Instead of trendy magnetic implants, the biohackers at 'Please Try This At Home' want to make biomedical bureaucracies obsolete.
Walking into “Please Try This At Home” meant walking into a conference nothing like any I’d been to before. Instead of a bright, shiny convention center, I found a community center, jammed with writing sheets and tables and food and hubbub. Instead of suited salespeople, I was surrounded by an overwhelming rush of diverse and joyous bodies. The event was a gathering of “Anarchotranshumanists, Xenofeminists, and Queer Cyborgs” who spent a weekend trying to imagine and build something better than the medical system marginalized bodies are frequently harmed by.
I often joke that there are two types of trans people: the kind who are anarchists, and the kind who haven’t tried to come out to their doctor.
It’s an over-simplification grounded in reality. The fact of the matter is that healthcare in the United States is broken by default, and it’s entirely and comprehensively fucked for anyone outside that default. For transgender people, accessing healthcare is necessarily more difficult within a system that frequently subjects trans people to gatekeeping and discrimination merely for existing. Similar barriers and disparities exist if you’re black or disabled, making the healthcare system especially perilous for people who fall into multiple boxes outside the white, cis, and able-bodied norm.
This justified mistrust of powerful biomedical institutions is what leads many trans people to autonomous and community-oriented politics, centered around the notion that we can’t trust anyone but ourselves. It’s also what led to the conference—and led me to the conference.
Co-Creating a Conference
Just as traditional medicine has its biases, so too does biohacking. People who self-describe as “biohackers” and run biohacking events tend to be white and middle class, and are frequently more interested in questions of theory or chic “tryborg” stunts than in the material needs of marginalized people. Often, the result is conferences filled with white academics discussing magnetic implants in a building that isn’t wheelchair accessible.
PTTAH is trying something different. As one of the organizers noted when I spoke with them, it’s guided by an emphasis on “accessibility and inclusivity, particularly for folks who don’t usually come to other biohacking cons.” There was a dedicated sensory room for people who needed time away from the noise and bustle of a conference space, and the venues were intentionally picked to be accessible by people with wheelchairs or other mobility aids, for example.
Now in its second year, PTTAH was organized around the change its participants want to see in the world. Part of that meant that the conference was not “run,” but co-created—kind of like a biohacking potluck. The explicit goal was to ensure that attendees, rather than organizers, had control over the content available. This resulted in a much wider range of voices deciding what got on the schedule, and correspondingly, a much wider range of perspectives represented, discussed, and addressed. And that, ultimately, was what it was all about: autonomy in determining what happens to your body, how it’s shaped, and how it moves in a space.
One example was the materials being distributed by Power Makes Us Sick (PMS), a research group focused on developing practices around autonomous trans healthcare. PMS’s work is designed to be shared widely, remade by anyone with a printer, and contributed to by anyone who wants. The result is links to sources of no-questions-asked estrogen, synthesized by trans people for trans people; narratives and stories of navigating and bypassing medical gatekeeping in a range of countries; advice on surgery prep not just for the person being operated on but community members who want to support them. It’s about separating medical needs from hierarchy, and infusing that hierarchy with community wherever that can’t be done.
The focus of the session “I took my surgically removed organs home in a snow globe and maybe you can too” was, as the title suggests, on sharing knowledge about how to get doctors to let you keep your removed body parts. Several audience members had kept theirs, and joined in for some questions and answers, and the speaker provided a “teaching aid” which was passed around the room: their testicles in a snowglobe.
“Here are my balls in a jar” might sound like a flippant frame for a talk, and very different from autonomous trans healthcare, but to me they’re part and parcel of the same thing. It matters that we can keep our organs, because behind that practice is the finding and sharing of paths through medical bureaucracy, and new techniques to evade control.
When I spoke to the presenter (who wishes to remain anonymous) about their motivations, they made clear that to them, it was ultimately about allowing people to have these options.
“People care about what gets done with their bodies in a lot of different ways for a lot of different reasons,” they told me. “It bothers me that people are having their freedom to choose taken from them when they might, for whatever reason, be invested in making their own decision that's different from the one that's seen as the default.”
All of this work highlights the importance of building spaces and sharing medical knowledge outside the normal, gate-kept institutions of healthcare. When we’re unable to afford medicine, it matters that we can make our own insulin. When we’re used to being treated by doctors like a sack of disposable parts, it matters that we can literally seize our body back from them—in a jar or otherwise.
More vital, though, is the community that is formed as a result: a collection of people normally disincluded from the discourse around medicine and biohacking. I watched bearded mutualists seeking a stateless society chat with trans social workers building community-based care networks to provide post-surgery care on the patient’s terms; autistic philosophers sit down with bioscientists. The point of the conference is not just watching talks, but the potential for new communities, collaborations, and networks of resistance.
Os Keyes is a researcher and writer based at the University of Washington, where they study gender, technology and (counter)power. Their current projects cover facial recognition, critical tactics for technology, and the consequences of classification.
As the third decade of the 21st century opens, the United States finds itself in a paradoxical situation: The economy is booming, unemployment is historically low, the nation is not involved in any major wars, and the international situation is (for the moment) reasonably stable. Yet voters do not feel stable or happy: On the right, many believe that the country they knew is being taken away from them by immigrants and shadowy elites, while for the left, democracy itself is being challenged by a Republican Party that has turned into a cult of personality. In 2016, America elected a president whose personal characteristics — narcissism, ignorance and barely disguised racism — should have immediately disqualified him. Yet Donald Trump became president and remains an object of adulation for at least a third of the country.
This polarization is perhaps the single greatest weakness of the American political system today, a weakness that authoritarian rivals like Vladimir Putin’s Russia have gleefully exploited. It is the subject of a superbly researched and written book by the journalist and commentator Ezra Klein, founder of Vox and host of a popular podcast. Klein argues that polarization exists for structural reasons having to do with the incentives created by U.S. institutions, and that our current predicament is not the result of individual leaders and the choices they make: It existed long before Trump took his famous ride down the escalator in Trump Tower and will unfortunately survive regardless of who is elected in November.
The bottom line of Klein’s argument is that polarization was driven fundamentally by race. The Republican Party has become the home of angry white voters anxious that the United States is turning into a “majority minority” society, as California already has, a reality epitomized by the election of Barack Obama.
There is no question that race played an important part in the 2016 election and that for many Trump voters, cultural identity was a more significant factor than economic self-interest. It is otherwise impossible to explain why so many working-class whites supported Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, a policy that benefited them above all.
But cultural identity is fed by many factors besides race, and understanding this complexity is very important if the Democrats hope to win back the Oval Office and Congress. Failure to appreciate the legitimate grounds for resentment by populist voters is a general failure of liberals everywhere, from Turkey and Hungary to Britain and the United States, and one of the reasons they keep losing elections.
Klein has done his homework in reviewing the extensive academic literature on the subject and interviewing scores of actors immersed in practical politics. The fact of polarization is not in question and it stems from the momentous political realignment that took place after the 1960s. Klein cites a famous study by the American Political Science Association from the 1950s complaining that the Republican and Democratic parties were too similar and didn’t offer voters real ideological choices. In those days, the two parties were large coalitions of heterogeneous interest groups. The Democratic Party, in particular, brought together an odd alliance of Northern liberals, working-class trade unionists and Southern segregationists. This changed in the 1960s when the Democrats embraced the civil rights movement, which led to a multigenerational shift by the South toward the Republican Party. The two parties became much more ideological and homogeneous by the early 21st century, such that the most liberal Republican lay to the right of the most conservative Democrat.
This part of the story has been well understood for many years; what has puzzled observers is why polarization has more recently intensified into what political scientists label “affective polarization,” a highly emotional attachment to one’s side that defies considerations of rational self-interest. Here Klein, like many others, reaches into the realm of social psychology and notes a basic human propensity to form powerful group attachments: Being red or blue has come to constitute an identity rather than an ideology. He cites a large literature suggesting that human cognition does not begin with facts and work its way to interpretations; rather, humans start with preexisting identities and use their considerable cognitive skills to justify positions they somehow know in advance to be right. Under these conditions, having more facts and information does not necessarily lead to better decisions. Klein cites one rather depressing study in which better-informed partisans were more attached to their incorrect opinions than people who were more ignorant.
These two phenomena — the Southern realignment and the human propensity to bond with groups — bring us to Klein’s central conclusion about the centrality of race for Trump voters and Republicans who believe their white identity is under threat.
The remainder of “Why We’re Polarized” catalogues the many other institutional sources of the underlying divide. The media, and especially social media, thrives on virality; it no longer reports news but creates news based on what sells. Changes in our campaign finance laws have weakened the political parties; this plus the spread of popular primaries has opened both parties to more extreme positions, since activists on left and right are the ones who donate money and vote in primaries. The fact that the United States has a presidential system and winner-take-all elections raises the stakes in contests and promotes extremist behavior, like Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s sidelining of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland during the final year of Obama’s presidency. Finally, local politics, which used to be resistant to larger national trends, have also become polarized because of outside money and national media.
“Why We’re Polarized” provides a highly useful guide to this most central of political puzzles, digesting mountains of social science research and presenting it in an engaging form. There are two areas of weakness, however, in an overall outstanding volume.
The first has to do with the central contention that our current polarization is fundamentally about race. Klein dismisses economic drivers of populism like globalization and the loss of working-class jobs, noting that if those were the fundamental issues, then left-wing populism rather than the nativist variety should have seen a big upsurge in support.
There is no question that race has resurfaced in an ugly manner in American politics, driven by an overtly racist president. But culture and identity are much broader than race. Gender is at least as important: Men have been losing status and economic power to women in workplaces and families steadily for the past generation. Many people in 2016 didn’t so much support Trump as vote against Hillary Clinton, who represented to them a certain kind of self-satisfied feminism and came into the election with very low trust and favorability ratings.
For some, a "week of anger" began in Lebanon, for others it was the "Tuesday of anger." In the Hamra district of Beirut, numerous bank
branches were attacked Tuesday night in clashes between protesters and police. ---- The main objective was the Lebanese Central Bank, which
had been hermetically sealed by security forces. During hours of street fighting, protesters destroyed windows, doors and ATMs, using stones
and iron bars. The walls of the banks were full of slogans like "People want to overthrow the banks." ---- Communist youth groups,
anarchists and other leftist organizations declared themselves responsible for the banking storm. Numerous non-governmental organizations
criticized the violence. Police responded with batons and tear gas. 59 people were arrested. According to the Lebanese Red Cross, 65 people
suffered minor injuries in part.
There were also demonstrations and clashes with security forces in the Lebanese city of northern Tripoli and in the Lebanese port city of
At the 43 th day of strike, how will evolve the fight ? Will it run out of steam or rebound in an unexpected form ? Whatever the outcome, it
is possible to ask a first series of reflections on a movement that will have lasting consequences. ---- As with every massive and lasting
strike movement, the chroniclers seem to rediscover the class struggle. And those who own the means of production are rediscovering that
their employees are essential for the production of wealth ! Conversely, the too slow and too weak extension of the strike to other sectors
negatively reveals that the employees have only one real power: to stop producing collectively and sustainably. And all of a sudden, all the
tactics of avoiding strikes or actions seeking to replace them revealed their limits: leapfrog days, Saturday demonstrations, street riots,
blockages of flows, are all tools that may be useful, but in no way comparable to a broad and deep " arms crossed insurrection ".
A brake: the loss of militant know-how
On April 13th, 2016, the Mossos d’Esquadra (the police force of Catalonia), in collaboration with the German police, raided three homes in Barcelona, which culminated in the arrest of two women comrades accused of expropriatingRead more »
Peruvians vote today in crucial parliamentary elections. But the future of the country relies not just on fighting corruption, but taking on the powerful corporate interests that dominate the country.
Twenty-nineteen was the year South America erupted. Amid revolts in Chile, a coup in Bolivia, and an indigenous insurrection in Ecuador, Peru has grabbed fewer international headlines, but has not altogether avoided the unrest of its neighbors.
Last September, enraged by ongoing and widespread corruption scandals, and fed up with a broken neoliberal system, inscribed in the Constitution since the Fujimori dictatorship of the 1990s, Peruvians took to the streets en masse to express a “popular veto” of the entire political class, eventually leading to the disbandment of the National Congress.
Now, President Martín Vizcarra has called for extraordinary congressional elections to be held on January 26. Though many consider the move a palliative measure to pacify the growing social discontent, the elections also offer a certain opportunity for the Left.
To learn more about the country’s congressional elections and the current state of the Peruvian left, Victor Miguel Castillo and Nicolas Allen spoke to Verónika Mendoza. A feminist, environmentalist, and presidential candidate in 2016, Mendoza is a part of the emergent Nuevo Perú movement, a renewed left-wing coalition combatting years of stigmatization.
Victor Miguel Castillo
To start off, can you say a little about yourself and your background in politics?
I’m Cusqueña — from Cusco. I’m a mother, an anthropologist, and I’m thirty-nine years old. I come from a generation in Peru for whom it was really difficult to get involved in left-wing politics, due to the disastrous effects of the Fujimori dictatorship.
I started out in university activism and eventually arrived at politics proper, becoming involved in a movement — and eventual party — called the Movimiento Nacionalista (Nationalist Movement), which in 2011 went on to win the presidency with Ollanta Humala. I took part in the 2011 elections as a congressional candidate and won a seat in Congress.
My involvement with the Movimiento Nacionalista was based, in part, on the struggle to exercise sovereign control over our territory and to protect our common property as a nation, but I was also equally concerned with the struggle for the political recognition of our cultural diversity — that is, our plurinationality.
But I parted ways with the movement a year into Ollanta Humala’s term, when he quickly betrayed the ideals for which he had been elected.
From that moment onward, myself and others set out to find a vehicle that could include the people and organizations making up the diverse Peruvian left. We launched a new project known as Frente Amplio (Broad Front), a convergence of different left-wing groups — parties, social organizations, trade unions. From that point on, we have been working to build up strength, both at the level of national institutional politics as well as in the territories, with organizations and social movements.
Victor Miguel Castillo
You also ran for president with Frente Amplio in 2015–16, narrowly missing out on a chance to compete in the runoff election against the right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori. How would you characterize the trajectory of the Peruvian left since then?
The results of the 2016 elections were important, for the country itself, first and foremost, but also for the different leftist currents in Peru. Twenty-sixteen was the year when, after years of being marginalized and stigmatized, the Left returned to the national political stage and began to make its presence felt in institutional politics. We won twenty seats in a unicameral congress made up of 120 congressional members. We pushed to the top of the political agenda a number of issues that had long been ignored.
Since 2016 we have managed to establish the Left as a significant political force with a strong voice in Peruvian national politics, and we have played an important role in strengthening the country’s political institutions themselves.
However, the same period that saw the return of the Peruvian left has been heavily marked by attempts to combat widespread corruption. There have been countless cases coming to light, involving former and acting presidents. People always knew there was systemic corruption, but as more evidence is made public, the entire national political debate has started to revolve around that question.
Frente Amplio — and the Left in general — has taken a strong stance against corruption, but as that issue increasingly occupies the main political stage in Peru, deeper social issues have been driven into the background. Issues like precarious labor, health care, education and the general precarity of living conditions aren’t being talked about enough.
This, then, is the Left’s current challenge: to keep pushing for political reforms that can combat corruption and strengthen democracy, while not letting the social and economic questions fall by the wayside — which is, in fact, what conservative and right-wing forces in Peru are betting on, as they too embrace an anti-corruption rhetoric.
Victor Miguel Castillo
How do you propose to shift the terms of that debate toward a more progressive social and political agenda? The Peruvian state, perhaps more than any other country in South America, is completely beholden to corporate interests, lobbies, and foreign and national capital. Moreover, Peru has some of the region’s highest levels of workplace informality. All those factors tend to favor political disaffection, don’t they?
That every single one of our democratically elected presidents has been tried and convicted for corruption, along with their cabinets and officials, at every level of government, means that a debate needs to be had about corruption, one that is not focused on individual morality. The individual question can’t be ignored either, which is why we support ongoing investigations into elected officials, but the fact that the problem is so systemic means that we need to start thinking more broadly about the rules of the game. What we are proposing, then, is to politicize the existing debate.
Our current national institutional framework, enshrined in the Constitution, establishes that education, health care, and housing are for-profit enterprises, and that life itself is a commodity to be bought and sold. What this means is that political power is concentrated in the hands of those with money, and not with the Peruvian people. Thankfully, people are starting to wake up to this, and on that basis we have decided to launch a call for a new constitutional agreement.
Not long ago, such a proposal would have been regarded as totally anomalous. But there’s a growing public consensus today that it isn’t enough to keep implementing sporadic reforms that simply patch up a broken system. Of course, there are proposals circulating today to implement important constitutional and political reforms. But our current challenge is to convince the public and get them actively involved in a campaign for a deep, radical, and systemic change.
Peru will be celebrating its bicentenary in 2021, and there will also be general and congressional elections. We believe that then the time will be right to pose the question of what kind of country we want to live in, and what kind of new foundation can be laid.
Victor Miguel Castillo
You’re suggesting a new constitutional pact for a new republic. The current neoliberal constitution, which was imposed during the Fujimori dictatorship, explicitly states that the pursuit of free enterprise is the most hallowed right of every Peruvian citizen — more than any other civil or social right. What are the challenges you face in organizing a society whose conception of politics and civic engagement is so deeply shaped by neoliberalism?
You’ve hit on one of the defining elements of contemporary Peruvian society. I would take a step back, though, and point to several other elements that one should also bear in mind if they’re to understand Peru today.
We need to consider the country’s recent history of political violence. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Peru was affected by the violence of subversive groups (the Shining Path and others), a violence that was equaled, if not surpassed, by repressive, authoritarian state violence. The toll for that conflict was more than seventy thousand dead.
The Fujimori dictatorship of the 1990s saw a continuation of state repression, criminalizing, when not outright assassinating, left-wing political leaders and social movement figures. The Left emerged from that period extremely debilitated, fragmented, and stigmatized, both in political and social terms.
The other factor to take into account is the economy: nearly 70 percent of Peruvian workers make their living in the informal economy, where there are virtually no labor rights, benefits, or any type of minimally humane working conditions. Precarity and informality exacerbate the existing fragmentation, where the leading motto seems to be “save yourself if you can.” In that scenario, individual concerns understandably trump relationships with neighbors, coworkers, and so on, and this makes for an extremely complex landscape for the Left.
That same scenario is also fertile ground for neoliberals who are increasingly finding success by embracing a more hardline conservatism, exploiting the legitimate fears that people experience in the midst of generalized uncertainty. There are sectors of the Right that are actively stoking fear, distrust, and panic toward those groups and communities perceived as different: against Venezuelan immigrants, the LGBT community, or the figure of the emancipated woman, who some want to violently drive back into the domestic sphere.
Today’s Peruvian society is extremely complex, as you can see. But at the same time, we feel that there is enormous potential to build points of connection, solidarity, and awareness among existing groups, and that only by doing so can we do the work that needs to be done. The party that I currently belong to, Nuevo Perú, proposes to do exactly that type of work: strengthening bonds between various organizations and groups while also building up the capacity of our own party.
Victor Miguel Castillo
As you’ve suggested, left-wing activism is heavily stigmatized in Peruvian politics and society. Whether it’s the experience with the Shining Path, or, now, the Right’s use of the Venezuela boogeyman, it seems like a hard space to carve out. How do you deal with such a hostile climate?
It is indeed hard to be on the Left in Peru. The armed conflict of the ’80s and ’90s, and the subsequent repression, have allowed the elite to stir up hatred of the Left and to label anyone involved in protesting or organizing as terrorists. But Nuevo Perú is also part of a generation that has decided to confront that stigmatization head-on, with a left-wing project that aims to take power and government.
As members of Nuevo Perú, we consider ourselves part of a long socialist tradition that began with the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui in the 1920s. His call to build a socialism that is neither “a tracing nor a copy, but a heroic creation” still resonates with us as we try, from the left, to democratize the country, in the struggle for land, for workers’ and women’s rights.
We also feel the need today to break with certain historical tendencies of the Left — the ideologism and authoritarianism that has, where it appeared, isolated the Left. Our proposal seeks to be critical, combative, but above all, affirmative, proposing a hopeful vision for the majorities that today are surviving exploitation, environmental disaster, crime, and the violence of neoliberalism. We insist on a socialist project where it is possible to combine diversity and equality.
Victor Miguel Castillo
There seems to be fairly widespread social unease in Peru. Considering the major revolts in Ecuador and Chile, which are responding to similar social conditions, do you foresee the possibility of Peru’s unease turning into more generalized social unrest?
Yes, the social conditions are indeed in place for the types of revolts we’ve seen in other countries. In fact, the last several years have seen protests and revolts all across Peru, although these have tended to be more scattered and episodic.
This is not to say there are not long-standing, structural social conflicts; the struggle around socio-environmental issues is central in Peru today. However, in that particular struggle, there has been an aggressive state policy to criminalize and violently repress struggles against extractivism.
For example, during the presidency of Alan García (2006–11), more than two hundred civilians were killed by state agents in conflicts over extractive projects. Eighty civilians died under the government of Humala. The current president, Martín Vizcarra, has been relatively better in terms of respecting human rights, but the damage has been done: people are afraid of falling victim to a campaign that criminalizes protest. There are currently six hundred environmental activists, movement leaders, and trade unionists facing prison for simply exercising their right to protest. All this means that it is incredibly difficult to generate mass mobilizations. Having said that, however, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of mass unrest like we’ve seen in neighboring countries.
Victor Miguel Castillo
For the time being, the unrest in Peru seems to be mostly contained to the Congress. Could you briefly explain the significance of President Vizcarra dissolving Congress and calling for extraordinary elections? What does this mean for the electoral alliance that you are participating in, Juntos por el Perú (Together for Peru)?
After the revelation that the vast majority of Congress members were involved in illegal, mafia-like activities, and parties became singularly devoted to protecting their members from any type of political prosecution, the public demanded that Congress be shut down.
As a result, we now have complementary congressional elections on January 26, in order to determine the composition of the entire Congress. This is the first time in the democratic era that Peru’s Congress has been shut down. (Fujimori closed Congress in the ’90s, although he did so in a completely authoritarian manner that went against the existing Constitution.)
Nuevo Peru, to which I belong, has joined forces with various parties, organizations, and trade unions to form Juntos por el Perú, an electoral alliance that will participate in these congressional elections.
These elections, it must be said, are imperfect and partial. By this, I mean that we should instead be holding general elections, where we could elect not only a new Congress but a new president as well. The political crisis has reached such a fever pitch in Peru that anything less is insufficient. We need a systemic political reform capable of preventing political co-option by corporate lobbies. But that hasn’t happened, and instead we are left with insufficient reforms, where the same political figures can easily return.
What this all means is that there is a dispute underway in Peru, an open dispute, around the meaning of the closure of Congress and about the post-closure transition that will take place in the lead-up to 2021. The general elections of 2021 will be historic in Peru, of that I am convinced. In 2021 we will have a final verdict on the meaning of this political moment: whether it has unleashed democratic and emancipatory forces, enshrined the same old neoliberal interests, or, and this is the risk of which Brazil serves as a cautionary example, whether we are actually embarking on a regressive path.
Victor Miguel Castillo
What specifically is the platform of Juntos por el Perú in the upcoming elections, at the programmatic level?
Our platform calls for recovering the state and its institutions from the corrupt interests that have effectively kidnapped it — and opening them up to democratic processes that would put them at the disposition of the people.
That same platform calls for the decommodification of goods like health, education, and housing, and the restitution of all other basic rights that are currently lacking in the country. Peruvians should have access to these rights regardless of their purchasing power.
We are also calling to develop a plan for sustainable development in which the state would play a leading role, intervening to promote the growth of strategic sectors like agriculture and energy. The current Constitution says that the state cannot interfere with the invisible hand of the market — although, of course, for large multinationals, agribusiness, banks, and mining companies, the state is willing to bend over backward and admit tax breaks and subsidies.
Another essential aspect of Nuevo Perú’s platform is to start grappling with the environmental calamity that we are living in. The environmental struggle is actually in our DNA as a movement, and many of us joined Nuevo Perú after years of involvement in socio-environmental conflicts, taking part in indigenous struggles in defense of their territories.
Finally, we’re standing on a platform for political recognition of the country’s diverse populations: cultural rights, sexual rights, women’s rights, and so on.
Victor Miguel Castillo
Do you consider Nuevo Perú to be a revolutionary project? That is to say, do you feel there is room to pursue a transformative political agenda, or are the conditions such that institutional reforms would be adequate?
We want to change the entire system. We want to recover the state for the people and contest control of its institutions. We know that this will not be possible without building popular power and, furthermore, that winning elections does not solve the problem unless you are also building power in the streets, neighborhoods, and communities. That is our struggle.
Peruvians are approaching the point where they can no longer tolerate piecemeal reforms, not while young workers are routinely dying as a result of exploitation; while the water our children drink is at risk; while women continue to be harassed, raped, and murdered — last year was a national record for femicides — and while our ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. The time for partial solutions is over.
To win that struggle we need to build a majoritarian movement. We are not there yet, but we’re on our way.
The debate on privacy and law at the Federal Trade Commission was unusually heated that day. Tech industry executives “argued that they were capable of regulating themselves and that government intervention would be costly and counterproductive.” Civil libertarians warned that the companies’ data capabilities posed “an unprecedented threat to individual freedom.” One observed, “We have to decide what human beings are in the electronic age. Are we just going to be chattel for commerce?” A commissioner asked, ‘‘Where should we draw the line?” The year was 1997.
The line was never drawn, and the executives got their way. Twenty-three years later the evidence is in. The fruit of that victory was a new economic logic that I call “surveillance capitalism.” Its success depends upon one-way-mirror operations engineered for our ignorance and wrapped in a fog of misdirection, euphemism and mendacity. It rooted and flourished in the new spaces of the internet, once celebrated by surveillance capitalists as “the world’s largest ungoverned space.” But power fills a void, and those once wild spaces are no longer ungoverned. Instead, they are owned and operated by private surveillance capital and governed by its iron laws.
And like our forebears who named the automobile “horseless carriage” because they could not reckon with its true dimension, we regarded the internet platforms as “bulletin boards” where anyone could pin a note. Congress cemented this delusion in a statute, Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, absolving those companies of the obligations that adhere to “publishers” or even to “speakers.”
Only repeated crises have taught us that these platforms are not bulletin boards but hyper-velocity global bloodstreams into which anyone may introduce a dangerous virus without a vaccine. This is how Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, could legally refuse to remove a faked video of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and later double down on this decision, announcing that political advertising would not be subject to fact-checking.
All of these delusions rest on the most treacherous hallucination of them all: the belief that privacy is private. We have imagined that we can choose our degree of privacy with an individual calculation in which a bit of personal information is traded for valued services — a reasonable quid pro quo. For example, when Delta Air Lines piloted a biometric data system at the Atlanta airport, the company reported that of nearly 25,000 customers who traveled there each week, 98 percent opted into the process, noting that “the facial recognition option is saving an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding, or nine minutes when boarding a wide body aircraft.”
In fact the rapid development of facial recognition systems reveals the public consequences of this supposedly private choice. Surveillance capitalists have demanded the right to take our faces wherever they appear — on a city street or a Facebook page. The Financial Times reported that a Microsoft facial recognition training database of 10 million images plucked from the internet without anyone’s knowledge and supposedly limited to academic research was employed by companies like IBM and state agencies that included the United States and Chinese military. Among these were two Chinese suppliers of equipment to officials in Xinjiang, where members of the Uighur community live in open-air prisons under perpetual surveillance by facial recognition systems.
Privacy is not private, because the effectiveness of these and other private or public surveillance and control systems depends upon the pieces of ourselves that we give up — or that are secretly stolen from us.
Our digital century was to have been democracy’s Golden Age. Instead, we enter its third decade marked by a stark new form of social inequality best understood as “epistemic inequality.” It recalls a pre-Gutenberg era of extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge, as the tech giants seize control of information and learning itself. The delusion of “privacy as private” was crafted to breed and feed this unanticipated social divide. Surveillance capitalists exploit the widening inequity of knowledge for the sake of profits. They manipulate the economy, our society and even our lives with impunity, endangering not just individual privacy but democracy itself. Distracted by our delusions, we failed to notice this bloodless coup from above.
The belief that privacy is private has left us careening toward a future that we did not choose, because it failed to reckon with the profound distinction between a society that insists upon sovereign individual rights and one that lives by the social relations of the one-way mirror. The lesson is that privacy is public — it is a collective good that is logically and morally inseparable from the values of human autonomy and self-determination upon which privacy depends and without which a democratic society is unimaginable.
Still, the winds appear to have finally shifted. A fragile new awareness is dawning as we claw our way back up the rabbit hole toward home. Surveillance capitalists are fast because they seek neither genuine consent nor consensus. They rely on psychic numbing and messages of inevitability to conjure the helplessness, resignation and confusion that paralyze their prey. Democracy is slow, and that’s a good thing. Its pace reflects the tens of millions of conversations that occur in families, among neighbors, co-workers and friends, within communities, cities and states, gradually stirring the sleeping giant of democracy to action.
These conversations are occurring now, and there are many indications that lawmakers are ready to join and to lead. This third decade is likely to decide our fate. Will we make the digital future better, or will it make us worse? Will it be a place that we can call home?
Epistemic inequality is not based on what we can earn but rather on what we can learn. It is defined as unequal access to learning imposed by private commercial mechanisms of information capture, production, analysis and sales. It is best exemplified in the fast-growing abyss between what we know and what is known about us.
Twentieth-century industrial society was organized around the “division of labor,” and it followed that the struggle for economic equality would shape the politics of that time. Our digital century shifts society’s coordinates from a division of labor to a “division of learning,” and it follows that the struggle over access to knowledge and the power conferred by such knowledge will shape the politics of our time.
The new centrality of epistemic inequality signals a power shift from the ownership of the means of production, which defined the politics of the 20th century, to the ownership of the production of meaning. The challenges of epistemic justice and epistemic rights in this new era are summarized in three essential questions about knowledge, authority and power: Who knows? Who decides who knows? Who decides who decides who knows?
During the last two decades, the leading surveillance capitalists — Google, later followed by Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft — helped to drive this societal transformation while simultaneously ensuring their ascendance to the pinnacle of the epistemic hierarchy. They operated in the shadows to amass huge knowledge monopolies by taking without asking, a maneuver that every child recognizes as theft. Surveillance capitalism begins by unilaterally staking a claim to private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Our lives are rendered as data flows.
Early on, it was discovered that, unknown to users, even data freely given harbors rich predictive signals, a surplus that is more than what is required for service improvement. It isn’t only what you post online, but whether you use exclamation points or the color saturation of your photos; not just where you walk but the stoop of your shoulders; not just the identity of your face but the emotional states conveyed by your “microexpressions”; not just what you like but the pattern of likes across engagements. Soon this behavioral surplus was secretly hunted and captured, claimed as proprietary data.
The data are conveyed through complex supply chains of devices, tracking and monitoring software, and ecosystems of apps and companies that specialize in niche data flows captured in secret. For example, testing by The Wall Street Journal showed that Facebook receives heart rate data from the Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, menstrual cycle data from the Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, and data that reveal interest in real estate properties from Realtor.com — all of it without the user’s knowledge.
These data flows empty into surveillance capitalists’ computational factories, called “artificial intelligence,” where they are manufactured into behavioral predictions that are about us, but they are not for us. Instead, they are sold to business customers in a new kind of market that trades exclusively in human futures. Certainty in human affairs is the lifeblood of these markets, where surveillance capitalists compete on the quality of their predictions. This is a new form of trade that birthed some of the richest and most powerful companies in history.
Lynn Jurich, the chief executive of the residential solar company Sunrun, starts every morning with a mantra: “All people and all circumstances are my allies.”
It’s a relentlessly positive outlook, and one that has served her well as she overachieved her way from the woods of Washington State to the pinnacle of Silicon Valley. A bookish child, she overloaded on extracurriculars and got into Stanford. After a stint in private equity, she went back to graduate school and wound up cofounding Sunrun.
There were clouds along the way. She and her husband were stretched emotionally and financially as they both got companies off the ground, his the skin-care brand Tatcha. Sunrun’s stock sank after its initial public offering in 2015.
But today, Sunrun is the leading installer of residential rooftop solar panels in the United States. Last year the company overtook Tesla, which got into the solar business after it acquired SolarCity, which was founded by Lyndon Rive, the cousin of Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk.
This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted in New York City.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Tacoma, Wash., in the woods. I was a voracious reader, and I wanted to learn everything. I wanted to do everything at the highest level possible, and was into self-improvement at a very young age. My sister tells stories about how I would make a to-do list at age five which would be: “inventing, practice ballet, practice the piano, singing, read the dictionary.” If there was something to do, I was going to do it, and try to do it at a really high level.
Did that come from your parents?
Not at all. My father was a dentist, and first person to go to college in his family. My mother worked for the government, originally just taking claims for Social Security, and then made her way up. I remember them trying to say, “You’re going to the University of Washington, that’s the school you go to.” And I said, “No, I worked a little bit too hard. I’m going to apply to some of the top schools.”
I was very disillusioned with adults at a young age. I was like, “Hey, you’ve had this whole life to be wise and to learn things.” And I just found them to be a little sloppy and hypocritical.
Do you still feel that way about adults?
I have more empathy now.
So where did you go to school?
Stanford. In my college application essay, I remember I wrote about the importance of leisure, which is so hypocritical. But I feel like that was always lingering in the back of my mind. Like, “Oh, there’s this whole other way to experience the world.”
College was easy after having so many demands on my time throughout my childhood. I worked for a couple professors doing research on how technology would shape work, and that became my day trading strategy. I would interview Silicon Valley companies, and I could basically kind of get a read as to how well the stock was going to do, and would do a little investing on the side. I remember thinking I was a genius, because it was really easy to make money then.
What did you do after school?
I got one of the very top jobs out of my undergrad class, which was hard to do in 2002. It was a tough economy. It was an offer to work for Summit Partners, a private equity firm. I showed my dad, and was so proud, and he was like, “Hm, have you thought about dental school?”
It was a tough job. I basically had to cold call C.E.O.s and try to sell them money, and the evenings were spent building financial models. I learned all sorts of creative ways to get in front of a C.E.O. Like, become friends with their assistant so you can get a seat of the airplane next to them. Figure out which conferences they’re going to be at. And know the right time of day to approach: never approach somebody on a Monday.
I’m a very, very strong introvert, and I really chose to push myself into cold calling. It was uncomfortable for me, but I’m so glad I did it.
Did you know at that point that you wanted to start a company?
That experience is what helped me know that I wanted to. I got to meet so many people, and they were impressive, but I was like, “O.K., I could do that.”
How did you get the idea for Sunrun?
I was at school at the Stanford Graduate School for Business, and went to China for an internship. There was all this building happening in Shanghai, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, we need to figure out how to build things more sustainably.” When I went back to school, one of my classmates said, “Oh, I have this friend who has this solar idea.” And I was like, “Yes. Love it.”
Had you been interested in the environment before that?
Absolutely. Growing up in the woods and trees, I was a little bit of a naturalist. I love bird-watching, and my daughter and I do that every morning. We mark which birds we see. It’s good to actually listen to the birds.
How did you get Sunrun off the ground?
My husband and I both wanted to be entrepreneurs, and we were just married, and were both in business school. There was a little bit of an agreement that whoever gets their company going first gets to do it, and then the other person has to support them. So we were both pursuing entrepreneurial ideas. When my classmate said solar, I was like, “O.K., let’s do it.” And then my husband went back into private equity and supported us.
After Sunrun got up and running for a while, he left and started a company with a classmate, Tatcha. It was so stressful. There were times in 2013 when Sunrun wasn’t profitable yet, and Tatcha was needing capital. And so before we really had any real assets to our name, we were taking the money we were making from Sunrun and investing it into Tatcha. So those were some stressful times, but we earned it. We came by it honestly.
With Sunrun, our idea was to target residential customers. I went through the Stanford database and used my cold-calling skills to call pretty much anybody I could find that had energy or utility experience. One hundred percent of people said it wouldn’t work and gave me this dismissive message. “Well, there’s a lot of sophisticated people working on that stuff. Go home, little girl.” Fast forward to today: We have almost 300,000 customers and $5 billion worth of solar.
A toxic brew of economic suffering, racism, and community decline prepared the ground for authoritarian populism in America’s devastated rural areas. Trumpism will not be defeated unless the Left can promote a progressive agenda to rebuild rural America.
In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, the liberal intelligentsia belatedly realized that rural and small-town America was in crisis. One sector of liberal opinion insisted that the key to Donald Trump’s victory lay in racism rather than economic distress (partly because of its own complicity with the neoliberal, free-market project). Another sector, blind to the central importance of racial inequality for US capitalism, preferred to stress narrowly economic explanations for Trump’s rise.
Both schools of thought failed to grasp the different ways in which economic suffering, racism, and community decline have interacted to prepare the ground for authoritarian populism. They also grossly underestimated the human toll of the catastrophe engulfing rural areas and small towns, overlooking the “social pathologies of collapse” that have become ever more glaring.
Since the turn to more cutthroat free-market policies in the 1980s, American capitalism has systematically underdeveloped rural and small-town regions of the United States. The 2008 crash poured gasoline on the fire. Mutual savings banks and credit unions, cooperatives, mom-and-pop businesses, local industries and newspapers, health and elder care facilities, schools, and libraries have all fallen victim to relentless austerity policies or private-equity raiders.
As people could no longer share in the wealth they had produced, while community tax bases and social institutions withered away, “rural resentment” and economic anxiety boosted fear of cultural and demographic changes and heightened receptivity to authoritarian appeals and conspiracy theories. Aggrieved masculinity and a loss of white privilege were certainly vital ingredients in this toxic brew, along with the question of gun rights. But such “cultural issues” were also bound up with economic decline and social fragmentation: white men who have experienced economic setbacks “are the group of owners most attached to their guns,” and the ones most likely to view the home as a bunker requiring defense against threatening outsiders.
Losing the War on Poverty
In July 2018, the White House Council of Economic Advisers claimed that the “War on Poverty” first initiated during the Johnson presidency in the 1960s was now “largely over and a success.” This rosy assessment flew in the face of ample evidence that things were getting much worse.
After 1980, wages stagnated and became detached from productivity growth. Between 1940 and 1980, the wage gap between poorer and richer cities had narrowed by an annual rate of 1.4 percent, but after 1980, this convergence ended. On the international stage, the collapse of the Bretton Woods framework in the mid-1970s spurred an “opening up” of global finance and trade. On the home front, concerted attacks on organized labor, especially after Ronald Reagan entered the White House, undermined the bargaining power of workers.
By 2018, 40 million Americans lived in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million “in Third World conditions of absolute poverty.” By 2011, 1.5 million households — half of them white — were surviving on incomes of less than $2 per person per day. Those households included 3 million children. Nine million Americans have zero cash income. By 2016, 63 percent of Americans lacked $500 in savings to cover an emergency, and 34 percent had no savings at all. That same year, the official poverty rate was 12.7 percent.
A 2017 study of fifteen states, which accounted for 39 percent of all US households, found that so-called ALICE households (“asset-limited, income-constrained, employed”) — those who were above the poverty line but earned less than the “bare-minimum survival budget” — made up two-fifths of the total. Between 2007 and 2016, median household wealth fell by 31 percent.
Many of the poor and near-poor are employed, often in multiple low-wage jobs, and have to rely on food stamps to eat — in effect a public subsidy for their employers, which include some of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations. In 2017, 78 percent of US workers reported that they were living from paycheck to paycheck. Nearly 40 percent of working-age adults indicated that they had trouble meeting at least one basic need — food, health care, housing, or utilities — in 2017.
Low-income Americans spend a huge part of their income on gasoline and the cars that are essential for commuting to work, especially in rural areas that lack systems of public transport. Evangelical Christian and right-wing talk shows dominate the airwaves on these unavoidable long-distance journeys. A hospital visit or car repair can trigger a downward spiral that culminates in job loss and homelessness. US households are deeply indebted from mortgages, automobiles, credit cards, medical bills, and student loans. Business indebtedness, which has long played an important role in the demise of farms and other small enterprises, is an additional source of stress for many.
Financialization on Main Street
In Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town, Brian Alexander describes an Ohio community whose story is replicated in thousands of others throughout the United States. Home to a large glass plant, it was a place where “a factory worker might live three blocks from a factory owner,” and where owners backed bond issues to fund good schools and hospitals that attracted skilled employees.
In the 1980s, corporate predators mounted a raid, loaded the company with debt, dismembered it, crushed the union, and cashed out. The new owners — hedge funds and private-equity shops — slashed wages and pensions, and ordered executives to live elsewhere “so they wouldn’t be troubled by requests for civic involvement or charitable contributions.”
The priority now was maximizing shareholder value, not making things — let alone squandering profits on community institutions. The deindustrialization of the United States reached a crescendo after the 2008 crash: non-metro areas outpaced the rest of the country in industrial job losses, with a 35 percent drop in manufacturing employment.
Populist demagogues like Trump blame those job cuts exclusively on free trade and factory flight — their liberal critics also cite automation and a failure to innovate — but neoliberal financialization has clearly been central.
Financialization — the involvement of financial actors in business and markets, and the ownership of assets not for what they might produce but for how they might be stripped and flipped to generate shareholder value — has its origins far away from the affected communities, and it tends to be an opaque process. As Jennifer Clapp points out: “This lack of transparency about which actors are involved in driving these trends creates space for competing narratives — often advanced by the financial actors themselves — that point to other explanations for negative social and environmental outcomes.” As neoliberalism fails to deliver the promised prosperity, people trying to understand what has happened to their communities increasingly fall back on conspiracy theories and “post-factual” claims.
Mutual savings banks used to power small-town economies. Their directors contributed to local institutions, knew clients, and sometimes made loans based on trust. From the 1980s on, private-equity investors seeded mutual and savings banks across the country with small deposits, anticipating their conversion into stock institutions. Depositors could buy stock at insider prices before initial public offerings (IPOs). Typically, shares appreciated by 15 percent on the day of the IPO, and 20–50 percent more over the following months.
Directors and investors encouraged giant regional banks to gobble up and shutter the local ones, then cashed in as shares soared 200 to 400 percent above the IPO level. In the process, they sucked wealth out of communities, imposed stricter lending criteria, and cut the ground from under small businesses. Many people found themselves trapped in “banking deserts,” forced to rely on high-cost check-cashing outlets and payday lenders (often financed at one remove by the larger banks that had created those deserts in the first place).
Like mutual banks, cooperatives and credit unions reinvested wealth that communities produced locally and acted as a bulwark against rapacious corporations and banks. About one-quarter of the 8,000 credit unions active in 2007 had closed by 2017. Between 2000 and 2015, more than a third of the 3,346 agricultural cooperatives still active at the beginning of the century had been forced to shut down.
Unhousing the Poor
When the mortgage bubble burst in 2008, homelessness soared as homeowners defaulted on what had often been predatory loans. Across the United States, residential foreclosures rose dramatically, from a little over 380,000 in 2006 to 1 million annually between 2009 and 2012. Foreclosures only returned to pre-crisis levels in 2016. By 2012, nearly a quarter of US homeowners with mortgages were “underwater,” with debts that exceed the value of their homes. A staggering $7 trillion in home equity evaporated.
Evictions from rented accommodation were even more widespread, with 83 million nationwide between 2000 and 2016 — an average of 4.9 million per year. That figure excludes the many “informal evictions” that took place when renters gave in to pressure from their landlords to move before facing legal action. At least one-quarter of poor renting families spend 70 percent or more of their income on rent and utilities. Just one in four households that qualify for affordable-housing programs actually receive assistance.
The housing crisis has had a devastating impact. A single foreclosure ruins an individual’s credit rating, and legal eviction from rental housing generates a court record. Either misfortune can prevent them from obtaining jobs or accommodation in the future, since employers and landlords routinely perform credit checks or screen applicants for an eviction record. Eviction also leads to the loss of employment, as overstressed workers make mistakes and get fired.
People with no permanent address additionally struggle when filling out job applications. They frequently lose access to food stamps, Medicaid, and other benefits when renewal notices are posted to their former addresses. Children have to switch schools mid-year, harming their education.
Large investor groups also create housing insecurity by targeting “mom-and-pop” trailer parks, hiking rents, and siphoning off money that would otherwise be spent locally. Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds, who boast a $500 million portfolio of mobile-home parks, run a “Mobile Home University” that teaches investors how to get started on a business that promises annual returns of up to 20 percent.
Mobile-home park investors skim profits from what Rolfe contemptuously refers to as “the dregs of society.” Trailer-park residents — 6 percent of the population — are largely helpless to resist: they are more likely to endure the rent increase than to pay the $3,000 it costs to move a trailer to another park.
Farming in Crisis
The 1980s brought the worst crisis for US farming since the Depression of the 1930s. The cost of fertilizers skyrocketed, interest rates soared, banks called in loans, and grain prices plummeted with the loss of sales to the USSR after its invasion of Afghanistan. A handful of giant corporations grabbed an ever-greater share of the profits accruing between farm gate and dinner plate, through rapid consolidation of input and machinery suppliers, and the processing and export of commodities.
Bigger, more powerful machinery made it possible for fewer farmers to farm larger areas, which compounded the problems of indebtedness, land concentration, and a decline in the population sustained by agriculture. Survivors of the 1980s slump recently suffered a second crisis when the commodities boom of the 2000s came to an end. Between 2013 and 2017, farmers suffered a 48 percent drop in real net farm income — the largest four-year decline since the Depression. More than half of farm households now lose money on farming.
As farmers go bankrupt once again, the multiplier effects further destabilize local economies and the communities that depend on them. The concentration of farmland ownership, especially when corporate enterprises replace family-owned units, also leads to declining school attendance in rural districts, and often to the closure of schools that had long been centers of community life.
News Deserts and the Retail Apocalypse
Family-owned stores and diners on small-town Main Streets were sites of human contact. They invested profits locally and provided jobs for rural households. As malls and chain stores proliferated, these “mom-and-pop” businesses withered away. Roughly 600,000 disappeared between 2007 and 2012. Even when the economy rebounded, businesses did not return to their former sites: by 2016, less than one-quarter of US counties had replaced the businesses they lost in the recession.
Fewer small businesses means less advertising revenue for local newspapers, thousands of which closed, having already been hobbled by the migration of readers and ad dollars to the internet. The same destructive financialization that has been strangling industries and banks afflicts local media companies. This deprives communities not only of local news reporting and ads, but also of any space to mark births, deaths, weddings, graduations and sporting achievements — all of the things that make a town’s inhabitants identify with a place, and take pride in it. Furthermore, we can draw a clear connection between newspaper closures and lower voter turnout, reduced competition in local elections, and increased government corruption, as officials no longer face scrutiny by journalistic “watchdogs.”
Hedge funds and private-equity firms bought up local papers at bargain-basement prices all over the country. They cut costs by merging the production, sales, and editorial functions of several newspapers, while putting together audiences large enough to remain attractive to their advertisers (who increasingly tend to be chains rather than local businesses). Often, consolidation meant the closure of “underperforming” papers, creating “news deserts” that leave smaller communities with no source of local news.
After the first waves of retail closures on small-town Main Streets, low-wage jobs in chains and malls also began to disappear with the expansion of e-commerce. According to Bloomberg, it wasn’t just competition from online merchants that drove this trend: “The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt — often from leveraged buyouts led by private-equity firms.” This “retail apocalypse” set off a vicious circle: with the demise of brick-and-mortar businesses — whether on Main Street or at the mall — e-commerce behemoths like Amazon became ever more vital for rural residents, many of whom could ill afford the gas and time that would be needed to drive long distances to shop.
To compound the malaise, since the mid-2000s, the surviving big-box businesses have frequently mounted “dark-store lawsuits,” claiming that their tax assessment should be based on sales of vacated comparable properties. That forces small towns to dedicate scarce funds to legal costs and further erodes local tax bases.
Some of the few retail outfits still proliferating in this bleak environment are dollar stores, which drive established groceries out of business. The number of dollar stores has risen from 20,000 to 30,000 since 2011. Chains such as Dollar General — whose owners include BlackRock and Vanguard, and which cater to customers that one market analyst describes as “a permanent underclass” — can spend as little as $250,000 on a new store; by comparison, a Walmart might cost over $15 million. Profits from a local grocery store used to go back to the community, or an owner who lived nearby. Profits from Dollar General go straight to its corporate office.
Empty storefronts and malls, vanished newspapers, and mushrooming dollar outlets are not just signs of job loss and economic precarity. Rural people see them as stark, painful reminders of abandonment and a shredded social fabric.
Eviscerating Health Care, Education, and Public Services
Between 1990 and 2015, the number of maternal deaths per thousand in the United States soared to 26.4; in Louisiana, it reached a shocking 58.1, the same rate as Jordan, and slightly worse than that found in El Salvador and Iraq. During the same period, maternal deaths dropped below 10 per thousand in Germany, France, Japan, Canada, and the UK. More than 440 rural nursing homes have closed or merged in the last decade, often because Medicaid payments aren’t enough to cover their costs; when residents have to relocate to distant facilities, they’re cut off from lifelong friends or elderly spouses who are unable to make the drive. Health disparities become even greater when cash-strapped local authorities sell public parks to raise revenue, depriving residents of space for exercise and recreation.
Post offices have long served as lifelines for people in rural areas, who rely on them for information, essential medicines, and basic human contact. In 2012, some 3,000 rural post offices narrowly escaped closure, but a slow attrition is thinning their ranks anyway. The growing importance of Amazon in rural areas has stretched the underfunded US Postal Service (USPS) to breaking point, since private couriers such as FedEx and UPS don’t operate in many rural areas, especially for “last-mile delivery.” USPS carriers are working longer shifts, often for no extra pay, and offices are understaffed. These conditions are being used as pretexts for privatization — along with the 2006 congressional mandate that required USPS to pre-fund seventy-five years of future retiree health-care benefits, causing its deficit to soar.
Trump’s task force to “reform” the USPS was partly inspired by right-wing ideological hostility to the public sector, and by a hunger to boost the profits of private delivery services. The fact that Amazon is USPS’s largest customer was also important: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos publishes the Washington Post, which has been strongly critical of the Trump administration.
The federal authorities and many state governments have systematically starved schools of money. Because property taxes are a key source of funding for education, when populations and tax bases decline, schools either close, shift to four-day schedules, or consolidate with neighboring districts. This strips away another vital focus of small-town social life and collective identity. Thirty percent of all school closures nationwide in 2011–12 were in rural districts, stranding students in isolated areas and forcing them to take long bus rides that drag down their academic performance.
Rural public libraries are “de facto community centers,” often providing the only public meeting spaces. For those unable to afford computers or access to the internet, libraries provide an essential gateway to educational resources, medical information, government services, and job applications. While library closings in devastated cities like Detroit received a lot of attention after the 2008 crisis, the same picture can be found across the country, especially in rural areas: reduced opening hours, difficulties holding on to qualified staff, inadequate, deteriorating facilities, and funding cutbacks. Powerful right-wing lobbies, such as the Koch brothers’ “Americans for Prosperity” have also campaigned against ballot initiatives that sought to fund public libraries.
When underfunded schools descend into mediocrity, critical thinking suffers, and people become more susceptible to demagogic manipulation and social media trolls. Public library cutbacks have the same effect. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized in 2016: “Defund libraries. Create a nation of fools.”
Killing the Pain
The scale of the opioid problem is staggering. In 2015, 92 million people — 38 percent of US adults — used prescription opioids, with 11.5 million (nearly 5 percent) reporting misuse. Pharmaceutical distributors aggressively marketed painkillers like OxyContin and fentanyl: in some states, doctors wrote more prescriptions than there were people. From 2008 to 2017, drug companies shipped almost 21 million opioid pills to just two pharmacies in one rural West Virginian town with a population of 2,900. Unsurprisingly, deaths from overdoses are higher in West Virginia than in any other US state.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, wholesalers are obliged to report suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, according to a minority report from the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the “big three” distributors — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health — have “consistently failed to meet their reporting obligations over the past ten years.” Big pharma companies targeted regions, doctors, and even individual patients to hike sales. They systematically understated the risks of addiction, and even acquired patents for addiction treatment, so that they could profit from the disaster they had done so much to create.
At ground level, doctors who run “pill mills” engaged in schemes to bilk Medicaid and private insurers. They have frequently accepted kickbacks from drug manufacturers, and lucrative speaking engagements where they tout the virtues and minimize the dangers of particular opioids. Big Pharma spends more than any other lobby in Washington.
More Americans die each year from drug overdoses than perished in the Vietnam, Afghan, and Iraq wars put together. To make things even worse, the methamphetamine scourge, centered in rural areas, has “returned with a vengeance” after subsiding in the 2000s. This is partly because users can find cheap opioids to dampen meth’s intense rush. In some states, deaths from meth now vastly outnumber those from opioids.
Incarceration rates for white people — especially white women — have risen since 2000, probably because of an increased law-enforcement presence in drug-consuming rural areas. The absence of family members adds to the pressure on households and communities. Drug addicts also make unreliable family members, neighbors, and employees, further undermining social cohesion and economic life.
Angry Politics in Shattered Communities
Many working-class Trump supporters experience severe financial stress, compounded by high levels of diabetes, lack of exercise, heavy drinking, and obesity. Researchers consider stress to be a precursor and a consequence for these conditions, and an element in the development of fear, hatred for outgroups, and sympathy for authoritarianism. In 2017, for the third year in a row, life expectancy in the United States fell, with drug overdoses and other “deaths of despair” playing a significant part. From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates increased in 49 out of 50 states, with rises of over 30 percent in twenty-five mostly rural states. Farmers, in particular, are killing themselves in record numbers.
Trump tapped into this anger and alienation. His country-club racism, casual authoritarianism, simple-minded nationalism, and overblown promises struck a chord in shattered communities. Trump’s framing of the economic crisis appealed to the instincts of an audience that had long harbored existential fears and deep resentments of cosmopolitan elites, racial minorities, immigrants, and unscrupulous foreign trading partners. Trump’s tirades also appealed to nouveau-riche entrepreneurs and well-to-do suburbanites, who lapped up Republican rhetoric about “burdensome” regulation, “big government,” and “undeserving” minorities, immigrants, or public employees. Whites who are intolerant of “outgroups” are less supportive of democracy and more likely to hanker after a “strong leader.”
By 2016, rural people had seen governments seemingly unable or unwilling to address the convergence of multiple crises that afflicted their communities. This revived past memories of broken promises — not least those of neoliberal Democratic administrations. The Democratic Party could not even perceive the existence of a crisis, let alone put forward credible — and necessarily radical — solutions to it. By nominating a candidate, Hillary Clinton, who was widely and accurately viewed as a quintessential member of the country’s established political class, it lent credence to Trump’s bombast about “American carnage.” As in other countries where demagogic authoritarian populists have won power, sectors of the population who were suffering greater economic marginalization punished establishment “moderates” and “centrists.” The feeling of abandonment and downward mobility made white rural Americans more receptive to a candidate who spoke about their distress in familiar terms and cast himself as an “outsider.”
The Authoritarian Populist Moment in the United States
Rural decline was not simply the product of deindustrialization, free trade, the farm crisis, or automation. Since the 1980s, financial capital has developed imaginative new ways to strip and seize a wide range of assets that could be found in rural districts, from manufacturing plants to mutual savings banks, local shops, and newspapers — or even people’s blood plasma. An austerity agenda that prioritized tax cuts for the rich undermined the capacity of small communities to fund vital institutions like schools, libraries, and nursing homes.
Deregulatory policies pushed by big capital left unions decimated, eroded health and safety standards in the workplace, and ravaged the environment. Workers found themselves trapped in precarious employment, relying on multiple low-wage jobs to make ends meet, often not knowing what shifts they would be given until the last minute or deprived of any labor rights as so-called “independent contractors.” The lion’s share of the vast wealth produced by rural zones ended up in the pockets of shareholders from companies and financial institutions with their headquarters in distant urban centers.
To insist on the importance of these interlocking crises in explaining the rise of Trump is not to downplay the racism of many of his supporters, who in 2016 included a majority of both working-class and affluent white voters, women and men. The daily outrages of the Trump administration seem to have little or no impact on the devotion of the president’s base. Whether or not “Trumpism” is “a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy” — as Charles M. Blow suggested in the New York Times — or a millenarian cargo cult of desperate people “praying for factories,” in the words of Mike Davis, its attraction relies heavily upon emotional appeals and triggers, much like authoritarian populist regimes elsewhere.
It also serves as a protective facade for a hard-right project that invokes “family values,” retrograde attitudes about gender and sexuality, and an exclusionary vision of the nation in order to play upon social divisions, roll back progressive gains, and intensify the exploitation of human beings and the environment. The task of turning back the authoritarian populist onslaught could not be more urgent. At the very least, this must involve massive public investment, funded by progressive taxation, to create a more stable, inclusive, and just society that provides opportunities for all — especially in the zones that have been sacrificed to capital over the past thirty years.
In Mexico, the “war on drugs” was never about drugs at all, but about repressing social movements, smashing unions, and creating a shock-doctrine atmosphere for conservative governments to privatize pensions, health services, and the oil sector. The AMLO administration must dismantle the narco-state.
On January 3, 2020, a spectacle flashed across television screens that many in Mexico thought they would never see: Genaro García Luna, secretary of public security during Felipe Calderón’s administration, standing before a judge in a courtroom.
Pale and disheveled, handcuffed and in shackles, García Luna pleaded not guilty to three charges of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and one count of making false statements. Denied bail, the once all-powerful top cop was led away, teary-eyed and hugging his mother.
The courtroom, however, was not in Mexico, but in New York City.
Reign of Terror
García Luna was arrested by the DEA three weeks prior in Dallas, where he’d been living as a naturalized US citizen. The accusations that led to the arrest were grave: that, as secretary of public security, García Luna had effectively served as the representative of the Sinaloa Cartel in the Calderón administration, helping to facilitate its drug shipments as well as leaking information about official investigations and the activities of rival cartels. In exchange, he was to have received somewhere between six to ten million dollars in bribes.
As soon as the story broke, Calderón leapt onto Twitter to insist that he knew nothing about all of this. The denial was less than convincing. Following García Luna’s time as the head of the Federal Investigation Agency (the “AFI,” Mexico’s since-disbanded version of the FBI) in the Vicente Fox administration, he became both the prime architect and executioner of Calderón’s bloody “war on drugs.”
Calderón’s panicked protestations notwithstanding, the García Luna–Sinaloa connection was hardly a secret even during his administration. In her 2010 book Los Señores del Narco, investigative journalist Anabel Hernández — the recipient of death threats from García Luna — wrote:
The current war on drug trafficking launched by the administration of President Felipe Calderón is as false as that of the government of Vicente Fox. In both cases the “strategy” has limited itself to providing protection for the Sinaloa Cartel. The guarantor of the continuity of this protection has been the sinister police chief Genaro García Luna . . . [He] has even gone to the point of stating that there is no other option except to let El Chapo operate freely and “establish order” among the other criminal groups, as it will thus be easier for the government to negotiate with one cartel rather than five.
Such was the complicity of García Luna’s men from the time of the AFI, Hernández notes, that they became known as the mega cartel.
In his public appearances before Congress in the Calderón years, moreover, García Luna was subjected to a series of memorable savagings by federal deputy Gerardo Fernández Noroña of the Workers’ Party.
“How is it possible,” Noroña demanded in 2011, “that the public knows where the criminals are, knows where the drug traffickers are, knows where the safe houses are, knows where El Chapo Guzmán moves, and the intelligence of the Department of Security knows nothing? When Calderón says he’s going to catch El Chapo, it’s going to be by the hand because he’s his accomplice. Who is the main partner of El Chapo? You or Calderón or both?”
Then, shortly after the arrest of García Luna at the end of last year, the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) of the Andrés Manuel López Obrador government revealed it had traced a series of monetary transfers made by the Departments of Internal Affairs of the governments of both Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto to companies linked to García Luna. The transfers, totaling some two billion pesos ($105 million), were presumably part of a laundering operation wherein government money found its way into friendly hands through the assignation of bogus contracts, a particular specialty of the Peña Nieto administration.
A Colossal Enrichment Scheme
If the charges against García Luna are true — and there is much to suggest that they are — then a series of further questions becomes urgent. What did Felipe Calderón (and Vicente Fox and Enrique Peña Nieto) know, and when did they know it? How could Fox have named such a person to be his head of intelligence, and how could Calderón (who, as a member of Fox’s cabinet, could not have been entirely unaware of his reputation) have subsequently promoted him to head the nation’s security policy? Who, besides García Luna, benefitted from the Sinaloa Cartel’s multimillion-dollar payoffs? And finally, the question that is making the ex-presidents’ club tremble: what information will García Luna spill if he turns state’s evidence, as his lawyers are attempting to negotiate?
It is amusing to observe how Fox and Calderón’s Twitter feeds, so virulent in their opposition to the new administration over the last year, have mellowed significantly in recent weeks.
The affair also brings the so-called war on drugs into sharper relief. It is no surprise that this crackdown was never about drugs at all, but about repressing social movements, smashing unions, and creating a shock-doctrine atmosphere for conservative administrations to privatize pensions, health services, and the oil sector. That much was known. But on top of all of that, it turns out, the whole thing constituted a colossal enrichment scheme.
The sheer immorality of high-ranking federal officials intervening in a whirlwind of violence they helped create, one that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, in order to run a lucrative protection racket for one of the world’s most bloodthirsty cartels goes beyond any words I can add to this page.
Tipping His Hand
Thrust into relief, as well, is the magnitude of what the movement headed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador has managed to pull off. In addition to facing the usual enemies of progressive movements worldwide — financial and corporate elites, the near-totality of the television and print media, a hostile party and electoral system, the United States — it has had to go up against a succession of federal administrations in apparent collusion with a criminal organization present in fifty-four countries and with $11 billion in annual sales to the United States alone.
Through fear, prudence, or a desire to focus on enacting his policy agenda, AMLO has been reluctant to throw the full weight of the federal government behind prosecuting the crimes of his predecessors. The arrest of García Luna — and the evidence that may emerge at trial — could wind up tipping his hand. He will have to proceed with caution: as last year’s failed raid in the city of Culiacán shows, there is nothing the president’s enemies would like more than to weaponize the power of organized crime to destabilize his administration.
Failure to dismantle the narco-state, however, means that the alliance of criminal politicians and drug money will continue, making the long-term effort to reshape Mexico impossible.
There’s a famous episode of “Star Trek: The Original Series” called “Mirror, Mirror,” in which half the bridge crew of the USS Enterprise suddenly find themselves in a parallel universe where the peaceful United Federation of Planets is now an “Empire.” In this terrifying version of reality, violence and cruelty have displaced peace and diplomacy as the hallmarks of governance.
The “evil” version of my own character, Sulu, plots to kill both Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock so that he can take command of the ship. In classic “Star Trek” style, the script for this episode carried loaded meaning. The writers were issuing a warning: A free and democratic society can flip in the blink of an ion storm, and all that we take for granted about the rule of law, the chain of command and the civilized functions of government can be gone in an instant.
I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee:
Apparently, the new logo is just another iteration on the former Air Force Space Command logo, which also featured an upward pointing delta, but the final product with its concentric rings and swooping orbits looks so much like Starfleet’s, I fear it could easily confuse any Vulcans and Klingons who see it.
This somewhat comical appropriation of “Star Trek” imagery carries a certain irony. The universe of “Star Trek” has always provided a hopeful, near-utopian vision for humanity, where we have finally learned to set aside things like racial prejudice and gender inequality, and we all work together toward a common purpose and quest. Money is a thing of the past because no one wants for any material need, and we have united much of the galaxy in a peaceful assembly of sovereign worlds.
Contrast that for a moment with the current administration’s values and practices: racial resentments and fear stoked for cynical political purposes, the wealthy made even more obscenely so through grift and political influence, coarse and bullying behavior masquerading as diplomacy, to name but a few. Even the notion of a “Space Force” seems patently absurd coming from an administration where science is mocked and disregarded.
At times it truly feels like the past three years have had us beamed into a parallel universe, where instead of a president we have a mendacious thug, and where notions like the U.S. Senate being a deliberate, serious body that serves as a vital check on presidential power now seem quaint and naive.
“Star Trek” icon George Takei is on a mission to ensure America doesn’t forget its shameful legacy of internment camps. (Erin Patrick O’Connor/The Washington Post) True to the “Star Trek” vision, “Mirror, Mirror” has a hopeful ending. The “evil” version of Spock, having Vulcan-mind-melded with Dr. McCoy to understand why someone would spare the life of his enemy, has an epiphany. After listening to an impassioned Kirk argue that the overthrow of the empire is inevitable, the evil Spock helps the “good” bridge crew escape. The optimism and message is unmistakable: The nightmare will end if we work to end it. Normalcy can be restored if we believe in the goodness of humankind.
This year seems like a good time to test that lesson. We have not slipped so far into the mirror universe that we do not recognize ourselves or our institutions. As Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) told the Senate this week, what is right still matters. The truth still matters. Most Americans still want to hear the truth. They still want President Trump to be held accountable, and many even want him removed from office for his actions. Overthrowing Trump is something we can achieve at the ballot box this November. We can find our way back to our familiar, normal universe.
Anarcho-syndicalist feminism (that is, of proletarians who must work or seek money to support the family, if they have one, or for
-mal-living) strongly opposes the feminism of the loose classes, with Christian, Jewish, Muslim values, etc. ---- It is the class and
libertarian vision of the oppressed who do not admit revolution if all women are not released. Therefore, very strongly, inflexiblely, they
condemned the persistence of prostitution in revolutionary Spain from 1936-1939, however self-managed it was. It is necessary to emphasize
to those who failed in this plane the emancipatory ideals of men and pro-men (and some women) of anarcho-syndicalism. ---- Prostitution
Liberators ---- The most urgent company to carry out in the new social structure is to suppress prostitution. Before dealing with the
economy or education, from now on, in the midst of an anti-fascist struggle, we still have to radically end this social degradation. We
cannot think of production, of work, of any kind of justice, as long as the greatest slavery remains: the one that incapacitates all living
During its federal coordination in October 2019, the Libertarian Communist Union voted a text clearly affirming its commitment to free
software and the freedoms of Internet users. Little return on a highlight. ---- At the founding congress of the Libertarian Communist Union
(June 2019), activating the fusion of Alternative Libertaire and the Coordination of anarchist groups, issues relating to digital freedoms
had not been discussed ; the program is indeed already quite busy and we had to make choices. But for the librists of the two
ex-organizations, it was essential to quickly propose a reading grid on these issues. ---- A historic vote for the UCL librists ----
Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October 2019, first federal coordination of UCL. The UCL Librism working group presented two texts. The first text
aims to transform the working group (WG) into an intervention committee (CI). While a WG has no concrete weight on the organization's
decision-making and only proposes lines of reflection, a CI develops and carries the voice of the organization on the theme which is
specific to it and actively participates in the federal secretariat. The second text takes up the two librist texts voted by the ex-AL,
presents a synthesis and above all proposes new resolutions, in order to go further without wasting time.
The decision will be made through an extraordinary plenary session of all its unions (currently 57) which will meet in Valls, the capital of
the Alt Camp on February 22 . Completion of the plenary entails the decision being passed to all of its 17,000 members, who, through the
assemblies to be convened by the various CGT unions of Catalonia, will determine the position of the organization on this point. ---- The
extraordinary general meeting was called on Sunday by the Secretary General, at the request of almost half of the territorial and sectoral
federations that currently make up the CGT of Catalonia, far exceeding the minimum of one third established by the statutes of the
organization to start such a process. The petitions have come after the feminist movement in Catalonia has announced its intention to
promote a general strike on March 8. Now the CGT of Catalonia will have to see how it responds to this site.
For the last two years the CGT has called a general strike on March 8. In Catalonia, it has been the main union that has promoted these
Revenge units Sehit Sorxwin Roboskî and Sehit Soro Amed attacked and destroyed by fire two factories supplying the Turkish army with
clothing and equipment for military vehicles. The action, which took place on January 11, took place in the PIK Dökümcüler industrial zone,
located in the Basaksehir district of Istanbul. 8 company minibuses and several Turkish army vehicles were also burned. ---- In their
statement, the two groups said that their action targeted these factories since they supply equipment to the Turkish occupation army in its
war against the people of Kurdistan. All factories that produce and / or provide economic resources for the Turkish military will be the
target of future attacks. These actions are part of the fight against the Turkish occupier who oppresses the Kurdish people. Recall that on
January 5, the Sehit Sorxwin Roboskî group destroyed a warehouse in the Güngören district and carried out a sabotage action five days later
on a factory in Basaksehir.
On Sunday, January 19, we commemorated the second anniversary of the Turkish invasion of the Syrian region of Africa, which is located in
the west of the semi-autonomous region known as Rojava, in Prague's Žižkov district. In recent years, she has put into practice an
unprecedented experiment of a bottom-up democratic society seeking, among other things, to liberate women and an environmentally friendly
economy. ---- We protest against the indifference of the world in the face of the Turkish authoritarian and nationalist regime killing both
the hope of developing a project of North Syrian self-government and women and men from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The fact that
Turkey is still our so-called ally within NATO is seen as the pinnacle of insolence and cynicism.
Since the beginning of the Turkish occupation in Africa, Islamist and mercenary militias have raged. According to the Rojava Information
Center, the invasion of 543 civilians, 700 cases of torture and about 6,000 abductions or unlawful arrests were responsible for the invasion
During this weekend, colleagues from several unions met at the gates of Leroy Merlin (Sant Boi, Elche, Badalona, Salamanca ...) in
solidarity with our dismissed partner WITHOUT ANY TYPE OF COMPENSATION, alleging a disciplinary dismissal that does not hold . ---- We
remind you that our partner, trade unionist and father of family, started working at the end of 2004 and has no slight fault in all the
years of his professional career at Leroy Merlin Spain . ---- Sant Boi ---- The truth is that since opening Bricomart (company of the
same owner group as Leroy Merlin, ADEO Group) in #Salamanca, sales in Leroy Merlin have decreased and Grupo Adeo, taking advantage of a
situation of self-competence among its subsidiaries, seeks responsible for the decline in Leroy Merlin sales among workers, exponentially
increasing the workload.
The partner, aware of their rights and obligations, has informed their colleagues and expressed countless times to their superiors and the
Justin Nobel is writing a book about oil-and-gas radioactivity for Simon & Schuster. This story was supported by the journalism nonprofit Economic Hardship Reporting Project
In 2014, a muscular, middle-aged Ohio man named Peter took a job trucking waste for the oil-and-gas industry. The hours were long — he was out the door by 3 a.m. every morning and not home until well after dark — but the steady $16-an-hour pay was appealing, says Peter, who asked to use a pseudonym. “This is a poverty area,” he says of his home in the state’s rural southeast corner. “Throw a little money at us and by God we’ll jump and take it.”
In a squat rig fitted with a 5,000-gallon tank, Peter crisscrosses the expanse of farms and woods near the Ohio/West Virginia/Pennsylvania border, the heart of a region that produces close to one-third of America’s natural gas. He hauls a salty substance called “brine,” a naturally occurring waste product that gushes out of America’s oil-and-gas wells to the tune of nearly 1 trillion gallons a year, enough to flood Manhattan, almost shin-high, every single day. At most wells, far more brine is produced than oil or gas, as much as 10 times more. It collects in tanks, and like an oil-and-gas garbage man, Peter picks it up and hauls it off to treatment plants or injection wells, where it’s disposed of by being shot back into the earth.
One day in 2017, Peter pulled up to an injection well in Cambridge, Ohio. A worker walked around his truck with a hand-held radiation detector, he says, and told him he was carrying one of the “hottest loads” he’d ever seen. It was the first time Peter had heard any mention of the brine being radioactive.
The Earth’s crust is in fact peppered with radioactive elements that concentrate deep underground in oil-and-gas-bearing layers. This radioactivity is often pulled to the surface when oil and gas is extracted — carried largely in the brine.
In the popular imagination, radioactivity conjures images of nuclear meltdowns, but radiation is emitted from many common natural substances, usually presenting a fairly minor risk. Many industry representatives like to say the radioactivity in brine is so insignificant as to be on par with what would be found in a banana or a granite countertop, so when Peter demanded his supervisor tell him what he was being exposed to, his concerns were brushed off; the liquid in his truck was no more radioactive than “any room of your home,” he was told. But Peter wasn’t so sure.
“A lot of guys are coming up with cancer, or sores and skin lesions that take months to heal,” he says. Peter experiences regular headaches and nausea, numbness in his fingertips and face, and “joint pain like fire.”
He says he wasn’t given any safety instructions on radioactivity, and while he is required to wear steel-toe boots, safety glasses, a hard hat, and clothes with a flash-resistant coating, he isn’t required to wear a respirator or a dosimeter to measure his radioactivity exposure — and the rest of the uniform hardly offers protection from brine. “It’s all over your hands, and inside your boots, and on the cuticles of your toes, and any cuts you have — you’re soaked,” he says.
So Peter started quietly taking samples of the brine he hauled, filling up old antifreeze containers or soda bottles. Eventually, he packed a shed in his backyard with more than 40 samples. He worried about further contamination but says, for him, “the damage is already done.” He wanted answers. “I cover my ass,” he says. “Ten or 15 years down the road, if I get sick, I want to be able to prove this.”
Through a grassroots network of Ohio activists, Peter was able to transfer 11 samples of brine to the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, which had them tested in a lab at the University of Pittsburgh. The results were striking.
Radium, typically the most abundant radionuclide in brine, is often measured in picocuries per liter of substance and is so dangerous it’s subject to tight restrictions even at hazardous-waste sites. The most common isotopes are radium-226 and radium-228, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires industrial discharges to remain below 60 for each. Four of Peter’s samples registered combined radium levels above 3,500, and one was more than 8,500.
“It’s ridiculous that these drivers are not being told what’s in their trucks,” says John Stolz, Duquesne’s environmental-center director. “And this stuff is on every corner — it is in neighborhoods. Truckers don’t know they’re being exposed to radioactive waste, nor are they being provided with protective clothing.
“Breathing in this stuff and ingesting it are the worst types of exposure,” Stolz continues. “You are irradiating your tissues from the inside out.” The radioactive particles fired off by radium can be blocked by the skin, but radium readily attaches to dust, making it easy to accidentally inhale or ingest. Once inside the body, its insidious effects accumulate with each exposure. It is known as a “bone seeker” because it can be incorporated into the skeleton and cause bone cancers called sarcomas. It also decays into a series of other radioactive elements, called “daughters.” The first one for radium-226 is radon, a radioactive gas and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Radon has also been linked to chronic lymphocytic leukemia. “Every exposure results in an increased risk,” says Ian Fairlie, a British radiation biologist. “Think of it like these guys have been given negative lottery tickets, and somewhere down the line their number will come up and they will die.”
Peter’s samples are just a drop in the bucket. Oil fields across the country — from the Bakken in North Dakota to the Permian in Texas — have been found to produce brine that is highly radioactive. “All oil-field workers,” says Fairlie, “are radiation workers.” But they don’t necessarily know it.
Tanks, filters, pumps, pipes, hoses, and trucks that brine touches can all become contaminated, with the radium building up into hardened “scale,” concentrating to as high as 400,000 picocuries per gram. With fracking — which involves sending pressurized fluid deep underground to break up layers of shale — there is dirt and shattered rock, called drill cuttings, that can also be radioactive. But brine can be radioactive whether it comes from a fracked or conventional well; the levels vary depending on the geological formation, not drilling method. Colorado and Wyoming seem to have lower radioactive signatures, while the Marcellus shale, underlying Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York, has tested the highest. Radium in its brine can average around 9,300 picocuries per liter, but has been recorded as high as 28,500. “If I had a beaker of that on my desk and accidentally dropped it on the floor, they would shut the place down,” says Yuri Gorby, a microbiologist who spent 15 years studying radioactivity with the Department of Energy. “And if I dumped it down the sink, I could go to jail.”
(KATITIKA, Kenya) — The hum of millions of locusts on the move is broken by the screams of farmers and the clanging of pots and pans. But their noise-making does little to stop the voracious insects from feasting on their crops in this rural community.
The worst outbreak of desert locusts in Kenya in 70 years has seen hundreds of millions of the bugs swarm into the East African nation from Somalia and Ethiopia. Those two countries have not had an infestation like this in a quarter-century, destroying farmland and threatening an already vulnerable region with devastating hunger.
“Even cows are wondering what is happening,” said Ndunda Makanga, who spent hours Friday trying to chase the locusts from his farm. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything.”
When rains arrive in March and bring new vegetation across much of the region, the numbers of the fast-breeding locusts could grow 500 times before drier weather in June curbs their spread, the United Nations says.
“We must act immediately,” said David Phiri of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, as donors huddled in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a three-hour drive away.
About $70 million is needed to step up aerial pesticide spraying, the only effective way to combat them, the U.N. says. That won’t be easy, especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are in the grip of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group.
The rose-colored locusts turn whole trees pink, clinging to branches like quivering ornaments before taking off in hungry, rustling clouds.
Astonished by the finger-length insects, children dash here and there, waving blankets or plucking at branches to shake the locusts free. One woman, Kanini Ndunda, batted at them with a shovel.
Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a single day, said Jens Laerke of the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva.
Farmers are afraid to let their cattle out for grazing, and their crops of millet, sorghum and maize are vulnerable, but there is little they can do.
About 70,000 hectares (172,973 acres) of land in Kenya are already infested.
“This one, ai! This is huge,” said Kipkoech Tale, a migratory pest control specialist with the agriculture ministry. “I’m talking about over 20 swarms that we have sprayed. We still have more. And more are coming.”
A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields, regional authorities say.
One especially large swarm in northeastern Kenya measured 60 kilometers long by 40 kilometers wide (37 miles long by 25 miles wide).
Kenya needs more spraying equipment to supplement the four planes now flying, Tale said. Ethiopia also has four.
They also need a steady supply of pesticides, said Francis Kitoo, deputy director of agriculture in southeastern Kenya’s Kitui county.
“The locals are really scared because they can consume everything,” Kitoo said. “I’ve never seen such a big number.”
The locusts eat the fodder for animals, a crucial source of livelihood for families who now worry how they will pay for expenses like school fees, he said.
His own concern about the locusts?
“They will lay eggs and start another generation,” he said.
A changing climate has contributed to “exceptional” breeding conditions, said Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker.
Migrating with the wind, the locusts can cover up to 150 kilometers (93 miles) in a single day. They look like tiny aircraft lazily crisscrossing the sky.
They are now heading toward Uganda and fragile South Sudan, where almost half the country faces hunger as it emerges from civil war. Uganda has not had such an outbreak since the 1960s and is already on alert.
The locusts also are moving steadily toward Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, the breadbasket for Africa’s second-most populous country, the U.N. says.
“The situation is very bad but farmers are fighting it in the traditional way,” said Buni Orissa, a resident of Ethiopia’s Sidama region. “The locusts love cabbage and beans. This may threaten the shaky food security in the region.”
Interview conducted on September 12, 2019 by ACTA, on the occasion of the publication of Baschet’s new book on the Gilets Jaunes uprising, Une Juste colère. Interrompre la destruction du monde
1. I would like to begin by asking about the title of your book, or rather, its subtitle: “interrupting the destruction of the world.” Since the 19th century, and for quite some time, the tradition of the communist movement has thought of revolution as, in Marx’s words, a “locomotive of history.” In other words, that human emancipation was somehow inscribed in historical development itself. Walter Benjamin reversed this formula, suggesting that revolution would rather be "the act by which humanity aboard the train applies the emergency brake.” You seem to be more in line with this latter filiation. What are the issues at stake for you of such a paradigm shift? And how are they linked in particular to the current ecological disaster?
Jérôme Baschet: I’m quite happy to accept your Benjaminian reading of the subtitle. Let me add something about the term “destruction,” which seems to me to be characteristic of a third age of the critique of capitalism. If the first age focused on exploitation, and the second on alienation, the third now focuses on destruction. Although it was certainly anticipated here and there, this shift in dimension is now clearly becoming dominant, as ecological devastation - in the broad sense of Guattari’s three ecologies - now comes to the fore. This does not mean that the other dimensions of critique - and the other aspects of capitalist domination they pointed to - are somehow invalidated; they must simply be reformulated in a new context where capitalist barbarism reaches such a degree that the very possibility of life on Earth is potentially called into question.
"Interrupting the destruction of the world,” then—although I might as well have said, even if the wording may seem strange, "interrupting the world of destruction.” For it is indeed a question of interrupting the course of this world of destruction, which crushes and annihilates so many manifold worlds. To interrupt the destruction of the world, in short, can only mean ending the world of destruction. And this world is the world of the Economy - a world dominated by economic tyranny and animated by a productivist compulsion that is the direct source of the present ecological and human devastation.
This insight implies a "paradigm shift” in our conception of the revolution and, more broadly, of historical time. It has recently been said that there is a major cleavage within the thought of emancipation. For some, it is necessary to preserve, or rediscover, the classical parameters of modernity, and in particular a conception of History understood as a triumphant advance of Progress. It certainly seems increasingly difficult to uphold such an image; yet some persist, in spite of every obstacle, in pushing this line, defending “accelerationist” theses according to which, to exit capitalism, it is necessary not only to continue “in the direction of history,” but even to move as fast as possible by intensifying the most advanced technological and organizational characteristics of capitalism. Full speed ahead, comrades! On the other side of the dividing line are all those who, following Benjamin, consider that we must completely abandon an untenable modern-progressive conception of history. To the arguments that Benjamin put forward in 1940, many others have since been added; and today it is ecological destruction that visibly and dramatically transforms the glorious march of Progress into a mad dash towards the abyss.
All this has important implications for the way in which a possible revolutionary process is conceived, but also, more broadly, for the relationship between present and future, or between past and future. We no longer have History on our side; we are no longer messengers on behalf of any sense of History that would inexorably lead us to salvation. There is a whole swath of representations wrapped up in this that need to be overcome, many of which have been highly effective at the level of organization, even if it is easy these days to recognize their fictitious and illusory nature. But it also means that another vision of history, of collective action, and of the intertwining in the present of the living memory of recollected pasts and the anticipation of possible futures, must be entirely invented.
2. Let’s turn now to the Yellow Vest movement, and your book about it. You insist that an essential trait that characterizes the movement lies in its refusal of representation, the refusal to be “recuperated by politicians” and normalized by the classical forms of politics. It is certainly striking to observe that, whereas many if not most of the mass movements of the previous cycle of struggle paved the way for parliamentary parties claiming to embody their "political outlet” (Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece) yet producing only renewed forms of social democracy, the Yellow Vests have so far deviated from the rule. How should we explain this? Whence this deeply rooted refusal of political representation and traditional parliamentary games?
The Yellow Vests uprising has blown apart the frameworks of classical politics, based as it is on the principle of representation, whose center of gravity turns around political parties locked into electoral competitions over control of the State apparatus. Of course, we have seen the inverse tendency too, here and there, with people attempting to play the role of spokespersons for the movement, acting as self- proclaimed negotiators with the government. There have been attempts by far-right or left-wing militants to infiltrate and steer the movement. But what has been most impressive is the collective intelligence deployed by the various groups of Yellow Vests, most often successfully, which has detected all of this and prevented the takeover of the movement by political sects or trade union activists. The more militant leftist characters that have been allowed to move among the Yellow Vests have generally only been able to integrate provided they abandon their usual speeches and attitudes and adapt to a collective dynamic that breaks with the parameters of classical politics.
No one can predict what will happen, but it is unlikely that parties such as Podemos will manage to assert themselves in France as a “political outlet” for the Yellow Vests uprising. On the other hand, the preparation of the 2020 municipal elections could be an opportunity to rebound on some of the concerns expressed by the Yellow Vests. If it were then a question of entering into the game of classic politics, for example by integrating candidates branded as “yellow vests” among the lists of parties or personalities already in place, this would not make any more sense than the anecdotal lists that emerged during the
European elections. Conquering town halls and then claiming to develop forms of participatory democracy would also have obvious limitations and would only superficially modify the frameworks of classical politics. On the other hand, the municipal elections could offer a pretext to relaunch the formation of popular assemblies at the county or district-level, which could take charge of the organization of certain aspects of community life. In the event that they had the strength, the Yellow Vests could try to seize municipal offices as a means to extend their capacity for action, while transforming the elected officials therein into mere executors of the decisions of the assemblies. Such a process would not be easy and would come with many risks. But we cannot a priori exclude the possibility that the local anchoring of the Yellow Vest movement and the concrete solidarity networks it has created may be consolidated and extended by taking advantage of the space opened locally by the municipal timeline. While this may seem paradoxical, it would not necessarily signal a return to classical forms of politics, provided that the focus and attention do not center on municipal administrations but rather on the popular assemblies, which could then engender genuine counter-powers.
3. I have a follow-up question: the Yellow Vests did not simply criticize representative democracy, but also experimented with the implementation of new forms of collective organization “from below,” in particular by multiplying so-called “popular assemblies.” According to you, the latter prefigure instances of self- government and echo other experiments in political emancipation both past (the Paris Commune) and present (Chiapas and Rojava, in particular). What connects these different experiences, and how are the Yellow Vests inspired by these other revolutionary sequences?
I think it’s important to underline the positive dimensions of the Yellow Vest uprising. At the same time as they have radically rejected classical politics — that is, politics from above, centered on state power, parties, the political class and "experts” in public affairs — they have also sought to experiment with another form of politics, which emerges from below, in situated places of life [lieux de vie] through the ability of ordinary people to organize themselves and begin making their own decisions. It is this rejection of the politics from above and this choice of this politics from below that creates a deep affinity between the Yellow Vest uprising and the other experiments you mentioned, such as the Paris Commune, Rojava, Chiapas, or others. This overlap seems highly important.
However, I don’t think it’s quite precise to claim that the assemblies that have emerged as part of the Yellow Vests movement ‘prefigure instances of self-government’. This is only one possible future, particularly if one takes into account the Call by the Commercy Yellow Vests to form popular assemblies everywhere, by means of which “to reclaim power over our lives.” But it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the assemblies of the Yellow Vests necessarily tend towards forms of self-government, as if this formed their natural horizon. As for the Paris Commune, Rojava, and Chiapas, these references have appeared sporadically, and it is fortunate that they have never been invoked as models, which they cannot be.
That said, if we seek to give a politics from below its full strength and to push it to the point where it would be able to destitute politics from above, then it is indeed appropriate — perhaps as part of a generalized movement of blockades — to initiate instances of popular self-government. In other words, instances of self-organized communal life. In this regard, it must be recognized that the Paris Commune and Zapatista autonomy are particularly inspiring experiences. The call by certain currents of the Yellow Vests to increase the number of popular assemblies could be one way — necessarily singular — of sketching such practices of popular self-government.
4. Another important aspect of the Yellow Vest movement has been the centrality of the blockade as a form of action. Today, as capitalism extends its domination beyond the productive sphere and tends to encompass all aspects of life, the strike seems insufficient by itself to sustain a real balance of power. Hence the necessity, as you indicate, that an “articulation of multiple struggles” take place, a coordination of different social subjectivities in accordance with a logic of "generalized dispossession.” Among other examples, the blockade of the Rungis logistics center has seen the emergence of a practical alliance between yellow vests and the more combative nuclei within the unions. Similarly, some organizations in working-class neighborhoods, such as the Adama Committee [against racist police violence in the suburbs] were quick to join the Yellow Vests and affirm their solidarity with the movement. How do you view these attempts at crossover, and does the next step depend on a possible strengthening of these alliances?
Such crossovers do indeed seem important to me, and to be able to give them more strength would certainly be decisive. I devoted a whole chapter of my book to the question of blockades, as it has been one of the central forms of action adopted by the Yellow Vests. From this point of view, I suggest that we attempt to expand this notion of blockage to include all of its possible dimensions, in the hopes that they might be combined, rather than seeking to oppose one to another. This includes blocking flows and infrastructures, i.e. the sphere of circulation (of people, goods, and the flow of information). But also the blocking of consumption (in addition to the axes of communication, the Yellow Vests have often targeted the distribution centers on which supermarket chains depend); blockades that develop inhabited territories directly in the path of large-scale, harmful, and useless megaprojects; blockades in the sphere of social reproduction (e.g., climate strikes by the younger generation, which call into question social reproduction, of which schools are only one vector among others), as well as blockades in the sphere of production itself, through strikes.
On this last point, it is obvious that the strike has lost the centrality it enjoyed throughout the history of the labor movement. First, because the reorganizations of the work world in the neoliberal age have done everything possible to make it less and less possible, and less and less effective. But also because the work world can no longer be considered as the only sphere — or even the sphere par excellence — in which the relations of domination that constitute capitalism are exercised. This domination goes far beyond work, and when it comes to producing docile citizens and avid consumers, it quickly penetrates the “free” time of leisure and consumption, permeates all aspects of life and moulds subjectivities trained to competition in an increasingly direct fashion, resulting in a cult of success oriented around the quantitative evaluation of everything. In the classical age of capitalism, it might have seemed like the Capital/Labor opposition condensed its fundamental antagonism — and again, this would still be to risk overlooking both gender domination and colonial domination, both of which were and remain essential to capital’s affirmation. In the age of neoliberal capitalism, without the question of labor or strikes disappearing entirely from our radar, the fundamental antagonisms of the world of economics must be rethought more broadly, to encompass the multiple modalities of the dynamic of generalized dispossession: the dispossession of the meaning of one’s work, accentuated by the insatiable pressure toward maximization; the relegation to social nonexistence through unemployment, precarity, and exclusion; despoliation of territories through the multiplication of infrastructural megaprojects and the acceleration of commodification; the impossibility of safety for women continually exposed to gender violence; the dehumanization and discrimination experienced by racialized populations; the curtailed enjoyment of a consumerism transformed into subjugation by the weight of debt; the pervasive feeling of political dispossession in the face of collapsing representative democracies; the dispossession of our experience of time by the tyranny of unending ‘emergencies’; not to mention the most serious of all: the ongoing ecological devastation that deprives us all of the possibility of a dignified life. On the one hand, then, there is antagonism, everything that contributes to our generalized dispossession, itself associated with pure and simple destruction; and on the other hand, everything that seeks to oppose it, in an ethical leap to save the possibility of a dignified life for all human and non-human inhabitants of the Earth.
It is this broad understanding of the multiple forms of dispossession induced by the world of economics that lends credence to a strategy based on intensifying blockades, understood in all their various forms. “Let’s block everything” is a perfectly sensible way of opposing the dynamics of capitalist domination and its extension across every domain of life. Finally, it should be stressed that the blockade in all its forms is a perfectly concrete response to ecological urgency. Is it not the most direct way to stop the destruction of the world, by “turning off the tap” of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other pollution responsible for the collapse of living things?
5. As concerns the insurrectional “acts” of November/December 2018, you write that we were “on the brink of a situation over which the authorities might in fact lose control.” That for the first time in a long time in France, the destitution of power appeared to be a “credible” perspective... in the end, what was lacking, to make this overthrow effective? And what lessons can be learned for the future from this critical moment?
In the early days of December, the ruling class genuinely feared a popular uprising, which is something that had not happened for quite some time in France. The full deployment of law enforcement was nearly overtaken and those in power half-heartedly admitted that the Macronian five-year period was on the line. When they were first heard only a few days prior, the calls to destitute the Head of State had still appeared as a sort of pious wish. In short, power seriously faltered.
One may of course wonder what the departure from Macron could have produced in the way of change. The destitution of a president is still a far cry from the destitution of state power as such. And this limitation is surely linked to the tendency to present this or that politician in particular as the principal enemy. It is true that the hatred that Macron magnetized served as useful fuel for the uprising, but we can only agree with those Yellow Vests who insisted early on that another president would do no better and, even more so, with those who pointed out that, once Macron leaves, he must not be replaced.
What was missing? What prevented the situation from tipping over completely? Some have suggested that it was the refusal of the central trade union organs to throw themselves into the fray. But could we expect anything other than a posture of suspicious distance from a movement that has so often presided over the decline of the very forms of organization they embody? A massive strike wave by the more combative trade union bases could certainly have been important. A broader alliance with the struggles of marginalized people from the hood, which has only seen furtive attempts, could certainly have changed the situation as well. By and large, it was one fraction of the working classes that rose up — the one rooted in the near hinterland zones that ring the major cities, who for the most part have regular jobs, own homes, and are by and large white. Of those segments of the larger working class who live in racialized neighborhoods, and more often victim to exclusion and precarity, only small numbers joined in the insurrection. In general, everything is done to ensure that these different segments of the working classes remain divided and even hostile toward each other, a process intensified by the sort of racism that invigorates the extreme right. From this point of view, the fact that so many in the Yellow Vest movement succeeded in rebuffing and rejecting the grip of racism and of the extreme right and, quite pointedly, avoided scapegoating “immigrant” or “migrants” is very encouraging, at least from the perspective of a broader rapprochement that might be possible down the road. The involvement of certain organs of neighborhood struggle is likewise a cause for optimism. But we are still far from the conditions that would really draw together the two halves of the working classes, beyond all that tends normally to divide them. Finally, the movement suffered the absence of certain more “militant” formations, whose mistrust of any movement in which the extreme right is presence tends to arouse mistrust, and critiques of “impurity,” being too-far removed from the forms of organization that their militant affiliation had accustomed them to consider legitimate.
Whatever else was found lacking, a powerful legacy is nonetheless being forged. It shows the kind of power that the sudden appearance of unforeseen popular mobilization can engender, even in the absence of any pre-existing logistical support networks common to the broader left or political groups. A new and widely shared perception of what can be done has emerged. The effect that this collective experience and shared perception of possibilities can have in subsequent uprisings should not be overlooked.
6. On a more strategic level, you take up some of the insights already offered in one of your previous books, Adieux au capitalisme (La Découverte, 2014). We agree that today the seizure of state power can no longer be a regulative aim of emancipatory politics, and that communism must be understood less as a horizon to be reached than as a process that unfolds in the present. The material foundations of such a process are what you call “liberated spaces,” that is, immediate forms of experimentation with a post- capitalist reality within the very heart of the contemporary world. There is a tendency, quite perilous from our point of view, to consider these liberated spaces as community refuges, harmless margins, in short to neglect their “antagonistic dimension,” thereby leaving the structures of domination intact. For this reason, we prefer to speak of instances of “counter-power” as a way of indicating a clearer connection between “building" and “fighting.“ How can we avoid this tendency to ghettoize liberated spaces (whatever their scale)? How can we preserve a link between prefigural positivity and the destructive function?
Exactly. What I call “liberated spaces” [espaces liberés] should not be construed as protected islands, where it we live out a charming life in the midst of the surrounding disaster, but as spaces for combat. “Free space” implies that we must free ourselves from something, from what oppresses us or causes us to slowly die; it implies that there is a struggle. In reality, these spaces are not entirely liberated, but only in the process of being so: they are not free of what oppresses and attacks them, nor consequently of the need to fight against them. At the same time as they are building from now on a different, clean reality, escaping as much as possible the norms of the economic world, they also have an intrinsically antagonistic dimension.
To affirm, as some do, that in order to exit capitalism it’s enough to simply stop reproducing it, without having to face off with it, is to ignore the antagonistic dimension of what could also be described as an interstitial strategy of openings. And I would add that the theories of collapse, at least in the version offered to us by “collapsology,” seem to me to induce a movement of flight, sometimes with panicked feeling, to shelters where it would be a question of learning, individually or in small groups, to survive the disaster. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a fairly strong opposition — perhaps even a polarization destined to appear with increasing clarity in the years to come — between the perspective of the liberated spaces, heard in their antagonistic dimension, and the reactions that collapsology elicits in the face of an allegedly inevitable and already ongoing implosion.
Of course, liberated spaces can take very different natures and scales. The most modest and discreet of them, by no means contemptible on this account, probably come into less direct conflict with their systemic environment than those who reach a certain dimension and who, in their process of creating their own reality, are led more openly to flout the norms of commodity society, or even to engage in a process of secession from state institutions, as in the case of Zapatista autonomy. As for the liberated spaces linked to the fight against large, harmful and useless projects, these cannot help but enter into direct conflict with the forces that sustain the world of the Economy and find themselves immediately threatened from them.
That said, it is often the enemy who succeeds in reminding liberated spaces of their antagonistic character, by attacking them variously and forcing them to defend themselves. But this reminder of a defensive antagonism is not enough. To build and multiply liberated spaces is certainly a positive way to contribute to the emergence of a world free of capitalist tyranny. But we cannot conceal the fact that these spaces encounter considerable difficulties, not only on account of the attacks they weather, but also because of the spirals of division and internal disintegration that often undermine them from within. Under these conditions, it is reasonable to think that they can only prosper if a broader struggle is able to attack the power of capitalist synthesis. This is why a concern for the survival of liberated spaces should lead us not to withdraw into the process of their construction alone, but to link it up with the broader fight against the world of the Economy. The liberated spaces can then be designed as bases for building bridges to other struggles and intensifying the offensive against the enemy.
For example, we might develop strategy that combines the multiplication of liberated spaces with generalizing blockades. To the extent that the liberated spaces are capable of deploying their own material resources and technical capacities, they can serve as decisive nodes on the basis of which it becomes possible to amplify the blockade dynamics at key moments, in various forms. The more liberated space we have, the more we should be able to extend our capacity for blockades. Conversely, the more widespread the blockades become, the more they promote the emergence of new liberated spaces.
Another dimension of such a strategy consists in deepening of links between existing liberated spaces. This is an important point, the urgency of which is no doubt widely felt, but on which too little progress has been made. Taking up an idea already launched earlier, the Zapatistas have proposed in a communiqué this past August to resume discussions surrounding the creation of a global network of resistance and rebellions. Numerous initiatives could and should exist that move in this same direction, and it would certainly be valuable if the various rebel territories could meet more closely, get to know each other better and exchange proposals, experiences, and concrete forms of mutual support for one another. In any case, for the Zapatistas, it is clear that the creation of autonomy in their territories in Chiapas, however important it may be for the concrete lives of tens of thousands of people, is not an end in itself; it only makes sense in combination with a global struggle against what they have called the capitalist hydra. And that is why they have never stopped organizing international, or even "intergalactic” meetings...
7. A complementary question: if the liberated spaces multiply and carry with them a genuinely antagonistic potential, it is obvious, as you say, that “the rulers of the world and those who serve them will not hand over their privileges voluntarily.” There is therefore also a problem of self-defense and the disaggregation of the enemy’s forces. How can we envisage this today, given the militarization of policing and the development of law enforcement technologies?
We always come back to this point: liberated spaces are places of collective construction; but they must also be defended. The scale and radicality of the liberated spaces that we are capable of building is directly proportional to the collective power at our disposal — and in particular to the capacity for self- defense that we are able to bring into play. In this regard, it should be recalled that the construction of Zapatista autonomy would certainly not have been possible without the armed uprising of January 1, 1994. And even if autonomy has taken on a civil character and has developed by dissociating itself from the Zapatista political-military organization, it has probably only been able to persist until now because it has enjoyed the protection of weapons (the Zapatistas have renounced the offensive use of weapons, but have kept them for defensive purposes). More broadly, it must be noted that today, the two liberated territories that were able to push the construction of autonomy the furthest, Zapatista Chiapas and Kurdish Rojava, are both linked to contexts where armed struggle plays or has played a certain role.
It is not a question of advocating armed struggle - which is something that the Zapatistas have been careful not to do ever since their public appearance in 1994. But it does highlight the rather direct link between the size of the liberated spaces and the necessity of a capacity for self-defense. There are of course many forms of self-defense that do not involve the use of weapons. Many struggles are experimenting with this, as was seen, for example, on the ZAD in Notre-dame-des-landes during Operation César in 2012. But this implies a successful conjunction combining a broad capacity for mobilization, collective physical commitment, unrelenting determination to defend that which is we hold dear, tactical intelligence and inventiveness, and of course the material, logistical and technical resources that go with this. To be sure, the more the enemy increases the level of repression and the means placed at the service of “policing” and the extension of the world of the Economy, the more difficult it becomes to defend liberated spaces. There is no simple formula for these matters, but it is clear that there is no other option than to increase our collective strength on all the points I have just mentioned (and probably others still).
In conclusion, I should reiterate that we have been plunged into a structural crisis such that the capitalist system can reproduce itself only at the cost of ever-increasing difficulties for both us and for it - and, first and foremost, at the cost of ever-increasing ecological and human destruction. We can already foresee that the antagonism between the world of Economics — which has proven itself ready to do anything in its power to perpetuate itself, to feed the quantitative hypertrophy of value, and to preserve the privileges of a few — and liberated spaces marked by multiple and conjoint ruptures with the ongoing devastation is bound to intensify. If this wager is even minimally correct, it would probably be a good idea to begin getting ready for it.
Jérôme Baschet is a historian currently teaching at the Autonomous University of Chiapas in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Author of several books on medieval history, he has also published Défaire la tyrannie du présent. Temporalités émergentes et futurs inédits (2018) et La Rébellion zapatiste (2019). His book on the Gilets Jaunes is out now: Une Juste colère. Interrompre la destruction du monde
It’s three years later and Hillary Clinton continues to blame everyone but herself for her devastating loss to Donald Trump. James Comey, Vladimir Putin, and of course our scandal-obsessed media have all been subject to her wrath in postelection interviews. But she saves the worst of her ire for people to her left. In an […]
There’s an interesting paper out from the University of Essex looking at whether the public actually listen to central bankers.
This listening matters for monetary policymakers because central banks often justify their inflation targets by saying it gives them an easy-to-communicate goal to the public. This in turn, they claim, helps expectations adjust to the desired slow-but-steady inflation and the target becomes credible and self fulfilling.
There’s much in the paper, Central Bank Announcements: Big News for Little People?, to worry policymakers, then. Notably that most people are not paying attention to what the most powerful group of central bankers in the world, the US Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Markets Committee, or FOMC, say:
Our main finding is that FOMC announcements have little measurable effect on consumers’ perceptions and expectations of inflation and interest rates.
What we want to draw attention to now though is something that we’ve noticed elsewhere — and is, we would suggest, a facet of the public having their mind on things other than central banking. That is, that people think inflation is much higher than the measures central bankers rely on tell us it is.
Those polled by the paper’s authors, for instance, say they think inflation is a whopping 5 per cent:
For reference, the measure the Fed uses, the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ PCE, puts inflation in the year to November at 1.5 per cent. The Fed targets inflation of 2 per cent.
Nor is this an issue confined to the US.
Benoît Cœuré used his farewell address at the European Central Bank to warn that people in the eurozone think inflation’s been averaging 9 per cent a year. The measure the ECB looks at, HICP compiled by Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics agency, has averaged 1.6 per cent over the period in question.
As the FT’s Frankfurt Bureau Chief Martin Arnold writes here, the odd German is even thinking of moving to South America — not the most obvious haven for those that want to escape the clutches of high inflation — to avoid what many view as steep rises in the cost of living.
Ask anyone at the European Central Bank’s headquarters 20 miles away in Frankfurt about inflation and they are likely to express frustration at its persistently low level. Yet at the Mainz farmers’ market, many people think the opposite.
Prices shot up in shops and restaurants when the euro replaced the Deutsche Mark in 2002, said Ludwig Kloster, a baker from the nearby town of Bad Kreuznach, adding: “The cost of living is still going up.” He aims to retire to Latin America, where “things cost half as much”.
It’s the same in the UK too, with polls showing the public believes inflation is twice as high as the Bank of England’s preferred reading does.
As if locking up mass numbers of people in cages weren’t depraved enough, jails and prisons around the country are now charging prisoners exorbitant fees to read, listen to music, and speak to their family and friends. It’s a gross violation and exploitation of prisoners’ basic rights to enjoy culture and connect with other humans.
How much does a copy of your favorite book cost to read by the minute? Maybe you bought it for $10 at the local used bookstore and read a page every three minutes. It seems odd to calculate, but your cost comes out to a small fraction of a penny per minute.
It’s not odd for inmates across the United States, however. Jails and public prisons have teamed up with prison-services firms to charge prisoners to read and learn.
In West Virginia, for example, the company GTL (formerly Global Telcoin, Inc.) recently began providing iPad-like devices to ten prisons in the state. The devices themselves are free and so are the books, which are from Project Gutenberg, an online provider of more than sixty thousand public domain texts. But inmates are charged $0.05 per minute (currently discounted to $0.03) to read the “free” books. At three minutes per page for a three-hundred-page book, that’s $45, as long as they don’t stop to admire an elegant turn of phrase or ponder a passage.
Worse, the devices are not just e-readers, but fully functioning tablets. If an inmate has enough money, the tablets have music, email, SMS, phone, and video capabilities. If a West Virginia inmate wants to video call a loved one, it will cost $0.25 per minute, or $15 an hour.
Most inmates in state and federal prisons are not employed. If a West Virginia inmate does work, they will earn as little as $0.04 an hour, meaning they will have to work 375 hours to pay for that call. If the inmate is unemployed and doesn’t have savings, their loved ones shoulder the financial burden.
The friends and family members of inmates are ensnared in a payment scheme that collectively punishes the prisoners, who are disproportionately black and brown, while enriching corporations and states. This is a swindle of the highest order.
Although media usage has become highly commodified in the outside world, people can speak to each other in person free of charge, and they can read for something close to that. Prisoners, on the other hand, are quite literally a captive market. They are often compelled beyond their will to pay exorbitant fees to think, listen, or maintain personal relationships with people on the outside. For prisoners, the basic things that make us human are being exploited for profit.
The more an inmate can speak with their loved ones, the better. As long as visitation is “high-quality,” frequent speaking time can reduce prison violence, help prisoners maintain cherished relationships, and facilitate a smooth transition into the world after release. Importantly, it can contribute to “break[ing] the intergenerational cycle of incarceration,” which is a crucial step toward the bigger goal of diverting resources to working-class communities, especially of color, and away from the largest prison system in the world. More importantly, speaking with loved ones, reading, and listening to music are not luxuries — they are genuine needs to which all humans have rights.
States and prison-services firms see something else in all this: easy and massive profits. Eighty percent of the prison-services market, including communications technology and other services, is dominated by three firms, Securus Technologies, GTL, and ICSolutions, according to Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative. A single subsidiary of Securus boasts that its services are used by “more than 1.9 million inmates and released offenders in thirty-four states,” or the vast majority of the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States.
In at least one Ohio state prison, a company called JPay charges prisoners $140 to buy a tablet. Inmates pay $10 for a thirty-minute video call. Elsewhere, game applications like e-solitaire, which are free to people on the outside, cost $7.99.
In nine states around the nation, prison profiteers give the devices to institutions free of charge. But like in West Virginia, they are only free to the government and taxpayers. GTL says the tablets have “both free and premium content.” Free content usually refers to software like a digital law library or an electronic grievance system. Any application that a typical inmate might want to use regularly is monetized.
Sometimes prisoners report losing purchases made on the tablets for no reason, like when Florida inmates lost $11 million worth of song downloads after the state switched contractors. That’s 20 million labor hours at best, because Florida prison laborers are paid a maximum of $0.55 an hour. Some are paid $0 per hour.
If those prisoners did repurchase even a fraction of their music, it was a boon to prison firms and Florida alike, because the state earns a percentage of all transactions made on the tablets. This sort of kickback is standard practice in “the prison retail space,” as Bertram called it. The state of Ohio, for instance, makes roughly $1.3 million dollars each year in kickbacks from JPay. JPay itself estimated that a five-year contract with New York prisons would yield $9 million in profit.
If someone wants to speak to an incarcerated loved one over a Skype-like video call, the call can be dehumanizing and dysfunctional. Take Guardian journalist Shannon Sims’s description of one such interaction:
[A woman’s] face lights up and then slowly fades as she realizes [her incarcerated boyfriend] can’t hear her. She fiddles with her headphones, waves, tries gesturing at him, but ultimately, he never can hear her voice. The two end up simply giggling at the screen image of each other for the remainder of the time.
Others have given firsthand reports of the shoddy and expensive technology, too. In Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee wrote that
The call cost 19 cents per minute and was noticeably worse than a FaceTime or Skype call. It was grainy and jerky, periodically freezing up altogether . . . . The software required my face to stay centered in the video frame. If my face left the frame, the video went dark — this is apparently a measure to prevent callers from flashing breasts or other body parts.
Prisoners live in utter privation of basic human rights, but one always remains: the right to have their privation profitized. What other option is there?
“Subjected to isolation, boredom, and torture, you don’t have a choice of whether to avail yourself of some activity that could be fulfilling to you,” said Bertram. “What we can see is that families and loved ones of incarcerated people end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars just to support their loved ones’ fulfillment and emotional survival on the inside.”
This exploitation is sanctioned by the Supreme Court, which asserted in a 2003 case that prison administrators are uniquely capable of determining when and whether inmates get visitation. “They bear a significant responsibility for defining the legitimate goals of a corrections system and for determining the most appropriate means to accomplish them,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said for the majority.
But this is a considerable conflict of interest, since prison administrators themselves determine whether and with whom they sign public-private contracts, the very deals that shift prison costs onto the prisoner-cum-consumer and increase states’ assets.
In jails, the monetization of prisoners’ craving for social connection and mental stimulation is the most extreme and exploitative. While no state or federal prison has banned in-person visitations after implementing some form of virtual visitation, roughly a hundred jails have. (It is difficult to determine the exact figure, Bertram told me, because these facilities tend to operate outside public scrutiny. The Prison Policy Initiative “sets up news alerts” to track the trend, but no longer monitors it formally.)
The video calls in jails, which cost up to $1.50 a minute, overwhelmingly supplant traditional visits. Of the jails that introduce video calling, 74 percent eliminate in-person visits outright. The elimination of such visits was required outright by one of the biggest prison-services firms, Securus, until it faced widespread backlash from activists and advocates.
This bleak exploitation in jails is deeply racialized. In 2016, fully 65 percent of jail detainees had not even gone to trial. Since people of color are more likely to be denied bail and less likely to be able to afford it, the state and private interests are exploiting inmates who are not just disproportionately poor and of color, but also overwhelmingly innocent, according to the justice system itself.
Under the aegis of the state, prison-services firms offer technology that could theoretically be beneficial to inmates and ultimately break cycles of incarceration. But this runs counter to corporate and state interests: reducing any population of consumers, after all, is not a sustainable business model.
Adam Schiff, the liberal hero of impeachment, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the military-industrial complex and a fervent exponent of permanent war.
To some Democrats and journalists, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) is a hero. All over the internet, people are thanking him for defending the Constitution, hoping he’ll run for president someday. After his performance during this week’s impeachment hearing, the worship was especially intense; a letter writer to the New York Times called it “brilliant” and a “tour de force,” while the conservative Washington Times made fun of all the blue-checked Twitter accounts losing their objectivity in ecstatic praise. As the face of the impeachment effort, especially for liberals disengaged from the election process, Schiff represents a glimmer of hope for domestic regime change.
We’d like to be on his side. After all, he’s working hard to take down Donald Trump, one of the worst presidents in American history. But let’s not get carried away in fandom. Schiff is a dangerous warmonger, and his efforts to fuel paranoia about Russia only serve to feed that agenda. It would be admirable if Schiff’s impeachment crusade was limited to Trump’s corruption. But something else drives him: he wants a proxy war in Ukraine with Russia, and he has for some time.
Adam Schiff physically resembles a prosperity preacher. That is to say, he looks like a classic all-American salesman type, but with a beatific glow of righteousness. This creepily wholesome look lends a corny Cold War ambiance to his constant fulmination about “the Russians.” It’s hard not to listen to him without thinking of Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem “America”:
America, it’s them bad Russians
Them Russians, them Russians and them Chinamen.
And them Russians.
Assuring us that he is aware, actually, of what century this is, Schiff said in 2015, “Now, we’re not seeing the same bipolar world we had between communism and capitalism.” (Phew!) He then added, “But we are seeing a new bipolar world, I think, where you have democracy versus authoritarianism.” Schiff has not viewed this as a mere contest of ideas: he constantly advocated for Obama to impose tougher sanctions on Russia and give more weapons to Ukraine.
Although delicately opposed to violence in some contexts — he’s a vegan! — this isn’t the only war Schiff has championed. He supported the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya wars, greater US intervention in Syria, as well as the Saudi war with Yemen (although he has, in the past year, turned against the latter adventure, seeming to draw the line at sawing up journalists with bonesaws — he is a moderate after all, plus very popular with the media), and he has voted for nearly every possible increase in the defense budget.
As Jacobin’s own Branko Marcetic observed two years ago, Schiff’s bellicosity is extensively funded by arms manufacturers and military contractors. A Ukrainian arms dealer named Igor Pasternak held a $2,500 per head fundraiser for Schiff in 2013, as the late Justin Raimondo reported in a terrific analysis on Antiwar.com in 2017, at a time when Ukraine was desperately trying to counter the Obama administration’s disinterest in funding its war with Russia. Despite that disinterest, the State Department approved some very profitable dealings for Pasternak in Ukraine after that fundraiser.
And that’s only one example. In the current cycle, donations from the war industry have continued to flood his coffers. Many come from employees of firms with extensive Department of Defense contracts, including Radiance Technologies and Raytheon. PACs representing the defense industry also make a robust showing among Schiff’s contributors, according to data on Open Secrets.org; companies funneling money to Schiff — sorry, contributing to those PACs — include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Radiance, and others, including L3Harris Technologies (which got in big trouble with the State Department in September and had to pay $13 million in penalties for illegal arms dealing).
Guess what these companies want? War with Russia in Ukraine. Why wouldn’t they? Last October, the United States approved a $39 million sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, a joint contract between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. The previous year, Ukraine bought $37 million worth of missiles from the same two companies. As a missile-maker, Zacks Equity Research has noted, Northrop Grumman also benefits richly from conflict in Ukraine, as missiles are heavily used in cross-border wars.
Despite his enthusiastic support for state violence and cozy ties to the makers of deadly weaponry, Schiff, an Alexander Hamilton–quoting windbag, doesn’t have much crossover appeal to the sort of people who put “These Colors Don’t Run” stickers on their trucks. His impeachment crusade only seems to reinforce Trump’s support among the faithful; at this writing, 93 percent of Republicans oppose the president’s removal from office.
Letter / translation received along with the photo on 01/21/2020:
“If there is no bread for the poor there will be no peace for the rich.” As long as there is misery there will be rebellion.
For Marcelo, with all the complicity of the fight!
I received your words of courage and solidarity that filled me with emotion and sympathy!
Today I answer (before I had censorship in the letters) to your words because I think it is important to establish ties of complicity between us anarchists around the world.
As I think it is essential to have a vision of internationalist fellowship and worthy resistance with both words and actions.
Dear comrade, today my words and my heart beat together with yours, with the struggles that have risen with courage and dignity against the Chilean government and that have been transformed from the simplicity of a struggle for the passage of the subway to set fire to and attack everything that oppresses throughout Chile. But I cannot deny that my esteem and sympathy goes to the anarchist comrades who have always been there in the street fight both day and night, in the past and in the present.
Although we are prisoners in different latitudes of the planet, I know that our struggle continues with our heads up and with dignity! That is why I send these simple words of solidarity and courage to the unruly beaten by the repression of the Chilean state; the brutality of torture, rape, murder, will not be forgotten! And the most important thing is that they haven’t stopped the fight! This demonstrates the courage of women and men who continue to fight with dignity.
We must demand the freedom of the 1700 prisoners of the Chilean revolt, without forgetting any prisoner in prisons, who, like you, comrade Marcelo, have always fought! I have no doubt that your fight is my fight! This gives me courage and I am proud to be part of this anarchist galaxy, in order to continue with the struggle until the state and its prisons will be demolished from the universe.
I also think it is essential to remember fellow revolutionaries and known or unknown rebels who have always fought in the past, in order to continue their journey today. Remember especially those who do not let themselves be overcome by times because they are not mature and continue the permanent struggle with passion and countercurrent. To all those who do not resign themselves despite the fact that all forecasts are adverse.
Remember fellow revolutionaries of the past not as icons, but as examples in practice, because they are our roots and our soul! Soul that is not abstract or religious, but a soul that is pragmatic, is a universal struggle! It is soul that tends toward revolt here and now!
For this reason I would like to remember a Chilean comrade who died here in Italy with dignity next to another comrade in the bomb blast they were preparing for Torino on August 4, 1977. This is Aldo Marín Piñones and Attilio di Napoli, died at the age of 24, militants of the armed group Azione Rivoluzionaria (anarchist / communist group). A comrade who fought against the Pinochet regime and was locked in the jails of the Chilean dictatorship and died fighting against totalitarian western democracy. We have to fight and fight …
Juan Sorroche - Terni Prison - AS2 - 01/01/2020
A hug comrade Marcelo, against winds and tides
“Irreducible always, never forget!”
Conversation with an anarchist and anti-repression organizer about how conspiracy charges have been used against anarchists in Canada and the United States, some challenges and lessons learned from supporting J20 defendants and others, the Tilted Scales Collective's upcoming book project, Representing Radicals: A Guide for Lawyers, and more.
Check out the links below for more in-depth discussion of some of the cases discussed in the episode as well as related texts about repression, security culture, and conspiracy charges.
Now (2017) is the phantom chapter to the Invisible Committee’s previous book, To Our Friends: a new critique from the anonymous collective that establishes their opposition to the world of capital and its law of labor, addresses current anti-terrorist rhetoric and the ferocious repression that comes with it, and clarifies the end of social democracy and the growing rumors of the need for a coming “civil war.”
Now emerges at a time when the Invisible Committee’s contestation has found echoes throughout the West, with a collapse of trust in the police, an inept weariness on the part of the political system, a growing urgency for opposition, a return of the theme of the Commune, a vanishing distinction between radicals and citizens, and a widespread refusal on the part of the citizen to be governed. As farcical political elections continue to unfold worldwide like a line of tumbling dominoes, and governments increasingly struggle to reclaim a legitimacy that has already slipped out of their grasp, Now clarifies the Invisible Committee’s attitude toward all such elections and their outcome: one of utter indifference.
Now proposes a “destituent process” that charts out a different path to be taken, a path of outright refusal that simply ignores elections altogether. It is a path that calls for taking over the world and not taking power, for exploring new forms of life and not a new constitution, and for desertion and silence as alternatives to proclamations and crashes. It is also a call for an unprecedented communism—a communism stronger than nation and country.
So proclaims a recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal by Gary Cohn, former director of the National Economic Council under President Donald Trump. The onetime Goldman Sachs senior executive mounts a vigorous defense of the 2017 tax bill, calling it a victory for supply-side economics and for the American people.
In the past decade the gap between income growth for ordinary Americans and that for their wealthiest countrymen has widened at a rate unseen since the Gilded Age. As a result, populists now openly challenge neoliberalism from both the left and the right. Talk of tax cuts and trickle-down effects by financial elites is a rearguard action fought on behalf of a crumbling economic consensus. Like the delusional Vietnam War–era generals who pointed to rising body counts as progress toward victory, Mr. Cohn, President Trump, and others frequently refer to a soaring stock market and low unemployment as indicators of a “surging economy.”
At this point many of us understand that beneath the hood, the once powerful American engine of mass prosperity is malfunctioning. When 10 percent of the American population owns 80 percent of equities, a 35 percent gain in the Nasdaq is a vanity metric rather than a true indicator of system performance. Similarly, low unemployment rates mask the neo-serfdom of the sharing economy — and thus tell only part of the story. To borrow a metaphor from writer Anand Giridharadas, tussles over the American economy have played out in just two different “stadiums” since 1932.
The Stadium of Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood on a New Deal consensus from the mid-1930s until well into the 1970s. Policymakers in both parties sought to limit the concentration of economic power, decentralize the corporate sector, and ensure free and fair competition for small business. In the mid-1970s, American politicians abandoned this accord for the Stadium of Ronald Reagan, where subservience to the free market and an abiding skepticism of government became shibboleths in both parties. It may have been Reagan who convinced Americans that their government was out to get them, but it was a Democratic president from rural Arkansas who gutted the federal bureaucracy in the mid-1990s and then used his State of the Union address to brag about it.
The one thing — perhaps the only thing — that the left and the right seem to agree on today is that the current field of play no longer seems so prosperous for the average citizen.
Following leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on one team and Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley on the other, people are looking for the exits. Where they will go is unknown, but whether closure comes in 2020 or a few years later, the lights are flickering in the House that Ronnie Built.
Matt Stoller’s Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy is a timely guide for those looking to understand how, where, and by whom the next stadium will be built. Goliath’s central assertion is that to understand why our economy distributes its fruits so unevenly, you must recognize what many elites and policymakers struggle to see: The present-day prevalence of monopolies and other significant concentrations of economic power is unprecedented in American history.
His time on Capitol Hill during the financial crisis propelled Stoller into a decade-long exploration of American economic history. In Goliath he unearths a century’s worth of antitrust debates to show the consequences of monopolization and economic concentration. For decades, American antitrust battles were led by a seemingly forgotten assemblage of anti-monopolists that includes John Sherman, Louis Brandeis, and America’s most famous class traitor, Franklin Roosevelt.
The book’s unlikely hero, however, is Congressman Wright Patman, the son of an East Texas tenant cotton farmer. The populist Patman’s 46-year career in the House of Representatives, launched on the eve of the Great Depression, mirrors the rise and fall of the New Deal economy. Patman was instrumental in passing the Bonus Bill for World War I veterans; he also led impeachment proceedings against then–Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. He was, as one eulogizer said, a man who “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.”
In 1975 a group of newly elected Democrats known as the “Watergate Babies” deposed the elderly Patman as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. That Patman’s ouster came neither at the hands of Republicans nor at those of his enemies on Wall Street is a central point in Goliath: In their zeal to end the Vietnam War and enact civil rights legislation, Democratic legislators ceded thought leadership on matters of political economy to a rising technocratic elite. Patman — elderly, white, and Southern — fell victim to the grandfathers of today’s woke capitalists.
A credentialed technocracy soon led the Democratic party astray. Well-intentioned, corporatist liberals undermined the New Deal consensus, allowing Chicago School libertarians to peddle simplistic views of the relationship between the government, the citizen, and the economy. Stoller reserves his sharpest critiques not for Big Business or Wall Street, but rather for educated elites on his own team who, after a century of looking out for small businesses, farmers, and workers, quickly abandoned them for free trade, private equity, and, eventually, Amazon.
To ensure the complete and lasting victory of neoliberalism, its forces buried the New Deal vocabulary. Financial elites, their allies on Capitol Hill, and a not-yet-discredited cadre of libertarian economists dismantled the guardrails on capitalism erected by New Deal policymakers from both parties. Thereafter, to suggest that the market might need some degree of oversight was to invite scorn and derision.
The resurrection of the anti-monopoly lexicon and its history is a positive step toward a new economic consensus. So is the fledgling movement to build a 21st-century industrial policy, incubated by intellectuals on the right and now embraced by mainstream politicians. Business culture also appears to be shifting, and it has once again become possible to be “pro-business” while objecting to returns earned through labor arbitrage. Even JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon now suggests that the efficiencies-over-everything-else shareholder economy might not be right for our democracy.
Throughout Goliath, Stoller asserts that the past century’s antitrust struggles can and, indeed, must inform the challenges in front of us. A conversation about Amazon is incomplete without understanding the pitched battles that unfolded in the 1930s between federal regulators and the A&P chain store. It might surprise young investors and managers today to discover that for decades, American law protected producers’ ability to price their own goods. The monopoly issue is also one of national security: As we grapple with the implications of Big Tech’s cozy relationship with an ascendant, cyber-forward China, we might look to the 1930s, when the federal government belatedly intervened to prevent Standard Oil and Alcoa from helping Hitler reconstitute the German war machine.
Content moderators for YouTube are being ordered to sign a document acknowledging that performing the job can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to interviews with employees and documents obtained by The Verge. Accenture, which operates a moderation site for YouTube in Austin, Texas, distributed the document to workers on December 20th — four days after The Verge published an investigation into PTSD among workers at the facility.
“I understand the content I will be reviewing may be disturbing,” reads the document, which is titled “Acknowledgement” and was distributed to employees using DocuSign. “It is possible that reviewing such content may impact my mental health, and it could even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I will take full advantage of the weCare program and seek additional mental health services if needed. I will tell my supervisor/or my HR People Adviser if I believe that the work is negatively affecting my mental health.”
The PTSD statement comes at the end of the two-page acknowledgment form, and it is surrounded by a thick black border to signify its importance. It may be the most explicit acknowledgment yet from a content moderation company that the job now being done by tens of thousands of people around the world can come with severe mental health consequences.
“The wellbeing of our people is a top priority,” an Accenture spokeswoman said in an email. “We regularly update the information we give our people to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the work they do — and of the industry-leading wellness program and comprehensive support services we provide.”
Accenture said it shares information about potentially disturbing content with all of the content moderators it employs, including those who work on its contracts with Facebook and Twitter. But it would not answer questions about whether it specifically informs Facebook and Twitter moderators that they are at risk for PTSD. The Verge has previously interviewed Facebook moderators working for Accenture competitor Cognizant in Phoenix, Arizona, and Tampa, Florida, who have been diagnosed with PTSD after viewing violent and disturbing content.
In a statement, Facebook said it did not review or approve forms like the one Accenture sent. A Twitter spokeswoman said that both full-time and contract Twitter employees receive information when they join the company that acknowledges they might have to view sensitive material as part of their jobs. It is not clear whether contract workers for Facebook or Twitter have been asked to sign the PTSD acknowledgment form. (If you’re a contract worker for either company and have been asked to sign one, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The PTSD form describes various support services available to moderators who are suffering, including a “wellness coach,” a hotline, and the human resources department. (“The wellness coach is not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose or treat mental health disorders,” the document adds.)
It also seeks to make employees responsible for monitoring changes in their mental health and orders them to disclose negative changes to their supervisor or HR representative. It instructs employees to seek outside help if necessary as well. “I understand how important it is to monitor my own mental health, particularly since my psychological symptoms are primarily only apparent to me,” the document reads. “If I believe I may need any type of healthcare services beyond those provided by [Accenture], or if I am advised by a counselor to do so, I will seek them.”
The document adds that “no job is worth sacrificing my mental or emotional health” and that “this job is not for everyone” — language that suggests employees who experience mental health struggles as a result of their work do not belong at Accenture. It does not state that Accenture will make reasonable accommodations to employees who become disabled on the job, as required by federal law. Labor attorneys told The Verge that this language could be construed to suggest that employees may be terminated for becoming disabled, which would be illegal.
“I’m acknowledging that if I disclose my mental health to you, you may be able to fire me. That isn’t allowed,” said Alreen Haeggquist, an employee rights attorney based in California.
Accenture says signing the document is voluntary. But two current employees told The Verge that they were threatened with being fired if they refused to sign. The document itself also says that following its instructions is required: “Strict adherence to all the requirements in this document is mandatory,” it reads. “Failure to meet the requirements would amount to serious misconduct and for Accenture employees may warrant disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
Employment law experts contacted by The Verge said Accenture’s requirement that employees tell their supervisor about negative changes to their mental health could be viewed as an illegal requirement to disclose a disability or medical condition to an employer.
“I would think it’s illegal to force an employee to disclose any sort of disability to you,” Haeggquist said.
Accenture said employees are not being asked to disclose disabilities or medical conditions, and it framed the document as a general disclosure that it has been providing new employees for years. But it would not say why the PTSD disclosure was distributed mere days after The Verge’s investigation.
Accenture refused to disclose when it became aware that its workers were getting PTSD from exposure to YouTube content, how many workers have been affected so far, or whether it intended to use employees’ signatures as a legal defense against the current and future class action lawsuits it faces.
“The number of activists isn’t huge, but their impact has been incredible … There needs to be an understanding that this is a threat to all industries. The tactics could be extended to any other sectors of the economy.” – Brian Cass, managing director of HLS In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast,… Read Full Article
The amount of material consumed by humanity has passed 100bn tonnes every year, a report has revealed, but the proportion being recycled is falling.
The climate and wildlife emergencies are driven by the unsustainable extraction of fossil fuels, metals, building materials and trees. The report’s authors warn that treating the world’s resources as limitless is leading towards global disaster.
The materials used by the global economy have quadrupled since 1970, far faster than the population, which has doubled. In the last two years, consumption has jumped by more than 8% but the reuse of resources has fallen from 9.1% to 8.6%.
The report, by the Circle Economy thinktank, was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It shows that, on average, every person on Earth uses more than 13 tonnes of materials per year. But the report also found that some nations are making steps towards circular economies in which renewable energy underpins systems where waste and pollution are reduced to zero.
“We risk global disaster if we continue to treat the world’s resources as if they are limitless,” said Harald Friedl, the chief executive of Circle Economy. “Governments must urgently adopt circular economy solutions if we want to achieve a high quality of life for close to 10bn people by mid-century without destabilising critical planetary processes.”
Marc de Wit, the report’s lead author, said: “We are still fuelling our growth in population and affluence by the extraction of virgin materials. We can’t do this indefinitely – our hunger for virgin material needs to be halted.”
The report found that 100.6bn tonnes of materials were consumed in 2017, the latest year for which data is available. Half of the total is sand, clay, gravel and cement used for building, along with the other minerals quarried to produce fertiliser. Coal, oil and gas make up 15% and metal ores 10%. The final quarter are the plants and trees used for food and fuel.
The lion’s share of the materials – 40% – is turned into housing. Other major categories include food, transport, healthcare, communications, and consumer goods such as clothes and furniture.
Almost a third of the annual materials remain in use after a year, such as buildings and vehicles. But 15% is emitted into the atmosphere as climate-heating gases and nearly a quarter is discarded into the environment, such as plastic in waterways and oceans. A third of the materials is treated as waste, mostly going to landfill and mining spoil heaps. Just 8.6% is recycled.
“This report sparks an alarm for all governments,” said Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s environment minister. “We need to deploy all the policies to really catalyse this transformation [to a circular economy].”
Cristianne Close of the conservation group WWF said: “The circular economy provides a framework for reducing our impacts, protecting ecosystems and living within the means of one planet.”
The report said increasing recycling can make economies more competitive, improve living conditions and help to meet emissions targets and avoid deforestation. It reported that 13 European countries have adopted circular economy roadmaps, including France, Germany and Spain, and that Colombia became the first Latin American country to launch a similar policy in 2019.
(CNN) — On this date 17 years ago, I was covering the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus for several months as it spread across Asia, eventually reaching 37 countries, sickening 8,098 people and killing 774 of them.
So, as I read the first reports of a cluster of animal-market related illnesses, with the first patient exhibiting symptoms of pneumonia as early as December 12, 2019, I had a chilling sense of déjà vu. By New Year’s Eve, it was obvious something akin to SARS — as it turns out, the Wuhan coronavirus is in the same family of viruses as SARS and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) — was unfolding in China.
The mysterious pneumonia virus that emerged from a live animal market in China’s central city of Wuhan last month has now infected far too many people, over far too vast a geographic area, to be easily controlled.
The Wuhan coronavirus — part of a family of viruses that are common among animals and can cause fever as well as respiratory symptoms when transmitted to humans — has been found in cities all over China, and travelers have since spread the virus to several countries, including Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea as well as Hong Kong and Macau.
The first American case — involving a man in his 30s who recently traveled to Wuhan — was confirmed outside Seattle on January 21, before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday a second case in Chicago. As of Friday, at least 41 people have died from the illness.
I warned that China appeared to be taking more aggressive steps shutting down social media posts, arresting people accused of spreading “rumors” and capping the flow of information about the outbreak than it was halting the transmission of the virus. For more than a week, the reported number of cases barely changed after local authorities shut down the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, the putative source of the virus. And authorities insisted the cause was neither SARS, nor similar viruses like the flu, avian flu, or MERS.
They also repeatedly stated that there was no evidence of human-to-human spread of the disease (which turned out to be false), leading the World Health Organization and outside world to believe that closing the live animal market effectively brought the outbreak to a halt.
As recently as January 18, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted stern warnings against paying heed to “rumors” and insisted there were no cases of the disease in hospitals outside of Wuhan, adding that the outbreak was “preventable and controllable.” But we now know that was far from true.
Officially, there are more than 1,000 cases of the Wuhan coronavirus. Unofficially, however, the toll is likely to be far higher, and more than 20 Chinese cities have reported cases of the coronavirus.
Separate studies from London’s Imperial College and Hong Kong University Medical School estimated that some 1,300 to 1,700 people were infected during the first week of January, when Chinese officials reported just a handful of cases and downplayed the epidemic’s severity. This week, the Imperial College team estimated that there were a total of 4,000 cases (with the possibility of up to 9,700 cases in the worst-case scenario) by January 18, when the official tally was still at 62 cases.
Using a different statistical method, scientists at Northeastern University in Boston reckon that 5,900 were infected by January 23.
Despite the wide disparity in the figures, this new epidemic seems poised to eclipse the scale of the 2003 SARS epidemic, and is already well outside of the reach of simple control measures. Hong Kong University virologist Guan Yi, who was part of the team that discovered the SARS virus, tells the Washington Post that the epidemic is so out of control now that “a bigger outbreak is certain.” He said that even with a conservative estimate, the outbreak could be 10 times bigger than the SARS epidemic — with a reach of more than 80,000 cases. Speaking on background, other SARS veterans tell me there may already be “many thousands” of infected individuals in China.
Because authorities initially downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak instead of implementing swift control measures, people have traveled to and from Wuhan — a major transportation hub with a population of 11 million people — and unwittingly carried the virus with them.
Chinese authorities have shut down flights, ferries, highways, and trains leaving Wuhan, as well as public transportation within the city. Twelve other cities in China have issued travel restrictions in an unprecedented move to contain the virus just days before the Lunar New Year on January 25, which usually ushers the largest human migration on earth, with hundreds of millions of people traveling to see relatives.
Following my January 8 claim that the Chinese government was covering up a significant epidemic, pressure mounted from United Nations agencies, Ministries of Health worldwide and the scientific community. Finally, Wuhan provincial communist party chief Jiang Chaoliang, and his counterparts in neighboring districts, came under veiled criticism from President Xi Jinping who ordered Party leaders to “put people’s safety and health as the top priority and take effective measures to curb the spread of the virus.”
On January 20, China’s National Health Commission designated the new disease a Class B infection, although it was treating the virus as a Class A infection — meaning mandatory quarantines and community lockdowns may be used to stop its spread.
And the following day, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission posted on social media that, “Anyone who puts the face of politicians before the interests of the people will be the sinner of a millennium to the party and the people.” The commentary also warned that “anyone who deliberately delays and hides the reporting of cases out of his or her own self-interest will be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity” and stressed that transparency was the best defense against rumors and widespread fear.
Not surprisingly, reported numbers of cases from all over China jumped dramatically after Xi’s speech and subsequent pressure from Beijing. This has confused matters considerably, making it impossible to tell how much of the soaring epidemic toll is due to a surge in actual new infections, versus release of case numbers that local authorities had been covering up. Worse, despite calls for openness, SARS hero Dr. Zhong Nanshan, who was celebrated for his 2003 efforts, gave a televised interview on January 20 in which he warned that 14 healthcare workers were infected in Wuhan, the risk to medical personnel is acute, and severity of threat will rise if the virus mutates. Zhong, who had initially made several appearances on Chinese television, has not been featured on broadcasts in recent days, with some speculating that the government is now silencing him.
But Zhong’s warning represented sound science. As the leading Chinese virology team wrote, after comparing the genetics and proteins of the new virus and SARS, “the Wuhan nCoV poses a significant public health risk for human transmission,” because it — like SARS — has the ability to bind to a protein found on the surface of most human lung cells. “People also need to be reminded that risk and dynamic of cross-species or human-to-human transmission of coronaviruses are also affected by many other factors,” like the host’s immune response, the speed with which the viruses can multiply inside human lungs, and the potential mutations that might make the virus more virulent or transmissible.
Despite what you were likely told in elementary school, the average human body temperature is not 98.6°F.
That commonly cited temperature dates to the 1850s, when a German doctor crunched the figure from data on 25,000 people in Leipzig. More recently, researchers found in a study of 35,000 British people that average body temperature is a bit lower, more like 97.88°F. That raised the question of whether average human body temperature might decreasing over time.
Now it turns out that may be the case. In a new paper in the journal eLife, from a group of scientists at Stanford University, researchers analyzed three different databases of human body temperature readings, starting with a cohort of Civil War veterans, then to temperatures taken in the 1970s, and ending with data collected between 2007 and 2017.
Overall, the researchers found that men born in the early 1800s had average body temperatures 1.06°F higher than men today. Women born in the 19th century were, on average, 0.57°F warmer than women today.
It’s not that thermometers are becoming more precise. Each individual data set, when analyzed separately, also showed the pattern of declining temperatures over time. So the researchers could rule out measurement error as the reason.
The findings, when published, went viral. How can the average human body temperature be changing? It’s not that the human form is radically changing. If anything, it might be a sign that we’re collectively growing healthier.
But the larger truth is that there never has been one universal human body temperature. The fixation on 98.6°F has long obscured the fact there’s variability in what’s normal. And even in an “average” person, the temperature of the body is changing all the time.
Why is the average human body temperature falling?
On average, the study found, human body temperature is decreasing 0.05°F per decade. Why?
The honest answer: “We don’t know,” says Catherine Ley, a Stanford researcher who co-authored the paper. “It’s just an observation,” she says, adding that their study was not set up to answer the bigger question. But they have a few hypotheses. Namely, “we think it’s a marker for the health of a population.”
Humans have become healthier on average since the Civil War era, thanks to vaccinations, antibiotics, increased hygiene, and just about every other advancement in medicine.
Healthier bodies have less inflammation, which can lead to increased body temperatures. Plus, we’ve eliminated some diseases that used to be common in the United States, and sources of fevers. “Getting rid of tuberculosis as a common infection in a population affects the overall population temperature,” Ley offers as an example. (Though the study did not directly compare average temperatures obtained in the US to areas where infections like tuberculosis are still common.)
But there could be other reasons for the change. Maybe it has to do with how we heat and cool our indoor spaces. In a well-heated home in the winter, the body may not have to work as hard to maintain a steady temperature, for instance. The proliferation of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), which reduce inflammation and can reduce body temperature, could play a role.
The truth is that body temperature is complex. Normal body temperature is not one unchanging number (as we’ve been told); it’s variable and can relate to many factors.
Body temperature is variable. Even in one body.
How your body generates heat is fascinating. The warmth you radiate is the result of individual cells of your body breaking down the food we eat. You have these millions of heat generators throughout your body, but the brain has ways to make sure they’re all working in order: It can increase or decrease blood circulation, cause you to sweat, or shiver.
As it stands, comparing an individual’s body temperature to a single number doesn’t make much sense.
“You can’t say there is a temperature you should be at, because it depends on who you are,” Ley says.
Women tend to run a little hotter than men, and their body temperature can fluctuate with the menstrual cycle. Age matters too. The older we get, generally, the colder we are.
A 2017 study in BMJ of 35,500 patients found that our average body temperature declines around 0.03°F every decade (maybe due to the loss of fatty tissue under the skin). So it makes sense if Grandpa complains about being cold over time. People with a higher body mass index tend to run hotter than thinner people (as people with a higher body mass are more insulated). Overall, some people may run half a degree hotter or colder than “average” and that’s fine for them.
But then, a lot is still unknown. “Most variation in baseline temperatures remained unexplained by commonly measured health variables in both sexes,” the 2017 BMJ paper reported. “The same temperature that is normal for one person might be dangerously high for another.”
SYDNEY, Australia — In late October, lightning struck brittle earth on Gospers Mountain in New South Wales. The remains of trees bone dry from consecutive winters with little to no rain were ignited, and the fire quickly spread.
Three months later, it is still burning.
The Gospers Mountain fire, which became Australia’s largest “megablaze” as it grew to link several separate fires, offers a sense of the scale of the country’s most disastrous fire season ever. The blaze has burned two million acres, enveloping hinterland and wine country, and prompted a special mission to save prehistoric trees so rare that their exact location is kept secret.
That fire is now largely contained. But dozens of others are still burning in the southeastern states of New South Wales and Victoria, some out of control, despite heavy rain in some areas in recent days. And fire season is far from over — hot and windy conditions are expected to return this week, and a month of summer remains. Here is a look at the devastation.
The amount of land burned is immense.
The modern world has never seen anything quite like these Australia fires.
About 16 million acres have burned in New South Wales and Victoria, where the crisis is centered. That’s an area about the size of West Virginia. Millions more acres have burned in other parts of the country.
What sets these blazes apart, in terms of their size, is that they are happening in populated areas. Until now, fires this large happened mostly in places like northern Canada or Siberia, where few people live and blazes burn largely uncontrolled.
“What we’re seeing in Australia, in a completely different environment, are fires that are approaching or even exceeding the magnitude of things that we only saw in the most remote forested regions in the world,” said Ross Bradstock, the director of the Center for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales.
“We’re looking at a globally significant fire season in Australia,” he added.
The numbers from Australia dwarf those from some of the most high-profile fires in recent years.
The bushfires in southeastern Australia this season have burned about eight times as much land as the 2018 fires in California, which covered nearly two million acres and were the worst in that state’s recorded history. They are also far larger than the estimates of 2.2 million acres burned by September last year in the Amazon basin, where farmers, some emboldened by the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, ignited tens of thousands of fires to clear land.
“It’s quite phenomenal and far exceeds anything you would see in the western U.S.A., which is a very fire-prone area, the southwest of Canada, the Mediterranean and parts of South America,” Dr. Bradstock said. “It’s so much bigger than anything else.”
It goes well beyond a ravaged landscape.
Australia has had deadlier fire seasons: The Black Saturday bushfires, which began in February 2009 when downed power lines ignited blazes that were spread by 60-mile-per-hour winds, killed 173 people in Victoria. The 2018 California fires killed 103 people.
But the losses Australia is experiencing in lives and property are still staggering, and not yet over. At least 29 people have been killed. Hundreds of millions of animals, by some estimates, have perished or are facing starvation or dehydration in devastated habitats. And more than 2,500 homes have been destroyed.
Smoke generated by the fires has blanketed Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, at times giving them some of the worst air in the world. The prolonged exposure of bushfire smoke to millions of people has raised fears of health effects that could last for years.
Early this month, NASA began tracking a plume of smoke from the fires that was the size of the continental United States. By Jan. 14, smoke had circumnavigated the globe, returning to eastern Australia. Along the way, it caused hazardous breathing conditions in New Zealand and discolored skies in South America.
The fires have also produced huge amounts of heat-trapping carbon emissions. A top expert on greenhouse gas emissions at Australia’s national research agency told NPR that the fires in southeastern Australia had produced as much carbon as the entire country emits from man-made sources in more than eight months of the year.
Climate change helped set the table.
Why have these fires been so vast? While Australia is normally hot and dry in the summer, climate change is bringing longer and more frequent periods of extreme heat. That makes vegetation drier and more likely to burn.
Last year was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia, and some regions have been gripped by drought for years. This season, the fires started earlier than usual — some as soon as July — and they are expected to last well into February and even March.
High temperatures, strong winds and dry forests have combined to create the conditions for powerful fires. There have even been blazes in wetlands and rainforests that have not contended with this threat before. To combat the flames, tens of thousands of firefighters, most of them volunteers, have been called on to work long days over extended periods.
Most of the fires have been caused by lightning strikes, though some people have misleadingly pointed to arson in an effort to minimize the links to climate change and the Australian government’s inaction on the issue. Others have argued that the drought is unrelated to climate change, though there is evidence that warming temperatures have been a major contributor to it, in part by pushing rain out of areas where it once fell.
“The wildfires decimating Australia, killing people, ravaging wild habitats and pushing communities and firefighters to their absolute limits are growing and coalescing into the country’s worst peacetime catastrophe precisely because of climate change,” said Paul Read, a co-director of the National Center for Research in Bushfire and Arson at Monash University in Melbourne.
Can a thinker who last plied his trade two millennia ago really help? Does a controversial 19th-Century German scholar make a good life coach? Might the study of Jean-Paul Sartre be the key to a new you?
Publishers think the answer to all of these questions is a definitive ‘yes’ – for books positioning philosophers as self-help gurus are the latest trend in publishing.
Last autumn saw the publication of Lessons in Stoicism by John Sellars, which aims to show how we can benefit from thinking like the ancient Stoics; and How To Be An Existentialist by Gary Cox, a “genuine self-help book offering clear advice on how to live according to the principles of existentialism formulated by Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and the other great existentialist philosophers”. Then there was How To Teach Philosophy To Your Dog: A Quirky Introduction to the Big Questions in Philosophy by Anthony McGowan, which begins by suggesting that studying philosophy “may empower you to become a better person”, and ends by considering the meaning of life.
Meanwhile the recently-published An Ethical Guidebook to the Zombie Apocalypse by Bryan Hall, imagines a Walking Dead-type scenario as a means to introduce the reader to some of the key moral dilemmas explored by thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Kant. Then next week comes How to be a Failure and Still Live Well by Beverley Clack, which draws upon philosophy and theology to consider how failure can help you to live a good life.
And you can already find on bookshelves, among many others, titles such as Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life, The Existentialist’s Survival Guide – “a manual for living in the 21st Century – when every crisis feels like an existential crisis”, and two books devoted to Nietzsche, What Would Nietzsche Do? and Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche for Our Times.
So, eat your heart out, Eckhart Tolle. Make way, Deepak Chopra. The late Stephen Hawking was clearly premature with his pronouncement that “philosophy is dead”.
Why is philosophy back in fashion?
However, there undoubtedly was a period when it was on life support, at least as far as the lay person was concerned. During the 20th Century, philosophy was perceived as a dusty discipline for specialists, a highly challenging field whose cloistered experts argued endlessly over obscure concepts. It didn’t have much to do with the real world. So why is it breaking out of academia and becoming fashionable now?
Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield, believes it is because we’re at such a global crisis point. “I think [philosophy is booming] for the same reasons that therapeutic, ethical philosophy took off in the Hellenistic times, which was also a period of enormous change, of the Greek city states disintegrating and big monolithic powers like Alexander the Great and the Macedonian empire taking over.
“At the moment, again we’ve got people seeing the world in extreme flux – financially, geo-politically, with regard to climate change. Is liberal democracy going to survive? Is the planet going to survive? There are really huge worrying questions. People are looking for a guide through these very uncertain times.”
Lessons of Stoicism author Sellars agrees that this could be a factor in the growing interest in philosophy as self-help. After all, there are self-help books by celebrities, psychologists, athletes, management consultants and mystics. Why not philosophers?
“I think in the 20th Century, even right up to the millennium, there was a sense of optimism and progress – everyone was getting wealthier, you could buy more stuff and you didn’t really stop to think about it that much,” Sellars says. “Then when the credit crunch came, all of that optimism was sucked out of everything. The idea that if we just carry on as we are and everything will keep improving, that simply went. People started to think ‘what are we doing and why are we doing it?’ and a real appetite for guidance developed.
“[Previous to the last century], the philosophers of antiquity and later periods always offered this kind of advice. There’s a sense in which we are reconnecting with a very old way of thinking about what philosophy is.”
Live fast, be stoic
Stoicism is one thought system positively flourishing at present. Its roots extend back to Socrates, the ancient Greek considered the father of Western philosophy, while later Stoicism is based largely on the work of three thinkers who lived in the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD: Seneca, the tutor of Nero, Epictetus, a former slave, and Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome. Despite the fact that the Stoics generally took a dim view of huge wealth, their works are currently de rigueur in Silicon Valley. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is believed to be a fan and Apple’s Steve Jobs once said: “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.”
Key Stoic principles, simply put, are to acknowledge that you can’t control much of what goes on in your life, and to accept that you are part of a greater whole, that is nature.
Much to the delight of the president’s supporters, recent data shows a dramatic drop in immigration. After doing its level best to make the United States unattractive as a destination for migrants, the White House appears to have achieved its goal. A recent analysis of census data by William Frey, chief demographer at the Brookings Institution, shows that in 2018, immigration dropped by more than 70 percent from the year before.
Typically, such declines in immigration occur when the economy is in trouble. The last time we saw such a low level was during the 2008 recession. This fact should be unsurprising. If people are fleeing their country to find a better life, why would they come to the United States where jobs are scarce? The ebb and flow of immigration largely corresponds with the rise and fall of our unemployment rate: when unemployment is high, immigration is low.
This fact seems to fly in the face of much of the criticism of immigration we have seen. Immigration opponents argue that immigrants are outsiders who come here and take our jobs. If that were true, then higher immigration should lead to a higher unemployment rate. The reverse is true. A lower unemployment rate means that everyone’s working and more jobs are available. That is the kind of economy immigrants want to move into. If opportunities are scarce, such as during a recession when unemployment is high, word gets around and immigrants figure they may as well stay at home.
The reality is that much of how immigration is popularly understood is incorrect. The United States needs immigration. Without it, our long-term prospects are in trouble. As the Harvard Business Review pointed out, “immigration is at the heart of American competitiveness.”
Consider the following. A truism about developed countries is that we have declining birthrates. This reality could be due to a number of factors. As people become richer, they have fewer children. Or there’s the fact that women have more options available to them than simply rearing children. Or it could be the increased availability of birth control. Likely, it is some combination of these factors, along with others, that cause this trend. At any rate, the correlation is absolute.
At the same time as the birthrate is declining, better medical care means that people tend to live longer in developed countries. Without a policy intervention, this development will ultimately lead to a demographic crisis: a population weighted with a large proportion of older people.
Here’s the problem. Older people have a need for higher priced medical care than younger people. Similarly, older people work less than younger people. As a result, we need healthy younger people to work to pay for the costs of taking care of older people.
An inescapable reality about aging is that our bodies break down. As we get older, we have less energy to work the way we did when we were younger, and our health care needs become more expensive. I can personally vouch for this fact. When I was in my twenties, thirties, and even forties, a sixty- to seventy-hour workweek was the norm. While I worked full time, I raised children, went to law school, prepared to run a marathon, and learned to fly, all at the same time. I always enjoyed good health, often going years without missing a day of work or school.
But now at fifty-one, I’m still relatively young. My left eye now bleeds regularly. My lower back and neck experience chronic pain. I have far less energy than I once had, and enjoy a somewhat more than occasional nap. Just the thought of those long work hours exhausts me. And I still have decades left before I will likely retire. If that’s how I feel now, just imagine how I’ll feel when I’m seventy or eighty.
My dreams and ambition have decreased commensurately. Where I once dreamed of working in the White House and changing the world — and I worked aggressively toward those goals — I’m now satisfied with some good writing, a good class taught, and a pleasant evening at home with my wife and grandson. Where I once loved to travel with barely more than the clothes on my back, more recently I was happy when an offer to teach in China this summer fell through. How things have changed. The point is that as I get older, I will contribute less and less to society as a whole.
At the same time, the expenses society needs to support me will go up. Even if I generate work income until my death, I will certainly have higher medical bills. These costs will increase geometrically with each year I age. Many of the maladies that ultimately kill most Americans, such as cancer and heart disease, are largely the result of our body aging. What’s more is that these illnesses take a long time to kill us, resulting in long-term high costs of care.
So an older population means more people who are less able to contribute to society, less ambitious to create the next technological wonder, all while being more expensive to care for. At the same time, we have fewer young people with ambition and energy working hard to increase our economic output and pay the medical bills of older folks.
This is not just a theoretical problem. I remember back in the early 1990s when I was working on Capitol Hill attending a hearing where one economic expert after another detailed how Japan was about to eclipse the United States economically. Upon hearing all this testimony, one of the members of Congress blurted out, “I felt pretty good when I was on my way to work this morning.”
Subsequent to that hearing, the United States proceeded to experience explosive growth as a result of the technologies we invented related to the internet. At the same time, Japan settled into an economic funk from which it has still not recovered.
What happened? In the United States, the immigration rate actually hit its post-Wold War I peak in the early- to mid-1990s. In Japan, on the other hand, a history of hostility to immigrants combined with a declining birthrate led to a declining population with a higher proportion of older people and fewer and fewer young people to support those folks. The consequence: Japan’s economy only grew by 0.788 percent in 2018, and it has not seen more than 2 percent growth since 2010. By contrast, a healthy growth rate is considered 3 percent, and Japan enjoyed a 6.785 percent growth rate in 1988.
Mass incarceration is commonly thought of as a big-city problem. But as small-town economies have declined, county jails have expanded — and rural incarceration rates have jumped dramatically.
When the coal industry dried up in Kentucky, the state’s criminal justice policies helped subsidize impoverished counties by trucking money (and prisoners) to county jails. The result was a sharp rise in county jail populations — a 39 percent increase between 2008 and 2016. As researchers Jack Norton and Judah Schept have pointed out, if Kentucky’s jail incarceration rate were to continue to rise as it has since 2000, it would only take 113 years before every single Kentuckian was locked up.
Kentucky provides just one example of a much larger national trend. For decades, many people thought of mass incarceration as a disproportionately urban problem, with major cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles contributing the lion’s share of new arrests and prison commitments. But in reality, it’s thousands of smaller cities and towns that suffer the highest incarceration rates today.
Across the United States’ rural and deindustrialized landscape, economic decline has gone hand in hand with jail expansion and increased incarceration. And as county jails increasingly turn to the federal government for revenue — including by detaining immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the problem is only becoming more pronounced.
The In Our Backyards project, a research initiative from the Vera Institute of Justice, was launched to capture this shifting geography of mass incarceration in real time. This project has taken researchers all over the country, from Pennsylvania’s disinvested steel region to the desert towns of southern Colorado, to monitor the nationwide buildup in carceral infrastructure and connect with local anti-jail organizers. Jacobin’s Jonah Walters spoke with researcher Jack Norton and campaign director Jasmine Heiss about the social costs of county jail expansion and the problem of jail incarceration in small communities.
In your recent Guardian op-ed, you drew attention to a facet of rural America that is generally left out of mainstream media accounts: the massive buildup of carceral infrastructure in rural counties over the past several decades.
Why is mass incarceration key to understanding life in rural America?
The immediate reason for the op-ed was the release of the People in Jail report by a team of our colleagues at the Vera Institute of Justice, with other researchers. The study shows that jail incarceration in rural counties has risen 27 percent since 2013, while urban incarceration — what we call “big city” incarceration — actually declined 18 percent during that period.
Across the country, county after county is building newer and bigger jails. In many cases, those jails are fulfilling functions that used to be fulfilled by state or federal prisons. In a state like Kentucky, for example, the state is sending people serving state prison sentences to county facilities, driving jail expansion. As a result, people are starting to serve out longer sentences in jails.
County jails are also increasingly being used for ICE detention. That’s something we’re seeing all over the county — county jails incarcerating immigrants on behalf of federal agencies.
There are nearly eighteen times more admissions to jails each year than to prisons. In the United States, someone is booked into jail 11 million times each year — that’s an astronomical number. The People in Jail report reveals that jail incarceration has actually been rising steeply since its most recent low in 2015. That naturally begs the question: Why are people in small places getting put behind bars more and more?
To really understand rural incarceration, you have to situate this rebounding jail population in the context of everything that’s happening outside of the jail doors. We’re coming to see incarceration as something that happens in the wake of economic collapse, whether it’s through the loss of local industries or the decline of state funding to localities.
There is an inextricable link between rising incarceration, on the one hand, and economic abandonment and decline in small communities, on the other.
How has the overdose crisis contributed to rising incarceration in rural counties?
We need to frame the question differently. Incarceration has fueled the overdose crisis. Recent research has shown that the two major predictors of rising overdose rates in a county are economic decline and jail incarceration. In a typical county, the jail incarceration rate has a bigger effect on rates of overdose than even the opioid prescription rate. We need to start looking at jailing not as a response to poverty, drug addiction, and widespread despair, but as a cause of those problems.
This has come up in our fieldwork. In Binghamton, New York, for example, which is in a county with one of the highest incarceration rates in the state, people have been organizing against the expansion of the jail’s purview, and organizers there understand quite well that incarceration kills people.
For one thing, there are people dying in the jail. But there’s also the fact that using jail as a response to drug problems not only exacerbates those problems on a social level, but actually causes overdoses for individuals. People with substance use disorders go into the jail, they receive little to no treatment to help them recover from addiction, they lose some of the tolerance they had built up as regular drug users, and then when they return to the streets they overuse and overdose, resulting in death. This is a well-documented phenomenon across the country. Jail incarceration is actively contributing to the overdose crisis, rather than simply responding to it.
The notion that we’re bringing a more compassionate and public health–oriented approach to the overdose crisis doesn’t hold up. Our response has really been punishment and control, sometimes packaged in public health language.
When you look closely at who is in jail, you see increasing punitiveness for crimes related to substance use, especially around low-level dealers. For example, in several Pennsylvania counties (and in other states as well), cases of drug delivery resulting in death are routinely prosecuted as homicides. People who share drugs are being held accountable for people around them dying. In Indiana, the most prevalent felony filings are possession of meth and syringe possession. And even the ostensibly progressive solutions of drug courts and other so-called problem-solving courts betray an enduring fixation on punishment and control. These kinds of solutions are driven by the same logic that allows people to applaud the massive expansion of electronic monitoring as a supposedly de-carceral measure that creates a “gentler” system.
How are county jails different from state or federal prisons, and what does mass incarceration actually look like at the county level?
Jails are a key part of the infrastructure of social control and criminalization in the United States. They’re a major piece of that infrastructure at the county level. Above the county jail system, you have the state prison system, and then you also have the federal prison system and various immigration detention centers around the country.
There’s still a lot to learn about what’s going on at the county level. How do you capture a system of mass incarceration that is actually more than three thousand local systems all across the country?
We’ve done fieldwork for this project in California, rural Colorado, Florida, Georgia, rural Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and other states as well. If you travel the country and stay on the lookout for new or expanded jails, you see county after county increasing its capacity to lock people up. We’re witnessing a massive increase of carceral infrastructure across the landscape of the rural United States. It’s staggering.
The key distinction between jail populations and prison populations is that the vast majority of people in jail on any given day are unconvicted — they are awaiting sentencing or disposition of a charge or charges that haven’t been proven. Jail incarceration is increasingly being used to “manage” people, especially those who have been accused of violating the terms of their supervision (probation or parole).
Several states house significant portions of their state prison populations in county jails. In some states, you increasingly have people serving multi-year sentences at the county jail level. Oftentimes, this comes with the promise of revenue from the state system, which counties use to offset the cost of detaining people.
The expansion of jail capacity you describe is taking place even as many state governments boast about reductions in prison populations at the state level. How is it that, in many states, bipartisan prison reforms coexist with jail expansion?
I think we have to look at the system of mass criminalization as holistically as possible. We also need to understand that changes to this system unfold through a process of co-optation, repression, and struggle. If you examine reforms closely, you often end up feeling like you’re watching a shell game, in which the crisis moves continually to a different scale or to a different level of government. We’re seeing that now in the expansion of county jails.
In Indiana, for example, former governor Mike Pence signed House Bill 1006 in 2015, which was designed to reduce the number of people in state prison by housing people convicted of low-level felonies in county jails or putting them on local supervision like probation or electronic monitoring. What the policy actually did was move certain people from Indiana’s state prison system into county jails, while also hardening sentences for certain state prisoners. The state prison population dropped a little bit, then went right back up (very predictably). But the legislation’s major effect was to cause a crisis at the county level, by creating an influx of new people into jails in Indiana. As a result, county after county after county in Indiana started to build bigger jails.
This was an example of bipartisan prison reform. But what was the end result? An even more vast infrastructure of incarceration across Indiana. Forty percent of Indiana counties planned or broke ground on new jail construction projects, according to an Indiana Sheriffs’ Association estimate. Infrastructure doesn’t just go away after a new election. Generations of people are going to pay for and live with and be incarcerated in those jails.
You mentioned ICE detention. How does the federal government, and especially federal immigrant detention, contribute to county jail expansion?
Local counties receive revenue — called a “per diem” — for every day that their jail holds somebody for the federal government. If you’re a sheriff or a county commissioner, holding prisoners for a federal agency gets you a revenue stream. This applies to the US marshals, who hold people in local county jails after arrest and during transport, and it also applies to ICE.
This situation has given many counties an incentive to build bigger jails, since they can offset the cost of that investment by housing more and more federal or state prisoners. The end result of this devolution has been the quiet jail boom we’re seeing across the country. The United States Department of Agriculture even provides financial assistance for jail expansion in some counties.
Federal per diems provide a partial explanation for widespread jail expansion, but they’re not the whole story. In states where corrections departments hold people at the county level, like Louisiana and Kentucky, that revenue comes from the state government, not the federal one.
Building up that infrastructure creates and reinforces political alignments, and it contributes to a carceral common sense about what’s in the “best interest” of the county.
If you create an ever-deepening reliance on the detention of immigrants and other people facing federal charges to offset the costs of pre-trial detention, then you will lock more people up before trial as long as there are beds and dollars available. It will be in the “best interest” of your county to sustain a local system of punishment that relies on incarcerating some people to generate revenue, which offsets the cost of even more incarceration.
This creates a situation in which people who should absolutely never be thinking about immigration enforcement — county sheriffs, county commissioners — suddenly see immigrant detention as a tool for economic survival, or at least as a valuable source of revenue that balances out other policy decisions being made locally.
You mentioned the connection between economic decline — whether through deindustrialization or reductions in state assistance — and rising incarceration. How does jail expansion affect economic development in small places?
If a small rural county decides to build a new jail, that’s likely going to be the most significant investment in infrastructure the county makes for a long time, because there’s only so much debt you can go into. If you put 30 million dollars into a new jail, that precludes other investment in social infrastructure to deal with the actual problems that jails not only don’t solve, but make worse — things like poverty, mental illness, and drug use.
After an initial investment in the jail, the jail becomes the key piece of infrastructure through which other investments are made. If the county identifies a need for mental health services, for example, that becomes a call to put a mental health wing in the jail. If the county sees the need for drug treatment or counseling in the community, it establishes a drug rehabilitation program in the jail. Investments in county-level carceral infrastructure are political investments. They affect what policymakers imagine to be possible.
I see it when I do this fieldwork. It’s like I’m not just traveling around to study jails, but that I’m doing a tour of post-2008 recession America. After all these cuts, oftentimes the only part of the local state that has any resources left is the sheriff’s department.
It’s a kind of carceral austerity.
It’s a carceral austerity that’s self-created, in many cases.
Budgets and policies are not just technocratic. They’re moral documents. They reveal so much about how state and county governments see the humanity of the people who live there.
Because of the legacy of siting state and federal prisons in rural communities as a part of an empty promise of “economic salvation” organized by state and federal authorities and local elites, I think there’s often an immediate assumption that jails are also built as a jobs program, to enlist the working poor in the project of mass incarceration. Even leaving aside the dubious economic impact of prison construction and the dehumanization inherent to working in a prison, jails require a fundamentally different frame.
Although smaller jails increasingly house people for state and federal governments, the overwhelming majority of people in a local jail on a given day are generally from the very same community in which the jail is located. You have a small number of people charged with managing and punishing people whom they’ve often known their entire life. A colleague once described an overcrowded North East Pennsylvania jail as a place where the guards were being paid to “torture their own family members.”
At the local scale, the cost of generations of investment into carceral infrastructure becomes even clearer. People who work at the jail are also driving to work on the county’s crumbling roads, they’re sending their kids to underfunded schools, or they’re watching their own family members land in jail for poverty or substance use. And they’re being told, over and over again, that a newer, bigger jail is the most legitimate investment of public dollars — that it’s the only thing that will produce safety. And in some cases, even as the local commissioners and sheriff pursue ever-expanding jails, they can’t adequately staff the facilities they’re currently running.
When we shift our focus away from state corrections departments and toward a decentralized network of jail systems administered by county sheriffs, the task of organizing against mass incarceration starts to seem even more daunting.
What kinds of challenges does the trend toward jail incarceration present for reformers?
One thing that comes to mind is the incredible proximity of the people who work in the system and the people who live in the county. I’ve seen editorials written about anti-jail organizers in local papers, calling them obstructionists or accusing them of not caring about the well-being of the county or the people in the jail. There’s a level of social risk and social vulnerability that comes with being a voice that challenges the status quo in a small place.
Of course, that also means that you have the social proximity to build much closer relationships and find points of leverage. Most of the people who actually execute the justice system — not necessarily probation or parole officers, but certainly sheriffs, judges, district attorneys, and county commissioners — are elected. In terms of organizing, that provides a real opportunity for holding people accountable and articulating local visions of safety that do not rely on intensified incarceration.
The fundamental objective, however, needs to be shifting resources outside of the justice system. We don’t want to be in the position of constantly demanding that the already bloated criminal justice bureaucracy establish new and better programs for reducing harm. In reality, we should be pushing elected officials to put resources elsewhere so that people never end up entangled with the criminal justice system.
I think one of the things that’s so important about this project is pointing out to people that if you see mass incarceration as a local issue — “In Our Backyards,” as our framing goes — you see it also as something that it is possible to organize around locally. To a large extent, mass incarceration is the result of decisions made by local politicians who you elect.
The most remarkable part of this story is that, even in places that are perpetually described as sad and self-defeating, people are organizing to resist jail expansion and punitive carceral policies.
Even in small places, where there are such high social costs for organizers, where local justice practitioners and “system stakeholders” have a tremendous amount of power, people are pushing back. They are fighting jail construction tirelessly, year after year.
Given the shifting geography of mass incarceration, what do we need to keep in mind moving forward?
To start, I want to acknowledge that in some places we have seen some incredible wins, often sustained by movement work and organizing. For example, the city jail in Atlanta recently closed as a result of successful organizing around a number of issues — such as decriminalizing municipal-level offenses, eliminating the city’s ICE contracts, and bail and pre-trial detention reform. Now, advocates and activists are actually working to transform that jail site into a facility that serves the community. That’s a momentous win, and it’s not the only one. I wouldn’t want to erase the progress that has been made. But criminal justice reform has been extremely uneven — things look different county by county and state by state.
We need to look at what’s happening elsewhere. We pay so much attention to big cities like Atlanta that we too often end up characterizing much of the rest of the country as a vast land of defeat. But in deindustrialized small cities and rural counties, people are still fighting really tenaciously against jail expansion and often being personally attacked for doing so.
I’m from a rural area of upstate New York. Since the 2016 election, we’ve seen all kinds of articles about “what’s wrong with rural America,” and they almost invariably paint rural places as vivid Boschian hellscapes. Almost all of these portraits ignore the fact that incarceration rates are rising. More and more people are getting locked up and criminalized in rural areas. That can’t be left out of the story anymore.
What I want people to realize is that incarceration is actually a technology of the immiseration and premature death that we see in all those bleak portraits of rural America. I want people to understand that mass incarceration is a rural issue. It’s an element of deindustrialization, just as it’s an element of the semifeudal racist status quo in some counties in the South.
County jails exist to produce and reproduce social relations of a certain kind. As the work of Ruth Wilson Gilmore demonstrates, mass incarceration is part of the making and remaking of rural and urban political and economic landscapes through new combinations and relationships. To understand this at the local scale demands that we apply class analysis to rural counties. When we’re talking about jail construction, we’re really talking about certain class fractions winning control over state resources and using them toward carceral ends, in a very organized way.
If we want to contribute to this fight, a first step is refusing to see rural places as homogenous. Rural America isn’t all white, and rural America has class variation. We need to understand that there is class struggle happening there.
Libertarians once claimed they had the answer to the environmental crisis. But the reality of climate change has simply exposed the futility of their creed.
The decline of libertarianism — also known as propertarianism — has inspired a lot of discussion in the past couple of years. The economist Tyler Cowen recently disavowed the label, affirming his commitment to a modified version of the philosophy that he calls “State Capacity Libertarianism.”
Cowen’s defection continues the exodus of intellectually serious figures from the libertarian milieu, most notably to the so-called liberaltarian Niskanen Center. Both Cowen and the Niskanen cohort have stressed the failure of mainstream libertarianism to formulate an honest response to the climate crisis.
Free-Market Environmentalism: Theory and Practice
When the issue of climate change first received serious attention in the 1990s, for a time it looked set to establish common ground between environmentalists and libertarians. There was much interest in the concept of “free-market environmentalism” or FME, drawing upon the work of British economist Ronald Coase, who had suggested that environmental problems could be resolved through the proper allocation of property rights. Terry Anderson of Montana State University exercised a strong influence in these debates.
FME’s key proposal for addressing climate change was the creation of tradable emissions permits, a model that had been successfully deployed in the case of sulfur dioxide emissions. According to this view, a market in permits would supply incentives to find the most cost-effective path toward reducing emissions, as long as there were appropriate limits on the volume of permits.
Most environmental activists greeted the idea of “rights to pollute” with suspicion: they argued for more direct controls, as part of a broader shift away from mass consumerism. But many were won over by the prospect of forming an effective coalition to press for decarbonization. By the time of the Kyoto conference in 1997, support for carbon prices as the most cost-effective long-term solution, to be implemented through internationally tradable permits, had become the dominant view. Twenty years later, this vision is finally being realized in the European Union, where high permit prices are driving coal-fired power out of existence.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Kyoto. Propertarians, who had often been keen on tradable permits as long as environmentalists opposed them, now rejected the idea with near unanimity, along with the rest of the political right. Since then, we have faced a paradoxical situation where they consider any kind of market-based solution to climate change unacceptable. Why did this happen?
The problem was to some extent philosophical. Propertarian thought relies heavily upon the Lockean fiction that property rights arise naturally, before the emergence of a state (defined broadly to include any kind of authority within a group, tribe, or nation). Obviously, no such rights could have existed when it came to the atmosphere, so emissions permits would have to be the creation of national governments working through global agreements. Admitting that states define and enforce property rights was too big a pill for many propertarians to swallow.
But the cultural barriers standing in the way of free-market environmentalism were even greater. Affluent white men who don’t like being told what to do are by far the most important constituency for libertarianism. Such men would consider it a dreadful imposition to have to pay, whether directly or indirectly, for the right to drive a car or use air conditioning. Environmentalists who insist that untrammeled individualism of all kinds has malign consequences lie at the opposite cultural pole.
However, this created a dilemma for propertarians. Having rejected both state- and market-led solutions to climate change, their only remaining option was to deny that the problem existed at all. This required tremendous intellectual dishonesty, supplied in large measure by hired guns who had won their spurs in earlier fights over passive smoking and the ozone layer. This didn’t trouble the libertarian ground troops, who clung tenaciously to their baseless self-image as the smartest guys in the room. Lacking any scientific, economic, or statistical knowledge to back up their opinions, they seized upon the innumerable talking points that the denial industry churned out.
All-In for Trump
Then Trump came along. He grasped — indeed, embodied — the reality that abstract notions of personal liberty were not what really appealed to the conservative base. Rather, it was the conviction that well-off white men should be free to think, speak, and act as they pleased, while the state clamps down on everyone else when they step out of line.
At the same time, two decades of climate change denialism fostered a nihilistic and crudely partisan attitude toward basic questions of truth or falsehood among conservatives. Trump substituted barefaced lies for the ponderous apologetics of the intellectual right, starting with the claim that his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s.
After Trump’s election, the “libertarian moment” so widely touted just a few years ago gave way to a sudden collapse, with most of the movement’s intellectual leadership shifting in the opposite direction. Republican politicians seen as potential leaders of the future, such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee, went all-in for Trump, along with advocacy groups like FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth. The only exception was Michigan’s Justin Amash, who quit the Republican Party in 2019 and now faces almost certain defeat, sharing the fate of a handful of state-level Republicans who departed to join the Libertarian Party.
The remnants, clustered around the much-diminished Cato Institute, have no obvious way forward. The institute finally abandoned climate denialism last year, but it still has no answer for the climate crisis. The last remaining cheerleader for the “libertarian moment,” Nick Gillespie, offered a rather slippery response to Tyler Cowen’s criticism:
Whatever your beliefs and preferences might be on a given issue, the scale (and cost) of addressing, say, climate change is massive compared to delivering basic education, and with the latter at least, there’s no reason to believe that more state control or dollars will create positive outcomes.
On close inspection, Gillespie is just restating the standard libertarian view on education, while saying nothing at all about climate change, other than to acknowledge that it is a massive problem. He neither denies that “more state control or dollars” are needed, nor offers any alternative.
Having abandoned intellectual credibility in the fight to stop climate action, libertarianism has no future as a movement. Trumpism will soon swallow up what’s left of its organizational structure. Individuals have a number of choices available, from Niskanen-style “liberaltarianism” to the fantasy of “going Galt.” But the libertarian moment is well and truly over.
Global warming is the ultimate refutation of Lockean propertarianism. No one can pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while leaving “enough and as good” for everyone else. It has taken thirty years, but this undeniable fact has finally killed the propertarian movement in the United States.
Pic.: Leader of the UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, holding the "For the Many, Not the Few" manifesto. ---- As the U.S. presidential
election cycle moves into full swing and key sectors of the left coalesce around the Bernie Sanders campaign, it is worth taking lessons
from similar efforts around the world. While not focusing primarily on Corbyn and the defeat of the Labour Party, this piece from worker
inquiry group Angry Workers of the World in the UK, outlines a number of important observations while challenging several core assumptions
of democratic socialism as a political project. ---- By Angry Workers of the World ---- ‘Democratic socialism' is currently the main
alternative vision to transforming capitalism, and as such we need to take it seriously, despite our deep disagreement with it. By
democratic socialism we mean the idea that by using the two legs of the organised labour movement - the trade unions and a socialist party
in government - we can walk step-by-step towards socialism. Socialism is defined as a society dominated by either nationalised or
cooperative ownership of the means of production and workers' representation when it comes to management of these economic units. The
general strategy of democratic socialism can be summarised briefly.
CNT Cataluña-Baleares has issued a statement in which it is in solidarity with the general strike called for the Basque Country and Navarra
on January 30 in defense of decent public pensions. ---- «We stand in solidarity with this strike and call for support mobilizations. For
the active fight against exploitation!»-They conclude in their social networks . ---- We reproduce the translated statement: ---- For years,
the workers each day charge less, we have shorter and insecure contracts that make our lives worse. Many and many of us find it increasingly
difficult to reach the end of the month because of the rise in food, housing, transportation, university fees, electricity bills, water,
etc. Capitalism is becoming more aggressive every day: wealth is accumulated by a few while the majority condemn us to precariousness.
In addition, we live under an increasingly authoritarian state - law gagging, labor reforms, immigration law, 135, 155, repression of
political movements ... - that crushes fines and convictions to those who raise their voices in the face of injustice.
Hillary Clinton says Bernie Sanders has achieved “nothing” in Congress. My community health clinic shows she’s wrong.
Hillary Clinton has touched a nerve with her attacks on Bernie Sanders in a new docuseries premiering on Hulu and a subsequent interview with the Hollywood Reporter. In the docuseries, Clinton paints Sanders as an isolated career politician who failed to achieve anything meaningful in the Senate. “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done,” Clinton said.
While it was Clinton’s comments about “Bernie bros” and her initial reluctance to say whether she would support Sanders if he won the Democratic nomination that set off a firestorm of controversy, her comments on Sanders’s congressional record were what struck me.
Regardless of which candidate one prefers, it’s hard to deny Sanders’s record of accomplishments over the years. When I saw Clinton’s statement, I immediately thought about the extremely bloody civil war in Yemen, where US-made weapons have killed civilians. Last year, Sanders worked with Republicans to pass a historic war powers resolution to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. It was a stinging rebuke of President Trump, who vetoed it. In 2014, Sanders worked with Republican Sen. John McCain to pass a $16.3 billion health care bill for veterans that was badly needed after years of war overseas.
But most of all, I thought about CrescentCare, the federally qualified community health center where I see my primary doctor. Established in 2014 by a local organization fighting HIV in New Orleans, CrescentCare has had a big impact on the lives of many people in my community — and my own.
Sanders has slipped funding for community health centers in several health care bills over the years, but his biggest achievement came in 2010 as Congress was nearing the end of a bitter battle over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a series of high-stakes political negotiations, Sanders secured $11 billion in funding for these federally subsidized clinics that, by law, must operate in communities considered medically underserved due to poverty, elevated health risks, and a shortage of health care providers. Thanks to that funding and the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, community health care clinics across the country were able to expand and new ones opened their doors, including CrescentCare.
For Sanders, supporting community health centers was one way to partially fulfill the dream of a health care system for everyone, because these centers provide care for lower-income people and underserved communities who otherwise might simply go without it. The centers often serve recipients of Medicaid, the government insurance system for lower-income people. However, they also serve people with private insurance or no insurance who have underserved medical needs. I have private insurance subsidized by my employer, but I chose CrescentCare because it’s the first and only LGBT-positive health care provider I have ever had.
Sanders’s funding also struck a chord among some conservatives, because so many community health centers are the only affordable, quality source of primary care for many people living in rural, lower-income areas. In 2015, the Intercept obtained letters from congressional Republicans praising the ACA funding for the clinics because they are so vital to people living in their districts. In this way, Sanders effectively bridged a deep ideological divide.
By 2016, federally qualified community health centers were serving 25.9 million children and adults — more than one in twelve people — in over 10,400 urban and rural locations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Community health centers have been around for decades and have steadily grown due to their proven track record of improving health in underserved communities. They are run by local residents and patients, and each center has its own mission shaped around local needs.
New Orleans fit the definition of a medically underserved community, particularly in the years after Hurricane Katrina devastated its most economically vulnerable. By 2014, New Orleans and Baton Rouge were at the top of the national list for new HIV diagnoses, and southern Louisiana was widely seen as “ground zero” for the HIV epidemic.
Even in high-risk populations, HIV is very preventable and very treatable when the right medical tools are available. However, that availability has never been a given. HIV rates have long been particularly high among lower-income gay and bi black men and transgender women of color, who are at particular risk of HIV but often have trouble accessing consistent reproductive care due to social stigma and a dearth of LGBT-friendly health care providers. Access to health care in a supportive atmosphere is crucial for containing HIV, and if sky-high HIV rates are any evidence, lower-income people in New Orleans were not getting that supportive access.
CrescentCare was founded in 2014 by the New Orleans AIDS Task Force, a pro-LGBT group that has battled HIV for thirty years. While the clinic provides a range of services from mental health care to dental to anyone who walks in, preventing and treating HIV is a major part of its mission. The clinic has championed the distribution of PrEP, a drug that prevents HIV infections. CrescentCare also runs a harm-reduction clinic with a syringe exchange, which is considered the gold standard for preventing HIV. The clinic’s staff have built a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, because they know social stigma around HIV and LGBT identities can be a significant barrier to health care access.
Nobody enjoys getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases; it can be uncomfortable and nerve-wracking. But when I walk into CrescentCare for my regular screening, the walls are covered in art created by my friends in the local LGBT community. Staffers wear stickers stating their preferred gender pronouns, and posters referencing local hip-hop culture are subtle but affirming signs that everyone is welcome. For the first time, I can talk openly with my doctor about my queer lifestyle and sexual practices without fear of judgment. It’s hard to put into words how much this has improved my life, and I’m a cis white man. For an injection drug user or a transgender woman of color living on the margins, access to medical care free of stigma and judgment can mean the difference between life and death.
Last year, new HIV diagnoses hit a record low in Louisiana, with fewer than one thousand people diagnosed in the entire state. Experts credited the state’s decision to expand Medicaid, which gave more people access to STD screenings and HIV medications that keep patients healthy and prevent the virus from spreading. There’s still plenty of work to do in New Orleans, where new HIV diagnoses continue to rise — in part because more people are getting tested and receiving treatment, the first step toward containing HIV in the long-term and a central facet of CrescentCare’s mission.
Unfortunately, federal funding for Medicaid and community health clinics is on the rocks under the Trump administration and the GOP-controlled Senate. Uncertainty about federal funding has forced community health centers nationwide to consider hiring freezes and delay expansions and improvements in infrastructure, and if Congress fails to act by a May 22 deadline, clinics may be forced to scale down crucial services. Along with other progressive Democrats, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are at the forefront of the fight to continue providing community health centers with robust federal support.
Incidentally, back in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign announced a plan to expand funding for community health centers. Clinton was in the thick of an intense primary run-off against Sanders, and the proposal was seen as an attempt to peel progressive voters away from the socialist from Vermont. If her latest attacks on Sanders are any evidence, the memory of Sanders’s push to make more clinics like CrescentCare possible has since slipped from her mind. But those of us benefitting from these clinics’ crucial services have not forgotten.
What is the situation in Turkish cities, especially in Istanbul and Ankara after the attack on Rojava? Is everything running normally or do
people live in the shadow of war? ---- We are still overwhelmed by a huge amount of nationalist propaganda. The war the state has embarked
on is a useful instrument of government. They reshaped the political structure of the state of their own accord simply by saying we were at
war. As you mentioned, everything is happening in the shadow of war. The shadow is a threat to ordinary people, and those who hold
political, economic and social power use it to maintain their position. ---- What was the reaction of people? ---- It is hard to say that
there is a reaction. A state leader forbids its war policy in all directions from protesting, demonstrating, criticizing, or even talking
about war in the wrong light. If something comes up (even a comment in social media), it is a good opportunity for the government to
imprison critically-minded people. Many people went to prison just because they criticized the war in Rojava.
We have previously written about the assassination of Qassim Suleimani by the US government from the positions of the anarchist[Afghan and
Iranian]League and some Marxists who opposed not only US imperialism but also the Iranian government. ---- While opposition to American
imperialism is lacking in thought, such a question may arise among some: "How could[the Marxists and anarchists]oppose the Iranian
government? Isn't that progressive and anti-imperialist? "In fact, this was not the case. ---- The current Iranian government is the result
of the Iranian revolution of the year 6, where workers and subordinates rose up and overthrew the oppressive monarchy under the leadership
of the Shah. Because it failed to manage the economic crisis of the 1980s and the new colonial rule of the West, it did so through its
alliance with the United States of America and Israel. And it was particularly the anger of the masses that the Iranian prime minister,
Mohammad Mossadegh, was overthrown by the nationalization of the oil industry by a solar-power coup.
Dimitris Troaditis, Preface to the book "Early Anarchist Thought in Greece - The First Texts, the First Thoughts", in anthology-curated by
George Bourlis, Opportuna Publications, Patras 2018 ---- The diffusion of anarchism in Greece was the natural consequence of those radical
social ideas and movements that emerged and the uprisings and revolutions that rocked Europe by the mid-19th century, and it is there that
the ideas that lie behind them were introduced into the then Greek territory. Radiation, emitted by the revolutions of 1848-1849 and the
modern ideas of the time which are fully expressed in the Paris Commune of 1871, eagerly meets the minds of both Greek students at European
universities as well as intellectually socially sensitive young people.
In the interior of the country, political, social and economic life is characterized by volatility and intense clashes between different
political and economic factions with the aim of gaining more and more power and hence power. Feature of the period is the over-concentration
of the population in urban centers and the expansion of the small layers, as well as the local and weak development of industry. At the same
time, the brutal exploitation and repression of both the rural proletariat and the then young and still fervent working class in the cities,
The bureaucratic trade unions of France, as one would expect, are "surrendering" the strike movement against pension reform. The defeat of
the current protests will have disastrous consequences for the labor movement not only in France, but throughout Europe. Having abandoned a
real total general strike, which could lead to a decisive frontal clash with the regime and its police forces, the trade union bosses doomed
the strike movement to slow dying. This is precisely what the neoliberal regime was counting on. ---- The scope of strikes and protests
against pension reform is decreasing, despite the fact that in the end here and there violent clashes erupt from the fierce inhabitants of
France, who do not want to accept the defeat that has been identified. Prime Minister Philip at the end of last week recalled the
catchphrase of the Communist Party leader Maurice Thorez, which he said in 1936 after a powerful wave of strike movement: "You need to be
able to finish the strike." But this is not so easy with the current strikes and protests against pension reform, since Macron and his
government are clearly determined not to retreat on any of the most important points, but just to hold on and wait until the wave of
protests subsides. Using this tactic, the authorities were already able to successfully push through the "liberalization" of labor
Despite the betrayal of the trade union bosses, who are preparing to curtail the strike against the neoliberal pension reform, the "yellow
vests" do not intend to give up. On January 18, they took to the streets of French cities for the 62nd time. In Paris, their performance
grew into violent battles with the forces of the capitalist order, especially in the area of Lyons station in the evening, where a building
house a few meters from the entrance was also set on fire. ---- Network users call what was happening on that day at the station "surreal",
and unfolding in the streets - "wild." The numerous police and gendarmerie forces stationed in the city from the first afternoon, repeatedly
used gas and water cannons. After 6 p.m., when the police special forces demanded that the demonstrators leave the station area, the
protesters broke up into groups, dispersed along the surrounding streets and began to build barricades from burning garbage cans. Many cases
of police terror have been reported. A video of the cruel detention of a man with a bloodied face who was knocked to the ground and a police
officer stepped on his chest with a knee circulates in the networks. At the slightest attempt to move the unfortunate, blows fell ... A
similar scene was shot by another demonstrator: a policeman grabs a man and throws him to the ground, and the "colleagues" accept the victim
After the illegal eviction based on ridiculous reasons, the police brutality towards the people that in the end got arrested, maltreated, forced to give out their ID’s and fingerprints and kept way more than needed after the identification, and Vestia’s people making fun of the situation, we are here once again.
19 people were arrested today during the illegal eviction of two squats opened for more than a week. That adds up to 21 arrestations in two days.
Most people were released but police stills keeps two people in the station that might be facing deportation.
We won’t give up! We won’t let them stop us!
Tomorrow there is going to be a solidarity dinner for the people and the neighborhood in Poortgebouw in Rotterdam at 18.00!
The state can evict places, but they cannot evict ideas!
News about Tweebosbuurt’s prisoners.
Most of people have been released yesterday night or today morning, but one person is still in detention. They have been transfered to foreigner’s detention and a court-case is planned on the 5th of Febuary. We don’t even know what the charges against them are and if they’re still facing a risk deportaiton.
We heard from visual witness of the arrestation that they’ve been badly hurt during the arrerst. We know that their life is not in danger, but we had no other information about their health condition.
We also realized that the cat was missing. We discovered that the police also “arrested” the cat. We’re currently trying to find a way to free him.
This post will be edited as the situation changes.
Last night, we did a sabotage at railway bottleneck in Burlington. This place chosen because of the juncture there, with lines from Detroit and Buffalo joining to go forward to Toronto and Montreal. We have heard it’s the busiest intersection of this kind in Canada. This action is in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en people in the front line struggle against the Canadian state and the corporations it supports, in response to a call for actions attacking the railways.
Peoples’ United Revolutionary Movement (HBDH) announced that they have destroyed the business center of AKP-affiliated member of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) Executive Board, Hasan Akıncıoğlu.
A written statement said that HBDH militia destroyed the office of Hasan Akıncıoğlu, who is in close relationship with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and a part of the financial world of AKP’s fascist block, in Muratpaşa district of Antalya on 22 January 2020.
HBDH stated that all those gathered under the Turkish Football Federation are representatives of Turkish capitalism and partners of the Erdoğan regime in pillaging.
On Tuesday January 21, four Colombian soldiers were injured by an ELN attack on a police station in a rural area of the municipality of Tame, in the department of Arauca.
This attack took place in the afternoon and was carried out using explosive devices.
The ELN’s insurgency against the fascist Colombian state continues unabated as a wave of social upheaval against the regime continues.
The guerrilla’s continue to launch successful attacks against the state.
The Armenian Battalion ‘Şehîd Nûbar Ozanyan’ held a military ceremony paying tribute to Armenian revolutionary journalist/writer Hrant Dink who was murdered in Turkey 13 years ago.
Anarchist battalion, Tekoşîna Anarşîst, participated in the ceremony.
‘Şehîd Nûbar Ozanyan’ Brigade Commander Nûbar Melkonian spoke in Armenian and Kurdish at the ceremony which began with a minute’s silence in memory of those fallen.
Remembering the Armenian revolutionary with respect, Melkonian said the following; “Our comrade Hrant Dink was a revolutionary Armenian.
Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM)
Over the last decade the possibility of revolt has been ignited around the world - in places people never thought possible. While the constancy of state terror, and the misconception that the state is all-powerful, has kept the tide at bay in the US, these global uprisings inspired comrades here and taught us many lessons about how we can move forward. The need for revolutionary change in America and around the world has become increasingly necessary and ever more likely.
As the world marks the second International Day of Education on 24 January 2020, Education Cannot Wait’s Director, Yasmine Sherif, interviewed one of today’s most prominent and passionate advocates for the global movement to ensure education for all. In his role as UN Special Envoy for Global Education and as Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group, Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown has successfully galvanized financial and political support globally with the hope and opportunity of quality education for every child in this world.
1. You are the leading global advocate for education worldwide. What inspired you to take on the cause of education out of so many issues facing our world?
I’m just one of many who realized that – as the Education Commission concluded – education unlocks not only individual opportunities, but also unlocks gender equality, better health, better qualities of life and a better environment. The Education Commission’s report illustrates how education is the very foundation for unlocking all other Sustainable Development Goals. For example, I am struck by the fact that infant and maternal mortality can be as much as twice as high among uneducated women compared to those who are educated, and I continue to be shocked by several brutal facts:
• 260 million school-age children are not in school
• 400 million children are completely out of education for good at age 11 or 12
• 800 million children are leaving the education system without any qualifications worth their name
In fact, it’s even worse than that: In 2030, we could be as far away from meeting SDG4 as we currently are, unless we act decisively together, now. One reason why the situation is so grave is that today there are 75 million children and youth in need of urgent education support in crisis-affected countries, of whom 20 million are internally displaced children and 12 million are child refugees. Indeed, only a fraction – 1 to 3 per cent – of refugees go on to higher education, whereas, for example, in pre-conflict Syria it used to be 20%. That is why Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is so crucial to meeting SDG4. We need action now. It simply cannot wait if we are to meet the target by 2030.
2. As the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, what is your vision for some of the key multilateral actions, such the UN, EU and the World Bank to achieve SDG4 by 2030?
We need a renewed focus on education and we need resources, response and reform. We set up the Global Education Forum, working with UNESCO, to ensure that we have maximum coordination of our efforts between the UN, EU and the World Bank and we will soon outline plans for raising the profile of global education in countries across the world.
As humanitarian crises and refugee flows are multiplying at an unprecedented speed, it is critically important to fund ECW’s investments delivering quality education to children and youth impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement and natural disasters. Furthermore, and in partnership with these actors, we have set up the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd). Through IFFEd, we are aiming for $10 billion in extra funds for educational investment. Currently, we are now around $2-2.5 billion. To achieve our goal, we have to secure the support of more countries.
3. What do you see as the biggest challenges in ensuring that every child and young person has continued access to a quality education and what are the priorities to meet those challenges?
Quality education is crucial. As I said, we need resources, speed in the response during crisis and long-term reform to succeed.
Children and youth affected by emergencies and crisis cannot be out of school or wait for a decent education for years simply because a crisis has erupted in their country. As a matter of fact, education is their only hope and opportunity to be able to sustain conflicts and disasters. By the same token, every crisis-affected country needs human capital to rebuild and recover.
We need to train and properly remunerate teachers. Teachers are so important – no one ever forgets their teachers and teachers are the key to improved school standards. We also need the best school leaders serving as head teachers. We need a more relevant curriculum. We need to use technology more effectively, especially in outlying areas – to ensure children are not denied the input and the resources they need for a good education. We need to use technology effectively not just for school education, but for higher educational opportunities that could be both on-line and tutor-led.
4. You are also the Chair of the High-Level Steering Group of the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund, which was created during the World Humanitarian Summit largely thanks to your leadership. Education Cannot Wait is a rather unique name. How did you come up with such name and why did you think this fund was necessary?
I saw the urgency and the need for speed in situations of crisis and forced displacement. Education in countries affected by conflicts and disasters was falling between two stools – humanitarian aid, which prioritized health, food and shelter, with hardly any resources allocated for education – and development aid, which is more long-term and often is slow to react to a crisis. Millions of children and young people were left behind with no education, no hope and no means of bouncing back and plan for their future.
Education Cannot Wait was established at the World Humanitarian Summit to inspire political support and mobilize the resources that we lacked. It was also established to bring together both humanitarian and development actors to jointly provide the crucial flow of educational support for children and youth impacted by crises. And so far it has worked! It is a fast moving fund that is focused on bringing education to the most difficult humanitarian contexts. We now have investments in over 30 countries.
One example is the comprehensive Uganda Education Response Plan for Refugees to give support to South Sudanese and other refugees – where all organizations have come together and where we are providing support to the government in mainstreaming refugee education. This is important because the common impression people have of refugees is that they are only out of their country for a short time. But in fact, the average humanitarian crisis now lasts more than nine years, and families caught up in conflicts spend an average of 17 years as refugees. For far too many children, this mean being a refugee throughout their entire school age years. So, they need help with education now. It cannot wait until a conflict or crisis has ended and they can return home.
5. How do you see the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund progressing in advancing UN reform, the New Way of Working and making a real difference for children and youth in conflicts, disasters and forced displacement?
I think we are learning all the time. We now see that education in emergencies and protracted crises requires joint programming where governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and private sector organizations work cooperatively together to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development systems. Education Cannot Wait brings all these actors together through one joint programme whereby humanitarian and development activities are coordinated and complementary towards collective outcomes. This in turn accelerates delivery and strengthens the collective capacity to produce real learning outcomes.
Since Education Cannot Wait is situated in the UN, it is well placed to translate the New Way of Working, the Grand Bargain and Humanitarian-Development coherence into very tangible action in-country. It is encouraging to see how education in emergencies and protracted crises is now playing such an instrumental role in setting an example. In Uganda, for instance, the Education Response Plan for Refugees is now modeling response plans and joint programming in other sectors, such as health. Education Cannot Wait has developed a crisis-sensitive formula that is not only aligned with, but also has the potential of supporting the New Way of Working across the SDG Agenda.
6. What are the three most important value-adds of the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund?
Education Cannot Wait was born in an era when we couldn’t provide for Syrian refugees an education without new ideas and coordination. One of them was double-shift schools. With refugees dispersed across Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, the idea was conceived to share existing schools, so that in Lebanon 300,000 or so Syrian refugee children are educated in their native Arabic in the afternoons in the same classrooms that Lebanese children are taught French and English in the mornings. We were creating the wheel in developing plans like the RACE plan in Lebanon with all of the donors and partners, and were determined to create a system that could provide rapid education delivery and medium term planning and financing in emergencies.
Education Cannot Wait works with governments, while supporting vulnerable populations, such as refugees, internally displaced, war-affected, marginalized groups, girls and children with disabilities. As a global fund, ECW was designed to reduce bureaucracy and strengthen accountability towards these children and youth. Hosted by UNICEF, the fund is able to operate with speed and quickly access those left furthest behind in crisis areas thanks to a business model and support mechanisms designed for crisis-contexts. A major added value is the way in which ECW serves as a catalyst for humanitarian-development coherence in the education sector. This is quite unique.
7. You also conceived of the International Financing Facility for Education (IFFEd). How did it come about and how can it become a game-changer? What makes it different and how can it be optimized in cooperation with partners?
There are 200 million children in low income countries and what the World Bank has done by enhancing IDA is make more resources available from the international community. In theory, IDA could raise educational aid from $1.6 billion to $3.5 billion over the next few years and we’ve advocated that education in low incomes countries should be 15 per cent of all IDA spent.
But there’s a gap that hurts the 700 million children in lower middle-income countries where we have the most out-of-school children and the largest number of refugees. Here, the World Bank provides not 10 or 15 per cent of its resources for education but around 4 per cent, and sadly, the recapitalization of the World Bank – while successful – has also created a ceiling limiting the future availability of new resources.
Therefore, with World Bank support, we are creating a new fund for education that will focus resources and financing help for the 700 million children in lower middle-income countries, on similar terms that the World Bank offers, but with far more resources.
We aim to raise $10 billion, which would require $2 billion in guarantees and perhaps $2 billion in grants to create four to five times as many resources for investment in education. This will be of special help to countries where there are large numbers of forcibly displaced persons, including refugees.
8. How do you see the complementarity between the International Financing Facility for Education, the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund and the Global Partnership for Education?
Each of us have complementary jobs to do in a synchronized way. The chair of GPE, Julia Gillard, was a member of our Education Commission, which recommended the new facility. GPE does important work – thankfully with increased resources after their recent replenishment – and this work, mainly in low-income countries, is complemented by what is offered through IFFEd.
Education Cannot Wait provides a different business model. It is grounded in the UN system’s ability to move with speed in crises, while also applying a crisis-sensitive development response, which is so important to reach SDG4 for those left furthest behind. It is no longer a start-up fund, but is growing rapidly in outreach and influence. So funding needs to continue to increase to complement other funds, such as GPE and IffEd.
9. In your view, where will we be in 2030? Will we still be in a global education crisis or will we have resolved it?
One of the tragedies is that while the numbers of qualified young people have risen, still less than 25 per cent will have any recognizable qualifications by 2030. More than 27 per cent will have left school by the age of 11 or 12 years, or have ever been at school. This educational divide between the ‘education-poor’ and the ‘education-rich’ will only grow and what worries me most in this regard is Africa. I’ve already shared earlier on in this interview the shocking figures for 2030, but worse still, Africa will see a rise in ‘out-of-school’ and in ‘unqualified school-leavers’, unless we act now. To inspire such action, we must share the data, show how challenging the situation is and propose the solutions that are so desperately need now and which all funds can help provide.
10. Any final thoughts as we enter the Decade for Action? How do we best translate the vision of SDG4 into action in the coming 10 years?
We must become the first generation in history where every child goes to school.
Instead of just developing some of the talents of some of the young people in some of the countries, we must develop all the talents of all young people in all countries. I am very conscious that universal education cannot be achieved unless we include the 75 million crises-affected children and youth whose education cannot wait. Their needs must be met if we are to meet SDG4 and achieve the noble objective that no one is left behind.
I am a great believer in the power of young people. We have seen this in the global march against child labor, by girls getting together to prevent child marriages, and through the work of global youth ambassadors in UNICEF, UNHCR and Their World who are an effective pressure group for change.
We must enlist students and parents and we must put pressure on both national governments and international institutions to achieve change. Politicians say that adjudicating is their top priority, but the current state of financing for education does not yet recognize this; some countries spend only 2 per cent of their national income on education.
We must have a coalition of education advocates that ensures that governments and international institutions take action when they say education is a priority. This must start by acknowledging how far behind we have been in securing education for crisis-affected children, including refugee and displaced children. Their needs and aspirations must be at the forefront of our thoughts.
We know that hope dies when a food convoy does not get through to refugees or a boat carrying them is lost at sea – but hope also dies when education is denied to children who desperately want and need it, and who cannot prepare for, nor plan for, their future. We must restore that sense of hope in the future for every child and young person living in abject poverty, on the margins of their societies or in countries of war, as refugees or affected by sudden disasters. We cannot leave any child or young person behind.
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the first global, multi-lateral fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings.
Amnesty International released a music video today on the occasion of the International Day of Education to encourage people of Bangladesh and around the world to support education for Rohingya children and those of host communities in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi hip-hop lyricist and musician Mahmud Hasan Tabib and child artist Rana Mridha, who became popular on YouTube for their songs promoting education of underprivileged children in the country, lent their voices to the track, according to an Amnesty International media release.
“As humanity is not limited to the confines of any one race or border, supporting education of the oppressed Rohingya children is all of our responsibility. This song for Rohingya children’s education is driven by that belief. I felt inspired to work with Amnesty International after learning about their work to promote education of the oppressed Rohingya children,” said Tabib.
The Bangla song, with English subtitles, contains the lyrics: “If all children today are enlightened with education, the future of the world will be bright. Otherwise, it will be a mistake, injustice will increase. They will be silenced by the rage of the sinners.”
Thousands of Rohingya children and youth are denied access to education in villages and towns in Myanmar as well as in places where they have sought refuge. Raising these children without access to education exposes them to poverty and exploitation, which in some cases include serious criminal activity such as drug smuggling, child trafficking or recruitment into violent armed groups.
“Education is not at odds with repatriation. Instead, a quality education in appropriate language and accredited curriculum can empower the Rohingya children to claim their rights, contribute to the society and economy they live in,” said Saad Hammadi, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International.
Nearly a million Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from their homes in Myanmar because of action by the military in the country, many of which amount to crimes against humanity. Almost half a million are children below 18 years living in threadbare camps in Cox’s Bazar, which has the lowest primary school enrolment rate in the country at 71 percent and the second highest drop-out rate at 31 percent.
Amnesty International launched a petition in major countries calling on governments to support Bangladesh in educating the children of Rohingya refugees and those of the host community.
A global petition also calls on Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to ensure quality education in appropriate language and accredited curriculum to protect the social, cultural and linguistic identities of both communities.
“As we encourage the international community to share responsibility for the crisis that has hit Bangladesh as a result of the refugee influx, using this moment to improve access to education for all children in Cox’s Bazar will be a step in a positive direction for the government of Bangladesh,” said Saad Hammadi.
When Bernie Sanders compared wage labor to slavery in the 1970s, he wasn't equating the two. He was drawing on an emancipatory tradition, encompassing everyone from Frederick Douglass to Eugene Debs, that sees wage labor as shot through with subjugation — and insists on the need to democratize the workplace.
It is natural to think there is something deeply unfree about work in the contemporary United States. Describing her job in an Amazon warehouse, journalist Emily Guendelsberger writes, “I walked up to sixteen miles a day to keep up with the rate at which I was supposed to pick orders. A GPS-enabled scanner tracked my movements and constantly informed me how many seconds I had left to complete my task.” A man employed at a different facility said he found pervasive surveillance and inhuman speed “so soul-sucking I found myself nearly crying in my car right before I was supposed to walk in.”
That feeling is connected to a real material fact about the workplace: one of the defining features of the employment relationship in all capitalist countries is that the worker’s will is, by law, “subordinate” to the employers. The employer has the right, within broad bounds, to define the nature of the task, who performs it, and how. This shows up in all kinds of surveillance, control, and submission — also known as maximizing productivity and extracting profit.
Just consider who controls one of the body’s most essential functions: going to the bathroom. Workers in the United States can be forced to urinate during employer-mandated drug testing; or forbidden from urinating if it isn’t break time. In Amazon warehouses, workers, whose every move is tracked, forego trips to the restroom to avoid being disciplined or fired for too much “time off task.” In a poultry-packing plant, employees were forced to wear diapers to work because they said they knew they would be let go if they demanded the bathroom breaks their bosses denied them. Employers control or seek to controlmany other aspects of workers’ lives, from their Facebook posts and political speech to the wages they earn and the rates at which they work.
It is no surprise, then, that there is a long history of comparing capitalist wage labor to chattel slavery.
In 1873, Ira Steward, son of abolitionists and founder of the eight-hours movement, looked out over the United States’ industrial sweatshops, its fourteen-hour days for poverty wages, and wrote, “Something of slavery still remains.” His point was not that wage labor and slavery were the same, but that, for all the talk of emancipation, many aspects of the employment relationship smacked more of servitude than of freedom.
By the time Steward wrote those words, the critique of wage slavery was at least fifty years old. In 1828, Thomas Skidmore, avowed critic of slavery and founder of the New York Working Men’s Party, wrote:
For he, in all countries is a slave, who must work more for another than that other must work for him. It does not matter how this state of things is brought about; whether the sword of victory hew down the liberty of the captive, and thus compel him to labor for his conqueror, or whether the sword of want extort our consent, as it were, to a voluntary slavery, through a denial to us of the materials of nature.
Fifteen years later, a Skidmore collaborator turned land reformer, George Henry Evans, found something of slavery in the poor, landless worker: “he must ask leave to live . . . he is liable to be driven away at the will of another.” When arguing against propertylessness and for the redistribution of land to all workers, Evans said, “The National Reform measures would not merely substitute one form of slavery for another, but would replace every form of slavery by entire freedom.”
Not everyone decrying wage slavery did so on egalitarian grounds. In the early republic, some racist white workers invoked wage slavery not to argue against chattel slavery and wage labor together but, instead, to maintain that white workers should not be reduced to the condition of black people. Theophilus Fisk, for instance, worried in the 1830s about “the white slaves of the North” but denounced abolition. Freedom was, for racist figures like Fisk, a racial privilege rather than a universal end. It was possible, then, to object to wage slavery as “white slavery” and to use the term to divide people by race, rather than to unite them in class struggle. But that was generally the less common use of the term.
After the Civil War, the critique of “wage slavery” really took off. A group I have elsewhere called “labor republicans” drew on and extended the earlier views of people like Skidmore and Evans to argue that capitalist labor relations failed to live up to their promise. Labor republicanism formed the guiding ideology of the Knights of Labor. Founded in 1869, the Knights were the first national labor association to organize relatively unskilled black workers together with whites on a mass basis — an effort not meaningfully duplicated in the United States for another fifty years. In 1886, their membership peaked at nearly 1 million workers, with everyone from predominantly white Northern shoemakers to Southern black cane-cutters carrying a Knights of Labor card.
In articles with titles like “Wages Slavery and Chattel Slavery,” the Knights argued that “the whole process of civilization has been to emancipate human beings from the condition of slavery in which they have been held by their fellow men . . . [however] civilization has not yet reached its highest point of development, nor can it develop much further without first having abolished wages slavery, for that form of slavery stands to-day as one of the greatest barriers to the progress of civilization.”
This “wage slavery,” the Knights contended, first appeared in the dependence of propertyless workers on their employers. Lacking any reasonable alternative but to look for a job, workers were in a structurally subordinate role. This made the labor contract something less than fully free. As George E. McNeill, one of the Knights’ leading figures, put it, in a labor contract, the workers “assent but they do not consent, they submit but they do not agree.”
Once at work, submission was the order of the day. “Is there a workshop where obedience is not demanded — not to the difficulties or qualities of the labor to be performed — but to the caprice of he who pays the wages of his servants?” asked one Knight. Another Knight complained, “Thus is sycophancy deified in our workshops . . . thus is abject servility ennobled, as it were, by bosses and foreman.”
They sought “to abolish as rapidly as possible, the wage system, substituting co-operation therefore,” by which they meant a national economy of interconnected worker-governed cooperatives and publicly owned utilities (such as railroads and schools). The vision appealed to everyone from Southern black agricultural workers to Anglo-American and immigrant workers in the North and the West, who joined under the Knights’ banner.
The Knights were not the only ones who thought something of slavery was to be found in so-called free labor. In 1865, former slaves who had appropriated land on Edisto Island wrote the Freedmen’s Bureau Commissioner: “We were promised Homesteads by the government” but the government was now in the process of returning all land to its previous owners — their former masters. Abolition, however, was not emancipation.
The federal government, they insisted, “now takes away from [us] all right to the soil [we] stand upon save such as [we] can get by again working for your late and [our] all time enemies.” Being thrown into the labor market was “not the condition of really freemen.” To be truly free, they demanded “land where we shall not be slaves nor compelled to work for those who would treat us as such.”
Frederick Douglass, arguing for unity among black and white laborers in 1883, said that “experience teaches us that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”
The critique of wage slavery was then taken up by anarchists, socialists, and labor radicals of various stripes, who railed against the capitalist labor market and organized for a multiracial struggle against the owners of capital. Lucy Parsons, born a slave and later a widely known anarchist, declared in one of her most famous speeches:
How many of the wage class, as a class, are there who can avoid obeying the commands of the master (employing) class, as a class? Not many, are there? Then are you not slaves to the money power as much as were the black slaves to the Southern slaveholders? Then we ask you again: What are you going to do about it? You had the ballot then. Could you have voted away black slavery? You know you could not because the slaveholders would not hear of such a thing for the same reason you can’t vote yourselves out of wage-slavery.
We can find similar quotations from famous left-wing leaders like Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, and Big Bill Haywood, and less famous figures, like Alexander Howat, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Hubert Harrison.
For all these thinkers, three thoughts tended to go together. First, wage labor was wage slavery not because it was the same as chattel slavery but because it was shot through with its own forms of subservience and subjection. The project of emancipation was therefore unfinished. Second, the solution was to replace wage labor with some form of democratically managed “cooperative commonwealth.” Third, the demand for liberty could unite workers across race and gender in a project to seize control of the economy and turn it to collective purposes.
This was the holy trinity of the Left’s emancipatory program — one that guided millions in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
This week, the Daily Beast unearthed statements from when Bernie Sanders was chairman of a Vermont-based socialist party in the 1970s. They found Sanders saying things like “Basically, today, Vermont workers remain slaves in many, many ways,” because “we end up with an entire state of people trained to wait on other people.” They report Sanders as stating: “We believe ultimately that companies like Vermont Marble should be owned by the workers themselves and that workers — not a handful of owners — should be determining policy. If a worker at Vermont Marble has no say about who owns the company he works for and that major changes can take place without his knowledge and consent, how far have we really advanced from the days of slavery, when black people were sold to different owners without their consent?”
And, in another outrage, Sanders commented: “If we are free people and not slaves,” then “the working people of this country, who constitute the vast majority of the population,” should seize control of the economy rather than allow small groups, like mine owners, to decide their fate.
Somehow, the Daily Beast decided this was a sign that Sanders has a massive race problem — as if the Vermont senator was saying the problems workers face today are the same as the evils of racial slavery. What the publication missed, out of ignorance or bad faith or a blind desire to boost clicks, was that Sanders was tapping into the aforementioned (and still valid) tradition of criticizing wage slavery.
It is obvious from his appeals to the majority, not to mention his identification of the employer class as the enemy, that Sanders was not part of that pernicious tradition of viewing freedom as a racial privilege. Rather, he was appealing to the idea that the daily oppression of the labor market is something that the vast majority of people have a shared interest in overcoming. His critique of wage slavery was a way of naming the problem that made it a potential source of multiracial unity.
Since the 1970s, one of the Left’s greatest challenges has been finding a language of common purpose, something to unify and orient a common mass struggle. Identifying and acknowledging differences in a movement is essential and important. But solidarity only fully emerges by rising above differences in the name of what everyone seeks together, what they can only win for themselves by winning it together: their freedom.
Leave it to the chattering classes to stoke racial divisions with fake controversies and absurd accusations. As Sanders says, it’s not just up to him, but to us, to develop and act on a language of freedom that unites the vast majority.
This week continues our set of conversations with Valrice “Whop” Cooper, the legendary cornerman who learned his craft training prisoners in the Louisiana DOC’s boxing program. For this episode, we discuss how he got into the game, the politics behind such programs as the PAL, or Police Athletic League, and what it takes to succeed as a trainer, and as a fighter – both inside and outside of prison. This conversation took place in December 2019 at Uppercutz, a Boxing Gym and Barbershop in Harvey, Louisiana.
The interviewer is Trey Sterling, whose recent article “Combat and Incarceration” in Commune Magazine focuses on the history of prison boxing. You can read it here, and listen to the previous episode with Trey and Whop here.