Ebola & Islamic Extremism: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

airport Ebola screening

Airport Ebola screening

Although American officials are making lots of reassuring noises about screening passengers coming from West Africa for signs of the dreaded Ebola virus, the truth is that the only way to totally safeguard against the spread of the disease is to close our borders entirely. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Talk about an unexpected side effect of globalization. Goods and services spread around the globe at the stroke of a keyboard or the roar of a jet engine, but the same mechanisms we celebrate as having pumped up the global economy also, potentially, have a darker side.

What was it Marx said about the bourgeoisie digging its own grave?

I keep hearing the undertone, in the media reporting on Ebola, of the “blame-the-victim” complaint, “What’s wrong with these people? Why are they living in such poverty? Why don’t they have doctors, nurses, hospitals? Look how their squalor is putting us all at risk?!”

There is truth to this. The poor folks in Liberia, Guinea and Sierre Leone, former colonies of the U.S., France and Great Britain, respectively, have not managed to modernize their societies. This is due to a number of factors, including corrupt leadership (strongmen often propped up by the Western powers), violent civil wars (armed by Western weapons manufacturers and distributors), and banana republic-style economies where Western corporations rule by extraction, extortion and exploitation, without giving anything back in taxes, infrastructure or education for the local people.

This is where the West has made its big mistake. How could we in the so-called developed world be so naïve as to think that we could ignore the poverty and suffering of other parts of the globe without that poverty and suffering coming back to haunt us?

Liberian child soldier

Liberian child soldier

If we had invested in schools, medical facilities and housing in Liberia, instead of sending endless supplies of assault rifles and ammunition, we would not be worrying about Ebola now.

Likewise, if we had invested in education and economic development in the Middle East, instead of relying corrupt warlords to keep the population in line, we would not be dealing with a seemingly endless morphing insurgency of Taliban-Al Quaeda-Islamic State terrorists.

It really is true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In a globalized society, pretending that vast disparities of wealth don’t matter is just plain stupid. Imagining that a vicious virus can be contained by airport thermometer checks is as ridiculous as imagining that an international terrorist network can be stopped by a few fly-by bombings.

The world’s leaders need to take a lesson from Malala Yousefzai, the 17-year-old girl who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her steadfast insistence, even after nearly having her head blown off by the Taliban, that girls should be educated.

Malala Yousefzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize

Malala Yousefzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace prize

Study after study has shown that when a society educates and empowers women, it becomes more economically successful and more politically stable.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

This week, in my African Women Writing Resistance class, I’ve been reading and discussing the autobiography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and first woman head of state in modern Africa.

Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, has been in the news a lot lately, begging for help in containing the spread of Ebola and warning grimly of the consequences of international inaction.

She came to office vowing to take her country back from the warlords and reintegrate child soldiers, to educate girls and boys and build a sustainable economy. She’s made great strides, but the stark pictures of the pathetic state of the nation’s health care infrastructure make it clear how far Liberia, like other poor African nations, still has to go.

The bottom line is this: if we want safety, we have to build towards it, step by step, from the ground up. We can’t ignore poverty and then get mad when impoverished sick people dare to infect us, or when desperate people turn to radical Islam as a way out of their misery.

Child worker on Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia

Child worker on Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia

There is no excuse, in our globalized world, for the dramatic disparities of wealth and poverty that exist today. Those of us lucky enough to live comfortably in the U.S. or Europe should be using our privilege to advocate for those less fortunate.

Not just out of altruism. Out of self-preservation, too.

If we had been helping Liberia and other West African nations build good social infrastructure, instead of extracting profits from diamonds, rubber and gun sales, we would not be worrying about the spread of Ebola today.

If we had been educating children in Syria, Yemen and Iraq instead of supporting corrupt dictators and ignoring the plight of ordinary people, we would not be facing the spread of Islamic extremism today.

How many innocent humans will have to die before we begin to understand that simple adage? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Unplugged

I’m now in the middle of my annual summer retreat to the LaHave Islands in Nova Scotia, Canada, and it’s no exaggeration to say I feel like a different person than the harried, exhausted woman who packed up and headed north on the highway three weeks ago.

I am sleeping better—my dreams are lucid and intriguing, with elaborate narrative plots that I enjoy following even if I lose the thread when I wake up.

moonrise

I am writing again—going back to the manuscript of my memoir with fresh eyes and tightening, tweaking, reworking the introduction over and over until (I think) I get it right.

I am reading for pleasure—yes, you heard right! After a long school year in which, as a professor of literature and media studies, I could read only to prep classes, I am indulging in the guilty pleasure of reading mystery novels—Donna Leon’s Brunetti series, with their wonderful descriptions of Venice and Italian food.

I am spending long hours walking the empty beaches and cliffside trails, drinking in the natural beauty and letting the soothing sound of the waves banish all my worries and cares.

Gaff Point

I am enjoying adapting to the rhythm of my parents’ life, which takes me right back to my peaceful childhood, where each day was spent in a judicious measure of work, conversation, meal preparation and relaxed eating. My parents sit together at their lovely dining room table—here in Nova Scotia, with the dramatic view of the bay outside their windows, and the constant sound of the waves on the rocks in their ears—and eat three beautifully prepared and served meals a day, a routine few Americans still maintain.

frittataWhen I first arrived here three weeks ago, I thought this focus on meals took an awful lot of time and effort. But once I slowed down enough, I remembered something that my own grab-and-go existence had made me forget—just how worthwhile it is to take the time to prepare delicious meals, set a lovely table and eat in leisurely fashion, talking quietly over the day’s events. My entire body, aching and stressed when I arrived in Nova Scotia three weeks ago, is grateful.

Here on the island, where the most important questions are whether the tide is up or down and whether the fog is expected to blow out by lunchtime, life returns to its elemental rhythm, and it’s possible to feel how much is lost by the speed of our technology-dominated 21st century existence.

It’s possible to take a deep breath and remember that only 20 years ago, there was no Internet. There was no email. There were no cell phones, no smart phones, no texting. There were no digital music or video files, no VCRs or ipods, let alone streaming capabilities.

Remember what that was like? Everything moved a heck of a lot slower, that much is for sure. We wrote letters on paper and mailed them. We read books and big print newspapers that we had to schlep around with us in knapsacks. When we needed to look up a fact, we had to go to the library and look in the—get ready for it—card catalogue.

This was only twenty years ago, a mere flicker of time in the scale of human history. Imagine what a strain it is on our poor homo sapiens brains and bodies to keep up with the breakneck pace of modern digitized life, especially for those of us born and bred before the Great Digital Coming of the 1990s.

gorgeous NS copy

The brains of children born into this brave new technologized world are being wired differently. For many it is pure torture to slow down to ordinary time. Life without a screen and a wifi connection is unthinkable.

As we advance into the 21st century, I can see in my students the signs of smartphone addiction—the same nervousness and agitation, halfway through a 90-minute class, that smokers used to display in a previous generation. They have to get up and wander off to the bathroom as a pretext for checking in with the virtual world they crave.

I too get addicted during the course of the school year. I check email constantly and Facebook several times a day; I spend more time on the screen than I do out in the garden or walking in the woods or preparing meals and eating them with friends and family.
Only now, when I’m on a media holiday with my email vacation message set, can I appreciate the toll this society-wide digital addiction takes on each of us as individuals, and on human society writ large.

Yes, I love the power and reach of the Internet as much as the next person. I love being able to write my blog, send it out over wifi and have people all across the world reading it in a moment’s time. When my blog readership surpassed 100,000 visitors from more than 200 countries last month, I was thrilled.

But for deep thinking and sustained writing, I need to get away from that kaleidoscopic virtual reality and get in tune with the more primal rhythms of sunset and moonrise, tides flowing in and out again, seagulls soaring over the mermaid dive of a seal fishing quietly by the rocks.

eye of the hurricane 2014

Even if the closest thing to nature you can get is a city park, try spending a couple of hours there without your smart phone, and see what you notice. Watch how your breathing slows down and your tired, overworked brain relaxes when all it has to focus on is trees and bushes, maybe a sparrow or pigeon or two.

We don’t need expensive meditation retreats, yoga classes or far-flung vacations. We just need to give ourselves permission to unplug for a while.

In the Body of the World: Cancer as Catalyst for Revolution

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler

I have been reading Eve Ensler’s incredibly powerful cancer memoir, In the Body of the World, with my students this week.  We watched Ensler’s 2010 TED Talk, “Suddenly My Body,” given while she was still practically bald from the chemo treatments; and you could have heard a pin drop in the room, everyone was so swept away by Ensler’s passionately delivered paean to the intricate interconnections between the individual body and what she later came to call “the body of the world.”

This is a concept I have most often heard expressed in Buddhist circles.  Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama talk about “inter-being,” and how it is egotistical, arrogant, androcentric and just plain wrong for human beings to imagine that we are somehow separate, over and above other livings beings on the planet.

Joanna Macy

Joanna Macy

Joanna Macy, extending Arne Naess’ concept of the “ecological self,” uses the body as a metaphor to describe the futility of imagining ourselves as immune from the destruction we are wreaking on our planet.

The concept of the “ecological self,” Macy says, is important now because “moral exhortation does not work.  Sermons seldom hinder us from following our self-interest as we conceive it.

“The obvious choice, then, is to extend our notions of self-interest.  For example, it would not occur to me to plead with you, ‘Don’t saw off your leg.  That would be an act of violence.’ It wouldn’t occur to me (or to you) because your leg is part of your body.  Well, so are the trees in the Amazon rain basin.  They are our external lungs.  We are beginning to realize that the world is our body” (World as Lover, World as Self, 157).

Eve Ensler has spent much of her life recovering from violence (she was a sexually assaulted and battered by her father as a child), bearing witness to violence against other women and girls, and creating powerful creative works, organizations and movements to end violence against women and girls.

And yet, she says, it was not until the jolt of realizing that her body had been invaded by cancer that she was able to overcome her ingrained alienation from her own body, born of the dissociation that was a survival tactic in her childhood.

Once she allowed herself to become fully connected with her body, it was but a short step to see the cancer in her uterus as symbolic of the much greater cancers of over-consumption and unsustainable growth afflicting the body of the world.

“Cancer is essentially built in our DNA, our self-destruction programmed into our original design—biologically, psychologically.  We spend our days, most of us consciously or unconsciously doing ourselves in.  Think building a nuclear power plant on a fault line, close to the water.  Think poisoning the Earth that feeds us, the air that lets us breathe….We are a suicidal lot, propelled toward self-eradication” (194).

But as Ensler discovers how fiercely she wants to live, to survive the cancer, she realizes that human beings are propelled as much toward life as toward death.  In a further twist of Freud’s insight into the immortal battle between Eros and Thanatos, she realizes that love is the answer—a fierce, unstoppable love for the battered, assaulted but still beautiful Earth, our mother, our home, our self.

Like Eve Ensler, I have spent much of my life focusing on the stories of women, and working to empower women to speak our truths and change the world for the better.

As I ponder the way forward now, in these end times of environmental tragedy, I am wondering whether women have a special role to play in bringing about the kind of radical social change that we need to survive into the future.

City of Joy openingEnsler uses the City of Joy, which she worked so hard to build in Bukavu, DRC (with the help of women all over the world contributing through the V-Day infrastructure), as a model for the kind of new life-giving, life-enhancing community that the world needs now.

It’s a City of Women, founded on the following ten principles:

1. TELL THE TRUTH

2. STOP WAITING TO BE RESCUED; TAKE INITIATIVE

3. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

4. RAISE YOUR VOICE

5. SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED

6. GIVE WHAT YOU WANT THE MOST

7.  FEEL AND TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH

8. USE IT TO FUEL A REVOLUTION

9. PRACTICE KINDNESS

10. TREAT YOUR SISTER’S LIFE AS IF IT WERE YOUR OWN

These seem like sound principles on which to base any human community, and particularly one founded on ashes, corpses and pain, as is the case in the Congo (but isn’t almost every human society founded, as Marx said, on blood?).

Women stay for six months at the City of Joy, during which they recover their physical and mental health with all kinds of therapies, participate in skills training, and get ready to return to their homes as leaders who can become change agents for peace and sanity in one of the most brutal and brutalized regions of the planet.

I know that there can be no lasting change that doesn’t also include men.  There can be no “City of Women” that survives past a single generation.

Eve Ensler, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Christine Deschryver, co-founders of the City of Joy.  Dr. Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist who has operated on hundreds of women and girls left incontinent by tears in their vaginas due to violent rape.

Eve Ensler, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Christine Deschryver, co-founders of the City of Joy. Dr. Mukwege is a Congolese gynecologist who has operated on hundreds of women and girls left incontinent by tears in their vaginas (fistulas) due to violent rape.

I also know that it is important to recognize and acknowledge righteous anger at those responsible for all the destruction and violence.

We have to speak the truth that in the Congo, as on Earth overall, it has been men, acting with the blessing of our patriarchal religious, political, legal and social structures, who have been responsible for the machines, technologies and brutalities that have been so destructive to individual women and men, as well as to the environment without which we cannot live.

Women have often been complicit and have enjoyed the fruits of industrialization.  Women, especially privileged women, have gone along for the ride.

But it was never the vision of women that created the weapons and bulldozers, the chain saws and cars, the nuclear power plants and oil rigs.  All of those implements were envisioned, created and deployed by the men in charge of human society—especially the Europeans and their colonized offshoots—these last few centuries.

We can’t know now whether it would have been different if women had been allowed education and access to the board rooms and laboratories and congressional chambers where society-changing decisions got made, particularly during the crucial two centuries of industrialization.

We can’t change the past.  We can only look forward and, as mandated in the City of Joy’s Guiding Principles, “stop waiting to be rescued, tell the truth, and use it to fuel a revolution.”

eve-ensler-approved-photo_193x290[1]At death’s door, Eve Ensler realized that human beings and the world we have so profoundly altered are now at the threshold of a new era.

“What is coming is not like anything we have known before,” she says. “Your dying, my dying, is necessary and irrelevant and inevitable.  Do not be afraid, no, death will not be our end.  Indifference will be, disassociation will be, collateral damage, polar caps melting, endless hunger, mass rapes, grotesque wealth.

“The change will come from those who know they do not exist separately but as part of the river….You worry about germs and stockpile your herbs, but they will not save you, nor will your fancy house or gated villages.  The only salvation is kindness.  The only way out is care” (214).

I would like to quote the entire last chapter of Ensler’s remarkable memoir, but I won’t—just go buy the book and read it for yourself.  And then, as she says, “let us turn our pain to power, our victimhood to fire, our self-hatred to action, our self-obsession to service” (216).

Unknown-1Women, it’s time for us to rise and give birth to a new human relationship with the planet and with each other.  It’s past time.

Men are most welcome to join us in this life-saving mission, as long as they are men in touch with their feminine side, their life-giving, nurturing, relational side.

All of us humans possess both masculine and feminine energies and traits.  What we need now is balance.  Balance within each one of us that can become a catalyst for the balance our planet so desperately needs.

1billion-home-india

PS: Check out this TED Talk by Eve from just before she succumbed to cancer, talking, miraculously, about the importance of the “girl cell” in both men and women.

Here come the health care refugees

It is stunning—and revolting–the depths to which ultra-conservative Republicans will go to harm their fellow Americans.  Particularly fellow Americans of color.

Living in Massachusetts, a state with an especiallly progressive health care safety net (thanks in part to the efforts of then-Governor Mitt Romney, a then-moderate Republican), I hadn’t been paying that much attention to what was happening with health care reform out in the rest of the country.

This morning’s headliner in The New York Times—“Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law”—was a real wake-up call.

How could it be that “two-thirds of poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of low-wage workers without insurance” will be left stranded by Obamacare?

Simple.  The Supreme Court, although it upheld the health care exchange idea, also allowed states to choose to opt out of the expansion of federally funded Medicaid benefits.  Even though the federal government would cover the cost of the expansion through 2016, and at least 90% of Medicaid expenses thereafter, Republican-controlled state legislatures have balked at the prospect of picking up the tab for even 10% of an expanded Medicaid program that would provide health care for millions of people in their states.

It seems they’d rather let those people suffer and die.

http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/liberalia-and-teapartystan-divide-over-the-aca/

According to The Times, “The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides.”

What would happen if those working poor, the minimum wage earners who clean those Republican legislators’ houses, take care of their children, cook their meals, and tend to their aging parents in nursing homes—what would happen if they just up and left?

I have a vision of a vast migration of health care refugees, fleeing the red states just like they did after it became clear that the end of chattel slavery did not mean the end of bondage—it just morphed into debt bondage and serfdom.

If states can say “No thanks” to Federal Medicaid coverage, citizens should be able to say “No thanks” to states.  Let’s see how they like it down in Mississippi and Alabama when there’s no one left to flip their burgers and shine their shoes.

You can run but you can’t hide

As the heat and humidity of summer bore down on my home turf of New England last week, I made a run for it, spending two days traveling northeast at breakneck speed towards the normally cool coast of Nova Scotia.

I arrived just in time for a rare heat spell here on these windy islands sticking out into the north Atlantic.

Today it was up in the 90s Farenheit, the sun golden-bright and merciless.  Too hot to go out to the beach—a day for staying in the shade and drinking lots and lots of water.

musselsThinking of having something light and cool for dinner, my son and I drove down to the store to get some mussels.

The Canadian Maritimes are a prime source of farmed mussels, and I was eagerly picturing a pot full of the glistening blue-black beauties, steamed in a fragrant shallot and wine sauce.

Ignoring the sad, dried-up looking fish at the Atlantic Superstore fish counter, I confidently asked for a 5-pound net bag of mussels, and placed it in my shopping cart.

I started walking around the store briskly, revived by the freezing air conditioning.  But I kept getting whiffs of a strange smell, like something rotten.  After a few minutes, I realized it was coming from my cart.  It was the mussels.

I returned the bag to the fish counter, where the server took it back without argument.

So much for my fantasy of a mussel dinner.

***

warnsignOn the way home, we stopped to pick up a local newspaper, and while waiting in a long hot road construction line, I noticed a small headline tucked on the inside pages: “Shellfish Harvesting Suspended Due to Red Tide.”

My son and I looked at each other in dismay.  We had already noticed, on our first walk on our normally pristine local beach, that the water was a strange rusty-red color.

We had noticed too that there seemed to be fewer seabirds around, and that when we went down to the rocks to look for the normally numerous crabs, we could hardly find any.

We had been planning to go clamming over the weekend, out on the mud flats at low tide.

That plan would have to go the way of the mussel dinner.

When we got home, we went to the Internet to look up Red Tide, learning that it was more properly known as Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB), and that it was almost ubiquitous along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, especially during the summer.

We learned that eating shellfish that have been harvested from HAB water can cause “paralytic toxic poisoning” in humans, characterized by gastrointestinal and respiratory distress.  Good thing I left those stinking mussels at the Superstore!

HABs have disastrous effects on other species like fish, waterfowl, dolphins, whales, and seals.

If I can’t eat mussels I may be piqued, but I can find something else just as good to eat on land.

Ocean denizens have no such options. I began to picture cormorants and seagulls with bad tummy aches.  No wonder we’d seen very few of the big blue herons that used to be so numerous in the salt marshes.

 ***

Red Tide - Mary Mackin 2My admittedly superficial Internet search did not bother to mention the cause of harmful algae blooms, speaking of them as an inconvenient fact of life, like a rip tide or a thunderstorm.

While HABs are sometimes natural, there is nothing normal about the dramatic spike in coastal red tides we’ve been seeing for the past 25 years or so.  They are part of the same phenomenon that causes the dead zones around the mouths of rivers that run through densely populated agricultural regions.  This summer, scientists are forecasting the largest dead zone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico—some 8,500 square miles.

It’s human and animal sewage and fertilizer run-off that upsets the natural chemical balance of the coastal waters, feeding the destructive algae at the expense of everything else.

What we humans break, we can also fix.  We could fix this problem if we wanted to.  But I found mention only of closing shellfish beds to harvesting, not of trying to turn the entire problem around by reducing the amount of shit we allow to run off into the sea.

***

I thought that up here in Nova Scotia I might be able to escape from the relentless, depressing awareness of the cascading, ever-quickening destabilization of the natural world.

That’s just another little fantasy I’ll have to give up.  There’s nowhere to run, much less to hide.

Living with fear

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, I have been doing some thinking about fear.

I am no stranger to anxiety.  When I was a kid, between the ages of about 8 and 12, I suffered terrible anxiety attacks whenever I had to be separated from my mother.  I worried something would happen to her, and although I had a loving father, brother and extended family, I felt like I would be totally unable to cope with losing her.

When she would go out for the evening, I would get a full-blown anxiety attack, complete with hyperventilation, nausea and panic.  It wouldn’t subside until she was back home safe, and it was not rational—there was nothing she or anyone else could say to calm me down.  I just had to live through it, over and over, until finally, as I moved into puberty, the fear dissipated and went away.

Sometimes I have wondered whether this was related to a past-life experience.  Did I lose my mother in a previous life?  Was I left alone and unprotected?

Is it possible, as Linda Hogan and others have suggested, that we can be haunted by ancestral legacies of violence?

Both of my sons also suffered from irrational fear during their childhoods.

My older son went through a period of terrible night terrors, where he would sleep-walk under the influence of gut-wrenching anxiety and sobbing fear, not calming down until we managed, with great difficulty, to wake him up from whatever nightmare was possessing him.

He would not remember the episode in the morning, and would be sheepish when we’d tell him what had happened; in his waking life, he was calm and unencumbered by fear.  He hasn’t had one of these night terror attacks for about five years now.

My younger son developed a stutter and a nervous twitch in his early childhood, and would cry and talk about being almost paralyzed with what he called “worry.”  No amount of rational talking-through made any difference; he could not explain what he was afraid of, he was just deeply, inchoately fearful.

Mt. Greylock, MA; summer 2012

Mt. Greylock, MA; summer 2012

One day, when he was about five, I decided to take him on a long hike up a tall mountain, and we picked up small rocks along the way.  When we got to the top, I told him we were going to throw his worries over the edge of the mountain cliff, and they would be gone and leave him alone.  A smile lit up his face, and he began chucking the rocks off the cliff with intensity.  That day he was happy, and slowly, over the next couple of years, his unexplained anxiety did lift.

What’s perplexing to me about this “family anxiety” is that none of it has any basis in actual trauma.

Each of us did experience a minor trigger, it’s true.

I was separated from my mother when I was seven, for about two weeks, after a car accident landed her in the hospital; but then she came home and was fine.

My older son attributes his night terrors to an incident where he accidentally locked his younger brother, an infant, in the car on a very hot day, and the police had to come and break into the car to get the baby out.  But we were all fine, and of course we absolved the older child of any blame, it was just an innocent mistake.

My younger son developed asthma after an incident of severe pneumonia at seven months, and he was always afraid of the hospital, with the dark x-ray room, the menacing machines, and the possibility of separation from his parents.

But these are such minor precipitating incidents, compared to, say, the shock of bearing witness to a massacre, or living through a rape or domestic violence.

I can’t claim to have any inside knowledge of the kind of traumatic stress that survivors of serious violence must deal with, but having been taken for a ride by severe, irrational anxiety, I can sympathize deeply.

The truth is that all of us, in today’s hyper-linked media age, are living with the scars of bearing repeated witness to violence.

One of our greatest strengths as human beings is our imagination.  Put our active imaginations together with our empathy, and it should be no surprise to find that so many of us are feeling in our own bodies the fear and anxiety that are properly part of others’ experience, not our own.

How many murders and massacres, real and fictional, have we witnessed through the news and entertainment media?  How many times have we watched homes being bombed, people being shot, crazy predators on the loose?

The presence of 300 million guns in civilian hands in the U.S. does not make me feel safe.  It makes me feel afraid—and this time, the fear is rational.

IMG_0740

Staring down the crystal ball

I really want to believe it’s all a hoax.

Why else would not one mainstream media outlet be reporting on the massive danger posed by the unused fuel rods in Fukushima Reactor 4?

Today I learned (through a link posted by on Facebook by my friend, the author Susan Griffin) that a group of high-level scientists, diplomats and civil society organizations has issued an urgent call to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, requesting U.N. leadership in an international effort to stabilize the fuel the wrecked Fukushima plant.

This call has been endorsed by U.S. Senator Roy Wyden, who visited the plant in April and reiterated the call for urgent international action.

If the fuel in the plant were released into the atmosphere, which would be almost inevitable in the event of another earthquake, “this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cesium-137 released by the Chernobyl accident,” according to the letter to Secretary Ban.

Fukushima burning

Given the climatological realities of wind and ocean currents, this could potentially put hundreds of millions of people at risk of radiation poisoning—not to mention the devastating effects on flora and fauna.

Remember the reports of thousands seals with fatal skin lesions washing up in the Arctic? Apparently polar bears and whales are also known to be affected.

Imagine that multiplied tenfold, and affecting not just marine life, but humans as well.

And then ask yourself, why is only one U.S. Senator engaged with this issue?

Why are we frittering away our precious time on White House Correspondents Dinners and sports events, when in so many ways our future hangs in the balance, connected by a very short fuse to multiple forms of total catastrophe?

Sometimes I look down at my peacefully sleeping dog and think, maybe he has the right idea.

Why fret and worry about the future?  It will come soon enough…might as well enjoy life while it lasts.

But that is what separates us humans from other species.  We can see into the future.  We can spin out possible future scenarios based on how we act today.

And given these crystal balls of ours, can we really in good conscience shrug our shoulders and head off peacefully to bed?

From Big Tobacco to Big Corn: the time to stand up for the right to health is NOW

Two years ago, I was taking multiple steroid inhalers every day for asthma, which began in the aftermath of a couple of bouts of pneumonia, and was always accompanied by typical seasonable allergy issues—coughing, sneezing, runny nose.

In the summer of 2010, in addition to the usual asthma and allergy symptoms, I also came down with a severe intestinal infection, requiring antibiotics to overcome.

When, in the wake of the course of antibiotics, my digestion was still troubled, I decided to experiment and see if removing gluten from my diet made any difference.

Lo and behold!  After just a month without gluten, my intestinal issues made huge progress.  And even more impressively–and completely unexpectedly–my asthma and allergies also disappeared.

When, after a while, I also decided to give up meat, except for the occasional small portion of chicken, the results were nothing short of miraculous.

Longstanding feelings of intestinal bloating disappeared overnight.  Bleeding hemorrhoids totally cleared up.  And the asthma and allergies, which had sometimes been so severe that I ended up in the ER begging for more drugs, were gone for good.

This remarkable shift in my own personal health, as a result of giving up meat and gluten, really makes me wonder.

Why is it that the gluten-free market is one of the fastest growing packaged food sectors right now?

Why are so many of us getting sick from our food supply?

Could it have something to do with the fact that most of our nation’s food supply is produced by industrial agriculture, relying on GMO seeds, as well as herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides in the growing process, not to mention all kinds of preservatives once the corn and wheat is on its way to the table?

I am heartened by the news that hundreds of thousands of farmers and consumers are pressuring the USDA to reject Dow AgroScience’s 2,4,D-resistant corn.

It is high time that all of us stood up to Big Ag and said enough is enough!  Why should we have to spend top dollar to buy organic, when the truth is that all food should be produced in an organic and sustainable manner?

Big Ag will reply that it would be too expensive to produce tons of corn, wheat and soybeans–not to mention beef and pork– organically.

But you know what?  Being sick is very expensive.  Health care is a huge drain on our national economy, as anyone who has been paying attention knows.

Could it be that the industrial agriculture/pharmaceutical/insurance conglomerates actually want a sick populace?

Imagine the outrage if that story were to break.

Imagine if it were proven that the incredible spike in autistic children is due to pesticide poisoning.

Imagine if we could prove that the asthma epidemic in this country is due to auto-immune problems generated by toxic food.

Imagine if we could nail the chemical companies for the explosive growth in cancers, diabetes and heart disease!

I don’t think this is far-fetched at all.

In fact, it’s low-hanging fruit for a cadre of well-trained lawyers with the guts to go up against the big bad guys.

In our parents’ generation, it happened with Big Tobacco.

The evidence is staring us in the face.

What are we waiting for?

Round up the chemicals–for our children’s sake

When I was pregnant with my second son, born in 1998, I was living out in the country in a small house next to my parents’ bigger house.  My son was born in late August, and all through that third trimester I spent a lot of time outside.

In those years, my mother had the habit of having her pebble driveway sprayed with Round-up a few times during the summer to keep the grass and weeds at bay.  Since the pebbles came right up by the front door of our little house, the Round-up was there too.  I complained to her that it was toxic, bad for our pets, not to mention us, but it took many years for her to pay enough attention to this issue to rate health more highly than a neat appearance for the driveway.

I was thinking about this today as I read the news that finally, at long last, the medical research establishment is beginning to go public in announcing the link between the use of Round-up, skyrocketing rates of autism among children, and colony collapse disorder among bees.

My mother will remember that when my second son was born, we began to worry about him when, by his second and third month of life, he was still not making eye contact, and not returning a smile. He was a sweet, calm baby who slept and ate well, and loved to be cuddled…but unlike his older brother, who was laughing and smiling in his first month, he had a curious detachment about him that was unsettling.

Just like everyone knows someone with cancer, everyone knows someone who has had the hardship of bringing up an autistic child.  It’s a heartbreaker, and in those early months with my second son I was truly frightened that I might be in for that kind of ride with him.

And then, just like that, he started to smile, make eye contact, and all was well.

Could it be that his development was delayed because of the local spraying of Round-up during the last months of my pregnancy with him?

Recent research suggests that this is quite possible indeed.

It’s common knowledge that the Monsantos and Dows of the world use their immense fortune to suppress negative research when at all possible.

Source: U.S. Center for Disease Control

But at this point, with our bee population in serious crisis and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) telling us that 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with autism (a figure that does not include all the many, many children who are diagnosed “on the spectrum” with some form of mental impairment), it is impossible for the corporate honchos to keep the lid on this story any longer.

It is an international scandal, bigger even than the Big Tobacco scandals of a generation ago, because in this case there is no way that a defense team could argue that it is a child’s choice to expose herself to toxic chemicals.

France, Germany, Italy and other European countries have already taken steps to ban these harmful pesticides and herbicidesThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, finally acting under extreme pressure from concerned citizens, is in the process of “reconsidering” its approval for “Poncho,” one of the most dangerous pesticides, proven to have a negative impact on bees.

Dr. Brian Moench, President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists this week had the courage to defy Big Ag and describe—I believe for the first time—the missing link between bee colony collapse disorder, human autism, and widespread toxic chemical use in agriculture.

In an article published Monday on Common Dreams, Dr. Moench wrote: “The brain of insects is the intended target of these insecticides.  They disrupt the bees homing behavior and their ability to return to the hive, kind of like “bee autism.”   But insects are different than humans, right?   Human and insect nerve cells share the same basic biologic infrastructure.  Chemicals that interrupt electrical impulses in insect nerves will do the same to humans.  But humans are much bigger than insects and the doses to humans are  miniscule, right?

“During critical first trimester development a human is no bigger than an insect so there is every reason to believe that pesticides could wreak havoc with the developing brain of a human embryo.   But human embryos aren’t out in corn fields being sprayed with insecticides, are they?  A recent study showed that every human tested had the world’s best selling pesticide, Roundup, detectable in their urine at concentrations between five and twenty times the level considered safe for drinking water.”

Just down the road from the house where I lived while pregnant with my second son are fields of corn that are maintained by a local farmer.  It’s nowhere near the scale of agriculture in the Midwest or California, but still, if the wind was blowing while they were spraying the herbicides and pesticides in the spring, or while they were harvesting the corn in the fall, we would certainly be inhaling a toxic brew, that undoubtedly found its way into our well water.

And that’s beside the voluntary Round-up spraying of the driveway, and the fact that in those days I was not aware enough to be making a strong effort to buy organic fruits and vegetables, and avoid commercial meat.

So all in all I must consider myself and my family very lucky to have so far avoided autism or cancer.

This should not be left to luck.  Allowing Monsanto, Dow and the other agricultural chemical companies to continue to profit from poisoning our land and our food supply is absolutely unconscionable.

It’s even worse than allowing the cigarette industry to advertise to young people, which we no longer permit.

The bees are the canaries in the gold mine, and they’re dropping fast.

Are we going to delay until the statistics tell us that 1 in 50 children in the U.S. are born autistic?

This is a national and international outrage that must be addressed now.

Occupy Health–Our Planet’s, Our Own–this May Day

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the premise of the new health care law, which is that all Americans should buy health insurance so that the healthy can help subsidize the sick.

I don’t hear anyone whining about the fact that we are all required to buy car insurance, even though many of us, like me, hardly ever have cause to use it.

Health insurance could and should operate under the same principle. If everyone pays their share, the costs will also be shared.

And the so-called individual health insurance mandate will most likely be much less expensive for society in the long run, since it will result in increased preventive care and far fewer expensive emergency room visits.

Of course a universal single-payer system—Medicare for all—would be much better than the “free-market” insurance system that is under discussion today.  But at least having everyone insured, with subsidies to help those who can’t afford to pay, is a good step in the right direction.

The new law also prevents insurance companies from denying people health care because they’re sick, a truly barbaric Americanism, and allows families to continue to cover their children’s insurance up to age 26.  Who could argue with that?

The truth is that our nation could easily afford to cover all its citizens’ health care, and then some, if we took several crucial steps:

  • Properly tax the rich: close tax loopholes, tax financial transactions, make a genuine commitment to closing the abyss between the 10% at the top and everyone else.
  • Shut down the war machine; spend money on butter, not guns—or better yet, on organic vegetables that will keep people healthy.  It’s insane to put so many trillions into weapons aimed at blowing people up, and then throw a hissy fit about government spending on keeping people healthy.
  • Raise the minimum wage substantially, so that people can afford to eat healthy food, live a healthy lifestyle, and buy own their health insurance policies.

We live in a nation besieged with ill health.  From cancer to diabetes to heart disease and asthma, not to mention depression, ADHD and autism, we are a country of chronically ill people.  I blame much of this on the toxic food that has been sold to us over the past 60 years, since the end of World War II, by the industrial agriculture and food packaging giants, which have irresponsibly poisoned our waters, air, soil—and our bodies.

The powers that be want us to believe that the solutions are very, very complicated. So much so that we should just leave it to the experts—go back home and eat some more antibiotic-laced hamburgers, why don’t you, and watch some more mind-numbing reality TV.

Actually, it’s just the opposite. It is not complicated at all, it’s very simple.

We the people pay our taxes so that our government will work for us.  We have a right to healthy food, water and air.  We have a right to health care.  We have a right to expect that our elected representatives, as well as our Supreme Court Justices, will act in our best interests.

Since the Citizens United decision, it has become starkly apparent that corporations, not people, get preference when it comes to rights.  Money talks: they have the billions to buy the politicians and the media, and the rest of us be damned.

Well, enough is enough.  This is exactly where the Occupy movement has to step in and show that Americans have not become the catatonic stooges that the media giants aimed to produce.

We know what’s going on.

We have been so, so patient. So law-abiding.  So earnestly hopeful, with each election, that things would get better.

Things have only gotten worse, and there is no end in sight.

President Obama has done far better than a President McCain would have done, but he is no knight in shining armor.

No one politician can do this on his or her own.

It’s going to take the collective will of a great coalition of ordinary folks to get this nation to focus on what’s really important in this new century.

And let me tell you, it does not have to do with health insurance.

It has to do with climate.

Tonight in New England a bitter wind is blowing, and the temperature is expected to drop to the single digits, with a wind chill below zero Farenheit.  After a week of balmy summery temperatures in the 80s, the blooming trees and flowers are going to get a harsh night of frost.

This is apparently the new normal as regards our climate.  Even if we were to immediately do everything possible to slow down carbon emissions, a ship the size of our planet would take several of our little lifetimes to rectify itself.

So we need to get used to it.  And if we don’t want it to get worse—that is, absolutely uninhabitable for most current life forms—we need to roll up our sleeves and put all our intelligence to work at creating new, sustainable forms of agriculture, industry and lifestyle.

It can be done.

But not while we fritter away our precious time in begging the entrenched powers to give us some crumbs.

No, we need to unseat those powers and dramatically reorganize our social priorities.

It can be done.

May Day is coming.  It must be a day of reckoning, the gateway to a hot summer of the hard work needed to provoke serious, transformative change.

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