Shall We Spend or Save Our National Treasures?

Areas cut out of Utah monuments are rich in oil, coal, uranium

WaPo - Utahan Lands

Alaskan Oil Zombie Roams The Capitol
Forbes - SenMurkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on Nov. 14. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, is well on his way to charting the course for the dissolution of what was once a Republican legacy. I speak, of course, about our federally protected lands and the treasures they contain. From Andrew Jackson through Dwight D. Eisenhower, and even extending to George W. Bush, the establishment and maintenance of federally protected lands has been a pillar of Republican policy. President Trump, utilizing Executive orders (March 28, 2017 and December 20, 2017), has opted instead to follow Secretary Zinke’s newly determined path by reconfiguring the way in which U.S. natural resources within National Parks and National Monuments are managed. The White House has also directed the elimination and/or alternation of a number of 9B regulations. These 36 CFR Part 9, Subpart B –  Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights regulations were implemented in 1978 and updated, as drilling techniques evolved, in 2009.

“[The purposes of the regulations are to] insure that activities undertaken pursuant to [nonfederal oil and gas rights] are conducted in a manner consistent with the purposes for which the National Park System and each unit thereof were created, to prevent or minimize damage to the environment and other resource values, and to insure to the extent feasible that all units of the National Park System are left unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
National Park Service – 9B Regulations

Their rollback further opens the door for private exploration of oil, natural gas, and mineral deposits on certain protected federal lands. Combined with the Trump administration’s goal of delegating environmental conservation authority down to individual states, it is fairly likely that mining in National Park and Monument land will increase. Is this necessary? Is this a wise course of action?

National Parks, and other lands under federal oversight, are some of our greatest strategic resources, many created for permanent protection by a great Republican President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. These parks guard priceless works of nature, many having taken millions of years to form.

National Geographic – Beautiful Photos of All 59 U.S. National Parks

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As Teddy said of one American marvel he used Executive power to protect,

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”
National Park Service – Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation

The age of some of the protected formations are nearly impossible to imagine. Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, for example, each took millions of years of natural forces and processes to appear and function as they do today. Not to mention the rich history of human activity that helped to shape these lands. The results of these millions of years could easily be lost for a quick buck and exploitation of limited resources. What sort of resources, you ask? In the case of the aforementioned Utahan and Alaskan lands, there appears to be at minimum a wealth of oil, coal, and uranium. In addition, there are 12 National Parks with currently active wells and 30 more with split estates, where the federal government owns the surface land, but private corporations own the mineral rights beneath:

National Park Sites with Active Oil and Gas Wells

Park State Number of Wells Number of Companies Operating Wells
Alibates Flint Quarries NM TX 5 1
Aztec Ruins NM NM 4 2
Big Cypress NPres FL 20 1
Big Thicket NPres TX 37 16
Big South Fork NRRA TN, KY 152 31
Cuyahoga Valley NP OH 90 21
Cumberland Gap NHP TN, KY, VA 2 1
Gauley River NRA WV 28 3
Lake Meredith NRA TX 174 17
New River Gorge NR WV 1 1
Obed WSR WV 5 2
Padre Island NS TX 14 2

National Park Sites Without Active Wells, but Where Drilling Could Take Place in the Future

Park State
Bluestone NSR WV
Cane River Creole NHP LA
Carlsbad Caverns NP NM
Chaco Culture NHP NM
Dinosaur NM CO
Everglades NP FL
Flight 93 Memorial PA
Fort Necessity NB PA
Fort Union Trading Post NHS ND
Friendship Hill NHS PA
Glen Canyon NRA AZ, UT
Grand Teton NP WY
Great Sand Dunes NP & PRES CO
Guadalupe Mountains NP TX
Gulf Islands NS MS, FL
Hopewell Culture NHP OH
Indiana Dunes NL IN
Jean Lafitte NHP & PRES LA
Johnstown Flood Memorial PA
Little River Canyon NPres AL
Mammoth Cave NP KY
Mesa Verde NP CO
Nocodemus NHS NE
Palo Alto Battlefield NHP TX
San Antonio Missions NHP TX
Santa Monica Mountains NRA CA
Steamtown NHS PA
Theodore Roosevelt NP ND
Upper Delaware SRR NY, PA
Washita Battlefield NHS OK

National Parks Conservation Association – National Parks Affected by 9B Rules

These are only a few of the many National Parks and National Monuments that sit atop hidden wealth. It is not a coincidence that these lands specifically protect a significant amount of America’s natural resources.  Having a protected set of commodities like oil and coal is important for future emergencies, but to mine it all just to increase quarterly profits is a quick route to a state with no emergency stockpile. Teddy was both an environmentalist and a pragmatist.

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
National Park Service – Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation

He was a practical man who understood the wisdom of preserving a cache of resources that the country would be able to dip into in times of great and true crisis unavoidable by any other means. Are our modern obstacles unavoidable? Can they not be surmounted by other means?

Yes, we are in a time of economic crisis, but it is one of our own making, brought to us by unfettered greed and the pursuit of endless corporate profit growth. We have outsourced vast swaths of our production sector and entwined our fuel and energy future with an incredibly unstable part of the world. In order to give value to our fiat currency, and provide various sectors of our economy with endless work, we have spent decades dancing with Salafists, as a means to access and control trade of precious black liquid. The spice must flow. Terrorism has resulted. Rebellions have resulted. Wars have resulted. This is not the rainy day envisioned by the brilliant leaders of the past. Much like the robbery of the Social Security surpluses, the current justification for the carve-up of National Parks is nothing more than the shortsighted pursuit of money by a handful of Robber Barons, and their political servants, whose capital can finance their flight from the country once its wealth is stripped bare. Teddy and the true Republicans of old would be ashamed of our childishness. Surrounded by monopolies, I find myself wondering “Where are our trustbusters?”  Plagued by hyenas and vultures, I find myself asking, “Where are our visionaries?”

While undertaking the specific research to write this piece, I came to a realization: my title frames the issue incorrectly. The real question is: shall we spend or invest in our national treasures? The implication of this question is that there is an unaddressed benefit – outside of ecological, environmental, and treaty concerns – to keeping these lands protected. Our National Parks are an economy unto themselves. They act as permanent anchors of the natural wonders of our country, attracting visitors from all corners of the Earth who wish to marvel, in person, at their grandeur and experience, firsthand, their rugged beauty and the challenges they pose to the adventurous. This is an endlessly renewing economy, as generation after generation of human beings travel to these parks to spend their hard-earned cash. Businesses and communities, which might otherwise survive on the thin edge, are able to thrive on the tourist economy that our lands create and maintain over time. This stream of income varies over time, but it is a consistent one. In 2016 alone, visitors to our national parks spent approximately $18.4 billion dollars. That’s not a one-time profit from oil exploration or coal mining, but an ongoing influx of billions of dollars every year. This income stream, which acts as a semi-permanent lifeblood for regions all over the United States, is coupled to inflation, meaning that as long as the number of visitors remains relatively stable the revenue generated will also remain stable no matter the value of our currency or the state of other parts of our broader economy.

As our country moves forward into the future, the question appears more and more pertinent: shall we spend or invest in our national treasures? The timeless creations of nature we destroy through exploration of resources like oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, etc cannot be recovered by clever landscaping and land reclamation. This is immutable. Were we able to mine these resources without destroying our natural wonders, citizens would likely find themselves far more open to the idea, but the decision to extract and use our strategic reserves is not one to be made lightly. One cannot remove load-bearing walls from their home, sell off the metal and lumber therein, hang a nice curtain in their place, and expect the house to stand. Should we not save these reserves for a crisis that we cannot solve another way?

There is a secondary issue, of delegation of duty, to be considered as well. Being a can of slightly different worms, perhaps this is better saved for a separate piece, but I would like to introduce some questions regardless. Is this, as Republicans suggest, an issue over which states should have authority? What would be the consequences of land like Bears Ears and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge changing hands from Washington D.C. to Salt Lake City and Juneau? Who will be more responsive to the concerns of local citizens and who will be more responsive to the concerns of business? Will Utah and Alaska do a better job? Here are a pair of contrasting opinions:
1. The Hill – Sizing them up: Utah rep, not Trump or Obama, meets Navajo needs on Bears Ears
2. LA Times – Op-Ed Under cover of tax bill, Congress gives away the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – to drillers

Regardless of the trappings of our decisions, the timeless wisdom of President Roosevelt speaks to us still today:

“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”
National Park Service – Theodore Roosevelt Quotes

– SoO

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Don’t Be a Sucker: A Revolution of the Mind

What happened when a Klansman met a black man in Charlottesville
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Imperial Wizard Billy Snuffer of the Rebel Brigade Knights, left, discusses the Klan, Nazis and hate with Daryl Davis.

Don’t Be a Sucker
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In 1947, the U.S. War Department released “Don’t Be a Sucker” to illustrate how Americans could lose their country if they give power to hatred.

Daryl Davis is nothing short of an American hero. He is also a social revolutionary in a nation indoctrinated by politics of rejection, tribalism, radicalization, and reactionary division. The KKK and Antifa are two sides of the same coin, molded by a determination to remain ignorant and without common decency toward or true empathy for their fellow human beings. Each side is populated by exclusionary culture warriors, both attempting to sow discord and to utilize said discord to elevate their chosen set of allies to positions of legal and cultural authority. Each side pretends to fight for what is right, by holding another set of people down; both are hypocritical in the extreme. They are all misguided and Daryl Davis, in his own way, is here to challenge that old paradigm of thought. He is here to remind us of who we really are. In these days of reactionary hurling of noise, epithets, bottles, and rocks at each other in the name of political activism, people like Daryl give me great hope. He understands the difference between divisive self-satisfaction and true change. He understands that the more we hate each other, the more we tear at the fabric of America, the more we give in to the momentary gratification of victory over our perceived opponents, the further our society will fall. This is Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate writ large and all too real. Daryl sees the bigger picture and understands that we are all in this together.

There are almost an endless number of questions to be asked about the vicious protests we have all witnessed of late. What are they? Why do they occur? What brings each side out and what convinces these people that different levels of violence are their tools of choice? Why do we feel comfortable utilizing violence against our fellow citizens? Why do we believe it righteous if used for the “correct” cause? These, and more, are all vital to understanding this phenomenon and not only bringing it to an end, but providing the country with a better path at the same time. So, let’s try and break it down a little.

What is Radicalization?

Radicalization: noun: “The action or process of causing someone to adopt radical positions on political or social issues.”
English Oxford Dictionary

Radicalize: transitive verb: “to make radical especially in politics”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Radical: adjective: “2: of or relating to the origin : fundamental
3a : very different from the usual or traditional : extreme
b : favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions
c : associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change
d : advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

It is my firm belief that, in order to employ violent tactics in the name of one’s political and social beliefs, one must radicalize to a large extent. Problems arise even when the radical groups are relatively limited in size. The crises occur when large numbers of people within a social structure begin to radicalize and it slowly becomes the norm. One technique used by radicals to spread their perspective is to engage in extreme encounters with radicals of different stripes. This is great marketing: it advertises both groups’ ideologies, garners widespread attention, and hijacks public discourse by reframing it in radical terms. The KKK and Antifa are both radical groups; this is why they so closely resemble each other and why, despite their best attempts, they do not truly represent the views of most people in American society. They are opportunists, seeking to destabilize in service to their own causes. It is also my firm belief that many participants within the groups are unaware of the machinations at work in organized movements such as these. Many do not see the massive amount of financing and centralized planning required to organize these protests in coordination around the country. These are not grassroots protests, they simply masquerade as such. From lurking forums, to discussing ideas and actions with people clothed in movement symbolism, to prodding participants for their own ideas, I have come to believe that the majority who follow these groups are not entirely aware of the way they are being used. Management and workers appear separated by access to information, just like a company.

Don’t be a sucker. Whenever anyone divides you up, regardless of the tools employed, they are not doing it for your benefit. You are only ever divided from other people in your society for the benefit of those seeking control of that society. Division is one of the primary tools of reactionary culture warriors, which is why they discourage communication with the other sides in a confrontation as much as possible. They reject dialectic and prevent thesis and antithesis from ever becoming synthesis. They don’t want a solution to the problem to develop naturally through conversation and individual growth; they want to artificially control the evolution of society. Daryl Davis, by his lonesome efforts to treat his countrymen with the respect due fellow human beings, threatens this paradigm. This is what makes him so special. He has not allowed hate to poison his soul.

Here’s an interesting line of inquiry: why do people fall for the trick? Why do so many let themselves be suckers? In most cases, it isn’t really their fault. We’re all brought up with a certain amount of indoctrination from our parents, schools, entertainment, news, etc. People grow up with different paradigms programmed into their consciousnesses, each acting out their lives through these differing lenses. Every event we witness, every hardship we suffer, every relationship we have is affected by those original perspectives, regardless of how hard we try to change the way we think over time. This is natural. Our brains are organic computers; our programming is partially software and, since neurons literally grow in specific patterns in response to stimuli, is partially hardware. What makes us so special is our ability to sit and self-reflect on our own thoughts. This allows us to see the way we think and, with a great deal of work, alter those mental patterns. The more we choose to think a different way, the more our neurons shift and grow to reflect those new ways of thinking. This is why is it so difficult for people to break out of long-term behavior patterns, but why it is always possible. This is why Daryl Davis is able to slowly teach Klan members to let go of the hate that has twisted their minds up inside. He is basically reprogramming individuals through his words and kindness. These small actions and successes prove that we are truly amazing beings.

Ok, that’s nice and all, but what does this BS about brains have to do with why people find themselves being suckered into dividing up their own society? The answer is pretty simple: they experience or witness crises and/or hardships that they don’t fundamentally understand and a radical recruiter, just waiting for the right opportunity, gives them a false answer that strokes their preconceptions. All it takes is seeing society change a little around you, seeing new faces replacing old faces, seeing things you love disappear, losing a job and seeing everyone around you losing their jobs, living through an economic crisis that saps your neighborhood of its life, seeing politicians promise to destroy industries that have sustained your local and regional communities for decades, hearing people blame groups you identify with for the decay, witnessing upticks in crime, losing loved ones to broken medical systems, and so many more potential triggers that it’s nearly impossible to catalog them all. If the idea the radical sells the potential recruit fits closely enough with the ideas and paradigms of thought that they have grown up with, the idea sails smoothly through the brain and gets them hooked. If they can blame a scapegoat ethnic, age, class, philosophical, sexual preference, or gender group, they will. ‘It’s the Mexicans! It’s the white males! It’s the gays! It’s those entitled Millennials! It’s the Boomers! It’s the Immigrants! It’s these feminists! It’s the blacks!’ Scapegoats are always just scapegoats. Like a fish on a hook, the new recruit may wriggle and struggle a bit as they are pulled in, but the experienced radical fisherman knows exactly the right triggers and arguments to use to seduce the naïve. Once they’re reeled in all the way, they are surrounded by others who have already accepted the new paradigm and their new beliefs are reinforced until their mind reshapes itself to think that way on its own. Recruiting is an art form. Spend enough time lurking activist groups, internet forums, and physical political gatherings and you will see the artists at work. They are very good at what they do and are always ready to stomp out dissenting voices that threaten to free a catch.

These groups of indoctrinated and fearful individuals are then sent out to clash with perceived opposing groups. Many times, violence is a foregone conclusion because it was the goal in the first place. Blood and fire make the news because they attract attention. News corporations love eyeballs because viewership means money and money is what ultimately drives every corporation. These radical groups are very aware of these relationships and will exploit them time and time and time again. If a few have to die along the way, it seems, so be it. So what is the cure? Is it joining your chosen group of “allies” and screaming, cursing, and hurling objects at your perceived opponent until they go away? Is that, perhaps, just a result of your unconscious radicalization? Shutting “those people” up for a little while might feel great and righteous, as did the Two Minutes Hate, but it only makes the problem worse in the long term. It further entrenches the beliefs of the opposing group, makes them more assured of their radical beliefs, makes you more assured of your radical beliefs, divides even the least radical in society, and pits neighbor against neighbor. When these groups shut up, they don’t disappear. They are still active, climbing into government, the police, courts, media, etc. Don’t be ruled by fear. Don’t settle for what feels good in the short term. Don’t be tricked by self-satisfaction. Don’t be a sucker.

Be your own person. See the power a single individual like Daryl Davis has. Change your society through a revolution of the mind.

– SoO

Fiscal Sleight of Hand

Los Angeles Times – Column – Sen. Rubio tells a secret: After giving a tax cut to the rich, GOP will cut Social Security and Medicare
la-1512062452-l9zwbo6ci3-snap-image

A painfully earnest Sen. Marco Rubio, right, explains to Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer of Politico why cutting taxes for the 1% is good, but preserving Social Security and Medicare benefits for the working class is bad. (Politico)

Paul Ryan – Social Security
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“Social Security is Going Broke”

Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, much like the rest of Congress, are playing a shell game. Social Security, had it been left alone as intended, would be viable pretty much forever. From its inception, it was a basic pay-in pay-out system and surpluses were supposed to go back into the trust fund in order to offset future higher withdrawals.

“Well, either Obama and Geithner are lying to us now, or they and all defenders of the Social Security status quo have been lying to us for decades.  It must be one or the other.”
Forbes – What Happened to the $2.6 Trillion Social Security Trust Fund?

However, Executive administrations and Congresses, looking for a means to hide revenue loss from mismanagement and kickbacks, started robbing the surpluses before they went into the fund. They used this money to supplement lost revenue from corruption, inefficiency, tax cuts, and tax avoidance by the very wealthy. The mechanism used to perpetuate this fraud on the American public was the swap out of cold hard cash for Treasury bonds and securities (basically IOUs to the trust fund).

“The Social Security Administration openly admits that ‘Money flowing into the trust funds is invested in U. S. Government securities. Because the government spends this borrowed cash, some people see the trust fund assets as an accumulation of securities that the government will be unable to make good on in the future. Without legislation to restore long-range solvency of the trust funds, redemption of long-term securities prior to maturity would be necessary.'”
Social Security Administration – Trust Fund FAQs

Now, here is where the language gets interesting. The SSA makes the claim that “Far from being ‘worthless IOUs,’ the investments held by the trust funds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U. S. Government. The government has always repaid Social Security, with interest. The special-issue securities are, therefore, just as safe as U.S. Savings Bonds or other financial instruments of the Federal government.” This is a fascinating way to characterize the issue and relies on perception rather than an understanding of reality. “Backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government,” simply means that, much like the Wall Street bailout following the 2007/2008 crash, the taxpayer will cover any repayment of the bonds and securities. After all, this is where all of the government’s money comes from: us. Once this clear connection is understood, the shell game becomes fairly clear: we are all on the hook for repayment of the bonds/securities IOUs that the Treasury issued to the Social Security trust fund as it took and spent the money we, the taxpayers, were paying into said trust fund each and every year through our payroll taxes. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul, who was supposed to hold Peter’s money, but spent it instead.

The Republicans, loudly, and the Democrats, quietly, are playing this ‘the boomers will destroy SS!’ game right now because those bonds and securities are going to begin coming due in the next few years and there are nowhere near enough potential payroll taxes left to cover the boomer retirement wave. The fund should be brimming, not half empty and stuffed with meaningless IOUs underwritten by the same taxpayers who paid in to create the surpluses in the first place.

“The Social Security trust fund is merely an accounting device filled with IOUs that future taxpayers must repay. Far too soon, payroll taxes will be insufficient to pay all of the promised benefits. Unless Congress promptly takes action, taxpayers will have to pump hundreds of billions of additional tax dollars into Social Security to pay the promised benefits.”
The Heritage Foundation – Misleading the Public: How the Social Security Trust Fund Really Works

The Federal government, under either major party, will soon have to use tax revenue to pay back those bonds, which is not supposed to happen. My guess is option B will be to hack away at SS until the current pool of money coming into the fund can cover the bond repayments; then they’ll drain the fund, say it was proof the system never worked in the first place, and eliminate SS. I believe that this is the reason Obama spent the last year of his second term advocating for cuts to SS. If the shortsighted incompetent managers in Washington D.C. don’t kill the program, people will realize what they have been doing for a long time: stealing Americans’ retirement money.

Neither party will step up to fix this problem, as they are the exact people responsible for the problem existing in the first place. A solution to this impending budget crunch must come from the American people and must be pushed through the government with a wave of grassroots energy and honest political candidates. Nothing less will suffice.

– SoO

A New Beginning

The State of Opportunity is dedicated to analysis of, and open conversation about, politics and current events. It’s all about this crazy world in which we find ourselves and charting a path forward to allow all people within society to advance said society to a higher level. It’s about freedom, democracy, and opportunity for all. I welcome those of all stripes, who are willing to speak with each other respectfully, no matter how you label yourself politically. Conservatives, liberals, progressives, authoritarians, libertarians, nationalists, globalists, capitalists, socialists, and all others are welcome. This is my microcosm of the marketplace of ideas. This is where I want to discuss, among many other things, the opportunity state.

I myself am a social democrat with libertarian tendencies. I see government and the market as unique tools to craft a well-functioning and forward-looking country. I fundamentally believe in representative government and the ability of every citizen to have an equal voice before their elected officials. I believe in a strong and vibrant market geared towards innovation, competition, and renewal through small business and startups as opposed to stagnation through amalgamation and monopoly. I believe in giving everyone born in this great country as much of an equal shot at the American Dream as possible. The rich will always have an edge (this is without debate), but even if you are born homeless under a bridge, you should be guaranteed a solid chance to grow up healthy and recognize your aspirations, as long as you are willing to put in the hard work to get there. Provision of resources to climb the ladder of opportunity is key to any stable society that wants to last more than a few generations. We need to stop being talked into burning those ladders down.

In my opinion, this is achieved through the visionary construction of a libertarian-minded social democracy in the United States. This simply means taking the lessons of past ideologies and carefully assessing them to determine which portions should be adopted and which should be left behind in the rubbish heap of history. This means implementing effective socialist policy within a strong capitalist market framework: a combination of the best of both, without the worst of either. This all resides under the umbrella of a strong and legitimate democracy: a representative Republic in which constituents are represented rather than donors.

A true left-wing approach, which maintains personal liberty, has been suppressed by the Republican and Democratic parties alike. A true left-wing approach has been suppressed by corporate media of all forms.

Ludicrous times: today, even policy in line with Reagan’ philosophy is deemed “socialist.”

Clumsy and authoritarian left-wing policy of old, coupled with predatory and authoritarian right-wing policy of modern times, has poisoned many great ideas in the minds of too many folks. I am going to try and shine a little a little light on what is possible if we simply see the world with a little more nuance.

This page, and associated websites and social media accounts, will be used to accomplish a variety of things. I will be posting articles and commentary about current events and the political world that I find to be interesting and informative. I want to offer my two cents, to whomever is interested, on these articles and ongoing events. I also want to research and write well-cited pieces on current and past events, as well as complex political philosophies throughout history, when I have the time. I would love to hear what my readers think, as I know that I do not have all the answers. Our discourse is what will advance our society, not our silence. Adaptation is humanity’s greatest skill and the shepherds of our world have no right to deprive others of the ability to adapt. We’re all in this together, folks, and we will swim or sink together.

– SoO