What Democratic Socialism Is… And What It Is Not

Written by Lawrence Wittner and published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

In recent weeks, Donald Trump and other Republicans have begun to tar their Democratic opponents with the “socialist” brush, contending that the adoption of socialist policies will transform the United States into a land of dictatorship and poverty.  In fact, though, like many of Trump’s other claims, there’s no reason to believe it.

The ideal of socialism goes back deep into human history and, at its core, is based on the notion that wealth should be shared more equitably between the rich and the poor.  Numerous major religions have emphasized this point, criticizing greed and preaching the necessity for “all God’s children” to share in the world’s abundance.  The goal of increased economic equality has also mobilized numerous social movements and rebellions.

But how was this sharing of wealth to be achieved?  Religious leaders often emphasized charity. Social movements developed communitarian living experiments.  Revolutions seized the property of the rich and redistributed it. And governments began to set aside portions of the economy to enhance the welfare of the public, rather than the profits of the wealthy few.

In the United States, governments created a public sector alongside private enterprise.  The American Constitution, drafted by the Founding Fathers, provided for the establishment of a U.S. postal service, which quickly took root in American life.  Other public enterprises followed, including publicly-owned and operated lands, roads, bridges, canals, ports, schools, police forces, water departments, fire departments, mass transit systems, sewers, sanitation services, dams, libraries, parks, hospitals, food and nutrition services, and colleges and universities.  Although many of these operated on a local level, others were nationwide in scope and became very substantial enterprises, including Social Security, Medicare, National Public Radio, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. armed forces. In short, over the centuries the United States has developed what is often termed “a mixed economy,” as have many other countries.

Nations also found additional ways to socialize (or share) the wealth.  These included facilitating the organization of unions and cooperatives, as well as establishing a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and a progressive tax policy―one with the highest levies on the wealthy and their corporations.

Over the course of U.S. history, these policies, sometimes termed “social democracy,” have enriched the lives of most Americans and have certainly not led to dictatorship and economic collapse.  They are also the kind championed by Bernie Sanders and other democratic socialists. 

Why, then, does a significant portion of the American population view socialism as a dirty word?

One reason is that many (though not all) of the wealthy fiercely object to sharing their wealth and possess the vast financial resources that enable them to manipulate public opinion and pull American politics rightward.  After all, they own the corporate television and radio networks, control most of the major newspapers, dominate the governing boards of major institutions, and can easily afford to launch vast public relations campaigns to support their economic interests.  In addition, as the largest source of campaign funding in the United States, the wealthy have disproportionate power in politics. So it’s only natural that their values are over-represented in public opinion and in election results.

But there’s another major reason that socialism has acquired a bad name:  the policies of Communist governments. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, socialist parties were making major gains in economically advanced nations.  This included the United States, where the Socialist Party of America, between 1904 and 1920, elected socialists to office in 353 towns and cities, and governed major urban centers such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis.  But, in Czarist Russia, an economically backward country suffering under a harsh dictatorship, one wing of the small, underground socialist movement, the Bolsheviks, used the chaos and demoralization caused by Russia’s disastrous participation in World War I to seize power.  Given their utter lack of democratic experience, the Bolsheviks (who soon called themselves Communists) repressed their rivals (including democratic socialists) and established a one-party dictatorship. They also created a worldwide body, the Communist International, to compete with the established socialist movement, which they denounced fiercely for its insistence on democratic norms and civil liberties.

In the following decades, the Communists, championing their model of authoritarian socialism, made a terrible mess of it in the new Soviet Union, as well as in most other lands where they seized power or, in Eastern Europe, took command thanks to post-World War II occupation by the Red Army.  Establishing brutal dictatorships with stagnating economies, these Communist regimes alienated their populations and drew worldwide opprobrium. In China, to be sure, the economy has boomed in recent decades, but at the cost of supplementing political dictatorship with the heightened economic inequality accompanying corporate-style capitalism.

By contrast, the democratic socialists―those denounced and spurned by the Communists―did a remarkably good job of governing their countries.  In the advanced industrial democracies, where they were elected to office on numerous occasions and defeated on others, they fostered greater economic and social equality, substantial economic growth, and political freedom.

Their impact was particularly impressive in the Scandinavian nations.  For example, about a quarter of Sweden’s vibrant economy is publicly-owned.  In addition, Sweden has free undergraduate college/university tuition, monthly stipends to undergraduate students, free postgraduate education (e.g. medical and law school), free medical care until age 20 and nearly free medical care thereafter, paid sick leave, 480 days of paid leave when a child is born or adopted, and nearly free day-care and preschool programs.  Furthermore, Sweden has 70 percent union membership, high wages, four to seven weeks of vacation a year, and an 82-year life expectancy. It can also boast the ninth most competitive economy in the world. Democratic socialism has produced similar results in Norway and Denmark.

Of course, democratic socialism might not be what you want.  But let’s not pretend that it’s something that it’s not.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Canada’s Boreal Forest does not absorb more than it produces.

I recently saw the following meme on Facebook. I’ve debunked various versions of it in the past, But this time I decided to just compile that debunk into an article and will fetch it again later when it is needed.

On it’s face. My first take was this:

This is wrong for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which. The Boreal Forest is not carbon neutral.

YOUNG trees. Freshly planted. Absorb carbon like a sponge. OLD trees. Do not absorb any new carbon and release it all when then die.

According to Natural Resources Canada, The Boreal Forest has begun, and I quote: “already degrading irreversibly, triggering a process of forest decline and re-establishment lasting several decades, while also releasing significant quantities of greenhouse gases”

“Canadian boreal woodlands and forests cover approximately 3.09 × 106 km2, located within a larger boreal zone characterized by cool summers and long cold winters. Warming since the 1850s, increases in annual mean temperature of at least 2 °C between 2000 and 2050 are highly probable. Annual mean temperatures across the Canadian boreal zone could be 4–5 °C warmer than today’s by 2100. All aspects of boreal forest ecosystem function are likely to be affected. Further, several potential “tipping elements” — where exposure to increasing changes in climate may trigger distinct shifts in ecosystem state — can be identified across the Canadian boreal zone. Approximately 40% of the forested area is underlain by permafrost, some of which is already degrading irreversibly, triggering a process of forest decline and re-establishment lasting several decades, while also releasing significant quantities of greenhouse gases that will amplify the future global warming trend.”


I then followed up with a Fact Check from AFP:

An online post argues that Canada’s trees absorb more carbon dioxide than the country emits. The post’s reasoning is flawed because it does not take into account the fact that the carbon stored in trees is released when the trees die. Canadian forests have recently become carbon sources rather than carbon sinks due to high tree mortality.

“Canada cleans 10x CO2 than it produces,” is the conclusion of a math-based meme that several thousand people shared on social networks.
The nonprofit organization Trees for the Future estimates that trees can capture an average of 50 pounds of carbon each year. However, this is only an average, and as this document from the US Department of Energy outlines, the amount of carbon captured by a tree depends on a variety of factors such as tree species, age and size. For this reason, carbon sequestration tends to be measured in terms of carbon absorbed per hectare or per forest, not per tree.
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, more commonly called the Paris Agreement, Canada makes a National Inventory Report. According to the most recent submission from in 2016, Canada’s carbon dioxide emissions for that year were 559 million metric tons.

The figure cited in the meme is from a 2008 US Energy Information Administration study. The 2016 EIA figure for Canada was 633 million metric tons.
The idea promoted by this post, as well as a Canadian columnist, ignores one factor paramount to tree carbon absorption estimation: tree mortality. Trees absorb carbon dioxide over the course of their lives, but most of this carbon is released back into the atmosphere when trees are cut or die of natural causes. Ignoring carbon emissions from trees, Kurtz told AFP, would be like “trying to judge your financial health by looking only at your income but not your expenses.”

Kurz, who has conducted research on greenhouse gas emissions and removals in Canada’s managed forest, said he had heard the claim made in the post before and argued that it is “completely without merit.”

Source: AFP

While you’re here, Since we’re talking about trees and CO2. Let’s also take a moment to remind you that even if we planted trees literally everywhere. It would still not be enough. From BusinessInsider

Humans emit roughly 30 to 40 billion tons of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere each year. If we keep it up, Earth will continue to heat up and ultimately devastate our way of life.

So what can we do about it?

Most scientists agree that we need a way to capture some of that CO2 out of the atmosphere. One idea is to plant lots of trees. Trees use CO2 in order to grow. They also release oxygen, so it’s a win-win.

But studies indicate that we simply can’t grow enough trees to capture the necessary amount of CO2 that would help us meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

In truth, we would have to cover the entire contiguous US with trees just to capture 10% of the CO2 we emit annually.

There’s just not enough room on this planet to have the farmland it takes to feed the world plus the space to plant the necessary number of trees.

A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you

Written by Clifton Mark. This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

‘We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else …’ Barack Obama, inaugural address, 2013

‘We must create a level playing field for American companies and workers.’ Donald Trump, inaugural address, 2017

Meritocracy has become a leading social ideal. Politicians across the ideological spectrum continually return to the theme that the rewards of life – money, power, jobs, university admission – should be distributed according to skill and effort. The most common metaphor is the ‘even playing field’ upon which players can rise to the position that fits their merit. Conceptually and morally, meritocracy is presented as the opposite of systems such as hereditary aristocracy, in which one’s social position is determined by the lottery of birth. Under meritocracy, wealth and advantage are merit’s rightful compensation, not the fortuitous windfall of external events.

Most people don’t just think the world should be run meritocratically, they think it is meritocratic. In the UK, 84 per cent of respondents to the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey stated that hard work is either ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ when it comes to getting ahead, and in 2016 the Brookings Institute found that 69 per cent of Americans believe that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill. Respondents in both countries believe that external factors, such as luck and coming from a wealthy family, are much less important. While these ideas are most pronounced in these two countries, they are popular across the globe.

Although widely held, the belief that merit rather than luck determines success or failure in the world is demonstrably false. This is not least because merit itself is, in large part, the result of luck. Talent and the capacity for determined effort, sometimes called ‘grit’, depend a great deal on one’s genetic endowments and upbringing.

This is to say nothing of the fortuitous circumstances that figure into every success story. In his book Success and Luck (2016), the US economist Robert Frank recounts the long-shots and coincidences that led to Bill Gates’s stellar rise as Microsoft’s founder, as well as to Frank’s own success as an academic. Luck intervenes by granting people merit, and again by furnishing circumstances in which merit can translate into success. This is not to deny the industry and talent of successful people. However, it does demonstrate that the link between merit and outcome is tenuous and indirect at best.

According to Frank, this is especially true where the success in question is great, and where the context in which it is achieved is competitive. There are certainly programmers nearly as skilful as Gates who nonetheless failed to become the richest person on Earth. In competitive contexts, many have merit, but few succeed. What separates the two is luck.

In addition to being false, a growing body of research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that believing in meritocracy makes people more selfish, less self-critical and even more prone to acting in discriminatory ways. Meritocracy is not only wrong; it’s bad.

The ‘ultimatum game’ is an experiment, common in psychological labs, in which one player (the proposer) is given a sum of money and told to propose a division between him and another player (the responder), who may accept the offer or reject it. If the responder rejects the offer, neither player gets anything. The experiment has been replicated thousands of times, and usually the proposer offers a relatively even split. If the amount to be shared is $100, most offers fall between $40-$50.

One variation on this game shows that believing one is more skilled leads to more selfish behaviour. In research at Beijing Normal University, participants played a fake game of skill before making offers in the ultimatum game. Players who were (falsely) led to believe they had ‘won’ claimed more for themselves than those who did not play the skill game. Other studies confirm this finding. The economists Aldo Rustichini at the University of Minnesota and Alexander Vostroknutov at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that subjects who first engaged in a game of skill were much less likely to support the redistribution of prizes than those who engaged in games of chance. Just having the idea of skill in mind makes people more tolerant of unequal outcomes. While this was found to be true of all participants, the effect was much more pronounced among the ‘winners’.

By contrast, research on gratitude indicates that remembering the role of luck increases generosity. Frank cites a study in which simply asking subjects to recall the external factors (luck, help from others) that had contributed to their successes in life made them much more likely to give to charity than those who were asked to remember the internal factors (effort, skill).

Perhaps more disturbing, simply holding meritocracy as a value seems to promote discriminatory behaviour. The management scholar Emilio Castilla at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the sociologist Stephen Benard at Indiana University studied attempts to implement meritocratic practices, such as performance-based compensation in private companies. They found that, in companies that explicitly held meritocracy as a core value, managers assigned greater rewards to male employees over female employees with identical performance evaluations. This preference disappeared where meritocracy was not explicitly adopted as a value.

This is surprising because impartiality is the core of meritocracy’s moral appeal. The ‘even playing field’ is intended to avoid unfair inequalities based on gender, race and the like. Yet Castilla and Benard found that, ironically, attempts to implement meritocracy leads to just the kinds of inequalities that it aims to eliminate. They suggest that this ‘paradox of meritocracy’ occurs because explicitly adopting meritocracy as a value convinces subjects of their own moral bona fides. Satisfied that they are just, they become less inclined to examine their own behaviour for signs of prejudice.

Meritocracy is a false and not very salutary belief. As with any ideology, part of its draw is that it justifies the status quo, explaining why people belong where they happen to be in the social order. It is a well-established psychological principle that people prefer to believe that the world is just.

However, in addition to legitimation, meritocracy also offers flattery. Where success is determined by merit, each win can be viewed as a reflection of one’s own virtue and worth. Meritocracy is the most self-congratulatory of distribution principles. Its ideological alchemy transmutes property into praise, material inequality into personal superiority. It licenses the rich and powerful to view themselves as productive geniuses. While this effect is most spectacular among the elite, nearly any accomplishment can be viewed through meritocratic eyes. Graduating from high school, artistic success or simply having money can all be seen as evidence of talent and effort. By the same token, worldly failures becomes signs of personal defects, providing a reason why those at the bottom of the social hierarchy deserve to remain there.

This is why debates over the extent to which particular individuals are ‘self-made’ and over the effects of various forms of ‘privilege’ can get so hot-tempered. These arguments are not just about who gets to have what; it’s about how much ‘credit’ people can take for what they have, about what their successes allow them to believe about their inner qualities. That is why, under the assumption of meritocracy, the very notion that personal success is the result of ‘luck’ can be insulting. To acknowledge the influence of external factors seems to downplay or deny the existence of individual merit.

Despite the moral assurance and personal flattery that meritocracy offers to the successful, it ought to be abandoned both as a belief about how the world works and as a general social ideal. It’s false, and believing in it encourages selfishness, discrimination and indifference to the plight of the unfortunate.Aeon counter – do not remove

Clifton Mark

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

How neo-Nazis and White Supremacists co-opted the ‘OK’ hand symbol to mean White Power

You may be asking yourself. Why is the neo-nazi Terrorist responsible for the recent attack in New Zealand making the ‘OK’ symbol during his court appearance? The answer. Is that that is not the OK hand symbol. And hasn’t been since 2016 at least.

I will now detail for you in chronological order the rise and prevalence of this not-innocent-at-all 4chan ‘prank’ to the mass murder of 50 people yesterday, But first, To truly understand what is happening here, You need to understand what happened with ‘Pepe the Frog’

“”Pepe the Frog” first appeared in 2005 in the comic “Boy’s Life” by artist and illustrator Matt Furie. The comics depict Pepe and his anthropomorphized animal friends behaving like stereotypical post-college bros: playing video games, eating pizza, smoking pot and being harmlessly gross.

In 2008, fans of the comic began uploading Furie’s work online. In one comic, Pepe responds to a question about his bathroom habits with, “Feels good, man.”

That reaction image and catchphrase took on a life of its own on the Internet, meriting a Know Your Meme entry by 2009. Alternate iterations of Pepe, including sad, smug and angry Pepes, followed. Pepe memes are ubiquitous across 4chan, Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr, and other social media and image-sharing sites.

It all seemed in good fun, but in late September, Pepe’s green visage was designated a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL’s online hate symbol database is designed to help law enforcement, educators, and members of the general public identify potentially hateful images, explained Oren Segal, the director of the organization’s Center on Extremism. He said that in recent years, hate symbols have proliferated online. Now, with things like Pepe the frog, anti-Semitic images are originating and circulating almost primarily on social media.

In some instances, Pepe wears a Hitler mustache, and his signature message is replaced with “Kill Jews Man.” In others, Pepe poses in front of a burning World Trade Center, dressed like an Orthodox Jewish person with a yarmulke and payot. He’s also been spotted wearing a Nazi soldier’s uniform and in a KKK hood and robe.
It originated on /rk9/, the 4chan message board associated with some of the least savory elements of the Internet. Last fall, people on that board purposefully framed two innocent individuals for the Umpqua Community College shooting. It’s allegedly where Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger announced his shooting before it took place — in a post with a Pepe meme.

Nazi Pepe made its way to Twitter, where people who regularly tweeted messages supporting white nationalism and anti-immigrant views quickly absorbed it into their Internet repertoire. People who identify with those movements add the frog emoji to their Twitter name.

In August, Hillary Clinton gave her now-infamous speech denouncing some of Donald Trump’s supporters, particularly the segment known as the alt-right, as a “basket of deplorables.”

A couple weeks later, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. posted a photo on Instagram that depicted him and other supporters as “The Deplorables” — a play on the poster from the movie “The Expendables.” In the lineup? Pepe.

Two weeks after that, the ADL made its official designation.”

Source Los Angeles Times

President Trump’s Family approves, They consider themselves ‘honored’ to be adored by White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis in fact. Their words.

Even the President himself welcomes the support.

Now that you have an idea of what happened with the otherwise innocent ‘Pepe the Frog’, I’ll now provide a timeline of instances of people clearly saying ‘White Power’ with this symbol, Leading to the neo-Nazi you see at the top, proudly flashing this sign after killing 50 people in the name of White Supremacy. It all started with one of America’s more well known neo-Nazi’s, Richard Spencer in 2016 in front of Trump Tower.

In case you’re one of those “I’m not political” types. This is who Richard Spencer is:

“Richard Bertrand Spencer (born May 11, 1978) is an American white supremacist. He is president of the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white supremacist think tank, as well as Washington Summit Publishers. Spencer rejects the label of white supremacist and considers himself a white nationalist, white identitarian, and the equivalent of a “Zionist” for white people. Spencer created the term “alt-right”, which he considers a movement about “white identity”. Spencer advocates white-European unity and a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of nonwhites from America, and the creation of a new political order he believes would resemble the Roman Empire.

Spencer has been described as a neo-Nazi and has publicly engaged in Nazi rhetoric on many occasions. In early 2016, Spencer was filmed giving the Nazi salute to Milo Yiannopoulos in a karaoke bar. In the weeks following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, at a National Policy Institute conference, Spencer quoted from Nazi propaganda and denounced Jews. In response to his cry “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”, a number of his supporters gave the Nazi salute and chanted in a similar fashion to the Sieg Heil chant used at the Nazis’ Nuremberg rallies.”

Source: Wikipedia

Spencer wasn’t the first to flash this symbol in this fashion, Milo Yiannopoulos was spotted in front of the White House in March 2016 doing the same, Posobiec & Biggs were spotted in Oct 2016, But it was Spencers prominence as a neo-Nazi that made (some of) us realize what was going on.

Here’s Jack Posobiec & Joe Biggs inside Trump Tower in October 2016

By 2017 the rest of the Nazis had gotten the memo. The rest of society didn’t.

Here’s Tim Gionet & Joey Gibson at a Nazi rally in Portland.

And here’s Matthew Heimbach and a bunch of other neo-nazis sometime in 2017

Neo-Nazi at ‘Unite The Right’ rally in Aug 2017

3 Prominent Neo-Nazis, Date unknown, Probably 2017

The most common rebuttal to people flashing this symbol is either: “It’s just OK” or “It’s just a prank”, This is the ‘prank’ they are talking about.

You might notice the ‘4chan hoax’ didn’t start until Feb 2017. That the symbol was even being used by neo-Nazis before 4chan started their ‘hoax’. It was already being used to signal ‘White Power’ by the most neo-Nazi folks around a full year prior.

And here’s Roger Stone with The Proud Boys in March 2017, Whom the FBI now considers a white supremacist terrorist organization.

Here’s some more white supremacist terrorists in April 2017

There’s been many instances between then and now as both the symbol and white supremacy have exploded in popularity over the past few years. I’ll leave you with two more recent ones from 2018.

In July 2018, Four officers from the Jasper Police Department were suspended after making and upside-down “OK” sign with their hands in a post-arrest photo taken by a Jasper Daily Mountain Eagle photographer, city officials told AL[dot]com.

Some people have claimed the gesture is actually a hate symbol that means “white power.”

Source: AL.com

The US Coast Guard removed one of its members from its Hurricane Florence response team after he made an “offensive” gesture Friday on live television.

The gesture in question: a once innocuous symbol for “OK” that has been interpreted as a symbol for “white power” and is now used by neo-Nazis, pro-Trump and alt-right figures

Source: Buzzfeed

If it is an inside joke, only known to Nazis, to “prank” people by saying “White Power” with the OK sign, And you do it. Guess what. Participating in an inside joke only known to Nazis … makes you a Nazi.

It is worth noting that the organizations caught participating in this are a Police Force and a Coast Guard … two of the very institutions targeted for infiltration by White Supremacists. Not to mention The Proud Boys, Which are also listed as a White Supremacist Terrorist group by the FBI.

Suffice to say. The verdict is out. This symbol is not just an innocent ‘OK’ symbol anymore. It was never a prank. It’s not a joke. We need to condemn white supremacy, in all it forms and expressions. At every opportunity to do so.

Sign this petition to add white supremacist terrorist groups … to the official Terrorist Entities List (Canada)

If i can find other appropriate measures to advocate for your country I will add them. But all of us can always speak out against racism.

Nigel Todman is an Independent Journalist, Technical Consultant, Social Activist, Web Developer and Computer Programmer from Ontario, Canada. Add him to Facebook and/or Follow him on Twitter E-mail: veritas [at] vts-tech [dot] org

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