Video: How The Barter Myth Harms Us

I think it’s important for people to be able to imagine a future in which things both different and better. One of the most successful, insidious, and harmful capitalist projects over the last couple centuries, has been the re-writing of history to cast an idealized version of capitalism as some sort of natural order. By convincing people that capitalism is effectively a benevolent force of nature, the folks at the top have a ready-made excuse for any problem that might arise – we need to stop interfering with The Free Market, and give more power to the capitalists, who gained their wealth through a quasi-mystical mastery of the workings of Capitalism, and will therefor spend the money in a way that benefits all of us. This perspective is so pervasive, in part, because people believe that “mutually beneficial transactions” are the foundation of all human resource management throughout the history of our species. Before there was money, there was barter, right?

Well, not so fast. The reality is more complex, and less friendly to the capitalist view of the world, as Andrew Sage explains:

Video: True Facts about Sharks

Everyone knows that sharks are pretty neat, but do you know just how neat? Do you know about the skin teeth? Do you know about the glowing?

A lot of the focus on sharks tends to be on their mouth teeth, but they’ve got much, much more going on, as Ze Frank will explain:

Climate Threat to Crops Underestimated: What can we expect as the world warms?

If I could snap my fingers and make one, single change to most improve humanity’s shot of surviving this global warming event, I would move all of our food production indoors. We are vulnerable to climate change in a lot of ways, but one of the biggest is the fact that the vast majority of our food production is tied to historically reliable seasonal weather patterns. Human agriculture has been shaped through history by the regional climates in which we’ve lived – the best times and crops to plant and harvest, the behavior of fish and game to supplement crops and livestock. Growing up, my dad told me that when the goldenrod bloomed, it was 6 weeks till the first frost, and that fireflies and Juneberries mean the mackerel are running. These and other such things are bits of regional “climate wisdom” that once contained vital information for getting enough food to survive the winter, but have been mostly useless for well over a decade.

For the most part, the changes we’ve seen thus far have been manageable, but we’ve always known that there would be a point at which that was no longer the case. Crop failures due to drought and other weather events are not a new thing, but there has never been any question in my mind that we’re very close to a time when there are so many climate-related crop failures at the same time, all around the world, that it causes serious problems. It’s arguable that that has already been happening in the past couple years, to some degree. From last year:

June 28 (Reuters) – Eric Broten had planned to sow about 5,000 acres of corn this year on his farm in North Dakota, but persistent springtime rains limited him to just 3,500 in a state where a quarter or more of the planned corn could remain unsown this year.

The difficulty planting corn, the single largest grain crop in the world, in the northern United States adds to a string of troubled crop harvests worldwide that point to multiple years of tight supplies and high food costs.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major agricultural exporter, sent prices of wheat, soy and corn to near records earlier this year. Poor weather has also reduced grain harvests in China, India, South America and parts of Europe. Fertilizer shortages meanwhile are cutting yields of many crops around the globe. read more

The world has perhaps never seen this level of simultaneous agricultural disruption, according to agriculture executives, industry analysts, farmers and economists interviewed by Reuters, meaning it may take years to return to global food security.

“Typically when we’re in a tight supply-demand environment you can rebuild it in a single growing season. Where we are today, and the constraints around boosting production and (war in) Ukraine … it’s two to three years before you get out of the current environment,” said Jason Newton, chief economist for fertilizer producer Nutrien Ltd. (NTR.TO).

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that the world faces an unprecedented hunger crisis, with a risk of multiple famines this year and a worse situation in 2023.

Ahead of a crucial North American harvest, grain seeding delays from Manitoba to Indiana have sparked worries about lower production. A smaller corn crop in the top-producing United States will ripple through the supply chain and leave consumers paying even more for meat than they already are, as corn is a key source of livestock feed. read more

Global corn supplies have been tight since the pandemic started in 2020, due to transportation problems and strong demand, and are expected to fall further. The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) expects end-of-season U.S. corn stocks to be down 33% from pre-pandemic levels in September before this year’s harvest, and down 37% in September 2023.

There are factors at work here that are separate from climate change, but with weather-related harvest reductions all around the world, it’s clearly part of the story. I said the other day that we’re not prepared for what’s coming in the very near future, and a big part of that is the fact that very, very little has been done to climate-proof food production. I’ve been saying (to my tiny readership) that we’ve got to move things indoors, because if we don’t do it now, we’ll be doing it later, after far too many lives are lost to famine. Indoor farming does require spending energy on grow lights, but it is vastly more water-efficient, and the controlled environment means a dependably idea “climate” for the crops, and much, much less of a pest problem. There are other options, like using more of a factory setting to grow algae and edible bacteria, but what matters is that there are options, and we need to be building them up right now.

I am quite certain that hydroponics, and aeroponics, and bacterial cultures, and fungus farms, and any other ways of growing food indoors will have problems that need to be sorted out. Power failures would be a much greater danger for food production, for example, and given that extreme weather tends to mess with the power grid, that means that we’ll need to either improve the grid, have excellent backup for these facilities, or ideally both. That’s just one example, though, and it would be far better for us to figure out those problems now, while we still have plenty of food grown the old-fashioned way.

The question is, how much time do we have?

My answer, as always, is “not enough, so we should get to work now”. I’ve long felt that the possibility of simultaneous crop failures around the globe has been criminally under-reported. I don’t entirely trust mainstream news outlets not to turn potential food shortages into a Malthusian overpopulation thing, but this is something that needs to be addressed, because I believe it’s coming sooner than most people think, and it looks like the science agrees with me:

The risks of harvest failures in multiple global breadbaskets have been underestimated, according to a study Tuesday that researchers said should be a “wake up call” about the threat climate change poses to our food systems.

Food production is both a key source of planet-warming emissions and highly exposed to the effects of climate change, with climate and crop models used to figure out just what the impacts could be as the world warms.

In the new research published in Nature Communications, researchers in the United States and Germany looked at the likelihood that several major food producing regions could simultaneously suffer low yields.

These events can lead to price spikes, food insecurity and even civil unrest, said lead author Kai Kornhuber, a researcher at Columbia University and the German Council on Foreign Relations.

By “increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases, we are entering this uncharted water where we are struggling to really have an accurate idea of what type of extremes we’re going to face,” he told AFP.

“We show that these types of concurring events are really largely underestimated.”

The study looked at observational and climate model data between 1960 and 2014, and then at projections for 2045 to 2099.

Researchers first looked at the impact of the jet stream – the air currents that drive weather patterns in many of the world’s most important crop producing regions.

They found that a “strong meandering” of the jet stream, flowing in big wave shapes, has particularly significant impacts on key agricultural regions in North America, Eastern Europe and East Asia, with a reduction in harvests of up to seven percent.

The researchers also found that this had been linked to simultaneous crop failures in the past.

One example was in 2010, when the fluctuations of the jet stream were linked to both extreme heat in parts of Russia and devastating floods in Pakistan, which both hurt crops, Kornhuber said.

The climate events of 2010 are something I’ve brought up before when making this point. I want to say that when it comes to most climate-related things, I very much want to be proven wrong. Everything I’ve seen indicates that things are going to get worse that most people expect, faster than most people expect. I do feel a small amount of satisfaction when I see things I’ve been saying break into the mainstream more (though I played no role in that), but I’d much rather climate change turn out to be not a serious problem. There are people to whom I’d enjoy saying “I told you so”, but none of them read this blog, and chances are good that many of them will ever know I exist.

At this point, as we consider the possibility of a global food shortage driven by our rapidly warming climate, I want to take a brief moment to use the history of my current home – Ireland – to discuss how those first climate famines are likely to unfold, assuming no major changes to our global agricultural system.

So, as most of you are aware, Ireland had a devastating famine from 1845-1852, during which time around one million people died, and around two million people left the island in desperation. Leading up to that point, British colonial rule had led to the Irish relying heavily on potatoes to survive. They had to grow food to export, for the profit of English landlords, and potatoes can feed more people more easily per acre of crops than grains, so the tenant farmers subsisted on them to maximize land for the cash crops. When the potato blight hit Europe, it specifically took out the primary subsistence crop for the island. All the other food – grains and cow products especially – was grown for money, and so while Ireland starved, more food was exported than was needed to feed the nation. There’s a lot of stuff out there on this, but if you want a brief overview, I recommend this video from the Gravel Institute:

This is not directly analogous to the global situation today, but where Ireland was dependent on potatoes, and forced to keep exporting food “owed” to English capitalists as they starved, a great many nations in the world are dependent on food imports bought with money earned by growing cash crops, almost always for the profit of multinational corporations. Africa, in particular, is extremely dependent on imports – a problem that has been maintained through neocolonial debt traps, and a capitalist system backed up by threat of war or the assassination of any leader that tries to put their country on a new track. What this means is that when (not if) climate change creates major crop failures, it’s probably not going to result starvation for people in rich, white countries, at the beginning.

As with Ireland, the cash crops will continue to be exported, but as food prices rise, African countries will have a harder time importing the food they need to survive, and so starvation will hit there first. There will be people dying of malnutrition in rich countries, of course, but that’s a matter of routine policy to keep workers in line, as I’ve discussed in the past. The same global capitalist system that exploits the former colonies will also act as a buffer between rich countries and certain consequences of climate change. Poor nations, just like poor citizens in rich countries, will be sacrificed for the “greater good” of maintaining the wealth, power, and comfort of the capitalist aristocracy.

I think that the way the English press reported on the famine can also inform what we will hear, as those people starve:

The worst famine in a century was depicted as an extension of normal, recurring events, and the newspaper consistently complained about the financial burdens forced on British workers for the sake of the starving Irish. On 15 September 1846, its editorial declared,

‘It appears to us of the very first importance to all classes of Irish society to impress on them that there is nothing really so peculiar, so exceptional, in the condition which they look upon as the pit of utter despair’.

It continued, ‘Is the English labourer to compensate the Irish peasant for the loss of potatoes, and secure him a regular employer for this next twelvemonth? Why, the English labourer is in just the same case.’

Indolent Irish

The notion that the Irish were leaching off the English taxpayer (often used as a synonym for the British taxpayer) was a view bound up with contemporary debates about politics, culture and the economy, as well as emerging ideas about race.

The Irish did not fare well in such theories. Amongst politicians and in large sections of the public, they were viewed as inferior and antithetical to the English. While pity and sympathy for Ireland’s plight was not uncommon in early newspaper depictions of the Famine, negative stereotypes were just as prevalent, and the Irish were often viewed in opposition to the English labourer, who typified the ‘respectable’ poor whom the indolent Irish were trying to abuse.

The Times argued that Ireland should ‘pay for its own improvement’ (19 August 1846); the apparent unwillingness of its people to do so demonstrated ‘a case of permanent and inveterate national degradation’ (12 October 1847).

‘Their own wickedness and folly’

Nor was The Times alone in its view. Other publications claimed that the Irish were responsible for their own misfortune. The Economist, founded in 1843, declared on 10 October 1846 that Irish distress was ‘brought on by their own wickedness and folly’.

Punch, a new type of illustrated magazine founded in 1841, portrayed these views pictorially. In one cartoon from February 24, 1849,  we can see a smiling, shabbily dressed Irishman (denoted by ape-like features, clothing and a clay pipe) riding the shoulders of England’s respectable poor with a sack of £50,000 slung over his shoulder.

Blaming the Irish

These national views often complemented provincial reportage elsewhere in Britain. In Liverpool, the extensive immigration of the Irish poor had provoked questions about the social ills impacting the city – questions which Victorian society had become increasingly preoccupied with since the early nineteenth century.

Refugees fleeing Ireland were treated much the same as refugees are treated today. They were scapegoated for all the problems of the host countries, and blamed for problems of their home countries, and this is what we can expect from the climate famines that will come later this century. I feel quite comfortable predicting this, because it’s still very much a part of daily life in rich nations. Any online conversation about problems in Africa will inevitably conjure an army of (usually white) people to talk about how it’s all their own fault and why we shouldn’t accept refugees, and some of them will probably bring up the racist drivel of The Bell Curve.

Take the recent sinking of a refugee boat off of Greece, for example. There’s no shortage of people willing to blame the drowning victims for their deaths, even as it looks increasingly as though the Greek coast guard was to blame. Around the world, look at how wealthy nations are handling refugees of all sorts, and you’ll get an idea for how climate change will turn crop failures into mass starvation and death. Over time, those food shortages will do more than just raise prices in rich nations, but the first wave will break hardest on the poorest nations in the world, and that is by design. It is also by design that refugees will face high death rates as they seek safety, and poor treatment from host countries.

As I’ve said before, there are things we could be doing to prevent this gloomy forecast from coming true. Indoor food production has been growing for years, so many problems have already been solved. A massive investment could make a real difference in a pretty short amount of time, at least when it comes to the mechanics of successfully producing enough food. Unfortunately, neocolonialism is a problem that needs to be solved all by itself. If we don’t do that, then as with Ireland in the 1840s, the former colonies will be “left” to a fate forced upon them.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

Video: Israel “Mows Lawn” in Jenin

Over the last couple weeks, Israel has stepped up its use of pogroms and settler/colonial violence in Palestine. Their strategy for somewhat gradual ethnic cleansing seems to be a combination of bulldozing neighborhoods and farms, and evicting Palestinian families to make room for Israeli settlers, who are then “just defending their homes” if the previous occupants complain. The media often frame what’s going on there as a two-sided conflict, but the reality is that one side has one of the most advanced and well-funded armed forces in the world, and the other side has next to nothing. It often seems like the only course of action that would be acceptable to the Zionist movement, would be for Palestinians to all lie down and die. The policy of the Israeli government seems to be one of subjugation without end enforced with the practice of “mowing the lawn” – a dehumanizing euphemism for regularly rounding up and killing people who might form any sort of resistance to their apartheid regime. The Majority Report has more:

Industrial Nitrous Oxide Emissions Could Be Easily Mitigated

Humanity has the knowledge and resources to deal with climate change; what we lack is the “political will”, which means power in the hands of those who want do do that. This has become something of a mantra for me, because the idea that we need to do more research before we can deal with our greenhouse gas emissions has been annoyingly persistent. Normally, when I talk about this, it’s about energy production, infrastructure, and adaptation, but today it’s about number three on the greenhouse gas list – nitrous oxide. A research team from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science has concluded that it would actually be pretty straightforward to mostly eliminate industrial nitrous oxide emissions:

Researchers have found that one method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is available, affordable, and capable of being implemented right now. Nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance, could be readily abated with existing technology applied to industrial sources.

“The urgency of climate change requires that all greenhouse gas emissions be abated as quickly as is technologically and economically feasible,” said lead author Eric Davidson, a professor with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Limiting nitrous oxide in an agricultural context is complicated, but mitigating it in industry is affordable and available right now. Here is a low-hanging fruit that we can pluck quickly.”

When greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, they trap the heat from the sun, leading to a warming planet. In terms of emissions, nitrous oxide is third among greenhouse gases, topped only by carbon dioxide and methane. Also known as laughing gas, it has a global warming potential nearly 300 times that of carbon dioxide and stays in the atmosphere for more than 100 years. It also destroys the protective ozone layer in the stratosphere, so reducing nitrous oxide emissions provides a double benefit for the environment and humanity.

Nitrous oxide concentration in the atmosphere has increased at an accelerating rate in recent decades, mostly from increasing agricultural emissions, which contribute about two-thirds of the global human-caused nitrous oxide. However, agricultural sources are challenging to reduce. In contrast, for the industry and energy sectors, low-cost technologies already exist to reduce nitrous oxide emissions to nearly zero.

Industrial nitrous oxide emissions from the chemical industry are primarily by-products from the production of adipic acid (used in the production of nylon) and nitric acid (used to make nitrogen fertilizers, adipic acid, and explosives). Emissions also come from fossil fuel combustion used in manufacturing and internal combustion engines used in cars and trucks.

“We know that abatement is feasible and affordable. The European Union’s emissions trading system made it financially attractive to companies to remove nitrous oxide emissions in all adipic acid and nitric acid plants,” said co-author Wilfried Winiwarter of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. “The German government is also helping to fund abatement of nitrous oxide emissions from nitric acid plants in several low-income and middle-income countries.”

Turns out we do have the political will, at least in some areas. I think it’s worth noting, based on my introduction, that more research is needed for eliminating emissions from things like agriculture, but for those who are new around here, I’m also of the opinion that we should be dramatically changing how we produce food, because continuing to rely on seasonal weather patterns at this stage is a recipe for famine. Still, it’s great to hear that efforts are being made to actually pick this low-hanging fruit. The more progress that’s made on this, the slower the climate will warm. It might not feel slower, but there’s no question that it will be.

It turns out that a lot of what needs to be done is very much within reach, for those controlling the levers of power. Some of those powerful people are actually taking some action, and for the others, well, they should be removed from power, and replaced with people who serve something other than profit. Better yet, maybe we could stop giving individuals so much power to begin with. Regardless, while there is a terrifying amount of work to be done, I find it just a little comforting to know that it is work that’s very much doable.

Climate Change is Heating Up, and We’re Not Ready

Ok, so I know that I post about a pretty wide array of topics, but this is still a global warming blog, more than anything else. That being the case, I have no choice but to post about recent developments in Earth’s temperature. You may remember when, back in April, I posted about a strange and frightening anomaly in global ocean temperatures, ahead of a growing El Niño. Among other things, I said that we should expect more extreme weather in the coming years, and while I would have predicted a new record “hottest day” some time in July or early August, I would not have expected that record to be broken the next day, nor broken again a couple days after that. Countries around the world are beset with floods, heat waves, droughts, and other climate-related problems, but that’s all with the background of a global climate that is warming off the charts:

Earth’s average temperature set a new unofficial record high on Thursday, the third such milestone in a week that already rated as the hottest on record and what one prominent scientist says could be the hottest in 120,000 years.

But it’s also a record with some legitimate scientific questions and caveats, so much so that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has distanced itself from it. It’s grabbed global attention, even as the number — 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17.23 degrees Celsius) — doesn’t look that hot because it averages temperatures from around the globe.

Still, scientists say the daily drumbeat of records — official or not — is a symptom of a larger problem where the precise digits aren’t as important as what’s causing them.

“Records grab attention, but we need to make sure to connect them with the things that actually matter,” climate scientist Friederike Otto of the Imperial College of London said in an email. “So I don’t think it’s crucial how ‘official’ the numbers are, what matters is that they are huge and dangerous and wouldn’t have happened without climate change.”

Thursday’s planetary average surpassed the 62.9-degree mark (17.18-degree mark) set Tuesday and equaled Wednesday, according to data from the University of Maine’sClimate Reanalyzer, a tool that uses satellite data and computer simulations to measure the world’s condition. Until Monday, no day had passed the 17-degree Celsius mark (62.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the tool’s 44 years of records.

Now, the entire week that ended Thursday averaged that much.

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, called the 63-degree mark “an exceptional outlier” that is nearly 6 degrees warmer than the average of the last 12,000 years. Rockstrom said it will “with high likelihood translate to even more severe extremes in the form of floods, droughts, heat waves and storms.”

“It is certainly plausible that the past couple days and past week were the warmest days globally in 120,000 years,” University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann said. He cited a 2021 study that says Earth is the warmest since the last age ended, and said Earth likely hasn’t been as warm dating all the way to the ice age before that some 120,000 years ago.

We are in uncharted territory. Not only is this temperature unprecedented, but the rate at which we’ve gotten here – in around two centuries – is far faster than it normally takes for this planet to go through that sort of temperature change. It may be that there will turn out to be some sort of error in the measurement equipment, but given the coincident rise in ocean temperatures, that seems unlikely. If the oceans are giving off more heat than usual, it stands to reason that the air would be hotter as well. As I’ve said before, the oceans have been absorbing the overwhelming majority of the last century’s excess heat, and it looks as though it might start releasing that heat in ways that we’ve not seen before.

As with El Niño, I expect that this temperature spike will be temporary. The oceans will “cool down” again, and we might even go back to something more resembling the more normal pattern of more gradual warming. That heat released into the atmosphere, though? That’s going to have lasting effects. It’s going to speed the melting of ice, and the decaying of matter. It’s also going to cause humans to burn more fossil fuels trying to keep cool. The heat may go away for a time, but it will, without question, add to the momentum of this warming.

It sure as hell seems like things are speeding up, which is bad news for all of us. It’s a bit ironic – the US, with all of its wealth and power, was perhaps the best-situated nation when it came to preparing for climate change. There is zero question in my mind that had it so chosen, the US could have maintained its colonial empire, kept using all that oil, but improved its infrastructure, and maintained a cutting-edge standard of living. The problem was that the same people who worked so hard to ensure that this climate catastrophe would happen, are the ones who’ve worked just as hard to ensure that people in the US would not be protected. Hell, just this past June, Texas governor Gregg Abbot banned cities from mandating that workers get water breaks. It’s like he’s trying to cause misery and death. Honestly, he might be – I don’t know if I’ve said it on this platform, but to a capitalist, any happiness among workers is proof that they could be working harder. The ill health and misery of workers is an indicator that they’re being fully exploited.

And that is the mindset of those leading us into this horrifying new phase of human existence. It does not bode well.

There’s every reason to believe that harder times are coming for all of us. It’s been well over a decade since I had any real expectation that we could avoid this, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to see. As I’ve said before, I think that people should be keeping a store of food, if they have the resources. It’s something worth doing before there’s a crisis, because there is actually a skill to be learned. Even shelf-stable foods don’t last forever, so if you want your emergency supply to be good to go when you need it, you should probably be constantly cycling through what you have. That way, you have fresh supplies, and you’re used to eating that stuff and making it taste good, rather than switching from your normal diet to “emergency rations”. Likewise, I think it’s worth having a first aid kit, the means to purify water, and the means to cook if the power goes out.

But more important that all of that, is other people. In a crisis, it’s people that tend to be your most valuable resource. That’s how we humans survive when things get tough. To that end, do what you can to build community around you. It can be hard, if jobs and housing costs keep forcing you to move, but as with the pantry, I think community is both a skill and a habit that needs to be developed and maintained. It’s something that I am still quite bad at, but I’m trying. Because of the importance of community, I believe that when you store food for emergencies, you ought to be doing so with the intent to share. The idea is to keep your community alive and well, so that they can keep you alive and well, and as a group, you can work to make things better.

Another thing I’m bad about is getting involved in left-wing political organizations, whether that’s a union, a political party – anything that’s focused on pulling people together, and uplifting ourselves through our collective power. In addition to building connections and helping with that community stuff I was just talking about, it’s through that sort of political organizing that I think we stand the best chance of forcing businesses and governments to make the changes we need, and of taking the power to make those changes for ourselves.

None of this is easy. As I’ve said, I’m far from a role model here, but I am fighting my inclination to be a hermit. From what little I’ve seen, and what I’ve heard from those with more experience, left-wing organizations are often chaotic and fraught with interpersonal conflicts. It’s worth getting involved anyway, because communities are often exactly the same, and it’s worth being able to navigate that terrain.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s coming. As previously mentioned, we’re in uncharted territory, and as this year has demonstrated, the unexpected will happen. Being aware of what’s going on is scary, depressing, and infuriating all at once, but the best we can do is to keep working to build our collective resilience, and trust that in doing so, we’re also building the power to build a better world.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it around. If you read this blog regularly, please consider joining my small but wonderful group of patrons. Because of my immigration status, I’m not allowed to get a normal job, so my writing is all I have for the foreseeable future, and I’d love for it to be a viable career long-term. As part of that goal, I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy series, so if supporting this blog isn’t enough inducement by itself, for just $5/month you can work with me to name a place or character in that series!

Video: Capitalists Know They Can’t Win in a Fair Fight

I touched on this the other day when I was writing about Biden’s inexcusable decision to appoint Elliott Abrams to a position in international relations, but the history of the last century has made it very clear that capitalists do not believe they can beat socialism, communism, or any other non-capitalist system without using authoritarian violence. Propaganda works, but the people can make their own propaganda and back it up with reality. That means that in the end, they always come back to violence. They assassinate leaders, they invade countries, they fund death squads and assist in genocides, they use debt traps backed by the threat of violence to keep the “former” colonies in line, and they use the full force of the government to suppress left-wing thought and political power within their own borders, all while claiming to value freedom:

Unequal Protection in a White Supremacist Police State

While I haven’t been great about consistently covering the movement to stop cop city (I failed to cover their recent week of action, for example), I think I’ve covered it enough that my regular readers have at least an idea of the general dynamic there. Basically, the police and a number of corporations want to build a huge playground/training facility for cops to practice urban warfare, among other things. The people don’t want it,  and the cost to the city keeps rising, but the cops and their backers are committed to forcing it through, over the bodies of protesters, if necessary.

This morning, my attention was drawn to a very telling juxtaposition, and I wanted to share it with all of you. Police have arrested a wide array of people involved in the movement to stop cop city, from old ladies holding signs at Home Depot, to people legally organizing a bail fund for fellow activists. This is far from the first time we’ve seen police violate civil rights, including the right to freedom of speech – violating rights is honestly something of a hobby for them. Tell me why, then, Atlanta cops suddenly found a deep respect for the first amendment when it came to Nazis, holding Nazi flags, outside of a fucking synagogue during Sabbath prayer?

Sabbath service ended with a protest outside a synagogue in suburban Atlanta.

About a dozen people waved swastika flags and shouted outside the Chabad of Cobb County during a worship service.

“Exercising our first amendment right,” picketer John Minadeo II told WSB-TV.

“This was the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” synagogue member Stewart Levy said.

“The police are allowing it because it is ‘free speech’.” Levy added on Facebook.

Some people living nearby came out and shouted back at the protesters.

“You’re a Nazi and you’re an idiot,” one resident said.

Cobb County Police watched over the protest and said it was peaceful.

Georgia State Rep. Esther Panitch said it occurred as the synagogue held a summer camp for Jewish children.

Ok, so on the off chance you need this spelled out, the extermination of all Jewish people in the world has been a core part of Nazi ideology pretty much from the get-go. That has not changed. Their entire worldview revolves around the notion of a grand conflict between the Jewish and “Aryan” races, and victory can only be achieved through the total destruction of the enemy.

Holding up Swastikas outside a synagogue isn’t just a death threat, it’s a declaration of intent to commit genocide.

It’s a form of terrorism, and I seem to remember a “war on terror” occupying the background of most of my life, right up to this day. How could it be that these police, who have been so empowered in the name of fighting terrorism, are willing to allow, and even protect acts of terrorism? Well, it turns out that the call may be coming from inside the house. I’ll let Mr. de la Rocha explain:



Genocide and Overthrowing Democracy: Biden Appointment Signals Grim Continuance of Bipartisan US Foreign Policy

I’ve written before about the ways in which, on foreign policy in particular, Democrats are often as bad as Republicans. I’m generally not a fan of rhetoric claiming that “both sides are the same”, because in many ways, it’s objectively not true. The problem is that in other ways, it is true, and Biden has just given us a revolting example of that with his appointment of one Elliott Abrams.

For those who don’t know, Abrams is a politician who served in a number of cabinet positions under Ronald Reagan, as Deputy National Security Advisor to George W Bush, and as Special Representative for Venezuela, and then Iran under Trump. His career in US politics has been long and bloody, with involvement in the Guatemalan Genocide (also known as the Mayan Genocide or the Silent Holocaust), atrocities in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and the Iran-Contra affair, among other things. From The Jacobin:

Let’s start with the most obvious point, which is that Abrams’ chief claim to fame is his role in Ronald Reagan’s blood-soaked foreign policy in Central America in the 1980s, for which he earned the nickname, “contra commander-in-chief.” The contras were the brutal right-wing paramilitary groups in Nicaragua who terrorized civilians throughout the decade, cutting a swath of torture, rape, and murder aimed at everyone from the elderly to children. Their methods were similar to those of right-wing paramilitaries in the other countries of the region, including El Salvador and Guatemala, all of which were supported by the Reagan administration. If you have the stomach to read about them, there’s no shortage of sources that outline their barbarity.

To Abrams, however, they were “freedom fighters,” their work in El Salvador was a “fabulous achievement,” and he mocked critics of Reagan as people forced to “run the risk” of arguing that such groups were “doing something wrong and ought to stop it.” He himself had no illusions about what it is that the contras were doing. “The purpose of our aid is to permit people who are fighting on our side to use more violence,” he said in 1985.

How involved was Abrams? “Sure, there was excessive micromanagement [of the contras],” he told Policy Review in 1989; “and I was one of the people who engaged in it. But I’m not going to go around trying to assess blame, because the contras were an enormous success.” The contras would have floundered and faded away were it not for the tens of millions of dollars Abrams helped funnel to them, including personally soliciting $10 million from the Sultan of Brunei for their cause (that money never made it because Abrams gave the Sultan the wrong account number).

This “micromanagement” at one point also involved Abrams secretly delivering military equipment to the contras under the guise of humanitarian aid. As commentators have noted, this is particularly relevant now, when the Trump administration attacks Maduro for refusing to let humanitarian aid from the US into Venezuela.

Abrams is a Cold Warrior of the worst sort. Jacobin describes him as being committed to fighting communism over all other concerns, happily citing human rights as a reason to oppose the USSR, while actively and knowingly supporting some of the worst atrocities in his lifetime. Had he been around for it, he almost certainly would have been one of the many conservative USians who supported the Nazis, at least until the US officially entered the war. Here’s another look at his passion for peace and justice:

From the moment he won the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan began looking for somewhere to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union. Together with his advisers, he chose the Central American nation of El Salvador, where a civil war was raging between Marxist guerrillas and a military-led dictatorship.

To remain in power, the junta relied on “death squads” to kill not only its opponents but anyone who might even think of supporting its opponents, including nuns, priests, and children. The government claimed the death squads were independent, but in truth, they were just regular government soldiers, often (but not always) out of uniform. In order to justify US involvement in the war, Reagan had to defend the junta in the media. “We are helping the forces that are supporting human rights in El Salvador,” Reagan lied in a 1981 news conference.

Congress, at the time, was much closer to the concerns of the public than now, and war remained deeply unpopular. Many Americans were not only appalled by the junta’s willingness to murder US-based nuns and churchwomen; they also feared US involvement in another anti-guerrilla war in which the country had no clear national interest. The bumper sticker “El Salvador is Spanish for Vietnam” spoke for these Americans as few slogans manage to do.

Although they had the country behind them, few Democrats were willing to risk taking the blame should El Salvador go communist, as Nicaragua appeared to be doing. To avoid responsibility, they devised a face-saving plan to demand that the Reagan administration undergo a process of “certification” to demonstrate that the Salvadorans were making progress in respecting human rights. In January 1982, just as the Reagan administration was preparing to make its very first certification, the White House found itself faced with reports of a massacre in the village of El Mozote, in the tiny, guerrilla-friendly canton of Morazan.

On the day before the first hearing, January 26, 1982, Raymond Bonner of The New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of The Washington Post simultaneously reported on an incident in which hundreds of unarmed civilians had been summarily murdered by uniformed Salvadoran soldiers. (Bonner put the number of victims between 722 and 926.) Neither reporter had seen the massacre take place, and both noted that their guides to the site had been associated with the guerrillas. Yet the journalists saw the corpses firsthand, and photographer Susan Meiselas documented many of them as well.

Immediately, the administration and its allies went to war with reporters and their publications to try to prevent the story from mucking up their proxy war. It sent out its own investigators, who never reached the area after they refused a guided tour from the guerrillas. As one of them later admitted to the journalist Mark Danner, “In the end, we went up there and we didn’t want to find that anything horrible had happened.” So they didn’t. The assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs, Thomas Enders, took their tentative conclusions and insisted that there was “no evidence to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operations zone, or that the number of civilians remotely approached the seven hundred and thirty-three or nine hundred and twenty-six victims cited in the press.” Without any independent confirmation, Elliott Abrams—who, at 33, was Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs—also took up the cause. The El Mozote case “is a very interesting one in a sense,” he remarked to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “because we found, for example, that the numbers, first of all, were not credible, because as Secretary Enders notes, our information was that there were only 300 people in the canton.”

Abrams’s argument was deliberately misleading. News reports had been clear: The mass killing had taken place in several hamlets. This particular argument was of a piece with the rest of the administration’s McCarthyite strategy to discredit the massacre’s existence. “We find…that it is an event that happened in mid-December [but it] is then publicized when the certification comes forward to the committee,” Abrams continued. “So, it appears to be an incident which is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.”

This is, of course, just a taste of the atrocities the US has supported in South and Central America, but it gives you an idea of who Abrams is, and what he stands for. It also gives you an idea of what’s considered “acceptable” by both parties in Washington, because Biden has just announced that he’s appointing Abrams to the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. From there, he will be involved in “appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of, and support for, these same activities.”(Wikipedia)

It’s hard to know exactly what’s going through the president’s mind, but I think it’s worth remembering who Biden is. He’s a rich white man, born before World War 2, who supported the disastrous War on Drugs (while protecting his son from it), helped bring about mass incarceration, and worked with segregationists to prevent desegregation busing. He is also a relic of the Cold War, and to me, it seems most likely that he’s bringing Abrams in because when it comes to the left, they’re on the same side.

I imagine it’s been difficult for most of you to not notice the constant Sinophobic fearmongering, but in case you’ve missed it, the US government – both parties – seems to want a new Cold War with China, or something very like it. A lot of discussion about this seems to be mostly focused on economics and trade, but there’s also plenty of attention paid to China’s military capabilities. It’s unlikely that the new Cold War will look just like the last one, given how intertwined the US and Chinese economies are, but I think the anti-communism in the US, and proxy wars in the name of “fighting communism” are both likely to be similar. Why else would Biden seek out someone like Abrams? The political left is rising again in South America, and that threatens to cut into billionaire profits as countries like Bolivia, Chile, and Brazil adjust their economies for the benefit of their people, rather than international corporations.

Everyone is expecting climate change to shake things up. It’s already creating millions of refugees every year, it has already been linked to conflicts like the Syrian civil war. It is also changing what’s valuable, as changing technology increases demand for resources like cobalt and lithium. Both the Democrats and the Republicans want to ensure that the US remains a dominant force in the world, and that countries of global south continue providing cheap materials, no matter the harm done to their own people. That kind of political interference seems to be Elliott Abrams’ specialty, and bringing him on like this signals – to me, at least – that the Biden administration is entirely ok with supporting atrocities in pursuit of those goals. It also signals that environmental concerns will not meaningfully change US foreign policy, at least under its current geriatric leadership, and that is a serious problem for the world.

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Video: Let’s talk about legacy admissions and a meme…

So, the Supreme Court decided to get rid of Affirmative Action, and the people who’ve been blaming it for their problems are about to discover that those problems haven’t gone away. As usual, conservatives have been led by their bigotry to blame problems on anyone but the powerful, and the Supreme Court was happy to put the force of law behind those petty grievances. There’s a lot to be said about the ways in which this was a bad decision, but I appreciate Beau’s point about manipulation through prejudice.