“Pi” the Movie


My mind is always working on problems related to the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Yep, that’s me. Even my days of dance and rave had a metaphysical quality. As I grow older and closer to death, however, I find myself more distant from answers about That Which Is than ever before. I know nothing; have little relationship with the One I used to know. At best I am an agnostic. In the dark times I am a nihilist.

The other night I had a dream. I had purchased tickets to a movie called “Pi.” When we got to the theatre we were refused entry because the theatre had been rented for the night by a group of men with beards. Yesterday after I woke I searched for the movie “Pi” and realized that I had a copy of it. I recalled seeing it when it was released in 1998 and we watched it last night. “Pi” is all about math, religion, mysticism and the relationship of the universe to mathematics. Some interesting messages in it for me. Take a look at the film. Well worth the time.

DNA Data From California Newborn Blood Samples Stored, Sold To 3rd Parties

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This might come as a surprise to California natives in their 20s and early 30s: The state owns your DNA. Every year about four million newborns in the U.S. get a heel prick at birth, to screen for congenital disorders, that if found early enough, can save their life. However, when those tests are done, the leftover blood isn’t simply thrown away. Instead, they’re taken to an office building and the DNA data is stored in a database. It’s a treasure trove of information about you, from the color of your eyes and hair to your pre-disposition to diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.  And that’s not the end of it:  The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is not the only agency using the blood spots. Law enforcement can request them. Private companies can buy them to do research – without your consent.

COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justice

By Skye Bougsty-Marshall On November 8, 2015

Post image for COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justiceThe COP 21 summit in Paris is approaching, but while the situation is grim the planned social movement mobilizations offer hope and opportunities.

Photo by Alberto Ñiquén.

We know how it all started — colonialism was the original metabolic rift in our history, which has been profoundly extended and deepened by industrial capitalism. Yet as we enter the 6th mass extinction, there is an ambient sense that there is no alternative to this way of life.

We collectively hallucinate that the present order of things will persist indefinitely, silently abiding the comfort and enslavement this disposition provides, all the while waiting for the apocalypse we are living through to blossom fully.

Many have been waiting for the totalizing revolution that appears as a vanishing point on a receding horizon, a perpetually deferred future. The intersecting ecological and climate crises stand as a refutation of more than a hundred years of left-wing teleology that ‘in the end we will win.’ Instead they reinforce the need for constant molecular struggles to open and expand cracks for resistance and new forms of life to flourish.

World governments acknowledge that catastrophic climate change is the defining crisis of our times, and simultaneously  continue to benefit from subsidies of $5.3 trillion in 2015, according to the IMF. This is more than all governments spend on health care combined and amounts to an astonishing $10 million every minute.

We have reached a point where we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, which would require emission reductions of at least 10% per year by 2025, even as Lord Stern counsels us that a mere 1% emissions reductions rate each year would be associated with economic recession and upheaval.

This requires radical global degrowth, which understandably is unacceptable to billions of people trying to lift themselves out of poverty wrought by colonial and neocolonial depredation and the enforced inequality of smoothly operating capitalism. Yet the overdeveloped states deny their historic responsibility, disregarding principles of equity by refusing to recognize their immeasurable ecological and social debts accrued through their ruinous development processes.

The landmark COP21 provides ecological justice struggles with an unparalleled opportunity to come together as a global movement to put into sharp relief the echoless chasm separating the minimal conditions for a just and livable planet and the political order’s capacity to secure these.

The system is exhausted. The UN COP process merely simulates its continued viability, thus performing the regeneration of its legitimacy. Its collapse is inevitable, in its orbit looms only the question whether it will take civilization with it in its violent, implosive heat death. Futurity dangles ridiculous.

Social Movements

Given the planetary scope of the climate crisis, climate justice is not an ‘issue’ amongst others, but a global frame that permeates the struggle for all forms of social justice. The call for ‘climate justice’ has become the rallying cry of the global movements connecting local struggles for survival across the world in blocking the extraction and flows of carbon and capital. It foregrounds those in the global South who bear virtually no responsibility for the crisis but disproportionately suffer its effects. This demands a forceful response, one cutting across movements in consonance with their interlinked nature.

Imagine the predicted 200 million climate refugees by 2050 as Europe’s Fortress walls (or common border) buckle under the weight of 600,000 refugees arrivingacross the Mediterranean so far this year. Austerity operates to socialize the risks and privatize the costs of the ‘natural’ disasters that will accelerate in magnitude and scale due to climate change. TPP and TTIP will eviscerate the already meager environmental regulations that could begin to rein in emissions because they also generate friction for accumulation.

The industrial food system is responsible for 44-57% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, making the fight for food sovereignty coextensive with the fight for climate justice. The destabilization and social upheaval attendant with climate disruptions and increasingly scarce resources will be met with merciless state violence that disparately impacts vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although necessary, a mere (just) transition to 100% renewable energy only partially responds to the radical transformations across interconnected dimensions social justice requires.

To maximize its effectiveness, the climate justice movement can endeavor to maintain a capillary nature circulating through the streams of other movements, overflowing the banks of their tributaries and connecting with them on the basis of their existing campaigns to become a roaring confluence of movement flows. Ecology and climate are the molecular integrals across these movements, a shared thread to link them that can be mutually and reflexively incorporated as common terrains for struggle.

The climate movement has matured and changed complexion dramatically since the debilitating failure of Copenhagen. The rhetoric from the movement’s center of gravity has begun to shift away from delegating its power to politicians to calling for system change.

Increasingly, the climate justice wing of the movement has assimilated the radical tactics and tools of movement building mainstreamed through the movements of the squares. It has learned from the experiences of the last six years, as the irruptions of Occupy and the Arab Spring show the potential for explosive social situations in the current context of the dissolution of the political order.

This is why the time is ripe and the climate movement is unique and crucial in its capacity to shine a particularly penetrating light, joining with those of other movements, to show the abyssal depth of these interrelated crises.

Welcome to Disneyland

Against this backdrop, the liberal democratic order holds out the UN COP process as the ideal framework for global governance of a global commons issue par excellence — climate. It is the prevailing order’s mechanism for addressing the existential crisis the climate catastrophe uniquely constitutes. However, the discourse and purported solutions have virtually no relationship to the reality of unraveling planetary ecosystems.

The COP and the political system do not even pretend to countenance the science. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christina Figueres confirmed that the Paris agreement is not expected to meet the 2°C target necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, disavowing the authoritative conclusions of the (conservative) IPCC reports. The negotiations focus endlessly and exclusively on emissions reductions and degrees, never questioning the fundamentals of unending productivism and consumption underpinning the rapacity of the system.

As such, the COP process functions principally through simulating the system’s capacity to resolve the climate crisis with voluntary pledges and intended nationally determined contributions, ‘net zero’ or ‘negative’ emissions relying on geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage and other undeveloped technologies. These blend with the barrage of scientific warnings and swirling quotidian apocalyptic images breeding the sense that we are all in this together and that we can continue our lifestyles uninterrupted via green capitalism.

All these signs become detached from the underlying reality of disintegrating ecosystems all around us and simply exchange for one another in a vertigo-inducing vortex of self-referentiality. It becomes a Baudrillardian simulation, wherein signs (that is, images, symbols, anything interpreted as having meaning) efface the distinction between the imaginary and the real.

These signs do not refer to or represent anything real or authentic, but themselves precede and engender reality and refer to themselves as evidence of this reality: “Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”

To further illustrate: The complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of staying under 2°C assume either a global emissions peak around 2010 (i.e., time travel) or the successful and widespread adoption of speculative geo-engineering technologies to guarantee negative emissions — a substantial proportion of the scenarios rely on both “time travel and geo-engineering.”

Thus the IPCC’s emissions scenarios depend either on non-existent technology and/or the ability to go back in time to 2010 and make global emissions actually peak that year. By rendering indistinguishable the imaginary and the real, the IPCC’s scientific models weave flawlessly in to the simulation as the models themselves produce a real without origin or reality that forms the floating circuit in which the negotiations are conducted.

In this way, the scenario of the COP does not primarily function to falsely represent political reality (ideology) but to conceal that the real of the political has disappeared. The COP is a tool for the metastabilization of a fundamentally destabilized and unsustainable system. It functions to perform the “vitality and viability of politics itself,” the continued reality of the political in the face of the exhaustion of its capacity to resolve the civilizational catastrophe we are living.

Like Disneyland, the COP is neither true nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up to maintain the fiction of the real of the outside, of the extant political order.

We are, thus, no longer primarily in the domain of the ideological. This is a crucial distinction because critiquing the system as ideologically obfuscating is itself ideological, holding out hope for an authentic politics behind it if only we removed the corporate influence from the UN, from politics.

Ideology is a false representation of reality by signs, while simulation is a short circuit of the real and its doubling by signs. Ideological analysis always attempts to resurrect the objective, true underlying process; whereas “it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.” The COP is an instrument and vehicle of global capital, a key tool in maintaining its endemic unsustainability and enabling it to continue increasing emissions for 20 years of COPs.

Resistance in Paris

Hence, COP21 offers an exceptional global platform for movements, not to restore an illusory political process behind the simulation, but instead to pierce its fascinating surface to reveal the vacuum behind it. Power in the era of simulation does not operate primarily through ideology, but through producing desires and modulating affects. Our political challenge is to disabuse ourselves of viewing the world through an ideological lens, assuming that the provision of information to the masses will dissolve the supposed ideological grip of power.

Resistance needs to touch people at the level of affect and desire, through aesthetic, theatrical, performative actions that are effective and empowering. These can operate to intensify life by opening up micro-spaces to access more potentials, making one incrementally less enslaved to situations, less determined by accumulated tendencies and habits. The major actions planned for COP21 can be seen as responding to this challenge in varying ways, while integrating the ecological justice perspective as indispensable for social justice across struggles.

As those most vulnerable and affected by the already accumulating effects of the wrecked climate, communities at the frontlines of the interlocked struggle against ecological degradation and capitalism will descend on the COP. The summit will be ushered in by the convoys of the French ZADs (zones à défendre) and other territorial struggles converging on Paris on 27-28 November.

Even as this is being written, numerous autonomous spaces are in the process of being opened, drawing on lessons from the ZADs, to organically fertilize resistance and nurture new forms of life that will carry forward beyond the COP.

Then as the latest iteration of the simulation officially begins, Climate Gameswill launch its opening round on 30 November lasting through 12 December. It is a trans-media platform that merges online disobedience and street action to create a global framework for direct action against the root causes of climate change. It aims to provide a new tool for grassroots autonomous affinity groups to take action through creating a crowd-sourced cartography of creative resistance in real time and real space.

In addition to facilitating effective disruptions of carbon and capital, it works on an affective level to tap the fount of playfulness and imagination. This opens opportunities to augment capacities and enhance degrees of freedom to respond to the apparently irresolvable circumstances in new ways beyond rote mass mobilizations and leftist rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Solutions COP21 begins on 4 December and is the quintessential greenwashing event, where corporations’ relentless efforts to commodify the entire earth and atmosphere will overflow from the Grand Palais. It blends seamlessly into the mise en scène of the COP’s simulation sowing the conditions for the smooth march of green capitalism — a response to climate change ensuring the materialization of the shadows of geo-engineering, resource wars, genocide gathering on the horizon. It will be prevented from opening and perfecting the swirling sea of signs constituting the COP.

Finally, as the COP finalizes its genocidal deal, the “Red Lines” mass action has been called for December 12th (D12) to encircle the conference center. It is considered to be the first time such a wide coalition — over 150 organizations ranging from big NGOs to trade unions, faith groups to radical collectives — has supported a day of disobedience for climate justice.

As such, the action is patterned off the success of Ende Gelände (where more than 1000 people took direct action to shut down an open-pit lignite coal mine in Northern Germany this summer) in endeavoring to normalize direct action across a range of diverse actors, many of whom may not have done disobedient actions before.

The Red Lines will have aesthetic and performative dimensions seeking to fray the COP’s simulation, in part by creating a dilemma moment with the police, wherein they will have to decide whether to allow the disobedient action to flaunt their capacity for control or to brutalize peaceful protesters.

The action strives to seize this opportunity to maximally delegitimize the COP and its performance of the system’s continued legitimacy. It will launch the movement beyond the COP, leaving behind the discursive terrain to reengage in relations of forces through the continued cultivation of a culture of resistance in which direct action is a daily activity fully integrated into our lives. Our collective future demands this.

Last Word, First Steps

The effects of climate change have entered the mainstream psyche, prompting calls of alarm to ring out from liberal institutions like the Pope, the Guardian, and Dutch courts, all highlighting the gravity of the problem and the incapacity of the system to offer any meaningful response.

With the COP’s demonstrated inability to take action in accordance with even the clear dictates of science — the apotheosis of modern rationality — it signals the deeper and more profound malaise of liberal democratic late capitalism, the growing social recognition of an acute systemic impasse, the decomposition of a paradigm that has provided our cognitive coordinates for centuries.

This crisis of legitimacy can be seized transversally by movements. Although the system appears completely entrenched and intractable, its polymorphous crises attest to its precarious ephemerality as a surface without depth. The exhaustion of the Habermasian project of modernity is an index of the times, not just another critique of state and capitalism. The climate and ecological justice lens is the clearest issue to show how incapable the socio-political-economic order is of resolving this existential crisis.

Armed with the weapons and tactics newly generalized across movements from the experiences of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and their mutant offspring, the ecological justice movement can wage this transversal social war to accelerate the implosion of the state-capitalist machine. December in Paris can be a critical waypoint in the global struggle of nature defending itself.

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Selj for his invaluable comments and feedback on earlier drafts.

Skye Bougsty-Marshall is a researcher, writer and activist working on mobilizations around COP21.



New York attorney general to investigate ExxonMobil over climate change falsifications


By Nick Barrickman
9 November 2015

The New York Times reported Thursday that the New York attorney general’s office has sent subpoenas to executives at the energy giant ExxonMobil. The attorney general’s office is seeking access to financial records, emails and other information relating to a period of several decades in which the company may have misled corporate investors about the effects of climate change on the oil giant’s bottom line.

The investigation, for which documentation has not been made public, was spurred by the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman after a series of investigative news reports published in October in the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate Change. The reports established that from the 1970s until the late 1980s, ExxonMobil had promoted research and findings that demonstrated the impact climate change would have on the planet.

“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” stated Exxon’s then-carbon dioxide specialist Henry Shaw in an internal memo in 1978, according to Inside Climate Change. The position taken by ExxonMobil’s leading scientists would diametrically contradict the company’s later public posture denying the veracity of global warming.

The reports establish that as early as 1977, scientists employed at ExxonMobil were raising warnings about the implications of global warming on the company’s bottom line. “Certainly any major development with a lifespan of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” stated Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher at Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary to a conference in 1991, the Times reports.

According to Inside Climate Change, Exxon executives in this earlier period sought to establish their scientific credibility on the subject in order to better influence their hand “at the policymaking table,” before later abandoning such postures in the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to promote bogus scientific research seeking to invalidate their own previous findings.

The revelation of ExxonMobil’s blatantly contradictory positions prompted Schneiderman to inquire into the company’s business practices. According to the New York Times, the inquiry sought to determine “whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.”

In pursuing the investigation, Schneiderman has invoked the 1921 Martin Act, which gives his office power to prosecute “all deceitful practices contrary to the plain rules of common honesty,” Reuters reports. The law invests the attorney general with sweeping power to bring both civil and criminal charges against the company.

In addition, New York attorney general’s office has launched a parallel investigation into Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal producer, for similar activities. The Times reported Friday that a source from within the attorney general’s office may seek to expand the investigation and potential lawsuit to other energy companies. “There was a concerted effort by multiple American oil companies to obscure the emerging climate science consensus throughout the 1990s. … This group may be vulnerable to legal challenge,” the Timesquoted Paul Bledsoe, former White House aide to Bill Clinton on climate issues.

In 1989, Exxon, along with British Petroleum, Shell Oil and Texaco (now Chevron) and other energy giants, formed the Global Climate Coalition, an organization dedicated to the dispersing of false information pertaining to global warming. In addition, the company is a listed supporter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-business lobbying group that promotes research skeptical of the effects of global warming.

A number of media commentators have compared the inquiry to a 2006 lawsuit that found that the tobacco industry for decades systematically sought to suppress studies finding that cigarette smoking posed massive health risks for consumers.

It is unclear if Schneiderman’s investigation will result in a lawsuit, however, as it is limited only to determining whether the company sought to defraud its investors. Unlike the previous charges brought against Big Tobacco, there is no clear proof that ExxonMobil sought to suppress studies detailing the effects of global warming when such studies were beneficial to the corporation’s bottom line.

Contrasting such differences between the lawsuits brought against the two industries, Reuters quotes Daniel Riesel, defense attorney at Sive, Paget & Riesel, as stating: “The tobacco companies knew they were selling a product that was killing people and they failed to disclose that. … Here it’s not as stark. You’d have to be able to show that Exxon had knowledge—knowledge that couldn’t be questioned—that their activity was going to contribute to global warming in a way that would materially hurt the company.”



Capitalism and mortality: Death rate soars for middle-aged US workers


4 November 2015

A study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documents a sharp rise in the mortality rate for white, middle-aged working-class Americans over the past fifteen years. The report’s authors are Nobel laureate Angus Deaton and Anne Case, both economists at Princeton University.

Their calculations show that the rising death rate since 1999 for this segment of the population translates into 96,000 more deaths than if the mortality rate had remained flat. Had the rate continued on its declining trajectory for the period 1978-1998, the authors state, there would be 500,000 more people alive today in the United States.

“Only HIV/AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” commented Deaton.

The increase in the mortality rate is due mainly to a dramatic rise in the rate of deaths from suicide, drug abuse and alcoholism—all expressions of social and personal crisis.

Dr. Case and Dr. Deaton found that the overall mortality rate (measured as the number of deaths each year) for white, non-Hispanic adults between the ages of 45 and 54 increased by 34 per 100,000 between 1999 and 2013. For those with a high school education or less, the rate increased by 134 per 100,000 (reaching 735.8 per 100,000) over this same period. This is a rise of 22 percent. In the study, education level served as an approximate stand-in for income level.

The increase in mortality for middle-aged white Americans with a high school education or less is attributed to: poisonings (including drug overdoses), which rose from 13.7 to 58.0 deaths per 100,000 (an increase of 400 percent); suicide, which rose from 21.8 to 38.8 deaths per 100,000 (an increase of 78 percent); and chronic liver cirrhosis (caused by alcoholism), which rose from 26.7 to 38.9 per 100,000 (an increase of 46 percent).

The authors also document the growth of morbidity, or ill health, within this social layer, showing that reports of good health fell, while reports of physical pain, psychological distress and poor health rose sharply.

The study confirms and provides additional substantiation for the conclusions of previous reports, including one from September of this year that found a dramatic decline in life expectancy for poorer middle-aged Americans.

Behind these figures lies an immense social retrogression and sharpening of class divisions. They reflect a catastrophic decline in the social position of the working class resulting from the protracted decay of American capitalism and a relentless, decades-long assault by the ruling class on all of the past social gains achieved in the course of a century of bitter class struggle.

While white workers, particularly white men, are routinely denounced as “privileged” by the pseudo-left proponents of racial and gender politics, they have seen perhaps the most dramatic reversal in their conditions of life. Middle-aged blacks still have a higher mortality rate than whites, but the difference between the two groups is closing rapidly.

Consider the experiences of the age group involved. A worker aged 50 in 2013 was born in 1963, at the height of the postwar economic boom. He or she would have reached employment age around 1980, the onset of a ruling-class offensive aimed at driving down workers’ wages and living standards and dismantling social services and public infrastructure. With the “deindustrialization” of America, huge swaths of industry were shut down, working-class cities were devastated, and millions of decent-paying jobs were wiped out.

This social counterrevolution has only accelerated under the Obama administration in the years since the financial crisis of 2008. The Wall Street crash of that year, triggered by the greed and criminality of the financial elite, has been utilized by that same financial aristocracy to strengthen its control over every aspect of social and political life in the United States.

The number of manufacturing jobs in the United States peaked at 19.5 million in 1970, falling to 17.4 million in 1999 and collapsing to just over 12 million by 2013. The share of working-age men between the ages of 25 and 54 who are not working has tripled since the late 1960s. Those jobs that are available pay less and less. Households headed by someone with a high school education or less have seen a 19 percent decline in their inflation-adjusted income.

Immense resources have been diverted into financial speculation, with the stock market becoming the primary mechanism for redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. The share of national income going to the top one percent has nearly tripled, increasing from about 8 percent in the 1960s and 1970s to more than 20 percent today.

The consequences have been disastrous for predominantly African American cities such as Detroit, but the most concentrated growth of poverty in recent years has occurred in the suburbs—an increase of 64 percent from 2000 to 2011, according to one study.

Workers who are now middle-aged have experienced an unending decline in living standards. They have had their homes taken away, their retirement and health benefits gutted, their life savings wiped out. Millions are drowning in debt, exhausted by overwork or scraping by on unemployment, often unable to provide for their families and facing the permanent stress of economic insecurity. The “American dream” has become the American nightmare.

The organizations through which workers previously resisted the dictates of the corporations have collapsed. The trade unions have become labor syndicates, serving as a police force for the corporations to suppress the class struggle and impose mass layoffs, wage cuts and speedup. Under these conditions, the anger and frustration of workers, unable to find any organized expression, have in many cases been turned inward and taken personally and socially destructive forms.

This, however, is not a permanent state of affairs. The increase in mortality for large sections of the American population testifies to the failure of the capitalist system and the bankruptcy of all of its agencies, including the official unions. The objective crisis of capitalism is already giving rise to a growth of social opposition and anti-capitalist sentiment, which will inevitably find expression in a new upsurge of class struggle.

That the ruling class has nothing to offer to address the spiraling social crisis is reflected in the lack of serious attention paid to the shocking findings of the Princeton economists. In an earlier period, they would have been treated as a national disgrace.

Today, the Democrats and Republicans compete with each other in slashing social programs. A decline in life expectancy is seen as a positive good by a ruling class that is determined to cut spending on health care and pensions in order to finance an ever-expanding stock market bubble.

Under capitalism, society is marching backwards. The only social force that can reverse this counterrevolution is the working class.

Joseph Kishore



The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge

This post was first published at Consortium News.

In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America.

Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. “Genuine ignorance is . . . profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas,” observed psychologist John Dewey.

Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

Ben Carson, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who opposed a Muslim being elected president. (Credit: Marc Nozell / Flickr CC 2.0)

[Ben Carson] is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades.

Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author’s note: they obtained at least some weaponsduring the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn’t). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells usthat Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes.

Why the Ignorance?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

Journalist Michael Tomasky has attempted to answer the question as to what Ben Carson’s popularity tells us about the American people after making a detour into asking a question about the man himself: why is an accomplished neurosurgeon such a nincompoop in another field? “Because usually, if a man (or woman) is a good and knowledgeable and sure-footed doctor, or lawyer or department chair or any other position that could have been attained only through repeated displays of excellence and probity, then that person will also be a pretty solid human being across the board.”Well, not necessarily. English unfortunately doesn’t have a precise word for the German “Fachidiot,” a narrowly specialized person accomplished in his own field but a blithering idiot outside it. In any case, a surgeon is basically a skilled auto mechanic who is not bothered by the sight of blood and palpitating organs (and an owner of a high-dollar ride like a Porsche knows that a specialized mechanic commands labor rates roughly comparable to a doctor).

We need the surgeon’s skills on pain of agonizing death, and reward him commensurately, but that does not make him a Voltaire. Still, it makes one wonder: if Carson the surgeon believes evolution is a hoax, where does he think the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that plague hospitals come from?

Tomasky expresses astonishment that Carson’s jaw-dropping comments make him more popular among Republican voters, but he concludes without fully answering the question he posed. It is an important question: what has happened to the American people, or at least a significant portion of them?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans.

An Infrastructure of Know-Nothing-ism

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact.

Buttressing this merger is a vast support structure of media, foundations, pressure groups and even a thriving cottage industry of fake historians and phony scientists. From Fox News to the Discovery Institute (which exists solely to “disprove” evolution), and from the Heritage Foundation (which propagandizes that tax cuts increase revenuedespite massive empirical evidence to the contrary) to bogus “historians” like David Barton (who confected a fraudulent biography of a piously devout Thomas Jefferson that had to be withdrawn by the publisher), the anti-knowledge crowd has created an immense ecosystem of political disinformation.Thanks to publishing houses like Regnery and the conservative boutique imprints of more respectable houses like Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS), America has been flooded with cut-and-paste rants by Michelle Malkin and Mark Levin, Parson Weems-style ghosted biographies allegedly by Bill O’Reilly, and the inimitable stream of consciousness hallucinating of Glenn Beck.

Whether retail customers actually buy all these screeds, or whether foundations and rich conservative donors buy them in bulk and give them out as door prizes at right-wing clambakes, anti-knowledge infects the political bloodstream in the United States.

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact. This effect is fortified by thesubstantial overlap between conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians.

The latter group begins with the core belief that truth is revealed in a subjective process involving the will to believe (“faith”) rather than discovered by objectively corroberable means. Likewise, there is a baseline opposition to the prevailing secular culture, and adherents are frequently warned by church authority figures against succumbing to the snares and temptations of “the world.” Consequently, they retreat into the echo chamber of their own counterculture: if they didn’t hear it on Fox News or from a televangelist, it never happened.

For these culture warriors, belief in demonstrably false propositions is no longer a stigma of ignorance, but a defiantly worn badge of political resistance.

We saw this mindset on display during the Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, on Wednesday night. Even though it was moderated by Wall Street-friendly CNBC, which exists solely to talk up the stock market, the candidates were uniformly upset that the moderators would presume to ask difficult questions of people aspiring to be president. They were clearly outside their comfort zone of the Fox News studio.

The candidates drew cheers from the hard-core believers in the audience, however, by attacking the media, as if moderators Lawrence Kudlow and Rick Santelli, both notorious shills for Wall Street, were I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebusnearly had an aneurismover the candidates’ alleged harsh treatment.

State-Sponsored Stupidity

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done.

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done. Under Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia government harassed with subpoenas a University of Virginia professor whose academic views contradicted Cuccinelli’s political agenda.Numerous states like Louisiana now mandate that public schools teach the wholly imaginary “controversy” about evolution. A school textbook in Texas, whose state school board has long been infested with reactionary kooks, referred to chattel slaves as “workers”  (the implication was obvious: neo-Confederate elements in the South have been trying to minimize slavery for a century and a half, to the point of insinuating it had nothing to do with the Civil War).

This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn’t agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government’s attention should bedenunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

It is not surprising that Carson, himself a Seventh Day Adventist, should receive his core support from Republicans who identify as fundamentalists. Among the rest of the GOP pack, it is noteworthy that it is precisely those seeking the fundamentalist vote, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who are also notorious for making inflammatory and unhinged comments that sound like little more than deliberate trolling to those who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid (Donald Trump is sui generis).

In all probability, Carson will flame out like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and all the other former panjandrums of a theological movement conservatism that revels in anti-knowledge. But he will have left his mark, as they did, on a Republican Party that inexorably moves further to the right, and the eventual nominee will have to tailor his campaign to a base that gets ever more intransigent as each new messiah of the month promises to lead them into a New Jerusalem unmoored to a stubborn and profane thing called facts.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His book about Congress, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, was published in paperback in 2013. His new book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, will be published in January 2016.

Bill Gates: Only Socialism Can Save the Climate, ‘The Private Sector is Inept’


Bill Gates explains why the climate crisis will not be solved by the free market.

In a recent interview with The Atlantic, billionaire tech magnate Bill Gates announced his game plan to spend $2 billion of his own wealth on green energy investments, and called on his fellow private sector billionaires to help make the U.S. fossil-free by 2050. But in doing so, Gates admitted that the private sector is too selfish and inefficient to do the work on its own, and that mitigating climate change would be impossible without the help of government research and development.

“There’s no fortune to be made. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems,” Gates said. “Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.”

Gates even tacked to the left and uttered words that few other billionaire investors would dare to say: government R&D is far more effective and efficient than anything the private sector could do.

“Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area,” Gates said. “The private sector is in general inept.”

“When I first got into this I thought, ‘How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget?’ And I was worried: ‘Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that?’” Gates told The Atlantic. “But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these ‘Centers of Excellence.’ They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.”

In making his case for public sector excellence, the Microsoft founder mentioned the success of the internet:

“In the case of the digital technologies, the path back to government R&D is a bit more complex, because nowadays most of the R&D has moved to the private sector. But the original Internet comes from the government, the original chip-foundry stuff comes from the government—and even today there’s some government money taking on some of the more advanced things and making sure the universities have the knowledge base that maintains that lead. So I’d say the overall record for the United States on government R&D is very, very good.”

The ‘Centers for Excellence’ program Bill Gates mentioned is the Center for Excellence in Renewable Energy (CERE), which is funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF, which operated with roughly $7.1 billion in 2014, is the source of one-fourth of federal funding for research projects at over 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 schools, nonprofits, and businesses.  The NSF has even funded research by over 200 Nobel laureates, including 26 in just the last 5 years alone. The NSF receives more than 40,000 proposals each year, but only gets to fund about 11,000 of them. Bill Gates wants this funding to be dramatically increased.

“I would love to see a tripling, to $18 billion a year from the U.S. government to fund basic research alone,” Gates said. “Now, as a percentage of the government budget, that’s not gigantic… This is not an unachievable amount of money.”

As evidence around the world shows, the U.S. doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be a green energy juggernaut — it can simply look to currently-existing examples in countries with socialist policies — like Germany and China, for instance — on how to become a leader in green energy. And according to Bill Gates, the rest of the world will follow the lead if the biggest countries set the bar.

“The climate problem has to be solved in the rich countries,” Gates said. “China and the U.S. and Europe have to solve CO2 emissions, and when they do, hopefully they’ll make it cheap enough for everyone else.”

This past July, Germany set a new record by generating 78 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, beating its previous record of 74 percent in May of 2014. Germany generated 40.65 gigawatts from wind and solar energy, 4.85 gigawatts from biomass, and 2.4 gigawatts from hydropower, for a total of 47.9 gigawatts of green energy when total electricity demand was at 61.1 gigawatts. Over the past year, Germany decreased its CO2 output by 4.3 percent. This means greenhouse gas emissions in Germany are at their lowest point since 1990.

But in terms of raw investment, China’s $80 billion green energy investment is more than both the U.S. ($34 billion) and Europe ($46 billion), combined. And those investments are already paying dividends. While coal is still China’s biggest source of electricity, the world’s biggest polluter aims to have its use of fossil fuels peak in 2030, and trend downward after that. Additionally, China’s solar production outpaces all other countries combined.

Between 2000 and 2012, China’s solar energy output increased dramatically from 3 megawatts to 21,000 megawatts. And its solar output increased by 67 percent between 2013 and 2014 alone. In 2014, China actually managed to decrease its CO2 emissions by 1 percent, with further reductions expected in the coming years.

China also powers more homes with wind energy than every nuclear power plant in the U.S. put together. China’s wind output provided electricity to 110 million homes in 2014, as its wind farms generated 16 percent more power than in 2013, and 77 gigawatts of additional wind power are currently under construction. China’s energy grid is currently powered by 100 gigawatts of green energy, and aims to double green energy output to 200 gigawatts by 2020.

Bill Gates wants the U.S. to be an additional green energy leader, and expresses hope that there may still be enough time for the U.S. to take green energy investment seriously, and that the public sector can be instrumental in preventing a 2-degree increase in global temperatures.

“I don’t think it’s hopeless, because it’s about American innovation, American jobs, American leadership, and there are examples where this has gone very, very well,” Gates said.

Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact Tom via email at tom.v.cahill@gmail.com.