Community defense works

I generally try to maintain a balance, in my content, between confronting the grim realities of our world, and building hope for the future, and contributing to a map of how to get there. I honestly have a hard time telling how well I find that balance, but I feel like I tend to err on the side of being a bit too grim. I’ve talked some about the hate campaign being directed against LGBTQIA people in general, and trans people in particular, but I think it’s important to note that communities are not only rallying to defend themselves, they are doing so successfully:

Christo-fascists in Kansas City, MO gathered near the Midland Theater to protest “A Drag Queen Christmas.” The group “Conservative Moms of KC” organized a small gathering across the street from the Midland, where they attempted to harass incoming attendees to the show and film those going in. They were organized by Rachl Aguirre, a one-time candidate for District 8 of the Missouri State Senate. They kneeled on the concrete and tried to pray the gay away, screamed, “Repent!,” at those across the street and sent members to harass and film attendees. The local branch of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) was also in attendance. The TFP is a self-described “Counter-revolutionary” Catholic organization classified as a “virulently anti-LGBT group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Local leftists received intelligence of their upcoming protest roughly 24 hours before the show, and were able to organize a robust community defense team in less than a day. Local anti-fascists braved the cold to stand in solidarity with the performers and attendees, forming a defensive line outside the theater to deter harassment by the fascists and safeguard guests as they entered the venue. Representatives from the Kansas Trans Guard, People’s Spark and other organizations held the line against attempts by far-Right protesters to personally approach the venue and film attendees, blocking their line of sight and pushing them back as necessary.

The Kansas City Police Department was, as expected, completely useless in protecting the event and its attendees. Though officers had initially instructed “Conservative Moms of KC” to remain across the street, they refused to intervene when Rachel Aguirre and other protesters crossed the street to verbally harass incoming attendees and film them without their consent. KCPD actively tried to prevent the anti-fascist organizers from blocking her way, stating, “She has a right to walk on the sidewalk.” The defenders closed ranks and held the line, retorting with, “Well, we have a right to stand where we want. If she wants to walk, she’ll have to go around.” Malicious compliance prevailed, and the protesters eventually withdrew back to their side of the street. KCPD also allowed TFP to set up their protest line on the sidewalk immediately bordering the venue, where attendees were lining up to enter the show.

The outpouring of support from the event planners and attendees, however, more than made up for the cold and confrontation. Anti-fascist demonstrators worked in close coordination with event staff, helping to facilitate entry for incoming guests by keeping far-Right protesters back and guiding attendees around confrontations. Many attendees were quick to express their gratitude for helping keep the event safe. Their thanks, and the impotence, willful or otherwise, on the part of KCPD is a poignant reminder that we are the ones who keep us safe. Fascists will doubtlessly continue to protest drag shows and other LGBTQ+ spaces in the coming months. Yesterday is proof that deterrence goes a long way towards protecting those spaces, and ensuring that hate has no place in this, or any city.

Standing up to fascists isn’t guaranteed to work every time. They want violence, and they like starting fights, then playing the victim. The key is that they’re far less likely to start something if they think they’ll lose. As the article mentioned, cops are likely to help right-wing extremists than to protect anyone from them, but when a community stands together, it not only provides physical protection, it also provides much-needed moral support to the targets of this hate campaign.

If It’s Going Down isn’t on your list of news sources, it should be. It’s an anarchist publication with a mix of original content from various sources and anonymous submissions. It’s a place to find news and perspectives that are rarely seen in corporate media. A lot of the news there has to do with direct action like this, or like the work of land and water protectors.

I feel as though, when I’m writing about a successful effort to mitigate or prevent harm being done, it’s a gloomy sort of good news. There’s this outpouring of love and support, but it’s only happening because of an attempt to eliminate a group of people from society. It’s good that this went well, but it’s still awful that this action was necessary, you know?

There’s one other thing, though, that I believe turns this into better news than it might otherwise be. See, the “left” in the United States doesn’t have much political power. There are a number of factors at play here, but the primary one is the multigenerational effort, using both the power of the government and privately-funded propaganda, to crush the labor movement, and eliminate left-wing thought. What I see, in stories like this, is the same thing I see in the rise in unionization in the U.S., and the mutual aid groups taking care of people trafficked for political gain, is people realizing that they do actually have power, when they work together. It’s people doing things that the government ought to do, if it actually served the people. They say direct action gets satisfaction, and a growing number of people in the U.S. are finding that out for themselves.

These are dangerous times, no mistake, and direct action can itself be dangerous, especially when it’s standing up to fascists. Fortunately, as they also say, the union makes us strong. Our power, when we work together, is greater than the sum total of each of us as individuals, and the more people use that power, the more likely they are to be willing to consider a world with less and hierarchical systems. There are other ways to do things, and we can do them.

Video: We Need A Library Economy

I’ve heard it said many times that people have trouble imagining what a post-capitalist society might look like. After all, all we have to go on is what came before capitalism, plus the few attempts at something different that we’ve seen over the last century or so. It’s hard to imagine something that doesn’t exist yet, right? Even those parts of the world that operate differently within their own borders, do so within a world controlled by capitalism, and operating under those rules.

So what do we have to compare? Is there anything in existence now, that most people know about, that we could expand use as an example of how things could work differently? Honestly, there are probably a few examples, but one of the best, brought to us by Andrewism, is that of the library. His videos are always pretty chill, and I find this description of what a “library economy” might look like to be inspiring:

No wonder conservatives hate them.

In terms of human cost, Paris climate goals are likely insufficient.

Yesterday I wrote about the danger of assuming, as the CEO of Shell apparently does, that we’ll be able to cool down the planet in the second half of the century, even if we overshoot the targets set in the Paris agreement by 2050. For those who don’t want to read the post, it’s pretty straightforward: The warmer it gets, the better the odds of passing a “tipping point”, beyond which the planet would continue warming without our help, and possibly even in spite of our efforts to cool it. That’s a danger to all of us, obviously, but even within that risky bet that’s apparently being made with our lives, there are people whose lives have already been written off altogether.

Keep in mind, going forward, that “serious” people consider it reasonable to allow us to pass 1.5-2°C, because we’ll just bring the temperature down after. Their best-case scenario still involves a huge amount of ice melt, as the temperature continues to rise. That, in turn, means significantly more sea level rise, and devastation for those most at risk. The problem is that Antarctica, being an entire continent of ice, is a literally massive heat sink. Keep in mind that all of the greenhouse gasses we’ve added to the atmosphere are trapping an amount of heat equivalent the heat of four Hiroshima-sized atomic explosions per second. That’s as of 2013, so it’s probably at least a bit higher now, but the other thing they note is that most of that energy is going straight into the oceans and ice. That doesn’t just get absorbed, it causes changes. In the oceans, it causes thermal expansion, and in the ice, of course, it causes melting. Both of those increase sea level, but that doesn’t affect everyone the same.

This video from Minute Physics is a good primer, but basically gravity affects sea level, so big chunks of mass, like mountains, draw the oceans toward them, raising local sea level above what it would have been without mountains. The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are big chunks of mass, similar in scale to mountains, and as they melt, the gravitational force they exert on the oceans eases. This means that the ocean retreats from the melting ice, and “settles” towards a new center of gravity. The effect of this is that ice melting in Greenland is accelerating sea level rise in my old stomping grounds of New England (among other places), not just because it’s adding water to the oceans, but also because it’s effectively “tilting” the oceans by changing how gravity pulls at them.

That means that, as huge amounts of heat continue to be absorbed by ocean and by ice, sea level rise will continue accelerating, which will hit those areas in the gravitational “danger zones” the hardest. It’s something that, in theory, a nation like the U.S. can cope with easily, but when we move from Greenland south to Antarctica, the countries being put in danger have neither the land nor the wealth to survives casual attitudes about so-called “safe” amounts of warming:

While rising temperatures are having many deleterious effects on global ecosystems, economies and human wellbeing, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts emphasize that temperature alone is not a sufficient basis for climate policy. The team focused on the Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds the world’s largest store of freshwater—enough to raise the oceans by 58 meters, and which is melting at an accelerating pace. But the physics of the ice sheet itself also contribute to its liquification, which will continue for millennia, even if global carbon emissions are reigned in. And because melting ice can slow rising temperatures in the atmosphere, it is conceivable that the melting ice sheet could help maintain what is commonly considered a “safe” level of warming, 1.5 degrees, say, while actually allowing for devastating sea-level rise. Furthermore, all that Antarctic meltwater won’t cause the same amount of sea-level rise everywhere in the world. Some areas in the Caribbean Sea as well as the Indian and Pacific Oceans will experience a disproportionate share of the sea-level rise from Antarctic ice—up to 33% greater than the global average.

This gap between temperature and sea level has immediate repercussions for many places throughout the world, and especially for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an organization of 39 island and coastal nations across the globe. Indeed, the paper’s authors show that, though AOSIS countries have emitted a negligible portion of the planet’s anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, they are bearing the brunt of the world’s rising waters.

“Temperature is not the only way to track global climate change,” says Shaina Sadai, the paper’s lead author, who completed this research as part of her doctoral studies in geosciences at UMass Amherst, “but it became the iconic metric in the Paris Agreement. Knowing that Antarctic melt can delay temperature rise while increasing sea levels, I wondered what it meant for climate justice. But climate science alone can’t answer that question of justice.”

I think that last point is worth dwelling on. It’s easy to forget that temperature isn’t the only metric to watch. Sea level rise is an important one as well, of course, but a huge portion of climate data, past and present, isn’t just from temperature measurements and a few physics equations. We know what’s likely to happen to the surface of our planet because we’ve been able to track what it’s already doing, and we can look at fossils from past warming events. Fossil pollen, for example, can give us an idea of past climates and climate change, by telling us about the plants that lived in a given area at the time. Likewise, things like the “insect apocalypse”, mass crab-death, reef bleaching, and a dozen other things can be a metric. Temperature tells us about energy buildup, but other data can tell us how that actually affects the complex systems of a planet’s biosphere.

One other such metric, arguably the most important to humans, is the degree to which climate change is affecting humanity. In that regard, I would say that we are actively failing, it’s guaranteed to get worse with the current crowd of crooks in charge. It really does seem as though they’ve just written off large portions of humanity (almost none of whom are white), and are betting that they can bullshit their way through hundreds of millions of deaths, and keep their power the whole time.

We have made progress in the right direction, but unless you have faith in The Invisible Hand of the Free Market, there’s no way it’s more than a baby step in the right direction, with a desperate hope that “nudging” the market will solve everything. We need to be doing more, and not as individuals – as a species. As I so often say, those to whom we’ve given most of the world’s wealth and power have already demonstrated that they value human life far, far less than maintaining the system that put them where they are. That does mean that it comes back to us doing more, but the “more” that we should be doing is less about power consumption, and more about our political power, as people who value both life, and freedom.


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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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Pine Ridge Reservation needs your help

It’s important to remember, when we talk about the United States as an empire, that its war against the various Native American tribes never really ended, it just changed a little. When the rights and needs of Native communities come into conflict with the greed of capitalists, the government still responds with violence. The reservation system was not set up for the benefit of Native Americans, it was set up to contain them. Understanding that is key to understanding why conditions on those reservations tend to be so bad. And when conditions are bad as a matter of routine, disasters hit a lot harder. The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has been hit hard by the latest distortion of the Polar Vortex, to the point where there are snow drifts as tall as houses, and people have had to burn clothes to stay warm:

Halverson, who represents the Pass Creek District on the Pine Ridge Reservation, described their harrowing situation to the Journal on Thursday.

“It’s been really tough,” she said. “We don’t have the proper equipment here to handle what’s been going on. We have drifts as high as some houses that stretch 60, 70 yards at a time.”

More than 10 days since the storm began, Diaz has moved on and the skies have started to clear, but the recovery process is just beginning. Halverson didn’t get dug out of her house until eight days after the storm. Others are still trapped, reachable only by snowmobile.

It seems like every time we open the road, the snow just drifts it back over,” she said.

It’s an incredibly scary situation, she explained, as many of those snowed-in are missing dialysis treatments or dealing with other medical emergencies. One family ran out of infant formula, and spent four days drifted in before attempting to leave, Halverson said.

“We even talked about using drone drops to get the baby some Enfamil, because the baby was starving,” she said.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet.

If being trapped by formidable walls of ice and snow wasn’t enough, subzero temperatures, brought down by an Arctic front, took an already struggling region by the neck. Temperatures dropped into the negative teens and 20s this week, and the unkind Midwest wind shredded those figures with wind chills in the negative 40s and negative 50s.

Cold like that is deadly, just another blow to a reservation already crippled by conditions, Halverson said.

“Most of our members use wood stoves,” she said. “We’re not able to get them with deliveries because of the roads. A lot of our members across the reservation have no propane, because the propane companies can’t reach their tanks to fill. Even right now in my district, we haven’t had anybody able to deliver out to these members that have no propane since the storm started.”

Oglala-based service organization Re-Member provides firewood to families on all corners of the reservation, but the drifts of snow have rendered their wood stockpile inaccessible still – and it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.

“Our wood pile remains inaccessible,” read a Facebook post on Dec. 20. “Our skid steer and plow are out-of-service. Given the conditions, it would be near impossible to operate our equipment and unsafe for our staff to work in the conditions we are facing. We appreciate the efforts being made by many to keep the Oyate safe during these challenging times.”

[…]

“I’ve seen across the reservation some members were burning clothes in their wood stove because they couldn’t get access to wood,” Halverson said.

I think it’s likely that this distortion in the polar vortex is caused by arctic warming. The basic theory is that lower ice cover allows more direct interaction between sea and air, which builds up atmospheric pressure, stretching the vortex southward, but there’s still debate about that. What matters at this moment is doing what we can to help. You’re welcome to hunt for your own ways to do so, but this looks like the best option to me:

   I sent them what we can spare. It’s not much, but as I like to say, crowdfunding requires a crowd. The National Guard has also been helping, but there’s no question that they need everything they can get. As I mentioned before, the fact that they were already living so close to the edge has made this disaster many times worse than it might have been. I think this quote from Halverson sums it up well:

“We don’t live on our reservation,” she said. “We survive on our reservation. We’re in serious need of some help.”

When you’re in a survival scenario, even something small going wrong can kill, and this storm is definitely not “something small”. We help as we can right now, but it’s important to remember that that living situation – surviving, not living – is the result of ongoing injustice. It’s good that the government is helping in this situation, but that same government is what stands in the way when Native Americans fight for more than mere survival. Support Land Back and other struggles for Indigenous liberation, and if you can spare a little money to help in the short term, it’s sorely needed. Even if you can just spare $1, that combines with what others give, and it’s our collective power that can save lives.

Video: Monopoly is Anti-Landlord Propaganda

As a kid, I think I probably played Monopoly once or twice per year, usually at my grandparents’ house in Maine. I think we ended up playing Parcheesi more, but they liked Monopoly enough to have a fancy wood and velvet game set with gold-plated hotels. I think I tended to remember those times when I won more often than the times when I lost, so I always wanted to play Monopoly, and was probably a nightmare to play with.

I don’t remember when, exactly, I learned about Monopoly’s history as an explicitly anti-capitalist game, but it certainly makes sense. It’s a great demonstration of how, even with everyone getting an actually equal start, the rules of the game inevitably result in one person getting everything, and everyone else getting ruined. As a microcosm, it does a decent job of replicating what we’re seeing around us right now, with a handful of unbelievably greedy assholes measuring their wealth in hundreds of billions of dollars, while still stealing from their already underpaid workers.

Even if you’re already familiar with the broad strokes, this video digs deeper into the political and economic theory surrounding the creation of the game, as well as the details of how the game went from criticism of capitalism to something that almost seems to glorify it. Whether you want to hear the story (and how it involves Quakers, of all people), or you want to learn more about 19th century economics and people like Henry George, you may enjoy this recounting of it by an enthusiastic British man:

 

Video: Thought Slime on “AI Art”

This whole “AI” art fad has always felt reminiscent of the crypto/NFT stuff, possibly because it seems to be pushed by the same or similar people. It’s a thing that could, in theory, be interesting and beneficial, but within our current system, all it ends up being vapid and harmful. It’s like automation – it’s framed as taking jobs away from people, but that’s only a problem because jobs are how people earn the right to exist, and the folks in charge are constantly trying to find new ways to not pay people.

What bothers me most, at this moment, is how these programs are allowing rich assholes to profit off of artistic work that I guarantee would be deemed worthless within our society. “You don’t deserve a living wage for doing that work because nobody wants to pay for it, now excuse me while I take it and use it to make money”. The problem isn’t the new thing that’s “taking jobs”, it’s the rules built around that new thing that ensures only a few people get the benefit.

 

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.

I’ve been married for 7 years!

7 feels like a significant number. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and there’s no question that it’s made my life better. Both Tegan and I were in long-term relationships prior to us getting together, so there’s a degree to which you could say this is a “second marriage” for both of us, and I think that’s been for the best. We both had a better idea going into it what we wanted from a relationship, as well as some pretty clear notions of why our past relationships hadn’t worked. In that regard, I highly recommend having relationships prior to marriage, as well as living with someone before legally binding yourself to them, and making that emotional commitment.

The image shows me and Tegan standing in front of a red background (I don’t remember what it is or why it’s there). I am holding Raksha, a German Shepard/Husky mix, in my arms. Tegan is petting Raksha. Raksha is very worried about everything going on, but too polite to object. Tegan’s wearing a gray checkered skirt with buttons on the front and a black top with sheer sleeves, and I’m wearing slacks, a shirt and jacket, and a lot of dog hair.

Raksha was not a fan of our wedding photos. Facebook notified me of this “memory” today, and it was… bittersweet. I scooped Raksha up in a moment of exuberance right after taking mostly the same picture with Erwin, the ill-fated cat whose heart gave out after only a couple years of life. His death was unexpected and upsetting, but the poor guy just didn’t have time to become a part of me the way Raksha did, and the way His Holiness has. Some days I still have to remind myself that no, I don’t need to check on the dog, or let her out anymore. Thankfully, I’ve had Tegan to share the ups and downs, and to help me through the hard times, as I try to help her.

See, if the other person’s good enough for you, then they’ll look out for your wellbeing, and do things like periodically gifting you with free time, and you will, of course reciprocate, based on your partner’s needs. And on that note, Tegan suggested, an I think she’s right, that I take a little time off. Specifically, I’m not posting for the first week in January. This has been my most productive year as a writer by far, and while there’s a good chance I’ll keep working on the blog during my time off, that’ll be to build myself a bit more of a “cushion” for days when I can’t get anything finished, or I need to do something else.

Life can be hard, and I’m glad I have someone like Tegan on my side. Saying “yes” was definitely the right call!


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