15 April 2017

We're Barely Even Trying

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/13/we-are-barely-even-trying/


You may have heard, above the din of the flabbergasted masses on election day last November, that plastic grocery bags were banned in the entire state of California. Given that plastic pollution is basically clogging up massive areas of all the earth's oceans and waterways, choking wildlife to death, and leaving microscopic particulate to toxify the entire food web of the planet, the bold move by at least one state in the U.S. may have sounded too good to be true. Well it is. Plastic bags are still thriving in California.

True, the supposed plastic grocery bag ban went into immediate effect on November 9, 2016. Most grocery stores had already eliminated their plastic bags by that morning and had paper bags available for 10 cents each if customers neglected to bring their own reusable sack. I thought I witnessed the quickest act of democracy I had ever seen. A store cashier and I applauded the expediency of this policy, yet seeing the ecological devastation that these idiotic plastic creations have caused for decades, I couldn't help but comment that it was about thirty years too late.

Imagine my dismay when, perhaps a week after California enacted the ban, I saw this:


Soon after plastic bags were "banned," they were right back again, albeit in a transformed iteration - slightly thicker, decorated, shaped differently, now costing 10 cents, and touted as "reusable" (weren't the others too?) but still plastic. Clearly, the plastic manufacturers' lobby groups and associations would not concede to a real ban.

We see this maneuver over and over again with environmental protections as well as other pro-social policies: either the policy is a ruse or it does little to truly alleviate the problem it is supposed to tackle. The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) which is used in plastic products and on thermal receipt paper is a known endocrine disruptor and has shown reproductive and developmental toxicity in animals. As an endocrine disrupting chemical it is also potentially carcinogenic. Though the U.S. EPA has decided not to regulate BPA, many manufacturers have responded to public pressure not by eliminating unnecessary products containing BPA, but by substituting a "safer" alternative chemical, BPS, in its place. And guess what? Turns out that BPS is an endocrine disrupting chemical as well, possibly even more potent than BPA.

This bait-and-switch is emblematic of our so-called "win-win" solutions; they are little more than subterfuge. This is what happens when we try to fix the environment but preserve capitalist interests.

When it comes to environmental protection, ecological sustainability, human health and safety, income inequality and poverty reduction, educational opportunity, and global warming there is no doubt that the current presidential administration does not care. They and most of their GOP counterparts have no objective but the accumulation of greater amounts of wealth and power for themselves and their cohort. So, let us leave them out of the discussion right now. I previously wrote about the failure of half measures during the Wisconsin state uprising of 2011. What is perhaps even more pernicious and more unethical than the utter psychopathy of Trump and his cronies is the duplicity of, and the conciliatory deals proposed and enacted by, those who purport to actually care about the pressing issues we face.

These alleged win-win, non-solutions apply to a variety of societal issues in the U.S. Here are a few exemplified:

Health Care
Regardless of the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) provided more health insurance to more people than before, it is a wholly deficient measure that enhances the coffers of the health insurance companies, just as it was meant to do ("win-win"). The ACA maintained the highly profitable yet completely inefficient and overpriced U.S. health care industry. While more citizens gained health insurance, they did not necessarily gain affordable access to health care. They still faced the burden of high costs, lack of providers, long waits for appointments, scant coverage for eye and dental care, and often the need to travel great distances to obtain any service at all. The threat of bankruptcy over health care costs still looms for the majority of Americans. There is no viable reason that Universal Single Payer Health Coverage, which would save the country billions of dollars in costs, could not be implemented in the richest in the world, But this is what happens when we try to fix health care but preserve capitalist interests.

Income
The Fight for $15 movement deserves tremendous applause for bringing attention to the plight of low-wage workers, who, despite working one or more jobs, face erratic work schedules, unpredictable conditions, and an almost complete lack of benefits, rendering them unable to make ends meet for themselves and their families. We should have nothing but praise for all in the movement, particularly those whose work to raise awareness and change labor laws represents an additional burden to their already difficult conditions. But the fact that this country does not have a minimum wage of at least $22, which is what the minimum wage should be in 2017, adjusted for inflation and productivity, is shameful Better yet, the U.S. should implement a Universal Basic Income and guaranteed full-time employment with benefits like sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, ample vacation, and pensions. These seemingly idealistic goals are entirely possible if the country taxed the wealthy at previous historical rates, if industrialists paid for all of their externalities  - which are currently covered by taxpayers -  and if bulk of the U.S. economic budget and discretionary spending was not allocated to the military industrial complex. But instead, the best we can hope for is to raise hourly wages to $15, which is even more than most politicians (both Democrat and Republican) will allow. This is what happens when you try to fix wages but preserve capitalist interests.

Education
I have written about education before and I have worked in both secondary and higher education. There is no doubt that the U.S. public education system is troubled, but the solutions are clear - smaller class sizes, more resources (mainly books), better classrooms and environments, more autonomy for teachers, better working conditions for teachers, less emphasis on technology and tests, and a decrease in child poverty. However Democrats and Republicans alike, instead of paying attention to the underlying problems in so-called "low-performing" schools, have chosen to privatize education through charter schools. While charters do not perform better than public schools, they do have fewer regulations. That climate allows for the funneling of public funds through the school to the people at the top of the corporate charter, often large, for-profit enterprises. The overall charter endeavor leaves the majority of students in the same predicament as before, but can bring great profits to those enterprising educational entrepreneurs. This is what happens when you try to fix education but preserve or augment capitalist interests.

Climate Change
Need it even be said? The United States has done little to nothing to tackle climate change. President Obama signed on to the non-binding U.N. Paris Agreement in 2016, but the U.S. was already set to exceed its carbon emission targets even before the Trump administration policies ensured that the whole accord would be kaput. President Obama and Candidate Hillary Clinton supported fracking and subscribed to an "all-of-the-above" (meaning fossil fuels, solar, wind, hyrdro, nuclear, etc.) policy on energy, which might have been semi-sufficient if we started this attempt at slowly adopting renewable, cleaner energy sources in 1960 or 1970. But all-of-the-above is completely unacceptable in terms of maintaining our planetary existence now. Nevertheless, this is what happens when you try to fix the problem of global warming but preserve or augment capital interests.

Can the U.S. do better? Let's see what other countries are doing:

Plastic Bags
Kenya is currently joining a number of African nations including Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi in banning the manufacture and import of ALL plastic bags.

Health Care
According to the New York State Department of Health, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom all have universal health coverage. And this list does not even include all of the African nations that have nearly full, supplemented, and/or sliding-scale health care access.

Education
Finland's routinely ranks as the top education system in the world. Though a few independent public schools exist, there are no private schools and nearly all schoolchildren are afforded the exact same educational opportunities. Of note, there is not the large economic gap between Finnish children as there is for America children, and though Finnish teachers do not have higher salaries, they have myriad state-supplied benefits and far superior working conditions than their American counterparts.

Climate Change
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a model of sustainability for the world. Their political and social infrastructure is premised on Gross National Happiness rather than a Gross Domestic Product. Their emphasis is on simplicity, sustainability, environmental preservation, and the overall quality of life of its citizens. Not only has Bhutan already  become a carbon-neutral country, wherein it absorbs as much carbon as emits, it has become a carbon-sink, actually absorbing carbon in excess of its emissions. In addition, it is progressing toward becoming a zero-waste nation with 100% organic agriculture - an ambition to which the entire world should aspire.

We're Not  Really Even Trying
The continued existence of the human species on the planet is questionable at this moment in history. The pollution, waste stream, impoverishment, and sickening of people and the planet plough ahead almost unabated in the United States as in most of the world. While some in the country deny or neglect the problems and plunge forward with their lives, business as usual, there are others who see, feel, and experience the signs of utmost distress and hope to do something about it. Unfortunately, our collective stance on taking action is not one of ambition but one of conciliation, rationalizing that addressing the pressing issues in our society is "complicated" or "complex." Translated, "it's complicated" simply means that we can only do what will not impede capitalism and the accumulation of increased profits.

With any viable solution proffered in the U.S., there are always caveats, always concessions to ensure that the suggestion meets the standards of "win-win" - which really just means that we citizens cannot tackle any issue unless the answer involves a win for corporations and industries. Consequently, even as we proclaim otherwise, we aren't really even trying to provide health care, alleviate poverty, enhance education, minimize the effects of climate change, or rid ourselves of plastic bags; we are merely trying to placate the complainers, alleviate our own guilt, and rationalize our pathetic inaction on the moral atrocities that we have normalized in our culture. As long as our underlying assumption and purpose is the preservation and augmentation of capitalism, just as with the plastic bag "ban" in California, our solutions will always fall short.



Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the Mad Dog General.  Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

24 January 2017

Democracy Is Not A Team Sport





Once, at a check-up in Wisconsin, a nice young dental hygienist asked me if I followed the Green Bay Packers. She happened to be a huge fan, bristling with excitement about the upcoming game. I hail from a different state, have lived in a number of cities, and never cared much for football. No, I was not a fan. In fact, I always enjoyed playing sports more than watching them. Nevertheless, the woman went on to talk about her team for the entire time she cleaned my teeth.

Americans, by and large, are infatuated with their teams. Look at the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry or the jubilation over the Cubs winning the world series this past year. When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, a sea of red-clothed enthusiasts washed over the streets on Badger game days.

But we choose teams in more than just sports. The recent Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix had viewers arguing over whether they were "Team Jess" or "Team Logan." Movie fanatics ally with Team Star Wars or Team Star Trek. Consumers join Team Coke or Team Pepsi. And the majority of the American population forge an allegiance to Team Democrat or Team Republican.

In our increasingly fragmented, screen-obsessed society, we all long to be a part of a community. Teams make us feel like we belong, like we matter. But team loyalty is often as insipid as the endless entertainment we devour as a country. It is based on personality, proximity, and style rather than substance - very apropos in our hyper-consumerist culture. It is an identity that seemingly enriches the egos of the disciples, but in reality, it only serves to enrich those at the top.

Team alliances in such trivial matters as sports and pop culture may be of little significance, save for the time, effort, and money spent on these trivialities which could be better spent on matters of consequence. However, strict team alliances in politics serve to manipulate the masses and obfuscate the issues. What results is a highly polarized, divisive society in which the suffering of the people and the crumbling of our ecological life support system go on almost unabated. Those at the top of Team D and Team R forge forward, reaping the rewards of our toils on the bottom.

Dichotomous political teams exist to provide an illusion of choice. Real life, real issues are messy and multifaceted. Tackling climate change, for example, is much more than merely a matter of choosing between Team Prius versus Team Hummer. But teams provide a simple heuristic so that people can avoid the difficulty of analyzing and considering complex matters. We choose teams so that we can spend our time chasing careers, wealth, and a host of other shallow pursuits rather than participating in building a better world every day. Finally, teams allow those in power to go about their self-serving, often destructive, business while the powerless squabble with each other over which side they are on.

When we are aligned with a particular team, we tend to excuse and rationalize that team's bad behavior, because that team becomes attached to our own ego. We project our beliefs and feelings onto that team and its representative leader. Thus, any attack on the team becomes a personal affront, regardless of the fact that the team seldom cares about us.

Consequently, Democrats rarely balked at Bill Clinton's roll-back of welfare, repeal of Glass-Steagall, enactment of an excessively harsh crime bill, passing of NAFTA, and deregulation of the Telecommunications industry. In addition, many Democrats justified or ignored Obama's increase in foreign wars, bail out of Wall Street, expansion of offshore oil drilling, extension of Bush's tax cuts to the wealthy, and promotion of free trade agreements that empower and enrich corporations. There is no direct Republican corollary to the actions of the Democrats because Republicans do not implement policies that would be otherwise considered Democratic. However, what occurs with Republicans is that when confronted with such policies from Clinton and Obama - policies that are inherently Republican in nature - the Republicans reject rather than support them because they originate from the wrong team. All of this refusal to address the actual political issues stems from blind adherence to teams (and in the case of Republican repudiation of Obama, sometimes blatant racism).

The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., the ACA or Obamacare) serves as an apt illustration of the nonsensical political team activity. This sometimes helpful but deeply flawed health care initiative - in that it protects and expands the coffers of the unnecessary health insurance industry - bears far too many striking similarities to the plan conceived at the conservative Heritage Foundation and the plan enacted in Massachusetts by Republican Governor Mitt Romney. Any wonder why the Republicans have no other ideas now that they are poised to repeal the ACA? Because the Democrats stole their idea. But both teams deny this fact. Moreover, Democrats will argue the spurious claim that Obamacare is the best we can do, that we could never enact universal single-payer health coverage (which would save the country billions).

In order to fight the fascist and regressive Trump regime, we would do well to learn from past mistakes. We cannot battle Trump with the goal of simply switching the team in power. In 2011, the co-option of a populist rebellion in Wisconsin by the Democratic party signaled doom for the movement. Likewise for Occupy. In the aftermath, several Democrats won while the rest of us continued to lose.

Some attending the historic Women's March expressed the opinion that those who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson - i.e., not Team Hillary - were not welcome. This team sentiment is highly destructive. In a similar vein, it does women no good to decry Trump's misogyny and history of sexual assault without at least acknowledging that a number of President Clinton's numerous past indiscretions amount to sexual harassment as well. While these behaviors may not necessarily be equivalent, neither behavior should be condoned based upon team loyalty.

Democrats and Republicans and their anointed leaders such as Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump are brands and personalities. There is a reason that the Obama campaign won  Advertising Age's award for marketer of the year in 2008. Part of belonging to a particular team involves the cult of celebrity. Charming, good-looking, dignified, witty team leaders cultivate that sense of belonging even more so. But even the most distinguished leaders come replete with empty rhetoric and broken promises. It is important that we see through the charismatic character, that we analyze the practices rather than embrace the platitudes. 

The political dichotomies are a means to divide those who should be united, and so they have. I received numerous notes from people and heard tales from friends who recounted fractured relationships - some permanently - arising from the divisiveness between teams in this past 2016 election. By choosing teams, we were forced to defend the indefensible, whether it be Hillary's war mongering and pro-corporate agenda on one side, or Trump's immaturity, racism, and probable psychopathy on the other (again, not that they are necessarily equivalent). People are tired of hypocrisy and lies, but these emanate from both teams. To circumvent this foible, we could acknowledge the positive (in those rare instances) and speak out vehemently against the negative of all parties and all politicians - in short, speak the truth. Defending your team despite its flagrant deficiencies is a vacuous, disingenuous endeavor that we should all find intolerable.

Furthermore, when it comes to teams in presidential elections, we forget that we've been manipulated into choosing a president from what are often limited and very poor choices provided by the rich and powerful. These choices (in this case, both Hillary and the Donald) may not reflect the citizenry of the country at all. Even so, we fall in line, bickering over the unfavorable choices thrust upon us, rather than come together against them both and defend our democracy and the policies that would be best for us all.

It's amazing how nonplussed people become when you raise issues without the context of the major political parties - when you do not affiliate with a team. Sometimes they deflect the subject or try to pinpoint your nonexistent team. Then, they are loath to agree with you if they conclude they are on a different team, even though you assure them that you do not belong to one. This default team position needs to end if we want any chance of combating the most pressing concerns facing all of our citizens including poverty, income inequality, and wholesale environmental degradation.

For any real democracy, our alliances need to shift from superficial teams to substantive ideas. We want to be a part of a group, yet we fail to recognize our more salient connections to the majority of humanity. Our delusions about the Team D and Team R blind us to the largest struggle of all: the oppressed versus the oppressors. And currently, in that war, you know what team both the Democrats and the Republicans represent.



Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the Mad Dog General.  Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

11 January 2017

Meryl, Have We Been Living in the Same America All This Time?

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/11/meryl-have-we-been-living-in-the-same-america-all-this-time/


Credit: B. Coady

Clearly not. In fact, not many people live in Meryl Streep's America. Most of those that do were in that Golden Globes ballroom with the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award winner, cheering her triumphant anti-Trump speech in which she never even had to utter the ignoramus's name. And right on cue, Trump retorted with a ridiculous attack on the ability of one of the most deservedly honored actors of our day, surprisingly refraining from a crack about her looks or age.

Thank goodness we are all still entitled to free speech, for the time being, at least. Though their voices are unduly and unfairly amplified, celebrities have a right to their opinions. Likewise, my muted voice has a right to call celebrities out on their hollowness. Streep's speech was perfectly suited for Hollywood, believing itself to be important, but lacking the necessary depth from which most meaningful things come.

Let's be clear. There is good reason for Meryl Streep to use her public platform to lament the incoming sociopath-in-chief and to encourage resistance to the upcoming fascism. There is good reason to be fearful of the future. But while Meryl and her peers have been blissfully unaware of the destination toward which humanity has been heading for at least four decades now - with every single Democrat and Republican at the helm - others of us have been watching each presidential administration lead us closer to the proverbial cliff. Actually, far too many citizens have already fallen to their deaths. For the rest of us, the only difference now is that the velocity at which we approach the precipice is merely accelerating.

It is not hard to call out Trump for mocking a disabled person, as Streep did. Anyone with half a heart felt horrified at the sight of Trump's deplorable impression. But it is hard to abide the shallowness of scorning the corrupt and contemptible president-elect without also admonishing the equally corrupt and contemptible institutions from which he emanated, including the two-party political system and the entertainment industry.

Streep spoke of the inclusively of her industry, remarking on the diverse backgrounds from which so many of her colleagues came. It was a typical telling of the popular Horatio Alger myth that anyone can find success in America. But we all know the truth: that the accomplishments of people like those at the Golden Globes are one in a million - and it just so happens that the success tales come from those very ones-in-millions. We do not hear the stories of the failures. So-called successes are products of luck, timing, ambition, connections, nepotism, often corruption and compromised ethics, and sometimes, hard work and/or talent. "Making it" in Hollywood is a windfall, yet for the majority of the hard-working and talented people who do not, the entertainment industry is emblematic of the rampant income inequality in this nation. Many worthy artists never make it and never even have a chance. It's a lottery and a crapshoot, but it does not have to be. It does not have to reward few and leave the majority to struggle.

No one deserves the massive wealth that these people enjoy. That wealth is always at the expense of those who have little. Furthermore, if everyone in America lived so lavishly - as do both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as well - the earth would be destroyed because it could not sustain such wealth and excess.

(Speaking of sustainability, most of those in the entertainment industry like to tout themselves as concerned about the environment, but their industry itself is awash in almost unbridled energy and resource use, waste, and pollution.)

Streep stressed the importance of the profound artistry produced by Hollywood. Granted, I admit watching some select television series and the occasional film. There is quality to be had; there are some very worthwhile endeavors. But that does not mitigate the fact that the entertainment industry produces complete and utter crap in far excess of its products of value. And because it follows the corporate capitalist model that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton support full throttle,  it also exacerbates economic inequality and environmental devastation.

As fitting at the Golden Globes, where the awards are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep underscored the obligation of a vibrant fourth estate, saying, "We need the principled press to hold power to account." Actors like Meryl echoed the same sentiments during the George W. Bush administration, but why did we not hear those sentiments from them when Nobel peace prize-winning Obama started dropping bombs in seven foreign countries, when he escalated drone warfare - killing untold numbers of innocent civilians, when he deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history, when he rubber-stamped the surveillance state, when just a couple of weeks ago he  passed a law that amounts to enacting an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, when he and Clinton pushed for the TPP, when he and Clinton supported fracking, when he and Clinton derided and jailed whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning? If we are to hold one power to account, we should hold ALL powers to account, Meryl.

Furthermore, Streep called for support for the Committee to Protect Journalists, perhaps forgetting that the Obama administration has sentenced more whistleblowers than all other previous presidents combined. These whistleblowers committed the grave act of leaking to the press, and thus to the public, the immoral and nefarious deeds of our government. You know, holding power to account. Obama will now pass on his legacy of attacking and imprisoning journalists and their sources to the unhinged Trump.

One could claim that the burden of the failure of American democracy is partially at the hands of the entertainment industry. Arguably, the man who was the progenitor of the modern systemic decline of America was none other than Ronald Reagan, a product of Hollywood whose political rise was enabled by his star power. Similarly, Donald Trump only became a household name because of his stint on the Apprentice. His nationwide name recognition "bigly" aided his campaign - and, to be sure, he conducted his campaign not unlike the Hollywood campaigns at this time of year for the much-coveted Oscars.  Everyone in New York business circles already knew what a misogynist, racist, con-artist the Donald was. No doubt, everyone in Hollywood soon learned the same when Trump embarked upon his reality show. But no one dared speak out when Trump was a cash cow for their respective industries.

Meanwhile, one of very few principled "mainstream" presidential candidates in my lifetime emerged with great fortitude in the 2016 race. Bernie Sanders could very well have been elected President and we could all be ushering in a whole new promising era of equity, inclusion, and justice not seen for scores and scores of years. His primary loss could be blamed partly on an archaic election process in which voters are disenfranchised through ridiculous rules, including registering months ahead of elections and closed primaries, not to mention voter suppression due to erroneous purging of registry lists, and many other undemocratic practices. But mostly, Bernie lost due to the concerted effort, through unethical and illegal tactics of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to provide Clinton the Democratic nomination at all costs, the will of the people be damned.

It is likely that we can thank the very unpopular Hillary Clinton, who, like most Democrats of the modern era, promulgated neoliberal, corporatist, Republican policies (militarism, privatization, deregulation, and austerity - to name but a few) for the election of Trump. Soon too, we may be able to thank the Democrats for sending us all to nuclear annihilation, as their unverifiable, evidence-free blaming of Russia for Trump's election may send us into a wholly preventable nuclear war. (At which point, we will always then be left wondering why the Democrats did not fight to eliminate the electoral college after Gore won the popular vote in 2000.) Yet Streep has held fast to propping up Clinton and these very same Democrats, who have laid the foundation for this unfettered plutocratic regime, hiding its support structure behind their dignified, yet duplicitous faces.

Meryl, while I appreciate the gravity of this moment in U.S. history and your calling attention to it, I cannot refrain from questioning your collaboration with and support of the very people and systems that laid the groundwork for this doom. Like them, your superficial examination of the issues we are facing only perpetuates the phony political partisanship under which the nation and the world are being utterly destroyed. Perhaps the best thing that you and your comrades could do, instead of making speeches that fall far from the mark, is to cancel all of your extravagant and wasteful ceremonies of the season and join the hoi polloi in the community and in the streets to fight against the plutocracy. At this crucial moment in time, we need less superficiality and more substance, especially from Hollywood.


Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis


25 November 2016

Embracing A New Normal (Not of the Trump variety)


Photo courtesy: White Wold Pack http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2016/09/standing-rock-protest-grows-with.html


I attended a Catholic university, and during my time in college, I embarked on several school-sponsored retreats. While semi-religious, these days-long outings in the wilderness really more resembled self-help or mindfulness groups than zealous theological preaching sessions. In one very popular retreat, we broke into small subsets and discussed our fears, woes, past issues, and current predicaments. We shared our feelings, our meals, and our hearts. We opened up to people at whom we would have never batted an eye back on campus. It was all very kumbaya, with ample servings of respect, understanding, and helpfulness. Narcissism, competitiveness, back-stabbing, and ladder-climbing were left at the cabin door.

Upon returning to school, our larger retreat cadre reassembled at a future date. I was asked to represent my smaller group and give a talk about what I gleaned from the outing. Though I do not recall the details, I vividly remember my main point: I asked, why can we not live the same life we lived on the retreat, every day? Why do we have to come back to campus and return to the unethical, corrupt, and unjust "normal"? Suffice it to say, I don't think many people were pleased with this notion - not the least from whom I sensed unease, were the priests who ran the retreat.

In 2011, I participated in the massive, unprecedented, yet eventually, unfruitful protests against the anti-union and corporate capitalistic policies of the then newly appointed Walker administration in Wisconsin. For weeks, citizens occupied the state house in Madison, living cooperatively, sharing resources and assets, providing each other with basic needs and necessities. Ultimately, we were forced from the capital building, foolishly abdicating the fight in favor of the contemptible political process. We retreated back to our comfortable - or, for a large constituency, not so comfortable - lives, and far too many people were more than pleased to return to "normal."

Occupy Wall Street and other such occupy encampments, much like in Madison, demonstrated on a small scale how easily social-democratic and social-anarchist communities can work to mutually benefit everyone. They provided alternative paradigms to the morally bankrupt, ethically corrupt, environmentally destructive, socially deplorable, vacuous lives that we are all complicit in living each day. But alas, acknowledgement that such cooperative societal endeavors are possible, and may be even preferable to the majority of the downtrodden and exploited citizenry, is not considered polite conversation or acceptable media discourse.

Much like my college retreat, these extended protests and others like them provided a moment to step away from the mindless treadmill we continually trample and offered a different, and likely, better path for humanity. Now, we witness a similar circumstance with the Standing Rock encampment of water protectors fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Only this time, the people at the forefront of the struggle are the very people who have suffered perhaps the most oppression of any single faction of citizens on the North American continent, and who, in their traditions, may present the clearest course toward combating the mutual scourges of environmental degradation and social injustice. As one water protector explained to Ann Wright (in her November 8 article),"I am now living as my ancestors lived...in nature all day, everyday, in community living, working and praying together.  I have been waiting for this gathering all my life.” Perhaps we should all be working toward such a permanent global gathering.

Our only real chance of contending with climate change and inequality is through a sustainable way of life - which means wholly altered social, political, and economic systems that value biology over business, ecology over economics. More equitable and sustainable ways of living have been illustrated during protests in recent years, but for them to matter, they need to be maintained after these short-term gatherings and adopted as "normal." The cultural values that indigenous communities hold embody a critical route toward sustainability and justice. Our greater societal embrace of their values may be our last best hope to save our species. 




Kristine Mattis holds a PhD in Environment and Resources. Contact: k_mattis@outlook.com. Follow: @kristinemattis

22 October 2016

The Time for Ambitious Environmental Goals is Now: Why It Doesn't Matter Whether Clinton or Trump Mention Climate Change

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/21/all-solutions-are-inadequate-why-it-doesnt-matter-if-politicians-mention-climate-change/






I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads …
I went right on biggering… selling more Thneeds
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Some ado has been made of the fact that the major presidential candidates have barely spoken about the environment. Hillary Clinton acknowledges that climate change is a real phenomenon and should be addressed. Donald Trump has said it was a hoax and a money-making industry. (Which begs the question: Why didn’t he get in on that huge business opportunity?). Of course, Trump equivocates, then denies his global warming denial. Truth is, he really couldn’t give a shit. It has no bearing on his pursuit of fame and fortune. But does it matter whether or not he believes it, or whether or not Clinton believes it, for that matter? Does it really matter that topics of environmental importance such as climate change, water pollution, air pollution, industrial farming, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and toxic waste are neglected, given the paucity and inadequacy of the solutions proposed?

Ten years ago, An Inconvenient Truth spread the word about global warming to much of the public. Those who knew about, studied, and/or worked at tackling climate change were thrilled that this documentary finally painted a clear picture of the dire issue for so many who had not heard of it up until that time. And then came the dénouement of the film. We can fix this! All we have to do is change our light bulbs and purchase hybrid cars! That’s precisely when we should have known that we were doomed.

It is one thing to reveal an inconvenient truth. It is another thing entirely to prescribe a whole new, seemingly less convenient way of life.

The fact is that despite all the people who recognize the threat of global warming, few (save the indigenous peoples of the world) are willing to face the radical restructuring of our society and economy that is necessary to fully address climate change along with the myriad environmental catastrophes we are already experiencing.

Ecological modernization can be described as the idea of “win-win” solutions. We can have it all -  we can have corporate capitalism, expand markets, increase growth, AND save the environment. Along with the belief that we can have all things is the belief that science and technology will save us, and we can engineer our way into sustainability. The Breakthrough Institute serves as a the premier think tank for the movement. Adherence to the theory of ecological modernization dominates academic institutions, even if many professors do not subscribe to it. Many of the leading environmental non-profit organizations advocate ecological modernization tacitly, if not overtly. Who would not want to believe that we can continue our way of life, almost unabated, as well as tackle the most pressing environmental issues of our time? The problem is, there is absolutely no evidence to support this supposition.

Maintaining a sustainable, habitable environment for humanity entails far more than transitioning from fossil fuels and buying new “green” products. We have the problem of climate change coupled with the problem of pollution. Many times, the very technologies that we promote to reduce carbon dioxide emissions increase toxic contamination somewhere in their life cycle (i.e., production, use, or waste); often, they do not actually reduce carbon emissions when their entire life cycle is scrutinized.

Returning to Al Gore’s sustainability suggestions, those long-lasting eco-friendly light bulbs that were touted to save immense amounts of energy are replete with mercury, a poisonous heavy metal. Most people are unaware of the danger in breaking these bulbs, releasing gaseous mercury into their environments, nor are they aware that these bulbs are considered hazardous waste and require special disposal (which often comes with a fee in most municipalities). As for electric and hybrid automobiles? While they may not emit carbon in their usage, they, like all cars, require vast amounts of carbon energy in manufacturing. Furthermore, electric cars that are plugged into electrical outlets fueled by coal are going to emit nearly as much carbon in the long run, albeit indirectly, as gasoline powered vehicles. Both climate change solutions are problematic and far from truly sustainable.

Just a fraction of the reality of our current environmental predicament …


  • Five garbage patches of floating plastic waste are destroying marine life and threatening the entire ocean ecosystem planet-wide. Located within the five ocean gyres, the garbage patches are the size of some large U.S. states. Marine birds and mammals are dying of starvation in response to filling their guts will plastic ocean debris that mimics their normal, nutrient-filled food supply. They are also choking on plastic wastes and slowly becoming sickened by feeding on tiny plastic particles that accumulate in their bodies.

  • Microplastics, including plastic microbeads and plastic fibers from fleece, acrylic, nylon, and polyester, and other plastic materials physically broken into miniscule pieces are littering fresh and marine water bodies all over the planet. These particles are absorbing other toxic chemicals, then being ingested by organisms, accumulating in the food web, and ultimately being consumed by humans.

  • Landfills of buried waste spoil our countryside. Toxic leachate from these landfills is already seeping into our land and waterways. These buried mounds are also ready to emit more potent greenhouse gases (methane) when they are inevitably unearthed at some point in future generations.


  • The majority of livestock are raised in inhumane, torturous concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which wreak havoc to the environment and public health in nearby communities via extensive air and water pollution as a result of the unsanitary, unlivable conditions. Right now, these animals themselves, in the tens or hundreds of thousands, lie dead in rivers and streams throughout North Carolina, drowned as a result of Hurricane Matthew’s destruction.


  • Toxic dumps of electronic waste pollute third-world countries and are directly responsible for the illness and deaths of countless humans, particularly children, who are forced to attempt the risky task of “recycling” the valuable parts of this waste.

  • Endocrine disrupting, and other chemicals in our products, food, water, and air, are ravaging all systems of our bodies, resulting in cancer, as well as neurodegenerative, neuromuscular, immune, and a host of other syndromes for which we have no clear etiology and no known cure. These chemicals have been shown to cause feminization of male frogs, reptiles, and fishes, (bringing to mind the question of what they are doing to human sexual and reproductive organs).  Moreover, these chemicals - in combinations that we could not possibly regulate nor account for - are causing the collapse of vital bee pollinators.



As the critics of ecological modernization know, the only clear, long-term solution that could even attempt to preserve the human species is de-growth – a reduction of production and consumption.

 A few examples of what true sustainable solutions would look like:

  • All organic matter would be composted. This means that all vegetation, food waste, all plants and animals (including humans) and their waste would go through the natural decomposition process to return constituent elements to the soil from where they originated.

  • All synthetic materials would cease to exist unless they could be decomposed into safe chemical constituents. A moratorium on plastic production would be enacted.

  • All synthetic toxic substances would be eliminated. Hazardous substances already exist on earth without our help. There is a level of insanity in creating more substances that harm our own health and that of the planet and persist for millennia.

  • All products would be returned to manufacturers to be broken down into their constituent parts – i.e., cradle-to-cradle technology. Parts would either have to be recycled, reused, or decomposed. If not, that product could not exist. Unless and until we can produce goods that are fully reusable, recyclable, and/or biodegradable – we should stop producing and consuming them.

  • All agriculture would be small scale polycultures requiring no use of synthetic pesticides.

  • All exercise would be human-powered, requiring no need for energy consuming machinery.

  • All homes would be south-facing, utilizing passive solar energy and convection techniques for climate control and energy.

  • All communities would be localized, with walking or other human-powered vehicles as the main form of transport.

The dreams and traditions advanced over the past few centuries in “civilized” cultures – big business, big technology, big cars, big jobs, big incomes, big weddings, big homes, big families – i.e., production, consumption, more production, and more consumption – have no place in a sustainable world.

It may appear that we could never live in such a manner, but the only humans who knew anything about living sustainably – indigenous peoples -  were (and some still are) able to do so for thousands and thousands of years. Moreover, every other species on the planet, save for humans, lives sustainably.

True sustainability requires zero waste. True sustainability requires an end to all unnecessary manufactured toxics. True sustainability requires an end to excess production and consumption. True sustainability requires an end to equating wants with needs. All of this is antithetical to our current way of life. All of this is antithetical to industrial growth. Most of all, all of this is antithetical to capitalism.

Republicans want to deny that our environmental problems exist. Democrats want to engineer our way out of global catastrophe, when it is engineering itself that led us down this path.

The solutions proposed by policymakers are too incremental and reductionist in nature. They  suggest a lack of comprehension of the enormity and interconnectedness of our environmental predicament. Sustainability is incompatible with job growth (as currently conceived), one of the primary issues of discussion in the current election. Of course, the typical solutions proposed are, first and foremost, in service to the preservation of capitalism.

Many people care about the environment, are concerned about climate change, and try to live as sustainably as possible. They build green homes, bike to work, adopt vegetarianism, grow gardens, buy organic food, compost their waste, bring reusable bags to the grocery store, etc. These are all good, moral lifestyle choices, but unless structurally adopted, do little to alter the trajectory of ecological collapse. Systemic, life-altering changes in industry, economics, and culture are called for - immediately.

Small advances, such as the gradual shift of energy production from fossil fuels to renewable – which seems to be one of the only proposals offered by politicians – may assist in slowing down the progression of climate change, but will not halt the inevitable collapse.

So, it seems that no matter which party dominates our political landscape, unless we start facing the reality of our environmental dilemma, we are all getting on board a train to the same final destination. The only question is, do you want to take the light rail or the bullet train?


Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

30 September 2016

"Unjust Targeting of African-Americans Not a New Phenomenon"

Kristine Mattis interview  October 3, 2016:


Two weeks ago, the police shooting of an African American man named Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte enraged thousands of African Americans. The killing, believed to be driven by racist attitudes, triggered protests.
Mattis tells the Tehran Times that “the protests that are going on in Charlotte, the ones that have occurred in numerous cities throughout the country following the murders of black people by police, the silent protests against the Star-Spangled Banner - these are all righteous, justified expressions of decades and decades of pent-up emotion, and they should be acknowledged.”
Following is the transcription of the interview.
Q: What's your view on the police shooting of the black man and the following protests in Charlotte?
A: It is just another in a growing list of unwarranted antagonism, aggression, and violence against people of color in America. The unjust targeting and killing of African-Americans is not a new phenomenon. We obviously know about the history of black oppression and murder during slavery, reconstruction, and throughout the civil rights era, but the commonplace executions of black men and women have been hidden from view for several decades until recently. Black people in America are rightfully angry about their brothers and sisters (OUR brothers and sisters) being murdered by the police, and about innumerable other racial injustices that have occurred and continue to occur since the inception of the United States of America.
When I was in my early twenties, I worked at a bookstore, and there was a group of four of us who became good friends. One of our friends was a black male. During our time in the bookstore, he faced many instances of covert racism – in language and attitude and lack of respect – from our bosses. I recall one particular time being a witness to this and fuming. I gave him a look and he basically looked back at me in a way that said, “Just leave it alone.” (This was not the first time a black male friend of mine responded to me in that way after I was angered by the racism shown to him.) I don’t remember if he told me this outright or if it was just insinuated, but the long and short of it was that he has to face this kind of B.S. all day, every day. He just couldn’t always get mad or fight it because not only would he lose his job, but he simply would not even be able to get through the day if that were the case. (It probably also accounted for his great wit and humor; he was one of the funniest people I knew.) So, imagine this subjugation happening to every black man, every black woman, and most people of color – be they Latino, Muslim, Native American, or African-American – all the time. After a while, you just can’t expect people to repress their anger and hurt and betrayal forever.
The protests that are going on in Charlotte, the ones that have occurred in numerous cities throughout the country following the murders of black people by police, the silent protests against the Star-Spangled Banner - these are all righteous, justified expressions of decades and decades of pent up emotion, and they should be acknowledged. If you listen to many of the protesters, they express profound, important perspectives, ideas, and stories that we do not normally hear in the corporate media.
Q: How do you see the Black Lives Matter and its impact in the recent years?
A: They are a phenomenal group who do not rely on any allegiance to either of the corrupted political parties in America. Any white person who doesn’t understand why Black Lives Matter is important - and why All Lives Matter is ridiculous - probably harbors tremendous white privilege if not racism. You cannot look at the history of the U.S. or the world and not realize that injustice runs rampant and fairness is an illusion. Black Lives Matter has illuminated the truth that certain people have more obstacles, fewer opportunities, less money, less power - in short, black people have always been left behind in America. Everyone should read the BLM guiding principles. You can see that they are seeking to create a better, more just world for the traditionally oppressed (i.e., black folks), and consequently, for all of us. As much as I think the mainstream media and the corporate elite are trying to marginalize BLM. I think BLM is having an impact in mobilizing people, and I think they will have more of an effect in years to come. Unfortunately, things are bound to get worse given that our country will be ruled by either the narcissistic, infantile ignoramus Trump or the neoliberal, corrupt, corporate Clinton, neither of whom will do anything to help people of color.
Q: Do you think that reports by the mainstream media imply that protesters are violent?
A: In a word, yes. The media and government officials – even our African-American president - use more loaded words and rhetoric to describe black folks who protest. More often than not, black protesters are described as “rioters” and “looters.” When people organized rallies against the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama cautioned that people should “keep the protests peaceful.” Would he – or anyone, for that matter – feel the need to admonish groups of white protesters like that? (Perhaps environmental protesters …) Did we hear that kind of reprimand when all of the white Tea-Partiers gathered? Did the media ever treat the Tea-Partiers as troublesome, potentially violent mobs? It’s a fairly obvious double-standard if you are at all sensitive to the language and framing that the media employ in their reports.
Q: What role can the police play in such incidents?
A: The police have a motto: “To protect and serve.”  We assume that they are supposed to be around to protect and serve all citizens, but in reality, the police force in the U.S. was established to serve and protect the elite. The police may not even be aware of that role all the time because they are rule-followers, and the laws are written by and for the privileged powers that be – the corporatists, the capitalists, the one-percent.
Instead of being authoritarian, and now, militarized, the police could be the peace-keepers they were supposed to be. According to the First Amendment, all Americans are supposed to have the constitutional right to free speech and peaceable assembly. Black protesters shouldn’t be met with police armed like soldiers, with riot gear and even tanks. The police should actually be protecting the protesters.
Furthermore, we see how differently black protesters are treated compared to white protesters. As I said before, the rhetoric in the media is different, but the treatment by law enforcement is also different. In recent years, some Tea Party groups assembled at Obama speeches with loaded guns in hand. The police didn’t come out in full military regalia to deal with them and certainly didn’t shoot them. In January of this year, armed white militants took illegal occupation of the office of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. They, like other white, right-wing groups were treated with kid gloves compared to how black protesters are treated. And since the announcement that the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union, has endorsed Donald Trump for president – which means Trump garnered a 2/3 majority of the union voters – it seems clear that there exists a definite current of racism flowing through the American law-enforcement system.
Police are acting like we live in a war zone rather than a so-called democracy. They perpetuate the violence rather than prevent it. The police should be our allies, not our enemies. In other countries in Europe, police do not even carry guns. We need a re-envisioning of the purpose of a police force in America, because if we truly lived in a democracy, the police would be protecting the 99%, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable among us, while arresting the 1% who perpetrate the majority of crimes against humanity and against the planet.
Q: What do you regard as the root of racism in the United States?
A: Racism has been around in this country since its inception and has never left. Overt racism has been somewhat squelched since the civil rights era, but places like Fox News and people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump have brought racism back to the fore. The election of Barack Obama angered the racists in the country who had been somewhat hiding in plain sight. They could not believe a person of color was their president. But it was what coincided with his election – the rhetoric of the commentators on Fox News and right-wing radio and the emergence of truly moronic, incompetent, and prejudiced politicians such as Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, who made racist remarks and actions acceptable again to a certain segment of the population. These people have empowered the bigots.
But, the other reason racism is coming out again is because of the increase in income inequality in the U.S. Not only do people want to find some boogeyman to blame for their misfortunes, they want to find some “other” to declare as worse than themselves, so they can feel better about their own unfortunate circumstance. And let’s be clear, the circumstances of too many people in America are absolutely reprehensible in a country of such plenty and such wealth. It doesn’t help that here in America we perpetuate the bogus myth of the self-made man and pretend that anyone who is not financially “successful” only has himself to blame. We have a whole psychological and self-help industry that makes people believe that their economic circumstance is wholly a product of their own hard-work, rather than a product of nepotism, privilege, corruption, and often, criminality. This way, we ignore the myriad systemic problems that have caused the increase in homelessness, poverty, and economic inequality (and environmental degradation). And this way we have white people railing against people of color rather than against the one-percent and the corporate criminals who have plundered the country and the world.
Q: What could you say about the recent African-American Museum? Do you think it distracts people from the recent incident?
A: I do not know a whole lot about the museum, but from what I have read, it is as superficial as most anything else in America. It puts a pretty face on a deeply important and still-evolving history. It sounds like a bit of whitewashing to me, which is the same complaint I have heard about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in D.C.
I would not say that the African-American Museum is a distraction exactly, but it certainly appeases white people. Too many white people claim to care about the plight of black people in America, but are not willing to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of all of their black brothers and sisters who are suffering. The African-American Museum should definitely exist, but it is not the be-all, end-all that is needed to help race relations or to improve the conditions of black people in the U.S. That’s where a movement like Black Lives Matter comes in and why it is crucial. Hopefully, BLM welcomes all of the white brothers and sisters who stand in solidarity to support their cause. As a white woman, I can never begin to fully understand or empathize with the plight of African-Americans due to the very real privilege of my skin color, but I can be willing to stand with them and fight with them and for them. The willingness to fight for justice is what is needed much more than a museum to appease the elite masses.
Martin Luther King Jr. put it best in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963). His words ring as true today as they did then, so I will leave you with some of them:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
http://www.tehrantimes.com/print/407022/Killing-of-African-Americans-not-a-new-phenomenon-activist



Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

Ending Education Inequality and Saving Public Schools

From the Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education: savesacramentopublicschools.org



While the neoliberal war-monger and the fascist buffoon were duking it out on Long Island, further up the Hudson River in Hillary’s adopted hometown, an ongoing eruption was spewing concerning a pedophile teacher at Horace Greeley, the prestigious public high school in Chappaqua, New York. Christopher Schraufnage, a former drama teacher at the school, reached a plea deal with the town on charges of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He is now facing federal criminal charges and civil suits from at least half a dozen victims of his criminal sexual exploitations. Understandably, the parents in town are out for blood. Consequently, many are determined to see the school superintendent, the school board members, and other administrators face repercussions for not preventing this horrendous abuse under their watch. Any mother or father can empathize with the bloodlust these Chappaqua parents are feeling, yet not all have the power and the money to do something about it.

I bring this incident up because I grew up in a town not far from Chappaqua – a decidedly less affluent northern Westchester County suburb. I have been hearing about this story from my mother, who often relays the local news. From what I can gather, there is a feeling of “this doesn’t happen here” and “this is not the kind of school where these things occur.” It’s not surprising. You hear this all the time from residents who are interviewed by the news media after an otherwise “unheard of” crime occurs in their wealthy enclave. And at Horace Greeley, things are different. This school is known as a sort of private-public school, always ranked as one of the best public high schools in the nation. It sends its students to all of the top-tier universities, and its students go on to successful careers. It is not at all coincidental that Chappaqua households are listed among the highest-income in the country as well.

A school’s success is inextricably tied to wealth for a number of reasons. In public schools, the major source of revenue is derived from property taxes. Obviously, an abundance of multi-million dollar properties will generate higher returns for a school district than the cheap real estate of the poor and middle-class. But above that, whether students in rich neighborhoods attend public or private schools, whatever their schools may lack, their parents can make up for in donations. We can all help fund our children’s schools, but while poor households may not even be able to spare pennies, and middle-class households might be able to spare $10 or perhaps as much as $100 dollars, rich households could “sacrifice” $10K, $100K, or for some, even millions of dollars without blinking an eye. That is how much wealth disparity exists; it is truly incomprehensible.

Unequal funding in schools results in inequitable educational opportunities. Schools with more money have greater resources. And greater resources does not mean technology, because there is no evidence that technology enhances education (it merely benefits the tech industry). It means smaller class sizes, ample books and supplies, access to music, art, and physical education, availability of field trips, clean classrooms, and well-paid teachers who are not overburdened with untenable conditions and who are not struggling themselves to make ends meet. There is a reason that the students in Beverly Hills were performing better, on average, than the students I once taught in East Los Angeles – and it had nothing to do with the students’ abilities. Instead, it had everything to do with the superior resources available to both students and teachers in richer school districts (along with the horrendous hunger, poverty, and homelessness rampant in schools in lower socio-economic neighborhoods).

A recent episode of “This American Life” explained how school integration was a monumental success in increasing student performance and narrowing the achievement gap for people of color, not because of racial intermingling, but because black students were able to access the same education opportunities as white students. It follows that desegregation of schools should be implemented not just on the level of race but on the level of economic status. If we really want to fix our public school system, students of all races and all socio-economic strata need to co-exist at all public schools, and there needs to be an end to all private and charter schools.

Charter schools have done little to aid in providing a better quality education to all – mainly because that is not what they were established for. Charters do not have the same mandates as public schools, so they do not have to follow all of the same onerous, bureaucratic regulations. These directives were put in place by the capitalist governing class who purposefully constructed them to undermine public education. With the failure of public education, the capitalist class could make way for a new open market in education. With charter schools, the taxpayers could pay for the market and all of the profits could be had by industry. That is not to say that all charter schools were created by corporate profiteers (though that is true in an alarming number of cases). Many charter schools were established by good educators with the best of intentions for students. I know of a number of them and worked at one over a decade ago. That is also not to say that some students do not benefit from a charter school education, whether socially or academically (though research shows that, overall, this is not the case). But these exceptions are akin to a handful of people sharing a winning lottery ticket while everyone else remains left behind. They amount to educational fortune, but not educational justice.

Imagine if all of the nation’s rich folks were forced to send their children to plain-old public schools, along with students of middle-incomes and students of low- or no incomes. First, any crowded classrooms, unclean conditions, problems with teachers, or lack of resources would be nipped in the bud, because the rich parents would pour their money, their time, and their lawyers into improving the conditions for their children (and thus, all of the children). Second, the rich children would learn a great deal from their less wealthy peers about people who do not have access to the wealth and privileges that they do, hopefully, making they more sympathetic and empathetic to the conditions of others. Third, the wealthy parents might not feel comfortable having their children mingle with the non-wealthy hoi-polloi, so they may actually learn empathy as well. They may think more closely about socio-political issues and they might learn about the reality of other people’s lives, about the plight of others from the actual struggles of their childrens’ peers, rather than from the propaganda and hearsay they gather from their perch on high. They might, in turn, use their fortunes to help to improve the quality of life for their childrens’ peers and maybe, for the rest of the 99% of the country.

While there is no doubt that the eradication of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and gross income inequality overall would drastically improve the educational success of all students, it also seems that the preservation of what could be and should be an exceptional public school system in America is imminently achievable. But, it cannot be done with the useless reforms and technological tools that are currently being pushed on the public. The solution to educational equality relies on the total integration of all American students into diverse yet equivalent, well-financed public schools.

Now, exactly what kids are being trained for in school – to be corporate technocrats and to perpetuate society’s plunge into planetary ecocide and species suicide … That’s a whole other issue …


Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the congressional record in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a teacher.

Contact: k_mattis@outlook.com and @kristinemattis.

We're Barely Even Trying

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/13/we-are-barely-even-trying/ You may have heard, above the din of the flabbergasted masses on ele...