Category Archives: Poverty

What a Florida School’s Standardized Test Scores Won’t Show

“What I’m working on—like making sure students have access to food, clean clothing, and streetlights—may not look like what I’m working on,” Catherine Gilmore told me over a phone call. Gilmore has worked as an educator in Hillsborough County, Florida, for 13 years, and has spent the last six years at Gibsonton Elementary School where she was in the classroom for four years prior to spending the last two years as the community schools coordinator there. During our phone call, she explained to me how her school has addressed its low scores on the state’s school performance report card. And it seems to be working.

In the 2017-2018 school year, Gibsonton received a grade of “D” on the state’s annual report card that assesses elementary schools on the basis of their scores on standardized achievement tests. In 2018-2019, Gibsonton raised its grade to a “C.”

While Gilmore welcomed the progress, she warned against overemphasizing these assessments, calling them “lagging indicators.”

“State standardized testing mostly just identifies student demographics,” she told me, an observation that is validated by research. “Sure, we use data, including test scores. But we use data to drive for the right things rather than letting data get in the way.”

The “right things,” in her view, are the factors—what she spends her time on—that she believes tend to correlate with test scores but are often ignored by school improvement approaches that tend to blame educators when test scores are low.

Often, what can lead to low test scores may have nothing to do with academics. For instance, making sure students are well-fed seems self-evident because students who are hungry aren’t going to do very well at schoolwork. Making sure students have clean clothes seems a little less obvious. But streetlights?

What Gilmore is practicing is an approach to school improvement that is getting more attention—and perhaps a lot more money—as schools reopen from the pandemic; and policy experts, politicians, and pundits hail the restart as a clean slate for drawing up new plans for “redesigning” schools.

Addressing More Than Just a Test Score

The approach Gilmore refers to, called “community schools,” looks at addressing student achievement by responding to the full range of factors in the community that can influence learning, including factors outside of schools.

The approach, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS) program, involves “the coordination, integration, accessibility, and effectiveness of services for children and families, particularly for children attending high-poverty schools, including high-poverty rural schools.”

The community schools approach got its first significant national attention in the 2020 presidential campaign when, as Reuben Jacobson from American University’s School of Education wrote in an op-ed for the Hill, “[a]ll of the leading candidates, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), … committed to further investing in community schools through their education proposals.”

The profile of the community schools approach rose even higher in April 2021, reported the 74, when the Biden administration proposed a fiscal 2022 budget for the education department that included an increase in spending of $413 million for the FSCS, a nearly 15-fold boost for the program, from $30 million to $443 million.

Days after the budget announcement, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited an elementary school in Prince George’s County, Maryland—where schools recently reopened—that “is one of 65 ‘community schools’ in the county,” the Washington Post reported, “each considered a hub for family support and social services, along with student learning.” This marked one of the first school visits of his tenure.

‘Our Families Are Struggling to Survive’

Gibsonton Elementary is part of the Hillsborough County Public Schools system, the seventh-largest school district in the U.S., serving nearly 224,000 students. The district is in its third year of implementing the community schools approach, Rob Kriete, president of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, told me.

Kriete taught middle school and high school English for 24 years in Hillsborough County before taking temporary leave to serve as the president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the state and national teachers’ unions.

Six schools in the district are in their third year of using the community schools approach, two are in their second year, and two more are being added next year.

“We’ve been very intentional about the schools we’ve picked to adopt the approach,” Kriete said, but the district has not taken a “top-down approach,” and has instead chosen schools that seem well-suited to the approach and have leadership and faculty who are agreeable to the demands of it.

Gibsonton Elementary seemed like a good fit. The school is just one of a handful of schools in Gibsonton, an unincorporated, semi-rural community south of Tampa Bay that has its roots in agriculture, light manufacturing, maritime-related businesses, and the carnival industry.

Nearly 20 percent of households in the community are at or below the poverty rate, according to World Population Review, with a median house value of only $188,400, and with 71 percent of adults having attained an education of less than an associate or college degree.

The community seems bereft of many services children and families would need.

Clinics and other health care facilities are sparse and modest and mostly inconvenient to families living near the elementary school. Facilities for dental care and eye care are even rarer. Other than a Walmart Supercenter, there are no grocery stores, so many families have to rely on small convenience stores and bare-bones retailers like Dollar General and Family Dollar that offer very little in the way of fresh and nutritious food.

Gibsonton Elementary also has a student population that often struggles in the public school system. Most of the students (56.4 percent) are Hispanic, according to state data, and nearly all the students are economically disadvantaged (94.1 percent), with 26.3 percent being English language learners, and 23.8 percent having some sort of disability.

“We became a community school because we really needed the outside help,” Gilmore told me. “Our families are struggling to survive,” she said. Many of the school’s families are generational carnival people and live in old and often rundown trailers. Some still leave in May and return in October, which is considered the peak season for the carnival industry.

“There’s so much growth in communities all around us,” she said, referring to the more prosperous Tampa metro area, “but the growth hasn’t improved our community.”

What the Community Really Needs

In March 2018, Gibsonton Elementary leadership, faculty, and support staff agreed the school should adopt the community schools approach. “The entire school had to be behind the idea,” she said, “and we were.” Out of the six candidates who applied for school improvement coordinator, a key position the approach requires, Gilmore was chosen.

Much of what the school needed seemed obvious to Gilmore and her colleagues, but the first year of implementing the community schools model requires the school to conduct a needs assessment, including an audit of program strengths and weaknesses and assets in the surrounding community, and an outreach, via surveys and interviews, to students, parents, business leaders, local nonprofits, and others.

“We interviewed 92 percent of parents, including both parents in two-parent households,” Gilmore recalled. “We really wanted to get a thorough understanding of our stakeholders’ needs and what they felt were the problems.”

After the audit and survey results were accumulated and ranked, the foremost concern was the low rate of student attendance. Parent engagement was also lacking, and families said they wanted a more enriching program for their children—not just the basics.

Poised with that knowledge, Gilmore and her colleagues went about the work of addressing the school’s attendance problems.

But what they had not prepared to address, but were actually better prepared for because they adopted the community schools approach, was a pandemic.

Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

“When COVID-19 hit, the first thing we knew we had to do was find [and reach out to] our [students’] families,” Gilmore recalled.

She helped organize a team to make phone calls and canvass neighborhoods. Because of the community’s ties to the carnival business, family mobility rates in Gibsonton were already high. COVID-19 would only make transience worse. Yet, within four weeks, Gilmore and her team found every Gibsonton Elementary student, the first school in Hillsborough County to do so.

“We were 100 percent better able to make the transition [caused by COVID-19] because of the community schools model,” Gilmore said. “Because we were already talking with our families, they weren’t afraid of us. Also, because we had created my position [of school improvement coordinator], we had more capacity. The model ensured we had structures and people in place.”

The dialogue the school had already established with its families also ensured the response to their efforts would be effective.

“The community schools approach was well-suited to the crisis because the approach demands that you stop, ask questions, and listen to those you serve,” Kriete explained. “Another strength of the community schools approach is that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and there is a lot of flexibility built into it.”

Based on the community input, the school expanded its on-campus food pantry to include more fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, and fresh meat. For those families who couldn’t come to campus, the school provided prepackaged boxes.

When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis mandated schools reopen for in-person learning in August 2020, Gibsonton Elementary had in place resources and infrastructure to support families still reeling from the pandemic.

Parents who attended the open house found, in their children’s seats, backpacks full of supplies their children would need for the new school year. “I saw parents leaving in tears from the relief that they would start off the year with supplies,” Gilmore recalled. (Parents who couldn’t attend the open house got supplies through the school’s backpack program.)

Every two months, the school sends out fliers asking families what they need, and in one month, that outreach helped 644 families with a wide array of assistance.

“Today I helped a family find a home,” Gilmore told me during our phone call. “In November and December [2020], we helped families deal with evictions and utilities.”

What Raised Reading and Math Scores

Big contributors to Gibsonton’s rise from grade “C” to “D” on Florida’s school performance report card were the school’s dramatic increases in students who achieved learning gains shown in assessment test scores from one year to the next.

Comparing 2017-2018 results to those in 2018-2019, achievement gains in English language arts increased by 12.8 percentage points. The gains were even larger in mathematics, 16.3 points. The increases were more significant for the lowest-performing 25 percent of students, rising by 16.6 percentage points in English language arts and 24.8 points in mathematics.

Gilmore believes much of these gains had to do with the work the school did to increase attendance. But how they went about increasing attendance was guided by their use of the community schools approach.

“When we found out there was a problem with attendance, we asked parents why,” she recalled, and one of the most frequent responses they heard was that not having clean clothes was an impediment to coming to school.

The school responded by installing a campus washer-dryer and eventually opened a clothing closet that provided some free clothing articles.

Another factor contributing to the attendance problem was that in the shorter daylight hours of winter, streets were often too dark for students to safely walk to the bus or to school, and there were too few streetlights.

Given this response, the school organized an effort to have the county install new streetlights around the school. Working with the commissioners, the number of streetlights near the school quickly increased from nine to 51. Attendance immediately improved.

What Gilmore hopes to move to next is to work with a local nonprofit to provide mental health services to help children and families through the social and emotional traumas of the pandemic.

“Having the community schools approach that includes someone like me in place is critical,” she said. “If a school has all these needs, but no one in place specifically focusing on those needs, then that work goes by the wayside. Teachers and principals simply don’t have the time to address these issues.”

The post What a Florida School’s Standardized Test Scores Won’t Show first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Approaching Poverty Systemically

Man laying on sidewalk (Image Source: Pexels)

As we face the stark reality that one in seven Americans are projected to have resources below the poverty level in 2021, the world demands systemic solutions. No problem as widespread as poverty in America and across the world can be blamed entirely on the individuals and families that poverty affects — though some would certainly argue this point.

Approaching poverty systemically may be the only way we can make progress at any significant rate. From minimum wage to criminal justice reform, systemic changes have the potential to make a real impact on poverty at a national level. Adopted at scale, systemic solutions can help end the global travesty that is poverty.

But understanding potential fixes requires first assessing the causes of poverty. With a systemic approach, we can broaden the picture and give context to the millions of families struggling with a lack of resources. In turn, working solutions can become much clearer.

Assessing the Causes of Poverty

A host of factors contribute to the problem of poverty. From geographical locations where access to jobs and opportunities is scarce to faulty education systems that add to the problem of generation poverty, the causes of inequality on a massive scale are far-ranging and nebulous. While a world without any poverty may be difficult to imagine, addressing the root causes behind the millions without access to resources — even in countries as wealthy as America — can help give us the tools to make systemic changes.

Here are three of the most prominent causes of widespread poverty:

Wage Inequality

Often, the poverty problem goes hand-in-hand with a lack of access to jobs that pay a living wage. Either these are leaving cities in the post-industrial economic shift, or the jobs that remain simply do not pay enough. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that as many as 11.4% of full-time, year-round American workers were not being paid enough to break past poverty thresholds. For CEOs, however, the situation is much different. From 1978 to 2019, CEO pay increased by 1,167%. For typical workers, wages grew only 13.7% in the same period.

Social Injustice

The problem of wage inequality is only compounded by the social injustice still commonly experienced by women and minorities in the sectors of the economy they more often occupy. The EPI found that female workers were paid poverty wages at a greater rate than men (13.5% compared to 9.6% of men). Meanwhile, destructive austerity policies like those employed in the UK disproportionately impact women, children, and minorities, pushing vulnerable families into greater levels of poverty. Social injustice keeps certain groups from getting ahead, a problem caused by poor governmental representation, underpayment in sectors of the economy like service, and limited access to other necessary resources like childcare.

Lack of Resources

Finally, the limits of resources and their even geographical spread equate to greater levels of poverty. For example, UNESCO has found that if all students in low-income countries were given the education to acquire elementary reading skills, as many as 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. Limited access to education, clean water, food, and healthcare all contribute to poverty around the world. Now, climate change threatens access to food and water in various regions, meaning the problem will only get worse without systemic solutions.

Applying Systemic Changes

Applying solutions on a scale large enough to make a real difference requires understanding the causes of poverty and combating them at their source. With that achieved, we can propose informed solutions at a systemic level that may play a role in elevating families out of poverty and establishing greater levels of equality throughout the world. From federal minimum wages to education systems, this is much more possible than you might imagine.

Addressing Pay Disparities and Social Injustice

First, we can address the problem of wage inequality. This can start with a minimum wage increase, which has the power to impact the lives of 32 million workers. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021, for example, is projected to make a huge difference in the lives of workers relegated to low-wage work, which are disproportionately people of color. In fact, by lifting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, the 23% of the workforce made up of Black women and Latinas would experience an annual income boost between $3,500 and $3,700 per individual.

Additionally, we can create legislation that ties CEO pay to that of their workforce. There is no conscionable reason that CEOs should be making hundreds of times more a year than their employees. Shareholders often do not even understand the pay packages they offer CEOs, and higher rates of pay have been associated with poorer market performance. With tax incentives for more equitable pay ratios, we can better combat inequality on a systemic level.

Building Better Resources

Then, we can better address the resource discrepancies on a global scale. From education to criminal justice systems, resources are needed to mitigate the damages of poverty and curb the cycles of poverty born by system problems. Social workers are needed to empower and advocate for communities all over the world, educating them about the resources available to them and providing even more. Schools must support their students with programs designed to elevate them based on specific needs, while criminal justice reform must support re-entry.

All these resources can help a family survive unexpected financial hardships, especially after COVID. In the era of mass global financial instability, giving communities across the world the means to succeed will help eradicate poverty. Through education, opportunity, and equity, we can ensure that talent and ability aren’t lost to the shackles of social injustice that hold too many individuals back. But we must ensure that systemic solutions are built with and for the families they target.

By advocating for systemic change, you can support a richer, better world. Start now by exploring the needs of your community and supporting legislation that improves pay and resource accessibility.

The post Approaching Poverty Systemically first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Economic Collapse Continues Uninterrupted

To conceal the economic and social decline that continues to unfold at home and abroad, major newspapers are working overtime to promote happy economic news. Many headlines are irrational and out of touch. They make no sense. Desperation to convince everyone that all is well or all will soon be great is very high. The assault on economic science and coherence is intense. Working in concert, and contrary to the lived experience of millions of people, many newspapers are declaring miraculous “economic growth rates” for country after country. According to the rich and their media, numerous countries are experiencing or are on the cusp of experiencing very strong “come-backs” or “complete recoveries.” Very high rates of annual economic growth, generally not found in any prior period, are being floated regularly. The numbers defy common sense.

In reality, economic and social problems are getting worse nationally and internationally.

“Getting back to the pre-Covid standard will take time,” said Carmen Reinhart, the World Bank’s chief economist. “The aftermath of Covid isn’t going to reverse for a lot of countries. Far from it.” Even this recent statement is misleading because it implies that pre-Covid economic conditions were somehow good or acceptable when things have actually been going downhill for decades. Most economies never really “recovered” from the economic collapse of 2008. Most countries are still running on gas fumes while poverty, unemployment, under-employment, inequality, debt, food insecurity, generalized anxiety, and other problems keep worsening. And today, with millions of people fully vaccinated and trillions of phantom dollars, euros, and yen printed by the world’s central banks, there is still no real and sustained stability, prosperity, security, or harmony. People everywhere are still anxious about the future. Pious statements from world leaders about “fixing” capitalism have done nothing to reverse the global economic decline that started years ago and was intensified by the “COVID Pandemic.”

In the U.S. alone, in real numbers, about 3-4 million people a month have been laid off for 13 consecutive months. At no other time in U.S. history has such a calamity on this scale happened. This has “improved” slightly recently but the number of people being laid off every month remains extremely high and troubling. In New York State, for example:

the statewide [official] unemployment rate remains the second highest in the country at just under 9%. One year after the start of the pandemic and the recession it caused, most of the jobs New York lost still have not come back. (emphasis added, April 2021).

In addition, nationally the number of long-term unemployed remains high and the labor force participation rate remains low. And most new jobs that are “created” are not high-paying jobs with good benefits and security. The so-called “Gig Economy” has beleaguered millions.

Some groups have been more adversely affected than others. In April 2021, U.S. News & World Report conveyed that:

In February 2020, right before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Black women had an employment to population ratio of 60.8%; that now stands at 54.8%, a drop of 6 percentage points.

The obsolete U.S. economic system has discarded more than half a million black women from the labor force in the past year.

In December 2019, around the time the “COVID Pandemic” began to emerge, Brookings reported that:

An estimated 53 million people—44 percent of all U.S. workers ages 18–64—are low-wage workers. That’s more than twice the number of people in the 10 most populous U.S. cities combined. Their median hourly wage is $10.22, and their median annual earnings are $17,950.

The Federal Reserve reports that 37 percent of Americans in 2019 did not have $400 to cover an unanticipated emergency. In Louisiana alone, 1 out of 5 families today are living at the poverty level.  Sadly, “60% of Americans will live below the official poverty line for at least one year of their lives.” While American billionaires became $1.3 trillion richer, about 8 million Americans joined the ranks of the poor during the “COVID Pandemic.”

And more inflation will make things worse for more people. A March 2021 headline from NBC News reads: “The price of food and gas is creeping higher — and will stay that way for a while.”  ABC News goes further in April 2021 and says that “the post-pandemic economy will include higher prices, worse service, longer delays.”

Homelessness in the U.S. is also increasing:

COVID-driven loss of jobs and employment income will cause the number of homeless workers to increase each year through 2023. Without large-scale, government employment programs the Pandemic Recession is projected to cause twice as much homelessness as the 2008 Great Recession. Over the next four years the current Pandemic Recession is projected to cause chronic homelessness to increase 49 percent in the United States, 68 percent in California and 86 percent in Los Angeles County. [The homeless include the] homeless on the streets, shelter residents and couch surfers. (emphasis added, January 11, 2021)

Perhaps ironically, just “Two blocks from the Federal Reserve, a growing encampment of the homeless grips the economy’s most powerful person [Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell].”

Officially, about four million businesses, including more than 110,000 restaurants, have permanently closed in the U.S. over the past 14 months.  In April 2021 Business Insider stated that, “roughly 80,000 stores are doomed to close in the next 5 years as the retail apocalypse continues to rip through America.”  The real figure is likely higher.

Bankruptcies have also risen in some sectors. For example, bankruptcies by North American oil producers “rose to the highest first-quarter level since 2016.”

In March 2021 the Economic Policy Institute reported that “more than 25 million workers are directly harmed by the COVID labor market.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more than 100 applicants for each job opening in some sectors.

Given the depth and breadth of the economic collapse in the U.S., it is no surprise that “1 in 6 Americans went into therapy for the first time in 2020.” The number of people affected by depression, anxiety, addiction, and suicide worldwide as a direct result of the long depression is very high. These harsh facts and realities are also linked to more violence, killings, protests, demonstrations, social unrest, and riots worldwide.

In terms of physical health, “Sixty-one percent of U.S. adults report undesired weight changes since the COVID-19 pandemic began.” This will only exacerbate the diabetes pandemic that has been ravaging more countries every year.

On another front, the Pew Research Center informs us that, as a result of the economic collapse that has unfolded over the past year, “A majority of young adults in the U.S. live with their parents for the first time since the Great Depression.”   And it does not help that student debt now exceeds $1.7 trillion and is still climbing rapidly.

Millions of college faculty have also suffered greatly over the past year. A recent survey by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found that:

real wages for full-time faculty decreased for the first time since the Great Recession[in 2008], and average wage growth for all ranks of full-time faculty was the lowest since the AAUP began tracking annual wage growth in 1972. After adjusting for inflation, real wages decreased at over two-thirds of colleges and universities. The number of full-time faculty decreased at over half of institutions.

This does not account for the thousands of higher education adjuncts (part-time faculty) and staff that lost their jobs permanently.

In April 2021, the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities stated that, “millions of people are still without their pre-pandemic income sources and are borrowing to get by.” Specifically:

  • 54 million adults said they didn’t use regular income sources like those received before the pandemic to meet their spending needs in the last seven days.
  • 50 million used credit cards or loans to meet spending needs.
  • 20 million borrowed from friends or family. (These three groups overlap.)

Also in April 2021, the Washington Post wrote:

The pandemic’s disruption has created inescapable financial strain for many Americans. Nearly 2 of 5 of adults have postponed major financial decisions, from buying cars or houses to getting married or having children, due to the coronavirus crisis, according to a survey last week from Bankrate.com. Among younger adults, ages 18 to 34, some 59 percent said they had delayed a financial milestone. (emphasis added)

According to Monthly Review:

The U.S. economy has seen a long-term decline in capacity utilization in manufacturing, which has averaged 78 percent from 1972 to 2019—well below levels that stimulate net investment. (emphasis added, January 1, 2021).

Capitalist firms will not invest in new ventures or projects when there is little or no profit to be made, which is why major owners of capital are engaged in even more stock market manipulation than ever before. “Casino capitalism” is intensifying. This, in turn, is giving rise to even larger stock market bubbles that will eventually burst and wreak even more havoc than previous stock market crashes. The inability to make profit through normal investment channels is also why major owners of capital are imposing more public-private “partnerships” (PPPs) on people and society through neoliberal state restructuring. Such pay-the-rich schemes further marginalize workers and exacerbate inequality, debt, and poverty. PPPs solve no problems and must be replaced by human-centered economic arrangements.

The International Labor Organization estimates that the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs have been lost globally as a result of government actions over the past 13-14 months.

In March of this year, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reported that, “Acute hunger is set to soar in over 20 countries in the coming months without urgent and scaled-up assistance.” The FAO says, “”The magnitude of suffering is alarming.”

And according to Reuters, “Overall, global FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] had collapsed in 2020, falling by 42% to an estimated $859 billion, from $1.5 trillion in 2019, according to the UNCTAD report.” UNCTAD stands for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The international organization Oxfam tells us that:

The coronavirus pandemic has the potential to lead to an increase in inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began…. Billionaire fortunes returned to their pre-pandemic highs in just nine months, while recovery for the world’s poorest people could take over a decade. (emphasis added, January 25, 2021)

According to the World Bank, “The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed about 120 million people into extreme poverty over the last year in mostly low- and middle-income countries.”  And despite the roll-out of vaccines in various countries:

the economic implications of the pandemic are deep and far-reaching. It is ushering in a “new poor” profile that is more urban, better educated, and reliant on informal sector work such as construction, relative to the existing global poor (those living on less than $1.90/day) who are more rural and heavily reliant on agriculture. (emphasis added)

Another source notes that:

Pew Research Center, using World Bank data, has estimated that the number of poor in India (with income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity) has more than doubled from 60 million to 134 million in just a year due to the pandemic-induced recession. This means, India is back in a situation to be called a “country of mass poverty” after 45 years. (emphasis added)

In Europe, there is no end in sight to the economic decline that keeps unfolding. The United Kingdom, for example, experienced its worst economy in literally 300 years:

The economy in the U.K. contracted 9.9 percent in 2020, the worst year on record since 1709, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a report on Friday (Feb. 12). The overall economic drop in 2020 was more than double in 2009, when U.K. GDP declined 4.1 percent due to the worldwide financial crisis. Britain experienced the biggest annual decline among the G7 economies — France saw its economy decline 8.3 percent, Italy dropped 8.8 percent, Germany declined 5 percent and the U.S. contracted 3.5 percent. (emphasis added)

Another source also notes that, “The Eurozone is being haunted by ‘ghost bankruptcies,’ with more than 200,000 firms across the European Union’s four biggest nations under threat when Covid financial lifelines stop.” In another sign of economic decline, this time in Asia, Argus Media reported in April 2021 that Japan’s 2020-21 crude steel output fell to a 52-year low.

Taken alone, on a country-by-country basis, these are not minor economic downturns, but when viewed as a collective cumulative global phenomenon, the consequences are more serious. It is a big problem when numerous economies decline simultaneously. The world is more interdependent and interconnected than ever. What happens in one region necessarily affects other regions.

One could easily go country by country and region by region and document many tragic economic developments that are still unfolding and worsening. Argentina, Lebanon, Colombia, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, Jordan, South Africa, Nigeria, and dozens of other countries are all experiencing major economic setbacks and hardships that will take years to overcome and will negatively affect the economies of other countries in an increasingly interdependent world. And privatization schemes around the world are just making conditions worse for the majority of people. Far from solving any problems, neoliberalism has made everything worse for working people and society.

It is too soon for capitalist ideologues to be euphoric about “miraculous economic growth and success.” There is no meaningful evidence to show that there is deep, significant, sustained economic growth on a broad scale. There is tremendous economic carnage and pain out there, and the scarring and consequences are going to linger for some time. No one believes that a big surge of well-paying jobs is right around the corner. Nor does anyone believe that more schemes to pay the rich under the banner of high ideals will improve things either.

Relentless disinformation about the economy won’t solve any problems or convince people that they are not experiencing what they are experiencing. Growing poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, under-employment, debt, inequality, anxiety, and insecurity are real and painful. They require real solutions put forward by working people, not major owners of capital concerned only with maximizing private profit as fast as possible.

The economy cannot improve and serve a pro-social aim and direction so long as those who produce society’s wealth, workers, are disempowered and denied any control of the economy they run. Allowing major decisions to be made by a historically superfluous financial oligarchy is not the way forward. The rich and their representatives are unfit to rule and have no real solutions for the recurring crises caused by their outmoded system. They are focused mainly on depriving people of an outlook that opens the path of progress to society.

There is no way for the massive wealth of society to be used to serve the general interests of society so long as the contradiction between the socialized nature of the economy and its continued domination by competing private interests remain unresolved. All we are left with are recurring economic crises that take a bigger and bigger toll on humanity. To add insult to injury, we are told that there is no alternative to this outdated system, and that the goal is to strive for “inclusive capitalism,” “ethical capitalism,” “responsible capitalism,” or some other oxymoron.

But there is an alternative. Existing conditions do not have to be eternal or tolerated. History shows that conditions that favor the people can be established. The rich must be deprived of their ability to deprive the people of their rights, including the right to govern their own affairs and control the economy. The economy, government, nation-building, and society must be controlled and directed by the people themselves, free of the influence of narrow private interests determined to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone and everything else.

The rich and their political and media representatives are under great pressure to distort social consciousness, undermine the human factor, and block progress. The necessity for change is for humanity to rise up and usher in a modern society that ensures prosperity, stability, and peace for all. It can be done and must be done.

The post Economic Collapse Continues Uninterrupted first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Let’s end the insanity of colossal military spending during a global health emergency

Imagine what could be achieved if just a portion of the money spent on military expenditures were pooled into a global fund, and redirected towards ending hunger and massively investing in public health systems. 

*****

If nations had a referendum, asking the public if they want their taxes to go to military weapons that are more efficient in killing than the ones we currently have, or if they would prefer the money to be invested in medical care, social services, education and other critical public needs, what would the response be?

Probably the majority of people would not have to think long and hard, since for many life has become an endless struggle. Even in wealthy countries, the most basic social rights can no longer be taken for granted. Social services are increasingly being turned into commodities, and instead of helping ordinary people they must serve shareholders by providing a healthy profit margin.

The United States is a prime example, where seeing a dentist or any medical doctor is only possible if one has health insurance. Around 46 million Americans cannot afford to pay for quality healthcare—and that is in the richest country of the world.

In less developed nations, a large proportion of people find it hard to access even the most basic resources to ensure a healthy and dignified life. One in nine of the world’s population go hungry. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis of poverty amid plenty, with the number of people facing acute hunger more than doubling.

There are now 240 million people requiring emergency humanitarian assistance, while over 34 million people are already on the brink of starvation.

But the United Nations’ funding appeals are far from being met, condemning thousands to unnecessary deaths from hunger this year. With aid funding falling as humanitarian needs rise, aid agencies are being forced to cut back on life-saving services.

Does it make any sense for our governments to spend billions on defence while fragile health systems are being overwhelmed, and the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in generations?

Outrageously misplaced priorities

Global military spending continued to reach record levels in 2020, rising almost 4 percent in real terms to US$1.83 trillion, even despite the severe economic contractions caused by the pandemic. The United States spends two-fifths of the world’s total, more than the next ten countries combined, and still cannot afford to prevent 50 million of its own citizens suffering from food insecurity. Most shamefully, the United Kingdom is massively boosting its arms budget—the largest rise in almost 70 years, including a vast increase to its nuclear weapons stockpile—while cutting aid to the world’s poorest by 30 percent.

Consider what a fraction of military budgets could achieve if that public money was diverted to real human needs, instead of sustaining the corrupt and profitable industry of war:

  • Meeting Goals 1 and 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals— ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and ‘Zero hunger’—would barely exceed 3 percent of global annual military spending, according to the UN’s Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
  • With the U.S. military budget of $750 billion in 2020, it could feed the world’s hungry and still spend twice as much on its military than China, writes peace activist Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK.
  • The annual nuclear weapon budget worldwide is 1,000 percent—or 10 times—the combined budget of both the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to the Global Campaign on Military Spending.
  • Just 0.04 percent of global military spending would have funded the WHO’s initial Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, according to Tipping Point North South in its Transform Defence report.
  • It would cost only 0.7 percent of global military spending (an estimated $141.2 billion) to vaccinate all the world’s 7.8 billion inhabitants against Covid-19, according to figures from Oxfam International.

These opportunity costs highlight our outrageously misplaced priorities during an unprecedented global health emergency. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed just how ill-prepared we are to deal with real threats to our societies, and how our ‘national security’ involves a lot more than armies, tanks and bombs. This crisis cannot be addressed by weapons of mass destruction or personnel prepared for war, but only through properly funded healthcare and other public services that protect our collective human security.

It’s time to reallocate bloated defence budgets to basic economic and social needs, as long enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Article 25 points the way forward, underscoring the necessity of guaranteeing adequate food, shelter, healthcare and social security for all.

There is an imperative need for global cooperation to support all nations in recovering and rebuilding from the pandemic. The United Nations and its frontline agencies are critically placed to avert a growing ‘hunger pandemic’, and yet are struggling to receive even minimal funding from governments.

Imagine what could be achieved if just a portion of the money spent on military expenditures were pooled into a global fund, and redirected towards ending hunger and massively investing in public health systems, especially in the most impoverished and war-torn regions.

The common sense of funding ‘peace and development, not arms!’ has long been proclaimed by campaigners, church groups and engaged citizens the world over. But it will never happen unless countless people in every country unify around such an obvious cause, and together press our public representatives to prioritise human life over pointless wars.

In the words of arms trade campaigner Andrew Feinstein:

Perhaps this is an opportunity. Let’s embrace our global humanity, which is how we’re going to get through this crisis. Let’s put aside our obsession with enemies, with conflict. This is an opportunity for peace. This is an opportunity to promote our common humanity.

The post Let’s end the insanity of colossal military spending during a global health emergency first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Shifty Shifters: Movers and Shapers like a Trillion Locusts

The final report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concludes that the project has been ‘the most successful anti-poverty movement in history’. Two key claims underpin this narrative: that global poverty has been cut in half, and global hunger nearly in half, since 1990. This good-news narrative has been touted by the United Nations and has been widely repeated by the media. But closer inspection reveals that the UN’s claims about poverty and hunger are misleading, and even intentionally inaccurate. The MDGs have used targeted statistical manipulation to make it seem as though the poverty and hunger trends have been improving when in fact they have worsened. In addition, the MDGs use definitions of poverty and hunger that dramatically underestimate the scale likely of these problems. In reality, around four billion people remain in poverty today, and around two billion remain hungry – more than ever before in history, and between two and four times what the UN would have us believe. The implications of this reality are profound. Worsening poverty and hunger trends indicate that our present model of development is not working and needs to be fundamentally rethought.

— Jason Hickel, Third World Quarterly , Volume 37, 2016 – Issue 5

*–*

How could these two cohorts, the 85 richest and 3.5 billion poorest, have the same amount of wealth? The great majority of the 3.5 billion have no net wealth at all. Hundreds of millions of them have jobs that hardly pay enough to feed their families. Millions of them rely on supplements from private charity and public assistance when they can. Hundreds of millions are undernourished, suffer food insecurity, or go hungry each month, including many among the very poorest in the United States.

Most of the 3.5 billion earn an average of $2.50 a day. The poorest 40 percent of the world population accounts for just 5 percent of all global income. About 80 percent of all humanity live on less than $10 a day. And the poorest 50 percent maintain only 7.2 percent of the world’s private consumption. How exactly could they have accumulated an amount of surplus wealth comparable to the 85 filthy richest?

Michael Parenti

Genocide Phnom Penh

Staggering, no,  the memory hole shoveling going on and perpetrated by elites in commerce, weapons, media, education, a la industrial complexes in the second decade of the 21st Century? Like plagues of locusts. Leeches two hundred worth per hominid, and the tapeworm eats the last, next and current generation like a desiccating alien of our nightmares.

The more light shining on the criminals, spotlights onto the military war lords, floodlights on the entire punishment cabal in governments, in corporations, in policing and uniformed military agencies, the more that bearing witness just peters out. It flags the average Yankee, and the doodle dandy is football, flicks and frolicking with furious caloric intent.

Welcome to the West. Then, the mind-numbing retorts to the initiation of discourse, of legitimate discussion about the ails of the world, largely set loose by the captains of industries — the military-media-legal-medical-penal-computing-financial-education-energy-AI-real estate-poison-agriculture COMPLEX. And, boy, is it never really “complex” — it’s about the art of the steal, the art of the scam, the art of the grift, the art of the toll-fine-fee-garnishment-penalty-tax-attachment set forth by the lobbies of the lords of death with the Eichmann’s of Bureaucracy greasing the skids and oiling the wheels. Keep those hedge funds going, the trains running, the profits heaping.

  • “We can only take so much trauma.”
  • “The human brain can’t take so much truth.”
  • “Trigger Warning; The Following Stories About Wealth for the Rich and Poverty for the rest of Us Might Cause Spasms of Collective Amnesia, Anxiety, Animosity.”
  • “There is no meek shall inherit the earth. We are talking about the meek and the poor inheriting the toxins, pollutants, the penury, the profound suffering inflicted upon them generation after generation by the rich and their enablers, the ultimate evil — those turning a blind eye to suffering, raping, razing, murdering.”

I’m getting it from all angles, really, the tired, the over-educated (in terms of college but not in terms of smarts). The tired middle class. Retired and one-trick phony environmentalist ponies. All those huffing and puffing and blowing down the Trump Towers, folk who are self-blinding themselves, as if bearing the truth of Biden et al, as well as bearing the weight of protecting Everything/Anything Empire, while the chorus of War Mongering Democrats a la LGBTQA-+ sing ‘Hallelujah, No More Trump’ puts them right smack where Oedipus was, exposed to the truth and overcome with shame, grief, and remorse. Poking eyes out is the least the people who follow the perverse leaders should do.

Except, their blinding is symbolic, life-long, from womb to cradle to grave, as in turning a blind eye to the roots, the very radical cause of all the suffering, the police no-knocks, the cesium floating in lungs and bellies, and a dozen other micro-particles from this or that nuclear fallout incident. Symbolic and demonstrative of the kill-for-profits Capitalism.

It is too too much for the masses — The Truth —  so we all have to gather round the Zoom screen, tune into Amazon Prime, and sing, Give Peace a Chance while the world is fleeced by the billionaires, but also those millionaires (we tend to give millionaires, multi-millionaires a get-out-of-jail pass, when they too are the culprits helping spread that poisonous fallout).

Professor Bernd Grambow (co-author from IMT Atlantique) added “the present work, using cutting-edge analytical tools, gives only a very small insight in the very large diversity of particles released during the [Fukushima] nuclear accident, much more work is necessary to get a realistic picture of the highly heterogeneous environmental and health impact.”

Lockdowns for a flu virus, lockdowns for free thought, lockups for free speech, lock and loaded for the Empire, shackled to bills-mortgages-policies-ballooning debt…. BUT  for fuck’s sake, we can’t lock-down the fossil fuel monsters, lock-up the Fukushima shills, shutdown the Olympics, punish and quell the military saber rattlers (read: purveyors of nuclear- chemical-bacterial-viral-digital-intergalactic weaponry).

Business as usual is a trillion easy dollars in Pandemic Profits, and a cool several trillion more with mandatory masking, Zooming, SARS-CoV2,3,4,5,6 annual vaccinations and semi-annual boosters.

Passports to their hell. Yet, when you talk to a Kamala Harris floozy, well, they get teary eyed, sing the All Spangled Banner of Buffoonery, and then tell you to hit the road, no more Haeder in their House.

Literally, people want nothing of politics, or the reveal — showing how their own colonized and kettled thinking under the guise of “liberal” looting under the Democrat Vote has always been part of the problem, not any solution to the world thievery or a pathway to  world peace.

So What is The Answer?

It is not a $64,000 question, for sure, since the answer is collectively simple, easily repeated, easily understood, Yet, that is the jig, always looking for the messiah, or having their cake (capitalism) and eating it (profits-profits-profits) too. They are limited and limiting, and they gladly take the Kool-Aide and mix in a shot of Jack Daniels and a jigger of high fructose fizz.

Resisting for them is not an option. If they can’t converse, frame, contextualize, harmonize, recount, go back in history, recall the scene of the crime(s), then how the hell can these same folk who ask, Well, you sure know how to criticize and go on and on about the ills of Capitalism, but show me any other system that works. Humanity is humanity, whether in the center of Wall Street or out on the Rez?

This is their thinking, their great retort, and so, how do we get to that point where we just get to the basics, the Cornel West basics– Watch his rumble in the jungle: At Harvard, the worst kind of man-eating institution, along with a few hundred elite schools on this side and that side of the pond:

Listen to him, watch him, feel his presence of soul, Dr. West. Not a perfect man, thank god!

So, what is the answer? Justice. Social-spiritual-ecological-cultural-gender-age-racial-ethnic-ecnonmic-educational-food-energy JUSTICE? Using the inverse, the answer is the whole human-whole earth, toward holism, embedded in systems thinking, what it means to have the commons, what it is to be a society among other societies that is ecologically-based, agrarian-centered, humanistic-thriving, environmentally-aware, is, well, the opposite formulation of these Gandhian sins:

Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics)
Science Without Humanity
Religion Without Sacrifice
Politics Without Principle

It doesn’t take much K12 education and applied learning to understand that reversing these sins and following the antithesis would illuminate the bearable weight of being a human in the world, triggering change at a global and galactical level. Prometheus steals the fire from the gods and gives it to people. Bound to the mountain. Prometheus grows weary. The future, oh, the future, swallowed up by that lack of hope. Let us all be Prometheus, and help each other take from the thieves, the rich, and give warmth and fire to the world. Unbound us together. Break the chains of the illicit gods and their devils.

Really, though, one person’s hope is another person’s oppression. In capitalism, there is the king of the dung heap, the winner being the one who dies with the most toys. Dog-eat-dog, and survival of the most unfit (using the Seven Sins of Humanity above as illustrative of what makes capitalism really zip along).

In Western culture, it all might seem like a Greek Tragedy of Trailer Park or Mar-a-lago proportions. It might all seem like a hardscrabble blues tribute to American stick-to-it-ness. That hardened soul, as DH Lawrence ascribed —

The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.

We know that Western soul is a killer from the womb — those royals and despicable ones from the Old World, those Belgium in the Congo, those Romans, those hard, soldiering, religious zealots, hand in hand with silver chalice and golden rosary, those kings and queens, launching the deplorable ones, the rabble into crusades of raping-ravaging-razing. There is no “American soul” without the British slave traders-merchants-purchasers; no American soul without the French and Spanish interlopers. The American soul is part and parcel those former Nazis and the money-changers, the globalists looking for a micro-penny for every human corpuscle exploited in their gaming humanity. This is Turtle Island, not some chunk of land named for an Italian map maker for the king.

Now that’s a dark dark killer that never melts — Capitalism.  It is now cleaned up, a la Madison Avenue and slick green-blue-pink-white washing, no longer presented as cold, stoic, but happy, illustrious, coopting, brainwashing, gleeful, the ice cream truck coming to serve all the children with gooey goodies. Shifty, slick, liberal, slippery, hip. It is now a virus inside a thousand viruses —

A democratic society shapes itself – by means of the participation of its citizens in discussing and deciding how things should be organised and to what ends.

But, as even their name reveals, the Global Shapers want to “shape” society from above and in their own interests.

This is not the solution to global problems, and, the rockets and payloads of Bezos and Musk and DoD and the rest of the capitalists looking for lucre and gold on Mars and the Moon. Reset is not rebounding. Reset is not reconvening the true holistic way of life. Reset is not returning to a point in time in our civilizations where we come together in mutual aid, live a biodynamic present and future, hold onto sacred tribal principles, understand the soil-air-water. The reset is not a return to sanity, actualization for woman, man, child, ecosystem. This reset is the rich’s bargain basement theft of our agency, our independence, our collective will to strike at them as the felons of our time. Their reset is tracking our every movement, each blink of the eye, each snore and defecation. This reset is about pulling strings, forcing the Faustian Bargain each moment. They will fine-garnish-withhold-penalize-criminalize our unborn, and our dying parents. You get a universal income, but not to be spent on what they do not want you/us to spend it on.

The foregone conclusion is what the teachers teach the children. It is what the media paint around us. Each narrative directed and shot for Netflix or Amazon or Hulu or Vudu, they are set to propagandize for the rich, the resetters, the titans who want mars colonized, who want the moon for their private resort. Orbiting Club Meds in the ionosphere.

Yet, the Lesson is Dead Wolves, Manatees and Turtles

The very place of Trump and Spring Break, Florida, is emblematic of the fall, the disgusting imbalance of the world, of sanity, of thinking. Manatees dying off in unfathomable numbers. Turtles washing up sick and dead. The expansion of the ocean, wiping out much of Florida by 2100. The bastion of Spring Break and lust and speedboats and dream hoarding.

Florida has seen an alarming rise in manatee deaths in 2021.

Something not to be proud of, and to lend pause for humanity, but not more than once, and give it to me once in that 24-hour news cycle, please. At least 432 Florida manatees have already died in 2021, well over double the state’s 5-year average for the same time period.

Hundreds of sea turtles washing up on Southwest Florida beaches this year in a mass mortality event that researchers say will impact the recovery of the protected species is not a good sign of HUMAN health. The Great Reset has nothing to say about the reality of our own commons.

Gray wolves in the North American wilderness.

Then you have Wisconsin, gun-toting AR15-loving murderers taking on a record 216 wolves killed in 60 hours. What does this say about this society, this blood sport society of high powered weapons, radar trackers, dually pick-ups, $340,000 campers, TV, booze, and a quick trip in the woods to murder wolves?

Migrants rescued by Save the Children’s Vos Hestia

Or, the hard cold soul of the European, Italians, putting 20-year sentences on people working with charities to help stranded and sinking and drowning refugees from African countries. Imagine that world of the cold Great Resetters.  Save the Children and MSF among dozens facing sentences of up to 20 years over humanitarian work

Humanitarian organizations are rejecting what they say is an attempt to criminalize lifesaving aid to migrants and refugees at sea after Italian prosecutors charged three groups with aiding and abetting illegal immigration through their rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Over 20 people are facing up to 20 years in prison. — Source.

rescue operation

Each story of injustice is the tip of the proverbial iceberg, demonstrating the insanity of systems — legal systems of punishment-abandonment-unruly laws against the suffering, laws meant to pay the rich, pay off the rotting bureaucrats, the Eichmann’s, big and small, who keep the wheels and the gears of death grinding, whether those wheels are those of the Empire, or the Capitalists, or the Economic Hitmen-Frontmen-Debasers, or all the pigs who make money off the penury and punishment unleashed by Capitalism.

Not me. Not I. Over my dead body.

The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.

Che Guevara Photo

The post Shifty Shifters: Movers and Shapers like a Trillion Locusts first appeared on Dissident Voice.

American Exceptionalism: Private Wealth and Public Squalor

A December 2017 statement from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights notes that, while the US manages to spend “more [money] on national defence than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined”, US infant mortality rates were, as of 2013, “the highest in the developed world”.

The Special Rapporteur provides a barrage of other details from his own visit to the US, during which he was able to observe the country’s “bid to become the most unequal society in the world” – with some 40 million people living in poverty – as well as assess “soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by prescription and other drug addiction”.

Capitalism, it seems, is a deadly business indeed.

Belen Fernandez

A demonstrator from the Occupy Wall Street campaign seen with a dollar taped over his mouth as he stands near the financial district of New York September 30, 2011 [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

A demonstrator from the Occupy Wall Street campaign seen with a dollar taped over his mouth as he stands near the financial district of New York September 30, 2011.  (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

How the Cookie Crumbles

She’s 80, comes from Ayr, Scotland, lives in a sea town along the Oregon Coast. She is caretaker for her 55-year-old nephew. Her heart-failed husband, liver shot through, dialysis weekly, is another of her charges.

Imagine, she and her family ran a small chain of shops — clocks, another locksmith, another fish and chips. That was in Bonnie Scotland.

Her sister married a bloke in the US Air Force, and she shipped out with him. Pregnant. Child Drew, early on, in Tucson at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, he was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. Life for her changed, and then her sister promised if anything happened to this sister, Aunt Regina would take care of Drew. That was a long long time ago.

Regina’s sister and her sister’s husband immolated in a crash coming back from El Paso. Boy Drew left with a younger sister — the boy age 20, sis 16.

For 35 years, our Regina and her Bob raised the boy. Drew is now 55, and part of my job is to support him in his job at a grocery store. He’s been there more than 15 years, and he makes $12.01 an hour.

Forget that economic injustice for a moment. Listen to how the crumbling cookie goes in predatory capitalism — Regina has not been back to the old country in 20 years. She has two knees that are shot. She needs two replacements, but she is the caretaker for the chronically-sick husband. Drew lives with them, getting his two-times a week work at the grocery store as a bagger.

He’s got the infectious personality, and he also has some “issues” glomming onto female staff. Regina was not told that adults with Downs Syndrome many times have lost the synoptic connections tied to urgency for urination and defecation.

Sweet drinks he gulps down, like a lost man in the Sahara. He scarfs down or wolfs down his food.

Like anyone, Drew wants to be in a relationship, married, on some piece of property with a horse, dogs and big garden. He works eight hours a week, and receives under $800 in social security payments.

The state pays Aunt Regina for his care. Her biggest worry is Drew losing his job because of the bathroom accidents or the sexual harassment.

Regina is kind but firm, and her bedside manner isn’t from the latest holistic and enlightened training around people who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I tell Drew, that if he messes up one more time, the grocery store will fire him. The job is more than pocket change for him. He gets out, has responsibilities, is growing some from the integrated employment, and, mind you this is a big AND, I get him out of the house for a few hours a week so I can gain some sense of sanity. I don’t know if he has to be put into a state institution.”

Luck of the draw, luck of the gene expression, luck of the accidental car mortalities, luck luck luck.

That’s the way the cookie crumbles, and in capitalism, we are not judged by how we treat our aged, infirm, vulnerable, youth, sick, disabled, poor. The worse we treat “them,” the more “they” have to struggle, the more daily fear “they” have of failing, faltering, flipping out mentally, the more successful those Capitalists and those Investors and those Finance Wizards and those Upper Economic Class are!

Redistribution of wealth for “them” is taking every last penny from “them,” us. Working people at $12.01 an hour after 15 years in a national/international chain.

A mentality that posits that “they” meant to do that, defecate in their pants, or, oh, “they” know better, and, oh, “they” are gaming the system and pulling the wool over your bleeding heart social services worker heads.

Heartless in a Time of Plague   

Our Scottish Regina is worried about what will happen to Drew once she kicks the bucket, or when she is no longer physically capable of carrying on and running a household with a very demanding Drew and a very failing Bob, her 86-year-old husband.

We talk about the old country’s National Health Service. We talk about the failures of a society that has been ripped open time and time again by the purulent investors — another word for making money anyway they can.

Gutting medical care, gutting entitlement programs, gutting progressive taxation, gutting the measures for health and safety for and by the public. Where oh where will Drew go once his aunt and uncle pass on?

Think of every dollar and penny pinched, and then think of how much we the taxpayer shell out for every nanosecond of the crimes of corporations eating at the belly of communities, and every penny taken in light speed for everything run by the imposters, the misanthropes.

Every million$ here, every billion$ there. Grifters and grabbers. How much did the first Billionaire’s “impeachment” cost us? How much does an Alex Jones or Tom Brady or Michelle Obama get paid for their insipid bolstering of their self-referential mythology? Each speech? Each rot gut book penned?

Every rivet sunk into a Hellfire missile, every pound of fuel used in US Military Terrorism Toys, every nanosecond million made through illegal and unethical investing through algorithm?

That Moon shot by India, or that Mars rover by Japan, or Israel gunning for more surveillance. How much is every human lifetime worth, if we are lumped together in that big pile of “other” and “non-human”?

That heartless cookie crumbling capitalism is rotten to the core. The joke is, though, by the filthy rich, the Art of War Friedman’s and Bezos and all the Google middling’s and upper crust, that if all the billions were taken from the filthy rich, and dumped into the majority on planet earth — the poor, the uneducated, the misbegotten, the terminal, the dysfunctional, the Jerry Springer protagonists and antagonists, in five years all that and more would be back in the hands of the Star Chamber 1,000 or 2,000 Multi-Billionaires.

“We’d just get it all back, because the masses are inherently stupid, know nothing about the value of a dollar, would buy all the junk and shit and whoring dreams we create to sell. We’d have all that so-called ‘redistributed’ wealth back in our hands.”

That myth is coupled with another one, where the rich and the rest of us, having collectively, as much as the 1,000 or millionth richest? Christian Parenti lays it out simply and clearly here:

The 85 richest in the world probably include the four members of the Walton family (owners of Wal-Mart, among the top ten superrich in the USA) who together are worth over $100 billion. Rich families like the DuPonts have controlling interests in giant corporations like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and United Brands. They own about forty manorial estates and private museums in Delaware alone and have set up 31 tax-exempt foundations. The superrich in America and in many other countries find ways, legal and illegal, to shelter much of their wealth in secret accounts. We don’t really know how very rich the very rich really are.

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population—whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.—can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down? Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities? especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc. We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are.

85 Billionaires and the Better Half by Michael Parenti

Ways of Thinking - Feudalism is very much alive

Image by Judite B

The books and discourse and deep discussions and analyses have already been posited and published, and yet, we are in 2021, and the school system, the media system, the propaganda machines of government-military-resource extraction-big ag/med/pharma/AI/finance continue to cobble truth, censor the reality of the penury system that is consumer-corporate-criminal-corrupt Capitalism.

Here, a hodgepodge of readings ramifying the thesis in this essay of mine —

Chris Hedges and Richard Wolff: Capitalism Does Not Work for the Majority of the People

Make No Mistake: The Rule Of The Rich Has Been A Deadly Epoch For Humanity

Michael Parenti: Does Capitalism Work? (2002)

The 1% Pathology and the Myth of Capitalism

Capitalism: The Systematic Poverty and Exploitation of Human Beings by Finian Cunningham

Michael Parenti: These Countries Are Not Underdeveloped, They Are Overexploited (1986)

Luxury Eco-Communism: A Wonderful World is Possible

The Growing Disparity In Living Conditions and Its Consequences by Rainer Shea

Covid-19 and the Health Crisis in Latin America by Yanis Iqbal

The Start Of The Great Meltdown For Industrial Civilization by Rainer Shea

MFTN: Poverty Will Kill More Of Us Than Terrorism

The Rich Are Only Rich If We Let Them Be by Dariel Garner

Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World by Michael Parenti

The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger + How Economic Inequality Harms Societies

Wealth Belongs To All Of Us – Not Just To The Rich by Dariel Garner

We Are So Poor Because They Are So Rich by Dariel Garner

Here are the source links — X and Y

Railroaded into this Mess 

It all comes back to the rackets — war, banking, big ag, law, prisons, military, computing, finance, insuring, retail, lending, investing, for-profit medicine, education, utilities.

The rackets of putting garnishments on all of our wages. The punishment rackets of fines, foreclosures, levies, taxes, fees, surcharges, add-ons, user fees, disposal fees, tolls, late fees, interest fees, penalties, wage attachments, wage theft, any-government-revenue/policing/judicial entity having the legal right to crack into any savings or checking or real estate holding they want to….And steal!

Imagine that freedom, uh? My Drew or my Don, they work for pittances, and they have their measly wages garnished if they make too much above the allowable social security benefit level. Imagine all of the flimflam, all those middle and peripheral and shadowy and underhanded people and agencies each taking a gram of flesh until that human life has been pecked away.

Stuck in a closet somewhere. Huddled around a TV, surrounded by the deadly products of a food industry responsible for billions dead. Food (sic) more deadly than cancer sticks, AKA cigarettes.

Think hard how those children-who-come-to-me-as-adults as their social services manager, wanting me to help them find jobs in a dog-eat-dog culture, where the cookie isn’t just crumbling, but rather smashed into smithereens by the capitalists. All those poisons in food, all the polluting, toxin-laced, dam-building, river-tainting, air-staining processes that bring us better living with plastics-fastfood-shelf lives of a decade. Better living through chemistry, pharmaceutics, chronic illness, disease management, pain regulating.

Then, we cannot discuss the possibilities of a society with more and more allergies, more and more chronic illnesses, more and more learning disabilities, more and more developmental disabilities, more and more intellectual disabilities, more and more trauma and PTSD and generalized anxiety and physiological premature weathering.

And poverty does more than just kills. Poverty eats at the soul, drives people to unsafe harbors like consumerism, disposability, obsessions, addictions, inattentiveness, collective Stockholm Syndrome, perversions, empty calories-entertainment-thinking.

There are numbers just for one aspect of our consumer-retail-exploitative societies competing in a trans-national gallery of dirty capitalism — 4.2 million premature deaths annually? Five million? More? Exposure to air pollution caused over 7.0 million deaths and 103.1 million disability-adjusted life years lost in one year.

Attributed to dirty (polluted) air. Not dirty water. Not dirty food. Not dirty drugs. Not smoking. Not boozing. Not war.

The study uses existing data from IHME on global burden of diseases (Mortality and Disability Adjusted Life Years) related to air pollution such as Trachea, Bronchus and Lung cancer, COPD, Ischemic heart disease and Stroke. This study shows that air pollution is one of the major environmental risk factors for the global burden of disease in 1990-2015 and has remained relatively stable for the past 25 years. By region, the largest burden of disease related to air pollution is found in Western Pacific and South-East Asia, reflecting the heavy industry and air pollution hotspots within the developing nations of these regions. Moreover, the rates of Disability Adjusted Life Years increased because of increase in pollution, especially in South-East Asia region, African region, and Eastern Mediterranean region where populations are both growing and ageing.

— Source

I’ve written about this for years — how there is so much disconnect in Criminal Capitalism, where the marketing ploys and psychological tricks force babies and then toddlers and then kindergarteners and then grade schoolers and then more and more millions of growing minds to adapt to counterintuitive thinking, to accept death, slow or otherwise, as part of the social contract. Dog-eat-dog, predation, big fish/small pond, and the roots of America after decimating Turtle Island, one smoke and mirror show after another snake oil sales pitch.

Which sane or humane person would accept a PayDay loan scam? Which humane person would accept forced arbitration clauses? Which caring human would not endorse clean, well-run, full coverage public transportation? Which caring mother would not demand prenatal care, and medicine and clinics on demand? Where is the logic of old men and old women (look at the senate, the congress, the administration) running the lives of the unborn, newborn and youth into the ground.

Even the thirty-somethings in Brooks Brothers suits look, sound, smell, and espouse OLD. I don’t mean old and wise, or elder thinkers, or experienced and well traveled. I mean old in decayed.

If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds, people with a new vision. It will not be saved by people with old minds and new programs. It will not be saved by people with the old vision but a new program.

The Takers accumulate knowledge about what works well for things. The Leavers accumulate knowledge about what works well for people.

— Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

These flimflam artists, these liars and cheaters and pontificators and media monsters, they are antithetical to a good governance, good society, good people.

They not only do not know the stories of Drew and his Aunt Regina and Uncle Bob, but they have no forward-thinking solutions to the aging old foster parents and the still healthy middle-aged Drew. With all his beauty. With all his kindness. With all his adept knowledge of how to get on, get along, get his day going. Drew, born in the cookie crumbles crap shoot. Regina, who was on her way back to the UK, Scotland, when she answered the call to take care of Drew and his sister.

This story is repeated a million times a month, worldwide. The penalty for living, for being human, for being not one of them (rich, powerful, greed-wielding) and for stopping their lives to do the right thing.

You wake up one day and believe you have a worthy life. You wake up and take account of what good you have done. You wake up and look in the mirror and wonder what it is you actually dreamt, thought, spoke, cared for, read, built, protected, grew, sheltered, did, held sacred, envisioned, husbanded, parented, fostered, ate, drank, created.

Did any of that living have purpose, or some connection to the humanity that is the real culture of Homo Sapiens, mother culture?

Daily, I have a million intersections with culture and cultures — Big D for deaf or small d for disabled? Brain-injured at birth, or hit by a truck at age 11. Traumatic Brain Injury from an early childhood beating, or massive psychological trauma from a rape at age 20. Born with any number of diagnosed maladies, or any expression of “being born on the autism spectrum.” Fragile X or fetal alcohol affective disorder. Or Downs Syndrome.

The luck of the draw is one enormous field of chance, and the outcomes are not just tied to the abilities — emotional, spiritual, economic, personal — of those you call family, but how the society at large and each community gauge the value of life, the value placed on those whose luck of the draw came up short in some areas.

But the world is fragile, and those on some neuro typical scale and those atypically neuro, can we build our culture together, and heal and protect and shelter and engender and facilitate and teach and learn from?

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will ACT like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.

— Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

victor-palenque-ishmael-lords-wolves-read-ishmael-daniel-quinn

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Madagascar: A Nation of Hunger

Madagascar is in great pain. Theodore Mbainaissem, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) sub-office in Ambovombe, southern Madagascar, says: “Seeing the physical condition of people extremely affected by hunger who can no longer stand…children who are completely emaciated, the elderly who are skin and bone…these images are unbearable… People are eating white clay with tamarind juice, cactus leaves, wild roots just to calm their hunger.”

One third of people in southern Madagascar will struggle to feed themselves over the next few months. Until the next harvest in April 2021, 1.35 million people will be “food insecure” – almost double those in need last year – and 282,000 of them are considered “emergency” cases. Pervasive food insecurity in Madagascar is the result of a variety of factors.

Poverty

Food security is not only caused by a lack of food supply but also by the lack of political and economic power to access food. Thus, access to income is one potential means for alleviating food insecurity. In Madagascar, the majority of the people don’t have proper access to income.

Madagascar is one of poorest countries in the world. In the 2007/2008 United Nation Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index, an indicator that measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, Madagascar was given the rank of 143rd out of 177 countries.

Madagascar’s economy is tiny. The market capitalization of U.S. tech giant Facebook is more than 40 times Madagascar’s national income. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, alone is five times richer than the island nation. A large chunk of Madagascar’s minuscule national income is appropriated by the rich, evidenced in the declining consumption capacity of the poor. Between 2005 and 2010, consumption for the poorest households declined by 3.1%.

A COVID-19-triggered economic recession has debilitated an already impoverished people. The combined impact of global trade disruptions and pandemic restrictions is estimated to have resulted in a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contraction of 4.2% in 2020. The poverty rate (at $1.9/day) is estimated to have risen to 77.4% in 2020, up from 74.3% in 2019, corresponding to an increase of 1.38 million people in one year.

Climate Change

Between 1980 and 2010, Madagascar suffered 35 cyclones and floods, five periods of severe drought, five earthquakes and six epidemics. Madagascar’s extreme weather conditions have intensified due to climate change, increasing food vulnerability.

Food insecurity affects all regions of the nation, and particularly those in the south, which have a semi-arid climate and are particularly exposed to severe and recurrent droughts. In 2019, a lack of rainfall and a powerful El Nino phenomenon led to the loss of 90% of the harvest and pushed more than 60% of the population into food insecurity.

Interruptions in food supply due to crop failures have resulted in sharp increases in the prices of different items. Some areas have seen the price of rice shoot up from 50 U.S. cents per kilogram in 2019 to $1.05 in 2020.

Extractivism

The extractivist engine of Madagascar’s economy has usurped lands intended for food crops and displaced the people living there. Transnational mining companies in search of new resources have paid increased attention to the significant mineral potential of the country, which is rich in diverse deposits and minerals, including nickel, titanium, cobalt, ilmenite, bauxite, iron, copper, coal and uranium, as well as rare earths. Nickel-cobalt and ilmenite have attracted the majority of foreign direct investment thus far.

Beginning from the early 2000s, multinational mining companies have made the largest foreign investments in Madagascar’s history. Those affected by the large-scale mining operations are subjected to the restrictions on land and forest-use associated with the establishment of the mining and offset projects. Such resource use restrictions affect important subsistence and health-related activities, with critical impacts on livelihoods and food security.

To take an example, villagers living in Antsotso have been heavily impacted by biodiversity offsetting at Bemangidy in the Tsitongambarika Forest Complex (TGK III). They have reported that QIT-Madagascar Minerals (QMM) — a public-private partnership between Rio Tinto subsidiary QIT-Fer et Titaine and the Malagasy government — did not explain to them that they were involved in a offsetting program when they were asked to participate in tree planting and were excluded from accessing the forest.

Constrained resource access due to the biodiversity offsetting measures has seriously impacted food security among Antsotso’s residents, forcing them to abandon rich fields near forest areas and instead grow manioc in inferior sandy soil next to the sea at great distance from their village. All this is the result of the concentrated clout possessed by mining magnates.

Agro-export Firms

Between 2005 and 2008, 3 million hectares were under negotiation by 52 foreign companies seeking to invest in agriculture. These companies form a landscape made up of irregularly placed and privately secured territorial enclaves that are linked to transnational networks but disarticulated from both local populations and national development projects. Since these companies are functionally integrated in a framework geared toward the enrichment of foreign investors, they have little regard for the food security of Madagascans.

In March 2009, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics signed a 99-year lease in Madagascar for about 1.3 million hectares, or about half of the island’s arable land. It was the largest lease of this type in history and would have supplied half of South Korea’s grain imports. The organization Collective for the Defense of Malagasy Lands (TANY) was established in response to the lease and petitioned the government to first consult with stakeholders before agreeing to foreign land deals. The petition was ignored.

The deal subsequently fell through when political unrest broke out in Madagascar, which led to the fall of the former president, Marc Ravalomana. Daewoo may have been the largest and most-publicized of foreign investment in recent history, but it was not the first. The proposed land deal raised international attention to the land grabs taking place across the globe, particularly given the contemporaneous food crisis.

 Monopoly Capitalism

Hunger in Madagascar is the outcome of a confluence of crises. All of them are fundamentally related to capitalism — the system that generates the chaotic drive for ever-greater profits. In the monopoly stage of capitalism, the oppressed people are standing up against a system of generalized monopolies — a structure of power where a tiny clique of plutocrats and their tightly integrated productive apparatuses control the world.

Correspondingly, the Third World has seen its autonomy erode in the face of this neo-colonial onslaught, leading to the dominance of comprador bourgeoisie — a fraction of capitalists whose interests are entirely subordinated to those of foreign capital, and which functions as a direct intermediary for the implantation and reproduction of foreign capital. What we need today is an independent and unified initiative from the Third World, which brings oppressed countries like Madagascar into regional alliances aimed at de-linking from imperialist architectures and pursuing a socialist path.

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Why Suu Kyi is Incapable of Defeating the Military

On 12 February, 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution in which it criticized the removal of Myanmar’s democratically elected government by the military, locally known as Tatmadaw. The Council also called urgently for the immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained, including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and others, and the lifting of the state of emergency.

As the international community condemns the coup and shows support for Suu Kyi, it is important not to whitewash the latter as a savior of the Myanma masses. Neither is she a doyen of democracy nor a courageous anti-military leader; she is the face of an alternative ruling class project which aims to incorporate the Tatmadaw into a new geo-economic architecture. The coup is the culmination of that intra-elite power struggle.

Intra-elite Power Struggle

The military regime that came to power in 1988 under Saw Maung looked to capitalism to provide a solution to the crisis that had led to social upheaval, and thus set in motion a process that aimed at breaking down the old state-owned economy and moving towards greater marketization. Their plan was not to sell off to private capitalists, but to transform themselves into the owners of the means of production. They proceeded to privatize a section of the economy, while holding on to key sectors via their control of the state sector.

Eventually, the military’s plan gave rise to a clique of generals who control, through straw men, Myanmar’s biggest corporations, as well as the lucrative trade in jade and other precious stones, narcotics and timber. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) tried to re-configure this model of military-dominated capitalism by implementing an aggressively pro-market reform agenda that included mobilizing Western and East Asian investment into regular channels. Her “Myanmar Sustainable Economic Development Plan” allowed foreign capitalists to invest up to 35% in local companies, as well as holding stakes of up to 35% in Myanmar companies traded on the Yangon Stock Exchange.

Defensive Posture

The tussle between the NLD and the military reflected itself in different domains. However, the former always maintained a defensive posture – in the hope that by doing the junta a favour, it would hopefully grant them the minimal democratic reforms it wants. On the one hand, Suu Kyi took over some of the military’s positions — for instance, in the peace process. She also seemed to have taken over the military’s version of establishing a centralized state under the domination of the Bamar-Buddhist majority.

On the other hand, Suu Kyi feared the actions of the military. She avoided convening the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), the institution responsible for discussing security matters. The 11-member body comprising the highest legislative, executive and military players has the right to take over power during a state of emergency.

Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing repeatedly demanded that Suu Kyi convene the NSCD, while she appointed her own security advisers. The NLD feared being forced to call a state of emergency (e.g. over Rakhine state), which could allow the Commander-in-Chief to take over power and dissolve parliament. Both the NLD and the military unsuccessfully attempted to increase their power in the NDSC by bringing in constitutional amendments that would have altered the organ’s composition in their favour.

Neoliberalism with Ethno-racial Characteristics

Insofar that Suu Kyi wanted to establish the complete hegemony of free market on the soil of Myanmar by striking compromises with the military, she generated a politico-economic framework that had excluded the common people. Positioned between the Tatmadaw and multinational companies, she became impervious to the concrete demands of millions of Burmese.

The majority of Myanmar’s population has not been able to see the prosperity that Suu Kyi promised. One in four remained poor in 2017, according to the World Bank. Nearly half of those polled by the Asian Barometer Survey (ABS) in 2019 were worried about losing their livelihood, more than twice as many as in 2015. Some 54% said they were unable to access basic services, such as water, public transport and health care, up from 48% five years ago.

Suu Kyi’s government repressed a surge of labor organizing over the past five years. In particular, garment workers waged a massive organizing drive that was repressed by both the bosses and the government. In May 2020, six labor leaders were arrested for leading a strike that violated COVID-19 regulations in a factory in Yangon’s Dagon Seikkan Township.

The NLD administration also remained quiet over the Tatmadaw’s continued atrocities against the working class. In jade mining sites such as Hpakan, young children are sent to gather jade while facing brutal conditions, including mudslides. An estimated 1.13 million five to seventeen year olds are trapped in child labor in Myanmar. This means one in every 11 children is deprived of their childhood, health, and education.

Failing on the economic front, Suu Kyi used inhumane ethno-racial tactics to divert citizens’ attention from relevant issues. Silent support for increasing mobilization of ultranationalist Buddhist groups contributed to the outbreak of extremist attacks and anti-Muslim sentiments. Hate speech increased, particularly via new social media communities. Sectarian violence and military clearance operations drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.

Governmental collaborationism with the Tatmadaw ensured that the Rohingya were left with no avenues for justice. One example of this is that the seven soldiers who were convicted and jailed for the death of 10 Rohingya men and boys during the 2017 military operations were released less than a year into their 10-year prison sentences. But the two journalists who reported the killing spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets.

In the absence of the rule of law, the international community called for an independent investigation resulting in accusations of crimes against humanity. In December 2019, Suu Kyi had to defend her country from accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Domestically, both the government and the military used the increasing international criticism to rally their supporters behind them and to forge a unity, which is otherwise lacking in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

On Suu Kyi’s watch, the country has seen a regression in press freedomexpanded usage of anti-defamation laws and a general crackdown on speech. In 2020, independent news organizations such as Karen News, and Rakhine-based Development Media Group and Narinjara News, were banned from local telecommunication operator’s networks by the government for allegedly disseminating “fake news”.

Yangon-based Khit Thit Media, Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, and Sittwe-based Narinjara News faced anti-terrorism charges for publishing interviews with the outlawed Arakan Army, which has been fighting for autonomy in the Rakhine and Chin states of western Myanmar. Reporters Without Borders ranked Myanmar 139 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, while Freedom House categorized Myanmar as “Not Free”.

Defeating the Military

The protest movement that has broken out since the coup took place is the biggest since 1988. But the NLD will not take this movement to its final conclusion; it will stop half-way and maintain its strategy of cooperation with the Tatmadaw. Despite popular demands to amend the existing constitution, which gives too much power to the military leaders, the NLD had largely remained silent on that issue. Even with a majority in parliament and with full authority to make legislation, the NLD continued with its non-confrontational approach.

The NLD leaders instead focused on bringing in foreign investment in an attempt to develop a stable capitalist economy, while letting the military enjoy effective government control. NLD had no confidence that its mass support could overcome the military. The party feared that if they mobilised mass support it could get “out of control” and threaten their pro-capitalist project. Now, the working people of Myanmar are going to pay the price of this failure.

During the 8-8-88 uprising (8 August 1988), Suu Kyi demobilized the militant workers’ and student movements to turn them into a base for her electoral ambitions. At that time, the pro-democracy movement hesitated in ousting the junta once and for all. Now, students and workers must build a mass movement that does not repeat this mistake.

 

The post Why Suu Kyi is Incapable of Defeating the Military first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Dreams Outside the Hopes of the Neuronormal

The legacy of a society is, well, how it treats its young, old, frail, infirm, sick, poor and those hobbled by structural and environmental injustice.

Some in urban planning circles also allude to how safe a community is based on the popsicle test – can a child or two walking from home to a store, get a popsicle without having to cross high speed roads or highways, without having to walk along long stretches of ugly dangerous buildings, and who can find a multitude of stores that sell good food and desserts like Popsicles. How easy it is for the child to walk there? Are the homes-apartments-duplexes-offices looking out toward the sidewalks? Are there porches out front where people linger and lounge? Are there trees for shade? Are there mail boxes? Are there stores and eateries on the ground floor of a stretch of businesses with apartments and housing one and two floors above? Are there people bicycling? Are the stores and businesses set toward the streets and their parking lots pushed to the back of the establishments? Are there scalable hardware stores with windows and many doorways? Are there neighborhood groups that patrol the neighborhoods? Are there mixed neighborhoods with lower economic mixed in with middle class? What are the officers of the peace doing? Are they walking and bicycling their beats, where they live? Are they battened down in huge bulletproof SUV’s with three computers, five assault weapons, and the A/C blaring?

The children, walk or bicycle from their home, and within a few minutes, they get to a place of business, without running through or dodging a gauntlet of racing trucks and autos. Are there elderly and families and business owners and customers there, doing their thing, on a scalable level?

We know that in capitalism, in this free (sic) market society, with the bottom dollar and the bottom line of more and more profits without work or building something as the drivers, we the people – those two children walking to get a fudge bar or organic apple – are not the drivers of the society, the communities, the neighborhoods.

Life in Capitalism is designed for speed, rot, decay, throwaway buildings and throwaway humanity. We have those massive systems of oppression run by real estate, insurance, finance, banks, building and paving, all those entities guarded by the US Chamber of Commerce whose job is to maximize the profits (gouging’s) of the large and medium-sized businesses that have run rough shod over us, the “regular people.”

Now, those old industries are being retrofitted for the next level of exploitation and enslavement vis-à-vis the economies of scale vaunted by the monopolies, the investor class and billionaires. And that scaling up is facilitated by the masters of logarithms and Artificial Intelligence and digital dictators.

Mom and pops – that is, the small family-owned businesses and the mini-chains of this or that service or consumer item – they are now on the cutting block in an amped up destruction of people’s lives, on a scale that would make a steroid using wrestler look like Mother Teresa on bread and water. Any chance of having a small business community have a say in how their communities and neighborhoods and census tracks are developed alongside with how their neighboring communities connect to this urban and rural planning, all of that inclusive and participatory democracy and governance are  dwindling ten-fold yearly.

Who makes the decisions? Who puts the brakes on suburban sprawl and rampant car-centric cities? Ahh, the masters of money and masters of stocks and the AI and Digital Dictators will have more and more say in the design (or miss-design) of both the built environment as well as the financial environments. Add to that educational environments, the healthcare environments, the food system environments, the housing environments. We the people do not have control!

Examples by Design

I’m putting in this opening above to help segue into the reality of my work now – one of many hats, but now, it’s social work and case management for adults living with developmental and intellectual disabilities. And some who have had traumatic brain injuries.

If the reader doesn’t have a bead on what the ID/DD community is, well, look it up. In a Western culture with more and more pre-newborns gestating into a slurry of forever chemicals, cortisol loads, heavy metals, stress hormones from mother, and a combination of all of this as a synergetic roulette wheel, coupled with DNA markers from mother and father, well, you can image that young boys and girls with disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder or mental retardation or any number of other aspects of life dealt from a genetic and poison deck of cards will be a huge burden on families, medical services, schools, society in general.

Go back to the Popsicle analogy, but this time look at how our cultures deal with the less fortunate – a child born is innocent, no matter what sort of spirituality or religiosity you hold or do not hold. Cases in point for me after more than two decades working with poisoned souls – the children of the storms: fetal alcohol-affected or drug-addicted or hugely malnourished inside the womb – we are barbaric in terms of how we “deal” with the afflicted or the people born into a life of one or multiple deficits.

Here, a composite – Drew was born to a mother who “experienced” drug and alcohol addiction. He was 5 pounds and four ounces at birth. He tested positive for cocaine and opiates at birth. He was in a nursery until moved to foster care in 10 days. His birth mother had several children “taken away or removed from her” because of her addictions.

He was adopted by an old woman, who loved him but died of cancer when Drew was 7. Neighbors reported to the child protective agencies in California that Drew was being neglected and the dying mother was not caring for him properly.

This is a common story in my line of work – multiple foster home placements per individual, lots of behavior issues arising by first year of school, from aggression, to defiance, to tantrums. Quickly he was put under a special education label – independent education plan. His ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, and anxiety, depression, aggression, isolating behavior, and poor stick-to-it-ness, all of that and more channeled him into special classes and into the special education network. Hearing voices and magical thinking and fantastical thoughts and paranoia, well, Drew is sort of a ward of the state. His foster/adoptive parents are his financial guardians, and he has county case workers and state ones lined up, along with nonprofit case workers.

I work with a nonprofit, again, as a case worker-employment specialist. My job is to get people like Drew jobs, but that process is holistic, systematic and definitely tied to the whole suite of getting young and not so old people ready to face competitive employment, integrated, no longer stuck in some sheltered workshop.

Those “sheltered workshops” included Goodwill clothing tagging rooms where all workers were those living with developmental disabilities; or even roaming crews of cleaners of office buildings who are all labeled ID-DD. That is a type of cloistering, sheltering from mainstream society.

My nonprofit, of course, is a middleman of sorts, replacing the services states, counties and cities should be providing by taking over the contracts to do the work of providing developmental disabilities safety nets.

Nutshells are the Only Teachable Moments

So, getting someone a job at a hotel to do towel folding or room cleaning, or helping someone land a job as a custodian at a school, and for those with more skills and with more confidence, a place in retail sales, that’s part of my work. Sure, in Portland I worked with lawyers who have cerebral palsy, and true, that type of person deserves an equal shot at being a lawyer or working at the level somewhere. These advocates have their hearts in the right place, to be sure, and no Five F’s for them – filth, factory, food, foliage, fur – because they have graduate degrees.

The reality is, though, someone with a lack of reading skills, with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and all the attending issues tied to the autism in that individual, well, working a cash register is tough (impossible for most), and doing public customer service at any level is tough. Behind the scenes jobs are the norm, and, unfortunately, the filth, food, foliage, fur and factory are the only choices sometimes. Life on the Central Oregon Coast where people retire or vacation, and where a fishing industry thrives, well, those job opportunities dwindle big time.

Aspirational:  all people deserve home, health, education, food, work, public transportation choices. Aspirational: sure, we need communities designed for that Popsicle test. Most of my clients, of course, do not drive, or can’t. Most clients have issues with navigating the absurd on-line employment applications. Many clients need me there in the actual job interview.

Many clients need a coach on the job, sometimes for life. Many clients work minimum wage for 20 hours a week to keep a bit of the SSI (social security insurance coming in). We are such a penury and usury society that my clients, even at minimum wage, get a dollar taken away from every two dollars made. This is how the system kills hope, advancement — the state gobbles up shekels after their first $85 is earned.

All the studies and anecdotal evidence show that a job for a person with a developmental disability or a physical disability, or even a psychological disability like schizophrenia, THRIVE with employment for obvious reasons: a sense of belonging, team work, doing something as a member of society, extra money, socialization, using the brain. But here we are again, failing the other Popsicle test – we penalize and penalize and penalize until people are stripped bare.

A few clients have to take urine tests for many jobs, and if they come back positive for cannabis, well, some outfits disqualify the person automatically from a minimum wage job. Even if that person has a medical marijuana card, in a state where pot is legal (it is in OR). Imagine that, all those politicians, those weak-spine things in DC and around state Capitols, and this is what they have legislated and this is how weak they are when it comes to day to day, people to people life-and-death decisions.

Study after study, and again, a million anectodical stories show THC and CBD actually pull patients off prescriptions and actually keep anxiety at bay and amp up focus.

The law enforcers and the bureaucracies and the policymakers are Neanderthals, really (no attack on those people, Neanderthals, but it’s a term of describing how behind the times and backward they are).

My job is to do workarounds, to do magic, and while mom and pop’s along the coast are shuttering daily, the small hotels are now owned by investment groups, and managed by the big daddies of hotel and motel management corporations. Having workarounds with national organizations, sometimes multinationals, well, those conversations never happen, let alone an email gets returned. They are not of, for and by the community. They are in business for the investors and profits.

The chances of having an offspring with one or a number of chronic illnesses or who might end up on the spectrum or might have brain anomalies because of gestational issues, or who are genetically programmed to come out a “certain way,” well, those odds increase monthly.

Yet the systems of oppression and the cops and the legal systems, they still incarcerate, batter and murder people with autism. People in mental health crises are tased and murdered by pigs. The systems of oppression are buttressed by the prejudices of Holly-dirt and the bullies of the world. It can be an overt Trump making fun of a disabled reporter at a press conference when he was first running in 2016, or it could be a Biden who pushed the crime bill, putting untold numbers of people with mental, emotional and situational abuse in chambers of hell – prison.

The spectrum of people who still do not understand why I work in “that field,” under all the pressures of emotionally traumatized and psychologically depleted people and their families, well, they might think of themselves as the beautiful people, the anti-Trumpistas, the LGBTQ folk, the African-American-in-the-VP-office loving folk, but again, they fail the Popsicle test.

Dream hoarders and Not in My Backyard vacillators, and all sorts of other liberal/neoliberal types, they are no friends of the Popsicle Test of a Sustainable, Fair, Resilient Community. They love their first and second homes. They covet a Stock Market hovering around 31,000 points. They love the Netflix mental diabetes junk they consume, and they have no idea why Biden is as bad as Bush or Trump.

And then I have to convince people to shed their prejudices against people that are not appearing “like themselves.” We do not use terms like “neuronormal” to contrast my clients with the mainstream, but in the end, what is normal in a society that shifts baselines almost weekly?

With the new normal full of paranoia, unapproved vaccines, and misleading diseased minds like Fauci and Gates leading the charge for a global forced vaccination program, one can image how paranoid my clients are who live in group homes or in small one-room apartments. TV and few friends ramify their fears. Lockdown is a locking up of the mind!

Some clients do not even want to meet me face to face on a beach with masks on. They are paranoid because of the mass polluting media. One disability on top of another and another. Welcome to America.

What is a disability? I suppose Helen Keller might figure in here:

When she was sixteen, in 1896, she was catapulted to national fame, writes Keith Rosenthal for the International Socialist Review. By 1904, when she graduated from Radcliffe College, she was internationally famous. She joined the Socialist Party of America a few years later and began advocating for revolutionary change. “She noticed the close relationship between disability and poverty, and blamed capitalism and poor industrial conditions for both,” writes Sascha Cohen for Time.

But even though she had strong politics and a national voice, nobody took her opinions seriously. “Newspaper editors would use her disability as a means to dismiss her politics and to dissuade people from taking her seriously,” writes Rosenthal. “Her radicalism, conservative writers would aver, was a product of the political ‘mistakes [which] spring out of the manifest limitations of her development.’”

Despite this, she was a leading light of the American socialist movement, Rosenthal writes. Among many other causes, she championed pacifism and the U.S. staying out of World War I. Source: Smithsonian Magazine

keller.jpg

Eventually, in dog-eat-dog, kill your competition capitalism, we all become each other’s competitor, enemy. A few billion dollars here and there for hundreds of millions of struggling people is birdseed, yet the systems of oppression and suppression, along with the mass murdering media, cull agency, gumption, and the ability of people to stand up to the oppressors and the authorities and multiple graduate degree certificate holders.

What do the people I serve and the so-called “normal majority” have in common? There are variations on a Dystopian theme, whether it’s Blade Runner or Minority Report or Brave New World or 1984. Almost everyone in this country is confused, shattered, see-hear-speak no evil tied to their specific coalitions and ways of thinking. My amazing clients are enmeshed in fear and the outside world, thanks to the conflation of SARS-CoV2 to a body-eating zombie virus, eating them alive and culling them all eventually. No more hide and seek — it’s all duck and cover and mask and hide and isolate.

What that gives me as a worker are many people who deserve integrated employment but who are hobbled and shackled to the gestalt of a warped society. Do they have other ways of thinking and seeing and hearing? Of course. Do they have their own methods of surviving paranoia, depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, magical thinking, shattered executive functions, functional or complete illiteracy?

Of course. Of course. But again, the Popsicle test fails each time. Imagine, a job, 4 pm to 8 pm, in a town 15 miles from where they live. Can you see the public transportation system beautiful and timely and regular? Nope. Can you see all these taxi and shuttle services for free getting people to work and from work who can’t-won’t-never will drive? Where is that dreamland in Capitalism?

Yet every minute and every second of a 24-hour news cycle or 24 hours of a million channels broadcasting thousands of novellas, soap operas or series and movies, all are occupied with the stories and travails of the rich and famous, the idiotic heroes or pig crime dramas or Marvel Comic Book drivel. Rarely do Americans see what they live out personally, or view what they struggle with daily, or get to watch people like themselves in this battle to get the oppressors and Eichmann’s to bend to their/our will and begin to apply the tenants of the Popsicle Theory.

Otto Zehm

I can end with story after story of humanity hog-tied or knee-butted to death by the cops. Add to that demographic people living with psychological-intellectual-developmental disabilities.

You do not have to surf the internet long to find a few cases of autistic men and women or boys and girls getting pepper sprayed and handcuffed and body slammed by the pigs.

There is that case of Otto Zehm, and then Alien Boy which I wrote about here at DV. “Watching Brian Lindstrom’s Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, I am reminded of my forty plus years in and around cops, with mentally distressed clients, as a social worker with homeless and re-entry and veteran clients, and as a teacher in many alternative high school programs, community college, prisons, with military students, and with adults living with developmental disabilities.”

I think that most of us instinctively avoid people with mental illness.

I think in many ways what my films are about is that search for my grandpa’s dentures: for that humanizing narrative that bridges the gap between “us” and “them” to arrive at a “we.”
—Brian Lindstrom, documentarian

Zehm was 32 years old when the Spokane cops killed him by putting him on the ground and forcing a cop’s weight onto his back while Otto’s diaphragm collapsed. He was a custodian, and back in 2006, the Spokesman Review deemed him as a mentally disabled custodian.

He went into a mini-mart for soda. It took almost a decade to find the pig guilty of murder. And this is how the DA and cops think of “mentally disabled custodians” —

Zehm either “attacked” the officers or at least refused to comply with their commands. Police Chief Jim Nicks said Tuesday that Zehm “immediately engaged” the first officer.

“Whether he lunged or turned quickly on him, whatever the case may be, the officer clearly felt there was a risk there,” Nicks said. “The suspect had a large two-liter bottle of pop. The officer had to take all those things into consideration as far as what level of threat this might be.

“But the bottom line is they had a duty and an obligation to detain and control him.” — Spokesman Review

I’ve been down this road many times over the years. My first police encounter as a newspaper reporter was in Ajo, Arizona. A very long time ago. Pima County Sheriff responds to a mother’s call about her Vietnam War veteran son having a mental crisis out front in the desert front yard. Fenced in. He needed some meds. The cops show up. And, while the veteran was on his mother’s property, which essentially was being paid for through the vet’s job and benefits, the deputy pulled his gun on the other side of the property line. He tells the 38 year old to drop the small knife.

A knife brandished by a shirtless and barefoot fellow in his OWN front yard.

Justified-six-shots-to-the-torso homicide. I was 19, and back then, I had  this gig as a newspaper reporter, the so-called “sexy” cop beat, and, while I pushed my editors to allow some of my secondary interviews into the piece (interviews I did from a USC criminal justice reforming professor, another from a police chief in Akron) well, those were cut from the published article. Those two sources discussed how police are ripe for this sort of homicide, and how the system is rigged to defend civilian killing cops. That was 43 years ago.

I spent time with the vet’s mother and his ex-wife, and in reality, this guy was pretty cool, a great rock hound, three years at the university in hard rock geology, but his PTSD was way too much. PTSD wasn’t even the terminology back then in 1976.

I think of Otto Zehm all the time now. I knew of him and said hello to him a few times while I lived and taught in Spokane. He cleaned at the Community Building where I did a lot of gigs as a poet and teacher. I had my radio show in that building, and I ran into Otto a lot.

There is no way in hell Otto could have done harm to a cop.

The irony is that in 2006 I wasn’t working yet directly in the field of developmental disabilities. Sure, I had students who had psychological disabilities, and some students with accommodations. Many students who came back from the killing mountains of the Middle East.

I ended up working with adults with developmental disabilities in Portland and the three-county area 8 years later.

Now I am back at it, and, I think about some of my very verbal and far-thinking men and women with autism disorders. I think of their defiance and their questioning and their inability “to get” that cops or pigs or sheriff deputies just are itching for a bruising. They expect instant compliance. That is compliance from a disabled person, or from a three star black general or a Mexican American female attorney.

You can read about the extrajudicial killings this country’s allows. And that, again, is the Popsicle Test failure Number 999,999.

All those promises for reform. With the Portland Police Bureau. Seattle PD. Spokane PD. A thousand other PD’s blemished overtly with police brutality, police coverups, police maleficence.

No Popsicles for the People. Including the Developmentally Disabled.

Amid coronavirus, parents want ice cream vendors to return - Los Angeles Times

The post Dreams Outside the Hopes of the Neuronormal first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will More Police-State Arrangements Foster Democracy?

The events of January 6, 2021 in Washington D.C. were historic and will be analyzed for some time to come. Many were rattled and shaken to their core by what unfolded that day in the nation’s capital. Others were excited, relieved, and hopeful.

Since then, all sorts of disinformation, confusion, and illusions have filled mainstream accounts of what happened that day and why, but it is already clear that certain things are emerging that once again do not bode well for the people. It is always important to ask: “when a major event happens, who ultimately ends up benefitting from it?”

As with past events and crises, and keeping in mind the role and significance of “disaster capitalism,” it is not unreasonable to assume that the events of January 6, 2021 will be used by the rich and their political and media representatives to expand police-state arrangements under the banner of high ideals (e.g., “protecting the citadel of democracy” and “our democracy is in peril”). The irony of the situation did not escape numerous world leaders and millions around the globe who proclaimed in unison: “Finally the U.S. is getting a taste of its own medicine. The U.S. has actively organized ruthless coups, conflicts, wars, rebellions, and insurrections in more than 100 countries over the past 200 years.” For many, the events of January 6 further lowered the credibility of “representative democracy” in the “bastion of democracy.”

Further degrading the legitimacy of outmoded governance arrangements, the world saw how Washington D.C. was recently turned into a large military camp with armed soldiers and armed state agents everywhere. Many police and military forces will remain in and around the area well after the January 2021 presidential inauguration and contribute to establishing a “new normal” of police presence. How does this look at home and abroad? Like a robust vibrant democracy which is the envy of the world, or a scandalous troubling situation? The massive militarization of Washington D.C. has only added to the dystopian, humiliating, and bizarre life everyone has been forced to endure since March 2020 when the never-ending and exhausting “COVID Pandemic” started in earnest.

But contrary to media accounts the struggle today is not between democrats and republicans. It is not between those who support Trump or revile him. It is not between racists versus anti-racists, pro-diversity or anti-diversity advocates, or “progressives” versus “right-wingers.” Nor is it between “right-wing thugs” versus the police, or ANTIFA versus right-wing militias. These are facile dichotomies that consolidate anticonsciousness and further divide the polity. Such superficial characterizations miss the profound significance of what is unfolding—an intense legitimacy crisis—and the fact that no one is talking about how to empower the people as sharp conflicts among factions of the ruling elite intensify and ensnare people. Ramzy Baroud reminded us recently that:

While mainstream US media has conveniently attributed all of America’s ills to the unruly character of outgoing President Donald Trump, the truth is not quite so convenient. The US has been experiencing an unprecedented political influx at every level of society for years, leading us to believe that the rowdy years of Trump’s Presidency were a mere symptom, not the cause, of America’s political instability.

In the current fractured, chaotic, and dangerous context, all manner of inflammatory and provocative remarks are still being made by a range of politicians, media outlets, and “leaders.” Words like “treason,” “insurrection,” “violent mob,” “coup,” “rebellion,” and “sedition” are being thrown around loosely and quickly. There is no sense of how such discourse takes us all further down a dangerous road. Different individuals, groups, and factions are being lumped into overly-simplistic categories and classifications while ignoring the long-standing marginalization of the polity as a whole and the continued failure of “representative democracy.”

In this foggy context, it can be easy to forget that whether you are a democrat, republican, or something else, the economy and society are not operating in your interests. Debt, poverty, inequality, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, under-employment, stock market bubbles, environmental decay, and generalized anxiety continue to worsen nationwide and harm Americans of all political stripes while the rich get much richer much faster. Existing governance arrangements marginalize more than 95 percent of people. Working people have no real mechanism to effectively advance their interests in the current political setup. They are reduced to perpetually begging politicians and “leaders” to do the most basic things. There is an urgent need for democratic renewal.

In the coming months we will not only see more economic collapse but also more police-state arrangements put in place in the name of “security” and “democracy.” A main focus will be “domestic terrorism,” leading to the further restriction of freedom of speech and criminalization of dissent. Freedom of movement will also be constrained. This will be far-reaching, affecting everyone, even those currently throwing around words like “sedition,” “coup,” and “insurrection.” Already, the atmosphere has been chilled; many are more carefully self-monitoring their speech and actions so as to not be targeted by the state.

At the end of the day, conflicts, divisions, social unrest, political turmoil, and economic deterioration will not go away so long as the existing authority clashes with the prevailing conditions and the demands emerging from these conditions. Objective conditions are screaming for modernization and solutions that the rich and their entourage are unable and unwilling to provide.

Unemployment, under-employment, hunger, homelessness, poverty, debt, inequality, despair, and generalized anxiety do not care if you are black or white, democrat or republican, right-wing or left-wing, a “Trumper” or “anti-Trumper.” Concrete conditions are screaming for the affirmation of basic rights like the right to food, shelter, education, healthcare, work, and security.

Their struggles and demands may take different forms and express themselves in different ways, but it is the long-standing absence of these rights that people from all walks of life are striving to bring into being.

And while their policies may differ in some respects, the different factions of the rich and their political representatives have only more of the same to offer people: more inequality, more debt, more under-employment, more worry and insecurity, more stock market bubbles, and more empty promises. Lofty phrases and grand “plans” from the rich and their representatives won’t change the aim and direction of the economy. People are not going to suddenly become empowered because one party of the rich or the other holds power now. Divisions, dissatisfaction, and marginalization are not going to disappear just because a different section of the rich wields power. Many believe that the road ahead will be very rocky.

Democratic renewal does not favor the rich or their representatives, it is something only working people themselves will benefit from and have to collectively fight for. In this regard, it is key to consciously reject the aims, outlook, views, and agenda of the rich and develop a new independent aim, politics, outlook, and agenda that favors the polity and the public interest.

The post Will More Police-State Arrangements Foster Democracy? first appeared on Dissident Voice.