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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is Obama About To Become Just Another War Criminal?

by Evert Cilliers
Nov. 23, 2009

If you'd have told me that America would ever spritz $65 billion of its annual taxes and manpower into yet another country's civil war, I would've said you're articulating via the IQ of your sphincter. Wasn't our own Civil War painful enough?

If you'd have told me that this civil war was a fight over who controls the world's opium production, and that we'd picked the losing side in this battle of criminals, I would've said your cerebellum is on an intravenous drip of LSD spiked with toad venom.

That sort of dumbass bellicosity happened back in the 19th century, when Britain smuggled opium into China and got into two wars with China about it.

America is a dumbass nation, for sure: we use most of our spare time to follow the lives of pretty but dim bulbs in Hollywood, and millions of us will be reading a book credited to Sarah Palin, the current all-time queen of dumbosity.

But we can't be THAT dumb, can we?

Or that criminal. It would be like backing one side of the Mafia against another, where both are equally bad.
Yet we are.

In fact, we are responsible for the whole dumbolical return of Afghanistan to form as the major supplier of illegal drugs to a grateful planet of barbecued minds.

Before we got involved in Afghanistan, its opium industry was on its knees, down by 94%, because its crazy Taliban government, besides banning music and snuffing women who had sex outside of marriage, didn't like drugs either.

But we jumped in there, and toppled the Taliban from their puritan perch -- something to do with the fact that they were harboring Osama Bin Laden, whose handover to us they were willing to negotiate, but our dumbfuck administration wasn't.

And so, without the crazy Taliban government around to tell them what not to do, the Afghan people got down to what they do best, which is growing opium, and they could again more or less feed themselves.


76% of Afghanistan's 28 million people live in small rural villages of a thousand or so people, where the opium poppies are grown, and the other 24% live in a dozen towns ranging from the size of Witchita to Little Rock, and in the single city, Kabul, population three million. Nearly 10% of the population are engaged in the production of opium, from which heroin is made. The farmers get 20% of the $3 billion profits made in Afghanistan out of total drug exports of $64 billion, which is about 40% of national GDP. 80% of the profits go to drug kingpins also known as warlords, among the biggest of whom are relatives of Afghanistan's president.

Afghanistan produces 93% of the world's opium, and this drug kills a 100,000 users a year. Like Burma, Afghanistan is basically a criminal enterprise.
Afghanistan has no government as we know it, although we've installed a pretend government there run by our puppet, a chap called Hamid Karzai who wears beautiful flowing robes and great hats, and who rules the city of Kabul, but no place else, because we put him there, and he made deals with all the other major criminals in the country on our behalf, because we promised to stuff their butts with bucks if they'd help us whack dudes whose jibs we don't dig, like the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The country is run by hundreds of such gangsters big and small, with their various militias who provide security and buy the country's opium crop from its farmers.

The gang we threw out, the Taliban, recovered themselves in Pakistan next door and are now back, fighting to take control of Afghanistan again. They've changed their minds about drugs, and are now funding their fight with taxes on the drugs. Over the past four years they've scored between $450 and $600 million this way, and have won back loose control of 80% of the countryside from the other gangsters (who are also called warlords, as if that's a better name). We're squabbling with the Taliban over the last 20%, and using our tax dollars -- excuse me, YOUR tax dollars -- to help the losing gangster-warlords against the victorious religious crazies.

Stupid dumbfuck us. We're backing the losers for control of a criminal enterprise known as Afghanistan. We call this “foreign policy.” A truer description would be “peeing up our nostrils.”


When our media squawk that our puppet Karzai is not a reliable partner in Afghanistan, but a corrupt SOB, we're being total hypocrites. It's our fault he's corrupt. We bought him to do our bidding and now we're complaining that he's using our money to keep his gangster pals happy, which is the only way he has any influence in his criminal country. When we accuse him of corruption, we're merely bewailing the lack of a good excuse for us to be there, because we think if we had a reliable partner there, it would be some justification for us to be there, which it wouldn't. It costs us a lot of money to be there, and we're sore because too much of our money goes to Karzai's cronies to fund the drug trade, but we don't want to say this out loud, so we just call it “corruption.”

Of course there is other corruption, but it's corruption we're happy to indulge in. We're making various Afghan gangsters rich, many of whom are relatives of Hamid Karzai, by paying their legal companies -- yes, like the Mafia, they have illegal AND legal enterprises -- to truck our military supplies all over the country. We pay them a lot of money because we can't move our supplies around by ourselves -- too dangerous -- and these Afghan trucking companies pass our money as bribes on to the Taliban and the Afghan Army and assorted gangster-warlords not to shoot them or blow them up or hold them up, and that's how we're able to keep fighting the war. The guestimate is that about 10% of the Taliban's income comes from us in this way. We pay our enemies to keep our supplies running. They've got us coming and going.

Our semi-reliable partners, the gangster-warlords, haven't been together enough to keep the Taliban from taking over 80% of the country. If you're a small village of 500 people growing opium, it's a total toss-up whether you want to be ruled by the Taliban or the local gangster-warlord. The ones with the most guns get your loyalty, and if they don't rape your women, that's a bonus. One week the Taliban may be in charge, then our Army shows up, and a gangster-warlord is in charge again -- and then our Army leaves, and the Taliban is in charge again, and it's all the same to the villagers, as long as somebody buys their opium.

As for the Afghan Army we're training -- supposedly 94,000 strong, of whom maybe half are trained enough to put up half a fight -- they're there for the paycheck, not the fight. The desertion rate is 20%, and rises dramatically when the trainees have to go into actual combat. The top officers are mostly Tajiks, not trusted by the Pashtuns, who are the base of the Taliban, and the biggest Afghan tribe. The Army is probably quite infiltrated by the Taliban anyway, as came to light when an Afghan cop shot and killed five British soldiers who were mentoring him.

If we were backing the Taliban instead of the gangster-warlords, the war would be over by now, because the Taliban are winning. That doesn't stop those gangster-warlords who are still in charge of their 20% of the country from living high not only on their drug profits, but also on our tax dollars being shoveled to them by us, the suckers of the criminal enterprise. So much is shoveled that Afghanistan is now the second most corrupt country in the world after Somalia, the other country besides Afghanistan that doesn't have a government, where security is also provided by gangsters who rule by the gun over tribe and clan and village.

This is the situation in Afghanistan. No government. A fight between gangster-warlords and the Taliban for control of the opium, and us in the middle, backing the losers.


So WTF are we doing there? Why are we involved in the biggest drug racket on earth?

Well might you ask. The original reason we went there was to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. Well, he's gone, because our dumbfuck troops let him get away. The last time the CIA counted, they figured there were no more than a hundred Al Qaeda chappies left in Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden now sits in Pakistan's Waziristan, much diminished (some say there are fewer than 4,000 Al Qaeda people there), hooked up to his dialysis machine, with CIA drones dropping missiles on his Al Qaeda buddies in Waziristan, although these missiles have a tendency to hit more weddings than terrorists. But for all intents and purposes, we've got Al Qaeda pinned down in Waziristan, and the successful parts of the organization are now much further afield, where they've always been, right in our midst, in Germany and Britain and India and so on. Perhaps even in America.

So WTF are we doing in Afghanistan?

Some say we're there to defend the women of Afghanistan. Well, the Taliban don't want girls to go to school, and execute women who screw outside marriage, but they did protect Afghan women from being raped by the militia of the gangster-warlords, who don't want girls to go to school either, so in this case we are backing the rapists against the guys who execute women for fucking. Some difference. The one woman in Afghanistan's parliament of gangsters, Malalai Joya, who fled because the gangsters thought she was too uppity, says she doesn't want the US in Afganistan:

“Over the past eight years the U.S. has helped turn my country into the drug capital of the world through its support of drug lords ... Many members of Parliament and high ranking officials openly benefit from the drug trade. President Karzai's own brother is a well known drug trafficker. Meanwhile, ordinary Afghans are living in destitution. The latest United Nations Human Development Index ranked Afghanistan 181 out of 182 countries.

Eighteen million Afghans live on less than $2 a day. Mothers in many parts of Afghanistan are ready to sell their children because they cannot feed them. Afghanistan has received $36 billion of aid in the past eight years, and the U.S. alone spends $165 million a day on its war. Yet my country remains in the grip of criminals ... We are sandwiched between three powerful enemies: the occupation forces of the U.S. and NATO, the Taliban and the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai. Now President Obama is considering increasing troops to Afghanistan and simply extending former President Bush's wrong policies. In fact, the worst massacres since 9/11 were during Obama's tenure. My native province of Farah was bombed by the U.S. this past May. A hundred and fifty people were killed, most of them women and children. On Sept. 9, the U.S. bombed Kunduz Province, killing 200 civilians. My people are fed up. That is why we want an immediate end to the U.S. occupation.”

So WTF are we doing in Afghanistan?

Basically, I can think of only two reasons, both to do with money. Yes, once more, it's all the fault of good old capitalism. Number one, there must be some goddam oil pipeline we're defending there somewhere, since that's always the only reason we're ever in these parts of the world. Number two, we're there to make all the suppliers to our army rich, who have as many folks in Afghanistan as there are actual US soldiers.

There is a third reason we continue fighting in Afghanistan, the most important reason, and that is simply this: we're fighting there because we've been fighting there. It's much easier to start a war than to end a war. We're in Afghanistan because we're in Afghanistan -- the law of inertia.


Usually I find I can rely on my own relationship with the English language to put things pithily, but I came across this very pithy summation from Harper's Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur:
“'Fighting terrorism' in Afghanistan 'to prevent another 9/11' simply isn’t a serious argument, and I suspect that even the deluded Gen. Stanley McChrystal understands that his men are shooting at indigenous Afghan rebels, not Osama bin Laden or his followers. No, the more likely reason for killing all those people and wasting nearly $3.4 billion a month is an ugly mixture of vanity, misplaced pride, crass politics, and liberal self-righteousness. The Army still wants to prove it can defeat a guerrilla army and erase the shame of Vietnam. The politicians, Obama included, want to look warlike and tough, so they can’t be accused of being 'soft on terror' in 2010. And then there are the civil servants and think-tank denizens known as 'humanitarian interventionists' — now led by Hillary Clinton, who think that America’s 'civilizing' mission in the world includes not only establishing 'democracy' but also 'freeing' Afghan women from being required to wear the burqa.”

He puts the nut rather neatly in the shell, doesn't he?

As MacArthur implies, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president ran his campaign last year on the fact that Afghanistan was our good war, so his promise to get out of Iraq wouldn't make him look like too much of a sissy. Not that long ago he even called Afghanistan a “war of necessity.”

But now he's actually been looking into the necessity of this war, and he must he asking himself WTF a hundred times a day as he salutes returning coffins of our troops from the Middle East and trudges by all those crosses in Arlington Cemetery.

He is obviously in two minds, as are his advisers. On the one side are the war party idiots, which includes our army, who always wants more troops anyway, so that's no surprise. The Pentagon always wants more. They're our worst public welfare queens after Wall Street. General McCrystal won't ever admit he can't win the war in Afghanistan, or even consider what a win there actually means, so like any Army welfare queen, he's going to ask for more troops. He's doing this because after he loses, as he surely will (just like Britain and Russia did in Afghanistan), he can say he could've won if the civilians had given him more troops -- but he was stabbed in the back by the goddam civilians. (When guys lose a war, it's never because the enemy in front of them outshot them -- it's always because the cowards of their own country stabbed them in their backs. It's a wonder the military of any country isn't smart enough to shoot all their citizens first before they go fight the enemy in order to save themselves from being stabbed in the back.)

Then there are the other war party idiots, who should know better, like Hillary Clinton -- poor gal, she's a woman, so she can't afford to look like a sissy when it comes to war -- and assorted other idiots like Richard Holbrooke.

But there are two sensible voices, thank God.

One is our Ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry,who told Obama to please not send more troops, it will just enable our “partner” the corrupt Karzai to buy himself more hats. Eikenberryought to know, since he used to head up our Army in Afghanistan.

And there's Joe Biden, who brought up this telling point at a “strategy” meeting of “top national-security advisers” (you know, Hillary and Holbrooke and other assorted war party morons) on September 13 this year:

"Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year in Afghanistan?" $65 billion, one guy said.
"And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" $2.25 billion.

"Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?"

And let us not forget our President's own words, which got him his first serious support from the left when he started running against Hillary for the presidency. This was his famous anti-Iraq War speech, famous because very few politicians back then in October 2002, when Obama was still an Illinois State Senator, had the balls to speak out against the war in Iraq. He said then:

“I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne. What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income— to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”

He could make just about the same speech today about the war in Afghanistan, and he would be as right now as he was then.

Let us also remember these words from him during the campaign itself:
“I don't want to just end the war, I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place.”

Here is the point: there is less justification for our war in Afghanistan now than there were ever was for our war in Iraq. The Afghanistan war is as necessary to our security as an indoor flush toilet is necessary to an elephant. There is nothing for us to win there, even if we achieve the impossible and put the gangster-warlords back in charge of Afghanistan, instead of the religious nuts. There is only the continuation of our macho posturing as a pathetic declining power in the world, a power that Jon Stewart summed up nicely when he said Obama went to China to go and visit with our money.


Anyway, our real enemies in the Middle East aren't Afghanistan's Taliban or Iran's theocrats. Our real enemies are Israel and Saudi-Arabia. These are the two countries who screw us up the most in that part of the world, and endanger our national security there the most.

The Arabs on whose oil we depend are pissed with us because we back Israel, who supply us with nothing we need except grief. The Saudis supply us with oil, but they fund the schools in Pakistan, the madrassas, which spawn the Taliban, and they also funded 9/11, and 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis.

But hey, we're dumbfucks, so we regard the two countries who screw us the most in the Middle East as our friends. Our foreign policy works AGAINST our interests. We MUST be a nation of consummate dumbfuckeronskis if we can't even get basic things like that right.


At this point the decision in Afghanistan is not about what's good for them or for us, but about how good or bad it would make Obama and his administration look.

And since that's the point of Obama's deliberations, why doesn't he simply look at the polls? In an August poll -- before Karzai cheated his 'election' to the presidency -- 51% of Americans thought the war in Afghanistan was NOT worth fighting.

But hey, Obama's got all his experts telling him to do things the nation, who in this case happens to be much smarter than the experts, is telling him NOT to do.

Obama has already made one big mistake in his first year -- coddling Wall Street, because he is being advised by two economic war criminals, Summers and Geithner. Now, if he lets himself be swayed by the actual war criminals among his advisers, he will be nothing but a war criminal himself.

Which will be a pity. Because instead of our money being spent on progressive causes in America -- education, infrastructure, green energy -- it will be wasted on backing a bunch of gangster-warlords against a bunch of religious wingnuts. Funny how there's never any money to solve our real problems, but there's always money to fight some goddam useless war.


We could even spend our money on progressive causes in Afghanistan: on schools not troops.

As Nicolas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times:
“In particular, one of the most compelling arguments against more troops rests on this stunning trade-off: for the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.”

Kristof elaborates on his point:
“In fact, it’s still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan — particularly when there’s a strong 'buy-in' from the local community. Greg Mortenson, author of 'Three Cups of Tea,' has now built 39 schools in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan — and not one has been burned down or closed. The aid organization CARE has 295 schools educating 50,000 girls in Afghanistan, and not a single one has been closed or burned by the Taliban.”

That would be money well spent -- educating the country's kids instead of killing their parents. But no, Obama is not thinking about building more schools there, but debating with his advisers and himself about whether he should send more troops there. A debate of dumbfucks by dumbfucks for dumbfucks.


What if Obama decides to send more troops? I'm trying hard to think that Obama cannot be THAT dumb, but I'm also terribly despondent, because you know: I won't be surprised if he IS that dumb. Will you?

In fact, I will be much more surprised if he has the smarts to say we need to get out of Afghanistan pronto.

If that's how little faith one can have in American politics, and even in the only bright spark in it, Barack Obama, it tells you much about the pathetic if not tragic state of our union of deliberate and dastardly and damnable and doxilaciously dismal dumbfuckereadiness.

It will be terribly sad if Obama becomes another LBJ, also a progressive president who pushed through two great pieces of progressive legislation on civil rights and Medicare, and could've done more, but torpedoed himself because he got stuck in Vietnam. The lessons of Vietnam are staring Obama in his face (he has in fact read all about it), but he might go and get himself hobbled by his own Vietnam in Afghanistan, and tragically prevent himself from pushing through any more progressive legislation besides his health reform. Then he'll be a sort of half LBJ, who knew the Vietnam War was a crock of dumbfuckeroni, but took it on anyway because he was scared the country's Right would use his retreat from Vietnam to whip him in the next election, which he ended up retiring from anyway.

If Obama is himself so scared of our country's Right, or simply duped by his own advisers, what is there left of the hope he installed in us?

Let's pray for a miracle, folks. Let's hope Obama doesn't become a war criminal himself.
Barack Obama, war criminal.

Jeez, it's entirely possible. How do you like da ring of dem apples, my sweet Obamaniacs? What can we do to protect our man's reputation? Maybe it's time for some more anti-war marches on Washington, folks. Make love not war. Shoot sperm not bullets.

Imagine the irony if Barack goes and collects his Nobel Peace Prize after having sent more troops to their deaths in Afghanistan. From hopeful Messiah to war criminal in less than a year.

Forsooth and begorrah and gadzooks: destiny is a sidewalk of banana skins lying in wait for the sole of one's hapless shoe leather. And our brilliantly gifted president is walking right up to it, like some clueless Laurel or Hardy.

Oh, what a fall that will be: the fall of a promising prez who turns out to be just another dismal dumbfuck.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vaccination: A Conversation Worth Having

by Bill Maher
November 16, 2009
Huffington Post

While America is still in the grips of swine flu mania, let me use this opportunity to clear up a few things about my beliefs concerning the flu shot, vaccines, and health in general. I do this because there is obviously a lot of curiosity about this subject of vaccines -- it comes up in every interview I do these days, and I've been finding that people, including doctors, are privately expressing a skepticism that is still not very prevalent in public. I feel like I've become a confessor for people who want someone to be raising questions about vaccines.

But I don't want the job. I agree with my critics who say there are far more qualified people than me -- its just that mainstream media rarely interviews doctors and scientists who present an alternative point of view. There is a movement to stop people from asking any questions about vaccines -- they're a miracle, that's it, debate over. I don't think its that simple, and neither do millions of other people.

The British Medical Journal from August 25 says half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot -- are they all crazy too?

Sixty-five percent of French people don't want it. Maybe its not as simple as the medical establishment wants to paint it.

Vaccination is a nuanced subject, and I've never said all vaccines in all situations are bad. The point I am representing is: Is getting frequent vaccinations for any and all viruses consequence-free? I feel its unnecessary and counterproductive to try and silence people with condescension.

Michael Shermer wrote me an open letter and felt I needed to be told that "vaccinations work by tricking the body's immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given." Thanks, Doc, I thought there might be a little man inside the needle.

Yes, I read Microbe Hunters when I was eight, I have a basic idea how vaccines work.

That's not -- or shouldn't be -- where the debate is. I admit, its hard to get as clear a picture of my beliefs, as you could, say, if I had written a book on vaccines, versus someone in the setting of a talk show. So I understand why its easy to take bits of things I have said and extrapolate into something I actually have never said. I understand it, but its not exactly "scientific."

But rather than responding to every absurd thing said, let me just tell you want I do think -- because I will admit, I have gone off half cocked on this issue sometimes, and often only had time on my show to explain a fraction of what needed to be explained, and for that I am sorry. Some of it can't be helped, some of that is the nature of the show we do: live, off the cuff, lots of interruptions.

Some of it was just from me being overexcited about finally finding a health regimen that actually made me healthier and feel better. And many a time I have wanted to stop the show and clarify a point or provide the nuance I think it deserves, but I am serving many masters, and you have to get out of the way as much as you can so the guests can say their piece.

But some of it I would do differently. For example, I recently joined Twitter Nation -- what can I say, Demi Moore is a very convincing salesperson -- and what everybody told me about Twitter was that it was supposed to be whatever stray thought or thing just happened to you -- you know, for people who find blogging too formal and stuffy.

But apparently it's taken very seriously, because there was Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services what she thought about the fact that "Bill Maher told his viewers anyone who gets a flu shot is an idiot."

Well, not quite. It was twittered, which I guess doesn't make a huge difference, but as 60 Minutes is the last bastion of TV journalism, accuracy is appreciated. And I see that counts for Twitter, too -- my bad -- so yes, some people are not idiotic to get a flu shot. They're idiotic if they don't investigate the pros and cons of getting a flu shot. But, come on -- it was a twitter from a comedian, not a treatise in the New England Journal of Medicine, that's not what I do.

I'm just trying to represent an under-reported medical point of view in this country, I'm not telling a specific pregnant lady what to do. With unlimited air time, I would have, for example, added to my discussion with Dr. Bill Frist on October 2 that, yes, any flu or health challenge can be dangerous when you're pregnant, and if your immune system is already compromised by, for example, eating a typical American diet, then a flu shot can make sense.

But someone needs to be representing the point of view that says the preferred way to handle flus is to have a strong immune system to begin with, and getting lots of vaccines might not be the best way to accomplish that over the long haul.

Now, sometimes its OK to fuck with nature -- I believe "intelligent design" is often anything but intelligent; that "God's perfect universe" is actually full of fuck ups and design flaws, like cleft lips and Down Syndrome -- so correcting nature is sometimes the right thing to do. And then, sometimes its not. For me, the flu shot is in the "not" category.

In addition, my audience is bright, they wouldn't refuse a flu shot because they heard me talk about it, but if they looked into the subject a little more, how is that a bad thing? If they went to the CDC Web site and saw what's in the vaccine -- the formaldehyde, the insect repellent, the mercury -- shouldn't they at least get to have the information for themselves?

But just to reassure all those people who have such a romantic attachment to vaccines: I know, there are vaccines that have had their battles with the bad guys and won -- great! And if you have a compromised immune system and can't boost it naturally, as in poor countries where the children are eating dirt, then a vaccine can be a white knight -- bravo!

Does the polio vaccine have the power to prevent children from getting polio, and did it indeed do just that in the 1950s? I believe it does, and it did. But polio had diminished by over 50 percent in the thirty years before the vaccine -- that's a pretty big fact in the polio story that you don't often hear and which merits debate. It may be the case that the vaccine should have been used anyway to finish polio off, but there are some interesting facts on the other side.

So yes, I get it, we learned how to trick our immune systems. And maybe sometimes, you gotta do it. But maybe the immune system doesn't like being tricked so many times. Maybe we should be studying that instead of shouting down debate.

Someone who speaks eloquently about this is Barbara Loe Fisher, founder of the National Vaccine Information Center. I find her extremely credible, as I do Dr. Russell Blaylock, Dr. Jay Gordon and many others, but I shouldn't have even mentioned them because I don't want to be "the Vaccine Guy"!! Look it up yourself, and stop asking me about it -- I'm already the Religion Guy, and that's enough work!

Anyway, Ms. Fisher is someone who says she is not "anti-vaccine," but just has a lot of questions about the long term effect of using a lot of vaccines. After devoting her life to studying this, she says that the influenza vaccine studies that have been done "are not persuasive in proving that a seasonal flu shot provides immunity." She also points out "that what we need, but do not yet have, are studies of vaccinated vs unvaccinated children."

Is it worth it to get vaccines for every bug that goes around? Injecting something into my bloodstream? I'd like to reserve that for emergencies. This is the flu, and there's always a flu.

I've said it before, America is a panicky country. It's like we look for things to panic about. The reports from Australia, where they're over their flu season, is that its not a terribly virulent flu.

The worldwide numbers support that. But you'd never get that impression from the media in this country.

60 Minutes has done two pieces on swine flu within a month. The first one introduced us to a high school football player named Luke Duvall who, we were told, was the picture of health, and then got hit by the flu so bad he was in the hospital at death's door. But later in the segment we learn that Luke had staphylococcus pneumonia along with the flu. Was that staph bug in him when he got hit by the flu?

Its not clear from the reporting, but since every other kid on both football teams got the flu, as well as the cheerleaders ... ahem ... and all of them got over it just fine, then it seems quite possible that Luke had a co-existing infection, and that's why his experience with H1N1 was so different.

On the follow up visit a couple of weeks later on 60 Minutes, we were told Luke had "beaten H1N1." No, he beat H1N1 and staph together: that's very different! If 99 percent of people have relatively mild symptoms, shouldn't science's first job be finding out why the one percent get felled? Having an underlying health issue is the point I was raising with Dr. Frist: maybe Luke wasn't the picture of perfect health they described in the opening.

By the way, when Scott Pelley asked the government spokesman about the fact that only one percent of people who get the flu find it to be anything other than a typical, mild flu, the answer was an analogy to seatbelts, that "only 1 percent of people riding in a car will be in an accident, but you don't want to take a chance on being that 1 percent."

That went unchallenged, which is sad, because what a horrible analogy!

I would think vaccines containing many different dicey substances shot directly into the bloodstream have a slightly greater chance of secondary effects than a piece of fabric lying across your waist. Maybe if you had to swallow the seatbelt this would be a good analogy.

If one side can say anything and its not challenged, then of course dissent becomes heresy in the minds of many. I don't trust the mainstream media to be thorough or exacting enough to inform me as much as I need on this subject.

Sorry, they're just not up to it.

At the very least, they should have pointed out, as we watched Luke fighting for life on a ventilator, that, of course, flu vaccines don't have any therapeutic effect on bacterial infection.

While we're on the subject of bacteria, let me say clearly I understand germ theory also -- I believe they also covered that in Microbe Hunters -- nor have I ever said I was a "germ theory denier." What I've been saying is that Western medicine ignores too much the fact that the terrain in which bacteria can thrive is crucial and often controllable, which shouldn't even be controversial. I don't care what Louis Pasteur said on his death bed -- it was probably, "Either the curtains go or I do" -- that's not the point!

And it's precisely because I am a Darwinist that I fear the overuse of antibiotics, since that is what has allowed nasty killer bugs like MRE to adapt so effectively that they are often resistant to any antibiotic we can throw at it. There are consequences to vaccines and antibiotics. Some people want to study that, and some, it seems, want to call off the debate.

Instead of setting up this straw man of me not understanding germs or viruses, let's have a real debate about how much we should use vaccines and antibiotics. Of course it's good that we have them in our arsenal, but isn't the real skeptic the one who asks if these powerful but toxic methods do harm to what actually is a a very good defensive system, the one you were born with?

Also, I have never said there was a medical conspiracy. In fact, when Howard Dean asked me that, my response was "I wouldn't call it a conspiracy." Any more than there's a conspiracy for the Pentagon budget to be obscenely bloated and operated largely for the corporate welfare of defense contractors. If these are conspiracies, they're mostly legal ones that happen in plain sight. (Good time here to plug the hostess' book, Pigs At the Trough, it's all in there!) I have, in fact, used the phrase "medical-pharmaceutical-food industry" complex in comparing it to Eisenhower's famous depiction of a "military-industrial complex."

But no, I don't think the A.M.A. and Big Pharma and Aetna and Dr. Frist's hospital chain all meet in a board room and cackle about keeping us sick. They meet on the golf course. (Just kidding.)

Do pharmaceutical companies want to cure diabetes or do they want to sell diabetes drugs and equipment? Well, they sure do sell a lot these days, and the food companies are what make that possible. Read David Kessler's book about the deliberate way food companies use salt, fat and sugar as foodcrack to get people literally addicted to eating bad food and too much of it. Is that a conspiracy? Only if you define corporations putting profit ahead of human health as conspiracy.

The fact that Americans will do anything to each other for money is not a conspiracy, it's a scandal.

I believe in science and I believe in studies to determine the truth. I also believe Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was correct when he said recently on MSNBC: "If you've got a checkbook in this town, you can get just about any set of facts you want." So if I remind you of a conspiracy theorist, you sometimes remind me of Britney Spears when she said "we should just do whatever the president says to do, and not ask questions and just support him."

The medical community can be brutal on dissent, which would hold more weight if I thought this was a terribly healthy country, which it isn't. Health care is one sixth of our economy, and we spend way more on it than any other nation. The elephant in the room of the health care debate is that we are going to have a high health care bill every year no matter what law they pass because we're sick -- we need a lot of drugs and services.

Am I a conspiracy theorist if I suggest that since the network's nightly news broadcasts are sponsored almost entirely by prescription drug ads, that you might have to hold your breath a long time before you hear the alternative point of view to using pharmaceuticals to cure all our ailments?

Is it conspiracy theory to believe that American medicine too much treats symptoms and not root causes of disease? I always ask my friends when they go to the doctor for something, "Did your doctor ask you what you eat?" The answer is almost always 'no,' and a lot can be cured with diet and a healthier lifestyle. (And a lot can't. I also understand the role of genetics and generations of artificial selection).

But Americans don't want to hear that, so doctors don't push it. It's easier and more profitable to write a prescription for Lipitor. They're not bad people, and at the end of the day, you can't make someone eat right. I like and respect all the M.D.s I've had over the years, and for the record, I have a naturopath doctor and I have a Western doctor. I would make an analogy to Republicans and Democrats: in both politics and health, I don't commit to either party because I'm on the side of the truth, whoever has it. In both cases, I'm an Independent.

Ms. Fisher said "If we want to create a society that is dependent on shots for immunity -- the same way we are getting dependent on prescription drugs, antibiotics, and surgery -- this is the path we should keep going down."

I don't think its "anti-science" to pause and consider that point of view.

© 2009 Huffington Post

Bill Maher is one of the most politically astute comedians in America today. His unflinching honesty and commitment to never pulling a punch have garnered him the respect and admiration of millions of fans. In 2003, Maher launched a new show, "Real Time with Bill Maher," on HBO, a network that's a perfect fit for his irreverent style. The hour-long show airs live at 11:00PM on Friday nights.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies

New York Times
November 7, 2009

Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies — to the tune of six pounds per American per year. That’s a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it — though not conclusively — to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out it’s in our food.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlé Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans.

Should we be alarmed?

The chemical industry doesn’t think so. Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council dismissed the testing, noting that Americans absorb quantities of BPA at levels that government regulators have found to be safe. Mr. Hentges also pointed to a new study indicating that BPA exposure did not cause abnormalities in the reproductive health of rats.

But more than 200 other studies have shown links between low doses of BPA and adverse health effects, according to the Breast Cancer Fund, which is trying to ban the chemical from food and beverage containers.

“The vast majority of independent scientists — those not working for industry — are concerned about early-life low-dose exposures to BPA,” said Janet Gray, a Vassar College professor who is science adviser to the Breast Cancer Fund.

Published journal articles have found that BPA given to pregnant rats or mice can cause malformed genitals in their offspring, as well as reduced sperm count among males. For example, a European journal found that male mice exposed to BPA were less likely to make females pregnant, and the Journal of Occupational Health found that male rats administered BPA had less sperm production and lower testicular weight.

This year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that pregnant mice exposed to BPA had babies with abnormalities in the cervix, uterus and vagina. Reproductive Toxicology found that even low-level exposure to BPA led to the mouse equivalent of early puberty for females. And an array of animal studies link prenatal BPA exposure to breast cancer and prostate cancer.

While most of the studies are on animals, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported last year that humans with higher levels of BPA in their blood have “an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.” Another published study found that women with higher levels of BPA in their blood had more miscarriages.

Scholars have noted some increasing reports of boys born with malformed genitals, girls who begin puberty at age 6 or 8 or even earlier, breast cancer in women and men alike, and declining sperm counts among men. The Endocrine Society, an association of endocrinologists, warned this year that these kinds of abnormalities may be a consequence of the rise of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and it specifically called on regulators to re-evaluate BPA.

Last year, Canada became the first country to conclude that BPA can be hazardous to humans, and Massachusetts issued a public health advisory in August warning against any exposure to BPA by pregnant or breast-feeding women or by children under the age of 2.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in the past has relied largely on industry studies — and has generally been asleep at the wheel — is studying the issue again. Bills are also pending in Congress to ban BPA from food and beverage containers.

“When you have 92 percent of the American population exposed to a chemical, this is not one where you want to be wrong,” said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “Are we going to quibble over individual rodent studies, or are we going to act?”

While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it justifies precautions. In my family, we’re cutting down on the use of those plastic containers that contain BPA to store or microwave food, and I’m drinking water out of a metal bottle now. In my reporting around the world, I’ve come to terms with the threats from warlords, bandits and tarantulas. But endocrine disrupting chemicals — they give me the willies.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

There Are More Slaves Today Than at Any Time in Human History

By Terrence McNally
August 24, 2009

The world suffers global recession, enormous inequity, hunger, deforestation, pollution, climate change, nuclear weapons, terrorism, etc. To those who say we’re not really making progress, many might point to the fact that at least we’ve eliminated slavery.

But sadly that is not the truth.

One hundred forty-three years after passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and 60 years after Article 4 of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights banned slavery and the slave trade worldwide, there are more slaves than at any time in human history -- 27 million.

Today’s slavery focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people like before, but about using them as completely disposable tools for making money.

During the four years that Benjamin Skinner researched modern-day slavery, he posed as a buyer at illegal brothels on several continents, interviewed convicted human traffickers in a Romanian prison and endured giardia, malaria, dengue and a bad motorcycle accident.

But Skinner is most haunted by his experience in a brothel in Bucharest, Romania, where he was offered a young woman with Down syndrome in exchange for a used car.

Currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and previously a special assistant to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Skinner has written for Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy and others. He was named one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year 2008. His first book, now in paperback, is A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery.

Terrence McNally: What first got you interested in slavery?

Benjamin Skinner: The fuel began before I was born. The abolitionism in my blood began at least as early as the 18th century, when my Quaker ancestors stood on soapboxes in Connecticut and railed against slavery. I had other relatives that weren’t Quaker, but had the same beliefs. My great-great-great-grandfather fought with the Connecticut artillery, believing that slavery was an abomination that could only be overturned through bloodshed.

Yet today, after the deaths of 360,000 Union soldiers, after over a dozen conventions and 300 international treaties, there are more slaves than at any point in human history.

TM: Is that raw numbers or as a percentage of the population?

BS: I want to be very clear what I mean when I say the word slavery. If you look it up in Webster's dictionary, the first definition is "drudgery or toil." It's become a metaphor for undue hardship, because we assume that once you legally abolish something, it no longer exists. But as a matter of reality for up to 27 million people in the world, slaves are those forced to work, held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. It's a very spare definition.

TM: Whose definition is that?

BS: Kevin Bales's. [His Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy was nominated for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, and he is the president of Free the Slaves ] I'm glad you asked because he's not given enough credit. He originally came up with the number 27 million, and it's subsequently been buttressed by international labor organization studies. Governments will acknowledge estimates of some 12.3 million slaves in the world, but NGOs in those same countries say the numbers are more than twice as high.

Kevin did a lot of the academic work that underpinned my work. I wanted to go out and get beyond the numbers, to show what one person's slavery meant. In the process of doing that, I met hundreds of slaves and survivors.

TM: As an investigative reporter rather than an academic, you take us where the trades are made, the suffering takes place and the survivors eke out their existences.

BS: In an underground brothel in Bucharest, I was offered a young woman with the visible effect of Down syndrome. One of her arms was covered in slashes, where I can only assume she was trying to escape daily rape the only way she knew how. That young woman was offered to me in trade for a used car.

TM: This was a Romanian used car?

BS: Yes, and I knew that I could get that car for about 1,500 euros. While that may sound like a very low price for human life, consider that five hours from where I live in New York -- a three-hour flight down to Port au Prince, Haiti, and an hour from the airport -- I was able to negotiate for a 10-year-old girl for cleaning and cooking, permanent possession and sexual favors. What do you think the asking price was?

TM: I don't know ... $7,500?

BS: They asked for $100, and I talked them down to $50. Now to put that in context: Going back to the time when my abolitionist ancestors were on their soapbox, in 1850, you could buy a healthy grown male for the equivalent of about $40,000.

TM: When I first read such big numbers, I was shocked.

BS: This is not to diminish the horrors that those workers would face, nor to diminish their dehumanization one bit. It was an abomination then as it is today. But in the mid-19th century, masters viewed their slaves as an investment.

But here's the thing: When a slave costs $50 on the street in broad daylight in Port au Prince -- by the way, this was in a decent neighborhood, everybody knew where these men were and what they did -- such people are, to go back to Kevin's term, eminently disposable in the eyes of their masters.

TM: If my reading is correct, the biggest concentrations of the slave trade are in Southeast Asia and portions of Latin America?

BS: If you were to plot slaves on the map, you'd stick the biggest number of pins in India, followed by Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan. There are arguably more slaves In India than the rest of the world combined.

And yet, if you look at international efforts or American pressure, India is largely let off the hook because Indian federal officials claim, "We have no slaves. These are just poor people. And these exploitive labor practices," -- if you're lucky enough to get that term out of them -- "are a byproduct of poverty."

Let me be clear, the end of slavery cannot wait for the end of poverty. Slavery in India is primarily generational debt bondage, people whose grandparents took a debt.

TM: To go back to the definition: Forced to work against their will with no escape.

BS: Held through fraud under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. These are people that cannot walk away.

I stumbled upon a fellow in a quarry in Northern India who'd been enslaved his entire life. He had assumed that slavery at birth. His grandfather had taken a debt of 62 cents, and three generations and three slave masters later, the principal had not been paid off one bit. The family was illiterate and innumerate. This fellow, who I call Gonoo -- he asked me to protect his identity -- was still forced to work, held through fraud under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.

Since he was a child, he and his family and his children, along with the rest of the enslaved villagers, took huge rocks out of the earth. They pummeled those rocks into gravel for the subgrade of India's infrastructure, which is the gleaming pride of the Indian elites.

They further pulverized that gravel into silica sand for glass. There's only one way that you turn a profit off handmade sand, and that's through slavery.

TM: Another method you describe: Someone shows up in a poverty-stricken village saying they need workers for the mines hundreds of miles away.

BS: It's a massive problem in the north of Brazil. What's tricky about this, in many cases these workers want to work. But they don't want to be forced to work under threat of violence, beaten regularly, having the women in their lives raped as a means of humiliating them, and then not being paid anything.

TM: They are transported to the mines, and when they arrive, they have a debt for that transportation, which is greater than anything they will ever be able to repay.

BS: And if they try to leave, there are men with guns. That's slavery. In the Western Hemisphere, child slavery, as we spoke of before, is most rampant in Haiti. According to UNICEF, there are 300,000 child slaves in Haiti.

TM: Does that mean in Haiti or originating in Haiti?

BS: That means within Haitian borders.

TM: So with all the poverty in Haiti, there are still people who can afford 300,000 slaves?

BS: Well if they're paying $50 ...

I went back last summer with Dan Harris of ABC Nightline. He was pretty incredulous of my claim. In fact, it ended up taking him 10 hours from ABC's offices in Manhattan, but by the end of those 10 hours, he'd negotiated with not one, but three traffickers who'd offered him three separate girls.

As he put it, the remarkable thing is not that you can get a child for $50, but that you can get a child for free. When you go up into these villages, you see such desperation on the parts of the parents.

I want to make clear, I never paid for human life; I never would pay for human life. I talked to too many individuals who run trafficking shelters and help slaves become survivors. They implored me, "Do not pay for human life. You will be giving rise to a trade in human misery, and as a journalist, you'll be projecting to the world that this is the way that you own the problem." If you were to buy all 300,000 child slaves in Haiti, next year, you'd have 600,000.

TM: If you were to buy the 300,000 slaves in Haiti in one fell swoop, you would be telling traders, "Hey, business is good," and so they'd grab more slaves.

BS: You're talking about introducing hard currency into a transaction that in many cases hasn't involved hard currency in the past. You're massively incentivizing a trade in human lives.

TM: These are those who practice what they call redemptions, buying slaves their freedom. Who's doing it, and what's your analysis of it?

BS: On the basis of three months spent in southern and northern Sudan, two months in southern Sudan in particular. ... There was one particular evangelical group based in Switzerland, organized and run by an American who raised cash around the States. They'd go to a Sunday School or a second-grade class in Colorado, talk about slavery, and say, "Bring us your lunch money. If you can get us $50, we will buy a slave's freedom."

It was a very effective sales pitch. They managed to raise over $3 million dollars by my calculations over the course of the 1990s.

In theory, they were giving money to "retrievers" who would go into northern Sudan, and through whatever means necessary, secure the slaves' freedom and bring them back down into the south.

In the context of the Sudanese civil war, slavery is used as a weapon of war by the north. Northern militias raid southern villages, and in many cases, kill the men and take the women and children as slaves and as a weapon of genocide. That much is not questioned. There is no question that these slave raids were going on.

I found that redemption on the ground was enormously problematic. There was scant oversight. They were literally giving duffel bags full of cash to factions within the rebels that were at that point resisting an ongoing peace process.

What they risked doing, whether through recklessness or through intent, was to become essentially angels of destruction at a time when a negotiated peace was just beginning to take hold. Thankfully, at this point they've scaled back the redemptions.

TM: So they were collecting money in the States to free slaves, and then funding a rebel movement in a war, and ...

BS: Potentially prolonging the war.

Thankfully, in the end, the death of rebel leader John Gurang meant that a different faction came to be more powerful. From my perspective, however, what was going on there was largely fraudulent.

I went back and asked the rebel officials, "What do you do with this money?" and they said, "We use it for the benefit of the people." Which begs the question, "But I thought this was being used to buy back slaves. I don't get it."

And they said, "Well you know, there's clothes, uniforms ..." They didn't actually say arms, but they said all sorts of things that they needed hard currency for, and this was their way of getting the cash.

I don't blame the rebels. If I were in a similar situation, I'd probably do the same thing. The most important point is this: By the merest estimates there are still some 12,000 slaves held in brutal bondage in the north of Sudan, and the government has not arrested or prosecuted one slave raider, one slave trader, one slave master. And as long as that continues to be the situation, the government of Sudan is in gross violation of international law.

TM: How does the distinction between sexual slavery and other sorts of labor show up, and how does it matter?

BS: When we're defining slavery, fundamentally at its core it's the same in each and every circumstance. We're talking about people forced to work held through fraud, under threat of violence, for no pay beyond subsistence. If we're talking about forced commercial sexual slavery, forced prostitution, there's an added element of humiliation or shame, because we're talking about rape.

In many parts of the world and in many traditional societies, if a woman is raped it's her fault. If a woman is liberated and tries to go back to the village she comes from, she will never again lead a normal life.

I think it's safe to say even in the United States, which we assume is a much more welcoming, tolerant society, women who've been in prostitution, regardless if it's forced or not, have a difficult time leading a normal life afterward.

There is a school of thought that sexual slavery is somehow worse than other forms of slavery. I actually don't buy that. I think that all slavery is monstrous, and no one slave's emancipation should wait for that of another. At the same time, if some people are moved to fight sexual slavery and sexual trafficking at the exclusion of other forms of slavery, God bless them, as long as they're fighting slavery at the end of the day.

TM: Briefly, what is the situation in America?

BS: On average, in the past half-hour, one more person will have been trafficked to the United States into slavery. About 14,000-17,000 are trafficked into the U.S. each year and forced to work within U.S. borders under threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.

TM: What can people do?

BS: On a personal basis, they can support CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) in Los Angeles. CAST has the oldest shelter in the country for trafficked women and has terrific programs that help victims of all forms of trafficking. It's a solid, mature organization.

They can also get involved with Free the Slaves. And they can talk about the issue more. Barack Obama is still setting his foreign policy agenda. He needs to hear from all of us that the true abolition of slavery needs to be a part of his legacy.

A quarter of Skinner's publishing royalties go to Free the Slaves.

Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles (streaming at Visit for podcasts of all interviews, and more.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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