Grenfell Tower Shows Some Of Society’s Cracks

Grenfell Tower Shows Some Of Society’s Cracks

By the time these photos were taken (showing the north and west facades) on 14 June 2017, the residents of Grenfell Tower had either managed to escape or were dead. The tower was a public housing unit that had 129 flats on 21 floors, typically ten beds per floor. There was some mixed use and communal facilities on the bottom three floors. According to the official *roster*, some floors only had a few occupants, not even close to capacity. There is a big concern that, as with most public housing buildings, there were far more residents than would appear on any official list; there might be visitors, friends, lovers, or sub-renters not included in the housing authority’s paperwork. Thus the official death toll of 80 with 255 survivors accounted for is highly suspect. Public pressure includes statements by the local MP who, having spent time in the neighborhood speaking with people, indicated his own disbelief of this number. Despite this, no investigator has taken the simple step of debriefing each survivor and gaining their knowledge of who was inside the tower on the night of this fire so that an accurate list of missing people can be established. In fact, the survivors have been dispersed around the area, making it difficult for them to be interviewed as well as shattering their sense of solidarity when confronting power.

The preliminary cause of the fire is listed as a refrigerator that caught fire on the 4th floor just before 1 am. The rapid spread of the fire is blamed on the aluminum cladding that had been installed during a remodel in 2016, which was intended to beautify and insulate the building. That cladding, made by Arconic (formerly Alcoa), is a sandwich with a polyethylene foam interior in the middle. The plastic is what actually caught fire once the aluminum had melted[1], and the chimney effect, caused by a space between the cladding and the exterior (and flammable) insulation, sent flames shooting up the side of the building. This particular cladding has been found, in the investigation in just this past month, on over two hundred other towers in London much like Grenfell. It also was banned in the US in 1998 as being unsuitable for use in buildings that rise above the reach of fire department ladders (for rescue purposes). Yet it remains legal, if not ethical, for use in the UK. There is a non-flammable version available that meets the same goal and costs literally pennies more per piece. But on a 24-story building, that additional safety costs just too much, one must conclude, since the cheaper pieces were used instead.

The fire burned for hours at well over 1000°F; this is why there is so much concern about the missing. As of this writing (late-July 2017) there is no figure being mentioned that has any basis in reality as to how many people might have been inside on the night of the fire. Police did announce that there would be amnesty for anyone who came forward to report the actual number of residents in any particular flat; an attempt to obtain an accurate account. There certainly appear to be more than 80 *missing person* flyers posted around the tower in the aftermath of this tragedy; flyers the city has already begun to remove. And of course, the media no longer does investigative journalism, so we can only await the official count and list of the dead from a government who says that list might not arrive before the end of the year.

You might well have seen the photos at the time of this tragedy; but you have likely assumed that the problems faced by survivors are being addressed. That would be incorrect, despite the US media moving on to click-bait stories. This is how the tower appears today, more than one month later:

There are four issues I want to mention in this article. This event, and especially its aftermath, highlight some issues in our society that are threatening to break us apart. These are not all of the issues, not even close. But these four are particularly prominent in the Grenfell Tower story unfolding in London now.

Health: as you can see from the photos in the strip above, all windows are gone from the floors that burned. When a strong wind blows, residents report that still today, weeks later, ash and other small bits of debris blow out of the building and fall upon the surrounding neighborhood. Keep in mind the health hazard this represents, as the building became a crematorium for the long hours it took for firefighters to finally extinguish the flames. Although it was declared under control after 24 hours of work and water, there were still active fires for nearly 40 hours in all. The neighborhood is also experiencing odd smells that come and go. And just as in New York City following the collapse of the three buildings in the World Trade Center (2001), the government insists that the air quality is acceptable for breathing. Will residents and first responders suffer cancers and lung illnesses years from now because of their exposure to toxic chemicals and substances here today? How will we ever know for sure? Bear in mind that the crews working to find evidence of human remains and managing the clean-up process dress in haz-mat suits and use professional grade respirators; the waste is being treated as contaminated by asbestos, because it is. How can the air in the area still be safe for residents when the wind flows through and out of the building? The big question is, especially since this is labeled a crime scene, why hasn’t’ there been any move to cloak the tower to prevent the dispersal of the ashes and contaminants into the surrounding neighborhood? We’ve all seen scaffolds and drapes that accomplish this on buildings either being built or remodeled. If public safety is any concern, even the least bright among us should have thought to shroud the building to save lives. But that would be costly, and let us not forget who it is that we would be protecting; certainly not the 1% and their kin.

Regulations and deregulation: investigation will show whether or not the cladding and its installation met the building codes of the UK, and if not, then legal action should be pursued. The fact that more than two hundred other buildings have already been shown to use this material means that most architects were comfortable with using this product in their designs. And yet, a very similar type of fire occurred in 1999 at Garnock Court in Irvine, Scotland. A fire began on the fifth floor and within five minutes had reached the top of the 13-floor tower due to the aluminum cladding and a similar chimney effect. Scottish authorities investigated and changed their own building regulations to avoid this type of problem; whether that was enough remains to be seen, but the problem was identified, corrected, and yet it did not affect the codes in the UK. Of course, the police are talking a good game: there will be arrests, they just don’t know when, they say. I can guarantee that those arrested will be far down the food chain; neither manufacturers nor government officials who chose the materials based on cost, will be called to account. There will be someone who takes the fall so that the system can continue to function as it always has while claiming to have done its job by punishing someone who was just following orders. The BBC reports the statement of the contractor for the remodel:

“Rydon, the contractor responsible for the renovation of the tower, said its work “met all required building control, fire regulation, and health and safety standards”. It later issued a new statement, removing the previous mention of the building meeting fire regulation standards, instead saying the project met “all required building regulations”.”

The bigger, societal questions to ask are: how is it ethical, even if it is legal, to use a flammable surface when a non-flammable one costs mere pennies more? And what if the non-flammable one was even dollars more expensive; aren’t we forgetting that life itself is priceless and we should avoid exposing humans to this level of risk? Who was making the decisions about what types of flammable materials can be used in building? How were they influenced by the need for profit at multinational giants like Arconic? How were the regulations, such as they are, being enforced? Have the inspections and approvals become a nuisance, rather than a process of protecting life and providing safety? Has the office handling the inspections had its budget slashed as part of the global austerity movement? Would you accept, without any qualms whatsoever, a building like this next door to your home, now that you know the risks?

The immediate response: where is the money, and other donated aid? In the first few days following the death of so many and the dislocation of at least 255 residents, more than £20M (about USD26M) was received from the public. That works out to about £78,000 per survivor. To date (17 July) less than £1M has been disbursed; none to survivors to help with their immediate needs, instead all to NGOs. Many of the survivors lost family members, and no amount of money can replace them. But all of them have lost everything they own, and money can help to find a place to call your new home, and to begin to replace those critical items we need every day. Having access to funds so that you have at least one less major concern can ease the stress that will be with these survivors the rest of their lives. Who is holding the money, what are they planning to do with it, and who is guaranteeing that it goes to those who need it without too much spending for management fees and costs? It seems that anytime something like this happens, intermediaries, who claim to be able to decide how money gets disbursed (for a fee of course!) step in and muck things up. Every day that goes by while these funds are in limbo and held by some obscure authority increases the likelihood that embezzlement or fraud will shrink the amount that gets to survivors. Was this your idea of how this assistance would be used  when you sent in some hard-earned money of your own? And then there are the non-cash donations; about 170 tons of donations if estimates are correct. The clothes and goods have been shipped to a Red Cross center outside of London for sorting; making it more difficult for survivors to access the site, if a site is ever opened for them visit in order to replace some of their lost household goods. The Red Cross has also frankly explained that many tons of the donations have been discarded as unsuitable, and many more have been sold. Which begs the question: sold, and the profit given to whom exactly? Which gets us to another point about the response: it took some time, but an official government recovery center has now been opened for survivors to visit to receive assistance. When a reporter visited the center a few days after it opened, there were many more workers inside than there were survivors. Being a government operation, one can hardly assume that the workers are volunteers. There has been however, since the very first day, a collection and distribution center at Acklam Village which has served most of the survivors. It looks a lot like what happened in New York City after Hurricane Sandy in late-2012: staffed only by caring, compassionate volunteers, collecting and distributing without many questions asked all manner of goods that one needs to survive day-to-day as well as stock a new, bare apartment. This is where the real healing happens after a tragedy like this: in locations like Occupy Sandy and this one in London, where one person reaches out and touches their neighbor with empathy and care. Survivors receive more healing from a listening, caring heart than from all the white goods in the world. Government aid is cold, callous, and calculating at a time when survivors need heart and warm love.

The Future: The Grenfell Tower was already designated for demolition in the plan undergoing the approval process for what the Brits call *regeneration*, Americans call *redevelopment, and activists call *gentrification*. It’s a scheme we see everywhere these days: take public (and even private) property in low-income areas, demolish what many low-income and poor residents call home, force them to move further away in order to be able to meet the monthly rent payments even when subsidized, and make huge profits by building upscale housing and selling it to the newly rich. This particular neighborhood is described like this by the BBC:

“The borough [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] is one of the richest in the country. The average salary is £123,000: the highest in the UK. But the median average – the midpoint of all salaries in the area – is £32,700. No other local authority in the country has such a large gap between these two averages, pointing to a huge contrast between high and low earners.”[2]

This type of neighborhood is ripe for the plucking by those interested in getting in on the cheap ground floor of an up-and-coming and rich redeveloped hotspot. It is easy to see why the government has been so negligent leading up to this tragedy, and so unresponsive and uncaring since: this is a class of people that don’t matter much in the overall plan for profit envisioned by our economic masters. We poor people are just in the way; and if a fire clears the way for redevelopment that much sooner, then let’s move the donation pickup point outside the city to get these people on their way out of the neighborhood that is no longer their home. If the money meant to get them back on their feet doesn’t show up, then they will tear each other apart trying to survive on the scraps that have been left behind. If we don’t care for their mental health, they will disappear that much quicker. If we don’t tell them to stay inside or move temporarily because there’s asbestos in the air, then maybe they die sooner and leave more room and resources for the rich. This is the class war that no one in mainstream media dares to talk about. And as Warren Buffet says, the rich are winning the war. Grenfell Tower is the latest attack on us, and again we have lost the round. But we can win the war if we stick together, don’t let them turns us one against another, and keep our hearts in the game. If you love, show it. If you care, reach out. If you have, give. And we all have something we can give, no matter how money-poor we are: we have our hearts.

 

Derek Joe Tennant

derekt@riseup.net

[1] Aluminum melts at over 1200°F

[2] Data sources: Department for Communities and Local Government, the Office for National Statistics, and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. [as reported by the BBC]

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Russia and Trump

First, a personal story. In January 2017 I traveled to Cuba for ten days. One of the many things I learned was the feeling and emotion behind what has been a nearly 60-year blockade of the island by the US: everything is more difficult when it has to come from outside your country and your nearest trading partner won’t sell anything to you. Cubans have died because they lacked drugs available for just a few dollars 90 miles to the north. Cubans have lost trading opportunities because the US has used political capital to forestall trade from its allies to Cuba. If everything is imported and has to be routed through companies that don’t care what the US thinks, then everything is more expensive. It is difficult to repair items for which you have no spare parts. Access to the Internet is nearly impossible as the global companies that run telecommunications won’t play ball with Cuba. Some Cubans still rely upon horses for travel and for farm work; their stocks of oil are that unreliable and that expensive.

You may not remember the reason for the embargo of Cuba that was put in place under the Eisenhower administration: it arose from the desire for regime change in Cuba. My point is that we have meddled in the politics of countries for longer than I have been alive (62 years and counting). The US has pursued regime change just in recent times in Haiti, in Honduras, in Venezuela, in Somalia, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, in the Ukraine, in North Korea, and the list goes on and on and on. Sometimes we were successful, sometimes not. Often it was at the point of a gun including assassination, or under a flurry of bombs, including lately from drones directed from thousands of miles away; sometimes it was an economic strafing of the country with poor people the prime target. It usually is aimed at the civilian populations; either because the *bad guys* look like everyone else to our Western eyes, or because we hold this naïve belief that if we piss off the population enough they will rise against their leader and make room for our puppet, our mole within their government. Always it was extrajudicial; we have never had the *right* to enter other countries in the manner that we have. We claim that right because we are a democracy, because we are America, because we think we know what is best for everyone and that everyone wants to be like us. Having Trump as President nothing has changed except for more war around the globe. More people died in Syria from attacks by US-led forces in June than have died in the US in terrorist attacks over the last dozen years. And we are silent as this goes on in our name.

And so it is that I have become tired of the rhetoric that drives the paranoia about Russia and their supposed attempt to influence American politics. America has no leg to stand on; we have meddled in ways far, far worse in literally dozens of countries. We need to pluck out the timber in our eye before we complain about the mote in theirs. I also suspect, now that we have seen the beginnings of the Trump administration, that those who are still blaming Russia for the Clinton loss have lost all perspective on what is happening here with the Deep State. I use that term in the sense that the system itself: political, economic, and social; has inertia and a momentum that no one person, be they President or some other high position in government, can deter. Trump has not been able to fulfill his campaign promises; like every politician before him, it is questionable if he even believed them himself. But remember after the Republican convention, the talk in the corporate-owned media about how even the RNC was trying to figure out how to jettison the man from their ticket? It was all propaganda of course, trying to ensure that his opponent would win, so that the status quo could continue unabated. Trump was not the darling of the RNC in any case. Once he won, of course Republican lawmakers were ecstatic; however, Trump still has not been accepted as a true Republican, he only offers less resistance to the Old Guard agenda than a Democrat in the White House would. He is hindered by his lack of a *proper* support team; they have been unable to appoint even half of the positions that the incoming President can use to effect his policies. Trump has no actual beliefs; he flip flops precisely because he only reflects the last person who speaks to him. Some of his plans are illegal; courts have stepped in. Some plans are politically embarrassing; the rest of the world grimaces or laughs and moves on despite what he says. Many plans need careful crafting and as such, need compromise which Republicans have found to be terribly distasteful even within their own party. Congress critters may try to lean on their colleagues, but without a true Republican in the White House, they are less successful at this than they would be with a President Pence.

I began with a personal story and now I want to make this personal with you. It feels to me like Americans value our so-called democracy more than almost anything else about our country. I write so-called because it has been clear for years that our elections are stolen. They are stolen when districts are crafted to achieve a certain result no matter the candidate or the political issues of the day. They are stolen when voter registration rules and requirements disenfranchise certain types of citizens, usually poor and people of color. They are stolen when votes are not counted or are miscounted, and when voting machines fail or are hacked. They are stolen when long lines at polling places mean not everyone can take that much time off to vote. They are stolen when lies are promulgated as campaign ads and are not retracted. They are stolen when big money ensures only their own lies are heard on media.

People often find the loss of their story about themselves, their self-image, to be unimaginable and thus they will look the other way even as that image is destroyed. If you believe in democracy then the issues I raise here are likely new and unbelievable to you. You still see democracy as a shining example of what is right about America; and the notion that Russia may have tarnished our democracy is horrifying. You find Trump disgusting as if he were a family member who gets drunk at community picnics and embarrasses your whole family. You think that President Pence is preferable because he will act like a real President, unlike Trump who acts as if he hasn’t a clue about diplomacy or discretion and the prestige of the office. You at least looked away as Democrats cheered the Tomahawk attack on Syria in April, saying that Trump was finally acting as a President should. You weren’t told the whole story about that attack; it wasn’t about the *beautiful babies* and it didn’t reach its stated goals (although its true goal was unspoken in our media). And in my humble opinion, if you also felt relief upon hearing the news of the attack, feeling that Trump was finally bringing dignity to the office of President with this decisive and swift action, then I see you as part of the problem. To say that there is a problem with Russia affecting our elections, or with Trump or his family having interactions with foreigners for the purpose of gaining ground against his opponent is farcical. As shown above, we Americans have more blood on our hands in foreign politics than we can atone for in this lifetime. And if you have a problem with foreign assistance in campaigns then look into the hundreds of millions of dollars that went into the Clinton Foundation over the last decade from foreign governments in that pay-for-access scheme run under the Clinton State Department. Oh you won’t find much in the way of accountability for how that money was spent, that foundation is mostly closed and empty now. No one seems to be asking any questions about that little slush fund. Did you think that bribery on that scale reflected well upon our democracy too?

From here I feel the best case is to leave a damaged and ineffective Trump at the helm throughout his term. This will lead to continued gridlock but the least amount of damage, when compared to what would transpire under President Pence. Impeachment is a joke, and not likely to happen, so why waste time and energy on that? Better that we should look to our left and to our right and find those nearby who are being thrown under the bus even as you read this. Find them and help them. That is how we survive this dark time, by pulling together and helping each other.

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Election Teachings

Shock; then grief. Or anger, then despair. These are the emotions reported by those who believed the polling, the mass media, the slanted *corporate-party line* in the months and weeks leading up to Election Day. If you felt them, you likely also fell for the propaganda: Trump is such a loose cannon that he’s been locked out of his Twitter feed by his campaign staff; Trump is a racist and a misogynist and we can’t possibly elect him President; Trump lost all three debates; Hillary is widening her lead in the polls; Hillary already has 264 of the 270 electoral College votes needed and there are 95 votes still up for grabs; even the story that Trump would quit near the end of the campaign  because *he can’t stand to lose*.

If you felt them you are likely scratching your head, wondering how the polls could be so *wrong* again. Like they were wrong about Brexit; like they were wrong in nearly every election since the turn of this century. Or complaining how Hillary won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College, again. Or wondering who really *stole* the votes; as stories of fraud and voter suppression abound, uncounted absentee ballots pile high, and the media announces the winner mere minutes after the last voting booth closes, again. Why are you still perplexed?

Let’s step back for a moment and talk about elections from a broad view. You can only really have three types of campaigns in any vote: a vote for the past, a vote for more of the same, or a vote for an evolution of society and a change from both the past and the present. In 2016 these views were represented by Trump, Clinton, and Sanders respectively. Once the party machinery and corporate money was able to connive and bar Sanders from running (despite consistent polls mid-year showing him beating Trump in the general election while Clinton could not), we lost our chance to vote for evolving culture. And there are just too many people who have seen their *American Dream* stolen over the last forty years as prices increased while wages failed to rise. The pain and suffering of immigrants, natives, women, and people of colors other than white have finally begun to haunt and be felt even by the white males who felt impregnable in their privilege. When you feel pain, of course you look outside yourself for a cause; Trump fed that scapegoating by pointing especially to Mexicans and Muslims. The system in this country makes us racist; its structure was built on the backs of slaves and on the land of the natives, both stolen before there ever was an *America* to be *proud* of. The key to racism is separation: I, the superior human, can dominate and exploit, banish, or kill you, the savage animal that only appears to be human. The key to unhappiness is the feeling of separation; from family, from neighbor, and from Nature.

Some of us saw this coming; and not for the reasons you might think. Of course there were voters who chose Trump because of the racist or misogynistic themes of his campaign, just as there were people who voted for Hillary only because of her gender and a desire to break the last and hardest glass ceiling. But there were also people who voted for Trump because:

  • they find systemic rot and corruption the most distasteful aspect of this dominant culture. They don’t like it when a member of the upper class creates a foundation and then plunders it for personal gain; but they especially don’t like it when the donations to the foundation are made in exchange for access to the inner circle high inside our government
  • they bought the rhetoric about bringing back the American Dream; lots of sound bites but no real plan from either candidate notwithstanding
  • they saw their own shadow: according to dominant culture there is a difference between one’s public pronouncements and one’s private views; you can offer one message when speaking to your donors (in the case of Trump and Clinton) and a different message at each of your rallies and debates. We all manage what we say to co-workers in order to project a certain image, and what we say to them is often different than what we say to our lover. As above, so below
  • they saw their own shadow: we haven’t healed our history of oppression of others because of their race, class, gender, ethics, colonial past, environment desecration, immorality, and hypocrisy and lies. This oppression continues today, both within the structure of economics, finance and politics and within individuals, even people like you who mean well
  • they don’t like that the Obama administration has deported more people, and broken up more families, than any other President. And Clinton promised *continuity*, or more of the same; despite the negative things Trump said about Mexicans, more of them voted for him than for Romney four years ago
  • they don’t like the trend of shooting the messenger, the whistle-blower, and ignoring the message they bring out into the light. It’s not the Russians who hacked the emails, yet that message pushes (at least in mainstream media) the content of the emails off the newscast
  • they don’t like that no candidate spoke of healing our environment (impossible anyway under capitalism), no candidate offered any real plans to get more people working (impossible anyway under globalization, robotics, and computer technology), and no candidate spoke of ending the global war that America is perpetrating on innocents using proxies, war crimes, and hideous weaponry (impossible anyway as long as corporations can contribute to political campaigns). In other words, the candidate of continuity offers no change at all
  • they saw that they are falling further and further into debt while buying less stuff; they can no longer educate their kids without mortgage-sized debt; they can no longer afford health care deductibles and premium costs; they can no longer afford to buy a house in a good neighborhood when there are only two incomes deposited into the family bank account; they can no longer feel safe when the police cruiser pulls in behind them as they drive home from shopping despite being white; they can no longer believe that their vote is meaningful, counted, or even necessary; and worst of all, they can no longer trust that if something bad happens (illness, accident, job loss, or divorce to name a few bad things) someone will be there to help them heal despite their financial poverty

These are all the result of feeling separate, solely responsible for one’s lot in life, as if a dozen generations of exploitation, domination, and violence have not left a mark on one’s soul.  But we have yet to touch on what we can do about any of this; this was just to answer some of the shallower thoughts that are bandied about in conversations and posts and stories, all of which miss the ramifications of this story of separation. Now let’s go deep into what’s really driving this catastrophe…

What if we see this election and its result as a collective scream born of the pain of repressed shadow and ever-increasing separation and division? What if we humans, who evolved over 200,000 years as small tribes and family units that had to cooperate, had to work for the common good over personal gain, had to share rather than hoard, had to be happy because of satisfying relationships that moved when you moved rather than things that had to be packed up and moved constantly, had to be satisfied with *enough* because there was no way to store *too much*; what if we humans never took the detour into private property and money as a way to destroy our relationships and allow a few to build up class and power?

What if we still saw ourselves as part of the Web of Life, not as the masters of Life who can tear out parts of the Web without consequence? What if, instead, we tore down the walls we use to *protect* ourselves; from the future, from Nature, from each other? What if we spent more time outside in contemplation and relationship with Nature, rather than in distraction and separation with our phones and TVs?

What if the very tools we fear will be used on us: the Panopticon, or ubiquitous surveillance, can also be turned around and used to bring transparency upon the lies and hypocrisy that pervades our modern world? What if we find that violence cannot stand the glare of the sunlight when all things become transparent? What if we ask how far we are from reality when we think killing Libyans (or Afghanis, or Somalians, or Yemenis, or Syrians, or Iraqis…) makes Americans safer? How does killing bring peace?

What if we act in alignment with our basic human values of cooperation, equal opportunity, kindness and love instead of competition, privilege, and anger? What if, by opening up every social, political, and economic institution we find the same rot and viruses? How would we heal, ourselves and our institutions, from this plague?

What if we ask about our own resistance to change? Sure, objects in motion tend to stay in motion and tend to move in the same direction until affected by an outside force; thus it is easy to keep living as Americans in an unsustainable manner and to expect that others have to change their ways first. What if we began to change ourselves first?  Would we begin to see that our personal world is reflected in the outer world; that inner and outer are all just part of One Inseparable World? Would we work then to accelerate our personal growth and evolution; to clear away our shadow and face the times we lie, to others and to ourselves, merely to save image or face? Can we work to build real wealth: healthy relationships, healthy communities, and healthy Nature instead of more profit? And I mean that literally: can you start to choose relationship over things, love over fear, love over money, coat over heater, enough over hoarding, bike over car, even cash over debt? Can we focus on enough, on finding what is truly sufficient for today’s needs, without a fear that tomorrow someone will *steal* what we have worked so hard for? Can we replace the feelings of fear and scarcity that are drilled into us by media and people with feelings of love, for all beings and for Life itself?

 

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Love

Our [American] foreign policy and *free trade* deals make us less safe, take away our human rights, and destroy our environment; while our drone assassinations breed more *terrorists* than we can possibly kill. And all of this is done to benefit whom exactly? Oh yeah, the 0.01%.

Our righteous indignation about these facts threatens the establishment within both major political parties. They will do everything possible to shut us down; it is up to us to continue this conversation or their media and their police will end it. The results of your vote for Obama show it is not enough to vote once every four years and then sit back and hope for change to happen. These parties don’t have your best interests at heart; and now they present you with a choice: keep things the way they are, or let a racist madman piss off everyone with ears to hear. This binary is completely unacceptable in a supposed *democracy*: voting against someone, rather than voting for a vision of a new society, is no way to have to vote. Yet nowhere do I see anyone talking seriously about ending all war, offering universal health care and education, returning sanity and ethics to finance and business, cleaning up our toxic habits, and restoring health to our environment. And no, not even Bernie could pull this off even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t.

But we are connected now in ways we never had access to before. Consciousness is being raised, awareness is dawning, hearts are opening, and business as usual is over. Standing for justice and truth takes place in community, in our streets, in everyday interactions, and not just from behind this computer screen or even in the voting booth. When Bernie calls for a political revolution “we take it with a grain of salt because it’s being broadcast on CNN but he is right. Any new President can never be the solution, we know that, right?” But we demonstrate complicity through our inaction, reveal our values by how we spend our time and our money…and change the world by manifesting our love for each other and for this Earth. Our lives depend upon this love that we feel and the ways in which we express it; a love contained is a love denied. It must be given to be manifest, to work its magic. And in the end, love is only ever the answer; again, love is only ever the answer. To every problem we face. You know that, right?

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We Are Being Played

We are being played, you and I. Capitalism is global; it infects rich and poor nations alike. Its need for constant growth; its inability to cut the cost of resources as they become harder to extract and its difficulty finding new and untapped markets to fuel the easy growth we’ve seen these last 200 years together mean that the only way profit grows today is by cutting wages. This trend is clearly and repeatedly demonstrated in the US over the last 40 years, and with no inflation-adjusted real growth of incomes for the 99% in sight despite minimum wage increases.

Key to the growth of capital is the military industrial complex; and key to its growth and contribution to profit is endless war. Not the kind of war that is won, rather the kind of war that destroys lives and property; the kind that requires profit-making rebuilding of homes and bridges, businesses and power plants; the kind that allows arms manufacturers to sell to both sides. Thus we see ISIS shooting US-made ground-to-air missiles at US-made helicopters. Over the last 70 years since WWII, the US military-industrial complex has armed the world (the leading weapons exporter) and toppled regimes in over 50 nations (more than 25% of the world’s total), many that had been democratically elected while killing millions of innocents in the process. And the bulk of the regime-change agenda has occurred under Democratic administrations, not the allegedly more hawkish Republican ones. Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton and Obama.  You are American, or you are crushed or killed.

So here we are in 2016, facing another round of the charade called a Presidential election. Our media openly discusses how the super delegates of the Democratic party will decide the nominee, not voters. Our media openly discusses what rule changes may happen to enable the Republican convention to be *brokered*, again to prevent voters from effectively choosing the nominee they prefer over the one that is best suited to work within the status quo. A Clinton nomination, if you are to believe her own rhetoric, promises more of the same; just like the last eight years under Obama. Doesn’t it seem that capital might well be happy with the same policies that have brought us drone assassinations and missile strikes on every continent? More of the ramping up of expenditures to: safeguard our borders and deport undocumented human beings at all-time record rates; incarcerate citizens over petty, meaningless crimes in world-best numbers; supply even small-town police forces with military-grade weapons and training to abuse our own neighbors; build the next generation fighter (F-35) that can’t even fly 25 hours without an engine change, shoot real bullets, drop a single bomb, or avoid killing a pilot every few hundred hours of operation; ensure that the medical *industry* makes nearly as much profit as our financial *industry* does; revamp our nuclear weapon stockpile with the B61 Model 12, a drone/bomb that is so small *using it is more thinkable[1]*…

More of: cutting school budgets; limiting lifetime eligibility for food stamps or housing assistance; denying people access to life-saving drugs and even simple operations because of *expense*; allowing highly paid executives to regulate the industry they work in; closing homeless shelters because *it’s not cold enough outside*; calling unemployment *full* while 42% of working-age adults have no work at all; printing money in an attempt to cause inflation while your cost of normal living is rising at over 10% each year; insisting that Obamacare *fixed* our health care crisis…

So of course capital wants a Democrat in power. Clinton has repeatedly demonstrated that she will say everything; both sides of any discussion, yes and no or both-and, in order to appear to be your friend. She offers more (but better!) of the surveillance-drone-occupation and regime change she fostered as Secretary of State. More (but better!) of our broken health care system since she has wanted more and better since 1992. More (but better!) regulation of Wall Street. But with all of these promised incremental improvements, the details are nowhere to be discussed or debated…we must take her at her word that things will continue to improve. Sanders offers single-payer as a solution and is crushed with criticism; so tell me, what are Clinton’s actual proposals? We must believe, in Clinton’s view, that after a small tweak here and there, who could ask for more? And this is the crux of the matter: she cons you with the premise that the system is not broken, just scratched.

So here comes her opposition: the man who says *yes, the system is broken* and then points fingers at who he claims broke it. And for whites who have seen their privilege wither away, for men who have seen their privilege over women wither away, this rhetoric falls sweetly on ears that have longed for this message for many years. For the 1% who want the kinds of reform that can only be described as vulture capitalism, a man with four bankruptcies to his name is just the man for them! He’s experienced at making the tough calls, *you’re fired!*, that will facilitate the ongoing corporate takeover of governments around the globe. You don’t think the 1% actually want to pay for reforms that help the rest of us, do you? Trump’s knowledge of how to dodge responsibility for payment of debts is an asset, not a liability. He knows leverage and the wonders it can manifest; how to use other people’s money for personal gain. Of course he would make a good President at this point in capital’s global *growth* curve.

You may decry Trump’s stand on immigration; but he’s (not yet) the Great Deporter. Media silence on Obama’s highest-ever deportation rate is actually making war on who? America is a place where untrained toddlers sometimes shoot their mothers, and where trained police shoot unarmed citizens every single day. And the media would have us worry about foreign terrorists? Tuesday morning is when Obama approves the week’s kill list; note how many drone strikes that kill 150 *militants* at a wedding in Somalia happen just hours later (an occurrence so frequent that even the New York Times remarks on its curiosity). Told that Gadhafi had been publicly sodomized with a knife (think about that, but not too close to your mealtime) Mrs. Clinton gloated. Is that who you want as our next Commander-in-Chief? Is she *tough enough* for you? Count me as terrified. Remember, a chief supporter of HRC is Madeleine Albright – she who famously called the death of 500,000 children in Iraq *worth it*. Or are you planning to vote for her just because she’s a woman and you are not wanting to be thought of as a sexist troglodyte? These are not women in the usual sense of the word.

This is where you likely step up with the *lesser evil* argument; that neither is perfect, but this candidate is less evil than the other. For me to say don’t vote sounds at first like dodging responsibility, making just another to-do list, or even giving up. Actually it is advice: I tap into my longing for justice and security and having enough for a blissful life, and I quickly see that voting won’t get me to that world. Building a new system requires having new dreams. Less evil is more of the same; see above about how that will turn out. New government, new leadership, new compassion; all of these require work, not votes. You see, the great tradition of social change relies upon movements, solidarity among people, that is completely unfettered by any political party. Courage, creativity, compassion, and collective commitment are fundamental and foundational to a just and peaceful world; and antithetical to this capitalist system. What will shatter the status quo first: nuclear war or solar panels on every roof? Austerity, or walkable lives in manageable communities? Financial collapse, or food gardens in every front yard? The war for our future is ongoing and we all must soldier on. Whose side are you on? What will you do besides merely vote?

 

[1] General James Cartwright, former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

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More on Terror

Fanaticism, fundamentalism, and ethnic conflict are increasing. Terrorism is not merely a function of religion, nor will it end because we establish a secular market-based democracy in every country around the globe. This is a war between a global capitalist consumer culture and living beings. Economic *development*, building energy and transportation infrastructure, moves the locus of life from Nature to city. Cities are not self-supporting; they must import food, energy, and other resources from lands outside their own boundaries. Sometimes those resources are taken rather than bought. Sometimes those resources arrive bloodied and diminished by the taking. We are all diminished when we take this course of action. Energy and knowledge abandon the village and merge with the city as young people are seduced with promises of convenience. Western media, purveyor of this global monoculture swallows up village life leaving the people who remain feeling inadequate and insecure. War begins even inside the city as we fight for the new, scarce *jobs* and the newly-needed money they provide. Local councils are overtaken by national bureaucracies. Home-raised and homespun wool becomes polyester and nylon. A village well and water wheel becomes dirty water in corroded pipes and a coal-fired power plant energizing an electric blender. Material possessions, few, cherished, and ever-repaired become plastic, shallow, and disposable. Our young begin to feel ashamed of our native culture and they flee, seeking the bright shiny life they see on TV, or they rebel. In mere years, a village or tribe in which no one was poor can devolve so much that all are poor or it disappears altogether. The sense of shame is a profit center: blue contact lenses, caustic chemicals to whiten skin or straighten or color hair, stores that sell imported food because local food is now inadequate and unacceptable. Few can withstand the vigorous assault on indigenous culture. What is your response in your own life, when the movies you watch tie the hero’s success to violence? What choices will you make, and will they serve you well, when the world you seek mirrors the ads you see? What hope do you have, when your traditions and initiations are buried under the slag of plastic materialism? This rise of antipathy, hate, and violence is happening everywhere because Western capital and culture is global. Placing blame anywhere else: on immigrants, on religion, on deeply-seated vendettas, on racial differences; all only distract us from the root cause. Global capitalism breaks down human institutions, destroys bonds of mutual aid and respect, and pressures us to allow plastic values to replace the true wealth of healthy families, healthy communities, and healthy environments. Profit before people and planet, a grow-or-die economy, and survival of only the fittest; these form a path to ruin, as anyone who looks can clearly see today. The violence we endure personally and daily is the natural result of the violence that destroys our communities and ecosystems. Not all of our young people are leaving home to join the city madness; some are rebelling against parents who have accepted downward mobility as their lot in life. They rebel against parents who have become immersed in the world of plastic consumption and who have not defended truth, love, or democracy along the way. Media tells us what to think and who to hate; if you see things differently, what are you to do but rebel? Parents even turn in their child and claim he or she is *radicalized* as if it is no fault of their own; the ultimate betrayal that shows us how wide the rift between generations has become. Being bored with Western distractions: drinking or drugs, isolating social media, meaningless sex, or petty crimes; our young seek solutions and new ways to live. Destroying ISIS will not end their need to replace what they see as a decadent and oppressive culture. They join because it’s handy and high-profile, not because they are religious. The Abdeslam brothers sold alcohol in their café; yes, they were not refugees attacking Paris, they were long-time residents with jobs. Destroy ISIS and the young *recruits* will find other ways to try to topple the rotten edifice that is blocking their view of any future they might want to live into. How was Paris different from Aurora Colorado? These events are all about a frustration over dim prospects, revenge for perceived slights, nihilism and narcissism. They embody a deep rejection of the new global society. It is interesting that we are beginning to see brothers banding together to strike back at authority figures: Tsarnaev (Boston), Kouachi (Charlie Hebdo), Abaaoud and Abdeslam (Paris Nov 2015). Youth feel their parents have betrayed and cheated them and are striking back.
Obliterate diversity and craft a monoculture and eventually one little virus will end your dreams and our world. The world doesn’t need our American aid to maintain its varied cultures, produce enough for their needs, or to determine their own dreams and future. We lie to ourselves when we say that everyone wants to be like us, and no one of us can say we are truly happy in the world that capital has created. Say no to debt and slavery, no to violence and war, no to fossil fuels, no to patriarchy. The solution to *terror* is not more bombs, more surveillance, or more IMF loans. The solution to terror is peace, love, and just enough.

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Our Overabundance of Oil

Our overabundance of oil, which is said to be the cause of its current low price, may have begun with an increase in production but it continues today because our oil storage facilities are filling up. In Europe storage is 97% full, and while the U.S. has filled only 500 out of 550 million barrels, it has not been so full before except in 1929. Hence you can see why Congress was recently willing to allow oil exports for the first time in decades. Yet America still imports oil; why? That would be because tight oil is not high quality; most of our needs in the U.S. can’t be served by this crap. We can only refine it as much as possible and ship it to somewhere else for use, in places that care less about air and water quality for example. Tight oil production from fracking accounted for 75% of global increased production; Saudi increases were less than 25%. The Saudis were afraid of losing market share and so wouldn’t cut back production; they also saw the benefit of driving the fracking industry in America to its knees for a very long time. These last several months, as the price of oil has plummeted, have seen a decrease in U.S. production and not just in tight oil… also biofuels, natural gas liquids, and the old standard crude oil production rates have all fallen. Fracking only manages to continue now because once a well has been drilled, its cost of operation is minimal and selling oil at any price provides cash flow to be able to pay interest-only on the debts used to drill in the first place. This low price though won’t allow debts to be repaid. Most of these types of loans were for five years or less; the expectation of course, as it was for homeowners taking sub-prime loans for their first house purchase, was that the price of oil would remain high forever, keeping the value of the underlying collateral (oil in the ground) high, and allowing financing to roll forward without having to be paid back quickly. Thus the trigger point for the bankruptcy of so many drillers looms dead ahead.
But this storage issue means that we not only have to grow the world’s economy to get us back on track with rising energy use, we also have to deplete what’s been stored. Our hill has grown steeper. Debt defaults will hurt not only the companies who took loans to finance well development, but also those companies that supply the drills and sundry supplies, the rail and pipeline operators who transport the crude to and from the refineries, and the workers who flood to the fields like it’s a gold rush, only to find themselves weeks or months later once again without a job. It will also destabilize governments that export oil, and depend upon the recent high prices to fund social programs for their poor. As the revenues crash, the vast mass of people no longer aided by their government are ripe to be led by a charismatic but treacherous figure into rebellion. This could further disrupt the supply and make it easier to use up our oversupply; as long as it is some other country in trouble and not our own.
So it turns out that oil over $80 per barrel destroys our industrial economy; and oil under $80 per barrel destroys oil producers. Look at North Dakota, site of the latest gold, um, I mean oil rush: the landscape is littered with half-completed apartment buildings, most likely never to be finished as the rush of new workers is over as quickly as it began. And if that is hard to see, what’s not hard to see is the debris of fracking wells, some of which were just abandoned as the owner went out of business and now are a toxic problem belonging to Joe and Jane Taxpayer.
Falling wages and austerity are shrinking, not growing, our global economy. There will be debt defaults as loans to oil companies come due, as students can’t find jobs in their field and default on debt, and as the *deep subprime* auto loans that have been driving new car sales these past few years also show their true colors and lead to repossessions, demand destruction, and disappearing bank assets. Our *old* economy worked well because when more energy and better technology made workers more productive, both profit and wages rose. In our *new* economy, energy costs rise as extraction becomes more difficult and either wages or profit must fall to compensate. Repaying debt with interest is easy when your income rises or the currency inflates, and that is the case in a growing economy. But in a contracting system, debt repayment can be nigh impossible. In other words, wages (or at least disposable income) must rise faster than commodity prices for economic expansion to take place. And without economic expansion, debts cannot be repaid. For twenty years now, the cost of life’s necessities (shelter, food, energy, health care, transportation, education) has risen while wages have not. We borrowed to make ends meet and continue to consume life’s luxuries. When household debt growth slowed as we reached the limit to what we could borrow, quantitative easing and zero interest rates managed to put more money into the system to compensate. But today, in Europe, negative interest rates are driving investment and capital away. In America, the thought of a quarter-percentage point rise in interest put fear into investors, in no small part because of how it will make the oil fields fail that much faster. The results of zero interest rates in China can be seen in the photos of empty, newly built cities, a poster child for the myriad financial mal-investment of the last decade around the world.
In the cacophony today of natural systems and human institutions spinning wildly out of control, outcomes are clearly non-linear. Any prediction is just your story, for the moment, and subject to change in the next as yet another unforeseen consequence bites you in the rear. Sadly we seem to be living in a time and a system when anything goes, no one need speak truthfully, and nothing really matters. Put another way, we think we have assigned a value to everything, yet we know the true value of nothing. We drive electric cars so that suburban sprawl and single-occupancy commuting can remain the vast majority of our transportation system. We look to molecular medicine to allow us eternal life and perpetual material consumption, without yet being able to explain the placebo effect in useful terms. We hang our descendants’ energy future on some yet-undiscovered power source that will keep our gadgets working without harming our world, as if by magic. Worst of all in the short term, we think financial *instruments* and *products* are not fantasy and will be able to marshal the resources needed to accomplish all of the above.
Nearly everything about our lifestyle that defines us as *modern* or *industrial* adds greenhouse gases to our atmosphere as if it were an open-air sewer. Modern and industrial are the keystones of an economy that lets some of us work harder than others, while others live off the work of some of us. The whole idea that *renewable energy* is the answer arises within the belief that *something* must exist in our near future that will let modern and industrial continue…we just have yet to find it but don’t worry, someone is working on that problem with lots of taxpayer money. Understand something please: there is no Law of Nature that entitles us to drive alone or buy food grown 8,000 miles away.
As our global economy slows, countries will desperately devalue their currency hoping to increase their exports. The combination of falling commodity prices, falling consumption, and defaults of the oil producers, consumers, students, governments and banks may trigger derivative defaults that crash the global financial system. Your account may not exceed the FDIC limit for coverage; but that insurance fund is at about $50 billion today, while what is insured by that fund is about $7 trillion. If you hold money in banks, you will be asked to bail-in, or give till it hurts to reflate a bank that has been stripped by looters well-versed in derivative trading. Even that may not be enough; and lest we forget, business accounts meant to fund payrolls are not covered by FDIC, and are more vulnerable to bail-ins than we are. How long are you willing to work without being paid? Collapse usually takes years or decades to play out; but all the great empires that have died before ours lacked one thing we have today: long supply chains. We depend upon just-in-time delivery for everything from food and cash to gas for heat, electricity for just about every tech device we own, and gasoline for our cars. Oil disruption will cascade scarcity throughout every economic sector; how much inventory do you have at home? So-called *long-term* thinking these days means six months. The ups-and-downs of oil prices are hard to think of as a cycle; this concept is new to oil, its price hardly wavered when I was young. But as prices gyrate between low and high, as with many systems, we see the highs get higher, the lows lower, and the time between peak and trough less and less. The cycle builds inertia and momentum, at least until it reaches total and utter collapse. As nothing was fixed following 2008, and central banks have no ammunition left for their financial bazookas, what do you think will happen?

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