Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Last night in Baltimore, the action followed a pattern that's familiar to anyone who's been following grassroots politics for a few decades. First came the protest march, organized by local Black churches, that plodded down the street waving signs and shouting slogans and doing nothing more disruptive than blocking traffic. Then, all of a sudden -- according to witnesses and marchers who had Twitter accounts and were carrying their phone with them -- a group of about 50 men, dressed like stereotypical Boyz In De Hood, started smashing and looting shop windows, throwing firecrackers, and attacking bystanders. A hapless driver who turned his car onto the street was promptly surrounded, and the hoodie-boys started slamming their fists on the car windows. They got as far as pulling the car doors open and starting to drag the occupants -- the driver, his wife and two children -- out into the street, and then, seeing that nobody in the rest of the march was joining them, suddenly stopped the attack and melted away into the crowd. Of course the police moved in, grabbing the protesters and arresting a couple hundred of them.
The city government declared a curfew today, and the protest organizers insisted that they'd still march -- up to the beginning of the curfew. That they did, and by the beginning of the curfew the only people on the street were just over 100 men, again wearing stereotypical Gangsta costumes. These same guys threw rocks, bricks, bottles, firecrackers, and a molotov cocktail or two. Again, the police moved in, but with only their riot-shields, tear gas and smoke grenades -- whereupon the gangsta boys faded quickly into the background. The media, who were out in force this time, noted the difference between police tactics here and in Ferguson, Missouri. The original protesters were in their churches at the time.
Now doesn't that sound a little too planned? Yes, "violent" protests get media attention when nothing else does, but in this case the difference between the protesters and the rioters is a little too clear.
For anyone who has seen provocateurs in action before, it was pretty obvious what was going on here. Starting with the Chicago Haymarket riot of over a century ago, the usual purpose of the provocateurs is
to give the police an excuse to charge into the crowd of protesters, beating and possibly crippling or killing as many as possible, and arresting all the "leaders" for later jailing or execution. Their secondary purpose is to make the protesters, and their purpose, look bad. Their tertiary purpose, if they can pull it off, is to take the lead of the protest and stampede it into running itself over a political cliff. A quick look through history can show you examples of all three of these in action. Note the aforementioned Haymarket Riot, the discrediting of the Black Panthers, and the ruining of the National Organization of Women after it was seduced into following Andrea Dworkin.
But people do eventually learn. The Baltimore protesters, after the first night, made a point of observing the curfew and getting off the streets -- and into their churches. The police also had better sense than to charge at the crowd and bop-bop enthusiastically -- or maybe their commander recognized the provocateurs and realized that nobody else was out there. It didn't hurt that some genius in city hall actually went and negotiated a peace treaty with the local street-gangs before the march started.
The ultimate solution is for the protest group to realize when it's being -- or likely to be -- provocateered, and have counter-tactics ready. The easiest tactic is to step away from the provocateurs, point to them, and loudly yell: "Imposter!" Another, requiring more warning and planning, is to surround the provos, close in on them, grab and silence them -- as in the classic movie, "The Grapes of Wrath". Better still is to identify and isolate the provocateurs, send them off to some "action" where none of the rest of the protesters will be, and leave them to face the cops alone -- as was neatly done in Baltimore. Well done, folks. Well done.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Yes, today is Earth Day, and no, I'm not attending any Earth Day rallies, festivals, or other gatherings -- and haven't in years. I gave up on them in disgust, years ago, when I saw that they were nothing but feely-goody festivals of self-righteousness where people who pride themselves on virtuous ecological consciousness get together to swap ain't-it-awful stories, swap ineffective tips on how to live more Green, make cheerfully loud demands about what other people should do, and go home feeling wonderfully pleased with themselves. *Sigh*
You can find new ideas and techniques springing up all over the Internet, all the time, about how to do things like conserve water, clean out waterways, improve the lives of wildlife, make clean energy, make energy-efficient buildings, farm and ranch and fish more efficiently and soundly, and so on -- and you can apply these in your own life as much as you like, or can afford. By now everybody connected to my Facebook page knows about my efforts to plant an orchard of rare and endangered fruit-plants. I'm hoping we can save enough by the end of the year to put a solar electric generator on our roof. Those are small things, but real. There are plenty of small-but-real improvements that anybody can do to improve the biosphere, and as I said, you can easily find them on the Internet -- even in an hour's search on the public-access computers in your local public library. This is a lot more effective than a day's worth of rallies and speeches and making yourself feel good for attending.
Likewise, when it comes to dealing with the ecological Bad Guys, the Internet is more effective than self-celebratory speeches. The numerous sins of Monsanto, despite its multi-million-dollar TV ad campaigns and lobbyists' bribings, have been exposed repeatedly on the Internet and shoved under politicians' noses by way of electronically circulated petitions until nobody can ignore them any more. More than that, the Internet makes it possible to start and spread rival industries -- such as home solar or wind generators, cellulosic ethanol production kits, 3D fabricators, and even Thorium nuclear reactors -- that have the potential to break the power of the cartels that are the major polluters. The phenomenon of Internet crowd-funding has even started chewing into the financial industry, providing start-up money for new businesses while bypassing the banks entirely. This is a quiet but growing revolution that will democratize the economy like nothing since the land-rushes of the 19th century, and it's in the hands of an informed and intelligent population with a serious preference for the ecologically sound.
This is an ongoing change, not fanned and satisfied with once-a-year feel-good festivals. This is the revolution I'm trying to be part of. This is why I spent Earth Day watering my seedlings and comparing local solar-power companies, and ignoring Earth Day entirely.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
I'll name no names -- anybody who wants to can go look them up -- but within the last two weeks we've seen two different videos of cop/civilian interactions that really need comparison.
The first was taken by a security camera, and the cop obviously didn't know it. It shows an unarmed civilian running away (unfortunately in a straight line), the cop firing no less than eight shots after him which finally bring him down, then the cop going up to the body and dropping a throw-down gun next to it. No, the civilian did not survive. It turns out he was pulled over for a broken tail-light and late child-support payments. The local police department is having a hard time claiming this was a Righteous Shoot, the usual suspects are trying to justify it, and the usual activists are trying to bring murder charges.
The second, which has gotten a lot less on-air time outside of Arizona, where it happened, was taken by the cop's own car-cam. It shows the car rolling up from behind a walking civilian who's holding a rifle, then swerving to aim toward the civilian, then finally running him down and crashing into a wall. The civilian and his rifle, at separate angles, go flying over the wall. Another cop-car rolls up, and the cops therein run out and cuff the civilian. Yes, the civilian did survive. Before that incident the civilian had spent the morning robbing a convenience store, burglarizing a house, stealing a car, then robbing a department store to steal the rifle and a box of bullets. Before the cop-car came into view he had also fired that rifle, so it was clearly loaded and he was quite willing to use it. The local police have no trouble calling this a Righteous... Take-down, but they're puzzling over how "appropriate" it was to knock the crook down with a car instead of a gun or taser. The politicos aren't saying anything about it. The various activists are likewise arguing over how "appropriate" the run-down was, and nobody but the crook's lawyer is trying to claim that he wasn't a public danger. Nobody's mentioning the fact that a .30-caliber-or-better rifle bullet can go through a police armor vest, or a car.
The lesson I draw from this is that Arizona cops tend to have more sense and more imagination (as well as being better shots) than cops in other states -- which, perhaps, is only to be expected in a state where everybody has guns and knows how to use them well. Also that politicos, Left or Right, think in predictable patterns and don't know how to react when something out-of-the-ballpark happens. The run-down video makes it clear that a car, too, is a deadly weapon -- in fact, cars kill more Americans every year than guns do -- which is something that the politicos don't want to think about.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
There's an article on the Scientific American website which points out that income inequality in America is much worse than we feared, and social mobility is worse too. The richest 20% of the population own more than 85% of the wealth. The income of a 1% CEO is 340 times greater than the income of a minimum-wage worker, let alone someone on Welfare or Social Security. A single family -- the Waltons, of Wal-Mart fame -- own more than 42% of the rest of the population.
Worse, they who make these incredible incomes do not create jobs, nor produce useful goods and services, nor work a useful industry. They're managers in the financial "business" -- money-farmers. "They toil not, neither do they spin"; they only manipulate the value of money. They do nothing real or valuable to earn that wealth -- unless you think that buying elections and suborning governments, for their own purposes, does anything of value for the rest of us.
Now a brief diversion: "money" isn't exactly "wealth". Money, as I've written elsewhere, is just a receipt, a useful shorthand, for services and goods -- things done and things made. The only "money" that's worth anything by itself is coins made of useful and valuable metals -- gold, silver, and copper -- and precious little of the world's money is made of that anymore. Paper money is just a paper receipt, and electronic numbers on a credit card or a bank computer's memory is even less than that. Real wealth is in the goods, services, and the territory where the raw material for the goods can be found.
Now territory, usually land, is almost worthless except in its potential to produce useful raw materials; a howling wilderness may produce wild game and useful plants, but these are useless to humans unless they go hunt that game and gather those plants -- in other words, put in labor. The wilderness does produce clean air to add to what we breathe, but that's it; everything else is potential, not actual.
So let's look at services; those are all labor, in varying degrees of skill. Their value is all in the usefulness of the labor.
Likewise, the value of goods is partly in the raw materials, but mostly in the labor needed to gather those materials and process them. Consider: suppose you're walking through a howling wilderness when a healthy wild apricot tree chooses the moment you're walking under it to drop its fruit. Wow, windfall -- literally. You got the fruit, all that excellent food, (almost) for free. But still, to make use -- get value -- out of that fruit, except for what you sit down and eat right then and there, you've got to put out the labor of gathering up all that fruit, stuffing it in whatever container you can come up with, and carrying it home. Once you've got it home, you have to put in the labor of washing the fruit and storing it in a place safe from bugs and mold. If you want to do more with it -- dry it, make jelly of it, process it into wine or brandy -- you have to put in still more labor. Or if you're strolling through the howling wilderness and come across a riverbank full of fine potter's clay, you have to put out the labor of digging up the clay, hauling it home, and sculpting it into pots. In short, the value of goods is primarily in the labor required to make them, even if the raw material is free.
So, most of the value of any useful goods and services is labor -- the more skilled, the more useful.
Bosses, from the beginning of history, have done their best to devalue other people's labor and inflate the value of their own. They've evolved a million tricks for doing it, but it's basically the same old theft. As the old IWW saying goes, anytime somebody has a dollar he didn't earn, somebody else earned a dollar he didn't get. The triumph of the 1% is a colossal robbery -- of the value of everybody else's labor.
Now I'll be first to admit that not all labor has the same value. An hour of the skilled labor of, say, a brain surgeon is easily worth 10 or 20 times an hour of the labor of, say, a fast-food cook. But I really don't believe that the labor a paper-shuffling money-manipulator is worth 340 times the labor of that cook. The cook at least produces real food. What does the money-manipulator produce except corrupt politicians, bad laws and inflation?
The usual argument of the super-rich and their apologists is that they're The Job Creators; without their investments there would be no factories or farms or mines or other businesses to hire working people. This is a transparent lie, for anyone who chooses to look. Wherever the super-rich have a free hand, they reduce the number of jobs -- say, by replacing laborers with machines, or moving industries off to poor countries where labor is much cheaper -- in order to funnel more money back to themselves. The real job-creators are the middle class and working class. The working single mother who hires a babysitter is a job creator. The mom-and-pop shop that hires a stock-boy is a job creator. The farmer who expands his dairy and hires a milkmaid is a job-creator. These are people who perform real work, which requires real workers -- which means real labor.
All right, so the super-rich are thieves and parasites who are impoverishing the rest of us. What can be done? Taxing the super-rich at 90% rates would be only a stop-gap (even assuming you could get enough politicians to do it, or that next year's election wouldn't bring in a crop of them that would drop those taxes again in the names of St. Reagan and St. Bush). A revolution to overthrow the rich and confiscate their holdings would be costly, in poor people's lives, and there's no guarantee that the confiscated wealth would be fairly distributed. The real solution is to put an end to the money-farming "industry" itself. How do we do that?
Well, here's an idea. Flog the politicians (until they fear for their lives as well as jobs) to pass a simple but draconian national law which says: "No person (including corporations) shall loan money at interest unless he/she/it/they has already and previously owned and managed a business providing goods and/or services to the public which has produced enough profit to cover the loan. Said business shall not be in banking, brokering, insurance or investing." Think of the change that would make. Nobody could be purely -- or even primarily -- a money-farmer. Think of Joe's Bank and Grill, or Mor's Furniture and Loans, or Ford Motors and Mortgages. Oh, and also abolish a lot of the restrictions on unions -- labor and consumer -- so as to restrict the bosses' ability to devalue the labor of their employees, or to falsely inflate the value of their goods and services. And it wouldn't hurt to teach investigative journalism, logic, and critical thinking in the schools, either. Can anybody think of other safeguards to add?