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.

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.

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