An Early Morning Viennese Debate

As a child, especially around Christmas, I was obsessed with trains. They may have been going in circles but they always went places. It was in May of 2015 that I found myself on a train heading east. After several Aufwiedersehens I was ready to go with all I ever needed in my rucksack. As it pulled out of the station I caught glimpses through the window of my adopted home at the foot of the Alps. It was heart wrenching and difficult to leave it, but then again so was getting there in the first place.

My destination was one of the great cities of the Danube river system. A political, cultural and economic hub of not just the Austrian peoples, but of Europe as well. How many treaties and conventions had this city been a part of in its history? And how many cannons hit her walls? How many invaders fell short, never reaching her streets? How many more died defending her? Wien (Vienna), has endured centuries and has a lot to show for it. Forget skeletons in the closet, try basement dungeons filled to the brim with bones. However, for all its history and pomp I didn’t give it much thought. It was just the first leg in a toilsome journey from one mountainous realm to the edge of the breaking sea. Through this trip I met both good people and degenerate life sucking psychopaths. By the end of day one I would be shown my own inescapable ignorance yet again. It is that quality of (the way I) travel; to show one’s self (and not-self) what you thought you knew is only a perspective and that what you could never dream of may be more real than you thought. That is what makes it worth all the pain. Or at least that is what I tell myself to keep from breaking down into a hobbled mess on a train station floor.

It is already fairly late when the train finally rolled in to the Westbahnhof (train station). The sun has set and the city is ablaze with fading and upgraded neon advertisements. It was exceptionally quiet night for a such a large city, but it was Monday after all. While walking to my destination in the Citadel of Dreams I thought over my still half-hazard plan. I was about 55% sure of a place to stay that night in the city before my bus in the morning. Better odds than 50/50 right? The trip would take me through the southern Slavic states, after years of interacting and drinking with ex-Yugos I would finally see the heart of the Balkans. But that is another story entirely.

Walking through the grey and broken streets, past cafes and store fronts, I recalled an article I read about the Imperial city. It was 1913 and Wien was a center of desire. A strange mix of numerous cultures all living and working around and with each other. Less than half the population was native born and a quarter were from Bohemia. It was around this time that Tito, Ferdinand, Hitler, Stalin and Freud all lived in the city. The mix of dreamers and cultures from other lands would meet in coffee-houses to discuss and share ideas. I am here simply to tell you that Wien has not lost this characteristic.

I arrived at the bar where my soon to be ex-boss is finishing up another one of his famous Pub-quizzes. We get a pint together as I wait for a reply from my potential host. She was a girl from Texas that I had met a week earlier at a Cannabis protest in the city (forget name dropping, try protest  dropping). My ex-boss actually didn’t even like being called a boss though. The first time I uttered the word in his presence he asked me immediately to stop using it. I had been doing pub-quizzes for him in Salzburg and managed to at least find a replacement for myself before I left to keep the quiz nights going. He told me he didn’t like the idea of bosses, that we would be something closer to partners. It was a new idea to me coming from the States. I couldn’t believe how much respect the man was giving to an American foreigner. I went with it but I couldn’t get that American idea out of my head; this man is my boss. My happy hilarious Hungarian boss.

He had the name of a great conqueror but preached a tolerant and tame Marxism. We spoke of Austrian politics, tourism and other things the central Europeans like to discuss. Then I realize this Texas girl is not going to reply to me, I am on my own. After explaining this to my Not-boss he reminds me of our first drunken night together at that very bar. It was an Australian bar down a weird alleyway closer to the Westbahnhof. The establishment was fairly roomy, and despite surroundings of cold stone and dim lights it did not feel like a damp cave. His friend the bartender had at the time drunkenly decided I was alright, for an Ami that is. This was when he offered me a place to stay should I ever need one. It was time to call in that drunken favor that he might not even remember. But he sets me up for a place to sleep with this bartender and his girlfriend. Interesting. Now the barman was a native Austrian, but his girl was Australian lass. Another transplant from the New World back to the Old.

It was that Monday in May that I bade farewell to one of the best employers (better?) I have ever had. We drank probably a few too many last rounds then I set off with two pretty complete strangers to try and get some sleep. As we walk to their apartment I find out that not only is Max a bartender he is also a musician as well. He shows me some of his tracks on his computer and I am honestly impressed with his sound. His girl, Sheila (Australian girl), was a tour guide leader in Wien and in Hungary as well. Basically my dream job. The two of them keep making Cuba Libres and we continue to drink and talk about the state of things in the world, in Europe, in the city even. I was interested to hear more about the city from someone who actually lived there. And this couple clearly knew what was up. Awesome apartment, books lining the walls, records and smoker friendly. Everything was going splendidly.

Then this Sheila says one of the few things I cannot stand to hear about our shared previously colonized New World; it has no culture. Now, I have already expressed my frustration with European stereotypes of Americans. I am usually fine with it because I shatter the idea of the fat, not well-read, ignorant, rich American just by standing in front of people. A true contradiction. However, when they say there is no culture I get on the defensive. I hadn’t left my country because it didn’t have enough culture. I left it discover other cultures and learn what I might from them.

So into my normal tirade I went. About how George Washington sat among a slew of other cultural revolutionaries of his time. About how dumping tea in the harbor and our acts of dissidence were the colonist’s nice way of saying to the King that we no longer shared a common life, a common goal, or even a common time-zone. I pleaded that a change in culture had to come before any chance at revolution anyway. Sheila stood her ground though. She pointed out that she meant the whole New World as a whole had no culture, I was still thinking too narrowly. They didn’t have the history that peoples here in Europe did. I was genuinely appalled and was drunk enough to continue to push back.

I assured her that I had no idea concerning Australia, but those United Fucking States had culture. We have all the cultures of the world. We took in the sick, the poor, the hungry! We treated them like crap but hell, we took them in. We have pizza! We have gyros! Not to mention a thousand styles of new beers, even Europeans will sometimes make an American Pale Ale. We do not only have culture; we have sub-cultures that are at odds with each other. A tired and corrupt police culture pitted against our most vulnerable citizens. For example, citizens from a culture of poverty, citizens from a culture of color and repression, citizens without proper legal documents. But this wasn’t good enough for her either. European culture was just richer. What the hell is that supposed to mean?! That is what I drunkenly yelled at some point probably.

At this point, Max has become bored with the conversation. An argument about a New World that he probably hasn’t given the time of day to think about isn’t that very exciting. And he was helping her prove her point. No one cares or even thinks to wonder if the New World has culture or not. They just run around wearing their flat-rimmed Yankees hats having never played baseball in their lives.

Forgetting I needed to sleep for an insane trip through the Balkans I continued to blather. I suggested that she must at least admit that there is some semblance of culture in the New World. As much of what Europe considers very traditional is actually from the Americas. Every cigarette smoked and potato eaten was an admittance that it is common for cultures to share and adapt to things over time. You can’t tell me that curry is British. She conceded that, yes, a culture very well may exist there, but that when she said; No culture, she meant; a young culture, a juvenile culture.  And as much as it still sounded condescending to a Maine culture back home that I knew existed, I knew she was right. The only culture I ever knew growing up was a culture passed down by white folks, and tI am pretty damn sure they were not the original inhabitants.

So sure, we have culture, but even I will admit we are culturally imperialistic and still share part of the colonist’s ethos. We are capable of slowly degrading other cultures. Burger King in Baghdad, baby. I always thought the Europark in Salzburg was such a sad American thing to have in such an old cultured nation. Ironically enough, it was an Austrian architect from Wien that drew up plans for the first American style mall. His idea of a town center with all the things you would usually get downtown now reached the suburbs. However, his idea for an open spaced area with fresh foods coming in was shut down and then shut in. The mall was closed in and every spare inch of space turned into an advert for something. The architect later saw these despot hell holes springing up in his native Austria and could only feel ashamed. And perhaps it was always the youths of other countries who thought that juvenile, young, new products were the best.

From 1850 to 1913 more than 20 million people moved from the Old World to the New World settlements. Perhaps one of the largest migrations of humankind. Packing lightly, one of the few things I think they could bring with them was their culture. But as they mixed and mingled that culture became something entirely different and new. And so new cultures were born. And it may be young but it does not lack substance. A colonial culture still has roots, though they may be short and replanted. And when I think about it in terms of the whole of human history, we have been changing and adapting as best we can to this unforgiving rock of a planet for tens of thousands of years. We brought wheat from the Middle East and coffee from North Africa to the corners of the world. Many of us still use a similar alphabet. All languages, religions, music and politics were shared and traded. Who is to say one culture is richer than the other? I suppose that is anyone’s personal opinion.

I will admit that our culture is juvenile and exists. And I will only half admit that European culture is richer or better. Since we separated and left Africa, if you believe that story, we collected new and interesting methods of all sorts of things. And in the past two centuries we have seen those ideas shared across the entire planet. I realize I was getting worked up over a silly definition. I realize it was pretty juvenile. But it helped me realize that even things that seem so sure and concrete may not be that way to everyone else after all.

I didn’t get any sleep that night arguing with those two. I went straight to the bus after our debate as it was about 7 am. I slept right down to the Hungarian border. Before I left though they both gave me their emails in an amazing book; Zealot. An in depth look into who the man Christ really was. I enjoyed the book very much so.

Perhaps America is an Irish twin of sorts to Europe. With Europe asserting some dominance by being a bit older. But how do these divisions in our global village shape our conversations and direct our actions? Even if they are only perceived divisions? We can and still do work together. From the individual to the collective we are on a crazy journey of experience accumulation, mixing and repetitions. What is the best way to evaluate these changes and developments? Hopefully, if anything, humans keep asking questions and breaking down barriers. Because while some Sapiens may erect walls, we always find that we were better off without them in the end, working, discussing, living together. Regardless of age or origin.

I’ll take a drunken debate over a deadly street fight any day.

 

 

Home Sick Home

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(I just really like this picture of Korra and she kinda looks sad and homesick)
February, 2015

Homesickness is a well known phenomena. It doesn’t happen to me that often but when it hits, it hits. Not everyone has experienced it but the idea itself is not hard to understand. You miss the people, the places, the smells, the weather, the cuisine, things you grew attached to and maybe even the things you used to hate. For instance,  I am missing out on some historical snow action in my home state of Maine at the moment. I remember quite clearly despising driving to Portland in the winter, especially having to warm up the car, cleaning the windshield and dealing with what ever else old man winter could throw my way. I even once accidently destroyed a mailbox while pretending to loose control in a snow storm to freak out my car mates. Now however, I seem to be missing all of these things and more even though I was just home for two months.

Today I find myself, once again, in some random townie ski village in the Alps.  I ended up here though because of another sickness, one that I only just learned about while living here. The people of the Germanic language have many words that we do not but this particular one stood out to me. The word is Fernweh. It might literally translate to seeing sickness or viewing pain but what it actually means makes more sense. It means an ache, not a desire or longing, but an actual pain for wanting to travel. It is actually a lot like feeling homesick only the exact opposite. You are homesick for a place that you have never been to. I wonder if this urge might have been passed down to us from our nomadic ancestors. I like the way that sounds but Im not a genealogist, so its probably just my own over exaggerated romanticism that I get from the French side of my family. Regardless of where the travel-ache comes from it is a serious problem with really only one solution; move. I don’t just mean move where you live but more like move with the earth as its turning. And I don’t just mean go walking or hiking for your health either. Nor do I mean spending the week at a beachside hotel. I mean packing as few things as you can to get as far as you can. I mean really experiencing all that you can find out there. I have met some great people traveling, people I know would love to meet my friends back home, some of which even have! I have also seen some of the most fantastic places with their help. Music, art, architecture, history, culture and languages await! Acknowledge, accept and breath that fact that you are a monkey thing magically strapped to a giant boulder flying around a massive burning ball of fire. Only then can you get rid of this disease.

I have recently thought that this may be all part of some homesick pattern. This was after stumbling across a Welsh word. Hiraeth, which means the homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.  This is also something that I can relate to. After spending semi large swaths of time away from home and coming back several different times I start to notice and really feel how things had changed there. Almost as if I had some how thought that home just went into a frozen time bubble while I was away, waiting for my return. Of course today’s social media doesn’t allow that to happen though, (I catch up on all my Maine news and I chat reasonably with family and friends) it was more about this feeling. The feeling of the days I cannot return too, possibly these are my youth, the home that maybe never was is my fogging memory, the nostalgia and yearning for the good times we had there. Though I know more good times are sure to come.

Fernweh, Homesickness, Hiraeth, (also check out Saudade) are these almost unexplainable emotions. How does one even grasp where a feeling like that comes from? You are sitting there one minute drinking some coffee in a cafe, someone walks by that looks vaguely like someone from your past, the cogs start to turn and suddenly you are a little bit sadder than you were when you ordered coffee sixty seconds ago. For me it was this pattern. First, the Fernweh takes you out of comfort zone (which is where people keep telling me the magic is but I have definitely still found magic in comfortable places ). Still it makes you wonder what is on the other side of those hills and it makes you want to run for it just to find out. Perhaps it is pure curiosity but it feels like more, as if the curiosity had a conscience and a will of its own. You can fight it as long as you want, read books, study geography, watch foreign films. But if you have a really bad case of it you will most likely wind up on a long dirt road, or in a strange city park or train station just trying to find a wifi signal.

Once you have gotten used to the strange new place the homesickness can start to grow until it finds the right moment to rear its ugly head. For me, when I feel it, I can taste it. It tastes like guilt. I love my home, I love my small town, I even love my State, and occasionally my country (country does not mean government in this instance) However, I can’t take York County on vacation with me, let alone the whole State. I barely managed to get my own brother and a Bob Ross look alike across all of Ireland and back. So I realize my guilt is misplaced. I just want the same amazing opportunities and experiences for my friends, family and neighbors back home. But until I am back the homesickness remains.

Now here is where the Hiraeth comes in. Something about being in Europe, meeting all these different nationalities, and they are all so proud of where they come from most of the time, it made me appreciate my home even more. But then I read the news and I have seen the changes and some things really worry me. I long for those days at summer camp without a care in the world, not understanding the news and not caring who Al Gore was. However, the world keeps spinning. So all I can do now to fight the Hiraeth is to try to give a little bit of Maine to every place I visit and to also know that I will bring a little bit of the world back to Maine some day.

I wouldn’t force Fernweh on anyone, I could only recommend catching it.

The Hog and the Lion

Le cochon. French: pig, hog, swine.

Respectful. Honest. Insightful. These are words I wish I could use to describe my governor. Unfortunately, they do not at the moment, and they may not for another two years. While most Mainers are already on the same page about LePage, this had to be begrudgingly written for the rest of the world.

Painstakingly, I have observed and shared the most magnificent parts of our beautiful forested state. Now one man threatens to destroy that work single handedly. See, in Maine we know our governor is a bit of a shit-head. He belches out whatever split-second half-thought that manages to avoid the few filters he has. As far as I am concerned they are the last snorts of fascism in Maine. Desperate, racist and dwindling.

However, the rest of the world has now seen our leader standing up on some enchanted hate inspired soap box that can be seen from the Belgrade lakes to Belgrade, Serbia. Some of these people reading about him are hearing about Maine for the first time. As if I didn’t already have enough bad first impressions in my life. This insane sensationalism over hate speech has just got to stop. Apparently Donald Drumpf is not enough for the hate crazed media outlets.

We have already tried to impeach LePage, and perhaps next time we will make it happen. Any lost time we can get back from him would be for the better. The man has stood against real progressive change in this state for too long, from action to curb climate change to forgetting to vote for his own racist bills. However, there is no reason to show the rest of the world and the nation a man who does not even come close to representing anything about us or our state. He is our problem and we can more than handle it.

There are two lessons here.

First lesson; implement Ranked Choice Voting (Yes on 5). This will save us a lot of hassle in the future and avoid Vote Splitting (an electoral effect in which the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates reduces the chance of winning for any of the similar candidates, and increases the chance of winning for a dissimilar candidate). There is no reason for an elected official to win because he just happens to be the only guy standing there with something different to say. Especially when that something different is ignorant and racist. This is the important lesson Maine has to offer the nation this November 2016.

Second lesson; the media has failed in their news coverage. It is not just enough to check the centers of power. Alternatives and movements against outrageous and completely inappropriate behavior also deserve coverage. However, the BBC had an article titled “Black people are the ‘enemy’ – US governor”. Clickbait if I ever heard of such a thing. It was at the top of their US news list when I saw it August 27th. When all those people clicked on it they saw which state’s governor that was. Unfortunately, the title did not read ‘Local American Non-profit keeps governor in check’. The Maine People’s Alliance is already working to put progressive democrats into office in Maine to counter the governor’s nonsense.

Then there is Comedy Central with their over-analyzing of every stupid thing that comes out of that Orange-blur of a maw. Yes, we need to be aware of clear and present dangers. But we do not want to blow it so far out of proportion. Collectively they have given him so much free press and probably a good many more votes. The more you attack and belittle him the more they love him and the deeper their Ostrich ears go into the sand. They will shout; the liberal media is on the attack again! It is the ultimate get out of using logic free card. What we need to be covering is the complete opposite. I want to see more articles about the women and men who stand up to counter such arrogant and exclusive acts.

For example, now that I have tricked you into reading a bit further with a trail of genuine and deserving insults for our blubbering governor you will get to learn about someone more deserving of attention in Maine. The world needs to know that our state is not going to be famous for having a racist governor, but for having an inclusive and fair society. So instead of swinging the camera at the guy with the hate slogans, let us focus on a more respectable up and coming Maine politician.

This November Pious Ali will be running for Portland City Council in Maine. Originally from Ghana, he moved to the United States in 2000 and has been in Portland for the past decade. He has continued to work within the Portland community to bring down barriers separating people economically, socially, and religiously. His civic engagement has been an inspiration for many and it even got him a seat on the Portland Board of Public Education in 2013. This is a man who understands how important education is to public society and for kids to be successful in their lives.

When I first met Pious Ali it was at a camping trip for the Maine Irish Children’s Program. The organization aimed to bring youths of the two conflicting communities in Northern Ireland to Maine for the summer to help build bridges and break down walls. For the American youths it was eye-opening just to realize an almost entirely white community would be at odds in Northern Ireland. To give us a bit more perspective we had a few lecturers and field trips, including a synagogue. It was up to Pious Ali though to teach us about Islam. This was a lecture I will always remember and appreciate. It was 2009 and for some reason Fox News wasn’t giving us any hints at what the Five Pillars of Islam might be. Living in a small coastal town in Maine there also were not too many Mosques around. I remember Pious being very calm, explaining things clearly and taking questions from some of us. He handled what was usually a pretty rowdy group of teens with ease. This is the kind community engagement I want to see an elected official be a part of. Not like some others.

On his website he advocates strong neighborhood schools, quality and affordable housing, and livable wages for a livable city. I definitely recommend checking out his profile even if you are not voting in Portland, as it may give you a better idea of what your local representatives could be saying and doing. This is exactly the kind of progressive and forward thinking policy I want to hear more about going forward and less about the other more boisterous politicians and their bizzaro-world blame game. Solutions work if we work on them together. When bi-polar party politics get in the way we all lose out so that two ideological organizational structures can simply continue to exist.

The point I am very simply trying to make here is for people to focus on the good and the positive. The more we focus on the bad the more it will seem normal until our entire community is so desensitized to hate and violence we just continue to let it happen. The other point I am trying to make is that Maine is not a state for hate. It is time we paid attention to the efforts and to those people who keep our community healthy, educated, together and safe.

One Maine family has already shared a video of their opposing views to LePage’s racism. They are asking others to do the same. Thanks to them we will hopefully be able to save some face and not have our state become a poster child for intolerance.

While many people are viewing his actions as nothing new, many still think that he has crossed a line this time. Both with threatening another politician with violence and claiming that people of color are the enemy. Some have become desensitized to his words of violence. They may think his words don’t really mean anything and he is just blowing hot air. Either way we cannot sit idly by. And while I am appalled that national media outlets would use his words as a catch line for more hits and views, it would be worse to ignore him. I sincerely hope Maine Democrats can do everything they can to get him out of office. We will not let his behavior become the norm in Maine.

People of planet earth, fear not Le Cochon of Maine. He will be gone soon. Perhaps sooner than we thought.  Maine is still a place where all are welcome to visit, join and participate.

But leave the hate at the gate.

 

 

 

Mozart, Mountains, and Hemp: Welcome to Grastria

It was a cloudy morning in Vienna, stoners, metal heads, vegans, punks, mothers, fathers, children, handicapped, old, young, foreign and native had gathered outside the Westbahnhof on May 2nd 2015. An insane collection of diverse people came together to protest the decades old prohibition of cannabis this month with Hans Söllner and band giving a free performance at the beginning. The march was part of a Global Cannabis March with millions of people from over 250 cities taking part. For these people Grass is normal. It is drinking a coffee, having a beer or taking vitamins in the morning. For more still it is more similar to going to church, praying five times a day or reflecting and meditating on one’s own life.

Unfortunately, the Hanf Wandertags organized in Vienna over the past few years has yet to receive recognition in the form of new public policy from political representatives. The curious case of cannabis has for years remained underground. Now it is slowly but surely coming out and into the light. Grow shops, activists, artists and many more passed out fliers and information about the medicinal benefits of the plant. The sun then finally came out as those participating in the march waved flags and danced along to DJ trucks on their way to Heldenplatz. Many even smoked while hiking through the Vienna streets with police just meters away. Lucky the police did not want to turn a peaceful demonstration into a hash filled riot.

Some local grow shops passed out free smoking supplies and small cannabis plants (stecklinge). Lawyers also passed out advertisements in the form of smoking supplies with their names and information written on them. Organizations supplied leaflets, showing that the march isn’t just about encouraging a new industry, it is about education too.

As the crowd moved through the city many people came out of storefronts and windows to take pictures and see what all the commotion was about, some even danced along and cheered. The protest had an over all positive atmosphere. Although none of the major political parties dared to join or show support the Austrian Greens, KPÖ, PiratenPartei und Plattform der Unabhängigen made an appearance. At the end of the day the question is; what does the Austrian government really fear about legalizing Cannabis? There seem to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the substance.

While humans have used Cannabis for centuries it was only very recently that it has been prohibited. The tide certainly turned for legal cannabis advocates with the allowance for medicinal use of the substance. When people started to realize that the plant had medicinal qualities suddenly everything that had been said about it the past came into question. Synthetic medicinal Marijuana is sold regularly in Austria with a physician’s prescription. Even seeds and stecklinge can be purchased in shops. However, the sale of THC is still strictly prohibited.

Although research over the years has been severely blocked we still know quite a lot about it. Cannabis contains psychotic and anti-psychotic compounds, THC and CBD. They work to subtly change the effects and balance each other out. The reason cannabis works so well is because of the similarities it shares with our own natural neurotransmitters. The dosage is also an important factor to consider. All drugs influence maximally at small dosages, while too much can produce an opposite effect. Without this information widely and easily available to the public, how can anyone be expected to use any substance responsibly or as a medicine?

In 1970 Richard Nixon ratified the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Many of America’s allies at the time followed this strategy of prohibition despite contradictory evidence. Nixon stood politically to the right and this put him in direct opposition to certain grass roots movements that were developing at the time. The prohibition of cannabis was a cold and politically calculated move that actually had less to do with the plant and more to do with who was associated with it. This included pacifists against the Vietnam War, people against nuclear proliferation, people against racial and sexual discrimination and censorship. The rest of the world, including Western Europe, simply had to play along with the Cold War game.

The Cold War eventually ended and the wall came down. Now many world leaders are speaking out against the classification of Cannabis as a dangerous drug. Several world leaders gathered this September with the Global Commission on Drug Policy to announce a new approach called Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. They call for a move toward public health and social investment and away from criminalization. This comes with the understanding that to actually stop addiction abusers need treatment not punishment.  Death and prison sentences for minor drug abuse in this perspective are essentially human rights violations. The idea now is that drugs become more dangerous when they are illegal. The government, not criminals, should control drugs with a more sophisticated regulation system. This can reduce the power that black market organizations have. The solution calls for regulation and responsible institutions. While many claim this is an unrealistic plan the Commission maintains that an evidence and fact based policy is feasible and necessary.

The important part in attempting to legalize this drug is moderation and information. We need to explain to teens that both cannabis and alcohol can harm the brain during development. We also need to make sure companies do not take advantage of legalization and try to market cannabis to children. It should be legal for any citizen to grow their own so that patients who use cannabis will not be reliant upon a firm or distributer. A black market for cannabis and many other substances will always exist. After years of failed prohibition, providing the public with real information on substances and not propaganda is a better solution.

There have been many regions around the world that have legalized Cannabis and they have yet to see negative results. In Switzerland possession of less than 10 grams has been decriminalized. Most German Bundesländer from Berlin down to Bayern also allow for possession of small amounts without jail time. The Czech Republic has recently allowed for limited medical marijuana. In Spain growing for personal use has been legalized, while possession in public and sale are still illegal. Spain also has around 500 Cannabis Clubs where one must be a member to smoke, 200 of these clubs are in Barcelona. The Netherlands is the most liberal with their cannabis laws. Coffee shops are legal to smoke in but not legal to sell from, though this is not strongly enforced. These are just examples from Europe. Many States in the USA have adopted medicinal marijuana and several states and cities have legalized possession and sale. In South America many states are pushing for legalization of cannabis to lessen the revenue of organized gangs. Uruguay has gone so far as to legalize cannabis nationwide. Austria can learn a lot from these countries and maybe even look to them as models for the future of legal Cannabis.

In Austria it is still illegal and can possibly result in jail time for possession and sharing, though consumption is actually legal. It is now time for the country to push for legalization and have a nationwide conversation on how this will be done. What kind of Cannabis policy could be acceptable? The Czech model, with decriminalization and medicinal access for patients who could use a healthier and cheaper alternative to prescription drugs that can be more dangerous, could be an option. Or perhaps Austria might want to increase tourism through legalization; instead of Dutch coffee shops there could be Cannabis Jägerhutte. Or if a more secure method of access is wanted Cannabis Social clubs may be the answer. In the end we may see an entirely new Austrian model for legalization. Needless to say the conversation needs to come out into the main stream. While some political parties have cautiously voiced the need for reform it is nowhere near enough. It is time to stop whispering and start talking.

Let Boycotts Be Buycotts

Let Boycotts Be Buycotts

Another record breaking summer of heat this 2016 and the northeast of America is facing a drought. Unfortunately, since our less than lovely governor here in Maine, or notre cochon du fascism (our fascist pig), signed off on a 45-year contract with Nestle and Poland Spring, Mainers around the Fryeburg area have been seeing their wells drying up while water continues to be pumped out of the ground, shipped, sold, sucked, guzzled, and spat. Mainers, including myself, are fed up with having a local public resource being stolen for profit and sold back to us, as if we were being done a favor by Nestle and their global enterprise. However, there is not much one can do outside of spreading the good word and participating in a good old fashion boycott of all products Nestle. (Which means giving up Nerds and Nerds rope as well). As time went on I started to form reservations. Was not buying Poland Spring and yammering on about Nestle doing any good at all? So I took a half-hazard glance into what boycotting was all about and how it works as a tool for activists across the globe.

As it turns out Boycott is actually some poor British bastard’s last name. Forever will he be immortalized for his attempts to ignore altruism and basic human dignity. A cosmic irony if there ever was one, seeing as his name is now used to attempt to defeat such practices. Anyway, this Charles Boycott was a British land owner who treated his Irish workers so poorly that they began to do the most unthinkable disastrous thing any group of workers could ever do. They organized, forming the Irish Land League to help poor tenant farmers. They promoted the three Fs; Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure, and Free Sale. They then withheld their labor from Boycott in an effort to regain some dignity in their working situation. Now, of course, there have been actions of similar fashion before the 19th century, but for whatever reason this was the one that stuck and became a staple word in the English language that we continue to use today. In the end the British and loyalist Orangemen came to the rescue of Boycott and provided the lacking labor to harvest 500 pounds’ worth of food to the expense of 10,000 pounds’. While the Irish Land Leagues actions may have substantially set their British landowners back financially Britain would remain a powerful force on the Island, as we know now, well into the 21st century. So was the boycott successful? At the time it must have brought some degree of relief for the tenants. However, it surely did not bring about the desired goal of having workers be treated equally and not as second class citizens. It seems that, while an effective activist method, boycotting is not a cure all.

Since Charles Boycott’s landlording mishap, boycotts have been used by the Nazis against Jewish businesses, as well as the other way around. The American Jewish Congress also boycotted Nazi Germany in answer to the horrific treatment of the Jewish population there. The practice is clearly a go to political tool to achieve one’s goals. However, throughout our brief yet interesting human history boycotts have come and go and have all had varying degrees of success. While some faded away into obscurity others, like the S-Bahn train system boycott in Berlin, saw some results. This action was called on by unions and politicians to protest the construction of the Berlin wall and brought about a significant number of passengers opting out of the local subway and train service. However, it was not that action alone that would bring down the wall.

In the world we live in today the internet of things has transformed how we communicate and express ourselves. And in so doing it has transformed how we communicate and express our political desires. The internet has significantly augmented the way people can boycott. Now with the click of a button and a few search bars one can find a relatively good amount of information on the products and producers around the world. For example, a UK website, called the Ethical Consumer, has a list of 66 on going progressive boycotts across the globe. On the list are a few of the usual suspects; Wal-mart, British Petroleum, and Coca-cola. However, some of the companies on here were surprising. Bacardi has apparently been using the Cuban origins card in advertising while simultaneously lobbying the US government against lifting the embargo. Another surprising addition was Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. This is a Vermont company known very well for their fair business practices and community work. They make the list due to just one affiliation and one movement; the BDS. The company apparently sells ice cream to an Israeli franchise that has business in recently made settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is a group working hard against Israeli colonialism and apartheid and working toward justice and equality for Palestinians.

The list of 66 is just a taste of the current working boycotts. Many more still exist and not always for progressive action. In an article by the Guardian entitled “Do boycotts really work?” it is pointed out that “…a seemingly endless list of companies, movies, TV programs, actors, business executives and events are being shunned by consumers for some reason or another” (Watson, 2015). Out of the ongoing boycotts some have been around for decades. Since 1977, Nestle has been boycotted over their promotion of their own milk product over natural breast feeding. As time went on the company expanded their resume of shady dealings and human rights abuses. Recently, Nestle was involved in, not one, but two separate slavery charges. In Thailand they admitted to have found forced labor practices but at the same time they are fighting a child labor lawsuit in the Ivory Coast (Kelly, 2016). Consumers around the world will continue to buy their water and the chocolate and some cat food without a single thought of the consequences.

Another well aged boycott is not on a company but on a country. Since the Jewish State came into existence in 1948 it has been boycotted by many Arab countries. The movement over the years started to organize online and attract other peoples to the Palestinians plight. However, boycotts do not reach the UN Security Council, nor do they halt the magnificent turning gears of a capitalist giant like the Swiss chocolate makers of Nestle. The use of boycotts is effective, but only sometimes and only to a certain degree. And please do not think that boycotts are only used by progressive groups. While people across America are buying alternatives to Koch Brother products there are still consumers on the other side of the spectrum. The practice has been used by both pro-LGBT and anti-LGBT groups.

While many boycotts are limited in their reach sometimes the main goal is not just to influence one company, but the entire industry (Diermeier, 2016). To change a company from the outside is an insanely difficult thing to organize but it is not impossible. Sometimes all that really has to be done is to show the company and the world what the issue is. Just bringing attention to it can lead to some greater action down the road. A company may not lose a lot of money directly from your boycott but the money spent to cover up all the terrible nasty things being spread about them may be enough (Kieler, 2014).

Some might argue that boycotts do not work at all. Insisting that while you strategically pick out which companies are pious enough to stick around you are actually hurting the overall economy. “And unbeknownst to many of the pro-boycott folks, a great deal of their 401(k) and pension accounts are tied up in these corporations. Take them down and plan on working an extra year to make up for the smaller retirement checks” (Schneider, 2014). This position seems to take for granted that the magical economy may not have our best interests at heart. If we were to let the ‘Free hand of the market’ make all the decisions for us we may soon be wage slaves to a few Nestle type corporations in a few short decades. Kieler points out that it was boycotts by colonists to the Tea Act that led to the revolution, as well as boycotts of the Montgomery bus that helped launch a civil rights movement (Kieler, 2014).

Civil rights movements and labor rights movements may be all the rage, but the tool itself is used by religiously motivated groups as well, for example the American Family Association. Anti-equality and pro-exclusivity groups will also use boycotting as a weapon. They have been a hindrance to equal marriage rights for a quite a while. They have helped muster support for their cause and continue to promote Christian values in a nation founded on the idea of separating church and state. Samantha Allen points out here all the things you would have to give up to actively be against Trans-friendly businesses (Allen, 2016). Luckily, as noted before, not every boycott is successful. So the question is, when does a boycott work? And what will boycotts look in a future of rapid technological progress?

A boycott will not work simply by itself. If success is to follow the right conditions and connections need to be met. Sometimes a boycott may ‘piggy back’ in a sense on an already existing movement and together they may cause enough ruckus for change to start. It is difficult in these situations to say what was necessary and what actually caused the change in firm or industry behavior. Brayden King argues that companies that experience a decline in public trust are more susceptible to boycotts, and that the more attention that is brought to them, the more effective the boycott will be (King, 2001). But was it really the movement itself or was it the boycott? It is hard to say in such a complex issue that x + y = z. Americus Reed, a marketing professor at Wharton, found that visibility and severity are indicators of how successful a boycott can be (Reed, 2010). However, he notes that the internet and 24-hour news have desensitized people to news about such boycotts. “What is defined as outrageous becomes a harder threshold to cross,” Reed notes. “The frequency with which we are exposed to these [horrible] events will decrease the chance any one event will be seen as severe” (Reed, 2010).

It seems that executing a successful boycott is as difficult as navigating safely through a hurricane. Thanks to the internet there is an invisible war going on all around us. A war of moving money, this abstract concept not bound by matter, space, or time. Money was a means or tool of exchange and a holder of value, now it is capable of stimulating and slowing down the whole economy. With such great changes in the nature of our economy, changes in how people boycott were bound to happen.

With smartphones there are new applications utilizing the idea of boycotts. Now, whether you are a priest against contraceptives or you are a Scotsman pushing for independence, you can now track and shop smarter for your personal politics. Now you might find out a little sooner on that one of your favorite products actually funnels money against an issue you may care very deeply about. The app Buycott allows users to generate campaigns that encompass several businesses within the same issue or industry. By subscribing to Demand GMO Labeling you can scan products and it will tell you if it was made by one of the 36 corporations that have donated to oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food (Shinseki, 2013). Creator of the app, Ivan Pardo, stated “I don’t want to push any single point of view with the app,” said Pardo. “For me, it was critical to allow users to create campaigns because I don’t think it’s Buycott’s role to tell people what to buy. We simply want to provide a platform that empowers consumers to make well-informed purchasing decisions” (O’Connor, 2013).

Although the intention with boycotting is clear, changing consumer culture will not be so easy.  It may also include actual “Buycotts”, as mentioned by Kieler (Kieler, 2014). This is simply shopping smarter and more locally to help benefit the people around you and in your daily life most. If we are going to have a change in consumer culture, if you want change in any culture, it takes more than one group, more than one aspect, more than one boycott, and more than one voice to change the society as a whole. So are boycotts effective? A hammer can either smash someone’s skull in or build a house for a family. As a social and political tool a boycott is a little less dangerous and can both be very successful and ultimately fail. Changing the behavior of humans may seem easy for advertisers, but for activists it is like telling your cat not to smack that glass off the table. All you can do is give consumers the avenue to do right and hope they take it (no matter how desensitized they are). Forcing them to do so may only cause them to further self-justify their sketchy purchasing behavior in the end. So keep an open mind  and simply check out what is in your refrigerator. You may find yourself surprised at the things you have been indirectly supporting.

Bibliography

Allen, S. (2016) All the things you can no longer buy if you’re really boycotting Trans-Friendly businesses. Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/26/all-the-things-you-can-no-longer-buy-if-you-re-really-boycotting-trans-friendly-businesses.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Berlin S-Bahn (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_S-Bahn#After_the_construction_of_Berlin_Wall (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Current list of consumer boycotts (no date) Available at: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottslist.aspx (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Diermeier, D. (2012) When do company boycotts work? Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/08/when-do-company-boycotts-work (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Kelly, A. (2016) Nestlé admits slavery in Thailand while fighting child labour lawsuit in Ivory Coast. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/01/nestle-slavery-thailand-fighting-child-labour-lawsuit-ivory-coast (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Kieler, A. (2014) If A boycott works, it’s not just because people stopped buying stuff. Available at: https://consumerist.com/2014/05/17/if-a-boycott-works-its-not-just-because-people-stop-buying-stuff/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

King, B. (2001) Why boycotts Succeed—and fail. Available at: http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/why_boycotts_succeed_and_fail (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

O’Connor, C. (2013) New App lets you boycott Koch brothers, Monsanto and more by scanning your shopping cart. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/05/14/new-app-lets-you-boycott-koch-brothers-monsanto-and-more-by-scanning-your-shopping-cart/#2c5139eb2c82 (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Pro-GMO? Or pro-right to know? – support the cause! (no date) Available at: http://www.buycott.com/campaign/211/pro-gmo-or-pro-right-to-know (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Reed, A. (2010) To boycott or not: The consequences of a protest – Knowledge@Wharton. Available at: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/to-boycott-or-not-the-consequences-of-a-protest/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Schneider, C. (2014) ‘Buycott’ at your own risk. Available at: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/opinion/buycott-at-your-own-risk-b99337719z1-272760731.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Shinseki, E. (2013) Quote of the day. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/06/11/watch-forbes-test-buycott-app-on-anti-gmo-and-koch-products-in-supermarket-aisle/&refURL=&referrer=#15563a4245cc (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Watson, B. (2015) Do boycotts really work? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2015/jan/06/boycotts-shopping-protests-activists-consumers (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Allen, S. (2016) All the things you can no longer buy if you’re really boycotting Trans-Friendly businesses. Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/26/all-the-things-you-can-no-longer-buy-if-you-re-really-boycotting-trans-friendly-businesses.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Allen, 2016)

Berlin S-Bahn (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_S-Bahn#After_the_construction_of_Berlin_Wall (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Berlin S-Bahn, 2016)

Current list of consumer boycotts (no date) Available at: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/boycotts/boycottslist.aspx (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Current list of consumer boycotts, no date)

Diermeier, D. (2012) When do company boycotts work? Available at: https://hbr.org/2012/08/when-do-company-boycotts-work (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Diermeier, 2012)

Kelly, A. (2016) Nestlé admits slavery in Thailand while fighting child labour lawsuit in Ivory Coast. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/01/nestle-slavery-thailand-fighting-child-labour-lawsuit-ivory-coast (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Kelly, 2016)

Kieler, A. (2014) If A boycott works, it’s not just because people stopped buying stuff. Available at: https://consumerist.com/2014/05/17/if-a-boycott-works-its-not-just-because-people-stop-buying-stuff/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Kieler, 2014)

King, B. (2001) Why boycotts Succeed—and fail. Available at: http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/why_boycotts_succeed_and_fail (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(King, 2001)

O’Connor, C. (2013) New App lets you boycott Koch brothers, Monsanto and more by scanning your shopping cart. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/05/14/new-app-lets-you-boycott-koch-brothers-monsanto-and-more-by-scanning-your-shopping-cart/#2c5139eb2c82 (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(O’Connor, 2013)

Pro-GMO? Or pro-right to know? – support the cause! (no date) Available at: http://www.buycott.com/campaign/211/pro-gmo-or-pro-right-to-know (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Pro-GMO? Or pro-right to know? – support the cause!, no date)

Reed, A. (2010) To boycott or not: The consequences of a protest – Knowledge@Wharton. Available at: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/to-boycott-or-not-the-consequences-of-a-protest/ (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Reed, 2010)

Schneider, C. (2014) ‘Buycott’ at your own risk. Available at: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/opinion/buycott-at-your-own-risk-b99337719z1-272760731.html (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Schneider, 2014)

Shinseki, E. (2013) Quote of the day. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/06/11/watch-forbes-test-buycott-app-on-anti-gmo-and-koch-products-in-supermarket-aisle/&refURL=&referrer=#15563a4245cc (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Shinseki, 2013)

Watson, B. (2015) Do boycotts really work? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2015/jan/06/boycotts-shopping-protests-activists-consumers (Accessed: 27 August 2016).

(Watson, 2015)

I am with Her…Again

What an election cycle, eh? Now, I must say, I had been on the Bernie train before it even got on the tracks. Days went by where I was hovering over the refresh button. I had read about Burlington a lot since visiting there myself a couple times during college. The city itself is just so amazing and I went so far as to drive over five or six hours just to show a visiting signorina what I considered one of America’s finest gems. This brought me to Bernie, his progressive and refreshing policies, and our struggle. The more I read the more I wanted this man to run for president. I had completely forgotten we were trying to get our first woman in the oval office. I had utterly forgotten that I already knew who the President was going to be in 2016. However, Bernie was offering something she could never; new trajectory for American politics. The waiting continued and he still had not announced his candidacy. Maybe people are actually too afraid of a socialist inspired hell scape after all, I thought. Back then I had already been through several of those European market socialist hell holes and I always came to a similar conclusion, or question. The right wingers are still alive and well in these countries as much as they are in the States. However, these pro-religious, mostly rural, and sometimes very anti-immigrant communities were (more or less) fine with having single-payer health care and affordable higher education. If a bunch of gun toting blame seekers could accept that in one country, I thought, why not mine? Most people would argue, well no person or country are the same, and that is just the way it is. But that is exactly what Bernie went up against in America. He went up against the myth that nothing can change, against the myth that affordable health and education are terrifying phantoms and deadly day dreams, and he was right to do so. And although he may have lost he proved a moral obligation exists to keep fighting no matter what the odds. Now we have to reflect on that while moving forward with her.

A sense of creeping liberosis (the desire to care less about things) found me this election year. This was despite previously thinking it might be interesting to actually be in America for 2016. The train wreck we all watch and scream for while the world falls apart all around us, the ultimate hunger games, who wouldn’t want front row seats to that? And as much as politics may annoy you, and you might be done with it, it is never done with you. Politics simultaneously cares and doesn’t give a shit about you. It is in many ways the balancer between you and the community, between the individual and the poli (Greek for city). So if you are displeased with politics as it stands don’t ignore it, join it, shape it, breathe your own uniqueness into it. That is something I can admire Hillary Clinton for. When she saw a corrupted political system she didn’t back down to it, didn’t hide away from the public eye, she went right after it, talons drawn. She has also been an inspiration for women to join into the modern political fray and there is absolutely nothing wrong with increasing citizen participation and turning what used to be a men’s game into what it should be; a citizen’s game.

The convention is finished and while thinking over all the events I was softly brought back to that feeling of waiting. Waiting for what, I thought. And while we are waiting, what are we enduring? While waiting for Bernie I was waiting for real discussion, real issues, and less petty politics. However, it seems like we are now a society magnetized toward pettiness. The road ahead is a road frequently traveled by. The footsteps and loose stones are familiar to both JFK and Nixon. I don’t expect a political revolution from Hillary, but I do expect political backwardness to thrive if Drumpf wins and the last thing I want in America is for us to take steps and possibly bounds in the opposite direction. And that is why I’m with her now (again). Although I also despise the lesser of two evils choice that is forced down our throats like political extortion, that is the lay of the political landscape. As much as I would love to give more support to a third party, be it Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, I am not willing to let America dive into being a more populist Reich than it already is. Maybe in the near future we can come up with a multi-party system that isn’t hell bent on demagoguery and catchy slogans.

As mentioned before, eight years ago I was already hoping Clinton would get the nomination in 2016. It was clear to me then that she was a good choice after seeing her commitment to the great game. Like Obama’s comical anger translator Luther said, Khaleesi is coming to Westeros. However, there is a part of the left that has yet to decide if Clinton is a Khaleesi, coming to free us from low waged chains or if she is a less incestual Cersei just twisting and manipulating her way to the top. She became Clinton the climber, the fighter, and our woman. But is this woman a monster in the same league as Donald Drumpf or does she utilize a necessary evil to counter such forces? Perhaps it is neither, perhaps she is the Lady Lizard overlord we have conspired her to be. Or perhaps there is only one way to fight the corruption of the GOP establishment and their Mafioso of candidates, with fire of her own. When she viciously attacked Obama in 2008, I understood it was part of the game she had to play, I didn’t think any less of her. Then I visited Burlington, Vermont and heard about Sanders. This was a man I shared values with. The only candidate to say climate change is our greatest security threat. Something that even the Department of Defense has had to admit. The main difference for me between Bernie and Hillary was that for one of them the ends justified the means and for me, well, I have seen where that kind of politics has led us.

The one thing that has hindered me from being vocal about my compromise with the Clinton campaign (besides her donors and actions) has been their air of condescension. And this very well may be her undoing. Especially this phrase; fall in line. I was seriously disappointed in the DNC for coming out and saying something that sounded like the echoes of an SS officer telling his Nazi underlings to keep digging ditches for corpses. Now, I know the Democrats are not that bad. However, it is the kind of attitude that turns away so many potential Hillary supporters from team Bernie. It is not what I expect from the Democratic Party. There has been all this talk about Bernie bros yet, I have met more Clinton clingers who rarely seem to look at things from a different perspective. They say things like, ‘oh I have supported Hillary since I was kid’, which is fine if you have an open mind. But today Clinton is using the same fear that the Republicans have used for decades to sway voters. Vote for her or the King Joffrey of U.S. politics will win. (Can’t stop the GoT references). You don’t want that do you?! Fall in line. And every time a Sandernista hears that you will lose their vote automatically and create division among people who share the same values.

(While I am not quite sure if the online community considers Sandernista an insult by insinuating Bernie supporters are left leaning commies reminiscent of the by gone era of the Red Scare, I think it appropriately captures the revolutionary zeal of the movement).

I also think that any serious Sandernista will realize the day before election day that principles aside, she is our girl. Again it is unfortunate that our political system is caught in a bi-polar Cold War political party shit storm and that we can’t show more love for other parties, new ideas, and progressive attitudes. It is perhaps even more unfortunate that we have to deal with Mr. Drumpf. Or maybe he is exactly what we need to show that this system does not work and is too adept to inspiring blind hatred.

I still cannot decide which is worse or more dangerous. Giving the man the attention he so craves or ignoring him completely. I have settled somewhere in the middle in that I recognize he exists but will not refer to him by his specifically curated brand name. Either way the man inspires almost nothing of value. He is the crappy phone charger you borrow from a friend. He fills that shallow racist hole in your life that you were looking to fill, it might not be your charger, he might not be your favorite Republican, but like many before him he will slip right in between you and power, barely functioning and keeping you satisfied with more entertainment than you can afford with your data plan.

Jokes aside though, Jeff Weaver, Sander’s former campaign manager points out the real danger here. “I think some people on the Democratic side who think that, you know, Trump is such a buffoon that it’s already won — but I think he’s a very dangerous opponent and I think he certainly has the ability to win as well,” he said (Byrnes,2016). This ability for Drumpf to win will certainly increase alongside Clinton supporter’s condescending attitudes toward Bernie supporters.

Democracy has weirdly become some crappy ‘reality’ TV show and Bernie showed this to a lot of people. Not so much to the people on the right who already think it is a farce and will hate the government no matter what it does, but people in the Democratic party, who finally saw that even our most left-leaning political juggernaut is more center than we thought. I also had no idea until this election that the DNC had opening musical acts. Is this normal? Since when do we have to tempt voter’s attention with entertainment, this is their livelihoods that are at stake when politicians step into the ring. If they are not already invested in this process something is wrong with our democracy.

The post-internet media shit show madness is basically complacency disguised as rage at this point. We will see nothing new despite the redness of their faces.

For Drumpf, the wall issue works well because of the kind of people that would react to exactly that particular issue. It is an amazing tent to be under. The only people that would ever support, what for most people is a ridiculous plan, are the same kind of people who still think hordes of immigrants coming to America is our biggest problem. These people cannot fathom why other countries even exist. Or that many migrants do not come to America because it is so great, but because it is less violent, if only a for a little bit. For them America = Number 1 forever. It is a barely inspiring and quite ignorant mentality. Of course, we do need to have some border controls, but a wall, for free!? If we learned anything from the Cold War it should be that, whether there is a wall or not, people will get past it to get to the west, and it is not going to be cheap.

This 2016 election has merely shown us what we have known for a long time. Being corrupt, conniving, and getting to the top is part of the American dream and is to be idolized. This is nothing insanely new. The only thing that has changed is the visibility of this truth. It seems the more this truth of corruption is revealed the less people want to be a part of the political system. The New York Times even published an article pointing out that the nominees are only chosen by just 9% of our total population(Pearce, Parlapiano, 2016).  And well, I taint no statistician but that don’t sound much like a democracy to me, at least not one that I would want to be a part of anyway.

By endorsing Clinton and refusing to run as a Third-Party candidate Bernie has highlighted the current nature of our political system. We have especially learned this lesson in my home state of Maine, when an Independent and a Democrat split the vote leading to our own mini-Drumpf governor.

At the same time when this gross corrupt mentality is so visible in showing itself to the world we also see our greatest moments of love and solidarity. The Bernie campaign coming together was no short feat. They followed the rules even when they knew it was rigged against them. They didn’t play dirty even though it would have helped them along the way.

Now, Hillary is the Democrat we have all been following for years and even though she is unprincipled concerning most people’s rights she is more than principled in the art of politics. She is Frank and Claire Underwood rolled together into one unstoppable being. This, under the right circumstances, could be good for America. She is certainly more respectable than her current opposition.

However, in the end, whichever Mad Max character makes it to the end of this death race through the inferno, might not even mean much. It will be hard for either Drumpf or Clinton to get anything done without a solid backing in Congress. After eight years Obama has struggled to bring about his own brand of change. He had to fight a Republican congress bent on his complete and utter failure. And yes, starting out at the beginning of a recession didn’t exactly give him a head start, but he lost strides in places of moral high ground that hurt the trust many had in the Democratic Party. In particular his acknowledgement of killing American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki (Taylor, 2015). It seems insane how a man who ran under Hope and Change and became our first African American President could actually change in such a twisted way.

While I may be socially a liberal degenerate, I also find that at times our government regulation can be overreaching. Again it comes back to the question of a political revolution that neither of these candidates will bring about. Hopefully, a Republican defeat will mean GOP supporters can all go back to complaining (and not to the streets) and perhaps the new progressives sprouting up across the nation can hold Bernie’s fire to Clinton’s feet.

In this coming election 2016 take all that disgust you have for politics and use it for some good. Vote for your local representatives with some attentiveness. Forgive and move on from the incumbency dictatorship that has been cemented in Congress. In this Post-Tim Berners-Lee world, we need a new kind of democracy. A more robust and direct democracy that is in better touch with constituents. Perhaps a citizen push for ranked choice voting will usher in this new age, with new ideas, new parties, new coalitions, instead of the same old power games. Citizens United will also need to go. Like separation of church and state we need a separation of state and corporation. Only then will these new and hopefully more trustworthy parties deserve the respect they will receive as our representative organizations. We cannot sacrifice our environment and our dignity to blindfolded industrial gain any longer. We cannot allow these twisted godless freaks to destroy our politics or our planet for much longer. We just simply cannot afford it. So take the step forward and be with her. Not with racism, not with narrowmindedness, but with bold attention.

Bibliography

Byrnes, J. (2016) Ex-Sanders aide: Trump could win. Available at: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/289961-ex-sanders-aide-trump-could-win (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

Pearce, A. and Parlapiano, A. (2016) Only 9% of America chose trump and Clinton as the nominees. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/01/us/elections/nine-percent-of-america-selected-trump-and-clinton.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

Taylor, A. (2015) The U.S. Keeps killing Americans in drone strikes, mostly by accident. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-u-s-keeps-killing-americans-in-drone-strikes-mostly-by-accident/ (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

Citations, Quotes & Annotations

Byrnes, J. (2016) Ex-Sanders aide: Trump could win. Available at: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/289961-ex-sanders-aide-trump-could-win (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

(Byrnes, 2016)

Pearce, A. and Parlapiano, A. (2016) Only 9% of America chose trump and Clinton as the nominees. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/01/us/elections/nine-percent-of-america-selected-trump-and-clinton.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

(Pearce and Parlapiano, 2016)

Taylor, A. (2015) The U.S. Keeps killing Americans in drone strikes, mostly by accident. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-u-s-keeps-killing-americans-in-drone-strikes-mostly-by-accident/ (Accessed: 7 August 2016).

(Taylor, 2015)

Post-War on Drugs

A Vision for the Post-War on Drugs World

“Who lives longer? The man who takes heroin for two years and dies, or a man who lives on roast beef, water and potatoes ’till 95? One passes his 24 months in eternity. All the years of the beefeater are lived only in time.”

-Aldous Huxley

Recently, many media outlets and medical professionals have come to refer to the current opioid problem as an epidemic. At the same time alcohol continues to be an even greater threat to public health, as it can be mixed with other drugs thus increasing the chance of death and overdose (Pollack, 2014). Although this information is widely available, it is unlikely prohibition of alcohol will come back into effect. No one is saying alcohol should be a Schedule 1 Drug. To a certain degree people realize that the prohibition of alcohol only exacerbated the problem it was causing. During the era of alcohol prohibition people switched from mostly low-alcohol content beer to a stronger mixture of cocktails and spirits. What we are seeing today with rising heroin and opioid use is this same pattern. New and more dangerous substances continue to surface and are being sold unregulated.

Other opiates, methamphetamines, synthetics, and anything that can produce a kick, are becoming more prevalent on the black market, despite our law enforcement agencies’ most extensive (and expensive) efforts. It begs the question; why refer to the heroin problem as an epidemic when clearly it is capable of moving between multiple populations and between geographically separated people across the globe? Should this not be considered a global problem and be treated accordingly? A look at the United Nation’s report on the global opiate trade should be enough to convince governments around the world to look at this problem for what it really is; a pandemic (UNODC, 2010). After half a century of efforts to combat the trade directly, we have only seen an increase in drug use. It is time to start looking at the situation differently, and hopefully, time to adopt a healthier approach to fighting the trade of opiates.

First, let’s examine the claim that the war on drugs has been a failure. According to an article by The Economist, even when law enforcement has been successful in rooting out the supply line of one source, another quickly emerges elsewhere to satisfy the increase in demand (The Economist, 2011). The Obama administration also touts a change should be made to deal with the demand of these drugs as a health issue. However, this “change” has not been seen in any budgets or policies from the administration. Any efforts to move toward treatment have been overstated and are not sufficient enough (DPA, 2015). The CDC has found that since 1999 the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled, and half of those deaths involved a prescription for things like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone (CDC, 2016). They also discovered that not only have heroin related deaths tripled between 2010-2014, but that the largest increase in overdose deaths from 2013-2014 involved illegally made synthetic opioids, often without the knowledge of the user (CDC, 2016). An article by the Huffington Post pointed out, using graphics from 1999 to 2010, almost every state saw an increase in overdose mortality rates (Short, 2014). “The number of these deaths reached a new peak in 2014: 47,055 people, or the equivalent of about 125 Americans every day” (Park & Bloch, 2016). After decades of harsh policies on drugs and over $1 trillion invested in curbing the supply we have seen nothing in return in terms of overall citizen health (DPA, 2015). The Cato Institute found that ending current drug policies that attempt to stem the supply of drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion in law enforcement and government expenditure (CATO, 2010). Not only do the policies not work, as we have had a substantial increase in overdoses and use, but also they seem to be making the problem worse.

Although the current United States administration has continued with a harsh stance on the issue, the President has recently pushed to open up access to treatment. Part of this better access to treatment includes many solutions that lean towards fighting the demand of substances. They include; a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force, better access to Medicaid for substance use disorder, expanse of public health-public safety partnerships to combat the spread of heroin, syringe service programs, private sector commitments, community heroin specific policing, and a focus on solutions for rural communities (whitehouse.gov, 2016). With this declaration by the Obama administration, the US government has essentially admitted that it has not been doing enough. However, it has not yet acted to change the policies in place which do nothing, if not help sustain a global black market for opiates and narcotics.

There is a word in German, Verschlimmbessern; to make something worse in the very act of trying to improve it. I think it appropriately describes what has happened internationally since the United States went to war with drugs. According to a SIGAR report, 85 percent the worldwide market consists of Afghan opium years after the US led invasion (McCleary, 2015). Southeast Asian countries are also getting in on the trade of controlled substances. In Central and Latin America drug trade activity has led to violence, from 2007 to 2014 Mexico alone estimates 164,000 people were victims of cartel crime (Glenza, 2016). These cartels now operate not only inside of Mexico as their own little countries, but they also act internationally without regard to borders or any kind of law. The countries plagued by this sort of violence eventually called for the UN to hold a special session on drugs.

Back in 2014 former heads of state from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, and Switzerland joined with other UN members to push for a new paradigm in Global Drug Policy. It was called Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work (drugpolicy.org, 2014). They called for a move toward public health and social investment and away from criminalization. This comes with the understanding that to stop addiction and demand, users need treatment not punishment. Death and prison sentences for minor drug abuse in this perspective are essentially human rights violations.

The government, not criminals, should control drugs with a more sophisticated regulation system. This can reduce the power that black market organizations have. The solution calls for regulation and responsible institutions. While many claimed this is an unrealistic plan, the Commission maintains that an evidence and fact based policy is feasible and necessary. The Commission also pointed out that society and culture tend to change faster than institutions. That being said it is the grassroots movements we should be looking toward and not a decades old destructive drug policy. The Global Commission on Drug Policy hoped to take advantage of the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session to implement this new policy. However, these bold and new actions were not accepted during the session. A ban on capital punishment for users was left out and there was no mention of “harm reduction” strategies (Glenza, 2016). Over 20 countries in the world have capital punishment for drug offences (drugabuse.com, 2015). “We are not expecting a lot from UNgass,” said former president of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss. “In this sense, our provision is what the reality is: that the world community is not ready, is not willing, to have the change of politic that is absolutely necessary.” (Glenza, 2016).

It is unfortunate that another solid chance at changing policy and attitude toward the issue was lost. While some say a drug free world is impossible, and they may be right, we can still have a world with better treatment. We decide if we consider this epidemic turned global pandemic a question of health or a question of crime. Some supporters of treating this problem as a health concern are the American Public Health Association, the World Health Organization, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Organization of American States, the National Latino Congreso, the NAACP, the International Red Cross, and Human Rights Watch (Miller, 2016). However, it is not enough to say the war on drugs has failed. It does not solve anything but it is a step in the right direction. What we need now is actual policy change.

The call for a switch to treatment versus punishment is gaining ground. But proponents of keeping it a crime persist. They point out the dangers in turning criminals into victims. The argument is that at the end of the day every individual is responsible for their own choices. It is not untrue. More has to be done than just handing out help. The language used here is very important. We will not be able to get desperate people the help they need unless we can make a difference between criminal and patient.

Take for example accidental Governor Paul LePage of Maine. Recently, he vetoed a bill that would have made naloxone, an effective antidote for heroin and opioid overdoses, more readily available at pharmacies and for emergency medical staff. This veto came after Maine saw a spike in overdoses the previous year. The governor argued that “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose” (Tesfaye, 2016). Many may feel this way about the problem but more still don’t see turning the blind eye as a solution. People who abuse should not be seen as inhuman or not worth saving.  Saving lives will not inevitably continue the drug problem if we can use the billions of dollars lost from enforcement to create better healthier treatment and offer safer preventative measures. In fact, it seems that when we let people slip through the cracks the cracks just get left open. The argument that abusers are patients of drug addiction instead of criminals has been argued before. An article by A.R. Lindesmith from the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology was written in 1941 about how addicts without treatment become more dangerous criminals (Journal of Criminal Law and Cimonology, 1941). And somehow US prisons in the 21st century continue to be filled with mandatory minimum abusers as well as the substances they abuse.

Whatever specific special interests are in the way of healthy drug policy change are of no real interest to us if we can educate ourselves and use democracy in a positive way. Treatment is a rational plan that must stop being ignored. Portugal became a contemporary model when they decriminalized drugs in 2001. Since then, the country has been able to free up resources to help people and addicts have been able to reach sobriety through their programs. The overall results after 14 years have shown that treating drug addiction as a health problem rather than a moral problem is effective (Aleem, 2015). Another example is Switzerland. In the 1980s they switched to a harm reduction plan by providing more clinics and social workers. The overall result was a decrease in syringe spread disease, overdoses, and a 60 percent drop in felony crimes by patients, 82 percent of which stopped selling heroin and spreading the drug (COP, 2016).

The threat of opioid abuse in our society is not just national, rather it has become entrenched worldwide. It has no regard for borders, and is more than capable of passing through no matter how tall we build our walls. It is true we must all tackle this problem individually but that does not mean we have to leave people behind. It doesn’t mean people have to face it completely alone. The FDA understands this need to help people, even if the administration won’t make drastic change. The FDA last year pushed to approve easy-to-use nasal spray to treat opioid overdose, with acting commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D. saying: “Combating the opioid abuse epidemic is a top priority for the FDA” (FDA, 2015).

Author Johann Hari’s recent book Chasing the Scream goes into his three-year long journey into the war on drugs. He talks about how humans look for relief in many ways. When they are cast out that relief becomes extremely rare and we look for things that have the best hooks; from pornography to methadone. We make it even harder for these people to find socially acceptable relief, like grabbing a beer (a deadlier drug) or meeting with friends, because of how society treats them. Users get their benefits, jobs, and support taken away with no way of returning to normalcy (Hari, 2015). Hari also points out that individual recovery is necessary but society also has to change how it treats ‘junkies’ and get rid of the negative stereotype.

In 2016 it does not look like the UN will be able to change the current international drug policy. But that does not mean the general international community needs to keep playing along with the idea that this is a problem that can be tackled directly. While this is truly an enormous global issue we can still make progress locally. Opening up clinics and providing better access to preventative treatment is something that can be done without widespread national and international support. Today with access to the internet and information around the world we can understand that what we are experiencing on Main St. USA is happening in India, Russia, and countless other places. This is no mere epidemic easily solved with a few more armored police cars. This is a pandemic and a health issue. Addiction is global concern.

It is also quite possibly a breadcrumb clue to a much bigger problem. It may be the red flag that alludes to a bigger dilemma of over-consumption. According to Clarissa Estés: “Addiction is anything that depletes life while making it ‘appear’ better” (Estés and Estés, 1992). In this light economic consumption tends to act like a drug itself. We see western social culture bent on consumption with casualties rising from the over-consumption of readily available, addictive, more potent, and legal product. We should not act so surprised. In other words, this is not the ‘Oh No!’ moment, rather it is the ‘Oh…right’ moment. And were it not for the too few systems in place to help victims of addiction the problem would surely be significantly worse. It becomes increasingly hard to ignore economic factors when you consider that a majority of users could not grow opium in their own back yards and these abusers and suppliers will go to great lengths to fill in that market for people looking to escape from reality. Here, ignorance is the real criminal.

The rhetoric so far has not matched what the data is clearly telling us. La aritmetica non è opinione (Italian proverb; arithmetic is not an opinion). We do not need more broken doors we need more conscious healthy citizens. Your average patient receiving morphine in a hospital does not immediately become an addict. The road to addiction and overdose is much longer, much scarier, and more desperate. It takes an environment of poor living conditions, depressed social life, and a psychology of unhealthy consumption to bring a person to the door of their supplier. Addiction is both a social and a health problem and it needs to be addressed as such. At the beginning of this article I left a quote by Aldous Huxley. We need to seriously understand the perspective he brings up. Who led the better life? The 21-year-old dead junkie or the 95-year-old potato eater? While each of us sits back and ponders this, and many may come up with the same answer, we have to realize that there are people who are looking at the world today and what they are saying through their actions is clear; that life in America is now better lived short for some. We need to understand why or we will continue to lose citizens and loved ones to opiate and substance abuse.

 

Bibliography

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