This year I am rushing to get my 2006 year end letter out before my New Year. But I know that most of you in the rest of the world have already Seen midnight strike. So I hope you have had a great introduction to a Happy New Year!
Just to remind you I’ve been writing these little end of year summaries for a few years now. And at this point I almost always say the same thing--I started because I was getting lots of end of year letters from my friends telling me about their family story, and I didn’t have one — so my end of year summaries would have been pretty self-indulgent! I’d also got some good responses to some suggestions I made about charities and causes I support.
This coming year is a little bit different. As most of you know I got engaged in early 2006. For a lifelong bachelor, this came as quite a shock. And not just because I found out how much those South Africans charge for their shiny rocks! Amanda and I had a great time at my sister Dordy's wedding back in England. Gabrielle Howatson also hosted a fabulous engagement party for us in London-- my dad who was already facing some huge expenses that week very kindly chipped in with a case of wine. Back in the US we also did the very domestic thing of getting our kitchen fixed up and upgraded.
This coming year, though, will be the big deal for us, as we are getting married in August. Unless of course Amanda comes to her senses between now and then. So for I still think I'm very lucky and she's crazy.
But the main reason for writing this letter is for me to tell you a little about the issues and the charities that I follow and support. And of course if you have any comments, nice or nasty to make about my letter, please let me know (even if it’s that you don’t remember who I am and want to be taken off this email list!)
Cheers & Happy New Year
PS The main part of this letter starts below the line
If you've been reading this this letter for a few years, then there won't be too many surprises. You'll know that in general I'm in favor of education for the poorest people in the world (and it wouldn't be a bad idea for some of the richest too!), I'm opposed to intolerance especially in its most brutal form, which is physical torture, and I have a special concern with the nefarious impacts of drug prohibition around the world and especially in the US. The rest of this letter talks a little about these issues, and gives those of you who like me spend most time sitting on your rear end in front of a computer some easy ways to make a bit of a difference. I'm always keen to hear what people think, I always post a copy of this on one of my blogs (not usually on my main blog www.thehealthcareblog.com
) so that people can add comments.
As ever the first thing I'd like you to think about is how to most effectively help the poorest people in the world get out of poverty.
Education and economic promotion, particularly for girls and women, is still what I believe to be the most effective way . I am still very happy to support Net Aid (www.netaid.org
), which is a clearing house for all types of attempts to eradicate poverty, and has its administrative expenses paid for by Cisco -- a company which incidentally I've had a great professional relationship this year.
If you want to look at this link
you will see there are quite a few projects that have helped educate predominantly girls and young women all over the world. This year the giving format has changed somewhat, and they are now using the World Schoolhouse project as a general fund rather than doling out contributions to individual projects. But there are projects in Zambia and El Salvador to which I've donated the equivalent of a decent meal out on the town to get a few of the neediest to school. But if you look around the rest of the Net Aid site I'm sure you'll find something else to inspire you. To give to the World Schoolhouse you can click on this link
Of course if that's not for you there are many other equally inspiring opportunities to make a difference out there too. Most just as far away as your mouse
Probably my favorite charity is the Saigon Children's Charity. I spent five great weeks in Vietnam in 2002 and hope to go back there in the next few years. It was only after I left that I found out about Saigon Children's Charity, but they do a remarkable job. In particular they not only support education but they also help with the economic situation of the families involved. The issue is of course that the children from those households need to work in order to earn the money to feed themselves. Sponsoring a child's education actually mostly means paying from their food for the year. The Charity also also runs a micro-lending organization for some of the same very poor families — a great way of promoting economic self-sufficiency. The amount required is fairly small, so your contribution really does make a difference that you can see. You can sponsor a child by clicking on this link
for less than the cost of your monthly cable bill.
I'd also like to make a special mention of one of my best friends JB, who helped me out financially this year, and when I came to repay the money, had me make a substantial donation to Saigon Children's Charity instead. JB was also at a summer business course at Stanford University this year, and it was great to see him for much of the summer. But while he was there, he arranged for the business executives on the course to make some very substantial donations to an orphanage in Kenya, and he also had his head shaved as part of the process. And yes his skull is ugly but his heart is not.
Meanwhile in the US the ongoing problems of poverty are still real for many people. And that is true too of course for those of you in the UK and Europe. In my city of San Francisco, I like to support the Hamilton Family Centre . It's a small shelter offering emergency and transitional care for families and children who need help. Given that I live in a city with some of the most expensive real estate prices in the world, I know what a struggle it is to find housing here. A few dollars can be sent the way of those who do not have my (and probably your) advantages by this link
Of course I'm sure there are plenty of opportunities for you to give locally wherever you are.
This year politically maybe the end of an era. Not that any of you will need to guess my opinions, but it does look like the American public at large seems to be realizing the damage done by some of the policies followed by the nation's government over the last five years. However, it is well worth noticing, that even with political pressure on the Bush administration from within its own party, the US Congress still passed legislation which essentially formalized America thumbing its nose at the Geneva conventions and advocated torture. Torture is not only morally wrong; it’s counter-productive in that it doesn't produce good information. And if there are criminals or terrorists, than they should be prosecuted not disappeared. That's the difference between civilized societies and the ones we claim to be superior to.
So I support two organizations. The first is The Medical Foundation for the Care of the Victims of Torture. This is a London based organization which works with victims of torture, trying help them get back to normal. Last year nearly 3000 people were helped coming from a variety of countries across the map. To help you can donate on this link
And if you think that apart from the accident of birth, maybe it could be me or you. Then read a few of these stories
Politically the organization which is clearest in its opposition to the policies which promote illegal detention, torture, and the abandonment of due process under the law is the ACLU, which continues to hold us to higher ideals. You can find out more and join at this link
– – – – – – – – – – – –
I won't say much about the terrible impacts of drug prohibition this year. For several years now, the news has been very bad. Drug prohibition causes more addiction, more pain among drug users, and huge social problems that can all be easily eliminated by sensible system of medicalization and regulation. However the same people who banned alcohol and essentially created organized crime in the 1920s are the ones behind the current insidious system and are causing even more crime and pain on a global scale.
There was some good news. I've been following one story since my very first end of year letter. Renee Boje the hippy chick who was taking photos of the medical marijuana being grown legally according to California state law in the late 90s finally lost her fight against extradition from Canada. But she was not given jail time and was allowed to return to Canada to her family. The news was nowhere near so good for some 45 Indian quick stop store owners in rural Georgia who were selectively prosecuted for allegedly selling OTC cold medications that were to be used in methamphetamine manufacture. In one of the biggest abuses of justice seen in the last decade, most of them are now doing many years in jail
, even though the vast majority couldn't even understand what was being said at their trials and yet were supposed to be understanding the slang used by the white southern informants sent into their stores by a malicious district attorney. The ACLU tried to get their convictions overturned, and even found that two of the informants use in the case were prepared to change their story-- that is until a new prosecutor was put on the case and threatened to take away those informants' current deals for favorable sentences if they told the truth.
There is some hope. After 80 years in which all politicians in the US mouthed platitudes about fighting drugs while creating policies that increased the harm resulting from them, in the last few years it has become apparent that the stronger supporters of drug prohibition are the same intolerant fundamentalists who finally lost the last election. This is only a small crack in the amour. It's still official policy of both parties to pursue drug prohibition, but at least within the Democratic party there are some beacons of sanity both in the Congress and in its fundraising organizations. We can but hope, as it appears that the support for prohibition remains a mile wide even though it's probably only an inch deep.
These are the three organizations that I support which are trying to educate and make a difference. Please take a look, and see if you can help.DRCNet
an information clearing house with the best free email newsletter, the Drug War Chronicle.
The Marijuana Policy Project
is the leading organization fighting for the rights of medical marijuana patients.
The Drug Policy Alliance
-- an umbrella organization working to promote harm reduction.
The only new organization to make my list this year is one I have just found out about. It's called the Government Accountability Project and its job is to protect people within government agencies and corporations who are exposing really bad things going on in those organizations. I'm hopeful that this type of support will not be needed quite so much in the near future. But in the areas that I know something about such as the Food and Drug Administration, it's been clear that all types of activities have been dramatically politicized, and that anybody who has stood in the way of naked grabs of power and money by the politically connected has suffered badly. I've also been in touch with a couple of whistleblowers of various types this year, and I'm beginning to understand the risks of these people have to take. Hopefully the Government Accountability Project can help. To find out more click here
Please keep in touch and my best to you for the new year. See you in 2007