Daily Archives: January 25, 2020

Surprising Party Changes in the Past Decade – National Review

Posted: January 25, 2020 at 2:42 pm

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands at the conclusion of their town hall debate in St. Louis, Mo., October 9, 2016. (Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS )

As I head into the Winter Meeting of the (sigh, deep breath) network of conservative groups affiliated with Charles Koch, that they would prefer people stop calling the Koch Network, perhaps it is good to pause and look at how the two parties have changed in the past decade . . . because they have indeed changed.

Is American Politics Really Realigning towards the Left Wing?

The headline of Eric Levitzs essay in New York Magazine, The Left-Wing Realignment of American Politics Has Already Begun, is both more accurate and less accurate than it appears.

The crux of Levitzs argument is that not only has the Democratic party moved to the left, to the point where the centrists of this primary are running on positions that would have been extremely progressive twelve years ago, but also that the 2020 edition of the Republican party is to the left of where it used to be:

But a broader swath of the GOP iswarming to small-bore, family-based social welfare policies, includingrefundable child tax credits for working parentsandmodest forms of paid family leave. Kevin McCarthys climate bill may be a mere stunt, but the House Minority Leader is not alone in signaling a heretical interest in (nonmilitary) industrial policy; Republican senatorsJosh Hawley and Marco Rubiohave made similar noises in recent months, with the Florida senatorissuing a reporton the harms of neoliberal financialization that actually cited the work of socialist economists. In other words, while Republicans remain happy to do the bidding of libertarian billionaires when it suits their political interests, they appear more willing to opportunistically flout the Koch Networks preferences than they were during the Obama years.

Republicans like Rubio and the others are trying to apply their pro-family principles to economics, and it is indeed going in some surprising directions, as Levitz observes. But even if theyre ending up in a similar place, theyre taking a different route to get there.

(As noted yesterday, people really dont pay close attention to what the Koch network actually wants to do. They really want a deal on Dreamers, supported a bill that passed giving legal status to thousands of undocumented farm workers, they want to bring troops home from Afghanistan and to have a lighter U.S. military footprint abroad, and they helped push through criminal-justice reform last year.)

Ways the Republicans Are Drifting to the Left

Levitz primarily focuses on economic policy and climate change, but there are definitely some other clear examples of the Republican party shifting to the left. The number of Republicans who oppose gay marriage continues to drop, and in the eyes of most GOP lawmakers, the Obergefell case resolved the issue for the foreseeable future. Republicans are much more supportive of legalizing marijuana and other drugs than they used to be, and much more wary about the costs and benefits of the war on drugs. GOP governors were some of the first adopters of criminal-justice reforms. (I suspect theres an only Nixon could go to China effect; nobody was going to accuse Rick Perry or Chris Christie of being soft on crime.)

The GOP under Trump is more populist, at least in its rhetoric. Perhaps the most significant change, particularly from the Tea Party era to the Trump one, was the dramatic illustration that Republican opposition to deficit spending and rapidly increasing debt was a mile wide and an inch deep. A lot of Republicans, both in the grassroots and in office, said they opposed runaway spending . . . but they werent really willing to do much about it. And under Trump, Republican complaints about trillion-per-year deficits are practically muted.

But those of us who still think giant runaway debts are going to create problems down the road, as interest payments become a bigger and bigger portion of the federal government, have to confront a painful truth: Many Americans dont care. They cant see the problem. They cant touch it. At some point, the numbers become so big, they become difficult to imagine.

Many Americans can understand (and may have experienced) owing money to a credit card company or the bank for an unpaid mortgage or car payments, or student loans, or even some tough guy named Vinny knocking at their door over that loan they took when their gambling got out of hand. But they cannot get their heads around the fact that as of Wednesday, the American government owes $23,205,218,318,274 dollars and one penny. That is $23 trillion. Our government takes in roughly $3 trillion in tax revenue for a year. If everyone in America agreed tomorrow to have the U.S. government stop all new spending, and we never spent any money on anything, and we somehow collected all the same level of taxes from volunteer IRS agents, and we somehow made up for all of the federal workers who would not be paying income taxes . . . it would still take us nearly eight years to pay off all that we currently owe.

Spending hawks argued with the rest of the country until they are blue in the face, urging them to solve or at least begin to address the problem. No matter what they say or do, Americans refuse to see as a problem or at least they refused to vote as if they saw it as a problem. The Republicans didnt reverse their position on the debt so much as drop it. The electorate had made it painfully clear that there wasnt any political upside whatever cuts were proposed were always going to be painted as cruel and heartless by their opponents, and the Democrats were always going to argue the country could afford anything it wanted and pay for it by taxing the rich.

Ways Republicans Are Drifting to the Right

But to make the argument that the GOP is moving to the left is to look only at a select group of issues. On several fronts, Republicans are more rightward than they were in the past. There are very few pro-gun-control Republicans anymore, and very few outspoken pro-choice Republicans. The Republican Majority for Choice shut its doors, its leaders proclaiming that they were leaving the GOP. The old moderate Republicans became Democrats Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, Mike Bloomberg, Lincoln Chafee.

The first aim of the Trump administration was a sweeping tax cut, and it is hard to imagine a Republican congressman signing onto any future budget deal that included tax increases.

The Trump administration may be a mixed bag on deregulation that leaves some conservatives disappointed, but its not like the Republicans have fundamentally changed their beliefs about the harm of red tape or the efficiency of the federal bureaucracy. The perceived leniency in criminal-justice reform proposals are a reflection that the past tough-on-crime policies worked so well that theyre probably outdated and no longer needed. The GOP is still, by and large, the party of cops. Trump has made the partys rhetoric more enthusiastic about infrastructure in the most general sense, but this is largely an updated version of the longstanding bipartisan tradition of spending taxpayer money to build big stuff in their districts. Remember Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Representative Bud Schuster of Pennsylvania?

The Ways the Democrats Have Drifted Or Sprinted to the Left

By most measures, Democrats have taken at least one big step to the left both during and since the Obama administration. There is no Democratic Leadership Council anymore, pushing for a more centrist approach. There are very few pro-gun Democrats; back in 2010, North Carolina Democratic representative Heath Shuler and Dan Boren, a former representative from Indiana, spoke at the National Rifle Associations annual meeting. Dan Lipinski is, functionally, the last pro-life Democrat in Congress.

Bernie Sanders was not taken seriously by many Democrats, and certainly not seen as a potential presidential nominee, during the Clinton, Bush, or early Obama eras. For most of the past generation, Democrats vehemently denied being socialists, they didnt embrace the label. The Green New Deal would not have been proposed in any previous presidency.

(Theory: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezs rise to such a prominent role in Democratic politics partially reflects the lack of a figure such as Barack Obama or either of the Clintons atop the party and defining its identity and terms of debate. Think about it: From 1992, the Democrats have nominated Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton, Bill Clintons running mate in Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton. Thats an entire generation of Democrats who have had, for most of their lives, Bill, Hillary, or Barack setting the course for the party.)

A Few Ways Democrats Have Somewhat Drifted to the Right

But if you look hard, you can find some idiosyncrasies. As many of us noted throughout Trumps rise, he has never been a consistent, down-the-line conservative, and was a big donor to Democrats for many years. This means on any given day, Trump can propose an idea that is not conservative by any means but many Democrats so consistently loathe Trump that they oppose whatever hes proposing. A CBS poll in 2018 found 78 percent of Republicans supported federal aids to farmers being affected by tariffs, while only 39 percent did. (Motivated reasoning around Trump is so powerful, he can get Democrats to oppose new federal entitlement programs and he can get Republicans to support them.)

While it probably reflects a reflexive opposition to whatever Trump is doing at the moment, more Democrats say they support free trade now. Similarly, Democrats hawkishness on Putin is indisputably a variant of anti-Trump-ism, but it will probably be a long while before Democrats respond to calls for a tougher stand on Russia by scoffing: The 80s called, they want their foreign policy back. If you simply looked at the issues of aid to farmers, approach to Russia, and free trade, you might think the Democrats were the conservative party.

ADDENDUM: Okay, Budweiser. I think youve won the Best Super Bowl ad competition already.

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Surprising Party Changes in the Past Decade - National Review

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Corporate Successes in the Drug War – Drug WarRant

Posted: at 2:42 pm

The US Congress funds the drug war each year despite knowing for decades about the wars ineffectiveness and disastrous consequences. How and why such a war continues has long been a matter of debate:

To say that the war on drugs has failed is not understanding something. It is true that for 40 years, the war on drugs has failed in its stated objectives. Everyone knows that prevention and treatment is the most efficient way to address the drug problem, and that foreign operations are the most inefficient way. One has to wonder just what is in the minds of the planners given the amount of evidence that what they are trying to achieve doesnt work. The drug war has not failed. Its consequences are intentional both within the United States and in the hemisphere.Noam Chomsky, 2012, [QuoteKindle p. 19].

In his 2019 book, Drug War Pathologies, Embedded Corporatism and U.S. Drug Enforcement in the Americas, Jamaican born author and researcher Horace A. Bartilow says the consequences may not have been intentional. He provides statistical and other evidence that focuses blame for the current drug war on transnational corporations doing business primarily in Latin America:

While drug prohibition is an important component of the U.S. national security state (National Security Act of 1947, P.L. 114-113, Sec 101, 50 U.S.C. 3001), it has evolved into a larger corporatist regime that is predicated on protecting the operations of free market capitalism. American drug enforcement has now become the security face of corporate capitalism and is an important vehicle for leveraging corporate penetration into foreign markets as well as facilitating international cooperation to combat threats to capitalism that arise from drug trafficking. The principal actors in this corporatist regime are American transnational corporations. The regime also includes policy think tanks, some members of Congress, civil society organizations, religious and political leaders in the African American community, and foreign governments that partner with the United States in the overseas prosecution of the drug war. [Kindle p. 2]

American policy makers, and the larger drug enforcement regime to which they belong, are addicted less to the drug wars policy failures than to its budgetary successes, in the sense that they have been largely successful in their perennial ability to increase the drug wars budget. [Kindle p. 21]

With the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing dark money donations to politicians, transnational corporations operating in Latin America will have many new opportunities this political season to further exploit the drug war and its victims.

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‘Bath Salts’ Feel Like a Drug From the PastBut They’re Still Wreaking Havoc – Free

Posted: at 2:42 pm

When a group of powerful, legal stimulants burst onto the drug scene in the UK and U.S. a decade ago, they caused a media frenzy.

In Britain, mephedrone came virtually out of nowhere in 2009 to become a hugely popular drug with university students, clubbers and rural teenagers. Dubbed "meow meow" by newspapers and sold online as plant food, it was the killer drug that made people rip off their own scrotums. Yet behind the hype, to young people using it, the drug ticked all the boxes: it was legal, it got you very high and you didnt have to buy it from a street dealer. You could buy it online and get it delivered to your front door in 24 hours.

Meanwhile in the U.S., mephedrone and other synthetic cathinones such as methylone and MDPVsome of which were sold as bath saltsand later alpha-PVP, which became known as "flakka," became popular. Some of these drugs were either mixed in with, or replaced, the MDMA that fueled the EDM scene. Others inspired media coverage around their alleged ability to turn people into flesh-eating zombies (though it was later discovered that particular attacker had only used weed).

But then these drugstechnically called synthetic cathinonesvanished from the mainstream. Synthetic cathinones were banned in the UK and U.S. in 2010 and 2011, swiftly removing their unique selling point as a legal hit. Meanwhile, the purity of the drugs they were designed to replicate, such as MDMA and cocaine, had begun to rise. Cathinones fell out of favor with most users and dealers. Instead they went underground in the UK and U.S., used in the main by much smaller, more socially excluded populations, such as the street homeless and long-term drug injectors, as well as in chemsex scenes.

While synthetic cathinones are mainly drugs of historical note now in the UK and U.S., their arrival having kick-started the modern online drug trade, elsewhere on the planet they have become major drug market players. Now, a decade after becoming the go-to drugs of a new generation of young party kids in the U.S. and UK, mephedrone and other synthetic cathinones are now all over Russia, Eastern Europe and some countries in Asia.

While Silicon Valley millionaires pay $1,000 a night for organic magic mushrooms with a trip guide, and middle-class Londoners pick up deluxe cocaine for 100 a gram in West End bars, people living in relative poverty are snorting and injecting the psychoactive equivalents of knock-off designer clothes to get their stimulant high. Cathinones of varying quality and toxicity have become part of a new wave of cheap highs feeding the bargain basement of an increasingly divided global drug market.

So how did they come to dominate traditional drugs in some parts of the world?

Until four years ago, most prohibited substances entered Russia through its seaports. Cocaine from South America, ecstasy from the Netherlands and amphetamine from Belgiumall of them arrived in St. Petersburg and Ust-Luga to disperse to Russian cities and European transit destinations.

But in 2016, the situation in Russia changed. A huge clampdown on the smuggling trade, of everything from illegal furs to alcohol and drugs, and the arrest of key smugglers momentarily strangled the supply of banned substances in the country. Well-established dealing networks were lost. Drugs imported from Europe such as ecstasy, amphetamine and cannabis stopped going through ports so easily. With diminished supply, these drugs soared in price.

Wholesale drug suppliers came to the conclusion that Russia needed a new product. The criteria were simple: its manufacture should be easy and inexpensive, and the potency strong. Despite it having been banned in Russia in 2010, mephedrone was their solution.

Russian police raided a drug lab near Moscow Jan 17, 2020, and seized at least 66 kg of mephedrone and 600 liters of liquid containing synthetic drugs. IMAGE: Russian Federal Security ServiceTASS via Getty Images

Russia has little data on drug prevalence, forensics, drug-related deaths and convictions. But the evidence from online markets, police seizures and drug experts indicates cathinones have risen to usurp a variety of drug scenes in Russia. Earlier this month a clandestine lab outside Moscow producing mephedrone for online sales was busted. Police arrested five suspects and found 66 kg of mephedrone, 600 litres of liquid containing synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals.

On Hydra, the largest Russian darknet market, mephedrone is more popular than weed. There are more clandestine online shops selling mephedrone than any other drug and the most drug reviews on the site are about mephedrone.

Teenagers wear Metallica-logo "Mephedrone" t-shirts, while the musician Mukka has a song called Girl With A Bob Cut, with the chorus: "In my yard, there is a girl with a bob cut walking/She loves mephedrone, she loves mephedrone. And I am so in love with her." The video, which has 11 million views, features a couple meeting in a club and getting trashed before the girl ODs and is buried the next day by her lover in the snow.

On the encrypted messenger app Telegram, numerous channels talk about using mephedrone and alpha-PVP. Many of these mini-blogs are written in Beatnik style, like cult Russian underground writer Bayan Shiryanov, and describe addiction to cathinones. Some have 10,000 subscribers and act as entry points into online drug markets.

Mom, we are all sick with mephedrone, less often alpha, writes Deep in sin. You and Iwe go crazy for these two and die on withdrawal. The authors are mostly teenage girls, or people who pretend to be teenage girls, hoping to get cash by posting referral links to shops or by leaving their card number and asking people to donate.

According to data analysis from a Telegram channel called DrugStat, prices for a gram of mephedrone in Russia start from $25. In contrast, a gram of cocaine starts from $130. Synthesis of mephedrone in Russia can get as cheap as 30 cents a gram from what I've heard, said Andrey Kaganskikh, a freelance Russian journalist who has investigated Russias drug problem. Prices for mephedrone dont differ that much around the country because it can be synthesized almost anywhere. Underground labs making synthetic cathinones have also been found in Eastern Europe. Since 2013, a number of factories related to cathinone production have been dismantled in Poland and Slovakia.

As with the drugs they are slowly replacing, synthetic cathinones come with risks. Their ingredients are far more varied and unpredictable than their traditional counterparts. Because most are habit-forming, and have been adopted by injectors, they have been responsible for a rise in acute psychosis, blood-borne infections, and deaths in the regions in which they are used.

According to Nikolay Tumanov, a Russian doctor-narcologist, cathinones can cause "anxiety, pseudo-depressive disorders, sleep disturbances, aggressiveness, panic attacks, in fact a destabilization of the nervous system." While synthetic cathinones have been linked to a significant number of deaths in Eastern Europe, many of these are poly-drug poisonings, making the risk difficult to gauge.

Cathinones, mainly mephedrone and alpha-PVP, have also gained a market foothold in Georgia, a country situated at the juncture of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.

Since Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, personal freedom is valued highly and the country now has a flourishing, young electronic dance music scene. Here, the media calls mephedrone killer salt after several fatal overdoses linked to mephedrone at clubs and festivals in 2017, resulting in the drug being banned in 2018. Even though it has an even more dangerous reputation than mephedrone, alpha-PVP has become prevalent in the country among students and older users who often vape or inject the drug.

In Georgia, unlike in many countries, cathinones are not just cheap substitutes for other drugs, they are rival products. On Matanga, a popular clearnet website for buying illegal drugs, both mephedrone and alpha-PVP are more expensive than MDMA. The potency of alpha-PVP, which makes it more cost-effective than mephedrone and cocaine, likely explains its popularity in a country where the minimum wage now amounts to only $7 a month.

In Poland, mephedrone has become a growing problem among young people, according to the number of patients admitted to Nowowiejski Hospital in Warsaw after a mephedrone binge, which rose steadily between 2010 and 2018. The 8kg seizure of mephedrone in Pozna last year and other recent seizures across the country indicate a strong market for the drug, which is probably the result of how easy it is to synthesize, said the Social Drug Policy Initiatives Jerzy Afanasjew.

On the Polish drug market, mephedrone is more of a brand than a specific substance, says Afanasjew. What survived the blanket ban on new psychoactive substances are mostly mephedrone analogues, like 4-CMC, but nobody really knows, because users simply refer to the new analogues as crystal. Nobody cares if it's mephedrone if it works like a speedy euphoric party drug.

Eastern Europes affair with cathinones is not all-encompassing. For example, drug prevalence data shows Czechs and Slovaks, who neighbor Poland to the north, have not taken to them. Up until recently, despite the rise of cathinones in Russia, Ukraine has resisted cathinones. However, experts in Ukraine said that mephedrone has seen a steady growth due to its low cost and strong euphoric effect, and word of mouth increases its popularity every month.

While the epicenter of global synthetic cathinone use appears to be on Europes eastern fringes, these drugs have also been taken up in other parts of the world. Synthetic cathinone abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the small east Asian country of Taiwan, according to the latest statistics from the countrys Food and Drug Administration.

Little is known on cathinone use in Taiwan, although most users are young men. The drugs have been linked to an alarming rise in fatal ODs. Mephedrone, produced in nearby China, is the most detected cathinone in Taiwan, followed by methylone, while new derivatives have recently been added to the controlled illicit substances list. Cathinones are sold online as cute products such as Rainbow Little Devil and Hello Kitty and often advertised as containing "organic ingredients." Police have seized the drugs packaged as coffee, candy, cookies or chocolate.

In 2012, mephedrone took off in India, where it was branded poor mans cocaine. At the same time, what were called loophole drugsa name for legal highs containing mainly synthetic cathinones and synthetic cannabinoidswere being widely distributed and abused in Japan. In both countries, these drugs were responsible for a high number of arrests and admissions into psychiatric hospitals. But since new legislation and heavy police crackdowns, cathinones are no longer so cheap and readily available. However, the quantity of mephedrone seized and reported by the Indian Narcotics Control Bureau in recent years, for example a 50g haul in Mumbai earlier this month, indicates that its still a common drug.

Synthetic cathinones are not just being used around the world to substitute recreational drugs, but as alternatives to heroin. Anya Sarang, President of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Moscow, said alpha-PVP is popular among injecting users in Russia because it is more cost-effective than other drugs. In Russia, using alpha-PVP is not a matter of choice or personal preferences but rather a marker of poverty, she said.

A similar scenario has likely occurred in Georgia. Natia Natenadze, a Master of Addiction Studies, says web bought alpha-PVP is now more on the Georgian drug market than heroin.

In Poland, drug injectors are mainlining cathinones despite the blanket ban and crackdown on legal high shops. According to Bartosz Michalewski, who works with drug users on a daily basis at the Monar clinic in Krakow, "100 percent of them are shooting cathinones." He said they are usually people who are living on the streets who are injecting cathinones because heroin is harder to get hold of in the city.

In both Hungary and Romania, shortages in the availability of heroin in 2010 and 2011, along with the increased availability of cathinones sold as "legal highs" in headshops and online shops, meant that cathinones have now largely replaced traditional drugs among injecting users.

The switch to cheap cathinones was most notable within poor, segregated Roma communities in the two countries, where people are severely disadvantaged on every levelhousing, education, employment, and health. Cathinones like pentedrone (a more MDMA-like, liver-toxic drug than mephedrone) and lesser-known cathinone analogues are common here. They are often sold in branded packets, usually in combination with other drugs, yet few people know exactly what's in them, as the government rarely tests them.

Unlike heroin or amphetamines, whose effects are longer-lasting, users of cathinones need repeated hits, so often shoot up three to ten times per day. Alina Dumitriu, a drug outreach worker at ARAS (the Romanian Anti-AIDS Association) in Bucharest, Romania told VICE that the more chaotic use of cathinones have increased needle sharing, making users even more vulnerable to infections such as HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. In addition, the consequences of injecting cathinoneslike skin erosion and large holes at overused injecting sitespredisposes users to cellulitis and other potentially serious bacterial infections.

Harm reduction services in Hungary are also facing similar problems, which have been exacerbated by a lack of financial resources, according to Peter Sarosi, a human rights activist and drug policy expert. NGOs that provide harm reduction programs in some of the most impoverished parts of Budapest, which are home to many Roma people who live in deep poverty, have had funding and support from Hungarys right wing government cut to shreds. Since closing down the two largest harm reduction programs, thousands of high-risk drug users have become invisible to the treatment system, so it is impossible to keep track of infection rates such as an HIV outbreak.

Estimates of cathinone use across the world, especially in countries that do not routinely test seized drugs or new psychoactive substances, are highly likely to be the tip of the iceberg.

In many countries, data on synthetic cathinone use is either lacking or entirely absent. In addition, drug-detection dogs and routine urine drug screens do not detect synthetic cathinones, meaning the scale of their global use may be largely underestimated. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have identified close to 170 synthetic cathinones on their drug markets since 2009. However, only a handful of these are well known.

The law, it seems, is being played for a fool. Strict narco-policy has not only failed to stem the flow of these drugs in Eastern Europe and Taiwan, it is the reason new and dangerous cathinones are being introduced on the black market. As most countries continue to wage a war on drugs, the question is not whether cathinones will continue to spread, but which ones, and where they will take hold.


'Bath Salts' Feel Like a Drug From the PastBut They're Still Wreaking Havoc - Free

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Winnipeg’s crime will not be solved by cop consultation – The Manitoban

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Common-sense approaches to drug and crime issues often fail to consider the history of policing, forgetting the hard lessons of the war on drugs namely the so-called iron law of prohibition, the idea that as criminalization of drug use ramps up, so does the strength and danger of drug use. Police-based solutions create a kind of arms race between the police and those who sell drugs, leading to increased militarization of both police and crime, as well as putting people who use drugs at risk by compromising the supply of drugs.

Communities should be building their capacity to take care of themselves without police involvement. There are countless opportunities represented by harm reduction strategies such as safe injection sites and serve the people initiatives like free-meal provision, mental-health supports and safe, accessible housing among others. Ultimately, the goal should be removing the conditions that create these issues namely poverty, an inevitable consequence of the settler-colonial capitalist system by implementing policy that works toward full employment, strengthening the social safety net and legalizing drugs.

After all, the drug and crime epidemic is not the product of people making morally poor decisions it is structural and should be approached as such. By beginning with an analysis of the issues that takes the socio-economic structures that produce such issues as its basis, we can move beyond the common-sense moralism the idea that the problem is people choosing to use drugs, or sell them, or participate in any other criminalized activity which only serves to create moral panic, villainizes people that use drugs and has historically proven ineffective in actually helping people.

As part of his anti-crime work with the community organization Point Powerline, Point Douglas community activist Sel Burrows has released part two of his three-part report on recommendations for improving safety in the downtown area. Part one which stressed disrupting criminality through the involvement of downtown residents was released in December, and part three is expected to be released in February.

Part two of the report makes several recommendations on preventing what Burrows refers to as criminal and anti-social behaviour. Many of the recommendations are geared toward building community involvement in enhancing safety downtown which in itself is unproblematic. Where problems begin to appear is in the nature of the involvement being put forward.

Underneath this series of seemingly common sense, easy to implement recommendations is an approach to drugs and safety that primarily benefits property owners who face declining property values from high rates of crime at the cost of people that use drugs and other groups of marginalized people who would likely face the negative impacts of increased policing. When approaching issues of safety, we need to centre on the fact that the police in Canada are a settler-colonial institution that functions to maintain structural oppression by force. The police are an instrument of social control above all else.

Recommendations such as setting up a tipline specifically for taxi drivers to inform police about potential crimes make sense, but only if you accept that policing, and ultimately the law, can be used toward ends that are beneficial to the community not just to property owners. The decades-long experience of the war on drugs has demonstrated that actions based on such assumptions only serve to make drug use more dangerous and increase the militarization of the police, making the city far more dangerous for the marginalized people who usually bear the brunt of police violence.

To be blunt, no property in owners or thieves hands is worth more than the lives of people who use drugs, nor the lives of the marginalized people that tend to live in areas hard-hit by crime. No progressive solution to the current drug and crime epidemic should involve the police, rather, we should be excluding them.

Further, according to a recent poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, trust in the criminal justice system in Manitoba is the lowest in the country.

If we want to help make our communities safer, we should start by listening to them to understand why this lack of trust exists, and proceed together from there instead of insisting on continued police involvement even as a last resort as Burrowss report does.

When approaching social issues like crime and drug use, its not enough to count on the systems that produced the issues to resolve them.

We need to go outside of established institutions and build our own working-class institutions. Building a larger police presence may achieve some extent of immediate results, but we need to ask questions about what this does on a structural level.

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Disabled People Are Tortured in Solitary Confinement, But Tides May Be Turning – Truthout

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Charlene Liberty, a woman with a history of childhood trauma and mental health diagnoses, has cycled in and out of Rhode Island Adult Corrections Institute (ACI) for several years. The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) has repeatedly subjected her to solitary confinement, a practice that consists of sensory deprivation, social isolation, and eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating in a concrete cell for 22 to 24 hours a day. During solitary recreation time in Rhode Island and many other states, people may spend an hour in outdoor cages that resemble oversized dog crates.

While held in solitary, Liberty ran her head into her cell door and dove off the cell sink attempting to injure herself. In response, guards pepper-sprayed her cell. When a medical staffer arrived, he was overcome with pepper spray and was forced to use a stronger mask to lessen its effects. The staffer noted in his records that Liberty was foaming at the mouth, had cyanosis (bluish discoloration) of the neck and face, and was twitching as if experiencing a seizure.

Liberty reportedly injured herself again seven days later and was sent to a hospital for intensive care. Once she was sent back to prison, a multidisciplinary team chose the treatment plan of restricting her movement with belly and leg chains, a restraint chair and monitoring by a guard with pepper spray. After threatening to hurt herself, guards pepper sprayed Liberty again, this time while her hands and feet were shackled. They punished her by putting her back into solitary confinement.

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Liberty is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed on October 25, 2019, by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island, the ACLU National Prison Project and Disability Rights Rhode Island. The lawsuit alleges that the Rhode Island Department of Corrections is violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act based on the prolonged solitary confinement of people with mental health diagnoses for weeks, months and even years at a time. Even a few days in solitary confinement can cause irreversible brain damage.

Liberty wrote in a press conference statement, As a person with mental illness, I hate to see anyone treated the way I was treated aggressively thrown into segregation, stripped down, made to feel less than a person and placed in a cell with no one to talk to, waiting for them to tell you what you did and how many days or weeks you are going to be isolated, left alone with your thoughts and emotions making things all that much worse. She continued, There is nothing positive only feeling less than human, depressed, unworthy, seeing things on the wall, talking to yourself and wanting to kill yourself.

The Rhode Island-based lawsuit names six plaintiffs who were diagnosed with Serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) and subjected to harsh solitary confinement conditions. If the plaintiffs win the suit, people diagnosed with SPMI in Rhode Island will no longer be subjected to solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement, although normalized in the United States today, was controversial over a century ago. In 1849, a doctor wrote an essay warning of its harmful effects: any man excluded from all intercourse with his fellow-men, no attempt being made to call the powers of the mind into operation, the brain will fall into a state of atrophy, and great weakness of mind will result, as the natural physiological consequence. He continued, This position is undeniable. A New York State warden was highly critical of its use in the 1900s. Yet, solitary confinement, sometimes called segregated housing by prison authorities, became widespread in the 1980s and 90s when the war on drugs ravaged Black and Brown communities in the United States.

In 2011, a United Nations Special Rapporteur expert on torture parroted what activists and incarcerated people have been saying for decades: Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique. The United States, however, keeps up to 100,000 people in solitary confinement, a figure that is greater than the entire prison populations of countries such as the U.K., France and Germany.

The tides may be turning. As public outrage grows, a number of presidential candidates have spoken out against the practice. Bernie Sanders tweeted: Solitary confinement is a form of torture. It is unconstitutional, plain and simple. We must end solitary confinement in America, and promises to abolish the practice in his Prisoners Bill of Rights platform. Elizabeth Warrens criminal justice proposal calls for the elimination of solitary confinement. Pete Buttigiegs website calls for a reduction on the over-reliance on the practice, and to limit its use to 15 days. Joe Biden calls for an end to solitary confinement. Yet his key role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which contributed to an explosion in incarceration and solitary confinement, and a refusal to hold himself accountable, calls into question the sincerity of his proposal.

Disability justice for incarcerated people, however, has yet to receive adequate attention, even though people with disabilities represent the largest minority population in jails and prisons. They are disproportionality lower income, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQ, or have some other identity marked by oppression.

On any given day, 15 to 20 percent of Rhode Islands prison population have been diagnosed with a SPMI. RIDOC reported to Disability Rights Rhode Island that over 100 people with what RIDOC calls Serious and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) were held in solitary confinement in Rhode Island from February 2018 until December 14, 2018. Self-reported Department of Corrections data, gathered by researchers with Yale Law School, estimates that on any given day, over 4,350 people with an SPMI are held in solitary confinement in the United States.

People with disabilities make up a disproportionate amount of the carceral system, and the system itself is legitimized by ableism. According to Talila Lewis, a disability justice attorney and volunteer director for Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities (HEARD), ableism is a system that places value on peoples bodies and minds based on socially constructed ideas on normalcy, intelligence and excellence.

These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in eugenics, anti-Blackness, colonialism and capitalism, Lewis told Truthout. This form of systemic oppression leads to people in society determining who is valuable and worthy based on their appearance and their ability to satisfactorily produce, excel or behave. People who do not fit into these socially constructed ideals, then, are disproportionately disappeared.

Community health resources are rendered unnecessary in societies that operate under an ableist framework. Advocates describe the revolving door of people who cycle in and out of ACI, many who often experience homelessness. ACI is essentially the states largest mental hospital, says Steve Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island.

Prisons were not meant to be dumping grounds for people with mental illness, but that is what they have become, Brown told Truthout. Prison officials dont have the resources, professional staff or appropriate system model to be serving that function. More resources need to be put into mental health resources at the community level.

Instead, law enforcement manages disabled people. Police have what Lewis calls a disability consciousness gap, which means they operate through indiscriminate power and control that fail to address unique needs people may have during interactions. Black, deaf individuals, for example, tend to use relatively larger signing language, a cultural difference police tend to find threatening, Lewis says. Police have beaten Black, deaf individuals for failing to comply with orders that they could not hear. A deaf individual could have no way of communicating throughout the legal process once a police officer arrests them. They may not know why they are detained and may not be able to access any medications that they need.

Disabled people are then disproportionately punished with solitary confinement. Plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, Ms. C, a 41-year-old woman diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, arrived to ACI and was taken off her medication and was not scheduled to see a psychiatrist. Ms. C was disciplined with solitary confinement for filing daily medical slips and washing her hands too frequently.

Prisons and jails exacerbate disabilities and create new ones because of health care deprivation, poor nutrition and social isolation. Lewis has witnessed the physically toxic environment take a toll on incarcerated people too. A lot of the folks I work with are deaf people who went into jails and prisons without any other form of illnesses or disabilities and came out with diabetes, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, cancer, TBI, PTSD, addiction and more. Lewis said. These are people who were, relatively speaking, healthy and in just a few years sometimes months they became terribly ill or multiply disabled.

While lawsuits can improve peoples conditions in some cases, advocates should recognize the limitations of legal victories. These systems have figured out ways around federal disability rights laws and legal judgments, Lewis said. For example, due to a Supreme Court ruling in 1998, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is supposedly barred from placing people with disabilities into solitary confinement. But, Lewis explained, prison systems find ways to disappear disabilities, coerce people not to identify as disabled or make it dangerous for people to identify as disabled. For example, people with mental health diagnoses are sometimes taken off their medications for several months before being transferred to ADX Florence, a supermax prison composed of solitary cells. Once they are off their medications, they are no longer disabled in the system, according to Lewis.

Disability rights litigation, when not informed by disability justice, racial justice, and other social justice praxis, does not go far enough and can sometimes help buff[er] violent carceral ideologies and practices, Lewis said. For example, We would not want to sue simply to obtain accommodations while a person is in solitary confinement, Lewis added. We want to acknowledge that solitary confinement for everyone is torture, and that its horrific effects are even more acutely felt for particular people.

The legal system, then, shouldnt be the sole battleground in the fight against solitary confinement. People should also focus on disability justice, decarceration and prison abolition as solutions to this perennial struggle against the violence of carceral systems, Lewis says.

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The Neural Revolution Is Almost Here. Should We Fear It? | Articles | Chief Data Officer – Innovation Enterprise

Posted: at 2:41 pm

In September 2019, it became known that Facebook bought the developer of neural interfaces CTRL-Labs. Google Glasses are compatible with the NeuroSky EEG biosensor through the open-source MindRDR application. In July 2019, Elon Musk's startup introduced the revolutionary Neuralink brain-machine interface claiming to start the trans-human evolution.

All these pieces of news indicate the direction the industry is heading to. Internet companies that receive their main profit from showing targeted advertising try to take into account the interests of their users. To determine these interests, they massively collect data, tracking the user's actions on the web, building profiles and social graphs, monitoring messages, calls, physical movements, shopping carts, contact lists. But it seems this is not enough for them.

So far, EEG scanners and implants have very limited functionality, but this technology is developing rapidly. Based on the results of a brain activity scan, it is already possible to recognize basic emotions, some unspoken words, and mental attempts to make physical movements. Scientists have found similarities in how different peoples brains process information. It is now possible to make assumptions about a persons thoughts based on his or her brains neural activity.

Medical brain-computer interfaces should help people regain control of their limbs or control prostheses. Inexpensive headsets are positioned as relaxation tools or entertainment gadgets. However, companies have already begun experimenting with EEGs to evaluate the performance of advertising campaigns.

Facebook and startups like Neuralink are developing a new generation of neurotechnology tools and making bold promises. For example, Facebook promises to let people type by simply imagining themselves talking, and Elon Musk anticipates the merger of the human brain with AI.

On September 10, 2019, the Royal Society of London published a 106-page report on the future and risks of neurotechnology. It predicted that a neural revolution" will happen in the coming decades.

Brain-computer devices generate a huge amount of neural data potentially one of the most sensitive forms of personal information. And the main problem is how this brain data will be commercialized. Advertisers are already using confidential information about people's preferences, habits, and locations. Adding neural data to the mix will seriously increase the threat to privacy.

Getting data directly from the brain will be a real paradigm shift. If Facebook, for example, combines neural data with its extensive collection of personal data, then it can create much more accurate and comprehensive psychographic profiles.

Experts say that for now, there are almost no legal obstacles to prevent companies from trading neural profiles.

Neuromarketing is a new industry in marketing research that uses brain scans to know consumers better than they know themselves. Neuromarketers clearly promise to exploit neural profiles commercially.

By non-invasively recording the bioelectrical activity of the brain (electroencephalography), neuro marketers monitor the brain's response to viewing ads. In the future, they hope that this technology will also allow tracking brain activity while using applications, communicating on the Internet, watching movies and TV shows. This will help to maximize the effectiveness of advertising (and, perhaps, other methods of influencing people.)

It is already clear that such technologies will be used not only in the advertising industry. In arecent interview, Edward Snowden explained that technology giants are tools in the hands of even more powerful players: We see how authoritarianism is growing all over the world, and the reality is that all of them are parts of the same threat. These companies function as weapons in the hands of governments. Its too easy to say that tech giants are a real threat; in reality, all of them are part of the same threat the system.

Snowden pointed out that it is better to use WhatsApp rather than simple unencrypted SMS, but it is still not a good idea to use WhatsApp if you are a prime minister and wish to communicate with your staff. For now, you can encrypt and hide your communication if you usevirtual private networks. Withbrain-computer interfaces, it is impossible to encrypt neural signals inside your brain.

Ethics experts also fear that information from the brain may be potentially used for discrimination. For example, if there are patterns of brain activity similar to patterns observed in drug addicts or people suffering from depression or other diseases, perhaps, on the basis of such patterns, employers will refuse to hire people. In addition, insurance companies could raise premiums and banks offer loans on less favorable terms.

The future we are striving for is a world in which our neural data, which we do not even have access to, can be used against us. For now, our thoughts are the last frontier of the defense in the war for privacy. It is sad, but all previous battles have been unconditionally lost.

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Catholic priest at Davos on AI and the soul – The Tablet

Posted: at 2:41 pm

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. Photo: Guo Chen/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

New technologies in society raise important questions about the soul, according to a Catholic delegate attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Fr Philip Larrey, Chair of Logic and Epistemology at the Pontifical Lateran University, who has been in discussions with tech companies about the ethical questions around Artificial Intelligence and robots,took part in a discussion Faith in the Fourth Industrial Revolution", sponsored by the United Arab Emirates.

Fr Larrey told The Tablet that how emerging technologies raise questions about immortality and the soul. Among Silicon Valley billionaires, he explained, heavy investment was going into technologies about how to vastly extend life expectancy and the transhumanist movement looking at ways to transfer human consciousness into a digital format.

The smartest ones [tech companies] want to dialogue with the Catholic Church because we have a 2,000 year tradition about what it means to be human, he said.The richness of the Catholic tradition gives us the framework to speak out the technologies we have. How we were created and what is our purpose.

Fr Larrey, from Mountain View, California, where Google has its HQ, and who helped arrange the 2016 meeting between the Pope and Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google holding company Alphabet,pointed out that the question of whether we can we really become immortal goes back to the Book of Genesis.

He said some of the tech gurus have made it clear they are not interested in having a dialogue with the Vatican.

They want to do their own thing, and are pushing ahead with a lot of money with projects to try and keep them immortal, or solve health issues, said Fr Larrey, who has written two books,Connected World and Artificial Humanity.

Last September, Silicon Valley big hitters went to the Vatican to discuss ethics amid talk of a potential papal document on artificial intelligence. Archbishop Vincenzio Paglia, the Popes point man on family and pro-life issues, has met Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft. The next assemblyof his Pontifical Academy of Life department will focus on AI.

Fr Larrey stressed that whatever the technological developments, it was important to put people before platforms

The Church is not against the use of machines, but what the Pope is saying is put the human being at the centre of technology, he explained .

The priest-philosopher pointed out that parishes, while using digital technology, are places of human contact. He said claims about robots taking over the world are overblown, and that governments will not allow machines to take over peoples jobs right away. The same is true for pastoral ministry.

I dont see robot priests in the future, he added.

Pope Francis in his messagereminded those at the gathering for the World Economic Forum that their overriding concern must be for the one human family, and warned against the isolationism, individualism and ideological colonisation of contemporary debate.

Digital and technological changes, he said, had benefited humanity, but also left people behind. The Popes message was delivered by Cardinal Peter Turkson, of the integral human development dicastery, who was in Davos, and who was joined by Fr Augusto Zampini-Davies, an official at the dicastery.

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Euthanasia | American Medical Association

Posted: at 2:39 pm

Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 5.8

Euthanasia is the administration of a lethal agent by another person to a patient for the purpose of relieving the patients intolerable and incurable suffering.

It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duresssuch as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illnessmay come to decide that death is preferable to life.

However, permitting physicians to engage in euthanasia would ultimately cause more harm than good.

Euthanasia is fundamentally incompatible with the physicians role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks. Euthanasia could readily be extended to incompetent patients and other vulnerable populations.

The involvement of physicians in euthanasia heightens the significance of its ethical prohibition. The physician who performs euthanasia assumes unique responsibility for the act of ending the patients life.

Instead of engaging in euthanasia, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. Physicians:

(a) Should not abandon a patient once it is determined that a cure is impossible.

(b) Must respect patient autonomy.

(c) Must provide good communication and emotional support.

(d) Must provide appropriate comfort care and adequate pain control.

Code of Medical Ethics:Caring for Patients at the End of Life

Visit theEthics main pageto access additional Opinions, the Principles of Medical Ethics and more information about the Code of Medical Ethics.

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Pressuring a Hospice to Kill – National Review

Posted: at 2:39 pm

(Pixabay)In Canada, government threatens to withdraw all funding from a facility that refuses to euthanize dying patients.

Should hospice professionals be forced to assist the suicides of their patients who want to die? Not too long ago, the answer to that question would have been an emphatic Of course not! Hospice is not about making people dead. Rather, it seeks to help terminally ill patients live well through intensive medical, spiritual, psychological, and social treatments to alleviate the pain and emotional suffering that dying people and their families may experience

Dont tell that to the provincial government of British Columbia. After the Supreme Court of Canada conjured a right for anyone diagnosed with a serious medical condition that causes irremediable suffering to receive lethal-injection euthanasia, British Columbia passed a law requiring all medical facilities that receive at least 50 percent of their funding from the government to participate in what north of the 46th parallel is known euphemistically as medical assistance in dying (MAiD). When Delta Hospice Society, in Delta, British Columbia, announced that it would adhere to the hospice movements founding philosophy by banning euthanasia in its facility, the provinces minister of health threatened to cut off all provincial funding. Delta has until February 3 to yield to the euthanasia imperative or face a catastrophic financial crisis.

The power of the purse can be very persuasive, but Delta has not surrendered. Instead, searching for a compromise, it has offered to cut from its annual budget, of $3 million (Canadian dollars), $750,000 of the $1.4 million that it currently receives from the province. That would reduce the portion of its budget that comes from public funding to a point below the 50 percent legal threshold, allowing Delta to continue serving dying patients while maintaining its philosophical integrity. As of this writing, the authorities have not responded to Deltas offer.

On the face of it, the governments heavy-handedness makes no logical sense. Everyone acknowledges that Delta provides a very valuable service to the community. And its not as if the small hospice, with a mere ten beds, has the power to materially impede access to euthanasia in British Columbia, a province of nearly 5 million people. Indeed, since euthanasia was legalized in 2016, only three Delta patients have asked to be killed and they were able to obtain their desired end by simply returning home or transferring to a hospital directly next door to the hospice. So, what gives?

Angeline Ireland, president of Delta, perceives a direct connection to socialism. When I asked her in an email interview why she thought the government was trying to force the hospices participation, she replied, I would only be speculating, but primarily, I think it is ideological and agenda driven. Our provincial government is currently run by socialists. The Left has never valued human life. In socialized medicine the state controls and is all powerful. She also believes there is a connection to the costs of health care. I also wonder how much of it is driven by economics. HPC [hospice palliative care] is far more expensive than euthanasia.

Delta is a secular facility, so what are its bases for refusing to kill? The administrators merely want the freedom to operate the facility according to the precepts of hospice moral philosophy. HPC and Euthanasia are diametrically opposed, Ireland tells me. Our health-care discipline has been practiced for 40 years in Canada and in that time has excelled in providing pain- and symptom-management to people. A patient can be stabilized to live out their life the best way possible. We have seen that people offered Hospice Palliative Care tend not to want euthanasia.

I asked how Deltas patients would be affected if the province agreed to cut its support of the hospice by $750,000. She told me that other programs, such as bereavement services for survivors and a layer of administration, would have to be cut until new sources of private or philanthropic funding could be found. But she was adamant that dying patients would not be affected, as Delta will focus exclusively on our hospice.

And if the government refuses Deltas compromise and terminates all financial support? Ireland identified a bitter irony. Over the last 20 years, we have subsidized the government healthcare system by raising $30 million and giving 750,000 voluntary labor hours directly into community healthcare, she notes. But she remains adamant: We will not provide euthanasia. If the government withdraws all its funding, we will try to operate on a privately funded downsized version. We will look for other partners to help us carry on our work.

Will Delta go to court in that circumstance? Yes. We have not done anything wrong, Ireland says. We have not defaulted on our contract. There is nothing in our contract which obliges us to perform euthanasia or have it provided on our premises. However, seeking justice is expensive. We could be on the right side of the law and the right side of history, but it will take $400 an hour to hire a lawyer to seek our remedy. Most not-for-profit organizations dont have the luxury of standing up against Big Government, who have at their disposal seemingly unlimited legal resources.

And what if all efforts at obtaining relief fail? While Ireland didnt say it, one presumes that Delta would close the hospice rather than yield to the governments orders to kill. Notably, the minister of health seems fine with that prospect.

Of course, this controversy isnt really about Delta. British Columbia is sending a clarion message to all health-care providers: resistance to the euthanasia imperative is futile. Ireland understands the stakes. We believe the nation is looking at our situation and [that it] will have a profound impact on other hospices. If the government can coerce us into killing our patients, they can force any hospice into doing it.

The Delta coercion has ramifications far beyond the hospice sector. Canada is in the process of expanding health categories that qualify for doctor-administered death. Quebec just opened the door to allowing those with mental illness that is deemed incurable to receive euthanasia. The country also seems on the verge of requiring that a person diagnosed with progressive dementia be able to sign a legally binding written directive that she be killed when she becomes incapacitated. Also being seriously debated is the legalization of pediatric euthanasia, perhaps without parental permission in the case of mature children. Meanwhile, euthanasia and organ-harvesting have already been conjoined in the country a utilitarian plum to society, celebrated and promoted in the media. If Delta can be compelled to board the euthanasia train, so too can psychiatric institutions, pediatric hospitals, nursing homes, memory-support facilities, and organ-transplant centers.

And it isnt just medical facilities that are feeling the heat. In Ontario, an ethics rule of the provincial medical association requires doctors to participate in euthanasia, by either doing the deed or finding a doctor who will. A court of appeals has ruled that the requirement is binding, even if it violates a doctors religious beliefs. If doctors dont want to be complicit in euthanasia, the court sniffed, they should either find another career or restrict their practices to such fields as podiatry, in which they wont be asked to administer death.

What can the United States learn from all this? First, single-payer health care socialized medicine allows the government to control the medical profession with an iron fist and harness the sector into advancing controversial social policies. Second, euthanasia is an aggressive social pathogen that brooks no dissent. Once a society widely accepts the underlying premise that killing is an acceptable answer to suffering, access to euthanasia eventually becomes a right that the government must guarantee at the expense of the freedom of conscience of medical practitioners. Finally, access to euthanasia comes to matter more than the ability to assure quality treatment, with the authorities willing to accept a brain drain from the health-care sector rather than allow conscientious objection.

Canada is our closest cultural cousin: We had better be careful, or the same thing could happen here. If we dont want that, we should reject assisted suicide and focus our national energies on caring instead of killing.

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Bishops call for resistance to expanded assisted suicide – The Catholic Register

Posted: at 2:39 pm

EDMONTON --The bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories are calling on Catholics to mobilize and oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide even as the federal government looks to make it easier to qualify for a medically-induced death.

We are absolutely opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide and we disagree vehemently with its very existence in the country, said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith.

Naturally, we would be opposed to its expansion. The longer that something is in law, the longer people can think that, because its legal, its also morally permissible. Thats a stance that we cant allow to stand unchallenged.

We have a number of things in our country that might be allowed legally, that doesnt mean that they are morally permitted.

A pastoral letter signed by Smith and the bishops of Calgary, St. Paul, Grouard-McLennan, McKenzie-Fort Smith and the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton, was shared at Masses on the Jan. 18-19 weekend.

The letter calls on all Canadians, and Catholics in particular, to press members of parliament to vote against any expansion of assisted suicide and euthanasia. It also calls on the federal government to expand palliative care and on health professionals to assert their right to refuse to participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Canadians are being asked to weigh in on coming changes to the law as Ottawa seeks to amend the Criminal Code to permit greater access to a medical death. Survey responses are being accepted until Jan. 27. Approximately 200,000 people had responded to the governments online survey as of Jan. 20, according to the justice ministry.

The Liberal governments move to amend the law is in response to a September Quebec court decision that declared parts of the federal and Quebec laws on assisted dying unconstitutional. The court ruled that a requirement limiting assisted suicide to patients facing a reasonably foreseeable death violated their Charter rights.

If no new legislation is passed by March 11, the reasonably foreseeable provision in the law will be suspended in Quebec. But even without that court ruling, the law was facing review this year.

The federal government reports more than 6,700 Canadians have died by a medically-induced death since assisted suicide became legal in 2016.

Current eligibility requirements say candidates must be 18 or older, able to make health decisions for themselves and in grievous and irremediable medical condition to qualify.

The government is seeking input on such questions as whether people should be able to make an advance request for assisted suicide while they are healthy, and if it should be granted to people under 18 years old and people with psychiatric conditions.

The survey itself is disingenuous, says Dr. Thomas Fung, a Catholic physician in Calgary. He noted the survey is steered towards removing the reasonably foreseeable death criteria from the law while not explicitly asking whether Canadians favour removal at all.

It basically was kind of like a foregone conclusion that this was going to happen, Fung said. It really opens the doorway for suicide on demand essentially At some point, human suffering is a subjective experience, so its really hard to objectify who should qualify for MAiD when the near-death criteria is removed.

Smith said the bishops issued their pastoral letter because of a cultural trend that not only normalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide but now favours expansion.

It had always been up until now, a rock-solid conviction that medicine is dedicated to the preservation of life and to doing no harm, he said. Well, now we have medicine being used actually prematurely to end life, which turns the medical profession on its head.

Fung said the conscience rights of physicians who object to participating in the death of patients are also under fire.

Really were seeing discrimination at every level, Fung said.

Despite Canadian Medical Association code of ethics and other provincial association guidelines to protect conscientious objectors, there is really nothing legal that is helping us to advance our case in court. Were losing every time we go to court, and I think were seeing a pattern here.

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