Environmental Racism Made Worse by Global Warming: West Coast Edition

One key to understanding the world as it exists today, is understanding that most of it has been shaped by white supremacy for most of the last few hundred years. That’s not the only factor, but it’s one of the biggest ones, and it is still an active ideology, in one form or another, in most of the ruling class of the so-called “West”. This doesn’t just affect non-white people in those countries, though, because the colonial empires – primarily the U.S. these days – still exert a great deal of control over the so-called “Global South”.

Environmental racism is one effect of white supremacy, both on the global scale, and on the local scale, as the least powerful are routinely forced to live with exposure to mine runoff, industrial chemicals, coal dust, traffic pollution, and more. When it comes to traffic pollution, keep in mind that a combination of segregation, redlining, and malice in designing the interstate highways system, black communities were very deliberately forced, by the government, to live with higher air pollution, on average, than white communities. As with climate change, none of us are safe from air pollution, but it is not a coincidence that in a country built on white supremacy, as the United States was, non-white people have it the worst.

I say “as with climate change”, but the reality is that climate change isn’t really separable from air pollution. Global warming, in a myriad of ways, both causes air pollution, and makes “existing” pollution more dangerous. I suspect one would find similar results around the globe, but for a local example of how this works, and how it relates to race, we can look at this study of how the rising temperature will make existing inequality worse:

“We have known that air pollution disproportionally impacts communities of color, the poor and communities that are already more likely to be impacted by other sources of environmental pollution,” said the study’s lead author Jordan Kern, assistant professor of forestry and environmental resources at NC State. “What we know now is that drought and heat waves makes things worse.”

For the study, researchers estimated emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter from power plants in California across 500 different scenarios for what the weather could look like in future years, which they called “synthetic weather years.” These years simulated conditions that could occur based on historical wind, air, temperature and solar radiation values on the West Coast between 1953 and 2008. Then by using information about the location of power plants in California and how much electricity they would be generating under different weather conditions, they estimated air pollution within individual counties.

They saw the worst air pollution in the hottest, driest years, which Kern said is due to the demand for more air conditioning during hot years. In addition, drought can impact the availability of hydropower. The excess electricity has to come from somewhere else, which is where fossil fuel plants come in.

“One of the things we were interested in was teasing apart the relative roles of drought, which can be chronic, lasting for months or years, versus heat waves, which can happen like a flash in a pan,” Kern said. “We found drought is a driver of chronic pollution exposure, but heat waves are responsible for these incredible spikes in emissions in a short period of time.”

They also saw that counties with a higher existing pollution burden were disproportionately impacted by pollution during drought and heat waves. Counties that were more diverse by race and ethnicity were also far more likely to be impacted by increased emissions from power plants during droughts and heat waves.

“The more diverse your county is by race and ethnicity, the more likely you are to be impacted by air pollution on an annual basis,” Kern said. “During a drought, the relationship is more pronounced.”

Ideally, those power plants will be replaced with nuclear and renewable power sources, but it doesn’t seem like our leaders are in any hurry to get that done, which means we’re still forced to deal with fossil fuel plants. This is also not a problem that can be viably solved by asking people to not use air conditioning, or by rationing power during heat waves, because those heat waves are getting longer, and hotter, and killing more people as the climate warms. We’ve always needed to adapt our surroundings to deal with temperature, but we’re entering the first phase of human history where increasing numbers of people will need access to artificial cooling to survive.

The study authors also explored policy scenarios, and found that taxing companies for pollution produced would help the problem except during heat waves, but you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I find that solution to be inadequate. As with the rail companies, power generation and distribution should be nationalized, as a first step in ending the use of fossil fuels. There may be a place for using taxation to gently guide corporate behavior, but this is not it. Even if I did not believe that electricity should be treated as a public good, these corporations have been continuously demonstrating, for longer than I’ve been alive, that they cannot be trusted to operate responsibly, or with any concern for the public good. Justice demands it, both as a response to the climate crisis, and as one very small step toward dealing with environmental racism.

Cigna executives caught in “legally gray” cash grab

The fight over Obamacare was probably the first time I really came face to face with the corruption and dysfunction of our government, when it came to domestic policy. The Republicans, of course, had launched the scorched-earth obstructionism that has become their default when out of power, and Obama seemed to be looking for excuses to make concessions. Single-payer healthcare was taken off the table before negotiations even began, but of course that didn’t stop the GOP for ranting about how Obama was a Muslim socialist who would set up “death panels” to kill your grandparents (the GOP base). It’s ironic, but not surprising that in the years since, we’ve literally seen Republicans calling for senior citizens to die “for the economy”. Remember, kids, every conservative accusation is actually a confession.

It was Obama’s unwillingness to actually fight for a good healthcare system that really infuriated me. After it became obvious that taking single payer off the table won him zero credit or respect, he should have started playing hardball for a public option, as something to give up for a conservative concession if nothing else, but he refused to do that either. It was the same pattern we see today – the Democratic president says he wants to do something, but the right-wing members of his party have sided with the GOP, and won’t allow it, so there’s just nothing to be done. Seeing that same pattern play out again and again, even with a veteran politician like Biden, is part of why I’ve become convinced that the leadership of the Democratic Party has never intended to follow through on its promises to the left.

Even so, the fact remains that the Affordable Care Act really is an improvement over what came before. If you want an overview of that delightful arrangement, check out Michael Moore’s 2017 documentary Sicko. The problem is, while the ACA put limits on the ways that health insurers could scam their customers, it did not come close to solving the inherent problem of for-profit health insurance – it’s a parasitic middleman of an industry, whose profit comes from refusing to pay for healthcare.

Probably the nicest thing about leaving the United States was no longer having to deal with that country’s healthcare “system”. For all the improvements made under Obama, it’s still overpriced, and still riddled with traps and loopholes that force people to pay out of pocket for their own care, despite spending hundreds or thousands per month for insurance to avoid precisely that. The paperwork was also hell, whereas the “terrifying bureaucracy” of the NHS actually took pretty good care of me for a much lower price, with a fraction of the paperwork. Here in Ireland, I have to have private insurance, but because there’s a public system, the cost is a lot lower than anything in the US, for better hospital coverage, and, if I’m willing to wait, I can also get treatment etc. from the public system. It’s not perfect, but it’s so, so much better than what the US has, and I don’t really have to deal with things like surprise bills. Unfortunately, corporations back home are continuing with business as usual, and have been denying coverage for hundreds of thousands of people for basically no reason other than pure greed:

When a stubborn pain in Nick van Terheyden’s bones would not subside, his doctor had a hunch what was wrong.

Without enough vitamin D in the blood, the body will pull that vital nutrient from the bones. Left untreated, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis.

A blood test in the fall of 2021 confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis, and van Terheyden expected his company’s insurance plan, managed by Cigna, to cover the cost of the bloodwork. Instead, Cigna sent van Terheyden a letter explaining that it would not pay for the $350 test because it was not “medically necessary.”

The letter was signed by one of Cigna’s medical directors, a doctor employed by the company to review insurance claims.

Something about the denial letter did not sit well with van Terheyden, a 58-year-old Maryland resident. “This was a clinical decision being second-guessed by someone with no knowledge of me,” said van Terheyden, a physician himself and a specialist who had worked in emergency care in the United Kingdom.

The vague wording made van Terheyden suspect that Dr. Cheryl Dopke, the medical director who signed it, had not taken much care with his case.

Van Terheyden was right to be suspicious. His claim was just one of roughly 60,000 that Dopke denied in a single month last year, according to internal Cigna records reviewed by ProPublica and The Capitol Forum.

The rejection of van Terheyden’s claim was typical for Cigna, one of the country’s largest insurers. The company has built a system that allows its doctors to instantly reject a claim on medical grounds without opening the patient file, leaving people with unexpected bills, according to corporate documents and interviews with former Cigna officials. Over a period of two months last year, Cigna doctors denied over 300,000 requests for payments using this method, spending an average of 1.2 seconds on each case, the documents show. The company has reported it covers or administers health care plans for 18 million people.

I don’t know the exact demographics of my readers, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that most of you know from experience what it’s like to be poor enough that an unexpected $300 bill is a nightmare. Cigna argues that they’re in the clear, morally speaking, because nobody was denied a service, but for a lot of people, forcing them to pay for that service, when they’re already paying you premiums every month, means they can’t afford something else that they needed. Or they just… don’t pay, and instead get harassed over it for years to come. If you think this “review” system seems illegal, you’re right – it does seem illegal. Cigna executives decided it was a legal grey zone, and their lawyers agreed, so they decided to grab the money (from their customers), and see if they could get away with it.

Within Cigna, some executives questioned whether rendering such speedy denials satisfied the law, according to one former executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because he still works with insurers.

“We thought it might fall into a legal gray zone,” said the former Cigna official, who helped conceive the program. “We sent the idea to legal, and they sent it back saying it was OK.”

Cigna adopted its review system more than a decade ago, but insurance executives say similar systems have existed in various forms throughout the industry.

In a written response, Cigna said the reporting by ProPublica and The Capitol Forum was “biased and incomplete.”

Cigna said its review system was created to “accelerate payment of claims for certain routine screenings,” Cigna wrote. “This allows us to automatically approve claims when they are submitted with correct diagnosis codes.”

Yes, I’m sure this was about providing better service, and not the estimated millions in savings from denied claims. Snark aside, I absolutely am sure that similar systems exist throughout the industry. Like I said, every for-profit health insurance corporation is a parasitic middleman. As a group, they have forced themselves into everyone’s lives, and because capitalism requires ever-increasing profits, they will never stop looking for ways to avoid paying for healthcare. They have also, while insisting ProPublica’s reporting is wrong, refused to answer questions or provide more information. The article digs much deeper into the issue that I’m going to here, but I wanted to highlight one bit:

Howrigon, the former Cigna executive, said that although he was not involved in developing PXDX, he can understand the economics behind it.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the insurer,” Howrigon said. “Why not just deny them all and see which ones come back on appeal? From a cost perspective, it makes sense.”

Cigna knows that many patients will pay such bills rather than deal with the hassle of appealing a rejection, according to Howrigon and other former employees of the company. The PXDX list is focused on tests and treatments that typically cost a few hundred dollars each, said former Cigna employees.

“Insurers are very good at knowing when they can deny a claim and patients will grumble but still write a check,” Howrigon said.

This is what capitalist “innovation” looks like, and it’s happening at every level of our society. You know how every customer service line is always experiencing higher call volumes than usual? Yeah, they’re lying to your face, and they know that you know they’re doing it. There is zero downside to under-staffing their customer service department. The long waits will make some people give up without even having to spend money discouraging them! And if it means customers are dissatisfied, what are they going to do, turn to a competitor? Everyone knows that this is just what the world is like now. They’re betting that we’ll go along because we don’t have the time or energy to fight, and most of the time, they win that bet. The same is true with banks and their myriad of fees. The basic model of banking, where you take deposited money and invest it to make a profit, never stopped being profitable. It never stopped being profitable enough that banks could give people interest back on the money held there. They don’t care how much money they have. They don’t care how little money you have. The only thing that matters to them is that they get more money, no matter the harm it does.

In 2014, Cigna considered adding a new procedure to the PXDX list to be flagged for automatic denials.

Autonomic nervous system testing can help tell if an ailing patient is suffering from nerve damage caused by diabetes or a variety of autoimmune diseases. It’s not a very involved procedure — taking about an hour — and it costs a few hundred dollars per test.

The test is versatile and noninvasive, requiring no needles. The patient goes through a handful of checks of heart rate, sweat response, equilibrium and other basic body functions.

At the time, Cigna was paying for every claim for the nerve test without bothering to look at the patient file, according to a corporate presentation. Cigna officials were weighing the cost and benefits of adding the procedure to the list. “What is happening now?” the presentation asked. “Pay for all conditions without review.”

By adding the nerve test to the PXDX list, Cigna officials estimated, the insurer would turn down more than 17,800 claims a year that it had once covered. It would pay for the test for certain conditions, but deny payment for others.

These denials would “create a negative customer experience” and a “potential for increased out of pocket costs,” the company presentation acknowledged.

But they would save roughly $2.4 million a year in medical costs, the presentation said.

Cigna added the test to the list.

The problem is that the greed of the capitalist class is insatiable and without conscience. They deny payments because they can. They create new fees because they can. They push the responsibility for making sure they do their jobs onto their customers, because what are you gonna do? Ask the government for help?

Well, sometimes. Several state officials have indicated that they’re going to look into this Cigna story, and that’s nice. I hope they do, and I hope this system is ended, and Cigna is forced to actually hire enough people to do the work they’re supposed to be doing. The problem is, I can almost guarantee that if they’re forced to pay a fine, it’ll be less than the profits they made from this, and they might fight even that, just to avoid setting the precedent that they can be held accountable for stealing from their customers.

Because that’s what this is. They are stealing from people to whom they absolutely owe money, and they are betting that the government – run by two parties that explicitly support capitalism – will claim that the law isn’t clear enough, so they can either continue doing it, or they simply have to stop doing it going forward. The game is rigged by the very nature of how our system is set up. If you steal a few hundred dollars from Cigna, you’ll get locked up, but if they do it to millions of people, not a single executive who made that decision will lose an ounce of freedom. At worst they’ll go from being obscenely rich to very, very slightly less obscenely rich. They don’t even risk becoming a normal person like the rest of us, so why wouldn’t they steal?

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Cops botch raid, sue homeowner for being mean

Still sick, but I think the congestion is clearing up. Not in a way that makes my head any less filled with sludge, but in a way that I’m not leaking as much.

On an unrelated note, a funny-not-funny story came across my twitter feed, and I figured I’d share it with you, my adoring readers. I’m generally pretty out of touch when it comes to pop culture, but I do remember the song Because I Got High coming around when I was in high school. Until today, that song (the version played on radio anyway) was all I really knew about the artist. I didn’t even know he went by “Afroman”.

Well, as it turns out, his home got raided last year by a whole bunch of cops apparently looking for narcotics and kidnapping victims. Like I said, I don’t know much about the guy. I think the odds are good that he had cannabis somewhere, which the U.S. government erroneously calls a “narcotic”, but I think it’s much more likely that someone lied in the process of getting the warrant. The thing is, Afroman had security cameras in his home, and so got footage of the cops breaking his gate, breaking down his door, going through all of his stuff, and taking at least some of the cash they found in the process. They also messed with his security cameras.

Now, my non-USian readers may not be aware of this, but in addition to the problem of white supremacy in law enforcement, cops also have a habit of raiding homes based on flimsy evidence (or just raiding the wrong homes), destroying property, traumatizing and sometimes assaulting or killing people, and leaving without an apology or any compensation for the destruction. I don’t know about you, but that would piss me off, and if I had video of someone breaking into my home and stealing my money – yeah, I’d probably post the footage and write about it. What I wouldn’t do is make a music video, because I am not a musician.

Afroman, on the other hand, is.

Now, if cops were halfway decent people, were at all secure in themselves, or had a sense of humor, they’d see the funny in this, and move on. They fucked up and it made them look bad. Unfortunately, it seems that all cops are, well… They’re suing him for emotional distress and violation of privacy because he filmed them breaking into his home on a bullshit warrant, and made a music video or two with the footage:

Seven members of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office who raided Joseph Foreman’s home last year are now suing him claiming, among other things, that he invaded their privacy.

Four deputies, two sergeants and a detective are claiming Foreman (a.k.a. “Afroman”) took footage of their faces obtained during the raid and used it in music videos and social media posts without their consent, a misdemeanor violation under Ohio Revised Code.

They’re also suing on civil grounds, saying Foreman’s use of their faces (i.e. personas) in the videos and social media posts resulted in their “emotional distress, embarrassment, ridicule, loss of reputation and humiliation.”

The plaintiffs say they’re entitled to all of Foreman’s profits from his use of their personas. That includes, according to the complaint, proceeds from the songs, music videos and live event tickets as well as the promotion of Foreman’s “Afroman” brand, under which he sells beer, marijuana, t-shirts and other merchandise.

Oh yeah, that’s right – they broke into his home, traumatized his kids, broke the home itself, and stole money from him, knowing that there’s basically no way for them to be held accountable for damage or rights violations, but they are the victims here. I’m willing to bet that this lawsuit is both amplifying their humiliation far, far beyond what it otherwise would have been, and it’s probably also increasing Afroman’s profits from the whole affair. Maybe this whole thing would have gone better for them if they’d apologized and offered to help him repair his door.

On the question of “why was kidnapping on the warrant?”, I’m inclined to think that it was to justify a no-knock raid where they broke his door off its frame and went in with guns drawn. “Kidnapping” seems to be the go-to justification for violent raids. To me, that says they wanted an excuse to kill him, either “accidentally” or on purpose. I’m sort of dismissing the idea that they honestly had reason to believe there was a kidnapping victim there, not just because they didn’t find any evidence of it, but also because, as I’ve said before, cops lie all the time, get warrants for this shit far too easily, and suffer zero consequences for destroying homes and lives. At this point there’s far more reason to doubt cops than to believe anything they say.

Afroman’s response to the lawsuit sums things up well, I think:

“They can tear my door off the hinges, steal my money, disconnect my camera, and now in their lawsuit they’re saying I’m humiliating them,” Foreman tells Rolling Stone. “They humiliated me! So I guess I won the humiliation contest.”

Foreman was in Chicago when the cops raided his home on Aug. 21, 2022. His now ex-wife was there, however, and took several videos to accompany all the footage from the security cameras. Foreman says she also FaceTimed him so he could speak with one of the officers. He remembers asking the officer if they’d found anything, or if he was under arrest. He claims the officer replied “No” to both questions.

Foreman says he then asked, “Will you help me put my door back on the hinges?” The artist says the officer “cracked this grin, started waddling his head, and said, ‘I’m not required to do that.’”

That interaction provided the primary fodder for “Will You Help Me Repair My Door?,” with the song offering a comprehensive beat-by-beat breakdown of the raid. Foreman croons about — and shares actual video of — the cops searching his suit pockets and CD collection, disconnecting his security system, breaking down his front door, and allegedly taking his “legal, work-hard-everyday, pay-taxes money.” (The aforementioned money issue involved the Adams County Sheriff’s Office coming up $400 short when they returned the confiscated cash to Foreman last November; the issue was finally resolved in February after an independent investigation.)


Whatever money Foreman has made off the situation now appears to be in the crosshairs of the seven plaintiffs from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. The officers are seeking damages in excess of $25,000 on four of the counts listed in the suit, as well as attorneys fees, and a court order that would prohibit Foreman from publishing any other content related to the raid. (A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not return Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.)

Foreman, however, hardly seems phased. On Wednesday, March 22, he shared a statement from his lawyer, Anna Castellini, on Instagram, who said they’re awaiting the results of a public records request from Adams County and are “planning to counter sue for the unlawful raid, money being stolen, and for the undeniable damage this had on [Foreman’s] family, career and property.”

Because of the raid, and especially the issue over the confiscated cash, Foreman believes it’s important to “identify” the officers involved. “The public needs to know,” he says. “Because when they keep stuff quiet in little rooms, it might take a crazy turn. But when the public is aware, they go to do something that makes sense.”

These people are supposed to be public servants. We’re told every day that they protect and serve the people, even as it becomes more obvious every day that they serve the wealthy capitalist class, and the white supremacist hierarchy of the United States. In that interview, Afroman talks about how the stuff mentioned in Because I Got High, like missing court dates and having cars impounded, isn’t funny at all, but turning it into humor can be a way to process and cope with hard times. Likewise, having your kids and spouse held at gunpoint isn’t funny, but the songs that he made out of it absolutely are. I’m going to conclude with that, and leave you with what I would call the most angry of the songs I’ve heard about this (which is still an incredibly goofy music video). I think I would have just been angry, but he took something horrific, and made it funny.

Norfolk Southern disaster shows how corruption endangers Americans

When I posted about the East Palestine train derailment a little while back, I covered how the corruption that’s built into U.S. governance meant that the train in question was operating with a break system designed in the 1860s, despite far better designs being available. I also covered how they were deliberately under-staffing their trains to increase profits. Today we’re looking at a different layer of the problem, specifically the way safe levels of dangerous chemicals are decided. If you recall, the residents of East Palestine were told that their homes, land, and water were all safe – and assurance which they mostly seem to doubt, because they live in the U.S. and have at least some notion of that country’s history.

I doubt anyone reading this needs me to say it, but they were right to be suspicious.

One of the big concerns from the initial disclosure was that burning vinyl chloride would create, in addition to hydrochloride and the chemical weapon phosgene, something called dioxin. “Dioxin” generally refers to a group of environmentally persistent chemicals all sharing 1,4 Dioxin as a building block. The example of dioxin poisoning that’s probably best known to my fellow USians would be the use of the chemical weap- sorry, herbicide Agent Orange as part of the failed U.S. invasion of Vietnam. There were worries about this in early East Palestine coverage, but I didn’t really discuss it in my first post on the disaster, because I didn’t know how dioxins are created – by heating chlorine. That means that it would be physically impossible for a massive vinyl chloride fire to not create dioxins.

So, what’s the danger from dioxins? How much exposure is too much?

Well, back during the Obama administration, EPA scientists demonstrated that dioxins cause cancer, and recommended a cut of over 90% to what counts as a “safe” amount of the stuff in soil. Those cuts never went through, so instead of the scientist-backed proposal of 72 parts per trillion (ppt), it takes 1,000ppt or more in a residential area to get the federal government involved. I don’t currently have proof that corporate lobbying was involved, but at this point I think it’s wiser to assume corruption than goodwill, when it comes to the U.S. A number of states have put stricter standards in place, more in line with what the EPA had tried for, but Ohio was not one of them, so while federal and Ohio officials have said that dioxin levels are fine after the derailment, their definition of “fine” seems to include 700ppt:

Newly released data shows soil in the Ohio town of East Palestine – scene of a recent catastrophic train crash and chemical spill – contains dioxin levels hundreds of times greater than the exposure threshold above which Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists in 2010 found poses cancer risks.

The EPA at the time proposed lowering the cleanup threshold to reflect the science around the highly toxic chemical, but the Obama administration killed the rules, and the higher federal action threshold remains in place.

Though the dioxin levels in East Palestine are below the federal action threshold and an EPA administrator last week told Congress the levels were “very low”, chemical experts, including former EPA officials, who reviewed the data for the Guardian called them “concerning”.

The levels found in two soil samples are also up to 14 times higher than dioxin soil limits in some states, and the numbers point to wider contamination, said Linda Birnbaum, a former head of the US National Toxicology Program and EPA scientist.

“The levels are not screaming high, but we have confirmed that dioxins are in East Palestine’s soil,” she said. “The EPA must test the soil in the area more broadly.”

The data probably confirms fears that the controlled burn of vinyl chloride in the days after the train wreck in the town created dioxin and dispersed it throughout the area, experts say, though they stressed the new data is of limited value because only two soil samples were checked.

I stand by the title of my first post on the derailment – Norfolk Southern set off a weapon of mass destruction in East Palestine, Ohio, and the company is, of course, trying to escape any real responsibility or accountability. They’re claiming that they’re committed to taking care of the people whose town they gassed, but I wouldn’t trust corporate executives as far as my cat could throw throw them. I’ll believe they want to do right by their victims when they commit to paying all medical expenses for all of them, without first needing proof that the ailment is due to the derailment. They say they’ll set up a fund for medical expenses, but I would be shocked if accessing that money didn’t require sick people and their families to jump through all sorts of hoops before they can afford treatment.

Likewise, without a real cleanup effort, anyone new who moves to that area will be at risk, even ignoring people who might be put at risk by the company’s efforts to dispose of the chemical waste they’ve created. As was said at the time, this disaster will cause health problems for decades to come, if not longer, and without real change in regulatory and oversight agencies, people are going to keep being expose to this specific chemical spill. I’m specifying changes to government agencies, because I think expecting capitalists to do the right thing, absent a gun to their head, is foolish in the extreme. The EPA, for example, dragged its feet on testing for dioxins, despite the fact – as I laid out – that everyone who knew anything about this stuff knew that they were there. It apparently wasn’t until March 3rd that the EPA finally said that they would order Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins.

Why the fuck are they leaving testing in corporate hands? They should have been on the site testing everything, and subpoenaing every document even tangentially related to the contents of that train. They should have already started a cleanup, with the goal of doing a thorough job, and sending the bill to executives and shareholders. Likewise I think Norfolk Southern should have to pay the full value of every home there, plus moving costs for anyone wanting to leave, as a starting point.

And, of course, the top executives should on be on trial, facing real consequences including a prohibition on holding that kind of power ever again.

If someone were to ask me why I think we need to end capitalism, the hardest part of answering is that simply listing everything would take far, far too long. I think everyone already knew that this kind of murderous negligence was standard operating procedure for capitalists, but this disaster has once again made it clear that the millions they spend on corrupting the government have worked, and it takes weeks of pressure, and international attention to get the EPA to tell a big corporation to do the bare minimum, and test to see how badly they poisoned that town.

This whole situation is a disgrace, and it barely scratches the surface.

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

Elderly Americans Blockade Banks, Demand Divestment

I’m going to assume that you are all familiar with the supposed conflict between generations. I don’t recall when I first encountered an article about how horrible millennials are, but it feels like the topic has been a mainstay of “news” media for a couple decades now. My initial reflex, and it’s one that still tempts me from time to time, was to point to the ways in which the Boomers dropped the ball on climate change, or screwed over our economy with their blind support for neoliberal policies, or continue to hold on to most of the wealth and power while blaming younger generations for problems that existed before we were born.

The issue with that reflex is that, beyond the fact that it’s not particularly helpful, is that it’s inaccurate. I’m not saying that my accusations are wrong – all of those things happened and continue to happen – but rather that blaming Boomers as a generation lets the real culprits off the hook. When Boomers were younger, they also had to contend with an entrenched aristocracy, global imperialism and capitalism, white supremacy, and many other problems that we’re facing today. Likewise, they were subjected to constant propaganda, and were lied to about many, many things. They also had some reason to believe that the world was just getting better naturally over time – a belief that is constantly reinforced to this day.

But more than that, I think it’s a mistake to say that they stopped fighting. There are plenty of people who dedicated themselves to fighting for a better world long ago, and who show every sign of fighting till their last day. I’ve been privileged to know such Boomers in my life, as well as a whole spectrum of others at other levels of involvement. I also think it’s important to remember that it’s fine to have different levels of involvement, according to people’s abilities.

Still, when I look at the obscenely rich, elderly, and out-of-touch people who seem to be “leading” us all to extinction (another reminder that Joe Biden is a pre-Boomer), it can be easy to forget the details of class and race politics, and to blame all of this on old people in general. It’s an impulse that our media loves to cultivate, and it’s hard to get rid of because it always has a few grains of truth mixed in. That’s why I personally appreciated seeing this story in The Guardian:

The protests, across more than 90 locations, including Washington DC, are billed as the first set of mass climate demonstrations by older Americans, who have until now been far less visible than younger activists, such as the school strike movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg. In a nod to the more seasoned age of participants, older people in painted rocking chairs will block the entrances to some of the US’s largest banks to highlight their funding of oil and gas extraction.

“So far the kids have had to do all of the work and they’ve done an amazing job but it’s not fair to ask 18-year-olds to solve this problem,” said Bill McKibben, the veteran climate campaigner who co-founded the Third Act group last year, which is designated for people aged over 60. The group has gathered momentum, attracting more than 50,000 members and recently holding a test-run protest in New York City, where participants marched under a banner reading “fossils against fossil fuels”.

“Older people have got money and structural power coming out of our ears,” said McKibben, who is 62. “We have to show young people we have their back. I’m going to be dead before the climate crisis is at its absolute worst, but being nearer the exit than the entrance concentrates one’s mind to notions of legacy and we are the first generation to leave the world in a worse place than we found it.

“I understand why people say ‘OK boomer’ – it’s not like we have done an amazing job in protecting the world.”

While polling has shown that fears over global heating are most prevalent among younger people, to the extent that some question the wisdom of having children themselves, McKibben said he has found “huge concern” among older people about the climate emergency.

“There is a sense people get more conservative as they age but I’m not sure if that’s true of this group of older people,” said McKibben, who pointed out that people in their 70s and 80s now were young people during the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

“The people sitting on rocking chairs on Tuesday were marching on the first Earth Day in 1970,” he said. “We probably all believed that the government would address these concerns – we may have gotten a little complacent.”

I do honestly appreciate that. Over a decade ago, I spent a couple years actively trying to get older members of a community I was in to do more about climate change, and it was a frustrating process. I said then, as I say now, that people should practice some form of disaster “prepping” if they have the resources, and I was told that I was being alarmist, for example. I honestly find it hard to tell what proportion of the older generations are active on this stuff, but I think the answer, as with all the younger generations, is “more than a couple years ago, but not enough”. I also appreciate their choice of targets, and the reasoning behind it:

McKibben said he hoped the protests would highlight the link between “cash in the bank and carbon in the air”. Third Act is encouraging people to sign a pledge to quit Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America if they don’t stop funding fossil fuels. The “big four” are the world’s leading banking financiers of oil and gas projects, despite variously committing to helping address the climate crisis, with a recent report finding they have collectively provided $1.1tn in financing to fossil fuels since the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

I don’t have much faith in a bank boycott, but I view activism like this as being similar to asking nicely for raises and safe working conditions before going on strike. It’s a demonstration of good faith, and a good way to build a case for more radical action, in the (very likely) event that capitalists continue funding destruction for profit. As ever, I hope to be proven overly pessimistic. Regardless, I support these protests, and I hope they grow beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. As I said, I don’t blame “The Boomers” for their inability to defeat the ruling class, but after hearing so much condescending “this is the fight for your generation” talk, it feels good to see older folks putting in the work.

Coral reefs are losing oxygen as the planet warms (and we should do socialism about it)

A lot of projections about the effects of global warming come from easily confirmed and long-known facts about the physical properties of water. Remember what you learned about the water cycle in school? All of that is dependent on temperature, and when things get warmer, the patterns change. Another property of water is its ability to “hold” other chemicals, like oxygen. For all water itself includes oxygen as a major component, that’s not what fish are taking in when they “breathe” through their gills. Instead, they’re absorbing dissolved oxygen, that’s not bound up in any water molecules. Think of it like the air we breathe. About 70% of that is nitrogen that’s sort of neutral to us. What we’re breathing for, is the 21% of O2 molecules within that mix. For fish, water takes the role of “nitrogen” in this comparison, and dissolved oxygen is the O2 that they’re able to absorb and use. The problem is that warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen. It’s just a fact about how water and dissolved oxygen work.

That means that we’ve known from the beginning that as temperatures rise, and as oceans absorb most of that extra heat, oxygen content in the water is going to drop. Just as we can predict that, we can predict how it will affect oceanic ecosystems. While there are dead zones that don’t have enough oxygen to support any vertebrate life, most of the decrease has been far more subtle, mainly causing problems for those fish, like marlin, that are large, have active lifestyles, and so require a lot of oxygen. When it comes to those fish, the drop in oxygen has been affecting them for well over a decade, but those areas that are “dead zones” for them generally still support other species. It might be better to say that they’re suffering from hypoxia – lower oxygen levels than usual, and than needed by some species.

Ocean currents, agricultural runoff, landscape, and a variety of other local and regional conditions mean that our oceans have just as diverse an array of habitats as dry land, if not more. Consequently, while we know that, overall oceanic oxygen levels are decreasing, that doesn’t actually tell us how that is progressing in different ecosystems. For that, we actually need to pay people to go check. Fortunately, while I think we don’t spend enough on that, we do spend quite a bit on it, as a species, and so we have some new information about how the ocean’s deoxygenation is progressing in what may be the single most “charismatic” set of oceanic ecosystems – coral reefs.

An international research effort led by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography took data from a selection of reef sites around the globe – the most comprehensive oxygenation study focused on reefs to date – and found that hypoxia due to global warming is already affecting many of them:

The study, published March 16 in the journal Nature Climate Change, is the first to document oxygen conditions on coral reef ecosystems at this scale.

“This study is unique because our lab worked with a number of collaborators to compile this global oxygen dataset especially focused on coral reefs—no one has really done that on a global scale before with this number of datasets,” said marine scientist Ariel Pezner, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Florida. “We were surprised to find that a lot of coral reefs are already experiencing what we would define as hypoxia today under current conditions.”

The authors found that low oxygen levels are already happening in some reef habitats now, and are expected to get worse if ocean temperatures continue to warm due to climate change. They also used models of four different climate change scenarios to show that projected ocean warming and deoxygenation will substantially increase the duration, intensity, and severity of hypoxia on coral reefs by the year 2100.

And, of course, beyond. If you’ll indulge a slight tangent here, I’m starting to get frustrated with the convention of saying “by 2100”. I get why it’s so common, but I’m starting to worry that it gives some people the mistaken impression that that’s when global warming will be “done” or something. The reality, in case anyone reading is unclear on this, is that we’ve started a process on this planet that has historically lasted anywhere from tens of thousands of years, to millions of years. There’s no reason to think that, absent drastic changes by us (one of which could well be extinction), the warming event we’ve started won’t last longer than our species has existed so far. Ok, tangent done. Back to the reefs.

As I mentioned before, the diversity in oceanic ecosystems means that there are going to be a variety of things that affect oxygen levels. In the crushing depths of the midnight zone, life seems to be pretty slow, and pretty uniform. There’s no night or day, just eternal, cold darkness and slowly falling sediment, punctuated by the occasional dead whale. Nearer to the surface, photosynthesis plays a major role, causing oxygen levels to fluctuate over the course of the day. When things are starting out a bit too low to begin with, the results can be unpleasant:

Historically, hypoxia has been defined by a very specific concentration cutoff of oxygen in the water—less than two milligrams of oxygen per liter—a threshold that was determined in the 1950s. The researchers note that one universal threshold may not be applicable for all environments or all reefs or all ecosystems, and they explored the possibility of four different hypoxia thresholds: weak (5 mg/L), mild (4 mg/L), moderate (3 mg/L), and severe hypoxia (2 mg/L).

Based on these thresholds, they found that more than 84 percent of the reefs in this study experienced “weak to moderate” hypoxia and 13 percent experienced “severe” hypoxia at some point during the data collection period,

As the researchers expected, oxygen was lowest in the early morning at all locations and highest in the mid-afternoon as a result of nighttime respiration and daytime photosynthesis, respectively. During the day when primary producers on the reef have sunlight, they photosynthesize and produce oxygen, said Pezner. But at night, when there is no sunlight, there is no oxygen production and everything on the reef is respiring—breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide—resulting in a less oxygenated environment, and sometimes a dip into hypoxia.

This is a normal process, said Andersson, the study’s senior author, but as ocean temperature increases, the seawater can hold less oxygen while the biological demand for oxygen will increase, exacerbating this nighttime hypoxia.

“Imagine that you’re a person who is used to sea-level conditions, and then every night you have to go to sleep somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, where the air has less oxygen. This is similar to what these corals are experiencing at nighttime and in the early morning when they experience hypoxia,” said Andersson. “And in the future, if the duration and intensity of these hypoxic events gets worse, then it might be like sleeping on Mount Everest every night.”

The only real encounters I’ve had with high altitude were during my 2006 semester abroad in Tanzania, when I climbed Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was an interesting experience, as I’d spent the summer before working as a ridgerunner on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail. I was used to hiking, and while Meru was a pretty nasty climb (though not a technical one), I actually didn’t have much trouble with the trail I took up Kilimanjaro. Well, not much trouble until the very last bit of the hike. I reached Barafu camp at around 10am, instead of the scheduled late afternoon, so we decided to head for the summit to catch the beginning of sunset, rather than getting up at midnight to hike up in the dark for sunrise. I was definitely feeling the altitude by then – getting out of breath much more easily – but the last climb up was rough. It didn’t help that it was a steep scrabble up a slope of volcanic sand, but it felt like I had to take a break every two steps, and I have to confess that if the snows of Kilimanjaro weren’t melting, there would be a nice sample of my upper gut bacteria preserved near the summit, because I absolutely lost my lunch up there. I’m sure some of that was low pressure, but a lot of it was intense exertion in low oxygen.

All of this is to say that while some people could probably adjust somewhat to that kind of change in oxygen across each day, it would honestly just be terrible, and I have a hard time believing that human society as we recognize it could do very well under those conditions. The same goes for fish society. Unfortunately, this is a trend that’s just going to continue for as long as the temperature keeps rising. Like I said at the beginning, we knew this was coming because it’s all about the basic physical properties of water as a substance. The only real question is how ecosystems will respond to the change. In general, it will probably mean fewer, smaller, and less active fish, and more stuff like sea jellies and other goopy critters that require less oxygen to function, but that’s an educated guess, and life has a way of developing strange and unexpected ways to thrive. Hell, for all we know this will end up creating new species of oceanic lungfish that periodically surface to top up their O2 levels. The only way we’ll know, though, is by actually checking.

This research was funded by the NSF – an institution that has funded a lot of good work over the years, including some of the science education research that has paid my father’s salary for most of my life. I guess that’s me stating a conflict of interest, but the reality is that publicly funded research is vital to humanity’s future, and the same bloodthirsty capitalists who are driving this climate crisis have also been working tirelessly to smother public research funding, focusing on projects they think they can sell as “frivolous” to a public that doesn’t know much about the topic. They’re not just attacking the habitability of our planet, they’re also attacking our ability to measure what’s happening. I don’t talk much about this aspect of conservative politics, because things like their genocidal hatred of trans people are much more urgent. But they’re hurting us in other ways. That’s the problem with having a capitalist class – they have unlimited money to pay people to further their interests in so many ways that it’s difficult to keep up.

I guess I can’t help myself. I start writing a science brief, and end by ranting about politics. It almost feels cartoonish to say, but the ruling class really does seem committed to ruining life as much as possible, for as many people as possible. I’m willing to believe that that’s not what they think they’re doing, but extreme wealth seems to absolutely melt the human brain, and most of them clearly live in a fantasy world maintained by a swarm of parasitic yes-men, and a total detachment from 99% of humanity. They want to blind us to what’s happening in the world, and so we must fight that battle as well, in case you needed more reasons why nobody should be that rich and powerful.

I’ve been snorkeling a couple times, and seen reefs in the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean. They were absolutely beautiful, and the experience was worth the sunburn (though if I get a chance to go again, I’ll be dipping my whole self in sunscreen at regular intervals). What’s happening to ecosystems around the world is depressing to see, but it gets to me more when it’s a place I’ve seen with my own eyes. I wouldn’t say I have a deep emotional tie to coral reefs, but they’re a small part of the experiences that made me who I am today, and it is beyond unacceptable that that’s being taken away.

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

The Biden administration just approved a rail merger, because of course they did.

I’ve got a couple longer pieces in the works right now, including a followup on the Norfolk Southern disaster in East Palestine, OH. This is sort of peripheral to that. I think I’ve mentioned in the past that railroads are “natural monopolies“, and monopolies are a serious problem for society, if they’re being operated for private gain. From that point of view, I suppose one could argue that a rail company merger is no big deal – they’re already monopolies of a sort, so does it really matter if they become more monopolistic? Well, I think so. At the very least, it’s a matter of principle. As I’ve already said in the past, I’m in favor of the government having a monopoly on rail in the United States, but that’s with the (optimistic) assumption that it would be run for the benefit of the general population.

Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re talking about today. In the midst of national scrutiny on the industry, the Biden administration has apparently decided that they’re just fine with at least some corporate mergers:

U.S. federal regulators on Wednesday approved the first major railroad merger in more than two decades, a move that follows the East Palestine rail disaster and that critics warned would reduce competition, raise prices, cost jobs, and threaten safety.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) approved Canadian Pacific Railway Limited’s proposed $31 billion acquisition of Kansas City Southern Railway Company, a merger that will create a single railroad linking Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The agency said the merger will take roughly 64,000 truckloads off the road and add more than 800 union jobs.

“The decision includes an unprecedented seven-year oversight period and contains many conditions designed to mitigate environmental impacts, preserve competition, protect railroad workers, and promote efficient passenger rail,” STB said, adding that it “also anticipates the merger will result in improvements in safety and the reduction of carbon emissions.”

However, opponents of the deal pointed to the East Palestine, Ohio disaster and other recent railroad accidents, which they said underscored the need for a more cautious approach to consolidation.

“The merger brings the total number of Class 1 railroads to six, down from over 100 just a few decades ago,” the progressive news site More Perfect Union noted on Twitter. “Corporate consolidation in the railroad industry compromises safety and risks lives by prioritizing profits and cutting corners to reduce costs.”

That shouldn’t even have to be said. Corporate consolidation always goes badly for working people. It’s only ever done to benefit those at the very top, whose class interests directly conflict with the interests of humanity as a whole. Even if one were to argue that this doesn’t change the motivations at play, a larger corporation has more power. It has more power over labor because it controls more of the job market, and it has more power over the government by virtue of the share of the economy represented by the newly merged corporation.

That latter factor may be the bigger concern, for me. As I’ve mentioned, when it comes to opposing labor power, the government is already on the side of the capitalists, but when it comes to lobbying, and making bids for special treatment, the only real limit seems to be the scale of resources available to the corporation in question.

This feels like yet another example of how the people running our society are either utterly clueless about the state of the world, or actively trying to make things worse.

Check out this interview about the movement to #StopCopCity

I’m working on an actual post catching up on events in Atlanta, but for tonight, I encourage you to check out this interview. Matthew Johnson does a great job breaking down what’s going on with “Cop City”, the dubious history of Atlanta PD, the very dubious police account behind their killing of a peaceful activist, and how things got to this point in the first place. The whole situation is a nightmare, and really underscores just how little say people have in the government that supposedly serves them.

Short-term and Long-term: Democratic Governor Makes Minnesota a Sanctuary for Trans People

I am, in general, pretty cynical about the U.S. electoral system. It’s designed to empower conservatism, and has been shaped to make change that benefits the working class nearly impossible. Yes, there are victories, but every single one has come as a result of decades of grueling and dangerous work by the people who most need that change. The Republicans want the U.S. to be a fascist, white supremacist state, in which the power of capitalists – the aristocracy – is unchallengeable, as long as they support the fascist agenda. The Democrats, or at least their leadership, still seem to want the world to be held in stasis in the mid 1990s, but will go along with social change when someone else does the work.

That’s not exactly a difficult choice to make, but neither is it a pleasant one. When it comes to foreign policy and the military-industrial complex, the two parties are virtually indistinguishable, though the Dems are, on rare occasions, a bit less hawkish. Biden won’t try to hunt down and murder trans people, but he’ll continue working to undermine any alternatives to capitalism, and to prevent things like universal healthcare.

In a lot of ways, at least to someone who pays attention, workers have become alienated from politics in a manner similar to how they’ve been alienated from their labor. It’s something that affects our lives on a daily basis, but we have very little say in how it goes. In both cases, getting change that helps us, and not just the capitalist class, requires us to work together outside of a system that very much does not want us to do that.

It’s frustrating, and for those working to make things better, it’s often exhausting. I can easily understand why so many people often try to avoid thinking about it. We can have massive demonstrations to change policing, and after paying a bit of lip service, the Democrats go ahead with giving cops more money, while the GOP accuses them of defunding – something they have neither the courage, nor the desire to do – and howls for more violence from police

That’s why I advocate for systemic change, outside of electoral politics. Our system does change, but it does so slowly, and at great cost. The decades it took to ban leaded gasoline, or to end segregation, or to get gay rights, or to get trans rights – people died during those delays, because of those delays. People are dying right now, because of the backlash against advances in trans rights.

And as hard as people fight for their right to their own damned lives in the United States, that barely touches the horrors of the military-industrial complex, and colonial economic policies. Find me any politician in the U.S., and I can find you a reason why they should not be trusted. Bernie defended the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and has voted for any number of objectionable things. Katie Porter just talked about how impressed she was by the far-right ethno-nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu, and her support for Israel as a Jewish ethno-state. I’m certain that a great many politicians are pressured into supporting stuff that they don’t like, but it’s often hard to tell when that’s the case, and when they just support bad things.

It’s discouraging. I said I get why people just tune out, but I also get why people become intensely invested in a version of anti-establishment politics that says, “both sides are the same, so let’s burn it all down”. If only it were so easy.

The road to revolutionary change is slow, difficult, and full of frustration. Personally, I lean towards the opinion that – for all their evils – it’s better to vote for the Democrats in the short term. I say that not because I think they’ll do what I want, but because I don’t think that what I want can even be done, within the U.S. political system. From that perspective, I’m not looking for who will fix things for me, I’m looking for who will do the least harm and/or the most good, within the confines of our unjust and corrupt government. The revolution, of course, will have to come from the bottom.

I think there’s a danger in that perspective as well, however. We need systemic change, so anything short of that is inadequate, right? Well, no. I don’t think so.

I was, for a short time, intrigued by accelerationism – the idea that real change will arise spontaneously when conditions become unbearable. This is basically identical to the justification for the cruel and deadly sanctions placed on places like Iraq or Cuba – sure, it hurts the populace, but that’ll just give them incentive to rise up and free themselves from their oppressive rulers! Maybe that’s how it worked in France that one time, but in general, when people are struggling to survive, that takes up most of their time and energy. I think that the social networking that can come from that struggle can, in theory, become the foundation for a future revolution, but that requires the addition of time and resources beyond bare survival.

That’s why it’s so important that, as we work for a better future, we do what we can to save and improve people’s lives now, even if each improvement is far to small, and far too slow for any real satisfaction.

Fortunately, some changes are pretty big, especially for those people directly affected:

[Minnesota Governor Tim Walz] signed Executive Order 23-03 on Wednesday. It orders state agencies to protect people seeking gender-affirming healthcare in Minnesota, as well as the entities that provide it. State agencies are also specifically forbidden from providing information or assisting investigations to penalize trans people and their allies for seeking transition-related care. Judgments from other states that terminate parental rights because the parent provided their child with transition-related care will not be recognized by the state of Minnesota, and the state will also refuse to comply with subpoenas that seek information about trans people who travel to Minnesota to obtain care.

Additionally, the executive order tasks the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) with preparing a report that summarizes the literature on the safety and effectiveness of gender-affirming care, to be presented to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Legislature by the end of the year. The order also strengthens protections for insurance coverage of transition-related care and mandates MDH to refuse to approve HMO contracts that discriminate against people on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Noting that other states have “curtailed access to, or even criminalized” transition-related care, Walz’s executive order recognizes that “these actions pose a grave threat to the health of LGBTQIA+ individuals by preventing them from affirming their gender identities through safe and scientifically proven treatments.”

The executive order will be effective 15 days from the date of publication. It comes alongside a bill, HF 146, that would enshrine these same protections into Minnesota state law. Introduced by Rep. Leigh Finke, the state’s first out trans legislator, the bill will likely pass the House in the coming weeks, but Governor Walz told PBS that the escalating attacks on trans rights in other states made the need for such protections more urgent.

“Families who have fled are already here, and many more are planning to come,” Finke told the Minnesota Reformer. “We’re going to be ready to take care of them, and to provide them with the health care they need.”

This is great news, and it’s why I tend to prefer Democrats. Trans people, and the parents of trans kids, have been fleeing Republican-controlled states for a little while now, because of the growing efforts there to carry out a trans genocide. The problem is, there are so many anti-trans laws, and they’re coming so fast, it can be hard to know where to flee to. Moving is expensive, especially if you’re moving to a different state, so it’s not hard to believe that someone could move to a place that seems safer, see that change, and be stuck because they used up their resources. Journalist and activist Erin Reed has been maintaining a risk assessment map for just this purpose, and while she still needs to update it to include the latest info, she has said that this bill will upgrade Minnesota to being among the best states in the U.S. for trans people to be able to live their lives in relative peace.

I am especially glad to hear that Minnesota will, explicitly, not help those states seeking to persecute trans people. The companion bill, as far as I can parse the language, expands emergency jurisdiction over children present in Minnesota even if that’s not officially their home state. I believe the standing law gives that jurisdiction in cases of abandonment or abuse, while the new law expands that to include the inability to get gender-affirming care. I think there’s a strong argument for that inability being a form of abuse, but given how many people clearly disagree, it’s good to see it spelled out like that.

In the long term, the USian fascist movement is still going strong, and there’s still a very real danger that the GOP will take over the federal government again, and do far more damage than the last time. As I said earlier, the U.S. is set up to empower the aristocracy, and to empower conservatism. It will take much, much more than this to actually safeguard trans rights, or any other civil rights, for that matter. It will take more than this to end US support for fascists and their ilk in other countries. It will take more than this to build the world we want. There’s a lot more work to do, for the long-term.

Humans don’t experience life in the long-term, though, and this isn’t just me saying “people can’t plan ahead”. When we’re hungry, we need food. When we’re cold, we need warmth. When we’re being attacked, we need defense. It does no good to promise that those things will be available to us in 20 years, because if we don’t get them now, we won’t be here to collect then, even if that promise isn’t a lie.

Laws like this save lives, and while that should be enough to support them as-is, laws like this also move us towards our long-term goals. Those lives that are saved or improved by legal protections, are very likely to be a powerful part of continuing movements for liberation. Our dream of a better world depends on our collective power, and that depends on all of us caring for and protecting each other now. That doesn’t mean we try to make the movement risk-free, but rather that we do everything we can to ensure that people can choose what risks they take on. All we have is us, and so it’s extremely important that we take care of, and empower “us”.

I doubt that governor Waltz wants all the same changes I do, and I’m sure he’d be happy to send in the police to oppose a movement for economic democracy, for example. I won’t say that none of that matters, but it matters far less than this does, at this point in time. This executive order is a clear win, and I hope that HF 146 is passed into law very soon. The fascists are coming for trans people right now, and it’s great to see people in government fighting back in a materially effective manner.

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

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.