The Food Fight of Our Lives

A photoshopped image of a green and red pear, sliced open to reveal the centre of an orange

Millions Against Monsanto

by Ronnie Cummins

• Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry’s contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We’re fighting back.

“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” – Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., Monsanto subsidiary, Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994

“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.” – Phil Angell, Monsanto communication director, New York Times, October 25, 1998

For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture, aided and abetted by indentured politicians and regulatory agencies, supermarket chains, and giant food processors.

This November, in a food fight that will largely determine the future of what we eat and what we grow, Monsanto will face its greatest challenge to date: a statewide citizens’ ballot initiative that will give Californians the opportunity to vote for their right to know whether the food they buy has GMOs.

A growing corps of food, health, and environmental activists – supported by the Millions against Monsanto and Occupy Monsanto Movements, and consumers and farmers across the nation – are boldly moving to implement mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in California through a grassroots-powered citizens ballot initiative process that will bypass the agribusiness-dominated state legislature.

Passage of this initiative on November 6 will radically alter the balance of power in the marketplace, enabling millions of consumers to identify – and boycott – genetically engineered foods for the first time since 1994, when Monsanto’s first unlabeled, genetically-engineered dairy drug, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), was forced on the US market,

This is not the first time Monsanto has been challenged by citizens’ initiatives or state and local legislative efforts. But this time, the momentum is in our favor.

In the past, GMO “right-to-know” activists have been outmaneuvered and outgunned by Monsanto and its minions in every state, except Vermont and Connecticut, where passing a labeling bill is still, at least theoretically, a long-shot. Monsanto recently threatened to sue the state of Vermont if legislators there pass a GMO labeling bill.

Efforts to pass GMO labeling laws at the federal level have gone nowhere, despite the fact that more than one million consumers have emailed “Just Label It” petitions to the FDA, demanding mandatory labeling. The FDA counted only 394 of the signatures claiming that the main petition was submitted as a single document, or docket, and therefore counted as only one signature.

The battle has been raging for decades. But this time, it’s different.

Behind this historic California initiative is a broad, growing and powerful health, environmental, and consumer coalition, which includes the Organic Consumers Association, Organic Consumers Fund, Food Democracy Now!, Mercola.com, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, LabelGMOs.org, Eden Foods, Alliance for Natural Health, Dr. Bronner’s, United Farm Workers Union, American Public Health Association, Cornucopia Institute, Institute for Responsible Technology, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, California Certified Organic Farmers, and scores of others.

This time, the industry faces informed – and alarmed – consumers who understand the danger of allowing out-of-control chemical and biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, or Dupont – the very same corporations that have assaulted us with toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals, Agent Orange, carcinogenic food additives, PCBs, and now global warming – to dictate their food choices.

Why has it taken so long to get this far? How have Monsanto and its cohorts been able to grow and maintain market supremacy while force-feeding unlabeled “Frankenfoods” to the public for decades? By buying off politicians, bullying farmers and scientists, and keeping consumers in the dark.

Monsanto has sued over 150 farmers across the US and Canada (see Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto, January 2004, Common Ground) and threatened thousands of others, for refusing to pay for “intellectual property theft” after their fields were contaminated by Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered crops.

The company has harassed and used the media to bully scientists who have exposed the public health and environmental hazards of genetically engineered foods and crops in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. The renowned scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai from the UK, was pressured and discredited for reporting on the dangers of genetic engineering until he was eventually fired from his job. The same thing happened to the UK’s Environmental Minister, Michael Meacher.

In a number of other cases, scientists such as Ignacio Chapela, have received death threats. Chapela also said he received death threats to his children from “a high government official” in Mexico after he showed contamination of native corn with Monsanto’s GMOs. Other scientists, most notably Andres Carrasco from Argentina, have been assaulted by thugs. Monsanto has even hired the notorious Blackwater mercenaries to spy on its opponents worldwide.

Why has Monsanto gone to such great lengths to thwart GMO labeling laws and initiatives? Because it understands the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs – and biotech industry profits. As soon as genetically engineered foods are labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will read these labels and react. They’ll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they’ll talk to their family and friends. They’ll switch to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers complain about GE foods and food ingredients, stores will eventually stop selling them.  Farmers will stop planting them.

In Europe, there are almost no genetically engineered crops, while here nearly 75% of all supermarket foods are GE-tainted.  Why?  Because Europe requires labeling of genetically engineered foods – and the US does not.

This is exactly why activists have launched the California Ballot Initiative. Passing mandatory GMO food labeling in just one large state, California, the eighth largest economy in the world, where there is tremendous opposition to GE foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.

Once food manufacturers and supermarkets are forced to come clean and label genetically engineered products, they will likely remove all GE ingredients, to avoid the “skull and crossbones” effect, just like the food industry in the EU has done. In the wake of this development American farmers will convert millions of acres of GE crops to non-GMO or organic varieties.

Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – under the guise of its front group, the so-called Coalition Against the Costly Food Law – are building up a massive war chest up to battle the California Ballot Initiative. They will literally spend millions to spread lies and disinformation that GMO foods and crops are perfectly safe – and that we need more, not less GMO food and biofuel crops in this era of climate change and growing population.

They will lie and say that GMO labels will be costly to the food industry and raise food prices. They will say that it is the job of the FDA to decide whether GMOs are labeled, not the states. Yet we already know that this battle will never be won in Washington DC, where Monsanto and Food Inc. lobbyists have politicians in their back pockets. It will only be won in places like California (or Vermont), vital centers of organic food and farming and anti-GMO sentiment, where 90% of the body politic, according to recent polls, support mandatory labeling.

It’s time to take back control over our food and farming system. It’s time to stand up to Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies.

Ronnie Cummins founded the Organic Consumers Association and wrote Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. You can help by contacting organicconsumersfund.org

Smart meter’s top-down agenda

A photograph of a so-called smart meter

by Josh Del Sol

• In the technetronic society, the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason. – Zbigniew Brzezinski, Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970).

When Barack Obama was just a toddler, Zbigniew Brzezinski was envisioning the day of making just such a technetronic “smart” society.

Fast-forward to 2012 and what we’re seeing is a so-called “smart” grid being forced upon an unwilling, but awakening population. This issue is unfolding with great grassroots notoriety here, as part of BC Hydro’s “smart metering” program, and unfurled simultaneously around the world.

If the people of BC and around the world allow the installation of the smart grid, democracy will fall. Tens of thousands of people in BC alone, and millions globally, are waking up to the deceit of this global agenda.

BC Hydro has recently recalled 1,000 smart meters due to their not functioning. Hundreds of thousands of BC citizens have now received Hydro bills anywhere from 30 to 1000 percent higher, following smart meter installation – increases with no real justification. It now appears possible that none of these meters measure accurately. One scenario will be a complete recall of smart meters across the province, if public outcry continues to grow.

According to BC Hydro’s figures, our cost of each smart meter in BC is approximately $555. In Quebec, where citizens now officially have a free opt-out option, the cost is $263.16 – less than half our amount. In Ontario, it is $232.56. In many US states, the cost is less than $200 per meter, including in Idaho, where no meters transmit wirelessly.

BC hydro awarded a multi-million dollar contract for smart meter installation to US multi-national giant Corix. David Emerson joined CAI (private equity) in 2008 as a senior advisor, with Corix in its “portfolio.” This is the same David Emerson who defected in 2006 to Stephen Harper’s government from the Liberals (previously Minister of Foreign Affairs) to become Minister of International Trade. Follow the dots. Would this be a conflict of interest? Emerson was executive chair of BC Transmissions Corp, chair of the BC premier’s advisory council, co-chair of the Alberta premier’s council, co-chair of the prime minister’s advisory committee. In the BC government, Emerson was the Deputy Minister of Finance, Deputy Minister to the Premier, and President of the British Columbia Trade Development Corporation. Emerson privately was CEO of Canfor Corporation, CEO of Vancouver International Airport Authority and Chairman of Canadian Western Bank. He is either extremely talented or well appointed.

In March’s Wired magazine, current CIA director David Patraeus admitted governments plan to spy on citizens through their “smart” appliances and we’ll be forced to re-think “our notions of identity and secrecy… Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost and high-power computing.”

Via the US Freedom of Information Act, researcher Angel De Fazio obtained documentation showing a $298 million grant for smart meter deployment in Nevada. One funding source was the “US Armed Forces Research and Development Projects.” The US has acknowledged its research programs around microwave radio frequency radiation and its effects on the human body and mind.

In a California lawsuit, Pacific Gas & Electric had to supply information on how frequently each smart meter transmits wirelessly. The average meter pulses 14,000 times per day, each for 4.5 milliseconds – every six seconds. Some meters pulse up to 190,000 times per day, or twice per second. Utility companies are fond of using a cumulative total (i.e.“60 seconds per day”) rather than admitting the constant emissions. These totals do not include the emissions from each wireless “smart” appliance the grid will require of us in the future, creating a veritable soup of electromagnetic radiation that the WHO calls a “class 2B potential carcinogen.”

Health concerns have led the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the Austrian Medical Association to publicly call the immediate ban of the smart metering program.

Most smart meters in BC are not yet actively transmitting; most meters are still being read manually, which means we still have time to recall the entire smart metering program in BC.

BC Hydro has stated, “We will not force you to have a smart meter.” However, it has failed to inform us we have a choice. An estimated 30,000 British Columbians have, on their own accord, notified Hydro of their non-consent (though Hydro’s public figures may still be lower) and installation has been delayed for most. Mail BC Hydro your letter of non-consent. See the templates at CitizensForSafeTechnology.org. If a smart meter has already been forced on you, you can demand to have it replaced.

For more information, see Take Back Your Power, ThePowerFilm.org

Seva Canada turns 30

Seva eye screening clinic at a school in the Gulmi District of Nepal.

Seva® Canada, an international eye care charity based in Vancouver, turns 30 this month. Since 1982, Seva Canada has restored sight and prevented blindness in the developing world. To date, Seva and its partners have given the power of sight to three million people in Tibet, Nepal, India, Guatemala, Egypt, Cambodia, Malawi, Madagascar and Tanzania. But what makes Seva different is its unique approach to international development; it empowers the people and communities where it works.

One of the few successful international development organizations, rather than provide relief, Seva supports development. When a crisis occurs in a low to middle income country, whether it is a famine or a natural disaster, many organizations rush to the area. No doubt, suffering is reduced, but the impact ends with the emergency. Seva, in contrast, is among the organizations that work in these countries before, during and after a crisis occurs. Success for Seva is when foreign intervention is not needed at all.

Other organizations coordinate medical missions, short-term stints by physicians or rotations abroad by students or residents. The physicians feel good about providing direct care to patients and improving their lives. The community continues to benefit as long as the foreign physicians are there. There is a short-term advantage to everyone with a medical mission – patients are treated, medical supplies are delivered and there is a sense of accomplishment. However, medical missions can also have negative ramifications as they do not provide an effective plan for the improvement of communities and can actually hamper long-term development and create a reliance on charities and aid resources. The missions can reduce the incentive for those communities to build their own healthcare structures and not rely on outside assistance. While medical missions make sense in emergency situations as they can provide immediate relief and also help in the education of healthcare professionals from the developed world, they can also have a negative impact.

Seva, however, focuses on development and achieving long-term change with the intent of improving the lives of people in communities, now and in the future. It involves much planning, coordination with local partners and ongoing research. With development, the goal is to build local capacity and sustainability and the work continues even after Seva is no longer involved.

Seva believes in creating local, sustainable programs that aim to reduce the dependence on outside assistance and that are culturally sensitive and available to everyone. Seva works with international partners including local organizations, community leaders and government to determine the needs of an area. Seva then lends support through planning and launching programs, training local doctors and community outreach personnel and providing technology and supplies – always with the end goal that the community will become financially self-sustaining.

Seva’s innovative sustainability model of enabling communities to care for their own through the transfer of knowledge and support means that when someone donates $1 to a program, its value is actually much greater. Imagine planting a seed. The seed grows into a tree that then seeds other trees and then a forest, all from the same $1 donation. That $1 helps provide eye care in the present and in the future; it keeps on working for the individual and the community.


Beyond the Darkness exhibit honours Seva’s work

Celebrate Seva Canada’s 30 years of restoring sight and preventing blindness in the developing world at Beyond the Darkness, a photo exhibition by the international, award winning photographer Larry Louie.

Exhibition: April 23-May 12, HSBC Pendulum Gallery, 885 West Georgia Street. Donor Reception: Thurs April 26, 6-8 pm. RSVP to admin@seva.ca. For more info about Seva, visit seva.ca or call Deanne Berman, 604-713-6622, communications@seva.ca

Photo © Ellen Crystal, www.merit2.com

Educating doctors

a big red heart-shaped pillow wrapped in a stethoscope

DRUG BUST

by Alan Cassels

The people’s briefing note on perscription drugs

• A few years ago, I was invited to be the guest on an Ottawa radio talk show, the topic being something I was well familiar with, a book I co-wrote called Selling Sickness. The book explores how the pharmaceutical industry influences regulators, physicians and patients in order to sell its treatments.

On this occasion, Steve, the show’s host, invited the station’s “house doctor” to join us. Barry, a local doctor, had his own program at that station and it soon became startlingly clear I was about to be tag-teamed. After warming me up, Barry came to the point: “How could you possibly insinuate that physicians were under the influence of pharmaceutical sales reps?” These are the salespeople working for drug companies that make personal visits to doctors, dropping off samples and otherwise ‘educating’ our physicians about new drugs. “I’m offended that you think we physicians can be so easily bamboozled by sales reps,” he spat out.

Pinned against the turnbuckles, I turned to the radio host and asked, “Steve do you own any shares in pharmaceutical companies, maybe have pharma stocks in your mutual fund portfolio?”

“Sure I do,” he said. “Well, Steve, you’re wasting your money,” I said. “You know, those companies spend upwards of $2 billion per year marketing their drugs to Canadian doctors; most of that goes to drug reps. So, Steve, if those drug rep visits ain’t having any influence on doctors, then you’ve made a poor investment. If Dr. Barry is right, pharma’s marketing model ain’t working.”

They both sputtered a bit. C’mon guys. Reality check. Does an industry this successful and this powerful invest in things that don’t work? Of course not; pharma has lots of high octane brains to invest its money where it produces the greatest return. Period. If it’s in pizza or pens, delivered by smiling drug reps, then that’s where the money’s going.

Barbara Mintzes, an epidemiologist at UBC’s Department of Anaesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics knows a thing or two about drug marketing, having studied the advertising and marketing activities of the drug industry for nearly two decades: “We know from the research that sales representatives, also known as ‘drug detailers’, have a big influence on doctors’ prescribing,” she says. “They often have much more influence than doctors realize. If doctors aren’t getting the full story [about a drug], if most of the time they hear nothing about side effects or about rare, more serious harmful effects, how can they make sure they’re prescribing safely?”

When I asked a friend, a former sales rep in Nova Scotia, he said: “Hmm, ‘good safety profile’, is about all we’d say about safety. Basically, unless they [the doctors] ask, we don’t bring up the topic.”

It’s easy to see why drug sales people are effective. Generally, they are polite, engaging and extremely good at reading people, trained to focus on the positive of their products and driven to do whatever is needed to get doctors to write their prescriptions.

Some physicians won’t see drug reps, but a 2006 survey found about two-thirds of doctors in BC see reps at least once a month and 42 percent of BC’s GPs get visited several times a week. Many doctors like the free drug samples. More than one doctor has told me that’s the only reason he sees reps. The samples are always the newest and usually the most expensive drugs on the market.

Worries about how drug reps might be biasing prescribers led researchers to think about providing doctors unbiased or academic sources of information. Thus, the concept of counter-detailing or “academic detailing” was born. The Granddaddy of this movement is Dr. Jerry Avorn, a physician and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. His 2004 book Powerful Medicines reflected on the thinking behind it: “If the pharmaceutical industry could change doctors’ prescribing patterns this way to increase sales, why couldn’t the same method be used to improve the appropriateness of drug use?”

That’s a very good question and he and his colleague Steve Soumerai set out to prove academic detailing could do what it purported to do: provide a lifeline to physicians swimming in a sea of pharmaceutical marketing spin. More than 25 years later, academic detailing programs are in place in many parts of North America, but they have hardly any effect on medical practice.

Why? Well, for one, it’s hard to change prescribing. As Dr. Avorn notes, it’s not easy to get “evidence-based, unbiased clinical knowledge” to supplant other types of information based on “tradition, superstition or mainly commercial agendas.”

The second reason is size: there are probably 100 drug sales reps for every one academic detailer in Canada. The academic side of things is simply outgunned. Despite good research that academic detailing can improve prescribing, there is little public investment in it. The first program started in Canada was here in BC, a single detailer based out of Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. That program has grown to about 10 academic detailers covering the whole province and there are also well-established programs in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. However, the big provinces of Ontario and Quebec aren’t even in the game, with the exception of a program in Hamilton. Alberta had a program but it was cut. Manitoba’s program is on life support.

The third reason, and this is my own conclusion, is that no one has made a powerful enough business case for academic detailing.

A duo of ex-pharma detailers in Atlantic Canada, who call their company Prescribed Solutions have an answer. They know the selling game well and their pragmatic approach is to visit doctors armed with drug cost-effectiveness information and teach doctors how to improve generic prescribing so that both patients and drug plans can get good drug therapy and save money.

These Atlantic Canada entrepreneurs understand that one of the most important bits of information doctors need (other than drug safety information) is comparative cost information of the drugs they prescribe. Basically, if there are 10 drugs in a class that all do the same thing, why would a doctor prescribe the most expensive brand, which could be three times the price of the proven generic? A major gap in our physicians’ knowledge is the price of drugs and prescribing an affordable drug can have huge implications on whether a person gets a script filled.

A study out last month by UBC researchers shows patients will avoid a trip to the pharmacy if they don’t think they can afford them. And for many essential drugs, that can be decidedly bad for your health.

If drug reps schmoozing in doctors’ offices are trying to get new customers through free samples and evidence exists that academic detailing is effective, leading to safer, more cost-effective use of drugs, why haven’t governments or employers – who pay for your private drug benefits – embraced it?

Because they haven’t done the math. For every one percent increase in the generic use of drugs in Canada, the private payers – those with drug coverage through the employer – save over $100 million. If Canadians used generics at the same rate as Americans, it is estimated we’d shave about $2 billion per year off our drug bill. This is not small potatoes.

Is any kind of counter-detailing even on the radar of most politicians or union executives? As far as I can tell, the only politician I’ve heard asking for more investments in academic detailing is BC’s NDP leader Adrian Dix. I think he might be on to something.

If provincial governments are all about creating jobs, let’s provide jobs to the many pharma reps out of work due to the recent economic slowdown. Let’s put them on the public payroll and get them to spread the word about drug safety and cost effectiveness to our physicians.

It is time to undo the love affair between drug companies and doctors and start building some new relationships where patients can all benefit.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and author of the forthcoming book Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease, due out April 2012. Read more of what he’s writing about at www.alancassels.com

 

Northern Gateway money vs environment

SCIENCE MATTERS

by David Suzuki

• The battle lines are drawn and Northern BC’s pristine wilderness is the latest front. With hearings underway into the proposed $5.5-billion, dual 1,172-kilometre Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project to transport bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat and imported condensate to dilute it from the coast back to Alberta, the fossil fuel industry and its supporters have stepped up the rhetoric. Environmentalists and people in towns, rural areas and First Nations communities in BC have lined up in opposition.

It’s not just about potential damage from an oil spill… The larger issues are about our continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels and the economic impact of rapidly exploiting and selling our resources and resource industries.

It’s about Canada’s national interest. With lax royalty structures and massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, not to mention foreign ownership of tar sands operations and lobbying by foreign companies, Canadians are not enjoying the real benefits of our oil industry. In fact, increasing reliance on the tar sands is hurting other sectors of the economy, manufacturing in particular.

Thanks to the government’s support of the fossil fuel industry, ours is a petro dollar that rises and falls with the price of oil. The high price of oil has increased our dollar’s value and that has hurt the more labour-intensive manufacturing sector, which relies on exports. Not only have hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs been lost over the past few years, but Canada has also been missing out on opportunities to join the boom in production of renewable-energy technology.

Industry adherents have come up with many arguments supporting the Northern Gateway project. Some have more holes than an oilfield. Take the jobs argument. Even Enbridge admits that most would be in short-term construction work. Only about 35 to 40 long-term jobs would be created at the Kitimat marine terminal.

Most economic benefits from increased tar sands production would go to the companies and their shareholders, including firms from the US, Korea and China. In fact, state-owned PetroChina, which already operates in the tar sands, has just bought 100 percent of the MacKay River project.

The “ethical oil” argument is so absurd as to be hardly worth mentioning, but it’s one the government has latched on to. Oil can’t be ethical or unethical. People, and by extension the companies they own and operate or the governments they represent, can behave in ethical or unethical ways, but a product can’t.

The Northern Gateway project and much of the recent and pending tar sands expansion will help companies owned by the government of China dig up the bitumen and send it there for refining and use. The ethical oil folks admit China is a police state, so why do they support selling them our industry and resources? The anti-American conspiracy theories are even more absurd. Saying that opposition to the Northern Gateway is a plot by US funding agencies to protect America’s access to Canadian oil is just idiotic.

The only real argument for Northern Gateway is that it will increase profits for the oil industry and hand over more of our resources and the associated profits and jobs to China. The arguments against it are so numerous we’ve barely touched them here.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Beagle Freedom Success

Produced by The Beagle Freedom Project

Jun 14, 2011

The Beagle Freedom Project’s second rescue of beagles who have lived their entire lives inside a research laboratory. These beagles have known nothing except the confines of metal cages. They have known no soft human touch, no warm bed, no companionship, no love. They have never been outside or sniffed a tree or grass. Finally, after years of being poked and prodded, these beagles are FREE! ARME got the call that a facility was willing to release them to us after they had been used in several tests. The BFP members picked them up on June 8th and now they are all in loving foster homes, and one has already been adopted.

If you are interested in adopting any of these special beagles, please email them at: shannon@beaglefreedomproject.org. If you cannot adopt, but would like to help, ARME is a non-profit organization and we rely on your donations to continue this work. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. You can donate here: http://www.beaglefreedomproject.org/donate.php
PLEASE DO NOT BUY PRODUCTS TESTED ON ANIMALS! You can see their faces now….. buy only products that have the cruelty-free symbol.

Social awakening

 

Social awakening

Occupy social consciousness
by Chris Zaporoski

 
speaker
Common Ground publisher speaks at Occupy Vancouver October 15, 2011. Photo by Patrik Parkes.

On a warm Friday night several weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench at English Bay, watching the stars shoot through the late summer sky. Many people were out that night – mature people strolling after dinner, romantic couples on the benches and, as usual, youth hanging out on the beach. I could hear distant conversations and people’s laughter. It was a nice relaxing end to another workweek. I checked the time – it was just past 10:30 PM.

Suddenly, flashing lights lit up the whole scene in front of me. Surprised, I turned my head to see a police car pulling quietly onto the main pathway leading to the beach. The car continued until it reached the seawall and then stopped. A group of elegantly dressed older men and women strolled by, obviously enjoying their seawall walk after dinner while the police car sat in the middle of the pathway with its emergency lights flashing. It was a bizarre, almost surreal scene. The quiet was broken by a voice coming from the car’s loudspeaker: “This is the Vancouver Police. This beach is now closed.”

I was stunned. There was nothing going on that could possibly explain that police car and the given order. There were no rowdy, drunken teenagers, no public disturbance and no noise. “What is that all about?” I asked my girlfriend who was equally as shocked. Thoughts were flashing through my head, but one kept repeating itself and I voiced it. “This sounds like a curfew.”

A curfew on Vancouver’s beaches?

The last time I experienced a curfew was some 30-years-ago during the martial law in Poland. The communist regime declared martial law to crack down on the nation-wide social revolt led by the Solidarity movement. Back then, I felt it was my duty and moral obligation to take a stand against the totalitarian regime in defence of what I believed to be fundamental human rights: the right to freedom, justice, truth and basic dignity. Because of my beliefs, I spent nearly a year in jail and stood trial by a military court. After the amnesty, as an “unwanted element,” I was allowed to leave the country with a one-way passport. This is how I arrived in Canada in search of freedom.

And here I was now in the heart of Vancouver’s peaceful West End, experiencing a curfew. But the most bizarre thing is that hardly anyone questions it, as if it were “normal.” Normal? Adult people are told to go home because of someone’s insane order not to allow the public on their own (public) beaches. If the police mandate is “to serve and protect,” my question is who are they serving and protecting?

As adults, we tend to lose the capacity to ask questions and challenge the status quo. When insanity becomes the norm, hardly anyone sees it as insanity. To most of us, it becomes “normal.” So here we are in the middle of Vancouver experiencing glimpses of what it would feel like to live in a totalitarian state.

The concept of totalitarianism was invented by Italian fascists. Some readers might object to the word “fascism” applied to the reality of socio-political life in today’s North America, but, as Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” Doesn’t it sound exactly like the world we live in?

sign bearer on wall street
Occupy Wall Street (NYC) demonstrator. Photo by David Shankbone

Upon my arrival in North America, my first culture shock was linguistic. It wasn’t the language itself, but the idiom used to describe the worth of a person, such as “Bob is worth two million.” It was shocking to me that someone’s worth could be measured in dollars rather than in qualities like kindness, goodness, wisdom, talent, intelligence or their service to others. Hence, a millionaire is worth a million dollars, while a homeless person, for instance, is worth… I guess, nothing. Think about the social implications of that way of thinking. Someone might dismiss it as a purely linguistic phenomenon, but it is not just a “figure of speech.” The words and phrases we use reflect our definitions and our beliefs, which create our understanding of the world and determine our behaviour.

Human behaviour is governed by motivation. If we measure our worth by the status of our bank account and by how many possessions we have, those who are rich are “worthy” while the poor are simply “worthless.” If the only measure of one’s worth is the amount of accumulated money, in order to obtain that goal, anything goes. In a system where profit is the paramount motivation, one cannot help but see the world around them as a potential source of profit. People, animals, resources, our entire planet, are reduced to nothing more than a means to an end to be exploited for profit. Isn’t that what is happening?

The Earth is being raped, resources plundered and animals are exploited or exterminated. The majority of humanity lives in poverty and we who are lucky enough to live in a developed country are reduced to mere consumers, required only to perpetually feed the hungry ghost of profit.

My second culture shock came some 15-years-ago when I decided to end my corporate career. The reason was simple: I just couldn’t imagine sacrificing my dreams any longer in exchange for a steady pay cheque and the illusion of security. I was surprised at how many of my co-workers approached me, saying, “I wish I could do the same.” “Why don’t you?” I asked. But each of them had an excuse: debt, a mortgage, car payments, a benefits package or some other form of perceived benefit.

Shocked by how many people wished they could do the same, I was hit by the realization that they were slaves. Completely unaware, they were participating in the most subtle form of slavery – an economic slavery. And they always had a valid reason for accepting it as “normal.” After all, those jobs seemed to be guaranteed for a lifetime and based on that assumption, people planned their future. Fortunately, the reality check came a mere few years later. The company was sold and resold through a series of bizarre financial schemes involving billions of dollars and, eventually, the new corporate owner decided to outsource the work of the entire department to Asia. All of my former co-workers, including those who had spent decades creating profits for the company, were “not needed anymore” and lost their jobs.

This story is repeated throughout Canada, North America and the world. This is the world we live in. This is the world we have all created. Not “them” but all of us. It is not the creation of some conspiracy group; we all participate in this collective insanity. But the more insanity we encounter, the more wake up calls we experience. Some of them come from our own country. In 2003, the brilliant Canadian documentary The Corporation exposed the nature of corporations as destructive, psychopathic, socio-economic phenomena. The most recent CBC Doc Zone production dealing with the subject of the economic meltdown is entitled simply Meltdown and it takes it even further. More powerful and insightful than the Oscar-wining, highly acclaimed Inside Job, Meltdown exposes the global scale of the insanity. And of course, there is Michael Moore with his exposés.

As a human race, we are just beginning to wake up. Occupy Wall Street started the Occupy Movement, which is now spreading globally, offering glimpses of sanity and hope for the future. Some call it a “revolution,” but for those, I have a word of warning. Revolution means revolving, or turning around the wheel of power. It is the same old wheel of power, with someone on top and someone on the bottom. This is why every revolution throughout human history eventually led to the same outcome – the oppression of one by another. Ideologies change, but the mechanism of the power struggle remains intact; the once powerless become powerful and vice versa.

There are also angry voices demanding “justice” as if putting a few bankers in jail could solve the root cause of the problem. Common criminals, no matter what the colours of their collars, ought to be held accountable for their crimes, yet for those who advocate the idea of vengeance, remember the words of Gandhi, the greatest leader of non-violent civil disobedience in the history of mankind: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” And indeed we are blind if we don’t see the insanity of repeating the same old patterns of unconscious behaviour. Noam Chomsky once said, “It’s a fair assumption that every human being, real human beings, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know, we’ve got the same genes, we’re more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant or a saint.”

It is easy to be angry, point fingers and seek vengeance. It is much harder to see the reality of the problem. Those “circumstances” Chomsky talks about are nothing more than our collective agreement on what is acceptable and what is not. Such a collective agreement allowed for the creation of monstrosities such as the Third Reich and the Holocaust. The same collective agreement allows for the existence of the current system. No matter how corrupt and abused our democracy is, it is still democracy. We live in a democratic society. It’s not “us” versus “them,” but we are all responsible because we allowed the corruption and abuse to exist. Our individual and collective compliance allows for the insanity to perpetuate itself. Our silence and obedience are the true measures of our passive participation. They show the level of our unconsciousness.

How unconscious we can become is best portrayed by Robert Maresca and his wife Diane of West Islip, New York, who just applied to the US Patent and Trademark office to trademark the “Occupy Wall Street” slogan. Their intent is to sell sweatshirts, T-shirts, bumper stickers, among other merchandise. According to CNN, Maresca said, “I’m no marketing genius, but when you got something that’s across 50 states, it’s a brand now.” He even offered to sell the trademark to Occupy Wall Street members, if they wanted it, for just one dollar, after they paid his expenses. The problem is that neither the Marescas nor their lawyer sees anything wrong with that. While people at Wall Street stand up for justice, freedom and human dignity, others are trying to make a buck on it. This is how corrupt in unconsciousness our own minds can become.

On October 25, in a violent crackdown of Occupy Oakland by riot police, Scott Olsen, a young ex-marine, was the most seriously injured. The man survived two tours in Iraq and returned home safely only to be shot in the head with a police projectile in his own country, by his own police. The incident that followed shortly afterward is even more appalling. As Scott lay bleeding and motionless on the ground, video footage clearly shows that, while other protesters rushed in to help Scott, a policeman from behind a barrier deliberately threw a flash or tear gas grenade into the crowd near the injured man. This is beyond comprehension – an act of psychopathic insanity that calls for a public outcry. It is no wonder none of the mainstream US news agencies covered the story, but it made headlines around the world.

At the same time, Scott’s fellow US Marine posted a photo of himself on the Washington Post’s blog site, holding a picture of the bleeding man with a sign bearing the symbol for the US Marines and the words: “You did this to my brother.”

I believe it is the insanity of the government itself and its “law” enforcement agencies that invite revolution, through committing acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators who exercise their fundamental rights, promised and guaranteed by the Constitution.

Let’s all pray for Scott Olsen’s safe recovery and send him our love. And kudos to Keith Olbermann and his Countdown on Current TV. Olbermann is the only American high-profile journalist who, from the very beginning, covered the Occupy Movement. See his daily program at http://www.youtube.com/user/Current

The alternative to revolution is evolution. It is growth through transformation, exactly what humanity needs – to leave behind the old dysfunctional patterns and structures and evolve to the new level of consciousness. And that’s what the Occupy Movement represents to me. It is our chance to change the way we do things, an experiment in real democracy. Michael Moore frequently visited and addressed Occupy Wall Street. When asked what advice he had for the people down there, he said, “I don’t have any advice. I’d rather listen.”

This is real democracy at work. No more political parties, lobby groups and leaders manipulating masses and swaying opinions one way or another, but the system allowing for every voice to be heard. No more pushing one’s agenda on others, but an open discussion and consensus. It is the way of the future.

In the first weeks of Occupy Wall Street, Deepak Chopra was allowed to address the General Assembly. Instead of making political speeches, he invited everyone to do a short meditation. I now invite you, dear reader, to participate in the meditation he led: “Put your hand on your heart and just ask yourself internally, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’ And listen. Do it now. And now ask yourself, ‘How can I make that happen. How can I make that happen from the place of love, compassion, joy and equanimity?’ Simple anger will only perpetuate what already is out there. It was created by greed and fear. We have to go beyond that and come from the place of compassion, centred equanimity and creativity. Once again, ask yourself, ‘How can I be the change I want to see in the world?’”

 

 

Social awakening – Occupy social consciousness

by Chris Zaporoski

Common Ground publisher speaks at Occupy Vancouver October 15, 2011. Photo by Patrik Parkes.

On a warm Friday night several weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench at English Bay, watching the stars shoot through the late summer sky. Many people were out that night – mature people strolling after dinner, romantic couples on the benches and, as usual, youth hanging out on the beach. I could hear distant conversations and people’s laughter. It was a nice relaxing end to another workweek. I checked the time – it was just past 10:30 PM.

Suddenly, flashing lights lit up the whole scene in front of me. Surprised, I turned my head to see a police car pulling quietly onto the main pathway leading to the beach. The car continued until it reached the seawall and then stopped. A group of elegantly dressed older men and women strolled by, obviously enjoying their seawall walk after dinner while the police car sat in the middle of the pathway with its emergency lights flashing. It was a bizarre, almost surreal scene. The quiet was broken by a voice coming from the car’s loudspeaker: “This is the Vancouver Police. This beach is now closed.”

I was stunned. There was nothing going on that could possibly explain that police car and the given order. There were no rowdy, drunken teenagers, no public disturbance and no noise. “What is that all about?” I asked my girlfriend who was equally as shocked. Thoughts were flashing through my head, but one kept repeating itself and I voiced it. “This sounds like a curfew.”

A curfew on Vancouver’s beaches?

The last time I experienced a curfew was some 30-years-ago during the martial law in Poland. The communist regime declared martial law to crack down on the nation-wide social revolt led by the Solidarity movement. Back then, I felt it was my duty and moral obligation to take a stand against the totalitarian regime in defence of what I believed to be fundamental human rights: the right to freedom, justice, truth and basic dignity. Because of my beliefs, I spent nearly a year in jail and stood trial by a military court. After the amnesty, as an “unwanted element,” I was allowed to leave the country with a one-way passport. This is how I arrived in Canada in search of freedom.

And here I was now in the heart of Vancouver’s peaceful West End, experiencing a curfew. But the most bizarre thing is that hardly anyone questions it, as if it were “normal.” Normal? Adult people are told to go home because of someone’s insane order not to allow the public on their own (public) beaches. If the police mandate is “to serve and protect,” my question is who are they serving and protecting?

As adults, we tend to lose the capacity to ask questions and challenge the status quo. When insanity becomes the norm, hardly anyone sees it as insanity. To most of us, it becomes “normal.” So here we are in the middle of Vancouver experiencing glimpses of what it would feel like to live in a totalitarian state.

The concept of totalitarianism was invented by Italian fascists. Some readers might object to the word “fascism” applied to the reality of socio-political life in today’s North America, but, as Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” Doesn’t it sound exactly like the world we live in?

sign bearer on wall street
Occupy Wall Street (NYC) demonstrator. Photo by David Shankbone

Upon my arrival in North America, my first culture shock was linguistic. It wasn’t the language itself, but the idiom used to describe the worth of a person, such as “Bob is worth two million.” It was shocking to me that someone’s worth could be measured in dollars rather than in qualities like kindness, goodness, wisdom, talent, intelligence or their service to others. Hence, a millionaire is worth a million dollars, while a homeless person, for instance, is worth… I guess, nothing. Think about the social implications of that way of thinking. Someone might dismiss it as a purely linguistic phenomenon, but it is not just a “figure of speech.” The words and phrases we use reflect our definitions and our beliefs, which create our understanding of the world and determine our behaviour.

Human behaviour is governed by motivation. If we measure our worth by the status of our bank account and by how many possessions we have, those who are rich are “worthy” while the poor are simply “worthless.” If the only measure of one’s worth is the amount of accumulated money, in order to obtain that goal, anything goes. In a system where profit is the paramount motivation, one cannot help but see the world around them as a potential source of profit. People, animals, resources, our entire planet, are reduced to nothing more than a means to an end to be exploited for profit. Isn’t that what is happening?

The Earth is being raped, resources plundered and animals are exploited or exterminated. The majority of humanity lives in poverty and we who are lucky enough to live in a developed country are reduced to mere consumers, required only to perpetually feed the hungry ghost of profit.

My second culture shock came some 15-years-ago when I decided to end my corporate career. The reason was simple: I just couldn’t imagine sacrificing my dreams any longer in exchange for a steady pay cheque and the illusion of security. I was surprised at how many of my co-workers approached me, saying, “I wish I could do the same.” “Why don’t you?” I asked. But each of them had an excuse: debt, a mortgage, car payments, a benefits package or some other form of perceived benefit.

Shocked by how many people wished they could do the same, I was hit by the realization that they were slaves. Completely unaware, they were participating in the most subtle form of slavery – an economic slavery. And they always had a valid reason for accepting it as “normal.” After all, those jobs seemed to be guaranteed for a lifetime and based on that assumption, people planned their future. Fortunately, the reality check came a mere few years later. The company was sold and resold through a series of bizarre financial schemes involving billions of dollars and, eventually, the new corporate owner decided to outsource the work of the entire department to Asia. All of my former co-workers, including those who had spent decades creating profits for the company, were “not needed anymore” and lost their jobs.

This story is repeated throughout Canada, North America and the world. This is the world we live in. This is the world we have all created. Not “them” but all of us. It is not the creation of some conspiracy group; we all participate in this collective insanity. But the more insanity we encounter, the more wake up calls we experience. Some of them come from our own country. In 2003, the brilliant Canadian documentary The Corporation exposed the nature of corporations as destructive, psychopathic, socio-economic phenomena. The most recent CBC Doc Zone production dealing with the subject of the economic meltdown is entitled simply Meltdown and it takes it even further. More powerful and insightful than the Oscar-wining, highly acclaimed Inside Job, Meltdown exposes the global scale of the insanity. And of course, there is Michael Moore with his exposés.

As a human race, we are just beginning to wake up. Occupy Wall Street started the Occupy Movement, which is now spreading globally, offering glimpses of sanity and hope for the future. Some call it a “revolution,” but for those, I have a word of warning. Revolution means revolving, or turning around the wheel of power. It is the same old wheel of power, with someone on top and someone on the bottom. This is why every revolution throughout human history eventually led to the same outcome – the oppression of one by another. Ideologies change, but the mechanism of the power struggle remains intact; the once powerless become powerful and vice versa.

There are also angry voices demanding “justice” as if putting a few bankers in jail could solve the root cause of the problem. Common criminals, no matter what the colours of their collars, ought to be held accountable for their crimes, yet for those who advocate the idea of vengeance, remember the words of Gandhi, the greatest leader of non-violent civil disobedience in the history of mankind: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” And indeed we are blind if we don’t see the insanity of repeating the same old patterns of unconscious behaviour. Noam Chomsky once said, “It’s a fair assumption that every human being, real human beings, flesh and blood ones, not corporations, but every flesh and blood human being is a moral person. You know, we’ve got the same genes, we’re more or less the same, but our nature, the nature of humans, allows all kinds of behaviour. I mean, every one of us under some circumstances could be a gas chamber attendant or a saint.”

It is easy to be angry, point fingers and seek vengeance. It is much harder to see the reality of the problem. Those “circumstances” Chomsky talks about are nothing more than our collective agreement on what is acceptable and what is not. Such a collective agreement allowed for the creation of monstrosities such as the Third Reich and the Holocaust. The same collective agreement allows for the existence of the current system. No matter how corrupt and abused our democracy is, it is still democracy. We live in a democratic society. It’s not “us” versus “them,” but we are all responsible because we allowed the corruption and abuse to exist. Our individual and collective compliance allows for the insanity to perpetuate itself. Our silence and obedience are the true measures of our passive participation. They show the level of our unconsciousness.

How unconscious we can become is best portrayed by Robert Maresca and his wife Diane of West Islip, New York, who just applied to the US Patent and Trademark office to trademark the “Occupy Wall Street” slogan. Their intent is to sell sweatshirts, T-shirts, bumper stickers, among other merchandise. According to CNN, Maresca said, “I’m no marketing genius, but when you got something that’s across 50 states, it’s a brand now.” He even offered to sell the trademark to Occupy Wall Street members, if they wanted it, for just one dollar, after they paid his expenses. The problem is that neither the Marescas nor their lawyer sees anything wrong with that. While people at Wall Street stand up for justice, freedom and human dignity, others are trying to make a buck on it. This is how corrupt in unconsciousness our own minds can become.

On October 25, in a violent crackdown of Occupy Oakland by riot police, Scott Olsen, a young ex-marine, was the most seriously injured. The man survived two tours in Iraq and returned home safely only to be shot in the head with a police projectile in his own country, by his own police. The incident that followed shortly afterward is even more appalling. As Scott lay bleeding and motionless on the ground, video footage clearly shows that, while other protesters rushed in to help Scott, a policeman from behind a barrier deliberately threw a flash or tear gas grenade into the crowd near the injured man. This is beyond comprehension – an act of psychopathic insanity that calls for a public outcry. It is no wonder none of the mainstream US news agencies covered the story, but it made headlines around the world.

At the same time, Scott’s fellow US Marine posted a photo of himself on the Washington Post’s blog site, holding a picture of the bleeding man with a sign bearing the symbol for the US Marines and the words: “You did this to my brother.”

I believe it is the insanity of the government itself and its “law” enforcement agencies that invite revolution, through committing acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators who exercise their fundamental rights, promised and guaranteed by the Constitution.

Let’s all pray for Scott Olsen’s safe recovery and send him our love. And kudos to Keith Olbermann and his Countdown on Current TV. Olbermann is the only American high-profile journalist who, from the very beginning, covered the Occupy Movement. See his daily program at http://www.youtube.com/user/Current

The alternative to revolution is evolution. It is growth through transformation, exactly what humanity needs – to leave behind the old dysfunctional patterns and structures and evolve to the new level of consciousness. And that’s what the Occupy Movement represents to me. It is our chance to change the way we do things, an experiment in real democracy. Michael Moore frequently visited and addressed Occupy Wall Street. When asked what advice he had for the people down there, he said, “I don’t have any advice. I’d rather listen.”

This is real democracy at work. No more political parties, lobby groups and leaders manipulating masses and swaying opinions one way or another, but the system allowing for every voice to be heard. No more pushing one’s agenda on others, but an open discussion and consensus. It is the way of the future.

In the first weeks of Occupy Wall Street, Deepak Chopra was allowed to address the General Assembly. Instead of making political speeches, he invited everyone to do a short meditation. I now invite you, dear reader, to participate in the meditation he led: “Put your hand on your heart and just ask yourself internally, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’ And listen. Do it now. And now ask yourself, ‘How can I make that happen. How can I make that happen from the place of love, compassion, joy and equanimity?’ Simple anger will only perpetuate what already is out there. It was created by greed and fear. We have to go beyond that and come from the place of compassion, centred equanimity and creativity. Once again, ask yourself, ‘How can I be the change I want to see in the world?’”

Wall Street conversation

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

I’m not the only one unhappy with economic systems based on constant growth and endlessly increasing exploitation of finite resources – systems that concentrate wealth in the hands of a few while so many people struggle.

Beginning on September 17, protests spread from New York to a growing number of cities across the United States, Europe and Canada, in a movement dubbed “Occupy Wall Street.” It’s interesting that those credited with spurring the movement did so with a single question: “What is our one demand?” The question was first posed in my hometown of Vancouver by Adbusters magazine. Editor Kalle Lasn said the campaign was launched as an invitation to act more than an attempt to get an answer. Focusing on a single demand may or may not be a useful exercise, but the conversation itself is necessary.

Why have governments spent trillions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to bail out financial institutions, many of which fought any notion of government regulation or social assistance while doing nothing for people who had life savings wiped out or lost homes through foreclosure? And why have governments not at least demanded that the institutions demonstrate some ecological and social responsibility in return?

Why do developed nations still give tax breaks to the wealthiest few while children go hungry and working people and the unemployed see wages, benefits and opportunities dwindle? Why are we rapidly exploiting finite resources and destroying precious natural systems for the sake of short-term profit and unsustainable economic growth?

Why does our economic system place a higher value on disposable and often unnecessary goods and services than on the things we really need to survive and be healthy, like clean air, clean water and productive soil? Sure, there’s some contradiction in protesters carrying iPhones while railing against the consumer system. But this is not just about making personal changes and sacrifices; it’s about questioning our place on this planet.

In less than a century, the human population has grown exponentially, from 1.5 to seven billion. That’s been matched by rapid growth in technology and products, resource exploitation and knowledge. The pace and manner of development have led to a reliance on fossil fuels, to the extent that much of our infrastructure supports products such as cars and their fuels.

It may seem like there’s no hope for change, but we have to remember that most of these developments are recent and that humans are capable of innovation, creativity and foresight. I don’t know if the Occupy Wall Street protests will lead to anything. Surely, there will be backlash. And although I wouldn’t compare these protests to those in the Middle East, they all show that, when people have had enough of inequality, of the negative and destructive consequences of decisions made by people in power, we have a responsibility to come together and speak out.

The course of human history is constantly changing. It’s up to all of us to join the conversation to help steer it to a better path than the one we are on. Maybe our one demand should be of ourselves: Care enough to do something.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Terrestrial Conservation and Science Program director Faisal Moola and biologist Jeff Wells. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org