George Monbiot writes: Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.
It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”
The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”. [Continue reading…]
InsideClimate News reports: A new campaign urging science museums to cut ties with David Koch has thrown a spotlight on the billionaire Koch brothers’ enormous philanthropic footprint and their oil interests, as they continue to undercut climate science, environmental regulations and clean energy.
Fifteen non-profits, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Daily Kos, launched a petition calling on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to remove David Koch from their boards of directors, because “he bankrolls groups that deny climate science.” The non-profits cite a letter to museums, also sent Tuesday, by more than 30 scientists asking for a severing of ties to all fossil fuel interests.
David Koch’s considerable donations to the country’s two premier natural history museums are part of the Koch family’s wide-ranging philanthropy. The family has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to leading cultural, medical and academic institutions over the last 40 years, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
David and his brother Charles have also emerged as the nation’s top donors to a vast array of libertarian-conservative politicians and causes, creating and sustaining a large, influential network of advocacy groups and right-wing think tanks. Among the top causes championed by Koch-backed groups and individuals are climate denial and opposition to climate-friendly policies. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian talks to the anarchist author and academic, David Graeber: In 2011, at New York’s Zuccotti Park, he became involved in Occupy Wall Street, which he describes as an “experiment in a post-bureaucratic society”. He was responsible for the slogan “We are the 99%”. “We wanted to demonstrate we could do all the services that social service providers do without endless bureaucracy. In fact at one point at Zuccotti Park there was a giant plastic garbage bag that had $800,000 in it. People kept giving us money but we weren’t going to put it in the bank. You have all these rules and regulations. And Occupy Wall Street can’t have a bank account. I always say the principle of direct action is the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.”
He quotes with approval the anarchist collective Crimethinc: “Putting yourself in new situations constantly is the only way to ensure that you make your decisions unencumbered by the nature of habit, law, custom or prejudice – and it’s up to you to create the situations.” Academia was, he muses, once a haven for oddballs – it was one of the reasons he went into it. “It was a place of refuge. Not any more. Now, if you can’t act a little like a professional executive, you can kiss goodbye to the idea of an academic career.”
Why is that so terrible? “It means we’re taking a very large percentage of the greatest creative talent in our society and telling them to go to hell … The eccentrics have been drummed out of all institutions.” Well, perhaps not all of them. “I am an offbeat person. I am one of those guys who wouldn’t be allowed in the academy these days.” Indeed, he claims to have been blackballed by the American academy and found refuge in Britain. In 2005, he went on a year’s sabbatical from Yale, “and did a lot of direct action and was in the media”. When he returned he was, he says, snubbed by colleagues and did not have his contract renewed. Why? Partly, he believes, because his countercultural activities were an embarrassment to Yale.
Born in 1961 to working-class Jewish parents in New York, Graeber had a radical heritage. His father, Kenneth, was a plate stripper who fought in the Spanish civil war, and his mother, Ruth, was a garment worker who played the lead role in Pins and Needles, a 1930s musical revue staged by the international Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
Their son was calling himself an anarchist at the age of 16, but only got heavily involved in politics in 1999 when he became part of the protests against the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle. Later, while teaching at Yale, he joined the activists, artists and pranksters of the Direct Action Network in New York. Would he have got further at Yale if he hadn’t been an anarchist? “Maybe. I guess I had two strikes against me. One, I seemed to be enjoying my work too much. Plus I’m from the wrong class: I come from a working-class background.” The US’s loss is the UK’s gain: Graeber became a reader in anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2008 and professor at the LSE two years ago. [Continue reading…]
Published Thursday in the journal The Lancet Oncology, the report focuses on a chemical called glyphosate, invented by Monsanto back in 1974 as a broad-spectrum herbicide. It’s the active ingredient in Roundup, a popular product used mostly in commercial agriculture production. Roundup is particularly good for genetically modified crops, which can be bred to resist damage from the product while it kills the weeds surrounding it.
In the U.S., glyphosate is not considered carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency’s current position is that “there is inadequate evidence to state whether or not glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure in drinking water.” In the wake of Thursday’s report, however, the EPA said it “would consider” the U.N. agency’s findings.
Note for the Monsanto comment trolls: Don’t bother wasting your time or mine by responding to this post.
The Guardian reports: The Koch brothers’ conglomerate Koch Industries has refused to comply with an investigation by three Senate Democrats into whether the company has funded groups or researchers who deny or cast doubt on climate change.
In response to a request from senators Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse for information about Koch Industries’ support for scientific research, Koch general counsel Mark Holden invoked the company’s first amendment rights.
“The activity efforts about which you inquire, and Koch’s involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the first amendment to the United States constitution,” Holden wrote the senators in a letter dated 5 March and posted online by Koch Industries this week.
“I did not see any explanation or justification for an official Senate committee inquiry into activities protected by the first amendment,” he wrote, concluding, “we decline to participate in this endeavor and object to your apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental first amendment activities.”
Asked by the Guardian to elaborate on how the first amendment protects such funding and whether Koch Industries would pursue legal action to prevent disclosing information, Holden said: “Our letter speaks for itself.”
In his letter to the senators, Holden suggested that such funding represents part of “Koch’s right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association.”
On 25 February, the three Democratic senators – each a ranking member of committees that oversee environmental affairs – sent letters to 100 fossil fuel companies and thinktanks “to determine whether they are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.” [Continue reading…]
William Dalrymple writes: One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.
The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.
There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour.
Such is the dazzle of these treasures that, as a visitor last summer, I nearly missed the huge framed canvas that explains how they came to be here. The picture hangs in the shadows at the top of a dark, oak-panelled staircase. It is not a masterpiece, but it does repay close study. An effete Indian prince, wearing cloth of gold, sits high on his throne under a silken canopy. On his left stand scimitar and spear carrying officers from his own army; to his right, a group of powdered and periwigged Georgian gentlemen. The prince is eagerly thrusting a scroll into the hands of a statesmanlike, slightly overweight Englishman in a red frock coat.
The painting shows a scene from August 1765, when the young Mughal emperor Shah Alam, exiled from Delhi and defeated by East India Company troops, was forced into what we would now call an act of involuntary privatisation. The scroll is an order to dismiss his own Mughal revenue officials in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and replace them with a set of English traders appointed by Robert Clive – the new governor of Bengal – and the directors of the EIC, who the document describes as “the high and mighty, the noblest of exalted nobles, the chief of illustrious warriors, our faithful servants and sincere well-wishers, worthy of our royal favours, the English Company”. The collecting of Mughal taxes was henceforth subcontracted to a powerful multinational corporation – whose revenue-collecting operations were protected by its own private army.
It was at this moment that the East India Company (EIC) ceased to be a conventional corporation, trading and silks and spices, and became something much more unusual. Within a few years, 250 company clerks backed by the military force of 20,000 locally recruited Indian soldiers had become the effective rulers of Bengal. An international corporation was transforming itself into an aggressive colonial power. [Continue reading…]
Joseph Erbentraut reports: It’s not easy to take on a wealthy, multi-national corporation and win. Especially for residents of Chicago’s struggling southeast side.
But that’s exactly what’s happening on the banks of the Calumet River, where the steel plants that used to give residents of a mostly Hispanic neighborhood access to a middle-class lifestyle were replaced, nearly two years ago, with black dust called petroleum coke (“petcoke”) piled five or six stories tall.
The piles of petcoke — a byproduct of the oil refining process — belong to KCBX Terminals, owned by the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers. The piles have been roiling area residents ever since the black dust of mostly carbon and sulfur began blowing into the backyards, playgrounds and neighborhood parks. It blackens skies and leaves behind a sticky residue, raising concerns about aggravated asthma and other health issues.
A small but energetic coalition of residents have stepped up to fight the blight, holding protests and marches, educating their neighbors about the issue and pressuring elected officials. They’ve made incredible progress in a relatively short time. [Continue reading…]
The Local: One in five Germans believe that a revolution would be the only way to truly reform society, a study released by the Free University of Berlin on Monday shows.
Anti-capitalism, anti-fascism and anti-racism were all are prominent positions according to the study entitled ‘Against state and capital – for the revolution’, which has revealed a public much further to the left than previously thought.
In the report, 20% of the people surveyed agreed with the statement that “Living conditions won’t be improved by reforms – we need a revolution”.
A similar percentage of people said they saw the rise of a new fascism in Germany as a real danger, while as many as a third agreed that capitalism inevitably leads to poverty and hunger.
Mike Mariani writes: The state of Kentucky may finally get its deliverance. After more than seven years of battling the evasive legal tactics of Purdue Pharma, 2015 may be the year that Kentucky and its attorney general, Jack Conway, are able to move forward with a civil lawsuit alleging that the drugmaker misled doctors and patients about their blockbuster pain pill OxyContin, leading to a vicious addiction epidemic across large swaths of the state.
A pernicious distinction of the first decade of the 21st century was the rise in painkiller abuse, which ultimately led to a catastrophic increase in addicts, fatal overdoses, and blighted communities. But the story of the painkiller epidemic can really be reduced to the story of one powerful, highly addictive drug and its small but ruthlessly enterprising manufacturer.
On December 12, 1995, the Food and Drug Administration approved the opioid analgesic OxyContin. It hit the market in 1996. In its first year, OxyContin accounted for $45 million in sales for its manufacturer, Stamford, Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. By 2000 that number would balloon to $1.1 billion, an increase of well over 2,000 percent in a span of just four years. Ten years later, the profits would inflate still further, to $3.1 billion. By then the potent opioid accounted for about 30 percent of the painkiller market. What’s more, Purdue Pharma’s patent for the original OxyContin formula didn’t expire until 2013. This meant that a single private, family-owned pharmaceutical company with non-descript headquarters in the Northeast controlled nearly a third of the entire United States market for pain pills.
OxyContin’s ball-of-lightning emergence in the health care marketplace was close to unprecedented for a new painkiller in an age where synthetic opiates like Vicodin, Percocet, and Fentanyl had already been competing for decades in doctors’ offices and pharmacies for their piece of the market share of pain-relieving drugs. In retrospect, it almost didn’t make sense. Why was OxyContin so much more popular? Had it been approved for a wider range of ailments than its opioid cousins? Did doctors prefer prescribing it to their patients?
During its rise in popularity, there was a suspicious undercurrent to the drug’s spectrum of approved uses and Purdue Pharma’s relationship to the physicians that were suddenly privileging OxyContin over other meds to combat everything from back pain to arthritis to post-operative discomfort. It would take years to discover that there was much more to the story than the benign introduction of a new, highly effective painkiller. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Some eight million metric tons of plastic waste makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, and the amount of the debris is likely to increase greatly over the next decade unless nations take strong measures to dispose of their trash responsibly, new research suggests.
The report, which appeared in the journal Science on Thursday, is the most ambitious effort yet to estimate how much plastic debris ends up in the sea.
Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, said the amount of plastic that entered the oceans in the year measured, 2010, might be as little as 4.8 million metric tons or as much as 12.7 million.
The paper’s middle figure of eight million, she said, is the equivalent of “five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world” — a visualization that, she said, “sort of blew my mind.”
By 2025, she said, the amount of plastic projected to be entering the oceans would constitute the equivalent of 10 bags per foot of coastline. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The richest 1 percent are likely to control more than half of the globe’s total wealth by next year, the charity Oxfam reported in a study released on Monday. The warning about deepening global inequality comes just as the world’s business elite prepare to meet this week at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The 80 wealthiest people in the world altogether own $1.9 trillion, the report found, nearly the same amount shared by the 3.5 billion people who occupy the bottom half of the world’s income scale. (Last year, it took 85 billionaires to equal that figure.) And the richest 1 percent of the population, who number in the millions, control nearly half of the world’s total wealth, a share that is also increasing.
The type of inequality that currently characterizes the world’s economies is unlike anything seen in recent years, the report explained. “Between 2002 and 2010 the total wealth of the poorest half of the world in current U.S. dollars had been increasing more or less at the same rate as that of billionaires,” it said. “However since 2010, it has been decreasing over that time.”
Winnie Byanyima, the charity’s executive director, noted in a statement that more than a billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day.
“Do we really want to live in a world where the 1 percent own more than the rest of us combined?” Ms. Byanyima said. “The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering.” [Continue reading…]
Scott Timberg writes: These days, even the kind of educated person who might have once disdained TV and scorned electronic gadgets debates plot turns from “Game of Thrones” and carries an app-laden iPhone. The few left concerned about the effects of the Internet are dismissed as Luddites or killjoys who are on the wrong side of history. A new kind of consensus has shaped up as Steve Jobs becomes the new John Lennon, Amanda Palmer the new Liz Phair, and Elon Musk’s rebel cool graces magazines covers. Conservatives praise Silicon Valley for its entrepreneurial energy; a Democratic president steers millions of dollars of funding to Amazon.
It seems like a funny era for the work of a cautionary social critic, one often dubious about the wonders of technology – including television — whose most famous book came out three decades ago. But the neoliberal post-industrial world now looks chillingly like the one Neil Postman foresaw in books like “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.” And the people asking the important questions about where American society is going are taking a page from him.
“Amusing Ourselves” didn’t argue that regular TV shows were bad or dangerous. It insisted instead that the medium would reshape every other sphere with which it engaged: By using the methods of entertainment, TV would trivialize what the book jacket calls “politics, education, religion, and journalism.”
“It just blew me away,” says D.C.-based politics writer Matt Bai, who read the 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” while trying to figure out how the press and media became obsessed with superficiality beginning in the ‘80s. “So much of what I’d been thinking about was pioneered so many years before,” says Bai – whose recent book, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid,” looks at the 1987 Gary Hart sex scandal that effectively ended the politician’s career. “It struck me as incredibly relevant … And the more I reported the book, the more relevant it became.”
Bai isn’t alone. While he’s hardly a household name, Postman has become an important guide to the world of the Internet though most of his work was written before its advent. Astra Taylor, a documentary filmmaker and Occupy activist, turned to his books while she was plotting out what became “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.” Douglas Rushkoff — a media theorist whose book “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now,” is one of the most lucid guides to our bewildering age — is indebted to his work. Michael Harris’ recent “The End of Absence” is as well. And Jaron Lanier, the virtual-reality inventor and author (“Who Owns the Future?”) who’s simultaneously critic and tech-world insider, sees Postman as an essential figure whose work becomes more crucial every year.
“There’s this kind of dialogue around technology where people dump on each other for ‘not getting it,’” Lanier says. “Postman does not seem to be vulnerable to that accusation: He was old-fashioned but he really transcended that. I don’t remember him saying, ‘When I was a kid, things were better.’ He called on fundamental arguments in very broad terms – the broad arc of human history and ethics.” [Continue reading…]
Deborah Sontag and Brent McDonald report: Tex G. Hall, the three-term tribal chairman on this remote, once impoverished reservation, was the very picture of confidence as he strode to the lectern at his third Annual Bakken Oil and Gas Expo and gazed out over a stuffed, backlit mountain lion.
Tall and imposing beneath his black cowboy hat, he faced an audience of political and industry leaders lured from far and wide to the “Texpo,” as some here called it. It was late April at the 4 Bears Casino, and the outsiders endorsed his strong advocacy for oil development and the way he framed it as mutually beneficial for the industry and the reservation: “sovereignty by the barrel.”
“M.H.A. Nation is No. 1 for tribal oil produced on American soil in the United States right now currently today,” Mr. Hall proudly declared, referring to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
But, in a hall decorated with rigs and tepees, a dice throw from the slot machines, Mr. Hall’s self-assurance belied the fact that his grip on power was slipping. After six years of dizzyingly rapid oil development, anxiety about the environmental and social costs of the boom, as well as about tribal mismanagement and oil-related corruption, had burst to the surface.
By that point, there were two murder cases — one person dead in Spokane, Wash., the other missing but presumed dead in North Dakota — tied to oil business on the reservation. And Mr. Hall, a once-seemingly untouchable leader, was under investigation by his tribal council because of his connections to an Oregon man who would later be charged with murder for hire in the two deaths.
In 2012, the man, James Henrikson, 35, who had five felony convictions in his past, operated a trucking company called Blackstone out of the tribal chairman’s garage. Blackstone worked primarily for the chairman’s own private oil field company, enjoying privileged access to business on the reservation as his subcontractor.
Blackstone also worked directly for the tribal government, earning $570,000 for a job watering road dust that was never put out to bid. Mr. Hall voted to approve the payment, but because he did not think he had any conflict of interest, he said, he never disclosed his business relationship to the company.
The relationship was personal, too: Mr. Henrikson and his wife vacationed in Hawaii with the tribal chairman and his family. Mr. Henrikson had an extramarital affair with, and impregnated, the now 21-year-old daughter of the chairman’s longtime girlfriend; Mr. Hall considers the baby his grandson.
In an interview last week, Mr. Hall said Mr. Henrikson was a “professional con” who had cemented their business deal when Mr. Hall was ill and distracted, bringing flowers and a contract to his hospital room to be signed. “I got ripped off and taken advantage of,” he said. “The people didn’t really know that when the news first broke.’’
In January, Mr. Hall’s link to Mr. Henrikson, Mr. Henrikson’s link to the murder case in Spokane, and the murder’s link to the reservation were revealed after the alleged hit man was arrested. The revelations jolted Fort Berthold into a tumultuous year of questioning and change.
“That murder was the last straw,” said Marilyn Hudson, 78, a tribal elder and historian. “Now you have a murder, a hit man, and a five-time convicted felon operating as an oil contractor working directly with the chairman. It’s like our reservation got hijacked by the plot of a bad movie.” [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: He has been called the “superman pope”, and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Tom Butler and Eileen Crist write: In this centennial anniversary of Muir’s death, it is disturbing, but not surprising, that the man and his legacy are suffering the slings and arrows of critics. These attacks are concurrent with an ongoing assault on traditional conservation ideas and tactics from some academics, think tanks, and practitioners affiliated with large nonprofits. This body of thinkers, variously called “new conservationists,” “eco-pragmatists,” or “postmodern greens,” have articulated a set of views about where they think conservation should go in the so-called Anthropocene, the new epoch of human dominion. Wilderness preservation is not on their wish list this Christmas, though corporate partnerships are.
The postmodern greens aim to reorient conservation’s primary focus away from establishing protected areas intended to help prevent human-caused extinctions and to sustain large-scale natural ecosystems. Instead, they advocate sustainable management of the biosphere to support human aspirations, particularly for a growing global economy. If some species go extinct that may be regrettable, goes their thinking, but the bottom line is that nature is resilient. As long as “working landscapes” (places we manipulate to produce commodities) are managed well enough to sustain “ecosystem services” (things like water filtration, soil health, and crop pollination), human welfare can be supported without lots of new protected areas (habitat for other species) getting in the way of economic growth.
Some of the most prominent of these new conservationists have warned against critiquing the techno-industrial growth economy that is everywhere gobbling up wild nature. “Instead of scolding capitalism,” they write, “conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.” [Continue reading…]
Robert Foyle Hunwick writes: There’s a joke going around: “Santa Claus was descending into China from the sky. Due to the heavy smog, he fell to the ground, but no one dared help him up. While he was still lying in the snow, his bag was ransacked for presents, and his reindeer and sleigh taken away by the chengguan. Therefore, no Christmas this year.”
While some of the humor needs context—there are digs at China’s notorious bystander effect and much-despised urban-management officials, chengguan — the larger meaning is clear. Ironic jokes about Santa’s routine being disrupted with uniquely Chinese characteristics are a sure sign that, yes, they do know it’s Christmas time in communist China.
Retailers lead the way here: An annual spending season that once focused on Chinese New Year in the winter is now bloated and elongated, stretching from the invented Singles’ Day on November 11 through February, with Christmas as a kind of hump day. Even before December, shops, streets, and hotels begin filling with slightly off-kilter Yuletide scenes: performers in elf suits play traditional cymbals while a grinning plastic Santa Claus toots a saxophone outside his gingerbread cabin. Why the sax? Theorists point to everything from the instrument’s romantic associations with the avuncular Bill Clinton jamming on one in the 1990s, to the smooth alto-sax muzak that’s the preferred soundtrack of Santa’s typical dwelling, the shopping mall.
There’s no sign of Jesus, but in many big cities, you’re still more likely to see Father Christmas’s face than that of “Uncle” Xi Jinping, as state media has characterized the country’s president, presenting a homely, familial image that’s quite at odds with the repressive manner in which he’s coldly eliminated opponents. But Xi is not above the fray himself, visiting Santa’s official cabin in Rovaniemi, Finland in 2010.
The Western religious festival is so trendy, in fact, that it may be the second-most-celebrated festival in China after the Spring Festival among young Chinese, according to research conducted by the China Social Survey Institute (CSSI), which found that 15- to 45-year-olds are the most likely to observe it. [Continue reading…]
No one would call TomDispatch a traditional website. Still, we do have our traditions. Among them, none is more “traditional” — a full decade old at a website that just turned 13 this November — than having Rebecca Solnit end our year. Sometimes as the year winds down, she’s dreaming of the future, sometimes thinking about the past, sometimes focused on the last few seconds, but always, as was true from her very first moment at this website, she offers some version of hope in the face of a reality that others find almost too grim and obdurate to consider.
As this year ends, Solnit, the author of the 2014 hit book Men Explain Things to Me and an even more recent collection of essays, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, considers humanity’s latest breakthrough into the apocalyptic. She takes on climate change in a clear-eyed way without losing her sense of hope and purpose. As ever, it’s an impressive performance and a reminder to all of us that the future remains ours, if only we care to focus on what truly endangers us. Someday, those who sent the most recent rounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere utterly wittingly, with profits on the brain — and I’m talking, of course, about the CEOs of Big Energy (and the various figures who run the energy operations we’ve given names like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and “Saudi America”) — will be remembered as the greatest criminals in history, the true terrorists (or as I’ve called them, “terrarists”) of our age. It’s one of the jokes of our time that we Americans have literally plowed trillions of dollars into what’s called “national security” in the post-9/11 years without seriously facing climate change, a phenomenon that, if not brought under control, guarantees us a kind of insecurity we’ve never known. Call it irony or call it idiocy, but call it something.
And let me end 2014, the year that revealed to all of us so much more about the hidden world of surveillance that is ours, with my own New Year’s wish: if I could be granted one relatively modest thing to end 2014, it would be the release from prison of former Army private Chelsea Manning and former CIA Agent John Kiriakou, and the release from exile of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. For their genuine service, for letting us know what no one else would about the nature of the American world we inhabit, they deserve so unbearably much better from this country than they’ve gotten. Someday, when those who jailed or exiled them are forgotten or scorned, they will, I’m convinced, be remembered as heroes of our moment. In the meantime, a guy can hope, can’t he? I take my hat off to all three of them as 2014 ends. Tom Engelhardt
Everything’s coming together while everything falls apart
The climate for 2015
By Rebecca Solnit
It was the most thrilling bureaucratic document I’ve ever seen for just one reason: it was dated the 21st day of the month of Thermidor in the Year Six. Written in sepia ink on heavy paper, it recorded an ordinary land auction in France in what we would call the late summer of 1798. But the extraordinary date signaled that it was created when the French Revolution was still the overarching reality of everyday life and such fundamentals as the distribution of power and the nature of government had been reborn in astonishing ways. The new calendar that renamed 1792 as Year One had, after all, been created to start society all over again.
In that little junk shop on a quiet street in San Francisco, I held a relic from one of the great upheavals of the last millennium. It made me think of a remarkable statement the great feminist fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin had made only a few weeks earlier. In the course of a speech she gave while accepting a book award she noted, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
BBC News reports: Poor treatment of workers in Chinese factories which make Apple products has been discovered by an undercover BBC Panorama investigation.
Filming on an iPhone 6 production line showed Apple’s promises to protect workers were routinely broken.
It found standards on workers’ hours, ID cards, dormitories, work meetings and juvenile workers were being breached at the Pegatron factories.
Apple said it strongly disagreed with the programme’s conclusions.
Exhausted workers were filmed falling asleep on their 12-hour shifts at the Pegatron factories on the outskirts of Shanghai.
One undercover reporter, working in a factory making parts for Apple computers, had to work 18 days in a row despite repeated requests for a day off. [Continue reading…]