Important Video: “Gender Criticals” & Autism

I’m not sure where I first encountered the despicable practice of using autistic people as a political weapon, but it was probably the anti-vax movement. Some time after that, I learned why so many autistic people hate the organization Autism Speaks, and not long after that, I started to become more aware of how our society systematically fails, abuses, and kills people with all sorts of disabilities and neurotypes. In recent years, the reactionary “Gender Critical” movement has been using the bigoted notion that autistic people don’t know themselves or their own experiences, to attack trans people. It’s something that requires dismissing what autistic trans people have to say, often while claiming that those same people “don’t have a voice”, and so need some Rowling-style “feminist” to speak for them.

Mica of the Youtube channel Ponderful does an excellent job dismantling this bullshit, and giving her perspective as an autistic cis woman of the sort that the transphobes claim to speak for. Fair warning, this video does get a bit dark, as it goes into topics such as the frequency with which disabled people are murdered by their parents and other caregivers, and abusive “treatments” for autism. It’s an informative video, and it closes out with comments from autistic trans people, because it turns out that they actually do know their own minds, and they have voices with which to speak for themselves.


Three Arrows on Prager U’s lies about the Iraq War

Growing up, my parents had a great many books from the newspaper comic Doonesbury. For those who’re unfamiliar, the comic started in 1970 following the lives of a group of college kids, mostly centered around the experiences of one Mike Doonesbury. When B.D., the jock who never removed his football helmet, volunteered to go to Vietnam, the readers went along with him, and got a darkly humorous take on that conflict. When George Bush Sr. invaded Iraq in 1990, B.D. was there, too, along with Duke, the Hunter S. Thompson parody, who went to profiteer.

I think it’s fair to say that, along with listening to NPR in the car, Doonesbury was a pretty big part of my childhood political education. During the Gulf War era, the theme of greed was woven through the comics. Mr. Butts, a mascot for the tobacco industry, was handing out free cigarettes to B.D. and his fellow soldiers. Duke ran a sleazy club, which he opened to profit off of soldiers, officers, and the various dignitaries and oilmen drawn to the war and its profits.

The second part of my political education came from my involvement in The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), which instilled in me a religious opposition to war, and was a huge part of my social life, growing up. The third part was my high school, High Mowing Waldorf School, which regularly brought in speakers on a variety of topics, including SOA Watch, and an organization called Voices in the Wilderness, which talked about sanctions.

See, the Gulf War was pretty short by modern standards. It only lasted from 1990, to 1991, though it was a brutal affair. If you ever have any questions about whether Bush Sr. was less horrible than W, look into that war, maybe starting with The Highway of Death. The war destroyed a lot of Iraq’s infrastructure, and the sanctions regime that followed made repairing it nearly impossible. I’ve mentioned before that I view sanctions as a form of siege, using modern power and politics to blockade an entire nation, rather than just a city or fortress. The sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis between 1991, and the 2003 invasion by W’s administration, and most of those “excess deaths” were children.

After being “bombed back to the stone age”, people died. A big part of that was because the war’s destruction included sewage and water systems. That meant that clean water was hard to get, and disease was everywhere, while medicine was hard to get. It’s not clear if anyone literally starved to death but there was malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable toinfection of every kind. On top of that, the U.S. used the U.N. to block necessary supplies, like the resources to repair the infrastructure and purify water. The sanction that angered me the most, in my teens, was on new blood bags for transfusions, on the grounds that they could, in theory, be used to make chemical weapons.

This was a continuation of the gross hypocrisy that always surrounded the U.S. relationship with Saddam Hussein. There’s no question that the man was a horrible person, responsible for incredible amounts of death and suffering, but the U.S. does not care about that. At various points, the U.S. government actively supported those atrocities, just as it supported Saudi Arabia’s ongoing genocide in Yemen, along with countless other crimes against humanity all around the world.

So that was my background when Bush got elected, and most of the people I knew who talked about the issue, fully expected W to try to finish what his daddy started, and get Saddam Hussein. When 9/11 happened, it was immediately assumed that Bush would use it as an excuse to attack Iraq. Not long after, I started attending a weekly peace vigil in a town near where I lived, and I continued demonstrating and protesting through the propaganda campaign that led to the invasion.

I encountered people who sincerely believed that Iraq was involved with 9/11, despite all evidence to the contrary. They screamed in my face about it, in fact. They also screamed about WMDs, even though Iraq had been under inspection for years, and there was no sign that they had anything. I watched my government lie to me, as I had known they would, and I watched the justification for the war shift, and become more vague as each lie was debunked.

I saw how it didn’t matter. The protests didn’t matter, the facts didn’t matter, the opposition from allied nations didn’t matter – none of it mattered. France opposed the invasion, so we had to deal with “Freedom Fries”, and wine stores poured out their French wines. I also saw the rise of Fox News, and its unwavering commitment to making the world worse, and to lying about fucking everything, no matter how pointless.

I’m going through all of this, so that you’d have some idea of my views and memories surrounding the Iraq war and the George W Bush administration. With that as context, imagine my feelings when considering the effort by Prager “University” to rewrite that history. For those unfamiliar, PragerU is a YouTube propaganda mill helmed by an obnoxious and creepy conservative radio host named Dennis Prager. It was originally funded by fracking billionaires, and I believe it has since been bought by The Daily Wire.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that PragerU lies even more than Fox News, and you do not, for any reason, gotta hand it to Fox.

Prager’s primary project seems to be creating an alternative history where everything that ever happened in the world both supports all the opinions of U.S. Christian fascists, and in which the United States always has been, and always will be The Greatest Country In The History Of The World. You know how there’s currently a push to prevent children from learning about LGBTQIA issues, or any accurate telling of U.S. history? Prager U is what they want to have instead.

It’s not shocking that conservatives are trying to rewrite history. That’s all they’ve ever done, really, and it’s part of how they claim moral supremacy for the United States. From cherry trees to WMDs, they just make up a history they like the feel of, and attack anyone who tells the truth as un-patriotic. Fortunately, I’m no patriot, and while I don’t know much about Dan from Three Arrows, if he is a patriot, it’s not for the U.S. (how’s that for a segue?), who just put out this video picking apart Prager’s lies about Iraq and the second Bush administration:

I think it’s helpful to have a perspective from outside the U.S., but more than that, I just appreciate anyone who’s able to dig into videos like this and the people behind them, and put out a solid debunking video on the topic. Conservatives are not going to stop trying to erase and re-write history to suit their agenda, so I think it’s extremely valuable for us to have content like this to push back against their lies.

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How the government kills for Capital in the class war

So, there’s currently an “inflation crisis” in the U.S., as well as some other countries. The cost of necessities has been rising, which, of course, hurts those at the bottom far more than anyone else. This inflation was predicted, by conservative economists, as a result of the woefully inadequate COVID-related assistance people got. They’ve basically been saying, for years now, that if people at the bottom get even a little bit of a break, it’ll tank the economy, and look! Prices are rising! We have to do something! Let’s raise interest rates, which will, down the line, increase unemployment, thereby removing the harmful excess that’s causing this inflation! It’s like bleeding someone for a fever, you see.

Of course, conservative economists lie almost as much as cops, and they’re deliberately leaving out some of the context. See, prices have been increasing, but there’s no evidence that it’s because of increased demand, and even where supplies have been hurt, as with eggs, the price increase goes well beyond covering the costs. The reality is that prices have been rising because the capitalists who own everything decided they could get away with increasing prices, by blaming it on inflation.

In recent months, corporate bosses and top Federal Reserve officials have pointed to workers’ wages as a factor in surging prices, which have pushed overall inflation in the United States to a four-decade high.

But the AFL-CIO’s new report attempts to reframe the national inflation discussion, emphasizing that while wage increases won by ordinary workers are drawing outsized attention from policymakers and executives, CEO pay hikes significantly outpaced the wage increases of rank-and-file employees last year.

Titled “Greedflation,” the report shows that “in 2021, CEOs of S&P 500 companies received, on average, $18.3 million in total compensation.”

“CEO pay rose 18.2%, faster than the U.S. inflation rate of 7.1%,” the analysis finds. “In contrast, U.S. workers’ wages fell behind inflation, with worker wages rising only 4.7% in 2021. The average S&P 500 company’s CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 324-to-1.”

The highest-paid executive among S&P 500 companies last year was Expedia’s Peter Kern, who brought in an eye-popping $296 million in total compensation.

Other executives at the top of the 2021 list were Amazon CEO Andy Jassy ($213 million), Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger ($179 million), Apple CEO Tim Cook ($99 million), and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon ($84 million).

“Runaway CEO pay is a symptom of greedflation–when companies increase prices to boost corporate profits and create windfall payouts for corporate CEOs,” the new analysis states.

During a conference call outlining the report’s findings, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond said that “when you look at those numbers and at CEOs trying to blame workers for inflation, it just doesn’t add up.”

In his remarks during an earnings call earlier this year, for instance, Amazon’s chief financial officer attributed inflationary pressures felt within the company during the final quarter of 2021 to “wage increases and incentives in our operations.”

But Redmond pointed out that “last year, Amazon delivered the highest CEO-to-worker pay ratio in the S&P 500 Index with a pay ratio of 6,474 to 1.”

“Amazon’s new CEO Andy Jassy received $212.7 million in total compensation,” he noted. “What did Amazon’s median worker earn last year? Just $32,855… Corporate profits and runaway CEO pay are responsible for causing inflation, not workers’ wages.”

I mentioned earlier that increasing interest rates are designed to increase unemployment, and I wasn’t making that up. As I’ve said before, Larry Summers has been openly calling for higher unemployment to “fight inflation”. This is what people mean when they say that poverty is a policy choice. It couldn’t be more obvious that the scarcity faced by the world’s poor is manufactured by the world’s rich, because that’s how they get so rich – by taking as much from other people as they possibly can, with no regard for the harm done.

Sometimes, you’ll encounter a misguided soul who insists that its in the best interests of the bosses for their workers to be healthy and happy. There’s a grain of truth to that, but the reality is that if workers have a better life, they also have the time and energy to learn new things, and to organize. Money is power, in a capitalist society, and those at the top do not want you to have power. They will give you enough to survive on, but only if you give them far, far more through your labor.

And then, of course, when you go to buy food, or pay rent, or pay for power, or anything else, you’re giving that money right back to the ruling class, because they own everything.

Once upon a time, there was something called a company store. The basic premise was brutally simple – since normal people had to work to survive, the owning class could pretty much set the terms. They’d pay workers in company credit, that could only be spent at the company store. The modern equivalent would be for Amazon workers to be paid with Amazon gift cards, that were only redeemable for Amazon products. You work all day in a warehouse, or driving a delivery vehicle, and then your only way to get food, clothes, medicine, or anything else would be to buy the options that Amazon tells you you can buy, at a price set by Amazon.

The only problem, from the boss’s point of view, is that that was made illegal in 1938, after decades of struggle and death by workers. The solution, as I see it, was to expand their control of everything else in the country. Think of it like the rental market – if you can’t afford to buy (and who can, these days?), then your only real option is to rent. This means that while you don’t have to rent from any particular landlord, you do have to rent from one of them. As a class, they literally own all options, and as a class, they use the money that you pay them every month to increasingly rig the game in their favor.

I think something similar has been happening to the U.S. as a whole. You might get real money as a paycheck, but what options do you really have when it comes to spending it, if all the owners are raising their prices, because they feel like it? To quote Stupendium’s Outer Worlds song, “we earn what we’re allowed, and give it right back at the bar.” I’m not saying their ownership is total. It’s not. There are small community supported agriculture (CSA) setups, like the one that provided a lot of my food when I was growing up, and other efforts to reclaim or defend bits of our lives from the all-consuming greed of the wealthy, but they’re not enough. They’re not changing our direction or momentum, and they’re simply not available to an awful lot of people.

Things like that are most available to the so-called Middle Class – people who make their living by selling labor, but are paid enough to own their own homes, and take advantage of the savings and stability of that to build community and the beginnings of community-owned production. For people who rent, and who are forever moving in search of a more affordable home or better pay, it can be hard to do that. .

CSAs are, however, a seed. If you read The Shock Doctrine, which you should (the audiobook is free), you’ll learn about the neoliberal strategy of working to ensure that certain ideas are kept “lying around”, so that they’re right to hand when there’s some sort of crisis that will allow you to do things that might otherwise meet resistance. They may have weaponized that tactic to create a century of war and injustice, but it’s a tool like any other, and it’s one that we can also use. CSAs are one such idea. They’re not “competitive” in the sense of capitalist economics, but they represent a viable model of agriculture that could be subsidized and expanded, should we get the chance to do that. The same is true of the ideas in permaculture and other managed ecosystem models. The same is true of unions and union governance, and of protest tactics, and of mutual aid, and so much else. By keeping those ideas around, we create the opportunity to expand them down the line.

It’s far more than that, though. I think all of those things are also projects that we (some of us more than others) can be working on specifically because all of them increase our power. If you get all your vegetables from a local farm that’s funded by you and others like you, then you will be insulated – at least a little – from the whims of the aristocracy. The same is true if you and your fellow workers are organized enough to take collective action in defense of your rights.

And that’s why I think that while the extra money is something that capitalists will always take, the real incentive behind the price hike is to hurt workers. This isn’t just sadism, though it would honestly surprise me if there wasn’t an element of that involved, but rather a calculated effort to increase poverty and desperation, so that workers will take whatever jobs they can get. More than that, when workers are living right on the edge of eviction and starvation, they literally don’t have the material resources to survive something like a sustained strike. See, a strong and healthy working class is the thing that they most fear, so they reaches their hand for the watering can, and they waters the workers’ beer.

More specifically, they’re leaning on the Fed to deliberately hurt the working class, so that workers don’t have the power to demand things like enough money to live on, or safe working conditions.

As the Federal Reserve kicked off its first policy meeting of the new year on Tuesday, economists and progressive advocates reiterated their now-familiar call for the central bank to stop raising interest rates amid growing evidence that hiring, wage growth, and inflation are slowing significantly.

“Pushing millions of people out of work is not the answer to tackling inflation,” Rakeen Mabud, chief economist at the Groundwork Collaborative, said in a statement. “Additional rate hikes could jeopardize our strong labor market—and low-wage workers and Black and brown workers would suffer the biggest economic consequences.”

“There’s a clear path forward to avoiding a devastating and completely avoidable recession: Chair Powell and the Fed should stop raising interest rates,” Mabud added.

The latest push for an end to interest rate increases came as fresh data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Tuesday showed that wage growth continued to cool at the tail-end of 2022, an outcome that Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has explicitly been aiming for even as experts have rejected the notion that wages are responsible for current inflation levels.

According to the BLS Employment Cost Index (ECI)—a measure watched closely by Fed policymakers—wage growth climbed just 1% in the final three months of 2022 compared to the previous quarter, a slower pace than analysts expected.

“The Fed has lost its excuse for a recession,” Mike Konczal, director of macroeconomic analysis at the Roosevelt Institute, tweeted in response to the new BLS figures. “Over the last three months, inflation has come down exactly as a soft landing would predict, wage growth didn’t persist but moderated with the reopening to solidly high levels within late 1990s ranges, and the economy added 750,000 new jobs.”

Though Powell has insisted that Fed decision-making will be driven by economic data, he made clear last month that the nation’s central bankers don’t think inflation has slowed enough to justify a rate-hike pause or reversal, brushing aside the recessionary risks of more monetary tightening.

On Wednesday, the Fed is widely expected to institute a 25-basis-point rate increase followed by another of the same size at its March meeting, bringing the total number of rate hikes to nine since early 2022.

Even the central bank’s own models predict a sharp increase in the unemployment rate—and potentially millions of lost jobs—if Fed policymakers drive interest rates up to their desired range of between 5% and 5.25%.

Recent layoffs across the tech industry as well as data signaling a hiring deceleration have also intensified fears of a Fed-induced economic crisis.

“The Fed has every reason to halt further job-killing interest rate hikes as key indicators show inflation is slowing while the economic recovery remains fragile,” said Liz Zelnick, director of the Economic Security and Corporate Power program at Accountable.US. “Too many hard-working families have everything to lose if the Fed stays the course with higher rates that only push the economy closer to a recession.”

“Repeated interest rate hikes have done little to curb corporate greed that even Fed economists admit is what’s really driving high costs on everything from groceries to gas,” Zelnick continued. “The Fed faces a choice: back down and let policy and lawmakers continue to take impactful steps to rein in corporate profiteering—or keep needlessly threatening jobs and an economic downturn with further rate hikes.”

Remember – under capitalism, capitalists hold all the cards. This is why there’s no real effort to deal with the student debt crisis. It’s why there’s no real effort to make wages meet the cost of living. It’s why there’s active opposition to universal healthcare, even from self-proclaimed “progressives” in the Democratic Party. The government serves the aristocracy first, and that means doing what they must in order to keep the workers in line. A direct crackdown is bad optics, and tends to bring others to the cause, so instead they do things like forcing a deal to make a particular strike illegal, or ignoring blatant price gouging to instead “fight inflation” by deliberately increasing unemployment. 

Do you understand what that means? The official policy of this government, that supposedly represents the people, is deliberately choosing to kill people, in order to weaken the ability of the working class to make demands of their bosses. I am not exaggerating.

In the largest study of its kind on mortality patterns in Europe and the United States, a Yale researcher has found a direct correlation between unemployment and mortality.

The study showed that high unemployment rates increase mortality and low unemployment decreases mortality and increases the sense of well being in a community. Findings from the three-year study, commissioned by the European Union, will be presented to select members of the European Parliament and senior officials at a European Commission press conference on May 23 in Brussels.

Economic growth is the single most important factor relating to length of life,” said principal investigator M. Harvey Brenner, visiting professor in the Global Health Division of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. Brenner is also professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University and senior professor of epidemiology at Berlin University of Technology.

Employment is the essential element of social status and it establishes a person as a contributing member of society and also has very important implications for self-esteem,” said Brenner. “When that is taken away, people become susceptible to depression, cardiovascular disease, AIDS and many other illnesses that increase mortality.”

Prior studies on the impact of income on survival have focused on very poor countries with high poverty and infant mortality rates. This study shows that the same principles apply to highly industrialized and wealthy societies in which occupational differences based on skill level, wages and working conditions vary considerably. Brenner said this is compounded by ethnicity, and it is this distinction which still makes for the central differences in illness, mortality rates and life expectancy in industrialized countries.

This study raises the issue to a national level-a government policy setting level,” said Brenner. “The main findings illustrate trends in mortality in Europe and North America based on economic growth and employment rates. The lower the employment rate, the more damaging, and full employment equals lower mortality rates.”

And that study doesn’t even touch on the fact that if you raise unemployment, you are going to force more people out of stable housing, and being unhoused is terrible for your health, and, of course, increases mortality.

Instead of gunning down striking workers and their families, they just adjust the economy “to fight inflation”, condemn people for being lazy, and brutalize the “undeserving poor” as a warning to everyone else. Behave and take what you’re given, or you’ll end up on the street, and spend the rest of your life in constant danger, having your belongings stolen, and being told that your plight is your own fault for being a bad person.

Still, as I said earlier, we have ways to build power that, while slow, are very difficult to stop, and are likely to improve our day to day lives in the short term as we continue working on them. That’s the good news in all of this. When I talk about “building collective power”, it’s not just about forcing the change that we need, it’s about literally making that change as we go. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that we’re guaranteed to win, but it’s a way for us to take back another thing that capitalism has stolen from us – unalienated labor. Work that’s done for our benefit and satisfaction, rather than the enrichment of an overlord. It’s a way for us to begin to take back our freedom.

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Musk Personally Suspended the Account of Left-Wing Journalist

When confronted with a fascist movement, it’s worth remembering that fascism, for all its populist trappings, serves the elite. That’s really where its power comes from. The people involved are genuine reactionaries, and monstrous people, but the movement is sustained and directed by the limitless wealth of the ruling class. It’s also worth remembering that fascists don’t really value anything other than power and victory, so they will happily claim the protections of “free speech” as part of their campaign to utterly eliminate that freedom. This is why it’s not surprising that Elon Musk, one of those at the very top of the ruling class, bought twitter promising to protect freedom of speech, and then immediately turned around and started banning people, including those he specifically said he would not ban.

Chad Loder is an anti-fascist journalist and activist, who exposed a member of the Proud Boys involved in the coup attempt of January 6, 2021, as well as the machinations of fascists like Andy Ngo. He was from Twitter back in November, as part of a larger pattern of catering to the far right. It always seemed likely that Musk, who has increasingly shown himself to be a reactionary man-child, was directly involved in this purge, but now it seems we actually have proof:

A leaked internal Twitter message appears to show that Elon Musk directly ordered staff to suspend a left-wing activist’s account on the social-media platform.

Bloomberg said it viewed a screenshot of the message in question, involving the account of Chad Loder, which read: “Suspension: direct request from Elon Musk.”

Loder, who uses they/them pronouns, describes themself on their Mastodon profile as a community activist, cybersecurity expert, and citizen journalist. Their investigation into the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 led to the arrest of a masked member of the far-right Proud Boys organisation who’d attacked police officers, The Intercept reported.

Musk has described himself politically as “somewhere in the middle” but encouraged his followers to vote Republican the day before November’s midterm elections.

This story’s publication resulted in an exchange between Musk and the prominent right-wing journalist Andy Ngo, who shared a series of screenshots purporting to show past tweets from Loder advocating violence. Insider couldn’t independently verify the tweets because of Loder’s account suspension.

In response to Ngo, Musk tweeted: “I don’t know this person at all, but explicit threats of violence obviously violate Twitter ToS,” or terms of service.

Loder’s account was one of several prominent left-wing accounts suspended by Twitter in November 2022.

Loder told Insider’s Sawdah Bhaimiya they suspected the suspension resulted from an “organized mass-reporting campaign,” whereby a right-wing group published a Substack blog with instructions on how to falsely report breaches of Twitter’s rules by particular accounts — with Loder’s profile listed near the top.

On Tuesday, Twitter reinstated the account of prominent white nationalist Nick Fuentes, only for it to be banned again inside 24 hours.

In a since-deleted tweet in October, Musk promoted a conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former house speaker Nancy Pelosi.

J.M. Berger, an expert on social-media extremism, previously told Insider: “I think he’s intentionally empowering right-wing extremists.”

Not only that, but I don’t think there’s any reason to expect that he will stop empowering right-wing extremists. Their agenda is both flattering to his ego, and helpful to his greed. I don’t know that messing with twitter will reshape the world the way he or his fans might wish, but at the end of the day, he’s still immensely powerful, and he’s still using that power to limit the reach of people whose opinions he dislikes. There’s not a whole lot we can do about this, directly, it can’t hurt to make sure it’s talked about as we keep working to end that particular kind of power altogether. It’s likely that much the next few decades will be shaped, for the worse, by the whims of billionaires. As that’s happening, it’s important to remember that no matter what they say, what they are doing is supporting the far right, and suppressing the left.

Children are collateral damage in Tim Pool’s anti-LGBTQIA hate campaign

Right now, the American conservative movement is trying to erase LGBTQIA people from society. As with past genocidal projects, all of the “justifications” are bullshit, but that doesn’t stop bigoted grifters from spreading that manure around. You see, they want to destroy queer people, and they’re happy to lie to get their way. This is not a new project, but it has gotten new life in recent years, as part of a larger fascist movement and conservative backlash against the progress we’ve made on trans rights in particular, and LGBTQIA rights in general, over the last four decades or so.

This post is inspired and partially informed by a video by Lance, from The Serfs, but I dig into the subject below. I find this video useful because it shows how Pool weaves anti-queer propaganda in and around an unrelated story, to give shallow thinkers the impression that the movements for gay and trans rights, and the push for comprehensive sex education, are leading to child sexual abuse. In trying to give that impression, Pool lies, misleads, and literally cites the opinions of someone with close ties to the NXIVM sex cult, which actually did groom and abuse a great many children and adults. It’s worth keeping in mind, if you’re not already, that all of these lies and implications about Queer people serve to cover up and enable real abuse, by misdirecting people’s attention. For some, that might just be acceptable collateral damage, and for others, that is almost certainly the point. I think that going through how Pool’s video is set up, similar to what Lance does below, is useful in seeing how he furthers this agenda by association and implication.

So, to begin with, let’s look at the news from Chicago. Tim Pool builds his case around a real report of hundreds of cases of grooming, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape by teachers and staff in the Chicago public school system, during the 2021-2022 school year. This is a horrifying report, and I think it does demonstrate a need for real change. I also suspect that this is more widespread than just Chicago. Schools, like churches, give a number of adults a huge amount of power over children, and while most may gravitate to those lines of work for good reasons, others do it for that access. This seems to be the case within pretty much any hierarchical institution, but children are uniquely vulnerable because they have neither the knowledge nor the power to defend themselves, within society as it exists today. There are annual reports on this in CPS, and if the one from 2019 is anything to judge by, this is a long-standing problem, and as I said I doubt it’s limited to Chicago. I don’t recommend it as a news site, but I’m going to use the Daily Caller article Pool is using in the video above. Content warning for child sexual abuse, in case that wasn’t clear:

The Chicago Board of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) annual report found hundreds of Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers were accused of adult-to-student sexual misconduct in the 2021-2022 school year.

The OIG’s Sexual Allegations Unit (SAU) opened 447 cases investigating teachers for allegedly grooming, sexually assaulting, or raping CPS students last school year, following the 325 opened in 2021. Of the open cases, the SAU closed 600 over the past 12 months, according to the OIG annual report, reported ChicagoCityWire.

SAU investigated a Chicago high school substitute teacher for grooming several students for sex and engaging in sexual acts with at least one student on school property, the OIG found.

The CPS teacher allegedly talked to students about their sex lives in person and through social media, cell phones, and “other common grooming techniques,” according to the OIG. The report stated the teacher gave the “student unnecessary passes to exclude her from class, and encouraging students to confide in him about personal problems.”

SAU claims he made “intimate physical contact with students (including kisses, sexual hugs, and back-rubs), openly solicited sexual acts (such as asking a student to recruit another student for a ‘threesome’).”

A separate SAU investigation into a former JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) staff member found he allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old female high school student. SAU found that for 12 months, he threatened to kill the student and her family if she reported the sexual abuse.

SAU reported that the JROTC staff member and the student exchanged hundreds of text messages that “were overtly sexual, including ‘I’m ready to f*** right now … I’m not gonna be gentle either.’”

Chicago Police Department arrested the JROTC staff member and charged him with eight counts of criminal sexual assault and one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, according to the report.

She noted that the district has taken action against those engaged in wrongdoing.

Several of the open cases involved CPS-affiliated adults exposing students to pornographic images, including one high school teacher who accessed porn while he was sharing his screen with minor students.

The report applauded the OIG’s SAU’s ability to “manage its extraordinarily high case volume without compromising the quality of its investigations.”

“Over the past four years, the SAU’s accomplishments have been significant. It has opened 1,735 cases following allegations reported by students, alumni, parents, staff, and others. Of those, it has closed a total of 1,384 cases raising concerns of adult-on-student sexual misconduct, and substantiated policy violations in 302 investigations,” the report stated.

The OIG added that of the over 1,700 cases of alleged sexual misconduct between CPS-affiliated adults and students, sixteen criminal charges have been filed.

So, that’s the situation. Because of the nature of the misinformation surrounding this issue, I think I need to emphasize that the vast majority of perpetrators of this stuff are straight, cis men. That is the over-represented demographic here, not queer people of any stripe. Likewise, none of this has anything to do with drag queen anything. I also want to draw attention to the JROTC staff member, because when I wrote about schools forcing children to participate, I linked but didn’t go into that organization’s history of this exact problem.

JROTC programs are promoted not as a pipeline to active duty but as a valuable source of adult mentoring, exposure to military discipline, and inculcation of civic values. Cadets get to drill in uniform, handle weapons, learn military ranks and history, and stand at attention when visitors come to their classes. Their instructors are military veterans certified by the DOD, but many states don’t require them to have either teaching certificates or a college degree. In addition, the DOD leaves day-to-day monitoring of their performance to school administrators busy with many other responsibilities.

That lax oversight has had calamitous results. As the New York Times recently revealed in a major investigative piece, at least thirty-three JROTC instructors have engaged in sexual misbehavior with young women in the program during the last five years. And that JROTC rap sheet does not even include the “many others who have been accused of misconduct but [were] never charged” or the inappropriate behavior that went unreported because cadets were afraid of jeopardizing their potential military careers.

JROTC accounts for a minority of students (a minority of whom go on to join the armed forces), but note again the dynamic described here – it’s adults who are put in positions of authority over children. Similar power dynamics are often part of the sexual assault of adults in the U.S. military, which is also a huge problem, church abuse, workplace abuse, and familial abuse, which seems to be the most common.

Tim Pool starts his video talking about the the systematic grooming and abuse of children, while his background was a completely unrelated article about a trans activist supposedly getting someone fired from their job at a video game company for following Libs of Tiktok (a well-known stochastic terrorist), and Ian Myles Cheong, a bizarre far-right twitter activist. I looked up the Post Millennial article Pool put up there, and it’s pretty transphobic. It also ignores the fact that the firing wasn’t just about who the employee followed, but also about at least one tweet spreading the bigoted lie that trans rights are a threat to cis women’s safety. The company, Limited Run Games, felt that this public bigotry from a community manager was harmful to their brand an image, and so they fired her.

But whether or not you think that was justified, I have to ask – why announce the headline of the article about Chicago Public Schools, over an image of a headline about a trans activist, and saying, “Now the story that is on the screen is not that story. I want to give you a few moments before we get into the darker element of what’s been going on and what’s being exposed, and I want to just briefly highlight the cultural elements that are allowing such a thing to occur.”

This has nothing to do with Chicago Public Schools. As we’ve covered, most child abuse in general is by cis people. Not trans people. Trans people have nothing to do with this, but Pool brings up the abuse headline, and then immediately switches to talking about trans people. He insist that he is “Quite literally only referring to people who are targeting children in order to groom them”, and not LGBTQ+ people. As Lance points out, Tim is pretty vague about what grooming means, and he’s called things like Drag Queen Story Time, which is literally just people in colorful costumes reading stories to children. This is the same absurd fudging of definitions that has Republicans in Oklahoma trying to outlaw all “flamboyant makeup” around children. I guess they hate clowns, too?

The article describes “grooming behavior” that includes, among other things, personal conversations with children about their sex lives. His interpretation of that is that any discussion of sex or sexuality in the presence of children is “grooming”, which allows him to segue into attacking materials designed for sex ed. He literally says, “I was told that’s just claiming that gay people exist!”, without any acknowledgement of the context in which the conversations are being discussed – sexual text conversations, adults showing pornography to children, in-person sexual activity, and so on. Again, gay people haven’t come up so far, except when Pool has interjected them. The article has, so far, only described abuse by straight cis people.

He then brings out a book called Gender Queer, which is an autobiographical book targeted at older teens and adults.

When I was a teen, I did not want to actually talk about that stuff with my parents, or with anyone. Still, it was important stuff to learn, so my parents got me a book called It’s Perfectly Normal. It’s an illustrated primer on puberty, sex, and sexuality. The version I had didn’t include any mention of trans people that I can recall, but I believe it has been updated since then, following advances in general understanding of the issue, and the social change that the current conservative backlash is angry about. The book goes out of its way to be friendly and positive, including working against the various sorts of body-shaming that exist in our society. It’s illustrated, including drawings of a diversity of nude body types, as well as some depictions of sexual acts, drawings and diagrams of genitals, and so on. That’s the topic of the book. Some of the drawings may be arousing, and some may not be, and which is which will be different for different people. The whole point of the book is to teach about this stuff that’s necessary to learn as part of growing up. Consequently, this is one of those books that is banned pretty often, because conservatives think it’s “pornographic”.

The book Pool complains about is also illustrated – it’s a “graphic memoir”, but it’s a story about a young person discovering their asexuality, and that they don’t fit the gender “binary”. I’m willing to bet that it’s less explicit than my “puberty textbook”, but that hasn’t stopped people from banning it. Why is he bringing out this book? Because the religious right has been freaking out about it, and Tim Pool, despite his pretense to centrism, is a right-wing extremist.

So, he has started out this story about abuse in Chicago Public Schools by pointing to an unrelated story involving a trans activist, and then after reading a bit of the Daily Caller article out loud, he holds up this book called Gender Queer, and says “No, I got no issue with the Queer people involved in that book. I have an issue with the behaviors they’ve engaged in, such as the pushing of this book to children, which includes pornographic images”.

And then he switches to praising Dave Rubin, a gay conservative pundit, apparently to say that Rubin’s “one of the good ones”? He says that he’s fine with Rubin being “gay married”, and having kids, because he’s teaching good values, and it’s up to parents whether their kids are raised around “this stuff”. But the schools? The schools are hiding it from parents, and grooming kids by showing them porn.

You can see what’s going on here, right? So far the only actual harm to children we’ve talked about has been done by straight, cis men, preying on girls. There was one example of a teacher showing children literal pornography, and Pool is equating that to the book Gender Queer, and the LGBTQIA movement in general. This is nothing new. It’s the same bullshit propaganda used to demonize Queer people for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s the same old insistence that anything outside of cis, straight relationships is inherently more sexual, and that any discussion of can only ever be sexual.

This is a weapon that conservatives love to use. It’s not that long ago that they were working to create a moral panic about Muslims, by declaring that they made up a disproportionate majority of “grooming gangs” in the UK. That narrative conveniently left out the definition of “grooming gang” being used by pundits – localized, in-person, grooming activities on the street that targeted white girls. You may note that this definition excludes everyone abused by churches, all online activity, all abuse by families, all abuse of boys, and all abuse of non-white children, all so that they can spin the narrative that Islam somehow uniquely encourages child abuse. You can check out this Lonerbox video for more on that particular thing.

What Pool is doing seems even more dishonest than that, though, given that he’s just choosing random stories and anecdotes relating to LGBTQIA people to associate with the CPS report, so he can say that “putting these books in school and not telling parents” is the line which must not be crossed. Pool has also called a family-friendly drag show “a grooming event”.

And then Pool cites James Lindsay to justify this leap. Lindsay has made something of a career out of accusing people of being pedophiles with no evidence. Lindsay himself, on the other hand, has (or had) a long-standing friendship with Nicki Clyne, who was part of the inner circle of the NXIVM (generally pronounced “nexium”) pyramid scheme/sex cult, which engaged in actual grooming of girls. I know it’s beyond cliché at this point, but Lindsay seems to be the epitome of “every accusation by a conservative is actually a confession”.

This is the person on whose authority Tim wants us to believe that all things rainbow are part of a vast conspiracy to groom children. This person who made accusations like that while being, at best, very close to someone involved in an actual conspiracy to groom children.

And he goes back to ranting about the Limited Run Games story, calls the LGBTQIA movement a cult (having just cited someone who was friendly with an actual cult), throws in the odd concept of “political grooming”, whatever that is, and then proceeds to lie about the concept of child liberation.

So, as I understand it, “child liberation” means giving children more autonomy in their lives, rather than treating them like they aren’t people. This means letting education be more self-directed, and it means helping them figure out how to make decisions for themselves. This is an approach that would give adults less power over children. Less power to do things like grade kids worse if they don’t like them, affecting their future, and less power to abuse them, because part of the point of child liberation is teaching children that their personal autonomy matters. Andrewism has a good video on the subject if you want to dig into it. If you prefer to read articles on the subject, Andrewism links to a number of articles on the Anarchist Free Library, digging into the age-based power dynamics in our society, and the similarities between the current default schooling system, and prison. It’s an interesting subject, and not one you’re likely to encounter much outside of anarchist circles, which makes it perfect for bigoted grifters to lie to the general public about it.

I’m assuming that most of my readers are on board with comprehensive sex ed, and early teaching of consent. In the case of the former, it’s important for children to know about their bodies – including their reproductive systems – for a couple main reasons. The first is health – knowing how their bodies look and feel normally, and knowing what “normal function” is supposed to look like, gives them the tools to know when something’s wrong, and to express that more clearly. On that same note, as they age and go through puberty, their “normal function” is going to change, and it’s generally a good idea to give them warning about this so that they’re not freaked out by it. The second is safety from other people – teaching them how all the basic physiological stuff interacts with society, and what constitutes sexual activity. This is important, among other reasons, because if you don’t do that, you’ll get ignorant twits like Tim Pool who apparently can’t tell the difference between teaching someone about sex, and actually engaging or trying to engage in sexual activity with that someone.

When it comes to teaching consent, there’s little reason for sex to come up at all. At the earliest ages, it’s all stuff like whether or not they want to hug someone, whether they’re OK with a particular game or activity – it’s about teaching that they have a right to autonomy. You may note that we’re back to language from a couple paragraphs ago. Child/youth liberation is an extension of the same principle. It’s a bit contradictory to tell children that they have a right to not participate in activities that make them uncomfortable, while also telling them that they have no right to refuse to go to school when they’re told, for how long they’re told, no matter what they’re suffering while they’re there. The current system, as a default, trains children to just accept what adults tell them – of course abuse will come out of that!

But conservatives don’t actually like autonomy, in children or in adults. They want people who will be good, obedient cogs in the machine, but they know that just saying that doesn’t look great, so they have to lie, and create scapegoats for the very real problems in our society. Teachers are abusing children? Must be the gays. Oh, the vast majority of abusers are heterosexual? It’s gay culture that’s somehow infecting everyone.

This isn’t stuff that should be taken seriously, but the unfortunate fact is that Pool has a vast audience on Youtube and other platforms, and the same narrative is being pushed by the fantatical bigot who is the most watched cable news host in the United States, not to mention the entire GOP. A couple months ago, I wrote about the absurdity that always seems to lie at the core of fascist movements, and this is no exception. These people actually are the monstrous clowns that they accuse drag queens of being. They’re loud, gaudy, ridiculous, and they are committed to destroying countless lives in pursuit of their bizarre notions about how the world should work. Pool’s video ends with him telling his viewers that these horrors are happening because they, the viewers, didn’t speak up, and didn’t act. I feel a need to say something similar, but actually grounded in history – there is a fascist movement in the U.S. right now that is working hard to bring about the extermination of anyone who doesn’t fit the roles society has assigned to them. They are coming for our Queer siblings, and it is our responsibility to speak up, and to stand up in opposition to this hate, wherever we can, and however we can.

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Video: Let’s talk about Pink Floyd, rainbows, and social media…

Nothing too heavy today – I needed time for other pursuits. As some of you are no doubt aware, it was recently the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and the fact that the album art has always had a rainbow in it has some “fans” upset. I suspect it’s the same fans who get upset periodically when they find out that Rage Against the Machine “gets political”, because they apparently never know the lyrics?

I honestly don’t get how some people go through life so utterly oblivious to so much of what’s happening around them, but I guess that’s the point of all the indoctrination, propaganda, and systems of control. As Beau says, when someone’s so afraid of what’s different that they can’t stand to see a rainbow, well…

All in all, they’re just

Scientists: It’s dangerous to assume we’ll be able to cool the planet later this century

A month or two ago, I heard some politician/executive type person saying that there wasn’t any real concern with the likelihood that we’ll overshoot our climate “goals”. His reasoning was that the goal was to be under two degrees warming by the end of the century, maybe that’ll mean that we overshoot, and spend 2060-2100 bringing the temperature back down through stuff like carbon capture. I don’t remember who it was, or where I heard it (Found it! It was Shell CEO Ben van Beurden talking to John Stewart (in this video)). I also have no idea whether he believed what he was saying, but I doubt that matters. The level of irresponsibility is honestly breathtaking, given that this dude is certainly not going to be around for the period in question. He’s just cheerfully declaring that his grandkids will deal with it. Clearly the dogma of “personal responsibility” has always been projection, just like all other conservative rhetoric.

Meanwhile, back in reality, we have research confirming what anyone who’d been paying attention already knew: passing the goals set by the Paris climate agreement is unlikely to be temporary

“To effectively prevent all tipping risks, the global mean temperature increase would need to be limited to no more than 1°C—we are currently already at about 1.2°C,” noted study co-author Jonathan Donges, co-lead of the FutureLab on Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “The latest IPCC report is showing that we’re most likely on a path to temporarily overshoot the 1.5°C temperature threshold.”

The researchers examined various scenarios with peak temperatures from 2°C to 4°C. As lead author and PIK scientist Nico Wunderling explained, they found that “the risk for some tipping events could increase very substantially under certain global warming overshoot scenarios.”

“Even if we would manage to limit global warming to 1.5°C after an overshoot of more than 2°C, this would not be enough as the risk of triggering one or more global tipping points would still be more than 50%,” Wunderling said. “With more warming in the long-term, the risks increase dramatically.”

I’ve long felt that we have already passed some tipping points, such that even if we eliminated most or all of our CO2 emissions, we’d keep warming, albeit more slowly. This is by no means a confirmation of that belief, but I think it does imply that whether or not I’m right, we should be acting with a great deal more urgency. That is also why I keep insisting that we should be planning for life in a hotter planet, and we should expect “too hot” to be the norm for at least a century, probably much longer. Barring a political or technological revolution on a scale that I find unlikely (though that won’t stop me from trying), we’re headed for rough times.

Of course, there’s also the fact that the more it warms, the more it’s likely to keep warming, which is why I think our preparations need to include dealing with our emissions. We have to do everything at once. I’m not kidding about the time frame, either. What we do over the next fifty years or so is likely to set the climate trajectory well into the future:

Study co-author Ricarda Winkelmann, co-lead of the FutureLab on Earth Resilience in the Anthropocene at PIK, pointed out that “especially the Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet are at risk of tipping even for small overshoots, underlining that they are among the most vulnerable tipping elements.”

“While it would take a long time for the ice loss to fully unfold, the temperature levels at which such changes are triggered could already be reached soon,” she said. “Our action in the coming years can thus decide the future trajectory of the ice sheets for centuries or even millennia to come.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire climate would be as “doomed” as the ice sheets – it may be that we could get to a point where the collapse of the ice sheets will continue even if cool back down significantly. Unfortunately, that kind of long-term risk isn’t limited to the ice – it threatens other systems like the Amazon rainforest, which could be turned into grassland even without continued clear-cutting. What’s possibly even more worrying is the risk to ocean currents:

An analysis of the Amazon released in September by scientists and Indigenous leaders in South America stated that “the tipping point is not a future scenario but rather a stage already present in some areas of the region,” meaning portions of the crucial rainforest may never recover—which could have “profound” consequences on a global scale.

study on the AMOC from last year, also published in Nature Climate Change, warned that the collapse of the system of currents that carries warm water from the tropics to the North Atlantic “would have severe impacts on the global climate system,” from disrupting rains that billions of people need for food and increasing storms to further threatening the Amazon and ice sheets.

Donges stressed that “even though a temporary temperature overshoot would definitely be better than reaching a peak temperature and remaining there, some of the overshoot impacts may lead to irreversible damages in a high climate risk zone and this is why low-temperature overshoots are key here.”

Pointing to estimates that current policies could lead to an average global temperature of up to 3.6°C by 2100, Donges declared that “this is not enough.”

As Winkelmann put it: “Every tenth of a degree counts. We must do what we can to limit global warming as quickly as possible.”

Neither the actions that we have taken so far, nor the actions that have been promised, are not enough. “Better than nothing” is, you know, better than nothing, but we’ve got beyond the obscene callousness shown by rulers to their subjects, and entered an era where we can see a murderous scorn for the entirely of humanity, extending indefinitely into the future.

Or, you know, maybe they’re just deluding themselves, and they’re driving us to extinction out of ignorance. As far as I can tell, there’s no material difference for the rest of us. It’s clear that they cannot be talked into actually giving a shit about anything but themselves. Hell, we can barely get the media to even pay attention to the issue. Hell, a guy literally set himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court to draw attention to the issue, and it felt like it barely made a ripple. I have an almost compulsive urge to find a way to end every post on a positive note, but sometimes it’s just hard to find a silver lining. I’m sure the darkness of the season isn’t helping my mood, but for all some progress was made in this last year, it’s progress on a scale that would have been more appropriate two or more decades ago.

Climate change has already killed millions of people, and we’re still getting what feels like less than half-measures, while those at the top are allowed to literally steal billions from workers, and legislators are concerned with their “right” to engage in insider trading. As far as I can tell, there is no line. There’s no “tipping point” at which those in charge will do the right thing. We have to do it ourselves. I’ll be updating my direct action post some time in early 2023, so if you have suggestions to improve it, feel free to let me know. We’ve got a lot to do, and it’s still hard to figure out how to go about doing it in a world so clearly shaped to make us spend all our energy enriching those at the top.

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Video: Fake News in the Great War

I find propaganda to be phenomenon that’s simultaneously fascinating and infuriating. I view myself as a propagandist, of a sort, in that I try to use rhetoric and evidence to influence people. But the vast majority of propaganda that’s out in the world is created or boosted by extremely powerful people and governments, all with their own agendas. They also seem to all be some degree of malicious, working to hide truths and spread lies, in amongst the facts they choose to recognize. Someone’s lying about everything so loudly and with so much conviction that it makes it incredibly difficult to tell what’s going on in the world. Often the best we can do is try to find sources we can trust, and keep a close eye on what they choose to ignore, or how they misrepresent things. My personal go-to has been to look at how a source talks about issues on which I believe I have enough expertise to tell fact from fiction, but that’s far from foolproof. It’s a vexing problem, and it’s one that will not be going away any time soon.

Another general rule I have is to consider historical parallels. I’m in the “history doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes” camp, and my hope for changing the kind of poem we’re in relies on understanding the structure of things as they have been. That’s why I’m grateful to people like Dan of Three Arrows, for digging into history on topics like this

The video goes over the use and abuse of propaganda leading up to, and during World War 1, covering lies countries told their own people, lies people and publications told each other, lies they told everyone else, and the corrupting effect those lies had not just directly, but also indirectly on people’s ability to believe in future reporting. In particular, this video frames WW1 as the first media war, in which global communication networks spread lies to global audiences, and  fabricated false realities for large segments of humanity. That has been more or less the norm ever since, and from what I can tell it’s only gotten worse in my lifetime. Hindsight isn’t flawless, but it can provide a perspective that I think is extremely important in dealing with the world as it is.

The horrors of mass incarceration demand abolition.

Over the last couple years, I’ve learned to expect good things from Teen Vogue. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen the bulk of their material, but they’ve put out a number of excellent and insightful articles on political and cultural issues, often providing perspective and analysis that put more “serious” publications to shame. Over the last few months, I’ve learned to expect good things from a commentator named Olayemi Olurin, who seems to be building a reputation as someone who’s willing and able to push back against conservative bullshit. With their powers combined, we get an excellent article about the cruelty, greed, and incompetence (deliberate or otherwise) of mass incarceration in the self-proclaimed “Land of the Free”.

If how many police we hire, prisons we construct, people we incarcerate, and billions of dollars we invest in the prison industrial complex translated to public safety, the communities with the highest police presence would be the safest, and America would be heaven on Earth. But it’s not — especially not according to the politicians who fearmonger about rising crime, all while asking us to keep investing in the same failed approach to addressing it.

This American system is a vehicle for maintaining racial, social, and economic inequality by criminalizing poor Black and brown communities, using them for labor, and saddling them with debt, trauma, and rap sheets with lifelong consequences that can rarely be outrun. This is deliberate and immoral, but the call to divest from police, prisons, and mass incarceration is about more than morality; it’s about results, and mass incarceration has failed to produce them.

Of course, it’s arguable that mass incarceration has produced the desired results of its architects, it’s just that they’ve been lying about their goals all along. We can acknowledge that clear material incentives that go into building and maintaining a system like the one the U.S. has, while also looking at the rhetorical façade that maintains popular consent for this ongoing crime against humanity. While the recent rise in open fascism and open white supremacy in the U.S., it’s getting easier to find people who will openly support discriminatory policies and practices, but the pretense of “solving crime” and “keeping people safe” remains, and while we have to dig into the deeper issues, it’s important to engage that rhetoric at face value at the same time.

In America, police arrest someone every three seconds, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. A 2020 review from University of Utah professor Shima Baughman, however, found that police solve just 2% of all major crimes. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  A 2020 report from the American Action Forum found that this country spends an estimated $300 billion on policing  and prisons yearly, a figure that has continued to increase despite record drops in crime. Political leaders and the media continue to sensationalize and manufacture crime waves to scare the public into feeling unsafe, so that we continue supporting inflated police budgets, militarized police departments, and incarcerating residents of the most under-resourced communities.

Nearly 2 million people are incarcerated in America, over 400,000 of whom have not had a trial or been convicted of any crime, according to the Prison Policy Institute (PPI). Nearly 60% of incarcerated people are Black or Latino, per PPI’s most recent numbers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that research shows some 65% of the US prison population has substance abuse issues. The vast majority of incarcerated persons earned wages below the poverty line before their arrest, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, and 43% of state and 23% of federal prisoners have a history of a mental health issue. Add to that, hundreds of people die in federal and state prisons each year. The leading cause of death? Suicide.

Our society constantly dehumanizes people deemed as “criminals”, and none more so than Black criminals. Even leaving aside dubious cases like the “suicide” of Sandra Bland, suicide is not a particularly surprising response to finding oneself in that trap. The U.S. carceral system has become famous for miserable and often lethal conditions, with rampant abuse from guards, debt traps, and little recourse for those who’ve been abused. It seems that the default is to believe that if the government has deemed someone to be a “criminal”, then they have no right to humane treatment, meaningful due process, safety, or any hope of a future.

These profoundly grim statistics extend to what the US asks of incarcerated people while they’re locked away. Incarcerated people, in public and private prisons, produce over $11 billion in goods for almost no income. A 2022 ACLU report found that, on average, most states pay incarcerated people between 13 and 52 cents an hour — of which the government claims as much as 80% — and seven states skip the pretense altogether and pay absolutely nothing for most jobs. Often, incarcerated people can’t afford the basic necessities for which they are charged, their families spend over $2.9 billion in commissaries each year, in addition to another $14.8 billion in costs associated with moving, eviction, and homelessness brought on by these cases.

And the debt doesn’t end there. Many people think “you do the crime, you do the time” and have no idea that criminal convictions also come with fines and fees. We are not only policing and incarcerating the poorest people in our society, we’re billing them for it. Per the Fines and Fees Justice Center, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people owe at least $27.6 billion in fines and fees nationwide.

Let’s introduce another definition for this practice: Slavery is a system of bondage in which a person is treated as property, deprived of their freedom and personal liberty, and forced to perform labor for another’s gain. Mass incarceration is slavery. Not “modern-day slavery” or some other euphemism, just slavery.

It almost seems like it’s a system designed more for profit and social control than for “solving crime” or for keeping anyone safe. More than that, it’s a system for social control that has been shown repeatedly to have an extreme bias against non-white people, and especially Black people. It’s a simple fact of history that the modern law enforcement system not only has its roots in slavery, but also has maintained slavery to the present day with the explicit endorsement of the U.S. constitution. I also think it’s important to dwell on that last point – forced labor is not a necessary component of slavery, only ownership of humans. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like “forced labor” has been the focal point in most discussions of slavery that I’ve encountered. I’m a little ashamed to admit that that had, to some degree, supplanted “ownership of/bondage of a human” in my mind. It’s a good reminder that propaganda works on all of us, no exceptions.

Perhaps you think that holding people in bondage would be necessary at times, even in a perfect society. Perhaps you think that taking away a person’s freedom as a punishment is somehow part of building that perfect society. I don’t agree, but even if that were the case, I think it’s important to confront what it is that you’re supporting, rather than trying to obscure it with rhetoric. The U.S. has made progress over its history, but it still has a system of social control and subjugation that, when you look at outcomes, is largely based on race. Is that part of your notion of justice? If not, why make excuses for a system that manifestly does not serve the purpose for which we’re told it was created? The reason I support police and prison abolition, is that the current system is unjust to its core, and efforts at reform pretend otherwise. Abolition requires us to shift our focus to building something new that is just, rather than trying to whittle away the “bad bits” of something thoroughly rotten.

If you were confronted with the total abolition of police and prisons, what would you want to replace it? What roles do they really serve that you feel would need to be filled? If we recognize that poverty is, itself, largely caused by injustice, then clearly the first step should be to remove the incentives for crimes of desperation. We know that prohibition hasn’t worked to reduce drug consumptions, we know that the drug war was basically a project of destroying lives for political gain, and that the dangers posed by law enforcement are the root of the violence of the drug trade. We should decriminalize all drugs, an invest those resources in treatment, and meeting people’s basic needs. Assaulting, kidnapping, and stealing from unhoused people doesn’t reduce the number of people who can’t afford shelter under our system, so maybe we should focus on providing good housing instead.

There’s no question that that building a different system would be a slow and difficult process – of course it would. There’s no question that a different system would have its own problems and failures. “Perfect” is a conceptual goal to work towards, not an actual way of being. There are surely some things that need tweaking and reforming, rather than replacement, but with such a corrupt, cruel, and bloodthirsty system, focusing on reform merely delays necessary change, and during that delay, more and more lives are destroyed.

We need to stop being so afraid of big changes, especially when the people warning us of “danger” are those who profit most from the horrific way things are.

Rebecca Watson debunks Santa’s shroom-tripping origin myth

A while back, I encountered a proposed origin for the Santa character as we understand him today. Basically, the idea was that shamans in Siberia would make use of a hallucinogenic mushroom as part of their practice, and there was a myth of a particular sort of over-shaman who would ride on the back of a flying reindeer and give visions to the more earth-bound folks. I think I recall hearing that he did wear red, but I didn’t hear any reason why, beyond the fact that dyed fabric tends to be valuable in pre-industrial settings. From there, it was mixed with St. Nicholas and probably other things, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rebecca Watson encountered a considerably less-plausible (in my estimation) version of the story, and done a debunk that does cover what I’d heard as well:

Okay, so here’s the “evidence” for the connection between Siberian shamans and Santa Claus, and it’s the kind of evidence that a lawyer might call “circumstantial” but I’m just going to call “pathetic:”

1.) Siberian shamans consumed the Amanita muscaria for both healing and spiritual purposes. This is the quintessential “magic mushroom,” with a bright red (or orange) cap with white spots on it. This is true.

2.) Siberian reindeer also consumed the mushroom. Drinking their milk or piss would result in people getting the hallucinogenic properties without most of the “making you barf everywhere” properties. This is also true.

That’s it, that’s the evidence. From here on out we are in the “citation needed” zone:

3.) The Shamans dressed up like the mushrooms in red and white and then went door to door by sleigh handing them out to people, but with all the snow they couldn’t get in the door so they had to drop down the chimney.

No one has any evidence any of this is true. No one has any evidence to suggest shamans got around via sleigh, that they randomly gave away their sacred herbs, or that they tumbled down chimneys because indigenous people didn’t know how to clear a driveway. There’s certainly no evidence they dressed up LIKE A MUSHROOM. In fact, if that were the case then we would see a very clear throughline in which Santa always wears red and white, which anyone who has ever had one of those “1 weird fact-a-day” calendars knows. Santa and his relatives like Father Christmas spent a long time without any particular color scheme (when I was a kid in the 80s I was always partial to Father Christmases in deep blue velvet), and the fact that we think of Santa as being dressed in red and white is mostly thanks to Coca Cola for making Santa their mascot in 1931 and giving him THEIR BRAND’S colors. That’s right hippies, it wasn’t drugged up shamans, it was CAPITALISM.

The version I encountered had no sleighs, and no going down chimneys. If memory serves, the connection to that that I heard was that the mushrooms themselves were stored in a little sack over/near the fire, to keep them dry/preserved. I think Watson may be overstating the degree to which the modern Santa is due to Coca Cola, but they certainly played a role. I’ll also mention that I can’t find a credible source for the version that I heard, and Watson, as we’ll see, found what’s probably the origin of the myth. There are also a number of other claims that go beyond the small similarity I heard, and a better explanation for the stocking thing:

4.) We hang stockings up by the chimney because that’s how the shamans dried out the mushrooms to prepare them for ingestion. Again, no evidence for it: yes mushrooms are better dried out, but it has nothing to do with your socks. Historians by and large accept that stockings date back to a myth of a wealthy St. Nick feeling bad for a guy who couldn’t afford his daughters’ dowries and tossing coins through the window, which landed in one girls’ socks that were drying by the fire.

5.) We put presents under the tree because that’s where mushrooms grow. Yes, seriously, that’s one of the claims. Again, if it were true then we could trace this tradition all the way back to contact with Arctic shamans but we can’t: there’s a reason why, as Thomas Hatsid points out over at ProjectCBD, A Visit From Saint Nicholas doesn’t even mention a tree but does mention stockings: because before CAPITALISM got out of control, Santa would put a few treats and shiny objects in the stockings and call it a night. Now he’s bringing us Playstations, which don’t fit in socks or “ON” the tree, as in the song “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” which was written in 1943 when presents were small enough to go there. Now they don’t, so they go at the bottom of the tree.

And that’s it, that’s all the “evidence” for this connection.

Her conclusion, which is worth reading or watching, discusses how cultural interchange actually works. It’s a bit more complicated than this kind of one-to-one transfer of characteristics. I also like how she goes through the chain of analysis by examining midwinter/Christmas traditions in those cultures that actually interacted with the shamanic groups in question. The TL:DR is that getting closer to Siberia sees the Santa-like characters and traditions getting less like the just-so story of shamans, chimneys, and gifts. And speaking of just-so stories:

But the real source of a lot of this, I think, is revealed in this NPR piece from 2010 about Donald Pfister, biology professor and curator of Harvard’s Farlow Reference Library and Herbarium (and his colleague Anne Pringle):

“Add it all up and what do you get? Pringle connected the dots: “People are flying. The mushroom turns into a happy personification named Santa.”

She said it with a laugh, but the connection between psychedelic mushrooms and the Santa story has gradually woven itself into popular culture, at least the popular culture of mycology, mushroom science.

“So every year, when Christmas draws near, Pfister gathers the students in his introductory botany class, and, no doubt with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, tells the tale of Santa and the psychedelic mushrooms.”

This was clearly a fun fluff piece that isn’t super subtle about the fact that this is just a fun yarn – it’s a modern myth about an ancient myth. But we can’t have nice, fun, eye-twinkling things like this today. As the story gets passed from outlet to outlet, the “subtle” playfulness gets dropped. What is actually a story about a biology professor goofing around with his students with a fun lecture every Christmas becomes the SECRET TRUTH OF SANTA CLAUS, which leaves it to annoying buzzkills like me to pipe up and say “well actually that’s not true.”

Yeah, that tracks. It seems to take very little for some ideas to enter popular consciousness, and a few years of one professor at a prestigious university telling a compelling story? That could plant the notion not just in the heads of a lot of people, but people who, by virtue of being Harvard graduates, will be taken seriously. I used to play around with convincing people of things that weren’t true, as a child. I think I got close to convincing a neighboring kid that I was a ghost once, and that a local albino skunk was my ghost pet. In high school I would sometimes try to persuade people that A Field Guide To Little Known and Seldom Seen Birds of North America was real, or that Rhinogradentia was an actual order of island-dwelling mammals. As I got older, and saw the damage that lies combined with people’s credulity could do, I guess the game lost its charm for me.

Still, I’m glad to know where that story came from. It’s interesting to see how we develop mythology about mythology, in a way that almost makes me think of tales of divine regime change, like the way the gods of ancient Greece overthrew their titan parents/predecessors. As ever, it makes me wonder how many religions began with misunderstandings that could have actually been resolved, had things gone just a little differently. It sometimes feels like, among all the deliberately created and promoted propaganda, some stories just escape and spread like an invasive species, taking advantage of the rich, safe environment in which they find themselves.  I wonder what other new “explanations” will arise for Santa and other such things, in the decades to come.