September 16, 2018 in 2,009 words

The Global 1% Is Destroying Democracy

Unraveling a web of dark money

“Wherever you live in the world, you’ve been robbed. Not by a hidden bandit, but a global kleptocracy: the super-rich who’ve managed to rob the poor blind in every corner of the globe for the past seven decades.” ~ Michelle Chen

We’re living in a time of global income inequality on a scale never before seen in history. Money is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people around the world, and every year they have more of it than ever before. According to the 2018 World Inequality Report, those belonging to the wealthiest 0.1 percent of the global population have, since 1980, increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50 percent. The combined net worth of all 2,208 of the world’s known billionaires is twice that of the poorest 2.5 billion people. By 2030, members of the wealthiest one percent of the global population are projected to hold 64 percent — a full two-thirds — of the world’s wealth.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. The world’s top economists sat down in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, to figure out how to prevent the world economy from ever again becoming as destabilized as it was in the years leading up to World War I. They envisioned a global financial system that would stop countries from manipulating their exchange rates, curtail unrestricted international cash flows, and lock speculative capital behind national borders.

At first, financial globalization — which generated international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and tied currencies to the U.S. dollar, which was tied to gold — worked exactly as intended. It laid the economic foundation for a period of unprecedented prosperity and stability in the second half of the 20th century.

But this is a very different century — and in the decades since Nixon deflated the dollar’s value in gold in 1971, leading to a return of the old unregulated order and to our current floating exchange rates, the Bretton Woods system that was created 70 years ago has fallen apart.

The story of how we got here is a story of untold wealth hidden around the globe, and of a small number of unimaginably wealthy people — many of whom are authoritarian leaders who have perfected the art of enriching themselves at the expense of their people — gaming the international system to protect that wealth.

To understand the ways corrupt elites around the world have been exploiting this dark side of globalization, and the corrosive impact of that exploitation on democracies, the first thing you have to understand is the global network of financial secrecy enabling it.

Universal healthcare was unthinkable in America, but not any more

A single-payer healthcare system appears closer than ever but to make it a reality we must avoid the pitfalls of the past.

Medicare for all has become a part of mainstream discourse, and public support of the idea has soared.

Barack Obama dropped a bombshell into the healthcare debate roiling the Democratic party last Friday. “Democrats aren’t just running on good old ideas like a higher minimum wage,” he said, “they’re running on good new ideas, like Medicare for All …” His endorsement made headlines, and for a good reason: until recently, real universal healthcare had long resided on the margins of the American political discourse. Obama’s announcement, then, was yet one more indication that this idea – also called single-payer healthcare – had migrated to the mainstream. The shift is an encouraging development for proponents, to be sure, but there is also cause for caution: as history shows, formidable political obstacles and pitfalls lie ahead.

It is difficult to overstate how far single-payer has recently moved. Consider, for a moment, where things stood after Democrats took the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2008. “The White House and Democratic leaders have made clear,” the Washington Post reported the following year, “there is no chance that Congress will adopt a single-payer approach … because it is too radical a change.” Single-payer supporters didn’t even have a seat at the table (and some were arrested when they showed up anyway).

Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, however, several developments pushed single-payer to the fore. First, although Obamacare expanded coverage to some 20 million people – achieving much good – it raised hopes that universal healthcare would be achieved while failing to deliver it: some 29 million remain uninsured today, while many more face onerous deductibles, restrictive insurance networks, surprise bills, unaffordable medications, medical bankruptcies and disruptions in care with every change in insurance plan.

Next, there was the 2016 election of Donald Trump, which made it obvious that Republicans lacked even a semi-serious alternative. Congressman Paul Ryan’s long-awaited ACA repeal bill was mostly a mechanism to transfer healthcare dollars from the poor into the savings accounts of the rich, and it seemed to satisfy no one except for wealthy donors.

Finally, there was a marked progressive shift within the Democratic party, beginning with the 2015-16 presidential primary campaign. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton opposed single-payer, saying it would “never, ever” happen, but it was central to the platform of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders lost the primary, of course, but he advocated better ideas.

5 Crazy Ass Things That Fell Out Of The Sky

Back in the day (by which we mean 2013), we talked about all the randomness that has fallen from the sky like God’s hastily improvised wrath. Turns out that mankind and Mother Nature haven’t gotten any more careful in the intervening years, and a lot more weird stuff has been plummeting down and changing people’s lives in the most confusing ways. For example …

5. Live Lampreys

Everything’s more hardcore in Alaska. Instead of bears, they have grizzly bears and polar bears. Instead of long winter nights, they have one long winter night, period. And instead of raining cats and dogs, it rains ancient abominations from the depths of the ocean. And that’s not a saying.

Say what now?

Back in June 2015, Fairbanks thrift store manager Sue Valdrow had a day she won’t forget anytime soon. In what had to be the most exciting morning in the history of secondhand retail, “Two gentleman [sic] came in and asked if we have a bucket with water because there’s an eel in [the] parking lot,” Valdrow recalled. But instead of finding an eel, employees caught a live lamprey, a jawless vampire fish that hasn’t changed much since the prehistoric age.

Well this sucks.

And because one fish out of water isn’t crazy enough, officials said they’d received three more reports of lampreys falling from the sky around Fairbanks, one of which landed in a guy’s yard. According to ADFG sport fish information officer Nancy Sisinyak, the likely culprits leaving these things around town are gulls, which hunt the toothy horrors in the Chena River and likely dropped their catches on the way back to their nests. Because in Alaska, even the gulls are more hardcore.

I Got Off Adderall and Xanax Using Psilocybin

The trip that beat back addiction and unleashed a cascade of better choices.

In spring 2010, when I was 26, I began using Adderall, Xanax, oxycodone, and other pharmaceutical drugs in a decreasingly controlled manner. For two years, constantly trying to use fewer drugs while using ever more, I felt growing amounts of despair, worry, and hopelessness. By 2012, social situations required caffeine, a pharmaceutical stimulant, a benzodiazepine. The next day, I’d feel terrible, suicidal. I couldn’t seem to enjoy anything anymore unless I was on two or more strong drugs, even while alone.

During those dark years, I used LSD and psilocybin around 20 times and was shocked and heartened by their effects. They temporarily jarred me out of my habits — wallowing in depression, using pills to feel less bad — and made me feel saner. But my drug problem and bleak worldview (I vaguely subscribed to existentialism, which told me to make my own meaning in an indifferent universe) overpowered my psychedelic experiences, and I still felt stuck in helpless confusion, unable to stop using pills or find sustainable, compelling meaning in life.

In September 2012, I encountered the late psychedelics promoter Terence McKenna on YouTube. His ideas — that there’s nothing in society to be well-adjusted to; that people should follow plants and avoid gurus; that Jean-Paul Sartre was wrong (nature is not mute, but it is humans who are deaf) — excited me and renewed my interest in psychedelics, which I began to see within a new worldview.

McKenna specifically promoted plant psychedelics, which have been user-tested for at least centuries: cannabis, psilocybin, DMT, ayahuasca, Salvia divinorum. He encouraged people to use psychedelics alone, in silent darkness, after much planning and reading — the opposite of what I’d done, using them in public, with friends, after little to no research.

Eleven months later, in August 2013, alone in my studio apartment in Manhattan, at 12:50 a.m., with more intention and knowledge than during my previous psilocybin trips, I took my first weighed dose of psilocybin: 2.5 grams of a dried unknown species. I ate it knowing it would, at the least, severely change my perspective for a few hours, make me less depressed and compulsive and neurotic for days, and reinterest me in life for a week or more. I also knew it could motivate me to do things I wanted to do but for whatever reasons, including lack of inspiration, still hadn’t done.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

As climate deniers and their allies in industry and government thwart conservationists’ efforts, some scientists are working to develop a back-up plan: use technology to “geoengineer” the Earth’s atmosphere and reduce the impacts of climate change.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Trevor runs through the nominees for this year’s National Toy Hall of Fame and presents his own contender, a Trump-inspired Magic 8 Ball.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

職人技的にフィット感を得るまる。Maru wishes for more fitting feeling.


Opening up

Learning to talk about suicide.

“The thing that I was really amazed by is that nobody ever asked me, ‘Why did you kill yourself?’” Dave tells me as we talk about his attempted suicide that left him dead for somewhere between 10 and 13 minutes in 1994. “Nobody really asked me.”

So I ask him.

“It was like, this is the last thing I’m taking in this world, I’ve had enough. I’d already lived with too much pain,” he says. “I just said no more. I said this is it, I’ve already had enough insults, I don’t like this, I hurt too much, I’ve hurt too long. And it’s not being attended to.”

Everything that had been building all year — his entire life, really — suddenly broke loose, he says. Since then, as Dave has learned to rebuild his life, he’s also learned to not only talk about his experience but ask others about theirs.

“Let them have a good chance to speak honestly and openly about what brought that on,” he says. “People want to talk about it, they really do. It’s no big secret to them, trust me.”

It’s advice I hear over and over throughout the course of researching efforts to prevent suicide: We have to learn to talk about it.

One of the largest barriers to reducing suicide risk is the social and cultural stigma surrounding the topic. Any one person’s suicide can be caused by a complex variety of circumstances and no two situations are the same. Likewise, no one solution fits all to prevent it. Training health and other community professionals — from teachers, to law enforcement, lawyers and judges — in recognizing the warning signs is key in national efforts to reduce suicide risk, as is the availability, accessibility and affordability of mental health care.

Ahem …

It seems the next couple of weeks are Groundhog Days of today. These errant ramblings barely uninteresting at all things will have to take a back seat to a job that I love taking over my life.

I’ll post what I’m reading when I get a chance.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?