Internet Mobs, Supply Chains, and an Emptiness in Deep Space: Quick Hits and Good Read

Let’s have at it, eh?

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We’ll start this week’s with a really interesting piece by Elizabeth Piccuto at Arc Digital, titled “The Morality of Social Media Mobs.” We all know that social media mobs can be terrifying, a herd of wildebeest suddenly turning, catching something in the air, a sniff of food or a rutting sow, and bearing down at ground-churning and pulverizing speeds toward one target. Sometimes this target can be deserving and powerful and in need of a good shaking (like Elon Musk), but often it can be a nobody shmuck who suddenly have their lives ruined.

(There’s another category, which is trolling idiots who want to be attacked so that they can say they bravely stood up to the SJW mob. There’s a whole cottage industry around it. Tricking wingnut gulls into giving you money is America’s most sustainable industry.)

We tend to see this, and it is painted as, a bunch of virtue-signaling nonsense, a grotesque pile-on so that the finger-pointers can feel better about themselves, with no concern for the car wreck at which they are gawking or the pulped-up bodies inside, before moving on to the next show. But, as Piccuto argues, it isn’t quite that simple.

 If someone says something racist, it hardly seems bad to, say, post a reply or quote-tweet saying it’s racist. The person who uttered the original statement might well take it to heart and stop saying such things. Even if she doesn’t, other folks may read your criticism and learn something about what people find racist. And again, stating your own moral opinions can usefully re-affirm them.

If it’s not bad for you to say make such a statement, why should the fact that other people said the same thing render your statement immoral? Why should a morally permissible or praiseworthy action become immoral when others perform the same action? When does the action suddenly become wrong? After 50 people say it? 1,000? Why would repeating such an action make it wrong?

It’s an interesting argument (there is a lot more to this piece, of course, and you should read the whole thing). We actually do act as individuals, and it is weird to say that there is a cut-off point for condemning truly shitty behavior. Piccuto isn’t saying that the mob is good, per se, although sometimes internet virtue can be a true force for good, but that the individual actors are all acting correctly.

Now, granted, that’s the very nature of a mob: individual actions, all of which are made, at least initially, with some kind of agency, turning into something different and something far more cohesive. And I do think there is a tendency, on the internet and in real life, to avoid being the last person to take an action.

After all, if everyone is calling out some chud for saying that women haven’t really earned the right to vote, then there is pressure to do the same, lest you lend support by dint of absence. But then, I’m sure people yelling at lunch-counter protestors felt the same way: they didn’t want to get involved, but didn’t want to not get involved either, and that’s how a mob forms and then takes on a life of it’s own.

Those aren’t the same, and I’m not drawing an equivalence. The questions here are how much intent matters, and when good actions become gratuitious and autonomic instead of thoughtful. I don’t know; I’m not a philosopher. But Piccuto is, so read the damn piece already.

(Disclosure? Many years ago Elizabeth and I were sort of friends in that weird but sincere internet way, through what were once very lively and thoughtful message boards on The New Republic. It sounds strange, I know! You had to be there. We really gave Marty Peretz the whatfor.)

Eurasia as the Center of the World

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Breaking: heart of world’s greatest landmass important! News on the fives!

The Euro/US-centric map is, literally, disorienting. It breaks up the East. It takes a huge landmass and puts it on two opposite edges of the paper. It distracts us from how huge and central it is.

Now, granted, over the last 500 years Europe and then North America have had an outsized role in the world, but for most of human history the real action has been the heart of the Eurasian landmass, with a dominant China, wave after wave of steppe people altering and creating new cultures, continuity through change in the Persian heartland. When Rome shifted to Constantinople, that wasn’t a remote output; it was the heart of the action. Rome itself wasn’t European. It was Mediterranean, connected to the vast Asian continent that stretched through Silk Roads.

We’re reminded of that by this post from the Archeological News Network, “Origins And Spread Of Eurasian Fruits Traced To The Ancient Silk Road“.

Studies of ancient preserved plant remains from a medieval archaeological site in the Pamir Mountains of Uzbekistan have shown that fruits, such as apples, peaches, apricots, and melons, were cultivated in the foothills of Inner Asia. The archaeobotanical study, conducted by Robert Spengler of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, is among the first systematic analyses of medieval agricultural crops in the heart of the ancient Silk Road. Spengler identified a rich assemblage of fruit and nut crops, showing that many of the crops we are all familiar with today were cultivated along the ancient trade routes.

And from there, they spread out over the world. We’re seeing again that Eurasia is going to be the fulcrum of the world, as geography and geopolitics make a comeback. We see historic powers moving around again, as Europe recedes away from its colonial legacy and the US willingly shrinks into itself, wrecked by gigantism and despair.

Fruit might be a small part of that. But as we fight rearguard battles regarding European control over Asian affairs, it is helpful to note that the last half-millennia was an aberration. The fruit on your plate is a reminder of where our world was truly born, and where it is going again.

Empty Space and Unsolid Footing

In a massive region of space, astronomers find far fewer galaxies than they expected

Here’s another one from Archeology News Network, which, to be honest, is really stretching the definition of archeology. But that’s ok, because this is cool.

All of those orange things are galaxies, or host galaxies. The blue is gas or dark matter. There is a lot more of the latter than we had thought.

If the region had an unusually small number of galaxies, the scientists would be able to conclude that starlight could not penetrate as far as expected through the intergalactic gas; if it had an unusually large number of galaxies, the implication would be that the region had cooled significantly over the previous several hundred million years. (Having few galaxies in a region would mean not only that there was less light created by those galaxies, but also that even more opaque gas was being formed, so the light could not travel as far as astronomers had expected.)

“It was a rare case in astronomy where two competing models, both of which were compelling in their own way, offered precisely opposite predictions, and we were lucky that those predictions were testable,” said Steven Furlanetto, a UCLA professor of astronomy and a co-author of the research.

The researchers found that region contains far fewer galaxies than expected — clear evidence that starlight could not get through. The paucity of galaxies could be the reason this region is so opaque.

That’s pretty cool. We’re still finding new and unexpected things about the universe, and we will certainly be for all our lives, and maybe the entirety of human history. Honestly, almost certainly. The universe is so vast and so old and so literally inhuman that it somewhat stretches credulity to even imagine we can fathom it.

And yet…we’ve discovered a lot. Scientists are bravely challenging their own notions and finding these dark spaces and trying to fill in what is there. It’s inspiring.

And I think we need that inspiration. Look at that image again. Remember that the orange areas are essentially galaxies. Galaxies! With billions and billions of stars each. There are 150,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way.  It makes you sort of queasy and uncertain to see these galaxies, with whatever celestial and atomic and rock-crunching and black-hole-having and maybe even intelligent drama going on in them, through vast and incomprehensible distances, through crushing amounts of space, and seeing them reduced to a tiny constellation of dots.

We don’t really know anything. But we know so much. The sacred space in between there is where you can fit all of our human identity.

Very Quick Hits

  • A Wisconsin town showed what it means to pack up and relocate due to flooding, illustrating decades ago how we may have to cope with climate change. That the town composed of multiply-displaced Indigenous People’s is the icing on the cake.
  • Scientists watched how cells die, and literally timed the speed of cellular death. Death spread across the cell, the way that it will spread across the body. Cellular death, of course, is death, once it bubbles and froths into a cascade, the body ending itself, its work of reproduction being done with no concern for the collection of memories that make up our identity. It’s not exactly timing Death, but it ain’t that far off, either.
  • This is from last week, but I was out of town and not thinking about Trump. David Roth is probably the great understander of the rot and idiocy of our worst citizen, and if this doesn’t capture the dark gravity that Trump bends toward himself, he perfectly captures the black hole at its center. And it’s funny. Roth is brilliant, and you punks should read more of him.

The Fragility of Supply Chains

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Suboptimal

It’s odd to think how dependent we are supply chains and how little we think of them. When we do, it’s to wonder how we can regulate global supply chains so as to improve worker and environmental rights globally (which to be solves a lot of concerns both real and political, and I would love to see as the centerpiece of a Dem platform. Hot damn, I want it!).

But really, the entire modern world and like 80% of our conveniences are based on enormous global supply and logistic chains, as vast and interconnected as that galaxy map above, except not in the hands of some kind of Celestial Mapmaker, but rather terrestrial actuaries. Which is probably better!

It’s still scary, though. This Foreign Policy article by Elisabeth Braw highlights just how serious the threats to supply chains are, and just how dependent upon them we all are.

When everything works, the supply chains allow distributors and retailers to keep minimal stocks, a model known as just-in-time. In the U.K., for example, many retailers only stock 24 hours’ worth of fresh produce. The system works so well that between 2010 and 2015, 52 percent of U.K.-based suppliers reduced their stock levels, while just 22 percent increased their stock. That, too, helps keep consumer prices low by saving on warehousing costs. At Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer, an orange, whether it’s from Argentina, Chile, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Turkey, or Uruguay, sets the consumer back a mere 30 pence (39 cents).

That’s awesome, right? It is! It is actually really amazing and a testament to logistical science. But.

But if someone damaged the supply chains, all of this falls apart fast.

In the UK, the government is stockpiling food, medicine, and other essentials in case the chains are disrupted due to Brexit, further cementing it as the 2nd-worst decision of 2016. But it isn’t just an own goal we have to worry about.

We talked earlier about how climate change could and is easily disrupting supply chains, with radiating side effects. Hackers, terrorists, and other bad actors can turn the state of the global economy into complete higgedly-piggedly. It’s a real threat, and if any of feel safe from hacking, well, we haven’t been paying attention.

I’m not as worried about a state attack. Russia is just as connected and dependent on the chain, and god knows China is. When everything is connected, there are no targeted attempts. When the web snaps, the system explodes.

But there are a lot of people and groups who don’t mind seeing that. The motivation is the same: puncturing modernity, whether for religion or Luddish obstinance or cyberpunk anarchism or just the lulz (and these blend together).

Modernity is what it is. We’re all part of this. We’re all so dependent on vast, amazing, mind-blowing systems, from the internet to GPS to getting oranges into our maws. It’s a system in which we’re all enmeshed, comfortably for the most part. But if you feel uneasy for reasons you can’t explain, it might be that: we’re trapped in these behemoths, and they are all so prone to tumbling. If that’s not the post-modern, late-stage capitalist condition, I don’t know what is.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Standing Rock Protestors and Enbridge Line 5: Water is Sacred, Even For Doofus Secular Modernists

Great Lakes oil spill Mackinac Straits Enbridge line 5 water pollution

This seems an unimportant region, waterwise, in terms of water people drink.

Two years ago, protests at Standing Rock showed the power of a movement against the forces of unrestrained capitalism. Native protestors, joined soon by other allies, stood firm even in the biting bitter cold of the terrible northern Plains, trying to protect sacred sites and vitally important waterways against leaky pipelines built by shoddy, dishonest companies.

And it worked! Or, at least it did until Trump won and we entered the worst timeline.

But still: in all but the darkest and grimmest scenarios, the protestors at Standing Rock managed to stand firm, even as corporate power used the long arm of the state to try to break them, even after they were set upon by dogs and drones. It was goddamn heroic.

And now a handful of veterans from that movement are trying to bring the same attention to one of this blog’s favorite causes: Enbridge Line 5, running directly beneath the Straits of Mackinac, that roiling and terrifying waterway that combines Lake Huron and Michigan.

(Of course, they are actually one lake, he said, sniffingly)

From the FREEP:

In 2016, Nancy Shomin camped at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota with fellow protesters, trying to block the completion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Now, Shomin, who said she grew up in Flint and is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, finds herself again protesting an oil pipeline – but, this time, closer to home.

Shomin, 54, and others have set up a camp to protest Canadian oil transport company Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries millions of gallons of oil and natural gas liquids each day, splitting into two pipelines as it passes underwater through the Straits of Mackinac.

“The goal is to shut it down,” she said.

Now, this isn’t quite a movement yet; as of the article being published, there were less than a dozen people. But that doesn’t make it any less important.

A rupture in the pipeline would be catastrophic. The Straits are powerful, filled with rushing and oscillating currents, which punish ships and make navigation extremely difficult. The water flow is hard to contain, as this 2014 U of M report shows.

The report is pretty heavy on the science, but luckily the amazing people at Circle of Blue summarized it.

According to the report’s findings, a rupture under the straits would be particularly problematic because of the quickly moving and changing currents. The amount of water moving through the straits can be tenfold the volume of water that dives over Niagara Falls, and currents tend to reverse direction every few days.

“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it,” said Schwab.

An oil spill under the Straits of Mackinac could reach beaches on Mackinac Island, one of the crown jewels of Michigan tourism, within 12 hours. The oil could travel as far as 35 miles to the west, reaching Beaver Island, and 50 miles to the southeast, all the way to Rogers City, said the report.

That might not seem like a lot, but 85 miles of open water is enormous, and incredibly hard to contain and clean, especially if a leak or spill happened in the winter under the thick ice, or during a storm.

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Good luck in this

Oil or liquid gas or petroleum could move its way into rivers, killing birds and fish throughout the upper Great Lakes system. Even if you don’t care about fish, those are people’s livelihoods.

None of this is abstract. Pipelines will always leak, and Enbridge’s tend to leak a lot more than others. And they tend to leak a lot more than Enbridge reports, because they are the kind of company that sees itself above the law. They are responsible for the largest leak in Michigan history, and have been underreporting the amount of leakage in Line 5 for years. (That’s an understatement; the actual amount of leaking has been double what the Pruitt-enabling jackals at Enbridge blithely report.)

You might not be surprised to know that,  to be sure they are always on the wrong side of things, the company acquired a major stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It’s not just leakage, although it is also that. The pipelines can be easily damaged by ships, as happened just this spring. They are a clear and present danger to anyone who relies on the Great Lakes for clean water, whether that is for drinking or your livelihood. You don’t have to think it sacred to know that it is holy.

The waters belong to us all. They aren’t the private property of the rich and powerful, armed with unaccountable security forces and protected on high by corrupt officials. Standing Rock proved that it is possible to win, even though the battle is never over.

In Mackinac, the water flows both ways with a terrifying ferocity. Sometimes, so does justice.

Which of these quotes is most craven? A Fun Trump-Era Game!

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I will never grow tired of this image.

This blog was originally going to have a strict “No Omarosa” policy, because it seemed to do otherwise was embarrassing. Why are we talking about this reality show washout who didn’t have a real job in the administration? Of course, we have a reality show President, and live in the dumbest and tackiest of all possible timelines, so there is a non-zero chance that fucking Omarosa will have a world-historic impact.

But until then, I want to ignore this sickening and degrading enterprise, and focus on another sickening and degrading enterprise: Politico’s little brief on what they laughingly call “Trump’s Diplomatic Learning Curve“, which accidentally implies that our President is learning.

By now, you’ve read most of the highlights: he had no idea that there were countries called “Nepal” and “Bhutan”; he doesn’t understand that foreign leaders might not always want to take his rambling and gormless call at all hours; he doesn’t quite grasp the idea that other countries have delicate relations with others, and don’t base their every move around Trump.

But what’s interesting in the piece is that while some of the interpretations are bandied about, few of the specifics are disputed, even by sources who are still, for no apparent reason, anonymous.

A White House official said Trump, as a former jet-setting global businessman, understands how time zones work but doesn’t dwell on such details when he wants to talk to a foreign leader. “He’s the president of the United States. He’s not stopping to add up” time differences, the official said.

I really like this quote, because it isn’t denying that he fails to take time zones into account, or to care that someone might be asleep. That Japan is on the other side of the world is just “details”. The implication is that only nerds stop to add, and the President is a man of action. Stupid nerds.

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This sentiment is backed up beautifully by James Carafano, a big Washington muck-muck elite, who also advised the State Department transition team.

“If people are looking for more polish and more kind of conventional statecraft and that’s their metric for Trump learning, I think they’re going to be disappointed,” said Carafano, vice president for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation. “I don’t think he sees those as faux pas; I think he sees them as, ‘Look, I do things differently.’ If you say, ‘That’s not how things are done,’ he says, ‘Who says? Where is it written down that I can’t do that?’”

Here’s a man who ostensibly is dedicating his life to foreign policy, who is an important member of a top think-tank, a man of great influence in Washington, who is basically saying that sure, the President might not “know stuff” or “be smart” or “have basic human decency as the basis for diplomacy”, but that’s ok. He does things differently.

(It’s also important to note that “differently”, for Trump supporters, is synonymous with good. It’s a de facto assumption, and a totem for the initiated. It’s how they maintain their faith in the face of overwhelming incompetence.)

But that’s not even my favorite quote. This one is.

At times, he wings it with unfortunate results. Meeting with a group of African countries at the United Nations General Assembly last September, Trump, in public remarks, referred to the country of Namibia as “Nambia.” (Trump did impress some of his own aides in the meeting, however. “He did a very good job of saying Côte d’Ivoire,” said one.)

Ah, but I could be bound in the nutshell of that parenthetical and consider myself the king of infinite flopsweat! Just imagine being impressed by that, or I guess being professionally bound to convince yourself that this was, indeed, impressive! Imagine being in that position. Imagine thinking that a metric of success is for your boss to not botch literally everything.

I wish I could just hear the surely-strong-but-intensely-patronizing lilt in how this aide pronounced “very”. I honestly could listen to that on an endless loop for the rest of my life.

This is all fun and stuff, but what we have is an army of enablers for the fake king. They spin his intense ignorance as strength and virtue, and are terrified of offering even the most gentle corrections. It would be one thing if we had a genial dipshit in office, some kind of holy dummy who just floats along on a cloud of their own regard, but we don’t. We have a volcanic manchild at the seat of immense power.

The thrust of this article, read between the lines, is that anyone close to Trump, including every foreign leader beside Trudeau, is too scared of setting him off to correct him or to push back. Everyone, for reasons of self-protection or hoping for the greater good or sheer craven careerism or maybe just broken cognitive dissonance and faith-based acceptance, let’s him operate in a bubble of selfish incompetence and unlettered self-regard.

Politico refers to Trump’s “learning curve”, but it is obvious he isn’t learning everything. The only curve is the rapid bending of light as all of us are getting sucked into his dark gravity. The world is warping around the single dumbest man of his time and contorting themselves to try to stay upright. It’s not working. We’re all increasingly deformed, and this November is our last best chance at straightening up.

Yemen Bus Bombing, Ben Shapiro, and How We Consume the News

I just spent a blissful week in Adirondack splendor, during which, save for a quick trip to town on Tuesday, I was entirely without any internet connection. My phone stayed in my bag, dead as Dillinger, unmoored from the world and silent. Along with the clean fresh air, the endless trees, and the quietude of the lake, it made for a week of incredible relaxation.

That’s not to say that we were entirely disconnected. The week was spent with my wife’s extended family, a more wonderful group of people you’ll likely never meet, and papers were brought back anytime someone went into town for supplies (i.e. beer and wine). So there were local papers, but also the NYTimes. 

Now, I know that the Times isn’t exactly the go-to paper of the so-called common man or anything, but it is still a print edition, finite in what it can cover. While it may or may not be “all the news that’s fit to print” (spoiler: nope), it can literally only fit so much. The local papers, concerned as the should be with local news and weather, with farming updates and conservation debates, with the day-to-day fabric of what directly impacts people’s lives, can fit even less.

I haven’t consumed news this way in years, not for any extended time, anyway. Looking at the papers, we didn’t see every latest Twitter war, every uttering of every two-bit grifter, every take and counter-take and thinkpiece on what counter-takes meant, jokes about what different memes initiating from the original counter-take mean, etc.

Then, when I came back on Saturday night, and reluctantly, but with fingers doing so almost autonomically, like a just-quit smoker flicking an imagined Bic, checked Twitter, it was to find that people were debating whether Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez should debate Ben Shapiro.

Now.

There is a world in which this matters. Bad-faith half-bright trolls like Shapiro, who is plumped up as the intellectual future of conservatism, which tells you all you need to know, do sort of matter. They are shaping the way we talk about things and the way the right reacts. That matters. The sneering attacks on AOC for not debating a Twitter troll trying to pump up his brand tells you everything you need to know about their dishonesty.

No one can honestly think that every political candidate should debate every jumped-up avatar with a book to sell. And there can’t be anyone who thinks that Shaprio would debate in good faith. He’s made a living off of not doing so, because he’s talented enough to spin any point into a “crushing” set of pre-determined talking points. Winning debates isn’t about being honest, it is about scoring points.

So this was never, ever going to happen. There was zero reason for AOC to do so. It was offered entirely so that she would look bad when ignoring it (“Why is socialist COWARD afraid to debate?”) and that Shapiro could go on Fox a few more times. It was a perfect example of the empty reality of our times.

It didn’t, as far as I could tell, make any of the local papers I was reading. There wasn’t a concern with these inane week-long nothings. That’s not to say that the locals never hear of this. They aren’t offline; they are busy living their lives in an economically challenged area, not there just for the raw and rugged beauty. They don’t have the luxury of a week off. And as we see in Qanon or any of Trump’s little Nitwit Nuremburgs, the ginned-up nonsense online seeps into the real world.

But on a daily basis, a very small number of people actually care about this, much less debate it. Twitter, and being Very Online in general, warps your perception about the things that matter, and the things that matter only to the Very Online. It turns out that not everyone knows who Ben Shapiro is. And not everyone has an opinion on whether AOC is or is not the future of the Democratic Party.

But there are other things that most people in this country don’t know and don’t care about.

Dozens were killed and wounded in an airstrike on a bus carrying children in Yemen’s northern Saada province, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross and eyewitnesses.

On Thursday, a Saudi missile or bomb slammed into a school bus filled with Yemeni children, killing 40 of them, and ripping them from childhood into death or something different, a world of pain and terror, of disfigurement and nightmares, and shattering families already pulverized by war and famine and disease.

There’s more, though. While it is not yet confirmed, there is evidence that the bomb was a Raytheon Mark-82, American-made, and sold to the Saudis who are only in one war. This bomb was manufactured and sold to be dropped on Yemen by Saudi Arabia, who since the start of their Yemeni invasion have shown no concern whatsoever for avoiding civilian casualties.

(Even if it turns out this wasn’t a Mark-82, they have consistently been used to kill civilians at weddings and in school and at the market.)

I’m not saying this didn’t make the Times. I don’t remember seeing it, but we might not have gotten it on Thursday or Friday. I certainly don’t remember seeing it elsewhere, in the local papers. I’m sure it was covered. I’m sure as well that, like the Yemeni wedding which Raytheon crashed, it will quickly go away.

This also matters. Our involvement in that war is a crime, unjustifiable except by the most twisted and bad-faith and hysterical and violence-wrecked interpretation of the AUMF, which people barely even bother to invoke, so used to war we all are. But in any reasonable world, this would be front page for days. The US is directly complicit with a sickening act of violence deliberately perpetrated against children, designed to shatter resistance.

I saw most coverage of this on Twitter. I saw scores of activists forcing us to pay attention, to understand. I saw consistent updates, outrage, and sober reporting of what was happening. I saw real journalism, in real time, interrupting the hourly inanity.

So getting unplugged can be great. Being not online can keep you away from having to have an opinion on Ben Shapiro, or even rudimentary knowledge of what exactly a “Ben Shapiro” is. But you can also miss the stories that matter. You can let US crimes slip by unnoticed. You can be wholly unaware of what a destabilizing presence we have become in this world. And that lets more crimes like this pass by unnoticed, become routine, become even unremarkable, for they are unremarked upon. It is brutalization by silence.

There’s obviously no prescription here. Being Online can wreck your brain and turn it into regurgitated, always-anxious mush. Ignoring local concerns makes everything national and has destroyed our politics. And local journalism is the true bulwark of democracy and accountability.

It’s just to say we still don’t know how to handle the times in which we live, and the way we consume information. It is altering our lives and politics in ways that are still not fully known, and are moving faster and faster, borne along by its own growing momentum. Getting unplugged for a week, and breathing the clean air, won’t ever change that.

Anti-Smog Lawsuits Show Path Against Foxconn, Bizarro EPA


The only good kind of Smog

(H/T to Official Blog Brother Kevin O’Neill for this)

The Foxconn plant being planned for just north of the Illinois border in Racine, Wisconsin, is a sort of Ground Zero for the labor and environmental arguments we’re going to be having in this country over the next few decades. It isn’t unique, and it isn’t the first, but it is emblematic of what we’re seeing and what is to come (and also close to home for this here blog, so we’ll focus on it).

To keep it short, about a year ago Foxconn, the tech giant that makes products for Apple, among others, when it isn’t too busy driving employees to suicide, announced that they would be opening a plant in southeastern Wisconsin, a poor and battered area, an area tossed around by the decline of manufacturing and the shifting of labor to cheaper areas overseas.

This could be seen as a blessing, of course. Although there are some signs of life in downtown Racine and nearby Beloit, both towns are still hurting, with shuttered factories and broken-curb streets just blocks away from cheery riverwalks and aspirational downtowns. These areas are the quintessential victims of capital flight and the attendant ills of post-modern capitalism.

The problem is that the Foxconn plant, while it might create jobs for 10,000 people, it won’t be hiring the uneducated of Racine and Beloit for long-term jobs, if at all. That 10,000 is illusory: most will come from short-term construction jobs (a good thing!), and the long-term will be engineers and other jobs recruited from around the country and around the world. And most of those will be “automation specialists”, since Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou dreams of a workerless factory.

So yeah…those jobs don’t seem like they’re really going to boost the region in the short or long term. Sure, there will be some security jobs, some minimum wage cleaning jobs, and I am sure there will be some mechanics, shoulders free from the burden of collective bargaining, making sure the robots are oiled and happy or whatever, but not jobs that carry the pride of work we as a nation rightfully celebrate.

And in order to create this robo-paradise, Scott Walker, who has already demolished the rights of workers in his state, an absolute prerequisite to attracting jobs for the vampiric business class, also gave away literal billions in tax incentives to a subsidiary of trillion-dollar Apple, broke the Great Lakes Compact, and stripped away environmental protections.

The latter, though, is where he might get tripped up.

Two lawsuits filed Thursday urge a federal appeals court to force southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana to comply with the latest limits on lung-damaging smog, targeting a Trump administration rollback intended to benefit Foxconn Technology Group and a handful of other big industrial companies.

The legal challenges — one filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and another by two Chicago-based environmental groups — cite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own records and data in seeking to overturn the exemptions.

The lawsuits say that, according to the EPA’s own science, the pollution of SE Wisconsin is having a material difference in the life of the region, and the Foxconn plant will make it even worse. We know it will make it worse because, in order to get the plant approved, the Trump EPA had to carve out exemptions so that Foxconn, which again is really rich and has billions in tax incentives, wouldn’t have to make “improvements” to a plant which hasn’t even been built yet. 

That’s right: it would be too burdensome for a rich and powerful company to meet the very minimum of clean air requirements. At least that’s the argument. It is nonsense, of course, but a very particular kind of nonsense, and one that is among the central arguments in our era of capitalism.

Look at what had to happen in order for Foxconn to build a plant. First, they wouldn’t have even considered it is Walker hasn’t destroyed organized labor in the state. But then they also had to get massive tax cuts, have environmental laws rewritten for them, break treaties, and be able to refuse to comply with any regulations. All for a few jobs that won’t even pay very well!

It isn’t that Foxconn couldn’t pay workers more, or be forced to guarantee employment for human workers, or recognize the right to collectively bargain, or build a brand-new factory that wouldn’t poison the air. It’s that they don’t want to, because then they might not be quite as rich. And in late-stage capitalism, that matters more than anything else.

We’re at the point where a large number of people, including an entire political party and a substantial chunk of another one, agree that corporations should be able to do whatever they want, and that their prerogatives are far more important than those of workers or people who have to breathe or drink clean water.

The Trump administration is trying to do whatever it can to make this paradise a reality. It is fighting labor and rolling back any and all regulations. They’ve never made any secret of this. In one of his earliest post-election lunatic press conference, Trump made it very clear.

But you’re going to sell through a very strong border — not going to happen. You’re going to pay a very large border tax. So if you want to move to another country and if you want to fire all of our great American workers that got you there in the first place, you can move from Michigan to Tennessee and to North Carolina and South Carolina. You can move from South Carolina back to Michigan.

You can do anywhere — you’ve got a lot of states at play; a lot of competition. So it’s not like, oh, gee, I’m taking the competition away. You’ve got a lot of places you can move. And I don’t care, as along as it’s within the United States, the borders of the United States.

He wants states to race each other to the bottom, creating very few low-paying jobs without any regulations. He wants to see who can race each other to become Bangladesh. This isn’t pro-worker in any reality. It is “creating jobs”, sure, but only by making the lives of those workers as challenging and brutalized and meaningless as possible. It is nothing other than pro-capital, pro-corporation, and pro-boss.

That’s where we are. The Foxconn deal is a prime example of this, and the lawsuits might be the only way to gum it up. We can demand more. We can demand that states not take away our rights to a decent life so that Foxconn shareholders can get a little richer. We can redefine our relationship to power. In this new race, that might be the only way we can win.

Space Force Seems…Sort Of Real?

Image result for star crash movie

Space Force!

You like making fun of Space Force. I like making fun of Space Force. Everyone likes making fun of Space Force. It seemed the only people who didn’t were die-hard Trump supporters, who gleefully embraced it with the fervor of new, thinking it showed a kind of real-world toughness, and loved the idea of whizz-banging around it starcrafts to own the libs.

A crowd chanting “Space Force! Space Force!” after a phony President said we’re “reopening NASA” (?) because our “beautiful ancestors” (?) won WWII is extremely on-brand for 2018. 

Indeed, when the President first announced it in June, it seemed almost like a tossed-off joke.

“We must have American dominance in space,” Trump said during a speech at the National Space Council meeting, held at the White House on Monday. “I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense to immediately begin the process to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”

“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the space force,” Trump said. “Separate, but equal. It is going to be something so important.”

Only Trump could create a new branch of the military that seeks to control the vastness of space and manage to invoke Jim Crow, before benedicting it with the elegance of “so important.”

I think most people assumed this was a Trump nonsense statement that would go away, but that’s not really how it works. We’ve seen time and time again that Trump says something, we all laugh and cringe, and then a few weeks or months later it turns into policy. Because it isn’t that he has a short attention span. He has no personal follow-through to do anything, but he demands his words become, if not real, at least a simulation of reality.

And this wasn’t just a Trump idea. It seems like it is, because the off-hand creation of a new force coupled with the grandiose-yet-tacky name of “Space Force” is perfectly Trump. But it wasn’t his idea, and there have been a lot of people agitating for a new branch of the military, with all the procurement, office space, badges, ranks, and awards that would come with.

So when the military plan for Space Force was leaked yesterday (absent the approval of Congress, who are supposed to see it today), it seemed…almost normal? Considering the circumstances, anyway.

The military would move quickly, creating a US Space Command by the end of 2018 that watches over space operations across the armed forces. The Pentagon would recommend that the leader of Air Force Space Command also head up this new division. Simultaneously, officials would establish a Space Operations Force that would include personnel (including civilians) from the whole military. It’d be ready quickly — “space experts” would go to the European and Indo-Pacific Commands by summer 2019.

The proposal, crafted by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, would also lead to a major overhaul in how the military buys, develops and launches satellites, including (surprise) a larger role for private space companies. A new Space Development Agency would gradually take over the acquisition processes that are currently handled by individual branches. As their existing programs wrapped up, their resources would shift toward the new agency.

This isn’t new starfighters. These aren’t units designed to conquer Mars. These aren’t even really combat units, as we understand them. It’s giant new equipment-based bureaucracy based nearly entirely on the acquisition and deployment of technology.

But there is something real here, and in his own way, Trump stumbled upon it. He said America must “dominate” space, which is really the ultimate in colonialism and great power conflict. There are areas of space where there is tension, especially in the deployment of satellites, both civilian and military, spy technology, and missile/futuristic weapons systems.

There is also the need for international cooperation, since any debris that can come from these weapon systems can destroy our entire technological infrastructure. Indeed, the amount of junk floating in near orbit, the smallest piece of which can destroy, say, the world’s existing GPS system, demands that space not be an area of conflict, but one of mutually-assured success.

I don’t think Space Force, as conceived by the pros, is designed to be rapacious. But as we leave a very short window of cooperation among powerful nations, and as new leadership in Russia, China, and the United States seeks to revive power politics, space is becoming, well, a new frontier in this. It’s the next arena. Creating a defense of space, but one that seeks just to protect American interests, will inevitably promote conflict, especially if it is based largely on procurement. Quick gains for some, huge losses for everyone else, as we get stuck in moral entropy.

That’s why Space Force is more than a farce. We see new conflict brewing in a melting Arctic Circle, as Russia, the US, Canada, and others seek to exploit a thawed fortune (before, I guess, disease from the permafrost kills us all). That’s a result of our inability to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term stability and a livable climate.

And we see the same thing in space. It’s not just that it is grotesque to look into the stars and want to militarize them, although it is certainly that. It’s that this is an arena that needs intense cooperation and the ability to think beyond our lifetimes. Unfortunately, all signs point to us as a country, and a species, completely unable to do so.

Your Quick Reminder That Climate Change is Already Happening

AP:

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria now faces a deadlier threat than its own Boko Haram insurgency, with fighting between farmers and herdsmen over scare resources killing far more people this year, a new report said Thursday.

The violence “threatens to become even deadlier” and could undermine national stability ahead of elections next year, the International Crisis Group report says, adding that the conflict “has taken on dangerous religious and ethnic dimensions.”

More than 1,300 Nigerians died from the farmer-herder conflicts in the first half of this year, while the death toll from the Nigeria-based Boko Haram’s insurgency was about 250.

Now, no one is saying that these groups wouldn’t be fighting if it were not for climate change. The battle over resources is the story of most wars, at least when you get down to its essence. And the Nigerian conflict between herders and farmers is replayed over and over again throughout history (just take a look at Range Wars in the US). And given that, in Nigeria, the herders tend to be Muslim and the farmers Christian adds even more fuel to that fire.

But that’s sort of the point. If most wars are about resources, and those resource wars are exacerbated by and also exacerbate ethnic-religious-whatever-else tension, then it should be pretty clear that having fewer resources will just make everything worse.

As arable land starts to vanish and coastal areas are increasingly flooded, as wildfires rages and intense heat pulverizes huge swaths of the world, and as water dries up in rich and poor countries alike, the battles over scant resources and livable space will become more intense. Divisions will become calcified as people retreat to the relative security of clan and confession. And areas that still have the resources, or the money to artificially overcome shortages, will be dominated by walls both physical and moral.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Not only is it still just barely not too late to avoid some of the worst-case scenarios, but global leadership can actually create a system for fair distribution of goods and resources to mitigate the coming disasters. Recent history has shown that leadership to be in short supply, however. In fact, it could be easily argued that nationalism in the US and Europe have been spiked by the long-tail impacts of climate change.

We don’t need then to look at a heat map or conflict in Nigeria to know that climate change, with all its attendant ills, is already upon us. We just have to open up Twitter.