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Capitalism = Extinction?

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MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us. We’re living in a very dangerous time, as many of you know, when it comes to our environment and our future. There was an article written by one of our colleagues here at Real News for Jacobin called “Socialism or Extinction.” Dharna Noor wrote it. She is one of the leaders of the Climate Bureau here at The Real News and it is a devastating article that makes you wake up. Either you could get totally depressed, or you say, “what do we do to stop this?” Dharna, hi.

DHARNA NOOR Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER So I’m— You know, I read the article. I said, my first reaction was, “oh my God. I’m so depressed. Now what do I do?”

DHARNA NOOR Yeah.

MARC STEINER So, I mean, we’ll talk about some of the things you wrote about in here, but you really were trying to put the dangers we face about the environment and our Earth at the foot of capitalism and the foot where our societies are taking us.

DHARNA NOOR Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a bummer and the question of how not to be depressed, I think, is not one to be undermined. I actually think it’s really important and it’s important to, sort of, deal with the scale of this kind of problem, of issues like in this case, mass extinction and the climate crisis. But also, I guess it’s important that we find a way to collectively not let that depression inhibit our ability to act. Something that’s really important for me is to note that there are ways that we can combat the, for instance, the mass extinction crisis, that would also make life for humanity far better in the short-term. In a sense, this article is just a list of ways that we can do that, a list of facts. But there’s ways that, I think, if we make a more just food system, for instance, we could have short-term benefits and of course long-term benefits. In a sense, I think that gives me hope. It means that, you know, at least fighting the greatest crises of our time will not necessarily make life worse for people. In fact, I think in many cases, it will make life better for many people.

MARC STEINER You know, what you put in this article and it was really well-done and really well- written.

DHARNA NOOR Thanks, Marc.

MARC STEINER And for me, it was also overwhelming because you have to wrestle with the reality in your face. You know, when you write about 40 percent of all amphibian species, one-third of all coral reefs, all marine mammal societies are just being devastated, pollinators are gone, 85 percent of our wetlands on the earth have been decimated with development or for whatever other reason— but to stop that onslaught is the question, which is not an easy thing to answer because people keep saying capitalism is the problem. Perhaps capitalism is a problem, but capitalism isn’t going anywhere tomorrow morning, and the earth is slowly dying, rapidly dying. Losing species, as you wrote, is one thousand times faster than ever before.

DHARNA NOOR Yeah, yeah. I mean, I of course do not disagree that capitalism is the problem, but I also don’t think that it’s true that, you know, until we abolish the profit motive, we can’t make any real changes. I do think that it’s important to fight for reforms that could come long before we get to anything like socialism. For instance, we don’t need to dismantle capitalism to change what kinds of crops get subsidized. We could easily, I think I said in the article, feed a billion more people or even billions more people if we just started prioritizing growing food for people instead of food that gets fed to livestock, which is far less efficient in terms of land use and its footprint in terms of energy. We could, kind of, you know, we could subsidize things like oats instead of corn, which is less energy-intensive to grow. So there are things that we could do, I think, in a reformist sense in the meantime, but I think it is important to, sort of, keep the end goal in mind and to see that the thing driving this is really the motive to grow our profits above everything else, above taking care of the planet and people’s health.

MARC STEINER I think part of the subtext that drives your entire article is just what you just said. You know, when I think about what you wrote about in terms of the farming system that we have in this country. Let’s talk about our own country, right? And to change the nature of farming— And I live out in the country now. I’m surrounded by this beautiful rural area and all the corn that I hate to see growing is all chemical corn, as we call it, chemical soy, because that’s where the marketplace is. That’s what the farmers have to grow if they want to make a living and keep their land because they want people buying their stuff. And so, and these are gigantic farms that are growing all of our strawberries and everything else. So the question is, it would take a real struggle for people to begin to understand what we’re facing for this to change. I think people can be complacent because you go to grocery and buy what you want and come home. You don’t know you’re breathing in plastics every other second every time you do— a credit card’s worth a day they say now in terms of size. I mean, this is part of opening minds in a political struggle, and that’s the question of how do you think you can get to that?

DHARNA NOOR Yeah, and I guess I don’t want to make it seem like there won’t be any sacrifices. It’s true that maybe we won’t have as many choices in the grocery store if we do create a more just farming system, but I think it’s pretty clear that the benefits outweigh that. I mean, a million species, a million plant animal species alone at risk of extinction is huge, and that doesn’t even include things like, you know, microscopic organisms that could have huge effects on other kinds of species and on human life. Plus, quite frankly, monoculture is just not the only way to grow good-tasting crops. I mean, we could prioritize eating and cooking and enjoying the taste of things that are indigenous to our country. I don’t think that that would be such a huge loss for people and we could save, quite literally, billions of lives in the process.

MARC STEINER Talk about this Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that you focused your piece on and the stuff that came out of that. So talk a bit about what they are, who they are, what this report really was, and how it came out.

DHARNA NOOR So this is a UN group, a UN group of scientists. It’s, sort of, the leading group in the world on studying ecosystems, studying life on Earth. And this is the most comprehensive report that’s ever been produced on biodiversity in the history of the world. I think that that’s not contested. I mean, it’s an analysis of—

MARC STEINER When did this come out?

DHARNA NOOR This came out about a month ago.

MARC STEINER That’s what I thought.

DHARNA NOOR Right. Interestingly, very soon after the IPCC’s Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Report, just six months ago or something, which was similarly devastating but also had a similar message. Which is, you know, it’s not too late to change our future. Just, it will take radical, transformative change in, sort of, every sector of the economy, of social life, of political life.

MARC STEINER So when this comes out like this and it—My biggest interest is when you take stuff like this, when you learn that nearly three quarters of the world’s freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production, and the amount of methane that comes out of that livestock production pollutes the air, that our industrial farming, as you wrote about, is the second biggest polluter on the planet earth after the energy industry itself. So the question is, people aren’t just going to be moved by that polar bear behind us, right?

DHARNA NOOR Agreed.

MARC STEINER [laughs] Unfortunately, so it’s how you popularize the discussion for people to understand what it means for the future, for their children’s future.

DHARNA NOOR I agree, and I do want to say that I think there have been some takes on this report, and on other environmental reports before it, that seemed to assert that it’s elitist or wrong to be sad about nonhuman life being threatened.

MARC STEINER Yes, right.

DHARNA NOOR I don’t really agree. I don’t think that it’s elitist to be concerned about tigers being absent from 96 percent of their natural territory. I don’t think that that’s wrong. I think that it’s human to be concerned about nonhuman life and I don’t think that’s wrong. However, I will say that I think that there’s no question that it’s important that we are honest about the way that this crisis, the mass extinction crisis specifically, impacts human life. You know, it’s not just that mass extinction itself could threaten human life because we depend so much on the ecosystems of the rest of the world. We depend on, you know, a fair climate, we depend on biodiversity for food and for a climate that we can live in. But also, the drivers of this biodiversity crisis are actually the drivers of much, much human suffering themselves. So it’s not just that biodiversity loss is bad for human life. It’s also that, you know, industrial agriculture has been devastating for farmers. Farmers have lost many, many profits, as these four companies that control the majority of the world’s industrial agriculture actually are growing. So it’s not just that eventually these systems will be bad for people. I think right now there are millions of people suffering because of these systems that are driving this crisis.

MARC STEINER And we covered the Monsanto-Bayer merger and all the rest that are happening that are devastating the food industry. You know, when you write about two-thirds of the people of Asia go hungry. One out of six children starve in the developing world and die from starvation. In a country like ours, which is apoplectic on some sectors over immigration and people coming into America, this was driving people to leave. This was driving people to move because they have no choice. They’ve got to move. You know, I interviewed Baba Aye earlier today about what’s going on in Mali and the war going on Mali, and that’s all being fueled by the climate crisis and by the urge to get more minerals out of West Africa.

DHARNA NOOR Yeah and Africa is—Of course, it’s always the countries populated by people of color, poorer countries, that are suffering the worst effects of all of this. I know that that’s at this point kind of obvious, but I think it bears repeating. And that’s not just true of the climate crisis. It’s true of biodiversity loss, as well.

MARC STEINER So I’m curious in this article—And you said you didn’t make up the title, you didn’t come up with the title “Socialism or Extinction.” Jacobin did, [laughs] which is cool.

DHARNA NOOR Yeah. Shout out to Ella Mahony [laughs] who came up with that title.

MARC STEINER Right. But so, I’m curious how this kind of research in putting this article together about this report, how does it affect your work? What has it taught you about what needs to happen, and what kind of stories you need to talk about, and how you need to do that?

DHARNA NOOR I mean, it’s a hard question. On the one hand, this was a—To be perfectly honest, I was writing this at, sort of, a difficult time anyway. I was writing most of this article on my laptop, sitting in the hospital, as my grandfather was threatened with his own mortality. So it was, you know—

MARC STEINER He’s okay now, right?

DHARNA NOOR Yeah. Yeah. He’s living now. Yeah. I should say that. But, I mean, it was an emotional time anyway. I mean, I felt like I was potentially grieving the life of somebody so close to me, who’s nearing the end of their life, and then also grieving, in a sense, the future of so many other people’s lives— human and nonhuman alike. And it’s not easy, obviously, to reckon with a crisis of this scale. I mean, I already find it really difficult to recon with something as huge as the climate crisis, and then this report argues that the biodiversity crisis, which is separate. I mean, it’s inextricable from the climate crisis, but it is a separate crisis in and of itself, is on the same scale of the climate crisis. That’s huge and devastating, but in a sense, that makes it kind of easier to write about.

I mean, you don’t need to develop some incredible narrative to show that. The statistics speak for themselves. I heard David Wallace-Wells, the acclaimed climate journalist, David Wallace-Wells— much has been made of his newest work— say in an interview, these statistics have all of the poetry that you need in them. You don’t need to prove to somebody that a million species facing extinction is bad. I mean, that’s just—The scale of that problem is obvious if you encounter these kinds of statistics. The question is, I think, as you’re saying, how to make this relevant to human beings. I think actually the IPBES Report does that really, really well. It makes a strong case that shows that humanity will be affected by this crisis. I just think it’s important to again show that it’s already affecting human life.

MARC STEINER Well, I think it’s very important for the viewers here, people on YouTube, to know that you have taken the Climate Bureau seriously in helping push that here at The Real News. This article is just, kind of, the heart of why this heart beats so strong and what you have to do. So I just want to say that I really do appreciate the article you wrote—

DHARNA NOOR Thanks, Marc.

MARC STEINER In Jacobin, “Socialism or Extinction,” about what we face, and we look forward to a great deal many reports come out from you and the other folks at the Climate Bureau here.

DHARNA NOOR Thanks so much for having me, Marc.

MARC STEINER Dharna, this is great. And that was Dharna Noor and I’m Marc Steiner here of The Real News. We both are. So we’ll be both talking to you again soon about many things. Take care.

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Toronto-area rapper blames systemic racism for months of misdiagnosis

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TORONTO — When Matthew John Derrick-Huie went to the doctor with chest pain and shortness of breath in 2017, he didn’t know he was about to embark on a two-year medical nightmare.

The 24-year-old Canadian rapper who goes by the stage name “John River,” told CTV News that he went to the emergency room five times before doctors took him seriously and on that fifth visit, they gave him a spinal tap to test for meningitis.

“I felt I had been trying and pushing so hard with every fibre in my body,” he said. “I’m not a quitter. I don’t think I’m weak. I don’t believe in giving up in any capacity in my life and even for me, I was unbelievably outmatched.

For the next 60 days, River visited family doctors, specialized clinics and emergency rooms as often as 30 times in search for an answer, but failed to find one. Some doctors told him he was suffering from anxiety and depression and prescribed him antidepressants, but he knew that wasn’t the issue.

“One physician told me that I was in a depressive state and I just didn’t realize,” he said.

“I said: ‘Respectfully, I lost my house twice when I was 17, my cousin who used to live with us was murdered…with all due respect, if I was going to have an anxious breakdown, I feel like it would’ve happened already.’”

It wasn’t until River’s family took to social media that they were able to find a doctor who would take a look at River’s case. The doctor soon discovered River’s brain was sagging in his skull due to low cerebrospinal fluid levels. The doctor believed River’s spinal canal had been leaking since that meningitis test two months prior. Cerebrospinal fluid leaks are a known complication of spinal tap procedures. 

”I understand (cerebrospinal fluid) leaks are what some people would call a rarity and a difficult diagnosis, but I don’t think that’s applicable here,” he said.

Rivers questions why doctors didn’t follow up with him after the original operation and given him an immediate treatment to fix the leaking.

“They knew they had given the patient a procedure in which you told him: ‘For the next two days, you may feel like you want to die.’ If you don’t proceed with a follow-up procedure, one would have to assume that that patient is still out there.”

River required eight months of recovery and also wonders why no one would listen to his pleas for help.

“I absolutely, unequivocally, no doubt, feel that it absolutely had to do with the fact I was a young black man,” he said.

River adds that he felt multiple instances of racism as he dealt with health-care providers, including one visit when a nurse accused him of visiting the hospital solely for drugs.

“She said to me: ‘I know you are here for drugs, why don’t you just tell us which drugs they are and we’ll expedite this process,’” he said. “How is it within a two-minute time period (that) you were able to come to the distinction that I either came to your hospital to abuse narcotics or to sell narcotics?”

River said it was only after he spoke publicly about his medical situation on Twitter that other members of the black community reached out to him with similar stories dating as far back as the 1970s.

Dr. Onye Nnorom, a family doctor who works with the University of Toronto to advance the health of black people in Canada, said River’s experience in the health-care system is one of many similar stories she’s come across.

“I do hear about experiences of racism and I’ve heard about it not only from my patients, but also from family members (and) from colleagues, so it is certainly a problem,” she said. “I think one of the biggest problems is that we’re not able to collect data to demonstrate it.”

Nnorom adds she’s also heard from black patients who’ve been accused of seeking drugs instead of medical care.

“The (health-care provider) is making assumptions about their appearance and thinking that they’re a drug dealer,” she said. “That’s going to affect the way the health-care provider is able to diagnose and treat the patient.

“From the patient’s end, that really makes a person feel like they’re not being respected.”

Racism within the Canadian health-care system is not only an issue among black Canadians. In 2017, an external review found several Indigenous women had felt pressured into sterilizing themselves immediately after childbirth at a hospital is Saskatchewan.

Additionally, a report concerning the case of Brian Sinclair, who died of a treatable bladder infection in 2008, found emergency staff at a hospital in Winnipeg ignored him for 34 hours because they assumed he was homeless or intoxicated.

In 2018, the Canadian Public Health Association acknowledged that “we are all either overtly or inadvertently racist and that the influence of this racism affects the health of individuals and populations” and offered several recommendations for all levels of government and health-care providers, including a complete review of their policies and to provide “system-wide anti-racism and anti-oppression training for all staff and volunteers.”

Kathleen Finlay, the CEO and founder of The Center for Patient Protection, called River’s treatment “appalling.” 

“Anytime a person presents multiple times to a hospital or a health-care provider for the same symptoms or worsening of their symptoms, that should send up big red flags, that should not be happening,” she said. “Fortunately, the outcome here worked out well, but patients can actually die in these situations.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health declined to comment directly about River’s case, but said in a statement Thursday that the government “is committed to providing all people in Ontario with a health-care system that is focused on them.”

“(The People’s Health Care Act, 2019) states that the health-care system should be centered around people, patients, their families, and should be guided by a commitment to equity and to the promotion of equitable health outcomes,” a spokesperson for the department wrote in the statement.

The ministry adds it does not collect data on a patient’s race that could be used to measure access to treatment.

River, who was nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award in 2015, took two years away from music to deal with his health situation. He has since returned to his promising career and plans to advocate for equality within the health-care system.

“The only thing that’s on my mind every day is how much pain I went through,” he said. “I could never consciously allow somebody else to go through what I went through.”

“If we save one life because of the pressure that we apply today, then I can say to myself: ‘OK, I did my job.’”

River’s first song since the ordeal, titled “Burn the Boats,” discusses his misdiagnosis and how he is now “back from the dead” following the complications.

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ROTHENBURGER: What we need in this country is a special racism court

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ANOTHER PERSONALITY LOST his job Friday over racist remarks.

The latest offender is Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters, who resigned after revelations he used racist slurs against a player a decade ago.

The case is pretty typical when it comes to process. An indiscretion is revealed, social media lights up, an employer assesses the damage and acts accordingly. Loss of employment is often the resulting punishment.

There’s got to be a better way, a practical approach based on common criteria and effective assessment.

Aside from legislation against hate speech, the court of public opinion has mostly been in charge of defining racism and the appropriate punishment for those found guilty of it.

Social media are the vehicle of choice both for committing acts of racism and for meting out retribution, but racism means different things to different people.

Quoting the dictionary definition of racism is of little use, since we have a habit of either expanding it or contracting it to fit our own opinions for each situation. As an exercise, consider the following, and rank them according to your own view of the seriousness of the offence.

1. A hockey commentator chastises “you people” who immigrate to Canada but don’t wear poppies on Remembrance Day.

2. A prime minister is found to have worn “brownface” at costume parties.

3. An NHL coach makes racist remarks to a hockey player.

4. A woman taunts people sitting near her in a restaurant, saying they aren’t true Canadians.

Are any of these situations more egregious than the others? What factors do you consider in defining them as racist, or not, and in making your own judgment as to what should happen?

In each of those cases, apologies weren’t enough. Don Cherry tried to apologize but was fired anyway. Justin Trudeau apologized and almost, but not quite, lost his job. The woman in the restaurant apologized but was fired. Bill Peters apologized but was suspended, then resigned.

Immediacy isn’t always an extenuating factor, either. Cherry was immediately fired from his TV job, and so was the Lethbridge woman in the restaurant, but Trudeau’s and Peters’ indiscretions happened years ago. There seems no statute of limitations when the public’s indignation is aroused.

What about intentions? Does it matter if someone offends inadvertently, or is ignorance no excuse? It’s pretty clear, for example, that Trudeau wasn’t trying to be racist — he just likes to dress up on occasion, and has a habit of making bad choices.

Was Don Cherry intentionally being intolerant, or did he just get carried away with his fervor about the need to honour veterans? Many have said the latter. Did Cherry understand that “you people” is widely viewed as being racist, or is it just the way he speaks?

Clearly, there’s a difference between using racial slurs to intentionally belittle someone, but is the end result the same?

Premier John Horgan last week announced the creation of the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network. By the sounds of it, it’s mostly an information, training and prevention program, not one that hands out punishment, but it might prove to be an important step.

The move came after Ravi Kahlon, the NDP MLA for Delta North, spent his summer travelling the province gathering ideas on how to deal with racism. He’s flying the idea of fining people for lesser offences relating to racism, the kind that currently don’t make it to court.

None of the examples I gave above was prosecuted other than by public opinion which, as I said, carries a lot of weight. The offences weren’t committed by organized hate groups, weren’t part of any campaign against minorities, didn’t involve violence.

But they have consequences, both to the perpetrator and the target. Society has decided it’s no longer the sort of thing we just put up with. The question is, how can their seriousness be defined, and how can appropriate repercussions be decided? There are no guidelines, and it would help if there were.

So, following up on Kahlon’s idea, what if a sort of bylaws court for hate offences was developed that could take care of things like the Burnaby convenience store case in which a customer berated clerks for not speaking English, or the examples above?

After all, we could take the position that racism is racism is racism, and one example is as ugly as the next, but is that really fair?

Suppose this special court operated under a set of criteria such as the ones I’ve mentioned. How much time has passed since the incident? Was an apology offered? Was the offence intentional? What language was used and to what degree are the terms offensive? Did it involve an overt slur? Did it occur in a public setting? Was it a first or second offence?

With those things in mind, our brief list might rank the restaurant rant and Peters’ insults ahead of the others, followed by Cherry and Trudeau. You might view it differently but the point is that one offence isn’t always the same as another, and that penalties should be somewhat different from one another.

Should those penalties involve community service? A public apology? Fines based on a system similar to traffic offences?

Such a system would have to be complaints based, and it would be a challenge to enforce. But each time it was, it would make a statement that if you engage in racist talk or actions, even though it falls short of violence or an all-out hate campaign, you’ll pay a price.

And, employers could make decisions based on these independent evaluations by the court system, instead of on the highly fallible court of public opinion.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He writes five commentaries a week for CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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Remembering everyday violence against women and girls on Dec. 6

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It’s the National Day of Remembrance for the 14 women who were killed at the L’école Polytechnique in Montréal for being women and for being students in a discipline that, at the time, was wholly male-defined.

Across the nation and on different social media platforms, the remembrance is being marked by symbols and personal testimonies.

It’s a reminder that the violence has not ended despite the overworked sector of civil society — women on the front lines in shelters, rape crisis centres and counselling centres.

While the collective outpouring of grief that marks this day is anchored in a remembrance of the murders of women at the polytechnique, it is also imperative that high-profile acts of violence don’t overshadow the everyday, routine forms of violence that women suffer.

Six deaths every hour

The report of the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability notes that around the world, every hour, six women are killed by men they know.

Femicide, or the killing of women because they are women, is underpinned by patriarchal ideologies that define how women should comport themselves. This ideology, grounded in the belief that men own women and that women need to be controlled, is also at the heart of gender inequities.

A woman places flowers on the monument dedicated to Maryse Leclair during a ceremony at Place du 6 décembre in Montréal on Dec. 6, 2003, to commemorate the 14 women slain by a gunman at l’École Polytechnique engineering school in 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Although the tragic events at the polytechnique occurred 30 years ago, women and girls in Canada today continue to suffer from the effects of patriarchal ideologies. They experience that patriarchy differently, depending on where they are located in the matrix of domination — the axes of race, class, gender, religion, age, ableism and sexuality that criss-cross society and heighten the vulnerabilities of some women more than others.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry reveals the extent to which Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ+ are dehumanized and subjected to violence. Canadian statistics reveal that a woman is killed every five days by an intimate partner or a family member. Murder is the finality in the continuum of violence that women and girls experience.

Privilege does not shield

We can’t forget these deaths — the murders that are reported in short, terse paragraphs in the news, or that are accounted for only by organizations situated in particular communities, or remembered by close family and kin.

These deaths testify to the presence and power of patriarchal values and traditions. Similarly, while groups like the incels have attracted power and attention, they remain the tip of the iceberg. There are countless everyday expressions of male power and violence that work to constrain women.

Much like how the focus on racism that tends to be restricted to the actions of extreme hate groups and their acts of violence, the systemic, everyday racism that permeates society also needs to be named and dealt with.

The takeaway of the murders at the polytechnique is this — violence that is endemic and coursing through society is violence that crosses the boundaries of race, class, age, sexuality, gender and religion. It’s violence that is anchored in the view that women are inferior, less than men, and to be controlled by men.

The 14 women killed at the polytechnique were white, middle class and educated, and this did not shield them from patriarchal violence. What then about the women who have no such privileges? How best can we remember them?

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