The Corruption of Federal Regulation: Is It Time to Dismantle Capitalism?

Freedom From Choice

Reel Truth (2019)

Film Review

This documentary starts off well with a brilliant illustration of the revolving door syndrome – whereby federal officials move back and forth between government agencies and the industries they’re meant to regulate. It also offers excellent examples of regulations that actually harm consumers to increase corporate profits. Somehow, however, the filmmakers come to the conclusion that big government is the problem – that the only solution is to drastically downsize government and eliminate all corporate regulation.

I honestly can’t see this as a viable solution. Despite appalling government performance in in regulating environmental toxins, repealing all government regulation would allow corporations to fill our air, waterways and food chain with even more toxic chemicals than they do now.  I tend to draw a different conclusion: that monopoly capitalism can’t be reformed via regulation and needs to be dismantled altogether.

Examples of federal regulations that harm consumers to serve corporate interests are

  • The FDA ban on raw milk (which contains numerous beneficial gut bacteria that are destroyed by pasteurization).*
  • The FDA ban on farmers butchering or curing their own meat.
  • The CDC campaign to make vaccinations compulsory.
  • The federal ban on cannabis, despite its approval in more than half the states for medical and/or recreational reasons (which significantly benefits the alcohol, cigarette, and pharmaceutical industries).
  • The 2008 federal bail out of the big banks that caused the global economic crash, enabling them to foreclose and take possession of millions of American homes.

*According to the filmmakers, the milk industries operates on a very thin profit margin, and the strong public demand for raw milk potentially threatens their bottom line.

 

 

The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future

RetroSuburbia: The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future

by David Holmgren

Melliodora (2020)

 

The online version of the book is available for pay-what-you-feel at http://online.retrosuburbia.com/ https://retrosuburbia.com/

With the global economic crash predicted to result from the COVID-19 lockdown, the publication of RetroSuburbia earlier this month is a happy coincidence.

This book is based on the premise that our current globalized economic system is inherently unstable. Although the exact mechanism that will topple global capitalism is impossible to predict, Holmgren believes it will most likely relate to one (our more) of the following three crisis points: 1) major resource depletion (oil, water, topsoil, phosphate, collapsed fishstocks, etc); 2) catastrophic climate change; or 3) the collapse of a massive real estate or share market bubble (as occurred in 2008).

Under any of these scenarios, the vast majority of us will experience a reduced standard of living. As jobs disappear and personal income declines, people will have no choice but to downsize their consumption levels. As it becomes harder and harder to rely on the capitalist system to meet basic needs (food, water, energy, Internet, postal service, health, security, etc), they will need to become more self-sufficient and rely more on family, friends, and neighbors. As they downsize their lifestyles, more extended families and even friends and neighbors will live together in the same households and produce most of their own food.

Holmgren predicts this catastrophic event may occur so suddenly that people will have no time to prepare. Securing a fertile rural homestead won’t be an option for most of us. For the most part, we will be stuck with the land and house we live in now.

In essence, RetroSuburbia is a manual we can use to “retrofit” the space we currently occupy to help us better cope with what he describes as “our energy descent future.”

Holmgren seems to have thought of everything, covering a range of topics, including how to assess a property for optimal food production, heating your home off-grid, water harvesting, gray water systems, recycling human waste, the mechanics of shared living, soil fertility and contamination, seed saving, sustainable transport, managing our own health and security, raising self-reliant resilient children, and conflict resolution.

Holmgren is the co-originator of permaculture* technology, in my view Australia’s most important export.


*Permaculture is a set of design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields including regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience

Young Carers: Shameful Symptom of Austerity and Social Decay

Young Carers: Looking After Mum

Real Stories (2017)

Film Review

This documentary profiles three British young carers. According to the Carers Trust, a young carer is someone under 18 who looks after family members who are ill, disabled or misuse drugs or alcohol. When large numbers of children grow up looking after parents, you know something is terribly wrong with the social safety net. Although the problem is comparable, if not worse, in the US, it’s a totally taboo topic in the mainstream media.

The first two young carers are girls, age 12 and 9, who look after their four younger brothers because their parents are legally blind. The two girls are responsible for feeding, diapering, and dressing their two youngest brothers, as well as shopping (the 12-year-old uses her bike for transportation), meal preparation, laundry, and first aid. On school days, the two youngest remain in dirty nappies until their sisters return from school.

Although the 12-year-old has a very stoic demeanor, she’s very definite about not wanting children of her own. The 9-year-old, who is openly tearful and depressed, made a suicide attempt a year ago.

The parents’ total lack of insight into their daughters’ distress is heart breaking. The only opportunity the girls have to play with other kids is Saturday afternoon outings organized by the Carers Trust.

The third young carer is a 14-year-old boy whose mother suffers from depression and fibromyalgia. Because she’s bedridden much of the time, he prepares most of the meals and does the cleaning, laundry, and ironing.

According to the Carers Trust, there are 175,000 child carers in the UK.

 

 

Why We Don’t Quit Those Bullshit Jobs

Why We Don’t Quit Those Bullshit Jobs

VPRO (2019)

Film Review

This film, featuring anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, challenges the myth that capitalism is the most efficient form of economic production – namely because it creates a large number of managerial jobs that contribute nothing to the economy. Thirty-seven percent of UK employees believe it would make no difference to society if their jobs didn’t exist.

While adding nothing to the economy, many of these jobs are responsible for major environmental damage. This is especially true of jobs designed to aimed at increasing consumption of useless stuff. An advertising executive, for example, creates £8 of environmental damage for every £1 of salary.

Graeber contrasts redundant and damaging management jobs with low paid front line caring jobs. A childcare worker creates £9 of social value for every £1 of salary earned.

At the same time the productivity demands of the bureaucratic management class make it much more difficult for front line care workers to carry out their work. At present nurses spend 60-70% of their work day filling out forms for their managers. This leave them scant time for actual patient care.

Graeber maintains that contrary to right wing propaganda, corporations are every bit as bureaucratic as government, if not more so. Upper tier managers are loathe to reduce the number of front line managers because their pay and status derive from the number of people they supervise.

The film, which is in German with English subtitles, features interviews with a number of German managers and ex-managers. They talk about the nightmare of going to work everyday and trying to look busy (by spending time on Facebook and other on-line sites) because their assigned work takes up so little of their time.

 

 

They Fuck You Up Your Mom and Dad

philip-larkinPhilip Larkin

1922-1985

This be the verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

How to Build an Alternative to Capitalism

How Do We Build Movements That Can Win

Naomi Klein (2017)

In this presentation, Naomi Klein  outlines the strategy she feels grassroots activists need to pursue to resist the growing attacks on working people while building build a genuine alternative to post industrial capitalism. It’s very similar to the one Kali Akuna proposes (see Don’t Just Fight, Build).

While she begins by focusing on climate change, she heavily emphasizes that environmentalists alone can’t solve the crisis of catastrophic climate change – that it will require a large diverse coalition of activists organizing around a broad array of environmental and social justice issues. While she doesn’t state directly that it’s impossible to prevent climate change under capitalism, this is strongly implied.

Another concept Klein stresses is the importance of radical ideas in creating the conditions for major reform. She gives the example of the calls for socialist revolution following the 1929 Depression and during the Vietnam War – how serious discussion of revolution scared the corporate elite so much that they granted major economic reform (the New Deal) under Roosevelt and major environmental reform under Nixon (creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.).

Klein also gives the example of the Leap Coalition in Canada, which is working for bold social and environmental justice reforms, as well as the development of community controlled energy systems (similar to Germany’s) – where the profits from energy production fund community services, such as teaching, daycare and senior care – rather than distant corporations.

Is It Time to Bring Down Civilization?

Endgame: The Problem of Civilization

by Derrick Jensen

Seven Stories Press (2006)

Book Review

Although the writing style is quite informal, the basic structure of environmental activist Derrick Jensen’s two volume opus is that of a philosophical treatise. In Endgame, Jensen makes two highly controversial arguments:

1. The planet and the human species can only be saved by bringing down civilization.

2. This can only be accomplished by violent means.

Like a philosopher, Jensen builds his case on 20 basic premises listed at the beginning of both volumes (see below). By definition, a premise is mutually agreed assumption (as opposed to a statement of fact) that is used to rationally derive a set of conclusions. In other words, if someone rejects your premises, they will also disagree with conclusions based on these premises.

I myself agree with all but premise 9 and 12. Ten years ago, it was believed that the loss of fossil fuel based industrial agriculture would result in a big drop in population. However more recent research shows that permaculture and biointensive agriculture produce higher crop yields than factory farming. I also believe there is a vast difference between rich and poor people, both in terms of lived experience and power.

In Volume 1, Jensen traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of these resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, Jensen reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.

Volume 2, which is less structured and more informal, encapsulates many of Jensen’s experiences with the environmental movement and dogmatic “nonviolent” resistance advocates. Given the CIA’s heavy infiltration of both domestic and foreign non-violent resistance campaigns (see How the CIA Promotes Nonviolence), these chapters resonated strongly with my own experiences.

Other than general talk about blowing up dams and cellphone towers, Jensen is deliberately (and in my view wisely) vague about the exact form of violence he’s proposing.

Jensen’s (somewhat abbreviated) premises:

1. Civilization can never be sustainable, especially industrial civilization.
2. Traditional (ie indigenous) communities do not give up or sell their resources unless these communities are destroyed.
3. Industrial civilization would quickly collapse without its reliance on widespread violence.
4. Civilization is based on a clearly defined – violence by those at the top of the hierarchy against those at the bottom is often invisible.
5. The property of those at the top of the hierarchy is more valuable than that of those at the bottom.
6. Civilization isn’t redeemable – it will never voluntarily undergo sane transformation.
7. The longer we wait to bring down civilization, the messier the ultimate crash will be.
8. The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
9. Some day there will be far fewer human beings on the planet than there are today.
10. The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
11. From the beginning this culture – civilization – has been a culture of occupation.
12. There are no rich people and no poor people. The rich delusionally believe they own all the land and the police enforce these delusions. The poor buy into these delusions almost as completely as the rich.
13. Those in power rise by force. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can decide how best to resist them.
14. From birth on, we’re acculturated to hate life, the natural world, women and children, to fear our bodies and to hate ourselves.
15. Love doesn’t imply passivism.
16. The material world is primary (to the spiritual world). Real world actions have real world consequences.
17. It’s a mistake (or more likely denial) to base our decisions on whether the actions stemming from them will or won’t frighten fence sitters or the mass of Americans.
18. Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.
19. This culture’s main problem is the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.
20. Within this culture economics – not community well being, not morals, not ethic, not justices, not life itself – drives social decisions.

The 2011 documentary EndCiv: Resist or Die is loosely based on Endgame.

The Failing Empire: No Use Trying to Pretty It Up

Guest Post by Shelby Courtland

Shelby left this great comment on an article I posted yesterday by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese (Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese: The Failing Empie). The original article raises important points but is a little too PC for my tastes. I think the time has come to be confront head on the obscene reality of 21st century America, which Shelby does very eloquently with her comment. You can read her blog at https://shelbycourtland.wordpress.com/

Basically, what this is saying is that, “The U.S. is dog shit!” That’s the truth of the matter and there’s no use attempting to pretty it up.

When the focus of this hole is to continuously roam around the globe starting up shit while neglecting what’s going on on the home front, what is going down, is going to go down. When the focus is continuously on building up a military, and I mean, missiles and drones, to the detriment of our infrastructure, education, health and welfare of our citizens, this is what happens. When the world gets fed up with the fact that the U.S. has taken hypocrisy to the extreme by shouting about how humanitarian it is while bombing countries for no reason, the world will eventually get tired of this and make this hole redundant which is what is happening now.

Millions of people in the United States are living in poverty; their situation is akin to them living in a third world country. Millions have simply given up looking for a job. And yet, the government would have you think that the jobs rate is excellent and that we are actually adding jobs. That is a lie! Adult children have moved back in with their parents because they cannot afford to live on their own. Rents are just too high and who can afford a mortgage and all that entails with owning a home? It is impossible for millions. Home ownership is a nightmare! It is no American dream. Homeless tent cities are in every state. Waiting lists for affordable housing would wrap around this globe times too numerous to count. But we have got fake money to pay for military weapons so that we can ignore what’s going down here and concentrate on dropping the Mother Of All Bombs on Afghanistan and for what? For nothing. It is merely a distraction and a ruse to continue to pay for more bombs while children sit in schools hungry while receiving a substandard education. This hole is done for and now the whole world is aware of this and is acting accordingly. Many of us called it and now, we are finally vindicated because what we said would happen is what is happening now!

And a Trump sideshow, dropping MOABs in Afghanistan and a fake ass ploy about Russia interfering with the elections is just another attempt to deflect from all that is going down because they’ve got nothing! And when you’re playing cards and yours is not the hand to beat, you bluff. Well, the bluff is being called, and the cards are on the table and they stink! So, yes, this ’empire’ is finally in its death throes. “Death to the empire!”

Human Nature: Genetic or Cultural?

social-conquest-of-earth

The Social Conquest of Earth

By Edward O Wilson

Liveright (2013)

Book Review

The Social Conquest of Earth is a book dedicated to an examination of human nature. Through an extensive review of scientific, anthropological, psychological and sociological research, it attempts to determine whether “human nature” is mainly genetically or culturally (ie environmentally) determined. The answer Wilson comes up with is surprising. He concludes that the social traits that make us human are mainly culturally based with only a minor genetic contribution.

In my view, these findings have profound implications regarding our ability to do away with capitalism and the state and govern ourselves.

The book’s primary focus is the “eusocial” nature of human behavior. By definition, a euosocial species is one that forms groups consisting of multiple generations in which members are prone to altruistic acts (eg acts in which they sacrifice themselves for the good of the group). Wilson uses his own extensive research into the genetic evolution of eusocial insects (eg ants, bees, wasps and termites) to inform his conclusions about the limited genetic role in “human nature.” I personally find his arguments quite convincing.

My favorite part of the book is where he demolishes Noam Chomsky’s theory of all language having a universal, genetically based grammar (see Sticking it to Chomsky).

I was also intrigued by the extensive research suggesting that our color perception is culturally rather than genetically based. Anthropological research suggests that human ability to recognize different colors depends on whether your native language has specific words differentiating them. Some indigenous groups have no words for different colors and can only identify them as “black” or “white.”

Research findings are consistent across a broad range of linguistic groups. Wilson cites a study by Berlin and Kay showing that the 2-11 colors identified in various societies are consistent across linguistic groups:

  • Cultures with only 2 color terms identify black and white.
  • Cultures with only 3 color terms identify black, white and red.
  • Cultures with only 4 color terms identify black, white, red and either green or yellow.
  • Cultures with only 5 color terms identify black, white, red, green and yellow.
  • Cultures with only 6 color terms identify black, white, red, green, yellow and blue.
  • Cultures with only 7 color terms identify black, white, red, green, yellow, blue and brown.
  • Cultures with 11 color terms (such as English) identify black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange and gray.

A 1%er Looks at Inequality

This is a presentation Oscar Mayer heir Chuck Collins, author of Born on Third Base, gave on November 9th. At age 26, Collins made the brave decision to give his fortune away. He currently works as a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. In his leisure time, he works to educate 1%ers about inequality and their ethical obligations to society. He has campaigned heavily with Bill Gates senior and other billionaires to retain the estate tax and to oppose tax cuts for the wealthy.

Most of the presentation concerns his efforts to challenge the views of other 1%ers on privilege and the grave threat inequality poses to American democracy and the planet.

The Q&As, in which he talks about Donald Trump’s election upset are the best part of the talk. Collins credits Trump’s victory to the dismissive way Democrats view and talk about the working class (ie “the deplorables”). He highly praises  the late Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus for its exploration of this issue.

The best question is when an audience member asks if true equality is possible under capitalism.

Q&A’s start at 41:00