Inside the anti-racist movement that brings the fight to white supremacists

Editor’s Note: In a recent article in Mother Jones about the US anti-fascist movement, a young man spoke about his flexible ideology: “I wasn’t sure if I was racist or anti-racist,” recalls Alex Stuck. “I just knew I was pissed off … thank God that [HARM] got to me first. I could have easily went the opposite direction.” Related: Years ago, I heard some Hells Angels being interviewed on the radio. One said, “Many of us used to be cops.” Something deeper than ideology is going on here. What is it? A thirst for violence driven by testosterone?

From Mother Jones: “Inside the anti-racist movement that brings the fight to white supremacists”

“At lunchtime on May 19, 2012, 18 masked men and women shouldered through the front door of the Ashford House restaurant in Tinley Park, Illinois, a working-class suburb of Chicago. Some diners mistook the mob for armed robbers. Others thought they might be playing a practical joke. But Steven Speers, a stalactite-bearded 33-year-old who had just sat down for appetizers at a white nationalist meet and greet, had a hunch who they were. The gang filing in with baseball bats, police batons, hammers, and nunchucks were members of Anti-Racist Action (ARA) and the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement (HARM), two groups dedicated to violently confronting white supremacists.

“Hey, bitches!” one of the anti-racists shouted before charging Speers’ table. “ARA is going to fuck this place up!”

“Speers stood up and warned his seven companions to prepare to fight. His girlfriend, Beckie Williams, who had organized the lunchtime gathering on the white supremacist website Stormfront, grabbed a butter knife. Francis Gilroy, a homeless man who had driven up from Florida to find “work for whites,” as an online ad for the meeting promised, tried to pull the attackers off his companions. Williams was clubbed on the arm. Speers was hit on the head so hard he vomited.

“An 80-year-old woman celebrating her granddaughter’s high school graduation at a nearby table was also pushed to the floor. A retired cop who believed he was witnessing a terrorist attack used a chair to knock out one of the masked intruders. That’s when they ran off, dragging their dazed companion.

“In less than two minutes, the anti-racists had unleashed a flurry of destruction. A mosaic of smashed glass covered the floor. Blood polka-dotted the ceiling. Three people required medical care.”

 

Read the full article here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/04/anti-racist-antifa-tinley-park-five/

A Strong Opinion: Stop Counter-Protesting

Even if the protesters are the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

By Rick Gell
Reprinted from Alternet, August 21, 2017

First, My Definition

Counter-protest: an organized response, on the same day, at the same time and in the same place as a previously planned protest.

Now, My Argument

Counter-protests, by their very nature, escalate the risk of violence, and are therefore a less desirable tactic where the ends do not justify the means.

The Issue Is Irrelevant

This has nothing to do with which side one is on, the moral superiority of one view or the vile nature of another. If Planned Parenthood plans a march to support a woman’s right to choose, right-to-lifers should not counter-protest. And if right-to-lifers plan a march to condemn abortion, pro-choice supporters should not counter-protest. Resentment toward crashing an event is human nature and with 365 days, each side has ample time to march and make their counter-argument.

Yes, even if the protesters are the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Deflate an Opponent, Don’t Inflate Them

The Women’s March attracted 4 million people.

How many extremists with torches were marching Friday night?

How many Nazis, white nationalists and KKK members marched on Saturday?

In a New York Times op-ed piece on August 19, Michael Signer, mayor of Charlottesville, suggested “several thousand alt-right activists and white supremacists came to my city.” He is off by a factor of 4. According to Joe Ruiz of NPR and Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF, 500 protesters were on-site with more than double the number of counter-protesters. Vox reported “hundreds of marchers” and AP “at least 500” for Saturday.

The consensus seems to come in at 500 on Saturday and less than 250 people on Friday night.

The mayor’s error is easy to understand, and I’d bet if Nate Silver or another pollster were to do a random survey and ask Americans whether 100,000, 10,000 or 1,000 right-wing extremists were in attendance in Charlottesville, many would exaggerate attendance due to the blanket TV coverage and violent nature of the event.

The Charlottesville police, according to Doug Stanglin of USA Today, estimated 2,000 to 6,000 marchers would attend before the event, billed by organizers as the biggest gathering of alt-right, white nationalists, KKK and neo-Nazis in decades.

In 1926, 50,000 KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. Adjusted for current population, that would be close to 150,000 people today. A march before commercial air travel that did not include other groups. Today, Unite the Right has the benefit of a well-oiled, online ecosystem and convenient transit to bring supporters together.

And all they could muster were 500 people.

Without counter-protesters, without violence, there would be no blanket cable news coverage. And probably no innocent deaths. Might the headline have read “Unite the Right march fizzles”? What if the Democratic response was “70 years ago, 50,000 KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, and today white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other alt-right groups combined, could barely muster 500 people. And while one Nazi is one too many, these are troubled, fringe people with an ideology America abhors.”

Violence Is More Likely, and Violence Rarely Benefits the Forces of Good

I am not a pacifist, believe revolution can be justified, but the bar is exceedingly high for actions that can cost innocent lives. Counter-protesting is confrontational, counter-productive and a troubling trend, if every protest in America is now going to be a head-to-head stand-off. A near impossible scenario for law enforcement and first responders.

The odds of violent encounters ratchet up, and violence is out of sync with the core ideologies of the clear majority of liberals and the left. Organizers of Unite the Right believe violence is a viable way to solve problems, came armed to the teeth, wanted violence to occur, and got what they wanted.

The Mob Effect

Any psychology student can cite studies about how people act in a mob and it ain’t pretty. People are pumped-up, taunting each other, and more prone to take actions they might not take in less heated circumstances. Counter-protests put two groups, who may hate each other, together face-to-face at a moment of heightened emotions.

It is simply a prescription for violence.

Never Elevate a Lesser Opponent

A counter-protest by its very existence is going to make an event bigger. In Charlottesville, the number of counter-protesters was double the size of the original protesters, greatly increasing the magnitude of the event. Yes, in Boston the counter-protest was so large the nationalist event didn’t even occur, but in Charlottesville opponents met and violence did happen. Incumbent candidates avoid direct engagement with challengers for a reason. Why legitimize a lesser, fringe candidate? Sharing the stage always places the lesser opponent on a more equal plain.

David Duke on TV, again?

Let’s Minimize Antifa

Michael Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” appeared on “Meet the Press” with Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center to discuss the Antifa group that supports violence as a legitimate response to fascism. Bray was clear: “Fascism cannot be defeated by speech,” arguing speech alone has failed historically.

Richard Cohen, who as legal counsel for the SPLC has won many landmark legal cases against white supremacists, strongly disagreed. Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC Intelligence Project, speaking to the New York Times, said, “We’re against violence, just straight up. If you want to protest racists and anti-Semites, it needs to be peacefully and hopefully somewhere away from where those guys are rallying.”

An Antifa supporter in the New York Times said, “You need violence in order to protect non-violence.” Another Antifa supporter punched white supremacist Richard B. Spencer at the inauguration, claiming it was justified to punch a neo-Nazi.

Do we want to see people punching a socialist, transsexual or atheist because it is now okay to punch people at public events because you believe they have extreme views?

If you are with the SPLC, and concerned about the rise of Antifa, then you will recognize that a counter-protest, even if the vast majority of counter-protesters are peaceful, runs the risk of an Antifa action painting the entire group with a violent brush, while providing unnecessary talking points to the real extremists.

The Lizard People

It is estimated over 10 million Americans believe there are lizard people who live underground, eat babies and run the country. In 2017, to believe in the KKK, white nationalism and the Third Reich is comparable. James Alex Fields, who allegedly drove the car into the crowd in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer, had a history of violent behavior. Much like the petty criminal who claims a last-minute allegiance to Islam, to ensure blanket media coverage as a “terrorist” when committing a horrific crime, are we feeding extremists’ sense of isolation and core mental illness with direct confrontation and counter-protesting? Should we be sending 1,000 psychiatrists, therapists and spiritual leaders to an alt-right protest instead, to deliver a stronger message about the participants and their state of mind?

When Mathew Heimbach, founder of the Nationalist Front, calls Charlottesville, “The largest nationalist rally in over two decades,” the reality is he can only attract 250 to 500 people in a nation of 325 million, even with free tiki torches. When Heimbach suggests they “achieved all their objectives” and “We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America. We had zero vehicles damaged,” is it ideology, or mental illness?

Fighting Smartly

My opposition to counter-protesting is not meant to ignore or diminish the threat. The extreme alt-right online-world is real. According to the SPLC, there are 276 militias operating in the United States today. And according to U.S. government reports of 85 violent extremist incidents resulting in death since 911, far right-wing extremists were responsible for 62 and radical Islamist extremists 23.

And reporting from the likes of Vice News, once again eating the lunch of mainstream news, with powerful embedded coverage by Elle Reeve of Vice News Tonight, is essential. But even Josh Tyrangiel, executive producer of Vice News Tonight, twice in one interview with Charlie Rose, cautioned against glamorization saying, “I am very aware of the double-edged sword there. We do not want to glamorize them, we do not want to draw more attention to them, but obviously we are in an urgent moment.”

I hear the counter-arguments. We must fight them at every turn. Donald Trump’s true nature has now been revealed. Corporations are fleeing the administration. Confederate statues are being torn down across America. Racists are losing their jobs. A secretive, online movement is exposed and a national conversation continues.

But Heather Heyer and two police officers are dead, bad actors feel emboldened and there is a better way. An event advertised as the Woodstock of the alt-right could barely attract 500 people. Those people are on the fringe, are deeply troubled and are in need of mental health services. Let members speak at their rally. Then organize a Unite the Country march a week later, with 100,000 peaceful attendees.

Let’s recognize how far we’ve come, be tactical, avoid violence and an arms race of counter-protesting, while acknowledging how far we still must go.

Centrist Democrats Riled as Warren Says Days of ‘Lukewarm’ Policies Are Over

“The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) addresses a rally against Trump Administration budget cuts to education funding outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) addresses a rally against Trump administration budget cuts to education funding outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a wide-ranging and fiery keynote speech last weekend at the 12th annual Netroots Nation conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) relentlessly derided moderate Democratic pundits calling for the party to move “back to the center” and declared that Democrats must unequivocally “fight for progressive solutions to our nation’s challenges.”

“We’re not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren

As The Hill‘s Amie Parnes reported on Friday, Warren’s assertion during the weekend gathering that progressives are “the heart and soul of today’s Democratic Party”—and not merely a “wing”—raised the ire of so-called “moderate” Democrats, who have insisted that progressive policies won’t sell in swing states.

But recent survey results have consistently shown that policies like single-payer healthcare, progressive taxation, a higher minimum wage, and tuition-free public college are extremely popularamong the broader electorate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—the most prominent advocate of an ambitious, far-reaching progressive agenda—has consistently polled as the most popular politician in the country.

For Warren, these are all indicators that those pining for a rightward shift “back to the center” are deeply mistaken.

Specifically, Warren took aim at a recent New York Times op-ed by Democratic commentators Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, who argued that Democrats must moderate their positions in order to take back Congress and, ultimately, the presidency.

Warren ridiculed this argument as a call for a return to Bill Clinton-era policies that “lock[ed] up non-violent drug offenders and ripp[ed] more holes in our economic safety net.”

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

“The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill,” Warren said. “We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice. We’re not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”

“And,” Warren concluded, “we’re not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street.”

For months media outlets have speculated that Warren is gearing up for a 2020 presidential run, but she has denied the rumors.

Warren’s remarks came as a large coalition of progressive groups is mobilizing during the congressional recess to pressure Democrats to formally endorse the “People’s Platform,” a slate of ambitious legislation that includes Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill.

Watch Warren’s full speech at Netroots Nation:

Republicans Once Again Disregard States Rights (Water Rights This Time)

From High Country News:

“This July, California Republicans cheered when the Gaining Responsibility on Water (GROW) Act passed the U.S. House. Rep. David Valadao, a Central Valley Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation was necessary to “modernize” the state’s water policies following prolonged drought.

“Specifically, Valadao wants to boost water deliveries to valley farms — which grow most of the country’s avocados, almonds and broccoli, among other crops — leaving less water in rivers to help threatened fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“That trade-off has environmentalists and Democrats calling the GROW Act a water grab and an attack on state and federal environmental protections. And it could have repercussions for the entire Delta system, which provides much of the state’s surface water supplies.

“The bill, H.R. 23, would basically block or override several state water laws —contrary to conservatives’ often-stated goal of reducing the federal government’s role and giving states greater power to manage resources. “They are trying to pre-empt the state from managing its rivers to balance the benefits to the economy with the need to protect the environment,” says Doug Obegi, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

Read the complete article here:
“U.S. House moves to streamline water projects: A controversial bill would weaken states’ control over water”

Smoking Marijuana Triples Risk Of High Blood Pressure Death, Study Say

CBS Local — A new study is warning that people who smoke marijuana have three times the risk of dying from high blood pressure than those who don’t use the drug. Scientists, publishing their findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, added that the risk of dying from hypertension grew with each year of smoking marijuana.

The study revealed that of the 1,200 people tested, those who smoked pot were 3.4 times more likely to die from hypertension. The risk of suffering a fatal blood pressure condition also went up by 1.04 times for each year the person had smoked the substance. The study did not find a link between marijuana use and dying from heart diseases or strokes.

 

Who Benefits from the Russian Hacking Story? Centrist Democrats.

Compelling new evidence suggests that there was no hack of DNC servers (by Russia or by anyone else), but rather someone inside the DNC copied a mass of data onto a thumb drive. This explanation is supported by metadata showing that the transfer rate of the “hacked” data was on the order of 23 megabytes/second (twice the average rate of ISP servers in 2016, but a typical rate for transfer to a thumb drive). There’s more evidence in the article below.

I have no doubt that Putin and Russian hackers are capable and guilty of many scurrilous acts, and that Trump has many suspicious connections with Russian oligarchs and mob figures, but this particular story has smelled rotten from the beginning. Cui bono? Who benefits from the idea of Russians messing with our election? Primarily the centrist Democrats who want a good explanation for why they lost, and who want to do anything rather than examine their own shortcomings and the need to reform the party from the bottom up.

” … the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.

“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”

“Time stamps in the metadata provide further evidence of what happened on July 5. The stamps recording the download indicate that it occurred in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone at approximately 6:45 pm. This confirms that the person entering the DNC system was working somewhere on the East Coast of the United States. In theory the operation could have been conducted from Bangor or Miami or anywhere in between—but not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone. Combined with Forensicator’s findings on the transfer rate, the time stamps constitute more evidence that the download was conducted locally, since delivery overheads—conversion of data into packets, addressing, sequencing times, error checks, and the like—degrade all data transfers conducted via the Internet, more or less according to the distance involved.”

Read the full article here:
“A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack: Former NSA experts say it wasn’t a hack at all, but a leak—an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system”

Watch “An Inconvenient Sequel” This Weekend—But Then Do This

Actions to take after you see Al Gore’s new documentary

By Mark Rahner
Reprinted from Yes! Magazine under a Creative Commons License

Al-Gore-Inconvenient-Sequel.jpg
Al Gore with former Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya, in the Raya family home. Tacloban City, Philippines, March 12, 2016.
Photo by Jensen Walker.

What’s changed since Al Gore first gave us An Inconvenient Truth?

It’s hotter. In 1999, Seattle friends thought I was an asshole for having air conditioning in my car. Now everyone does. Have air conditioning, that is.

Gore is older, grayer, and maybe thicker in the middle.

There’s an anti-science party running the White House and both chambers of Congress that would make Galileo feel like he really didn’t have it so bad in the Inquisition.

And there’s a sequel.

Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now.

A decade after the former vice president’s Oscar-winning documentary comes his follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. I went to a screening in Seattle where Gore stopped on his tour to promote it, and he might think I’m an asshole, too. Because as effectively sobering, terrifying, and infuriating as the documentary is, it doesn’t go far enough.

Another change: Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now. Seems fair, if not an understatement.

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the film follows the tireless Gore—understandably weary—as he visits glaciers that aren’t just melting, but also exploding like strings of firecrackers; wades with local officials through waterlogged Florida; and works behind the scenes to get India on board for the Paris climate agreement. Meanwhile, he gives slideshows similar—but more dire—to the ones in the first film to climate leadership training groups.

More dire, because the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters have increased along with the denialism funded by the Koch brothers and other polluters. Gore notes the barbs aimed at him for predicting climate change’s threat to New York’s 9/11 memorial site, then shows footage of it being flooded by Hurricane Sandy just a few years later.

The U.S. boasts the only major party in the industrial world that denies climate change science.

Someone sitting behind me sighed heavily and a couple minutes later said, “Jesus …” They continued doing that throughout the entire film.

I fought back my own profanities watching the climate-caused deaths in the Philippines and other horrors documented.

After the credits rolled, Gore walked out to a standing ovation and a fawning fluff session of a Q&A with an awestruck moderator. I was in a theater full of Seattle liberals who didn’t need to be convinced of any of this.

The people who really need to see the movie—in red states or even red regions on the other side of my state—won’t go near it. They wouldn’t listen to Gore if their houses were on fire and he was standing there with a hose. And they’re no more likely to listen to any graduate of his climate leadership groups than they are to read David Wallace-Wells’ July 9 gut punch of a New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

If I’m raining on and submerging the parade, look:

From oncology to engineering, if 97 percent of the experts in any field other than climate science warned us of something, everyone would listen to them and not the outliers. The U.S. boasts the only major political party in the industrial world that denies climate change science. There’s some American exceptionalism.

Deniers appear not to understand that skepticism toward basic science literacy should consist of more than “No, it isn’t,” and that the scientific method has already been applied to climate science. (See: Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and “red team.”)

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

These are people who think we can treat the environment like a toilet for 150 years with no repercussions. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe bringing a snowball to the Senate floor is our real-world equivalent of Kryptonians laughing at Jor-El before their planet goes boom. Inconvenient Sequelincludes footage of an exchange between Gore and Inhofe in which the senator won’t even let Gore finish a sentence.

I’m saying the people who really need to see this movie are The Unreachables.

Now add a president who said climate change is a Chinese hoax and has promised to bail on the Paris agreement. Consider his picks to run the EPA, departments of Energy, Interior, Education … and here we are.

Actual headline, July 31: “EPA museum to scrap climate change displays, add coal exhibit.” Heavy sigh and Jesus, indeed.

Gore and the filmmakers don’t spend a lot of time documenting The Unreachables (my term, not his) and the political polarization that threatens the poles as much as carbon emissions. Trump’s Paris betrayal comes near the end, but Gore leans heavily on optimism. He compares the climate crisis to the fight for civil rights and marriage equality in a moving climactic speech.

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

To that end, Gore urges people to vote the Kryptonians—I mean, deniers—out of office, and the film offers resources for action. You can sign a pledge, organize a screening of the film, download a 10-minute version of Gore’s slideshow, follow the movie across social media. There’s information on voting, reaching out to lean on elected officials, and more.

It’s not nearly as aggressive as the situation demands, given the added threat of The Unreachables.

I think this would be an appropriate action: Trump and every other Republican who’s blocked efforts to mitigate climate change should be charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and everyone at Exxon Mobil who knew about the damage for decades.

Short of that, I have some other suggestions:

Demand that news media end the phony “balance” that gives deniers a platform, let alone equal time with those who understand climate science.

Research the deniers’ talking points so that you can refute them any time they come up in conversation or social media—from Al Gore’s carbon footprint making him a hypocrite to all that sweet dough climate scientists stand to rake in.

Be less polite. No, you don’t respect deniers’ opinions. It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

More climate-related lawsuits. Evidence and facts matter in courts.

Protest by phone, email, town hall, or social media any time a science denier or science illiterate is put in charge of a government science department at any level. Remember Rep. Paul Broun who called evolution and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” and who served on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? And Inhofe, who chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works? People like that need to go do something else.

Agitate to get the money out of politics. That’s at the Koch-fueled root of denialism. Always follow the money.

Until then, no matter where you live, you’re gonna need a car with air conditioning.


Mark Rahner wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Mark is a veteran journalist, talk radio host, comic book author, and podcaster based in Seattle.  

Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Talk

We’re not all ready to have the same conversation, but perhaps that’s a good place to start

      Reprinted from CommonDreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

A placard warning against the dangers of climate change used in the March on Washington stands by an overflowing garbage can on Saturday, January 21, 2017. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)

 

My most recent essay, in which I discussed a highly publicized controversy over the efficacy of plans for a comprehensive transition to an all-renewable energy future, garnered some strong responses. “If you are right,” one Facebook commenter opined, “we are doomed. Fortunately you are not right.” (The commenter didn’t explain why.) What had I said to provoke an expectation of cataclysmic oblivion? Simply that there is probably no technically and financially feasible energy pathway to enable those of us in highly industrialized countries to maintain current levels of energy usage very far into the future.

My piece happened to be published right around the same time New York Magazine released a controversial article, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” wrote Wells. “If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.” Wells’s article drew rebukes from—of all people—climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. “Importantly, fear does not motivate,” responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, “and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.”

“We humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species…”It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.”

So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in  this essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming.  Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.

Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species. We’ve been able to do this due to a temporary subsidy of cheap, bountiful energy from fossil fuels, which enabled us to stretch nature’s limits and to support a far larger overall population than would otherwise be possible. But now we are starting to see supply constraints for those fuels, just as the side effects of burning enormous amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas are also coming into view. Meanwhile, using cheap energy to expand resource-extractive and waste-generating economic processes is leading to biodiversity loss; the depletion of soil, water, and minerals; and environmental pollution of many kinds. Just decarbonizing energy, while necessary, doesn’t adequately deal with systemic overshoot. Only a reduction of population and overall resource consumption, along with a rapid reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and a redesign of industrial systems, can do that.

Economic inequality is a systemic problem too. As we’ve grown our economy, those who were in position to invest in industrial expansion or to loan money to others have reaped the majority of the rewards, while those who got by through selling their time and labor (or whose common cultural heritage was simply appropriated by industrialists) have fallen behind. There’s no technological fix for inequality; dealing with it will require redesigning our economic system and redistributing wealth. Those in wealthy nations would, on average, have to adjust their living standards downward.

Now, can we do all of this without a crash? Probably not. Indeed, many economists would regard the medicine (population reduction, a decline in per-capita energy use, and economic redistribution) as worse than whatever aspects of the disease they are willing to acknowledge. Environmentalists and human rights advocates would disagree. Which is to say, there’s really no way out. Whether we stick with business as usual, or attempt a dramatic multi-pronged intervention, our current “normal” way of life is toast.

Accepting that a crash is more or less inevitable is a big step, psychologically speaking. I call this toxic knowledge: one cannot “un-know” that the current world system hangs by a thread, and this understanding can lead to depression. In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually. Some willfully ignore their own mortality for as long as possible; others grasp at a belief in the afterlife. Still others seek to create meaning and purpose by making a positive difference in the lives of those around them with whatever time they have. Such efforts don’t alter the inevitability of death; however, contributing to one’s community appears to enhance well-being in many ways beyond that of merely prolonging life.

In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually.

But is a crash the same as doom?

Not necessarily. Our best hope at this point would seem to be a controlled crash that enables partial recovery at a lower level of population and resource use, and that therefore doesn’t lead to complete and utter oblivion (human extinction or close to it). Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.

This discussion started in the 1970s, though I wasn’t part of it then; I joined a couple of decades later. There is no formal membership; the conversation takes place through and among a patchwork of small organizations and scattered individuals. They don’t all know each other and there is no secret handshake. Some have publicly adopted the stance that a global crash is inevitable; most soft-pedal that message on their organizational websites but are privately plenty worried. During the course of the conversation so far, two (not mutually exclusive) strategies have emerged.

The first strategy envisions convincing the managers and power holders of the world to invest in a no-regrets insurance plan. Some systems thinkers who understand our linked global crises are offering to come up with a back-pocket checklist for policy makers, for moments when financial or environmental crisis hits: how, under such circumstances, might the managerial elite be able to prevent, say, a stock market crash from triggering food, energy, and social crises as well? A set of back-up plans wouldn’t require detailed knowledge of when or how crisis will erupt. It wouldn’t even require much of a systemic understanding of global overshoot. It would simply require willingness on the part of societal power holders to agree that there are real or potential threats to global order, and to accept the offer of help. At the moment, those pursuing this strategy are working mostly covertly, for reasons that are not hard to discern.

The second strategy consists of working within communities to build more societal resilience from the ground up. It is easier to get traction with friends and neighbors than with global power holders, and it’s within communities that political decisions are made closest to where the impact is felt. My own organization, Post Carbon Institute, has chosen to pursue this strategy via a series of books, the Community Resilience Guides;  the “Think Resilience” video series; and our forthcoming compendium, The Community Resilience Reader.  Rob Hopkins, who originated the Transition Towns movement, has been perhaps the most public, eloquent, and upbeat proponent of the local resilience strategy, but there are countless others scattered across the globe.

Somehow, the work of resilience building (whether top-down or bottom-up) must focus not just on maintaining supplies of food, water, energy, and other basic necessities, but also on sustaining social cohesion—a culture of understanding, tolerance, and inquiry—during times of great stress. While it’s true that people tend to pull together in remarkable ways during wars and natural disasters, sustained hard times can lead to scapegoating and worse.

Most people are not party to the conversation, not aware that it is happening, and unaware even that such a conversation is warranted. Among those who are worried about the state of the world, most are content to pursue or support efforts to keep crises from occurring by working via political parties, religious organizations, or non-profit advocacy orgs on issues such as climate change, food security, and economic inequality. There is also a small but rapidly growing segment of society that feels disempowered as the era of economic growth wanes, and that views society’s power holders as evil and corrupt. These dispossessed—whether followers of ISIS or Infowars—would prefer to “shake things up,” even to the point of bringing society to destruction, rather than suffer the continuation of the status quo. Unfortunately, this last group may have the easiest path of all.

By comparison, the number of those involved in the conversation is exceedingly small, countable probably in the hundreds of thousands, certainly not millions. Can we succeed? It depends on how one defines “success”—as the ability to maintain, for a little longer, an inherently unsustainable global industrial system? Or as the practical reduction in likely suffering on the part of the survivors of the eventual crash? A related query one often hears after environmental lectures is, Are we doing enough? If “Enough” means “enough to avert a system crash,” then the answer is no: it’s unlikely that anyone can deliver that outcome now. The question should be, What can we do—not to save a way of life that is unsalvageable, but to make a difference to the people and other species in harm’s way?

This is not a conversation about the long-term trajectory of human cultural evolution, though that’s an interesting subject for speculation. Assuming there are survivors, what will human society look like following the crises ensuing from climate change and the end of fossil fuels and capitalism? David Fleming’s book, Surviving the Future, and John Michael Greer’s, The Ecotechnic Future, both  offer useful thoughts in this regard. My own view is that it’s hard for us to envision what comes next because our imaginations are bounded by the reality we have known. What awaits will likely be as far removed from from modern industrial urban life as Iron-Age agrarian empires were from hunting-and-gathering bands. We are approaching one of history’s great discontinuities. The best we can do under the circumstances is to get our priorities and values straight (protect the vulnerable, preserve the best of what we have collectively achieved, and live a life that’s worthy) and put one foot in front of the other.

The conversation I’m pointing to here is about fairly short-term actions. And it doesn’t lend itself to building a big movement. For that, you need villains to blame and promises of revived national or tribal glory. For those engaged in the conversation, there’s only hard work and the satisfaction of honestly facing our predicament with an attitude of curiosity, engagement, and compassion. For us, threats of doom or promises of utopia are distractions or cop-outs.

Only those drawn to the conversation by temperament and education are likely to take it up. Advertising may not work. But having a few more hands on deck, and a few more resources to work with, can only help.

Message to Democrats: Get on Board With Medicare For All or Go Home

For universal healthcare to become a reality, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board.”

 

Medicare for All “is the only real answer,” said Max Fine, one of the original architects of Medicare. (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

Amid surging support for Medicare for All at the grassroots—which can be seen both in recent polls and at anti-Trumpcare protests, where demonstrators have brandished signs declaring “healthcare is a human right”—activists, physicians, and policy experts are imploring Democratic lawmakers to either get on board with the growing majority of their constituents, or go home.

This coming Monday, July 24, activists across the country are set to target Democratic lawmakers who have yet to sign off on Rep John Conyers’ Medicare for All legislation. The nationwide events, coordinated by the group Millions March for Medicare 4 All, are part of a growing call “for America to do for its citizens what literally every other developed nation in the world has had for decades.”

“The size of one’s bank account should never be the determining factor in whether one gets medical care,” said Beverly Cowling, the organization’s co-founder. “This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages, and we will not stop until every American has access.”

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.'”
—Dr. Carol Paris, Physicians for a National Health Program

Responding to politicians and commentators who argue that incremental improvements to Obamacare and the implementation of a public option are the most practical steps toward universal coverage, Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said in an interview on Democracy Now! that such steps amount to “creating another opportunity for the insurance companies…to put all the sickest people in the public option and keep all the healthiest young people in their plans.”

“We really need to go forward now to a national, improved Medicare for All,” Paris concluded. “And really, the bill in Congress, H.R. 676, Congressman Conyers’s bill, is the way we need to go.”

Writing for Common Dreams on Thursday, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that the public option is “fool’s gold.”

Far from being a step on the path to universal healthcare, the public option “could undermine the movement for single-payer, discrediting a fully publicly financed system that is not a feeble adjunct to the private insurance market,” DeMoro wrote.

She went on:

The Congressional Budget Office in 2013 concluded that adding a public option would not even slice the number of uninsured, and could even encourage employers to dump workers they now cover into the ACA exchanges. With millions still either uninsured or paying exorbitant costs for care, imagine promoting a publicly financed Medicare for all to a public that sees a public option that is just as unethical as the notorious private insurers, or a financial wreck that just went belly up.

Analysts tracking public opinion on healthcare have been startled by the speed with which the debate over Trumpcare has shifted popular attitudes to the left, in the direction of Medicare for All.

As Common Dreams reported on Thursday, 62 percent of Americans—and 80 percent of Democratic voters—now believe it is “the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.”

Indeed, as Max Fine, one of the architects of Medicare, told The Intercept‘s Zaid Jilani recently, the original intent of the program’s creators was to expand it to everyone. Medicare for all, Fine concluded, “is only real answer” to our current healthcare woes.

The job of single-payer proponents now, Dr. Paris emphasized, is to make it politically damaging for Democrats who refuse to listen to their constituents and instead remain committed to a failed for-profit system, under which millions remain uninsured.

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.’ If we wait for that, we’re going to be waiting for the rest of my life, your life, and many more lives,” Paris said.

To translate popular attitudes into public policy, Paris said, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board with this.”

Watch Paris’s full interview on Democracy Now!:

Beyond calling forcefully for Medicare for All during demonstrations against Trumpcare, activists are urging the creation a broader, national movement that will rally support for Medicare for All and pressure lawmakers to act.

On Tuesday, a coalition of dozens of progressive organizations announced the launch of a new initiative called “The Summer of Progress” with the goal of pressuring House Democrats to support, among other legislation, Conyers’ H.R. 676.

Steve Frisch on Trump, Our National Embarrassment: “This Too Will Pass”

By Steve Frisch

The following impromptu “essay” was written by Steve Frisch in the form of a comment to his Facebook friends, and reprinted here with his permission, in honor of July 4th, 2017.

“I think the first step in celebrating America this weekend is recognizing that as much of a national embarrassment as Trump is … this too will pass.

“Yeah, I am embarrassed by having a President, apparently selected by my peers, who brags about grabbing pussy, bullies his opponents and staff, has been implicated by numerous women including his ex-wife in sexual assault, bought a beauty pageant so he could walk in on young women half naked, has been sued by the Department of Justice for racial discrimination, hob nobs with the New York mafia, has been fined for breaking casino gambling rules, has been sued for intimidating tenants in his buildings, was fined $750,000 for breaking anti-trust rules, has bankrupted 4 businesses while saying America needs to be run like one of his businesses, hired undocumented workers while saying we should build a wall, has stiffed literally hundreds of contractors on millions of dollars worth of goods and services delivered to him, and uses the money to buy his own books so he can say they are bestsellers and print fake covers of Time magazine to say how great he is. Oh and did I miss that he has a gold plated shitter?

“It says a lot that that paragraph is so long yet contains a mere fraction of his gauche behavior.

“But lets get real, he is 71 years old, and a friend of mine says we are just a funeral away from perfection.

“I know, I know, I spend a lot of time expressing how disgusted I am with Trump. But I spend a hell of a lot more time working hard to try to counter the idiocy that seems to have descended on our nation and eventually WE will win.

“To all my friends doing all those good things out there to make America a better place for everyone I salute you and love you today.

“Trump and his mind set do not represent this nation. You represent this nation.

“We are a nation that values freedom and individualism, expression and speech, privacy and free will, hard work and the benefits it brings.

“It may take time, and be a fight, and be too slow coming for ‘the other,’ but we value equality, ensconced it in our founding documents, rededicated in blood in the 14th amendment, fought for at Seneca Falls, the lunch counter, in farm fields, at Stonewall, and in court every goddamn day.

“More important, we are a nation and a people who look forward. We are less concerned with our European, or Asian, or African past and their social conventions and traditions than we are the future and making the future count. There is a fundamental American belief in progress and a better future.

“We are bold, brash, assertive, direct, rough hewn, and at times self indulgent and chauvinistic, but at the end of the day we value goodness, honesty, sacrifice and achievement. We still weep and revel in the accomplishment of others. We root for the little guy, followed the Cubs through a 106 year drought, and when every other option is exhausted as Churchill said, we end up doing the right thing. In the end by and large, we are good.

“So celebrate the 4th of July because we are here…and no one or any authoritarian blow hard can take that away.

“Once civic responsibility was a bedrock American value, and compared to many societies it still is…but if we have one challenge in the next few years it will be re-engaging to advance goodness. Our actions to advance democratic governance matter…it is the societies where people give up, hide, protect themselves putting their peers at risk, that democracy dies. We have a responsibility to defend all of those values articulated above every single day. Whether through involvement in an organization, on policy, through charity, in church, or at the indivisible meeting, we uphold democratic values every day and fight for our freedom.

“This too will pass and the next America will be defined by what you do today.”


Steve_Frisch

Steve Frisch is President of Sierra Business Council and one of its founding members. Over the last 20 years Sierra Business Council has leveraged more than $100 million of investment in the Sierra Nevada and its communities through community and public-private partnerships.  Sierra Business Council also manages the Sierra Small Business Development Center focusing on advancing sustainable business practices and linking new and expanding businesses to climate mitigation and adaptation funding. Steve manages SBC’s staff and programmatic development.

Prior to joining the Sierra Business Council, Steve owned and operated a small business in Truckee. Steve serves on the board of the California Stewardship Network, the Large Landscape Practitioners Network, the National Geographic Geo-tourism Council, Capital Public Radio, and Leadership For Jobs and a New Economy.  Steve is also a former Fulbright Exchange Program Fellow, sharing information and knowledge gained in the Sierra Nevada in China and Mongolia.  Steve is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Political Science.

 

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