(This transcripts sucks and we know it. Machines may take our job someday, but right now they suck at transcribing. Bear with us while we manually edit this to read perfectly!)
Huge thanks to listener Pseudo McCoy for this wonderful transcript!
I'm David Torcivia:.
I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:03] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky the end of the world.
[0:12] But if we learn from all this maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken but it doesn't have to be. Those of you who have listened to this show in the past know that each week we dig deep into a broken system. A broken system that could be ecological, could be political, economic or social or technological, David. But this week is a little different. On episode 17 we took a break from the normal flow of this show to look at some of the updates related to shows that we have done in the past and on this episode 32 we're going to be doing the same and just like that first update we are going to be joined by one of our favorite returning co-hosts Moriah King. Moriah, welcome to Ashes Ashes.
[1:01] Thanks for having me back.
[1:02] So excited to have you here with us today, Moriah. And this is the first time that the three of us are all together on here at once and that's really exciting. For those who are new to the show who maybe haven't heard you in the past, do you want to briefly just introduce yourself and give our listeners an idea of what you're doing and who you are?
[1:19] Yeah my name is Moriah and I'm currently working as a data analyst at an NGO based in DC. In my free time I love photography and writing so I'm trying to explore things that involve that.
[1:32] Well, we're excited to have you here Moriah.
[1:34] Thank you. I'm excited to be back and you guys are covered some really good topics over the past few months and I'm excited about getting into them.
[1:42] Well, we are excited to have you. So we've got a few episodes to go over, some updates to cover. Where do you want to start, David?
[1:49] Well, we're going to actually do this episode a little bit different than we have done things in the past 1) because it's a recap episode and 2) also because the three of us are here we're going to make it a little more conversational, explore some of these topics as well as looking at this news that has happened over the past few months. And believe me there is plenty of bad news to cover. We're going to leave a lot out you can always find more about all these current bad news stories on our social media at AshesAshesCast whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, whatever. But in the meantime let's explore some of these topics in a little bit more depth not to our usual deep dives but we've got a lot to cover and I'm excited. So Daniel maybe give us a little bit of an overview of some of these horrible things that have happened.
[2:28] I mean we've done a lot of episodes, David. And there's a lot of updates but we've got wildfires, we've got infrastructure collapsing, we've got jobs being lost to automation, you know a couple weeks ago we talked about the water crisis going on all over the world and there's major updates in that arena just a week or two later. We've got financial systems stressed, pensions, people losing their ability to retire with anything in the bank, and companies and countries that are not doing anything to help that process so you know there's a lot of different places we could start this episode with.
[3:01] So we've covered so many topics on the show. Dark things of all types: political, economic, technological, cultural, everything from the concept of debt to the very real surveillance that we're facing around the world. And instead of just digging straight into a bunch of news articles and saying, "Look this thing got worse here!" or, "This thing burned down here!" or, "This area is being destroyed by whatever", maybe instead I want to ask the two of you what do you think are the greatest risks and impacts that we're facing today especially in light of all this news that we've seen over the past few months?
[3:32] Good question, David.
[3:33] That's a great question.
[3:35] Yeah I'd love to hear your opinion here, Moriah because you're both a regular listener of the show as well as a contributor but also somebody who works sort of adjacent to this field with a group of people who are trying to do something to help with some of these problems and then also as a data analyst looking at some of these problems on the number of basis.
[3:50] One thing that's concerning me it's just our use of data and how we collect it. I won't say any names or anything but data collection is so subjective and a lot of people don't care that numbers are made up. And then when you're using this data and compiling it and analyzing it- let me give you an example. So I was an English teacher in China with a non-private, non-Chinese, English organization. And at the end of the semester we had to write down data on the number of students we taught, their age ranges, and then we had to put numbers to our results.
[4:31] I'll give you one example which is like, I thought it was ridiculous, is "the number of students whose confidence improved". How do you measure that? And that's a problem that I have. That's so subjective. How do you measure whether or not your student is more confident now as opposed to a few months ago? Because they talk more? Because they- and so that's a problem but then these numbers are used to justify, Oh, this is what we're doing so give us more money and Oh, look at all the great improvements we've made, and the reason why this is so detrimental is because eventually you don't believe it. At first you're like, Well we know this isn't really true so we'll take it with a grain of salt but eventually you begin to say it and report it and use it so much that you start to believe that what you're doing is actually effective. But my main point is that data has been collected on things that sometimes you just can't put a number to. What number can you put to someone's confidence?
[5:24] That's so subjective and it's like it depends on the person. And not only does it depend on the person it depends on your perception of that person. And my current organization one thing we do is we look at our volunteers and we look at how successful they are and me being the only black person in a room full of other non-black people, I'll just say because some are white some are Asian, and their perceptions of what makes a successful black volunteer is so different from mine. The fact that, let's say, this black volunteer didn't finish their commitment means they weren't successful. To me I think about all the hurdles that they overcame even if they weren't able to complete their service commitment. So I say all this to say that I think one thing is concerning me is how we collect data and more importantly how we sometimes convince ourselves of something even when we know it's not true. So maybe I should just say what's concerning me is our reliance on data and how sometimes we're losing the fact that there's some things that you can't analyze like confidence.
[6:24] I mean there's so many angles I want to take on this conversation here. For one, I mean the way that data is used and fed into the surveillance apparatus that runs the world, especially in places like China and the United States where these things are actually being developed and deployed which is something we're going to address in this show, but also I think you're getting on this like over quantization that we have and everything that we do in our lives. What can we measure and and graph and chart and to show progress that I think Daniel and I have discussed in the past on the show as something that contributes to the externalities we ignore which is part of a huge component of the climate destruction that we see throughout the world, the environmental destruction, the human labor and suffering and just the general bureaucracy of our current world and how we have to look at everything, measure it, show it sufficient, even though this whole process of doing that is exactly quite the opposite but justifies these very inefficient uses of energy, of labor, whatever it is that might be actively harmful but justifies it using these numbers in a way to make it look good for whether it's government or whether private industry or whatever it is.
[7:27] Once you start defining certain experiences in terms of clear definable metrics it gives you the ability to ignore everything else. And that has a very dehumanizing effect, I think. So we know we talked about this in the economics and labor like you mentioned. If we can look at a population of people that are subsistence farmers and say that they're poor because they're not making any dollars and then transfer them to an urban setting after we take their land and now we can show in data that they're making $2 a day we have a metric that says their lives improved. But the only reason that metric works is because we're ignoring every single other aspect of their lives. You know, we didn't look at the quality of the relationships. We didn't look at the quality of the history they have with their land, the relationships they have with their community.
[8:14] That literally describes my entire service in China. I taught in Gansu. I don't know if anyone knows about that - and they were considered to be - this whole province is considered to be one of the poorest provinces in China. But when I was there I remember feeling like, Okay it's not Shanghai, it's not Beijing but people are enjoying themselves. They're relaxing. They have families. Taxi drivers are talking. I mean could things be better? Probably. Let me just give you another perspective. I would go to a different city and I would tell the cab drivers where I lived and people would pity me. They would say, "Oh my God you live there? Ah man, you know the people are so poor there." And then eventually, you know, as I developed stronger ties with this community I would get super defensive like, You don't know what you're talking about. Have you been there? You don't know. But the numbers act like you said. These metrics in the way they measure how poor a province is basically how much are they contributing to the country's overall GDP.
[9:11] You guys talk about it a lot on your podcast about land ownership. I mean Gansu geopolitically it has some prime land. I mean I don't know if anyone's heard about China's One Belt One Road transportation system that China building, I mean Gansu is so pivotal to that. Without this province the transportation lines, like the train line that you need, you have to go in such a crazy way you can't even get through it. And so a lot of people in the country think that Gansu is just such a useless province full of Muslim-Chinese people, and I'm like, without the land literally Gansu's land the economy wouldn't be able to grow they wouldn't be able to finish this grand initiative. So it's just kind of crazy and I don't know if you guys are going to hit on it and this episode like land ownership, but...
[9:56] We get to do whatever we want. This episode has no themes.
[10:00] Oh, I remember when I was flying down. I remember looking down from the plane and looking at just how crazy like how the land was divided into these weird triangles like from suburbs and or just for like private land I thought, Oh my God. You guys talked about borders and walls and things in your last episode, but the only thing I could think about was how walls start within our communities. I mean when you look down all you see is walls around- even in the office I mean it's not just about productivity but this is my office space, this is your office space, this is my home, this is our suburb. I think it just scales up from there so I really hope people would start to look at their own communities and how they have walls there.
[10:42] You know that's such a good point, Moriah, how our desire to wall things off isn't just limited to our national borders but even within our countries, within our communities we separate neighborhoods from each other and that's really highlighted in Denmark which just recently passed a new set of laws that treats what are referred to as "ghetto children" and "ghetto parents" differently from other citizens in Denmark. This is a crazy example of walling people off within a nation. And basically the way it works is the government has pushed immigrants into zones which it calls ghettos. It's basically housing for people who have immigrated to the country and a lot of people are upset about this. You know like we talked about this rise of nationalism, this xenophobia Well, its is being felt in Denmark and so new laws have been passed that restrict the freedoms of these people that are being called "ghetto" and these laws include things like requiring children to be separated from their family for up to 25 hours a week to go into education programs are aimed at indoctrinating these immigrant children into Denmark society. You know, they make them learn the language, they make them learn the patriotic songs in the Denmark history and all of these things. And parents that don't want their children to go into these education programs are financially penalized.
[12:09] Financially penalized ways like they lose their welfare, they lose access to housing, and might even lose the status that allows them to be the country in the first.
[12:07] I wonder, it makes me wonder what data they collect to prove that the system will be or is successful. How many letters is student or child can recognize or whatever, it just makes me wonder.
[12:19] How much pork they can eat.
[12:22] So this is called the "ghetto package". It was introduced in March and just recently some of the laws were passed and there's still more that are in consideration including one law that will mandate a 4 year prison sentence for parents who allow organized trips for their children to their country origin.
[12:39] So they don't want them to stay you can't leave so...
[12:43] Well the idea is that, Hey if these people are going to be in our country we need to assimilate them into our culture and it's really shocking when you consider- if you look at the history of the Holocaust, where did Jews start out? They started out in ghettos and that's where the segregation began. And so a lot of people are pointing out the, you know, the historical parallels with this.
[13:04] And, you know, one of the main themes of that wall episode that we did is that the desire to build walls comes from several paradoxes and when you look at what walls actually do it's always a contradiction. We build walls because we think it's going to stop migration. It actually does the opposite. We build walls because we think it's going to stop crime. It actually creates crime. And I think this Denmark example reveals that to be true because the idea is we need to assimilate these people into our culture and to do that you're creating separate laws for them. It's a total contradiction. And there was a high schooler that was quoted basically saying just that and I want to read that real quick. He says, "If you create new kinds of laws that apply to only one part of society then you can keep adding to them. It will turn into the parallel society they're so afraid of. They will create it themselves." And of course they are the people who are in support of these laws, the politicians and the citizens voting for them. But, David, you asked us at the beginning of the show what we're most concerned about. Moriah's concerned about data. And, actually there's a lot of climate things going on to give me existential dread, a lot of financial collapse incoming that also makes me anxious but one of the biggest thing that bothers me that I'm concerned about is government surveillance and a lot of new developments have occurred since the last time we talked about that.
[14:22] Yeah and let's explore some of these. And I think I want to rectify your statement they're just a little bit because this is also one of my big fears. And it's not just the surveillance but of course what they do with this data, how it's applied and actively used in the world. Also, in addition to that, I mean it's not just government surveillance but private surveillance and of course the cooperation between the private industry and the governmental forces all around the world. And we saw this play out very recently with Amazon. And so what happened is Amazon, like the large software company they are, and we tend to think of Amazon as somebody that ships products to us in 2 days or 3 to 5 with free shipping. But, in fact, a lot of what they do is digital in nature. There're a huge cloud operator. They run a lot of the cloud services a lot of your favorite websites are hosted on Amazon servers and in that same vein they spend a lot of money researching AI technology and deploying these things to help both their business of shipping products and also to generate new industries that they can profit from going forward. And one of these areas that they're looking at and developing new technology is facial recognition.
[15:25] And the American Civil Liberties Union revealed in May of this year, David, that Amazon has been aggressively selling facial recognition software to police and other government departments like the Department of Homeland Security and in response Amazon employees wrote an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos calling him to halt the sale of facial recognition to police and to halt services to any company that contracts with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. And I think an excerpt of that letter is worth reading.
[15:57] "Dear Jeff, we are troubled by the recent report from the ACLU exposing our company's practice of selling a powerful facial recognition technology to police departments and government agencies. We don't have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of black activists and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized. Focusing solely on shareholder value is a race to the bottom and one that we will not participate in. We refuse to build a platform that powers ICE and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights. As ethically concerned Amazonians we demand a choice in what we build and it say and how it is used."
Good for them.
[16:49] Good for them indeed. It's so exciting when we see the labor, the people who are actually developing these technologies, taking stands and stopping to think, Well, wait. Why are we making this? What is it ultimately going to be used for? and to take responsibility for that instead of just signing away and say, “Well, I made the code but it's Amazon and it's neutral technology and who cares how to use it?” Things like facial recognition are only used to crush decent. And as much as we like to put some sort of crime label on it or convenience label like these doorbells automatically detect who is ringing which is such a stupid reach for a reason to install these but in the end this is about controlling populations. And I'm really happy to hear people waking up and realizing this and refusing to work on these projects anymore. But unfortunately Amazon is still a huge supporter of a lot of these negative programs that they've identified in this letter and host's a large portion of the US government's digital infrastructure. Groups like the NSA, the CIA, the Department of Defense all host a huge amount of data on Amazon servers and so while they're taking a stand on this Amazon is still very guilty in the way that they're complicit with the negative actions of the United States and other countries around the world.
[17:53] Even still, David, it is encouraging to see employees, like you said, taking a stand for what they believe in and what they think is ethically right and taking ownership of the things they do as opposed to just accepting that whatever their company says to do hey they have to do it. And when we talked about in our episode about autonomous weapons the Google employees stood up to their company for its involvement in Project Maven, this contract to help the Pentagon develop autonomous capabilities and drones, and as a result Google pulled out so I think every episode we end with a "what can we do?" and this is a good example of what we can do. If we work for these types of companies we can join in solidarity, petition our companies, petition our bosses to not do these unethical things. And for those of us that don't work for these companies we can supply pressure to these employees to educate people on what is important and maybe provide additional support to push people to take more ownership of the ethics of the things they do.
[18:50] Yeah, I think the biggest key, like you said, is solidarity and so people don't think that they're standing alone if they're working for these companies.
[18:58] And not just companies but governmental organizations. So the people that are working for ICE could say they're just doing their job or people like the London Police Commissioner right now who is in the midst of deploying facial recognition throughout the city as a test pilot program and is "completely comfortable" with this technology and the deployment of it even though it has a 98% false positive rate. And the two people that it has successfully identified, well, they didn't commit any crime and they weren't actually picked up for any reason. But still the city continues to spend a lot of money effort and resources on these technologies and we have to ask ourselves why.
[19:33] 98%? That's crazy.
[19:35] That's right. The London Police Force has been using this automated facial recognition system which is completely inaccurate. 98% of the time it falsely identifies someone as a match and, like you said, the top Police Commissioner of London has no problem with it. Specifically she says, "It's a tool. It's a tactic and I'm not expecting it to result in a lot of arrests." And you asked the question why is it being used, David. Another thing this police commissioner said is that the public expects law enforcement to test such cutting-edge systems and we see this language a lot from law enforcement when it receives criticism about flawed or unethical technology like that predictive policing that we talked about.
[20:17] You know they say, “Hey it's important to test these things so we know how they work to figure out how to go forward”, and at the end of the day, I don't think we should accept this. Is it really the public's expectation that law enforcement should be testing unproven technology on the public? I think we need to readjust our thinking when it comes to this profession that has the authority to incarcerate people and to use lethal force. That's not the type of profession that should be out testing technology that can repress people, that can misidentify people that can result in false arrests and potentially escalate dangerous situations to violence when it's unnecessary. And you know, David, I was thinking about this example and I wonder if the fact that the system, this automatic facial recognition system that's 98% inaccurate, I wonder if that's in a way of benefit to certain law enforcement and their rationale. I mean there is a profound chilling effect for anyone who feels that they're being constantly monitored. You know, a person who might otherwise go to a protest may choose to stay at home after seeing the way police deploy these mobile cameras to scan people's faces. And this false positive could actually be a benefit to law enforcement because it means innocent people are being matched which gives police a justifiable excuse to pull people out of crowds, interrogate them, and perhaps acquire even more data about them.
[21:38] Of course this technology isn't just being used for protests. Its being deployed in soccer games in concerts in any large gathering setting. And the fact that police are going to be deploying these systems that automatically identify innocent people as wanted criminals is going to just add to this chilling effect that we find in surveillance states. It means we're all at risk of feeling like we are criminals without ever having done anything wrong.
[22:02] And I know I've experienced this and I mentioned this story actually in this episode about government surveillance about facial recognition where I've attended protests, I've been filmed specifically by police to gather this facial data and then their facial programs where my face, I assume, is entered are locked from the public's eye - where the data and how it's used is kept secret despite many organizations suing the NYPD for this information. And, Daniel, I think you and Moriah recently had an experience at a protest where you also felt the chilling effects of this camera technology.
[22:33] Yeah we were at a march in Atlanta that's protesting ICE and the policies of separation at the US-Mexico border and I mentioned how government surveillance is one of the things I'm most concerned about. And this is a great example of why because we were at this march in Atlanta and one of the speakers quoted this famous quote, First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me."
[23:05] And I think, you know, what we're seeing today is that the oppression that has occurred all over the world that has enabled classes within western society to live comfortable lives is coming home. And it's most clear in this government surveillance these facial recognition systems that, you know, I'm sure my face is on a camera now as a result of that protest that we went to. And I was recently reading this book by Angela Davis about class and gender and she writes how in the 1800's white woman learned about and develop the tools to fight their own oppression through their work to abolish slavery. The oppression of one directly affected the oppression of the other. And I think it's clear that resistance towards oppression is most powerful when it operates in solidarity across different classes, races, genders and locations. One of the reasons the FBI hated the Black Panthers so much is because they expressed solidarity with other groups whether they were American Latinos or Vietnamese citizens.
[24:01] Yeah, you brought up a good point when you talked about how women fought alongside of abolitionists and just as you mentioned how the FBI didn't like the Black Panthers because they began to champion and work alongside other groups and other systemic issues, in the similar way we experienced that this past weekend. Originally we we're protesting against ICE and how they're separating families at the border but then we made our way to the detention center and began to protest against jails and holding people in these places and that's when things got real. Police begin to come on motorcycles.
[24:37] Yeah, David, the police showed up in motorcycles. They circled our group. They intimidated us and then they actually started driving through the protest crowd, narrowly missing people. People had to jump out of the way.
[24:49] Sounds very safe and responsible.
[24:51] I mean for me it was crazy. Even as we were protesting I thought that we were still respecting boundaries and things and then the police come and starts ramming through the crowd and now everyone's like, Oh no! like, You're inciting violence and we're not standing for this. And now a small issue became a bigger thing and I was just really surprised.
[25:11] Maybe it's because we stepped outside that organized cookie cutter you're only supposed to protest against one specific issue but once you start extending that two more broader issues now the authorities have a big problem with that. Because this was an organized protest. They knew we were there. They knew where we were going. They knew the route we were going to March. But yet still they felt the need to show this Force. And so I do think the point that I want to get at is this need for solidarity among groups. But, you know, if it's obvious today and in the past why solidarity is needed say between a black American, a Latino American and a Native American because they all have this common cause and fighting systemic racism and equality that is present in America today, you know, it might not be as clear why let's say a rich white banker should care about Palestinian repression.
[25:56] In my mind, I think I told you this earlier, I think if you're not within that 10% doesn't matter what your race is. We're all in this together and whether you're a middle-class white eventually like that quote you just read them they will come for you.
[26:09] Exactly that's exactly what I'm trying to say is that, if I'm a rich white person living in New York I might not think I need to care about the fact that Denmark is separating ghetto children from their parents. I might think that I don't need to care about the Uyghurs political camps going on in Xinjiang, China. But this person should absolutely care and nowhere is that more obvious than in these corporate and government surveillance efforts because that Palestinian repression is a testing ground for military and surveillance technologies that become the new standard for drones back home.
[26:41] I think you need to distinguish between rich and upper-middle-class. To me they're totally different. The rich should not care. Like this rich white person who's, you know, a corporate this I mean-
[26:51] What I'm trying to say is the government surveillance, it's coming for everybody. Every single person is going to have-
[26:56] But the government serves the rich. So, it's like, they're not coming for the rich. Why would the government funded by the rich come for the rich when they are the rich?
[27:04] So, what we've done is we've created the most powerful surveillance mechanism in all of human history. It's a combination of the private industry and the government both working together as well as creating these surveillance networks independently. And what we've done is we've made it so every single part of your life can be analyzed, looked at and all the data pulled out, right? And so what that means is once you have that data and you understand what people are doing all the time, and maybe you can project why they're doing it, you can also use that very easily to shift it to not just what people doing but controlling what they're allowed to do and controlling what they do just in general even beyond what they're allowed to or what they're not allowed to.
[27:41] And, okay yeah that's fine, it's not going to affect rich people there because their power based on their money buys some sort of independence from this, at least initially right? But, at the same time, this tool can be used against anyone. It's not something that can only be used against the poor or a certain minority or whatever. It works on everyone. And it's just because the rich are in control at the moment that it's not taking advantage of them. But very quickly political winds can change and whoever is in control of this mechanism when those winds change, and I'm not saying this is like the glorious communist revolution and they're going to use this to track although wealthy and chop their heads off, but say instead we have some sort of fascist rise or government that comes in that is a military coup or something and you're somebody, a wealthy person- many of these very wealthy people are, at least on paper progressive on some issues, a lot of tech billionaires are liberals, a lot of you know Hollywood- there's a lot of money that is liberal in every single area except maybe their businesses and their taxes, and maybe they don't want to see a nationalist state or or you know white power or whatever but say something or somebody came to control of this mechanism now these tools can be very easily turned back on these very wealthy people. And where they saw themselves as previously immune to the system because they controlled it as soon that control is lost they're victims just the same. In fact, maybe more so because they haven't had to live their lives worrying about this and in fact in many cases have built this system up in the first place.
[29:02] Yeah okay so I guess Moriah's right in the fact that a wealthy person today in a lot of ways benefits from the repression all over the world.
[29:09] Yeah well, why do you think it's happening in the first place? A lot of it's economic in order to exploit these people better and a lot of it is things like Facebook and the all pervasive digital surveillance world that we've talked about that occurs in the private industry is used to control how people pay to take excess money from them to make them buy things you don't need or necessarily want and take advantage of this compulsion that we created through consumerism through people like Edward Bernays and instead trick human psychology into a way that profits very small amount of people and is made more efficient by this all pervasive surveillance.
[29:40] And I guess what I see is that we're really on the precipice of a worldwide surveillance state that ultimately no one is going to escape. Yes there are going to be rich people who benefit on one hand but like you said, if political winds shift now all of a sudden they're on the receiving end of that surveillance and control and so I do think that everyone should care about the technologies being developed to repress people all over the world because that technology comes back to haunt all of us whether that's the software that's sold to Chinese authorities used to put people on political camps which is developed in part by Silicon Valley companies right here in the United States they can then turn around and sell predictive policing software to our local authorities. Or whether that's the biometric surveillance that's used by international police organizations being bought by public schools in the US to track students.
[30:31] It's funny you mention tracking children, Daniel, because this is a trend that's occurring all over the world right now and especially here at home in the United States.
Tracking Children's Faces
[30:39] I actually have a story about this. So I was sitting in a waiting room of something a few months ago and this was after one of the unfortunate many recent school shootings, and they were talking about you know schools and what's safe and what's dangerous in them and and what it is and we can do to help the children. And so this was a local news broadcast spitballing different ideas and then they had somebody come on and they had a little segment they had made that was about this guy's company. And what this guy was pitching to basically, I guess - all of New York the people watching this very popular local news Evening News Channel - was facial recognition that would be installed throughout the school and classrooms and hallways and that would be able to track and know where every student is at all the time. And they purported that this would save these kids from school shootings and they never explained how because again a lot of these school shootings are either perpetrated by students or somebody just walks in and starts shooting and a camera there identifying this person was saying that they're and identified person isn't going to do any sort of thing because people walking to schools all the time for all sorts of reasons and just being able to track their face does nothing. It's a really incredible waste of technology but that didn't stop school systems from investing in this and the right now a school district in Upstate New York set aside $1.4 million of a total of $2.75 million to be spent and what they called the most advanced facial recognition surveillance system money can buy.
[32:05] So there are 10 buildings that comprise this Lockport School District and they're all going to be upgraded with over 300 digital cameras, that contain state-of-the-art facial tracking capabilities. And the school district already upgraded buildings with bullet proof glass, locked doors, and requires all visitors to go through the security measures of signing in and being scanned and stuff and the idea is that if the school district enters a face into the system that has been barred from the school for whatever reason, disciplinary or they have some sort of crime against them, whatever it is the cameras automatically will notify security that they detect this person anytime they enter the property in the future. But the cameras can also be used for disciplining children. The superintendent of a neighboring school system also planning to purchase the camera said this.
[32:48] If we had a student who committed some type of offense against the code of conduct we can follow that student throughout the day to see maybe who they interacted with, where they were prior to the incident, where they went after the incident so forensically we could also use the software in that capacity as well.
[33:05] Yeah, so basically if a kid makes a mistake, gets in trouble somehow the school is going to upload their face to this automatic facial recognition system and then cameras within the school are going to follow them around every day, where they go, who they interact with for at least 60 days. I mean how is that for a chilling effect on children very early on in their development?
[33:26] I don't know how anybody can look at this technology be like, Yeah this is a great idea! Can't wait to spend millions of dollars of the scarce resources that my school district has to install cameras to track children around my schools. What a great use of money! But like always these stories never end there. And once again we look to China to see where this technology finds its logical conclusion. And there some classrooms are using these cameras not just for tracking students for disciplinary measures or defend against school shootings which isn't a problem that occurs in China, but instead they're using it to see if kids are paying attention. When they look away it docks them. It takes away points on their score. And not only that if they're paying attention but seeing if they're engaged, smiling and happy as they enjoy their lessons.
[34:09] This is so creepy.
[34:11] This is the logical conclusion of these facial technologies where they become not just about tracking people for disciplinary measures but tracking them for social conformity, to make sure you're always doing what you're doing on the job. Companies like Amazon have already deployed these surveillance technologies in the forms of wrist bands, fitness trackers all over your body that make sure you're always working and where they say that you need to be. Brakes or somebody sneaking away for a second can be automatically detected and people can be disciplined from systems without any sort of human interference, playing into this automation conversation that we've had before. In fact, in some places this automation disciplinary system is so out of control that people have been fired automatically by computer programs without any humans actually knowing it occurred. There's a great story and we'll link it in the sources of this episode, of a developer at a company who was fired by the AI automation system but nobody knew - not his boss, not his boss's boss, not the HR department - and he continued coming into work for weeks. He couldn't log into his computer. They had to get him a new one. He couldn't scan his badge to get in but people would let him in because they recognized him and been there for months and he kept working for weeks even though he's been fired by this automated system. And he couldn't figure out why all these things were happening and eventually somebody in the HR department was able to determine that he'd actually been fired automatically by this AI trigger but nobody could reverse it.
[35:27] And eventually he had to leave the company and he found work elsewhere because they couldn't unfire him after the decision had been made by this AI that nobody wanted. He was a great employee, everybody liked him and he was an important part of this project. But this is the reality we're facing right now and we can see this technology being laid out across all sorts of labor places and eventually finding its way into our schools because of these systems that are being deployed right now in the guise of security but really for ultimate social control and social conformity.
[35:55] That's so crazy. How can you not unfire someone? Can't you just say, "Hey you're not fired"?
[35:59] You would think so but at some point I think we've come to be conditioned almost by these algorithms saying, "Well you know, it's outside of my control and the bureaucracy system." Like, with humans you can bend rules. But computer programs it's not so easy to do that.
[36:13] Well, talking about being conditioned- I mean that story about Chinese students being monitored by algorithms in classrooms to see if they're even paying attention, I mean that's crazy.
[36:23] These are planned to be deployed also in the forms of computer screens in workplaces so you'll have a little camera on the top of your screen to make sure that you're paying attention to your work. I mean, they already track keystrokes to track what you have on your screen but now they'll also be tracking your visual engagement with your face. I mean, that's the future these sorts of facial recognition tracking and automation is enabling this working hellscape.
[36:45] Yeah, I hate to say this but I'm really not surprised. I told you guys where I lived in China and in my classrooms there were two cameras: one camera faced my students and one camera faced directly down at my computer screen to see what I was teaching and then other camera was pointed at my students to see how they were reacting. And I was not at a top-tier school. It's probably at like a really low school but the government really made sure that we had those cameras, even though our computers didn't work so well, but that's crazy.
[37:14] Yeah and we've discussed that social cooling and concept. Daniel brought it up just a couple minutes ago but it really kicks into people automatically when you're doing that since their children. It changes the way- how they think and interact with the world and maybe even just ruins an entire generation. And I really hope that's not the case and that people realize that there are consequences for deploying these technologies. It's not just the end result pitched to you in a marketing meeting. But there are real consequences in people's lives, in their behavior and because of that our culture and future as a whole. But maybe we should move on to one of the many other topics that we have here today.
[37:47] Well, you mentioned how someone was automatically fired and thats related to automation. And in episode #27 we discuss automation and how this time it's different.
[37:57] So, in the past machinery and assembly line increased worker productivity while also creating additional jobs and raising wages. But today automation and software and machine learning is replacing more jobs than it's creating. And an unprecedented trend of disappearing white collar jobs is on the rise. And in June, just last month, this trend was highlighted in a report showing that Amazon, one of our favorite companies, has been getting rid of human analysts involved in analyzing and predicting product demand in addition to arranging orders and communicating with manufacturers and other high skill work and Amazon has been replacing those employees with algorithms.
[38:36] Maybe we should just rename this episode the "Let's Hate On Amazon" show.
[38:40] It is doing a bunch of crappy stuff right now.
[38:44] Yeah, that's true. But, you know, just because these white collar jobs are at risk from automation doesn't mean that those traditional low-skill, low-pay jobs aren't also on the chopping block. There's a major Chinese e-commerce company that has just become the first Chinese company that can offer same-day delivery anywhere in the nation and it's doing so by streamlining logistics with autonomous capabilities. In one warehouse built in Shanghai 200,000 packages can be organized, boxed up and then shipped while only employing- Well, what would you guess, Moriah? David? How many people work at this Warehouse that can process 200,000 packages a day?
[39:22] Couple hundred people.
[39:23] One security guard guarding an empty building.
[39:28] It's somewhere in the middle. It's actually four people. Four people to run this entire warehouse that's really their job is just supervising the robots and-
[39:36] It's probably one guy to supervise the robot, one guy to guard the warehouse, one guy to manage everyone else, and then one guy to clean the toilets.
[39:45] Why why are there so many toilets, David?
[39:48] You got to have at least one toilet and the manager and the engineer and the security guard definitely aren't going to clean it so, ergo, your 4th employee.
[39:57] Well, the company doesn't want to stop at just fancy warehouses but it wants to add self-driving trucks and drones to its infrastructure. And as so many of our jobs get automated away it's a problem for so many people who are already facing a decline in real wages and an explosion in debt whether that's student debt or consumer debt.
[40:18] China's going to be a beast in the future. I'm just thinking about how I receive packages and all those jobs are going to be gone, especially with self-driving trucks. Oof.
[40:28] The whole world is fu...
[40:29] Wait, really quickly, have you guys- in DC there's like all these ads that are popping up. Because I see debt- you guys probably didn't do any research about it but there's all these ads and like billboards popping up about, Hey, student loan? We can reduce it. And I don't know anything about it but it's so weird. It's like this private company.
[40:47] Yeah so what they want to do is take your loan over so that they can make money from it. So you're in a long-term federal loan at whatever percentage and somebody did the math and says, “Oh you know, I can borrow the money at 2% to pay off your loan. And I can charge you 4% interest on it”. And you're paying like 5% interest so you're like, Oh I save a percent of interest and this person's like, I make 2% interest because I have access to more money than you. You know it's just refinancing your loan. This happens all the. It's the same as you do with your house or something but it's interesting that the market has switched to doing this not just for mortgages, like you traditionally see with refinancing, but instead with student loans. And I wonder if it'll ultimately come to bite them in the ass because if people who have no credit or who have no money because they're too busy paying their student loans find some sucker to come and refinance their loan paid off to the government and instead become indebted to this private company and then discharge that loan in bankruptcy court. And you know 7 years for your credit history to recover and then boom you're done with your student loans. You can move on with life. Seems like it's not such a bad idea instead of a life of wage slavery trying to recover from paying for an education so you can contribute back to the economy.
[41:54] I think that's crazy. Well, not crazy because Georgetown is like a $112,000 for like a master's degree.
[42:01] Student loans just hit $1.5 trillion in debt...
[42:05] ...or just shy it's to 1.49 something right now which is the most ever in history along with the highest credit card debt, along with the highest home debt, along with the highest auto debt. Auto loan defaults are at the highest it's been, I think, since the financial crisis. It might even be higher than that. People are tapped out. People are buying less stuff because they have no more money because everything is- they were trying to finance their life on this credit which is why their credit card loans got so high. Add that into that they're paying everything to student loans and auto loans and we just have no more money to spend on consumption because every single dollar is spent on trying to survive. There's a report that just came out that 40% of Americans cannot pay for a $400 emergency if one were to come up. And this is not just - And this was a distinction they made in this report - it wasn't just having $400 in like a bank account that you could cover and it wouldn't affect you but also included selling stuff in order to cover a $400 cost.
[43:00] Oh man.
[43:01] Because like maybe you could sell your car to do that or do a title loan but then now you're out of work at that point because you need this car to get to work and then you're in a death cycle, a poverty death cycle. We are a nation that is incredibly indebted and incredibly broke and we've fueled this "economic recovery" based mostly on debt and not just nation debt and not just business debt though both of those are indebted more than ever before. Business debt is the highest it's ever been in history. The United States is more in debt than it has been in history but also private individual debt in the forms of like I said credit cards, mortgages, auto loans and ultimately student loans. And eventually all this debt's going to come due.
[43:41] I wonder if you can find- it's probably not published because the government doesn't want to be, but loans were not a thing in China for a while. People just- it reminds me of India too where, you know, I read something also about India and their currency. They got rid of some...
[43:56] Man, when when that happened I kept telling everyone this is going to be a fucking disaster and like all my Indian friends and neo-libs were like, No, this is great. India is getting rid of corruption. It's going to be so much better. And it has been an unmitigated disaster so many people have lives that have been ruined and like killed themselves over this. Unless you were, like, a wealthy person then it was fucking awesome.
[44:17] And, David, honestly before listening to Ashes Ashes I just, I didn't know what to think about eliminating currency. I don't even know what that meant until you guys reminded me that a lot of people just save up cash money. Especially people in smaller communities and that, you know, or just traditionally that's what they've done. That was a thing in China and now, like, you can take out loans everything. But people- oh man, there was this huge murder case in China. This kid, this son, killed his parents' lender, like, brutally murdered them because the lenders kept threatening the mom for a debt that she, I guess, had almost paid off or hadn't quite paid off and they were threatening to kill her because of this debt. So he killed them and then the government was like, you know, it was basically this huge case of was it self-defense and everything? But I was- I just thought it was crazy that this woman had taken out loans in the first place when most people in China they just work really hard to save up for what they want. And now with loans and with other things they're just taking out loans.
Plastic, Walls, And Trade
[45:16] Well, speaking about China, in episode #19 we talked about plastic pollution all over the world and I guess it's also kind of relates to our episode on walls, David, which is when you try to prevent a certain behavior sometimes you simply exacerbate it. And as we talked about in that episode, China imposed a ban on importations of certain trash.
[45:35] I love this story.
[45:37] Yeah, a lot of countries had been sending their trash to China to process because they didn't have the space for it in their own country. And China enacted this ban and a lot of countries, including the UK, we're kind of scrambling to figure out what the hell they were going to do. And as of April of this year China has already seized over a hundred and ten thousand tons of waste that was smuggled into their country. And the country has also arrested a whole bunch of smugglers. But it's so interesting when you start looking at, you know, when we talk about externalities of our actions and that famous rant of yours, David, about how nothing is profitable...
[46:13] ...all our economic activity has consequences and we try to push these consequences into places that we can't see. And in this case it's literally sending our trash overseas or - you know, across the border to this country that's willing to take it for a fee - finally saying, "Hey, we have too much trash of our own. We have too much of your foreign trash. We don't want anymore." And now all of the sudden there's a huge problem. And now the smuggling industry is taking off and it is just blows my mind to think about smugglers making money that's illegal profit off of moving trash. It's just crazy.
[46:46] I mean there's so many angles here I hit this on. So 1) I mean, like we've talked before, these borders these walls create these acts of smuggling and I think this really highlights for me just like some of the completely insane out of control nature of our world at this point and the inefficiencies of the systems that dictate this. Like, this is something straight out of Douglas Adams. You would read this in Hitchhiker's Guide where countries create too much trash and they don't want to store it in their own country sometimes because of environmental regulations and sometimes in order to record on a piece of paper how much trash they generated because if you said it somewhere else it doesn't count as your trash anymore which I'll get you in a second but really ties well into what you were saying earlier, Moriah, about quantification of everything.
[47:28] So instead we're loading trash on huge ships that are just filled with garbage, filled with plastics, filled with metals, whatever it is, just garbage. And we shipped these thousands of miles across the world, burning huge amounts of fossil fuel, in order to find a country that is willing to sacrifice their environmental health and ultimately their own physical health for a little bit of money. So basically a bribe to fuck up their own shit and fuck up themselves in order to take a problem we don't want to think about because it's too hard for us, there's no solution to what to do with trash except the very simple one which is, you know, of course generate less trash. But that would require reducing our consumption, and reducing parts of lives that we've become so enamored with and really run our economy as a whole. And so now that China has said, “Enough is enough. No more trash.” And other countries that we might turn to like an Indonesia and stuff are saying, "No we don't really want this either.” Or, “We can't take any more than we already do.”
[48:23] Now we find all these First World countries that talked about how green they were instead confronted with their own hypocrisy. This is the United States, this is cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and this is especially Europe who achieves a lot of their green measures these reports they put out saying how much they recycled how much trash they generated, well now all this stuff is ruined because this trash that they shipped off was counted as Chinese trash because they bought it... sort of. At least to the way this paper runs. And now that they have nowhere to put this trash, well, all of their environmental record keeping, their "green nature" is exposed as the scam it is. It's ridiculous trying to appear green on paper while shoving your problem somewhere else. This is the hidden externalities that got us in all these problems in the first place. By ignoring the environmental damage, the debt that we wreak this planet, on the people that live on it, we can say we're profitable and the same thing is occurring right here where by ignoring the trash that regenerate we can say that we're green. And this brings me to another story that I really enjoy here with Europe.
[49:19] So, Europe has been trying to hit these green measures with their energy production any have targets and Jeremy just announced they're going to miss their 2020 targets so they're pushing the back to 2030 to meet the Paris agreement. But the continent as a whole, the EU, they have very admirable goals for green energy production. And they're producing a lot of it, wind and solar but also a lot of it is from something called bio-energy.
[49:41] And this bio-energy is burning wood pellets. And because they're wood pellets they count as a renewable source of energy. “But where do they get those wood pellets?” you might ask. The answer is predominantly the Southern United States where they cut down huge forests, pack them up, load them onto ships, these ships burn very dirty fuel - generating CO2 this entire way that they don't count in their green energy calculations - bringing trees halfway around the world to Europe, loading them into ports, loading them onto trucks, burning more CO2, driving these across Europe, bringing them to power plants that then burn this wood, releasing it as CO2 and then ultimately a little bit of that CO2 will be recaptured by the forest that they replant to make up for the ones they cut down in order to generate electricity. And they call this process green. They call this renewable energy. It's a huge portion of the energy that Europe generates in order to meet their green targets when, in fact, the only thing that's green about this is the paper accounting that they've done to make it look like they're actually saving the environment when if anything they're just shifting the problem somewhere else - exactly the same that we've done with this trash. And this happens time and time again in our world because we have to quantify all these things it allows us to ignore the externalities that we do and to look good to justify things that we know are wrong. And that's the world in a nutshell right now. And that's how we got in this mess in the first place.
[50:53] David, that's crazy. Just like we talked about how reducing something to a metric, like you said, allows you to ignore everything else- I can't think of anything more ironic, less renewable than that process you just described. But it allows you to say, "Hey on paper we're burning a renewable fuel source therefor...
[51:11] ...We're green.
[51:12] When in reality it's is probably worse than just digging coal out of the ground and just burning that directly.
[51:18] It's probably not quite that bad but it's definitely a far cry from wind energy or solar or something - that is inconvenient though and it doesn't work for consistent around-the-clock energy generation.
[51:31] And of course that CO2 that goes into the air that greenhouse gas has an effect on our global climate, as we're aware. It raises the temperature. And that's something we discussed in episode #25 is the rising heat that our world is experiencing as a result of our industrial economy and we looked at heat specifically. And so a few updates related to heat that we can hit real quick- On July 3rd heat in Australia caused roads to melt, destroying vehicle tires and damaging cars as liquid tar came off the road and stuck to car tires and other car parts. The mayor of Queensland, where the road melted, said he'd never seen anything like.
[52:10] Isn't it winter time in Australia right now, too?
[52:13] Oh my God. It is.
[52:14] I just want to point that out.
[52:15] I'm not a geologist, David.
[52:17] No it is winter. Oh my God.
[52:19] You know, their toilets also flush the opposite direction.
[52:22] But this is not their summer. Oh my God can you imagine their summer? Oh my god. Dude, this is their winner.
[52:29] Yeah, that's that's crazy.
[52:31] Freaking Daniel yeah that's crazy.
[52:33] Come on guys, don't pick on me... But, I think there's something important that I do want to point out about this rising heat. And we haven't done a show yet on mental illnesses and the rise of anxiety and depression around the world but it's an ongoing trend and it's not surprising given a lot of these broken systems that we discuss. But alongside this rise in mental and emotional stress is a rise in the use of certain psychiatric drugs like antidepressants. And, in fact, one out of every six Americans take some form of psychiatric drug. And, well, it turns out that many of these drugs exacerbate these effects and risks associated with heat stress and rising heat because the brain is less able to adapt and respond to changes in temperature when it's on some of these drugs. So individuals who take antidepressants for example may feel faint, feverish, dehydrated, short, of breath, and otherwise at risk of illness and death when exposed to extreme heat. But many doctors are not adequately informing patients of these risks so there is a lack of awareness about these side effects. So if any of you do take antidepressants or some other form of psychiatric drug it may be something worth looking into. Make an extra effort to stay hydrated if you are exposed to heat and monitor your body for signs of heat stress. It doesn't happen to everyone but as the world increasingly heats up we all need to be looking out for ourselves and our neighbors to make sure that we make it through.
[53:59] And speaking of taking care of each other, David, there was a week-long heat wave in Canada which is still ongoing as of this recording has killed 33 people in Quebec.
[54:07] Actually, Daniel, since we started recording that number has increased to 34 just like since we hit 'record'.
[54:14] A morbid reminder, David, that these issues are ongoing. And most of the victims are over 50 years of age. And the heat stress comes from a combination of high heat and high humidity in this region and officials have gone door-to-door to check on citizens, thankfully. And people are encouraged to check on their neighbors. And I think that's something that we can all remember as so many of these ecological problems get worse is check on each other, check on our neighbors, prepare. We can't get through all of these problems alone but we are stronger together. And we can we can't talk about heat, David, without relating it to the global water crisis that we talked about last week.
[54:52] Yeah, we talked about this like 2 weeks ago, give or take. I'm not sure exactly. And I've shocked at how much stuff has come out in just the two weeks since we recorded that episode. It's just like, Bam bam bam! You thought things were bad, well, guess what? It's way worse than you imagined.
[55:09] So, 200,000 people die every year in India from lack of safe water. And we talked about the city of Shimla in the Himalayan Foothills that went four days without water was asking tourists to stay away. Well, close to a hundred cities in India are water stressed. They're on the brink of water crisis every day. And the tensions in Shimla have only intensified since that episode we released, David. The city employees 60 or so key men. These are people who are responsible for turning water valves on and off. And these key men have been feeling the brunt of the people's frustrations related to this water shortage. They've been receiving death threats and they've been surrounded by angry mobs. Some have been threatened, some have been beaten. And a high court ordered that these key men should now be accompanied by police escorts while on duty as well as a supervisor to ensure that they aren't bribed by hotels and other wealthy establishments to unfairly redirect water to them. And since then, although Shimla is still very water stressed, tensions have eased a little bit after the adoption of a rationing plan that divides the city into three zones and then rotates the zones' access to water so that no one neighborhood should ever have to go without water for more than 2 days.
[56:25] Oh that's that's encouraging.
[56:27] Yeah. Well, a week ago in early July right after this water crisis, evaporation from both the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal accumulated in dense clouds which swept north to the Himalayas and dumped unprecedented volumes of water. Shimla received more rainfall than it has in the past 68 years. And rather than cause for celebration, this rainfall caused massive landslides. They covered up roads, damaged infrastructure, and in one case buried cars alive.
[57:00] Stop, stop, stop.
[57:01] I just said a car was buried alive... and in one case burying cars under rubble. Some homes were flooded and several traffic jams resulted.
[57:10] When it rains it pours. I think it's kind of crazy how this town has been water stressed for a decades and now that they get some water it's literally destroying them.
[57:20] Really what this global climate change has done is just expand the regions of extremes. We get a lot less moderation in terms of the weather. But now we're seeing extreme droughts and then extreme water. And it's all bad.
[57:34] Yeah, Daniel, but those are words about climate change and here in the United States our President doesn't believe in that and actually the same is true in India. Even as they're facing these very real water crises and enacting legislation in municipalities and states in order to combat them, Prime Minister Modi has gone on record saying that, "It's not the climate that has changed but we have changed. Our habits have changed. Our habits have gotten spoiled. Due to that, we've destroyed our entire environment", instead trying to claim that because we have adjusted that somehow there's less rain falling or something. I'm not entirely sure what he was trying to say but there is no doubt that he thinks that humans have shifted instead of the climate. I mean, maybe there's something to be said about the actions that we have destroying the climate but it is no doubt that the climate has changed and India is facing very real crises right now and it's only going to get worse. In the fact that their government is unwilling to even face that this might be a problem is, well, I mean honestly just a huge part of that problem.
[58:37] You're absolutely right that things are going to get worse. And part of the reason for that is markets, David. The free hand of the market. And we see that in the way that the cotton market has shifted very recently. So over the past several years China has reduced its cotton imports significantly, relying instead on domestic inventories. And last year China imported 1 million tons of cotton. But now that its own reserves have fallen it plans to triple cotton imports going forward. So there's a trade war going on between US and China and China has responded to about 50 billion dollars worth of tariffs that the US government has enacted against Chinese imports and they responded by imposing a 25% tax on US cotton imports as of July 6th, just a couple days ago. And what this means is that the demand from China for Indian cotton just went out the roof. India's cotton exports to China will quintuple from 1 million to 5 million bales. And this is a big problem obviously for India's water situation and there's a lot of problems with cotton as we've talked about in our fashion episode, the way the industry abuses Indian farmers leading to suicides, taking their land is obviously one thing.
[59:53] But what's really interesting is how traders in London, traders in America, who make money off of commodities look at the situation say, “Oh yeah this is good for India. It'll be good for their economy. There's more demand for their product. They're going to make more money." And it's just one of those examples of the shortsightedness of these markets that says, “Oh yeah! Some short-term profit, that's good for the country." Meanwhile their water resources that supply the drinking water for their citizens and the irrigation for their crops is dwindling rapidly.
[1:00:23] And of course cotton is one of the most water intensive crops, so this future explosion of imports that might generate money for individuals who happen to own large cotton fields in India, well it's also going to destroy the water resources of that Nation for the rest of the nation. And we see once again our short-term consumer needs bumping up against the health, security, and lives even of a whole nation of people that are going to suffer in order to provide us with cheap $7 shirts. As we discussed in our fashion episode.
[1:00:54] Speaking about how the economy plays a role in destroying our environment, 50,000 indefinite water access rights in Mexico that were granted to agrarian and rural communities years ago were suddenly invalidated by 10 presidential decrees published by The Mexican government in June. And these decrees remove protected status from 295 water basins opening these up to privatization and licensing in what will ultimately benefit mining and oil industries that have plans for expansion in those areas. These basins alone make up more than half of Mexico's surface water. The short-term losers of this development will be farmers, rural and Indigenous people, and agrarian communities that depend on that water for life. The long-term losers of course will be broad swaths of Mexico's people as finite water is extracted and depleted faster in our increasingly water-scarce world.
[1:01:52] That's crazy. How do you privatize water? Like, the very thing that you need to live.
[1:01:57] Well, the UN they actually wanted to clarify at one point because they designated water as one of our human rights but then that made a lot of people think that well, if it's a human right I deserve it and I shouldn't have to pay for it. And the UN was very quick to clarify - at the urging of corporations like Nestle - that just because something is a right doesn't mean that you don't have to pay for it. So as long as somebody has access to water, whether it's public or privatized, then the UN doesn't care because the fact that you could, if you could afford it, have access to water is good enough. And so the privatization of water goes hand-in-hand with that process as states increasingly look for ways to fund themselves as their traditional funding sources run dry and debts climb ever higher.
[1:02:36] You know what's really ironic about this Mexico situation is that these new developments this removal of protection for these important water basins is actually supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature. And that support is really beneficial to the government which was saying, “Hey, we are doing a good thing for the environment. We are actually acting in a way that's actually in line with conservation." And they point to the WWF as justification for that saying, “Look at this organization that supports us." Of course, one of the main sponsors for the World Wide Fund for Nature is Coca-Cola which is one of the companies that is depleting the water resources in Mexico faster than anyone else.
[1:03:15] Yeah, to make those sugary Mexican cokes, made with real sugar though.
[1:03:19] This is now a coke ad.
[1:03:22] I'll never forgive the WWF for taking away the WWF from the World Wide Wrestling Foundation. So it's good to see that they've turned to evil here as well. But there is hope in the future for Mexico. They've elected a new government that's very different than what they were before. The so-called "Mexican Bernie Sanders", and I'm sorry I'm going to butcher this name, Obrador has just won the presidential election as of a few days ago and we'll see if this shift in the governmental culture ends up invalidating these newly released private rights and people can retake what was once public and resources for all the people in Mexico.
[1:04:02] But why is no one protesting Coca-Cola? Like, they're the worst. I remember I was interviewing for this job and I was asking them about their public-private partnerships and they said, "Oh yeah, our biggest supporter is Coca-Cola because anywhere you can get a Coke there's a supply chain and we can get, like, medical supplies there", and it kind of made me really sad to think that if I can get a Coke to this really small place in God-knows-where that I can get medical supplies there. But the fact that Coke is there is pretty scary and in that community and selling their products for cheaper than water. Like, why has no one protested Coke?
[1:04:41] Yeah, Daniel, as somebody who is local to Coca-Cola...
[1:04:45] That are using up all of our, like- I think ya'll talked about this in your episode but that are using up valuable water resources to produce sugary drinks.
[1:04:53] Well, in Mexico there were people protesting the soda companies and that's part of the reason why they enacted these soda taxes but as we talked about in our surveillance episode these people were targeted by the Mexican state as dissidents. They were surveilled with state-level surveillance technology that's intended to be used against dissidents and terrorists, people who threaten the sovereignty of a nation-state or at least that's how it's sold, but instead were used against people trying to protest exactly what you're talking about. Why these protests aren't carrying over to places like the United States where Coca-Cola has a huge position, in Atlanta especially where I think we're all from, is a better question. But I mean there's so many causes like this - every single company that you look at is just about guilty of these horrible things somewhere in the world and that's the nature of globalism in our multinational world today - that it's exhausting. How can you protest everything when everybody's doing these horrible things somewhere.
[1:05:44] That's true.
[1:05:44] And we spend a lot of time trying to expose these things, and 'expose' maybe isn't the right word because it's easy to find these stories. You just have to look for a second. It's not that people aren't telling them it's that we have our ears covered and our head in the sand because it's inconvenient.
[1:06:00] It's inconvenient and I think it's hard for a lot of people to make the connections and view these issues in terms of system. So one thing that I value about Ashes Ashes is that, you know, you guys make those connections. How everything is connected. Seeing these issues as like separate things, I think, can make it seem even more overwhelming.
[1:06:21] Well, I think you actually brought up a good question, Moriah, about protesting Coke. So, Ashes Ashes listeners we are now no longer drinking Coke products. 2018, we're taking it down! Bring down the corporation.
[1:06:31] I got to say, this is really hard for me. This is like my my personal vice.
[1:06:37] Me too!
[1:06:38] But here we are. We're all on board with this. So. I'm not- I don't think boycotts by individual consumers are particularly effective if you look at the history of it. And maybe we'll, at some point, I'd love to do an episode on protests and the nature of what works, what doesn't, the history of it because it's a really fascinating topic. But every little bit helps. Because something isn't perfectly effective is not a reason not to do it especially when it's something as easy as not buying a sugary drink that's not healthy for you anyway as we discussed in very great detail in our sugar episode.
Wet And Dry
[1:07:08] Episode #14, “Sweet Release”. You know, talking about heat talking about water, talking about wildfires. The British Isles are experiencing a host of problems as heat combined with a lack of rain. Despite an especially wet winter and spring with some places experiencing 8 months of continuous rain, a recent heat wave and a dearth of rain the past month has put Ireland in an absolute drought, created wildfires, and led to fish die-offs in England and everywhere farmers are stressed from a lack of water as taps dry out and stressed from withered crops and grass threatening farmers ability to feed livestock and bring crops to the market. In addition to water restrictions that are now in place in Ireland, motorists are being asked to use caution as some roads have been melting in the heat.
[1:07:59] So we're just checking off the boxes here - so we've got the water episode, we've got the drought episode, we've got the farmland episode - all these things combining in so many ways as we discussed. I guess you can add infrastructure in there as well for the roads. This is what collapse looks like. It's something slow. It sneaks up on you. And you think it only occurs in places far away on the other side of the world, places the IMF, World Bank, UNICEF operate in order to help these "developing nations". But it is a very real thing that is happening in the "developed-world" right in our backyards all the time. And what's going on in the UK right now I think is a great example of this. And, in fact, the UK released a report earlier this year, I think in May, about how they might be facing serious water shortages by 2050. And this report was met with huge amounts of incredulity by the people of Britain. I mean, what is the stereotype of Great Britain? It's like this rainy overcast country right? And they said, "How could we possibly be facing water shortages? It always rains here."
[1:08:57] Or even right now that's what the farmers were saying is, "How could we receive water non-stop from rain for the past 8 months- it was an extremely wet winter and spring, how do we receive so much water but now just after a couple months, I mean after a couple weeks...
[1:09:12] Yeah, it's amazing how quickly conditions can change. And for much of the UK down in like the Southwest sections of Great Britain they had a very dry winter. Water stocks are at the lowest it's been in years and they're facing a serious drought. Let me see, I have the numbers right here. I think they said during winter they had 25% less rain than usual and then since October that number climbs to 63% less. It's already here this water shortage for much of the country. So we're already seeing this right now even in the very visible Thames River that flows right through London. Its banks are decreasing at an alarming rate. It's a very visible reminder to the people of London and to the UK as a whole how fragile their water supply really is despite the stereotype and how quickly climate and weather can change and how you can find yourself in a collapse situation before you realize what's happened. And already they're starting to see when they go to the grocery stores there's no lettuce to buy because these stocks have been wiped out by this weather. And it's funny to think about lettuce as like a bellwether example of bad things coming or a canary in the coal mine but it really is. It's a warning because it's a very fragile crop and when the lettuce stocks disappear from your supermarket you can ask yourself, I wonder what's happening? And that's what the people in the UK are doing right now.
[1:10:28] And speaking about how all of this is connected, David, of course as the climate wreaks havoc all over the world one of the things that will be affected very acutely is the economy.
[1:10:39] So we talked about forest fires and how in 2017 of last year, mostly during the month of October, California experienced a whole host of devastating wildfires. Well, now officials are investigating the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric, one of the largest utility companies in Northern California, for its complicity in causing these California wildfires.
[1:11:02] These wildfires by the way which destroyed around 10 billion dollars in property values alone. And Pacific Gas and Electric is being blamed for causing at least 15 of these fires through equipment failure its power poles and its transmission lines abutting against vegetation and, David, I think you mentioned in our power grid episode how just trimming the vegetation that creeps up against power lines can be one of the most expensive maintenance functions of these electric utility companies. And this company is now faced with $2.5 billion in claims against them which could be rising and is just over two years worth of profits for them. And so I guess the point of that story is that no one is above the effects of these climate changes, the big companies to the small consumer, everyone faces the consequences. And as our economy and as municipalities suffer, as funds dry up, as we keep trying to catch up to the costs associated with all these changes, well, that affects people's financial situation.
[1:12:04] Real quick, I mean there's a lot of stuff burning in the world right now and we really picked this one fire story just because it transitions so well into a lot of the things that we talk about: the combination of electricity and the power grid, our failing infrastructure and the effects these fires have on communities and on the environment as a whole. But I do want to just briefly mention and point out just how much of the world is on fire and very intense large fires at this moment. Colorado, Oklahoma, huge portions the US are already burning despite just being in the very beginning of fire season. And much of Europe, and especially Russia and Siberia, are the midst of huge, huge fires. And that Siberian fire in particular is very important right now because it is burning huge amounts of wood, of grass, of tundra, of carbon material that ends up as soot in the air and this floats along the very high latitudes and much of it finds itself deposited on the ice of these upper latitudes increasing the speed of the melt and contributing to the climate change problems that ultimately contributed to the severity of these fires in the first place. It's a vicious feedback loop. Something that we're seeing continuing every single year and getting worse every single year as these temperatures continue to climb. But to turn back towards the rest of our conversation and the failures in maintenance of PG&E and the effects it has on communities, and especially having to trim budgets where you can to make sacrifices where you need to we want to briefly mention pensions as well.
[1:13:29] In March, schools in Kentucky shut down as teachers went on strike after the state passed a bill that would affect their pension plans lowering benefits and raising cost for teachers. The bill had initially died when first presented, but lawmakers found a way to pass it by secretly attaching the bill to another bill addressing wastewater services. And speaking about things being passed in secret, or shady behavior by our governments, in Russia the estimated life expectancy for a man is currently 60 years old, according to the World Health Organization. And in some regions it's even less than that.
[1:14:06] Just to clarify, I think it's 66 actually but keep on going.
[1:14:10] Well, on the day the World Cup began at the same time that Russia was celebrating its opening game victory, the government announced that it was raising the retirement age in Russia to 65 years of age for men, just a year under that life expectancy according to the WHO.
[1:14:27] Oh my God.
[1:14:29] Well I've got some good news. Despite all these problems in our world today despite all of these broken systems there's one company that has put on the red cape and decided that it's going to be a part of the solution.
[1:14:41] Let me guess, let me guess, let me guess. Walmart?
[1:14:44] No, think more tasty.
[1:14:49] Even more delicious than that.
[1:14:52] Krispy Kreme?
[1:14:53] Not that delicious.
[1:14:56] No, it's Domino's Pizza. You see, Domino's has a new initiative, a project it calls "Paving for Pizza". The company wants to help these struggling municipalities, repair roads and potholes, and its customers can go on their website and vote for the next town that they want the company to visit. And so Domino's will show up with their repair truck, fix a pothole and then slap their logo on top of it so every time you drive by and you go through that smooth intersection you get to see the Domino's logo there on the street.
[1:15:27] So yeah, Domino's slaps that logo down, drives off into the sunset, and everyone benefits from faster delivery times for their pizza and so far the company has fixed around 50 potholes.
[1:15:40] Marketing plug!
[1:15:41] You know, earlier in this Episode I think I mentioned that I said I love that smuggling trash story as like the best example of how ridiculous and broken our systems are and something Douglas Adams would write, but this might top that actually now that I think about it where companies are using the collapse of our infrastructure, the inability of municipalities to fix these things that we pay taxes in order to support, to advertise unhealthy food that is making people sick and ultimately contributing to health care issues, obesity problems, as a like perfect closed-loop of just horrible things leading to more horrible things. Guess we get to laugh at at a pizza truck going around fixing potholes.
[1:16:22] Well, and before someone says, "Hey isn't this an example of a company using their hard-earned money to fix a problem in the world? Yeah, so what they get a little bit of marketing but that's just what doing good is all about", you know I think we do need to do an episode on how so many of these companies make a lot of money through incentives and subsidies that they get in large part from these very municipalities. I mean we saw that with this disgusting competition that cities were waging to attract Amazon's second headquarters where, Hey we're going to give you all your taxes back. We're not going to charge you for anything, and here they're going to come into a municipality, they're going to reap basically the taxpayers money, they're not going to be held responsible for the expenses that that municipality incurs as a result of this company, and they profit off of what ultimately becomes a failing city.
[1:17:12] Yeah, I mean this is like you said. It really needs to be an entire episode and there are certain companies that are much more guilty of this than others. Walmart always gets called out for the huge amount of their employees on food stamps because they can't afford to survive with what Walmart pays them day-to-day. But there's a lot of companies that we look towards as like these bastions of green of revolutions, of doing some sort of good, companies like Tesla that are huge profiteers of these public welfare systems. So Tesla gets a lot of subsidies for every car they sell. Whatever, we need more electric cars. You can argue the merits of it whether it's a tax break for the wealthy or not. Tesla's also invested a huge amount of money in construction of factories. And they have enormous factories that they've built all over the country, two in particular that I want to talk about is Nevada and then one upstate in New York. And both of these states gave Tesla billions of dollars of tax credits that they could turn and sell various deals to make their sites as attractive as possible to get that investment in their state, and Tesla promised jobs, they promised investment in exchange to offset these billions of dollars that the taxpayers of the states are basically giving to Tesla.
[1:18:19] But now, here we are few years down the line and Tesla has made off like Bandits and returned almost nothing to these states. And we'll go more in depth with this later in future episodes but we have to remember that these companies even the ones that purporting to do good, to try and help us, the green revolution that Tesla purports to be doing whether it's from their failing solar panel business or the cars that they produce to eliminate the internal combustion engines that are polluting our world very quickly. And that's a huge problem. And they claim they're doing this through these free-market practices but in the end we are footing a lot of the bill and they're taking advantage of that. And in the same time claiming that they're doing it all by themselves and it's just simply not true. And I'm tired of companies being able to get away with this in order to paint this pretty smiley face on what is ultimately an exploitative process just like everything that we talk about on this show.
[1:19:06] Well said.
[1:19:07] I think we're a little bit long on this episode and the title of this episode is "For Better or For Worse" so I think we should end on maybe something that is for better or maybe a couple of things for better.
[1:19:20] First, in June just last month the US Supreme Court ruled that police officers need a warrant to retrieve individual cell phone location data.
[1:19:30] Celebration right there. In the past officers used the rationale that if an individual willingly gave location data to a third-party police had the right to intercept it. But the Supreme Court disagreed. Of course it is still lawful for police to intercept location data under certain cases but, going forward, that information will not be admissible evidence in a court case. And in episode #15, "Terms of Service", where we discussed Facebook we talked about the company's Free Basics products which purports to connect people all over the world in developing countries to free Internet services. In reality the product that Facebook offers controls what people can and cannot see and then sells their data commercial partners. In addition Facebook's Free Basics product has been accused of enabling hate speech in Myanmar and accelerating genocide actively going on in that region. But since much of this criticism Facebook has stopped publicly updating its social media and websites with details about this free Basics program and has quietly pulled the service from several countries with no notice or explanation which, perhaps is to be seen what Facebook is up to, but seems to be a positive direction.
[1:20:43] This is all due to the efforts of Ashes Ashes listeners reaching out to Facebook, to the legislators of their various nations! I know it's true and no one else can convince me otherwise. We did it everyone. We made a change! /s
[1:20:58] As always, that's a lot to think about.
[1:21:02] Well, I guess Daniel is trying to close out this show because I know that we have run very long. But next week we are returning to a regular type of show and I'm so excited about the next episode. It's something I've been thinking about for years at this point and we've both been working on for months. It's one of the episodes that we've been really excited to share and work on. And we hope you will enjoy it just like all of our episodes. If you want to learn more about the things we talked about on this episode, read some of the stories that we didn't cover today but we think are still important, you can do all of that as well as read a full transcript of this episode on our website at ashesashes.org.
[1:21:40] A lot of time and research goes into making these shows possible. And we will never use ads to support this show. So if you like it and would like us to keep going you our listener can support us by giving us a review and sharing us with a friend. Also we have an email address it's contact AT ashesashes DOT o-r-g and we encourage you to send us your thoughts, positive or negative. We'll read them and we appreciate them.
[1:22:05] Yeah you guys can follow Ashes Ashes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any of your other favorite social media apps @ashesashescast.
[1:22:15] We hope we'll see you there. You can also join our subreddit r/ashesashescast. We have a great group of people. Thank you for posting your stories there and discussing the topics that we find important. Shout out to all of you. And thank you so much for joining us today, Moriah! We hope to have you back in many episodes as we continue going forward in both these recap episodes and the areas that you have so much to offer.
[1:22:39] Thanks for having me, I look forward to "For Better or Worse Part 3"!
[1:22:44] I hope it's mostly for better.
[1:22:47] This is Ashes Ashes. Bye.