“What do you expect me to do, fix it? I’m only 10.”

There is no excuse to look away from this. This video contains no wounds, no blood, no corpses, and no screaming. It does, however, contain children faced with the impossible task of coping with the relentless, crushing violence of a genocidal campaign by an ethno-nationalist government that wants to erase them from existence. There is no “both sides” here. There can’t be with a power imbalance this colossal.

 

Renegade Cut: Why Riots Happen

America’s “protest season” has begun, and the government has continued its brutal response to any calls for systemic change. Because injustice has not been corrected, political unrest will not cease. As they saying goes, “No justice, no peace”. This video is a useful examination of riots, and how violence is defined, justified, or condemned within our society. Education alone will not save us, but it is a powerful tool in the struggle for a better world.

The video has been “age-restricted”, I suspect due to a mass-flagging campaign by those who object to any content critical of police, and of white supremacy. You’ll need to sign in to see it, but I think that’s worth doing.

 

The danger of fascism has not gone away. Not even close.

As the world’s largest and most aggressive military power, I think it’s fair say that the rise of fascism in the United States is a matter of great concern for our entire species. I do not think that an overtly fascist U.S. would succeed in its goals over the long term. Fascism is an ideology that, dependent on fiction and scapegoating, will always carry the seeds of its own destruction. That said, beyond the entirely reasonable fear for the groups targeted by white supremacist fascism, there’s also the concern that the anti-environmentalist tendencies of the right would continue interfere with the global response to climate change badly enough and for long enough that we would be unable to cope with the approaching climate chaos.

I think for a lot of Americans, the Trump presidency was a wake-up call. That’s good, as far as it goes, but for whatever subset of the population didn’t realize how urgently change was needed before 2016, there’s a very real danger that Biden’s victory and the Democratic Party taking control of Congress will “hit the snooze button”. The conditions that gave rise to the Trump presidency have not gone away, and for all the talk about how different Biden and the Democrats are, they are not at all likely to do what’s needed to keep the U.S. from sliding further into overt, white supremacist fascism. The leaders of that party are wealthy, comfortable, and more concerned with maintaining their personal positions of power than they are with the future of the country or the species.

They may favor change, but only if that change doesn’t threaten their wealth and power. That means that the economic hardships, escalating nationalist and white supremacist propaganda, and the growing feeling of doom brought on by ecological and climate collapse will continue to push much of the white population of the United States towards fascism. The problem is that the economic system that governs most of the world is fundamentally incompatible with the ideals of democracy that are supposed to be at the core of a free and just society. Capitalism is designed to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those whose primary interest and ability is the hoarding of money. The results of this have always been the same – those at the top use their resources to solidify their lofty positions in society by funneling an ever-increasing amount away from everyone else. Under capitalism, society simultaneously becomes more authoritarian, while becoming more difficult for the growing pool of those at “the bottom”.

So-called “social democracies” mitigate this process through progressive tax structures and generous social safety nets, but from what I can tell that only slows the process, and shifts the burdens of it onto those colonies and “former” colonies that have been ruthlessly exploited for their resources throughout the history of capitalism. As those at the top continue to demand more, they erode social safety nets of all forms, to both take more of society’s wealth, and to increase the number of people desperate enough to agree to bad pay and conditions, in order to survive in a world with no other options.

The left and the extremist right both claim to offer solutions to these problems. On the left, we want to change the nature of the system that brought us to this point. We want power and wealth to be distributed more evenly, not just because we want everyone to have their needs met, but also because allowing a small ruling class to run everything, while exempting themselves from the problems created by their rule, threatens to destroy us all.

The right’s solution is to turn those with the least power into scapegoats. Minorities and foreigners are blamed for our problems, and punished with increased poverty. When that inevitably fails to solve anything, the number of groups being blamed, and the severity of the punishment is increased. This cycle gets repeated, until ethnic cleansing is the only “solution” left (since taking power away from those in charge is obviously off the table). A “correction” like the New Deal may be able set this process back a bit, but it’s not capable of actually stopping it.

And while this is underway at any stage, we will remain unable to deal with problems that, as with climate change, are driven by the endless need for accumulating wealth that makes up the foundation of any version of capitalism.

Biden and the Democratic party cannot save us, and they never could. What they can do, at least in theory, is slow the process down for a short while, to allow for the kinds of work that will empower us to save ourselves.

Whether it’s peasants with torches and pitchforks, unions going on strike, or mass political unrest of other kinds, collective power and collective action has always been the solution to the lethal greed and irresponsibility of the aristocracy. As it stands, those living in the heart of the American Empire lack the organization to force revolutionary change – violent or otherwise.

We need to use what time and resources we have to change that.

It’s hard to know how this effort will end up going. The willingness of the powerful to use violence to keep their power may be one of the most reliable trends in human history, and it has been a central feature of the United States of America from the beginning. I believe our best chance at both avoiding violence and at surviving it if avoidance becomes impossible is through encouraging people to look out for each other, and to begin relying on each other as communities, rather than on governments or corporations. We need to start rebuilding society from the ground up, within the crumbling structure of the systems that currently govern the world, so that we can use all these marvels of technology for the benefit of life as a whole. 

If we don’t, then momentum will carry us to an era of horrors that will make the 20th century look peaceful by comparison. We cannot afford to waste the next four years. We cannot afford to relax. Biden’s victory might have bought us time, but only if we work on organizing to change course now.

 

 


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

All the work still remains

I’m glad cop who killed George Floyd has been found guilty, and glad that he will not be free during the 8 weeks until sentencing.

This one conviction- if upheld -will change little. It has not brought justice, and so it cannot bring peace.

There is too much wrong with the systems that govern this world, too much at stake, and too little time for the change we need.

The work must continue, at every level.

Social constructs as humanity’s greatest threat, and our greatest source of hope

When the “Fight for Fifteen” movement began in the United States in 2012, the argument for increasing the minimum wage was the same as it is now – the cost of living has risen faster than the minimum wage, and so the effective income of America’s poorest was going down, year by year. Now, in 2021, the fight is still for a minimum wage of $15 per hour, even as the cost of living has continued to skyrocket. The reality is that in 2012, $15 was still too low to actually meet the cost of living in many parts of the country, so with those costs even higher now, why are we still talking about a minimum wage increase that was inadequate nearly a decade ago?

Because the driving force in capitalism is the desire for endlessly growing profits, and the most straightforward way to generate those profits has always been finding ways to “cut labor costs” by underpaying the workers on whom the company depends. From slavery, to sharecropping, to scrip, to child labor, to unsafe conditions, to industrial pollution, the story of capitalism has been an unbroken chain of the capitalist class finding any means – legal or not – to shift the costs of their business onto those with less money and power. So the effort to increase the minimum wage, so that those at the bottom can afford to live while continuing to enrich those at the top, has faced constant opposition from the most powerful people in the country.

We’re stuck fighting for what was already a compromise favoring the rich a decade ago.

This problem is not unique to the question of wages, and it has translated to infuriating delays on the most pressing issues of our time.

It’s been 63 years since the first publicly televised warning about climate change. At the time, it wasn’t clear how  long the process would take, partly because of inadequate understanding of the issue itself, and partly because there was no way to tell exactly how humanity would respond to the impending crisis. By 1980 it was clear that, largely due to rapidly rising annual CO2 emissions, the timeline was a lot shorter than initially thought. The need for urgent action was clear.

Now, decades later, we’re still stuck in an endless loop of rebutting and debunking “arguments” that were refuted long ago. As with the fight over the minimum wage, this stagnation is not because of any legitimate objection to the science, or even the proposed solutions. It’s because the richest and most powerful people in the world don’t want to change the system that brought them their wealth and power. Just as capitalists have invested heavily in opposing minimum wage increases, unionization, universal healthcare, and many other things, they have also paid a number of people very well to repeat these obvious lies across all media, no matter how many times they are debunked.

As I often say, we have missed the window to avoid catastrophic levels of change. The degree of catastrophe is still under our control – we could simultaneously work to end our fossil fuel use, and to prepare our society for unavoidable changes before they become truly catastrophic. Just as buildings can be designed to better withstand earthquakes, so to can our society be re-structured to withstand higher temperatures, higher sea levels, and ongoing ecological collapse.

The problem is that people are going to respond to the conditions in which they find themselves with the tools that are available to them. Just as the foreign policy of colonial powers, especially the United States, has led to refugee crises around the world as people flee homes made uninhabitable by forces beyond their control, so too are people beginning to respond to the changes in climate as best they can.

Some of this is taking the form of more refugees, though the exact numbers are hard to separate from those fleeing warfare and manufactured poverty.

Some of it comes in the form of increasing the use of fossil fuels – as the primary energy source used in the world – for things like air conditioning:

To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors — in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development.

Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference.

And it’s going to get hotter.

By the time average global warming hits 2 degrees Celsius, Qatar’s temperatures would soar, said Mohammed Ayoub, senior research director at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. In rapidly growing urban areas throughout the Middle East, some predict cities could become uninhabitable.

“We’re talking about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius increase in an area that already experiences high temperatures,” Ayoub said. “So, what we’re looking at more is a question of how does this impact the health and productivity of the population.”

The danger is acute in Qatar because of the Persian Gulf humidity. The human body cools off when its sweat evaporates. But when humidity is very high, evaporation slows or stops. “If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 percent, you can die from the heat you produce yourself,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany who is an expert on Middle East climate.

That became abundantly clear in late September, as Doha hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships. It moved the start time for the women’s marathon to midnight Sept. 28. Water stations handed out sponges dipped in ice-cold water. First-aid responders outnumbered the contestants. But temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 28 of the 68 starters failed to finish, some taken off in wheelchairs.

Workers are particularly at risk. A German television report alleged hundreds of deaths among foreign workers in Qatar in recent years, prompting new limits on outdoor work. A July article in the journal Cardiology said that 200 of 571 fatal cardiac problems among Nepalese migrants working there were caused by “severe heat stress” and could have been avoided.

The U.S. Air Force calls very hot days “black flag days” and limits exposure of troops stationed at al-Udeid Air Base. Personnel conducting patrols or aircraft maintenance work for 20 minutes, then rest for 40 minutes and drink two bottles of water an hour. People doing heavy work in the fire department or aircraft repair may work for only 10 minutes at a time, followed by 50 minutes of rest, according to a spokesman for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In early July, Qatar’s Civil Defense Command warned against doing outdoor work between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., putting gas cylinders in the sun, turning on water heaters, completely filling fuel tanks or car tires, or needlessly running the air conditioner. It urged people to drink plenty of fluids — and to beware of snakes and scorpions.

Because we’ve delayed for so long, we are in the process of making the problem much, much worse simply by trying to survive while preserving an unjust and unsustainable system.

For all of the the talk – entirely justified – about the dangers of natural amplifying feedback loops and runaway global warming, I think we’ve neglected this particular feedback, because we’re not used to thinking of ourselves as being part of nature. Animals  and plants across the entire surface of this planet are changing where and how they live in response to the warming, and Homo sapiens is no exception to that trend. We are responding, in many ways, as we always have – by managing our surroundings, and by protecting the social structures to which we are accustomed.

This way lies extinction.

There’s a lot of talk these days about social constructs,  and a lot of misunderstanding, both willful and not. Social constructs are effectively the rules that humans have created for ourselves to deal with the difficulties of being a social species. I would argue that they exist in all animal species that exhibit any sort of social behavior. Things like behavioral mating displays (as opposed to physical features like mating plumage in birds), territorial marking and disputes, and various power dynamics fall into this category.

Human social constructs seem to be a mix of things that might be considered the study of “evolutionary psychology” (if that field wasn’t overrun by psuedoscientific nonsense) and things – like the ideas of race created and enforced by European colonial powers – that were created and maintained quite deliberately. The current hierarchy of wealth and power in most of the world seems to be a mix of the two. Sticking with the European example, as the one with which I am most familiar, the current capitalist class system was created in part, to protect the positions of those who had been at the top of Feudal society. This is probably closest to the surface in the United Kingdom, but if you poke around, you’ll find that the ruling classes of so-called “Western Society” (another social construct with little basis in reality) have many members whose families were also powerful under Feudalism.

It’s easy to feel like all of these problems are unavoidably part of “human nature”, and so absent an external force, we’re simply unable to make the changes needed. Under this fatalistic line of thinking, we will either develop some technological miracle, like fusion power, that will solve everything without the need for systemic change, or we will destroy ourselves. I think this view is best encapsulated in the concept of “capitalist realism”. I also think, as I’ve said before, that this view of an unchanging “human nature” is part of the larger framework of indoctrination that has been developed to get people to accept the destructive and unjust nature of capitalism. It’s similar to the myth that the people living in the Americas, Africa, and parts of Asia  prior to European colonization did little or nothing to manage their land or organize their societies.

Social constructs have been central to our most powerful tool as a species – our ability to make collective use of our distributed knowledge and skills. That, I would argue, is what truly lies at the heart of “human nature”, and what all the myriad of human societies throughout the history of our species have had in common. This is part of what gives me hope for the future. While it’s rare to see truly revolutionary change in any one human’s life, we have found countless ways of organizing ourselves, and changed them as need have dictated. Social constructs are a form of infrastructure, and just as with all other infrastructure, they serve us best when we constantly examine, maintain, update, and improve them.

I can’t promise that we’ll do what we need to in the time we have. What’s happening on this planet right now is unlike anything our species has ever faced. It is as much an unknown as space travel was at the beginning of the 20th century. We’re better at figuring out what’s likely to happen (thanks to social constructs like mathematics and the scientific method), but the best we can do is calculate likely futures based on what we understand today. What I will say is that I believe we have the physical and conceptual tools we need, as a species, to build a better world, even in the midst of the rapid warming and ecological collapse that has been forced upon us by our “rulers”, past and present.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

― Ursula K. Le Guin


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

Police violence continues:The GOP isn’t the only problem

During the Obama years, his administration’s responses to the Keystone protest, Occupy Wall Street, and the birth of the BLM movement showed about of people that the Democratic party was either unwilling or unable to solve our problems.

They won’t fix anything now, either.

Well-meaning or not, the Democrats are not going to save us.

We have to save ourselves. 

How to disguise repression for power and profit

One of the most infuriating things about healthcare in the United States is that not only is it viciously expensive, the private insurance system is a deliberately confusing labyrinth filled with tricks and traps designed to maximize profit both for the insurance companies and for healthcare providers.

Prices for care vary widely not only from place to place, but also depending on who’s actually paying. The overwhelming majority of transactions in our day to day lives deal with fixed prices. The price one person pays is the same as the one everyone else pays, and things like haggling are not even an option. You pay the asking price, or you don’t buy that product.

That means that when we get a bill for hundreds or thousands of dollars for something related to health care, we tend to assume that’s just the cost, and seeing the size of some of those bills, it’s not hard to understand why people would be willing to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month to avoid a bill of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for accident or illness. A good health insurance plan can make a huge difference in the life of a U.S. resident.

For example, when I spent a semester in Tanzania, I took the anti-malarial drug Malarone. It was the best option available, particularly because the alternatives had common side effects like intense, usually unpleasant dreams, or increased sensitivity to solar radiation. For a northerner visiting the tropics, it’s generally a bad idea to do things that make sunburns more likely.

The problem is that Malarone is more expensive. It’s a daily pill, and at the time I  believe it cost $5USD per pill. Nowadays the same supply would cost a little over $7USD per pill. For a four month trip, that’s around $600, on top of any other expenses. The insurance I had at the time, through my father’s work, covered it entirely.

That’s not the actual cost to make the pills though- not even close. It’s also probably not what the insurance company paid for them.

The relationship between patient and insurer is very adversarial, resulting in the aforementioned labyrinth, but beyond that, the bills patients see are almost never what insurance companies pay. They negotiate better rates and prices, and then try to push the costs they can’t negotiate away onto the patient, with the kinds of results David Pakman discusses in this clip:

I can’t help but feel that the extortionate “asking price” helps push people into paying so much for insurance, to avoid medical bankruptcy.

My own experiences include a plan in 2008 and 2009 that wouldn’t cover any emergency rooms within about 10 miles of where I lived, spending months and countless hours trying to confirm that the coverage I was paying for in 2018 and 2019 was active, and on trying to find a doctor that would even accept it, getting charged $200 out of pocket for a 10 minute consultation with a doctor when it turned out the card I had been paying $600 per month to get wasn’t working, and many other delightful experiences.

I took a fall on my bicycle in 2009 that cracked my helmet in half, and decided to hope no serious damage had been done rather than pay for the emergency room. I was hit by a car while commuting on my bike in 2013 (the driver’s fault), and had to turn down the ambulance ride and avoid getting my injuries checked out for the same reason. In both cases, I got lucky.

The entire world is subjected to relentless propaganda about how the United States is “the greatest country in the world”, but much of that is just incidental exposure to messaging aimed at American citizens, designed apparently to keep us from realizing the degree to which we are mistreated by our country and its ruling class.

I sometimes see people from Europe wondering why Americans don’t take to the streets over things like the healthcare situation, poor wages and inadequate safety nets, and so much more. A lot of it is things like this. Protesters risk arrest. Many companies reserve the right to fire employees who get arrested, or who miss work because they got arrested, or who miss work for a protest or a strike. Losing work isn’t just losing a paycheck, for many it’s also losing access to healthcare.

Protesting for any change in a left-wing direction can result in brutal attacks by police with kinetic and chemical weapons, which can result in massive medical bills. Rioting even more so (though police often try to turn peaceful protests into riots).

The reality of the United States is that it has found ways to repress its citizenry far beyond what you might think is happening based on what the law says. Rather than direct government control, corporations set the conditions under which people can have a stable, healthy life, and the government only has to prevent you from getting around the obstacles created by the corporations.

Health insurance companies levy heavy taxes for access to medicine, the government just ensures that there’s no better alternative than paying, and that same pattern exists throughout the system.

That’s why so much activism now includes efforts to help protesters avoid the steep penalties for exercising their right to protest, and it’s also why I ended up settling on my favoured approach to working for change.

This same dynamic exists to various extents in all capitalist countries. It is not the only form of repression, but despite all the talk about the “free” nature of capitalism, it is still a form of repression, and from what I can tell, it’s only getting worse.


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

Florida state of emergency highlights a larger problem

Whether it’s banning references to climate change, or sending armed goons to invade the home of a scientist calling out false COVID numbers, the Florida Republican Party hasn’t been shy about suppressing or ignoring science that relates to ongoing crises.

That’s why it was rather alarming to hear that Florida governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency over a looming industrial disaster.

Work crews were pumping millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater into an ecologically sensitive Florida bay on Sunday, as they tried to prevent the “imminent” collapse of a storage reservoir at an old phosphate mine.

Officials in Manatee county extended an evacuation zone overnight and warned that up to 340m gallons could engulf the area in “a 20ft wall of water” if they could not repair the breach at the Piney Point reservoir in the Tampa Bay area, north of Bradenton.

In addition to the direct kinetic and water damage of a flood that size, mine waste ponds tend to contain toxic, often radioactive materials, as in this case.

Crews are working both to plug the leaks, and to drain the pond, but it’ll be a little over a week before they’re done. In the meantime, the area is being evacuated.

If you do a quick search for “mine tailing disasters”, you’ll see that this is neither a new problem, nor one that is limited to any one part of the globe. The reality is that dealing with the problem of mine waste has been put off more or less indefinitely, rather than cutting into profits to address the issue. It should come as no surprise to my readers that I think this is not a problem that can be put off much longer.

Obviously climate disasters like storm-fueled floods or drought-fueled dust storms or fires can spread toxic waste, but “storage solutions” like this also put drinking and irrigation water at risk. Unfortunately I think the problem goes deeper than that. As I mentioned this past September, the industrial activity involved in non-fossil energy technology is neither cleaner than any other form of mining and manufacturing, nor is it exempt from the ways in which the profit motive encourages companies to cut corners and ignore problems.

I very much hope that the immediate danger is averted, and neither the homes, nor the jail in the flood zone are harmed. Once the crisis has passed, however, the larger problem remains, and as with so many others, the longer we delay dealing with it, the more it will cost in blood and resources to deal with it.


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!