News Roundup: February 15th, 2020

I’m going to start doing regular or semi-regular news posts. The goal here is to share links to media that I think people might want to know about. For some of the material, the links shared in these posts will be all I do; other material will be covered in more extensive articles. Mostly this “series” is a tool I’m using for my own reasons, but I hope it’ll be useful for other people as well. Without further ado:

Canada has been pursuing a genocidal war of conquest against the Wet’suwet’en Nation, all to enrich fossil fuel corporations. The Wet’suwet’en people never surrendered their territory to the Canadian government, and that government is now taking over that land for the sole purpose of installing a gas pipeline. I should have posted information about this weeks ago, but better late than never. More on this subject will be forthcoming.

This is the main website to follow– “The Unis’tot’en (C’ihlts’ehkhyu / Big Frog Clan) are the original Wet’suwet’en Yintah Wewat Zenli distinct to the lands of the Wet’suwet’en.”

Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

Armed RCMP Launch Raid on Second Wet’suwet’en Camp Supported by Helicopters, Police Dogs

This Quaker blog has been doing a good job keeping up on both the news and efforts at solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and their fight for survival, if you want another resource beyond the Unis’tot’en website. 

Facebook, for those still doing that.

The armed forces of the U.S.A. have long been one of the biggest emitters of CO2 in the world, but over the last couple decades they’ve also been investing a great deal of money and resources into studying and preparing for climate change, and even under Republican administrations, they’ve been consistent in describing it as a serious threat to American national security. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently reported that the US Navy closed its task force on climate change in March of last year. 

The task force was designed to provide the Navy’s leadership with the best available scientific information on climate change, and shutting down the task force prevents the Navy from adapting to the ongoing effects of climate change and using the information to meet its mission of protecting the nation. There is no other body within the Navy specifically assigned to address these challenges, nor is there any other clearly designated group able to provide the climate science that is so important to the Navy and national defense as a whole.

I have no particular love for the American imperial war machine, but one of the biggest dangers of climate change is how the world’s more violent nations will use their armed forces to respond to an unstable climate and the resource problems that will come as the world warms. This is not a good sign.

Scotland continues its increase in renewable energy. I’m reluctant to use the article’s triumphant headline of “on track to hit 100% renewable energy this year” at this point in time. As has been pointed out to me, many such claims include some number-fudging. Scotland is near to 100% renewable power, but as the article mentions it has one natural gas plant with two more coming soon. The goal is for “net zero”, which generally involves continued use of fossil fuels that are “offset” by carbon capture methods like planting trees. A better goal is zero fossil fuels, plus carbon capture, and we’re nowhere close to ending the use of fossil fuels for transport here. More publicly operated mass transit would help a lot. Given the abundance of water, it may be that some form of nuclear power would work, but given the local dissatisfaction with the UK’s Trident program, that could be a hard sell. Scotland is headed in the right direction, and it’s encouraging to see all the wind turbines here, but there’s a long way to go yet.

I have no idea how viable this is – most announced advances like this never seem to make it past the press release/pipe dream stage, but if it pans out, it’d be pretty cool: New droplet-based electicity generator: Researchers claim a their design is a massive improvement in the power that can be generated in such a system.

“Our research shows that a drop of 100 microlitres (1 microlitre = one-millionth litre) of water released from a height of 15 cm can generate a voltage of over 140V. And the power generated can light up 100 small LED light bulbs,” said Professor Wang.

[…]Its instantaneous power density can reach up to 50.1 W/m2, thousands times higher than other similar devices without the use of FET-like design. And the energy conversion efficiency is markedly higher.

Global solidarity for global problems: why I support Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is my preferred candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 American presidential election, and this is my attempt to articulate why that is.

The TL/DR of it is this: Alone out of anyone I’ve seen run for president in my lifetime, Sanders seems committed to the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of humanity. Specifically, he seems to share my understanding of that phrase: The right to life goes beyond the right to not be murdered, and includes the right to affordable food, water, housing, and healthcare. The right to liberty is tied to that. If you have to spend a majority of your waking hours generating profit for someone who has more than they’ll ever need, just to make ends meet on the pittance you get in return, then you don’t really have liberty. If leaving a bad job means risking death from treatable disease, then you don’t really have liberty. Likewise, if the work required to stay alive leaves you with no free time and no energy – if all you can do is pursue survival, then you’re not really free to pursue happiness.

And from those values comes the commitment to universal healthcare, to housing for all, and to a system that organizes the distribution of our abundant resources based on what all people need, not just on what rich people want. I think Elizabeth Warren shares those goals and she’s willing to work hard to get there, but her approach worries me. Her strategy seems to be to get to where we both want to go through better regulation of basically the same capitalist system.

What sets Sanders apart is that he has show a commitment to supporting those rights for all of humanity, not just Americans. It’s understandable for American politicians to view domestic and foreign policy through the lens of “American interests”, but I think we’ve reached a point where it’s essential to move beyond that. Climate change, global trade, the global internet, and the speed with which people can move from nation to nation all require that we view the world through a global lens. I think it’s clear that the oligarch class does this, with the chummy relationship we’ve seen between the “elites” both through events like the Davos conference, and the friendship between American elites and the House of Saud. Likewise, the capitalist class has been using global trade, travel, and warfare to benefit themselves at the expense of others, with the abuse and exploitation of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America being used to reduce the power of the working class in the so-called “western” nations.

If the dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is going to survive – more importantly if humanity is to survive – then, to use a slogan, the workers of the world must unite.

That’s where Bernie Sanders stands apart from the others running for President. His record is not just one of fighting for progressive values in America, it’s one of fighting for them all over the planet.

Bolivia, and more specifically Bolivia’s lithium reserves, have been the focus of attention for some time. Current battery technology relies heavily on lithium, and with the push for better batteries, and for more electric cars, demand for lithium has been rising. In another world, this could be a golden opportunity of Bolivia, and a chance for them to very, very well by supplying the power storage needs of a world trying to move away from fossil fuels. The world we live in today, however, is guided by profits for big corporations, and those profits, in many cases rely on trade “deals” that give those corporations control over natural resources at incredibly low prices. This dynamic is at its worst when it comes to former colonies of the various European empires. There’s a lot to be said on this topic, but for this article I’ll just point out that it’s no coincidence that the military’s “suggestion” that Evo Morales should resign came so soon after the Morales administration decided that Bolivia’s lithium resources should be extracted, processed, and sold to the world in a way that would benefit the Bolivian people more than multinational corporations.

This exposes the right-wing nationalist lie that they want a happy world of nations attending to their own interests first. What they really want is a world that serves the interests of their nations, and of the corporations they serve. When a country like Bolivia tries to look out for its own people, they stage a coup, as they have done over and over again around the world. Bernie Sanders wasn’t just the first and strongest in naming and opposing what’s happening in Bolivia, he is also the only candidate in the Democratic primary whose vision and policies include standing up for the people of all nations, and truly working together across the globe to deal with global problems like climate change. If we don’t change how we do things, then we’ll see another couple decades of false “solutions” that continue the vicious exploitation of resources to increase the hoards of the aristocracy at the expense of everyone else. It has been pointed out many times that the people who see the least benefit from this neo-colonial exploitation are also the ones who are suffering the most from the warming climate, and the ones who the far right increasingly wants to kill off as they try to take refuge from problems they did not create.

We see the importance of his global vision when we look at what’s been happening in Brazil. During the presidency of Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva, Brazil became a global leader in renewable energy, and in fighting for working class solidarity around the world. Lula da Silva worked hard to reduce the right-wing influence of the American Empire, and to empower nations that have, for most of recent history, been suffering under the rule of authoritarian regimes backed, and in some cases installed by American military and intelligence operations.  He played a major role in the presidency of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, and his popularity had him on track to retake the presidency in 2018, before he was wrongfully imprisoned as part of the “anti-corruption” operation that also took down Rousseff.

In 2016, Bernie made a statement about the beginning of what some have called a coup leading to the neo-fascist Bolsonaro regime:

I am deeply concerned by the current effort to remove Brazil’s democratically elected president, Dilma Rousseff. To many Brazilians and observers the controversial impeachment process more closely resembles a coup d’état.

“After suspending Brazil’s first female president on dubious grounds, without a mandate to govern, the new interim government abolished the ministry of women, racial equality and human rights. They immediately replaced a diverse and representative administration with a cabinet made up entirely of white men. The new, unelected administration quickly announced plans to impose austerity, increase privatization and install a far right-wing social agenda.

“The effort to remove President Rousseff is not a legal trial but rather a political one. The United States cannot sit silently while the democratic institutions of one of our most important allies are undermined. We must stand up for the working families of Brazil and demand that this dispute be settled with democratic elections.

Since then he has been consistent in his support for the working people of Brazil. When the man who would become Bolsonaro’s defense minister jailed Lula da Silva, Sanders called for his release, and was the only candidate in the Democratic primary to do so. From what I can tell, no other candidate for president has shown anything like this support for left-wing politicians and movements in other countries, even in contrast to people as extreme as Jair Bolsonaro or Bolivia’s Jeanine Áñez. When it comes to viewing international politics through the lens of climate change, it’s pretty clear that right-wing extremists are bad news. Their scorn for environmental protection has a long and bloody record, and the fires in the Amazon, are just the ash-flavored icing on that disgusting cake. Again, the global perspective of the Sanders campaign, and his demonstrated solidarity with other left-wing leaders and causes sets him apart from everyone else in this primary race.

So where does he stand on getting elected, and on getting things done? I believe he’s well positioned for both, and for the same reason. From the beginning of his political career, Sanders has focused his campaigning on talking to people. That has meant direct conversations between him and his constituencies, but it’s also the guiding principle of his broader outreach movement. His slogan of “Not me, us!” isn’t just words – it’s the core of what the Sanders campaign is trying to do. They’re trying to bring people together. They’re encouraging people to share their problems with each other, and to see that they’re not alone. Just as Sanders kept talking to people while working in every office he’s ever held, his campaign is working to build a movement that will keep working, and keep building once the 2020 race is over.  Nobody is under any illusion that Republicans or right-wing Democrats will be on board with all of his policies, so part of the goal is to energize people to vote in more politicians like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Unlike Obama, Sanders has shown that his efforts at building power for the people, and his effort to listen to the people, will not end when he gets into office. Whenever he has gotten political office, he has continued the very basic work of talking to people.

That is also something that is allowed by the focus on small donations from lots of people – rather than spending all his time calling on mega-donors, hat in hand, Sanders can go around and talk to the people he’s actually supposed to be working for, and fund his efforts in doing so. This not only gives more power to the people by having a powerful politician who’s not dependent on the capitalist class for his funding, it also gives more power to the people by giving them access to the politicians who work for them. It gives everyday people far, far more influence over government than they have with any other candidate in the race, or with almost any other politician in America right now.

Most importantly, his campaign is about building connections between people, and a kind of collective power that can function without him, and that can outlive him. While most presidential campaigns are all about electing the candidate to office, the campaign Sanders is running is about more than that. It’s using that goal to build something more solid and enduring that can keep fighting for its ideals and goals even when Sanders, in time, leaves the picture. With hard work and persistence, it’s something that could change the country. In time, it could place America not as a “leader”, dominating the world, but as one nation in solidarity with many others working for a better life for everyone.

Australia, Climate Change, and Green Colonialism

I’m working on a couple pieces relating to this, but I wanted to post this video, because it makes some important points. Heading into the 21st century, we’re facing a lot of big choices, and a lot of changes in how we interact with our planet, and with each other. Changing our energy sources and infrastructure, and changing how we use the resources of this planet has to come with changes in how we treat our fellow humans on a global scale.

Whether it’s helium in Tanzania, needed for things like MRI scanners, or lithium in Bolivia needed for our current battery technology, if we continue the patterns of colonialism and capitalist exploitation, we will destroy ourselves through the pattern of stripping parts of the planet bare, and “moving on”. This approach to fueling our societies leads to slavery and genocide, and is inextricably tied to our inability to meaningfully respond to our global environmental crisis.

Check out the video, and stay tuned for more on the human cost of not changing how we do things.

Climate action in the global north cannot be at the expense of the global south. We must be clear about the causes of climate destruction and support a Green New Deal that addresses the problem without sacrificing the Global South to a new “green” colonialism.

Public goods for the public good, not private enrichment.

It has been a genuine pleasure to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at work in the House. Her efforts on behalf of her district, and the American people in general have been inspiring, and have been a much-needed demonstration of what members of Congress should be doing with their time, power, and resources. It has also underscored how much more can be done when a legislator relies on donations from the general public, rather than spending all their time on begging oligarchs and would-be oligarchs for money.

She has also continued to interact with the public, and to build a movement for a better world. This video from November shows her making the case for greater investment in the public good, and taking on the aristocratic propaganda of “free stuff” and “handouts”.

And it’s not that we deserve it because it’s a handout. That people like to say “oh, this is about free stuff.” This is not about free stuff. It’s 30% of your salary, first of all. We know this is not free stuff. Second of all, these are PUBLIC GOODS. I don’t want to hear the term free stuff ever again…I am already hearing from some of these neoliberal folks who are trying to flip the script on us, and when we talk about tuition free college, or when we talk about public housing, saying “oh, well, I don’t want to pay for a millionaire’s kid to go to college. That’s their jui jitsu on us. I believe everyone should be able to go to public library, everyone can to drive on public roads, everyone should be able to send their kids to public school, and person who needs it should have access to public housing [transcript not verbatim, just as good as I could get it, somewhat cleaned up for clarity -Abe]

And that’s really the crux of it. Some people are rich enough that they can take a helicopter everywhere they need to go – they don’t need public roads, but they have the right to use them just like the rest of us. The same is true of public schools, and should be true of public housing, and of health care. If you want to spend more money on something over and above what everybody gets, you can do so, but you don’t get to use that as an excuse to say that public goods should be taken away from everybody, just because you personally don’t need them at this particular moment. The whole point is that everybody gets them, and everybody pays for them as they are able.

Certain portions of the population love to say “freedom isn’t free”, but they seem to have trouble understanding that the price for freedom isn’t just the blood of soldiers (and the civilians of foreign countries). Freedom also costs resources.

I’ll periodically hear people say “money can’t buy happiness”, and I think there’s some misunderstanding over what that phrase really means. It doesn’t mean that money can’t increase happiness, or help one achieve happiness, it means  that having your basic needs met won’t guarantee happiness. For some people that might be enough, but most people want some level of fulfillment beyond simply existing. We’re often told to find that fulfillment in the jobs we work to survive, but that is, in my estimation, propaganda. It’s a lie told to keep us working for the enrichment of other people, most of whom already have far, far more than they will ever need. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy the ability to pursue happiness.

If the goal  of a just government is to ensure the greatest possible freedom for its people, including the right to the pursuit of happiness, then the goal should be for that government to ensure that, when possible, people aren’t forced to spend a majority of their lives and energy simply trying to survive. If we lived in a world where the resources needed for survival were scarce, the calculation might be a bit different, but that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world of incredible abundance, in which artificial scarcity is created by the concentration of that abundance in the hands of a few insatiably greedy individuals. Their hoarding is made possible b the destitution of hundreds of millions of people, and that’s a violation of the basic rights proposed in the American Declaration of Independence.

On Billionaires and Charity

One of the most common arguments in favor of the existence of billionaires is the “but they give so much to charity” argument. I have a lot of problems with this, and in this video, Anand Giridharadas and Hasan Minhaj go through most of them.

When I talk to people who oppose universal healthcare, they often talk about how terrible the taxes are. My counter, generally, is to reframe health insurance premiums, and medical bills at the point of service as taxes. On the surface, there’s the similarity of coercion. If you don’t pay, you’ll be made to suffer. In the case of health care, not paying means you can’t get care you need, or you go into massive debt just to stay alive.

There’s a flip side to it as well, though, as the video mentions. The money we pay to private insurers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies doesn’t just vanish. It gets concentrated into the hands of a pretty small number of people, who then use it as they see fit. With the amount of wealth concentration, we now have people and corporations wielding the financial power – which can VERY easily translate to political power – of small countries, or of governmental departments. And unlike with the government, we don’t even have the pretense of the people having a say in how billionaires spend their money.

Unfettered wealth hoarding leads to various forms of feudalism. Even if you take the misguided view that a universal healthcare system gives more power to the government, what it’s actually doing is taking power from feudal lords against whom we have no recourse, and giving it to a body over which we have at least some influence.

Even ignoring the shifts in economic power that come from that change, that’s an increase in power for the everyday person.

The government of the U.S.A. continues to suffer from GOP sabotage campaign

Anyone who pays attention to the interaction of politics and science knows that most members of Congress have roughly the same understanding of science as an average 12 year old. That level of ignorance is understandable, in a child, and and even in those areas of employment that require expertise outside of the scientific realm, but when it comes to legislators, whose job it is to deal with issues like climate change, medicine, and science education, it’s a serious problem. That said, it has never been possible for any legislator to be an expert in all areas on which they legislate, and the degree to which that is true has increased at the same rapid pace as has our understanding of the universe, over the last couple hundred years. It would seem to be an insurmountable problem – the sheer breadth of knowledge required to govern any country responsibly dwarfs the ability of any single person to learn.

The solution we’ve come up with is layers of delegation. To begin with, each legislator has a staff who help them with research and writing. Beyond that, there are agencies, at both state and federal levels, tasked with carrying out the application of laws, and with collecting relevant data to make that task easier, and to inform changes to those laws. In its ideal form, this setup allows for a legislator to pass a fairly general law, stating that, for example, grain storage has to meet certain standards for safety – testing for mold and bacterial contamination, and storage containers made of materials that won’t end up poisoning the person eating the food made from those grains. As time passes, and we learn more about the relevant biology and chemistry, our understanding of how best to manage those concerns will change. Rather than having a bunch of generalist lawmakers who’re dealing with a thousand other problems on top of the question of safe grain storage, the USDA has been tasked with managing the issue to meet the end goal – safe grain at reasonable prices for the American people, and the people of other countries to whom we export food. The USDA, in turn, is sub-divided so that the people working on grain storage don’t need to be experts in the storage of meat, or milk, or fruit – they can focus all of their efforts on getting the grain issue right. That means doing research. It means inspecting farms, silos, and shipping facilities. It means checking the research done by industry and by third parties. It means funding research into unanswered questions, or funding research to confirm earlier results.

While “bureaucracy” has become a dirty word in some circles, this sort of thing is a great example of how all of this “red tape”, and these thousands of workers actually improve both the function of government, and the overall wellbeing of the population. They also make it harder for corporations to increase profits through “externalizing” the expenses and dangers in question by cutting corners, and putting lives at risk. This, of course, is the origin of right-wing “pro-business” propaganda. For people who value money over human life, a well-informed agency that has the manpower, resources, and authority to make sure they’re not keeping mold at bay by spraying the grain with anti-fungal treatments that also make humans sick, represents a serious problem.

The GOP has long been the political arm of the Cult of Cash, and their fight against all forms of oversight has been tireless, and lethally effective. Now, under Trump, they’re taking their dirty tactics to new levels, and are forcing out huge numbers of agency workers. The loss of  knowledge, experience, and expertise could take decades to replace, even if the Left manages to take and hold power for the next 50 years.

From Trump didn’t just move our agencies. His administration gutted us, published in the Washington Post:

This office, once full of life, sits nearly empty because Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue decided that two of USDA’s research agencies would be moved out of Washington on only three months’ notice. My agency, the Economic Research Service, is an institution that publishes data and research about U.S. agriculture, some of it politically inconvenient. If an agency starts to publish data that is unflattering to the administration, you can’t close the agency or slash its funding because members of Congress from both parties count on its scientific analysis. You can’t fire federal workers for doing their jobs. So you transfer them, on short notice, 1,000 miles away, and they all leave the government in droves. That’s exactly what Perdue did, costing taxpayers as much as $215 million dollars of lost research.

During one of many farewell parties for departing staff, people shared stories of how they came to work for USDA. One woman tearfully recalled how, as an Army veteran living in the heartland, she was rebounding from a series of setbacks and got the news that the federal government needed her specialized skills in Washington. She found a second family and a new beginning at ERS. Another woman, hailing from Ohio, recounted her story of how she answered an ad in Jet magazine for entry-level federal work in Washington. She was regularly promoted, joining the ranks of dedicated civil servants who keep federal offices functioning, in service of the American people.

For these women and many of their colleagues, the move is shattering. One former employee with multiple sclerosis was forced to relocate, leaving behind their network of doctors. New parents juggled caring for an infant with an unplanned move. The community that supported others, including me, through medical hardships and other struggles, has been fragmented by the abrupt transition.

We were told to uproot our entire lives, allegedly so we could “be closer to farmers.” But there are plenty of farmers here in the D.C. area. One ERS economist was forced to liquidate a working farm in Maryland, an entire life’s work, as a result of this move. The public transportation network in Washington allows workers to take commuter trains in daily from the rural areas that define the landscapes of Virginia and Maryland.

Washington attracts workers from all over the United States, allowing rural America a seat at the table. We are the people of rural America, residing in and around Washington.

USDA brags about the Economic Research Service being a crown jewel of the department and a world-class research organization. But ERS is nothing without its people. Of all the highly qualified scientists, researchers and support staff with specialized jobs working at the top of their field, Perdue told 200 of them that they could move to Kansas City immediately or lose their jobs.

On Sept. 30, the report date ordered by Perdue, only 16 people from ERS relocated to Kansas City. As for the rest, most didn’t quit being civil servants — they simply took new federal jobs. Around 80 found jobs elsewhere in government, in places such as the State Department, the Pentagon, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Department of Veterans Affairs — places that value the kind of talent that the USDA spent decades nurturing. Of my remaining colleagues, nine took jobs in academia, and nine were lost to the private sector. More than 50 of those who would have been required to move were instead forced into early retirement.

Perdue did not move the Economic Research Service to Kansas City. He gutted it. ERS leadership remains in Washington, as do the employees handling congressionally mandated reports, including myself. Three quarters of the workforce were told to uproot and go to Kansas City so swiftly that there was no time for an orderly transfer of missions and research. There are stacks of reports and research completed with no staff left to publish the results. Data sets are abandoned, and a generation of scientific expertise extinguished.

The ERS isn’t gone, but its ability to serve the American people has been heavily – and deliberately – damaged.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been allowing workers to do their jobs without coming into the office for several years now, but under the Trump administration, that’s ending. The claimed reasoning is that this will improve the SSA’s ability to serve the people, but as an American Federation of Government Employees official points out, the problems this is supposed to solve don’t come from SSA workers not being physically in the office, and they may not even have space for all of the workers now being ordered to change how they do their work:

“The problem is that the agency is not staffed properly, and that’s something that comes from the top,” Jackson said.

In the meantime, AFGE said the change in telework policy will have a negative impact on employee morale, productivity and their well-being. And it’s concerned the agency may not have the office to space to accommodate all SSA employees at all times.

“When offices are remodeled… they were planned according to the staff number and according to the people who were in the telework program,” Jackson said. “If you have 20 people in an office and 10 of them telework, they’ve only built out offices or workspaces for 10 people. If you cancel this in a week, you have to put all these people into a space that’s really built for 15 or 10. Where are you going to put them?”

The amount of time for the transition was extended, but questions remain about why this change is happening, and what considerations were made in deciding on it – questions that are now being asked by Democrats in the House of Representatives:

“While the SSA Operations Telework Pilot has existed for nearly six years, SSA apparently did not adequately evaluate the pilot and has not articulated its future plans for telework,” the lawmakers wrote. “Management’s failure to properly evaluate telework performance metrics while it was in a pilot phase should not be the rationale for suspending telework in its entirety.”

Democrats instructed Social Security to provide the rationale for ending the program, as well as what the agency has done to address the concerns of employees affected by the change. They also asked the agency how it plans to measure the impact of ending telework on productivity and customer service.

This is all of a piece with the perverse Republican habit of appointing people to committees and positions who are openly hostile to the missions of those entities. It also fits with their long-standing strategy of making the government work as badly as possible, to bolster their political efforts to destroy parts of it that cause problems for them, or for their donors. Rick Perry, famous for incompetently promising to dismantle the departments of Commerce, Education, and Energy, was put in charge of the Dept. of Energy, at which point it became obvious even to him that he hadn’t a clue what that department actually did.

There are many aspects of most governments that I’m not fond of, but I think the appropriate response to that is to work to improve things, to make the government better serve the people it supposedly represents, and to use it as a tool to empower those people. The Republican vision, conversely, seems to be that the government’s primary role is to create, empower, and support an aristocracy, and to serve their whims, no matter what facts must be ignored in the process, and no matter the harm done to everyone else.

Climate defeatism: propaganda against a better world

A few years back I came to the realization that avoiding some level of runaway greenhouse effect was no longer possible. First, there’s a fair amount of warming already in the pipeline, that’s going to happen whether or not we cut emissions. Second, there are powerful propaganda and corruption campaigns working in opposition to all efforts to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions. Third, there are the feedbacks like melting permafrost, decreasing albedo, and the effects of higher temperatures and associated drought on CO2 uptake by plants, all of which are already contributing to the warming. It seems pretty clear, taking all these factors into account, that avoiding a hotter world is no longer an option. Barring some way to pull CO2 from the atmosphere at a rate higher than we’ve been putting it there, the climate is going to keep warming for at least a few more centuries at this point.

This is one reason why I’m generally less than thrilled by the “end of the world if we don’t do something now” rhetoric – setting a deadline like that causes two problems. The first is that it creates an easy propaganda victory for the individuals and corporations fighting to stop action on climate change. It lets them point to past deadline warnings, and say “the world didn’t end then, so we shouldn’t listen!” This isn’t a valid argument, because we have taken SOME action, which may have pushed back the deadline a bit, and also because we really have passed the deadline to prevent 2°C warming, it’s just that it was always going to take time for it to get there. Validity, however, isn’t really relevant to whether it makes for convincing propaganda. The second problem is that it lets them say “if they’re right, it’s already too late, so why bother making big changes, since it won’t matter anyway?

This message is a lie. In reality, the proposed deadlines have always been about avoiding the need for big changes. Sure, changing where we get our energy and how we use it both count as “big changes”, but they’re nothing compared to the changes needed to maintain a high standard of living and increase global justice in a world that’s getting hotter with every decade. We’ve missed that chance. Personally, I think there should be punishment for those who used their power to put us in this situation, but that’s less important than the work before us now.

[Read more…]

Ben Shapiro, Fascist Rhetoric, and Singular “They”

In Ollie Thorn’s excellent video The Philosophy of Antifa, he spends some time discussing the nature of fascist propaganda, how it works, and how liberals tend to miss the point, and unwittingly help with the facsists in their scramble to debunk the vile, stupid views being discussed.

It doesn’t matter to a committed white nationalist how many times you sit down and debunk the ridiculous white nationalist conspiracy theory that the world is secretly being taken over by Jews; because when they say that, they’re not really saying it’s true. What they’re saying is: they want to persecute Jewish people.

This was a difficult concept for me to grasp because, from my point of view, persecution being the goal in itself doesn’t make sense. There must be a reason why they want to persecute Jewish people, right? And they’re saying it’s because they think Jewish people are trying to take over the world, right? I’m sure that some of them do really believe it, but as we’ve seen with so many other groups who deny reality, trying to “debunk” their bullshit doesn’t really make a dent. It doesn’t seem to be about the stated reasons so much as it’s about the circumstances in which they’re able to carry out their desired persecution. It’s about wanting to have the power to do it, and a worldview that revolves around an obsession with power and dominance. That’s also why fascism never stops with just one group – it’s an ideology that uses the persecution and destruction of targeted groups to fuel its rise to power. It’s a system of governance that relies on persecution as a unifying activity, hence the obsession with some level of “purity”. You can’t achieve a made-up level of purity, which means there will always be “impure” people to feed into the fire, to maintain power. The important part isn’t the validity of the story they tell to justify their actions, it’s the story itself. It’s more like a ritual than any serious claim about reality.

That brings me to Ben Shapiro, and his campaign against language. On September 17th, 2019, Merriam Webster added over 530 new words or definitions to their lexicon, including an additional definition for the singular use of the pronoun “they”. For those with a passing familiarity with the English language and its history, the first reaction might be to think, “hey – singular “they” has been around for way longer than that, right?” Right. The update is just recognizing the use of that pronoun for nonbinary people. Shapiro, unsurprisingly, objects.

He made a video ranting about how this “noun” has always been plural, and must always remain plural, and how “wokescolds” are ruining the English language with their made-up words. The knee-jerk reaction to this is to point out that (a) singular “they” has been around for centuries, and (b) “wokescold” is even MORE of a made-up word. And I think it’s important to make that point at least once or twice. If we don’t call people like this on their obvious bullshit, at the very least to get a correction on the record, then we could find ourselves in a situation where people accept their lies simply for lack of a rebuttal being available. That rebuttal, however, probably shouldn’t be where the bulk of our effort lies.

Thoughtslime made a video explaining in a way that helped me understand the white supremacist obsession with Judaism. I’ll summarize the point below, but I recommend watching the video if you can, because Thoughtslime, as usual, does an excellent job explaining what’s going on:

[Read more…]

Climate change, population growth, and social justice

At the recent climate change town hall series put on by CNN, Bernie Sanders got asked a question about overpopulation and climate change. His answer focused on reproductive rights, and on expanding the right to birth control and other family planning options not just to American women, but to women all over the world. This includes ending bans on foreign aid going to organizations that do things like providing abortion and other family planning services around the world:

This take is a good one, in my view, because it shows a commitment to improving the world for everyone that is often sorely lacking in discussions around overpopulation and limited resources. It’s one of those issues where a lot of people talk about how important it is to find a solution of some sort, but the conversation often doesn’t go farther. Most of the solutions that are readily available in popular culture seem to be… Bad. Also generally authoritarian.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend Peter Coffin’s video on the subject, as he does a great job of going into the history of concern over the problem, as well as some of the proposed solutions: [Read more…]

Climate denier pleads irrelevance and infirmity, and a zombie myth shambles on

The science of climate change is a field that focuses on trends over periods of a decade or more. Unfortunately, not all the trends the informed viewer will encounter have to do with climate research – some have to do with those who reject that research for non-scientific reasons. These people – generally referred to as climate science deniers – will show the non-scientific basis for their objections in the way they will use the same objections, year after year, no matter what new data arise, or how often those objections are rebutted.

This trend of continuing the use of dead arguments long after their demise is common to all areas of science denial, from the anti-vaccination crowd, to young-earth creationists. The tactic generally involves making false claims that seem plausible on the surface, and that take far more time and effort to rebut than was expended on the original lie. As a result, in all areas where this problem exists, people end up building resources to ease the rebuttal process. For climate science, the handiest one is the argument list found on The purveyors of these lies have found that there is no point at which their bullshit will have grown too ripe for their followers to swallow, so they have no incentive to stop feeding it to them.

When talking about science, this endless dishonesty also means repeatedly lying about actual people and the work they do. Arguably the most popular target for this behavior is climatologist Michael Mann, first made famous for his “hockey stick” graph in the 1990s. There are a variety of claims made about his work, but one of the most persistent has been that his temperature reconstructions discounted the Medieval Warm Period. This was a period during which Western Europe and Southern Greenland experienced higher temperatures than during most of the last couple centuries, and that showed prominently in an early IPCC graph. The graph seems to have been based on data from England, and incorrectly described as representing global temperatures. Mann’s graph drew data from multiple sources around the planet, and so, unsurprisingly showed a different result. If you haven’t seen it, or if you’d like a refresher on the subject, I highly recommend you watch this video from Potholer54 on the subject:

Mann has, over the years, been subject to an endless torrent of harassment and lies, and eventually decided to sue one of the primary culprits for libel. This would be a fellow by the name of Tim Ball, has gained a reputation for inflating his credentials to lend artificial authority to his arguments against the general consensus of climate research. I’ll refer you again to some of Potholer54’s coverage of the subject, with the relevant portion of this video starting around 8 minutes in:

Mann’s lawsuit against Ball has recently been dismissed, which has been claimed as both a victory for Ball, and a validation of the claims Ball has made about Mann and his research. It may shock you to learn that this reading of the situation is, in fact, another lie. From what I can gather, the request for dismissal that the judge granted was not based on the merits of the claims made. It was based on Tim Ball being old and sickly, and the assertion that nobody takes Ball seriously, and so his lies could cause no real harm to Mann (link leads to a twitter-based image that I have transcribed below):

The BC Supreme Court has never made any finding, directly or indirectly, that you failed to produce your data.

The August 22, 2019 ruling said nothing on that subject.

Ball’s request that the lawsuit be terminated – for delay – relied heavily on his alleged state of health.

Ball said in an affidavit supporting his application that lawsuit be terminated for delay:

“My Health

82. I myself am 80-years old (born 5th November 1938. I am diagnosed a Type 2 diabetic controlled by insulin. 

83. I had quintuple bypass surgery in June 2007.

84. After the trial adjournment in February of 2017, I suffered coronary heart failure. This occurred in May 2017. It result in the surgical insertion of five stints in my heart. I am on blood thinners and will be for the rest of my life.”

Ball’s request that your lawsuit against him be terminated for delay also relied heavily on his argument that Ball’s accusations have not damaged your reputation.

According to a written submission filed with the Court by Ball’s lawyer:

“Dr. Ball’s website did not appear in a Google Search of Dr. Mann or his research for at least 92% of all searchers, likely more. Dr. Ball’s website has a low ranking and low popularity as calculated by Alexa, software used to judge website popularity.”

“…there are eight years of evvidence to support the complete lack of damage to reputation in BC or elsewhere.”

Basically this is tantamount to saying that Ball’s accusations against you have been given no credibility by the average, reasonable reader.

In summary, the court’s brief ruling on August 22 made no finding on whether your claims were valid, or whether Ball’s pleaded defenses had any merit.

Such findings would have been made at a trial, which will now not happen (unless this ruling is reversed on appeal).

As ever, the science denial crowd is relying on the most superficial of glances to “support” their declarations of victory, so Mann has helpfully provided resources for those who wish to look into the subject – and the data – for themselves:

The reason I went into the Medieval Warm Period “controversy” in the beginning is because the science denial crowd has been using their “victory” to spread around the same long-debunked ideas about climate history over the last thousand years, in an effort to cast doubt on the properties of CO2 as a greenhouse gas. The basic idea is that if the “hockey stick” pattern isn’t real – if the Medieval Warm Period was hotter than today – then it can’t be CO2 causing current warming. We’ve known for decades that the pattern Mann found is an accurate one, and as I mentioned back in 2013, there have been multiple studies, by multiple teams, using multiple data sets from all over the world, that have all come to the same conclusion: The global temperature is higher now than it has been in hundreds of thousands of years, and we’re headed for temperatures not seen in millions of years.

We’ve been digging up carbon that was pulled out of the atmosphere over a period of hundreds of millions of years, and putting it back into the atmosphere in a matter of decades. It was much, much hotter back then, even with a cooler sun. If we continue on this path, we will go far beyond anything our species has ever encountered, or the species we descended from, or their ancestors, going back to the first mammals. If we do end up burning all of the fossil fuels we know about, we’re not facing the current nightmare scenario of 4-6 degree temperature rise. Accounting for feedbacks like the melting permafrost and seafloor methane clathrates, we’d be facing over 10 degrees of warming. It’s unclear whether humanity can survive in a world like that, but unless we make massive changes to how we live and how we use our technology, I would say the answer is a sepulchral NO.