Junk Planet: Is Earth the Largest Garbage Dump in the Universe?
Robert J. Burrowes, Ph. D. – TRANSCEND Media Service
Is Earth the largest garbage dump in the Universe? I don’t know. But it’s a safe bet that Earth would be a contender were such a competition to be held. Let me explain why.
To start, just listing the types of rubbish generated by humans or the locations into which each of these is dumped is a staggering task beyond the scope of one article. Nevertheless, I will give you a reasonably comprehensive summary of the types of garbage being generated (focusing particularly on those that are less well known), the locations into which the garbage is being dumped and some indication of what is being done about it and what you can do too.
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So what are the main types of pollution and where do they end up?
The garbage, otherwise labelled ‘pollution’, that we dump into our atmosphere obviously includes the waste products from our burning of fossil fuels and our farming of animals. Primarily this means carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide generated by driving motor vehicles and burning coal, oil and gas to generate electricity, and agriculture based on the exploitation of animals. This is having a devastating impact on Earth’s climate and environment with a vast array of manifestations adversely impacting all life on Earth. See, for example,‘The World Is Burning’and‘The True Environmental Cost of Eating Meat’.
But these well-known pollutants are not the only garbage we dump into the atmosphere. Airline fuel pollutants from both civil and military aircraft have a shocking impact too, with significant adverse public health outcomes. Jet emissions, particularly the highly carcinogenic benzpyrene, can cause various cancers, lymphoma, leukemia, asthma, and birth defects. Jet emissions affect a 25 mile area around an airport; this means that adults, children, animals and plants are ‘crop dusted’ by toxic jet emissions for 12 miles from a runway end. ‘A typical commercial airport spews hundreds of tons of toxic pollutants into our atmosphere every day. These drift over heavily populated areas and settle onto water bodies and crops.’ Despite efforts to inform relevant authorities of the dangers in the USA, for example, they ‘continue to ignore the problem and allow aviation emissions to remain unregulated, uncontrolled and unreported’. SeeAviation Justice. It is no better in other countries.
Another category of atmospheric pollutants of which you might not be aware is the particulate aerosol emitted into the atmosphere by the progressive wear of vehicle parts, especially synthetic rubber tyres, during their service life. Separately from this, however, there are also heavier pollutants from wearing vehicle tyres and parts, as well as from the wearing away of road surfaces, that accumulate temporarily on roads before being washed off into waterways where they accumulate.
While this substantial pollution and health problem has attracted little research attention, some researchers in a variety of countries have been investigating the problem.
In the USA as early as 1974, ‘tire industry scientists estimated that 600,000 metric tonnes of tire dust were released by tire wear in the U.S., or about 3 kilograms of dust released from each tire each year’. In 1994, careful measurement of air near roadways with moderate traffic ‘revealed the presence of 3800 to 6900 individual tire fragments in each cubic meter of air’ with more than 58.5% of them in the fully-breathable size range and shown to produce allergic reactions. See‘Tire Dust’.
Even worse, a study conducted in Moscow reported that the core pollutant of city air (up to 60% of hazardous matter) was the rubber of automobile tyres worn off and emitted as a small dust. The study found that the average car tyre discarded 1.6 kilograms of fine tyre dust as an aerosol during its service life while the tyre from a commercial vehicle discarded about 15 kilograms. Interestingly, passenger tyre dust emissions during the tyre’s service life significantly exceeded (by 6-7 times) emissions of particulate matters with vehicle exhaust gases. The research also determined that ‘tyre wear dust contains more than 140 different chemicals with different toxicity but the biggest threat to human health is poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile carcinogens’. The study concluded that, in the European Union: ‘Despite tightening the requirements for vehicle tyres in terms of noise emission, wet grip and rolling resistance stipulated by the UN Regulation No. 117, the problem of reduction of tyre dust and its carcinogenic substance emissions due to tyre wear remains unaddressed.’ See‘Particulate Matter Emissions by Tyres’.
As one toxicologist has concluded: ‘Tire rubber pollution is just one of many environmental problems in which the research is lagging far behind the damage we may have done.’ See‘Road Rubber’.
With ongoing official denials about the practice, it has fallen to the ongoing campaigning of committed groups such asGeoEngineering Watchto draw attention to and work to end this problem.
Despite the enormous and accelerating problems already being generated by the above atmospheric pollutants, it is worth pausing briefly to highlight the potentially catastrophic nature of the methane discharges now being released by the warming that has already taken place and is still taking place. A recent scientific study published by the prestigious journalPalaeoworldnoted that ‘Global warming triggered by the massive release of carbon dioxide may be catastrophic, but the release of methane from hydrate may be apocalyptic.’ This refers to the methane stored in permafrost and shelf sediment. Warning of the staggering risk, the study highlights the fact that the most significant variable in the Permian Mass Extinction event, which occurred 250 million years ago and annihilated 90 percent of all the species on Earth, was methane hydrate. See‘Methane Hydrate: Killer cause of Earth’s greatest mass extinction’and‘Release of Arctic Methane “May Be Apocalyptic,” Study Warns’.
Is much being done about this atmospheric pollution including the ongoing apocalyptic release of methane? Well, there is considerable ‘push’ to switch to renewable (solar, wind, wave, geothermal) energy in some places and to produce electric cars in others. But these worthwhile initiatives aside, and if you ignore the mountain of tokenistic measures that are sometimes officially promised, the answer is ‘not really’ with many issues that critically impact this problem (including rainforest destruction, vehicle emissions, geoengineering, jet aircraft emissions and methane releases from animal agriculture) still being largely ignored.
If you want to make a difference on this biosphere-threatening issue of atmospheric pollution, you have three obvious choices to consider. Do not travel by air, do not travel by car and do not eat meat (and perhaps other animal products). This will no doubt require considerable commitment on your part. But without your commitment in these regards, there is no realistic hope of averting near-term human extinction. Soyour choices are critical.
Many people will have heard of the problem of plastic rubbish being dumped into the ocean. Few people, however, have any idea of the vast scale of the problem, the virtual impossibility of cleaning it up and the monumental ongoing cost of it, whether measured in terms of (nonhuman) lives lost, ecological services or financially. And, unfortunately, plastic is not the worst pollutant we are dumping into the ocean but I will discuss it first.
Sadly, of course, it is not just plastic that is destroying the oceans. They absorb carbon dioxide as one manifestation of the climate catastrophe and, among other outcomes, this accelerates ocean acidification, adversely impacting coral reefs and the species that depend on these reefs.
Beyond this, however, Earth’s groundwater supplies (located in many underground acquifers such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States) are also being progressively contaminated by gasoline, oil and chemicals from leaking storage tanks; bacteria, viruses and household chemicals from faulty septic systems; hazardous wastes from abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites (of which there are over 20,000 in the USA alone); leaks from landfill items such as car battery acid, paint and household cleaners; and the pesticides, herbicides and other poisons used on farms and home gardens. See
There are local campaigns to clean up rivers, creeks, lakes and wetlands in many places around the world, focusing on the primary problems – ranging from campaigning to end poison runoffs from mines and farms to physically removing plastic and other trash – in that area. But a great deal more needs to be done and they could use your help.
Our unsustainable commercial farming and soil management practices are depleting the soil of nutrients and poisoning it with synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics (the latter contained in animal manure) at such a prodigious rate that even if there were no other adverse impacts on the soil, it will be unable to sustain farming within 60 years. See‘Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues’.
Staggering though it may sound, we are losing tens of billions of tonnes of soil each year, much of it irreversibly.
Is anything being done? A little. In response to the decades-long push by some visionary individuals and community organizations to convert all farming to organic, biodynamic and/or permaculture principles, some impact is being made in some places to halt the damage caused by commercial farming. You can support these efforts by buying organically or biodynamically-certified food (that is, food that hasn’t been poisoned) or creating a permaculture garden in your own backyard. Any of these initiatives will also benefit your own health.
As for the other issues mentioned above, there is nothing to celebrate with mining and logging corporations committed to their profits at the expense of the local environments of indigenous peoples all over the world and governments showing little effective interest in curbing this or taking more than token interest in cleaning up toxic military waste sites. As always, local indigenous and activist groups often work on these issues against enormous odds. See, for example,‘Ecuador Endangered’.
Apart from supporting the work of the many activist groups that work on these issues, one thing that each of us can do is to put aside the food scraps left during meal preparation (or after our meal) and compost them. Food scraps and waste are an invaluable resource: nature composts this material to create soil and your simple arrangement to compost your food scraps will help to generate more of that invaluable soil we are losing.
However, given that the bulk of this waste is secretly discharged untreated into waterways by the big pharmaceutical companies – see‘Big Pharma fails to disclose antibiotic waste leaked from factories’– the microbes are able to ‘build up resistance to the ingredients in the medicines that are supposed to kill them’ thus ‘fueling the creation of deadly superbugs’. Moreover, because the resistant microbes travel easily and have multiplied in huge numbers all over the world, they have created ‘a grave public health emergency that is already thought to kill hundreds of thousands of people a year.’
Given the enormous power of the pharmaceutical industry, which effectively controls the medical industry in many countries, the most effective response we can make as individuals is to join the rush to natural health practitioners (such as practitioners of homeopathy, ostepathy, naturopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, herbal medicine and Chinese medicine) which do not prescribe pharmaceutical drugs. For further ideas, see‘Defeating the Violence in Our Food and Medicine’.
Given that genetic engineering’s catastrophic outcomes are well documented – see, for example,‘10 Reasons to Oppose Genetic Engineering’– what are gene drives? ‘Imagine that by releasing a single fly into the wild you could genetically alter all the flies on the planet – causing them all to turn yellow, carry a toxin, or go extinct. This is the terrifyingly powerful premise behind gene drives: a new and controversial genetic engineering technology that can permanently alter an entire species by releasing one bioengineered individual.’
How effective are they? ‘Gene drives can entirely re-engineer ecosystems, create fast spreading extinctions, and intervene in living systems at a scale far beyond anything ever imagined.’ For example, if gene drives are engineered into a fast-reproducing species ‘they could alter their populations within short timeframes, from months to a few years, and rapidly cause extinction.’ This radical new technology, also called a ‘mutagenic chain reaction’, combines the extreme genetic engineering of synthetic biology and new gene editing techniques with the idea ‘that humans can and should use such powerful unlimited tools to control nature. Gene drives will change the fundamental relationship between humanity and the natural world forever.’
The implications for the environment, food security, peace, and even social stability are breathtaking, particularly given that existing ‘government regulations for the use of genetic engineering in agriculture have allowed widespread genetic contamination of the food supply and the environment.’ See‘Reckless Driving: Gene drives and the end of nature’.
‘Why would the US military be interested?’ you might ask. Well, imagine what could be done to an ‘enemy’ race with an extinction gene drive.
As always, while genuinely life-enhancing grassroots initiatives struggle for funding, any project that offers the prospect of huge profits – usually at enormous cost to life – gets all the funding it needs. If you haven’t realised yet that the global elite is insane, it might be worth pondering it now. See‘The Global Elite is Insane’.
Is anything being done about these life-destroying technologies? A number of groups campaign against genetic engineering andSynBioWatchworks to raise awareness of gene drives, to carefully explain the range of possible uses for them and to expose the extraordinary risks and dangers of the technology. You are welcome to participate in their efforts too.
A nanoparticle is a microscopic particle whose size is measured in nanometers. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter. In simple English: Nanoparticles are extraordinarily tiny.
Nanoparticles are already being widely used including during the manufacture of cosmetics, pharmacology products, scratchproof eyeglasses, crack- resistant paints, anti-graffiti coatings for walls, transparent sunscreens, stain-repellent fabrics, self-cleaning windows and ceramic coatings for solar cells. ‘Nanoparticles can contribute to stronger, lighter, cleaner and “smarter” surfaces and systems.’ See‘What are the uses of nanoparticles in consumer products?’
Some researchers are so enamored with nanoparticles that they cannot even conceal their own delusions. According to one recent report: ‘Researchers want to achieve a microscopic autonomous robot that measures no more than six nanometers across and can be controlled by remote. Swarms of these nanobots could clean your house, and since they’re invisible to the naked eye, their effects would appear to be magical. They could also swim easily and harmlessly through your bloodstream, which is what medical scientists find exciting.’ See‘What are Nanoparticles?’
Another report indicates that ‘Some nanomaterials may also induce cytotoxic or genotoxic responses’. See‘Toxicity of particulate matter from incineration of nanowaste’. What does this mean? Well ‘cytotoxic’ means that something is toxic to the cells and ‘genotoxic’ describes the property of chemical agents that damage the genetic information within a cell, thus causing mutations which may lead to cancer.
Beyond the toxic problems with the nanoparticles themselves, those taking a wider view report the extraordinary difficulties of managing nanowaste. In fact, according to one recent report prepared for the UN: ‘Nanowaste is notoriously difficult to contain and monitor; due to its small size, it can spread in water systems or become airborne, causing harm to human health and the environment.’ Moreover ‘Nanotechnology is growing at an exponential rate, but it is clear that issues related to the disposal and recycling of nanowaste will grow at an even faster rate if left unchecked.’ See‘Nanotechnology, Nanowaste and Their Effects on Ecosystems: A Need for Efficient Monitoring, Disposal and Recycling’.
Moreover, in January, European Union agencies published three documents concerning government oversight of nanotechnology and new genetic engineering techniques. ‘Together, the documents put in doubt the scientific capacity and political will of the European Commission to provide any effective oversight of the consumer, agricultural and industrial products derived from these emerging technologies’. See‘European Commission: Following the Trump Administration’s Retreat from Science-Based Regulation?’
So, as these recent reports makes clear, little is being done to monitor, measure or control these technologies or monitor, measure and control the harmful effects of discharging nanowaste.
Not content to dump our garbage in, on or under the Earth, we also dump our junk in Space too.
‘How do we do this?’ you may well ask. Quite simply, in fact. We routinely launch a variety of spacecraft into Space to either orbit the Earth (especially satellites designed to perform military functions such as spying, target identification and detection of missile launches but also satellites to perform some civilian functions such as weather monitoring, navigation and communication) or we send spacecraft into Space on exploratory missions (such as the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity).
However, getting spacecraft into Space requires the expenditure of vast amounts of energy (which adds to pollution of the atmosphere) and the progressive discarding of rocket propulsion sections of the launch craft. Some of these fall back to Earth as junk but much of it ends up orbiting the Earth as junk. So what form does this junk take? It includes inactive satellites, the upper stages of launch vehicles, discarded bits left over from separation, frozen clouds of water and tiny flecks of paint. All orbiting high above Earth’s atmosphere. With Space junk now a significant problem, the impact of junk on satellites is regularly causing damage and generating even more junk.
Is it much of a problem? Yes, indeed. The problem is so big, in fact, that NASA in the USA keeps track of the bigger items, which travel at speeds of up to 17,500 mph, which is ‘fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft’. How many pieces does it track? By 2013, it was tracking 500,000 pieces of space junk as they orbited the Earth. See‘Space Debris and Human Spacecraft’. Of course, these items are big enough to track. But not all junk is that big.
The carnage and waste produced by preparation for and the conduct of military violence is so vast that it almost defies description and calculation. In its most basic sense, every single item produced to perform a military function – from part of a uniform to a weapon – is garbage: an item that has no functional purpose (unless you believe that killing people is functional). To barely touch on it here then, military violence generates a vast amount of pollution, which contaminates the atmosphere, oceans, all fresh water sources, and the soil with everything from the waste generated by producing military uniforms to the radioactive waste which contaminates environments indefinitely.
Partly related to military violence but also a product of using nuclear power, humans generate vast amounts of waste from exploitation of the nuclear fuel cycle. This ranges from the pollution generated by mining uranium to the radioactive waste generated by producing nuclear power or using a nuclear weapon. But it also includes the nuclear waste generated by accidents such as that at Chernobyl and Fukushima.
While the London Dumping Convention permanently bans the dumping of radioactive and industrial waste at sea (which means nothing in the face of the out-of-control discharges from Fukushima, of course) – see‘1993 – Dumping of radioactive waste at sea gets banned’– groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace continue to campaign against the nuclear industry (including radioactive waste dumping) and to promote renewable energy.
Many individuals and organizations all over the world work to draw attention to these and related issues, including the ‘death-dealing’ of doctors, but the onslaught of corporate media promotion and scare campaigns means that much of this effort is suppressed.Maintaining an unhealthy and medically-dependent human population is just too profitable.
If you want to genuinely care for your health and spare the environment the toxic junk dumped though your body, the ideas above in relation to growing and eating organic/biodynamic food and consulting natural health practitioners are a good place to start.
For many people, of course, dealing with their daily garbage requires nothing more than putting it into a rubbish bin. But does this solve the problem?
Well, for a start, even recycled rubbish is not always recycled, and even when it is, the environmental cost is usually high.
One category of junk, which is easily overlooked and on which I will not elaborate, is the endless stream of junk information with which we are bombarded. Whether it is corporate ‘news’ (devoid of important news about our world and any truthful analysis of what is causing it) on television, the radio or in newspapers, letterbox advertising, telephone marketing or spam emails, our attention is endlessly distracted from what matters leaving most humans ill-informed and too disempowered to resist the onslaught that is destroying our world.
So what can we do about all of the junk identified above?
Well, unless you want to continue deluding yourself that some token measures taken by you, governments, international organizations (such as the United Nations) or industry are going to fix all of this, I encourage you to consider taking personal action that involves making a serious commitment.
This is because, at the most fundamental level, it is individuals who consume and then discharge the waste products of their consumption. And if you choose what you consume with greater care and consume less, no one is going to produce what you don’t buy or discharge the waste products of that production on your behalf.
Remember Gandhi? He was not just the great Indian independence leader. His personal possessions at his death numbered his few items of self-made clothing and his spectacles. We can’t all be like Gandhi but he can be a symbol to remind us that our possessions and our consumption are not the measure of our value. To ourselves or anyone else.
If the many itemized suggestions made above sound daunting, how does this option sound?
Do you think that you could reduce your consumption by 10% this year? And, ideally, do it in each of seven categories: water, household energy, vehicle fuel, paper, plastic, metals and meat? Could you do it progressively, reducing your consumption by 10% each year for 15 consecutive years? See‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’.
I am well aware of the emotional void that makes many people use ‘shopping therapy’ to feel better or to otherwise consume, perhaps by traveling, to distract themselves. If you are in this category, then perhaps you could tackle this problem at its source by‘Putting Feelings First’.
In the final analysis, each of us has a choice. We can contribute to the ongoing creation of Earth as the planet of junk. Or we can use our conscience, intelligence and determination to guide us in resisting the destruction of our world.
Ontario Removing Barriers for Out-of-Province Skilled Workers
Government working for workers as it tackles labour shortage by making it easier for in-demand professionals and tradespeople to come work and live in Ontario
There are 144 trades currently prescribed under skilled trades legislation in Ontario.
Data suggests that the need to replace retiring workers is elevated in the skilled trades. In 2016, nearly one in three journeypersons in Ontario were aged 55 years or older.
Ontario currently recognizes 52 of the 55 trades covered by the Red Seal program. The three remaining occupations: Gas Fitter Class A, Gas Fitter Class B, and Oil and Heat Systems Technician, are not yet established as skilled trades in Ontario.
February 25, 2022
LONDON — The Ontario government will introduce changes that would help workers in over 30 in-demand professions move here with their families while continuing their careers. The changes, if passed, would tackle Ontario’s historic labour shortage – the largest in a generation – by ensuring out-of-province workers can register in their regulated profession or trade within 30 days.
“At a time when our government is building Ontario, it’s never been more important that we attract more workers to fill in-demand jobs,” said Premier Doug Ford. “To do so, we’re cutting red tape to make it easier for skilled professionals from across Canada to get the papers they need to work in Ontario, faster. This move opens more doors for workers to call Ontario home while contributing to our plan to build more roads, bridges, highways, homes and public transit.”
Unfilled jobs cost the province billions in lost productivity, and between July and September of 2021, there were 338,835 vacant jobs across Ontario, including many in the skilled trades. To give Ontario a competitive advantage, the government plans to introduce legislation that ensures workers from other provinces can get their credentials processed within a service standard of 30 business days. This would make it easier for engineers, auto mechanics, plumbers and several other regulated professionals Ontario needs to move to the province, fill vacant in-demand jobs and drive economic growth.
“Ontario is leading Canada’s economic growth, but I keep hearing from businesses on Main Street who can’t find the workers they need to grow,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. “There are hundreds of thousands of paycheques waiting to be collected. That is why our government is working for workers and leading the country with changes that rebalance the scales and make it clear – we want more skilled professionals and tradespeople to come here.”
In addition, the government is proposing to recognize three fuel-related professions under the province’s skilled trades legislation, meaning Ontario will take steps to officially recognize all 55 Red Seal Trades. The Red Seal Program is a partnership between the federal government and provinces and territories that sets a common standard for apprenticeship training and certification and makes it easier for workers to move between provinces and territories. The full list of Red Seal trades, some of which will benefit from the 30-business-day registration period, includes construction electricians, tool and die makers and others. All these workers will play a crucial role in delivering the province’s infrastructure projects on time and on budget.
Further to these measures, the province is also working towards making it easier for workers who have completed fall protection training in another province to come to work in Ontario. This would include allowing them to start to work immediately after completing a refresher course from an accredited Ontario provider. The province’s new agency, Skilled Trades Ontario, is also harmonizing training standards for a dozen trades. This makes it easier for apprentices from other provinces to continue their training in Ontario.
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Propaganda is most impactful when people don’t think it’s propaganda, and most decisive when it’s censorship you never knew happened.
When we imagine that the U.S. military only occasionally and slightly influences U.S. movies, we are extremely badly deceived. The actual impact is on thousands of movies made, and thousands of others never made. And television shows of every variety.
The military guests and celebrations of the U.S. military on game shows and cooking shows are no more spontaneous or civilian in origin than the ceremonies glorifying members of the U.S. military at professional sports games — ceremonies that have been paid for and choreographed by U.S. tax dollars and the U.S. military. The “entertainment” content carefully shaped by the “entertainment” offices of the Pentagon and the CIA doesn’t just insidiously prepare people to react differently to news about war and peace in the world. To a huge extent it substitutes a different reality for people who learn very little actual news about the world at all.
The U.S. military knows that few people watch boring and non-credible news programs, much less read boring and non-credible newspapers, but that great masses will eagerly watch long movies and TV shows without too much worrying about whether anything makes sense. We know that the Pentagon knows this, and what military officials scheme and plot as a result of knowing this, because of the work of relentless researchers making use of the Freedom of Information Act. These researchers have obtained many thousands of pages of memos, notes, and script re-writes. I don’t know whether they’ve put all of these documents online — I certainly hope they do and that they make the link widely available. I wish such a link were in giant font at the end of a fantastic new film. The film is called Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA Took Hollywood. The Director, Editor, and Narrator is Roger Stahl. The Co-Producers are Matthew Alford, Tom Secker, Sebastian Kaempf. They’ve provided an important public service.
In the film we see copies of and hear quotations from and analysis of much of what has been uncovered, and learn that thousands of pages exist that nobody has yet seen because the military has refused to produce them. Film producers sign contracts with the U.S. military or CIA. They agree to “weave in key talking points.” While unknown quantities of this sort of thing remain unknown, we do know that nearly 3,000 films and many thousands of TV episodes have been given the Pentagon treatment, and many others have been handled by the CIA. In many film productions, the military effectively becomes a co-producer with veto power, in exchange for allowing the use of military bases, weapons, experts, and troops. The alternative is the denial of those things.
But the military is not as passive as this might suggest. It actively pitches new story ideas to movie and TV producers. It seeks out new ideas and new collaborators who might bring them to a theater or laptop near you. Act of Valor actually began life as a recruitment advertisement.
Of course, many movies are made without military assistance. Many of the best never wanted it. Many that wanted it and were denied, managed to get made anyway, sometimes at much greater expense without the U.S. tax dollars paying for the props. But a huge number of movies are made with the military. Sometimes the initial movie in a series is made with the military, and the remaining episodes voluntarily follow the military’s line. Practices are normalized. The military sees huge value in this work, including for recruitment purposes.
The alliance between the military and Hollywood is the main reason that we have lots of big blockbuster movies on certain topics and few if any on others. Studios have written scripts and hired top actors for movies on things like Iran-Contra that have never seen the light of day because of a Pentagon rejection. So, nobody watches Iran-Contra movies for fun the way they might watch a Watergate movie for fun. So, very few people have any notions about Iran-Contra.
But with the reality of what the U.S. military does being so awful, what, you might wonder, are the good topics that do get lots of movies made about them? A lot are fantasy or distortion. Black Hawk Down turned reality (and a book it was “based on”) on its head, as did Clear and Present Danger. Some, like Argo, hunt for small stories within large ones. Scripts explicitly tell audiences that it doesn’t matter who started a war for what, that the only thing that matters is the heroism of troops trying to survive or to rescue a soldier.
Yet, actual U.S. military veterans are often shut out and not consulted They often find movies rejected by the Pentagon as “unrealistic” to be very realistic, and those created with Pentagon collaboration to be highly unrealistic. Of course, a huge number of military-influenced films are made about the U.S. military fighting space aliens and magical creatures — not, clearly, because it’s believable but because it avoids reality. On the other hand, other military-influenced films shape people’s views of targeted nations and dehumanize the humans living in certain places.
Don’t Look Up is not mentioned in Theaters of War, and presumably had no military involvement (who knows?, certainly not the movie-watching public), yet it uses a standard military-culture idea (the need to blow up something coming from outerspace, which in reality the U.S. government would simply love to do and you could hardly stop them) as an analogy for the need to stop destroying the planet’s climate (which you cannot easily get the U.S. government to remotely consider) and not one reviewer notices that the film is an equally good or bad analogy for the need to stop building nuclear weapons — because U.S. culture has had that need effectively excised.
The military has written policies on what it approves and disapproves. It disapproves depictions of failures and crimes, which eliminates much of reality. It rejects films about veteran suicide, racism in the military, sexual harassment and assault in the military. But it pretends to refuse to collaborate on films because they’re not “realistic.”
Yet, if you watch enough of what is produced with military involvement you’ll imagine that using and surviving nuclear war is perfectly plausible. This goes back to the original Pentagon-Hollywood invention of myths about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and runs right up through military influence on The Day After, not to mention the transformation — paid for by people who throw a fit if their tax dollars help prevent someone freezing on the street — of Godzilla from a nuclear warning to the reverse. In the original script for the first Iron Man movie, the hero went up against the evil weapons dealers. The U.S. military rewrote it so that he was a heroic weapons dealer who explicitly argued for more military funding. Sequels stuck with that theme. The U.S. military advertised its weapons of choice in Hulk,Superman, Fast and Furious, and Transformers, the U.S. public effectively paying to push itself to support paying thousands of times more — for weapons it would otherwise have no interest in.
“Documentaries” on the Discovery, History, and National Geographic channels are military-made commercials for weapons. “Inside Combat Rescue” on National Geographic is recruitment propaganda. Captain Marvel exists to sell the Air Force to women. Actress Jennifer Garner has made recruitment ads to accompany movies she’s made that are themselves more effective recruitment ads. A movie called The Recruit was largely written by the head of the CIA’s entertainment office. Shows like NCIS push out the military’s line. But so do shows you wouldn’t expect: “reality” TV shows, game shows, talk shows (with endless reunifications of family members), cooking shows, competition shows, etc.
I’ve written before about how Eye in the Sky was openly and proudly both completely unrealistic nonsense and influenced by the U.S. military to shape people’s ideas about drone murders. A lot of people have some small idea of what goes on. But Theaters of War: How the Pentagon and CIA Took Hollywood helps us to grasp the scale of it. And once we’ve done that, we may gain some possible insights into why polling finds much of the world fearing the U.S. military as a threat to peace, but much of the U.S. public believing that U.S. wars benefit people who are grateful for them. We may begin to form some guesses as to how it is that people in the United States tolerate and even glorify endless mass-killing and destruction, support threatening to use or even using nuclear weapons, and suppose the U.S. to have major enemies out there threatening its “freedoms.” Viewers of Theaters of War may not all immediately react with “Holy shit! The world must think we’re lunatics!” But a few may ask themselves whether it’s possible that wars don’t look like they do in movies — and that would be a great start.
Theaters of War ends with a recommendation, that movies be required to disclose at the start any military or CIA collaboration. The film also notes that the United States has laws against propagandizing the U.S. public, which might make such a disclosure a confession of a crime. I would add that since 1976, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has required that “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”
To learn more about this film, view it, or host a screening of it, go here.
A Call to Practice an Ethic of Care by Sharing Surplus
– Limache, Chile – By Howard Richards, Pressenza News Service
Given the institutions that today´s dominant economic science and today´s prevailing common sense assume, sustainable good jobs for everybody, paid for by the wage funds created by the sale of products the employees contribute to making, will never happen. There will never come a day when there are enough employers finding it profitable to hire workers and pay them well to create sustainable good jobs for everyone who needs one.1
Consequently, in tomorrow´s functional world now being built from materials available in today´s dysfunctional world –speaking in terms of the flows of income identified by Adam Smith– satisfying basic needs and freeing people to pursue Maslow´s higher needs2 can only be completed (it can be taken part way by salaries paid from wage funds) by relying on transfers of surplus, typically from the non-wage flows of income Smith called profits and rents. Property income.
Surplus income, as distinct from most labour income, is still today typically profits and rents. Such income is a typical location where surplus, defined as discretionary income eligible to be transferred from where it is not needed to where it is needed, is often found. Whether or not some part of profit or rent is surplus, and how to use it, are matters for ethical deliberation.3 The deliberation has just begun, and is far from ending, when a given sum is classified as profit or rent. But since mere mortals cannot stand so much uncertainty and hard thinking, human cultures cut it short by practicing simple authoritative customs –determining for example which kin get which piece of meat when a hunter kills a deer. Modern societies (Weber´s Gesellschaften), organized principally by contracts and property rights,4 are customary too, but customary in a different way. They are basically organized by the property and contract rights (the institutional frame) that made possible Smith´s neat three-part division of income flows into wages, profits, and rents.
One can add to profits and rents twenty first century sources of surplus that Smith in the eighteenth century did not think of. One is the astronomical surpluses paid to powerful executives in a position to inflate their own compensation packages5. Another source is the small surpluses of middle- class people who retire on good pensions. There are many more, even though, as anyone who has reviewed her or his personal or family budget finds, there are no cut and dried simple rules defining what is and is not surplus available to be shared.
Taking a larger view, leaving the sphere of the science Smith founded altogether, one can consider all the ways a human being depends on other human beings (and on nature) for need-satisfaction, starting with the newborn´s first urge to suckle its mother´s milk.
It follows from Smith´s worldview that some people lose. They have no profits or rent because they own no income-producing property. They earn no wages because nobody hires them. In addition, mini businesses started with mini credits are never sufficient to turn all losers into winners because of lack of customers. And so on.6 The existence of losers that is a consequence of basic social structure has been going on for so long that it has come to be considered natural.
I find it morally intolerable not to aim for the inclusion of everybody in the benefits of social cooperation by means of sustainable good jobs for everybody or in some other way. It hardens hearts and poisons minds to take it for granted as a fact that there will be losers in the game of life. It implies not caring. It legitimates not caring as a moral norm.
That in life some win, and some lose was and is a “fact” unknown to those indigenous peoples whose social structures were and are organized by kinship7. It is a “fact” that was unknown in matristic societies before the rise of patriarchy.8 It was a “fact” that temporarily disappeared in Sweden and in Austria after World War II until globalization demoted social democracy from the status of humanity´s future to the status of a holding action slowing down the dismantling of yesterday´s welfare state in order to lower wages and taxes to levels compatible with being competitive in global markets.9
That some must lose is a “fact” created by the constitutive rules of market society, summarized by Darcia Narvaez as “competitive detachment”10 and by André Orléan as séparation marchande.11
Too many economists treat high growth, low inflation, and low unemployment as three measures of economic success, not always compatible with each other, so that it is necessary to accept less of one to get more of another. Too many economists settle for policies that deliberately create some unemployment because full employment would be inflationary, and because it would discourage growth by raising wages hence weakening the inducement to invest.
It might also be said that all economists teach that it is a fact that there are and must be losers in life, because any scholar who does not accept what Joseph Schumpeter called the institutional frame of economics –within which it can never be the case that there are enough employers who find it profitable to offer everybody who needs it steady employment at good wages-– is by definition not an economist.
This way of seeing the matter would place dissidents who study economics as critics more than as believers outside the camp of the economists. As long as we talk this way, they would not be true economists at all, because true economists believe and endorse the concepts that define their discipline. But we do not need to talk this way all the time. “Economist” would be far from being the only word that it is convenient to use in different senses in different contexts.
Sharing surplus, defined as moving resources from where they are not needed to where they are needed, is not a new idea. For Saint Thomas Aquinas writing in the thirteenth century –and echoed today by the teachings of Catholic and mainline Protestant churches—whatever you or I may own does not belong only to ourselves. It also belongs to whomever we are able to help with our surplus.12 Nor is it a forgotten idea. As we speak millions of people around the world are sharing –sharing money, time, expertise, food, clothing, and whatever they have and can spare—to help others.13 Governments and other large organizations also devote themselves to meeting needs because they are needs. Today, in 2021, I want to suggest that calling for renewed emphasis on this old and well-remembered idea has new meanings in the light of at least five contemporary game-changers:
Humankind´s number one existential challenge today is environmental, not social. If our species fails to reinvent itself to adapt to physical reality, the game will be over.
But environment and social justice cannot be separated, while neither can be separated from the systemic imperatives implied by the dynamic of accumulation that moves the system. The self-interest of powerful people who want to make money by making profitable investments, even when those same investments make doomsday more certain and more proximate, does not fully explain why solemn agreements to respect mother nature shrivel into dead letters time and time again. People want jobs. People need jobs. The system needs investments to keep going, while its basic structure implies a chronic tendency for investments (and jobs) to be too few.14
Existential crises call for objective reasoning and cooperation, and frequently crises call for self-sacrifice for the sake of the common good. But today, as in the 1930s, existential crises coincide with rising tides of unreasoning anger, shameless liars and manipulators, mass desperation, violence, and political insanity. So far, the recent political insanity that most threatens humanity´s future is in the United States. Mass desperation surfaces in behaviour like that of the economic migrants who crowd into leaky boats to cross illegally from North Africa to Italy, and in the behaviour of economic migrants who walk on foot from Honduras to the Mexico-United States border.
We have –or at least I would propose for discussion the thesis that we have—reached a point in history where nothing would better serve the objective interests of the rich than an end to poverty. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, both epidemiologists, have assembled statistical data in support of a related thesis: high income people benefit from living in societies where wealth is relatively equally shared when such societies are compared to others where the gaps between haves and have-nots are extreme.15 How to end poverty, in one form or another, is regularly at the top of the agenda of the meetings of the World Social Forum and those of World Economic Forum. Nevertheless, the dynamics of the system in place continue to call for government policies (like tax exemptions and subsidies …etc.) guaranteeing high profits that exacerbate inequality, in order to attract capital and in order to avoid capital flight. Systemic imperatives often call for keeping wages low (and often for more violent forms of repression of labour) in order to keep the selling price of exports competitive in global markets.16 In the past it has often been a no-brainer to conclude that the system favours the rich and oppresses the poor. Getting used to the idea that at this point in history the apparent winners are in the last analysis losers too, requires escaping from mental models that fitted the past better than they fit the present. What the dynamics of competitive capital accumulation tend to force entrepreneurs and governments to do –we just saw an example in point two above, regarding environment vs. profits and jobs– does not equal what it is objectively in anybody´s best interest to do. This reflection leads to seeing educational and organizational paths to change that avoid drawing a certain common pessimistic conclusion. That pessimistic conclusion is: A modification of the system fundamental enough to make sustainable dignified livelihoods for all possible, and to make escaping ecological catastrophe possible, could only be achieved by violent revolutions; but violent revolutions with such aims are no longer possible; and if they were possible they would not be desirable.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted fundamental problems. A post-Covid-19 world may be a world where greater awareness of fundamental problems catalyses greater ability to solve them. One has already been mentioned. It is the insecurity of the rich caused by the continued existence of the poor, manifest for examples in criminal violence and in the spread of contagious diseases. A second is the insecurity of the poor, manifested in lack of access to medical care and lack of resources to fall back on when lockdowns stop normal economic activity. A third is a central issue for the future: Will the new technologies that multiply productivity beyond anything known in the past17 be the intellectual property of a few billionaires, entitled by law to live in luxury while ignoring the vital needs of everyone else? Or will the benefits of what used to be called ““universal labour” (advances in knowledge) be truly universal? These questions have been brought to a head by the conflict between the legal right of pharmaceutical companies to withhold vaccines from those who cannot pay, and their moral duty to use their surplus to help those in need. A fourth fundamental problem has been caused by the bogus neoliberal twin concepts of economic efficiency and free trade. When Covid-19 struck, the peoples of the world discovered to their dismay that they had lost self-sufficiency and resilience. “Efficiency” and “free trade” had made virtually every country in the world dependent on China for antibiotics, and on a few suppliers for computer chips. And so on. To meet many vital needs, the peoples of the world depended on long and complex supply chains over which they had no control. Covid-19 made it a priority to study the ways of life of indigenous ancestors who knew how to live on the land where they were located, and who were bonded one with another in kinship groups jointly responsible for each other´s welfare.18
Where do we go from here?
1 This claim is supported by detailed analysis and evidence in Howard Richards with Gavin Andersson, Economic Theory and Community Development. Lake Oswego OR: Dignity Press, 2021. For analysis see especially chapters three and four; for an empirical illustration chapter five. The claim is generally in accord with schools of thought that see a chronic insufficiency of good employment opportunities as a permanent consequence of the basic structure of the system, and not only as a temporary consequence of, e.g. being in a downturn of the business cycle, adjusting to new technologies, governments and unions that are not business-friendly, underdevelopment, or exogenous shocks. E.g. Harry Magdoff, and Paul Sweezy, The Deepening Crisis of US Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969.
2 While denying or modifying the notion that higher needs must await the satisfaction of lower needs, one can improve on economics considering Maslow´s short list of what human needs are: physiological, safety, belongness and love, esteem (dignity), self-actualization and self-transcendence. A.H. Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, Volume 50 (1943) pp., 370-396.
3 See Dave Elder-Vass, Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
4 The classic account of how modern contract and property law grew out of earlier social forms in Europe is Sir Henry Maine´s Ancient Law. London: John Murray, 1861. For an account of how European institutions became global institutions see Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. London: Zed Books, 1998.
5 For examples see Andrew Sayer. Why We Can´t Afford the Rich. Bristol: Policy Press, 2015.
6 Kate Philip, Markets on the Margins: Mineworkers, Job Creation, & Enterprise Development. Woodbridge, United Kingdom: James Curry, 2018.
7 Wahinke Topa and Darcia Narvaez, Restoring the Kinship Worldview. Berkeley CA: North Atlantic Books, 2022.
8 Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.
9 Howard Richards with the assistance of Gavin Andersson, Economic Theory and Community Development. Lake Oswego OR: Dignity Press, 2021. Chapter Seven. Another way of looking at social democracy´s decline is to say that it proved to be incompatible with the neo-roman juridical framework that Max Weber identified in Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft as a prerequisite for capitalism. Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, The Dilemmas of Social Democracies. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. That framework established neo-Roman property rights and enforceable contracts. (Pacta sunt servanda). Globalization itself can be seen as made possible by the same basic legal principles, also called the same basic social structures, enforced on a global scale Howard Richards with David Faubion, Understanding the Global Economy. Santa Barbara CA: Peace Education Books, 2004. A new edition (2021) is available from Akhia Andersson.
11 André Orléan, L´Empire de la valeur: refonder l’économie. Paris: Seuil, 2011.
12 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. II II, Question 32, Article V, reply to second objection. (various editions)
13 People who practice caring and sharing report that they experience higher levels of happiness and health. See David Schroeder and William Graziano (editors), The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial Behaviour. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015; David Servan-Schreiber, Anticancer: A New Way of Life. New York: Viking, 2008.
14 “The weakness of the inducement to invest has been at all times the key to the economic problem.” John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. London: Macmillan, 1936 pp. 347-48.
15 Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level. London: Allen Lane, 2009.
16 Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital. London: Verso, 2003.
17 Peter Diamandis and Stephen Kotler, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012
18 Walter Mignolo and Catherine Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Practices. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.
Hot on the heels of last week’s victory in the New York state senate, the fight for Right to Repair comes to the US Congress. Today, Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY) introduced the first broad federal Right to Repair bill: the Fair Repair Act.
“As electronics become integrated into more and more products in our lives, Right to Repair is increasingly important to all Americans,” said Kyle Wiens, iFixit CEO. Lawmakers everywhere are realizing the need to protect our Right to Repair—along with progress in the EU and Australia, 27 US states introduced Right to Repair legislation this year, a record number.
“Every year I’ve worked on Right to Repair, it’s gotten bigger, as more and more people want to see independent repair protected,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. Rep. Joe Morelle has been a champion for much of that journey, sponsoring legislation while in the Statehouse in Albany starting in 2015. Everywhere you go, people just want to be able to choose for themselves how to fix their stuff. You’d think manufacturers would wise up.”
Congressman Joe Morelle’s federal bill would require manufacturers to provide device owners and independent repair businesses with access to the parts, tools, and information they need to fix electronic devices.
“For too long, large corporations have hindered the progress of small business owners and everyday Americans by preventing them from the right to repair their own equipment,” said Congressman Morelle. “It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve.”
“Right to Repair just makes sense,” said Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Senior Right to Repair Campaign Director. “It saves money and it keeps electronics in use and off the scrap heap. It helps farmers keep equipment in the field and out of the dealership. No matter how many lobbyists Apple, Microsoft or John Deere and the rest of the manufacturers throw at us, Right to Repair keeps pushing ahead, thanks to champions like Rep. Joe Morelle.”
“At iFixit, we believe that big tech companies shouldn’t get to dictate how we use the things we own or keep us from fixing our stuff.” said iFixit’s US Policy Lead, Kerry Maeve Sheehan. “We applaud Congressman Morelle for taking the fight for Right to Repair to Congress and standing up for farmers, independent repair shops, and consumers nationwide.”
We’re pleased to see Congress taking these problems seriously. In addition to supporting Congressman Morelle’s Fair Repair Act, we urge Congress to pass much-needed reforms to Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, to clarify that circumventing software locks to repair devices is always legal, and to expressly support the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to tackle unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive repair restrictions.