, understanding and good will.”

In fact, Trump’s “America First” nationalism will be accompanied by a massive escalation of military violence. In his speech, Trump pledged a “national effort to build our badly depleted military” and called for a major campaign to “destroy ISIS.”

More significant is the selection of Mattis as secretary of defense. Mattis is a fanatic anti-Islamic militarist who played a significant role in the US invasion of Afghanistan and led the brutal 2004 assault on Falluja, Iraq. Speaking of his experiences in Afghanistan, Mattis said in 2005 that “it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

While leading US Central Command under Obama from 2010 to 2013, Mattis was critical of the White House for not waging war aggressively enough in the Middle East and for being too conciliatory toward Iran.

In an indication of the dominance of the military in a Trump administration, Mattis would be the first ranking general to be defense secretary since George Marshall in 1950–51. Federal law stipulates that generals must be retired for seven years before leading the Pentagon, but Mattis is expected to get a waiver from Congress. He has the support of Senate Republicans, including Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mattis will work closely with Trump’s national security advisor, another retired general, Michael Flynn.

The unions and the Democratic Party have praised Trump, echoing his economic nationalism and echoing the lie that the billionaire real estate mogul, who will head up the most right-wing government in history, is a champion of the working class.

US Senator Joe Donnelly (Democrat-Indiana) said he hoped to work with Trump to “build on momentum created by your agreement with United Technologies” and adopt a federal “outsourcing” proposal that would “deny and claw back certain tax benefits to companies that move jobs offshore.” Directing his comment at Trump, he added, “I strongly encourage you to make it clear that efforts to ship jobs offshore to chase cheap wages will be addressed head on by the Trump Administration. I stand ready to assist in any way possible.”

WSWS