We’re All Wrong About Race

The perception among many whites is that blacks cause their own problems, by being criminal, by failing to get education, by being druggies, by being absent parents, and so on.

The perception among many blacks is that the deck is so heavily stacked against them, with de facto housing discrimination, lack of job opportunities, and ongoing police violence, that continuing conflict and inequality are inevitable.

Both are right—a little bit—and both are wrong. Race relations are a two-way street and we are traveling away from each other. As a nation, as a society, we have allowed inequality, poverty, and lack of opportunity to persist for generations, and have not addressed the conditions forcefully enough. The problems don’t just persist, but in many cases worsen, and usually affect the poor, not just blacks.

We have failed to address
economic opportunity
in any meaningful way.

Why do so many poor people, of all races, fail to thrive? I think much of the answer is that we have failed to address economic inequality in any meaningful way. Further, conservatives continue to embrace the fiction that the entire reason people don’t succeed is because they don’t try.

We seem to spend endless time debating minimum wage, with rich conservatives convinced not only that anyone can live on minimum wage, but that paying a true living wage would bring down the entire economy. This is another case where the actual facts make no difference, because they contradict the self-serving conservative religion. Far better minimum wages are the practice in many First World nations, along with mandatory paid vacation, sick leave, and other benefits. They work well, and there is no reason that shouldn’t be the case in the US.

There is no reason
the US should not have
Living Wage laws.

The poor come from urban, suburban, and rural areas that are poor. The people have great difficulty earning enough money for a decent life. Much of what little opportunity for work they do have gives them either low pay or it is seasonal or temporary. Millions of people work full time, or even have multiple jobs, at near minimum wage. None of them make enough to support a family. A significant number who work for places like Mickey-D and Walmart only manage with welfare, which of course we pay for, in effect subsidizing the multi-million dollar bonuses of the top execs who believe $7.25 is adequate.

Many whites, especially conservative Republicans, believe that blacks who struggle with dead-end jobs (somehow forgetting that there are more whites than blacks in such jobs) are unsuccessful at rising from poverty because they are lazy. But the vast majority of people of any color want to work, and want their share of the prosperity that should be available to everyone. But in many places the opportunity does not exist.

Students in South Korea
don’t view learning
as “acting white”.

Still, a small number of disaffected young black (and other) men seem to go out of their way to do everything wrong. They come to believe early on that the payoff for education is not available to them, so they reject education entirely. Their absentee rates are higher than anyone else. They leave high school largely illiterate and innumerate almost as a point of pride, keeping themselves purposely ignorant. They reject everything that they perceive as “white”. This virtually guarantees a life of poverty. This is a bad mistake, and it has nothing to do with “whiteness”. Obviously, students in, say, South Korea, don’t think getting an education is “white”, and such students will be our competition.

On the other side of the color line, who would not want to be somewhere else when a scowling, muscular white guy wearing a lot of leather and metal stuff, shaved head, and a swastika tattoo on his forehead shows up. Why is it so hard for such people to see themselves as others see them? This is purposeful construction of an obnoxious character. They may actually be intelligent and talented young men, but they are going nowhere acting and dressing like that.

White attitudes are like religious beliefs,
which are unaffected by actual facts.

If any solution to this giant culture clash is to come about, both elements will have to move toward a point in the middle. The more difficult task is to change white attitudes, because white attitudes are like religious beliefs, which are unaffected by actual facts. The same prejudices and stereotypes that prevailed half a century ago remain today, and recent news suggest there is little improvement. A large percentage of whites blame unarmed blacks for their own murder by violent, out-of-control police. I think we can safely say that equality comes first. Gradually, generations after equality has improved, tolerance will follow.

The government at all levels has the major responsibility for correcting social inequality. Tolerance can only come from individuals. In my opinion, doing away with the practice of funding schools with property taxes, and establishing laws that mandate equal funding of every child, will go a long way, but will not solve everything.

Such proposals as I suggest
are mainstream and
common in other countries.

Such proposals as I suggest are not radical. They are mainstream and common in other countries, and would benefit the nation as a whole. Yet we fail to take advantage of them, mostly because of the conservative fable that all poverty is the fault of the lazy black poor. The US is the only First World nation that fails to fund all students equally. Further, several nations provide additional funding to help students rise from poverty.

Capitalism and Socialism, Some Faults

Here’s what’s wrong with socialism:

Socialism fails to reward individual initiative. When people find that they are not rewarded for harder work, they quit trying. In the end the result is a country where everyone is the same: nobody is motivated and everyone is poor. There is no opportunity to rise above poverty in the official economy. Look at Cuba.

Socialism fails to reward individual initiative.

Here’s what’s wrong with capitalism:

The richest are rewarded with ever-increasing power and wealth, because they have ways of further enriching themselves not available to others, while everyone else finds their wealth and wellbeing either stagnant or declining. The poor have very little opportunity to rise from poverty, no matter how hard they try.

Capitalism creates inequality.

It would seem then that a political system that avoided these socialist and capitalist extremes would more closely approximate the ideal of adequate wealth for everyone than either of these. Other things being equal, which they are not, capitalism provides a generally higher standard of living.

“Equality” is of central importance in such discussions, and carries with it the danger of being misinterpreted. Only hard-core socialists believe in an equality where every person has the same wealth. This is a bankrupt idea that historically has been a resounding failure, with Cuba as the best example at present.

Equality is of central importance.

The only meaningful definition of equality today means equality of opportunity. Ideally, no one should be denied the opportunity to achieve his or her best by the accidents of birth, wealth, or social environment. But that’s what happens to racial and cultural minorities who live in poor neighborhoods, where they are exposed to more crime, weaker schools, more disease and pollution, and less opportunity for employment. These are all factors that the society at large should address. Not to do so does not just affect the poor, it makes the entire society weaker and poorer, with extra social costs that must be covered in other ways.

It is worth noting that both socialism and capitalism are designed to deal only with material wealth. In neither case are personal freedom, spiritual health, artistic expression, or other elements that are important to people part of the equation. In both cases, the poor cannot be said to be free, because the lives of the poor are restricted by the necessity to scramble for the essentials for living, with very little remaining for a satisfying life.

Why College Should Be Free

Let’s start with the rich private schools. Universities with large endowments can easily afford to cover the entire cost of college for every student.

Take Princeton University. Princeton has the 4th largest endowment, but it generates the largest annual return on investments per student, more than $2.3 million. (My estimate, based on the typical percentage of investment return for endowments documented by Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.)

The profit figure comes to between $1M and $1.7M per student for Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and many others are not far behind. Clearly, these universities have no need for student fees of any kind, even when all the other things the endowment provides—new buildings, endowed chairs, etc.—are counted.

Rich universities can easily pay
from endowment profits.

My rough rule of thumb for such universities is this: If 5% of per student earnings on endowment is more than what it costs to attend, all students should attend free. If student costs exceed this percentage, each student should be subsidized up to that 5% figure. That still leaves 95% of investment profits for the university to play with. It also leaves the university more inclined to receive donations from happy graduates and their parents.

All public universities should be completely free, including living costs, no matter what it takes to get there, because the entire country would benefit from it. This would require recognition that the lip service we’ve always claimed about education is actually true: it has great value for individuals and the country. That means we should not stop with high school, but send our young adults to college as well.

The entire country would benefit.

Impossible? Not at all. In total, 43 countries provide free post-secondary education, including a dozen or so in Europe. Even poor countries have it. Many of these provide not only student fees but living expenses as well.

Now, why on earth would they do that? The costs of college are back breaking, and sure to bring these countries to bankruptcy. The answer is simple: Not only do these plans not create bankruptcy, they result in greater affluence and a more educated population. Nor do they have graduates who are drowning in student debt, as we do.

Those countries pay up front. We pay higher costs, plus social costs, plus the cost of greater inequality, later on.

Forty-three countries provide
free post-secondary education.

The single element that is most likely to create higher personal income is an earned college degree. Greater earnings means greater national wealth and equality, because people can afford to pay for things that were previously unaffordable, thus bringing more money into circulation and requiring more workers to satisfy added needs. Yet many promising students are simply too poor for college.

Of greater importance is that higher education creates a much more informed public, which in turn brings improved democracy and equality, as well as a higher quality work force. All these things are very important in several ways.

Algeria, Barbados, Ecuador, Mauritius,
Nepal, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay,
and many more pay for college,
but are not rich.

 Whoa! you say. We can’t possibly afford to send everyone to college. It’s just too expensive.

I say to you, what is it about Algeria, Barbados, Ecuador, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and many more, that allows them to afford this expense that we, the richest nation the world has ever seen, can’t seem to manage? These examples are not even rich European countries. Many of them, in fact, are poor.

Doesn’t that mean that every student must be admitted to a college, regardless of their qualifications? The opposite is true. Every student admitted must meet the requirements of the college that admits them, and the colleges can afford to be fussy. If the students can’t meet the requirements, they must not be admitted. Remember too that being admitted only means you got through the door. That’s just the beginning, and if you don’t perform you will flunk out. In fact, a free system would mean that colleges were more strict in requiring good work.

Colleges could afford
to demand student performance.

Under the system we have today, where colleges compete for limited funding based on how many students enroll, there is great pressure on all teachers to pass along students who don’t do satisfactory work, because not to do so reduces student population and therefore funding. That tendency would be reversed with free education, because every college has de facto limited enrollment simply because admissions cannot be infinitely large. Particularly with prestigious universities, there would always be someone who missed the cut by a hair, and wants your seat.

The facts of free college education comes back to the usual thing. Certain politicians and capitalists and their followers cannot bring themselves to believe that anything that helps the poor and average, rather than people who have no need for more money, can be beneficial. The conservative rich have had four decades to demonstrate the truth of this belief, and have utterly failed to do so. What the data show instead is that only the wealth of the already rich has increased in that time. Over the same period inequality has increased sharply, and income for most of us has remained stagnant or actually fallen. Meantime, our democracy has suffered, and our workforce is falling behind.

It’s time for some changes.

Do We Really Want Equality?

We ain’t gonna get it the way we’re going. We ain’t gonna get it by congressional decree. It will take money and generations. It always has.

One of the most important elements of equality is equality of education, because this affects the future. But the system we have evolved serves best to perpetuate inequality. This is largely because of our dependence on property tax to fund schools, and the push by the wealthy to weaken public education with charter schools and other corporate intrusions.

The rich having more property to tax, schools in rich districts are better funded. The poor have almost no property, so schools in those areas are chronically underfunded, creating a self-perpetuating inequality quite independent of other factors.

How about doing something radical, like requiring that all students be funded equally? Radical? There are 43 nations all around the world who do this, many of them in poor countries. Of those, a number also require extra funding for underprivileged children. 

When this becomes law it will be apparent that poor students are routinely underfunded, because funding for rich students will drop as much as it is increased for poor districts. This enlightenment is desirable, because it will point out how unequal funding is. The problem, then, is to provide adequate funding for every student, something that is long overdue.

Our educational system perpetuates inequality.

We must not be distracted by corporate conservative plans to privatize public education. Care must be taken to fully preserve public school funding. No one should escape this responsibility. (We must also realize that charter schools are not an improvement over public schools, about which I will have more to say later.) If the rich want to send their children to private schools they are free to do so, but they must also pay their fair share for public schools, and the same is true for homeschoolers and others. Anything else weakens one of our most important public institutions.

It seems that most white Americans think that all black Americans are poor and all poor are black. However, most of the poor are not black. Social conditions everywhere there is poverty are unsatisfactory, and the only way this will change is for the country to accept the fact that corrective action will require significant funding over time to change it.

Unfortunately, we expect great social changes in very short periods with no new money. Further, conservatives believe that lower taxes and expenditures are always an improvement, which contradicts the facts. Sometimes we expect schools to improve by decree, or as the result of a new law passed by Congress, with no change in how students are funded. That doesn’t work.

Significant changes require investment, and results are measured over generations, not months. Do you want the best coders for your IT company? Do you think you will get them by paying the least you can get away with, the way teachers are paid? Do you want the students to be tech savvy? Think that will happen without buying the latest computers? Do you think students should get a well-rounded education? Do you think that will happen without the arts?

Educational changes require investment,
and results are measured over generations.

The proof that educational change takes a long time is seen in every wave of immigrants the country has ever had. Many new immigrants were undereducated or illiterate, no matter where they came from. First generation Americans were too busy working to learn English well. They were not affluent, but did their best to be sure their children were educated. The second generation spoke both English and the old language, and became better educated and more affluent. The third generation did not speak the old language, and earned bachelor’s and advanced degrees, and became comfortably affluent.

If it takes three generations for immigrants to achieve affluence, it is unlikely that a single generation of people born into poverty and bad social conditions will be able to rise above it. It will take generations. That’s why such concentration must be placed on children, even before they are born. Children born into equal opportunity will do well, and the first step is to assure equal schools with equal funding.

Why do so many of the poor do badly in school and end up as misfits, often on the wrong side of the law? The reason has more to do with racial prejudice than anything else, but cultural valuing of education, so strong in a number of Asian cultures, is a powerful mitigating factor. African-Americans are not the only victims of racism. Until after WWII Asians were routinely denied the benefits of democracy, and today hatred of Spanish-speaking immigrants is at an all time high.

Children born into equal opportunity do well,
and the first step is equal funding.

But blacks are probably the most affected by racism because of the long legacy of slavery and discrimination. This is reflected in the reprehensible treatment of normal, law-abiding citizens provided by police simply because of skin color that has been so much in the news lately. Police violence affects all blacks. No black man, no matter his achievements, no matter what he is doing at any moment, is absolutely safe from murder by the police. It happens every few days.

Much of this reprehensible treatment of various minority groups (who, incidentally, will soon be the national majority) is pure racism. It is part and parcel of the conservative outlook, and is virtually impervious to factual truths that contradict the prejudice. Changing racism takes generations too. Most educated Southerners overcame the ugly racism of their recent ancestors, but it took generations.

If you want less crime and a better society, invest in opportunity for the long term. But you must invest.

We Need More Realistic Terms

What, exactly, is “socialism”? Socialism is exactly this: a political system where the state owns all property, and nothing belongs to individuals. Everyone is supposed to have the same amount of wealth.

Socialism was designed specifically to overcome the inherent flaws of capitalism. It didn’t work as advertised, and even Karl Marx rejected the results. Basically, socialism’s problem is that it squashes the individual.

There are still a number of socialist countries, but the most successful of them, China, long ago abandoned pure socialism to include elements of capitalism. Cuba remains the most pure socialist/communist state, but it too has been forced to acknowledge reality.

Socialism’s focus on total control and government ownership of everything violates the primary beliefs of both conservatives and liberals. Conservatives believe that the range of wealth found at any moment reflects natural abilities and leadership, more or less determined by God. Liberals believe that equality of opportunity is more important than wealth, that talent and achievement is smothered when people are held back by inequality. Both object to government ownership of what should be privately owned. No argument there.

Socialism’s focus on total control
and government ownership
violates the beliefs of
both conservatives and liberals.

What we don’t agree on is not that. What we don’t agree on is what criteria should determine when a program would be better managed by the government?

This question is not being properly debated because conservatives label everything they don’t want to talk about “socialism”, things that have nothing to do with state ownership and control, thereby removing a topic from proper discussion before it can begin.

Conservatives began warning of our immediate march straight into socialism in 1856, and have never let up, although even after all those years we show not the slightest sign of “marching straight into socialism”, not to mention that socialism is busy marching straight into ancient history.

Essentially, fundamentalist conservatives believe that only by discontinuing virtually all government agencies can we be truly “free”. To this end, House Republicans recently voted to annually reduce funding for the IRS to the point where increasing percentages of taxes would not be collected. Even a one percent reduction of revenue would lose nearly three times the entire IRS annual budget. It is unclear how this would improve anything.

But perhaps that is the goal, to reduce not the budget, but taxes collected, although it’s an odd way to go about it. Take this line of thought to its logical conclusion: all government budgets would be reduced to the point of complete ineffectiveness, the bureaus simply closed.

Conservatives have hijacked all debate
on any government spending for the benefit
of all citizens by labeling everything “socialist”.

Far right Republicans imagine that this would be desirable, that it would lead to more perfect “freedom” and greater prosperity because of less tax. Perhaps it would lead to greater freedom, but it would be the sort of freedom found in primeval wilderness, where there would be help from no quarter and virtually everything depended on the individual, including defense against anyone who had plans to take things from you. Everything would be very costly, and most people would be poor. There would be no such thing as government streets and highways; they would all be privately owned, and traveling on them would be prohibitively expensive. We would have no idea even how many people lived here, since there would be no Census.

Disease would from time to time kill millions, because there would be no government medical establishment of any kind to even tell us about it. In fact, you might be forced to seek treatment from a “doctor” who hung out a shingle with no training whatsoever, since there would be no government requirements. Travel of any sort would become risky because there would be no government rules or control over things like licensing of pilots and rules for flying. And so on.

Clearly, the far right vision would lead quickly to disastrous dystopia. Just as clearly, they falsely label many things as “socialism” in order to besmirch all government programs and advance their dystopian ideas.

The terms we use should reflect that
proposed programs are the most effective way
to achieve worthy goals for all citizens.

But they continue in this ridiculous quest, because they have redefined “socialism” to mean any plan that has found government to be more useful and efficient than private enterprise. Any plan. So, for example, some of them object to national safety standards, claiming it is the first step in a march straight into socialism, and it’s not the proper province of government to force you to live more safely. They assume that any benefit that might save your life is not worth the loss of “freedom”. I suppose that’s why so many people died in “freedom” as they belligerently sat on their seat belts for 25 years.

The classic Marx-inspired plan, of course, is national health care, and they complain relentlessly about the horrors of the health care socialism found in all other First World nations except ours. The only problem with their interpretation is that, without exception, these plans offer health care that is superior to ours at half the cost, and are well liked. But such highly effective programs have been spuriously labeled “socialism”, and no such proposal will ever be considered on its merits in the US.

Basically, they have hijacked all debate on any government spending for the benefit of all citizens by labeling everything “socialist”. Liberals have failed to effectively counter this thrust with better rhetoric, as George Lakoff so often has advised. We even use the term “socialism” ourselves, like this article, which is rather like the picture we have of Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon. Liberal becomes linked to “socialism”, and Nixon to “crook”.

We need new terms. We need to use them consistently.

The terms we use should reflect the reality that some federal programs are the most effective way to achieve worthy goals for all citizens, with efficiency better than possible with private enterprise. Any plan that satisfies these requirements should be a government program.

The rhetoric should be linked to terms like “freedom”, “individual”, “efficient”, “excellence”, “choice”, “modern”, “current”, “optimized”, “personal”, “flexible”, and “democratic”. Individualized flexible health care act. Optimized citizens housing investment act. Cost-controlled efficiency improvements. Private home ownership protection act. It becomes harder to oppose proposals couched in positive terms. Rather like opposing Mom and apple pie.

When Democrats begin consistently using such terminology they will pour water on the constant Republican attempts to discredit every proposal by falsely linking it to socialism. Who knows, perhaps Republicans will be forced to debate things on their merits.

Published in: on 2014/09/12 at 9:12 am  Comments (1)  
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Suicide by Our Own Stupidity

I think most people don’t even remotely understand what is happening to us. Scientists realize the frightening reality. In a recent photo collection, scientists’ faces reflected the very real fears they have. Each one of half a dozen or so mentioned just one thing about which he or she was most worried, and together they encompass almost all of them: global warming, sea level rise (also here), severe drought, ocean acidification, weather extremes, extinction of species, overpopulation, global conflict from climate change, global catastrophe… There are plenty more.

These scientists genuinely fear for their own lives, and those of their progeny as well. They are all involved in research that has forced them to understand that things will come to a world-wide catastrophe in the true sense of the word. A new comprehensive UN report agrees. Everyone agrees except House Republicans, a number of whom seem remarkably stupid. Their ongoing intransigence, self-interest, and stupidity have for decades prevented the entire world from acting on climate change in any effective way, because we are the biggest polluter, and no significant pollution reduction can happen if the biggest polluter is not on board.

Scientists have real fears
of worldwide catastrophe.

Doubters will point to past predictions of dire consequences and scoff at today’s. Thomas Malthus was the first to realize that rising population could lead to mass starvation. And he was right, but fortunately we found ways to produce food more efficiently, thus changing the equation. Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb foretold much the same thing, and he was right too. We’re still here, but world population crossed 6 billion in 1999, and 7 billion only 12 years later, on our way to 10 billion well before the century is over.

It is no longer possible to make the kinds of adjustments we did in the past, because rising seas are already covering vast tracts of land and invading coastal cities, and rising temperatures are on course to make ever larger land areas unsuited for crops, and eventually for any life at all. It is far too late to prevent these consequences. All we can do now is try to deal with them.

House Republicans
have for decades prevented
the entire world from acting.

Fears of worldwide catastrophe are very real fears. There is no evidence it will not happen. The tinder is already sparked, and we haven’t even agreed to design a fire extinguisher, and it’s actually too late to use it anyway. The only question is when disaster will arrive.

I am 75 now, and unlikely to live until 2050. But my grandchildren would only be around 50 then, their children in their 20s and their parents in their 70s. People living now could become victims of human-created climate changes that are on course to bring about the downfall of civilization and worldwide chaos and death. It’s even possible that babies born about that time, my great-great grandchildren, will be the last generation of humans forever. Unless there are radical and immediate improvements, it is unlikely there will be any humans alive by 2200 because it’s simply too hot. That seems radical, but it’s not just my conclusion.

Let us hope something intervenes. Let us hope we don’t end this way, suicide by our own stupidity.

The essential problem, as I see it, is that we are not as smart as we think we are, and we have certain shortcomings that could kill us all. We are greedy, arrogant, shortsighted, and intolerant. Most of all, we are possessed of a hubris that makes us scoff at the rising danger, and we are not willing to cooperate even to save our own lives. Even at this late date, corporate moguls want more profit. Since profit is their sole reason for living, they are incapable of understanding that their failure to understand what is happening will doom us all.

Uncontrolled capitalism,
blatant disregard for natural limitations,
and absence of social cooperation
are drawing the whole planet
into chaotic climate change.

The increasing intolerance and violence in the Mideast and elsewhere threatens to bring violent instability to the entire world, because, as it was in 1940, the entire world could be drawn into war to defeat those who would kill us for their intolerant ideology, which led to the deaths of sixty million people in WWII (when world population was around 2 billion). The decline of the planet itself could only make it worse.

The First World has no reason for complacency, because the combination of uncontrolled capitalism, blatant disregard for natural limitations, and absence of social cooperation—we don’t want to spoil the First World party we’re having at everyone else’s expense—are inexorably drawing the whole planet into radical climate changes that cannot fail to bring chaos.

These incendiary trends are orders of magnitude beyond the greatest threats we have ever faced. For the first time in human history we have created global climate conditions we cannot control, that are already flooding vast areas, and will in time make the remaining land so hot no crops will grow and no humans can survive. That won’t happen soon, and with massive global cooperation we may luck out, but the fires are lit, and without radical and immediate change it’s probable that we will literally cause the end of our world. Suicide by our own stupidity.

Will We Adopt the Indian Way?

Nobody in the world expresses rage at injustice better than Arundhati Roy, complete with all the data and bitter irony that clinches the case. Her recent book, Walking With the Comrades, is enough to boil your blood. Genocide comes to central India, compliments of corrupt government and Big Business, which are more or less identical.

It should make your blood boil, because the terrible atrocities being inflicted on these tribal peoples go back generations, and they are nothing more than the worst of the US writ big.

Arundhati Roy on genocide in central India

The trouble with corporate power is that it is incapable of understanding that there are things far more important than their personal profit, and the more concentrated this power, the more wealth at stake, the more tone deaf the capitalists are. In central India the corporatists see trillion-dollar mountains of bauxite, from which aluminum is made, and other resources that lie there, unused, profit going to waste, profit they should have.

The only trouble is, millions of tribal people live in that “empty territory”, and have lived there for many centuries. No matter, the benefits of a huge industrial investment such as a giant dam are so great that it would be worth it to move over 100 villages and give each family a new home and their share of the generated electricity, they claim. But of course, Arundhati Roy and many others knew that Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat would do nothing of the sort. The recipients of all that benevolence are now homeless with no way to make a living, and the dam is an economic bust besides. In fact, a recent study of all large dams showed that they’re all a bad investment, in every part of the world, including the US.

Sanctioned violence in India and America

Now Indian state violence has moved to Dandakaranya, an interior forest of nearly 36,000 square miles, where the corrupt government has long tormented native peoples. This is called Operation Green Hunt, and it’s supposed to bring Modern India to tribal lands. They accomplish this with brutal attacks that usually consist of dawn raids by 500 to 1,000 armed police. These “liberators” swarm over a village like locusts, stealing literally everything of value, including chickens, cookware, and clothing, killing a few or many people who are either targeted or try to escape, and setting fire to everything on their way out, after which the land is given to corporations.

Is it any wonder that, when their leaders and their relatives were killed, and their homes and livelihood destroyed, 90,000 tribal people joined various communist resistance forces?

In India, 100 people own the country of 1.247 billion people. Hundreds of millions live in extreme poverty and misery. The corporate crime of Green Hunt has not only brought all those new members of Modern India gross poverty, it has bestowed horrific ill health on the Maoists who fled to the forest when nothing was left after government atrocities. Rampant malnutrition including Kwashiorkor in children, malaria, osteoporosis, tapeworm, severe infections… Modern India?

Green Hunt is systematized oppression. Everything is designed to make the capitalists richer, as usual, and this is always done at the expense of the poor, as usual. Does that sound familiar yet? The difference between these Indian efforts and our own may lie solely in our longer time scale and less blatant oppression. The end goal seems the same.

Corporations do not have
human characteristics,
because only people are people.

Well, you say, at least we haven’t sunk to having armies of military police make indiscriminate raids, steal stuff, and kill people. No, not unless you happen to be black, in which case you can expect to be harassed by the police, maybe beat up and arrested, or are the one fated to be murdered today. You are assumed to be criminal even if you are a competent employed professional and have never, ever run afoul of the law. If you live in the wrong neighborhood, your home may be raided with impunity by the police more than once, with a lot of damage and destruction you can’t afford to fix.

Where does all this come from, at base? It comes from the capitalist imperative, profit above all. Corporations do not have morals, or any other human characteristics, because in spite of the stupidest court ruling of all time, only people are people. Fortunately, many good corporate employees—actual people—are able to resist corporate bad behavior much of the time. But corporations themselves are devoid of human emotions, and it doesn’t take many bad corporations to destroy everything important, which is happening in central India and many other parts of the world, and actually, maybe the whole world.

Are we adopting the Indian way, or has India adopted ours?

Why is our Pay Flatlined, and our Workweek Stuck at 40?

The Industrial Revolution put the total amount of work we need to do on a downward slope. In more recent decades it has become not just a slope, but a curve that drops ever more sharply downward.

A hundred years ago the normal working week consisted of six days of 10-12 hours each. For many decades now it has been five eight-hour days. It is clear today that working three or four days a week, perhaps 20-24 hours, would be enough to satisfy all the need for labor there is. My semi-serious scheme for determining the work week is to calculate the total number of work hours needed nationally and divide it by the total number of workers. There are obvious complications, but… 

Working  24 hours a week
would be enough to satisfy
all the need for labor
there is.

Our productivity has risen sharply over the past half century. Computers now manage record keeping, inventory, construction scheduling, health care and billing, and thousands of other things. New machines have replaced labor or made labor far more efficient. Machines such as concrete pumps put concrete directly where it is needed, rather than in enormously heavy wheelbarrows that must be rolled by hand. And robots of all kinds and sizes get more amazing by the day. But not only do we not have a shorter work week, but millions of people can’t decently live on what they make working forty hours.

Why have we not benefited from the advances of the past 75 years? Why can’t we live reasonably on what we can earn with a 24-hour week?

Part of the answer goes back to the capitalist imperative to maximize profit, as do so many serious social failures. Almost all of the widespread improvements to productivity are the result of investment by capitalist agencies, and they have kept all the gain for themselves. There has been virtually no benefit to workers.

The answer goes back
to the capitalist imperative
to maximize profit.

There are very few significant improvements on the market developed by individuals solely in their workshops or at their computers, because even if individuals do invent an improvement, or a new app, it usually takes a large capital investment to bring it to market. This is why we see hundreds of IT startups with a handful of workers who put in 80-hour weeks to develop their product. What each of these groups wants is not to market their idea, but to sell it to a major IT firm. Such a buyer can be expected to pay the developers in the tens or hundreds of millions if they buy their product. Even billions. This payout is enough that a 28-year-old coder could easily live on it the rest of his or her life.

But the bulk of the benefit passes to the big IT company. The innovation becomes just another fragment of profit for the company and its investors. It does nothing to improve our working lives.

What we have now is
winner-take-all capitalism.

What we have is winner-take-all capitalism. It seems clear that this serves only to exacerbate inequality. The 28-year-old coder becomes a millionaire, the IT executive becomes a billionaire, and the rest of us continue as before, with flatlined or slowly declining income and no improvement in sight. Like stock market derivatives, hedge funds, flash trading, and bank robbery, winner-take-all capitalism makes a few people rich, but fails the Social Utility Test. It simply doesn’t serve society, because it assumes that capitalists have no responsibility beyond making money for themselves.

The big question is, therefore, how to arrange things so that the capitalists are rewarded for their perspicacity and investment, but they also pay their dues to society at large.

What will come of it all is the big question at the heart of the capitalist system. Whatever answer we find, it must serve to correct our growing inequality and improve all our lives.

Flirting With Hyperthermia

Humans cannot long survive above certain temperatures because the body becomes incapable of dissipating heat above body temperature. We die of hyperthermia as the body temperature elevates and stays there, causing heat stroke and destroying our organs. I can vouch that being just temporarily overheated and unable to cool down is very uncomfortable.

The temperature at which we will die depends on the humidity and the length of time we are exposed to it. If we experience 122˚F at moderate humidity of 10%-25%, we will probably die after two or more days. That is why thousands of people, shut-in elderly people in particular, died during the European heat wave of 2007. They were often found at home with all windows closed and no air conditioning or fan, which elevated the temperature even further. It’s also why so many people die in the Mexican and American deserts while desperately trying to reach El Norte.

The temperature at which we will die
depends on the humidity and
the length of time we are exposed to it.

People can and do live at temperatures approaching the intolerable. I have experienced temperature of about 115˚F in Fez, Morocco. I found it tolerable for a day, since humidity was very low. But I would never have been able to sleep, and I found it necessary to drink water nearly continuously, which never generated a drop of urine. Without this constant water I would have quickly dehydrated and my body temperature would have risen, after which my life could only have been saved by intravenous saline. Once seriously dehydrated, I could not restore body fluids by drinking.

Death Valley, CA holds the record for the highest directly recorded temperature, at 134˚F. A number of other places have had temperatures up to 154˚F, recorded from space. There are a dozen or so cities in the US that experience at least several days a year at 100˚F or higher. Phoenix always leads such lists, with over 100 days 99˚F or higher every year. The summer heat wave of 2012 afflicted a large part of the US. Temperatures in some places stayed well above 100˚F for days, or even weeks. Some 82 deaths were recorded.

None of the accumulated data
suggests anything other than
continuous planet-wide warming.

Now, what can we expect from global warming? We could be optimistic, and believe as climate skeptics do, that there is no such thing. Temperature records show more-or-less constant temperatures for some time, after all. This hiatus is taken as proof positive by climate change deniers that they are right, “the greatest fraud in world history”, according to one congressional fool. We should be so lucky.

Unfortunately, there is a vast accumulation of climate data, including explanations of the warming hiatus, and virtually none of it suggests anything other than continuous long-term planet-wide warming. The Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are melting at twice the rate of five years ago. In the US it is probable that our temperatures will increase by at least 4 or 5˚F by 2100. The arctic will increase about 8 degrees, and record loss of sea ice at both poles is readily observable fact. This cannot but spell disaster for the entire planet, not only because of the heat itself, but because the change in heat will have—and is already having—radical effects on living things.

In the US,
temperatures will probably increase
by at least 4 or 5
˚F by 2100.

Consider what this warming will mean in future heat waves. Places that have experienced long periods above 100˚F, such as Oklahoma, which had several weeks of it two years ago, will now have periods that are 4-5 degrees hotter than before, and maybe longer as well. Places that stood at 112˚F for a week will be at 116˚F. That’s what I experienced in Fez, that required near constant water intake. But recall that this was at very low humidity, and humidity in the US is typically at least 10% higher and less tolerable. That means people will simply not be able to survive without constant water intake and artificial ways to cool the body.

Also unfortunately, each new climate report brings only worse news. We are approaching half a dozen tipping points, each one of which will potentially create accelerating conditions that cannot be reversed. The loss of sea ice is one of the most obvious. Loss of reflective ice cover creates a feedback loop as the open water absorbs the heat the ice no longer reflects. This, in turn, causes temperature increase everywhere. This means warmer water, and warmer water increases in volume. The scariest ice condition, however, is Greenland. The ice melt is continually increasing. If it reaches a tipping point, as eventually seems likely, it will by itself add 22 feet to ocean depth. Vast areas of coastal land everywhere would be under water, and major storm crests would be twenty to thirty feet deeper than the current sea level.

We are approaching half a dozen tipping points.

Glacier and other ice has been melting at rates not seen for tens of thousands of years. Photos of literally every glacier on earth show radical retreat compared to historic photos. Kilimanjaro, Everest, and numerous other mountain peaks are becoming bald, bereft of snow. Permafrost is melting. Low islands flood with every high tide. Coastal cities find seawater in their streets. Today. These are things we can see.

We animals, as we have seen, cannot long survive in temperatures much above those we evolved to tolerate. We humans are ingenious animals, though, and will devise ways to survive even high temperatures. But we must remember that high temperatures will be only one of our new problems, and there are over seven billion of us, with an additional three billion expected by century’s end. Out of control warming would eventually melt all ice, covering the planet with an extra 65 feet of water—well inland everywhere.

All human life will perish
when temperatures stand at 125˚F.

Long before that happened, the hot places would no longer support animal life. These temperatures already exist in the hottest places on the planet, which can reach 154˚F. High temperatures will become increasingly common in hot US cities like Phoenix, and all of them will eventually not support life. People would move en masse inland from flooded coastal areas, and northward from hot desert areas. They would find little relief, because the heat will move northward too. They will seek higher elevations, which are cooler, but less supportive of human life. Where would we all go?

If the temperature march isn’t checked by some as yet unknown mechanism (perhaps greatly increased reflective cloud cover?), temperatures everywhere in the world will at some point top 125˚F, and all animal life will die, including every human. This is the future we are flirting with in a couple of centuries. It’s no joke.

We Clueless Whites

Many white Americans live in a delusional world, particularly regarding race relations. Yeah, we’ve made some improvements, but evaluations of race relations, and particularly of police relations with the black community, sound discouragingly like evaluations written over fifty years ago, and they are not good.

It is very clear that police across the country are out of control. It is beside the point that most police officers behave properly. Out-of-control police murder unarmed black men literally every week. Ferguson, MO is only one of the recent ones, and there have been several since. There is daily police brutality against black men whose non-violence and non-resistance is often not enough to save their lives. When we see videos of police in action—arresting reporters, gassing or pepper-spraying ordinary people including children, shooting people’s pet dogs, beating people up for no apparent reason, threatening violence even against women with small children—these are people who either need a long timeout with some psych help, or a different line of work. Their actions very clearly violate the law, frequently injure or kill innocent people, and suggest that they themselves are not entirely stable.

Many white Americans are deluded
regarding race relations.

Whites look at explosive situations in black communities and make excuses for police brutality, particularly after black resentment boils over into rage. But the fact is that literally every black man in the country can expect harassment at the very least, often violent, no matter who he is. Often the harassment takes the form of unnecessary violence and threats. Often people are arrested for absolutely no reason at all. This is rare (but not unknown) in the white community.

Following the tragedy in Ferguson, MO, it is clear that almost all of the military assault equipment bequeathed to police forces across the country should be returned to the Pentagon forthwith. There are a few useful items: night vision goggles, sniper rifles, helicopters, and that’s about it.

Police military equipment
should be returned to the Pentagon
forthwith.

There is no reason to confront citizen protesters, even those bent on causing trouble, with a phalanx of cops and tanks looking like robots from a violent video game. There is absolutely no reason for heavy armor and heavy automatic weapons aimed at an unarmed crowd. There is absolutely no reason for heavy armored vehicles, rocket launchers, assault rifles, large-caliber guns, drones with rockets or other leftovers from wars. The ubiquitous tear gas that police use, incidentally, is forbidden in war by international law.

This militarization trend must not just be stopped, it must be reversed. Better these war vehicles were recycled for scrap than used to threaten unarmed citizens, no matter what they are doing.

It has been shown several times that when police officers are required to wear and use video cameras that record their on-duty activity, brutality falls. Complaints fall. Cops who object to this requirement forget that these devices also serve the interests of the police and courts. Miscreants cannot get away with claiming police mistreatment in court if the video shows otherwise.

Every minute of every cop’s day
should be recorded on video.

For it to work, all officers and vehicles must be required to record every minute of their working day. Withholding pay for any day not recorded will quickly end some officers’ practice of turning their camera off.

The greater number of white objectors object simply because they are conservatives, who claim not to be prejudiced, but are certain that most blacks are criminals and most criminals are black. It is this bloc who raised lots of money for the cop who committed the Ferguson murder.

It is standard operating procedure for police to simply kill anyone holding a weapon capable of causing injury or death. So it is not really news when somebody with mental problems shows up on the streets waving a knife around. He is killed, even if he is nowhere close to anyone, even though the police themselves are not threatened.

“Preventive killing” of problem persons has to stop.

This does not happen everywhere. Just such a situation occurred recently in Germany and the officer disabled the man by shooting him once in the thigh. During the same few days, St. Louis cops confronted a confused man waving a knife around, and immediately shot him dead, claiming on their report that he was within a few feet of them and attacking. But a citizen video shows no such thing, and they made no attempt to bring the man under control and calm him, for example by simply talking with him. They killed him within seconds after leaving their car.

This is barbaric. “Preventive killing” of problem persons has to stop, no matter who the victim is. It is quite possible to calm such a person down and disarm him, maybe get him to talk about what his problem is. I have seen San Francisco cops do exactly that without even drawing their weapons. Someone with mental problems sees the world as confusion, and may not even hear police commands. Until he becomes a genuine threat to life, non-lethal action is enough.

But the larger issue is race. Police brutality is endemic in black communities across the country, and the white population either doesn’t know about it, or doesn’t believe it. There must be a seismic change.

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