Corporations Aren’t People; They’re Super People

Part human, part machine, programmed to profit, devouring the world

                               Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

What is a corporation?

What is the cost of a human life?

Taking control of governments

Devouring the natural world

Corporations CAN be executed

Why this won’t work

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That Time I Actually Helped Someone

Photo by Mubarak Showole on Unsplash

Like most people, I enjoy helping others, but I’m not very good at it. I sometimes offer people help they don’t want, or I think I’m helping when I’m just getting in the way.

I give, but I rarely feel like I’m making a difference.

It’s easy to give tidbits of help, and sometimes that’s all people need, like when someone drops a package and you return it to them. But effective help, the kind that enables people to change their lives, is a lot harder. It takes time, patience, focus, and consistent effort. That’s what I learned from helping my 18 year old neighbor graduate high school. In the process, I learned a lot about myself and what it means to really help.

Four years back, Roland enrolled in a Catholic high school that was more demanding than his public schools had been. They were teaching concepts and requiring students to demonstrate what they had learned. It was a much better education, only available to him because a cousin in Spain decided to fund his tuition, along with financial aid.

Roland is a total sweetheart who has been taking care of his three sisters and disabled grandmother for several years already. He helps with my mobility equipment and on two occasions has helped pick me up when I have fallen. He’s great, but he has some glitches that interfere with academic work. He got through three years of high school at a B- level with assistance from academic counselors.

Then COVID-19 hit, and school went online. Roland was cut off from the teachers, counselors, and fellow students who helped him focus. Having to do all his assignments on various Web platforms, he gradually stopped turning in most of them. He would do the work but then fail to submit it, not believing his work was good enough.

As the adults in his life watched his grades slide, we asked him to please turn in what he had completed, or please consult with us how to negotiate the system.

He never did. He always replied, “I’m OK. Everything’s OK.”

Nobody in Roland’s immediate family has graduated high school. Grandmother and he both said they wanted him to be the first and to inspire his sisters. When we saw a notice from the school that he had four incomplete courses to finish along with his current classes in order to graduate in June, I could see his graduation was much in doubt.

The family has so many needs that my partner Aisha and I often find it easy to consume hours trying to deal with various issues, not really getting anywhere with them. I had come to believe that their situation was hopeless. But this time, I decided I wouldn’t worry about any of their other problems. I would focus on Roland and commit to seeing him graduate. This commitment became a great learning experience, and unlike most learning experiences, it did not involve much suffering, only focus.

Online schoolwork

I started by clearing out two hours a day when Roland could come and work on my computer, since his home three doors down is so disorganized. He downloaded the various platforms the school used. We started a practice where he would read material and write assignments while I watched. When he seemed to be getting off track, I would ask things like, “What do you think about this paragraph?” or “What are you trying to say in this sentence?” or “What is the question they are asking you?” But most of the time I kept quiet and observed.

When he would write sentence-length or essay-length answers, I could help him with organizing and structuring the writing so it made sense. My experience as a community college tutor helped, since C.C. work resembles what this high school assigned.

There were some frustrating days when Roland’s perfectionism drove him to go over the same sentence a dozen times trying for some idea I couldn’t get him to explain.

At times, I would say, “You go ahead and keep working on this if you feel you must. I’m going to go do something else. Call me when you’re done.” Usually, he would call me back after a few minutes. I was only able to spend this much time with him because of being on disability and thus having time to give. Others might have to set less time-intensive strategies.

I felt rewarded as I noticed his focus and ability to complete work improve week by week. I no longer had to walk him through the submissions: ‘Click on this; attach that.’ Then I no longer had to get a firm agreement from him to submit; we could just agree it was ready. When he reached the point of completing and submitting work without asking, I realized he actually could graduate. But he also needed some advocacy.

Because Roland was so far behind, and because one of his classes was a Digital Art (DA) class where I couldn’t help, I realized we couldn’t do this alone.

The school has a large academic support department, and he had an assigned advisor, but she wasn’t helping. No wonder: she would meet with him and ask how school was going, and he would say ‘I’m OK, I’m working on it.’ In his conversations with teachers, he would say similar things.

I felt I had to go over his head. People weren’t communicating, and I could act as a platform for them.

I started e-mailing and calling Roland’s advisor. We set up some 3-way Zoom meetings. I contacted his teachers to explain some of his problems. Eventually I went to the head of the counseling department, and he found another class Roland had passed that fulfilled his art requirement, so he could drop the DA class. His advisor contacted the teachers who had given incompletes and got them to create make-up assignments with which he could pass their class. Each time a counselor helped or a teacher made an adjustment for Roland, I insisted he send a thank you e-mail, and I sent one, too.

I went back to sitting with him while he did the make-up work. But it had gotten so much easier! He would go home and continue working and submitting assignments on his own. I was delighted. He was doing the work himself, on a level that was definitely passing or better.

June came, and Roland graduated, on stage! His two grandmothers were in the audience, and he brought his diploma home to show me. That was a great day.

In the following months, I got to see how much Roland had grown. I helped him get documents he needed to apply for work, and he’s got a job. He’s learning to drive and exploring what he might do with his life. He still helps me and other neighbors when we need it.

● My presence was as important as what I actually did. Just being with him kept him focused. I may have taught some writing skills, but I don’t know. Mainly it was just being there for him.

● Asking questions and listening is usually far more helpful than advising and talking.

● Speaking up and making waves is sometimes necessary to help someone. Don’t be afraid to bother people, including the person you are helping. Willingness to be demanding also applies to speaking up for myself.

● Helping people isn’t a one-off; it involves forming a relationship, continuing beyond the specific help. It might bring new demands and new rewards.

● Help can spread out from a focused start. I was surprised to see how, as Roland grew and had more success, two of his sisters also pulled it together. The 15-year-old who had been way behind and in-and-out of trouble has become an A student. I doubt I had anything to do with that, but it’s nice to see.

I think the same rule applies to other areas, like activism. Focus on one thing and watch the ripples spread.

● When you really help someone, they will always be in your life. Roland will always be in my life. At least, I hope so.

Thanks for reading! Please comment, share, or steal. Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook or Medium.com . Hire me for freelancing, editing, or tutoring on Linked In

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Supply Chains Collapsing: Time to Go Local

Globalization no longer works. We need community-based economies.

                            Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

My friend Willa has an old Toyota that needs a part which Toyota no longer makes. They are supposed to be sending one from a warehouse somewhere, but four weeks have gone by and still no part. They apparently don’t have trucks, warehouse workers or drivers to ship it.

You may have experienced something similar, because global supply chains are breaking down. Trucker Joshua Collins the “co-op trucker” on Twitter, says, “Right now, your experience of the supply chain issue might just be less choices at grocery stores. But in December, you won’t be able to get important shit. This isn’t simply a trucker shortage. It’s an everything shortage. We don’t have enough people to load & unload trucks. We don’t have enough mechanics. Hell, we don’t even have enough trucks. The whole thing’s fucked at every level, & keeps getting worse.”

Supply chains are breaking because global capitalism is breaking. It’s time to go local. We don’t need to eat fruit grown in Chile or wear clothes from factories in Bangladesh. We don’t need the latest iphones made in China and six other Asian countries with materials from Chile, India, Brazil, Nevada, or mined with slave labor in Congo and Rwanda. That is a corporate capitalist way of life, where more and newer is always better.

Instead of producing and trading things locally, multinational corporations import and export all over the world, seeking the lowest prices and loosest environmental regulations, and paying the lowest wages they can. This brings down consumer prices, creating great wealth in the rich countries but making the whole system vulnerable to disruptions like those caused by COVID-19.

Trucks, trains, shipping containers and the workers who operate them are in short supply. Collins says, “With everything being shipped and re-shipped, trucks are wearing out. They’re not being kept up as well, because one of the products in short supply is truck parts. New trucks are extremely hard to buy because of needed parts, including for the manufacturing machines. So products are not being completed or have long waits to get to market.”

When you get raw materials from three continents, make them into parts on another, then assemble them somewhere else, (probably in China) ship them all over the world, then transport them from the ports on trucks and trains, a lot of things can go wrong. We saw during the early COVID closures that pharmacies ran out of a number of drugs made in China, often produced with chemicals made in India.

And even when global capitalism is working smoothly, it punishes people and planet. It may make finished goods cheaper, but it does so by driving down wages and poisoning environments with industrial chemicals and fossil fuel emissions to power all that shipping.

What is globalized capitalism?

“Globalization” is an American term. Most of the world calls what’s happening “Americanization,” because the whole system is set up to benefit US corporations and spread the American way of life.

Michael Hudson, IMO the world’s greatest economist, described in his book Super-Imperialism how, by spending billions of dollars on wars, military buildups and consumer spending, the US ran up enormous debts to Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other rich countries. But the debts would not be paid, only rolled over into new Treasury bonds. Creditors couldn’t use the money to buy companies or important properties in the US, only stocks, bonds, and minor properties like the Pebble Beach golf course. By buying US treasury bonds, other countries finance the US government and military and keep stock markets rising.

Why did other countries go along with this scam? For the same reasons John Perkins described in Confessions of an Economic Hitman; leaders who didn’t go along were either bribed, persuaded, threatened, murdered, or overthrown, as happened in Iraq, Libya, Brazil, Panama, Indonesia, and dozens of other countries.

Countries of the global South have literally not been allowed by rich countries of the North (not only the USA) to develop local agriculture to feed themselves. They are only allowed to invest in their export/import sector. When socialist Honduran president Manuel Zelaya started fostering food production for local use in 2009, the Obama/Biden administration sponsored his overthrow by the military. The self-sufficient agriculture program stopped.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) force debtor countries to focus on exports and open their markets to imports from the US and Europe. Otherwise their loans go into default and they get no money at all.

Globalization is not the international capitalism Adam Smith envisioned in The Wealth of Nations. Economist Herman Daly explained the difference in this article. Early capitalist thinkers thought each country would have its own self-sufficient economy, supplemented by importing things they didn’t produce and exporting things that they made well. This is called international trade and is a good thing.

Globalization is different. Countries are not to have their own economies; they’re supposed to meet all their needs by trading in a global economy and focus on what they can export (read: raw materials or tropical fruit). This leaves poor countries completely at the mercy of the industrialized North. It also leads to long, complicated supply chains that easily break down.

The only way to be even partially free of global corporate capitalism is to have food security and productive capacity of your own. This is true of communities as well as countries.

Going Local

When we buy all our stuff from Amazon and our food at corporate supermarkets, it might be hard to imagine living without global capitalism. But global supply chains are a recent development. Indigenous people had local economies for centuries. Peasants and small farmers met their own needs and shared with each other. They’d work together to build a barn or harvest a field. In fact, family farmers in many countries still share farm equipment. They trade with each other in local markets.

Capitalism has trained us that each family, and often each individual, relies on their own money to meet their needs, and that money must come from competing in the globalized market place. As we can see from growing poverty and homelessness, many come up short in that system.

We don’t have to do it that way. We could rely on strong communities and local economies, as people did for 100,000 years before capitalism. We might not have as much stuff, but we wouldn’t have the extreme poverty, isolation, and crime we see now. Some things people can do to build local economies include:

● Shop at locally-owned businesses, instead of Walmart or Target. Seek out businesses that sell regionally-produced goods.

● Try to build up local supply chains. Maybe start a business your community needs. Ask existing local companies and neighbors what products or services they import that you could provide locally.

● Consider local currencies — historically, many towns, districts, and countries have established their own money when the official money became hard to get. In the modern USA, this Wikipedia page lists over 60 of these local currencies now in operation.

To organize a local currency, one has to sign up merchants to agree to accept the local money, which requires a critical mass of companies who will take them and people who will work for them. When a local currency has enough users, people can pay each other with it for work or local trade. Some local currencies can be traded for national currencies if people agree.

● Trade in kind — people can barter or share things with a program like Buy Nothing, or buy things from each other instead of from corporations, perhaps using sites such as Craig’s List or NextDoor.

● Start a workers’ cooperative business. These build economies and strengthen community at the same time. From what I read and what I hear from friends, though, they do involve a lot of meetings.

● What can be produced locally? Most important are food, clothing, and shelter, right? Most communities have available vacant housing, though it might need a lot of repair. Unfortunately, capitalist governments tend to call people who live in unused housing “squatters” and evict them, but people fight the evictions and sometimes win.

● Growing more food is essential and can be done even in urban areas, even in winter with greenhouses like these.

● There is so much clothing in the USA now that a lot is being dumped. Really, nobody ever has to shop for clothes new anymore. And every community has people who can make clothes, if they don’t have to compete with Ross or Target.

● Whole countries have gone local. After the USSR disbanded in 1992, Cuba lost access to oil and much of its imported food. Under a US embargo, they were kicked out of the global economy entirely. They had some very hard times, but with local farms in cities and villages, widespread use of bikes, communities organizing themselves to create what they needed, they pulled through and remain healthier and longer-lived than US Americans to this day.

Think big about going small. Perhaps we can’t end capitalism without a revolution, but we can get ourselves out of it to a large degree. If we turn people’s creativity loose, who knows what they’ll come up with? We just have to get off the supply chain.

Sources

On starting a local currency

Urban farming successful examples, and this article on barriers and difficulties.

Books on what’s wrong with globalization and how we can do better.

Graeber, David Debt: the first 5000 years

Hudson, Michael Super-Imperialism: The economic strategy of US imperialism

Daly, Herman Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development

Schumacher E.F Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered — one of the first books on localism, and still good.

Books which includes teaching on how indigenous economies worked

Kimmerer, Robin Wall Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. I always refer to this book, because it changed my life and the way I think.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne An Indigenous People’s History of the United States

The Center for the Advancement of the Steady-State Economy works to get the world off global capitalism and on to a sustainable economy.

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Thanks for reading! Please comment, share, or steal. Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook or on medium.com.  Hire me for freelancing, editing, or tutoring on Linked In

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Imagining The End Of Capitalism

What would a sane, sustainable world look like?

                 Photo by Koushik Chowdavarapu on Unsplash 

Philosopher Frederic Jameson wrote, “It has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Most of us share this mental block, and why wouldn’t we? For 150 years, we’ve been taught in the West that capitalism is not just the best system; it’s the only system that works. Only by unleashing men’s boundless greed for material wealth and allowing them to compete in a market place with minimal restrictions, will human society progress to its full potential.

The failure of the Communist systems in the USSR and China made capitalism look that much better. The nonstop celebration of material wealth in movies, print, and electronic media has reached full saturation; there’s no room for another vision of what life is about or how it could be organized.

Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister and sworn enemy of the working class, used to repeat “There is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalism so often that she became known by its acronym TINA.

But, now we can see that capitalism doesn’t work either. Capitalism creates enormous wealth, but it’s like a fast car with no brakes or steering system. It’s a hell of a ride, but it’s bound to keep crashing.

True, the failures of communism caused hunger and state violence in Russia and China, but capitalism has its own failures, including world wars, depressions, and slavery. The difference is that the successes of capitalism are just as bad as the failures. It produces wealth by burning forests, digging up or paving over grasslands and wetlands, temperatures and sea levels rising, chemical and radioactive pollution killing and endangering every living thing on Earth in the name of progress. When material wealth becomes the highest priority, everything else goes to Hell.

The environmental disasters and starving people we see on our screens are what “unsustainability” means. Capitalism by definition is unsustainable, since it is based on constant change, growth, and progress, always seeking more. Capitalism, again by definition, values all things by how much money they can bring in the market, not by their intrinsic value.

If there truly were no alternative, we must all die, and soon. Fortunately, there are many alternatives both historic and modern. Even now, there are the hybrid social democracies in Scandinavia and the whatever-you-call-the-system in China, which are healthier and happier than any country in the neoliberal UK/US axis. People are finding old and new ways to share, and to consume less. Indigenous societies have been doing that for centuries.

Indigenous examples

Can we find alternatives to capitalism? We have teachers and leaders if we listen to indigenous voices. There are no indigenous capitalist societies. They build their lives around human relationships and the land, not around money, and they are sustainable. Some, like the New Guinea highlanders have lasted as long as 40,000 years that we know about. Indigenous people still have their wisdom and are willing to share it. We need to follow their leadership, and other brilliant thinkers can help.

Capitalism comes in many forms, so when I describe potential ways of replacing it, I will use “corporations” to stand for “capitalism.” I know they’re not the same, but corporate capitalism with its layers of bureaucracy and financialization is the dominant kind, and imagining life without corporations gives an approximation of the challenges and opportunities we face.

People rightfully wonder what we’d do without global capitalism. How would we eat without fruit from Mexico and meat from factory farms? Would we have to give up our cars and all move into small apartments? Or go back to the land and live in tents? Who would keep the electricity flowing and the Internet running?

Good questions. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I read and follow people who do. In this essay, I’ll look at a few of those ideas, many of them already in use in various places.

Some other crucial questions I won’t address here. Who will own the factories and other means of production? Who will run things if rich owners don’t? And even if we knew exactly the society we want, how could we possibly get there?

Those answers remain to be created. When you start imagining life without capitalism, you quickly realize that such changes would transform everything from the way we work and eat to how we organize our communities at all levels. Replacing neoliberal austerity systems with social democracies would make things a lot fairer and happier, but by itself wouldn’t do much to save the Earth.

In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein wrote, “We are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate…But the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”

Opposing such powerful forces might be an impossible dream, but I know one thing. Before you can cancel a system, you need at least a dream of what will replace it.

So, let’s start imagining. This story will deal with only two aspects: How will we support ourselves? How will we help heal the Earth? Just two of a thousand questions, but I list some resources at the end that answer more.

How will we support ourselves?

The end of capitalism will mean the end of millions of pointless or destructive jobs. The military and its industrial complex alone would shrink by millions. A lot of prison guards would be out of jobs. The kinds of work for which capitalists pay well will be harder to get.

But we don’t need well-paid work; we need real work that does some good. People don’t need stupid jobs; we need basic income to meet our needs. In a society without capitalism, a person’s livelihood will not depend on their work. Work will mean actions that make the world a better place: maintenance, repair, caregiving, etc.

Can you imagine working a 15-hour week and having that provide everything you need? Economists such as John Maynard Keynes have written since 1930 that people should not have to work more than that. We have had the technological capacity, but capitalists and their governments refuse to share the productivity the technologies create.

People can live on 15 hours a week if we are given a basic income (UBI) to bring us above poverty. Everybody in the world should have that.

What kinds of work would there be, though? A lot more of it would be in agriculture. In the 1830s, over 70% of work was agricultural. In the age of factory farming, it’s less than 8%. We could hire a lot of people to replace the farm machines and chemicals that destroy our land and water. We could all get work healing the damage industrial capitalism has wrought.

In his book, Bullshit Jobs, anthropologist David Graeber demonstrates that easily half of office work is pointless or worse. Whole industries such as finance do more harm than good and could be done away with. Closing down corporations would free a lot of people to do meaningful work growing food, creating culture, or caretaking people and planet.

The end of capitalism would mean the end of of interest-bearing debt. There is no reason most people should be in the kind of debt they’re in; capitalism’s relentless promotion of consumption puts them there. Kids are sent unsolicited credit cards when they go to college. The “American Dream” is a big house with a huge mortgage attached. Capitalism promotes debt on one hand, and demonizes debtors on the other.

“From an ecological point of view, the best thing people could do to save the planet is to work less.” David Graeber

People working and consuming less will reduce carbon emissions. We’ll pollute less. There will be fewer disposable plastic containers and less shipping things around the world. We’ll need smaller-scale, more local markets and businesses, freed from capitalism’s growth compulsion.

                              Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

How will we heal the Land?

Why get rid of a system that provides so much wealth? Why not just try to reform it so that more share in the benefits? It’s because this is about so much more than people. It’s about the animals, plants, the living Earth. We need to remember what Lakota leader Mary Brave Bird said,

“The land is sacred. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take our land away and we die.”

Whether we’re indigenous or not, we are part of Earth and Earth is part of us. Take the land away from us or kill it off and we’ll die. As Native American botanist Robin Kimmerer wrote, we can’t treat land like a warehouse full of products to sell. Healing land is the top priority, and we must embrace it.

Indigenous people (as a group) see themselves as part of Nature and so can better feel how industrial capitalism affects all living things. In their book The Red Deal, the Red Nation of indigenous activists has a 2-point plan to allow land to survive the climate crisis.

Point 1: Give land back to the Natives — They know how to take care of it. Let’s start by acknowledging the 386 treaties that have been broken and by giving some of that treaty land back.

Of course, the thousands of non-indigenous owners and millions of residents of occupied land will fear this, but maybe it can be worked out. The Yellowhead Institute, a Canadian First Nations-led research center says #LandBack doesn’t mean ceding ownership in all cases as much as controlling what is done with the land. The nature of land ownership must change. They say #LandBack means “reclaiming Indigenous jurisdiction” and “breathing life into rights and responsibilities.”

   Photo by Vlad Shapochnikov on Unsplash

Point 2: focus on Caretaking — of land, life, water, and each other. Restoring marshes and swamps will purify water and protect against rising sea levels. Restored prairies and forests, and growing perma-culture farms will absorb a lot of carbon and produce lots of food. Protecting rainforests will save millions of lives and species. Consuming less stuff will give Nature a chance to replenish Herself. Getting ourselves out of the materialist madness of capitalism with the constant drive to consume and compete will heal us.

Obviously, capitalists and militarists aren’t going to like any of this; even though their families benefit too. We need to learn and think more about an Earth-based alternative to capitalism. Then organize for it.

Sources

Kimmerer, Robin Wall PhD- Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the wisdom of plants. Beautifully combines modern and traditional science. Most of what we need to know is in this book.

The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth — a lot of history leading to a straightforward action plan.

Eisenstein, Charles The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.-

Indigenous Environmental Network fights for Earth in non-revolutionary ways.

Johnson, Allan If Not Capitalism, What? A celebration of social democracy, some of which we could definitely use.

I put a list of indigenous organizations to support at the end of this article.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter, on Facebook or my blog The Inn by the Healing Path. Hire me for freelancing, editing, or tutoring on Linked In

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Cancel The Bogus Debt

Photo by Ruth Enyedi on Unsplash

Why should poor people always owe rich people?

Living in communities, people owe each other all the time. Sometimes I give you a ride; sometimes you bring me dinner. Society is a network of obligations that keeps us from falling into isolated desperation.

Such obligations don’t become “debt” until we put a money value on them. Suddenly, instead of infinite ways to repay a kindness, there is only one, money. Over time, according to anthropologist David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5000 Years, those who lent money (the creditors) developed a state with the power to collect their debts. Then debt became violence. Borrowers became liable to lose their homes, their land, and their freedom.

That doesn’t mean debt is a bad thing, but it does mean that some debts are illegitimate and shouldn’t exist. Illegitimate debt means debt acquired at no fault of the borrower. It was imposed on them; they were swindled into it, or the creditors just made it up. Miners trapped in debt to the company store had illegitimate debt. Medical expenses, taxes, fees and fines are imposed; dishonest mortgages like the “subprime” loans that caused the crash of 2008 are swindles.

Even if debts start off legitimate, high interest rates and compound interest can cost borrowers far more than the benefit they received from the loan. They’re just transferring money to the rich, like many people’s credit card debts and student loans do.

Right now, citizens, governments, and businesses are drowning in levels of debt that would have been unimaginable even a generation ago. Because of debt, the rich have become inconceivably rich, while the poor are going hungry and homeless or being jailed for nonpayment. Economist Michael Hudson says that Western capitalism has morphed from a system of production and markets into a system of debt creation and collection. This is why we can’t compete with countries like China who actually produce things.

A brief history of debt

Indigenous people had no debts. They had obligations to each other. With the rise of agriculture and cities, loans accounted in money and charging interest enabled economies to grow, but they caused great suffering. The invention of interest made debt harder to repay. Then came compound interest, in which the creditor charges the borrower additional interest on the interest they already owe. The creditor’s money is making money for them, and the borrower falls deeper into debt.

Graeber describes how this widening chasm threatened early agrarian societies such as Babylon and Sumer, in what is now Iraq. When peasants got into debt; creditors took their land or their cattle, and often sold their children into slavery to pay off loans. Farmers were driven away to become nomads, and the food supply collapsed.

Eventually, creditors stopped selling children into slavery in most places, but replaced that practice with debtors’ prisons. Debtors often died in prison in utter misery. Debtors’ prisons never disappeared. According to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, they changed their name and are growing rapidly in America today. According to the Federal Trade Commission, debt collection cases now make up the majority of many states’ criminal cases. People are being sent to prison for parking tickets, or for an unpaid credit card debt.

What Is illegitimate debt?

Medical expenses, taxes, fees and fines are often incurred without much choice. High compound interest rates can make debts unpayable, as with mortgages and student loans. I’ll come back to these individual bad debts later, but first I want to look at the far more damaging and dishonest debt between nations.

Nearly all the debt the poor countries “owe” the rich countries represents theft by the rich. The model case was the catastrophic debt imposed on Haiti when Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters in 1804. Instead of the defeated masters having to pay their former slaves for the vast wealth they had created and the suffering they had endured, French, English, and American threats of invasion forced the Haitian government to compensate their masters for winning freedom from them.

The 150 million francs they were forced to pay (equivalent to $21 billion in today’s money) to prevent the restoration of slavery was far more than they could deliver. They had to borrow to make payments, incurring interest, which was compounded, so no matter how much they paid, the principal shrank very slowly, if at all. That debt wasn’t paid off for 150 years and sunk Haiti, once one of the world’s wealthiest islands, into utter misery and poverty.

Most 21st century international debt is equally bogus. John Perkins wrote in Confessions of an Economic Hitman about his years as a “strategic consultant” working with countries in the global South “We go into a country; we make this big loan. American companies go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. Most of the loaned money comes back to the United States; the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves.”

Poor countries’ leaders don’t take these loans because they’re stupid. Western economic “consultants” like Perkins try to persuade or bribe them. If that fails we threaten them, and if they still say no, we overthrow them with a coup, assassinate them or invade and destroy them, as in Iraq and Libya.

Once a country is in unpayable debt, they will be forced to go to institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank for new loans to repay outstanding loans. The IMF will impose a structural adjustment program, (SAP), typically involving cutbacks to government services and employment and full opening of their internal markets to imports from their creditors. The local economy inevitably shrinks and their debts grow deeper.

Everything the global South “owes” is illegitimate.

                                            Photo by Jonathan Kho on Unsplash

Illegitimate Individual debts

Our culture tends to treat poor people the way Wall Street treats poor nations. We blame people for being in debt. Debt is a source of guilt and shame; the debtor made bad decisions or doesn’t work hard enough. But much personal debt is imposed by an unjust society.

Taxes have been a major source of debt for thousands of years. Some tax money goes for needed services, but much of it goes for things the taxpayer would never choose to buy, such as military adventures (historically the main use of tax money.)

Medical debt — is frequently outside the debtor’s control. Nobody chooses to get sick or be in an accident. Patients don’t make their own decisions about care. (Doctors and hospitals do that.) Most countries have government support for medical expenses; we have GoFundMe and 500,000 medical bankruptcies a year.

Student debt — According to the US Department of Education, about 43 million Americans owe a total of $1.4 trillion in student loans (an average of $32,000 each.) Because of compound interest, a student loan that seemed reasonable can become unmanageable. If one misses a payment, the late fee gets added to the principal and starts having interest charged on it. The American Civil Liberties Union reports on a truck driver whose $2500 federal driving school loan had “mushroomed to $12,000 with interest and fees,” despite his efforts to pay it off while supporting a family.

Legal debt — States around the country are charging people money for being arrested. In North Carolina, and many other states, prisoners have to pay room-and-board for nights spent in jail, crime lab fees if the police sent specimens, and a fee for appearing in court. If a convicted person is released on probation, they may have to pay for their own probation officers and drug tests to prove they are sober. Parents who have children taken away by Child Protective Services have to pay for foster care in many states.

● Some cities and counties and some police departments fund themselves with fines and tickets. Poor people can be fined for letting their grass grow too high or walking in the street. As with parking tickets, these fees will go up if not paid promptly, which many poor folks are not in a position to do, and if not paid, people can be jailed for nonpayment

Credit card debt is sometimes legitimate, sometimes not. Under influence of non-stop advertising and media expectations, people often choose to buy things they don’t need on credit. But the compound interest and late fees are not legitimate.

Illegitimate debt must go!

As the people of Babylon found out 5000 years ago, interest-bearing debt tends to grow and impoverish a whole society. We can see exactly that process happening now, sinking the world in poverty and environmental chaos while creditors become billionaires. These problems aren’t new, and ancient solutions could still work.

● Cancel bogus debt (called Jubilee in the Bible)  — massive forgiveness of all illegitimate debt, especially international debt and legal system-related debts.

● Strip interest payments from consumer debt. Once someone has paid back the principal on a student loan, credit card, or mortgage, plus maybe a 5% service charge, their debt should be considered paid.

● Close debtors’ prisons. Jailing people for owing money is unjust and benefits only the prison industry.

● Eliminate compound interest. Why should money make more money at worker’s expense?

I know this is less a political program than a vision. Of course, capitalists will rage and claw against any forgiveness of debtors. Debt creation is what they do. Their system might well collapse without it.

But for most of us, and for our planet, the system has already collapsed. Get out of it! Stop paying, stop buying on credit, demand debtors be released and bogus debts be canceled, and we’ll see what happens.

Learn more

A powerful and disturbing essay
A Pound of Flesh: The Criminalization of Private Debt, ACLU

Books
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber

Articles
“In jail for being in debt,” Star Tribune
“Debtors’ Prisons, Then and Now: FAQ,” The Marshall Project
The Steep Cost of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines The Brennan Center
Unjust Debt Goes to the Heart of International Inequality, The Guardian
The Long Fight Against Unjust Taxes Wall Street Journal
China’s Fortune Cookie vs. America’s debt economy — Michael Hudson

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Take These Jobs And Shove ‘Em

We need basic income and real work, not bullshit jobs.

                            The face of office work.  Image from Alamy

“Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.” Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau wrote those words in 1863, so he never got to see how much stupider and more damaging jobs would become in the 21st Century. Throwing rocks over a wall, then throwing them back might seem meaningful and rewarding compared to sitting in an office writing reports nobody reads, cold calling people to sell insurance, defending a predatory corporation in court, or any of the 50% or more of jobs whose own workers class them as “bullshit.”

Millions of current jobs are worse than meaningless. David Graeber, recently deceased anthropologist author of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, wrote that “our capitalist system rewards those who destroy value over those who create it, paying higher wages to consultants, marketing experts, and creators of financial products than nurses, teachers, and sanitation workers.”

While white-collar jobs tend to be meaningless, a lot of working-class blue collar jobs also serve no good purpose. “Good jobs” building oil pipelines or cutting down forests, are not making the world a better place for anyone.

We need to do away with bullshit jobs. They can be replaced by a strong universal basic income (UBI) program that would enable people to do the immense caretaking that people, animals, plants, and our planet need, or do whatever creative things they are called to do.

And here’s the reason I write this article: the rich ALWAYS say we can’t afford UBI. We don’t have the money, or it would cause massive inflation. But the clear truth is that we ALREADY waste more money than UBI would cost, paying for meaningless jobs. Just give us the money and skip the BS.

What makes a bullshit job?

Dr. Graeber defined a bullshit job as a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though, as part of the conditions of employment, they feel obliged to pretend that this is not the case.” He says that, ironically, bullshit jobs tend to be higher-paid and get more respect than useful work. (Think how society treats corporate vice-presidents vs. the farm workers who feed them.)

It’s not all good for the privileged. “Those who work in bullshit jobs,” says Graeber, “such as middle management, PR, HR, marketers, lawyers, lobbyists, financial consultants, are often surrounded by honor and prestige; they are respected as professionals, well paid. Yet secretly they are aware that they have achieved nothing … they feel it’s all based on a lie — as, indeed, it is.”

                             
                                             Image all over the Internet

Graeber was surprised to find out “just how hard it was for so many people to adjust to what seemed like minor problems such as boredom and sense of purposelessness in life. Why couldn’t they just say, ‘Okay, so I’m getting something for nothing. Let’s just hope the boss doesn’t figure it out!”

“But no, the overwhelming majority reported themselves to be utterly miserable. They reported depression, anxiety, psychosomatic illnesses that would magically disappear the moment they were given what they considered real work; free of an awful, sadomasochistic workplace dynamic.”

Studies that came out after Graeber’s articles went viral found that 37% of UK residents thought they had bullshit jobs, while 13% were “not sure.” 40% of Dutch employees acknowledged that their positions had no good reason to exist. Graeber says these numbers are artificially low, because many employees never see the outcome of their company’s business so can’t appreciate how useless it is.

Not just office workers

Jobs can be bullshit on at least four levels.

● Some jobs have almost no duties; you only have to be there, perhaps waiting on your executive boss in some way. Or the duties are manifestly useless, like sitting in meetings where nothing actually gets done.

● Sometimes the job is real, but the entire company is bullshit. It might be a tax dodge which only exists to launder money, or a social agency which pays professionals to make being poor into a full-time job.

● Sometimes the whole industry is bullshit. Think about hedge funds or the financial institutions that caused the 2008 crash. We have offices full of financiers who move money around and take pieces of it for themselves. Can anyone identify a valid social reason for their existence? Yet they employ thousands of people.

● Some companies and industries are worse than useless; they actively destroy the world in which we live. Military industries, mining, oil and gas companies are obvious examples, but there are many more.

At any level of employment, if the job is stupid or does no good, workers won’t be happy and society receives no benefit. Think of a lumbering company whose business plan is clear-cutting old growth forests. They will have a large group of people doing the actual cutting, though fewer than before since bulldozers have replaced many of them. There will be supervisors telling them what to do, office workers keeping their records and writing their paychecks. Above them are executives who buy, lease and sign deals to gain access to the trees and to sell them. Above them are financiers who may never have seen an old growth tree or a logger, but rake in profits on the company stock they own.

All those jobs are destructive. Some may feel emptier than others, some are better paid than others, but are any of them meaningful?

                   A coal mine that used to be a mountain.  Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

    Where did all the bullshit jobs come from?

Why are there so many bullshit jobs? The short answer is “Mechanization.” Every year, hundreds of thousands of workers are replaced by machines. This process has gone on since the start of the industrial revolution, and the pace is accelerating. Some decent new jobs are created, but not nearly enough to keep up.

But there’s a second answer — the system needs to keep people working to keep profits coming and workers from rebelling. That’s why we have new high-rise office towers while old ones sit empty and the construction workers who build them have high rates of suicide. We build new housing developments while millions of homes and apartments are vacant. Profits depend on keeping the wheels turning, even if the jobs are bullshit and we’re heading for a cliff.

Why do people work meaningless jobs? Maybe fear of homelessness and hunger drives us to take jobs we don’t want and stay in jobs we hate. Society looks down on the unemployed poor, calls them lazy, and treats them cruelly. Society runs on the Protestant work ethic which condemns idleness as a great sin. Keep pushing those papers and draining those wetlands or burn in Hell! We oppress Nature and workers at the same time.

We Need Worldwide Basic Income Now

Capitalism has created immense wealth. But the wealth has never been shared. It’s used to enrich the few and to push people into ever-more-pointless bullshit jobs.

As we’ve seen, many jobs are unnecessary anyway. Capitalism makes people do them to survive, because rulers fear what workers would do “if they had security and time,” as Dr. Graeber puts it. Society produces more than enough wealth to replace bullshit jobs with UBI.

Then people can do work the world needs. Indigenous people see our purpose on Earth as caretaking Nature and providing for future generations. We must heal the grievous wounds industrial civilization has inflicted, grow more trees and food, caretake for animals, plants, people, water and Earth, and enjoy Life.

Once freed from unnecessary bullshit jobs, what wonders of beauty and science could people create? How much fun could we have? UBI should be implemented worldwide. Studies show UBI doesn’t make people lazy; it frees them to be better.

Some things to do about a bullshit job: If you’re ready, quit. It’s OK to not have a job. Join or form a worker-owned cooperative to do something good. If your job is useful but could be much healthier, organize a union. Fight for UBI. Join or support an Indigenous-led group fighting for our Earth.

Because of climate change, time is short. Why don’t we start healing now?

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Why We Need Water

Capitalism destroys the source of life; Indigenous resistance tries to save it.

                        Photo by Jolanda Kirpensteijn on Unsplash

Thousands have lived without love. Not one without water.” W.H. Auden

Water is the most precious substance on Earth. There is nothing else like it in the universe. Without water, there is no life; with water, life is everywhere. Indigenous people know water is life, and they are putting their lives on the line to protect water from the profit-driven machines polluting and destroying it.

For capitalists, oil and minerals are valuable, but water is worthless until you put it in a bottle to sell. For people and other living things, the opposite is true. Along with climate, water protection is the battle of our lifetimes, a huge part of the struggle to keep a livable world.

What happens without water

According to Science Daily, water shortages already affect about 2.8 billion people each year. They report, “Water scarcity is being driven by growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources.” IOW, water is being wasted and polluted, while conditions such as climate change and deforestation decrease the amount of fresh water available.

When people do not get enough water, our bodies do not function. Water has the unique ability to dissolve everything our body needs — e.g. foods, proteins, hormones, and waste products — and move them in and out of our cells and bodies. About 60% of a human body is water, and while we can survive with percentages as low as 45%, going too low is unhealthy and sometimes fatal.

All plants and animals we eat depend on water to grow and live. So water scarcity leads to food scarcity. Sometimes, water gets polluted with chemicals or metals or with too much organic waste from farms or cities. Plants, animals, and humans can no longer use polluted water. Yet industry and big agriculture continue to treat water as a free waste dump and a free resource for their machines. They can do this because our governments, which they control, allow them to.

Ways capital wastes water include:

Pipelines

Oil and gas are the biggest threats to water. Oil coats the surface of water and poisons creatures who live there. Domestic oil flows through pipelines that often leak, damaging whatever land or water they occupy. But the people whose water and land is being polluted get no benefit from the oil. These people are often the indigenous residents, and they are the leaders in fighting to protect water for all of us.

In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux and supporters from around the world fought a year-long struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline that Energy Transfer Corporation was building through their land and under the Missouri River. Police beat and arrested the water protectors, but they stopped the pipeline until President Donald Trump took office and ordered construction be completed.

More pipelines are being built, and indigenous people are still resisting. Currently the pipeline to stop is called Line 3, built by the Enbridge Corporation. Line 3 will cross 227 lakes and the Mississippi River. A movement is growing to stop it, but the pipeline keeps growing, its owners ignoring treaty rights and attacking water protectors.

Fracking

Hydrofracturing (“fracking”) means injecting large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals, under high pressure into underground cracks containing oil or natural gas. Fracking expands the cracks, allowing extraction of the gas or oil.

Fracking also permanently pollutes the 2 to 10 million gallons of water used each time a well is fracked. (Most wells need to be fracked many times.) It’s a straight-up trade of water for oil, but water is needed for life. Oil isn’t.

Industry groups say water used in fracking will not contaminate drinking water, but according to this article in Scientific American,”the entire groundwater resource in the Wind River Basin (in Wyoming) is contaminated with chemicals linked to fracking.”

Livestock in areas surrounding wells have died. As with pipelines, the affected people don’t benefit. The fracked fuel is transported by pipelines, usually to some port from which it is sold to Asia or Europe.

Environmentalists, farmers, and indigenous people are leading the fight against fracking, from Romania to the UK to the Dakotas, basically all over the world.

Deep sea drilling

There’s a lot of oil under the ocean, but because it requires miles-long extraction pipes, and leaks cannot be easily repaired, deep sea oil is extremely dangerous to extract. That doesn’t stop the fossil fuel companies, who create spill after spill, poisoning fishing waters for everyone.

The inevitable results are disasters like the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizons explosion in 2010, which killed 11people, polluted the northern Gulf of Mexico and the marshes of southern states for years. Even now, according to an article in Nature, fish in the Gulf are contaminated. Meanwhile, even deeper, more dangerous undersea wells are being drilled.

Other forms of pollution

Companies pollute water with products other than oil and gas. Mines, chemical, and manufacturing plants toxify the water of millions. Plastic in water kills fish, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Other major sources of non-chemical pollution are factory farms, with their tons of organic waste that create life-killing harmful algal blooms (HABs)in the water exposed to it.

Who protects water? How can we help?

How can we protect water, which means protecting life itself? We have leaders. We need to follow indigenous leadership and relearn our connection to the world. Earth and all living things are our relatives. Only when we see water as sacred will we care enough to risk everything to save it.

      March to protect indigenous women Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

Some indigenous water protectors looking for help:

Stop Line 3 is organizing people to come to the Great Lakes area and put themselves on the line.

Honor the Earth seeks to protect the Great Lakes from pipelines and mines. They invite people to come and block pipeline construction or to get involved in other way.

Some good groups that support indigenous resistance with advocacy and financial help:

The Water Protectors Legal collective “provides legal support and advocacy for Indigenous people, the Earth, and climate justice movements.”

Cultural Survival brings together indigenous people and their supporters from around the world.

The Seventh Generation Fund “protects the Rights of Mother Earth through Indigenous stewardship and traditional knowledge while advancing Indigenous Peoples’ right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.” Most of their support is financial.

Survival International “fight for tribal peoples’ survival. We stop loggers, miners, and oil companies from destroying tribal lands, lives and livelihoods across the globe.” They have won some amazing victories over industrial giants.

The Red Nation and their book The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth have a 2-point program to repair the climate crisis.

                     Water is life. Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

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Want Sanity? Boycott Corporate Media

They lie, terrify, confuse and divide us

              Media coming to get you Photo by Matt Chesin on Unsplash

The world’s top “influencers” aren’t sexy people on TikTok. They are the CIA, the military-industrial complex, and the corporate owners of broadcast and print media. The media they control influences billions of people. For our own health and the world’s, we need to stop watching, listening to, and reading them.

How do you feel when you watch Fox, ABC, MSNBC, PBS, or other corporate news? Are you afraid, confused, sad, angry, discouraged? Maybe with a little American patriotism mixed in? If you have such a reaction, they’re doing their job.

Social critic Jessica Wildfire wrote, “You are always being shown what to think, especially when you don’t realize it. The shows you watch inform how you act. This is how “mind control” actually works. Nobody needs to put a microchip in your vaccine. They’ve got your eyeballs.”

While media outlets have always reflected the views of their owners, they have in recent decades been structured into a network of platforms, broadcasting the same corporate message in a bewildering variety of voices. In the 1950s, The CIA established a program called Operation Mockingbird to recruit a small army of media figures to shape public views of reality. They created what Frank Wisner, then head of the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination, called his “Mighty Wurlitzer,” of propaganda (named after the huge organs some theaters had at the time) “on which I can play any tune I want.”

The CIA is far from the only agency using media to shrinkwrap our minds. Big industries, governments and advertisers lie to us constantly. A hundred years of psychological research has made them extremely effective persuaders.

                            Photo by Sara Gacic on Unsplash

Here’s how they roll

Fear — George Grebner, researcher of 20th Century journalism, wrote, “Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures…. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.”

That’s why, all our lives, media has been working to terrorize ua. I grew up fearing communism and the threat of nuclear war. We kept hearing that the Russians wanted to destroy us. We were told to build fallout shelters in backyards and hide under school desks in case of nuclear attack.

After the Soviet Union fell in1989, we were taught to fear terrorism..Media constantly reported on ‘terror plots’ narrowly thwarted by the FBI, plots usually hatched by FBI informants themselves. We lived with a backdrop of color-coded terror threat levels that meant nothing except “be afraid.”

Then fear shifted back to Russia and China. Russia will sabotage our electric grid. China will freeze us to death next winter. All along, we are taught to fear crime, stranger abductions (featured on milk cartons,) and other people, especially those of a different skin color.

With the pandemic, extreme fear of disease and death has replaced foreign threats. Stay inside! Stay home! The air is full of deadly germs. Ignore how the system is systematically robbing you and killing all life on Earth. Fear COVID!

Distrust and division –If people came together, the rule of the 0.1% couldn’t last. The rulers know this and have developed a hundred ways to divide us, starting with racism. For two hundred years or more, Americans were taught that white people were superior. Racism didn’t exist; we rarely heard the word in the media. Black people’s poverty was their own fault. Many white people dutifully took their rulers’ side against inferior people of color.

By 2019, though, that scam wasn’t working so well. The misery of the entire working class had reached the point where a multi-racial working class movement was a possibility. So media changed the story. Suddenly liberal, mainstream media outlets like the New York Times featured racism all the time.

Not that there was any chance the 0.1% were going to make the slightest amends for slavery and Jim Crow. The goal was to make sure white and Black people didn’t unite. So, we saw media reports that Black Lives Matter were burning down cities. White supremacist militias were coming to urban centers with their guns.

Our rulers aren’t one-trick ponies, though; they divide us in all kinds of ways other than race. Sex, gender identity, age, nationality, citizenship, religion, political affiliation, taste in music, and more are all used to separate people. On social media, algorithms literally divide us by our beliefs and attitudes into a thousand different echo chambers who never talk to each other.

Confusion — William Casey, director of the CIA under President Ronald Reagan, is widely reported to have said, “Our disinformation program will not be complete until everything the public believes is wrong.” To confuse us, they lie regularly, change their stories frequently, and force-feed different information to different groups.

In media reports to Rightist audiences, caravans of unarmed, desperate refugees from Central America became an invading army. In reports to liberals, the unarmed Capitol Hill rioters of Jan. 6, 2021, became an insurrection. Donald Trump’s win in 2016 was due to Russia’s buying $247,000 worth of Facebook and Twitter ads. Readers may believe one of these stories even now, but they are media gaslighting us, seeking to confuse us until we give up and say ‘whatever.’

Promoting war, austerity, and separation

Why are they doing this? First and foremost, the Mighty Wurlitzer plays to gain support for rulers’ wars and aggression. That’s why we hear about how badly China treats the Muslims in Xinjiang and the protestors in Hong Kong. These stories come from people found and promoted by the CIA or their regime change friends at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). As if the US were really concerned about protecting Muslims. (Like they protected the Iraqis and Libyans!)

They also have domestic motives. COVID narratives full of fear and confusion have divided people even more sharply than racism. Mask and anti-mask people, vaccine promoters and resisters aren’t even speaking to each other. Either way, we’re told to stay home and be safe. How can people organize or fight for change when we’re hiding in our homes? It’s like a police state without the police.

This is how important narrative is. Society, as Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone says, is made of story. We gain our perception of the world from what we are told and shown. What most people are told is what corporate media chooses to tell us, and that story is 50% illusion and 50% lies.

What can we do about being lied to all the time? TBH, social media isn’t that much better. We need to talk to real people. See and hear what’s actually around us. Stay sane. When your coworker harangues you with propaganda and calls it science or news, ask them where they learned their story. Why should you, or they believe sources that lie so consistently?

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Eat Right for Your Body and Planet

                  Photo by Raul Gonzalez Escobar on Unsplash

If we would like life on Earth to continue, what should we eat? On one level, this question look silly: how can one person’s diet make a difference in climate change and mass extinction? On a deeper level, our food choices are crucial. They determine our relationship with Earth and with all living things.

Not that your personal diet makes a big difference to anyone except you and those you eat. But changing social norms of eating could make the world healthier and happier. If we change our attitude toward food, we will be better able to fight for the animals and plants that feed us.

We should eat as if Earth were sacred to us. Eat as indigenous people have done; they lived successfully here for thousands of years before industrial civilizations. What would Indigenous approaches to food look like in 2021?

Eating animals – yes or no?

Most indigenous people, even those who gardened, hunted animals for food. Unlike plants, animals (like us) have to eat other living things to survive. But indigenous people respected and honored plants and creatures who gave their lives to be eaten. They did what they could to create habitat for them and regarded them as family.

In places where adequate food can be grown and found, vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy for individuals and planet. But in drier, higher parts of the world, crops are very hard to grow, so people have to eat some meat. And for genetic reasons, some people seem to need animal protein.

Meat-eating can be done with minimal cruelty. Wild, free-range, and compassionately farmed animals can have pretty good lives until the end. Corporate-farmed animals are a whole different story.

Feedlot cattle, pigs, and chickens are crowded together with no chance to move around. They produce huge amounts of waste which turns into the greenhouse gas methane. Steers need about 410 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. They also consume large amounts (variously estimated at 2.5 lbs — 6 lbs) of commercially grown grain for every pound of beef.

As regards climate change, feedlots are bad, but well-run pastures for cattle are good. Veganism is good, but it’s not the only way.

Honorable Harvest

It’s not just what we eat, but how we obtain the food and treat the creatures we eat. In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Native American botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer explains the rules of what her people call an Honorable Harvest of both plants and animals.

● Take only what you need. Never take more than half. Don’t waste. Natives in the North central part of North America depend on wild rice that grows in water. European visitors wondered why Natives didn’t harvest more, since food often ran short in the winter. They don’t take more, because they need to leave some to grow back, and some to feed the animals who live there. Contrast that with settlers who killed off the passenger pigeon and almost exterminated the buffalo in a few decades.

● Take only what is given to you — there’s a difference between a free-living fish who bites a lure and one raised in packed conditions on a fish farm. The wild-living ones had happier lives. The fish farms pollute and spread disease.

● Non-food plants deserve to live, too. In an Earth-centered agriculture, farmers would not poison all the other plants and insects with chemicals. They wouldn’t plant monocrops over vast areas. We would integrate the Natural world into agriculture, like on this farm.

● Treat everything we eat with respect and gratitude.

● Share what you’ve taken with others. Give back to the animals and plants by improving their habitat.

Eat locally

These days, people eat food from anywhere, at all times of year. This is not healthy for our bodies or our planet. Shipping stuff and people all over the world is a major cause of climate change and ocean pollution.

Anishinaabe leader and former Green Party candidate for Vice-President Winona LaDuke became a farmer in her 40s. In this TED talk, she describes the health and productivity benefits of growing plant varieties that are right for your area. She showed off dozens of multi-colored varieties of corn which are rarely grown in corporate farming, but do well in different localities and are much higher in vitamins than the usual hybrid yellow sweet corn.

We can eat locally through growing our own, through Farmers’ Markets, or community-supported agriculture (CSAs, those boxes of produce delivered every week.) Some stores try to buy local and tell their customers the sources of what they sell.

Herbicides, mechanized farming, over-irrigation and mono-cropping have worn out huge tracts of land and decimated birds and insects, raising risk of famines. But LaDuke showed examples of small urban farms growing astonishing amounts of food, like these in Milwaukee or these in Cuba. Such farms are feeding thousands of people and building up local economies.

Healthy foods

Speaking as a nurse:

● Protein: There are many sources besides factory-farmed meat. In addition to organic, free-range animals and wild-caught fish, there is now artificial, lab-grown meat. It’s corporate, but it seems healthy and tastes good when I’ve tried it. There are also plant-based meat alternatives like Seitan. Tofu is a good source. More adventurous people could try eating bugs and worms, which have been made into some good tasting stuff, and use much less land and water than cattle.

Beans and nuts, IMO, are the best foods in the world, the life force in a very small package of protein, fat, and carbs. Also, eat fruits and vegetables. Olives might keep us fed in a warming world.

● Commercial grains like wheat and rice are grown with large amounts of chemicals, farm machines, and genetic modification. And they are not strictly necessary. Other starches like potatoes, starchy vegetables, fruits, and yams can replace some of them. Or buy/grow organic grains.

● Eat things that don’t need refrigeration or freezing, shrinking your carbon footprint big time. If you do need a freezer or fridge, get a horizontal (chest) freezer that opens from the top. That way, all the cold air doesn’t fall out when you open it, saving electricity.

         Energy-saving freezer Image from Istock

Lots of people are panicking over the pace of global warming and the massive changes it will bring about. We could all starve, but if we learn to eat in harmony with Nature, while working to restore Earth, we could slow the warming and keep feeding ourselves. When Cuba’s food and fossil fuel supplies were cut off at the end of the Cold War, they survived by making rapid food changes like the ones in this article. They now lead the world in sustainable agriculture. Maybe we could do that, too.

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Economics for a Sacred Earth

How a Nature-based economy could save us

“There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” Herman E. Daly

            Photo by Elizabeth Lies on Unsplash

Modern market economies are based on a series of lies, and these lies have brought us to the brink of disaster. We may have gone over the brink already, but Nature has formidable healing powers. If we replace a market system based on maximizing wealth, with a sharing economy based on the well-being of all, our sacred planet may still recover.

The most blatant lies say that Earth’s resources are inexhaustible free goods, to be scooped up and sold off for the profit of whoever can exploit them. Nobody owns the minerals, the oil, the jungles, the oceans, the animals or plants, so any corporation with guns and bulldozers can take them.

The second, related lie proclaims that people are motivated by bottomless wants and prize material possessions over other values such as human connection or a healthy environment. So increasing material wealth increases human well-being.

These lies are easily refuted. If resources were inexhaustible, why would corporations be using ever-more dangerous, expensive, and destructive technologies to get them? Why would we be fighting wars to get at readily available minerals? If endless material desires were the humans’ natural state, why would we have want-stimulating advertising, aimed at promoting dissatisfaction with our lives?

How money drives misery

“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Oscar Wilde

Before industrial capitalism and its marketing narratives, people were happier with far less in material goods. A study of indigenous Australians by the University of New South Wales and the First Nations Foundation found that, “Wealth was more commonly perceived in non-monetary terms, such as caring for family. Few participants expressed a desire to be rich or have a large amount of money.” Before capitalism, we weren’t “consumers;” we were citizens. Some indigenous cultures still live that way.

Industrial market-driven societies give everything a price, which we mistake for its real value. That is why, as Adam Idek Hastie says, “Under capitalism, a forest isn’t worth anything until it’s cut down.”

Equating a thing’s worth with how much money it will bring in the market, gives no value at all to Nature until it’s turned into products. That’s how corporations find it rational to permanently pollute water, the eternal source of life, in order to extract oil, another nonrenewable resource, which is then simply burned.

Modern finance capitalism has made the price/value disconnect worse. Business journalist Hans-Jürgen Jakobs says, “The people who control the international finance economy have next to no contact with the businesses they own. All they care about are abstract numbers and hitting abstract targets.” Why would they care about their businesses’ impact on their workers or on Nature?

Professor Kathleen Vohs from Minnesota University found that, when people think about money, they “think transactionally, and they become more callous towards other people.” Now imagine those other people are far away, don’t look like you or speak your language, may not be human, and you will never meet them. Do you see how money-based economies can lead to horrors like slavery, factory farming, or mountaintop removal mining?

An economy of gift

Money did not always rule us in this way. Indigenous people traditionally used gift and barter as their means of exchange. They were materially poorer than capitalist or socialist societies are now, but their lives were richer in connection and mutual support. They were also sustainable; they didn’t have to destroy Nature to survive.

Imagine an economy in which things people need — such as housing, food, clothes, and tools –were treated as gifts. People who have them share them. Exchange without price may sound ridiculous to minds raised on capitalism, but indigenous people have employed gift economies for thousands of years.

Can we have gift economies in our complex capitalist world? People are creating them. One example is the Buy Nothing project, in which local groups in 44 countries (so far) “creatively and collaboratively share (through online connections) the abundance around us.”

Sharing is gifting. People are sharing bikes, cars, homes, and other things you can see on the website shareable.net. Companies like Uber and AirBnB have monetized sharing, which IMO damages but doesn’t completely negate the benefits.

For the foreseeable future, there will still need to be money, and a gift-related form of that, Universal Basic Income (UBI) already exists. UBI is money given by society to everyone. Why can’t we expand UBI everywhere?

Credit unions are forms of sharing money. Alternatively, we could leave money out of the story and gift people housing, food, and healthcare directly, as countries like Finland do.

Think locally

A sacred Earth economy would have to be more local. No more picking up a fruit grown in Chile on our way to work in Chicago. Instead, we could grow lots of food in urban farms like these in Milwaukee. Shipping stuff and people all over the world is a major cause of climate change and ocean pollution.

Workers and users living close to each other know of each other and might care about things like product safety, working conditions, and the environmental impacts of products. People living around the world from each other probably won’t.

What couldn’t a sacred Earth economy do?

In a sacred Earth economy, Nature wouldn’t be brutally exploited, and workers would not be driven by the threat of hunger and homelessness. Could such an economy create large numbers of cars, airplanes, or bombs? No. Could it provide cheap fast-food hamburgers? Probably not. Would people buy lots of plastic junk? Not so much.

Then it gets more complicated. Would we still have computers and smart phones? What about travel? What about the Internet? The hows and how-much of these things still need to be worked out.

Things we would have more of

● Agriculture –Without mechanized, petrochemical farming, many more people would have to be involved in growing food.

● Environmental restoration — there would be a lot of unmaking, replanting, and cleaning up to do.

● Creativity, art, and fun are always wanted and needed. People would still invent things and do science for the common good.

If a gift economy sounds like a recipe for poverty to you, it’s not.

In his research on gift economies, scholar Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift, and Common as Air found that “Objects will remain plentiful because they are treated as gifts.”

Native American botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote that gifts in her culture are passed around to those who need them, gaining value each time they are passed. Gifts create a personal relationship, very different from the shallow market relationships we are used to. They lead to more exchange and cooperation, instead of exploitation of each other and of Mother Earth.

We could learn to live like that.

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