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.

This is What’s Wrong About Us

Let me start by reasserting that there’s a whole lot that’s right about us. The US and its people have done many great things in our short history. But there are also many things wrong with the way some of us behave, and that’s not the only thing wrong about us.

We cripple ourselves with bad attitude. At base it’s an intolerance that has several elements. One is machismo, which is defined as “strong or aggressive masculine pride”. Now, pride is a positive trait, but when it’s combined with arrogance, anger, intolerance, and ignorance, as it often is, it’s nasty. When we toss in a supersize helping of gun worship and false beliefs not much good comes of the mix.

We worship machismo,
violence, and intolerance.

By definition, machismo is a male characteristic. It’s associated with being the manly protector and provider, which are prime characteristics of the Republican mindset that George Lakoff writes about. The husband is it, the central element of the family around which the inferior woman and the children orbit. His word is law, just like God intended it.

Here’s one such, who showed up in his play-soldier suit with multiple weapons (apparently essential fashion accessories in Georgia) either to “protect” Medea Benjamin’s Code Pink women, or provide comic relief for them. Such soldier boys go out to the woods on weekends to pretend war and be macho, something that most of us outgrew by age twelve.

Bozo with guns

There are two terrible things wrong with this idea of the macho family protector and provider. The first is that any threat to the man’s authority and responsibility assumes disproportionate importance. So the market disaster of 2008 devastated men who believed this ethic, because many were suddenly not able to be the sole provider, or even a provider at all. Their authority was lost, and so were they. You can see why men who buy this ethic refuse to help with dinner, housecleaning, or the kids if the woman is the only one working. It’s crushing to their ego to be reduced to a mere woman. Their reactions include alcoholism, depression, domestic violence, divorce, and suicide.

You can also see why such men dislike even the thought of “feminism”. No woman should have expertise or authority, or be smarter, because that’s the man’s role. There is no room for error when your ego depends entirely on filling this role. This, of course, is the other thing wrong: female talents are undervalued and wasted.

Such men cannot tolerate
any threat to their dominance.

Who are our heroes? Well, besides the male-dominated “action” movies and TV shows that consist mostly of fistfights, guns, explosions, car crashes, and other violence, one hint is the annual countdown until football season comes around. Cable TV has found that the demand for the annual spectacle of coliseum battle between teams of armored giants is so great that they will offer coverage nearly 24/7.

From high school on up, football players are not known for their thoughtfulness, tolerance, sensitivity—or brains. There are regular reports of rape, violence, crimes, and shootings involving football players. Violence, after all, is their job.

Violence is the job of the military too, and we worship every instance in which men (mostly) were sent forth to kill other men. Remember when the memorial to the war in Vietnam was built? Veterans groups reacted with rage, because Maya Lin’s proposal did not include rearing horses or macho men in heroic poses. There was no attempt to make the horror of war into something glorious and macho. But many thousands visit it every year to grieve and pay respects, and almost no one visits the rearing horses.

No, machismo is not something we should cultivate. But we do.

Machismo is closely related to intolerance, which manifests itself as racial and cultural intolerance. Racism is bipartisan, but after a period of improvement it was rejuvenated by Ronald Reagan’s dog-whistle racism and fabricated welfare abusers and is now Republican-owned. The election of Obama brought the racists out of the woodwork like crazed roaches in a fire. Many came from places you expect, particularly the Old South and the cowboy West, but it is everywhere in greater or lesser degree.

We hurt ourselves with intolerance.

We make negative assumptions about people who don’t look like us, but almost none of these beliefs hold up under scrutiny. The worst of them, of course, is that black people are responsible for most poverty because they are druggies who have no interest in working and normal family life. This assumption does not weather inspection, and neither do the assumptions—or even the basic facts—about the brown immigrants who have been so important to our country for over 400 of our 238 years. (Yes, that’s correct.)

It’s so obvious that it seems silly to say it, but all of these are just people who want nothing more than to earn a decent living so they can live a pleasant life and provide the best for their children, just like the rest of us. But we don’t think so. If we did, we’d do everything in our power to ensure equality for everyone. Instead, the real welfare of most of us erodes, while the super rich accumulate ever more wealth. Instead, one political party works to increase inequality. Instead, our school systems, on which the future depends, are systematically underfunded in poor neighborhoods, thus ensuring ongoing poverty and all its many sequelae.

Democrats are losing
the intolerance race
by a landslide.

We have also constructed a criminal justice system that allowed the hugely devastating Wall Street criminals to go unpunished (the banks were fined, but no one is serving the long prison sentences they deserve) while millions of minority men are sentenced to decades in for-profit penal institutions for far lesser crimes. Read Alice Goffman’s On the Run to understand how the system works, or more accurately, doesn’t work.

Then there is the political intolerance. Democrats are certainly not immune to this trait, and the anonymous internet sure as hell hasn’t helped, but at the moment Democrats are losing the intolerance race by a landslide. We are daily deluged by the most gross stupidities, hatreds, and falsehoods from Republicans. All gays should be confined inside a fence. All black people should be in jail. Only Christians should be citizens. Science comes from the Devil. All Latinos should be run out of the country…

We will never achieve a perfect world, of course, but it would be rather nice if we could eliminate at least some of the ugliness and injustice at home by improving our personal attitude. This we don’t seem to be doing.

Latin Bank Bustout

A few years ago, virtually all the Latin American leaders decided they’d had quite enough of our neoconservative hogwash. Basically, they tossed us out and took over for themselves.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is a regional bloc that was created on December 3, 2011, in Caracas, Venezuela. The organization consists of 33 sovereign countries in the Americas representing roughly 600 million people. Absent from the bloc are Canada and the United States, as well as the territories of France, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom in the region. The bloc decided the neoconservatives had done enough damage.

Latin American leaders had enough
neoconservative hogwash.
They tossed us out.

Then the BRICS came to a similar conclusion.

The BRICS countries are Brazil, Russia, China, India, and South Africa. They had been under similar pressures, so they decided to form the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and the New Development Bank (NDB). These new organizations are designed to bolster the economies of the BRICS countries. They are also designed to get away from the traps of the First World banks.

Now, why did they do these things, when they already have the all-benevolent International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization to help them with all their economic needs?

Easy, really. They did it because this Unholy Trinity are organizations that function for the benefit of First World banks, corporations, and the governments of the US and Europe, and no one else.

The Unholy Trinity
are their enemies.

The standard neoconservative advice for a poor country with economic problems is to accept multi-billion-dollar loans, which are awarded on condition of restructuring the economy and banking systems. Restructuring always means that everyone but the rich will suffer and become poorer for decades. Naturally, the loaners benefit greatly. The recipient country is saddled with huge loan payments over many years that become increasingly hard to meet.

Since the work force and tax revenue are reduced by the banks’ austerity recommendations, recipient countries quickly become trapped in a declining spiral from which the only escape is to default unless the loans are forgiven. So some did the only reasonable thing. They defaulted, and immediately after their fortunes began to slowly improve.

They escaped by forming
their own institutions,
free from the clutches
of neoconservatives.

But the big banks are not the only culprits. The news recently showed Argentina trying to escape the clutches of the “vulture funds”, namely a group of New York hedge funds whose purpose is to extract as much unearned wealth from the Argentine economy as possible to make their rich investors richer, which of course would have a dreadful effect on the Argentine poor. Argentina defaulted for the second time, which will be difficult in banker’s terms, but will save the people a lot of grief.

That’s why Latin America dumped the IMF and World Bank and formed their own. The IMF and World Bank are their enemies, along with every hedge fund that bets on a government failure, and all the blustering of IMF and World Bank executives with their self-serving advice no longer impresses them.

Wingnuts, Freedom, and Democracy

Wingnuts understand neither freedom nor democracy.

Picture some guy carrying a deadly assault rifle, a machine gun capable of killing fifty people at any moment. He thinks it is his natural “freedom” to bring this very dangerous weapon, fully loaded, into a crowded public place. He hasn’t a clue that the hundreds of people around him might just want to be free of his very real threat of death, that he himself violates one of the most important human rights, to be free of the threat of violence.

They are haters and blamers. On Stormfront, the neo-Nazi hate site, the favorite group to hate is Jews, but all the usual suspects follow: blacks, gays, etc. They love Adolph Hitler because they think he had the right answer—kill all the Jews—after which everything would be just fine. It never occurs to any of them to question whether Jews are actually responsible for the ills of society, and of course that is exactly what Hitler counted on.

Weapons rights wingnuts
violate the fundamental right
to be free from the threat of violence.

Such people, virtually all of them believers in the importance of owning and carrying weapons capable of killing many others quickly, have a lot to say about their own “rights”, their own “freedom”, but have no clue that others who value freedom could see that much-ballyhooed “freedom” as a threat on their lives. Wingnut “freedom” is a freedom to do as they please regardless of how that affects others. How much distance is there between their “freedom” to carry machine guns and their “freedom” to open fire on a person, or a crowd, they imagine threatens them? Not much, if recent “stand your ground” murders of unarmed people are any indication.

“Democracy” is the other big thing they are clueless about, probably because “democracy” is irrelevant as long as they are perfectly free to do whatever they fancy at the moment. They feel no responsibility toward any person who does not share their hatreds. Likewise, they see laws as nothing more than illegally taking away their supposed freedom. The concept of protecting others’ freedom is foreign to them.

How much distance is there
between their “freedom”
to carry machine guns
and their “freedom” to open fire?

If they are clueless as to why they are less than wonderful persons, I am clueless to explain where their specific hatreds come from. I suppose it would be natural to dislike a people who had actually hurt you in some way—say, brutal slave owners if you were newly emancipated, or the bankers who cheated you out of your home more recently. But we should all be smart enough to understand that only the guilty are guilty, not their descendants or colleagues, and carrying weapons has no relationship to perceived wrong. And hating some group does not compensate for personal weakness.

There is, in fact, an explanation for the distrust sometimes found in a whole people. It comes from their own deep trust of their own, and distrust of people outside their own, and it has a long history. Insular African tribes, who placed great trust in their own, but in no one else, were more than willing to sell their neighbors from other tribes into slavery. They trusted each other without reserve, but no one else. They used their closed society to exclude and betray those not in their tribe, bringing relative wealth and freedom to themselves, and the reverse for others. Today, centuries after slave trading faded away, these same tribes are poor because of their narrow-minded attitude and lack of individualized freedom, and more open-minded tribes are more economically successful. The same is true for closed societies all over the world. They trust no one outside their circle, but within their circle nobody is really free. The society is authoritarian, and does not value individuals. Their exclusionary focus eventually makes everyone poor. North Korea is a prime example.

All such people would do better
to look within and discover
what tolerance is.

As for the wingnuts who feel they must be prepared to defend themselves against the rest of us with military weaponry, they are incapable of understanding that those outside their “tribe” are also humans, with all the characteristics of people everywhere, no matter what they look like. Consider the “patriots” who have taken to defending our southern border from brown low-wage workers, or brown children running from murder. They are also fooling themselves when they imagine they are prepared to defend the nation against its own government. A single tank or missile could kill them all, no matter how many assault weapons they haul around.

Nor is it enough for someone to be a fellow wingnut. The “patriots” who showed up at Clive Bundy’s ranch to defend his right to defraud the US government nearly came to gunfire among themselves. These people are immature fools, angry boys with loaded weapons. They would be better off to discover what tolerance means, and to cultivate their own talents.

Water We Gun Do Bowdit?

A quick glance at the areas of drought in late July 2014 from the NYT map below tells more than we want to hear about. See that dark red patch on the west coast? That’s California from San Francisco southward. The other red area takes in the entire Southwest up into Washington. We are in the midst of a severe water emergency. This has come about because the past three winters have not brought the deep snows we expected in the Sierras, the snows that provide almost all of the water for the entire state. The reservoirs are very low, and boat docks have long been sitting on dry land. Farmers have been drilling to record depths for irrigation water, and the land has sunk a yard because of it. We don’t know when ground water will be gone, but we do know it won’t be coming back.

Drought 2014-07-24

But that’s not the scary part. The scary part is the distinct possibility that the two-century wet period we got used to is an anomaly, and may well be over. It looks increasingly probable that we are reverting to the arid climate of the millennia before. Those who don’t believe it should take a look at The West Without Water, by Ingram and Malamud-Roam. They show us what science says, and what it says is what I just repeated.

OMG! We could be in deep doo-doo. There are many millions more people now, both here and in the whole US. The entire nation relies on the produce grown in California’s Central Valley, which is ground zero for drought. We are in deep doo-doo, and aren’t doing any more about it than we are doing about climate change. Both are things that are not merely possibilities for some distant future. Both are happening now, and are very dangerous.

We are reverting to an arid climate.

We can hardly claim that it’s “fortunate” that we in California have a better shot at fixing the water crisis than the climate crisis, but at least our state problem is on a somewhat smaller scale. And there are things we can do. Lots of them. Unfortunately, almost all are things that will help cities and people, but not the great food-growing enterprise.

But some people apparently think they are still back east. They simply don’t get it: We live in a desert, not a rainforest. Kentucky blue grass is an invasive weed. At the very least, every single person in the arid Southwest must understand that wasting water is a serious failure that will soon be treated as a punishable crime.

Kentucky blue grass is an invasive weed.

What to do about agricultural water, which is most of it, is a difficult problem with few good suggestions. But improving city use has several ready solutions. Below is one of the quickest to implement, and involves the bulk of city water use.

But first, a quick review of how water is purified.

All water must be purified before it is safe and pleasant to drink, even our beloved Hetch Hetchey water. Most water from lakes and rivers comes with stuff like wood, fish and fish crap, and plants in it, as well as various bacteria and other contaminants. So first it is filtered to take out the “big chunks”. Next it is is mixed with alum and chlorine and settled. The sticky alum blobs attract bacteria and other stuff which sink to the bottom and are removed. After that the water is filtered through several feet of gravel and sand, then disinfected with chlorine and other chemicals. Some chlorine is left in the water to prevent buildup of bacteria before household use. If the water is good to begin with, only the latter steps are needed.

All water must be purified
before it is safe and pleasant to drink.

When the water is used it becomes contaminated by all sorts of waste matter and chemicals, and is returned to a waste water treatment plant. There it is treated much the same way “new” water is treated. It is not purified as thoroughly as fresh water is, but unless the treatment plant is an antique, the water is treated enough that it can be safely discharged into the ocean or river without undue risk of disease-causing contamination.

But here’s the thing: This relatively safe discharge water needs only to be treated much as “new” water is treated to become perfectly safe and pleasant for drinking and other household uses again. If it is, the need for “new” water is sharply reduced, thus saving us from the all but certain dangerous shortages that we will soon experience.

At least one large commercial building
recycles and purifies all of its water
right in the lobby of the building.

Although pure water is pure water, and safe and pleasant to drink, many people can’t quite believe that water once befouled with fecal matter and chemicals could be completely recovered. But it’s quite true. Remember, reservoir water comes complete with fish, bird, and animal poop and worse. At least one large commercial building purifies and recycles all of its water right in the lobby of the building. It works.

Even so, it makes no sense to purify every drop of water at great expense when only the water for drinking and cooking needs to be that pure. Nor should it be necessary to use drinking water—which is only available in bottles in many parts of the world—to flush away waste. But that requires a radical reworking of infrastructure and major basic changes. Look here for one approach.

There are many things that could and should be done to address the water disaster now breathing down our necks. The trouble is, we think we can get by with small gestures until it’s all better again, and that ain’t gonna happen. As with climate change, we have used up all our procrastination time. If we don’t start paying some serious attention we will soon wish we had.

The Scourge of “Development” in the Third World

“Development” in almost any setting means that wealth decides what is to be developed and where, and imposes that plan on the people involved. This happens even where I live, in San Francisco.

But the greatest development evils happen in poor countries with authoritarian leaders, where large numbers of people are displaced, all control over their own lives is ended, and commonly some of them die in the process.

Wealth decides
what is to be developed and where,
and imposes that plan on the people.

Uganda, 2010: government soldiers forced a whole village of farmers off their fields at gunpoint, fields their families had farmed for centuries, and burned all their homes order to grow trees for lumber. Lumber!, on the advice of development “experts”. Two years later an almost identical scheme drove 1.5-million farmers of their land in Ethiopia. In India, the developers forced hundreds of thousands off their land to build a dam. They were promised new homes and great benefit from the new electricity generated. None of that happened. In Nigeria Big Oil moved in, stole the natural resources by paying off the corrupt government, poisoned the land, and people had to move away from their ancient homeland into the world’s worst slums.

These occurrences are endless, and it is always those without power and money who lose out—including their homes, their livelihood, their very lives. It is always the giant corporations, the corrupt autocrats, and the rich countries that benefit, never the people.

You can almost guarantee a bad outcome with the combination of autocracy and development experts. The money is always stolen one way or another, the development project is either never started or never finished, and the intended recipients never get an ounce of benefit.

Development experts always think in terms of grandiose projects for the entire country and believe only “experts” can decide what is best. Always the people who should have the most to say, and who are usually hurt by the projects, are never asked, and never asked to contribute their talents. The country never benefits as promised.

The wellbeing of the people

It is surprising how little importance wealth has. What poor people everywhere need and want sounds pretty much like what is prescribed by the UN list of basic rights: freedom from violence, adequate food, and so on. Basically, people don’t give a damn about “development” if they aren’t free, because giving money to an autocrat makes them neither free nor developed, and usually makes things worse.

Unless the freedom and wellbeing of the individual is an actuality on the ground, which is rare, the country will be run for the benefit of the rich and powerful, who gain their wealth by extracting it from the poor. They also are enriched by diverting the charitable assistance of rich nations, and by outright theft of the country’s resources. In every case, the rest of the nation is poor, and is virtually never helped by the government.

Giving what is not needed

The bigger the development agency, the less able it is to provide the people with what they actually need. Most such agencies are essentially authoritarian, and so are their client states. “Experts in development”, either within the agency, within the government, or within academe—but never within the recipient citizens themselves—determine what should be done to foster economic growth, when often “growth” or “development” is not what is needed.

The greatest needs in many places are clean water, sanitary waste disposal, adequate food, and protection from various diseases. But big agencies are simply unable to deal with anything that costs less than tens of millions of dollars. So they provide, say, a big dam, or transmitting towers. The real needs remain unmet, and no work or money reaches those who need it. Little agencies build, say, an orphanage—where no one asked for or needs an orphanage. Or a windmill that wasn’t asked for. Then they leave and do not return. Within a few years, absent maintenance and parts, each project collapses.

Most development agencies
are authoritarian.

A major effort is launched to provide families with mosquito netting to battle malaria, and the agency orders thousands of nets from big European manufacturers and gives them away free. The local factory that makes nets is never asked to make netting for the effort, and none of their products are purchased. Instead of enlarging their output they are forced to shutter their factory, and the country becomes poorer for it. Grain dumped by heavily subsidized American corporate farmers is imported by the ton to battle a famine, while regional farmers go broke because they no longer have a market for their grain, can’t beat subsidized prices, and are forced to move to dismal city slums. The country becomes poorer.

Things like this happen all the time, and the primary reason is that the people most affected are never consulted, and most often have no real democracy. What is available locally is ignored because millions of dollars can be used to buy goods, services, and products from First World corporations.

The non-development movement

When the colonial era got underway, Europe saw most of the world as empty territory, a blank slate, there for the taking. The people who lived there were seen as nothing more than impediments to “progress”, and non-whites everywhere were universally assumed to be incapable of competence.

As the colonial era ground to a halt, the native people in nearly every colonial territory had suffered under several centuries of despotic rule followed by home-grown kleptocracy, and thus were reduced to deep poverty, their cultural strengths ignored or destroyed.

Somewhere between one and three trillion dollars have been spent over the past fifty years, and only a small part of it has made any difference at all. One of the few successful ventures has been in reducing infant and childhood deaths, which is a broad based effort. Only a few years ago they stood at some 18,000 daily, and now are half of that, so preventable deaths of the young stand at a mere three million a year now.

Except that we don’t know if that’s really true. Health statistics are notoriously inaccurate in the Third World, yet determining the degree of success depends entirely on having accurate data, from a lot of people, over a long period. We have little data, from not enough people, over too short a time. Whether child mortality has actually been halved is highly questionable.

One to three trillion dollars
have been spent,
and only a small part
has made any difference.

Unfortunately, nearly everything else has come to naught, and some are calling for a halt to it all. Among them is the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (Dead Aid), who thinks all aid should simply stop. The Americans David Glenwinkel (The Insanity of Africa) and William Easterly (The Tyranny of Experts) call for a radical rethinking of how we go about it. All three point out that our plans virtually never work as advertised, mostly because the people aren’t free and we haven’t consulted them. If the money isn’t siphoned off somewhere along the line, it often has unwanted results.

Personally, I think cessation of all charity and foreign aid would be a mistake, though. After all, even slightly improving the horrendous toll of childhood deaths is a worthwhile accomplishment, one that could not have occurred without extensive outside help. Organizations like Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center, working with other groups, have virtually wiped out several tropical diseases that had caused widespread suffering and incapacitation.

It wouldn’t hurt to simply quit giving money to tyrants.

BREAKING: White People Are a Small Minority

WHITE POPULATION IN THE WORLD IS ONLY 16%!!!!

Catastrophe! All Heaven forfend! We are surely doomed. DOOMED, I tell you! How did this calamity come about?

Well, it didn’t “come about”. White people have always been a small minority. After many centuries in which Europe was the civilized world’s swampy and uncivilized backwater, power and wealth arose with the European Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, and white people took their turn conquering the world, as other populations had done before them without benefit of the modern age.

With the invasion and conquering of foreign lands which lacked modern weapons and technology, combined with the brutality born of infinite greed, whites came to think of themselves as superior to all. Spanish slaughters of aboriginal Americans ensued. British mistreatment of South Asians. Colonization and exploitation in Africa by the Dutch and practically every other European power, every bit of it driven by the quest for unearned wealth, to be stolen from “inferiors”.

White people have always been a small minority.

In the (eventual) US, the more wealthy whites, specifically white anglo-saxon Protestants, assumed the role of masters of the North, as did slave-owning whites in the South. Whites came to assume that they were naturally superior to all. African slaves were animals, obviously, and therefore whites were given permission by the Bible to rule over them in any way they wanted to. Then of course there was the genocide of aborigines by various means. And each and every wave of immigrants was assumed to be barbaric and not suited for civilization. There were actual serious debates about whether the Irish and Italians, in their turn, could be educated at all. For such purposes, they were considered “black”.

And so we arrive at the present day, in which the most astonishingly ignorant white people, encouraged in their ignorance by political propagandists, are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone. Among them, rampant intolerance rides high, and skin color is the determining factor. Some are all but illiterate.

are country

OMG

Many of the politicians they elect relentlessly repeat this fable of superiority, playing to less educated intolerant white people who want to hear once more about their own superiority and victimhood: I am naturally superior, and would be better off if it weren’t for all those brown minorities who are freeloading on my tax dollars.

Ignorant white people are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone.

These people are utterly ignorant of the facts, that the ripoff artists are not the “minorities”, who are not minorities anyway, and who mostly work at minimum wage—and pay taxes. They sense that they are worse off, and want someone to blame. Politicians work hard to tell them who that should be.

Such people have been told so long about inferior minorities that they can’t help but buy the tale. If you told them they themselves were a minority, and that they are being suckered, they simply wouldn’t believe it. Like every other kind of faith, this does not yield to mere facts.

Maybe that’s not such a mystery, because the rich themselves appear to embrace economic beliefs that have repeatedly been proven false, but stagger on, zombielike. No, tax breaks for the rich never trickle down. Any fool can see this from any of the many charts demonstrating the widening gap between the rich and everyone else, starting with Ronald Reagan’s embrace of supply-side economics, which has been discredited a hundred ways.

Screen Shot 2011-10-26 at 7.04.09 PM

White Americans, especially lower income folk, must somehow learn: it is they, not the brown-skinned people from south of the border, who are the minority. They are not at all superior because of the paleness of their skin. They are being suckered by those who bombard them with the fairy tale of their victimhood at the hands of those who look superficially different from themselves. They are being victimized by the very people who tell them it’s all the Mexicans’ fault.

Getting these people to understand how things really are is all but impossible because of the fairy tales they have been told all their lives. But we have no choice but to try.

Published in: on 2014/07/24 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

BREAKING: White People are a Small Minority

WHITE POPULATION IN THE WORLD IS ONLY 16%!!!!

Catastrophe! All Heaven forfend! We are surely doomed. DOOMED, I tell you! How did this calamity come about?

Well, it didn’t “come about”. White people have always been a small minority. After many centuries in which Europe was the civilized world’s swampy and uncivilized backwater, power and wealth arose with the European Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, and white people took their turn conquering the world, as other populations had done before them without benefit of the modern age.

With the invasion and conquering of foreign lands which lacked modern weapons and technology, combined with the brutality born of infinite greed, whites came to think of themselves as superior to all. Spanish slaughters of aboriginal Americans ensued. British mistreatment of South Asians. Colonization and exploitation in Africa by the Dutch and practically every other European power, every bit of it driven by the quest for unearned wealth, to be stolen from “inferiors”.

White people have always been a small minority.

In the (eventual) US, the more wealthy whites, specifically white anglo-saxon Protestants, assumed the role of masters of the North, as did slave-owning whites in the South. Whites came to assume that they were naturally superior to all. African slaves were animals, obviously, and therefore whites were given permission by the Bible to rule over them in any way they wanted to. Then of course there was the genocide of aborigines by various means. And each and every wave of immigrants was assumed to be barbaric and not suited for civilization. There were actual serious debates about whether the Irish and Italians, in their turn, could be educated at all. For such purposes, they were considered “black”.

And so we arrive at the present day, in which the most astonishingly ignorant white people, encouraged in their ignorance by political propagandists, are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone. Among them, rampant intolerance rides high, and skin color is the determining factor. Some are all but illiterate.

are country

OMG

Many of the politicians they elect relentlessly repeat this fable of superiority, playing to less educated intolerant white people who want to hear once more about their own superiority and victimhood: I am naturally superior, and would be better off if it weren’t for all those brown minorities who are freeloading on my tax dollars.

Ignorant white people are certain that they are the natural superiors of virtually everyone.

These people are utterly ignorant of the facts, that the ripoff artists are not the “minorities”, who are not minorities anyway, and who mostly work at minimum wage—and pay taxes. They sense that they are worse off, and want someone to blame. Politicians work hard to tell them who that should be.

Such people have been told so long about inferior minorities that they can’t help but buy the tale. If you told them they themselves were a minority, and that they are being suckered, they simply wouldn’t believe it. Like every other kind of faith, this does not yield to mere facts.

Maybe that’s not such a mystery, because the rich themselves appear to embrace economic beliefs that have repeatedly been proven false, but stagger on, zombielike. No, tax breaks for the rich never trickle down. Any fool can see this from any of the many charts demonstrating the widening gap between the rich and everyone else, starting with Ronald Reagan’s embrace of supply-side economics, which has been discredited a hundred ways.

Screen Shot 2011-10-26 at 7.04.09 PM

White Americans, especially lower income folk, must somehow learn: it is they, not the brown-skinned people from south of the border, who are the minority. They are not at all superior because of the paleness of their skin. They are being suckered by those who bombard them with the fairy tale of their victimhood at the hands of those who look superficially different from themselves. They are being victimized by the very people who tell them it’s all the Mexicans’ fault.

Getting these people to understand how things really are is all but impossible because of the fairy tales they have been told all their lives. But we have no choice but to try.

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