Charlie Chaplin & Sustainability

I recently happened to see “The Great Dictator,” a brilliant film Charlie Chaplin created in 1940. His ending speech really sat me back, and seemed as relevant now as it was then.  So … here’s a variation of my usual blog.  I’ll post excerpts from his speech, then two articles about current events that exemplify the excerpts.  If you wish to see the segment from the film … https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/29-the-final-speech-from-the-great-dictator-

Afterwards, I’ll add comments about how that might apply to each of us, in terms of greater sustainability.

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“We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”

 

I’d always known Chaplin as a brilliant comic, actor, producer and director of early Hollywood films. These comments go beyond.  From a perspective of “Sustainable Living,” he includes a belief that Earth can provide for everyone, which it can, and which is included in everyone’s definition of “sustainability.”  He also states a need to enhance everyone’s happiness, the “Quality-of-Life” consideration I include in “Sustainable Living.”

To gain attention, media follow the “If it bleeds, it leads” formula. And that evokes feelings of fear, not happiness.  His speech then shifts to human qualities that are harmful to our physical and emotional wellbeing …

 

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….

 

“The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.”

 

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Here are two articles that exemplify the greed he cites. (They make this blog longer than usual, but I think they’re well worth it.)  The first is an autobiographical statement, from the 9 August 2020 Washington Post …

 

The health care scare

I sold Americans a lie about Canadian medicine.

Now we’re paying the price.

 

By Wendell Potter

(Mark Pernice for The Washington Post)

AUGUST 6, 2020

 

In my prior life as an insurance executive, it was my job to deceive Americans about their health care. I misled people to protect profits. In fact, one of my major objectives, as a corporate propagandist, was to do my part to “enhance shareholder value.” That work contributed directly to a climate in which fewer people are insured, which has shaped our nation’s struggle against the coronavirus, a condition that we can fight only if everyone is willing and able to get medical treatment.

Had spokesmen like me not been paid to obscure important truths about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian health-care systems, tens of thousands of Americans who have died during the pandemic might still be alive.

In 2007, I was working as vice president of corporate communications for Cigna. That summer, Michael Moore was preparing to release his latest documentary, “Sicko,” contrasting American health care with that in other rich countries. (Naturally, we looked terrible.) I spent months meeting secretly with my counterparts at other big insurers to plot our assault on the film, which contained many anecdotes about patients who had been denied coverage for important treatments.

One example was 3-year-old Annette Noe. When her parents asked Cigna to pay for two cochlear implants that would allow her to hear, we agreed to cover only one.

Clearly my colleagues and I would need a robust defense. On a task force for the industry’s biggest trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), we talked about how we might make health-care systems in Canada, France, Britain and even Cuba look just as bad as ours. We enlisted APCO Worldwide, a giant PR firm. Agents there worked with AHIP to put together a binder of laminated talking points for company flacks like me to use in news releases and statements to reporters.

Here’s an example from one AHIP brief in the binder:

 

“A May 2004 poll found that 87% of Canada’s business

leaders would support seeking health care outside the

government system if they had a pressing medical concern.”

 

The source was a 2004 book by Sally Pipes, president of the industry-supported Pacific Research Institute, titled “Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Health Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer.” Another bullet point, from the same book, quoted the CEO of the Canadian Association of Radiologists as saying that

 

“the radiology equipment in Canada is so

bad that ‘without immediate action radio-

logists will no longer be able to guarantee

the reliability and quality of examinations.’”

 

Much of this runs against the experience of many Americans, especially the millions who take advantage of low pharmaceutical prices in Canada to meet their prescription needs. But there were more specific reasons to be skeptical of those claims. We didn’t know, for example, who conducted that 2004 survey or anything about the sample size or methodology — or even what criteria were used to determine who qualified as a “business leader.”

We didn’t know if the assertion about imaging equipment was based on reliable data or was an opinion. You could easily turn up comparable complaints about outdated equipment at U.S. hospitals.

Nevertheless, I spent much of that year as an industry spokesman, my last after 20 years in the business, spreading AHIP’s “information” to journalists and lawmakers to create the impression that our health-care system was far superior to Canada’s, which we wanted people to believe was on the verge of collapse.

The campaign worked.

Stories began to appear in the press that cast the Canadian system in a negative light. And when Democrats began writing what would become the Affordable Care Act in early 2009, they gave no serious consideration to a publicly financed system like Canada’s. We succeeded so wildly at defining that idea as radical that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, had single-payer supporters ejected from a hearing.

Today, the respective responses of Canada and the United States to the coronavirus pandemic prove just how false the ideas I helped spread were.

 

There are more than three times as

many coronavirus infections per capita

in the United States, and the mortality

rate is twice the rate of Canada.

 

And although we now test more people per capita, our northern neighbor had much earlier successes with testing, which helped make a difference throughout the pandemic.

The most effective myth we perpetuated — the industry trots it out whenever major reform is proposed — is that Canadians and people in other single-payer countries have to endure long waits for needed care. Just last year, in a statement submitted to a congressional committee for a hearing on the Medicare for All Act of 2019, AHIP maintained that “patients would pay more to wait longer for worse care” under a single-payer system.

While it’s true that Canadians sometimes have to wait weeks or months for elective procedures (knee replacements are often cited), the truth is that they do not have to wait at all for the vast majority of medical services. And, contrary to another myth I used to peddle — that Canadian doctors are flocking to the United States — there are more doctors per 1,000 people in Canada than here. Canadians see their doctors an average of 6.8 times a year, compared with just four times a year in this country.

Most important, no one in Canada is turned away from doctors because of a lack of funds, and Canadians can get tested and treated for the coronavirus without fear of receiving a budget-busting medical bill. That undoubtedly is one of the reasons Canada’s covid-19 death rate is so much lower than ours. In America, exorbitant bills are a defining feature of our health-care system. Despite the assurances from President Trump and members of Congress that covid-19 patients will not be charged for testing or treatment, they are on the hook for big bills, according to numerous reports.

That is not the case in Canada, where there are no co-pays, deductibles or coinsurance for covered benefits. Care is free at the point of service. And those laid off in Canada don’t face the worry of losing their health insurance. In the United States, by contrast, more than 40 million have lost their jobs during this pandemic, and millions of them — along with their families — also lost their coverage.

Then there’s quality of care. By numerous measures, it is better in Canada. Some examples: Canada has far lower rates than the United States of hospitalizations from preventable causes like diabetes (almost twice as common here) and hypertension (more than eight times as common). And even though Canada spends less than half what we do per capita on health care, life expectancy there is 82 years, compared with 78.6 years in the United States.

When the pandemic reached North America, Canadian hospitals, which operate under annual global budgets — fixed payments typically allocated at the provincial and regional levels to cover operating expenses — were better prepared for the influx of patients than many U.S. hospitals. And Canada ramped up production of personal protective equipment much more quickly than we did.

Of the many regrets I have about what I once did for a living, one of the biggest is slandering Canada’s health-care system. If the United States had undertaken a different kind of reform in 2009 (or anytime since), one that didn’t rely on private insurance companies that have every incentive to limit what they pay for, we’d be a healthier country today.

Living without insurance dramatically increases your chances of dying unnecessarily. Over the past 13 years, tens of thousands of Americans have probably died prematurely because, unlike our neighbors to the north, they either had no coverage or were so inadequately insured that they couldn’t afford the care they needed. I live with that horror, and my role in it, every day.

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I recall when Bill Clinton began his first term as President, Hillary led a study concerning why U.S. health care costs so much more than is does in other countries. I remember that as her report was nearing completion – but had not yet been released – a huge volume of ads declared her study to be a sham, to discredit whatever it said.  I wondered why someone would pay so much in advertising to do that.  Potter’s story answers those questions.

The next article is about greed’s huge negative impact on our environment, the fires that burned large portions of Brazil’s rain forest, land often cited as the lungs of Earth.

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The Intercept

Ryan Grim

27 August 2019

 

TWO BRAZILIAN FIRMS owned by a top donor to President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are significantly responsible for the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest, carnage that has developed into raging fires that have captivated global attention.

The companies have wrested control of land, deforested it, and helped build a controversial highway to their new terminal in the one-time jungle, all to facilitate the cultivation and export of grain and soybeans. The shipping terminal at Miritituba, deep in the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Pará, allows growers to load soybeans on barges, which will then sail to a larger port before the cargo is shipped around the world.

The Amazon terminal is run by Hidrovias do Brasil, a company that is owned in large part by Blackstone, a major U.S. investment firm. Another Blackstone company, Pátria Investimentos, owns more than 50 percent of Hidrovias, while Blackstone itself directly owns an additional roughly 10 percent stake. Blackstone co-founder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman is a close ally of Trump and has donated millions of dollars to McConnell in recent years.

“Blackstone is committed to responsible environmental stewardship,” the company said in a statement. “This focus and dedication is embedded in every investment decision we make and guides how we conduct ourselves as operators. In this instance, while we do not have operating control, we know the company has made a significant reduction in overall carbon emissions through lower congestion and allowed the more efficient flow of agricultural goods by Brazilian farmers.”

The port and the highway have been deeply controversial in Brazil, and were subjects of a 2016 investigation by The Intercept Brasil.  Hidrovias announced in early 2016 that it would soon begin exporting soybeans trucked from the state of Mato Grosso along the B.R.-163 highway. The road was largely unpaved at the time, but the company said it planned to continue improving and developing it. In the spring of 2019, the government of Jair Bolsonaro, elected in fall 2018, announced that Hidrovias would partner in the privatization and development of hundreds of miles of the B.R.-163. Developing the roadway itself causes deforestation, but, more importantly, it helps make possible the broader transformation of the Amazon from jungle to farmland.

The roadway, B.R. 163, has had a marked effect on deforestation. After the devastation that began under the military dictatorship and accelerated through the 1970s and ’80s, the rate of deforestation slowed, as a coalition of Indigenous communities and other advocates of sustaining the forest fought back against the encroachment. The progress began turning back in 2014, as political tides shifted right and global commodity prices climbed. Deforestation began to truly spike again after the soft coup that ousted President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2016. The right-wing government that seized power named soy mogul Blairo Maggi, a former governor of Mato Grosso, as minister of agriculture.

Yet even as deforestation had been slowing prior to the coup, the area around the highway was being destroyed. “Every year between 2004 and 2013 — except 2005 — while deforestation in Amazonia as a whole fell, it increased in the region around the B.R.-163,” the Financial Times reported in September 2017. That sparked pushback from Indigenous defenders of the Amazon. In March, Hidrovias admitted that its business had been slowed by increasing blockades on B.R. 163, as people put their bodies in front of the destruction. Still, the company is pushing forward. Hidrovios recently said that, thanks to heavy investment, it planned to double its grain shipping capacity to 13 million tons.

The Amazon, where a record number of fires have been raging, is the world’s largest rainforest. It absorbs a significant amount of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to the climate crisis. The Amazon is so dense in vegetation that it produces something like a fifth of the world’s oxygen supply. The moisture that evaporates from the Amazon is important for farmlands not just in South America, but also in the U.S. Midwest, where it falls to the earth as rain. Protection of the Amazon, 60 percent of which is in Brazil, is crucial to the continued existence of civilization as we know it.

The effort to transform the Amazon from a rainforest into a source of agribusiness revenue is central to the conflict, and linked to the fires raging out of control today. The leading edge of the invasion of the jungle is being cut by grileirosor “land-grabbers,” who operate outside the law with chainsaws. The grileiros then sell the newly cleared land to agribusiness concerns, whose harvest is driven on the highway to the terminal, before being exported. Bolsonaro has long called for the Amazon to be turned over to agribusiness, and has rapidly defanged agencies responsible for protecting it, and empowered agribusiness leaders intent on clearing the forest. The land-grabbers have become emboldened.

“With Bolsonaro, the invasions are worse and will continue to get worse,” Francisco Umanari, a 42-year-old Apurinã chief, told Alexander Zaitchik, for a recent story in The Intercept. “His project for the Amazon is agribusiness. Unless he is stopped, he’ll run over our rights and allow a giant invasion of the forest. The land grabs are not new, but it’s become a question of life and death.”

Fires in the Amazon have been producing devastation described as unprecedented, many of them lit by farmers and others looking to clear land for cultivation or grazing. Bolsonaro initially dismissed the fires as unworthy of serious attention. Several weeks ago, Bolsonaro fired a chief government scientist for a report on the rapid escalation of deforestation under Bolsonaro’s administration, claiming that the numbers were fabricated.

Beginning with the military dictatorship in Brazil, when agribusiness was fully empowered, roughly a fifth of the jungle was destroyed by the mid-2000s. If the Amazon loses another fifth of its mass, it is at risk of a phenomenon known as dieback, where the forest becomes so dry that a vicious, cascading cycle takes over, and it becomes, as Zaitchik writes, “beyond the reach of any subsequent human intervention or regret.”

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The article is not included to slam one political party or another, but to simply demonstrate another market in which corporate greed is having a major negative effect on all of us. In this case, China needs and imports soybeans.  But the tariffs placed on U.S. soybean exports to China caused their price to exceed those of other sources – such as the crops now being produced in Brazil and sold to China at a better profit … while U.S. soybean farmers struggle and our global environment takes a big hit.

Back to Chaplin, and some closing comments …

 

In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

 

I recall a statement on a recent environmental demonstration placard:

 

“The greatest threat to our planet is the

belief that someone else will save it.”

 

While I’m not advocating some kind of undisciplined anarchy, Chaplin’s focus on each of us as the source for achieving Sustainable Living is right on.

Now that you’re finished reading this blog, what will you commit to do?

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