The Short Shrift: Socialism Versus Social Activism

Bernie Sanders has called out Amazon in the BEZOS Act, and Jacobin Magazine says its time for socialists to organize at Amazon, but I can’t help wondering if this activism misses the soul of socialism as the increase in wages comes at the loss of access to ownership.

Setting aside the rants of the Randian culture warriors,  most have seen ownership of the means of production as the keystone of socialism.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product. 1

Unfortunately, in the US the big union money typically moves in the other direction, with health and welfare funds and pension funds being managed by greedy Wall Street bankers solely on the basis of monetary return (which amounts to workers essentially capitalizing rentiers).

The value of Amazon stock is now about $1800/share, with a market capitalization of a bit over $900B, much of that owned by institutional investors and mutual funds. So, in broad terms all that needs to happen to make Amazon a socialist powerhouse is to finance employee purchase of $450B in stock.

The alternative, no matter how noble it might appear from time to time, amounts to begging or blackmailing, as Amazon’s market power is arguably no match for activists. 2

But is worker ownership of a behemoth like Amazon a pipe dream? Now that is an organizational question  worth pondering. Rather than propose that thousands of militant socialists seek employment at Amazon quietly for the purpose of an October Revolution, why not organize for the takeover of the company; it is certainly just a “doable” as rendering Amazon a union shop, and it makes “labor” management.

Seems to me that if one is going to hitch one’s wagon to Hope and Change, then charging into the fray for the purposes of continuing to be regarded as beggars at the gate is not all that inviting.


Economic Bloviation

Look, do us all a favor and quit using words that no longer really mean anything. If it has not occurred to you yet, let me clue you in:  Capitalism is one of those words. I am not the first person to opine about this. Fred Foldvary has a nice little piece about about abuse of the term and its cognates.

The term is often applied to a system of economics that incorporates private ownership of goods and reliance on markets. But, of course, private ownership of personalty and use of markets for the trading of same have existed since the advent of of the first surplusage Homo sapiens stumbled into. Capitalism in this sense isn’t new, it isn’t recent, it isn’t the reason the “West is best”, and it certainly is no reason for Harvard dons to get excited (unless they are celebrating over the size of their checks thanks to the Scaifs).

The combination of these two elements, instability and inequity, with mankind’s natural proclivity for violence as population increases, result in a a variety of systems that have been invariably disastrous. And these two problems have only been modestly ameliorated through the advent of the “state” or other less comprehensive paradigms for making distribution equitable.

Some argue that the globe is richer for “capitalism”.  But the essence of what people mean when they talk about “capitalism” boils down to thievery. It is almost laughable that libertarians talk about taxes as thievery when the very essence of the concept of property is the idea that one has the “right” by virtue of some supreme dictate, to seize that which is not yours. Imagine the Libertarian at the Bar: “Your Honor, I only took that bike because it was not being used and I therefore had to right to make the bike mine in order to make use of it….”  Indeed.

The financial madness we are being swallowed by today is the result of the attenuation of relations among the parties to transactions, and to the abstraction of what is actually being traded. “Moral Sentiment” has been left to twist in the wind, and one is regularly confronted with a litmus test that still seeks to shame those who refuse to be identified as “capitalists”, whatever that might mean.

And, of course, there are those, having amassed billions by drawing the life force from others (the real vampyres of our age), who use the latest advances of Social Psychology to convince the droolers and knuckledraggers that if we dispose of any attempt to shackle this juggernaut that everyone will be rich.

It is high time to either take back ownership of the term from the Geckos, or to abandon it completely as just more of the wreckage left by our march to oblivion.

Photograph by blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160106-tokay-geckos-indonesia-traditional-medicines-wildlife-trade-traffic/#/01_tokay-gecko.jpg

Eternal Externalities

I recently was reading a comment that went something like, “If you have a *choice* between being a boss or being the member of a co-op, it makes sense to go with being a boss.” This (“boss” vs co-op) is an artificial choice that so many “libertarians” promote (by way of example, a union is simply an aggregate of workers taking advantage of their economic power, so libertarian opposition to unions is based largely on the interest in undermining that economic power, not on any ideals of “liberty”).

The argument goes on along these lines, “Political arguments that rely on people’s altruism are always a losing strategy.” But enterprises like co-operatives are not “altruistic”; in point of fact a very convincing argument can be made that co-operatives and the like are simply more adept at comprehensively addressing the complexity of positive and negative externalities that confront them. Let’s face it, the “real” downside of the laissez-faire capitalism that is the subject of so much concern today is the proclivity such corporation have for eschewing responsibility for externalities. And this practice is the crux of our willingness to privatize gain, and socialize loss.

While it may seem that an increasing number of people are espousing “Lotto Liberalism” (the peddled concept of striking it rich through hard work)it must become just as obvious that these people are frankly delusional. There is no point in trying to confront them with their delusion as it is well known that such praxis merely deepens the psychosis.

In Anchorage we have two electric utilities, one owned by the municipality which serves the urban core, and another, a co-operative serving everything else. The current Mayor proposed a sale of the municipal utility to the cooperative. This is a GREAT idea, but the outpouring of vitriolic rage based on the wholesale ignorance of the nature of these enterprises was dumbfounding. And of course none of the whingers knew anything about the Green Bay Packers or how the Golden Gate Bridge Construction was financed.

We have been conditioned to assume that all corporate bodies are evil, even when we are the corporate body, and that the only sentiment that we can trust is our own greed. And believe it or not, poor Adam Smith gets the blame for that crap, lol.

The manner in which too many of us talk about capitalism falls apart when labor owns the means and production, and there is nothing specifically anti-capitalist about such a practice. The problems lie in both the methods employed to keep labor from such ownership, and in the real underlying aspects of today’s capitalism, the abstraction and attenuation of financial products.

While it might be helpful to rage about capitalism, I don’t know that such rage can ever be converted to adequate regulation so long at those invested in escaping regulation have the power. On the other hand, I think the ouroboros offers a significant alternative; use the system to consume itself. Explain how to move people from complaining about Bank of America and WellsFargo, to using credit unions, and you are well on your way to changing the face of the USA. When we learn how to fund, protect, and employ pension funds as a tool in and of themselves to promotes the future pensioners, we will be on to something.

MALTHUS AND TODAY

***This essay and others also found at The Intellectual Plane

“It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory will always be confirmed by experiment. Yet so much friction, and so many minute circumstances occur in practice, which it is next to impossible for the most enlarged and penetrating mind to foresee, that on few subjects can any theory be pronounced just, till all the arguments against it have been maturely weighed and clearly and consistently refuted.”
– Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

As with all great thinkers the work of the economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Both in life and long after his death Malthus’s ideas on political economy have been dismissed by both free-market ideologues on the Right and partisans on the Left as either unrealistically pessimistic or even inordinately optimistic.

Much like the work of Adam Smith, Malthus’s ideas on political economy have either been vilified or celebrated. As with Smith, ideologues have cherry-picked his arguments for their own purposes. Malthus has been decried by ideological publications like the Economist magazine as a “false prophet”. With typical corporatist rhetoric the Economist often argues that technological improvements pertaining to the status quo of agriculture and manufacturing will offset the negative externalities caused by corporate capitalism, thus rendering Malthus wrong on all points.

Ironically left wing thinkers like Friedrich Engels shared a similar technocratic contempt for Malthus. Engels, who spent much of his life working in a Manchester cotton mill saw the beneficial possibilities of technology as labour saving devices when combined with socialist practice and argued for sharing the gains of technology across the wider society.

Yet the reality of technological advances over the past three hundred years is that said advances have been largely directionless or employed against the majority of society. Undirected technology has and continues to displace workers and impact the natural environment.

Worse, the gains of technology – in terms of labour saving and wealth creation- have been creamed off by individuals and corporations at the expense of human dignity and environmental destruction.

An honest appraisal of Malthus (or anyone for that matter), his works and his critics must occur by also considering both the context of his time and ours and and to do so in a holistic manner. Also the wider historical realities that occurred after Malthus’s death must be weighed against the abstract thinking employed by both his admirers and detractors.

But first a little about the man himself.

A PHILOSOPHICAL CLERIC

Thomas Malthus was born in 1766 in Surrey in southern England. He was a prize student at Cambridge University and was later ordained into the Church of England.

Malthus had a deep interest in human society and in population growth in particular. His 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population argued that the growth in human population was subject to resource limits. In times of plenty, human populations would expand until shortages of food and other resources limited that growth or in many cases reduced the population through starvation, disease or war. He declared that there were two categories of checks on population: positive checks which increased the death rate (hunger) among the population and preventative checks that decreased the birthrate (birth control, celibacy).

At the heart of Malthus’s argument was the belief that the use of positive checks on population would create socioeconomic volatility and misery for the population. He was a staunch critic of the Poor Laws, arguing that they promoted inflation and undermined the purchasing power of the poorest sections of the society.

Malthus was sceptical of the idea that agricultural improvements could expand production without reference to the physical limits of environment. In many cases history would prove him correct.

From a modern sociological perspective Malthus can be criticized for his belief that populations will expand only in times of plenty. In the case of some Third World societies where there is a dearth of social safety nets such as social welfare, pensions and affordable medical care, poor families will have more children in order to ensure more income earners and future care for elderly family members.

Yet Malthus must be viewed in a historical context and in a period of rapid industrialisation and cartel behaviour by English landowners. His was the era of the Corn Laws and the Enclosure Acts. Technological advances in agriculture and industry had forced thousands of agrarian labourers into urban areas and slum housing. He was right to be pessimistic – as we should be today.

A CENTURY OF FAMINE

“A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted. For few persons will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land, to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are going.”
-Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

Malthus died in 1834 but just over ten years later, the commercialisation of agriculture and laissez-faire economic thought led to the single greatest catastrophe ever to befall modern Ireland. Between 1845 and 1852, Ireland lost a quarter of its population due to famine and displacement. The response of the British government and business was largely indifferent. Charles Trevelyan, the civil servant most directly responsible for organising what limited relief efforts were provided by Westminster and Lord Fitzwilliam were among many in government who bastardized Malthus’s idea of positive checks on population control by suggesting that Ireland’s problems were the result of “surplus people.”

The uncompromising, abstract economic model employed in Ireland left the population vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world’s climate. Ireland experienced a series of warmer, wetter summers in the years leading up to and during the Famine. The conditions were ideal for a bloom in Potato blight that wiped out the principle staple crop for most of the population. Despite that, the warmer weather actually led to bumper crops of Irish grain and other foodstuffs, but since these were reserved for the export market, much of the population was left to starve. It is hard to imagine that Malthus, the moral churchmen who held only a lukewarm belief in free trade would have approved of the economic barbarism being meted out in Ireland. Small wonder then, that Engels upon realising the dangerous misuse of Malthus’s ideas would condemn Malthus himself

The British employed the same cruel, moralistic indifference in their other colonies. The Madras Famine of 1877 was responsible for the deaths of between five and ten million people, despite record exports of Indian grains to the world market. Like Trevelyan in Ireland the British Viceroy Lord Lytton and his subordinate Richard Temple held the opinion that relief efforts would lead to moral “dependency”, a view still held by many prominent conservative thinkers today when issues like food stamps and social welfare are considered.

The root causes of the 1877 Madras Famine were environmental and economic. The years 1876 to 1878 were El Nino years and the monsoons in India failed. The economic and moral causes of the Madras Famine were laissez-faire trade and racist indifference towards the Indian population.

There were other famines in the nineteenth century. The same El Nino cycle combined with inadequate maintenance of traditional irrigation systems and colonial “free” trade in Northern China was responsible for the deaths of twenty million Chinese.

Brazil also suffered appalling loss of life in the Sertão and over a hundred years later the region still suffers the ravages of the El Nino cycle.

The famines that tortured the Russian countryside throughout the 1880’s were also the result of climactic events aggravated by harsh Tsarist policies. The long term result of the famines in Russia was the 1905 Russian Revolution that led to an even more violent upheaval in 1917.

TECHNOLOGY AS A FALSE REMEDY

The modern corporatist economist and free-market ideologue still clings to the misguided notion that these events were aberrations and that today’s technology can prevent such tragedies.

Yet the application of agricultural and industrial technology not only exacerbated problems, but ensured environmental catastrophe.

The expansion of railways in India served two purposes. The first was military. The second was economic. Railways were the means for moving massive quantities of grain and other food-stuffs out of famine stricken areas in southern India.

The steam ship enabled the rapid exporting of these goods.

The spread of steam powered tractors during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to deeper ploughing and the disruption of fragile soils in both the Russian black soils and the American Great Plains.

That the fossil record indicates that these regions are vulnerable to prolonged periods of drought was never considered by the farmers ploughing up the prairies in Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico – the epicentre of the 1930’s Dust Bowl.

Instead in the United States, technology and an irrational, religious optimism pervaded the development of the Southern Plains. Quoting the Bible, many religious agriculturalists in places like the Oklahoma panhandle declared with no scientific basis, that where the plough went, the rains would follow.

When El Nino brought drought to the west of the 100th Meridian in the 1930’s the result was the most significant environmental disaster in the history of the United States. One hundred million acres of farmland was devastated as high winds carried top-soils from Kansas and other southern plains states into the atmosphere before dumping their contents onto neighbouring states and distant countries alike. Recent tests performed in the Himalayas found traces of plains dust on Mount Everest. In some areas up to seventy five percent of the top-soil was blown away.

The Southern Plains was hit by another Dust Bowl in the 1970’s that was an unfortunate side effect of geopolitics. During the Détente between the US and the former Soviet Union, the Carter Administration agreed to supply the Soviet Union with grain in exchange for security guarantees for Western Europe. The result was a boom in US wheat production and exports and the further degradation of the Southern Plains.

Today, technological advances in irrigation wells have been posited as solutions to future Dust Bowls. Yet these wells are reliant on ever decreasing quantities of aquifer, which in turn are dependent on rain for replenishment. Droughts on the Southern Plains can last for decades.

THE RELEVANCE OF MALTHUS TODAY

Therefore from a historical context, Malthus was in many ways correct to be pessimistic about the ability of the human population to grow exponentially without limit or environmental intervention.

While critics of Malthus may deride him for suggesting that 19th century Britain would be unable to feed itself a more cynical analyst might point out that Britain’s population growth and food supply in the same period was secured by the deaths of millions in Ireland, India and China.

Similarly the remarkable growth of the United States was predicated on the environmental degradation and destruction of the centre of the North American continent.

A further lesson, identified by Malthus and proved by historic events is the failure of technology alone to ameliorate the condition of society or to safeguard it from food scarcity.

Despite the proliferation of tractors, combines, improved irrigation and ploughing techniques, the underlying soils are vulnerable and require increasing amounts of oil-based fertilizers to produce the food we need.

Neither soil conditions nor crude oil are infinite resources, nor is the amount of available arable land. In fact in parts of the Middle East water shortages have led to a decrease in the amount of arable land available for agricultural production. Rising food prices were a catalyst for the Syrian Civil War that began in 2014 and continues at the time of writing.

Rather than accept that humans are limited by physical reality, the Trump Administration has, in recent days opted to deny reality by choosing to leave the Paris Accords. Like George W Bush with the Kyoto Protocol, Trump and his cabinet of reactionaries are unwilling to accept or adhere to a fundamental humane principle of Malthus:

“I believe that it is the intention of the Creator that the earth should be replenished; but certainly with a healthy, virtuous and happy population, not an unhealthy, vicious and miserable one.”
– Thomas Malthus An Essay on the Principle of Population

Sensible people today would do well not just to comprehend and challenge Malthus, but also to question the assumptions of our technocracy and the irrational optimism that it peddles. Furthermore instead of operating under the assumption that infinite economic and population growth without reference to physical limits is either possible or desirable, we might choose a more sensible socioeconomic order based on reasonable, compassionate stability.

The fate of our population, indeed of our planet depends on it.

Select Bibliography:

Thomas Malthus – An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)

One of the most biased articles in mainstream publication against Malthus in recent years can be found in The Economist – “Malthus, the false prophet” May 17th 2008

On Friedrich Engel’s criticism of Malthus see Friedrich Engels, “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy” (1844)

On the Irish Famine and Lord Fitzwilliam see Surplus People: From Wicklow to Canada by Jim Rees (2014) and This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-52 by Christine Kineally (1994)

On 19th century famines in India, Brazil and China see Mike Davis Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2002)

On the Dust Bowl see Donald Worster Dust Bowl : the southern plains in the 1930s (2004)

US/Soviet relations, detente and the Carter Administrations agreement to sell wheat to the the Soviet Union are described ibid and in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (1988) and Richards Rhodes Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007)

On the Russian Revolution and the impact of the populists in addressing the famines in the 1880’s see Orlando Figes A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924(1997)

Work: SERIOUS AND ABSURD PART TWO (NSFW)

Part one of this essay can be found at Chris O’Connell’s Intellectual Plane and Pardon me, but… .

As mentioned in my previous blog, the average person spends more time with work colleagues than they do with their friends and loved ones.

Furthermore we live in a society that is increasingly managerial and obsessed with abstract concepts of professionalism.

There’s a big difference between being professional and getting your work done to a high standard versus the appearance of being professional. Since the former is hard to do, most people tend to attach great importance to the latter.

It’s easy to appear professional. You wear the correct uniform. You keep workplace conversation revolving around banal topics and you pretend that what you are doing is serious business even if it amounts to pointless paper-pushing.

To show just how much you’ve sold out to corporate artifice, its best to talk about corporate brands.

True story.

I once walked into an office where the conversation concerned which store-bought frozen French fries were best: McCain brand or Green Giant.

My initial response was “Who gives a flying fuck?” Even if I did care about the quality of French fries I hardly consider it a subject worth discussing in a corporate environment! What does it matter? Furthermore, if you’re attempting to sound like a food connoisseur, why the flying fuck would you buy pre-made frozen fucking French fries?! If you’re serious about food quality, by goddamned bag of potatoes, cut them up and fry or bake the motherfuckers until they satisfy your palette.

But that might be too difficult for most “professional” people.

Regarding the workplace conversation in question, my attitude was deemed “unprofessional” as was my response to that rebuke. When I pointed out that while human characteristics like humour, joy, hard-work and efficiency were frowned upon in that particular workplace, jaws dropped open like marionettes. If we were so “professional” I argued, why were we not discussing the company’s future prospects? Why were we not formulating ways to improve our processes so that we could better achieve our goals as individuals and as a company? There, where humour was viewed with suspicion, why in such a supposedly serious work-place were my daily goals and targets being impacted by straight-faced discussions about irrelevance?

No one could give me an answer. To be fair, looking back at that episode, it occurred to me that my colleagues might have been trying to make the best out of a shitty situation – but I doubt it. Lacking in imagination as most “professionals” are, my colleagues had mistaken process and etiquette for substance and productivity.

I don’t consider myself the smartest person in the world. Like everybody else I’ve done some pretty dumb shit in my time and chances are I’ll probably do more dumb shit throughout the course of my life. I’m also a goal-oriented person. I go to work so that I can achieve something banal so that I can earn money and have available time to spend with friends, loved ones, my many interests like writing – all of which are far more important to my life than wage slavery. My vision of the workplace is more humanist than professional and I think it makes me a better leader.

Yeah, you read that right. The guy mouthing off about motherfucking frozen French fries holds a position of authority at his job.

But bear with me for a moment. Which is better: actual achievement or the appearance of achievement?

Some might argue that true professionalism calls for a balance between the two but I simply call that common sense. On top of that most professionals in recent decades don’t really achieve anything concrete. Managers especially.

The late Peter Drucker in his seminal work Principles of Management argued that managers are key to the healthy functioning of a business. But he wrote that book back in the 1950’s when managers actually knew shit! In fact they knew a lot of shit because they did a lot of shit! Most CEOS in the 50’s and 60’s had engineering degrees. They could actually build things, unlike the dense motherfuckers with MBAs found in most boardrooms today.

The process of building something useful, especially when that construction involves contributions by other people forces the individual to learn about humanity- theirs and that of others. Management training courses treat human beings as abstracts and while I’ve met a lot of unimaginative, stupid and soulless people during my life, none of them were abstract! They had flesh and bones, hopes and dreams, prejudices and vices. The best people I ever worked with and for were first human and humane, and professional second. More importantly they got shit done and I never recall having conversations with them about frozen fucking French fries.

I don’t take myself all that seriously and I’m baffled by anyone who takes themselves seriously. Serious people are usually seriously fearful people. They seriously distrust those around them and in a workplace that leads to serious discord and unhappiness for everyone involved. Serious people claim to be realist but above all they are obsessed with abstract protocols that don’t matter for shit in the real world. In every job there are people who believe that the process of the company is more important than the company’s goals. They place a huge emphasis on numbers and methods, particularly when those methods suit their delusions of importance. There’s something pathetic about someone ascribing moral virtue to pointless protocol. I know I’m being harsh here, but if you are someone whose life revolves around basking in the reflected glory of abstract nonsense not of your own making, then you’re a fucking loser!

I’ve never formally studied how to be a leader because truth be told, I don’t care for authority. I accept that some authority must exist in the world, but I demand that said authority be wielded with kindness, generosity and vision as well as resolve and common sense. If that doesn’t occur, I’m inclined to tell said authority to fuck off.

Tyrants tend to be fearful people who distrust others. A practical dimension of management leadership is the ability to delegate. But how can you delegate effectively if you don’t trust the people you work with? In addition how can you ensure that the work you delegate will be done well, if you’re an asshole to your staff?

Call it laziness on my part, but I’d much rather work with people who want to work with me and who will own their responsibilities without bullshit, then work with people I have to micromanage. I’ve got better shit to be doing with my time!

Another important dimension to successful leadership is one’s acceptance that from time to time you’re going fuck things up. I make mistakes because I’m human and flawed. Consequently I’d rather have my staff feel that they can make their voices heard before letting me lead them down the road to Fuck-up-istan and its capital, Disaster-Town. As Master Splinter would say, the teacher must also learn from the student.

At the end of the day, we need to hold genuine respect for one another first as human beings and as employees second. I’ll never be a parental figure to any of my staff or liked by everyone, but I’m pretty confident that even those who dislike me understand that I try to be fair, even when I’m less than perfect.

Over the years I’ve been told by others that I need to moderate my work-place conduct and in some cases they were right. Overall, I aspire to an approach that would please both Peter Drucker and the cartoonist Scott Adams: I get my work done but I have fun doing it because when it comes to work, you have to get your life back any way you can.

Though I’m nowhere near as intense as the fictional character Malcolm Tucker from BBC’s The Thick of It I must confess that a small part of me views him as spirit animal. It’s not the psychotic anger or the bullying aspects of the character that appeal to me but the no-bullshit approach concerning etiquette combined with his cynical understanding of the shallowness of work and society resonates with me. Most of all, I find him hilarious.

A warning to anyone about to view the following link: There’s a lot of adult content so for the sake of nearby children and snowflakes, you might want to turn the sound down a bit.

Or not.

I don’t really care!

    The Best of Malcolm Tucker

Work: Serious and Absurd

**Below is the first in a two part series of essays about work and life. The second installment, much less serious and NSFW (not safe for work),  is also available on this site.

Such is the screwed up nature of our society that most of us spend more time with people we work with than then we do with our loved ones and friends. Sadly the nature of modern employment is that much of what we do, be it at the office, the store, or on the road is largely pointless.

As the anthropologist David Graeber correctly points out, most of us are employed in “bullshit jobs.” There are many reasons for this, but the two principle causes are technological determinism and the moral and political failure of governments and societies to sensibly integrate and offset gains and losses caused by technological advances for the well-being of society.

Japan is one of the few countries to have attempted a balanced approach to technological changes. Prior to their amalgamation in 2001 into the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, state agencies such as the Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau were influential in seeking sensible solutions to problems caused by technology. The ISTP worked in concert with many private and public agencies to identify prevailing economic trends and developments in manufacturing and science. With this knowledge the Japanese gradually wound down industries that were becoming obsolete and provided retraining to displaced workers in order that they could find jobs in new areas of employment.

Consequently, many socioeconomic problems caused by technology were mitigated against or ameliorated. Combined with extensive funding for research and development, Japan’s cohesive approach to science enabled the Japanese to overtake most world powers in the economic sphere during the post-World War II period.

Critics will argue that Japanese socioeconomic policies aren’t without their faults and in many cases they are correct. However, it can also be pointed out to those same critics that most western societies in the same period endured considerably more social unrest, higher unemployment and slower economic growth. This occurred because western societies allowed technological advances to be implemented without consideration for wider consequences.

Worse, these sweeping technological changes have been brutally aggravated by political attitudes. A historic case in point is the Thatcher government’s treatment of coal workers during the 1980’s. In fact since the 1970’s concerning technology and economic changes, most western governments have out of lazy ideological convictions outsourced these problems to the marketplace with disastrous consequences. The free-market reforms implemented by the IMF and World Bank in the former Soviet Eastern Bloc resulted in enormous hardship to those populations.

Richard Nixon’s destruction of the Bretton Woods Agreement contributed to massive world-wide inflation. The collapse of the US/Canada Auto Pact – the bedrock of Canada’s postwar industrial growth – and its replacement by NAFTA has led to high unemployment, inferior and costly telecommunications, reduced public transport and an increase in illegal drug imports across North America. Many Mexican farmers, forced to compete with subsidized US counterparts have turned from corn production to the cultivation of cash crops like marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

Protest groups such as Occupy Wall Street and far right populist movements are as much a response to political problems as to socioeconomic changes caused by technology. Writing in 1995, the philosopher Jeremy Rifkin accurately predicted the rise of such protest movements in his book The End of Work.

There isn’t a blanket solution to these problems but sensible points made by Rifkin and John Maynard Keynes are worth discussing. To start Keynes predicted that technology would reduce the work-week to fifteen hours by the beginning of the 21st century and as David Graeber correctly notes Keynes was right.

Rifkin suggests that a twenty hour work week where employees are paid for forty hours would sensibly reduce unemployment, stimulate demand for consumer goods, increase workplace productivity, reduce poverty and unburden overstretched health care systems. The result would be a happier, more socially engaged citizenry and a wealthier society.

Something

The Real Theft: taxation versus the volatization of money

Like other silly ideologies, libertarianism excels at creating slogans. Like libertarianism itself, slogans have the strength of an inflated balloon: there is an appearance of something solid but once the pin of logic is applied, what emerges is a lack of content.

One of the most common slogans of right-wing libertarians is the phrase “Taxation is theft.”

The phrase conveniently ignores the fact that in modern times what is allegedly being “stolen” isn’t private property to begin with. Neither is what is being allegedly “stolen” even real. More about that in a moment.

The phrase confirms the basic ignorance behind the purpose of taxation which isn’t to raise revenue. For that to happen, the government would have to charge the taxpayer interest on the money it created. What is the point of producing something for profit and loaning it out without charging a fee? If the government was engaged in that practice, we wouldn’t be talking about government taxation. We’d be talking about usury, an activity performed by every private commercial lending bank on the planet.

The purpose of taxation is to regulate aggregate demand. Since most people, (and we should assume most libertarians) are unfamiliar with the phrase let me put it another way.

When a government requests that each citizen provide a certain amount of a good or item each year, the effect is to create demand for that item. That item need not be money (which isn’t real to begin with). The item could be bananas, rubber, tin or diapers. If you think I’m mistaken consider the hut tax employed by the British in their African Colonies during the 19th century.

More importantly in modern times where tax is paid in currency (cash) the money that is being requested by the national treasury originated in the treasury in the first place. As the businessman and academic Warren Mosler succinctly puts it, “…the funds to pay taxes, from inception, come from government spending.”

Since the government issues the currency and requests that taxes be paid in that currency, the government has created a demand for that currency.

But why create the demand?

Because when there is a demand for an item, value for that item is created. In the case of money, demand for money creates a symbolic value for that currency. Taxation therefore is an intervention in the market-place for the public good.

And I say symbolic because as previously mentioned money is not real. It is a conscious agreement on measuring an abstract value. It can take many forms however the underlying value of money is determined by the abstract notion of trust. Here the history of Ireland provides a useful example.

In 1970 during a six month banker’s strike in Ireland where cash was in short supply, the Irish resolved the short term problem of cash-flow by creating their own currency. As journalist and historian Rutger Bregman notes the Irish:

… started issuing their own cash. After the bank closures, they continued writing checks to one another as usual, the only difference being that they could no longer be cashed at the bank. Instead, that other dealer in liquid assets – the Irish pub – stepped in to fill the void. At a time when the Irish still stopped for a pint at their local pub at least three times a week, everyone – and especially the bartender – had a pretty good idea who could be trusted. “The managers of these retail outlets and public houses had a high degree of information about their customers,” explains the economist Antoin Murphy. “One does not after all serve drink to someone for years without discovering something of his liquid resources.

In no time, people forged a radically decentralized monetary system with the country’s 11,000 pubs as its key nodes and basic trust as its underlying mechanism. By the time the banks finally reopened in November, the Irish had printed an incredible £5 billion in homemade currency. Some checks had been issued by companies, others were scribbled on the backs of cigar boxes, or even on toilet paper. According to historians, the reason the Irish were able to manage so well without banks was all down to social cohesion.

In essence what the Irish public did in 1970 is the same thing that governments do on a daily basis with banks: governments issue bonds which commercial banks lend to the public at interest, thus expanding the money supply. Taxation ensures a minimal level of demand for the currency, thus adding symbolic value to what is otherwise worthless paper. As a medium of exchange, money has value. However as the Irish demonstrated, it holds an abstract value.

Since money is neither a private good nor real, the argument that taxation is theft is nonsense. It is symptomatic of the poor health of a society when it starts believe that money is a concrete good. The result is cash hoarding and rent-seeking behaviours which undermine the practical value of money as a vehicle for meaningful investment in areas of the economy that promote growth. As economist and finance expert Rana Foroohar points out:

…only around 15% of the money flowing from financial institutions actually makes its way into business investment. The rest gets moved around a closed financial loop, via the buying and selling of existing assets, like real estate, stocks, and bonds.

In essence, most financial exchanges in the money markets are concerned with spinning paper to no practical use in the wider economy.

Like other narrow-minded ideologues, libertarians are either consciously or unconsciously blind to the greater injustice that occurs in the money markets: the volatilization of money.

For those unfamiliar with the term this occurs when a bank takes its customers (those who deposit money in their bank accounts) funds and uses them to invest in abstract assets like stocks bonds and real estate, while simultaneously avoiding investing those deposits (through loans) to the businesses that create concrete goods services and most importantly jobs.

As noted earlier, only fifteen percent of the money from financial institutions ever reaches the real economy. The rest is creamed off in dividends and interest – rent seeking – by the non-productive sectors of society.

Not only does this represent real theft but a wider violence towards society.

But that might not fit so well into a libertarian sound-bite.


Further Reading:

On Warren Mosler and money supply: http://moslereconomics.com/wp-content/powerpoints/7DIF.pdf

On taxation in Africa during the Colonial Period : https://global.oup.com/academic/product/taxing-colonial-africa-9780199661527?cc=ca&lang=en&

On Ireland:http://evonomics.com/why-garbage-men-should-earn-more-than-bankers/

On Investment: http://evonomics.com/financialization-hidden-

Lessons You’d Have Thought We’d Learned By Now

“In work relating to the electoral behavior of geographical units… one needs to bring into the equation every scrap of evidence to be had.  V.O. Key, Jr.

The countdown to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States is now measured in hours, and national polling shows that Donald L. Trump will take office with the lowest popularity rating of any president since Richard Nixon. The months of post-election of second guessing, blamestorming, desperately maneuvering to find some way to stop this inevitability now lie in ruins. Donald Trump, for good or ill, is about to be handed the reins of virtually absolute political power, sitting atop an ideological ziggurat supported by Republican control of both branches of Congress, and poised to soon seize ideological control over the US Supreme Court. Taken together, this is an absolute repudiation of liberal cultural and social values trending back to before the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The depth and degree to which this political “revolution” will affect ordinary Americans is completely unknown, but early actions by the Republican Congress point to a potential rescission of virtually every social and economic justice measure enacted in the last forty or more years.

For those of us who are of a different persuasion than the president-elect, this is a defeat theoretically comparable to ancient Middle Eastern wars where the victors destroyed their defeated opponent’s arts and cultural icons -defacing, toppling, and desecrating sacred and cultural artifacts; actions like that of Taliban fanatics in Afghanistan where ancient Buddhist statues were reduced to rubble by artillery in a matter of minutes. Such analogous circumstances are now in the offing for every aspect of our national government; and it will be only a matter of days or weeks before regulations governing environmental protection, health care management, worker safety, minimum and prevailing wage laws, financial industry dealings, minority business opportunities, dispute and conflict resolution, and even weather monitoring and reporting will either disappear or be shifted into the corporatist realm of “privatization.” Congress, through the arcane practice of “budget reconciliation” has already entrained the extinction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), derisively called “Obamacare,” and in so doing threatens to put between eighteen and twenty million working Americans back to where they were eight years ago, in fear for their livelihoods and families, when they once again become uninsured and uninsurable.

Further, the president-elect has signaled his intentions by appointing billionaires as cabinet secretaries; “Old Guard” apparatchiki as gate keepers and defenders of privilege; family members as ferrets to root out scientists and government workers who propose social and governmental solutions based on science and logic, and not some ideological litmus test; and has installed a white supremacist as his chief policy strategist. Of course, as liberals and (D/d)emocrats we are all appropriately horrified, but the plain fact is that this day of populist reckoning has been long in the making.

In 1969, Republican strategist and academic Kevin P. Phillips published The Emerging Republican Majority, called by Newsweek magazine the “Political Bible of the Nixon Era,” in that it recognized and articulated the growing disaffection of Southern and Midwestern states with the direction and policies taken by the Democratic Party. The resulting “Southern Strategy” created new alliances between cultural groupings in the “Heartland” – the Midwest and Central US – and the newly converted Republican South.  During this same period, the Democratic Party came to focus more heavily on urban concentrations in the Northeast, parts of the “Upper Midwest” Great Lakes States, and the Pacific coast, essentially surrendering territory just as normative cultural values shifted permanently from “Yellow Dog” Democratic racism to an archly conservative Republican militarism.

Concurrent with Phillips’ book, other academics and cultural commentators weighed in on the implications of these shifts in cultural values. Theodore Lowi’s 1969 and 1979 (2nd ed.) polemic The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States described and challenged “interest group liberalism” as a factor undermining the United States’ historical patterns of capitalistic, self-interested governance, asserting that the shift gave give rise to a fractured society where collectivist special interests would be able to demand special treatment for real or alleged grievances. Lowi’s criticism included the rise of the “Imperial Executive Presidency,” and relegation of both Congress and the Court System to merely advisory roles, and the attendant disregard for formalistic and stabilizing judicial and juridical rules. The upshot, he argued, was that the shift to resolving issues for individual interest groups as opposed to ruling more disinterestedly and broadly would undermine citizen confidence in their government and result in an open distrust of the institutions.

Lowi offered a four count “indictment” of interest group liberalism:

  1. Interest group liberalism as public philosophy corrupts democratic government because it deranges and confuses expectations about democratic institutions.
  2. Interest group liberalism renders government impotent.
  3. Interest group liberalism demoralizes government, because liberal governments cannot achieve justice.
  4. Interest group liberalism corrupts democratic government in the degree to which it weakens the capacity of those governments to live by democratic formalisms. (Emphasis added.)

By the mid-1980s, Phillips’ Southern states forecast had become a reality as partisans shifted from historical segregationist and “Jim Crow” policies of the pre-Civil War and post-Reconstruction Democratic Party, to the “softer” racism of the GOP. In 1984 political scientist Alexander P. Lamis published The Two-Party South that examined critical shifts in political attitudes in the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America; and while each reacted in subtly different ways to the changes brought about by passage of the Civil Rights Act and related laws, the underlying shift in values was uniform in rejecting the federal government’s attempt to create a level socio-economic and political playing field for disenfranchised African-Americans. Other changes to the political landscape – the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973), the rise of Christian identity politics, America’s apparent loss of the Vietnam War, and Ronald Reagan’s truculent spending war with the Soviet Union – added emotional fuel to an already disaffected white society and enabled what would become, in 1994, the “Angry White Man” vote that swept the GOP to congressional power and ushered in the era of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.”

In 1986, another political scientist and avowed Democrat, Ralph M. Goldman, released Dilemma and Destiny: The Democratic Party in America, an insightful and critical analysis of the scattered and disorganized nature of the party as it sought to recast itself as a relevant social and economic justice entity. Goldman’s conclusion pointed to the need for the Democrats to reconcile their disputes or risk becoming a fragmented coalition of Lowi’s interest group liberals. He called for an aggressive party recruitment effort that recognized the disparate nature of emergent groups from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s – feminists, people of color, environmental activists, the LGBTQ communities, alternative religious and/or lifestyle groups, – and creation of mutually agreeable goals and objectives and making a clear statement of fundamental values. Goldman further recommended that platform and Democratic Party policies and programs should become an on-going grassroots effort, not just something done at two and/or four year intervals. He concluded his analysis with an almost prescient statement:

“Democrats will continue to fight like hell among themselves…. Factional battles will be marked, as usual, by inadequate information and ideological rigidity. The greater risk here is not the scars of the internecine fighting but rather the prospect that the factional winner will be unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate.”  (Emphasis added.)

In 1996, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking in defense of her husband on a nationally televised talk show, said that there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” to attack and discredit Bill Clinton’s presidency in the aftermath of the GOP’s efforts to impeach him. Subsequently, Clinton himself said that the same conspiracy, albeit in a “weakened” form, was trying to do to Barack Obama what had been done to him. That conspiracy, already understood by most political observers, has proven to be fiercely effective given their ongoing efforts at “disinformation,” false narratives, Russian state and independent criminal hacking of partisan electronic data, and unparalleled lies that became part of the everyday discourse of the 2015-2016 campaign season. Secretary Clinton’s conspirators are known to be a small handful of very rich individuals – the Koch Brothers, Sherman Adelson, Richard Mellon Scaife, Roger Ailes – and considering the anonymity guaranteed by the SCOTUS Citizens United decision granting “personhood” to faceless corporations, conceivably even some of the men and women the president-elect has chosen as his cabinet secretaries. In one sense, it is already too late to protest these hidden manipulators who have deployed their wealth and dispatched their minions to discredit liberal and progressive politicians, and even liberal ideas, and in so doing have built entire political machines from the faux news industry to “alt-right” movements grounded in extreme interpretations of biblical scripture and the Constitution of the United States. By stoking the fires of the last forty years of “Cultural Warfare,” these individuals have been able to sway entire regions of the country to their extreme social and ideological world views, and have built a remarkable list of political forces that includes control of thirty-three (33) governors’ chairs, thirty-one (31) state legislatures, and seven (7) with split Republican/Democratic control, compared to the Democrats’ seventeen (17) governors, and eleven (11) state legislatures.

Pointedly, given the mounting tide of hostile GOP legislators, lobbyists, and phony propaganda outlets, and in following Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s “triangulation” on corporatist issues in order to keep their presidencies meaningful, the Democratic Party bought into corporatism and neo-liberalism as an alternative to its post-World War II record of fighting for equality of opportunities for those less well off in society. That significant change resulted in campaign and financial standards and practices that tipped the scales against non-corporatist candidates, and denied them opportunities to fairly compete against establishment figures.  Those same practices eliminated new ideas and approaches to governance, and marginalized the Party’s historical constituencies – including a significant percentage of Democrats who voted for the president-elect.

The point of this essay should be apparent to any of us who still hold to the “old” liberal traditions. We saw this coming (or should have given the painfully obvious maneuverings and body of electoral data) and frittered away our chance to counter these trends, preferring to operate, as Lowi condescendingly calls us, as interest group liberals, picking and choosing the causes we favored and becoming marginalized “Five Percent” voters, narrowly applying our own litmus tests, and opposing competent politicians unless they were one hundred percent behind our narrower goals and objectives, and who, when not satisfied with a solution to an issue, stayed home on election day.

In the days following the 2016 election, much was made of the “populist” uprising that brought Donald Trump into power, with pundits and pollsters alike being “surprised” at the angry backlash of millions of Americans who shouted out their anger, frustration, and open distrust of their government. Subsequent thoughtful discussion from the political left and center has called for a better understanding of that angry multitude, and the forces that gave rise to their hostility. While a better appreciation for this casus belli is certainly necessary, in the months since the election it has become increasingly clear that while many Democratic legislators will stand in opposition to the new president’s dangerous agenda, the Democrat Party establishment has not and will not engage in that kind of introspection, preferring instead to seek ways to “work with” the incoming regime; and this is where the party will ultimately fail.

The reactionary anger of Trump voters’ has been inculcated, deliberately cultivated over several decades, and is made the more dangerous because that political class lacks the education and political sophistication to understand the ramifications of its actions, and because the groups have shown a genuine willingness to tear down the current, flawed system so that it can be replaced with “simpler” nationalistic solutions; and it is here that the Democratic Party must recognize the damage done because of their disengagement from their rank and file, and renew efforts to make direct, meaningful contact with those who now feel disenfranchised once again by the “Angry White Men’s vote.”  Failure to move quickly and effectively to counter that challenge will either result in the demise of the party itself, or the far greater disappointment if becomes a mere satellite of antigovernment corporatism or its more terrifying big brother, fascism.

At this point in history I’m not convinced that the Democratic Party in America can change sufficiently to save itself. Broadly written, the Party is a day late and a dollar short, and in temporizing over issues arising from the GOP’s lopsided control of all branches of the national government, it will only become weaker and more irrelevant. If it cannot refocus on building grassroots organizations from its historic constituencies in the next two years, to absolutely dominate the mid-term elections and take back voter apportionment control, it will leave the field wide open for other interests to build competing organizations that will likely be little more than Lowi’s “interest group liberals,” and Goldman’s factionalized internecine warriors.

There may be an alternative, however, for others to build what Goldman suggested in the 1980s – a genuinely transnational political party. Such a multinational/regional partisan organization, willing and able to work across national boundaries by sharing common agendas dealing with global climate change, natural resources management and environmental protection, international human rights, guest worker and immigrant inter- and intra-national trade, e-commerce and information sharing, public health and pandemic disease management, and other such circumstances might serve to rebalance the scales for resident workers, the socially and politically disenfranchised, and refugees fleeing economic and environmental disasters.

And for the scoffers out there, it’s useful to reflect that the pending Trades in Services Agreement (TiSA) and its companions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaties are corporatist versions of what Goldman originally proposed. Some international and trans-border agreements already exist, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that opened US boundaries to the transshipment of oil, grain, imported steel, and a host of other products manufactured in low-wage countries, and others of a far more beneficial nature (i.e., NATO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the European Space Agency (ESA), etc.) that already provide the impetus to organize workers, small businesses, technology experts, and even academics into a partisan force capable of advocating in its own interest and not subject to the string pulling of corporatists and an increasingly dysfunctional federal government. Who knows, perhaps a North American Transnational Party might serve to rebalance the scales for worker and citizen equity and justice?

Above all, whatever form the new political party takes, it will have as its first priorities confronting entrenched racism, classism, and the deliberate “dumbing down” of American voters. The task is daunting, but it is critically important if we are to relight the lamp of American freedom and justice – for all.

Postscript January 22, 2017

The overwhelming success of the Women’s Marches in Washington, DC , nationwide, and globally, point to the greatest possible means of reversing the threat of the “Novus Ordo Profanum,” if the women return to their communities energized and prepared to take action on a community, regional, and statewide basis.  Rebuilding the Democratic Party or building a new political organization that aims at taking back state legislatures, governors’ offices, and control of the apportionment processes by 2018 means that following the 2020 census, new lines can be drawn that are just and equitable and enfranchise all voters.  What is central to regaining responsible control of our society must be a hardcore pragmatism that requires discipline, compromise, and an end to what Merwyn Ambrose (Mark Grober) calls “Litmus Liberalism.”

Altai High

Recently, having had my full of the chest beating about “Native Americans” I let fly:

Some Europeans arrived before some “Native Americans” both as a matter of migration and simple birth, while the concept that a group of murdering primitives migrating over a period of 20000 years as “original inhabitants” is less useful than noting that most Native Americans are more closely related to Altaisians than to each other.

This resulted in some minor outrage and some bright person shot back, “For me, [the] statement makes no difference because all migration started from Africa. [There] would be no Europeans without that migration.” And that was, in fact, largely my point.

We seem to be infected with some romantic notion of “First Peoples”. The fact is that Homo sapiens is a murderous little beastie who regularly acts out behavior his cousins (thre Great Apes) manage to suppress, probably because his innerchimp is at war with a yet to mature forebrain. As a result, the denizens of the Altai migrated, killing everything in their path, East and then South, eventually rising to the notion of empire (as Homo sapiens has a penchant to do) where he ritually murdered innocents by ripping their hearts out – charming folk – while on the vast expanses of other portions of the Americas he engaged in tribal atrocities with predatory bands wiping out agrarian settlements, much as he does everywhere.

The fact is that trying to argue an artifact (a “people”) from 20,000 years of migration East from the foothills of the Altai makes as little sense as suggesting that the “Palestinians” are a “people” (oooooo – did I hit another liberal reflex – see, Doumani, Beshara B. “Rediscovering Ottoman Palestine: Writing Palestinians into History.” Journal of Palestine Studies 21, no. 2 (January 1, 1992): 5–28. Accessed March 15, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2537216.)

To go a step further, my children, by way of example, must use a small “n” because they do evidence the Altaissian DNA, while others, some who have never set foot in Alaska, are Cap N Natives because they do have that DNA.  This reminds me of the confusion suffered by “white people from Africa on naturalization in the US, having to be told that they can no longer be Afro-Americans….  In sum, while we scream to the heavens that we detest racism, we continue to invest in racist devices.  Initially I thought that prescriptions such as those of Cornell West could be solutions, but whether for lack of trying, cultural hunger, or other reason, we are stuck, and I for one do not see things getting better.

Yes, my family left Belarus because of ethnic cleansing, and the half of the family that did not leave was wiped out 4 decades later because of their genes. While I don’t make anything of that, some muckraker might try to argue I have a chip on my shoulder; argue away.  In part, the neoliberalism of the left was founded on the notion that, heartstrings aside, change would have to be based on hard economic changes.  Unfortunately, the neolibs went in the wrong direction, simply asking different magnates to play nicer than the industrialists of the past. You know how that played out. But the impetus for that response is still there, and we continue to address it (at least some of us) through inane prestidigitation intended apparently more to make us feel good about ourselves, than resolve the underlying problems.

In a recent staff wide meeting for ASD teacher, teachers were advised that they need to be more Native in approaching Native students, one example being the use of shaming as a disciplinary tool…  Yes, you heard me correctly.  While the biggest problem facing Native Alaskans in education is a non-verbal culture in which critical language development is all but absent, teachers are being asked to shame students who don’t perform, because this is how elders do it in the village. Enough!

If you read this as a racist rant, that is your prerogative, but you have missed the point entirely. The message here, as Mr. Brown so elegantly puts it, is to get up offa that thing, but for those of you who can’t manage that…. cleveland_indians_logo-svg

DAPLgangers

No, I am not going to talk about the brutish BigOil oligarchs today. Today I want to talk about the other bullies, the protesters.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I would rather not have streets covered in Petrochemical detritus, a State beholden to BigOil, or pipelines threatening the health and safety of one and all. But I don’t rule the world.  Neither does my pet delusion, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, nor his prophet, The Great Noodle (pbuh), make or enforce the rules in the United States. That means, believe it or not, that based on our demographic, we are ruled by the stupid. Huzzah!

Of course, there all types and varieties of stupid.  You have your garden variety ignorant, and then you have your rampant dumb and proud, and all manner of clueless, right and left, betwixt and between. A regular megaplex of morons. But that is, as it were, the nature of the beast, and surely Hobbes saw as clearly as anyone what Homo sapiens’ natural state portends. On occasion the Historian observes that the stupid rise, bellow like unmilked cows, and then usually return to shitting on each other. My argument today, is that the Great Chest Beating of 2016 is one such event, as I shall try to demonstrate below.

What we saw is that a company interested in moving sweet crude across country (you know, the stuff you have to have in order to drive that Dodge Tough Truck around the block)  spent millions of dollars (almost $4B to build it) on a permitting process that involved each State that the proposed pipeline was to pass through, and several agencies of the federal government. In North Dakota, the permit process was completed almost nine months ago, and the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to issue permits for the pipeline to pass underneath the Missouri River near Cannonball North Dakota in August 2016, over a month ago.

The path of the pipeline on its approach to the Missouri “crossing” was on private land through licensing by the private land owners in question.  This land had never been owned by any local tribe. The land had never been the subject in fact of any inquiry by any tribe, nor the subject of any filings before the  ND Public Service Commission by any tribe.

The surface water in and around the Missouri is unfit for consumption because of its coliform load. All other water in the region is subject to appropriation (i. e. is “property” in a sense) as is the case on the local Reservation (which has never had its water regulations approved, but they have been recognized as being in effect in no small part because they are consistent with water regulation and control throughout the Southwest).

In late August, members of the Standing Rock Reservation began trespassing on private property for the purpose of (illegally) obstructing the construction of the pipeline. This eventually became a media circus with hundreds of screaming individuals crossing fences and interfering with heavy machinery. The pipeline company’s security personnel became embroiled in altercations with the protesters, of course, and a lawsuit was filed seeking injunctive relief.

In the aftermath of this media drama, there has been a great deal of chest beating about how the Indian Nation stood up to protect Earth and their sacred sites. Unfortunately the facts, as is so often the case, tell a bit of a different story.

The records of James MacKay indicate that in the late 1700s the land in question was still occupied by Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. The Dakota were woodland people of the Great Lakes who left the Great Lakes because of pressure from the Ojibwa and Cree, who had been armed by the French.  So, the Dakota arrived along the Missouri in what is now North Dakota after the white devil was already there, and went about “displacing” the existing Native occupants (as in, killing them off). This was hurried along by the 1837 Small Pox epidemic. The US tried to promote inter-tribal peace in the region through the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 , but the process was problematic and the results spotty and unsuccessful (the Lakota, for instance, were reported to have violated the treaty no sooner had it been agreed upon).

The Native Interlopers, as it were, the Lakota, eventually also entered in to a treaty, the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.  This treaty did not cover any lands in North Dakota.  In fact, the portion of the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota (across which the pipeline does not run) was added by executive order in 1875 after the treaty in order to further protect the residents of the reservation by making the agency more functional (there was a deep water landing at the mouth of the Cannonball).

There have been numerous surveys of the area, and in a 58 page decision (link below) the US District Court made it clear that the Army Corps had done everything it was required to do.  The federal Administration, however, while deferring to the Court’s opinion, decided to temporarily hold off on the permits issued pending further study. screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-12-56-16-pm

The result is that people with no property interest in the subject land, who don’t consume surface water, who had never, during the State pipeline process, ever filed any documents evidencing any concern until after the final permit was issued, who were afforded every legal protection during the Corps permitting process,who arguably were themselves murdering interlopers who first appeared in the area of Cannonball circa 1875 and whose presence outside the reservation at the time would have been “problematic”, suddenly see the area North of the reservation as sacred though no evidence of use has been found by anyone but the tribal archeologist in the last couple of weeks, and then trespass en masse in order to secure the “purity” of water too foul to drink and the sanctity of sites that arguably don’t exist. Yup, I want to jump on that bandwagon right now! The fact that these people have decided to heat their homes by burning wood, instead of using propane,  well that’s just icing on the cake.

Yes, that was all a bit harsh.  But I wanted to demonstrate how darkly this could be seen, and that an accurate appreciation for what is going on is likely somewhere short of the rhetoric issued by the Council’s counsel.


Order denying Standing Rock Council the relief requested

Joint Statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868