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A Matter of Independence: Equinor and Drilling the Great Australian Bight

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:53

Such companies advertise themselves as slick and professional, the best in the business, all things to men, women and everyone in between. They insist that we can all have that vast cake of wealth and eat it too.  Equinor, a Norwegian multinational beast of an energy company with its headquarters in Stavanger, has been doing much in the way of making cakes and eating them. It seeks “to be the world’s most carbon-efficient oil and gas producer” but at the same a sound investor in renewables.  The earth may well be heating up, but there is no point in not having a bet each way as the frog boils.  Whatever its formula, the company is boastful. “We energize the lives of 170 million people.  Every day.”

Interest has now shifted to the Great Australian Bight, an area deemed by the Great Australian Bight Alliance “one of the most pristine ocean environments left on Earth, supporting vibrant coastal communities, jobs and recreational activities.”  The Norwegian company is determined to drill for oil at a location some 476km west of Port Lincoln, a site which is intended to become the Stromlo-1 well with an intended depth of 2,240m.  A period of 60 days is anticipated, with commencement taking place for late 2020. A submitted proposal to do so is currently being assessed by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

The company has every reason to be confident that hiccups will be few and far between.  As Coalition campaign spokesman Simon Birmingham told reporters in Adelaide last week, “There are a large proportion of constituents who want to see jobs and opportunities created, as long as there is no environmental harm.”

Outside the good offices of NOPSEMA, disputes over the science feature.  For Equinor, all is manageable and realisable.  For James Cook University marine biologist Jodie Rummer, a utopia reconciling drilling and sustainability is questionable: environmental frameworks need to be far more sensitive.  Her own research showed that “even small boats and the noise that motors make are disturbing fish and the way they develop.”  Rummer’s descriptions are of marine communities at risk and trauma; even a few drops of oil, she asserts, would cause “massive effects on behaviour and even physiological performance.”  The terror for concerned citizens such as the Wilderness Society’s South Australian director Peter Owen is clear: “It’s very remote where they’re proposing to drill, so if it all goes wrong out there, there’s nothing they can do.”

A typical formula in Australian environmental regulation is its sense of devolution, a polite way of deferring problems best resolved at the highest levels.  Federal bodies prefer their state counterparts to masticate over the issue, thereby passing any potential scandal down to a more local level; state politicians, in turn, refer the issue to the relevant state regulator, bound to be praised for its sound assessments.  “The bottom line,”  says South Australia’s treasurer Rob Lucas, “is it cannot proceed and won’t proceed unless the most stringent safety environmental standards are met.”

Opposition groups numbering some 20 councils and a range of environmental concerns have not been assured by either the Liberal or Labor parties.  Ever spooked about the prospect that denying such a company access to the Australian environment might prevent a jobs opportunity, voices of concern tend to fall silent.  Such silence is assisted by the power of cash and wooing: Equinor and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, a self-touted “voice” for the industry, have been busy spruiking their case to members of the South Australian parliament.

In March this year, both groups were given access to parliamentarians and interested parties at two fora in Adelaide. APPEA South Australia director Matthew Doman extolled the industry’s aspirations to sustainable operations and engagement with “coastal communities” and those using the marine environment.  To push the claim for drilling, Doman dreamily spoke about an “independent” report from 2018 commissioned, naturally, by his own outfit along with the assistance of ACIL Allen Consulting.

Dollar signs flashed with seductive calling: oil exploration in the Great Australian Bight could see “more than 2,000 jobs in South Australia” while generating some $7 billion in average annual tax revenue for state and federal governments.  As is often the case in such soothsaying, a future indirect effect is also praised: between 2020 and 2060 (time is never an issue for those in this business), additional activity and “associated tax revenue” would see the creation of 5,000 jobs.

For those claiming the unimpeachable nature of any independence in the process, ACIL Allen Consulting prides itself on having experience in the resources business covering “all aspects of the minerals and energy sector, from iron ore and coal industries to onshore and offshore petroleum.”  Now that’s independence for you.

Even more troubling to environmental activists was the presence of NOPSEMA’s own head, Stuart Smith, at the Adelaide events. There was little in the way of objective distance: Smith was there to be impressed and chew the fat with industry participants.  Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter was not taking chances, pointing out in a letter to the regulator that such proximity was inappropriate.  “Australian and international integrity bodies have long raised concerns that close relationships between regulators and the industries they are regulating can lead to ‘regulatory’ capture’.”  It was “not appropriate for the chief executive officer of an independent regulator to actively participate in events that are set up to endorse the ‘opportunity’ related to activities that is the authority’s role to independently regulate.”

It has fallen to Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young to provide reassurance that the issue will make its way to the federal parliament.  “The campaign is growing and growing, but we have to stop this project in Canberra and in the parliament.”  With the regulator watered and dined, that, assisted by ferocious public protest, may well be the only route open to concerned parties.


Why Government Jobs Stats are Inaccurate

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:50

Reply to Doug Henwood’s Apology & Defense of Government Reports

In his reply to my just published article, ‘<em>What’s Wrong with Government Job Statistics</em>’, Doug Henwood, a ‘left’ New York intellectual who has for years accepted without question government reported stats as ‘gospel truth’, has taken the opportunity to challenge my analysis.

The nub of our differences is that Henwood accepts government Labor Dept. definitions, assumptions, and methodologies as near sacrosanct, whereas I do not. And when I challenge them, he engages in nasty personal attacks to carry his critique. I’ll not engage in that kind of exchange, but will address his various points here as follows.

For Henwood doesn’t like my most recent view that government job stats reported may not reflect a labor market as sanguine and booming, as official government and business commentary suggest.  And he apparently doesn’t appreciate anyone challenging his friends over at the Labor Dept.

So let’s take a look at our latest disagreement.

In his blog today, May 6, he starts out with his first lightweight critique that in my article I refer to the two labor department jobs surveys, the CES and CPS, as two reports instead of two surveys; there being only one report, the Labor Dept.’s  monthly ‘Employment Situation Report’.

Yes, there’s one umbrella ‘Situation’ report but the CES and CPS are really separate reports that are then combined but kept separate in the single ‘Situation’ report. They are indicated as ‘Tables A’ and ‘Tables B’ in the ‘Situation’ Report.  This is just a semantic difference as to what’s a report and what’s a survey. But if Doug thinks that’s significant, OK. He can have that one.

What is significant is that Henwood thinks the CES (Current Employment Survey) is more important and accurate than the CPS (Current Population Survey). But the CES is not really a survey; it’s a partial census and thus a statistical population that gathers data from, as Henwood admits, 142,000 establishments. As a group the 142,000 send in their data to the government every month. But because, according to Henwood, the CES 142,000 compares to the CPS ‘only’ 60,000 monthly interviews of households (actually 110,000 individuals interviewed), he argues “the CES is much larger (than the CPS)…it’s far more accurate”.

But the CPS is not just a “household survey”; it is also a survey of employment conditions of millions of smaller businesses through the survey of worker households. In fact, it can be argued that, in surveying 110,000 individuals each month, and then rotating and adding more households throughout the year, (roughly doubling the number contacted) the CPS in fact reflects a much larger body of business hiring, layoffs, and thus total employment, than does the CES.

Henwood further argues that the CES 142,000 is more accurate because it is checked against the unemployment insurance system. But unemployment insurance has nothing to do with the numbers of employed or unemployed. And checking it is done to determine, among other things, if the 142,000 are not cheating the system by underpaying unemployment payroll taxes.  Contrary to Henwood’s point referencing it, saying the CES is checked against unemployment insurance rolls adds nothing to the idea that the CES misses coverage—i.e. job creation or decline—for 9 million small and medium businesses.

Henwood is confused about the CES and CPS in another important way. There are more than 9 million businesses in the US economy. The 60,000/110,000 CPS survey is a statistically significant survey of employment in those 9 million. The comparison therefore should be 142,000 businesses vs. 9 million businesses. Henwood thus erroneously compares a population (CES 142,000) to a sample (60,000), when the comparison should be a business population (CES 142,000) to a business population (CPS 9 million businesses).

In short, it makes little sense to argue as Henwood does that 142,000 is more accurate than 9 million based on number of businesses compared. If it’s just a question of the size of total businesses addressed, the CPS makes more sense. But comparing size to size makes little sense as well.  The two sources look at different things. My point is don’t defend one at the exclusion of the other. Look to both for a more comprehensive view of the condition of the labor market. And the CPS suggests perhaps the 263,000 jobs may not be all that accurate.

But Henwood would have readers believe the CES, with 142,000 businesses, and the 263,000 jobs created last month in that group, is all that matters. Forget the other roughly 9 million businesses where, as even most economists admit, most of the job creation in the US occurs (or does not).  Like the business press and government politicians, to believe Henwood we should take the 263,000 as the final word of the state of the US job market and forget all the rest.

For years I’ve been arguing there is a problem with government job stats that rely on two different, often conflicting populations to determine employment/unemployment: the job gains (or losses) and unemployment rate should be calculated from the same survey, but aren’t. Instead we get jobs created by large businesses (CES) and unemployment from the 9 million population of all businesses. This problem leads to often conflicting data reported by the two sources, CES and CPS.

This problem gives us the 263,000 jobs created in the CES from a survey of larger businesses, while it gives us the 191,000 full time jobs decline in the CPS, and in the preceding month, an even larger 228,000 full time jobs decline, from the CPS survey of the 9 million businesses. Which is correct? How does Henwood choose to explain this? By simply claiming the reported 191,000 full time job loss in the CPS in April is just normal short term volatility—which, by the way, is the typical government excuse one hears whenever there’s a contradiction in the numbers.

Henwood further assumes the role of slavish apologist of government stats by defending the U-3 unemployment rate as the best and final word on the state of the US labor market. He does refer to the U-6 unemployment rate, but unquestionably accepts the government’s current (and chronic) low estimates for the U-6.

The U-6 picks up ‘involuntary part time’ employment. (U-4 and U-5 reflect what’s called ‘marginally attached’ and ‘discouraged’. These latter numbers too are grossly underestimated in the official stats). Henwood disputes my claim that the U-3 is essentially an estimate of ‘full time’ jobs and says “No, it refers to work of any kind, not just full-time”.  But if that were true, why add on ‘part time’ as the U-6 category separately? If there were part time unemployed in the U-3 and part time in the U-6 there would be likely ‘double counting’ of part time unemployed. No, U-3 is mostly full time and excludes all involuntary part time. Either that or there is indeed double counting. Maybe he means the U-3 includes voluntary part time. Even if so, however, the overwhelming number of the 162.5 million in the labor force is still full time jobs.

But this does not in any way contradict the anomaly of the CES reporting April’s 263,000 (mostly full time) jobs gain, while the CPS reports 191,000 (and 228,000 in March) full time jobs declines. And if the CPS reports 155,000 part time job creation, should it not mean that only 108,000 full time jobs were created in the CES report? How do you square the 108,000 full time jobs created in the CES with the 191,000 full time jobs lost in the CPS, Doug?  What’s your explanation?

And if you say this contradiction is just a short term statistical volatility problem, how then do we know if the 263,000 is also not just a short term inaccurate statistically volatile (and inaccurate) number?

Given the CPS number showing full time job decline (191,000), and the otherwise CPS rise in part time jobs last month (155,000), in my prior article I suspected that there are more workers taking on second and third jobs. Henwood pooh poohs this and trusts the government numbers on ‘multiple job holders’ showing little change. Once again, trust the government numbers!

Official government stats show multiple job holders as of December 2018 at 7.7 million. Comparing that to December 2006, the last full year before the great recession,the number was 7.9 million. Does anyone out there really believe this number? That folks working part time second and third jobs has actually declined, given all the low paid service jobs, part time work, temp work, Uber, Taskrabbit, gig economy jobs created since the great recession, now accelerating?  Doug does. Government bureaucrats can do no wrong and always report the facts.

Henwood provides charts that show that Temp jobs (almost always part time) have not been changing for at least the past two decades. As he says, temp jobs have been steady as a percent of the total work force for the past two decades, peaking at 2% of total jobs. “It’s barely changed for five years.” Sure, Doug. No one’s been hiring attempts except through agencies. That’s all the government data you slavishly offer as a rebuttle show. If you were more ‘skilled and knowledgeable’ (an insult you direct to me) you would know the Labor Dept. data you cite refers only to Temp Agency hiring. I suggest you try talking to your local auto worker and ask him how many temps have been hired since 2009. It’s about at least a third of the auto work force today. It’s the same throughout manufacturing, and other sectors as well. But trust the government stats, Doug. They’re always right and never misleading or wrong.

The Labor Dept. has been covering up the growth of temp jobs since the 1990s. It produced three one-off reports, then George Bush stopped it. Too volatile. (There’s that word). Henwood says “It’s nowhere big a deal as Rasmus would have you believe”. The basis for his comment is, of course, you guessed it: the government’s data and reports.

How the government purposely underestimates labor stats that are embarrassing to it was clearly revealed, yet again, last year in its report on ‘precarious jobs’ (meaning temp, part time, gig, otherwise contingent, etc.).  I and others have dissected that official report which claimed the gig economy was insignificant. But it turned out what the report defined as ‘gig’ was only full time uber/lyft drivers.  Drivers as second and third jobbers were left out. There are many ways to lie. One is to simply redefine it away. Another to quietly omit data and facts. Another to insert false data and facts. Another to change the causal relation between facts and propositions. And more.

As far as my suggestion that the April jobs numbers may reflect hiring of census workers, it is true the government to date has not indicated how many hired. I simply suggested it may explain some of the 155,000 part time job gains in the CPS report. My suggestion was based on past practice by the government during census years. By April 2009 the government had hired 154,000 for census work. By April 1999, it had hired 181,000.  If the hiring is really negligible to date in government reports, either Trump is not planning to do the census properly (another of his violations of the US Constitution), or the hiring is in fact underway but not yet reported, or, if not, excess hiring will soon have to occur. Trump likely wants to create chaos in the census, which suits his political purposes. Again, my point here was only a suggestion that census workers were part of the hiring, not a claim they were.

Henwood does give a backhanded concession to me that maybe my point of the 646,000 ‘Not in the Labor Force’ reported number indicates something is going on with the government data underestimating the total actually unemployed by having left the labor force in recent years. But he just can’t let himself admit it. It would not be in keeping with his personalized attack style or nasty comments that pepper his critique.

My point concerning the ‘Not in the Labor Force’ numbers (646,000 rise last month) is that it likely corroborates that more workers are long term dropping out of the labor force because they can’t find decent full time jobs and the part time jobs pay less and less in real terms (requiring taking on second and third jobs?). Once again, he gives a backhanded comment that a point is made but says ‘the bigger point eludes me’(Rasmus).

Really? I’ve only been writing about the collapsing labor force participation rate and how it’s not being properly picked up in jobs numbers since 2005 and especially since 2013. A drop in the labor force participation rate from 67.3% of the total labor force in December 2000 to the latest participation rate of 62.8% represents more than 7 million workers either leaving or not entering the labor force. And if they’re not counted in the labor force, that reduces unemployment rates.

They should be added to the ‘unemployment’ rolls. They’re not working. The labor force today should be 170 million not 162.5 million.  Maybe they’re not working because they can’t afford to live on the part time, temp, contingent jobs that have been steadily replacing full time jobs that have been stagnant or declining, while part time/temp/gig has been accelerating?  But given his commitment to government stats, Henwood could never agree to that interpretation, could he?

Here’s another difference on the veracity of government labor stats he and I have. In 2006 the labor force was approximately 152 million. It has grown by roughly 10 million–not including the dropping out of 7.3 million represented by the falling labor force participation rate. Henwood accepts as accurate the Labor Dept’s estimate of discouraged workers (U-5) as accurate. In November 2007 just prior to the great recession the discouraged workers category represented only .2 of 1% of the labor force. Given the 10 million increase in the labor force since then, it is today still .2 of 1%. Can it be true that the percentage of discouraged workers has not risen at all in the intervening years–given the impact of the great recession, lagging economic recovery for years, and the fact of 7 million have dropped out of the labor force? It makes no sense that there should not be a corresponding increase in the percent of discouraged workers given the changed conditions of the last decade. The government data must be underestimating the discouraged worker category of unemployed (defined as out of work but having given up looking for the past year).

Yet Henwood once again sees no problem here at all with this category of U-4, discouraged worker unemployment. All he can do is defend his buddies at the Labor Dept. and agree with their stats.  Accept all their assumptions, definitions, and methodologies as absolutely correct.  Reproduce all their graphs based on those definitions, assumptions and methodologies. And then use them as evidence to attack my alternative interpretations of the data.

Doug, you should spend less time performing his task of defender of government data and stats that Americans know increasingly contradict the reality they face.

You can show all the graphs you want. But they’re graphs based on data (and the definitions, assumptions and methods behind the data) that are sometimes erroneous.  And while not all government data is incorrect or inaccurate, to slavishly defend it as you do is a gross disservice to the truth. You defend your positions by employing the very government data that I am arguing is not always truthful. It may be factual, but facts are selective and not necessarily truthful.

You can attack me personally all you like, Doug, but your attack shows one irrefutable conclusion: You believe unconditionally in the government’s data instead of challenging it when called for.  In that regard you are an apologist and, when it comes to government data, you are clearly in the camp of the bureaucrats and other government conscious mis-representers of the truth.  Misrepresentation by clever statistical manipulation, by omission of facts and alternative interpretations, and by obfuscation based on methodologies that are intended to conceal rather than reveal—-all of which you defend.

You help them maintain the fiction that the economy is doing great, that jobs are plentiful and well-paid, and we’re all better off than we think. That makes you an ideologist, not an economist. I think you’d be great writing editorials for the Wall St. Journal. Given your style and content, you really have more in common with those guys. I’ll write them on your behalf and see if they’re interested.



Metal and Rubber with Your Chicken? No Problem Says Tyson

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:45

Rubber and metal are some of the recent surprise “ingredients” found in Tyson chicken. In January, 36,420 pounds of Tyson chicken nuggets were recalled due to rubber contamination. In March, a recall for possible metal contamination of ready-to-eat Tyson chicken strip products began which continues–now encompassing 12 million pounds. Tyson Foods is the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork, operating the Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Sara Lee, Ball Park and other well known brands.

Were the contaminations deliberate? Possibly speculates a high level USDA compliance operations official who says security at a meat processing plant is so loose “employees could deliberately introduce” harmful products into food.

As cheap labor and growth drugs make chicken a lucrative franchise, Tyson leads the way. Today a chicken is “grown” to a five-pound market weight in five weeks–twice as fast as 40 years ago. Despite “no antibiotics” claims, an investigation by Reuters found Tyson Foods and other major U.S. poultry firms are using antibiotics “more pervasively than regulators realize” after testing products coming out of feed mills.

In 2001, Tyson was served with a federal indictment charging that the company paid smugglers to transport illegal workers from Mexico across the Rio Grande, after which they were supplied with phony social security cards and brazenly paid with corporate checks. “This is a company with a bad history,” Rev. Jim Lewis, an Episcopal minister in Arkansas, told the New York Times. “They cheat these workers out of pay and benefits, and then try to keep them quiet by threatening to send them back to Mexico.”

In 2003, Tyson pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act with effluvia from its Sedalia, Missouri, facility and agreed to pay $7.5 million. But before its probation ended, Tyson was charged by the state of Oklahoma with polluting the Illinois River watershed. Poultry polluters eject as much phosphorous into the watershed as a city of ten million people, said State Attorney General Drew Edmondson after bringing the changes. Phosphorus causes overgrowth of algae and other aquatic plants which chokes off oxygen vital to other marine life, especially animals. Want to find a chicken operation? Just follow the dead dish.

In 2004, an internal Tyson memo revealed that the wives of two veterinarians stationed at Tyson plants in Mexico had been receiving about $2,700 a month “for years,” reported the New York Times. When Tyson executives discovered the bribes, the payments were simply switched to the veterinarians themselves. “Doctors will submit one invoice which will include the special payments formally [formerly?] being made to their spouses along with there [sic] normal consulting services fee,” said a Tyson’s audit department memo. (Apparently employees were absent the day both ethics and spelling were taught.) Tyson subsequently cooperated with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission in an investigation of the apparent bribery, but no one was ever named or charged in the investigation. In fact, Greg Lee, Tyson’s chief administrative officer who received the e-mail about the veterinarians, received $1 million and a $3.6 million consulting contract when he retired.

And, who can forget the charges that Tyson bribed former agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration Mike Espy with gifts to influence legislation in 1997 leading to his disgraced resignation? Tyson paid $6 million to settle the accusations but the two convicted Tyson executives facing prison time were pardoned by President Clinton.

And how about the animals on whose backs the Tyson’s profits are balanced? Many people may remember the 2003 testimony of the late Virgil Butler, a whistle-blower at the Tyson’s Grannis, Arkansas, chicken plant, who said that birds regularly miss the blade intended to kill them and are scalded alive in the defeathering tank.

“When this happens, the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads,” wrote Butler in a sworn affidavit. “Then, they often come out the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they’ve struggled so much in the tank.” A spokesperson for the National Chicken Council concedes these occurrences but says, “This process is over in a matter of minutes if not in seconds.” Oh, in that case…..

Two percent of U.S. chickens meet such a death–180 million birds boiled alive a year. It is so common the victims are called “red birds” in the industry.

Butler also revealed that chickens’ legs were broken at Tyson plants to make them fit kill line shackles, they were left to freeze to death and that employees, for amusement, injected them with dry ice so they would explode.

As people become aware of the humane, health and environmental consequences of factory farming, plant based meat alternatives are booming. Recentlh, for example, Beyond Meat experienced the third biggest IPO debut on major American stock markets in the last decade. Are you listening, factory farm poster child Tyson?

Kick the Cows Out of Point Reyes National Seashore

Thu, 2019-05-09 15:43

Point Reyes National Seashore was established in the 1960s by the purchase of private ranches. The public paid fair market value for these lands. Livestock operations were to removed over a 25-grace period. But time and again the ranchers refused to leave OUR property.

Surprisingly Representative Jared Huffman, ordinarily good on environmental issues, has sponsored legislation that would make the previous owners and their cattle permanent residents of OUR property. It is like buying a house, but the previous owners never move out, and a Congressman is going to make it illegal to remove them from your property.

Think about all the beautiful redwood parks scattered up and down California’s coast. Nearly all of these parklands were created by purchasing the land from private property owners, just like we the public bought the ranches that remain in Pont Reyes National Seashore. Now imagine that the previous landowners not only refused to leave our redwood parks but continue to cut down redwoods even after we bought the land and trees for preservation. That is precisely what is going on in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Would Representative Huffman be outraged if loggers were cutting trees in Kent Woods National Monument or Humboldt Redwood SP, or Redwood National Park? I would hope so. But he doesn’t seem to understand that domestic livestock is damaging OUR property and inappropriate in a national park unit.

Privately owned livestock are polluting the streams running through OUR property. Indeed the livestock-polluted waters of Point Reyes National Seashore rank in the top 10 percent of U.S. locations most contaminated by feces indicated by E. coli bacteria.

Privately owned livestock are spreading exotic weeds throughout OUR property. Ranchers plant non-native species for livestock forage, helping to erode the native biodiversity of the park further.

Privately owned livestock are spreading Johne’s, a highly contagious digestive disease that spreads quickly through manure and contaminated water. It has infected park wildlife including Tule elk.

Point Reyes is one of the few places where native Tule elk are found in California. There are approximately 600 elk and yet more than 5000 cows in OUR park.  Is there something wrong with this picture when domestic animals outnumber native wildlife species nearly 10 to 1 in a national park?

When you drive to Point Reyes, you pass dairy and cattle farms almost continuously. There is no shortage of cattle/cows in Marin County nor California as a whole. California is home to more than 5 million cattle-4th highest in the entire country. Why should we allow private individuals to graze domestic livestock, a commodity that is abundance on private lands throughout the state and nation, in a national park unit?

It’s time to remove domestic livestock operations from our property and dedicate Point Reyes National Seashore to the principle it was purposed initially—preservation of native plants and wildlife.

The Double Scapegoating of Ilhan Omar

Thu, 2019-05-09 14:03

The Double Scapegoating of Ilhan Omar 

Nazis scapegoat Jews
This isn’t news.
And neither is this:
Scapegoats’ deaths
Protect the rich,
And help the status quo —
The order wreaking reeking
Rotten poverty for most,
And chopping to pieces,
And cooking, the globe —
Or didn’t you know?
The rich are protected
when rage is deflected
Away from their investments
Onto synagogues and mosques,
And up and down the borders
Of these haphazard/national orders.
When scapegoats, however,
are scapegoated twice —
When people find scapegoats
for racists’ crimes —
Both racist and rich are protected
By this
the rich and the racists, the dupes
of the rich, as well
These two fecal balls
Which comprise the two eyes
of the plundering cannibal Capital



Wed, 2019-05-08 16:00

Still from “Peterloo.”

The British empire defeated Napoleon in 1815 on the field of battle at Waterloo (Belgium) and smashed the universal principles of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, and fraternity. Furthermore, it expropriated communities from their commons all over the world by Parliamentary enclosure acts in England and military acts of conquest elsewhere.  At this post-war moment in 1819 of high prices, failed strikes, declining wages, unemployment, empty stomachs, and disaffection, a remarkable, but incomplete, coalition of reformers and revolutionaries met in St Peter’s Field in Manchester, U.K., on 16 August two hundred years ago. The class struggle is in the open.  The ruling class of landlords, merchants, bankers, and factory owners are arrayed against a working class of handworkers, factory workers, plantation workers, home workers, ship and sail workers, and workers without work.  A massacre ensues.  Surveying the carnage afterwards a clever journalist came up with the equation: Waterloo + St Peter’s Field = Peterloo.

Mike Leigh’s film of this name is a major representation of a major battle in the history of class struggle. Eighteen (18) were killed, six hundred fifty (650) were wounded. The massacre was effectuated by sabres, swords, and horses hooves, not gunpowder. That’s why so many were wounded. It was a bloody butchery.  At a minimum the film does the event justice, but, as we shall see, more than a minimum is required.

In 1819 “a revolution was possible,” writes E.P. Thompson, author of The Making of he English Working Class, because the ruling class was divided and isolated.  The integument of power depended on deference and fear which is what the Romantic poet, Percy Shelley, understood and tried to disrupt:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

This is from Shelley, whose rousing hymn “The Mask of Anarchy”was “written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester.” Shelley was in Livorno, Italy, already slumbering in exile, already dreaming imaginatively underground with Mary’s Frankenstein, but now awakening himself from afar.

The film begins with a disoriented bugler wandering on the battlefield of Waterloo, twitching, turning this way and that in a state of traumatic bewilderment.  In its grimaces, distortions, and wordless mumbling his face models the chaos around him. The next scene is the Prime Minister speaking in Parliament proposing a motion of a gift to Wellington of £750,000! Then, we see Joseph trudging back to Lancashire along the mud flats of low tide.  Back home he looks drearily for work in the rain at a stables or cart yard.

Preceding the great outdoors meeting, debates pit constitutionalists against insurrectionists, proponents of armed self-defense against those of non-violence, advocates of Parliamentary reform against economic demands, advocates of physical force versus advocates of moral force. The working-class debates occur in tavern, factory hall, kitchen hearth and table, or in open fields down by the river.  (The camp meeting is absent from the film as is the Methodist Sunday school.) The informal tavern meeting concludes with the reminder that a child may be forgiven and comforted for fearing the dark, but how can a grown man be comforted or forgiven if he fears the light?

The “gilded reptiles” of the ruling class meanwhile are also divided – among nobles, the military, lawyers, and the bourgeoisie; we hear them debate in magistrate’s court, House of Commons, the Home Offices, where they open mail, hire spies, instruct provocateurs, and issue orders to regiments of the local yeomanry or the national hussars.  Shall they hang one or two?  Shall they raise wages a pittance?  Or, shall they attempt to awe the rabble as a whole, and if so is mass terror required?  Part of statecraft is the management of class struggle.  The tools of repression are several: censorship of the press, imprisonment of leaders, criminalizing the poor, policing the unpropertied, the military against all. Statesmanship is shown to be hypocritical trickery. Government looks for an excuse, then produces one –  massacre.  The noose tightens, sabres are sharpened.

Three people appear before the sitting magistrate, “a loose, idle, and disorderly” woman, a thief of a silver watch won at a game of dice, and a man who took a coat rather than stoleit, a self-described “reformer” who propounded an economy of “sharing.” These bring loud guffaws from the vulpine magistrate.  With lip-slurping glee the magistrate hands out his punishments – a public whipping, transportation to Botany Bay, and a hanging. Albion’s fatal tree.

The reformers demanded political organization, freedom of the press, the freedom of public meeting, and the right to vote. They had to transform themselves from a mob to a political movement.  The workers were out for five weeks the previous year at one of the mills and gained “nowt.”  It is not a theme that the rhetoric of the speaker and secretary could accommodate; Parliamentary reform was at best only a means to the improvement of life and at worst a dead-end or an entanglement in a politics which a Lancashire working-class lass could not be expected to embrace.  In these early debates, and the movie essentially is a debate ended by massacre, the separation of political themes from economic realities emerge in the various experiences of their advocates.

A banner of Magna Charta and the red cap of liberty, these symbols of English and French liberty, present the proletariat as it transforms itself into a working-class.  “Liberty or Death.”  A banner with an Irish harp.  The rhetoric can be hard to take (dictions includes words like “odium” or “spurious”), you have to tune your ear to the different voices.  An Irish voice leading the Manchester Female Reform Society Women’s Reform, plenty of Lancashire voices, the London voices of the toffs.

Samuel Bamford should be read today, just as Frederick Douglass or Malcolm X is read or Olaudah Equiano. He was a handloom weaver in contrast to the factory proletarian weaver.  His trade, not portrayed in the film, has been made redundant by machines and steam-power. A haunting lament is sung by a penurious ballad singer – “the sun will shine on the weavers again.”  Bamford is dramatically paired against Henry “Orator” Hunt.

“Breathe from the bottom of your lungs and speak from the top of your voice,” intones Henry “Orator” Hunt as he removes all speakers but himself from the hustings that day.  His orotund, inflated grandiloquence entrances Manchester locals. His pompous ego provides the foil to the good-natured, intelligent, and observant, Samuel Bamford.  Bamford advocates armed self-defense but Hunt threatens to drop out if arms are present.  Bamford leads the contingent marching in from Middleton, on the grassy path on a sunny day. The women are dressed in white, the men in their Sunday best, and men, women and children adorned with laurel leaves; they form ranks of loveliness.  This is a festival of the oppressed.  Cleanliness, good order, sobriety are the watchwords:  the goal is to shame the upper-class which smears the people as the mob or the rabble – all dirty, loose, and disorderly.  So having cast aside their sticks and stones off they go, a peaceful, determined folk from the local textile villages, leading with their left foot forward!

“The peaceable demeanor of so many thousand unemployed Men is not natural,” General Byng wrote.  It frightened them.  This was a fragile ruling class. A potato thrown against the glass window on the Prince Regent’s coach quickly escalates in the ruling class mind as frightening gunshots. The tinkle of broken glass is enough to cause the Home Secretary to stutter in fear. “Tranquillity” purrs the consort of the prince regent as she sticks another bon-bon down her throat. The proletariat had indeed been “tranquillized”, i.e. massacred.  These royals are worthy of Shelley’s acid depiction of the rulers dispensing human hearts to feed their dogs, dropping millstones on children’s brains.

The fondest parts of the movie are scenes depicting the micro-economies of the oppressed.  Meat pies are not sold but exchanged for a few eggs (“a farthing, or penny farthing for half dozen!” she shouts at the market).  Penny a pie.  Joseph’s mother shares her food.

There is a pastoral interlude in mid-movie without speeches, without plot advancement, or character development. Three fiddlers seated in the grass play a pretty tune. Across the stream two lasses in white aprons arm in arm listen with appreciation.  The ground, the grass, the stream are nobody’s property. It’s common.

Among contemporary statements of witness we find, “They cut down and trampled down the people; and then it was to end just as cutting and trampling the furze bushes on a common would end.”  It is worth pausing over the statement.  Two completely different events are described, massacre and expropriation, which belong to two completely different processes of economics – the creation of a labor market and the creation of the arable field.  Yet, it expresses a truth of the time, the expropriation of community – the death of the people and the expropriation of land.

Some viewers may find rather too much ‘history from above.’ The political debate is tame.  The debate is about Parliament and the House of Commons (equal electoral districts, secret ballot, manhood suffrage) rather than popular assemblies and houses on the common. Some topics of debate are not presented in the film. The followers of Thomas Spence who had long advocated commons for all, i.e. equal redistribution of land from the 400 lords laying claim to it to the millions in want of it.  Robert Wedderburn, a Jamaican man of color, “the offspring of an African” as he’d say, led debates among the common people of London.  A week before the Peterloo massacre the topic of debate was “Can it be murder to kill a despot?”  A government spy reported him saying that the stealing of men and females in Africa was “done by Parliament men – who done it for gain – the same as they employed in their Cotton factories to make Slaves of them to become possessed of money to bring them into Parliament.”  He argued that Christ was a radical reformer.  Then by 13 October 1819 he was calling for revenge of the Manchester murders, and put the question for debate at the Hopkins Street chapel, “Which of the two parties are likely to be victorious, the rich or the Poor in the even of Universal War?”  By May 1820 he was clapped in Dorchester Jail.

Ruling class fear was evoked by “the translation of the rabble into a disciplined class,” writes E.P. Thompson.  Yet, the class is incomplete.  Just look down the alley next to the factory wall, and what do you see?  Bales of cotton stacked upon one another.  It is not enough to hint at it.  There are circuits of money and circuits of labor that are global; neither’s in the film.  Capitalism is not merely an English affair.  So many of those early factory proletarians were Irish immigrants fleeing starvation. But who produced the cotton and how did it get to Manchester?

It is not just that capital in England commands labor from India to Cape Town to Missouri; the working-class in England is global too.  This is no longer a forgivable flaw among the cultural workers of England.  Its historians, poets, novelists, film-makers alike should know better, unless they are content with the same-ole same-ole green lawns and precious drawing rooms of BBC Jane Austen films which only buttress the ideological apparatus of white supremacy.

A factory houses scores and scores of mechanical, power-driven looms.  The proletariat (children, women, men) bustle by in the noisy din.  Outside, piles of cotton bales crowd the alley, leaning on the factory wall.  Everyone can see the Atlantic provenance of the raw materials of production.  That’s one way of looking at capital.  But we do not see the Atlantic circuits of capital in its monetary form.  Most to the point we do not see the Atlantic nature of labor power, that is, slavery.

There is no reference apart from these so-called “raw materials” of the plantation system and the productivity of whipping which produced them in America.  Robert Wedderburn, we noted, was a man of color from Jamaica who was active in the English movement.  John Jea, was born in Calabar, enslaved in N.Y., married to an Irish woman, preached “the everlasting gospel” in Lancashire and in Manchester having composed, sung, and published freedom hymns the year before.  A substantial proportion of ships’ crews were people of color.  William Davidson, son of Jamaican slaves, will join Arthur Thistlewood, six months after Peterloo, in a failed insurrectionary attempt to assassinate the entire British cabinet at dinner (the Cato Street conspiracy), and with others he hanged for it on May Day 1820.  Then Denmark Vesey of Charleston, South Carolina, in summer of 1822, attempted an Atlantic insurrection.

Peterloo is at the zenith of a cycle in the class war. In America and the West Indies resistance was moving from individual acts like running away to collective struggle as insurrection was rumored in Virginia and Florida in the spring of 1819. In Charleston the population was 4/7ths African American,.  The African Methodist church was strong with numbers and budding radicalism; it faced active suppression in 1821. More than thirty people were hanged in July that year in Charleston.  Compare this number to the eighteen dead in Manchester for a measure of working-class composition Atlantic-wide.

But back to the movie.  Joseph is slain at Peterloo.  The last words of the film are the Lord’s Prayer – “give us this day our daily bread” – but the last image of the film is Joseph’s mother who has comforted, fed, accompanied him, and now buries him.  If there is daily bread to be given she gave it sharing hers with a very hungry couple at the demonstration who’d just walked in from Liverpool. Hers has been the down-to-earth voice throughout, in equal parts skeptical and hopeful.  She has survived from the first moment we see her at her kneading board shaping her dough into pies in a light through the window worthy of Vermeer to the very last image of the film her face, grieving and impassive, in a portrait worthy of Walker Evans.  She looks at us:  what do we think?  How do we respond?

Karl Marx was born just a few months earlier.  The labor theory of value gets its clear expression thanks to the massacre; the labor theory of value gets its seat at the center of political economy at this time.  Here is Shelley addressing “The Men of England”

The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.

Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:
Find wealth—let no imposter heap:
Weave robes—let not the idle wear:
Forge arms—in your defense to bear.

Shelley’s stirring hymn to the “Men of England” must be revised to include women and slaves.  So, to that first verse we add,

The cotton ye pick, another takes
The children ye raise, another breaks

And to the second quoted verse, we’d have to add something like,

Pick cotton – for yourselves adorn
Raise children – and yourselves, reborn.

Finally, Mike Leigh’s film is in the tradition of E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class.  As such it shares its major flaw.  The Irish say, ‘English history happens elsewhere,’ and so it is even here.  The film and the book are restricted to a version of England that is all right, all white.  However, this flaw must not blind us to the virtues of book and film, so needed now: the emphasis on the absolute reality of class, the emphasis on the historical dynamic of class struggle, and an insistence that we think of the ways and means to attain victory.

This article originally appeared on First of the Month.

How Accurate Are the US Jobs Numbers?

Wed, 2019-05-08 16:00

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The recently released report on April jobs on first appearance, heavily reported by the media, shows a record low 3.6% unemployment rate and another month of 263,000 new jobs created. But there are two official US Labor dept. jobs reports, and the second shows a jobs market much weaker than the selective, ‘cherry picked’ indicators on unemployment and jobs creation noted above that are typically featured by the press.

Problems with the April Jobs Report

While the Current Establishment Survey (CES) Report (covering large businesses) shows 263,000 jobs created last month, the Current Population Survey (CPS) second Labor Dept. report (that covers smaller businesses) shows 155,000 of these jobs were involuntary part time. This high proportion (155,000 of 263,000) suggests the job creation number is likely second and third jobs being created. Nor does it reflect actual new workers being newly employed. The number is for new jobs, not newly employed workers. Moreover, it’s mostly part time and temp or low paid jobs, likely workers taking on second and third jobs.

Even more contradictory, the second CPS report shows that full time work jobs actually declined last month by 191,000. (And the month before, March, by an even more 228,000 full time jobs decline).

The much hyped 3.6% unemployment (U-3) rate for April refers only to full time jobs (35 hrs. or more worked in a week). And these jobs are declining by 191,000 while part time jobs are growing by 155,000. So which report is accurate? How can full time jobs be declining by 191,000, while the U-3 unemployment rate (covering full time only) is falling? The answer: full time jobs disappearing result in an unemployment rate for full time (U-3)jobs falling. A small number of full time jobs as a share of the total labor force appears as a fall in the unemployment rate for full time workers. Looked at another way, employers may be converting full time to part time and temp work, as 191,000 full time jobs disappear and 155,000 part time jobs increase.

And there’s a further problem with the part time jobs being created: It also appears that the 155,000 part time jobs created last month may be heavily weighted with the government hiring part timers to start the work on the 2020 census–typically hiring of which starts in April of the preceding year of the census. (Check out the Labor Dept. numbers preceding the prior 2010 census, for April 2009, for the same development a decade ago).

Another partial explanation is that the 155,000 part time job gains last month (and in prior months in 2019) reflect tens of thousands of workers a month who are being forced onto the labor market now every month, as a result of US courts recent decisions now forcing workers who were formerly receiving social security disability benefits (1 million more since 2010) back into the labor market.

The April selective numbers of 263,000 jobs and 3.6% unemployment rate is further questionable by yet another statistic by the Labor Dept.: It is contradicted by a surge of 646,000 in April in the category, ‘Not in the Labor Force’, reported each month. That 646,000 suggests large numbers of workers are dropping out of the labor force (a technicality that actually also lowers the U-3 unemployment rate). ‘Not in the Labor Force’ for March, the previous month Report, revealed an increase of an additional 350,000 added to ‘Not in the Labor Force’ totals. In other words, a million–or at least a large percentage of a million–workers have left the labor force. This too is not an indication of a strong labor market and contradicts the 263,000 and U-3 3.6% unemployment rate.

Bottom line, the U-3 unemployment rate is basically a worthless indicator of the condition of the US jobs market; and the 263,000 CES (Establishment Survey) jobs is contradicted by the Labor Dept’s second CPS survey (Population Survey).

GDP & Rising Wages Revisited

In two previous shows, the limits and contradictions (and thus a deeper explanations) of US government GDP and wage statistics were featured: See the immediate April 26, 2019 Alternative Visions show on preliminary US GDP numbers for the 1st quarter 2019, where it was shown how the Trump trade war with China, soon coming to an end, is largely behind the GDP latest numbers; and that the more fundamental forces underlying the US economy involving household consumption and real business investment are actually slowing and stagnating. Or listen to my prior radio show earlier this year where media claims that US wages are now rising is debunked as well.

Claims of wages rising are similarly misrepresented when a deeper analysis shows the proclaimed wage gains are, once again, skewed to the high end of the wage structure and reflect wages for salaried managers and high end professionals by estimating ‘averages’ and limiting data analysis to full time workers once again; not covering wages for part time and temp workers; not counting collapse of deferred and social wages (pension and social security payments); and underestimating inflation so that real wages appear larger than otherwise. Independent sources estimate more than half of all US workers received no wage increase whatsoever in 2018–suggesting once again the gains are being driven by the top 10% and assumptions of averages that distort the actual wage gains that are much more modest, if at all.

Ditto for GDP analysis and inflation underestimation using the special price index for GDP (the GDP deflator), and the various re-definitions of GDP categories made in recent years and questionable on-going GDP assumptions, such as including in GDP calculation the questionable inclusion of 50 million homeowners supposedly paying themselves a ‘rent equivalent’.

A more accurate ‘truth’ about jobs, wages, and GDP stats is found in the ‘fine print’ of definitions and understanding the weak statistical methodologies that change the raw economic data on wages, jobs, and economic output (GDP) into acceptable numbers for media promotion.

Whether jobs, wages or GDP stats, the message here is that official US economic stats, especially labor market stats, should be read critically and not taken for face value, especially when hyped by the media and press. The media pumps selective indicators that make the economy appear better than it actually is. Labor Dept. methods and data used today have not caught up with the various fundamental changes in the labor markets, and are therefore increasingly suspect. It is not a question of outright falsification of stats. It’s about failure to evolve data and methodologies to reflect the real changes in the economy.

Government stats are as much an ‘art’ (of obfuscation) as they are a science. They produce often contradictory indication of the true state of the economy, jobs and wages. Readers need to look at the ‘whole picture’, not just the convenient, selective media reported data like Establishment survey job creation and U-3 unemployment rates.

When so doing, the bigger picture is an US economy being held up by temporary factors (trade war) soon to dissipate; jobs creation driven by part time work as full time jobs continue structurally to disappear; and wages that are being driven by certain industries (tech, etc.), high end employment (managers, professionals), occasional low end minimum wage hikes in select geographies, and broad categories of ‘wages’ ignored.


How Legal Cannabis Came to Contra Costa County

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:59

Image Source: Walther Otto Müller – Public Domain

A California Story with Senior Citizens, Pot Heads, Right Wingers, Vietnam Veterans, Female Firebrands and NORML

“We’re twenty years behind the rest of the Bay Area, and we’re playing catch up.”

– NORML’s Greg Kremenliev, May 2019

When Greg Kremenliev moved to Contra Costa County in 1983, he didn’t realize the depth and the intensity of the local opposition to cannabis. Nor did he foresee that his home county would become a battleground in the long, protracted war between prohibitionists on the one hand, and on the other hand pot smokers who believe in the right to self-medicate and who remind their fellow citizens that cannabis became legal in 2016, and that the industry is now regulated by Sacramento bureaucrats and local officials. An hour or two from downtown San Francisco at rush hour, Contra Costa can feel like it’s not really a part of the Bay Area.

Over the course of the last decade or so, the battle lines in the county have been emblematic of the war for and against cannabis that have been fought, sometimes along ethnic and class lines, all across the state of California, which produces far more marijuana than any other state in the U.S.

In 1983, when Kremenliev arrived in the city of Concord, opposition to cannabis was not limited to Contra Costa County. It existed in all 58 counties. Historians tend to forget that California was the first state in the U.S. to outlaw cannabis (in 1913), which was often cultivated by Mexican women, especially in and around L.A.

1913 probably seems like ancient history, but it wasn’t that long ago, in the dark days of Reagan Era, that the U.S. was caught up, with ample federal and state funding, in a war on drugs that included a war on cannabis and that led to the arrest and possession of marijuana and jailed. Unlike Humboldt and Mendocino Counties—and the whole “Emerald Triangle” in northern California, a major cannabis growing area all through the 1980s—Contra Costa didn’t have large-scale guerrilla operations and no major helicopter raids on gardens, either.

In the 1980s, Proposition 215—which legalized medical marijuana—was a long way from becoming a ballot initiative. So was Prop 64 that paved the way in 2016 for adult use of cannabis, aka “recreation use.”

For decades, like many other California cannabis users, Greg Kremenliev rolled joints and smoked them in private. He certainly didn’t flaunt the use of his drug of choice. Contra Costa potheads often drove an hour or more—and passed through the onerous Caldecott Tunnel—to buy an ounce. Today, many of them say that they often felt they had to go through a gauntlet to get weed.

From Kremenliev’s point of view, Contra Costa still has a long way to go to normalize the use of cannabis. “We’re twenty years behind the rest of the Bay Area, but we’re playing catch up,” he says.

Kremenliev has helped the county pull closer to places like Berkeley and Oakland—home to the cannabis powerhouse Oaksterdam University—though for most of his adult life he wasn’t a cannabis activist, and didn’t stick his neck out.

“For years, I worked and raised a family,” he says. “Then one day I woke up and told myself that I was going to get involved in the cause.”

Little by little he did just that. On a night in July 2017, he set foot in Concord City Hall, when the council adopted one of many anti-cannabis resolution, and where he also met Arya Campbell, who had founded the Contra Costa chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the oldest and longest running pro-pot group in the nation.

Kremenliev, 71, is now the co-director, along with feisty Renee Lee, of the Contra Costa County chapter of NORML. Now approaching 70 and a retired therapist, Lee is also the founder and president of the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education and Support Group, which got off the ground in 2011 and is still going strong.

Over the last couple of years, Kremenliev has worked closely with Campbell and Lee, who lives at Rossmoor—a retirement community for elders 55 years and older. They are joined by more than half-a-dozen local citizens: Rebecca and Timothy Byars, Eloise and David Thiesen, Mark Unterbach, Tess Schoenbart and Laurie and Matt Light.

Lee views “Contra Costa as a law and order community,” though she also points out that people have been growing marijuana in the hills of the county for decades, and using it for just as long. A pot smoker starting in the 1960s, she has helped to educate dozens of Rossmoor seniors, some of them with dementia and Alzheimers, about the medicinal benefits of cannabis, “about how to smoke it and how to be THC friendly.”

Edi Birsan also joined the cannabis cause and exerted considerable influence after years of experience as a political figure in the county. In 2018, he served as the mayor of Concord, the largest city, population-wise, in Contra Costa. Once a gold rush town, Concord is now a suburban center near the geographical heart of the county. On the west side, Contra Costa tends to be liberal and a part of the liberal mindset of the Bay Area. On the east side, which is a gateway to the agricultural Central Valley it tends to be conservative.

In that way, Contra Costa is emblematic of the state as a whole.

In 2018, when Edi Birsan was the Mayor of Concord, he reached out to the owner of the one and only registered cannabis delivery service in the city, who raised eyebrows when he told a packed meeting that in a population of about 125,000 there were probably 40,000 cannabis users. Many purchased weed from a dealer in the unregulated market.

With all of his natural aplomb and local pride, Mayor Birsan announced, “I don’t want people to buy their pot anywhere but here.”

In a region where “local” carries a great deal of cache, the idea of a multi-faceted, local cannabis industry appealed to many citizens, including seniors 55 and over who lived at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek and who belonged to the medical marijuana support group Renee Lee started.

As battle lines were drawn, Rossmoor seniors came out of their cannabis closets. At a packed meeting in 2017, Rebecca Byars said that she and her husband had been running “an illegal delivery service for years.” Another senior, known for her big heart, told the city council, “You’d better hope that when you are our age, the people who are sitting in the seats where you sit will have more compassion for you than you have shown for us.”

The council ignored the pleas for compassion and voted to ban marijuana dispensaries, delivery services and testing labs. That vote extended and amplified previous bans in 2005 and 2013 that applied to medical cannabis and outdoor cannabis cultivation.

Beyond Concord city limits, members of NORML encountered stiff opposition from the Pacific Justice League (PJL), a conservative group based in Sacramento with many Asian members who linked cannabis to opium and opioid addiction. PJL helped block the opening, in San Francisco’s Sunset District, of the Apothecarium, a cannabis business founded by former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, and her husband, Floyd Huen.

“PJL is a shadowy group,” Kremenliev says. “They had a dog and pony show they took to two Contra Costa cities, Lafayette and Walnut Creek, to influence citizens. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated it as a ’hate group.’”

In part, in response to PJL, Kremenliev and others came out of their cannabis closets, attended meetings, spoke out and helped strengthen NORML in Contra Costa.

Something happened, and while it’s not clear exactly what, it is clear that the thought of revenue from the sale of cannabis persuaded officials to flip from con to pro.

Lee says that after citizens approved a countywide measure to put a tax on marijuana, doors began to open and local bureaucrats became more receptive to the idea of dispensaries. It might have helped that Gavin Newsom, who was running for governor and who was an advocate for legalization, came to the county to speak about cannabis.

Kremenliev recalls “meetings between people on both sides of the political divide, and behind-the-scenes activity that resulted in key figures changing their minds.”

He has been around the cannabis industry long enough to know that “changes can happen very quickly” and that “it’s always something.” The current mayor isn’t receptive to cannabis, though the county now has three dispensaries, all in the city of Richmond which has a large African-American population (about 25%) and that now has a Green Party Mayor in Gayle McLaughlin.

Moreover, the city of Concord has authorized 10 cannabis licenses for testing, manufacturing and distribution of cannabis. Concord is considering a license for a dispensary. Kremenliev and some of his friends are starting a cannabis testing service to help ensure that consumers can buy quality product.

Contra Costa might have warmed to cannabis sooner than it did, and had more integrity as the pot prohibition was eroded. Not surprisingly, Vietnam Veterans played a key role.

“They had stories to tell,” Kremenliev says. “When they spoke they commanded a lot of attention and they helped to change the ways people were thinking.”

Along the way to cannabis legalization, decriminalization and acceptance, albeit lukewarm, Kremenliev has had his share of fun.

“We did a cannabis education day at Todos Santos Plaza in downtown Concord,” he says. “With help from longtime cannabis activists, Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, NORML members also stood on the steps of the country courthouse in Martinez and gave away pot to anyone with ID that showed they were 21 or over. The police drove by. Our lawyer was there just in case.”

Kremenliev pauses a moment and adds, “You know it’s legal to give away up to an ounce.”

Who said there was no free pot anymore? Not outside the county courthouse, where the spirit of generosity fills the air, along with the aroma of homegrown, organic cannabis.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War


Adult Lifestyles Sentence Kids to 1,000 Years of “Deadly” Heat Waves

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:58

Photograph Source: Intothewoods7 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Sixteen year old Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate generation seems likely to witness the beginnings of a grueling, traumatizing, brutal, heat-driven reversal of the human population boom. Why? Because we’ve continued to pack the atmosphere with a little more CO2 with almost every move we make in utterly normal daily routines, thus forcing heat higher and higher day after day after day.

And we’ve collectively waited too long before taking the situation seriously. Now it’s irreversible. A study led by Susan Solomon found that the CO2 we add to the atmosphere every day remains there for centuries, “so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years.” 

Kids thus face an array of heat-driven risks for the next 1,000 years, and the risks are certain to escalate with every next new day of using the atmosphere as a carbon dump. 

But the risks can be reduced. Will that be too much to ask?

As of 2016, even before we collectively forced the heat 1C higher than pre-industrial times, EPA had already reported that, “Children are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness and death, as their bodies are less able to adapt to heat than adults, and they must rely on others to help keep them safe.”

Writing for The Age, one of Australia’s leading newspapers, journalist Caitlin Fitzsimmons tells her readers, “Let’s not pretend that children and teenagers can’t understand what’s going on.”  She reports that 86 per cent of Australia’s surveyed teens view climate change as a threat to their safety, “with 73 per cent saying it affects the world ‘a lot’ now and 84 per cent saying it will affect the world ‘a lot’ in the future.”

Greta Thunberg clearly understands what’s going on, and is more conversant with the science than most of the world’s adults. For example, when German celebrities gave her a prestigious award for her climate activism, she told them that “we live in a strange world,” with a disappearing “carbon budget <<>>”, and that “hardly anyone” knows the carbon budget exists. Today’s toddlers are still too young to have learned the dark consequences of exceeding that ever-slimmer carbon budget, but they’ll be learning it the hard way, if they survive it. 

A November 2011 Ambio article by heavyweights in climate science has clarified the implications as well as any. A team including the likes of Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber begin the abstract of their article by saying “Over the past century, the total material wealth of humanity has been enhanced …”  

They end it saying,“ … we risk driving the Earth System onto a trajectory toward more hostile states from which we cannot easily return.” Their stance has since been widely reiterated by other climate scientists. The IPCC 5th Assessment, for example, makes explicit reference to lifestyle as a contributor to this dangerous era of rising heat. 

But it doesn’t take a scientist to get the drift of what’s been going on, and the concern has been reaching across broader and broader expanses of the adult world. 

Liam Denning is a former investment banker, former columnist for Financial Times, and former editor of one of the Wall Street Journal’s most closely read columns —Heard on the Street. Writing for Bloomberg about the realism of and the need for the Green New Deal, Denning warns that, “We have built our standard of living on forms of energy that we now know pose a threat to our very existence,” and that, “this is a conversation that is long overdue — and necessarily begins with a shout, not a whisper.”

To be clear, we can still soften the blows. That’s what all the talk of mitigation is about, softening the blows. To be equally clear, it’s already too late to stop the blows from falling, and for many long centuries to come. But it’s still possible to soften them, although time is running out for that, too, and there lies the urgency of taking action now. Is that too much to ask?

Too dangerous to go outdoors

We don’t need more data. Scientific research is still a good thing, but we’re long past the day when the call for more research can be used as an excuse for delay. Enough is already known to give us all the reason we need for taking action.

The basics are already clear enough. For humans, the potential for killing heat starts to kick in at around 104F, and the risk of dying increases as temperatures climb higher. One study found that risk of death “increased up to 51% for every degree above 106F and that “preventive efforts are complicated by the short time interval that may elapse between high temperature exposure and death.” Physical exertion heightens the risk, and we’re already seeing healthy teens killed, often suddenly, by high school football practice in summer heat. 

As of June 22, 2017, the distinguished science journal Nature could tell its readers that, “A death zone is creeping over the surface of Earth, gaining a little more ground each year.” Nature referred its readers to a study published by sister journal, Nature Climate Change, That study found that outdoor “deadly heat” already affects 30% of the human population at least 20 days a year. 

One day of deadly heat is bad enough to push a kid into potentially lethal “heat exhaustion.”

By the twentieth day of deadly heat, risks soar. But the Nature Climate Change article also found that, even with “drastic” reductions of emissions, deadly heat will be affecting 48% of the human population for at least 20 days a year. 

That’s the best case scenario for the next 1,000 years, nearly half the human world in the grip of deadly heat for three weeks in a row. 

Without the major reductions, we get a worse-case scenario with 75% of the human population affected by deadly outdoor heat for the next 1,000 years. Is avoiding that risk too much to ask?

The authors conclude that “An increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable, but will be greatly aggravated if greenhouse gases are not considerably reduced.” The upshot is that many of today’s kids will, in their lifetimes, even in a best case scenario, likely risk their adult lives by going outside to work in construction, farming, forestry, or landscaping. The simple joys of outdoor camping will became hazards to avoid.

Staying indoors won’t guarantee safety. As heat intensifies outdoors, it brings risk of mortality indoors, too. Not every family can afford an air conditioner, and heat waves have a proven record of creating so much demand that delivery of electricity fail, shutting off air conditioners across large areas. A May 2019 study found that, just in the US, 50 million household are at risk of indoor “heat disaster.”

Heat ushers in a plethora of risk

The effects of heat’s sprawl across broader reaches of Earth don’t stop with the direct threat of death. The effects also include the spread of disease-bearing insects moving into regions that used to be too cold for them. In their lifetimes, today’s teens and toddlers will increasingly be at risk from mosquitoes carrying Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, dengue, and malaria. Even when these diseases aren’t lethal, they can be debilitating, sapping health and energy necessary to hope of a normal life. 

Indirect threats to kids don’t stop there. As heat melts polar and mountain glacial ice, millions of kids will be swept along in increasing need to escape the shores of rising seas. In the process, they’ll run headlong into heightened heat-driven risk of life-threatening wildfires across grasslands, scrublands, and forests. 

And we can’t ignore what the kids will no longer have for lunch. Hotter oceans are already losing capacity to hold enough oxygen to keep fish alive to feed kids and adults alike. As if that was not enough, we’ve been forcing the oceans toward acid, and that too is going to slash the supply side of food we could have expected from the oceans. 

Add, too, that heat-driven drought created by using the atmosphere as a dump is increasingly likely to make key food crops unimaginably scarce. A recent study published by the distinguished journal Nature predicts “unprecedented” drying of “large agricultural areas,’ with “severe consequences” for humans — within the next 10 years. This will hit the babies born today by the time they get to their 10th birthdays. 

And if drought doesn’t strip food off their tables, floods will. Data from the past three decades suggest that excessive rainfall can affect US corn crop yield as much as excessive heat and drought. Then, the separate studies on heat and flood found confirmation when another study looked broadly across heat waves, drought, and flood impact on corn, rice, soy and spring wheat across the world. Those researchers cited evidence of crop decline up to 43%,  with heat playing a globally “dominant role.”

Any one of these above repercussions of packing the atmosphere with CO2 brings its own clout over the next 1,000 years will deal out to children. Add them up, and it’s no wonder then that more and more people around the world are talking out loud and in public about climate catastrophe, climate crisis, climate danger, climate emergency.  When thousands of wild bats simply fell dead from extreme heat in Australia, there was even talk of a “killer climate.”

Who’s responsible?

Yes, for sure, the corporations absolutely must get their act together to keep the kids from taking brutal hits. They bear clear responsibility for the emissions driving us all into dangerous heat, so they have to shoulder their own share of responsibility for softening the beating that kids will take from heat. But we had better not fall into the trap of thinking that that gets the rest of us off the hook. 

The IPCC report on avoiding heat at 1.5C higher than pre-industrial times said we have to begin “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Note the word all in the reference to all aspects of society. That means responsibility for protecting the kids from catastrophe comes right on down to household, personal, individual level, including unprecedented steps, taken soon. 

And the reference to far-reaching change means that individuals and households will have to make many changes, not just the most convenient few. In her invited address to the European Parliament, Greta Thumberg cited IPCC’s reference to “all aspects of society,” and told Parliament members that “Everyone and everything has to change.” Then she said it again. “Everyone and everything has to change.” 

In her 13 minutes before the European Parliament, she spoke in terms of doing everything “humanly possible.” She told her increasingly attentive audience of political leaders that political leaders must act, and said, “But I fear they will not.” 

At the end of her talk, despite the scolding she gave them, her audience of political leaders rose to give her a standing ovation. Alas, her message also meets with open hostility. Australian journalist Caitlin Fitzsimmons reminds readers that, “Predictably, people who don’t want to hear her message choose to attack her instead – they mock her appearance and stern manner, her Asperger’s, claim she is paid to protest, and dismiss her on the basis that she has only just turned 16.”

The same thing happened to Australian kids who wrote letters critical of the government’s lack of attention to climate change. Fitzsimmons reported that “The incident was reported in The Daily Telegraph, which quoted two right-wing think tanks and a conservative academic in a story about how teachers are ostensibly subjecting children to a political agenda in the classroom and ‘brainwashing young, immature and vulnerable children with their politically correct ideology’.”

Fitzsimmons says, “The same rhetoric was used to belittle the children and teenagers in the school student strike for climate – even the 17-year-olds who were nearly of voting age were dismissed as ‘pawns’.”

She adds, “climate change is an existential threat for Generation Z. Did you think they wouldn’t notice?”

Will it be too much to ask?

The kids would be lucky if open hostility was the only problem. 

Huffy indignation is almost certain if we suggest that someone disconnect the garage door opener, or retire the leaf blower and pick up the rake. The first response might be too laugh off the suggestion, reply that small actions like these are, well, too small to matter. But any sign of huffy indignation will be a sure sign that we’ve asked too much. 

Opening the garage door by hand or working a rake requires some real effort, effort that can be excruciating difficult to contemplate, let alone do. Going to a diet without meat can seem easy, compared to trading leaf blowers for rakes— or trading snowblowers for shovels.

But this is where a lot of rubber can hit the road, and trendsetters in asking too much will be critical to setting these seemingly little lifestyle changes into motion. Anyone can start leading in that direction now, without waiting for an Act of Congress. It will be difficult, yes, but not impossible to start setting electric can openers on the shelf, and using hand tools instead. Likewise for mashing potatoes or mixing a cake. The shift to hand tools as part of a new kitchen routine may seem like only a little help to the cause, but at the same time people can feel like they’ve been asked to do too much.

And what about the objection that little steps like these aren’t enough? Of course they aren’t. Nothing we do can be enough by itself, and that’s as true of buying an electric car and home solar as it is of disconnecting garage door openers. People who can afford to buy an electric car after installing home solar can’t stop there, and feel complacent, because even that’s not enough to hold down the heat at levels kids can live with.

In its April 27 2017 issue, Nature Climate Change published an article whose main point was that ”The big challenge is still to deliver emissions reductions at the pace and scale needed, especially in a world where economies are driven by consumption” That point was underscored by no less than a senior executive of JPMorgan, who said “Reduced consumption is going to have to be a part of the equation.” That’s not a message that most will find comforting.

When Thunberg spoke to climate demonstrators in Berlin, she said, “We should panic. And by panic I don’t mean running around screaming. I mean we should step out of our comfort.” Is she asking too much?

She bluntly told the European Parliament that everyone and everything must change. Green New Deal supporter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said we need to add up actions equal to the scale of the problem. In describing that scale, IPPC scientists have said we must achieve rapid, unprecedented, and far-reaching changes across all aspects of society. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published findings by another team of scientists, who stress need of  “behavioral changes” and “transformed social values.”

When an impressively realistic Greta Thunberg spoke to German celebrities who had given her the prestigious Goldene Kamera award, she calmly told them, “Avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown is to do the seemingly impossible. And that is what we have to do.”

The trendsetters in a movement for doing too much themselves, setting examples, will meet with rolled eyes, snorts, and a smattering of retorts. “Is the risk so high that all this is really necessary? Is the need for all this really that great?” Put briefly, yes, to avoid barbequeing the kids for the next 1,000 years will require some emotionally heavy lifting, lifestyle changes too excruciating to contemplate, let alone follow through with action.

The more dramatic gestures such as giving up frivolous air travel to distant vacation spots won’t be enough. We have our work cut out for us. Time’s running out. We really do need more and more of us to step out of our comfort zones. Is that asking too much? 

A Permanent, Soylent-Based Solution to Capitalism

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:58

Photograph Source: I, Dfrg.msc – CC BY-SA 3.0

The architects of “regime change” in Venezuela and Iran know only too well that their interventions never bring about anything beyond chaos, destruction and death.  Our Overlords are not deluded, pie-in-the-sky dreamers but clear-sighted, rational merchants of nightmares.  Where we see endless despair and violence as a result of their meddling, they see a surge in share prices.

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince will unlikely get his wish to send 5,000 of his mercenaries to Caracas, but his re-named and re-branded companies are benefiting nevertheless from the constant media exposure.  The murderers-for-hire on his payroll will always find employment in ‘hot spots’ specifically created to attract further investment in armaments, and the logistics necessary to convey them wherever a superpower or an oil rich Gulf state requires an armed response to the peasantry, or one of its  leaders.

Capitalism’s internal logic of growth at any cost means that demand for the products and services corporations provide are not only met with an endless production of surplus, but created (often violently) where a lack of demand for them threads to impede its cancerous spread.  It’s the logic of Big Pharma with its stake in the junk and fast food industries:  Funnel feed them breadsticks and cheesecake so that they seek out your advertised medication during a cardiac event while watching ‘The View’.  Human misery is a growth industry.  The short-term gains that come with worsening it override any long-term benefits fo ameliorating avoidable suffering with sustainable, non-violent solutions.

Even if US weapons and personnel have so far been prevented from entering Venezuela, their merchants will profit from Wall Street speculators cashing in on the headlines.  After all, they dictated them to the media corporations whose parent companies also have a stake in the creation of failed states and the weaponry they need to sustain them.

Our Overlords seldom have any regrets for the disastrous consequences of their economic and military objectives past or present.  On the contrary, they celebrate all these “setbacks”, seeing them as just another way to increase demand for more sophisticated financial and military technology.  If anything, the ever-growing list of bombed, sanctioned, embargoed, debt-ridden, occupied states and territories are ideal testing ground for products and services that will eventually be used against Americans in their own country.

“Humanitarian” interventions are not “doomed to fail” but programmed and predestined to yield “undesirable” outcomes. Whether it’s IS or a reignited Cold War, the news is always good for those invested in global instability.  Where you see a quagmire, they see a fertile swamp teeming with business opportunities for a private military’s war supply chain.  Even a failed attempt to separate a democratically elected leader from his country’s oil supply will eventually enrich the chronically inept plotters, as they apply the same strategy elsewhere with an endless supply of government funds earmarked for their foreign policy disasters.

An extreme weather event and the subsequent floods that killed thousands was not the deadliest phenomena to strike Mozambique in recent years.   Similarly disastrous was Erik Prince’s recent project to weaponize its loan-purchased fishing trawlers as a defense against the Somali pirates who threaten his company’s marine routes.  Needless to say, the impoverished South African nation was scammed into signing off on a shady (and ruinous) loan package for fishing boats that concealed the purchase of actual warships for Prince’s private navy.  The costs incurred by outfitting these high speed Trojan horse vessels with state-of-the-art naval equipment meant that there was no money left to operate the actual fishing trawlers among the fleet:

“Give a man his own fishing boat and he will become an indolent, dependent socialist for life.  Teach a man to pay for your own private naval fleet, and he will spend the rest of eternity trying to pay back the debt he has incurred on your behalf”. 

For whatever its worth, (billions of dollars to be siphoned directly into Prince’s company coffers ) Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado is home to some of the world’s largest gas reserves.  Coincidentally, (wink, wink) it is also where armed attacks on civilians ‘necessitate’ the costly services for security provided by the former Blackwater chief.  With foreign investors out of the way, seeing too much risk in the now violent region, Prince has seized ownership of the country’s now collateralized hydrocarbon resources. The now natural disaster hit country will repay loans for the security and “military intelligence” Prince’s companies’ provide with dividends from the resources now under his control.

It might be tempting at this point to blame “corruption” on the part of Mozambique’s leaders in the sordid deal making responsible for the country’s death spiral into debt and instability.   However, such an easy explanation doesn’t take into account the deliberate shock tactics used against them to make hasty, uniformed decisions to deal with every immediate crisis that Prince and Co. manufacture as added pressure to their strong-arming techniques.  Heavily armed (By guess who?) militias running roughshod over the territories containing mostly undeveloped gas fields have a way of convincing a an already weakened government of the necessity of relying on loan-purchased mercenary personnel and equipment rather than its own low-tech military forces.

It has also emerged that Prince’s company weaponized other types of low cost machinery meant for a food-based industry, this time outfitting low flying agricultural crop dusters into aerial assault planes to be sold to countries looking to terrorize their own peasantry with aircraft built for that specific purpose.  The UK’s recently fired Defense Minister Gavin Williamson had similar ideas for transforming lowly farm equipment like tractors into deadly machines capable of firing off rounds of ammunition.  Perhaps he had a vision of Theresa May running though those now famous “fields of wheat” – in which case we can forgive him for this apparent lapse in judgement.

Once again, capitalism proves the worse an idea is, the more chances it has to fail spectacularly well for the class it serves. The high risk/high yield strategy of unleashing chaos and channeling it where it best serves corporate and geopolitical interests forms the basis of neoliberalism’s repeat and falsely repented offenses.

In the official narratives that explain these ‘failures’ in crocodile tear hindsight, ‘mission creep’ is often cited as a way to excuse the oft-repeated and self-defeating actions of our neoliberal warlords.  A more accurate description would be ‘mission acceleration’ – a thoroughly deliberate expansion of an intervention’s stated objectives beyond its scope to bring in more players from a wider array of sectors, and more complications.  In fact, the more unintended consequences the better.  What better way to confuse the public and convince them of yet another “crisis” at hand requiring an immediate military response to a previous military action brought about by a military intervention that was the result of a centuries old military blunder?

Naturally, the result is an increase in political will to address countless challenges on multiple fronts all requiring massive injections of money:  The military to overthrow a leader, the banks to re-organize the no longer sovereign nation’s economy, the corporations to attract investment, the NPO’s to invite donations the NGO’s to make it all seem above board and “humanitarian”.  And of course, the private contractors to carry out the dirty work when the legal restraints on these “legitimate” organizations place temporary obstacles to their outright plunder.  Where you see untold trillions of dollars being sucked into the vortex of an overflowing cesspit, they see an ATM flush with freshly minted cash.

Until “one percent” more accurately represents the wealth and power of those who now possess 99% of it, there’s no nice or “sustainable” way to do business.  If a New Green Deal isn’t paid for by a 99% percent tax rate for billionaires or a 99% reduction in military spending, talk of it is just more carbon emissions from the ruling class.  Hot air is already a commodity that can be auctioned at a profit on the ’no-futures’ market.  Somewhere an armed loan officer is strong-arming a polar bear into taking on crippling debt to bear the cost of its own extinction.  The only Green Deal we should support is a permanent soylent-based solution to capitalism.

Reading the Tea Leaves on Ukania’s Local Quasi-Referendum on Brexit

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:54

Last week elections were held for town, city, and county councils in England (London apart) and the north of Ireland. No local elections took place in Scotland and Wales.

More than 8,400 seats in 248 councils, part of a 4-year election cycle, were contested in England, and 462 seats in Northern Ireland.

The elections were perceived to be important because they were deemed by the media to be a quasi-referendum on the current Brexit negotiations.

The election result was a setback for both main parties, and especially disastrous for the Tories.

The Tories received a drubbing, losing control of nearly a third of the councils they had after the 2015 election, and losing 1334 seats in the process.

Labour had hoped to gain at the expense of the hugely unpopular Tories, but failed to advance. Labour lost 82 seats and 6 councils—not an absolute failure, but very far from being the success it had wished for in the face of the Tory party’s staggering record of incompetence and sheer nastiness since it took over from Labour in 2010.

The biggest winner this time round was the Lib Dems, who managed to gain 676 councillors. The Lib Dems had been coalition partners with the austerity-imposing Tories from 2010 to 2015, and, deservedly, were wiped-out electorally in the 2015 general election.

The Tories lost their overall majority in the 2017 snap general election, called by May in yet another of her miscalculations, and remained in power only because she paid a massive bribe to the Ulster Unionist party (DUP) to secure their support for her party in parliament.

Such are the ways of “the mother of all parliaments”!

The Lib Dems are Remainers on Brexit, but owe their current resurgence just as much to a protest vote from disaffected Tory voters fed-up with May’s ineptitude, but with no stomach for the social democracy (aka “Marxism” in the tabloid press) embodied by Labour.

The Lib Dems present voters with a stereotypical chimera—in times when both Labour and the Tories are perceived to be weak or disadvantaged electorally, they gain strength for no real reason other than their being, situationally and thus most conveniently, neither Tory nor Labour.

TheGreens, the other Remain party on Brexit,were also a relative success in these elections, making net gains of 185 seats across England, albeit without controlling any councils.

Ukip, the strongly post-Brexit party, saw a net loss of 145 seats (82% of the seats it held).

Several other parties, including candidates standing as independents, ended-up controlling 6 councils between them (an increase of 4), and gaining 285 seats.

71 of the 248 councils ended-up with no party managing to secure overall control; an increase of 36 over the 2015 election result.

In the north of Ireland a similar situation prevailed. The Alliance and Green parties, as well as other small parties and independents gained, while May’s allies the DUP won 24.1% of first preference votes, a slight increase from the last local election, and the nationalist Sinn Fein won 23.3%, a modest drop, indicating that both parties still dominate the party-political landscape, even if a tiny loosening of the traditional unionist-nationalist grip on Northern Irish politics seemed to occur.

May and Jeremy Corbyn said in postelection statements that the message received from these results was that of an electorate deeply frustrated by the lack of progress on Brexit, and wanting to punish the two major parties for this failure.

May and Corbyn seemingly overlooked the possibility that many voters preferred to remain in the EU, as opposed to wanting the major parties to deliver on Brexit, and abandoned the Tory and Labour parties for precisely this reason.

Certainly frustration over the botched Brexit negotiations was a factor in determining the election’s outcome, but to single this out as the sole, or even main factor, is too simple– Ukip’s steep decline, when it should have gained seats from voters favouring Brexit, shows that a more complex analysis is required.

It has been obvious for decades, if not centuries, that the UK’s archaic parliamentary system is not up to the task of upholding anything like a substantive democracy.

The Tories have followed the US Republicans in giving-up on the idea of adequate and competent governance, especially where the economy is concerned. The economy for these politicians is no longer to be managed for the common good, but is simply to be treated as a font of plunder, whose looting is therefore one of the fruits to be gained by getting elected.

A lootocracy (to use Rob Urie’s term) has thus supplanted democracy.

Historically, the Labour party has been more honest and competent than the Tories, but this changed with Tony Blair, who gave himself the task of upholding a version of “Thatcherism lite”, thereby consolidating what the old witch started.

Labour is now an uneasy and fragile coalition between a metropolitan and largely university-educated elite, and poorer and less well-educated voters, mainly white, in what used to the UK’s industrial and mining heartlands. As in the US, globalization and neoliberalism have devastated the latter.

Thatcher got the ball rolling on this casting-off of the industrial working-class, and Blair’s New Labour, without the smidgen of a policy involving concerted and coherent economic redevelopment, remained bystanders as entire areas of the UK were consigned to high unemployment or low-waged and precarious employment, a shredded social safety net, and post-industrial blight—the “no future” of punk rock.

New Labour was happy to dish out government grants to convert abandoned factories into museums dedicated to Ukania’s “glorious” industrial past, but this post-industrial Disneyfication did nothing for huge numbers of people now leading distressed lives.

What use was such a museum to unemployed males whose fathers and grandfathers had toiled for decent wages in this very factory-turned-museum with its nice café, located where the old workers’ canteen used to be, but now serving overpriced cappuccino and croissants?

This election result is yet another symptom of what is increasingly evident, namely, a collective loss of confidence on the part of many Brits in a political establishment increasingly incapable of representing them effectively.

Labour under Corbyn, with the largest membership of any political party in Europe, has tried to reverse this long-term decline in confidence by breaking-out of its Blairite shackles. Corbyn and his supporters have been thwarted up to now by a significant Blairite remnant who know their days as Labour politicians will be numbered once Corbyn heads a Labour government.

The unrelenting efforts of this remnant to undermine Corbyn take place in public, abetted daily by Ukania’s rightwing tabloids, and the supposedly “objective” but nonetheless Tory-supporting BBC.

Corbyn has been called a Soviet-bloc agent of yore; a traitor for meeting Sinn Fein politicians during the “Troubles” (when Thatcher’s emissaries were negotiating with them in secret!); a “peacenik” for saying that since all wars end in peace talks, it might be more rational to have the peace talks before resorting to war; and of course an “anti-Semite” for his support of the Palestinian cause.

Even the purportedly “liberal” Guardian newspaper takes a Likudist line in weaponizing “anti-Semitism” against Corbyn.

At the same time, Brexit is without doubt a stumbling block for Labour.

61% of those who voted “Leave” in the 2016 Brexit referendum belonged to Labour constituencies in predominantly non-metropolitan areas, while Labour’s metropolitan supporters voted decisively for “Remain”.

This division quickly became apparent last week when Corbyn said that Labour would only give conditional support for a second referendum on Brexit.

Labour MPs in “Leave” constituencies, for whom a second referendum represents an attempt to reverse the “Leave” decision of the first referendum, called Corbyn’s qualified support for a second referendum a capitulation to the Remainers; while Labour Remainers (Blairites in the main), wanting an unconditional referendum in the hope of reversing the result of the first referendum, denounced him for a pussy-footing capitulation to the Brexiters.

This deadlock, and Corbyn’s perceived inability to resolve it, cost Labour votes in last week’s election.

Labour under Corbyn, far from being the perceived upholders of a new and more substantive democracy, just seemed to Corbyn’s critics to be stuck in the “same-old, same-old” of the old politics.

There is a kind of media-driven osmosis in such matters—by being drawn into negotiations with the hapless and clueless May on a possible Brexit deal, Corbyn was somehow perceived to have been sucked into her own quagmire.

Rightly or wrongly, it appears that Corbyn had fallen into a trap.

May has long been looking in desperation for someone to take the fall for her inability to manage Brexit.

Her first try in this game was with the EU, but the crafty Eurocrats saw what was coming a mile away, and turned the “blame” tables on her at every opportunity. The ruthless bastards in Brussels never missed a chance to show her to be an out-of-depth hack.

May’s next try has been with Labour, who entered into negotiations with the Tories because a refusal to do so would be spun as Labour’s sabotaging a possible Brexit deal.

Rather than stipulating clearly and in advance strict terms for their negotiations with May, Labour’s negotiating team simply went for “desired outcomes”, that is, a Brexit involving a customs union with the EU, and a hoped-for resolution of the so-far intractable “hard” border issue between the UK’s north of Ireland and its EU-member neighbour to the south.

Labour, having fallen into May’s trap, run the risk of be pressured into settling for a Brexit deal loathed by Leavers and Remainers alike.

However, Corbyn’s key ally, the astute John McDonnell, is aware of this danger and said on Sunday that a deal will be struck only if Labour’s conditions are met. And just to put the boot in, he also said that May could not be trusted.

May will soon be dumped by the Tories—deal or no deal– but Labour led by Corbyn has several possible steps to take.

The first of these will be to pull-out of negotiations with May (using the disastrous local election results as an alibi to claim she now lacks anything like a mandate from her own party), and to call, in unqualified terms, for a second referendum.

The first referendum was merely aspirational in its vague terms of reference, so any approximation of whatever deal with the EU standing a chance of being set in concrete needs to be ratified by Ukania’s voters in a second referendum.

The first referendum opened a can of worms, and there is alas no guarantee that the outcome of a second referendum will not go the same way.

Nonetheless, Labour needs to accept this risk, and say to hell to nay-sayers on whichever side.

Will A Green New Deal Save the Climate, or Save Capitalism?

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:52

After decades of neoliberal torment it’s easy to yearn for capitalism’s tranquil past, a simpler time that delivered stability, fairness, and progress.  This mythology around a golden age of U.S. capitalism is regularly conjured up by Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who reference the New Deal-era programs that delivered democratic reforms and a massive investment in infrastructure.

Rooting herself in this myth, Ocasio-Cortez promotes a Green New Deal that, while still largely conceptual, strives to combine a massive jobs and green infrastructure project that will pivot the economy off the path of climate destruction towards a sustainable future with jobs for all.

It’s a breath of fresh air after decades of inaction. But actually achieving the vision is another thing, and the most immediate threat is the Democratic Party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has derided the idea as the “the green dream or whatever they call it”, while dismissing Ocasio-Cortez’s political collaborators as “five people”.  And although dozens of Democrats initially signed on to the concept, the Republicans realized the rhetoric wasn’t real, and called the Democrats bluff by bringing the resolution to the Senate floor for a vote on March 26th.

Not one Democrat actually voted for “their” idea.  They shamefully abstained in order to shield the majority of their members who were actually against the idea. And although they accused the Republicans of orchestrating a “stunt” vote, it was the vote that exposed the stunt. This setback was minimized by many but should have set off alarm bells.

Ocasio-Cortez later released an animated short film called ‘A Message From the Future’ about the Green New Deal, that imagines the project being initiated after the 2020 election that brought to power a Democratic President and Congressional majority.  The film is in many ways inspiring.

But of course the 2020 elections— even if the Democrats win— will leave in place many of the same cowardly, corporate-controlled Democratic Senators who recently abstained— only 12 current Senate Democrats are up for re-election, and many will not face a serious primary challenge.  It’s possible that there won’t be a single new senator in 2020 that shares Ocasio-Cortez’s political vision, since winning a Senate seat takes big bags of money.

A Green New Deal isn’t on the political horizon now, but the issue shouldn’t be considered resolved, since enough pressure from below could force the issue. When the issue eventually ripens— perhaps via a mass movement—establishment politicians may start to champion the idea, in order to channel discontent away from larger economic transformations, into a dead end.

Thea Riofrancos recently stated, correctly, that the Green New Deal “contains something for everyone, a mirror in which both the anti-capitalist and venture capitalist can see their own desired future reflected”.

If the current balance of power isn’t smashed the Green New Deal will be capitalist in nature, disfigured by corporate interests that cram the project into the narrow confines of the market economy. A similar dynamic occurred during the original New Deal.

A brief glimpse at how the New Deal was ruined will help us learn from the mistakes of the past, and direct our strategy in the present. Either a Green New Deal is achievable using the current strategy or it isn’t.  And If the Green New Deal is viewed as a final destination— within a capitalist framework— instead of a pitstop toward further economic-climate transformation, we risk enormous energy being co-opted by the establishment that hope to prevent deeper necessary  changes.

If a Green New Deal begins while leaving in place giant corporations and their billionaire owners, the program will quickly be directed into either their pocketbooks or upended by war, as happened during the 1930’s.

How the New Deal Failed: Big Business, Segregation and War

The New Deal began in 1933, initially as a series of emergency laws to stabilize an economy shattered by the Great Depression.  Capitalism had literally stopped working and mass starvation and revolution were real possibilities. Millions of workers were unemployed or employed in awful conditions; the rural economy lay in tatters. The year after the New Deal began citywide general strikes shut down San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Toledo.

Although some big capitalists hated the New Deal, the majority understood FDR’s goals and supported his project, since a fundamental aim of the New Deal was to make businesses profitable again. The southern establishment joined the New Deal coalition in order to maintain their power rooted in segregation—FDR’s deal with the devil.

From the beginning the New Deal prioritized the maintaining of capitalism more than the needs of working people.  Bailing out the banks and stabilizing commodity prices were key priorities, while subsidizing big business via the construction of infrastructure that drastically lowered transport, energy, and water costs for corporations and agribusiness. The New Deal helped create the economic-infrastructural backbone for a developed capitalist nation determined to be a superpower.

Toward this end, war preparations was a priority of the New Deal: from the beginning military facilities and airports were built and upgraded, as well as the ports that modernized the Navy;  war ships were built early on that would be ready before war broke out.

FDR was an imperialist, and he was far-sighted.  The New Deal began the year Hitler was appointed Chancellor in Germany, and two years after Japan invaded China. Another European war was coming fast but U.S. imperialism was focused on the Asian pacific. The first stages of the New Deal helped create the military infrastructure that its later stages used for full-scale war mobilization.

Big Victories for the People?

The infrastructure-building/job-creating components of the New Deal fell under the Works Progress Administration and smaller Public Works Administration, along with the Civilian Conservation Corps—  a youth program to address environmental preservation and conservation (the ‘green’ piece of the New Deal that paid a $1 a day for backbreaking labor, and also used as a subsidy for agribusiness).

Perhaps the key infrastructural demand of the working class during the New Deal was public housing, which was never a priority of the New Deal, and the lack of public housing built remains one of the more obvious failures of the era (New York being the primary exception).  Instead, FDR wanted market-based solutions, using the housing crisis to bolster the banks by inventing new markets for capital, by creating the modern mortgage system— whose market today is used for massive speculation and the consequent cause for recession.

Other programs certainly benefited the cultural life of working class people, such as the building of thousands of parks, museums and schools and the employment of artists.

The biggest victories for working people during the New Deal— social security/unemployment insurance— were modest reforms that didn’t apply to all workers, and which other developed countries had passed on a broader scale decades earlier. Paying unemployment, “the dole”, was necessary to prevent mass starvation, though the payment was small enough to ensure semi-starvation; it was also temporary, distributed unevenly and was not meant to pay more than the starvation wages of regional labor markets (which ensured that blacks received less than whites). Ultimately unemployment was restricted since FDR wanted benefits primarily for those willing to work on government projects.

The key labor reform of the era, the Wagner Act, was passed over the head of FDR, after his fascist-inspired labor-management scheme was struck down by the Supreme Court.

When it came to addressing unemployment, the New Deal made a dent but it was never funded adequately to fix the problem.  During the height of the New Deal unemployment hovered above 15%, and didn’t drop significantly until the war mobilization

The highpoint of the New Deal occurred in Roosevelt’s first term, where tens of thousands of projects— including many massives ones such as the Golden Gate Bridge— were built in a short period of time.

The Quick Pivot From New Deal To World War

In 1937 Roosevelt started his second term, beginning his turn towards “fiscal responsibility” and war. He cut back New Deal spending which re-triggered the recession.  But by now the plans to fully shift to war mobilization were in their final phases. In 1939 it was made official with the ‘Works Progress Association Reorganization Act’, which officially steered many New Deal programs towards war; in 1940 FDR warned of the “coming storm” that was World War II.

New Deal programs and projects became machines for war. Newly built ports were used to build thousands of war ships; upon completion the enormous Grand Coulee Dam— today still the nation’s #1 energy supplier— provided power that was used build the tens of thousands of war planes that destroyed Japan’s empire—  committing the war crimes of firebombing Dresden and Tokyo and the nuclear annihilation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was already co-managed by the U.S. Army, and helped create the human infrastructure for the coming war: hundreds of thousands of young men became accustomed to the rigidity of army life in the CCC camps, while having learned the major lessons taught at boot camp: fitness, discipline, following orders and acting collectively— for them it was a seamless transition to war life.

During the height of war mobilization in 1943 FDR spent 30 times more than he did in 1933 for the New Deal.  The establishment had various opinions on how much money to spend on social spending and infrastructure, but they were united in splurging for war.

It’s now widely acknowledged that the massive war spending moved the U.S out of recession, not the inadequate New Deal spending. It’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine what such spending could have accomplished if it occured in 1933—resolving the recession early, while helping Europe move out of its recession and perhaps stopping the war by preventing the misery that the NAZIS exploited.

White Supremacy and Segregation

Many New Deal programs failed black Americans.  The WPA and CCC could have been part of a segregation-busting project, but instead segregation was bolstered, as blacks were relegated to separate work camps across the country, bringing Jim Crow to the north. The best jobs went to whites and out of the 10,000 WPA supervisors hired in the south, only 11 were black.

This was one of the many concessions FDR made to the racist southern Democrats in his coalition, which bled over to the war mobilization where whites and blacks served in segregated units.  The backwardness of the South was forced upon the rest of the country in the New Deal era, promoting a Jim Crow that exacerbated existing racial tensions in northern cities instead of mitigating them.

When workers of various ethnicities migrated across the United States to find work in war industries— because they were still unemployed after the height of New Deal programs—  it was the feds who mandated segregated housing for war industry workers, where blacks regularly received lower-quality housing than whites.

FDR also used the Federal Housing Administration as a racist weapon whose fallout still affects us today: an economic ladder was given for a generation of European-Americans that was denied to the majority of Black Americans. Whites were given mortgages in suburbs and blacks were denied loans where they lived, a process now called ‘redlining’. The wealth built by home ownership is the primary reason today that white families have a Median income 16 times higher than blacks.

Blacks were instead pushed into public housing— itself initially restricted to ‘whites only’ (either explicitly in the south or through income requirements in the north). After public housing was expanded and integrated, many whites bought homes while maintenance funds were slashed for public housing, creating the modern “projects” we know today. The intentional failure of public housing is well told in the documentary Pruitt–Igoe Myth.

FDR gave southern segregationists a long leash administering federal New Deal funds, enabling them to strengthen their patronage networks, political power and discriminatory practices imbedded in Jim Crow.

This southern autonomy allowed landowners to receive federal subsidies meant to help tenant farmers, but instead the tenants were kicked off the land and the money kept by the landowners, exacerbating the rural crisis that made blacks economic refugees as they migrated to urban areas.

Inequality widened further when segregationists convinced the federal government to not extend key labor protections— such as minimum wages, maximum hours and Social Security— in the industries where the majority of blacks worked, such as agriculture and domestic workers.

The racism promoted in the New Deal is well explored in the book ‘When Affirmative Action Was White’ and the newer ‘The Color of Law’.

FDR’s most obvious racist act was jailing Japanese Americans in concentration camps, a policy that he and others knew was not meant to keep Americans safe, but to scapegoat sections of the American public to exacerbate racist tensions that helped facilitate war mobilizations.

During the New Deal there was already a civil rights movement that FDR refused to promote, he was even silent over a proposed anti-lynching law that couldn’t pass his “progressive” Congress.  FDR’s power and the New Deal’s popularity could have easily smashed segregation, but Roosevelt did not want transformative change, he relied on existing power dynamics and the existing state superstructure, adjusting his proposals to the more Conservative Senate   By wanting to avoid clashes with powerful sections of the establishment he insured that his project would be limited by them.

The Green New Deal and the State

Modern liberals have largely exaggerated the gains of the New Deal while minimizing its failures. This has been done, in part, to show that transformative change can happen within capitalism’s confines and particularly within the Democratic Party.

It’s a myth that New Deal Democrats were committed Leftists who took over the party; FDR and most of his allies were establishment figures who used the New Deal to maintain the establishment and return profitability, and they used the most reactionary elements of society— including Jim Crow politicians and imperialists— as allies to achieve this end.  The New Deal wasn’t a revolution, it was an elite-driven project meant to prevent revolution and push the population into war.

This is why the claims made by Ocasio-Cortez— that a transformative Green New Deal can begin after the 2020 elections— are especially dangerous. Enormous political energy can be wasted trying to change a party that the labor movement has failed to change for decades, having wasted hundreds of millions of dollars as the party lurches further to the right.

Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez seem to have too much faith in a state machinery that has never been friendly to working people.  The government remains dominated by wealthy capitalists, and has always been nimble and efficient whenever the wealthy agree that something must be done, while being  impenetrable or paralytic when the working class demands change.

An important recent example of this was when New York passed its own mini-Green New Deal, which initially seemed like a great victory for the Left, but ultimately failed because “we found that even when oppressed communities and organized labor have a seat at the table, and even when progressive legislation is in place, the agencies and elites that have always governed our energy system continue to exert their influence.”

A similar dynamic has been happening in the Oregon legislature, lead by a supermajority of “progressive” Democrats. The Dems easily bend to big business— especially Nike and Intel—but are cold to Left causes: progressive demands gets ingloriously maimed before passing, including the weak, market-based climate bill currently being discussed.

These disappointments must be expected, since the structure of the city, state and federal government were made by the wealthy, who created a state in their image to dominate political life, with built-in anti-democratic firewalls.

This is why federal Senators serve 6 year terms and are difficult to recall— their elections are staggered to prevent change happening too fast.  It’s why Supreme Court Judges serve until they die and why the President has powers similar to a dictator. And of course wherever there are very wealthy people money will pour into politics, regardless of the laws made to prevent it (even passing mild reforms in this arena has proved nearly impossible).

Can Democrats Fight Climate Change?

Political shifts are happening quickly all over the world. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have been possible if not for Occupy Wall Street, the Black Live Matter and climate movements.  Teacher strikes have further transformed the country in the last year. Politics is changing as fast as the climate, but political change has natural limits within the confines of capitalism.

Ocasio-Cortez has— like Bernie— helped change public discussion, but her well-intentioned goal to transform the Democrats is DOA. The group that promoted her campaign, ‘Justice Democrats’, wants to reform the Democrats— to that end they helped dozens of candidates with money and other resources, but they failed to win any Senate seats, while the 7 House seats they now hold are occupied by those with a diversity of politics (while lacking any real accountability— since Justice Democrats is a PAC, not a political party). The Justice Democrats’ platform that includes support for a Green New Deal is in many ways impressive, but most of the key planks are easily co-opted by corporate Democrats—since the word “progressive” is now used by friend and foe alike.

To defend themselves against these Leftist insurgents, a predictable combination of sticks and carrots will be used, co-opting the careerists and isolating the incorruptible.  New party rules will be created and existing rules broken, while more money will be raised as the establishment adjusts its tactics by hiring staff who speak fluent Leftism (Joe Biden’s recent hiring of Bernie Sanders’ Press Secretary, Symone Sanders, is such an example).

More Democrats will start referring to themselves as “socialists” while acting as agents of capitalism.  When the next recession strikes— and many economists believe it’ll happen soon— state intervention that appears “socialist” may reappear, as it happened under Obama.

During deep recessions capitalism relies on state intervention to save the market-economy from itself, as FDR did during the New Deal (and as did Hitler and Mussolini during the same depression).   A state controlled by capitalists will ultimately be used to shore-up capitalism, not to transition to a sustainable, just society. The real danger of the Green New Deal is that it will be used to attach the working class to a capitalist project with a short shelf life span; a classic bait and switch.

A key lesson from the New Deal era is that the working class was never in the driver seat, and watched from the backseat as the establishment veered further and further to the right. Without smashing the political status quo and the state machinery it calls home, the establishment will suffocate any real change, as they’ve done for decades. They’re experts at weathering storms, strategically adjusting themselves to new balances of power— laying low until the time is ripe to retake what they momentarily lost.  It’s a game of power they’ve learned well, and in the city, state, and federal halls of power they have home court advantage.

Transformative Change Requires Revolutionary Politics

A Green New Deal is a fine demand, but ultimately the project is hopeless if it’s executed under  a capitalist umbrella. Only a socialist Green New Deal can deliver a thorough transformation of society demanded by the situation, coordinating the vast wealth and technology of the country while inviting more nations into the project, since climate change is as global as capitalism.

The Stakes are high. David Wallace-Wells ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ is just one compilation of the scientific research showing how climate change is likely more catastrophic than previously thought, and happening much sooner. Capitalism has proved time and again its unwillingness to redirect its energies towards human needs; it knows only short term investor profit.

A socialist Green New Deal will require a more democratic state, and a more democratic economy where the major polluters, banks, and other large corporations are made public utilities.  Making a Green New Deal-sized economic pivot requires the economy be coordinated to this goal, a mission impossible when the corporations are privately owned by profit seekers, pulled in various directions by the dictates of the market and shareholders, who use their wealth to push policy makers in their respective directions.

The ruling class will unite around war but not around climate change, and ever since the New Deal war has become a baked-in, critical ingredient of U.S. capitalism that isn’t compatible with other ingredients, such as a Green New Deal.  U.S. capitalism simply cannot afford both.

To ensure the economy is democratically run, the current undemocratic state must be replaced by one that allows for direct input and decision making, made easier than ever by the power of the internet, which could allow for frequent feedback or votes on important policies, as well as allowing quick recall of any representatives that step out of line.  These common sense ideas are impossible under today’s capitalist-friendly state structure.

The working class first needs a political party of its own, as exists in most developed and semi-developed nations in the world.  The democratic party teaches dependence on individual politicians who are themselves dependent on big corporations, while a Labor party can teach the working class to be dependent only on itself.  If Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders co-lead the creation of a Labor party, millions of people would flock to their banner— but as of now they’re attracting people to the tattered and soiled banner of the Democratic Party.

Without learning the lessons from the failure of the New Deal era, socialists will be doomed to fall into similar traps laid by the super-rich to divert energy into the dead ends— in order to prevent a mass movement from actually threatening their power and wealth.  Any movement that doesn’t directly confront their power and wealth will be undermined by it, and eventually destroyed. There is no shortcut around capitalism— and the parties that prop it up— if the goal is transformative change.

The Green New Deal can either be used to smash through corporate interests to usher in a socialist organization of society, or capitalists will exploit the Green New Deal to prevent socialism, clinging to the idea like a life raft— in the hopes that the result will be a series of modest, market-based reforms that serve to save capitalism at the expense of the climate and humanity.

Infantalising Memes: Ending Subscriptions to PewDiePie

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:44

It should have been just another cheap and sordid episode best respected by being ignored.  But this is a time which has embraced without qualification the Marshall McLuhan message about the medium being the irrepressible message, we are left with discussions about the vacuous rather than the substantial; the obtuse rather than the subtle.  The way we serve the dish is far better than the dish itself, and all errors that follow within it matter most.

PewDiePie, an addictive Swedish YouTuber by the name of Felix Kjellberg, is the dandruff of online publicity.  He exists because social media junkies and tech creators, in their lack of care, don’t moisturise.  He profits because dry scalps are not tended to.  The result is negligent indulgence more than anything else: he mastered a medium, drawing it out and straining it for as much as it would give him. “PewDiePie,” observed The Guardian in April 2018, “is not only the biggest celebrity on YouTube, but probably the entire internet.”

His leap to fame followed the YouTube script, with its admixture of playfulness, agitation and aggravation.  Those wishing to be provoked watched his efforts and duly felt offended; others became fans and sharing obsessives.  His fan base duly grew, many taken that this rabblerouser was being attacked for using new media against Jurassic old.  Not only is he of the Internet, he has often been its critic, taking issue with various efforts in such shows as Meme Review.

Kjelllberg has not merely confined himself to gaming and comedy.  He has also experimented, going farther afield from the lit confines of his studio box. He established a book club, tackling, on the way, American Psycho and The Picture of Dorian Gray.  And there was that tome of tomes, Moby Dick.

Kjellberg the child was never far away from Kjellberg the provocateur eager to hurl faeces at intended targets.  In endeavouring to stay ahead of the YouTube pack, he entered a puerile struggle with Indian film and music giant T-Series. His supporters obliged.  The effort featured, along the way, a spectacular hack of 50,000 printers, purportedly by TheHackerGiraffe, to spread the subscription meme for the celebrity. By March this year there would be, at any one time, a mere 50,000 subscribers in the contest.

The raving effort also saw some cultural and language dynamite thrown in. T-Series became the subject of “Bitch Lasagna”, a video garnering some 190 million views.  The Swede also felt it necessary to wade into some social commentary, notably after being surpassed by T-Series.  “India got YouTube figured out,” he posed in the video Congratulations.  “How about now you figure out how to fix the caste system… May be all those ads will solve your crippling poverty.”

Bollywood celebrities such as Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Salman Khan felt it worthy to dedicate their time to cause of battling Kjellberg.  The spectacle of an Indian corporate giant mobilised to pit an individual vlogger to the post (“selling pirated songs,” jests PewDiePie) proved distinctly unattractive.

Then came problems: Kjellberg’s online brand started finding its way onto World War Two memorials as an act of defacement; the shooter responsible for slaughtering 50 individuals at two Christchurch mosques in New Zealand had supposedly fallen for the Swede’s message.  Then came a second gunman who reportedly uttered “Subscribe to PewDiePie”.  He became a cipher for indignation and the alt-right.  The anger of one could become the anger of many.

It was all a bit much for Kjellberg: his call to end the “Subscribe to PewDiePie” meme was published on April 28. By his own admission, it had begun as an experiment to elevate, and then keep him sufficiently notorious as the most subscribed YouTube channel.  It started with “people doing fun things”.  But, he conceded, having over 90 million riled followers would have come with its complement of “a few degenerates”.

Quite enough fun had been had. “I didn’t want to give the terrorist any more attention.  I didn’t want to make it about me.”  He did not wish having his “name associated with something so unspeakably vile”.

The moral lecture circuit is out in force assessing the contrition – after all, PewDiePie had been accused of previous flirtations with individuals sympathetic to the alt-right, white supremacism and anti-Semitism.  Dani Di Placido, writing for Forbes, “genuinely” hoped that Kjellberg “manages to stay out of trouble. Having watched several of his video, it’s difficult not to like the man”.

Evan Urquhart, penning his views in Slate, went so far as to regard the tone of confession and reflection from Kjellberg as progress, writing much like a comforted pedagogue happy that a certain naughty strain had been arrested: “Now his young fans might understand why.” If only things could be easier, reflected Urquhart. “If only there were a clearer dividing line between racist scum we should shun forever and 13-year-olds who like lolz, this world would be an easier place to live in.”

The question always lurking in the back of such observations is whether moronic and even dangerous consequences, initiated by the untutored, qualify as necessities for interference by policing hands.  The paternalist Presbyter is all out eager to make sure that we all behave (no, be told to behave); the social media spectacle, which is generally all huff and crumbs rather than body and conversation, is deemed entirely inappropriate, not because it is impoverishing and destructive to creativity, but because people might react.

PewDiePie has, for that reason, become a perfect manifestation of the problem: mass marketing a platform made readily available, and being scolded for doing it so damnably well.  There is no reason why he should be praised: this is kindergarten angst written large, with a license to tease and vent.  Social media junkies are gagging for a slice of his fame.  The issue is how his own measure of mocking, ribbing and using that very same medium is now being used against him.

Even YouTube has taken issue with him, suggesting that he who profits and expands the name of the company too well is bound to be in for a spanking.  As Kjellberg attempts some winding back, he will no doubt find it irresistible to become another flare in future dispute.  The nature of the man; the nature of the medium.

Trump is Not a Tyrant, He Just Admires Them

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:44

President Trump is not a tyrant, but he doesn’t shy away from admiring them. And, that should give one pause in feeling secure that our nation’s leader is committed to sustaining the world’s longest running democratic republic. For those who don’t see his lack of understanding how a democracy functions, they should consider his statements flattering those leaders who have corrupted or demolished their own democratic institutions, by denying open and unfettered public elections or not allowing media to distribute uncensored information.

For instance, Trump suggested that our country should form with Russia a “Cyber Security unit to guard against election hacking,” even though our intelligence services at that time said Russia, most likely on Putin’s orders, had been hacking of our elections in order to swing the election to someone whom they preferred. This accusation was later confirmed in Special Investigator Mueller’s report. Meanwhile Putin has, in practice, ended free elections in Russia.

Trump flat out congratulated Chinese President Xi Jinping on his National Congress, which only meets for a week every year, allowing him to serve as president for life. He told the National Republican Congressional Committee at a spring dinner that he referred to Xi as “king” not president because of that change. “He liked that. I get along with him great.” Trump’s largess in bestowing admiration on anti-democratic leaders extends to even countries that are not world powers.

The New York Times (Feb 2, 2018) quoted Trump as saying Egyptian Pres Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a “fantastic guy”, although El-Sisi got elected by jailing or threatening them with prosecution, leaving only an obscure ardent supporter of his as an opponent. According to the NYT, “most other Western leaders have been largely silent.”

That same NYT edition showed Trump’s support for another national leader who has destroyed democracy in his country “Cambodia PM Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 33 years has led a sweeping crackdown on opponents before elections this summer. Trump flashed a big thumbs-up as he posed for a photo with Mr. Hun Sen, who later praised the American president for what he called his lack of interest in human rights.”

Trump’s statements appear to spring from his belief that he shared with Fox News in an Interview when he said, “when it comes to foreign policy, I’m the only one that counts.” That does not sound like a Republican or a Democrat, but someone who thinks of himself as being above the process of reaching government decisions within a democratic republic. Trump’s off-hand comments are a warning sign that professors of government at Harvard University, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, have identified as what happened in Europe and Latin America when their democracies broke down.

They see the clearest warning sign of this downward spiral beginning with the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. They refer to political scientist Juan J. Linz’s work in identifing the behavior of politicians who pushed Europe’s democracies into collapsing just before WWII, as consisting of three traits: “a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.”

Levitsky and Ziblatt concluded that Trump exhibited all three. In his electoral campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton and had his rallies chant “lock her up”; and threatened legal action against unfriendly media. What I find most disturbing, is when he questioned the legitimacy of our country’s election results, because he didn’t like them.

On the 2012 presidential election night Trump tweeted minutes after the polls had closed on the West Coast, “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” He did so because he mistakenly assumed that Obama had won the election without the majority popular vote. Ironically, Trump won his presidential election without winning the popular vote, but he made no mention of that fact. Instead he fabricated an unsubstantiated accusation that there were millions of illegal votes cast for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, something that even Trump’s foremost media ally, Fox Network, has not even attempted to prove. He reverted to this visceral response when the polls indicated that he might lose the 2016 election to Hilary, claiming that it would have been rigged if she had won.

He ran his billion-dollar business as a family operation and continues to have that close-knit family orientation in running the White House. That may be fine for a business or maybe even for the inner workings of an administration’s office staff, but to carry that mentality to how the nation’s government should operate, reveals either an ignorance or an outright hostility to our basic democratic institutions.

That attitude emerged early in his first term. After the first 100 days in office he blamed the constitutional checks and balances built into US governance for his legislation stalling. “It’s a very rough system,” he said. “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country.”

Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons of the Twentieth Century, lists one of the lessons to learn and practice to avoid the collapse of a democratic society is to defend the institutions which keep it alive, like a critical media and an independent judicial system. He concludes that  “Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.” Those who may hold the title of president or control a country called democratic, are in fact tyrants or dictators, if they work to undermine and ultimately extinguish those institutions. We should not admire or flatter them.


Krugman v. Sanders on Medicare-for-All

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:43

Last week Krugman devoted a column to dismissing the Democrats septuagenarians (Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders) as not being prepared to deal with the presidency in today’s political environment. Part of his indictment of Sanders was an unwillingness to compromise, most notably on health care reform.

As Krugman put it:

“For Sanders, then, it seems to be single-payer or bust. And what that would mean, with very high likelihood, is … bust.”

To back up this position, Krugman notes Sanders’ unwillingness to support a bill that would improve the Affordable Care Act.

Actually, it is wrong to claim that Sanders has seen single-payer as an all or nothing proposition. He voted for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, when his vote was essential for the bill’s passage.

Sanders was also a supporter of Bill Clinton’s health care reform bill that never even made it to the floor in Congress. He has often told a story of apologizing to Clinton for his conduct on the bill.

According to Sanders, Clinton said, “what do you mean Bernie, you were with me all the way.”

To which Sanders replied, “That’s exactly it. I should have been burning you in effigy on the steps of the capital.”  [These are my memory, not necessarily verbatim.]

Sanders’ point was that he should have insisted on a more drastic reform, which would have made Clinton’s plans seem moderate in comparison. In this context, it is entirely reasonable for Sanders to push for a more extensive reform, like universal Medicare, even if he is prepared to sign on to a more moderate package involving reforms to the ACA if the time comes for that.

Given Sanders history on health care, it is wrong to say that he has adopted an all or nothing approach. He has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to compromise to extend and improve coverage.

Krugman also questioned whether Sanders could work across party lines. He has made common cause with Republicans on occasion in the past, with important results. A noteworthy example was in 2010, when he became the lead Senate proponent of a proposal originally advanced by Ron Paul in the House, to audit the Fed. The result of this effort was an amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform act which required the Fed to disclose the beneficiaries and the terms of the more than $10 trillion in emergency loans it made during the financial crisis. The amendment was approved by the Senate on a vote of 96-0.

This article first appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Don’t Let Measles Hysteria Defeat Freedom

Wed, 2019-05-08 15:11
As of May 3, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Health reported 1,510 cases of Ebola and 1,008 deaths to date in the country’s current outbreak. Partial blame for the government’s inability to contain the outbreak goes to armed attackers who believe that international health workers are there to intentionally spread the disease, not treat it. As of April 26, The US Centers for Disease Control reported 704 cases of measles and no known deaths in the country so far in 2019. Partial blame for the outbreak goes to Americans who decline (or simply overlook) vaccination for themselves or their children. You may have noticed both facts. They’ve both been reported in the US media — the latter far more than the former, the former perhaps evoking a feeling of sadness or helplessness, the latter whipping up large-scale outrage, up to and including calls for every man, woman, and child in the US to be dragged to the nearest vaccination clinic whether they want to go or not. Disclaimer: I am not an “anti-vaxxer.” I don’t un-skeptically accept every claim made by those who refuse or oppose vaccinations. My limited reading says that many of those claims are not supported by science. In fact, I’ve probably had more vaccines than you. I got the usual vaccinations as a child. Then more when I joined the Marine Corps, and more after that when I deployed overseas (twice — my shot record got lost). The only time I complained was when I was ordered (under threat of court-martial for refusal) to accept an experimental anthrax vaccine from a tube marked DO NOT USE ON HUMANS in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of Desert Storm. Vaccines as such don’t bother me a bit. But I believe that you own your body, and that you are therefore entitled to decide what may or may not be put into that body. If you choose to forgo any or all vaccinations, that’s your choice to make for yourself and for your children or wards. It is an undisputed fact of that there ARE risks associated with vaccination. They are rare and usually minor, along the lines of allergic reactions, but they exist and they are occasionally fatal. Who should get to decide whether or not those risks are acceptable? The person into whose arm the needle is to be injected, or that person’s guardian, and no one else. Yes, it is an initiation of force, and should therefore be treated as a crime, to knowingly or negligently transmit an infectious disease to unwilling others. If you’ve got the measles or some other infection, and know it, you should avoid contact with the public, and I have no real problem with quarantine laws enforcing that. But the current hysteria over a tiny number of cases of a usually non-fatal disease is bringing out the worst in Americans. By “the worst,” I mean calls for government to force vaccinations on the unwilling. We mustn’t let measles hysteria defeat freedom. Measles is bad. Tyranny is worse.


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