Friday, February 22, 2019

Mini-Posts, 2/22/18. On Election Fraud, Loss of Biodiversity, the Opioid Epidemic And The Abuse Of Minors

These mini-posts are an attempt to look at depressing phenomena (political corruption, environmental pollution) from a slightly more positive angle.  I find that I need that in order not to sink into deep nihilistic depression on such issues, to feel that fighting is still worthwhile.  Let me know what you think about Echidne going Pollyannaish.

1.  The North Carolina state board of elections has voted unanimously for a new election in the 9th congressional district.  Why?  Because, for once, election fraud was too obvious to sweep under the carpet*:

At a North Carolina hearing, investigators have laid out in detail an “unlawful,” “coordinated,” and well-funded plot to tamper with absentee ballots in a US House election that remains uncalled more than three months after Election Day — finally bringing clarity to one of the most bizarre election scandals in recent memory.
On Thursday afternoon, after four days of evidence indicating fraud and an attempt to conceal the scheme from state investigators, Republican candidate Mark Harris himself told the state election board that he believed a new election should be called. Harris had been the apparent winner on Election Night over Democrat Dan McCready.
State investigators established on Monday their theory of the case — that a Republican-hired local operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, directed a coordinated scheme to unlawfully collect, falsely witness, and otherwise tamper with absentee ballots — and workers who say they had assisted him in the scheme delivered damning testimony.
I take the new elections as good news, a little better diagnosis on the state of our chronically ill democracy.

2.  The world's long-term ability to keep the growing numbers of humans fed may be severely endangered by those large numbers**:

The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates.
The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities and factories gobble up land and pump out chemicals.

Most countries said the main driver for biodiversity loss was land conversion, as forests were cut down for farm fields, and meadows covered in concrete for cities, factories and roads. Other causes include overexploitation of water supplies, pollution, over-harvesting, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

Where's the more hopeful take on those news?  The same article notes:

The report found evidence that attitudes and practices were slowly changing. In recent years, there has been a greater uptake in sustainable forest management, ecosystem approaches to fisheries, aquaponics and polyculture. But the authors said there had been insufficient progress. Organic agriculture, for example, now covers 58m hectares (143m acres) worldwide, but this is only 1% of global farmland.
The report signalled a heightened interest by governments in biodiversity, a subject that rarely gets the same attention as climate change.

It's the changing attitudes which I find encouraging.  And even though only one percent of global farmland is organically farmed, I expected that percentage to be even smaller.  And organic produce enjoys a growing market.

3.  The impact of capitalistic marketing practices on the opioid epidemic in the United States is becoming very clear:

In May 1997, the year after Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, its head of sales and marketing sought input on a key decision from Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded and controls the company. Michael Friedman told Sackler that he didn’t want to correct the false impression among doctors that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, because the myth was boosting prescriptions — and sales.
“It would be extremely dangerous at this early stage in the life of the product,” Friedman wrote to Sackler, “to make physicians think the drug is stronger or equal to morphine….We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”
“I agree with you,” Sackler responded. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”
Ten years later, Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court to understating the risk of addiction to OxyContin, including failing to alert doctors that it was a stronger painkiller than morphine, and agreed to pay $600 million in fines and penalties. But Sackler’s support of the decision to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors — in email exchanges both with Friedman and another company executive — was not made public.

What's good about this news?  That we now know about it, that it could not be swept under yet another one of those expensive carpets the very rich have in their political clubhouses.

4.  The mills of the legal system may be grinding very, very slowly, but they have not been turned completely off when it comes to men who abuse minors

Take the case of Jeffrey Epstein:

Prosecutors led by Alexander R. Acosta, who is now the secretary of labor, violated federal law when they failed to tell victims about an agreement not to prosecute Jeffrey E. Epstein, a wealthy New York financier accused of molesting dozens of underage girls, a federal judge ruled on Thursday.

This is the relevant background for understanding the case:

Investigators found that from 1999 to 2005, Mr. Epstein, a former hedge fund manager with powerful friends, including President Trump and former President Bill Clinton, lured girls as young as 14 or 15 years old into his mansions in Palm Beach, New York and the Virgin Islands. He paid them cash to engage in nude massages, masturbation and oral sex. In some instances, he asked girls to recruit other girls into his sex ring, the accusers told police.

And today CNN tells us that the musician R. Kelly may have been indicted:

Musician R. Kelly, who has been associated with accusations of abusing young women for more than two decades, has been indicted, two sources with knowledge of the development tell CNN.
CNN has seen the VHS tape that appears to show Kelly having sex with a girl who refers to her body parts as 14 years old.
The newly unearthed footage, which lasts 42 minutes and 45 seconds, is clear and explicit.
What is on the video mirrors some of the alleged acts for which Kelly was arrested in a child pornography case in 2002 when he was 35 and then acquitted six years later.
I hope that these cases will bring some justice to those these men probably have abused.  The alternative, as always, could be that carpet under which inconvenient events are swept.


*  That carpet must now be bulging like the tower of Pisa, given what took place in Georgia some time ago, the friendly Russian visits in various voting files and so on.  I have started to suspect, like paranoids do, that election fraud is just the way elections are done in this country, and that we need UN observers at every voting booth.

**  It's not just that there are too many humans on this earth but that the western countries are over-consuming.  Nevertheless,  because all humans will ultimately want (and deserve) the same high standards of living, any ecologically sustainable solution (to combat climate change and to leave some land for wild animals and plants) will require some controls on human population size.