Transcript: 'Are we disconnecting ourselves into oblivion?' rant, 14 July 2009

Are we disconnecting ourselves into oblivion? Is there a connection between the swallows who build a nest in my boat, the Amazon rain forest, cloned meat, antibiotics, and public health care for all, and why does it matter?


This is the essence not only of my new book “Threshold”, but it’s also the essence, frankly, of this show, the seven years that we’ve been doing this show, and I would say in many ways, of my life, the work that Louise and I have committed ourselves to throughout our lives. I mean, even long before we were married.

Not just the cause of peace and justice, which, and I don’t mean this to sound like some kind of pompous ass, but I think all of us, in order to have meaning in our lives, you know, find something that we say “this is what I’m all about”, and for some it is things like, you know, being a great parent, or being a good provider, or being a good friend for others, and I hope I’ve done all those things. I know I’ve certainly had no shortage of deficiencies in all of those areas, but you know, I’m net net, hopefully, and in work, and whatnot, but I’ve also had this, I write about this in my book “The Prophet’s Way”, which is a kind of an autobiography, and it’s got nothing to do with prophecy, “The Prophet’s Way” is the name of a path through the forest in Germany.

But, since I was a kid, I’ve had this notion that the world’s in trouble, literally, biologically and spiritually, and that all of us have some role to play in fixing it. And so, I want to get into how we do that in this first hour/ I know a week ago today, I was talking about how, I think it’s Richard Lovelock [James - ed.], the guy who came up with the Gaia hypothesis, has a new book out in which he’s basically saying ok, that’s it, we’re screwed. There’s going to be maybe a hundred million people who are going to survive and live at the poles. Well, that’s a very controversial position, and there’s a lot of people pushing back on that, and even he himself says this is basically, you know, if we don’t do the right things, if we don’t change, if we don’t really, really make a difference.

I want to start with an op-ed that’s in today’s Financial Times. If you subscribe to the Financial Times, you pick up the physical newspaper, and you turn to the editorial page, the entire right-hand column on the editorial pages, the two-page spread, the editorial page spread, and those of you who’ve been listening for a long time, you know that I used to quote the Wall Street Journal a lot, because they used to have great journalism. Ever since Murdoch bought them, it’s turned into just another trash paper, and I let my subscription lapse, and I subscribe now, pretty much exclusively to the Financial Times for my right-wing Republican internationalist banker news. Which it is important to keep track of what these folks are saying about themselves and to themselves, and about us. And so here’s an op-ed that fills the entire right-hand page, or the right-hand side of the editorial page in the Financial Times today.

The headline is, “The Right is Wrong to Attack Obama’s Health Plan”. It’s by Matt Miller. He says, "the Republican charge that Barack Obama", keep in mind, this is how Europe views the United States. "The Republican charge that Barack Obama", although Matt Miller’s an American. "The Republican charge that Barack Obama is seeking a “government takeover” of US healthcare is further proof that American political rhetoric has become detached from reality." Miller points out that Obama’s plan basically embraces Mitt Romney’s blueprint from Massachusetts, and funds it with John McCain’s best idea from the Presidential campaign.

Which, by the way, I have changed my opinion on this. I do think that we should be taxing health benefits. Because I think it’s nuts that if I, as a small-business person, if I don’t incorporate and I want to buy my own insurance, I have to pay income taxes on the money that I used to buy that insurance. If I do incorporate, I don’t have to pay taxes. This makes no sense. So, and in fact, as he points out, I’ll get to that in a minute. He says, "Only in America can you co-opt Republican thinking and have critics label you “socialist”."

He says, "Start with cost. It’s easy for foes to feign shock at Obamacare’s $1,000bn 10-year price tag, but a trillion dollars ain’t what it used to be. That is just over 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product over the same period, and barely 3 per cent of the roughly $35,000bn total healthcare spending during that time. If Mr Obama’s approach is otherwise sensible, the idea that America can’t afford it is preposterous."

Today’s op-ed in the Financial Times goes onto say, "medical bills are, shamefully, a leading cause of bankruptcy" in the United States. "It locks budding entrepreneurs into jobs they loathe because their families need the coverage." My point exactly. Over and over and over again I’ve made that point. If we had single payer health care, you would have people like me who have been entrepreneurs. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole entire life, other than working for a few radio stations, well actually, 5 of them, as a DJ for 3 years, a newscaster for 7 years, and a programme director for a year, back in the late 60’s and 70’s, and one year that I spent as an engineer working for RCA because I needed health insurance, because Louise was pregnant with our first child, in 1973.

Other than that, I haven’t had a job all these years. I’ve always worked for myself, and I continue to. This radio station is owned by a business that I own. It’s a small business. A very small business. But it’s there. So, I’ve been an entrepreneur all these years, and you know, the fact of the matter is that when I was in my twenties and thirties, I’m now in my fifties, when I was in my twenties and thirties as an entrepreneur, I was actually able to afford to give my employees health insurance.

I remember a company we had, the Woodley Herber Company, in the 1970’s, in East Lansing, Michigan, Okemos, Michigan, and before that, the Electronics Joint, the TV repair shop, electronics repair shop that Louise and I owned. And in both of those businesses, we were able to provide our employees with health insurance, because Blue Cross / Blue Shield at that time in Michigan was a not-for-profit company. All the hospitals were not-for-profit. The industry hadn’t evolved as it were. This was all pre-Reagan. And I was able to provide health insurance to my employees for thirty, thirty-five bucks per person per month. I mean, it was cheap. And then, in my later years, for example when Louise and I came back from Germany, and we started the ad agency in Atlanta, Chandler, MacDonald, Stout, Schneiderman & Poe, dba [did business as] The Newsletter Factory, which is still in business in Atlanta.

At first, we were not able to offer health insurance, because it had just gotten so expensive, and we didn’t have it ourselves. I mean, that’s how bizarre it is. So anyhow, he goes on to say, "taxes on employer-provided… This subsidy is so massive, at $250bn a year, and regressive – reserving its biggest bounty for those with the most generous plans – that a phalanx of health economists from both political parties recently begged Congress to trim it. As it turns out, scrapping this tax subsidy was the bold, if unappreciated, centrepiece of Mr McCain’s health plan."

So, there’s that. Yesterday morning, or no, was it yesterday morning or this morning, one of these, pretty much every morning, but I think it was this morning, as Louise and I were walking down the dock, we live in a houseboat, in the Willamette River. And we were walking down the dock, and there was a beaver carrying some green stuff. He, I don’t know if it was a he or a she, there’s two of them; they’ve built a home underneath our dock. There was a Blue Heron up upon the shore, he’s always sitting there, you know, fishing. There were some ducks. We’ve got some swallows who’ve built a house in our boat. I'll tell you the story about that when we come back.

And all of this, in my opinion, ties into the health care debate and ties into an absolute disaster waiting to happen in the rain forest that I want to tell you about right after we come back. And to pull all this together, cloned meat in the UK, antibiotics in our meat supply in the United States. It's all one thing, and it's all about are we going to have a good life or or oblivion?


So yesterday Louise and I took a walk. We live in just this beautiful spot. It’s a little houseboat community on the river, and opposite our house on the riverbank, is a little wildlife preserve, and there’s part of the Green Way, which is this forty, actually it’s now over a hundred miles, cause they connected it to a larger network. Over a hundred miles of contiguous walking and bicycle riding space, where you can just ride continuously up and down both sides of the city, across the bridges, up to the mountains, it’s just mind-boggling what good urban planning has done in Portland, Oregon.

And there’s this giant, you know, like three hundred, four hundred year old tree, I don't know, maybe two hundred years, anyhow, it’s got a diameter that’s got to be at least twenty feet around, well, maybe fifteen feet, near our house, and every day I walk by it, I hug it. My spiritual mentor, Gottfreid Mueller, who’s now ninety-five years old, lives in Germany, he’s the guy who named that path in the forest, “The Prophet’s Way”, and about whom most of that book in written, he once told me, he said “Thomas, if the day ever comes when there is no medicine, you can get healing energy by just hugging trees.” I’m laughing, but I’m not, I mean, I do it, and it’s not just for the healing energy, it’s because of the feeling of connection that’s so important to me. I talk to the plants as I walk by them. The animals, I wish them well. I send them, you know, blessings is the wrong word, but something like that. And the beaver, the heron, the ducks, we had these swallows.

We’ve got this little boat. With a twenty-one year old, twenty-one foot Bayliner; it’s just a little used boat that we bought when we bought our houseboat, so that we could drive around in the river. And a pair of swallows built a nest in the back of it, and their babies are apparently now gone. I went out and checked the nest yesterday, which by the way is kind of a mystery, two weeks ago they had eggs in there. If anybody knows the length of time for swallows, Purple-Breasted Swallows, let me know.

But it’s so important to me, to have nature around me, it has been my entire life. Because I feel that that connection is one of the things that keeps me sane, and I think that as a culture, that connection keeps up sane. And it’s not just sane.

Paul Brown wrote this piece – "The Long Hot Summer". "In the summer of 2005, the Amazon rainforest suffered the worst drought it had seen in over a century". The crisis though, he notes, provided a great opportunity for scientists. They could answer the question finally, that nobody since Darwin had been able to answer. "How does a rain forest response to extreme drought?" This was published in “Science”, in the journal “Science”, the journal of the AAAS, which I’m a member of, and I recommend to you, it’s amazing. And he notes, “The Amazon alone absorbs three billion tons of carbon, more than twice the quantity human beings produce by burning fossil fuels. But during the 2005 drought, this process was reversed, and the Amazon gave off two billion tons of carbon instead, creating an additional five billion tons of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. That’s more than the total annual emissions of Japan and Europe combined."

It turns out it also wasn’t the result, this drought, of an El Niño, but instead of a regional rise in sea temperatures, one of the early expected signs of global climate deterioration, what is referred to as climate change, or global warming. I call it atmosphere deterioration. He said, “Taken together, these findings suggest that climate change could trigger the worst kind of vicious cycle, with climbing temperatures causing the rain forests to dry out and give off massive quantities of greenhouse gases, which in turn causes the planet to warm more rapidly - a dynamic with harrowing implications."

If that’s not enough, he says, “new research presented in March at a conference organized by the University of Copenhagen,” this is in anticipation of the big December meeting, “with the support of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says as much as 85 percent of the Amazon forests will be lost if the temperature in the region increases by just 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep from hitting that mark, we have to curb global carbon emissions by at least 80 percent." "Otherwise,” he notes, “the forest as we know it would effectively be gone. "The good news,” here’s the good news, “is that much of the damage has yet to be done.” He says, “About four-fifths of the Amazon is still mature forest. It is the biggest wilderness left on the planet. There is a lot to fight for; there is a lot to save”, he says, "I am not disheartened."

I would suggest to you, that the core of the problem is not that we are failing to understand the science, it’s that we are failing to understand the essential nature of nature, that we are part of it. That there is a physical, a metaphysical, a spiritual if you wish, but most importantly, a biological connection between us and every other living thing. There is nothing more or less sacred on this earth. It’s all alive. It’s all sacred, and we have to work to save it all. Because if we don’t, as part of it all, we’re toast. So how do we do that? I'll share a couple of stories right after the break.


I just want to wrap this up, this whole rant about how it’s all, essentially it's all one. And in fact, I would say that that’s what Bill Keller, our Christian guest yesterday misses. He says that he wants to reach out to those people beyond the four walls of the church. And I would say that by restraining oneself within the four walls of the church, by saying that God’s in a box, called a church, and that’s the only place we find divinity, that’s the only place we find spirituality, that’s the only place we find meaning, that that kind of mentality is what’s destroying the earth.

So, anyhow, here’s a story. See if you can catch the word in this sentence, that should go off like a rocket, for every American.

"A European Commission working group for ethical science and new technologies had found that there were no convincing arguments for using meat from cloned animals or their offspring" in the European Union.

In other words, the EU is saying no cloned meat. Now Germany may be backing away from this, but the EU is saying no cloned meat, because there are no convincing arguments FOR it.

They use the Precautionary Principle in Europe. You’ve got to prove something’s safe before you can put it into the food supply. Here, we use the Death Principle. After a bunch of people die from something, then we say oops, shouldn’t have done that. And, out of the eighty thousand chemicals that we’ve introduced into our food supply and our air and water in the last forty years, fewer than a thousand have been tested for carcinogenisis.

It doesn’t work that way in Europe, by and large. Again, that sentence - "A European Commission working group for ethical science and new technologies had found that there were no convincing arguments for using meat from cloned animals or their offspring."

So, interesting, and then here’s this, this is just I think, great news. I mean this is congratulations to the Obama administration. "The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans... The legislation is supported by the AMA (American Medical Association) ... but opposed by farm organisations like the National Pork Producers Council." The New York Times notes, "The farm lobby’s opposition makes its passage unlikely."

This is why we have MRSA - Methicillin-resistant Staph. infection (or is it streph, I think it’s staph. [Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - ed.]) MRSA. This is the flesh-eating bacteria. This is why we have the E-Coli H157, as I recall. That particular variation of E-Coli, which is the one that kills people, it knocks out your kidneys and, you know, we’ve got people all over the United States on dialysis, and many dead, as a result of eating E-Coli H157 contaminated food. That variety of E-Coli never existed before thirty years ago, and in all probability came about in the gut of an animal that was routinely fed antibiotics, because it’s antibiotic resistant, and it’s super virulent. We are creating super virulent superbugs by routinely feeding antibiotics to animals who are not sick, to cause them to grow faster. And the Obama administration says we’d like to put an end to this, and the meat animal industry is saying, 'oh no you don’t', and they’re probably going to win.

And not only are we disconnected from nature, not only have we lost our connections to nature, we’ve also lost our connections to each other. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I’ll be doing the show from, by the way, Friday of this week, the town that I was born in, "Bob and Mary Rauch wonder why a bank is "hell-bent" on having them evicted from their house after they went into foreclosure for defaulting on a $6,862 equity line of credit." They are in their late seventies, struggling with illness. They have lived in this house for over thirty years. They just have a six thousand dollar line of credit on their house. They took it out because Bob Rauch, a 77-year old diabetic, who has crippling pain, married a seventy-nine year old with a pacemaker. They took it out because of their medical bills. They’re not sure when they’re going to be able to leave their house because they’re so ill.

Seventy-seven and seventy-nine year olds, and the Bank of America to whom they owe this six thousand eight hundred and ninety two dollars, has asked Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis Lieber to force Christensen to evict to Rauches. The bank’s Detroit-based attorney, Michael Thomas, did not return calls for comment. However, he wrote in court records, this is Michael Thomas, the lawyer in Detroit, for the Bank of America, that wants to throw a seventy-seven and seventy-nine year old couple out of the home they’ve owned for thirty years, because they can’t pay their six thousand line of credit because of their medical expenses.

Michael Thomas, this lawyer in Detroit, wrote,"The District Court's failure to perform a clear legal duty is continuing." This is in the court records, and you know, on that basis, he says they should throw these people out. The judge has said, "I'm gonna wait till he's gone" This judgement, in other words, the elder gentleman. He says, "A judgment will completely ruin this man's credit after 33 years living in his house and at the age of 76. Not on my watch, it won't happen." So the judge has refused to order the couple out, who are living on Social Security. A tip of the hat to Judge Christensen for this, and shame on the Bank of America and their attorney. I mean, this is how disconnected we are from each other. This is a genuine tragedy.


Transcribed by Gerard Aukstiejus.

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