Careening toward climate catastrophe, with glimmers of hope

Bob Sheak, November 17, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

Representatives from 200 countries arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31 for the convening of COP26, the purpose of which is to find an international consensus on how the nations of the world can address, curtail, and eventually stop global warming.

The first COP summit was held in 1995 and has served since then as the meeting of parties to the 1992 Kyoto Protocol that first committed countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

According to Wikipedia, “twenty-five thousand delegates from 200 countries are attending,[38] and around 120 heads of state” are participation in COP26 

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference).

The international efforts in all these years, based on unenforceable agreements,  have not kept the steady increase from emissions from fossil fuels since COP1 in 1995. This appears to be true of COP26 as well.

In this post, I point out: (1) there has long been recognition of the problem of global warming, well over a century before the first COP summit; (2) the evidence is increasingly compelling; (3) the U.S. has been the biggest contributor to the problem; (4) the U.S. and some other “rich” countries continue to expand their use of fossil fuels; (5) what transpired at COP26 to undermine the mission of the conference; (6) the contradictions in the U.S. position on global warming; (7) the weakness of what COP26 accomplished; (8) the Biden administration’s policies after COP26; and (9) an overall assessment of COP26.

The upshot of the post is that, despite growing recognition of the reality of advancing global warming and its destructiveness, and despite international efforts to reach agreements to stem the problem, the U.S. and the world’s nations have not yet been able to free themselves from fossil fuels, the principal sources of this growing existential threat. In the U.S., the chief hurdles have been continuing support and dependence on fossil fuels, too little investment in renewables, political and economic forces that generally prioritize fossil fuels, a powerful right-wing, reactionary movement under the sway of Trump, as well as a public that is by and large influenced more by their immediate economic interests than by increasingly catastrophic climate change.

#1 – It long been established scientifically that global warming is a growing, existential problem

Recognition, but not enough action

There has been an understanding of and concern about the rising Earth temperature for at least 165 years, principally caused by emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Eunice Newton Foote “theorized that changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could affect the Earth’s temperature back in 1856 (All We Can Save, p. xvii).

The scientific confirmation of this theory is confirmed again and again over the last century and a half. Jumping to recent times, James Gustave Speth, an internationally environmental expert, writes that it is well documented that “the federal government knew enough in the 1970s and 1980s to begin addressing the climate issue in energy policy and elsewhere.” Such understanding is documented during the Carter administration in the 1970s, and has been continuously demonstrated in every subsequent administration up through Trump’s four years. And all of  these administrations failed to reduce the rise in fossil fuel emissions (See Speth’s book, They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis). The climate denialism of the Trump administration was off the charts in denying or avoiding the problem and in undermining efforts to address it.

In an article published in The New York Times, Coral Davenport considers the evidence that Trump’s most profound legacy will be “climate damage” (https://nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-change.html). She writes:

“…Mr. Trump’s rollbacks of emissions policies have come at a critical moment: Over the past four years, the global level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere crossed a long-feared threshold of atmospheric concentration. Now, many of the most damaging effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and more devastating heat, droughts and wildfires, are irreversible.”

#2 – Recent evidence documenting global warming

Kenny Stancil analyzes a recent climate report from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) titled State of the Climate in 2020. “It is,” he writes, “the 31st installment of the leading annual evaluation of the global climate system” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/08/25/atmospheric-co2-levels-havent-been-high-800000-years-noaa). The report is based “on the contributions of more than 530 scientists from over 60 countries and compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”

NOAA finds that 2020 “was the warmest on record without an El Niño effect, and ‘new high-temperature records were set across the globe.” Additionally, “The agency added that the past seven years (2014-2020) had been the seven warmest on record,” continuing a trend toward a warmer planet.

The trend reflects growing greenhouse gas emissions and how they are accumulating in the atmosphere. NOAA finds that, in 2020, “the global average atmospheric concentration of COincreased to a record high of 412.5 parts per million. According to CO2-earth, the number reached 414.57 ppm on November 15, 2021 (https://co2.earth/daily.co2).

Stancil notes that the atmospheric concentrations of other major greenhouse gases (GHG), including methane and nitrous oxide, also continued to climb to record highs last year despite the pandemic.” Astoundingly, 2020’s COconcentration “was 2.5 parts per million greater than 2019 amounts and was the highest in the modern 62-year measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.” Moreover, “the year-over-year increase of methane (14.8 parts per billion) was the highest such increase since systematic measurements began.” The trends are upward.

At the same time, global sea levels continued to rise. The NOAA research reveals the following, according to Stancil: “For the ninth consecutive year,” said NOAA, “global average sea level rose to a new record high and was about 3.6 inches (91.3 millimeters) higher than the 1993 average,” which is when satellite measurements began. As a result of melting glaciers and ice sheets, warming oceans, and other expressions of the climate crisis, the “global sea level is rising at an average rate of 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeter) per decade.”

Stancil also refers to other notable findings from the report, as follows.

  • Upper atmospheric temperatures were record or near-record setting;
  • Oceans absorbed a record amount of CO2, global upper ocean heat content reached a record high, and the global average sea surface temperature was the third highest on record;
  • The Arctic continued to warm at a faster pace than lower latitudes—resulting in a spike in carbon-releasing fires—and minimum sea ice extent was the second smallest in the 42-year satellite record;
  • Antarctica witnessed extreme heat and a record-long ozone hole; and
  • There were 102 named tropical storms during the Northern and Southern Hemisphere storm seasons, well above the 1981–2010 average of 85.

U.S. physicists take an official stand on the unfolding reality and destructiveness of climate change

Award-winning journalist Marianne Lavelle reports at Inside Climate News on how the nation’s physicists have toughened their stand on the causes and effects of climate change (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11112021/american-physical-society-climate-change-statement; also see Andrea Germanos, Truthout, Nov 11, 2021 https://trthout.org/articles/200-global-scientists-urge-immediate-large-scale-action-to-limit-global-warming).

Lavelle writes: “On Wednesday [November 10], the society of 50,000 physicists issued a statement on the policy, which was “approved at a virtual meeting of the APS 42-member policy-making council.” Lavelle quotes from the statement as follows: “Multiple lines of evidence strongly support the finding that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have become the dominant driver of global climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century.”

“The policy statement arrives,” Lavelle points out, “just a month after the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to three physicists whose work became a foundation for science’s understanding of climate change: Syukuro Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann, an oceanographer and professor emeritus at the University of Hamburg; and Giorgio Parisi of Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy. Their work helped explain and predict complex forces of nature, showing how reliable climate models could be developed despite the apparent disorder of weather systems, and how human influences could be identified in a system also affected by natural forces.”

Sylvester James Gates, director of the theoretical physics center at Brown University, who took over as APS president earlier this year, is quoted:

“Physicists have been essential to advancing our understanding of the climate system and humanity’s impact on it.” And now “renews its call for sustained research in climate science and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The statement also expresses a sense of urgency, as it maintains that climate change and its potential consequences “are great and the actions taken over the next decade or two will determine human influences on the climate for centuries to millennia.” The ongoing research of physicists will help to clarify and explain what CO2 and other greenhouse gases are and their environmentally detrimental effects.

“As in its previous climate change statements,” Lavelle writes, “the APS urged sustained research on climate change. But drawing heavily from the scientific assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the society changed its characterization of the remaining uncertainties in climate science. In place of a previous sentence on the scientific challenges in our abilities ‘to observe, interpret, and project climate changes,’ the APS now points to the challenges in our abilities ‘to project, adapt to, and mitigate anthropogenic climate change’—indicating that the greatest remaining uncertainties pertain to solutions.” Lavelle underlines this point with a quote from the Associated Press from Syukuro Manabe, one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics, who said that his work in the 1960s building the first model predicting climate change was ‘1,000 times’ easier than getting the world to do something about it.”

#3 -The U.S. has been the biggest contributor to global warming, along with other “rich” countries

New York Times journalists Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer address this issue that has great relevance for the world’s nations, namely, who among nations has the most historical responsibility for climate change? (https://nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/12/climate/cop26-emissions-compensation.html).

It is an issue that is publicly advanced by countries that have contributed very little to climate change, that are now particularly most affected by climate change, and that do not have the resources to adapt to the ongoing and increasing ravages of such change. They want the countries that are mostly responsible for this multifaceted and existentially threatening problem to give them support, some call it reparations, so they may be able to deal with the unfolding problem and have a chance of surviving as nations.

Popovich and Plumer say this is “[o]ne of the biggest fights at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow is whether — and how — the world’s wealthiest nations, which are disproportionately responsible for global warming to date, should compensate poorer nations for the damages caused by rising temperatures.”

Rich countries such as “the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population today but are responsible for 50 percent of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels and industry over the past 170 years.” Over this time, the “Earth has heated up by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit), fueling stronger and deadlier heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires. Poorer, vulnerable countries have asked richer nations to provide more money to help adapt to these hazards.”

In 2001, “the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020. But they are still falling short by tens of billions of dollars annually, and very little aid so far has gone toward measures to help poorer countries cope with the hazards of a hotter planet, such as sea walls or early warning systems for floods and droughts.”

In this context, poorer countries, “many of which still produce a tiny fraction of overall emissions, have asked for a separate fund, paid for by wealthy countries, to compensate them for the damages they can’t prevent. This issue is referred to as “loss and damage.” There are precedents.

“Lots of people are losing their lives, they are losing their future, and someone has to be responsible,” said A.K. Abdul Momen, the foreign minister of Bangladesh. He compared loss and damage to the way the United States government sued tobacco companies in the 1990s to recover billions of dollars in higher health care costs from the smoking epidemic.”

Wealthy nations are reluctant to go along with the plea for “a specific funding mechanism for loss and damage, fearing that it could open the door to a flood of liability claims. Only the government of Scotland has been willing to offer specific dollar amounts, pledging $2.7 million this week [during COP26] for victims of climate disasters.”

Moreover, “the United States and the European Union have argued that the world will never be able to minimize the damage from global warming unless swiftly-industrializing nations like India do more to slash their emissions. But India, which recently announced a pledge to reach “net zero” emissions by 2070, says it needs much more financial help to shift from coal to cleaner energy, citing both its lower per capita emissions and smaller share of historical emissions.” By the way, 2070 is not soon enough.

Resolving the disputes over money – or not – will determine whether negotiators from nearly 200 countries can strike a new global deal in Glasgow to limit the risks of future global warming. They have not been clearly resolved.

#4 – The U.S. and some other rich countries are expanding fossil fuel expansion

Contrary to the science and simple rationality, Kenny Stancil reports that the five of the richest nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Norway, have plans to support the expansion of fossil fuels in their respective countries (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/12/five-rich-nations-jeopardizing-future-plans-fossil-fuel-expansion-report).

The evidence on this situation was assembled by Freddie Daley, “a research associate at the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, as well as key partners in each of the five countries analyzed—Oil Change International, Uplift U.K., The Australia Institute, Stand.earth, and Greenpeace Norway.”

The key finding: “Coal, oil, and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31%, and 28% respectively between now and 2030… Projections suggest that the Fossil Fuelled 5 will… actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%,” while reducing coal production by only 30%. They also “intend to approve and subsidize new fossil fuel projects that ‘will be in operation for decades to come.’” Indeed, the five countries “have provided “more than $150 billion USD to support the production and consumption of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This level of support from the Fossil Fuelled 5 is more than the entire G7 put towards clean energy as part of the pandemic recovery effort ($147 billion).”

Here are examples of the country-specific findings from the report:

  • The United States has pledged to halve emissions by 2030 yet has simultaneously provided $20 billion in annual support to the fossil fuel industry;
  • Despite hosting COP26, the United Kingdom is expected to greenlight the Cambo oil field, which contains approximately 255 million barrels of oil;
  • Despite its recent commitment to net-zero by 2050, Australia has over 100 fossil fuel projects currently in the approval pipeline;
  • Canada is looking to increase their price on carbon but also provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020; and
  • Norway has raised its ambition to decrease emissions but has already granted 60+ new licenses for fossil fuel production and access to 84 new exploration zones in 2021 alone.

Progressive advocates from all five countries denounced their respective governments for subsidizing planet-wrecking fossil fuels when the world is demanding a rapid and just transition to clean energy.

The United States—which has planned to expand oil and gas production more than any other country between 2019 and 2030—was described by Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, as “the poster child for climate hypocrisy.”

“Together, the Fossil Fuelled 5 account for 25% of global fossil fuel exports,” says the report. “Nations such as Australia, Norway, and the United States continue to export huge amounts of coal, oil, and/or gas, essentially exporting their greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the continued fossil fuel dependence of many countries worldwide.”

The Fossil Fuelled 5 report also proposes solutions.

“Halt the licensing for further exploration and extraction of fossil fuels;

Commit to a timeline for domestic phase-out of fossil fuels in line with 1.5ºC, noting that wealthy countries can and should move first and should therefore exceed the average rates identified in the Production Gap Report of phasing out coal, oil and gas on average by 11%, 4% and 3% respectively each year;

End the support for fossil fuel production through subsidies, tax relief and other mechanisms of government support;

The “Join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) is working with other governments to achieve several goals: to end fossil fuel production and fund a just transition for workers; act as first movers as part of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty; and redirect the vast financial support currently provided to fossil fuel industries towards helping developing countries shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel production and consumption. Such groups have not yet had much of an impact, certainly not when compared to the corporate representatives at COP26.

#5 – 200 countries assemble in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26

The opening statement by Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general

The bad news

Antonio Guterres opened COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, pointing out that the “six years since the Paris Climate Agreement [Dec. 2015] have been the six hottest years on record” and “[o]ur addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink” of a climate catastrophe that will be irreparable (https://unfccc.int/news/un-secretary-general-cop26-must-keep-15-degrees-celsius-goal-alive). There are only two choices: “Either we stop it — or it stops us.” 

Guterres refers to examples of what has already been occurring in the unfolding climate catastrophe. We have been “digging our own graves” by brutalizing biodiversity, killing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning and drilling that intensifies this enormous problem. These activities have already had unprecedented and calamitous effects, as reflected, for example, in melting glaciers, extreme weather events, warming oceans, and where parts of the Amazon Rainforest “now emit more carbon than they absorb.”

Little progress in stemming the increase in global warming

It is illusory, he says, to think we have turned things around. Instead, past pledges by nations to reduce their carbon emissions have not been fulfilled and, indeed, the pledges are inadequate to begin with. If current emission increases continue, the world is headed toward “a calamitous 2.7 degree increase.” “We are fast approaching tipping points that will trigger escalating feedback loops of global heating.”

Some reasons to be hopeful?

Guterres then turns to hopeful examples. He says that we know what we must do, that is, invest “in the net zero, climate resilient economy [that] will create feedback loops of its own — virtuous circles of sustainable growth, jobs and opportunity.” And, he contends, “We have progress to build upon.” 

  • A number of countries have made credible commitments to net-zero emissions by mid-century.
  • Many have pulled the plug on international financing of coal.
  • Over 700 cities are leading the way to carbon neutrality.
  • The private sector is waking up. 
  • The Net-Zero Asset Owners Alliance — the gold standard for credible commitments and transparent targets — is managing $10 trillion in assets and catalyzing change across industries.
  • The climate action army — led by young people — is unstoppable.
  • The science is clear.  We know what to do. First, we must keep the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive
  • This requires greater ambition on mitigation and immediate concrete action to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

What then must be done

Guterres urges “developed countries and emerging economies to build coalitions to create the financial and technological conditions to accelerate the decarbonization of the economy as well as the phase out of coal.” We must, Guterres says, revisit the national climate plans and pledges every year, until the realization of 1.5 degrees is assured, until subsidies to fossil fuels end, until there is a price on carbon, and until coal is phased out. He also says climate-smart agriculture and infrastructure will save jobs and reduce emissions. Developed countries must actually deliver on their $100 billion climate finance commitment in support of developing countries. And there must be more public climate finance, more overseas development aid, more grants, easier access to funding. And

“multilateral development banks must work much more seriously at mobilizing greater investment through blended and private finance.”

Corporate lobbyists are there to protect their fossil fuel interests

Jake Johnson reports on an analysis of a 1,600-page U. N. list of approved COP 26 attendees published by a coalition led by Global Witness (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/08/fossil-fuel-lobbists-have-larger-presence-cop26-any-single-country-report). The analysis documents that at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists have been admitted to the summit in Glasgow, Scotland and that they represent the largest group of delegates at the climate conference. They are signed in as delegates from various large nations or business groups. Johnson puts it this way:

“Prominent industry attendees, according to the new analysis, include “delegates from over 100 fossil fuel companies”—such as the oil giants Shell and BP—’who openly stated their affiliation, attending the talks as part of country delegations or with business groups’ like the International Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson continues. “‘For example,’ the analysis notes, ‘one in eight delegates from Russia’s three hundred-strong delegation were from the fossil fuel industry while lobbyists were also included in Canada’s and Brazil’s official delegations. In total, 27 different official country delegations included fossil fuel lobbyists.’”

Why are they participating? Johnson quotes Pascoe Sabido, “a campaigner for Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)—one of the groups behind the new research—[who] said in a statement that /COP26 is being sold as the place to raise ambition, but it’s crawling with fossil fuel lobbyists whose only ambition is to stay in business.’? Sabido added: “The likes of Shell and BP are inside these talks despite openly admitting to upping their production of fossil gas. If we’re serious about raising ambition, then fossil fuel lobbyists should be shut out of the talks and out of our national capitals.”

Demonstrations by environmental activists have little impact at GOP26

While thousands marched in Glasgow demanding the phasing out of fossil fuels, support for renewable energy, and “reparations” to vulnerable nations, Popular Resistance reported on November 8, 2021 that governments at  the COP26 paid little attention to social movements and demonstrations (https://thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/13/21102/cop26—governments-play-deaf-to-social-movements).

Emilio Godoy echoed that message in an article on The Citizen website (https://thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/13/21102/cop26—governments-play-deaf-to-social-movements). Godoy quotes Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a member of the non-governmental organization Youth Advocates for Climate Action from the Philippines, who voiced a common criticism of the UNFCCC for gladly welcoming those who caused the crisis to COP26, while accomplishing too little of substantive import to address the unfolding climate crises. [UNFCC stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For an explanation, go to https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/what-is-the-united-nations-framework-convention-on-climate-change. It’s another way of referring to the COP summits.]

The COP Coalition, of which Tan is a participant, is made up, as Godoy describes, of a “a motley crew of organizations and movements whose common demand was a real effort to fight the climate crisis through concrete and fair measures and whose 200 events in this Scottish city included workshops, forums, artistic presentations and protests.”

Participants in the coalition included demands of the 196 Parties to the UNFCCC to abandon fossil fuels, reject cosmetic solutions to the climate emergency, support a just transition to a lower carbon economy, and the call for reparations and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and the global South.

“One of the most unanimous and loudest criticisms from non-governmental social and environmental organizations focused on the exclusion of civil society groups from Latin America, Africa and Asia, due to the UK host government’s decision to modify the admission criteria according to the level of contagion in each country and the extent of vaccination.” They also complained about the “strict hurdles imposed by the COP26…to the presence of NGO observers at the official negotiating tables, which undermined the transparency of the Glasgow process.”

One of the key initiatives from the civil society groups “was for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty aimed at moving towards the end of the era of coal, gas and oil, the consumption of which is primarily responsible for the growing planetary climate emergency,” as well as “a fair phase-out and a just energy transition.” They also want an end to deforestation and investment in forest protection and expansion.

The Coalition’s demands have “so far received the support of some 750 organizations, 12 cities, more than 2,500 scientists, academics, parliamentarians from around the world, and religious leaders, indigenous movements and more than 100 Nobel Prize winners.”

#6 – The contradictions in the U.S. policies toward fossil fuels

U.S. claims to be the world’s climate champion – it is not

In an article for The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard, the environmental correspondent and investigative editor at large at The Nation, author, and a co-founder of Covering Climate Now, refutes the deeply entrenched notion in U.S. political and media circles that the U.S. is, or has been, the world’s greatest climate champion and “US leadership is essential to global climate progress” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/11/10/who-worlds-greatest-champion-hint-not-united-states). 

That laudatory message, Hertsgaard writes, was “repeated Tuesday [Nov. 9] at the United Nations climate conference COP26 as Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of 16 fellow congressional Democrats congratulated themselves and US president Joe Biden for the ‘Build Back Better’ climate legislation they are trying to pass in the United States Congress,” which contains about $500 billion for climate-related programs. Of course, the big question is whether the U.S. Senate will ever pass the legislation.

The evidence contradicts what U.S leaders boast

Here is Hertsgaard’s extended argument.

“Never mind that the United States, under Democrats and Republicans alike, has arguably been the single biggest obstacle to global climate action since the 1992 Earth Summit that set in motion the negotiations whose latest installment is now unfolding in Glasgow. Former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement is only the most obvious recent example of that obstructionism. Indeed, the main reason the Paris Agreement, which was signed under President Barack Obama, is only an agreement rather than a treaty regarded as legally binding is that then–Secretary of State John Kerry and his international counterparts knew full well that the US Senate would never ratify a treaty that committed countries to keeping global temperature rise ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius. The United States was even more hostile to climate action during George W. Bush’s eight years in the White House. And in 1997, when the world’s governments approved the Kyoto Protocol, Bill Clinton’s administration did not bother submitting it to the Senate because, according to then–Vice President Al Gore, not even 10 senators were likely to approve it.”

Back to the present, Hertsgaard returns to Pelosi’s press conference at the Glasgow summit and how she bragged about alleged U.S. climate leadership, focusing again on the pending Build Back Better bill. She said:

“the $250 billion that the Build Back Better budget bill allocates to ‘clean energy tax credits’ and its $222 billion for “environmental justice.,’ praising the yet-to-be-passed bill’s “$150 billion for ‘climate-smart agriculture and nature-based climate solutions.” She also “emphasized the hundreds of billions of dollars for family medical leave, universal pre-K, and other social welfare programs that will ‘enable everyone to participate in the economic prosperity that will flow from this’ bill—because, she added, ‘this is all about the children, leaving them a world where they can be healthy and more secure.’”

After other people spoke, Pelosi fielded too two questions from the press.

“The first asked whether Pelosi still intended the House to pass the Build Back Better Act the week of November 15. The speaker confirmed that she did. The second question was rather less predictable and came from Abby Martin of The Empire Files, who made a comment and then asked a question.

“Speaker Pelosi, you just presided over a large increase in the Pentagon budget,” Martin said. Pointing out that the Pentagon budget “is already massive” and “the Pentagon is a larger polluter than 140 countries combined,” Martin asked Pelosi, “How can we possibly talk about net zero if there is this bipartisan consensus to constantly expand this large contributor to climate change?”

“Veteran politicians are skilled at not answering questions they don’t want to answer,” Hertsgaard points out. “Pelosi invited John Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, to respond. He said the military knows that climate change is a national security issue, ‘so I don’t see…increasing the defense budget as being something that’s inconsistent with climate action.’ Likewise avoiding the subject of the Pentagon’s bountiful budget, Pelosi added that reducing the military’s use of fossil fuels would help ‘stop’ climate change, so ‘that is something we’re very focused on.’”

The hidden U.S. military’s harmful contributions to global warming

Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzalez interviewed on November 9 three guests on Democracy Now, including Ramon Mejia, “an anti-militarism national organizer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Iraq War veteran,” Erik Edstrom, “a former U.S. Army infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan and author of Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War,” and Neta Crawford, “co-founder and director of the Costs of War project at Brown University.” They pick up on the issue of the U.S. military’s enormous carbon emissions and how have never been included in the U.N. COP carbon emissions’ estimates

(https://democracynow.org/2011/11/09/cop26_militaty_emissions_and_climate_change).

Goodman opens with these facts.

“The Costs of War project estimates the military produced around 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, with nearly a third coming from U.S. wars overseas. But military carbon emissions have largely been exempted from international climate treaties dating back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol after lobbying from the United States.” Here are examples of what the guests had to say.

“RAMÓN MEJÍA: When I was in the military, there wasn’t any discussion about the chaos that we were creating. I conducted resupply convoys throughout the country, delivering munitions, delivering tanks, delivering repair parts. And in that process, I saw nothing but waste being left. You know, even our own units were burying munitions and disposable trash into the middle of the desert. We were burning trash, creating toxic fumes that have impacted veterans, but not only veterans, but the Iraqi people and those adjacent to those toxic burn pits.”

“So,” Mejia adds, “the U.S. military, while emissions is important to discuss, and it’s important that within these climate conversations that we address how the militaries are excluded and don’t have to reduce or report emissions, we also have to discuss the violence that the militaries wage on our communities, on the climate, on the environment.” He gives the following example of how they affect communities in the U.S.

“One of our delegates from New Mexico, from the Southwest Organizing Project, spoke to how millions and millions of jet fuel have spilled in Kirtland Air Force Base. More fuel has spilled and leached into the aquifers of neighboring communities than the Exxon Valdez, and yet those conversations aren’t being had.

And we have another delegate from Puerto Rico and Vieques, who tell the officials at COP26 how munitions tests and chemical weapons tests have plagued the island, and while the U.S. Navy is no longer there, cancer still is strickening the population.”

The solution: “it’s important that we discuss it, but greening the military is also not the solution. We have to address the violence that the military wages and the catastrophic effects it has on our world.”

Amy Goodman next introduced Erik Edstrom, “Afghan War vet, went on to study climate at Oxford and write the book Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War.” He basically echoed Mejia, stating this: “the journey to climate activism, I think, started when I was in Afghanistan and realized that we were solving the wrong problem the wrong way. We were missing the upstream issues underpinning foreign policy around the world, which is the disruption caused by climate change, which endangers other communities.” After he left the military, he went on to study this issue in college. He agrees now that it is intellectually dishonest, irresponsible, and dangerous to exclude the carbon emissions stemming from the U.S. Military at home and abroad. 

Finally, Amy turns to Neta Crawford, who emphasizes three points.

“First, there are emissions from installations. The United States has about 750 military installations abroad, overseas, and it has about 400 in the U.S. And most of those installations abroad, we don’t know what their emissions are. And that is because of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision to exclude those emissions or have them count for the country that the bases are located in.”

Second: “There’s also something known as — called bunker fuels, which are the fuels used on planes and aircraft — I’m sorry, aircraft and ships in international waters. Most of the United States Navy’s operations are in international waters, so we don’t know those emissions. Those are excluded. Now, the reason for that was, in 1997, the DOD sent a memo to the White House saying that if missions were included, then the U.S. military might have to reduce its operations. And they said in their memo, a 10% reduction in emissions would lead to a lack of readiness. And that lack of readiness would mean that the United States would not be prepared to do two things. One is be militarily superior and wage war anytime, anywhere, and then, secondly, not be able to respond to what they saw as the climate crisis that we would face. And why were they so aware in 1997? Because they had been studying the climate crisis since the 1950s and 1960s, and they were aware of the effects of greenhouse gases. So, that’s what’s included and what’s excluded.”

Third, there is another large category of emissions we don’t know about, which are the emissions from the military-industrial complex. “All of the equipment that we use has to be produced somewhere. Much of it comes from large military-industrial corporations in the United States. Some of those corporations acknowledge their, what are known as direct and somewhat indirect emissions, but we don’t know the entire supply chain. So, I have an estimate that the top military-industrial companies have emitted about the same amount of fossil fuel emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, as the military itself in any one year.”

Crawford adds: “we’re not counting Department of Homeland Security emissions — I haven’t counted them yet — and those should be included, as well.

#7 – Guterres’ concluding assessment of COP26: Not enough was accomplished but there is hope

Here are key points from the UN’s Secretary-General’s Statement on November 13 at the Conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, (https://unfaccc.int/news/secretary-general-s-statement-on-the-conclusion-of-the-un-climate-change-conference-cop26).

Secretary-general Guterres acknowledges that “the approved texts are a compromise” and “reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.” They do not ensure that pledges will “keep the 1.5 degree goal alive.” The nations of the world, particularly the richer nations, have not promised to go into an “emergency mode,” or “agree to phase out coal, “put a price on carbon” [a dubious, market-based idea that doesn’t curtail emissions from corporations],” build “resilience of vulnerable communities, or “make good on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to support developing countries.” 

At the same time, Guterres maintains that some positive steps were taken, involving commitments to end deforestation, reduce methane emissions, and “encourage International Financial Institutions to consider climate vulnerabilities in concessional financial and other forms of support, including Special Drawing Rights.”

But they alone will not let us achieve “a 45% cut by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.” As it stands now, the commitments by nations, even if fully implemented, “will clearly lead us to well above 2 degrees by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.” Furthermore, the Guterres said, richer nations have not met their pledge to deliver “on the $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries.” 

He wants national climate plans to be updated every year and pledges to reduce CO2 emissions raised.

Having said all that, Guterres closed “with a message of hope and resolve to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, all those leading the climate action army,” quoting “the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson’ who said:

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” He continued: “We have many more seeds to plant along the path.” He then expressed confidence about what can be accomplished.   

“We won’t reach our destination in one day or one conference. But I know we can get there….Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward. I will be with you all the way.” 

A bit of good news

In an article for Euro News, Rosie Frost reports on an “ambitious alliance to phase out oil and gas” launched on the sidelines of COP26 by Denmark and Costa Rica, and joined by France, Greenland, Ireland, Quebec, Sweden and Wales. California and New Zealand joined as associate members, as Italy expressed support. The name of this effort is the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (https://euronews.com/green/2021/11/11/cop26-denmark-and-costa-rica-launch-ambitious-alliance-to-phase-out-oil-and-gas).

The representatives from 10 of the 11 countries in the alliance have committed to “ending new licensing rounds for oil and gas exploration and production” and setting an ‘end date for oil and gas production and exploration that is aligned with Paris Agreement objectives.” Of course, there are pledges and it remains to be seen whether they are achieved by the end of the decade.

#8 – After COP26, US President Under Fire for ‘Failing to Act on Fossil Fuels’

What Biden and his administration are doing and not doing

Jessica Corbett points to criticisms of President Biden for not acting or doing too little to support policies at COP26 and domestically to reduce carbon emissions (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/11/13/after-cop26-us-president-under-fire-failing-act-fossil-fuels). For example, Mitch Jones, policy director at Food and Water Watch, emphasized in a statement “this White House should fulfill its campaign promise to stop oil and gas drilling on public lands, put an end to oil and gas exports, and stop approving new dirty energy power plants and pipelines.”

And Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, is quoted: “We’re in a five-alarm fire, but Biden refuses to use a firehose. President Biden can use his unique set of executive powers to stop fossil fuel project approvals and declare a climate emergency, but he isn’t. Failing to act on fossil fuels is beyond climate denial, it’s climate atrocity.”

Su further said that by declaring a national emergency, the president would have the opportunity “to reinstate the crude oil export ban and use military funds to deploy just and distributed energy systems in the communities most harmed by the fossil-fueled energy system.” To his credit, Biden “is backing global efforts to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane, end public financing of fossil fuels, and halt deforestation, but he has not supported “a pledge to phase out coal-fired power plants.”

With respect to support for vulnerable nations, the “United States also joined with the European Union and the United Kingdom—which hosted the conference—to quash the proposed creation of a new mechanism to make rich nations pay for the devastating climate impacts that global frontline communities are already enduring.”

Further contradictions in Biden’s climate-related policies

Mike Ludwig reports for Truthout on November 12 that the Biden administration is about to hold the US’s largest offshore drilling auction just days after COP26

(https://truthout.org/articles/after-cop26-biden-administration-to-auction-off-gulf-mexico-for-offshore-drilli).

The administration, he writes, “is preparing to auction off more than 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling companies less than a week after the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland…” The lease is “planned for November 17 in New Orleans [and] is the largest federal offshore drilling auction in United States history and comes just months after Hurricane Ida unleashed dozens of oil spills and petrochemical leaks from aging fossil fuel infrastructure near the Louisiana coast. On October 1, a ruptured underwater pipeline off the coast of California spilled an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude oil across ocean waters and beaches, the latest disaster to raise fears about the dangers of offshore drilling.”

The administration did not initiate the upcoming leases, but seems willing to allow them to go forward. Ludwig describes the complicated situation as follows.

“After campaigning on a pledge to ban new oil and gas leases on public lands and ocean waters, President Biden in January issued an executive order placing a moratorium on new federal leases while his administration conducts an environmental review that has yet to materialize. The moratorium was expected to have little immediate impact on drilling companies, which have already secured leases and permits to drill on public lands and waters for years to come. Still, Louisiana and a dozen other fossil fuel-producing states filed suit, and in June a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the ‘pause’ on leasing.”

“The Biden administration is appealing the decision, but the Department of Interior is moving ahead with plans to lease 734,000 acres of public lands in western states and millions of acres across the Gulf despite objections filed by environmental groups. John Filostrat, a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), said the federal agency is conducting the Gulf of Mexico lease sale in compliance with the court order.”

Nonetheless, if it wanted to, the “administration has more than sufficient authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to cancel this lease sale,” according to Ludwig’s investigation.

Meanwhile, the pending lease is being opposed by “[m]ore than 250 environmental, social justice and Indigenous groups,” who have sent “a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday [Nov. 10] with an ‘urgent plea’ to cancel the lease sale as the U.S. and other major polluters hammer out their latest pledges at the UN climate conference.” They contend, supported by the relevant science, that the fossil fuels “produced in the Gulf would contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate crisis… and feed onshore refineries and petrochemical plants that pollute low-income communities and neighborhoods of color.

Ludwig adds: “Fossil fuels produced from public lands and waters are responsible for about 24 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to federal researchers. If oil and gas leasing on public lands came to a halt, researchers estimate that carbon dioxide emissions would fall by 280 million tons by 2030, a sizeable reduction compared to other proposed climate policies.” Additionally, “environmental attorneys have filed a lawsuit, arguing the analysis used by federal regulators to estimate the environmental impacts of the lease sale is outdated and insufficient.”

Kristen Monsell, an oceans defense attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, informed Ludwig via an email that “advances in climate science in recent years tell us that burning this amount of oil and gas will absolutely contribute to the climate crisis.” And she points out, “The administration has more than sufficient authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to cancel this lease sale. It’s incredibly disappointing to see them not doing so and instead casting their lot with the fossil fuel industry and worsening the climate emergency.”

At the same time, the Biden administration is moving to curb emissions and, Ludwig reports, is “committed to cutting U.S. emissions by 50 percent under 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.” Ludwig points out, furthermore, that “the administration is focusing on new methane regulations and investments in cleaner technology and renewable energy, along with updates to infrastructure included in two bills Democrats are pushing through Congress.”  Biden signed the first [infrastructure] package on Monday [Nov. 15], which passed with support from a handful of Republicans.”

However, the bottom line for climate advocates is that “the legislation will not result in serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and are urging Democrats to pass their broader spending package with a ban on offshore drilling for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

#9 – A critical assessment of COP26

Brad Plumer and Lisa Friedman consider the final agreement reached at the end of COP26, reporting that diplomats “from nearly 200 countries on Saturday [November 13] struck a major agreement aimed at intensifying global efforts to fight climate change by calling on governments to return next year with stronger plans to curb their planet-warming emissions and urging wealthy nations to ‘at least double’ funding to protect poor nations from the hazards of a hotter planet”

 (https://nytimes.com/2021/11/13/climate/cop26-glasgow-climate-agreement.html).

However, they also point out that the “Top of FormnewBottom of Form deal will not, on its own, solve global warming, despite the urgent demands of many of the thousands of politicians, environmentalists and protesters who gathered at the Glasgow climate summit. Its success or failure will hinge on whether world leaders now follow through with new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to keep the earth’s average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius or lower compared to what it was at the onset of industrialization in the early 19th Century. The earth’s average temperature has already reached 1.1 degrees Celsius.

The agreement watered down its statement on fossil fuels. Plumer and Friedman write: “In the final hours of talks Saturday night [Nov. 13], negotiators clashed over wording that would have called on countries to ‘phase out’ coal power and government subsidies for oil and gas. Fossil fuels have never been explicitly mentioned in a global climate agreement before, even though they are the dominant cause of global warming. In the end, at the urging of India, which argued that fossil fuels were still needed for its development, ‘phase out’ was changed to ‘phase down.’”

“Switzerland’s representative, Simonetta Sommaruga, assailed the change: ‘We do not need to phase down, but to phase out.’”

There are also pledges to curb deforestation. However, the “detailed plans that governments have made to curb fossil-fuel emissions and deforestation between now and 2030 would put the world on pace to warm by roughly 2.4 degrees Celsius this century, according to analysts at Climate Action Tracker, a research group.” In the absence of sufficient compliance with pledges, temperatures could rise to 2.7 degrees or even higher. [See Mark Lynas’ book, Our Final Warning, on the effects of each addition rise in the earth’s temperature.]

Nonetheless, leaders at COP26 heralded that the agreement establishes “a clear consensus that all nations must do much more, immediately, to prevent a harrowing rise in global temperatures. And it set up transparency rules to hold countries accountable for the progress they make or fail to make.” But, in the final analysis, the agreement is based on unenforceable pledges about phasing down coal, oil, and gas and in fostering wind, solar, and controversially nuclear power.

The chief organizer of the U.N. COP 26, Alok Sharma, the British politician who led the United Nations summit, called the meeting’s final pact a “fragile win.”

In the new agreement, countries are asked “to come back by the end of next year with stronger pledges to cut emissions by 2030. Though the agreement states clearly that, on average, all nations will need to slash their carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half this decade to hold warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it leaves unresolved the question of exactly how the burden of those cuts will be shared among nations.”

Plumer and Friedman report: “A number of swiftly industrializing countries, such as India and Indonesia, have said they would be willing to accelerate a shift away from coal power if they received financial help from richer countries. But so far, that help has been slow to arrive.”

“A decade ago,” Plumer and Friedman remind us, “the world’s wealthiest economies pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year in climate finance for poorer countries by 2020. But they are still falling short by tens of billions of dollars per year.” And “only a small fraction of that aid to date has gone toward measures to help poorer countries cope with the hazards of a hotter planet, such as sea walls or early-warning systems for floods and droughts. According to one recent study, some African nations are spending up to 9 percent of their gross domestic product on adaptation, while still only addressing about one-fifth of their needs.”

Negotiators at COP26 also announced “a major deal on how to regulate the fast-growing global market in carbon offsets, in which one company or country compensates for its own emissions by paying someone else to reduce theirs. One of the thorniest technical issues is how to properly account for these global trades so that any reductions in emissions aren’t overestimated or double-counted.” It is a measure that leaves major emitters the opportunity to forego reducing their own emissions.

Meanwhile, “clusters of countries announced pledges they were undertaking on their own. More than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of methane, a potent planet-warming gas, by 30 percent this decade. Another 130 countries vowed to halt deforestation by 2030 and commit billions of dollars toward the effort. Dozens of other countries vowed to phase out their coal plants and sales of gasoline-powered vehicles over the next few decades.”

“The United States and European Union said they would do so by 2050, China by 2060. At Glasgow, India joined the chorus, saying it would reach net zero by 2070.”

Concluding thoughts

The experience of COP26 and the continuing dominance of fossil fuels in the energy systems of the U.S. and other rich countries bodes poorly for the future stability of all nations and the existence of all people.

In the U.S., there is an additional obstacle stemming from the climate denying and dismissive Trump-dominated Republican Party and a massive electoral base that follows Trump’s lead. They want to maximize fossil fuel production and exports and disregard or minimize the relevant science. If Republicans win back the presidency and U.S. Congress over the next few years, then there is virtually no hope that the climate crisis will be ameliorated. For analysis of Trump’s environmental legacy, check out the following: https://latimes.com/opinion/story/2019/12/27/trump-bad-year-review-climate-change; https://washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/10/trump-world-climate-change; and https://nytimes.com/2020/11/09/climate/trump-legacy-change.html.

While Biden’s policies during the first ten months of his administration are contradictory, there are elements of his infrastructure legislation and the possible passage of the Bring Back Better Bill that will provide major resources directed toward the support of renewable and efficiency measures, with assurances of their equitable distribution. Biden is already in favor of phasing out coal and methane gas from fracking. If the Democrats can hold onto their control of the presidency and congress, there is reason to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

However, whatever they do, the outcome will critically depend on the scope of such policies and how long it will take to implement them. In an article for Scientific American, Mark Fischetti writes “there’s still time to fix climate – about 11 years” (https://scientificamerican.com/article/theres-still-time-to-fix-climate-about-11-years). Whatever the U.S does, the climate crisis requires effective and timely international cooperation. There is no doubt based on the best scientific evidence that the unfolding climate crisis poses an existential threat to humanity.

Disjunctions in labor markets: Capital versus workers

Bob Sheak, November 2, 2021

bsheak982@gmail.com

Introduction

This post focuses on recent developments in the economy that are pitting workers generally against corporate owners and managers and other businesses. Such conflict is intrinsic to capitalism, especially when guided by the neoliberal economic policies advanced by the Republican Party and, at times, centrist Democrats. After decades of wage cuts, low wages, job insecurity, and inadequately regulated often dangerous workplaces, workers are going out on strike, quitting jobs, while millions are remaining out of the labor force altogether.

Biden, his administration, and most Democrats in the U.S. Congress are advancing policy initiatives designed to address some of the disparities in power and level the playing field between employers and workers, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

To make progress, it will take a powerful social movement, commitments to unionization, the election of progressive legislators, an aroused and informed electorate to alter the trajectory on which the U.S. is now moving.

Capitalism and class conflict

Corporate capitalists are dominant

In capitalist economies, there is typically an inherent conflict of interests between businesses and workers. Employers want to retain managements’ traditional prerogatives and keep labor costs as low as they can, while workers want to bargain over hours, wages, benefits, workplace conditions, and, in some cases, have representation on corporate boards and some influence on corporate policies.

Employers, especially large corporations and their contractors, have a systemic advantage, as they decide where to locate their businesses, what to produce, how to organize production or services, and the price of the products and services. Corporate power extends into the political realm, giving their further advantages over workers. Corporations devote huge resources for political purposes, such as campaign contributions, political ads, lobbying, and hiring former high-ranking government officials, support of trade associations and think tanks.

Through most of U.S. history, business had the dominant hand, though the New Deal, WWII, and a booming economy created an interregnum in business-worker relations from the 1930s up into the 1970s. During these years, workers, especially white male workers, benefitted as never before. Also, in the aftermath of the war, the G.I. Bill helped millions of mostly white veterans get education and training and purchase their own homes. It should not be forgotten that there were always some white workers in the highly racially and gender segregated skilled trades and other occupations who did relatively well. The War on Poverty in the 1960s brought Medicare and Medicaid, and other additional programs to the social safety net. The Earned Income Tax Credit, a government subsidy for lower-income workers and implicitly support for lower-wage employers to have enough employees to stay in business. This was added in the mid-1970s.

In the face of revived international competition in the 1970s, and in reaction to union gains and increased government regulations and spending, corporations coalesced politically and effectively pushed for anti-union legislation and limits on government wage and workplace standards. In manufacturing, corporations accelerated a process of outsourcing manufacturing jobs to non-union southern states, then to Mexico, and later to China and other countries with abundant supplies of low-wage workers and no labor or environmental regulations or enforcement of such regulations.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures were all too successful in the 1970s, especially after Reagan became president, in passing legislation that benefitted corporations and businesses generally, as reflected in low minimum wage laws, weakly enforced occupation and safety regulations, the use of strike-breakers when unionized workers dared to strike, and the employment of non-union contractors. Additionally, they could intimidate workers who threatened strikes with the threat of closing plants and other workplaces. Business lobbies have also done their best to limit the social safety net so that workers would be even worse off on government assistance than even in a low-wage, no benefit, insecure, and oppressive, if not dangerous, paid work.

Economics professor David Auter, who is the co-director of the M.I.T. Task Force on the Work of the Future,” provides a glimpse of recent history. He writes that “[t]here is ample evidence that for the past 4 decades, the economy ‘has generated vast numbers of low-paid, economically insecure jobs with few prospects for career advancement.” He refers, for example, to how many workers have suffered not only from low pay but also from dangerous working environments, the absence of prior notice of job termination, and no access to paid vacation, sick time and family leave.

Now, surprisingly, in 2021, millions of workers in and outside of the labor force are massively resisting the corporate power that has produced such conditions. The immediate effect has been a wave of strikes as well as a major reduction in the availability of workers for employment who are currently outside of the labor force. And all this is occurring amid high levels of consumer demand. At the same time, the pandemic and the lockdowns have given many workers an additional motive to risk their jobs by going on strike, quitting, or staying out of the labor force.

Millions of jobs are going unfilled

There is thus at present an extraordinary situation occurring in U.S. labor markets. Heather Long, Alyssa Fowers and Andrew Van Dam report that in August [2021] there were 8.4 million on strike or not looking for work while there were 10 million job openings (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/04/ten-million-job-openings-labor-shortage).

Jobs are being created

Long and her colleagues refer to economists who find that “overall jobs are actually rebounding at a remarkable pace. Over 75 percent of the jobs lost during the pandemic are back, a much faster recovery than almost anyone anticipated a year ago. Private forecasters anticipate all the jobs lost could be back by mid to late 2022 — a rebound of about two years compared to the six-plus years it took for the labor market to recover from the Great Recession.” Job creation has varied, rising in some states and communities but not in others, and there are racial and gender disparities in who lands the jobs and who stays out of the labor force altogether.

Overall, however, Ben Casselman reports that the labor force shrank in September [2021] and shortages aren’t limited to low-wage industries. (https://nytimes.com/2021/10/19/business/economy/us-economy.html).

 “the great strike of 2021”

Evidence of worker resistance

Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, columnist, and author, offers the following summary (https://theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/0ct/13/american-workers-general-strike-robert-reich).

“Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo.” Consumer spending is up, but “employers are finding it hard to fill positions.” The Bureau of Labor’s October 8 “jobs report showed “the number of job openings at a record high. The share of people working or actively looking for work (the labor force participation rate) has dropped to 61.6%. Participation for people in their prime working years, defined as 25 to 54 years old, is also down.” At the same time, “job openings have increased 62%…[while] overall hiring has actually declined.”

Labor economist Jack Rasmus identifies the present labor market situation as “the great strike of 2021” (https://thestreet.com/economonitor/news/the-great-strike-of-2021/). Rasmus uses the term strike broadly to refer not only to workers involved in union actions but also to “mostly [but not only] millions of low-paid non-unionized workers.” He posits that the “best definition of a strike is when ‘workers withhold their labor’ for better wages and working conditions. Contrary to convention wisdom, workers go on strike when they withhold the labor, even when they are not members of unions. “That fact is evident today as millions of US workers are refusing to return to their jobs.” Rasmus refers to the following evidence:

“Workers returned to jobs at a rate of 889,000 a month during the 2nd quarter 2021 (April-June) as the economy reopened. That average fell to only 280,000 per month in the just completed 3rd quarter 2021 (July-Sept), according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Rasmus points out that the U.S. Labor Department’s estimate of five million workers who have not returned to employment since the start of 2021 “is a gross under-estimation.” He explains: “It doesn’t count the 3 millions more who have dropped out of the labor force altogether and are no less jobless than those officially recorded as unemployed. Nor does the 5 million include a several million or so workers who were mis-classified by the Labor Dept. as employed in March 2020 when the pandemic began simply because they indicated when surveyed by the government that they expected to return to work even though they weren’t working at the time of survey. The Labor Dept. soon thereafter acknowledged it was an error to count them as employed, but to date it has still refused to correct the numbers. That number of mis-classified as employed today remains around 1 million or so.”

The upshot of Rasmus analysis is this: “there are somewhere around 8 to 10 million workers in the US still without any work at all, (which doesn’t account for the millions more who are underemployed working part time or a few hours a week here and there).”

Moreover, Rasmus points out, workers are not taking jobs in industries like hospitality or retail work, but this is true in lower-wage jobs across nearly all industries. He documents this point as follows.

Comparing the US Labor Dept.’s level of employment as of September 2021 to the pre-pandemic months of January-February 2020, the numbers show workers withholding their labor is widespread across industries and occupations. Here is some of the evidence cited by Rasmus.

“Leisure & Hospitality shows 1.6 million fewer working today, in September 2021, compared with pre-pandemic months of January-February 2020. But the Health Care industry, with hundreds of thousands low paid workers in home health care and clinics, shows 524,000 fewer employed today compared to January 2020. Professional & Personal business services shortfall is 385,000; Education services—with its hundreds of thousands of adjuncts in higher education and millions of K-12 teachers paid low wages in small non-union school districts—is down by no fewer than 676,000. One would think manufacturing was a case to the contrary. But no. Millions of manufacturing workers are employed as ‘temps’ with low pay and no benefits—even in union contracts. Manufacturing has 353,000 fewer jobs today than it had in early January 2020. Ditto for Construction, with 201,000 fewer. And so on.”

“It’s safe to assume,” Rasmus continues, “that at least half of the 9 million with no work whatsoever are refusing to return to work out of choice. That’s 4 to 5 million who are de facto ‘on strike.’” His main point: “The USA is in the midst of the ‘Great Strike of 2021’, involving millions of the low paid and super-exploited US workers across virtually all US industries!” Some are striking and some are quitting or not looking for work at all. He gives these examples of occupations where reflect worker shortages:

“lower paid service workers, independent long-haul truckers, delivery drivers in the cities, hospitality workers in hotel and restaurant service, workers in retail, on local construction projects, teachers and school bus drivers, nurses ‘burned out’ by chronic overtime, warehouse and food processing workers pushed to the limit for the past 18 months, home care aide workers exploited by US middleman ‘coyotes’, and so on. The list is long.”

A rise in the number of strikes

There is in recent months a wave of strikes, as unionized workers are striking for higher wages, better benefits, and less oppressive work conditions.

Jacob Bagage reports that “strikes are sweeping the labor market as workers wield new leverage” (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/17/strikes-great-resignation). In the second week of October, “10,000 John Deere workers went on strike, while unions representing 31,000 Kaiser employees authorized walkouts. Some 60,000 Hollywood production workers reached a deal Saturday night [October 16], averting a strike hours before a negotiation deadline.”

He refers to other examples of strikes. “The strike drives in 2021 run the gamut of American industry: Nurses and health workers in California and Oregon; oil workers in New York; cereal factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee; television and film production crews in Hollywood; and more.”

Bogage adds:

“All told, there have been strikes against 178 employers this year [2021], according to a tracker by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which records only large work stoppages, has documented 12 strikes involving 1,000 or more workers so far this year. That’s considerably higher than 2020, when the pandemic took hold, but in line with significant strike activity recorded in 2019 and 2018.”

The strike activity reflects workplace situations where workers have enhanced leverage amid the current labor shortage. Bogage writes: “Workers are now harder to replace, especially while many companies are scrambling to meet heightened demand for their products and manage hobbled supply chains. That has given unions new leverage, and made striking less risky.”

At the same time, not all work stoppages have been successful. “More than 1,000 Alabama miners have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal since April. That same month, 14 oil workers staged a walkout against United Metro Energy in New York; eight have since been fired, according to the local Teamsters branch. And roughly 1,400 workers at Kellogg Co. cereal factories in four states are entering their third week on the picket line.”

A dramatic rise in the number of people quitting jobs or not even looking for jobs

Reich points to some of the evidence. He writes: “Americans are also quitting their jobs at the highest rate on record. The Department of Labor reported on Tuesday [Oct. 12] that some 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August. That comes to about 2.9% of the workforce – up from the previous record set in April, of about 4 million people quitting.” Indeed, “about 4 million American workers have been leaving their jobs every month since the spring.”

A shortage of truck drivers

Vanessa Yurkevich reports for CNN that there is a need for “80,000 truck drivers to help fix the supply chain” (https://cnn.com/2021/10/19/economy/truckiing-short-drivers/index.html). Chris Spear, President and CEO of the American Trucking Association, told Yurkevich that this is a “record high.” Even before the pandemic, “the industry faced a labor shortage of 61,500 drivers.” Going from a shortage of 61,500 drivers to 80,000 is significant. Spear also points to two factors that have produced the shortage. “Many drivers are retiring, dropping out of the industry,” there is a shortage of trucks, and consumers spending is up for products, many of which are imported and must enter the country through a small number of large ports.

In response to the problem, “President Biden directed the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to move to 24/7 operations. However, the ports can’t yet work round the clock because importers don’t have enough drivers to move their cargo at all hours.” Spear points out that “24/7 operations…[is] an improvement,” but not enough. He makes two other points. First, “…it doesn’t matter if it’s a port in LA or Long Beach, or the last mile of delivery from a train to a warehouse in Wichita. You’re going to have to have a driver and a truck move that freight.” Second, “[i]f nothing is done, the latest figures put the industry on track for a shortage of 160,000 drivers by 2030, and the need for 1,000,000 new drivers over the next ten years, according to the American Trucking Associations.”

Questionable Explanations

The strikes and low supply of workers are not due to “generous” government benefits

Long, et. al., write:  “[b]usiness owners complain they can’t find enough workers, pay is rising rapidly, and customers are greeted with ‘please be patient, we’re short-staffed’ signs at many stores and restaurants.” Many employers blame the situation on generous government benefits. However, Long and her colleagues note that on the weekend of September 4-5, 2021, the employment crisis was expected to “hit an inflection point as many of the unemployed lose $300 in federal weekly benefits and millions of gig workers and self-employed lose unemployment aid entirely. Some anticipate a surge in job seekers, though in 22 states that already phased out those benefits, workers didn’t flood back to jobs.”

Economist, author, and columnist Paul Krugman also responds to the “generous government benefits” explanation (https://nytimes.com/2021/10/14/opinion/workers-quitting-wages.html).  Krugman rebuts this explanation, pointing out that “states that canceled those benefits early saw no increase in employment compared with those that didn’t, and the nationwide end of enhanced benefits last month [September 2021] doesn’t seem to have made much difference to the job situation.”

Economics professor David Auter, who is the co-director of the M.I.T. Task Force on the Work of the Future, also refutes the argument that millions of workers stayed out of the labor force or left their jobs because of generous government benefits (https://nytimes.com/2021/09/04/opinion/labor-shortage-biden-covid.html). Auter makes two points.

He points out that “[m]ultiple analyses find that generous benefits did discourage workers from seeking new jobs. But the effects were small. States that terminated federal pandemic unemployment benefits ahead of schedule this summer saw only a minuscule decline in unemployment relative to those that didn’t.” Evidence from continental Europe and Britain also bear this out. They are experiencing labor shortages similar to those in America, but they have “barely expanded unemployment benefits during the pandemic. (Instead, they covered the paychecks of workers whose hours were cut or who were furloughed.)”

Jack Rasmus points to how Republican officials in “red stateshave now proposed cutting back child care and food stamp benefits. He puts it this way:“Now the drumbeat by employers, politicians, and Red states is that child care benefits and improvement in food stamps are keeping workers from returning. It’s the old employer strike strategy: starve them out and they’ll come back to work.”

It remains to be seen if non-employed workers would seek employment if child care benefits and food stamps are cut. However, there are millions of able-bodied adults who have decided, at least for now, to remain out of the labor force. The lack of affordable or subsidized child care may well figure make it difficult for workers with young children to take a job. Cuts in food stamps negatively affect those with low incomes who receive them.  

More persuasive explanations

As noted, the most telling argument is that many jobs pay too little, offer little security, provide few or no benefits, and are embedded in oppressive, often racially and gender discriminating, workplaces. Indeed, the government in the past have not done much to rectify this situation, especially when Republicans have their way in the federal and state governments. The Biden administration is different in that it has advanced policies that would benefit most workers by supporting unions, creating jobs, and addressing many other important issues.

What accounts for the wave of strikes?

David Auter finds in his research that there has been a change in certain worker values. He writes:

“People’s valuation of their own time has changed: Americans are less eager to do low-paid, often dead-end service and hospitality work, deciding instead that more time on family, education and leisure makes for a higher standard of living, even if it means less consumption.” The implication is that the U.S. has more of a job quality problem than a job supply problem.  

Rasmus compiled the following list of concerns that many union workers and workers who are out of the labor force have and, if enacted, would improve the quality of jobs.

  • unlivable low wages,
  • lack of alternative health care for themselves and their families since returning to work means loss of government COBRA payments or Medicaid,
  • unavailability of or unaffordable child care.
  • employers offering many workers to return to work but at fewer hours and no guarantee of hours needed to ensure sufficient weekly earnings to cover their bills.
  • employers insisting on unstable family-destroying work schedules, no civilized paid leave, and in general no hope for the future ever getting out of what is in effect a system of modern work indenture afflicting tens of millions of US workers today.

Bogage refers to how “Unions increasingly are seeking changes in the workplace and corporate culture. Some strike drives are pushing for better safeguards against sexual harassment and coronavirus safety protocols, including one at El Milagro, a Chicago-based tortilla manufacturer. Workers at a West Virginia producer of industrial pump parts went on strike Oct. 1 seeking better seniority rights.”

Then there are “[s]ome [who] are attempting to claw back perks that vanished years ago during economic downturns. Striking John Deere workers contend that the company’s massive profit during the pandemic — earnings nearly doubled to a record $1.79 billion last quarter — should be reflected in their compensation, particularly retirement benefits.”

“More than 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents Hollywood production workers, had planned to strike Monday [Oct. 11] unless they reached a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The two sides arrived at a tentative agreement Saturday night [Oct. 9] that guarantees workers meal breaks, weekends and breaks between shifts, plus significant raises.”

The strike of unionized workers at John Deere

In an article for The Washington Post, Aaron Gregg delves into the strike by over 10,000 John Deere workers at 14 plants in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado and Georgia that started on Thursday, Oct 14, after contract negotiations deadlocked and workers walked off their jobs (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/14/john-deere-workers-strike).

Gregg reports that “the company’s offer included raises of 5 to 6 percent, but union officials said the proposed contract didn’t meet workers’ retirement and wage goals. With companies nationwide struggling to fill jobs and grappling with supply chain tie-ups, union officials say they are seizing the moment to regain benefits they lost in the late 1990s, when an era of assembly-line layoffs and outsourcing diminished unions’ leverage.”

A bipartisan majority of support the strikes

Sharon Zhang reports on October 26, 2021on a survey conducted by Data for Progress on behalf of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The survey asked nearly 1,300 respondents if they approve or disapprove of workers striking for better wages. “The one-question survey references the John Deere, Nabisco and Kellogg strikes” (https://truthout.org/articles/new-poll-finds-broad-support-for-strikes-across-the-country). Respondents of all political persuasions approved. Here’s what she writes.

“Among all respondents, 74 percent of likely voters say that they either strongly or somewhat approve the strikes, with only 20 percent disapproving — a 54-point margin. Support was strongest among Democrats, where 87 percent of respondents said they approved of the strikes. Still, a majority of Republicans also approved, with 60 percent saying as such and only 30 percent disapproving of strikes.”

“The data suggested something that economists and labor advocates have been indicating in recent years: The U.S. is ripe for a major transformation in how workers are treated and compensated, which has been highlighted by the pandemic.

“For the past two years, coronavirus placed the importance of our nation’s workers at the forefront of voters’ minds,” Ethan Winter, Senior Polling Analyst at Data for Progress, told Truthout. ‘As workers flex their power, our polling shows that Americans across the political spectrum by and large support their fight for better working conditions and pay, a critical indicator of the power of the labor movement heading into 2022.’”

How long can striking workers and workers outside of the labor force hold out?

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt addresses this question. (https://nytimes.com/2021/10/19/business/economy/us-economy.html).

He writes: “The labor shortage of 2021 is both conspicuous and perplexing. How is it, after all, that several million people who were working before the pandemic are now getting by without a paycheck? Some workers have savings and benefitted from the government’s relief checks to help people cope financially with the effects of the pandemic.  But cash reserves are typically limited.

Leonhardt points out “that incomes for the poor, the working class and much of the middle class have grown slowly, failing to keep up with either economic growth or the incomes of the affluent.” The point is that many workers without paid employment due to strikes or other reasons and who have little support from government programs  may not have the resources to go on for extended periods of time in these situations without suffering severe hardship.

Are their solutions?

Not from Trump and the Republicans

One will not find solutions to the problems confronting workers from Trump or the Republican Party. They and their corporate and right-wing allies have put a great deal of effort into pushing cultural issues on guns, anti-abortion, white supremacy, and anti-immigration, but they have been totally reactionary on economic issues relevant to working-class and other Americans. They have long-standing records of opposing raises in the minimum wage, fighting to limit unemployment insurance, supporting anti-union “right-to-work” laws, doing what they can to subvert workplace health and safety laws, resisting improvement in the social safety net, opposing reform of the medical and pharmaceutical sectors, and doing little to curtail the outsourcing of jobs by corporations.

Robert Reich challenges five big lies spread by wealthy corporations and their enablers intended “to stop workers from organizing and to protect their own bottom-lines” (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-5-biggest-corporate-lies-about-unions). Here I quote Reich, who makes a case for why unions are beneficial for all workers.

“Lie #1: Labor unions are bad for workers. Wrong. Unions are good for all workers – even those who are not unionized. In the mid-1950s, when a third of all workers in the United States were unionizedwages grew in tandem with the economy. That’s because workers across America – even those who were not unionized – had significant power to demand and get better wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. Since then, as union membership has declined, the middle class has shrunk as well.

“Lie #2: Unions hurt the economy. Wrong again. When workers are unionized they can negotiate better wages, which in turn spreads the economic gains more evenly and strengthens the middle class. This creates a virtuous cycle: Wages increase, workers have more to spend in their communities, businesses thrive, and the economy grows. Since the the 1970s, the decline in unionization accounts for one-third of the increase in income inequality. Without unions, wealth becomes concentrated at the top and the gains don’t trickle down to workers.

“Lie #3: Labor unions are as powerful as big business. Labor union membership in 2018 accounted for 10.5 percent of the American workforce, while large corporations account for almost three-quarters of the entire American economy. And when it comes to political power, it’s big business and small labor. In the 2018 midterms, labor unions contributed less than 70 million dollars to parties and candidates, while big corporations and their political action committees contributed 1.6 billion dollars. This enormous gulf between business and labor is a huge problem. It explains why most economic gains have been going to executives and shareholders rather than workers. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

“Lie #4: Most unionized workers are in industries like steel and auto manufacturing. Untrue. Although industrial unions are still vitally important to workers, the largest part of the unionized workforce is workers in the professional and service sectors – retail, restaurant, hotel, hospital, teachers–which comprise 59% of all workers represented by a union. And these workers benefit from being in a union. In 2018, unionized service workers earned a median wage of 802 dollars a week. Non-unionized service workers made on average, $261 less. That’s almost a third less.

“Lie #5: Most unionized workers are white, male, and middle-aged. Some unionized workers are, of course, but most newly-unionized workers are not. They’re women, they’re young, and a growing portion are black and brown. In fact, it’s through the power of unions that people who had been historically marginalized in the American economy because of their race, ethnicity, or gender are now gaining economic ground. In 2018, women who were  in unions earned 21 percent more than non-unionized women. And African-Americans who were unionized earned nearly 20 percent more than African-Americans who were non-unionized.”

In an article for On Labor, Kevin Vazquez underlines an obvious point, one that needs to be amplified, that “the Republican Party Has Nothing [good] to Offer the Working Class,” except “cultural wars” (https://onlabor.org/the-republican-party-has-nothing-to-offer-the-working-class).

Vazquez points out that during his presidency and now, Trump and leading Republicans like Ted CruzMarco RubioKevin McCarthyTom CottonBen Sasse, and many other Republican congressmen, governors, and activists have claimed the mantle of “conservative populism,” based on “cultural” not economic policies.

Vazquez rightly points out that this notion of conservative populism is nothing more than an attempt to “rebrand” what are in effect anti-worker policies and mislead voters, especially white workers. It is the Republican Party’s way of offering workers “the same reactionary pro-corporate and anti-worker policies as always, concealed beneath a gilded veneer of culture war and racial grievances.” And they have been successful, in that “[w]hite blue-collar workers are increasingly voting for Republicans,” while in many cases being undermined economically.

Among other examples, Vazquez refers to “Trump himself, who campaigned in 2016 as a tribune of the forgotten and betrayed (white) working class then offered the working-class voters who elected him nothing but more pain and betrayal once in office, Republicans endeavoring to emulate his electoral success by rebranding themselves as protectors of the proletariat are doing little more than placing a pro-worker sheen on top of the same rotten corporate policies. In some cases, such as that of Marco RubioTed Cruz, or many other Republicans, who have a long history of opposition to organized labor and any redistributive social program, this rebranding reaches a level of absurdity that is nearly comical.”

Steven Greenhouse, author and labor and workplace reporter for 31 years for The New York Times,digs into the ample body of evidence that Trump has waged war on workers throughout his time as president. At the same time, Trump was able to dupe millions of white, non-college-educated workers that he was on their side by escalating a trade war with China that ended up doing little to prevent the loss of jobs due to corporate outsourcing, foreign investment, and imports from low-wage countries. The article was published by American Prospect on Labor Day, August 30, 2019 (https://prospect.org/power/worker-s-friend-trump-waged-war-workers).

Greenhouse draws a sample of Trump’s anti-worker actions from a list of more than 50 items compiled by think tanks and worker advocates. I refer below to some of his examples. It’s worth repeating that, well before Trump, the Republican Party had a long historic anti-worker and anti-union record. Trump has built on that misbegotten record.

Trump erased a rule that extended overtime pay to millions more workers, a move that will deprive many workers of thousands of dollars per year. While Trump boasted that he is the best friend of miners, his Labor Department pushed to relax rules for safety inspections in coal mines, but was stopped by a federal circuit court. Trump has made it easier to award federal contracts to companies that are repeat violators of wage laws, sexual harassment laws, racial discrimination laws, or laws protecting workers’ right to unionize.”

“[Trump] has greatly relaxed requirements for employers to report workplace injuries, making it harder for workers to know how dangerous their workplace is and what hazards need correcting. His administration is hurting gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers by urging the Supreme Court to rule that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t cover them, which would give employers a green light to fire them. His administration has rolled back rules that sought to prevent payday lenders from preying on financially strapped workers.”

“Trump’s Labor Department is even allowing many employers who violate minimum wage, overtime, and other wage laws to avoid any penalty by volunteering to investigate themselves. In a blow to workers of color and women, the Trump administration scrapped a rule that let the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission collect pay data from large corporations so it could obtain insights into possible pay discrimination by gender and race.”

“…Trump has done next to nothing to make good on his campaign promise to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure—a promise that had excited many workers. Nor has he lifted a finger to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in a decade, the longest stretch without such an increase since Congress first enacted the federal minimum wage more than 80 years ago. Nor has Trump done anything to enact a paid sick day law or to increase the earned income tax credit. But, of course, he pushed repeatedly to gut the Affordable Care Act, a move that would jeopardize millions of workers and their families by leaving many more Americans without health coverage.

“Trump’s appointees to the federal courts and federal agencies have moved aggressively to undercut workers and unions. Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, cast the deciding vote in the Epic Systems case, which went far to gut workers’ ability to enforce their rights against wage theft, sexual harassment, or racial discrimination. That ruling gives companies the court’s blessing to prohibit workers from bringing class action lawsuits and instead lets employers require workers to resolve their grievances through closed-door arbitrations, which, according to numerous studies, greatly favor employers.”

Biden advances pro-worker initiatives

Executive orders

Nelson Lichtenstein is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. He reports on how on Friday, July 9, 2021, “President Biden signed a sweeping executive order intended to curb corporate dominance, enhance business competition and give consumers and workers more choices and power. The order features 72 initiatives ranging widely in subject matter — net neutrality and cheaper hearing aids, more scrutiny of Big Tech and a crackdown on the high fees charged by ocean shippers” (https://nytimes.com/2021/07/13/opinion/biden-executive-order-antitrust.html).

The executive order also features a return to the “antitrust traditions” of the Roosevelt presidencies early in the last century.” This is a tradition, Lichtenstein contends, “that has animated social and economic reform almost since the nation’s founding. This tradition worries less about technocratic questions such as whether concentrations of corporate power will lead to lower consumer prices and more about broader social and political concerns about the destructive effects that big business can have on our nation.”

Lichtenstein emphasizes that “the most progressive part of the executive order is its denunciation of the way in which big corporations suppress wages. They do this both by monopolizing their labor market — think of the wage-setting pressures exerted by Walmart in a small town — and by forcing millions of their employees to sign noncompete agreements that prevent them from taking a better job in the same occupation or industry.” He quotes Biden. “If your employer wants to keep you, he or she should have to make it worth your while to stay. That’s the kind of competition that leads to better wages and greater dignity of work.”

Biden introduces pro-union, pro-worker legislation

At a presidential press briefing on March 9, 2021, President Biden introduced the “Protecting the Right to Organize” (PRO) Act o 2021, strongly encouraging the House to take up and pass the legislation and stating that it would be a major step, if and when approved, “in dramatically enhancing the power of workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases-2021/03/09/statement-by-the-president-joe-biden-on-the-house-taking-up-the-pro-act). You can access the full proposal at https://joebiden.com/empowerworkers.

At the briefing, Biden also said, “We owe it not only to those who have put in a lifetime of work, but to the next generation of workers who have only known an America of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. All of us deserve to enjoy America’s promise in full — and our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to deliver it.”

Biden believes that the conditions and prospects of ordinary workers starts with rebuilding unions. He states: “The middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class. Unions give workers a stronger voice to increase wages, improve the quality of jobs and protect job security, protect against racial and all other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and protect workers’ health, safety, and benefits in the workplace. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union.  They are critical to strengthening our economic competitiveness.”

And there are almost “60 million Americans [who] would join a union if they get a chance, but too many employers and states prevent them from doing so through anti-union attacks.” There is the precedent of strong action by the federal government in support of unionization, that is, the National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1935 despite unified business opposition. The president pointed out that the NLRA “said that we should encourage unions. The PRO Act would take critical steps to help restore this intent.”

U.S. House of Representatives passes Pro Act

Don Gonyea reports on NPR that on March 13, 2021, House Democrats approved the Pro Act by a 224-206 vote, “with five Republicans joining Democrats in favor of it.” Union leaders support it (https://www.npr.org/2021/03/09/975259434/house-democrats-pass-bill-that-would-protect-worker-organizing-efforts).

Gonyea lists five provisions of the Pro Act.

“1. So-called right-to-work laws in more than two dozen states allow workers in union-represented workplaces to opt out of the union, and not pay union dues. At the same time, such workers are still covered under the wage and benefits provisions of the union contract. The PRO Act would allow unions to override such laws and collect dues from those who opt out, in order to cover the cost of collective bargaining and administration of the contract.

“2. Employer interference and influence in union elections would be forbidden. Company-sponsored meetings — with mandatory attendance — are often used to lobby against a union organizing drive. Such meetings would be illegal. Additionally, employees would be able to cast a ballot in union organizing elections at a location away from company property.

“3. Often, even successful union organizing drives fail to result in an agreement on a first contract between labor and management. The PRO Act would remedy that by allowing newly certified unions to seek arbitration and mediation to settle such impasses in negotiations.

“4. The law would prevent an employer from using its employee’s immigration status against them when determining the terms of their employment.

“5. It would establish monetary penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights. Corporate directors and other officers of the company could also be held liable.”

In an interview with Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, described the Pro Act as a potential “game changer,” saying it would a major step in correcting the “wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power.”

Gabby Berenbaum considers a poll that finds a majority of voters supporting the legislation (https://www.vox.com/2021/6/16/22535274/poll-pro-act-unioniization-majority-bipartisan). She writes: “The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act seems unlikely to succeed in the Senate due to a lack of Republican support — but it has the support of the majority of likely voters, according to a new poll from Vox and Data for Progress.” But there is a partisan divide among likely voters. The survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted June 4 to 6 — “found 40 percent of Republicans support the PRO Act, along with 74 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents. Overall, the poll found the bill has the support of 59 percent of likely voters.”

However, Republicans in the Senate threatening a filibuster and powerful business lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The National Retail Federation have kept the Pro Act from moving forward in the Senate.

Concluding thoughts

Biden’s agenda on workers’ rights is at a legislative impasse. The same is true for his two infrastructure bills and other initiatives. The obstacles are corporate and business opposition, the ability of Republicans in the U.S. Senate to obstruct legislative initiatives by using the filibuster, and the insistence of a couple Democratic Senators who have so far refused to support an end of the filibuster. It doesn’t matter much what the public thinks.

While the Pro Act, if ever passed, would strengthen the positions of unionized workers and make it easier for workers to create unions. That’s all good. But there is much that the legislation doesn’t do. Here are some examples of legislation that would help to democratize workplace relations. Although not in play now, a progressive agenda would include:

  • a living wage provision
  • support for a pro-labor National Labor Relations Board
  • the expansion of corporate boards to include workers’ representatives
  • adequate workplace safety and health standards and enforcement
  • government assistance for worker training and education
  • government assistance for workers who need to relocate for different or better jobs
  • creation and enforcement of laws to end discriminatory gender and “racial” practices by employers
  • enforcement and strengthening of anti-trust laws

So, as of now, many workers will continue to be non-unionized, others will have little choice but to take “bad” jobs, while some will continue to subsist outside of the labor force on inadequate government social/welfare programs, on support from relatives, or being desperately poor. In the absence of the Pro Act, unionized workers will continue to be at a severe disadvantage vis a vis employers. In this eventuality, anti-democratic, right-wing political forces will be further empowered and the society will be that much closer to some type of fascism.

Thom Hartmann argues that “corporate America has been shoving fascism down our throats for decades” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/05/08/corporate-america-has-been-shoving-fascisn-down-our-throats-decades). Here are some of his reasons.

“It’s when giant corporations are able to control government and thus stop things like a national healthcare system, rational gun control laws, free college, or even the tiniest tax on carbon. When they’re able to push through ‘criminal justice reform’ that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute corporate CEOs when their companies kill workers, consumers, or even poison entire communities.

“It’s when they don’t do it through presenting strong and defendable ideas in the public realm and before Congress, but by pouring cash into the pockets of individual politicians and their parties.

“It’s when corporations and the very rich have seized control of the political process through the use of their considerable economic power, after having used that power to change laws so they can legally buy politicians.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. But, as stated in the Introduction to this post, it will take a powerful social movement, commitments to unionization, the election of progressive legislators, and an aroused and informed electorate to alter the trajectory on which the U.S. is now moving. In the meantime, Steve Fraser offers this advice. “the capacity to envision something generally new, however improbable, has always supplied the intellectual emotional, and political energy that made an advance in civilized life, not matter how truncated, possible” (The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, p. 419).

U.S. militarism: Some evidence

U.S. militarism: some evidence

Bob Sheak, October 13, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I review evidence establishing that the U.S. is a militaristic society and power. It is one of a number of major problems besetting the society, but it is among those that have existential implications. Militarism is not only the result of a military-industrial complex, but also of citizens who tend to glorify the armed services and who have little concern for the destruction and civilian deaths and casualties that accompany U.S. wars. At the same time, millions of U.S. troops have suffered the physical, mental, and moral injuries of ill-fated wars initiated by political and military leaders (see, for example, David Wood, What We Have Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, or Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman, Betraying Our Troops). With some pauses and despite anti-war movements, militarism and its damaging effects have grown since WWII.

This analysis doesn’t call for the end of our military services. Rather, it calls for a reduction in military spending; independent audits of the military budget and spending; more effective congressional oversight; a reevaluation of whether the U.S. really needs over 800 foreign bases in 70 countries to ensure the safety and security of the U.S.; stopping the revolving door between the weapons makers and military officers; giving more focus to building up the State Department with the goal of enhancing U.S. diplomatic assets; ending the space force; joining with other countries to phase out nuclear weapons; and finding ways to better educate American citizens about the history of the country’s wars, the options to war, and generally about the limits of military power. By recognizing such limits and rethinking the country’s priorities, resources can then be made available to address the non-military crises that beset the U.S.

A bevy of crises

There are many developments that threaten to further destabilize U.S. democracy and economy, while putting at risk the health and wellbeing of citizens, including: the climate crisis; the rampant pollution of the environment; industrial agriculture and depleting soils; soaring class, racial, ethnic, and gender inequalities; the ongoing pandemic and a large number of people opposed to being vaccinated; an inadequate social safety net; gross educational inequalities; the extremist Trump-dominated Republican Party and their millions of supporters; the growth of violent white supremacist groups; etc. I have discussed many of these issues in earlier posts, which can be accessed at: https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com)

The problem of excessive military power: an overview

In this post, I consider how the society is affected by the enormous power of the military-industrial complex, about which President Dwight Eisenhower first warned us in his last speech to the nation on January 17, 1961.

This power is reflected in the authority of the president to initiate war without congressional approval or without the support of the U.N.’s Security Council, which is justified by the ambiguously conceived “Authorization for the Use of Military Force.” (Karen J. Greenberg discusses the origin and impacts of the AUMF in her book, Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump).

It is reflected in the large military budgets passed typically on a bipartisan basis by majority votes the U.S. Congress. It is reflected in the absence of independent audits of the budgets and failure to control the cost excesses of government military contracts. Mandy Smithberger writes: “Given the way the Pentagon has sunk taxpayer dollars into those endless wars, in a more reasonable world that institution would be overdue for a comprehensive audit of all its programs and a reevaluation of its expenditures. (It has, by the way, never actually passed an audit.)” (https://tomdispatch.com/mandy-smithberger-a-recipe-for-disaster).

It is reflected in the huge profits of the large military contractors. In article titled “Profits of War, William Hartung’s article, writes: “Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors” (https://tomdispatch.com/the-profits-of-war)..

It is reflected in the over 800 hundred U.S. military bases around the globe. Professor David Vine has devoted a book to this topic. The title: Base Nation: How the U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. He points out that there has been “little investigation of the effectiveness of long-term deterrence, of the kind supposedly provided by U.S. bases overseas” (p. 325).

It is reflected in the revolving door between the military and big weapons makers that creates an implicit if not explicit conflict of interests. On this latter point, Mandy Smithberger writes:

“The infamous “revolving door” that regularly ushers senior Pentagon officials into defense-industry posts and senior defense-industry figures into key positions at the Pentagon (and in the rest of the national security state) just adds to the endless public-relations offensives that accompany this country’s forever wars. After all, the retired generals and other officials the media regularly looks to for expertise are often essentially paid shills for the defense industry. The lack of public disclosure and media discussion about such obvious conflicts of interest only further corrupts public debate on both the wars and the funding of the military, while giving the arms industry the biggest seat at the table when decisions are made on how much to spend on war and preparations for the same” (https://tomdispatch.com/mandy-smithberger-a-recipe-for-disaster).

It is fueled by how U.S. military and civilian policymakers continue to identify enemies that they say threaten the security of the society and that require ever-greater military budgets. Historian Alfred McCoy has some telling observations on this point (https://tomdispatch.com/the-winner-in-afghanistan-china).

“What is it about this country and enemies? It can’t even pretend to do without them. Of course, it just lost one enemy, the Taliban, in a humiliating fashion, even as President Biden bragged that no country had ever airlifted itself out of a losing war quite so brilliantly. (‘No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it, and we did it today.’) In the process, he also announced that the forever wars of the last 20 years were finally ending. But don’t panic — not, at least, if you happen to be a failed commander from those wars or a CEO in one of the many companies that make up the industrial part of the military-industrial complex. There’s so much more to come. As Biden said, ‘The world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia.”

McCoy continues: “Keep in mind that, in these last two decades, the U.S. has spent an estimated $8 trillion just on our forever wars (and the care of the veterans of those conflicts). Worse yet, possibly $21 trillion went into those conflicts and the militarization of American society that went with them. That scale of investment can’t continue without an enemy. Of course, from its earliest moments in office, the Biden foreign-policy team has been focused on “pivoting” from war-on-terror targets to provoking China. That’s included threatening naval gestures in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea, a calling-together of allies to confront Beijing in an ever-more-militarized fashion, and greater support for Taiwan.  It all adds up to an enemy-filled future in which Congress must continue to invest ever more staggering sums in the military-industrial complex rather than in this country’s true infrastructure or genuine needs.

“In fact, the House Armed Services Committee promptly endorsed a plan to add an extra $24 billion (above and beyond the staggering $715 billion the Biden administration had requested for the 2022 Pentagon budget). The equivalent Senate committee had already given a thumbs up to a similar sum, indicating that the next Pentagon budget will be in the range of $740 billion dollars. California Representative Ro Khanna was among the few who gave the measure a thumbs down. (‘We just ended the longest war in American history, now is the time to decrease defense spending, not increase it… We are already spending three times as much on our military as China did.’).

“Political engineering”

The military-industrial complex benefits from the interests of elected officials who gain jobs from the existence in their congressional districts of military bases and military contracts. Mandy Smithberger describes this situation.

“…the big defense firms carefully spread their contracts for weapons production across as many congressional districts as possible. This practice of ‘political engineering,’ a term promoted by former Department of Defense analyst and military reformer Chuck Spinney, helps those contractors and the Pentagon buy off members of Congress from both parties. Take, for example, the Littoral Combat Ship, a vessel meant to operate close to shore. Costs for the program tripled over initial estimates and, according to Defense News, the Navy is already considering decommissioning four of the new ships next year as a cost-saving measure. It’s not the first time that program has been threatened with the budget axe. In the past, however, pork-barrel politics spearheaded by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), in whose states those boats were being built, kept the program afloat.”

It is reflected in the results of opinion polls that show a majority of Americans think very highly of the military, more so than they do of other institutional sectors. The word “glorification” is sometimes used. It is reflected in a situation where the great majority of citizens never serve any time in the military and therefore don’t have to think personally about the dangers that accompany war. And it is reflected in how many Americans glorify the country’s wars and pay little attention to the civilian victims wrought by the U.S. wars. Public opinion polls confirm these points. According to Wikipedia,

Militaries and especially their troops are held in high regard in most countries. In the United States, military officers are regarded as having one of the most prestigious jobs.” At the same time, there is some variation among countries on these issues. Accordingly, “[w]hile 10% of Canadians viewed the military as ‘not at all favorable,’ only 3% of Britons had a ‘low’ or ‘very low’ view of the military. 65% of Russians believe their military does their job ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time.’” The ratings are also very high in the United States, where “89% of white Americans had a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ favorable opinion of the military, compared to 77% of Latinos and 72% of blacks.” (https://en.widipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_of_militaries).  

As indicated, the U.S. is a highly militarized society

One way to summarize these realities is to say that, unfortunately, we have a militarized society. Wikipedia offers the following definitions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarization).

“Militarization, or militarisation, is the process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. It is related to militarism, which is an ideology that reflects the level of militarization of a state, and which is associated with the glorification of the military, armed forces and weapons and of military power, including through symbolic displays (e.g., parades of tanks and soldiers) and actual use of force, such as through warfare. The process of militarization involves many interrelated aspects that encompass many levels of society.” The Wikipedia entry continues.

“Another example is Paramilitarization (Quasi-militarization in some media). This however refers to organizations outside the Armed Forces such as security forces, intelligence agencies, border guards etc.”

The definitions apply to the U.S. It has a militarized foreign policy, a society that glorifies the military, its effects are widespread institutionally and culturally, and all of this has a profoundly negative effects on the country’s already fragile democracy and fiscal policies.

Now, consider some examples of the evidence supporting the contention that the U.S. is a highly militaristic society.

#1 – Military Spending

Military spending – the fuel of the military-industrial complex and U.S. militarism

 The military budget, adjusted for inflation, has gone up and down, since the Eisenhower years, though it has always been a significant part of the federal budget. It rose in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, declined during the 1970s, and rose again during the Reagan years. Then, in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union and during the Clinton years, military spending fell. Then it increased in the Bush years and the first years of Obama, reflecting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (See http://earlysignal.com/2015/02/14/history-defense-spending-one-chart.) The base military budget increased during the years of the Trump administration (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).

Kimberly Amadeo delves into the components of the US military budget, as of Sept 3, 2020 (that is, the last Trump proposal), and considers why the official military spending account is under-stated (https://thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320).

She estimates military spending to be $934 billion in the last Trump budget, covering the period October 1, 2020, through September 30, 2021.” This is much more, she writes, “than the $705 billion outlined by the Department of Defense alone2.” Continuing: “The United States has many departments that support its defense. All these departments must be included to get an accurate picture of how much America spends on its military operations.” To fully grasp the full amount of military spending, “you need to look at four components,” she maintains. There is also a fifth component that Amadeo recognizes but doesn’t include in her total military spending count has been a major contributor to the national debt – and the interest on that debt. Here I quote from Amadeo’s article.

“First is the $636 billion base budget for the Department of Defense. Second is $69 billion in overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State group. These two, added together, total the $705 billion budgeted by the DoD.

“Third is the total of other agencies that protect our nation. These expenses are $228 billion.3 They include the Department of Veterans Affairs ($105 billion). Funding for the VA has been increased by $20 billion over 2018 levels. That’s to fund the VA MISSION Act to the VA’s health care system. The other agencies are: Homeland Security ($50 billion), the State Department ($44 billion), the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($20 billion), and the FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice ($9.8 billion).4

“Additional funding goes to each department for readiness development. This includes $31 billion to the Army, $48 billion to the Navy, and $37 billion to the Air Force.

Service members will receive a 3% pay raise and an increase in their housing allowance. Family members receive $8 billion for child care, education, and professional development.

DoD will spend $21 billion on building maintenance and construction.”

The fifth component: Military spending, the national debt, and interest on the debt

In an article for the “Costs of War” project at the Watson Institute, Brown University, Heidi Peltier takes up this issue of how the military adds to the national debt and the interest that is paid on it. As indicated earlier, the interest can be added to the four components of military spending about which Amadeo writes (https://watsonbrown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2020/Peltier%202020%20-%20The%Cost%20of%Debt-finance%20War.pdf).

By January 2020, through the “18 years the U.S. has been engaged in the ‘Global War on Terror,’ mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has financed this war by borrowing funds rather than through alternative means such as raising taxes or issuing war bonds.” This means that “the costs of the post-9/11 wars include not only the expenses incurred for operations, equipment, and personnel, but also the interest costs on this debt.”

The result is that, since 2001, “these interest payments have been growing, resulting in more and more taxpayer dollars being wasted on interest payments rather than being channeled to more productive uses.” Peltier calculates “that the debt incurred for $2 trillion in direct war-related spending by the Department of Defense and State Department has already resulted in cumulative interest payments of $925 billion. Even if military interventions ceased immediately, interest payments would continue to rise, and will grow further as the U.S. continues its current military operations.”

Peltier adds: “When war is financed through debt, the costs are much greater than when it is financed through taxation or other revenues, since interest payments must be made as long as the debt is outstanding. In fact, interest payments can sometimes grow to beyond the level of the debt itself, as will likely be the case with the post-9/11 wars. If war spending ceased immediately, interest payments on the $2 trillion of existing war debt would rise to over $2 trillion by 2030 and to $6.5 trillion by 2050. These interest payments will grow larger as the U.S. continues its post-9/11 military interventions and continues amassing debt to pay for the costs of war.”

#2 – Biden goes along with another increase in military spending

It’s perhaps too early to determine how much the Biden administration will be influenced by the military-industrial complex. But early signs are that Biden and many Democrats in the House and Senate support continuing increases in the already inflated military budget, as indicated by the reference to an article by Alfred McCoy earlier in this post.

Despite the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan, the war there is not ending. It will now emphasize drone warfare, as considered in #3, the next section of the post. US military forces will continue to be stationed in the region. The threat of nuclear war will grow. And, if the Republican subversion of the electoral system advances, Republican influence in the Congress and the states will further heighten the society’s militarization. If Trump is re-elected in 2024, the society will move closer to a modern form of fascism, aligned with other authoritarian governments, and the society’s militarism will intensify.

#3 – The U.S. war on Afghanistan will continue with drone warfare

Author, retired law professor, and writer Marjorie Cohn makes this argument, contending that U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan isn’t over. Rather, it is taking the form of illegal drone strikes, which should also be ended (https://truthout.org/articles/war-in-afghanistan-isnt-over-its-taking-the-form-of-illegal-drone-strikes). Cohn’s argument includes the following seven points.

One, “Three weeks after his administration launched a drone attack that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Joe Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He proudly declared, ‘I stand here today, for the first time in 20 years, with the United States not at war.’”

Cohn points out that Biden misspoke and overlooks U.S. military engagement in many countries. Here are her examples. “The day before [made his statement], his administration had launched a drone strike in Syria, and three weeks earlier, the U.S. had conducted an air strike in Somalia. The commander-in-chief also apparently forgot that U.S. forces are still fighting in at least six different countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Niger. And he promised to continue bombing Afghanistan from afar,” or “over-the-horizon” attacks.

Two, “‘Our troops,” Cohn writes, “are not coming home. We need to be honest about that,’ Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) said during congressional testimony by Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month. ‘They are merely moving to other bases in the same region to conduct the same counterterrorism missions, including in Afghanistan.’”

Three, “As Biden pulled U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, his administration launched a hellfire missile from a U.S. drone in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, and then lied about it. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley immediately said it was a ‘righteous strike’ to protect U.S. troops as they withdrew.” However, a subsequent and extensive investigation conduced by The New York Times “revealed that Zemari Ahmadi was a U.S. aid worker, not an ISIS operative, and the ‘explosives’ in the Toyota that the drone strike targeted were most likely water bottles. Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, then called the strike “a tragic mistake.” The Times article also notes that past experience shows that “drone strikes” are “notoriously unreliable.” Cohn refers to a study “based on classified military data, conducted by Larry Lewis from the Center for Naval Analyses and Sarah Holewinski of the Center for Civilians in Conflict. They “found that the use of drones in Afghanistan caused 10 times more civilian deaths than piloted fighter aircraft.”

Four, there is continuity through recent administrations on the use of drone warfare. According to Cohn, Biden is following in the footsteps of his four predecessors, all of whom also conducted illegal drone strikes that killed myriad civilians.”

Five, in addition to the lethality of drone warfare, Cohn continues, [d]rone attacks mounted during the ‘war on terror’ are illegal. Although Biden pledged in his General Assembly speech to ‘apply and strengthen … the U.N. Charter’ and promised ‘adherence to international laws and treaties,’ his drone strikes, and those of his predecessors, violate both the Charter and the Geneva Conventions.”

Six, “Civilians can never legally be the target of military strikes,” but they are the victims. “Targeted or political assassinations, also called extrajudicial executions, violate international law,” according to Cohn. “Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions which is punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. A targeted killing is only lawful if it is deemed necessary to protect life, and no other means — including capture or nonlethal incapacitation — is available to protect life.” Additionally:

“International humanitarian law requires that when military force is used, it must comply with both the conditions of distinction and proportionality. Distinction mandates that the attack must always distinguish between combatants and civilians. Proportionality means that the attack can’t be excessive in relation to the military advantage sought.”

“The United States has engaged in repeated violations of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. And the unlawful U.S. killing with drones violates the right to life enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, another treaty the U.S. has ratified. It says, ‘Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.’”

Seven, the society is not totally uninformed about drone warfare. Cohn gives the following example of anti-drone action. She writes there are those who condemn and protest drone warfare. Cohn cites how in June, “113 organizations dedicated to human rights, civil rights and civil liberties, racial, social environmental justice and veterans rights wrote a letter to Biden ‘to demand an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.’”

#4 – The U.S. government and military-industrial complex must find “enemies” to justify rising military budgets  

In his introduction to an article by William Hartung, Tom Engelhardt makes this point (https://tomdispatch.com/the-profits-of-war).  He writes: “Keep in mind that, in these last two decades, the U.S. has spent an estimated $8 trillion just on our forever wars (and the care of the veterans of those conflicts). Worse yet, possibly $21 trillion went into those conflicts and the militarization of American society that went with them. That scale of investment can’t continue without an enemy. Of course, from its earliest moments in office, the Biden foreign-policy team has been focused on “pivoting” from war-on-terror targets to provoking China. That’s included threatening naval gestures in the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea, a calling-together of allies to confront Beijing in an ever-more-militarized fashion, and greater support for Taiwan.  It all adds up to an enemy-filled future in which Congress must continue to invest ever more staggering sums in the military-industrial complex rather than in this country’s true infrastructure or genuine needs.”

#5 – No one’s held accountable for the inflated costs of military weapons and services.

I draw again on Smithberger’s article. She writes:

“Here’s what we already know about how it all now works: weapon systems produced by the big defense firms with all those retired generals, former administration officials, and one-time congressional representatives on their boards (or lobbying for or consulting for them behind the scenes) regularly come in overpriced, are often delivered behind schedule, and repeatedly fail to have the capabilities advertised. Take, for instance, the new Ford class aircraft carriers, produced by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the sort of ships that have traditionally been used to show strength globally. In this case, however, the program’s development has been stifled by problems with its weapons elevators and the systems used to launch and recover its aircraft. Those problems have been costly enough to send the price for the first of those carriers soaring to $13.1 billion.

“Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jet fighter, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, has an abysmal rate of combat readiness and currently comes in at more than $100 million per aircraft.”

Key members of the U.S. Congress benefit

Smithberger continues: “And yet, somehow, no one ever seems to be responsible for such programmatic failures and prices — certainly not the companies that make them (or all those retired military commanders sitting on their boards or working for them). One crucial reason for this lack of accountability is that key members of Congress serving on committees that should be overseeing such spending are often the top recipients of campaign contributions from the big weapons makers and their allies. And just as at the Pentagon, members of those committees or their staff often later become lobbyists for those very federal contractors.”

Over-charges

The Project on Government Oversight (where Smithberger works) has been uncovering overcharges in spare parts since the founding of the organization, including an infamous $435 hammer back in 1983. I’m sad to report that what, in the 1980s, was a seemingly outrageous $640 plastic toilet-seat cover for military airplanes now costs an eye-popping $10,000. A number of factors help explain such otherwise unimaginable prices, including the way contractors often retain intellectual property rights to many of the systems taxpayers funded to develop, legal loopholes that make it difficult for the government to challenge wild charges, and a system largely beholden to the interests of defense companies.

“The most recent and notorious case may be TransDigm, a company that has purchased other companies with a monopoly on providing spare parts for a number of weapon systems. That, in turn, gave it power to increase the prices of parts with little fear of losing business — once, receiving 9,400% in excess profits for a single half-inch metal pin. An investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee found that TransDigm’s employees had been coached to resist providing cost or pricing information to the government, lest such overcharges be challenged.”

#6 – The U.S. public trust military leaders more than elected officials – the downside

This is the topic of an article by Jessica D. Blankshain and Max Z. Margulies. Blankshain is an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Margulies is the director of research and an assistant professor at the Modern War Institute at West Point (https://nytimes.com/2021/09/16/opinion/americans-trust-us-military.html). Their central question is “How and why did we engage in war for so long with so little to show for it?”

They argue that it is not public apathy or that most Americans are “almost totally insulated from the human and financial costs of war,” and therefore pay little attention to or have little reason to care about to U.S. military policies Call this the ‘the military is at war, Americans are at the mall’ theory.” They reject this argument for several reasons. “First, the perception that most Americans are ‘at the mall’ is not new. ‘Off the base, it was as if there was no war taking place,” one veteran said of Korea, America’s original ‘forgotten war’ (despite the use of the draft and a large number of veterans in the population). ‘The war wasn’t popular, and no one wanted to hear anything about it.’ Second, policymakers are unlikely to implement policies like a war tax or draft in a way that imposes substantial political costs, as the American experience in Vietnam demonstrated. Finally, the logic of this argument — which shames the public while putting the military on a pedestal — may actually be making things worse.”

Rather, Blankshain and Margulies take another position, namely that “[t]he fundamental problem is a yawning gap between trust in the military and trust in civilian institutions of government. This, according to polls, has been true for decades.” They point to one recent survey which “found that Americans were significantly more likely to say that the military has done a good job in Afghanistan over the past 20 years than to say the same of any relevant presidential administration.”

This “trust gap” is “one reason the public doesn’t critically engage with military policy is that civilians have been convinced that they should defer to those with military experience and that criticizing the wars is akin to failing to support the troops.” They add: “Excessive deference to the military has made Americans less willing to weigh in on public debates where they believe they lack expertise or moral standing.” Furthermore, since the end of the draft in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, there have “concerted efforts both to reassure Americans that such a force does not threaten civilian control by emphasizing the military’s professional, apolitical nature and to attract recruits and public support by emphasizing the special honor and status associated with military service.”

As trust in civilian leaders has declined, “Civilian policymakers and politicians have exacerbated the trust gap by attempting to turn the military’s popularity to their own advantage, using the military and military advice as either a shield to defend their policy choices or a weapon to attack their opponents.” Finally, they maintain, “service members and veterans have a perceived moral competence. There is a perception that their service and sacrifice mean they have earned the right to weigh in on conflicts in a way civilians have not.” But, Blankshain and Margulies maintain, this perception “risks downplaying the importance of other forms of public service and civic engagement.”

—————-

#7 – Little concern with the destruction and death caused by U.S. military forces and their allies.  

Much of the U.S. public seem little concerned about the death and destruction in other countries caused by U.S. wars. They are undoubtedly and understandably concerned about the wellbeing of U.S. troops. But the victims of U.S. aggression are of less or no concern.

Nick Turse offers some documentation of the civilian casualties of U.S. wars and “the names you will never know” (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/09/27/forever-wars-names-youll-never-know).

Turse begins his account with an example from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Here’s what he writes.

“As a parting shot, on its way out of Afghanistan, the United States military launched a drone attack that the Pentagon called a ‘righteous strike.’ The final missile fired during 20 years of occupation, that August 29th airstrike averted an Islamic State car-bomb attack on the last American troops at Kabul’s airport. At least, that’s what the Pentagon told the world.

“Within two weeks, a New York Times investigation would dismantle that official narrative. Seven days later, even the Pentagon admitted it. Instead of killing an ISIS suicide bomber, the United States had slaughtered 10 civilians: Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group; three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; three children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.”

Most Americans don’t know anything about these victims, let alone their names. Turse asks: “Twenty years after 9/11, with the Afghan War declared overcombat in Iraq set to conclude, and President Joe Biden announcing the end of ‘an era of major military operations to remake other countries,’ who will give their deaths another thought?” But this history of not-knowing goes back hundreds of years, as “Americans have been killing civilians since before there was a United States.” Turse gives this overview.

“At home and abroad, civilians—PequotsAfrican AmericansCheyenne and ArapahoFilipinosHaitiansJapaneseGermansKoreansVietnameseCambodiansLaotiansAfghansIraqisSyriansYemenis, and Somalis, among others—have been shot, burned, and bombed to death. The slaughter at Sand Creek, the Bud Dajo massacre, the firebombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the My Lai massacre—the United States has done what it can to sweep it all under the rug through denialcover-ups, and the most effective means of all: forgetting.”

“Names Remembered and Names Forgotten”

“Over the last 20 years,” Turse writes, “the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen—that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 tops out at 364,000 to 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.” These figures likely underestimate the true extent of the problem, as they say nothing about civilian casualties or the destruction of their communities.

Turse gives the names and circumstances of some of these U.S. war victims in Afghanistan. Here are a few examples, among others. 

“There’s Malana. In 2019, at age 25, she had just given birth to a son, when her health began to deteriorate. Her relatives were driving her to a clinic in Afghanistan’s Khost Province when their vehicle was attacked by a U.S. drone, killing Malana and four others.

“And Gul Mudin. He was wounded by a grenade and shot with a rifle, one of at least three civilians murdered by a U.S. Army “kill team” in Kandahar Province in 2010.

“Then there was Gulalai, one of seven people, including three women—two of them pregnant—who were shot and killed in a February 12, 2010, raid by Special Operations forces in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province.”

The killing sometimes occurred when the U.S. Air Force “carried out ‘signature strikes’ that executed unknown people due to suspicious behavior…like holding a weapon in places where, as in this country, firearms were ubiquitous—and then counted them as enemy dead.”

Then there were similarly imprecise targeted assassinations. Turse refers to secret documents obtained by the Intercept Secret, which is about a drone strike campaign called Operation Haymaker in 2011 and 2012. The strike was intended to “assassinate 35 high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, [but] ended up killing 200 people.” Turse adds: “Of course, we don’t know who they were. But there were many other Afghans killed in airstrikes simply because all ‘military-age males’ were “automatically be classified as combatants unless proven innocent.”

Further, for two decades American-funded warlords and militiamen “murdered, raped, or shook-down the very people this country was supposedly protecting. Again, “no one knows the names of all those killed by such allies who were being advised, trained, armed, and funded by the United States.”

In 2020, Turse wrote “4,500 words for the New York Times Magazine about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso. As I noted then, that nation was one of the largest recipients of American security aid in West Africa, even though the State Department admitted that U.S.-backed forces were implicated in a litany of human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.”

Through it all, the U.S. government builds “memorials and monuments commemorating America’s wars and fallen soldiers. As one example, among others, Turse refers to “one of the most celebrated monuments in Washington, D.C. More than 58,000 men and women are represented on the visually arresting black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” Citing celebrated Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans a total of 400 feet, but it would take a memorial nine miles long for just the Vietnamese dead, not “the countless Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and Yemenis.”

Turse conclusion is mixed. On the one hand, he writes, “there have always been anti-war and pacifist groups opposed to all of the post-WWII wars.” However, “they have mostly failed to affect the overall trends and advances to war by the propaganda of the military-industrial complex.” On the other hand, “the military policymakers have not eliminated anti-war movements

Delving into history, U.S. citizens mis-remember post-WWII wars

John Dower, professor emeritus of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has done award-winning research on America’s wars after WWII. His book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II (2017), provides an exemplary analysis of the military aspect of U.S. foreign policy during this period in U.S. history. In an article on Tom Dispatch (August 2, 2021),“Memory Loss in the Garden of Violence,” he considers how the “memory” of Americans about the post-WWII wars and how it reflects a distorted reality of the causes and effects of these wars (https://tomdispatch.com/memory-loss-in-the-garden-of-violence).

Such memories are shaped by policymakers who want public support for the misbegotten and counterproductive wars they advance. They lie and do whatever they can to encourage pro-war public sentiments. Nonetheless, they need public support to legitimate their war initiatives. By the way, Joseph Masco does a masterful job in identifying the details on how public opinion has been manipulated in his book, The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2014).

Back to Dower, who finds that Americans generally have a selective remembrance of America’s wars. And such memories are preserved and reinforced by “war memorials and memorial days.” U.S. soldiers are thought of as the victims of war – and they are, but they are hardly the only ones.  

Dower continues: “Still, the American way of remembering and forgetting its wars is distinctive for several reasons. Geographically, the nation is much more secure than other countries. Alone among major powers, it escaped devastation in World War II, and has been unmatched in wealth and power ever since. Despite panic about Communist threats in the past and Islamist and North Korean threats in the present, the United States has never been seriously imperiled by outside forces. Apart from the Civil War, its war-related fatalities have been tragic but markedly lower than the military and civilian death tolls of other nations, invariably including America’s adversaries.”

Dower uses the concept “asymmetry” to call attention to how U.S. troops are praised, while civilian causalities are largely disregarded. Here’s what he writes. “Asymmetry in the human costs of conflicts involving U.S. forces has been the pattern ever since the decimation of Amerindians and the American conquest of the Philippines between 1899 and 1902. The State Department’s Office of the Historian puts the death toll in the latter war at “over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants,” and proceeds to add that “as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.” (Among other precipitating causes for those noncombatant deaths, U.S. troops shot most of the water buffalo farmers relied on to produce their crops.) Many scholarly accounts now offer higher estimates for Filipino civilian fatalities.

“Much the same morbid asymmetry characterizes war-related deaths in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War of 1991, and the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq following September 11, 2001.”

The American asymmetrical views of casualties is linked to the view that the U.S. is an “exceptional” country. Dower puts it this way: “In paeans to ‘American exceptionalism,’ it is an article of faith that the highest values of Western and Judeo-Christian civilization guide the nation’s conduct — to which Americans add their country’s purportedly unique embrace of democracy, respect for each and every individual, and stalwart defense of a ‘rules-based’ international order.”

Such beliefs rest on and reinforce selective memory. Dower gives the example of “Terror,” which “has become a word applied to others, never to oneself. Though, he reminds us, that during ‘World War II, U.S. and British strategic-bombing planners explicitly regarded their firebombing of enemy cities as terror bombing, and identified destroying the morale of noncombatants in enemy territory as necessary and morally acceptable. Shortly after the Allied devastation of the German city of Dresden in February 1945, Winston Churchill, whose bust circulates in and out of the presidential Oval Office in Washington (it is currently in), referred to the ‘bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts.’”

The U.S. also engaged in carpet bombing in Japan, “pulverizing 64 cities prior to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.” Dower notes: “Few if any American public figures recognized or cared” care about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, where the bomb’s blast and radiation poisoning killed around 140,000, and of Nagasaki, where 60,000 to 70,000 were killed.

Dower also goes touches on subsequent terror bombing wages by the U.S. Air Force in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He makes the point again that Americans have little or no recollection of these wars. He refers to the following evidence.

“The official history of the air war in Korea (The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953records that U.S.-led United Nations air forces flew more than one million sorties and, all told, delivered a total of 698,000 tons of ordnance against the enemy.” According to one estimate, three million civilian Koreans were killed in the process.

“The payload of bombs unloaded on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos between the mid-1960s and 1973 is commonly reckoned to have been between seven and eight million tons — well over 40 times the tonnage dropped on the Japanese home islands in World War II. Estimates of total deaths vary, but are all exceedingly high. In a Washington Post article in 2012, John Tirman noted that ‘by several scholarly estimates, Vietnamese military and civilian deaths ranged from 1.5 million to 3.8 million, with the U.S.-led campaign in Cambodia resulting in 600,000 to 800,000 deaths, and Laotian war mortality estimated at about 1 million.’”

#8 – The U.S. government supports the continuation and improvement of the nuclear arsenal

Here, as follows, are excerpts from a post I sent out on February 7, 2020
(https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2020/02/07/the-looming-danger-of-nuclear-war-the-context-and-the-doomsday-clock).

————————————–

The current post was inspired by the 2020 annual report of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists specifying its decision to move the minute hand on the “doomsday clock” closer to midnight (end-game for humanity) than ever before in the over 70 years of such decisions. This year’s decision was based on their assessments of the chances for nuclear war and the ongoing cataclysmic advances of the climate crisis.

In hindsight, the creation of atomic bombs in the early 1940s appears to have been an expression of the height of human folly by many knowledgeable people and scientists. Whatever, these terribly destructive weapons are a part of present day reality and most civilian and military leaders in the US and Russia, which alone have 93% of the warheads, view them as vital and necessary components of their military arsenals, while basing their views on a hollow and ultimately counter-productive conceptions of nationalism, “national security,” a vapid patriotism, and the self-serving assumption that nuclear arsenals can be managed in ways that deter the use of these weapons. (Richard Falk takes issue with the view that the existing nuclear arsenals can be managed and makes an argument for banning these weapons: https://popularresistance.org/contesting-management-or-transformation-an-urgent-challenge.

While the issue does not attract much mainstream media attention, it continues to be of utmost importance with 15,500 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world, according to the Arms Control Association. That includes nuclear warheads that are on delivery vehicles and ready to be launched and thousands of warheads in non-operational status that can readily be made operational (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

Some of these warheads are on missiles located on launching pads in the US, on submarines, and on large bombers – and are ready to be launched in just minutes. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert….around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve” (http://www.ucs.usa.org/nuclear-weapons/hair-trigger-alert#.WGbjjeQzXIU). In the meantime, the US military is planning to introduce “‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles – weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relatively lower-yield of such warheads makes them more likely to be used in a wider range of situations considered to be threatening by the US military command (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).

Perhaps the gravest hotspot, or potential nuclear war situation, is in the highly rancorous and hostile relations between Pakistan (130 nuclear weapons) and India (120 nuclear weapons), particularly over the disputed control of Kashmir. These are two nuclear powers whose troops are within miles of one another. Any slight, accidental, or misunderstood provocation could be the spark that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. And it appears that the Trump administration is aching for the opportunity to wage war on Iran.

There are other nuclear powers, including England, France, China, Israel, and North Korea. At the same time, dozens of countries have the capacity to build nuclear warheads and the means to use them. At one time, six other countries had nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya). There were four other countries on their way to having nuclear weapons and then “shelved their nuclear weapons’ programs” (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan). These figures come from: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

“Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those planned by Russia and the U.S. for the turn of the millennium….” (http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq7-5.html).

The point is that the human world is already in a situation in which any one of the nuclear states could use their weapons for any one of a number of reasons – to extend power, preserve a perceived credibility, destroy an “enemy,” avoid a military defeat, or by accident.

It can be safely assumed that most citizens who even think about these weapons have no idea of how fragile nuclear weapons launching technology and procedures are. Couple this with a president who thinks in tweeter-length thoughts, who likes being right and winning every time, who glories in the spotlight, and you end up with an irrational and accident-prone nuclear weapons control and command system.

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In a recent article published September 26, 2021 on Common Dreams, Jake Johnson reports on how United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons in order to avoid “nuclear annihilation” (https://commondreams.org/2021/09/26/un-chief-warns-humanity-unacceptably-close-nuclear-annihilation). According to Johnson, Guterres made the statement at a disarmament conference on September 23 where “he urged all nations that possess nuclear technology to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which—if enacted—would prohibit ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.’ The United States—the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war—is among the eight nuclear-equipped nations that have yet to ratify the CTBT.”

This “international day” was marked in the U.S. by anti-war veterans who implored President Joe Biden to adopt a ‘no first use’ policy and ‘make that policy credible by publicly decommissioning U.S. ICBMs that can only be used in a first strike.”  In an open letter, the advocacy group Veterans for Peace reads,

“We represent millions of people who want nothing more than to see the United States make a dramatic ‘Pivot to Peace.’ What better place to start than to step back from the brink of nuclear war? The billions of U.S. tax dollars saved could be applied to the very real national security threats of the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. What better legacy for the Biden administration than to begin a process that could lead to worldwide nuclear disarmament.”

However, the Biden administration is paying little or no attention to such pleas. Johnson points out that “the Biden administration’s first budget request ‘would continue the expensive and controversial nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization efforts pursued by the Trump administration pending the outcome of the Nuclear Posture Review.” The administration “also recently announced a new ‘security alliance’ with Britain and Australia that will help equip the latter nation with nuclear-armed submarines.

Concluding thoughts

While many U.S. historians and commentators advance the idea that the U.S. is an exceptional country that wants to foster peace in the world, the record belies such claims. It would take nothing less than a transformational shift in the present militaristic foreign policy along the lines referred to in the “Introduction.”

The Biden administration seems unlikely to undertake such a task. In the meantime, there will continue to be citizens, groups, and movements that are “anti-war.” Wikipedia has an entry, “List of anti-war organizations” from around the world, including the U.S. (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti_war_organizations).

“These groups range from temporary coalitions which address one war or pending war, to more permanent structured organizations which work to end the concept of war and the factors which lead to large-scale destructive conflicts. The overwhelming majority do so in a nonviolent manner. The following list of anti-war organizations highlights past and present anti-war groups from across the world.” There are on the list 63 anti-war groups of some size located in the U.S.

Such anti-war groups helped, for example, to end the Vietnam War, end ground-level nuclear bomb testing, end intermediate nuclear weapons capabilities in Europe. As the saying goes, they helped keep the option of peace alive. However, the evidence in this post indicates that they have been by and large unsuccessful.

Perhaps, it will take a war in which nuclear weapons are used to jolt Americans into thinking differently about war and peace and then electing peace-minded elected representatives to Washington. This is the sad lesson of the novel, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, authored by Elliott Ackerman and Admiral Jim Stavridis. Perhaps, we can avoid such madness and find peaceful paths to a better world.

How far will the Republicans go in their efforts to subvert democracy?

Bob Sheak, September 23, 2021

 Introduction

 In this post, I focus again on the Republican Party and how, referring to recent specific examples, it continues to advance policies and practice that are intentionally aimed at attenuating, if not ending, democracy. As I point out, they are desperate to win politically even as their electoral base shrinks as a proportion of the total electorate. There is no compromise with their efforts. They are committed, relentless, and contemptuous of science and verifiable evidence. They have the characteristics associated with authoritarian and fascist parties historically and presently. On this point, see Carl Boggs’s book, Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads.

 How far will they go?  The only way to stop them, if at all, is democratically, that is, with solid Democratic candidates, adequate funding sources, voting drives, ample opportunities for citizens to vote in fair elections, social movements, grassroots organizing, and educating the voting population of Democrats and Independents about what is at stake.

 There is a caveat. This analysis focuses on domestic politics. When it comes to foreign policy, both major political parties have a flawed and imperialistic record. See, for example, John W. Dower’s book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, or Joseph Masco’s The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror, or John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century.

The Republicans and the “great replacement” dogma

 Given changing demographics that seem to favor the Democrats, the Republican Party and its allies are desperate to advance their political power by whatever means, regardless of the detrimental effects on democratic processes, public health, the climate crisis. Their aim is ultimately to impose Republican control at the national level of politics without majority support and to use a variety of anti-democratic efforts to win control in the states. It is an authoritarian vision that is based on lies, anti-democratic values and interests, in which there is little room for verifiable evidence. As author Lee Mcintyre has documented, we live in a “post-truth” society, the title of his book, where “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence.”

 Greg Sargent takes up the demographic issue, referring to how the idea of the “great replacement” has become GOP dogma (https://washingtonpost.com/opinion/2021/09/17/dan-patrick-great-replacement-theory). He continues: “It is becoming a trend: More and more Republicans have been signing on to ‘great replacement theory.’ Because this worldview posits various versions of a nefarious liberal scheme to replace native-born Americans with non-White outsiders, it’s often analyzed through a racial prism.” On this point, Sargent quotes, among others, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), a House leader, [who] insisted this week [the week of September 12] that providing citizenship for the undocumented would produce a ‘permanent election insurrection’ and ‘overthrow our current electorate.’ Other leading Republicans have also trafficked in versions of this.”

 But it is also more broadly about how Republicans use the replacement theory to justify their subversion and abandonment of democratic values.

 The Republican Party has mounted major efforts to shape the electoral system in ways to limit significantly the opportunities for voters, aimed at voters of color and other perceived opponents. The Republicans have long been engaged in voter suppression. Among other authors, Carol Anderson documents how Republicans have used suppression tactics for 150 years to harass, obstruct, frustrate, and purge American citizens from having a say in their own democracy (One Person, One Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, p. 2). What is new in this era of the Trump-dominated Republican Party, is the breadth and depth of voter suppression and efforts to subvert other institutional aspects of the electoral system.

 If the current Republican efforts to limit the votes of opponents, skew the electoral rules in their favor, propagate untruths, intimidate rivals, prevail, Republicans running for federal and state offices will be able to win elections despite losing the popular vote and even at the federal level when they lose in the electoral college. And there’s more. Whenever there are legal challenges to voting outcomes in these circumstances, the radical-right majority on the Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of what Republicans call voter “integrity” laws and legitimate the anti-democratic thrust of the Republican voter suppression laws and other anti-democratic policies and maneuvers they support. Ominously, Republicans in Texas and other states are also pushing for a ban of abortion and the unleashing of vigilantism.

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 The Republican Party’s power base

 The Rich and Powerful

 Meanwhile, of course, Republican Party leaders work to hold onto support of large swaths of the rich, corporations, and ideological compatible networks of trade associations, lobbyists, faux experts, think tanks, and foundations. They have long been known as the party of big business and their commitment to an unbridled form of capitalism, which some refer to as neoliberalism (e.g., Jack Rasmus, The Scourge of Neoliberalism; Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism).

 To satisfy their rich and powerful constituencies, the party advances a program of low taxes, corporate welfare, extensive but selective deregulation, the privatization or leasing of any government function that is potentially profitable, and government contracts, as epitomized by but not limited to the lucrative profits of weapons makers. William Hartung is worth quoting on this last point (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2021/Profits%20of%20War_Hartung_Costs%20of%20War_Sept%2013%2C%202021.pdf).

 “The United States government’s reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 led to dramatic increases in Pentagon funding and revenues for weapons contractors. While the costs and consequences of America’s war policies of the twenty-first century have been well-documented, the question of who has profited from this approach has received less attention. Corporations large and small have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the post-9/11 surge in military spending.

 “Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, Pentagon spending has totaled over $14 trillion, one-third to one-half of which went to defense contractors. Some of these corporations earned profits that are widely considered legitimate. Other profits were the consequence of questionable or corrupt business practices that amount to waste, fraud, abuse, price-gouging or profiteering. The Pentagon’s increasing reliance on private contractors in the post-9/11 period raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud and abuse. Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the U.S. lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts. More broadly, the outsized influence of defense contractors has resulted in a growing militarization of American society.”

By the way, there has been bipartisan support for increasing military spending, though President Biden has requested a controversially lower increase for the 2022 budget than recent presidents.

 Trickle down – a reactionary ideology

 The Republicans could care less about rising inequalities or poverty, or about the maintenance of an effective safety net, or any concept of the common good. They are modern-day Social Darwinists, who argue that the alleged talented and hardworking billionaires and other rich people are said to rise to the top of the income and wealth distributions because of their talent, entrepreneurial savvy, risk-taking, and hard work, and everyone else struggles to pay the bills or even just subsist. And, according to this view, the losers ironically (if dubiously), need the winners for the job-creating investments and everything else contemporary life requires of people. But they hardly make it easy for most people.

 They oppose unions, minimum wage laws, non-market-related pensions, meaningful occupational and safety laws, government job creation, subsidized child care, paid maternity leaves. They don’t want workers to have viable alternatives to the marketplace. They promote the notion, as mentioned, that the state of the economy is dependent on corporate job makers and the government must do everything it can to encourage their investments and capital accumulation.

 Holding onto a shrinking electoral base

 But catering to the rich and powerful isn’t enough to win elections. For that, they need a unified party and the ability to attract enough voters to win elections, while at the same time finding ways to diminish the electoral participation of opponents. Trump has served as a catalyst to bring a perverted and fragile unity to the party.

 In addition to the support of large segments of the rich and powerful, the Republicans, under the leadership of Trump, need and have the backing of a heterogenous base of far-right organizations and grassroots supporters, from white supremacists, Christian nationalists, xenophobes, gun advocates and owners, homophobes, and others, even when such support conflicts with their economic interests.

 Advancing anti-democratic politics

 The Republican Party has pursued multiple goals and strategies, often based on outright lies, conspiracy theories, dubious legal stratagems, legislative obstructionism to increase their chances of winning elections and enhancing the party’s political power. They have intensified their efforts recently by:

 (1) engaging in voter suppression by governors and state legislators, gerrymandering, changing the rules on how votes are counted,

 (2) playing to the Trump electoral base and in support of the false claim that Trump unfairly lost the presidential election in a corrupt, rigged election,

 (3) glorifying or saying little about the rioters who were responsible for the destruction and casualties of the January 6 attacks on the US Capitol, even though the evidence that this was a criminal, violent attack is factually indisputable,

 (4) engaging, with right-wing media, in divisive “cultural” issues

 (5) passing anti- abortion laws,

 (6) supporting vigilantism

 (7) attacking state election officials

 (8) using the courts to suppress dissent.  

Here is some recent evidence

#1 – Texas as a Republican Party trend setter – suppressing rights and other anti-democratic actions

John Nichols argues that “[w]hat’s happening in Texas is about much more than the fight over reproductive rights” (https://thenation.com/article/politics/texas-abortion-ban-politics).

 Rather, “The state is implementing a template for the authoritarian future Republicans propose for all Americans. The recent enactment of a right-wing wish list of extreme measures by the state’s legislature—denying a pregnant person’s rights to choose, limiting what’s taught in schools about racism, permitting people to carry unlicensed firearms in public—is one piece of an ambitious GOP strategy going into the 2022 midterm elections. The other piece involves the restrictions on voting rights that Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed Tuesday.”

Voter Suppression, etc.

 “In Texas,” Nichols writes, “where Democrats have gained ground in recent years, it is now abundantly clear that the Republican strategy is to make it [ever] harder for probable Democratic voters to cast ballots.” The package of voting rights restrictions that the governor has approved includes a ban on drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, which had been used to increase turnout (even during the coronavirus pandemic) in Houston’s Harris County. It also expands voter ID requirements, limits early voting hours, and places new restrictions on mail-in voting. State Representative John Bucy, an Austin Democrat, notes that the bill also outlines new avenues for criminally prosecuting voters who make mistakes.

 “There are increased crimes and penalties throughout this bill just for participating in the process,” says Bucy, “and there is no explanation as to why.”

 “At the same time,” Nichols points out, “the law empowers partisan poll watchers to aggressively monitor and challenge voting procedures—effectively codifying the approach taken by Donald Trump and his allies during and after the 2020 presidential election.”

 Republicans in other states are going all out on voter suppression, as part of a national strategy in anticipation of 2022 midterm elections that could expand GOP control of statehouses and restore GOP control of Congress. “While laws that make it more taxing to vote are not new, the current onslaught of voting restrictions and changes to how elections will be administered is not something we’ve grappled with on this scale,” notes a FiveThirtyEight analysis from May. “Additionally, there is their nakedly partisan origins—nearly 90 percent of the voting laws proposed or enacted in 2021 were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republican legislators—and the fact that these laws are likely to have a greater impact on Black and brown voters, who are less likely to vote Republican.”

 #2 – The Republican base goes along with the “big lie”

 Caitlin Dickson reports, “A majority of Republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll. The latest findings show how persistent this false narrative continues to be, despite the preponderance of evidence against it” (https://news.yahoo.com/poll-two-thirds-of-republicans-still-think-the-2020-election-was-rigged).

 The survey involved “1,552 U.S. adults, which was conducted from July 30 to Aug. 2, found that 66 percent of Republicans continue to insist that ‘the election was rigged and stolen from Trump,’ while just 18 percent believe ‘Joe Biden won fair and square.’ Twenty-eight percent of independent voters also said they think Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, as did a small 3 percent of Democrats.”

 The survey also finds a partisan division on how to view the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. “A closer look at the respondents’ party affiliations shows a clear divide within these views: 81 percent of Democrats said Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack, compared with just 9 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents. Only 15 percent of Republicans blamed Trump supporters who gathered at the Capitol for the violence that took place on Jan. 6, while 48 percent of Republicans said that “left wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” were largely at fault. Conspiracy theories have falsely blamed liberal agitators like antifa for the attack.”

 Indeed, Democrats tried to impeach Trump in February on the charge that he incited the insurrection. The charge was approved in the House but went on to fail in the Senate, where Republicans whose lives had been threatened by the rioters on January 6 refused to go along out of loyalty or fear of retribution by Trump.

 #3 – Viewing the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes and upstanding citizens

 Trump and most Republicans have stood by the big lie that the presidential election was stolen. In an article on September 16, 2021, for Newsweek, Cammy Pedroja reports that Trump continues to defend the Capitol rioters, saying they have been “persecuted so unfairly” (https://newsweek.com/trump-defends-capitol-rioters-being-persecuted-so-unfairly-sept-18th-rally-1629953). She writes: “Former President Donald Trump doubled down on defending those who rioted at the United States capitol on January 6, calling them unfairly ‘persecuted’ on Thursday [Sept. 16].”

 So far, Pedroja reports, 642 people have been charged in the Capitol insurrection as of Tuesday, September 14, and dozens have already pleaded guilty.

Trump’s Save America PAC released a statement “ahead of a rally planned for September 18 in support of the hundreds of rioters arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 Capitol riots, the ex-president expressed solidarity with those criminally charged: ‘Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!’”

 #4 – Energizing the right-win electoral base with cultural issues

Republicans are simultaneously advancing a legislative agenda designed to encourage maximum turnout by voters who make up their party’s social-conservative base. They spent more effort on this aspect of their political strategy when in 2018 “Democrats made significant gains in state legislative races that year and picked up several US House seats.” The Republican loss of the presidency was another big setback, though the party gained seats in the US House of Representatives and in state legislatures across the country – while Trump got 74 million votes.

 John Nichols says the new anti-abortion law and other “cultural” wedge issues in Texas are “red meat” designed to whip up electoral participation of the Republican base (https://thenation.com/article/politics/texas-abortion-ban-politics).

 “GOP legislators are creating controversies and responding to them with an eye toward ginning up turnout by their base voters.” This involves not only the abortion ban but for example stirring “backlash against teaching the legacies of slavery, and expanding gun rights.”

 Such tactics are getting noticed by Republicans in other states. Nichols cites an Associated Press report that a ‘network of conservative groups with ties to major Republican donors and party-aligned think tanks is quietly lending firepower to local activists engaged in culture war fights in schools across the country.’ Comparing the approach to that of the Tea Party in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections, conservative lawyer Dan Lennington openly admits, “These are ingredients for having an impact on future elections.”

#5 – The sad “heart” of the Texas anti-abortion law

No legal abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

 In an article for The Texas Tribune, Neelam Bohra reports on Texas Senate Bill 8 “which bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy,” or “whenever an ultrasound can detect cardiac activity.” This is a bill, now law, that appeals to one of the Republican’s principal constituencies, right-wing evangelicals. The Bill “took effect at midnight [Tuesday, August 31, 2021] after the U.S. Supreme Court did not take action on an emergency appeal by Texas abortion providers Tuesday (https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/31/texas-abortion-law-supreme-court/)

 “It is usual but not always that at six-weeks old,  defined as a fetal “heartbeat,” though medical and legal experts say this term is misleading because embryos at this stage don’t possess a heart at that developmental stage.” In addition, most women are not aware of their pregnancy at this early stage. Providers and abortion rights advocacy groups say “the new law will …[negatively] affect at least 85% of the abortions taking place in the state.”

Legal scholar and author Marjorie Cohn points out that the Texas abortion law will disproportionately affect some groups more than others (https://truthout.org/articles/justice-department-fights-back-against-texas-anti-abortion-law). She writes:  

 “Outlawing abortion will not prevent abortions. It will prevent safe abortions from occurring within the state. Some pregnant people who can afford to travel out of Texas will get safe abortions elsewhere. Poor, rural, undocumented and non-white women in Texas will be those most directly harmed by S.B. 8”

 The Mississippi anti-abortion law

 The Supreme Court is scheduled to take up another anti-abortion case from Mississippi. Julia Conley reports on this story (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/09/20/supreme-court-announces-date-case-directly-challenging-roe-v-wade).

 The case in question, Conley writes, is “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case in Mississippi which poses a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade. On Monday, September 20, the US Supreme Court announced it will consider the case on December 1. The Mississippi law would ban “most abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy,” before “fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks.” The Mississippi law “makes no exception for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, only allowing abortion care ‘in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality.’ Providers who administer abortions in violation of the law could have their medical licenses revoked and face fines.”

 Abortion rights advocates have geared up to oppose the Mississippi law, but there is concern about the right-wing dominance on the Court. Here is more from Conley’s investigative reporting.

 “NARAL Pro-Choice America noted that the Mississippi case will be the first abortion case the court hears since Justice Amy Coney Barrett—one of three anti-choice judges appointed by former President Donald Trump—joined the court, resulting in a 6-3 right-wing majority.

 “The court’s announcement on Monday followed the filing of an amicus brief in the Mississippi case by nearly 900 state legislators who support reproductive rights and justice.

 “‘Since so many state legislators have been leading the assault on reproductive rights, it only makes sense that state legislators be the first to defend them,’ Arizona Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said in a statement. ‘By adding my name to this amicus brief, I join hundreds of powerful, strong reproductive freedom champions standing up for the rights of all.’”

 “The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). was among 72 organizations that filed a separate amicus brief following the Supreme Court’s announcement.

‘In our brief, we explain that the devastating impact of allowing a pre-viability abortion ban to stand—or overturning the right to abortion explicitly—denies the liberty and equality of women and all people who can become pregnant,’ NWLC said.”

#6 – The Texas anti-abortion law legitimates free-wheeling vigilantism

Neelam Bohra (cited above as well) draws readers’ attention to this aspect of SB 8, the pending Texas anti-abortion law. The law is unique not only in drastically limiting the amount of time a woman has to have a legal abortion, but also, astonishingly, in mandating that, instead of state enforcement, “only private citizens can sue abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding or abetting an abortion after a ‘heartbeat’ is detected.” This encourages a scurrilous vigilantism. Under this law, anyone turning in verifiable information that leads to a conviction in the courts can received up to $10,000 “bonus” per case. Meanwhile, “[t]hrough no fault of their own, thousands of pregnant Texans will lose constitutionally protected access to abortion.” As noted previously, this will affect mostly those women who do not have the resources to travel out-of-state or to Mexico to obtain an abortion.

 President Biden “denounced the implementation of SB 8 Wednesday morning, saying that his administration “is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly five decades ago and will protect and defend that right,” though he did not refer to any specific course of action.”

Bohra also points out, “Planned Parenthood will try to keep clinics open, staff attorney Julie Murray said. But there is a chance that some abortion clinics will begin closing, said Helene Krasnoff, vice president of public policy litigation and law.” And: “Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health, said the clinics will have to start turning patients away on Wednesday.” In the day prior to the activization of SB. 8, “Sadler said she was ‘engulfed’ with helping to treat over 100 patients at the organization’s clinic in Fort Worth as Texans scrambled to undergo abortions on what many feared was the last day the procedure would be legal.”

 In preparation for legal actions on the Republican side, the anti-abortion organization Texas Right to Life, the biggest anti-abortion organization in the state, plans “to start suing those they believe violate SB 8. The organization has even set up a whistleblower website, where anyone can file anonymous tips about illegal abortions, even those who have no personal connection to whomever they sue.”

 There is more disconcerting new from Mississippi. Bohra reports, “A separate bill currently under consideration by state lawmakers, Senate Bill 4, would prevent physicians or providers from giving abortion-inducing medication to patients who are more than seven weeks pregnant.

 Heather Digby Parton provides additional details on the anti-abortion ban by the Texas governor and legislature (https://salon.com/2021/09/03/supreme-court-sanctions-gops-vigilante-strategy-to-stay-in-power). As she reports, “Texas passed a draconian anti-abortion law that banned the procedure after 6 weeks. Since most people don’t know they are pregnant that early in pregnancy, it effectively bans the procedure for all but a very few. This wasn’t the first of what they call ‘fetal heartbeat’ laws that states have tried to pass, but it is the first to go into effect despite Roe v. Wade still standing. This is because the Texas legislature came up with a devious way to circumvent federal jurisdiction, by taking enforcement out of the hands of the state altogether and putting it into the hands of private citizens, also known as vigilantes.”

 This law’s novel approach to enforcement, essentially removing the state and using what amounts to vigilantes and bounty hunters (under the promise of $10,000 for every abortion aider and abettor they bag) is essentially a form of legal secession from the U.S. Constitution. By removing the state and putting this into the realm of civil law, they can circumvent Americans’ constitutional rights by making them impossible to exercise. Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented from the majority opinion, concedes that the vigilante scheme is a problem, writing:

 “I would grant preliminary relief to preserve the status quo ante — before the law went into effect — so that the courts may consider whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws in such a manner.”

 However, the “court majority is signaling loud and clear that they have abandoned all pretense of impartial justice. They have joined the rest of the far-right in their quest to retain power and achieve their ends by any means necessary. All they need for ‘legitimacy’ is the power they have — and it is immense.”

 The fact that hardcore, anti-democratic, right-wingers like the Trump Court have implicitly decided that state-sanctioned vigilantism is a valid law enforcement mechanism should not surprise us. Parton refers to The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg who points out that this is now mainstream thinking on the right:

“Today’s G.O.P. made a hero out of Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man charged with killing two people during protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wis. Leading Republicans speak of the Jan. 6 insurgents, who tried to stop the certification of an election, as martyrs and political prisoners.

 “Last year, Senator Marco Rubio praised Texas Trump supporters who swarmed a Biden campaign bus, allegedly trying to run it off the road: ‘We love what they did,’ he said. This weekend in Pennsylvania, Steve Lynch, the Republican nominee in a county executive race, said of school boards that impose mask mandates, ‘I’m going in with 20 strong men’ to tell them ‘they can leave or they can be removed.’”

 Their leader, Donald Trump, “has encouraged vigilante violence, praising insurrectionist Ashli Babbit as a martyr, issuing statements like ‘Liberate Michigan’ and famously telling his ecstatic fans that he will pay their legal fees if they beat up protesters, among a hundred other provocative comments.”

 Goldberg also points out, according to Parton, that “in Texas, the ‘pro-life’ crowd is ready to start hunting down their enemies quoting one of their leaders, John Seago, saying ‘One of the great benefits, and one of the things that’s most exciting for the pro-life movement, is that they have a role in enforcing this law.’ That’s certainly very exciting for all of the MAGA fans out there. 12 other states have passed laws similar to Texas’. A little tweaking to take state enforcement out of it and put anti-abortion bounty hunters in and they’re good to go. No doubt there will be a lot of pain and suffering but that’s pretty much all there is to the GOP agenda these days.” 

 #7 – Attacking election officials in the states

Jeffrey C. Isaac, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, analyzes this aspect of the Texas anti-abortion law ((https://commondreams.org/views/2021/09/10/republican-party-anti-democratic-vigilantes-existential-threat). Here’s his overview.

 “The recent passage of Texas bill SR 1 [8], and its peremptory validation by the Supreme Court’s far-right conservative majority, has generated widespread and justified horror and outrage. As many have explained much better than I could ever do, the law is doubly despicable. It institutes a ‘fetal heartbeat’ limit on abortion that virtually abolishes all legal abortion in the state and that radically overthrows approximately fifty years of settled jurisprudence following the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. And it cynically seeks to get around jurisprudential constraints by empowering private citizens rather than state officials to enforce the criminal law, and establishing draconian civil penalties to be paid to these vigilant citizens upon criminal convictions of ‘offenders’ in court.” The latter provision creates what President Biden calls ‘a vigilante system, encouraging private citizens to ‘go out’ in search of ‘offenders,’ and the moral and financial satisfaction that the apprehension and punishment of such ‘offenders’ will bring them.”

 Isaac notes that Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor [also quoted above] put it even more sharply: “In effect, the Texas Legislature has deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures….[and] “that the law represents a deliberate effort to encourage cruelty and inspire fear, turning virtually any effort to obtain abortion services into a risky, costly, and potentially dangerous crime, and palpably assaulting the life chances, and the very freedom, of millions of women.”

 Isaac views the law as “reactionary and cruel,” and also sees it as a “foretaste of things to come throughout the country if Republicans have their way.” He elaborates. “It certainly reflects the influence of Trump in at least two ways. It reflects Trump’s desire to punish opponents that displease him or his base. In this case, cruelty is the point. But it is also a perfect expression of Trumpism in another way: the general attack on the rule of law, and the fair and impartial enforcement of the law by public authorities, that is the hallmark of constitutional democracy, and the promotion, in its stead, of a kind of informal mob rule.”

 “This vigilantism came to a head,” Isaac points out, “with the violent January 6 insurrection, also incited by Trump, along with his group of enablers, including Congressmen Mo Brooks and Louie Gohmert.” Presently, “The promotion of citizen bounty hunters and citizen militias quite clearly involves the explicit promotion of violence as a perverse form of civic virtue,” Isaac writes. It additionally encourages other, less explicitly violent forms, as well.”

 Such reactionary and cruel intentions are reflected in how Republican politicians in various states are seeking to empower partisan Republican poll watchers, thus involving a direct attack on a basic democratic institution. According to the Brennan Center, referenced by Isaac, Republicans are designing the rules so that partisan poll watchers can be “much more assertive, and intrusive, in their efforts to ‘monitor’ voters. Such rules “are also designed to disallow election officials to restrain such monitoring when it becomes disruptive.” Additionally, Republicans are encouraging a wide range of “intimidation tactics” that target voters but also election officials, “who are subjected to defiance, confrontation, and even what Reuters has recently called ‘Trump-inspired death threats.’ The point: to delegitimize the very idea of non-partisan or professional election administration, and to encourage right-wing activists to increasingly take the law into their own hands in their ‘enforcement’ of election law.”

 Isaac also worries about “the so-called ‘election audits’ being conducted by Trumpist activists, most notoriously in Arizona, which also serve the purpose of  corrupting the electoral system along partisan lines. The audits involve “the turning over of publicly-owned election machines, and data, to private—and unprofessional—organizations like Cyber Ninjas, and the relentless questioning of the work of election officials and of professional auditors by these partisan hacks that even some Republicans have described as ‘clowns.’” Such audits “serve to “spread disinformation, about constitutional democracy, the plurality of opinion, and the actual results of elections as determined by legitimate election officials and courts.”

 (8) Using the courts to suppress dissent. 

 Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU, offers some evidence on this issue (https://www.aclusocal.org/en/news/silencing-dissent-didnt-work-1923-and-wont-work-now). In 1969, he reminds us, “the Supreme Court established that speech is protected under the First Amendment unless it is ‘directed to inciting . . . imminent lawless action’ and likely to incite ‘imminent lawless action.’” Recently, however,

 “Lawmakers in 34 states have now introduced more than 80 anti-protest bills so far this year, more than double the number introduced in any other year. In Oklahoma and Iowa, legislators passed bills to give immunity to drivers whose cars strike protestors. In Minnesota, a bill was introduced to prevent anyone convicted of a protest violation from getting unemployment benefits and student loans. And in Indiana, a proposal barred anyone convicted on an unlawful assembly charge from state employment, including elected office.”

 The intent of today’s anti-protest laws is no different from the criminal syndicalism laws of the 1920s — “seeking to silence rather than engage with the message of protest and dissent.”

 ——————–

Concluding thoughts

 As I have argued, the Republican Party represents an existential threat to an already tenuous democracy. In this post, I’ve focused on how this right-wing party is doing its utmost to limit the votes of opponents, delegitimize Biden’s presidency, re-write what happened on January 6, push culturally divisive issues designed to mobilize the electoral base, attack long-established laws on abortion, encourages vigilantism, on such issues as abortion, and replace state election officials with Republican cronies.

 There is much more to the Republican agenda. For example, they are a major supporters of a fossil-fuel energy policy, while being dismissive of the climate crisis. They are major critics of scientifically-based Covid-19 findings and recommendations. They oppose meaningful campaign finance legislation.

 What I wrote in a post on February 6, 2021, still applies.

 The right-wing forces discussed in this post are daunting. The combination of Trump, his massive and subservient base, the profit-first corporate community, and a Republican Party dominated by Trump, all together represent a formidable political force that could lead to a right-wing Republican government in coming elections. In such an eventuality, the erosion of our Democracy would accelerate. 

 Given the right conditions over the next 2-4 years, Republicans could regain control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. They already control the Supreme Court. With Trump at the helm, more extreme Republicans in Congress and state houses, they could further undermine the values and institutions that support democracy, more equality, and social justice and unleash and advance policies that lead to less democracy, more inequality, heightened racism and xenophobia, the marginalization of science, experts, and regulatory agencies, unregulated environmental degradation, a wholesale repression of dissent, and other developments that, if not contested, will end up creating a country with the heinous quality of “1984” and “1933 Germany.”

Afghanistan: A review of a misbegotten war and the options

Afghanistan: A review of a misbegotten war

and the options

September 8, 2021

Years of public amnesia about the Afghanistan War

U.S. interests in Afghanistan predate 9/11, though general public awareness of or a focus on the country did not widely emerge until after the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2001, in NYC, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. But then it wasn’t long before much of the public again lost interest. Here’s some of what Tom Nichols has to say on the public and the Afghanistan War. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and author of the book Our Worst Enemy: The Assault from Within on Modern Democracy (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/afghanistan-your-fault/619769).

“This was a war [in Afghanistan] that was immensely popular at the outset [for a period after 9/11] and mostly conducted in full view of the American public. The problem was that, once the initial euphoria wore off, the public wasn’t much interested in it. Coverage in print media remained solid, but cable-news coverage of Afghanistan dropped off quickly,” especially once a new unnecessary war based on lies was launched in Iraq.

“In post-2001 America, it became fashionable to speak of ‘war weariness,’ but citizens who were not in the military or members of a military family or community did not have to endure even minor inconveniences, much less shoulder major burdens such as a draft, a war tax, or resource shortages. The soldiers who served overseas in those first years of major operations soon felt forgotten. ‘America’s not at war’ was a common refrain among the troops. ‘We’re at war. America’s at the mall.’”

Additionally, there was little public interest in Afghanistan before 9/11. The assumption made by many citizens is that, in foreign policy, we trust the policymakers and experts to formulate the policies and determine what is necessary to advance and protect America’s interests. To rouse the public’s attention, it appears to require an attack on the US, the threat of such an attack, rising war casualties, or government officials claiming that a nation or “terrorist” group poses some immediate and/or even future dire threat.

The roots of the Afghanistan War go back more than 20 years

 Most Americans have little or no knowledge that U.S. active involvement in Afghanistan goes back at least to the Carter Administration, over 40 years ago, amid the Cold War, when the U.S. was bent on containing and, if the opportunity arose reversing, Soviet influence in the Middle East and elsewhere. The implication of this fact is that the US government was involved in Afghanistan before 9/11 and helped to create the conditions that spurred the 9/11 attacks. And the attacks, and how they were mis-represented by three American presidents and their administrations to the public, led to the invasion of Afghanistan by US military forces and some allies and the costly and unnecessary decades-long US war. 

Geopolitics of the Cold War

Gavin O’Reilly reports that in “1979, at the height of the Cold War, both East and West were locked in a battle to prevent their opposing ideologies of Communism and Free Market Capitalism from taking hold in their respective spheres of influence; with Afghanistan, a previously Western-friendly nation, having come under the control of the Moscow-aligned PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) following the 1978 Saur revolution” [described below]. A plan was hatched by the US administration of Jimmy Carter, alongside Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government in Britain, to enact regime change in the newly established Socialist state” (https://popularresistance.org/afghanistan-operation-cyclone-comes-full-circle).

Soviet influence in Afghanistan, 1970s

Wikipedia provides as follows background information on the Saur revolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saur_Revolution).

“The Saur Revolution was the process by which the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew General Mohammed Daoud Khan on 27–28 April 1978, who had himself taken power in the 1973 Afghan coup d’état and established an autocratic one-party system in the country. Daoud Khan and most of his family were killed at the presidential palace by military officers in support of the PDPA.[3] The revolution resulted in the creation of a Soviet-aligned government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as President (General Secretary of the Revolutionary Council). Saur or Sowr is the Dari (Persian) name of the second month of the Solar Hijri calendar, the month in which the uprising took place.[4]

“The revolution was ordered by PDPA member Hafizullah Amin, who would become a significant figure in the revolutionary government; at a press conference in New York in June 1978, Amin claimed that the event was not a coup but a revolution by the ‘will of the people’.[5] The coup involved heavy fighting and resulted in many deaths.[6] The Saur Revolution was a significant event in Afghanistan’s history, marking the onset of 43 years of conflict in the country.[7]

The Shaw of Iran, a close US ally, is overthrown

In the same year, 1979, the Carter administration was jolted when the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by various leftist and Islamist organizations and student movements and some Americans were taken hostage. The new government came under the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a leader of one of the factions in the revolt. Wikipedia provides a useful account of the Iranian Revolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Revolution).

The region’s power alignment was thus dramatically reshaped, as Iran was now and to this day defined as a threat to US interests in the Middle East rather than as an ally. This development heightened US concerns about the Middle East and contributed to increased US military interests in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, ostensibly to shore up a “communist” or “socialist” government in Kabul and to keep Afghanistan in the Soviet orbit of control. This was another development that spurred US officials to pay attention and to channel resources to rebel forces in the country.

From 1979 until the defeat and departure of Soviet troops in 1989, Soviet forces engaged in a savage war against a growing multifaceted Afghan rebellion, particularly the Mujahideen, that was funded mostly by the US and Saudi Arabia, with the support of Pakistan.

Wikipedia cites research that documents extensive Soviet “war crimes,” including massacres, rape, wanton destruction, torture, and looting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet-Afghan_War#War_crimes).

Research by the BBC identifies some of the “short-term consequences of the war” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/ztb8y4j/revision/6). According to the BBC report, “[t]he nine-year conflict left an estimated one million civilians, 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, and 18,000 Afghan troops killed. The country was in ruins.” Moreover: “Several million Afghans had either fled to Pakistan for refuge or had become internal refugees.”

In the end, though, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan failed, just as in August 2021 the US occupation would fail. Stefan Vedder identifies some of the context and reasons for the Soviet defeat (https://www.grin.com/document/155836).

During the 10 years of the war, the USSR lost 15,000 troops, left behind most of their materials, and, overall, spent billions on the futile war.

Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, the highest-ranking position in the government. He quickly realized “that the USSR could not afford to continue with the war while trying to transform the Soviet economy and competing with the USA in the arms race.” So, in 1988, he signed a deal to end the war.” The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in February 1989.

America supports the Mujahideen

The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan drew the US into the fighting indirectly. US involvement helped greatly in the defeat of the Soviet invaders, but it also, ironically and tragically, led to the creation of the Taliban. Gavin O’Reilly delves into this aspect of the ill-conceived Afghanistan saga (https://popularresistance.org/afghanistan-operation-cyclone-comes-full-circle)).

“From 1979 until the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the CIA would provide annual funding in upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars to their Mujahideen proxies – a steady increase since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981, who would infamously invite Mujahideen leaders to the Oval Office in 1985, in a similar move to Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Hearts of the free world’ speech to the group on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in 1981.”

The funding was funneled from the CIA (and Britain’s intelligence service, MI6) through the Pakistan’s intelligence service for a program titled Operation Cyclone. O’Reilly explains.

“Operation Cyclone would see both the CIA and MI6 arming, funding and training Islamist militants, including those adhering to the ultraconservative Saudi Arabia-backed Wahhabi ideology, known as the Mujahideen, in neighboring Pakistan, with the intention of sending them on to wage a ‘holy war’ on the ‘Godless Communists’ of Afghanistan as well as their Soviet allies who had intervened at the request of Kabul in a bid to shore up their client state’s Left-wing government. https://popularresistance.org/afghanistan-operation-cyclone-comes-full-circle

After ten years of war and with considerable support from the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, along with a stream of Islamic extremists from countries around the world who joined the Mujahideen, the Mujahideen were successful in forcing the Soviet army to withdraw from Afghanistan, though a Soviet-friendly “socialist” government remained in power in Kabul for another three years until 1992, three years after the Soviet departure.

The emergence of al Qaeda

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica give a concise summary of the emergence and growth of al Qaeda (https://www.britannica.com/topic/al-Qaeda). The name al Qaeda in English means “the base.” It was “founded by Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s.”

The organization “began as a logistical network to support Muslims fighting against the Soviet Union during the Afghan War; members were recruited throughout the Islamic world. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the organization dispersed but continued to oppose what its leaders considered corrupt Islamic regimes and foreign (i.e., U.S.) presence in Islamic lands. Based in Sudan for a period in the early 1990s, the group eventually reestablished its headquarters in Afghanistan (c. 1996) under the patronage of the Taliban militia.”

Along the way, “Al-Qaeda merged with a number of other militant Islamist organizations, including Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group, and on several occasions its leaders declared holy war against the United States.” It created “camps for Muslim militants from throughout the world, training tens of thousands in paramilitary skills, and its agents engaged in numerous terrorist attacks, including the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1998), and a suicide bomb attack against the U.S. warship Cole in AdenYemen (2000; see USS Cole attack).”

Then, on September 11, 2001, “19 militants associated with al-Qaeda [but none from Afghanistan] staged the September 11 attacks against the United States. Fifteen hijackers were Saudis. Two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt and one was from Lebanon.

The Civil War

During the years 1992-1996, there were failed attempts by factions of the Mujahideen to establish a unified Islamic government in Afghanistan. Civil war was the outcome.  

An entry in Wikipedia describes the situation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Afghan_War#War_crimes).

 “In March 1992, President Mohammad Najibullah, having lost the Russian support that upheld his government, agreed to resign and make way for a neutral, interim government. Several mujahideen parties started negotiations to form a national coalition government. But one group, the Hezb-e Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, presumably supported and directed by Pakistan‘s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), did not join the negotiations and announced its intent to conquer Kabul alone. Hekmatyar moved his troops to Kabul, and was allowed into the town soon after 17 April. This left the other mujahideen groups no choice but to enter Kabul, on 24 April, to prevent Hekmatyar from taking over the national government.[3][5]

“This ignited a civil war between five or six rival armies, (nearly) all backed by foreign states. Several mujahideen groups proclaimed an ‘interim government’ on 26 April 1992 but this never attained real authority over Afghanistan.”

Wikipedia continues. “In June of 1992, Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Islami (“Islamic Association”) faction, was made interim-president of the new Islamic State of Afghanistan, and on 30 December 1992 he was elected head of the 7-member Government Council for a two-year term.[6] However, Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami rebel faction (which had split from Jamiat-e Islami in 1976) demanded a share in power as well, and started clashing with Rabbani’s troops. After months of fighting, they signed an agreement in March 1993 making Hekmatyar the Prime Minister of Afghanistan in June, and shortening Rabbani’s presidency from 2 years to 1.5 year.[6] Fighting between different rebel factions continued, however, and, in the process, Kabul was  destroyed.”

The ascendance of the Taliban

Wikipedia: “In late 1994, a new Pashtun-dominated Islamic fundamentalist militia called the Taliban (lit. '”Religious students”‘) managed to conquer large parts of southern Afghanistan with the support of Pakistan.[6] Making steady gains throughout 1995 and 1996, the Taliban were able to seize control of the capital city of Kabul in September 1996, driving the Rabbani government and other factions northward, and by the end of the year occupying two-thirds of Afghanistan. Former president Najibullah was arrested and executed in public by hanging on 27 September 1996.

“The Taliban renamed the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and imposed an even more strict version of Sharia and purdah on the population they controlled. This especially negatively impacted women, who were forced to wear a burqa, stay indoors and banned from working outside the house with rare exceptions. Almost all girls lost access to education, increasing illiteracy rates. Movie theaters, soccer stadiums, and television stations were now closed as well.[6]

The failed “peace agreement”

Wikipedia: “The ousted Rabbani government formed a political coalition with Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Tajik leader Ahmed Shah Massoud and the Shia Hizb-i-Wahdat faction (dominated by Hazaras) of Karim Khalili.[6] Its formal name was United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, known in the Western Hemisphere as the Northern Alliance, and its goal was to take back the country from the Taliban.”

The two sides tried to negotiate a “peace settlement,” but in the first part of 1998 the Northern Alliance fell apart leaving the Taliban in control By this time, after the war with the Soviets and the civil war, the country was left in a dire state, which, according to a 1997 United Nations report, “found that the infant mortality rate was 25%, numerous civil casualties due to landmines, economic blockades imposed by the militias causing hunger, and international humanitarian organizations being unable to carry out their work. A February 1998 earthquake in northeastern Afghanistan killed 4,500 people.[6]

Osama bin Laden, the Mujahideen, and al Qaeda

Osama Bin Landen helped to finance the Mujahideen and participated in the fighting against the Soviet troops, while also creating his own organization, al Qaeda.

Dominic Tierney provides a summary of bin Landen’s role and how he turned against the continuing presence of the US in the region and in countries with large Muslim populations around the world (https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/08/twenty-years-war/496736). Here’s some of Tierney’s analysis from the 2016 article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine.

“Exactly two decades ago, on August 23, 1996, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. At the time, few people paid much attention.” But it was the start of what’s now the Twenty Years’ [plus] War between the United States, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. [al Qaeda has a “global” agenda, while the Taliban are focused on Afghanistan and the nearby region.]

“During the 1980s, bin Laden fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviets withdrew, he went home to Saudi Arabia, then moved to Sudan before being expelled and returning to Afghanistan in 1996 to live under Taliban protection. Within a few months of his arrival, he issued a 30-page fatwa, ‘Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,’ which was published in a London-based newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and faxed to supporters around the world. It was bin Laden’s first public call for a global jihad against the United States. In a rambling text, bin Laden opined on Islamic history, celebrated recent attacks against U.S. forces in Lebanon and Somalia, and recounted a multitude of grievances against the United States, Israel, and their allies. ‘The people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Jewish-Christian alliance and their collaborators,’ he wrote.

“His central lament was the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, or ‘the occupation of the land of the two holiest sites.’ Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden had offered to defend Saudi Arabia with his Arab legion. But the Saudi royals decided that the U.S. military would be a better bet. Six years later, American soldiers were still in Saudi Arabia in a bid to contain Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden saw the United States as the power behind the throne: the ‘far enemy’ that propped up apostate regimes in the Middle East. Muslims, he wrote, should abandon their petty local fights and unite to drive the Americans out of Saudi Arabia: ‘destroying, fighting and killing the enemy until, by the Grace of Allah, it is completely defeated.’”

Tierney continues.

“It took al-Qaeda two years to organize its first major attack against the United States: the August 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people in total, 12 of them American. The United States responded with a quasi-war against al-Qaeda and its state sponsors, which combined a legal indictment of bin Laden with limited military action, including cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 that killed at least six al-Qaeda personnel. In 2000, al-Qaeda suicide bombers hit the USS Cole at a port in Yemen, killing 17. The following year, the terrorist group [or those linked to it] brought the war to the American homeland with the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.”

The origins of the plot to launch attacks in the US

Wikipedia has an entry on “the origins of the September 11 attacks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planning_of_the_September_11_attacks).

 “A series of meetings occurred in the spring of 1999, involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, and his deputy Mohammed Atef.[16] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wanted to hit the World Trade Center, while bin Laden prioritized the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon because he believed that it would lead to the political collapse of the U.S. federal government.[5][9] Bin Laden recommended four individuals for the plot, including Nawaf al-HazmiKhalid al-MihdharWalid Muhammad Salih Bin ‘Attash (Khallad), and Abu Bara al-Taizi. Al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were both Saudi citizens, which made it straightforward for them to obtain U.S. visas, unlike Khallad and al-Taizi who both were Yemeni citizens, and as such unable to get visas to the U.S easily. The two Yemenis were assigned for the Asia component of the plot. When Mohamed Atta and other members of the Hamburg cell arrived in Afghanistan, bin Laden was involved in selecting them for the plot and assigned Atta to be its leader.[17]

At the time, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “provided operational support, such as selecting targets, and helped to arrange travel for the hijackers.[16]” 

How the plot unfolded

Wikipedia: “Mohammed AttaRamzi bin al-ShibhMarwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah came into the picture in 1999, when they arrived in Kandahar from Germany. The Hamburg cell was formed in 1998 shortly after Atta received Al-Qaeda leadership approval for his plot. Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-ShehhiZiad JarrahRamzi bin al-ShibhSaid BahajiZakariyah Essabar, and fifteen others were all members.”

“In late 1999, bin al-Shibh traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he trained at Al-Qaeda training camps, and met others involved in planning the 9/11 attacks.[23] Initial plans for the 9/11 attacks called for bin al-Shibh to be a hijacker pilot, along with Mohammed AttaMarwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah. From Hamburg, Germany, bin al-Shibh applied for flight training in the U.S. Concurrently, he applied to Aviation Language Services, which provided language training for student pilots.[24] Bin al-Shibh applied four times for an entry visa to the U.S., but was refused each time….After his failure to enter the U.S., bin al-Shibh assumed more of a ‘coordinator’ role in the plot and as a link between Atta in the U.S. and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Afghanistan.[18][26]” Other members of the core group arrived in Germany in the last 1990s. Participants in the plot managed to get visas to enter the US. After being settled, they engaged in further preparations for the attacks. For example, “Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi arrived in Los Angeles on January 15, 2000.[31] On January 18, Marwan al-Shehhi applied for a visa into the U.S. while he was in the United Arab Emirates. He was the first member of the Hamburg cell to apply for a visa and ultimately failed to get one.

Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi arrived in Los Angeles on January 15, 2000.[31] On January 18, Marwan al-Shehhi applied for a visa into the U.S. while he was in the United Arab Emirates. He was the first member of the Hamburg cell to apply for a visa. Some of the funds were wired to them from an account in Saudi Arabia, some from Pakistan. CNN later confirmed that it was “Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh, whom [sic] authorities say used a pseudonym to wire $100,000 [from Pakistan] to suspected hijacker Mohammad Atta, who then distributed the money in the United States.”[40]

However, the sources for most of the funds were not identified. “The 9/11 Commission stated in its final report that the ‘9/11 plotters eventually spent somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 to plan and conduct their attack’ but the ‘origin of the funds remains unknown.’

Overtime, other members of the plotting group arrived in the US. While in the country, some took flying lessons. Here’s how these arrangements were made.

“In March 2000, Mohamed Atta contacted the Academy of Lakeland in Florida by e-mail to inquire about flight training, ‘Dear sir, we are a small group of young men from different Arab countries. Now we are living in Germany since a while for study purposes. We would like to start training for the career of airline professional pilots. In this field we haven’t yet any knowledge but we are ready to undergo an intensive training program (up to ATP and eventually higher). He sent 50–60 similar e-mails to other flight training schools in the U.S.[24]

On May 18, 2000, Atta applied for and received a U.S. visa.[24] After obtaining his visa, Atta traveled to Prague before going to the U.S. Atta, along with Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah arrived in Venice, Florida, and visited Huffman Aviation to “check out the facility.” They explained that “they came from a flight school in the area, they were not happy and they were looking for another flight school”.[34] By December, Atta and al-Shehhi left Huffman Aviation, and on December 21, Atta received a pilot license.[35] Jarrah had left Huffman Aviation on January 15, 2001, a month after Atta.”

September 11, 2001

Wikipedia provides a summary of the attacks (https://en.widipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks).

“Four California-bound commercial airliners, which took off in the northeastern United States, were hijacked mid-flight by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. The hijackers were organized into three groups of five hijackers and one group of four. The first plane to hit its target was American Airlines Flight 11. It was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan at 8:46 am. Seventeen minutes later at 9:03 am, the World Trade Center’s South Tower was hit by United Airlines Flight 175. Both 110-story towers collapsed within an hour and forty-two minutes, leading to the collapse of the other World Trade Center structures including 7 World Trade Center, and significantly damaging surrounding buildings.

“A third flight, American Airlines Flight 77, flown from Dulles International Airport, was hijacked over Ohio. At 9:37 am, it crashed into the west side of the Pentagon (the headquarters of the American military) in Arlington County, Virginia, causing a partial collapse of the building’s side. The fourth, and final flight, United Airlines Flight 93, was flown in the direction of Washington, D.C. This flight was the only plane not to hit its intended target instead crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:03 am. The plane’s passengers attempted to regain control of the aircraft away from the hijackers and ultimately diverted the flight from its intended target. Investigators determined that Flight 93’s target was either the White House or the Capitol Building.

“In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, suspicion quickly fell onto al-Qaeda. The United States formally responded by launching the War on Terror and invading Afghanistan to depose of the Taliban, which had not complied with U.S. demands to expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and extradite al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden….Although bin Laden initially denied any involvement, in 2004 he formally claimed responsibility for the attacks.[2] Al-Qaeda and bin Laden cited U.S. support of Israel, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and sanctions against Iraq as motives. After evading capture for almost a decade, bin Laden was located in a hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” and subsequently killed there by Navy Seals on May 2, 2011.

As noted, the attacks resulted in almost 3,000 American deaths and the subsequent decision by the Bush administration to invade Afghanistan. There were other American casualties as well. The firefighters and others who entered the bombed area were affected by toxins the were emitted by the collapsed buildings in New York. Democracy Now has devoted programs to this issue. Here is part of the introduction to one of the programs (https://www.democracynow.org/2021/9/7/9_11s_unsettled_dust_documentary).

“…we begin our coverage looking at the impact of the toxic, cancer-causing smoke and dust that hung over ground zero in Manhattan as the fire burned for 100 more days. At the time, the Environmental Protection Agency told people who worked at the site and lived and went to school near it that the air was safe to breathe. In the years that followed, more than 13,200 first responders and survivors have been diagnosed with a variety of cancers and chronic respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. At least — well, close to 1,900 first responders, survivors and workers who recovered bodies and cleaned up the wreckage have since died from illnesses, many of them linked to their time at ground zero.”

Within weeks the U.S. government responded by attacking Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. Thousands of militants were killed or captured, among them several key members (including [some of] the militant who allegedly planned and organized the September 11 attacks), and the remainder and their leaders were driven into hiding.”

Who was responsible?

US blamed Osama bin Laden, who was involved from his headquarters in Afghanistan in the planning of the attacks that occurred on 9/11. The US demanded his extradition to the US. Gavin O’Reilly notes: “…there being little to no evidence produced in the past 20 years to link the Taliban, or indeed any Afghans, to the attacks” (https://popularresistance.org/afghanistan-operation-cyclone-comes-full-circle). However, the Bush administration blamed the Taliban for providing a safe haven for bin Laden and al Qaeda. The Taliban leadership demanded in response that the US provide evidence that bin Laden was involved in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. The issue might have simply been resolved if the Taliban had submitted to the US demand, or if the US had provided evidence of bin Laden’s connection to the bombing, or if the issue had been taken to the UN Security Council for a decision.

A “War on Terrorism” and endless wars

While the US military action focused on Afghanistan in the first six months, the initial targets of this war were not limited to the Al-Qaeda networks and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was said to “harbor” these networks, but also to “an international terrorist network” (including but not limited to Al-Qaeda).

A war on terrorism

The US launched “a war on terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.” Over time, it become increasingly clear that there are no identifiable boundaries to this war. The U.S. government pledged to use its military forces, and other diplomatic, financial, and intelligence capabilities, to subdue, and, with the support of its allies, destroy “terrorists” and their support structures wherever they existed. The Al-Qaeda network is said [at the time, in 2001] to extend into 60 or so countries, although, according to U.S. government officials, there are terrorists or terrorist networks that operate independently of the Al-Qaeda in some unspecified number of other countries. Bush warned the world’s nations that they would have to make a simple choice, either to join the U.S. in this war or be considered a supporter of international terrorism, even though, as in the case of Switzerland, some nations insisted on remaining “neutral.” If they fall into the non-support category, then they risk being labeled a “rogue” state and stand the chance of suffering some sort of U.S. reprisals. Most nations ‘signed on,’ at least nominally, to support this war, and may have at a minimum shared information about terrorists in their own nations. It is still not clear what the nature of this coalition was.

What is clear is that the U.S. took unilateral action in Afghanistan and determined the conduct of this multifaceted “war” before there was a “coalition.” The die was cast, with or without allied support. In addition to Afghanistan, the war-planners in Washington and at the Pentagon, had already identified a number of “rogue” states, or states that are identified as providing support for terrorist groups abroad, including, for example, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Cuba. U.S. planners have also begun to shore up support for “allied” states in the Philippines, the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and in Columbia to support their efforts to squelch indigenous “terrorists.”

Overwhelming initial support for the US attack on Afghanistan

Robert Kagan maintains that support for the US-led war against the Taliban was driven initially – and in part – by fear (and also by a desire for revenge and by geopolitical interests), though it soon was justified by the George W. Bush administration as a nation-building effort to bring a US-like “democracy” and free-market capitalism to Afghanistan (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/26/robert-kagan-afghanistan-americans-forget). Kagan writes:

“For better or for worse it was fear that drove the United States into Afghanistan — fear of another attack by al-Qaeda, which was then firmly ensconced in the Taliban-controlled country; fear of possible attacks by other groups using chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons; fear of other sleeper cells already hiding in the United States. Experts warned that it was just a matter of time before the next big attack. And these fears persisted.”

Indeed, a Pew Research Center poll done a year after 9/11 “found that the attacks had ‘left a lasting, perhaps indelible, imprint on life in America as well as on attitudes toward public policy.’ More than 6 in 10 Americans worried about a new attack; 4 in 10 expected the terrorists to use chemical or biological weapons; and more than half of Americans believed the perpetrators of the next attack were already living in the United States…. By a margin of 48 percent to 29 percent, Americans agreed that increasing the U.S. military presence abroad was a more effective means of combating terrorism than decreasing it. A month before Bush went to Congress for authorization to use force in Iraq, 64 percent of Americans polled favored using military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

Fear, anger, and ambivalence

Kagan continues: “The decision to go to war in Afghanistan in October 2001 enjoyed almost universal support — authorizations were approved in September 98 to 0 in the Senate and 420 to 1 in the House. But there was no gleeful optimism about the likely outcome. A month into the war, 88 percent of Americans polled approved of the intervention, but only 40 percent thought it very likely that the United States would be able to drive the Taliban from power, and only 28 percent thought it very likely that the United States would capture or kill Osama bin Laden. This pessimism persisted, thanks in part to the continual warnings by experts and many in government that terrorist networks were growing, along with the chances of another attack.”

President Bush and his advisors reacted initially to the attacks out of “panic, confusion, fear and guilt.” They were “mortified that they had allowed this uniquely horrific attack on American soil, and their focus was on punishing those who had perpetrated it, as well as those who sheltered them.” Bush personally “wanted to do so for strategic reasons, as a deterrent to others. He wanted to do so partly to buoy the crushed spirits of Americans unaccustomed to being attacked. But he also wanted to avenge the lives that had been lost on his watch.”

Once having driven the Taliban out of power in 2001, “the Bush administration would have been content with any stable government capable of fending for itself and preventing the return of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

Initially, “Bush was hardly inclined toward ‘nation-building.’ On the contrary, according to Kagan, “he and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other advisers had criticized the Clinton administration for precisely that — ‘international social work,’ as one critic put it — and had come into office intending to pursue a far more restrained foreign policy.” But when faced with the problem of Afghanistan, “Bush officials found themselves with only unpalatable choices. On the one hand, historian Fredrik Logevall writes, ‘they feared that Afghanistan could descend into chaos,’ but on the other hand, they ‘didn’t want to be saddled with the tasks of nation-building.’

Nation building

As it turned out, “Bush officials decided they had no choice but to stay in Afghanistan for a while and try to establish a “stable” and “democratic” government that would allow American troops eventually to depart without fear of a return to the pre-9/11 circumstances.” And this “led them into efforts that could be described as ‘nation-building.’ That is, “[b]uilding schools and hospitals, trying to reduce corruption and improve local administration — this has been standard operating procedure following nearly all U.S. interventions.”

After one year into the war, “56 percent of Americans favored ‘coming to the aid of Afghanistan to help it recover from the war,’ and fully two-thirds agreed that the United States would have to continue to ‘deploy troops there to maintain civil order’ for the foreseeable future.” At the same time, “Americans remained doubtful and apprehensive” after a year into the war, with only 15 percent regarding it as successful, 12 percent calling it a failure, while 70 percent thought it was too early to tell. Two thirds of the public believed that terrorists were as able to launch a new attack than they had been a year earlier.”

No victory in sight

Bush’s successors in the White House faced the same quandary, all hoping “to reach a point in Afghanistan when the violence would be sufficiently low or the Afghan government strong enough to allow U.S. military forces to withdraw without significantly increasing the risk of a resurgent terrorist threat.” These conditions were never realized. Kagan puts it this way:

“There were periods when the situation looked to be more or less under control. After the rapid rout of the Taliban in the fall of 2001, Afghanistan became deceptively peaceful for roughly four years. Bush was able to keep between 10,000 and 20,000 troops in the country, and U.S. casualties in these years were relatively low. On the political front, there was progress to point to: In January 2004, Afghan leaders approved a new constitution, which led to reasonably fair presidential and parliamentary elections and the election of the moderate Hamid Karzai as president. Afghanistan was still far from a ‘success,’ but the progress was enough that the Bush team kept at it, especially given what the administration regarded as the likely consequences of withdrawal. As one Marine and intelligence officer who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan recently put it, ‘At any given point in our 20-year Afghan odyssey, we were always — in our minds, at least — only a year or two out from a drawdown followed by an eventual withdrawal.’”

Obama – following the advice of the military and deceiving the public

The aspirations to create the conditions for a stable and “democratic” Afghanistan government proved illusory, as the Taliban insurgency gained momentum in the last years of the Bush administration. But there was no serious consideration of withdrawing from the country or admitting defeat. In this context, when Barak Obama entered the White House in 2009, the new president accepted the advice of his military advisers, who recommended a “surge” of forces. This led to “another period of relative progress” as “the surge stabilized important parts of the country, breathed new life into the Afghan army and police, and strengthened support for the government.”

There were also rising costs associated with the surge. According to Kagan, “It was during the Obama surge that American casualties were at their highest — 1,500 troops killed and 15,000 wounded between 2009 and 2012, more than in any other period of the 20-year war. [These numbers don’t take into account soldiers suffering from PTSD, brain injuries, and “moral injuries” (e.g., see David Wood’s book, What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest War).

Kagan continues: “The killing of bin Laden in May 2011 led most Americans to believe that the mission had been accomplished, and Obama started speaking about the need to “focus on nation building here at home.” However, “the Taliban recovered, and outside Afghanistan the general terrorist threat expanded with the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” It would turn out that the demise of bin Laden would do little to reduce the Taliban resistance or to enhance US success in Afghanistan. He had been inactive for years.

Cautious (but illusory) optimism was reflected in Congress from both parties. Just prior to the killing of bin Laden, General David H. Petraeus gave a qualified assessment of progress in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2011, “Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) reported, on the basis of his own visit to Afghanistan in January 2011, that the Afghan people in former Taliban strongholds were ‘returning to villages’ and had ‘growing confidence in the ability of Afghan and coalition forces to provide security.’ This optimism was also reflected in how members of Congress, and especially Democrats, were enthusiastic about nation-building. Congress thus “repeatedly demanded greater civilian efforts to complement military action, approving billions of dollars in aid and constantly pressing the administration to beef up such efforts.” The public supported it. Kagan surmises that, if the way that nation-building in Afghanistan was carried out was a mistake, it was a mistake that lots of people made.

At the same time, “no one was under any illusions, then or later, that an outright victory was close at hand.” There were ongoing concerns about “whether the Afghan government had the ability to take over responsibility for governing.” Kagan refers to the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who “observed at the time that, despite the surge of U.S. troops, there had been ‘no apparent degradation in’ the Taliban’s ‘capacity to fight’ and that its forces remained ‘resilient’ and would be ‘able to threaten U.S. and international goals in Afghanistan.”

Corruption

In addition, Kagan points out, there was rampant corruption resulting, in part, from the constant messaging out of Washington that the US forces would leave Afghanistan once there was a government and an army that could stand on their own. Based on this message, Afghans in positions of power (at all levels) opportunistically embraced corruption — “specifically, the siphoning of resources for personal gain — as the one clear and sure means of survival.”

Kagan continues. Corruption became a financial contingency plan, the choice any reasonable Afghan would make to ensure a safe future for their children.” Afghan fighters also had to make choices. “They had barely held on in the fight against the Taliban with American help, including air support; why imagine that they could hold on without it? No one in the U.S. government ever believed the Afghan army was ready to stand on its own. Officials misjudged only the rapidity of its collapse, which proved embarrassing but should not have been surprising.”

As all this was unfolding, there was yet another challenge. Pakistan’s continued its support for the Taliban. Kagan describes it as follows.

“Top Pakistani officials made no secret of the fact that they were hedging their bets. As the head of the Pakistani intelligence service told then-Ambassador Ryan Crocker, one day ‘you’ll be done with us, but we’re still going to be here … and the last thing we want with all of our other problems is to have turned the Taliban into a mortal enemy, so, yes, we’re hedging our bets.’”

More on corruption

Sebastian Junger provides some additional details on the pervasive corruption in Afghanistan (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/08/a-vast-criminal-racket-sebastian-junger-on-how-the-us-corrupted-afghanistan).

“…the Afghan endeavor might have worked had the Bush administration—and then the Obama administration—tackled the one thing that Afghans have always demanded, and that all people deserve: an honest and transparent government. Instead, we essentially stood up a huge criminal cartel that posed as a government. President Hamid Karzai’s brother, for example, was the recipient of $23 million in “loans” from the national bank that everyone knew he would never have to pay back. The son of the former Speaker of the Afghan parliament, Rahman Rahmani, was given millions of dollars in contracts to supply fuel and security to U.S. military bases. And a food chain of corrupt officials continued to impose a vast and humiliating extortion system that squeezed money from ordinary Afghans every time they went through a checkpoint, filed paperwork, or even applied for a job. Military commanders even dunned money from their own soldiers’ paychecks for the “privilege” of wearing the country’s uniform.

“There was no reason for Afghan soldiers to fight and die for such an enterprise, and by 2005—the next time I [Junger] was back in-country—the Taliban had regained control of entire districts and were largely dictating the nature of the war.

Obama decided not to press the issue in 2011. “After that,” Junger writes, “it was game on for a cash mill that saw a total of $2 trillion spent by America in Afghanistan. Civilian officials from agencies like USAID, the State Department, and Congress continued to launch obscenely inflated development projects that could turn Afghan governors into millionaires overnight. Military contractors continued to unwittingly pay Taliban commanders to refrain from attacking supply convoys. And Afghan officials brazenly stole the paychecks, ammunition, and even food of Afghan soldiers fighting on the front line. On paper the U.S. paid for a 300,000-man Afghan army, but the actual number was much smaller—and the difference, of course, was pocketed by Afghan officials. American policies were so contradictory, in fact, that many ordinary Afghans concluded that the U.S. was secretly allied with the Taliban and just ‘pretending’ to be at war.”

Ineffective US reconstruction projects.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction [SIGAR], the agency in charge of Afghanistan reconstruction,” released a report in August, 2021, titled “What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction” (https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21=46-LL.pdf). Here are some highlights of why US-funded reconstruction faired so poorly.

The costs

-SIGAR – “The U.S. government has now spent 20 years and $145 billion trying to rebuild Afghanistan, its security forces, civilian government institutions, economy, and civil society. The Department of Defense (DOD) has also spent $837 billion on warfighting, during which 2,443 American troops and 1,144 allied troops have been killed and 20,666 U.S. troops injured. Afghans, meanwhile, have faced an even greater toll. At least 66,000 Afghan troops have been killed. More than 48,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, and at least 75,000 have been injured since 2001—both likely significant underestimations.”

Purposes varied over time

-SIGAR – “The extraordinary costs were meant to serve a purpose—though the definition of that purpose evolved over time. At various points, the U.S. government hoped to eliminate al-Qaeda, decimate the Taliban movement that hosted it, deny all terrorist groups a safe haven in Afghanistan, build Afghan security forces so they could deny terrorists a safe haven in the future, and help the civilian government become legitimate and capable enough to win the trust of Afghans. Each goal, if ever accomplished, was thought to move the U.S. government one step closer to being able to withdraw US troops.

Some improvements

-SIGAR – “While there have been several areas of improvement—most notably in the areas of health care, maternal health, and education—progress has been elusive and the prospects for sustaining this progress are dubious. The U.S. government has been often overwhelmed by the magnitude of rebuilding a country that, at the time of the U.S. invasion, had already seen two decades of Soviet occupation, civil war, and Taliban brutality.”

SIGAR’s role – failed efforts to make reconstruction work

-SIGAR – “Since its founding in 2008, SIGAR has tried to make the U.S. government’s reconstruction of Afghanistan more likely to succeed. Our investigations held criminals accountable for defrauding the U.S. government; our audits and special projects reports identified weaknesses in programs before it was too late to improve them; our quarterly reports provided near real-time analysis of reconstruction problems as they unfolded; and our lessons learned reports identified challenges that threaten the viability of the entire American enterprise of rebuilding Afghanistan, and any similar efforts that may come after it. SIGAR has issued 427 audits, 191 special project reports, 52 quarterly reports, and 10 comprehensive lessons learned reports. Meanwhile, SIGAR’s criminal investigations have resulted in 160 convictions. This oversight work has cumulatively resulted in $3.84 billion in savings for the U.S. taxpayer.

-SIGAR – “After conducting more than 760 interviews and reviewing thousands of government documents, our lessons learned analysis has revealed a troubled reconstruction effort that has yielded some success but has also been marked by too many failures.”

Trump facilitated the ultimate victory of the Taliban

Juan Cole identifies the “top 6 ways” Trump undermined the US occupation and fighting in Afghanistan (https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/departure-afghanistan-taliban.html).

#1 – “In December, 2018, Trump ordered that half of the then 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan be brought out.” He did this without consulting the Secretary of Defense James Mattis and without any recommendation from then Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Joseph Dunford. Both Mattis and Dunford thought it was a bad idea “because it would cause instability in South Asia and raise the risk of terrorism against the U.S.”

#2 – Trump and his advisers negotiated with the Taliban independently of the US State Department and excluded the government headed by Ashraf Ghani. Instead, in December 2019, “Trump’s informal envoy Zalmay Khalilzad announced the resumption of negotiations.

#3. “On February 29, 2020, Trump announces there will be peace in our time, with the signing of a peace treaty with the Taliban. Cole cites a BBC report, “President Trump said it had been a ‘long and hard journey’ in Afghanistan. ‘It’s time after all these years to bring our people back home.’” Furthermore, Trump said “it was ‘time for someone else to do that work and it will be the Taliban and it could be surrounding countries. I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show we’re not all wasting time.’” Trump also said “he believed that the Taliban would take up the slack in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.”

At the time, Cole writes, “Trump promised to pull 8,500 troops out of the country in about 4 1/2 months,” by May 1, 2021, though the decision was based on questionable assumptions about the Taliban. Trump also promised “that the Afghanistan government of Ashraf Ghani would release 5,000 captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Ashraf Ghani at first resisted this provision, saying he was not party to the talks and thought it a horrible idea. But under strong Trump pressure, Ghani let the fighters go by the following October.” On their part, the Taliban promised “not to attack the remaining U.S. troops in the country, based on the agreement these troops with be completely withdrawn by May 1.

Cole also notes that the peace treaty “was clearly rushed through by Trump in hopes it would add to his popularity and help him win the November, 2020 presidential election.”

#4 – Trump had earlier tweeted out in October 2020 “that all US troops would be out of Afghanistan by Christmas of that year.” He tweeted without consulting Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan. With this informal but authoritative tweet announcement, the US lost considerable leverage in any subsequent discussions with the Taliban but it also ignored that there “was no way logistically to get the then 4,500 troops out of the country” in two months.

#5 – While Trump was drawing down the US troop levels in Afghanistan, “he was doing nothing to get Afghan interpreters and allies out of harm’s way.” At the same time, Trump’s aide “Stephen Miller knee-capped the SIV special visa program for such Afghans and threw a long-term wrench into its works that hobbled the Biden administration when it came in.” Olivia Troye, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, is quoted by Cole: “Trump had FOUR years-while putting this plan in place-to evacuate these Afghan allies who were the lifelines for many of us who spent time in Afghanistan. The process slowed to a trickle for reviews/other ‘priorities’- then came to a halt.” Troye accused Miller of ‘racist hysteria’ about Afghans and Iraqis.”

#6 – The outgoing trump administration complicated the Afghanistan situation for the incoming Biden administration by reducing the number of US troops in the country to 2,500, unilaterally pledging to put out US troops by May 1, 2021, refusing to brief the incoming Biden administration on the Afghanistan situation in November, December and January, so Biden and his officials came into office flying blind.

Enter Joe Biden

The political discourse and public reactions accompanying the withdrawal of US troops. Could it have been better planned?

NPR’s Domenico Montanaro addresses five specific questions that have arisen about Biden’s withdrawal plan, as US troops and officials and some of the people who assisted US military forces have been flown out of the Afghanistan (https://www.npr.org/2021/09/01/1033130742/5-questions-now-after-president-biden-afghanistan-withdrawal). The questions help to facilitate a reasonable conversation about Biden’s policy.

Montanaro refers first to the “stern defense” of the decision to exit Afghanistan that President Biden issued on August 31, 2021.” She reports also that the president “hailed the final evacuation — which saw more than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and others airlifted from the country — as an ‘extraordinary success.’” But there has also been a blizzard of criticisms about the implementation of the withdrawal plan. She notes as well that everyone in the administration was taken off guard by “the far-faster-than-expected Taliban takeover [which] created conditions that left the U.S. scrambling to get out.” For security, American forces had to rely on a former enemy, the Taliban, to provide some security and organization for the withdrawal to proceed. And, even then, “a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans.”

The questions

#1 – What happens to the Americans still in Afghanistan?

Biden had promised to get all Americans out of Afghanistan who wanted to leave the country. In his remarks on Tuesday, Biden said there are about 100 to 200 Americans who remain in Afghanistan. Most are dual citizens, he said, who initially didn’t want to leave because of family roots in the country. But he insists, “If there’s American citizens left,” the president said on ABC News, “we’re going to stay to get them all out.” The problem is that Biden’s promise now depends on the cooperation of the Taliban and whether the US and the West “have enough leverage to make them continue to get that done.”

#2 – What happens to Afghan refugees and visa holders (in a politically polarized America)?

About 100,000 of the 120,000 evacuees were Afghans, according to Biden. Many have already made their way to the United States, but not everyone is happy about it. In one of his seat-of-the-paints, ill-informed public comments, Trump said “You can be sure the Taliban … didn’t allow the best and brightest to board these evacuation flights,” adding “How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America? We don’t know!” Contradicting Trump, Montanaro notes: “Special immigrant visa holders are all screened and subjected to rigorous background checks by the State Department. Many of them fought alongside U.S. troops, and many veterans are the ones leading the charge to get them to the U.S.”

Nonetheless, despite early polls that find support for Biden’s efforts, “expect the issue to become more polarized and politicized, just as it has in recent history with Syrian refugees and further back after the Vietnam War. In fact, Americans haven’t been very welcoming to refugees through the years, polls have shown.

#3 – What does the exit mean for Biden’s approach to the world?

Biden is pulling ground troops, but will he be shirking from the world? How will Biden’s administration combat terrorism or, specifically, a Taliban government that is repressive and where Afghanistan becomes a haven for violent Islamic fundamentalist organizations like ISIS-K or al Qaeda? The Middle East is not the only region of concern. Biden said “there are new threats on the horizon in the form of economic competition from China and cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation with Russia and others.” The president’s answer: “[W]e can do both: fight terrorism [or the challenges that should emerge in Afghanistan] and take on new threats that are here now and will continue to be here in the future.” The president’s comments seem to foreshadow the continuation of a foreign policy that relies disproportionately on military force or threat.

#4 – Will the exit affect Biden politically in the long term?

“The chaotic exit put a dent in the aura of competence he [Biden] has tried to build. The Biden White House has shown it’s adept at dealing with the foreseen, but it’s the unforeseen where presidential legacies are often forged.”

“Biden probably won’t get away from the shadow of this withdrawal quickly either. There will be congressional investigations — likely at a time when he would rather be talking about domestic legislation like his bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Ultimately, though, challenges like whether the coronavirus pandemic gets under control and the economy continues to strengthen are likely going to be the most critical factors in long-term success or failure for Biden.”

#5 – Does the American public separate the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan from chaos of the withdrawal itself?

“Americans have largely grown tired of being involved in Afghanistan, but there’s a fine line in how Americans are viewing what’s happened in Afghanistan — between the war itself and the withdrawal.” A Pew poll of more than 10,000 American in late August [2021] found that “54% think getting out of Afghanistan was the right decision.” At the same time, “just 27% say the Biden administration has done at least a good job handling the situation in Afghanistan. That includes only 43% of Democrats.” The question is whether in time, as Biden hopes, “Americans will give him more credit for ending the war than blame for the exit — and that what today might look like excuses will tomorrow be seen as history’s reasons.”

The criticisms of Biden miss the point

This is the position that Media Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies take in an article for Foreign Policy in Focus on August 20, 2021 ((https://fpif.org/not-everyone-wanted-war-in-afghanistan-we-should-listen-to-those-critics-now). The write:

  “America’s corporate media are ringing with recriminations over the humiliating U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan. But very little of the criticism goes to the root of the problem, which was the original decision to militarily invade and occupy Afghanistan in the first place.

“That decision [in September and October 2001] set in motion a cycle of violence and chaos that no subsequent U.S. policy or military strategy could resolve over the next 20 years — in Afghanistan, Iraq, or any of the other countries swept up in America’s post-9/11 wars.”

Benjamin and Davies have ideas on what the US government should do now?

First: “We should start by finally listening to Barbara Lee [a US Representative from California and the only person in the US congress who voted against the war in 2001] and “pass her bill to repeal the two post-9/11 AUMFs that launched our 20-year fiasco in Afghanistan and other wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.” The AUMF is the acronym for “Authorization for Use of Military Force. It was passed by the US Congress “against those who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 or harbored such organizations or persons.’ This language is widely understood as authorizing force against al Qaeda, who planned and committed the attacks on the United States on 9/11, and the Afghan Taliban, who had harbored al Qaeda before and after the attacks.”

“Yet for more than 17 years, longer than any war in the nation’s history, the executive branch has been using the 2001 AUMF as the primary legal basis for military operations against an array of terrorist organizations in at least seven different countries around the world.

“The executive branch’s continued reliance on the 2001 AUMF for military operations far beyond what Congress originally authorized undermines Congress’ important constitutional role as the branch responsible for the decision to go to war. The lack of any sunset provision or reporting requirements in the 2001 AUMF also restricts the ability of Congress to conduct meaningful oversight over military operations and the foreign affairs of the United States.”

 Second, Benjamin and Davies recommend “Then we should pass her [Barbara Lee’s, bill to redirect $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget (roughly a 50 percent cut) to ‘increase our diplomatic capacity and for domestic programs that will keep our Nation and our people safer.’” See the details of the bill here:  https://lee.house.gov/news/press-releases/congresswoman-barbara-lee-introduces-legislation-to-cut-350-billion-from-pentagon-budget.

Third, we need to rein in “America’s out-of-control militarism…before the same corrupt interests drag us into even more dangerous wars against more formidable enemies than the Taliban.”

Will the Biden post-Afghanistan-war responses bring “leverage” or more devastation and suffering to Afghanistan?

Currently and after US troops have been withdrawn, the Biden administration hopes to gain leverage over the Taliban by withdrawing financial assistance.

Barnett R. Rubin considers the implications of this decision. He is a former senior adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department, and a nonresident fellow of the Center for International Cooperation of New York University and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft”

(https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/24/afghanistan-is-facing-vast-humanitarian-dissaster-not-only-airport).

In an attempt to gain leverage over the Taliban, Rubin writes: “[t]he United States and other aid donors have responded to the Taliban takeover by stopping the flow of financial aid and freezing Afghanistan’s reserves and other financial accounts. Yet Afghanistan is one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world. An internal document of the World Food Program warns that, ‘A humanitarian crisis of incredible proportions is unfolding before our eyes. Conflict combined with drought and covid-19 is pushing the people of Afghanistan into a humanitarian catastrophe.’”

According to the WFP document, “more than 1 in 3 Afghans — some 14 million people — are hungry today while 2 million children are malnourished and urgently need treatment. More than 3.5 million — out of a population of 38 million — are internally displaced. Just to make matters worse, a massive drought has devastated crops. More than 40 percent of the country’s crops were lost to drought this year.”

What to do?

Rubin has some ideas. “The people of the country need assistance desperately. Even if there is no government to recognize or no government worthy of recognition, international organizations have experience delivering humanitarian aid in areas controlled by unrecognized authorities. That may require establishing U.N. humanitarian corridors to allow people to flee and to deliver aid to areas beyond Kabul. It may require supporting some government institutions with whatever safeguards can be put in place. Even as the United States uses its dwindling influence to affect the political outcome, it is vital to mobilize all possible international resources to rescue Afghanistan from an even worse humanitarian crisis.”

Rubin reminds readers that “in 2014, when Biden was vice president, the United States signed the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan, which stated that the two countries ‘are committed to seeking a future of justice, peace, security, and opportunity for the Afghan people.’”

He concludes his article as follows. “Afghans are facing a humanitarian catastrophe of daunting proportions. The world must take action — sooner rather than later. After 20 years of botched policy, the United States has a particular obligation to mitigate the oncoming disaster. Let us hope it can find the will to do what it can.”

Benjamin and Davies are among those who advance an analysis that is similar to that of Rubin (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/08/30/afghan-crisis-must-end-americas-empire-war-corruption-and-poverty).

They worry that if the new Afghan government does not give in to US pressure and meet their demands, our leaders will starve their people and then blame the Taliban for the ensuing famine and humanitarian crisis, just as they demonize and blame other victims of U.S. economic warfare, from Cuba to Iran. 

They recommend that the least the US and its allies can do now “is to help the 40 million Afghans who have not fled their country, as they try to recover from the terrible wounds and trauma of the war America inflicted on them, as well as a massive drought that devastated 40% of their crops this year and a crippling third wave of Covid-19.” Specifically,

“The U.S. should release the $9.4 billion in Afghan funds held in U.S. banks. It should shift the $6 billion allocated for the now defunct Afghan armed forces to humanitarian aid, instead of diverting it to other forms of wasteful military spending. It should encourage European allies and the IMF not to withhold funds. Instead, they should fully fund the UN 2021 appeal for $1.3 billion in emergency aid, which as of late August was less than 40% funded.”

Concluding thoughts

The Biden administration is caught in a bind. It wants to offer some protection to the Afghan people, especially to those who assisted US troops. And it wants to bring any Americans out who want to leave. But the Taliban is now in charge. One question, then, is will the Taliban moderate their principles and behavior and allow citizens to have some rights, women to participate in the institutions of the society, and those who want to leave the country to do so? And, if the Taliban don’t go along, will Biden and his military advisers use special forces, mercenaries, air power, drones, and financial sanctions to punish the Taliban – and risk exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe that already exists. 

The Taliban have not yet consolidated their power. They face opponents of the regime, a variety of other ethnic groups and some groups, like ISIS-K, that are dedicated to an even more extreme form of Islam than the Taliban. The economy is in shambles. There is massive poverty. There is an ongoing brain drain of educated people out of the country. The Taliban itself has no experience in running an economy and meeting the needs of millions of people. There is no doubt that they will need foreign assistance. The challenge for the Biden administration: either undermine the Afghan regime through financial sanctions and counter-insurgency and leave the Afghan people to fend for themselves, or focus on providing assistance aimed at helping them to recover from the destruction wrought by the US-led war.

Republicans deny, dismiss, dissemble, detract from the multiple crises besetting us

Bob Sheak, August 17, 2021

Introduction

My proposition in this post, and past ones, is that Trump, the Republican Party, and their myriad supporters, including large segments of the corporate community and Trump’s massive electoral base, favor policies that, if successful, undermine democracy and threaten to replace it with some anti-democratic alternative, authoritarian, autocratic, fascist, tyrannical, totalitarian. It doesn’t yet have a clear widely accepted name, except that two things are clear. One, the Republican alternative will be less democratic than at present and, two, the Republicans will use whatever means to create a largely one-party state based on support of a shrinking white voting population. It’s not yet clear whether the Biden administration and the Democrats in the U.S. Congress will be able to adequately counter these assaults on democracy, especially since in the Democratic Party there are differences in policy preferences between moderates and progressives.  

In the end, this is a power struggle in which there appears to be no lasting viable middle ground, no foreseeable reconciliation of differences, no grand centrist accommodation. The divisions are not new, but they have been intensified by the growing extremism of right-wing forces. What is new is that there are issues now that threaten to destroy democracy and, even more, destroy the ecological basis of civilization, humanity, and life. That said, there may on occasion be temporary quasi-bipartisan agreements that yield partial and/or temporary remedies but without adequate funding, altering the trends, or challenging the corporate wing of the Right. See, for example, Jeffrey D. Sachs; analysis of why the proposed funding for the physical infrastructure bill is nearly sufficient (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/08/10/bipartisan-infrastructure-bill-drop-bucket-what-needed).

Examples of Republican anti-democratic actions and policies

In today’s political and societal realities, whichever side prevails, the political parties and society will remain deeply divided. It takes enormous imagination, almost a flight from realty, to identify a basis for meaningful compromises with Republicans over (1) the “big lie” and the debate over the realty of the Jan. 6 insurrection, (2) the Republican efforts to suppress the vote and subvert the machinery of the Electoral College, (3) the politicization of the Covid-19 pandemic and the massive resistance on the right to following the guidance of public health scientists, and (4) climate crisis denial, avoidance, or inadequate responses to this  crisis.

#1 – The big lie and the insurrection

In my last post of July 29, 2021, “Trump and the Republicans downplay the Jan. 6 insurrection,” I reviewed evidence on how the con man and liar Trump and his Republican followers have advanced the falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president, how Trump refused to concede the election and incited the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, how the Republican Party has by and large supported Trump’s “big lie,” and how Democrats have pushed ahead to form a quasi-bipartisan investigation of the insurrection, despite Republican efforts to sabotage and divert public attention away from the investigation” (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/07/29/trump-and-the-republicans-downplay-the-jan-6-insurrection).

Lisa Lerer and Nicholas Fandos report on how the GOP has come to double-downed in their support of Trump’s “big lie”

(https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/31/us/politics/jan-6-politics-riot-pelosi.html). Here’s some of what they write.

 “In the hours and days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, rattled Republican lawmakers knew exactly who was to blame: Donald J. Trump. Loyal allies began turning on him. Top Republicans vowed to make a full break from his divisive tactics and dishonesties. Some even discussed removing him from office.

“By spring, however, after nearly 200 congressional Republicans had voted to clear Mr. Trump during a second impeachment proceeding, the conservative fringes of the party had already begun to rewrite history, describing the Capitol riot as a peaceful protest and comparing the invading mob to a ‘normal tourist visit,’ as one congressman put it.

“This past week [the last week of July 2021] amid the emotional testimony of police officers at the first hearing of a House select committee, Republicans completed their journey through the looking-glass, spinning a new counternarrative of that deadly day. No longer content to absolve Mr. Trump, they concocted a version of events in which accused rioters were patriotic political prisoners and Speaker Nancy Pelosi was to blame for the violence.

“Their new claims, some voiced from the highest levels of House Republican leadership, amount to a disinformation campaign being promulgated from the steps of the Capitol, aimed at giving cover to their party and intensifying the threats to political accountability.

“This rendering of events — together with new evidence that Mr. Trump had counted on allies in Congress to help him use a baseless allegation of corruption to overturn the election — pointed to what some democracy experts see as a dangerous new sign in American politics: Even with Mr. Trump gone from the White House, many Republicans have little intention of abandoning the prevarication that was a hallmark of his presidency.”

Their purpose reflects “both ambition and self-preservation. Through attempts to delegitimize the House select committee’s investigation of January 6 riot, they are building a case for non-cooperation, “a counterfactual counterattack.” Without evidence, Trump and leading Republicans blame Ms. Pelosi for failing to prevent the riot with preemptive security measures. Leher and Fandos expand on this point.

“This past week, just before the officers began to deliver anguished testimony about the brutality they had endured, Mr. McCarthy repeatedly laid blame not with Mr. Trump, the rioters or those who had fueled doubts about the election outcome, but with Ms. Pelosi, one of the invading mob’s chief targets.”

Leher and Fandos point out, disputing McCarthy: “Ms. Pelosi is not responsible for the security of Congress; that job falls to the Capitol Police, a force that the speaker only indirectly influences. Republicans have made no similar attempt to blame Mr. McConnell, who shared control of the Capitol at the time.” Some right-wing members of the U.S. Congress go farther and accuse “prosecutors of mistreating the more than 500 people accused in the Jan. 6 riot.” Republicans in congress also refer to Ashli Babbitt, the only rioter who was shot to death by a Capitol policeman “as a patriotic martyr whose killing by the police was premeditated.”

Avoidance

At the same time, Lehrer and Fandos point out, “Most Republican lawmakers…simply try to say nothing at all, declining even to recount the day’s events, let alone rebuke members of their party for spreading falsehoods or muddying the waters.” They identify, as an example, the silence of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, “who [initially] criticized Mr. Trump and his party in the immediate aftermath of the attack, denouncing it as a ‘failed insurrection’ fueled by the former president’s lies.” Since then, however, “the minority leader has all but refused to discuss Jan. 6.”

In the meantime, only two Republican representatives, “Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois,” have spoken out that there was a riotous mob incited by Trump. They have consequently been condemned and marginalized by their Republican colleagues.

“The message is clear: Adherence to facts cannot overcome adherence to the party line.”

Who funded the rally preceding the assault on the Capitol on Jan.6

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) poses this question “in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, also known as the commission,” according to an article written by Brett Wilkins (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/08/13/sheldon-whitehouse-asks-jan-6-commission-probe-links-between-dark-money-groups-and).

Wilkins continues: “Linking the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol with a protracted effort by secretive right-wing groups and wealthy GOP contributors, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Friday called for investigating dark money organizations and influential donors who allegedly organized and funded the deadly attack in a failed bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the letter, Whitehouse also posits this: “The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of a month’s long disinformation campaign designed to allow President [Donald] Trump to remain in office.” Furthermore:  

“Public reporting indicates that this campaign was organized and funded by dark money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration.” Therefore, “Whitehouse urges the commission to ‘examine the funders and organizers whose efforts may have laid the groundwork for the violence that day.’

Whitehouse identifies some of the dark money groups linked to the January 6 “March to Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. They “include Women for America First; America First Policies; and Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) that sent out robocalls urging Trump supporters to ‘stop the steal’—a baseless slogan referring to the so-called ‘Big Lie’ that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.”

“Many of these same groups were involved in planning and organizing President Trump’s ‘Save America Rally’ on January 6,” Whitehouse wrote in his letter. “These groups obtained permits, provided funding and equipment, and actively recruited participants.”

Who funded them?

 Documented “reported shortly after the Capitol attack, the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF) ‘received at least $175,000 from the Koch-backed Freedom Partners. Other RLDF donors include Judicial Crisis Network, the Rule of Law Project, and the Edison Electric Institute.”

As for Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), its donors in 2020 “included Koch Industries ($375,000), Comcast Corporation ($200,000), Walmart ($140,000), Home Depot ($125,000), Amazon ($100,000), TikTok ($75,000), 1-800 Contacts ($51,000), Chevron ($50,000), The National Rifle Association ($50,000), Facebook ($50,000), Fox Corporation ($50,000), Uber ($50,000), Coca Cola ($50,000), ExxonMobil ($50,000), and Google ($25,000).”

The January 6 “March to Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. that immediately preceded the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to thwart Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory was reportedly organized and encouraged by a web of dark money groups.”

Whitehouse also says “there is evidence that members of Congress were also involved in orchestrating the ‘Save America Rally.’ Three members of the House of Representatives have been identified as alleged co-architects: Reps. Andy Biggs [R-Ariz.], Paul Gosar [R-Ariz.], and Mo Brooks [R-Ala.].”

“These representatives coordinated with other congressmen to object to the electoral count that day,” Whitehouse continued. “It is unclear to what extent those other members were also aware of or involved in the plans for the rally.”

“Clearly, it was in the interests of the attackers to have members keep the balloting open,” Whitehouse said, adding “I have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to examine whether there was coordination—direct or indirect—between Senate objectors and those involved in the attack on the Capitol.”

One hundred and thirty-eight House Republicans and seven GOP senators voted on January 6 in favor of rejecting electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, battleground states that Biden won. In January, Whitehouse led a Senate Ethics Committee complaint (pdf) accusing Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and other “Big Lie” backers of possible conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and other potential crimes in connection with the January 6 attack. The Ethics Committee has not yet issued any findings in response to the complaint.

Whitehouse concludes in his letter as follows. “In order to fully understand what happened on January 6, the commission should further investigate the role these dark money groups played in propagating President Trump’s misinformation campaign and in orchestrating the ‘Save America Rally,'” Additionally, “The commission should also examine the extent of any coordination between those groups, the Trump administration, and the members of Congress who objected to the electoral count.”

Super Pacs and Dark money explained

The emergence of “dark money” groups “was aided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling” that organizations do not have to publicly disclose the identities of their donors.” The Brennan Center’s Tim Lau explains the highlights of the law. What is notable is that the decision “reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections” without revealing their identities (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/citizens-united-explained).

The upshot of the “Big Lie” and the attempts by Republicans and their allies to reinstate Trump as president is that it is part of a larger, long-standing effort to subvert the democratic electoral system – and there appear to be no limits in these efforts. At this point, it is difficult to see how these efforts are effectively challenged, especially when even violent methods are encouraged and widespread voter suppression is undertaken.

#2 – Efforts to permanently subvert the electoral system

Politically, there is plenty of evidence that Republicans in the states are doing their utmost to suppress the votes in Democratically-leaning congressional districts, to change state election rules on who has the final authority to count votes, and on consolidating and expanding gerrymandered districting in states they dominate.

Liz Theoharis, a theologian, ordained minister, author, and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, critically assesses the Republican efforts to subvert democratically-based elections (https://tomdispatch.com/generations-of-struggle).

She reminds us that such voter suppression maneuvers were given a boost by the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby v. Holder, when “the Supreme Court struck down the Section 5 preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act.” She continues: “That section had placed certain districts with histories of racist voter suppression under federal jurisdiction, requiring them to submit to the Department of Justice any planned changes in their voting laws. Since then, there’s been a deluge of voter-suppression laws across the country.”

Additional voter suppression efforts by state Republican Parties rose during Barack Obama’s presidency and have since escalated. In 2011, there were 19 restrictive laws in 14 states. As of June 2021, there are a total of nearly 400 laws meant to obstruct the right to vote that have been introduced across the country. “So far, 18 states, ranging from Alabama and Arkansas to Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, have passed 30 of them, including an omnibus bill signed into law in Georgia in March. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, it “targets Black voters with uncanny accuracy.”

In an update, the Brennan Center provides data through July reports that between January 1 and July 14, 2021, “more than 400 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. At the same time, at least 25 states enacted 54 laws with provisions to expand voting access (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-july-2021).

The Center points out that the Congress has the power to stem the Republican stream of restrictive voting laws and refers to voting reform legislation pending in the U.S. Congress, namely, “the For the People Act, passed by the House and now awaiting action in the Senate. Such a federal law would mitigate the effect of many state-level voter restrictions. And the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would protect voters by preventing new discriminatory laws from being implemented.”

There may be more new state voting laws still to come this year. Active regular legislative sessions continue in California, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And Maine’s special legislative session is ongoing.

Texas lawmakers in particular appear poised to enact additional restrictive voting legislation this year. During the 30-day special session that began in Austin on July 8, state lawmakers introduced a slew of restrictive voting proposals, including two omnibus bills (S.B. 1 and H.B. 3) containing numerous anti-voter provisions.

“There [in Texas], the state Senate recently passed a massive “voter integrity” bill that would, among other things, ban 24-hour and drive-through voting, add new ID requirements, and criminalize election workers who don’t follow the onerous new rules. The bill would also grant new powers to partisan poll watchers, raising the possibility of far-right militia groups legally monitoring polling stations.

“Texas House Democrats fled the state before a vote could be introduced and now remain in Washington, D.C., in exile, awaiting the end of the special session called by Republican Governor Greg Abbott and possible federal action.” Without a quorum, the Texas House could not call a vote. The refugee Democrats “brought an urgent message to Congress, stressing the need to pass federal voting protections, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. However, Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to continue calling special sessions as needed until lawmakers return to the state.”

There is some good news from the Brennen Center. “At least 25 states have enacted 54 laws with provisions to expand voting access. These laws expand access to early and mail voting, make voter registration easier, and restore voting rights to Americans with past convictions, among other measures. Many of the states in which voting is already comparatively more accessible are the same as those enacting policies to further strengthen voting access, deepening a national divide such that the promise of the right to vote depends increasingly on where Americans happen to live.”

However, the only way to stop voter suppression laws in the “red” states is for the U.S. Congress and President Biden to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Biden has affirmed his support for both bills, but as yet has “offered little when it comes to developing an actual strategy for getting that done.” The chief obstacle is in the Senate, where a minority of Republicans can stop legislation through use of the filibuster. As of now, Biden is unwilling to push Democrats to use methods [e.g., budget reconciliation] to by-pass the abuse of the filibuster out of fear it would throw the Congress into “chaos.”

Theoharis implores Biden to change his mind, writing:

 “President Biden, I have no doubt you care and desire to do right, but, as a clergy person, let me say pastorally, when you say ending the filibuster will create chaos that obscures the fact that the filibuster is facilitating chaos. The filibuster caused chaos with anti-slavery legislation, labor rights, women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, and it once again is causing policy chaos by allowing a minority to obstruct justice. The filibuster has already been used to stop your goal of $15/hr. living wage. We believe the filibuster should end. But, at the very least, no one should ever say the filibuster is preventing chaos.”

The big lie is fueled by “big money

Author and award-winning columnist Jane Mayer uncovers evidence that “[d]ark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/09/the-big-money-behind-the-big-lie).

The 2020 elections – a reckoning

The first test of whether the welter of voter suppression and anti-democratic vote counting procedures are working to advance the interests of Republicans and their allies will come in the 2022 mid-term elections. If the Republicans manage to take back control of the Senate and/or House, it will mean that the country would then have taken a giant state toward the creation of an authoritarian system of governing. In the meantime, there appears to be no solid basis for compromise.

#3 – Objecting to or obfuscation about public health recommendations and mandates to protect people from the Covid-19 virus

The right-wingers have been dismissive of the need for meaningful government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and have opposed or ignored mask mandates and other scientifically-based strategies to protect the population. In doing so, they have misled large segments of the population about the dangers of being unvaccinated, generated confusion, and fostered the idea that resistance to mandates is good and a defense of individual freedom. – devoid of any notion of the common good or common interests.

A word about “freedom”

Annelien De Dijn writes about how “conservative” politicians use the term “freedom” differently than progressives, liberals, and others on the left (https://time.com/5882978/freedom-definition-history). She puts the issue into context, examining how the distinction has deep historical roots and has written a book on the topic titled Freedom: An Unruly History. Here’s the conclusion she draws in her article for Time Magazine.

“When conservative politicians like Rand Paul and advocacy groups FreedomWorks or the Federalist Society talk about their love of liberty, they usually mean something very different from civil rights activists like John Lewis—and from the revolutionaries, abolitionists and feminists in whose footsteps Lewis walked. Instead, they are channeling 19th century conservatives like Francis Parkman and William Graham Sumner, who believed that freedom is about protecting property rights—if need be, by obstructing democracy. Hundreds of years later, those two competing views of freedom remain largely unreconcilable.”

Covid-19 cases soar

There is currently a large rise in Covid-related cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. In an article for The New York Times, Ethan Hauser and Alyssa Lukpat report on August 9, 2021, that Covid-19 cases have risen to their highest levels since February, averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day, a resurgence that is hitting especially hard in states where large portions of the population remain unvaccinated” (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/09/world/covid-delta-variant-vaccine). “The surge “is tied to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus. Vaccines provide a high degree of protection against the variant, which was first detected in India, but only half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.”

Hauser and Lukpat quote Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has described the current stage as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” As scientists urge people to get vaccinated and to wear masks, whether vaccinated or not, Republicans in the U.S. Congress, statehouses, and state legislatures have ignored the well-documented spread of the virus and are in many cases actively opposing any preventive measures.

They also refer to Randi Weingarten, the head of the powerful American Federation of Teachers, who “urged a reversal of her union’s position against vaccine mandates, saying on the NBC program ‘Meet the Press” that the “rising caseloads are a ‘public health crisis.’” Weingarten also said “that Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, two of the most powerful opponents of mask mandates had spread disinformation that is ‘hurting people in terms of their public health.’”

Texas

Officials in Austin, Texas echoed the charge against Abbott when they “warned that the situation was desperate.” Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesman for Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management warned that the city is in the single digits of available I.C.U. beds and “patients in emergency rooms were being forced to wait for space.” Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, “said that the crisis could have been avoided if Mr. Abbott had not barred local government officials from issuing mandates on masking.”

Florida

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman offers insights on Florida governor Ron DeSantis who is an opponent of any mandates and who echoes the anti-scientific narrative of Trump and the right (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/02/Covid-Florida-vaccines.html). This is despite the fact that the U.S. now has a highly effective vaccine that is freely available to every American who is at least 12 years old. And despite that fact “Florida is in the grip of a Covid surge worse than it experienced before the vaccines,” that is, February through November of 2021.

Krugman continues: “More than 10,000 Floridians are hospitalized, around 10 times the number in New York, which has about as many residents; an average of 58 Florida residents are dying each day, compared with six in New York. And the Florida hospital system is under extreme stress.”

DiSantis has embraced this anti-scientific, anti-evidence position at every stage of the pandemic, exemplified “by issuing orders blocking businesses from requiring that their patrons show proof of vaccination and schools from requiring masks. More generally, he has helped create a state of mind in which vaccine skepticism flourishes and refusal to take precautions is normalized.” Many seniors in the state have ignored DiSantis, but otherwise in other age categories “the state lags behind the nation as a whole, and even further behind blue states.”

The Florida governor has justified his position by claiming that any restrictions would hurt the state’s economy and, above all, he has played “the liberal-conspiracy card, with funding letters declaring that the ‘radical left’ is ‘coming for your freedom.’” He thus argues that “social distancing, wearing a mask and now getting vaccinated — should be matters of personal choice.” Krugman dismisses such arguments, pointing out that society and government impose all kinds of restrictions on individual behavior in the name of the common good or public interest. We have all sorts of laws that limit and punish violators (e.g., against driving drunk). And Krugman contends “that when people on the right talk about ‘freedom’ what they actually mean is closer to ‘defense of privilege’ — specifically the right of certain people (generally white male Christians) to do whatever they want.”

The governors and others on the right justify their opposition to mask mandates

Thom Hartmann provides further insights on the situations in Florida and Texas in an article published in Truthout on August 13, 2021

(https://truthout.org/articles/desantis-and-abbott-count-on-reelection-despite-letting-tens-of-thousands-die). Hartmann writes as follows.

“Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas have gone all-in on a high-stakes bet, and the example of Donald Trump suggests they may just win it. Win or lose, though, they’re both tenaciously hanging onto their bans on mandated masks in schools.

“Their bet is that they’ll get away with letting tens of thousands of their citizens — and thousands of their citizens’ children — die or get ‘long Covid’ and the people of their states will simply forget and move on.”

The two governors and others in the Republican fold believe in the theory of “herd immunity,” that is, “contagious diseases usually follow a predictable curve of increasing infections until hitting a point where so many people are dead or immune that the disease can no longer expand its range. From there, the disease incidence declines steadily and eventually flattens out to a low level. Add in rapidly expanding vaccination and the curve collapses even faster.”

But what is not clear is “how many adults and children in Florida and Texas will have to die or get ‘long Covid’ before those states hit the ‘herd immunity’ threshold [if ever]… and whether the good citizens of those states (particularly the Republican voters) will tolerate that level of disability and death just to satisfy the tough-guy egos of their respective governors.”

There is still no evidence that there are massive shifts in these states away from the Republican governors, Trump, or Republican Party. Indeed, Trump’s base of tens of millions continue to support him despite his mishandling of the pandemic.

Thousands died unnecessarily under Trump and so it will be under right-wing influence today

Hartmann reminds us that there were “[m]ultiple  scientific analyses of Trump’s response to the pandemic, the most credible highlighted by Dr. Deborah Birx after she left the White House.” She documented that at least 400,000 Americans would not have died if Trump had simply put into place a nationwide mask and social-distancing mandate like most other countries did.” Trump’s bet during the last year of his presidency was that such policies would help to keep the economy open, businesses open, people in jobs, consumers shopping and, in this never-to-arrive scenario, the ill effects of the pandemic would gradually decline without strong intervention by the federal government. Furthermore, the hope of Trump was that Americans “would soon forget and not blame him for all those unnecessary deaths.” Indeed, despite losing the 2020 presidential election, 74 million Americans voted for Trump. DeSantis and Abbot “think they can “pull off the same trick, and they may well be right. Killing large numbers of Americans rarely sticks to Republicans.”

Enter the Delta Variant

However, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is far more transmissible and lethal than the preceding Alpha variant and it is affecting children in large numbers, as well as other age groups.

Hartmann refers to a scientific report on the website of the National Institutes for Health that finds “[a]lmost half of children who contract Covid-19 may have lasting symptoms, which should factor into decisions on reopening schools… Evidence from the first study of long covid in children suggests that more than half of children aged between 6 and 16 years old who contract the virus have at least one symptom lasting more than 120 days, with 42.6 percent impaired by these symptoms during daily activities.” The symptoms include “long-lasting ‘fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, insomnia, respiratory problems and heart problems’ and that ‘there may be up to 100 other symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems, nausea, dizziness, seizures, hallucinations and testicular pain.’

It doesn’t have to be. Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman and her colleagues at Duke University “tracked COVID-19 transmission in North Carolina K-12 schools across 100 school districts, 14 charter schools, 160,549 school staffers, and more than 864,515 students attending in-school instruction.” The researchers concluded that being vaccinated is the best way to prevent COVID-19, but that “universal masking is a close second, and with masking in place, in-school learning is safe and more effective than remote instruction, regardless of community rates of infection.’” This is kind of evidence and advice that DeSantis and Abbott ignore or dismiss. It remains to be seen, as the “children’s hospitals in Florida and Texas are now staggered by Covid, whether public pressure will rise enough to compel the governors to left their bans on masking mandates.”  

80 million

Overall, according to a CNN report, there are still some 80 million Americans who have not been vaccinated and these are in many cases the same people are not masking (https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/28/politics/mask-wars-are-back.html).

The danger of an uncontrollable Covid-19 virus emerging is greater when there are large numbers of unvaccinated people and when they refuse to wear masks.

The editorial staff at USAToday interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci on August 8 2021, and updated the information on August 9 (https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/08/08/anthony-fauci-covid-vaccinate-mandate/5507400001). Here are Fauci’s responses to one of the questions posed by the staff.

———————-

Q.  How do we keep our children who are unvaccinated safe, particularly as they are heading back to schools?

A. There are two ways to do that. One is to surround the children with people who are vaccinated. Get as many teachers as possible vaccinated; get anybody who is anywhere near a child, in what should be the protected environment of a school, if they are eligible to be vaccinated, they should be vaccinated. Since you will not get 100% of those people vaccinated, that’s when you get into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that whether you’re vaccinated or not, the most important thing is to get the children back to school. We have 18 months of experience, not only in the United States but in other countries, that the detrimental effect on mental health, physical and social development of children is really devastating. Getting the people around the kids vaccinated isn’t all that difficult to me. It’s common sense, but getting everybody to wear a mask, you’re going to get pushback from that. Hence the anti-mask mandates that you’re seeing in certain states. My feeling is that I would rather have a child be a little bit uncomfortable with a mask on and be healthy, than a comfortable child without a mask in an (intensive care unit).

——————-

Amid the rising incidence of Covid-19 cases, transmission of the virus increases giving it more opportunities to mutate into more virulent strands and leaving society without effective vaccines

In the interview, Fauci also refers to another worrisome potential impact of the anti-vacs, anti-masking advocates. As long as the virus, now the Delta virus, is widely circulating in the population, it will go on replicating and mutating and inevitably cause more lethal variants to emerge against which current vaccines do not work.

There’s a very firm epidemiological tenet that a virus cannot mutate, unless it is replicating. If you allow the virus to freely replicate chronically in society, it will mutate. Fauchi said: “Now many mutations have no relevance functionally, but every once in a while, you get a mutation like delta, where the mutations cause a variant. And the variant has a real functional consequence. With delta, we have a virus that spreads much more rapidly than the original alpha variant.”

What happens if over many months you allow the virus to replicate, it is conceivable, not guaranteed, but conceivable, that we could get a variant that “eludes the protection of the vaccine.” In that eventuality, we will have lost the main protection against the virus and infections will spread more rapidly than before.

Redfield concurs

Herb Scribner reports on an interview Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave on Fox News Channel’s ‘The Story” (https://www.deseret.com/coronavirus/2021/8/9/22617534/covid-variant-worse-than-delta-predictions).

Redfield said on Fox News Channel’s “The Story that he thinks the coronavirus will continue to replicate quickly among humans. As experts like Fauci have warned, the risk of variant evolution is high in populations with large number of unvaccinated and unmasked people. Redfield “then predicted that there will be another, more dangerous coronavirus variant by the fall.”

“You know we dealt with the U.K. variant; everyone thought that was pretty bad, it was twice as infectious, but lo and behold three, four months later we had the delta variant and now it’s a dominant variant in the United States,” Redfield said.

He then predicted that there will be another, more dangerous coronavirus variant by the fall.

Who are the unvaccinated and unmasked?

And the numbers are slowly going up. The problem here is complex. Some of those who have not been vaccinated are not in principle opposed to the vaccine but confront transportation obstacles in getting to vaccination cites, cannot afford to take time off from work, or worry about the possible, though rare, ill effects of the vaccination. However, there are the millions who, influenced by Trump, the Republican Party, right-wing media, oppose government restrictions or mandates for reactionary ideological reasons.

Bryce Covert delves into this issue and finds that “[t]hose who aren’t yet vaccinated are much more likely to be food insecure, have children at home and earn little” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/06/opinion/covid-delta-vaccines-unvaccinated.html).

About three-quarters of unvaccinated adults live in a household that makes less than $75,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely as the vaccinated to have had insufficient food recently. Many of them have pressing concerns they can’t just put aside because they need to get a vaccination.

“Access is far more widespread than it was at the beginning of the year. Many cities now offer multiple venues for getting it without needing an appointment. But about 10 percent of the eligible population still lives more than a 15-minute drive from a vaccine distribution location. And even if there’s a site down the road, it usually requires taking time off work — not just to get the shot but also potentially to recover from the side effects — arranging transportation and figuring out child care.

Amid rising rates of hospitalizations and deaths, some previous opponents of vaccinations and masking are now getting them and/or taking other precautions

Nate Rattner and Rich Mendex report on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that nearly 800,000 shots were recorded nationwide on Sunday [July 25], the highest single-day total in weeks.” Additionally: “The seven-day average of reported vaccinations, including first and second shots, has risen by 16% over the past week to 615,000 shots per day as of Thursday [July 29]” (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/30/us-covid-vaccine-rates-delta-variant.html). They quote Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who thinks that the stark contrast in hospitalizations and deaths between the vaccinated and unvaccinated “may be convincing people on the fence about getting the shots.”

Data collected by U.S. health officials show that “[t]he overwhelming majority of serious Covid cases — 97% of hospital admissions, and 99.5% of Covid deaths — are occurring among those who are not vaccinated, U.S. health officials say.” And the number of people getting their first vaccine shots “has climbed more sharply than the overall rate. The CDC reports that an “average of about 390,000 first doses were administered every day over the past seven days” as of Thursday, July 29, and were up 31% from the previous week.

A CNBC analysis of CDC and John Hopkins data shows that “states with the worst outbreaks are seeing the biggest jumps in vaccination rates, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Nevada, Oklahoma, Alaska and Georgia. The increase in first doses of the vaccine in this group of states “are up 46%…significantly higher than the nationwide increase of 31%”

At the same time, “hard” opposition continues

John Feffer makes this argument (https://fpif.org/the-delta-variant-of-global-stupidity). He opens his August 11, 2021, article on the Foreign Policy In Focus website with these words.

“You’d think that the whole world could unite against a deadly virus. COVID-19 has already sickened over 200 million people around the world and killed over 4 million. It has now mutated into more contagious forms that threaten to plunge the globe into another spin cycle of lockdown.”

Feffer continues: “Now, with its anti-vaccine opportunism, the far right is circulating a new delta variant of global stupidity: virally through social media, in a shower of spit and invective on the street, and through top-down lunacy from politicians and political parties.”

“Today, in a tired repeat of 2020, U.S. anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are again protesting in front of governors’ mansions, bringing their message to Disneyland, and shutting down school board meetings. If COVID-19 were a wealthy corporation that underwrote such disruptions, these actions would make at least some economic sense. If COVID-19 were a wildly popular musical group or a subversively attractive religious cult that governments were trying to suppress, the frenzy of crowds would be somewhat understandable.

“But COVID-19 is a deadly virus. Why on earth would anyone go to bat for a pathogen?”

#4 – Climate change deniers and detractors

This the fourth and final of the “big issues” that threatens the society and the world. I start this section with the introduction to a post I sent out on May 25, 2021. The title: “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful political solutions remain elusive” (https://vitalissues/bobsheak.com/2021/05/26/the-climate-crisis-intensifies-while-meaningful-solutions-are-elusive). It is still applicable.

—————————–

There is an ongoing debate in the U.S. concerning global warming. (I will use the terms global warming and climate change interchangeably.) On the one hand, there are those who support the view that global warming is real, a growing problem, while at the same time proposing remedies. On the other hand, there are those who reject or dismiss it, try to detract attention away from it, or offer inadequate minimal solutions.

Acknowledge the growing climate crisis

The first position is based on authoritative and verifiable evidence, based largely on ongoing empirical research and observations. This position enjoys the overwhelming support of climate scientists. The well-documented and accumulating evidence reveals that temperature continues to rise and that rising temperatures are the result of greenhouse gases from human activities being trapped and accumulating mostly in the upper troposphere, about 12 miles high in the atmosphere. The gases reduce the amount of the sun’s ultra-violet rays (heat) that are reflected back from earth to space. The earth’s temperature thus rises. The effects are reflected in a multitude of increasingly harmful impacts on myriad aspects of human societies and nature.

Many who hold the scientific, empirically based view remain optimistic that comprehensive and coordinated domestic and international efforts to stem and reverse the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere can be achieved. This optimism is, however, not yet warranted by the facts.

Deny or deflect the realty of the climate crisis

One of the great challenges is that, despite the verifiable evidence, there are powerful political, economic, and cultural forces in the U.S. that reject the science and oppose effective action to address this multifaceted problem. Some deny the scientific findings that global warming is happening and look to a handful of “scientists” and a vast political networks of think tanks, lobbyists, the Republican Party, and right-wing media to rally support for their view. Some accept the evidence but say that it would be too economically costly to deal with the problem. Some hope that there will be technological solutions to solve the problem (e.g., geoengineering). Some accept the reality of global warming but propose inadequate solutions that do not undermine the fossil-fuel interests (e.g., minimal fuel efficiency standards). Some accept there is warming but claim it has to do with the effects of sun spots and not from human activity. Consequently, there is nothing much that can be done here on earth, except to wait for the sun’s activity to change. Others contend that, on balance, global warming is a good thing and that the warming of the earth will spur the growth of some floras and agriculture.

———————–

The Report by the IPCC

Recent scientific evidence documents that the climate crisis is worsening.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just this month [August, 2021] released a report, based on an analysis of thousands of scientific research findings, documenting the unfolding increasingly dire effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions, while US, China, and the “rich” nations of the world do too little to curtail let alone reverse such trends.

New York Times journalists Brad Plumer and Henry Fountain analyze the IPCC report, which is “approved by 195 governments and based on more than 14,000 studies,” and provide a useful overview (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/climate/climate-change-report-ipcc-un.html).

It “is the most comprehensive summary to date of the physical science of climate change. It will be a focal point when diplomats gather in November [2021] at a U.N. summit in Glasgow to discuss how to step up their efforts to reduce [greenhouse gas emissions] emissions.

“The new report,” they write, “is part of the sixth major assessment of climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was created in 1988. A second report, set to be released in 2022, will detail how climate change might affect aspects of human society, such as coastal cities, farms or health care systems. A third report, also expected next year, will explore more fully strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt global warming.”

The report documents that “[h]umans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century, largely by burning coal, oil and gas for energy. And the consequences can be felt across the globe: This summer alone, blistering heat waves have killed hundreds of people in the United States and Canada, floods have devastated Germany and China, and wildfires have raged out of control in Siberia, Turkey and Greece.”

“The changes in climate to date have little parallel in human history, the report said. The last decade is quite likely the hottest the planet has been in 125,000 years. The world’s glaciers are melting and receding at a rate ‘unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.’ Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have not been this high in at least 2 million years.”

As things stand now, the evidence compiled by the IPCC scientists indicate that, in the absence of a global effort to stem greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and soil degradation, “total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.”

At this level of the earth’s warming “scientists have found, the dangers grow considerably. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide could swelter in more frequent life-threatening heat waves. Hundreds of millions more would struggle for water because of severe droughts. Some animal and plant species alive today will be gone. Coral reefs, which sustain fisheries for large swaths of the globe, will suffer more frequent mass die-offs.”

Slim basis for hope

The IPCC report also offers some reason for hope that “humanity can still prevent the planet from getting even hotter [than 1.5 Celsius].” However, “[d]oing so would require a coordinated effort among countries to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050, which would entail a rapid shift away from fossil fuels starting immediately, as well as potentially removing vast amounts of carbon from the air. If that happened, global warming would likely halt and level off at around 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report concludes.”

Economist and columnist Paul Krugman maintains, based on past and recent experience, how those on the Right will react to the IPCC report (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/opinion/climate-denial-covid-denial.html).

 He writes: “We can, however, safely predict how influential conservatives will react to the report, if they react at all. They’ll say that it’s a hoax or that the science is still uncertain or that any attempt to mitigate climate change would devastate the economy”

Nations are failing in their commitments

Presently, however, the nations are failing in this effort and risk a future in which the “global average temperatures will keep rising — potentially passing 2 degrees, 3 degrees or even 4 degrees Celsius, compared with the preindustrial era.” Such developments would be catastrophic.

While “a growing number of world leaders, including President Biden, have endorsed the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, current policies in the major polluting countries are still far off-track from achieving that target. The 10 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are [still] China, the United States, the European Union, India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada.”

“Experts have estimated that current policies being pursued by world governments will put the world on track for roughly 3 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century. That has ramped up pressure on countries to make more ambitious pledges, beyond what they agreed to under an international climate agreement struck in Paris in 2015.”

Every degree makes a significant difference

Plumer and Fountain refer to how “every additional degree of warming will bring ‘far greater perils, such as ever more vicious floods and heat waves, worsening droughts and accelerating sea-level rise that could threaten the existence of some island nations. The hotter the planet gets, the greater the risks of crossing dangerous ‘tipping points,’ like the irreversible collapse of the immense ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica.”

In the opening to his brilliantly documented book, Our Final Warming: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, Mark Lynas provides an overview of what to expect with each additional degree of global warming.

“We are already living in a world one degree warmer than that inhabited by our parents and grandparents. Two degrees Celsius, which will stress human societies and destroy many natural ecosystems such as rainforests and coral reefs, looms on the near horizon. At three degrees I now believe that the stability of human civilization will be seriously imperiled, while at four degrees a full-scale global collapse of human societies is probable, accompanied by a mass extinction of the biosphere that will be worst on Earth for tens or even hundreds of millions of years. By five degrees we will see massive positive feedbacks coming into play, driving further warming and climate impacts so extreme that they will leave most of the globe biologically uninhabitable, with humans reduced to a precarious existence in small refuges. At six degrees we risk triggering a runaway warming process that could render the biosphere completely extinct and for ever destroy the capacity of this planet to support life” (p. ix).

There are options but they require large systemic changes

“If nations follow through on more recent promises — like Mr. Biden’s April pledge to eliminate America’s net carbon emissions by 2050 or China’s vow to become carbon neutral by 2060 — then something closer to 2 degrees Celsius of warming might be possible. Additional action, such as sharply reducing methane emissions from agriculture and oil and gas drilling, could help limit warming below that level.” Such efforts are necessary but the Republicans and their right-wing allies will resist them as continue their absolute support of fossil fuels and resistance to viable alternatives.

Concluding thoughts

The country is torn by deep-seated conflicts. The unanswered question is which side will prevail. In the analysis presented in this post, the Republicans and their right-wing allies represent nefarious policies and interests which, if implemented, will takes us down the path to some sort of anti-democratic political system, an uncontrolled pandemic, and ecological catastrophe. Under the Biden administration, there are efforts to address these big issues, but the administration cannot always count on Democrats in the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives and any Democratically proposed legislation faces a Republican filibuster.

However, as the pandemic and climate crises remain inadequately addressed, and as the lives of more and more Americans are negatively affected by these maladies, there is the chance that Trump and the Republicans will lose key elections, despite their hysterical and opportunistic efforts to subvert the country’s democratic processes. In this eventuality, Democrats in government would have to address the “big” issues adequately. And there will have to be a continuing grassroots mobilization and education to keep pressure on the party.

That said, the challenges are unprecedented and there is not much time to set things “left.”

Trump and the Republicans downplay the Jan. 6 insurrection

 Bob Sheak, July 28, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I focus on how the con man Trump and his Republican followers have advanced the falsehood that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president, how Trump refused to concede the election and incited the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, how the Republican Party has by and large supported Trump’s “big lie,” and how Democrats have pushed ahead to form a quasi-bipartisan investigation of the insurrection, despite Republican efforts to sabotage and divert public attention away from the investigation.

As it stands now, on July 29, 2021, the efforts to delegitimize the Biden presidency are just one reflection of innumerable efforts by Trump and Republicans to undermine democracy, with the goals of creating a Republican-dominated state resting on voter suppression, gerrymandering, and corruption of the state-level election systems.

Their agenda is an amalgam of goals. They support right-wing, neoliberal economic policies, downplay the need for government to address the pandemic, reject the pressing need to phase out fossil fuels in responding to the growing climate crisis, support only minimal and inadequate measures on infrastructure, all the while catering to Trump and his base of white supremacists, gun advocates, far-right Christian evangelicals, anti-reproductive rights proponents, and anti-immigrant groups that want the U.S. walled off from all but a selected few who want sanctuary in the country.

If Trump, the Republicans, and their allies are successful, they will be in a position in 2022 and 2024 to double-down on their anti-democratic agenda and, in short order, take the country toward a virtual one-party state with an autocratic president and where they make up their own “facts.”

In the meantime, getting back to the focus of this post, they want to resist and sabotage any genuine investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection that would document their complicity. 

Trump the liar and inciter in chief

The Washington Post’s fact checkers, Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly, “counted a total of 30,573 false or misleading claims made by President Trump during his White House tenure (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/24/trumps-false-or-misleading-claims-total-30573-over-four-years).

The lies and misleading claims increased over time. “When The Washington Post Fact Checker team first started cataloguing President Donald Trump’s false or misleading claims, [they] recorded 492 suspect claims in the first 100 days of his presidency. On Nov. 2 alone, the day before the 2020 vote, Trump made 503 false or misleading claims as he barnstormed across the country in a desperate effort to win reelection…. By the end of his term, Trump had accumulated 30,573 untruths during his presidency.” — averaging about 21 erroneous claims a day.” The full data are available at the Trump claims database website.

Barbara A. Res worked directly with Trump for eighteen years on some of his biggest projects and had nearly unlimited access to him. In her book, Tower of Lies: What My 18 Years of Working With Donald Trump Reveals About Him (2020), she writes: “Anger is the underlying reason for many of Trump’s actions as president and almost all of his tweets. Anyone who has watched a Trump tantrum firsthand understands the tweets – the all caps, the exclamation points, the swinging from topic to topic – as his rage in text form. Twitter was built in a lab for Donald: As a coward, he needs to lob attacks safely from his couch. As a liar, he needs to spread falsehoods on a massive scale. As an impulsive person, he needs to not have to explain or answer for his words” (pp. 232-233).

Of course, we now know that Trump was permanently banned from using Twitter on January 8, 2021. NBC’s Haley Messenger reported: “Twitter was the first social media platform to take permanent action against Trump following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, after applying an initial 12-hour suspension” (https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/twitter-uphold-permanent-ban-against-trump-even-if-he-were-n1257269).

The company did so “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” the company announced in a blog post on Jan. 8.” Twitter CFO Ned Segal told CNBC: “Our policies are designed to make sure that people are not inciting violence.” Snapchat also permanently banned Trump.

Shannon Bond reports that Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump’s for two years and says it will only reinstate him “if the risk to public safety has receded.” This is the maximum penalty under the company’s rules, and extends until at least January 7, 2023. (https://npr/06/04/1003284948/trump-suspended-from-facebook-for-2-years).

From the election to the insurrection

Michael Wolff has written three books on Trump’s presidency, all based on his access to the White House. The publisher writes: “Wolff embedded himself in the White House in 2017 and gave us a vivid picture of the chaos that has descended on Washington.” Wolff informs us that, in doing the research for the books, he had close contact “with almost every phase of the Trump White House and nearly every member of the revolving cast of characters around him,” including “a great many of them in the West Wing, the campaign, and in the greater Republican Party” (xvi).

In his newest book, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, Wolff describes how Trump and his cohorts behaved in the 77 days from election day on November 4, 2020, through January 6, the day the rioters attacked the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (p. xiii-xiv).

On his throne

“…Wolff finds the Oval Office now even more chaotic and bizarre” than it was at the onset of Trump’s presidency He describes how a typical day goes, writing:

“All times of the day, Trump behind the Resolute desk, is surrounded by schemers and unqualified sycophants who spoon-feed him the ‘alternative facts’ he hungers to hear – about COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protests, and most of all, his chance of winning reelection.”

A maliciously narcissistic con man

Wolff describes Trump’s approach to policy and to people as resting on a “binary logic: he liked something or he didn’t like something; someone liked him or didn’t like him; it was good for him, or it was bad for him; he knew what he knew and had no idea or interest in what he didn’t know.” If he didn’t like the person or source, he would attack, smear, and/or dismiss them.

Then there was Trump’s “emotional intelligence” as being “all about performance. He was a circus barker, the ultimate promoter personality, mass rather than class, with a genius sense of how to satisfy his audience. He was an actor playing Trump the character, doing what he thought that character would do, what would most appeal to the character’s audience – what would get ratings” (p. 148).

The Big Lie

The big lie that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from him originated in a meeting in the Oval Office on November 11, according to Wolff. Among those present, Rudy Giuliani, the most prominent of Trump’s lawyers, proposed “both a systematic legal challenge to millions of ballots…and a pitch directly to the bodies that, in his view, had the power to vacate the election: the individual state legislatures.” Wolff continues:

“What was most stunning to the others in the room was that Rudy and the president clearly believed it would work: an American presidential election, otherwise orderly and without serious complaint from any overseeing authority or governing body, one where the margin of victory between winner and loser appeared substantial and where few (if any) experts were disrupting the underlying analytics, could be vacated and the purported winner replaced by the purported loser” (p. 101).

Failed attempts to overturn the election

Challenging the election results

Trump and his cohorts launched a campaign “to convince state legislatures to refuse to certify the election results. Instead of sending Biden’s electoral votes to the Electoral College, Trump-supporting legislatures would decertify Biden electors and send Trump electors” (p. 102). No state decertified Biden’s election.

They also questioned the election results in other ways. For example, Trump tweeted on November 11 that Dominion, a manufacturer of voting machines, had “DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE” (P. 103). The result: “none of the targeted state bodies was willing to convene a formal hearing” to consider such a charge (p. 131).

Pence refused to go along

Vice President Mike Pence refused Trump’s demand that he reject the electors selected by the various state election officials. On this point, Pence reiterated his position on a number of occasions and repeated on January 5 that “the overwhelming opinion of those constitutional experts he had consulted” said “the Constitution did not give him the authority to do what the president thought he could do” (p. 211).

Going to the courts

Giuliani drummed up another “strategic path” to victory, that is, “federal courts acting under Article II of the Constitution, which gives the power of regulating each state’s elections to the state legislature (and only to the state legislature, which now became the Trump legal team’s rallying cry) would throw out millions of votes where decisions had been made by election officials instead of state legislators” (p. 122). No court went along with this appeal. Wolff writes: “More than fifty separate lawsuits had collapsed by early December” (p. 147). Moreover, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump lawsuits to change the election outcomes in Texas and other states. Wolff adds: “The idea that one state or group of states could object to how another state conducted its elections did not even merit an argument before the court” (p. 158)

Trump ignores the evidence and perpetuates the big lie

Nonetheless, Trump’s pitch continued. Wolff quotes him. “People have got to know this was stolen. This was taken from us. It was originated. It wasn’t even a close election. It was a landslide. A landslide – and it was taken. This is what people have to understand – it was a landslide (p. 116). At the same time, key members of the administration departed. For example, “On December 1, Attorney General Bill Barr quite formally checked out of the Team’s circle, announcing that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread election fraud” (p. 136).

Trump’s loyal Republican followers embrace the big lie

Wolff refers to a poll taken on May 2021 “showing 67 percent of Republicans were of the view that Joe Biden was not the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election” (xv).

In an article for Morning Consult on June 28, 2021, Eli Yokley reports on another poll that documents a widening partisan divide over the “culpability, motivation and severity of Capitol attack” (https://morningconsult.com/2021/06/28/capitol-riots-six-months-later-polling).

Since the first Morning Consult/Politico poll, conducted Jan. 6-7, the share of Republican voters who said Trump was at least somewhat responsible for the events that led to the Capitol attack fell 11 percentage points, to 30 percent, while the share who said the same of Republicans in Congress fell by a similar share, to 22 percent, in the June 18-20 survey. Both surveys were conducted among roughly 2,000 registered voters, with 2-point margins of error.” In contrast, 63 percent of “all voters” blamed Trump in the in the January poll and 61 percent did so in the June poll.

Yokley summarizes: “Since the aftermath of Jan. 6 and Trump’s second impeachment trial, his popularity has improved among the GOP voters nationwide, Republican candidates for the midterms have flocked to his properties in search of his endorsement and GOP leaders’ expressions of disapproval about his behavior following his loss to Biden have given way to efforts by some lower-level Republican lawmakers and influencers to downplay the Capitol attack.”

The corporate facilitators

Kenny Stancil offers an example of how some “big corporations” say one thing and do another, but in the end, it’s their bottom line that is determinative. In this case, there were corporations that publicly decried Georgia voter suppression law while simultaneously donating to its key backers (https://commondreams.org/news2021/07/22/big-corporations-decried-georgia-voter-suppression-law-donated-its-key-backers).

Stancil writes: “Several of the same corporations and law firms that publicly condemned the passage of Georgia’s voter suppression law in March also contributed thousands of dollars this year [2021] to state lawmakers and officials who supported the legislation, according to a new analysis of campaign finance disclosures, first reported on Thursday by the Washington Post.”

For example, “Comcast was one of multiple businesses that portrayed themselves as opponents of the GOP’s voter suppression onslaught only to give more…between April and June of this year to Georgia politicians who voted for or publicly endorsed the state’s restrictive voting law.”

Trump Loyalists in the states

Stancil identifies some of the evidence. He writes: “In addition to sparking a deadly coup attempt, former President Donald Trump’s ‘big lie’ that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him has fueled the GOP’s ongoing nationwide assault on the franchise.”

Continuing, Stancil elaborates as follows. “Between January and mid-July, right-wing lawmakers in 49 states introduced more than 400 bills that would make it harder for millions of Americans, especially people of color and other Democratic-leaning constituencies, to vote, or would empower election officials to overturn the will of voters.” Additionally, he writes, “Since the beginning of this year, Republican-controlled legislatures, invoking the supposed need to shore up so-called ‘election integrity’ have enacted a combined total of 30 voter suppression laws in 18 states, including Georgia.”

Last month, Stancil notes, “Biden’s Justice Department filed a lawsuit accusing Georgia of discriminating against Black voters with its new law. The president, however, has so far refused to advocate for repealing the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule that stands in the way of enacting voter protections at the federal level.”

The insurrection

I have described how the insurrection unfolded in earlier posts (1) https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/01/15/trump-the-insurrection-and-what-comes-next; and (2) https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/02/06/the-right-wing-assault-on-american-democracy-heats-up). A six-month  New York Times investigation has synchronized and mapped out thousands of videos and police radio communications from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, providing the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why(see summary of the Time’s investigation in Luke Broadwater’s article, “House Opens Jan. 6 Investigation Over Republican Opposition,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/30/us/house-jan-6-riot.html).

The upshot is that it was a criminal, violent, destructive attack on the Capitol incited by Trump.

Karoun Demirjian reports: “Authorities have estimated that about 10,000 people descended on the Capitol campus and that about 800 broke inside. To date [at the end of June], about 550 have been charged with crimes; more than 165 individuals are accused of assaulting or impeding law enforcement (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/january-6-select-committee-hearing).

Here’s, edited, some of what I earlier wrote on the insurrection in a January 15, 2021, post, “Trump, the Insurrection, and What Comes Next” (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/0`1/15/trump-the-insurrection-and-what-comes-next).

———————–

Before the rally on the morning of Jan. 7, Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey reported that “some aides worried that if Trump spoke at the event not far from the Capitol, it could stoke the crowd and create a volatile scene, a senior administration official said. But Trump, the official said, was determined to do it” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

Then, once in front of the crowd, they report on Trump’s fiery words as follows.

“‘We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,’ Trump told the crowd to whoops and loud cheers, falsely claiming that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was based on fraudulent vote counts. ‘We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.’” Gearan and Dawsey also report that Trump told the crowd that “Republicans had to keep fighting and urged a crowd of aggrieved supporters to mount an insurrection against constitutional order on Wednesday, encouraging what quickly became a mob assault on the U.S. Capitol carried out in his name. The fabrications were familiar, but this time, Trump’s angry rant amounted to a call to arms.”

Later Wednesday on Jan. 6, after many in the crowd had already attacked and entered the Capitol, “Trump appeared to sympathize with the mob and to explain away the violence as the natural consequence of his election loss to Biden. He also edged close to celebrating the day’s events in a tweet with these words: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” adding, after the mayhem at the Capitol was going on, “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” Twitter then decided to lock Trump’s account.

Charlie Savage analyze’s what Trump told the assembled crowd at the rally and argues that Trump’s words constituted an incitement to riot. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/10/us/trump-speech-riot.html). He identifies five parts of Trump’s harangue at the rally.

First, “Trump urged his supporters to ‘fight much harder’ against ‘bad people’ and ‘show strength’ at the Capitol.” For example, Trump told the crowd this: “Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder.” At the same time, he made only a passing suggestion that the protest should be nonviolent, saying, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

Second, “Trump told the crowd that ‘very different rules’ applied,” as when he said: “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike [vice-president Pence] has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs [moderate Republicans] and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

Third, “Trump insinuated that Republican official, including Pence, would endanger themselves by accepting Biden’s win.” With respect to this point, Trump hoped that Pence would have the courage to support alternative slates of electors, thanked the “courageous” members of the Senate who were supporting his position, and said that the vice-president and senators who did not support him [should know] that it would safer to go along with what he wanted.”

Fourth, “Trump suggested that he wanted his supporters to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral win, not just protest it.” For example, Trump said that “we will stop the steal,” or the country “will have an illegitimate president” and “we can’t let that happen” and “we will fight like hell” to keep it from happening.

Fifth, As he dispatched his supporters into what became deadly chaos, Trump falsely told them that he would come, too.” Here’s what he said: we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you.… We are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give — the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote, but we are going to try — give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re try — going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

The invasion of the Capitol by a violent insurrectionary mob – a rough timeline

Sandhya Kambhampati and her colleagues at The LA Times provide a detailed time-line and the context of the mob’s attack on January 6 on the nation’s capital, interrupting the electoral college vote count (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2021/01/06/how-pro-trump-mob-stormed-us-capitol). They write: “The rioters, fueled by Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, breached the building and ran freely through its historic halls before being forced out.”

Trump supporters gathered between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. to hear Trump repeat his claims of how the election has been stolen from him and that they should protest the ratification by the Joint Session at the capitol building. By 1:00 p.m., his supporters are advancing toward the capitol. At 1:13 p.m. Trump finishes his speech, closing with this: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave … and we’re going to [try] to give our Republicans – the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help – we’re to try and get them kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.” By 1:20 p.m., Trump’s crowd, now a violent, insurrectionary force, forms outside the Capitol building, while some try and successfully break past police barriers.” At 2:16 p.m., rioters breach the building, despite it being on lockdown.

By 2:20 p.m., disregarding guards, Trump’s supporters are banging on doors and breaking windows and are entering the building, storming into the Capitol Rotunda by 3:00 p.m.

Reporters from The New York Times, add further details about this criminal invasion (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/06/us/trump-mob-capitol-building).

“Shouting demonstrators mobbed the second-floor lobby just outside the Senate chamber, as law enforcement officers placed themselves in front of the chamber doors.”

“The President’s supporters swarmed the western and eastern sides of the Capitol’s exterior….

“The mob also broke through the main doors on the east side of the Capitol’s central building, which leads into the Capitol Rotunda,” some vandalizing the statutes ringing the area.”

The mob gathered outside the door of the main House chamber, while lawmakers “were given masks and evacuated”

Police arrested “at least 13 people, while dozens of others were allowed to go free”

Meanwhile, rioters invaded and roamed freely in the Senate chamber. Speaker Pelosi’s suite of offices was breached.

The LA Times reporters continue the story.

4:06 p.m.: “President-elect Joe Biden makes a speech in Delaware, saying ‘our democracy is under unprecedented assault.”

4:18 p.m.: “Trump tweets a video repeating his false claims of election fraud and praising his supporters, although he encouraged them to go home.”

5:34 p.m.: “Capitol building is announced as secure.”

6:00 p.m.: Curfew starts in Washington

7:00: p.m.: Preparation for the Joint-Session of Congress to resume and continue to count the electoral college results

Trump has second thoughts – momentary as it turns out

At 4.54 p.m. on January 7, Trump switched gear and, in a video, condemned the mob violence he had unleashed. Dave Nemetz reports: “Trump began the video by addressing the ‘heinous attack’ that took place on Wednesday when a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in at least four deaths [now 5] and several dozen injuries [over 50]. After facing intense criticism for inciting his supporters and justifying the siege, Trump now says he is ‘outraged’ by it: ‘The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol has defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay” (https://tvline.com/2021/01/07/trump-concession-speech-video-concedes-election-watch).

Trump’s belated “concession”

According to a report by Darragh Roche, “White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino shared Trump’s statement on Twitter. The president was not currently able to send tweets from his account” (https://www.newsweek.com/did-donald-trump-concede-president-statement-sparks-debate-1559597). The statement read as follows: “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”

There is now a debate about what Trump’s statement meant. He refers to an “orderly transition,” but also suggests the election results illegally denied him the presidency. And, in conceding the election, he does not mention Biden by name. Roche adds: “Many social media users were quick to suggest that Trump’s statement stopped short of conceding that Biden had defeated him, while others claimed it was as close to a formal concession as the president would offer.”

————————–

Trump and Republicans make up their own stories about January 6

Since Trump’s ambiguous concession, however, Trump, Republicans in the U.S. Congress, state governments, and Trump’s base have coalesced around counter narratives. They reversed their view and now argue one or some combination of the following arguments: (1) the crowd was peaceful, not insurrectionist or riotous (see below); (2) any violence at the Capitol was provoked or carried out by left-wing agitators (no evidence); (3) Trump lost the election because of widespread voting fraud and the courts will return him to the White House in August (see below); (4) given the evidence, some Republicans in the U.S. Congress are now attempting to divert public attention from the Trump-incited insurrection by blaming Nancy Pelosi for the violent attack on the Capitol (see below); and (5) Speaker Pelosi’s decision to investigate the causes of the capitol invasion is said to be partisan and will distort the facts (see section on the investigation later in this post).

Trump now identifies Jan. 6 rioters as “loving,” “patriotic,” “peaceful”

David Cohen reports for Politico on July 11, 2021, that Trump has been describing the rioters as “loving and patriotic” and that any violence that occurred on January 6 can be blamed on the Democrats

(https://www.politico.com/news/2021/07/11/trump-jan-6-insurrection-these-were-great-people-499165). Cohen continues: “Echoing his rhetoric about the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Trump said, ‘These were peaceful people, these were great people.’ Trump used this language on July 11, 2021, in an interview on the Fox News Channel “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo” on the Fox News Channel.

Trump went on to say “the rally participants were patriots, that some of them were unjustly arrested and jailed, and that a woman who was shot and killed by law enforcement during the insurrection was a great hero.”

This, Cohen writes, is part of an effort by Trump and his Republican supporters to cast themselves as “the aggrieved parties from the Jan. 6 riot, which left five people dead and others injured — and, for a brief time, halted the wheels of democracy as President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College was being confirmed by Congress.” In the interview, Trump “said those at the events of Jan. 6 were loving people who wanted to save the nation.”

Trump continued: “The crowd was unbelievable and I mentioned the word ‘love,’ the love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said of his rally on the Ellipse. “That’s why they went to Washington.”

He added: “Too much spirit and faith and love, there was such love at that rally, you had over a million people,” inflating the size of his rally crowd,” estimated to be about 30,000.

The verifiable facts are the facts

Cohen sums it up. “After Trump’s speech, the Capitol was invaded by backers of his seeking to disrupt the Electoral College count. On the way in, they battled with police officers; according to the Department of Justice, approximately 140 police officers were assaulted. Hundreds of those who entered the Capitol have been charged with various crimes, including more than 50 who have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.”

Trump claims he will be returned to the White House in August

“Trump Has Convinced His Followers He’s About to Return to Office This Summer [in August],” as reported by Sasha Abramsky (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-has-convinced-his-followers-hes-about-to-return-to-office-this-summer). The logic underlying Trump’s claim is that the audit being conducted of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa country Arizona will find massive voter fraud, this evidence will be the basis of a lawsuit that will end up in the Supreme Court, and the court will rule that the election was significantly flawed and Trump should be identified as the winner – and therefore be anointed the president.

“Last month [June 2021],” Abramski writes, Hill/HarrisX poll found that about 30 percent of Republicans thought it likely Trump would be declared president again this year. Other polling has found that a significant percentage of all respondents think Trump could well return to the presidency in 2021; this includes up to 1 in 5 Democrats and 3 in 10 Independents — who, presumably, largely view this prospect not with glee but with horror.”

There have been a series of other events that promote or imply the big lie and his claim of being reinstated as president in August. Here’s Abramsky’s summary. “Trump himself has been fanning the flames of this fantasy, appearing either in person or from his Mar-a-Lago perch via satellite link at political rallies in which speakers have, at various times, called for martial law, spouted QAnon conspiracy theories and urged military intervention against Joe Biden’s administration. On Telegram and other encrypted social media sites, there are increasingly strident calls for violent actions aimed at reinstating Trump. And die-hard supporters such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon have been touring the country claiming that vote count ‘audits’ in Arizona and elsewhere will trigger Supreme Court rulings that negate Biden’s victory.”

Trump’s fuels his violent-prone movement

This is not a glib charge. Abramsky reports: “Earlier this summer, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) briefed Congress specifically on the danger that this movement could turn to violence again. As the supposed August ‘Trump reinstatement’ date neared, the DHS worried that individuals and groups could shed blood as a way to somehow trigger a broader conflict.”

Concern about a Trump-inspired “military coup”

Abramsky also reports on section of a new book, I Alone Can Fix It, by two Washington Post reporters, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, that details how Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and other top generals believed that, in the weeks leading up to the January 6 congressional certification of the Electoral College vote, Trump was about to order a military coup. The top brass even discussed mass resignations as a way to stymie Trump’s democracy-busting plans. But even if these eventualities had played out, resignations by generals alone would have been insufficient to forestall a coup. Trump could have replaced them.

As Abramsky puts it:

“Trump’s team could simply have appointed other, more pliable generals to replace those unwilling to be complicit in his dictatorial ambitions — men and women whom he would undoubtedly have tried to portray as ‘enemies of the people’ those who opposed Trump and against whom his fierce propaganda apparatus would instantly have been turned.”

In this case, Trump would no doubt declared “a form of martial law and ordering new elections in key swing states.” Indeed, insofar as the military is concerned, a majority of military veterans supported Trump in the 2020 election, and they and other weapons-trained personnel might have joined with the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups to go along with any Trump-led coup.

Abramsky offers the following sobering thoughts.

“The more we learn about Trump’s last months in office, and his willingness to lean on the muscle provided by paramilitary groups such as the Oath Keepers, the clearer it becomes that talk of coups and martial law was far more than just idle chatter. Trump couldn’t fathom losing his reelection bid and bowing out gracefully; he had no interest in a peaceful transfer of power and a preservation of basic democratic principles, and he felt no moral limits on his exercise of power to beget more power. The recent revelations about how worried the military’s top brass were about being ordered into action against U.S. civilians give further evidence of just how close the American democratic experiment came to a catastrophic collapse.”

Trump insists he will be elected president again in 2024

In an opinion article for the New York Times, Michael Wolff posits some reasons on why he thinks Trump will run for the presidency in 2024. He bases his view on an interview he had with Trump at Mar-a-Lago this spring and on what he has learned about the man in writing three books on Trump (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/opinion/trump-2024-michael-wolff.html).

Wolff reports as follows.

“After dinner, I asked about his plans for a presidential library, the traditional retirement project and fund-raising scheme of ex-presidents. There was a flash of confusion on his uniquely readable face, and then anger, aroused, I figured, by the implication of what I seemed to be saying — that his time in office was past.

The former president replied: “No way, no way,” he snarled, “no way.” That is, the Trump thinks he will run for the presidency in 2024. Wolff offers the following interpretation.

“It is [for Trump] an existential predicament: He can’t be Donald Trump without a claim on the presidency. He can’t hold the attention and devotion of the Republican Party if he is not both once and future king — and why would he ever give that up? Indeed, it seemed to be that I was strategically seated in the lobby of Mar-a-Lago when I arrived precisely so I could overhear the efforts by a Republican delegation to court and grovel before Mr. Trump and to observe his dismissive dominance over them.

Trump spent much of the interview “savoring his future retributions” against Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans who had not supported his ongoing “stop the steal” campaign.

Wolff ends the article on a cautionary note. “For Democrats, who see him exiled to Mar-a-Lago, stripped of his key social media platforms and facing determined prosecutors, his future seems risible if not pathetic. But this is Donald Trump, always ready to strike back harder than he has been struck, to blame anyone but himself, to silence any doubts with the sound of his own voice, to take what he believes is his and, most of all, to seize all available attention. Sound the alarm.”

The Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attacks on the U.S. Capitol

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to establish a bipartisan committee to investigate the evidence and issues around the Jan. 6 insurrection. The committee’s full name: The Select Committee to Investigate Jan. 6 Attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

The Initial proposal for a bipartisan investigation rejected by Senate Republicans

Columnist Jennifer Rubin reports that “[h]ouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whom the insurrectionists tried to hunt down on Jan. 6, was deadly serious about getting to the bottom of the day’s events and exposing all groups and individuals who played a role in the attempt to overthrow our democracy. She was willing to have a bipartisan, evenly divided Jan. 6 commission” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/212/jan-6-committee-pelosi-chose-truth-over-theater).

NPR journalist Claudia Grisales fills in the some of the background, reporting that  “Pelosi wanted to set up a bipartisan committee ‘modeled after the commission established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with a panel of commissioners divvied up evenly between the parties and bipartisan subpoena power.’ The House had already agreed to the plan. ‘Earlier in May, the House approved the plan by a vote of 252 to 175, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats in that case.’ But on May 28, Senate Republicans opposed it and used the filibuster to defeat it.” The final vote in the Senate was 54 to 35, with six Republicans voting with Democrats. The Democrats in the Senate need 60 votes to by-pass the filibuster and begin debate on the plan (https://www.npr.org/2021/06/24/1009818514/house-speaker-nancy-pelosi-launches-select-committee-to-probe-jan-6-insurrection).

The plan to create a bi-partisan House Select Committee

Pelosi had already signaled that, if the Senate blocked the bipartisan investigation, she would launch a select committee to take over the probe. So, nearly a month after the Senate filibuster, the Speaker made the following announcement. “This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I am announcing that the House will be establishing a select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection. Jan. 6 was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history … it is imperative that we establish the truth of that day and ensure that an attack of that kind cannot happen and that we root out the causes of it all.”

Rubin continues the story. “Pelosi then decided to form a select committee of 13. She chose Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to participate “and even offered House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the disgraced former president’s chief apologist, the opportunity to name five members. McCarthy picked three who participated in the attempt to overthrow the election results, including one who immediately trashed the committee after his appointment.”

The Republican House Speaker tries to sabotage the committee

The Washington Post editorial board urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to let Keven McCarthy to undermine the January 6 investigation she has proposed (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/20/kevin-mccarthy-picks-jan-6-panel-make-clear-he-wants-continue-coverup). The WP editors identify the obvious.

“Republicans are now intent sabotaging any kind of serious investigation. The board says that “became clear with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) selection of [five] members to serve on the select committee formed to investigate the insurrection,” choosing ‘Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jim Banks of Indiana, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Troy E. Nehls of Texas — for the 13-member committee.’ Expressing his contempt for the investigation, Banks “issued a blistering statement that blasted Democrats, attacked the purpose of the committee and suggested Republicans might use it to attack President Biden. Banks also said: ‘I will not allow this committee to be turned into a forum for condemning millions of Americans because of their political beliefs.’

In response, Pelosi could have accepted the Republican selections and, as Rubin puts it, let them “expose themselves as unhinged, unpatriotic provocateurs.” Instead, she “rejected two of those appointments.” Then House Republican Speaker McCarthy responded by pulling all five of his people, “hysterically threatening on Wednesday [June 23] to run his own investigation,” which, Rubin notes, “would highlight only how unserious and untrustworthy his party truly is.”

Pelosi is able to establish a quasi-bipartisan committee

Pelosi has subsequently chosen another Republican to join the select committee. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), “who condemned the insurrection, voted to impeach the instigator in chief and supported a bipartisan commission,” agreed to participate. The select committee is now composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans.

Rubin sums it up well. “The ‘story’ is simple. “Republicans continue to cover up and defend a violent insurrection instigated by their cult hero. They blocked a bipartisan commission and now won’t participate unless their disruptive members have a chance to throw the committee into chaos.” Now, Rubin maintains, “the select committee can proceed with a “serious, professional, and focused” investigation,” and without “the provocateurs and Jan. 6 apologists. The committee members “can proceed unimpeded through their witness list, subpoena documents and produce a comprehensive account of the day’s events, the forces behind it and the recommended steps to prevent this from reoccurring.”

The Republicans try to discredit Pelosi

Congressional Republicans, not Trump, now appear willing not to totally reject the realty of January 6 that there was a violent assault on the Capito

l. But they want to shift the discussion away from that reality of the insurrection and blame House Speaker Nance Pelosi for the security lapse at the Capitol.

This is issue addressed by Chris Walker, who describes the situation as follows (https://truthout.org/articles/having-failed-to-sabotage-jan-6-inquiry-mccarthy-is-blaming-pelosi-for-the-riot).

“House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who has opposed the formation of a commission at every step of the way, tried to suggest that Pelosi had endangered the lives of workers and officers at the Capitol on the day that a mob of loyalists to former President Donald Trump attempted to interrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

“‘On January 6 these brave officers were put into a vulnerable and impossible position because the leadership at the top failed,’ McCarthy said speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning [July 27, 2021], falsely implying that it was Pelosi’s responsibility to secure the Capitol.

“Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Trump loyalist whom McCarthy tried to nominate to the commission but who was blocked by Pelosi over his lack of integrity, also suggested Pelosi was largely to blame for that day’s events.

“‘Why don’t they want to answer the fundamental question, which is why wasn’t there a better security posture on that day?’ Jordan asked.”

Trump also took up this refrain. “In a statement he published on his campaign website, Trump, who in other situations has downplayed the violence and described his mob of loyalists as “loving” on that day, said that the commission ought to investigate Pelosi herself over what went down.

“‘Nancy Pelosi is spending a great deal of time, effort, and money on the formulation of a Fake and highly partisan January 6 Committee to ask, what happened?’ Trump said in his statement.” Trump continues: “Will Nancy investigate herself and those on Capitol Hill who didn’t want additional protection, including more police and National Guard, therefore being unprepared despite the large crowd of people that everyone knew was coming?”

“The commission…will likely question why the National Guard wasn’t deployed sooner to secure the Capitol on January 6. However, it’s unlikely that Pelosi will be blamed for such inaction, as the National Guard can only be called up by governors of the states in which they reside, or by the president. Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, has no authority to call them into the Capitol building, in the event of violent attacks or other unrest.”

Walker adds: “The insinuations by Trump and Republicans in Congress who are loyal to the former president, suggesting that Pelosi played a role in the violence of that day, also contradict who is in charge of security at the Capitol. Oversight of the Capitol Police is managed by a Capitol Police Board, which is run by various committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. Pelosi is not a member of any committee or board that has oversight over Capitol Police.”

Fact-checking the Republican claim about Pelosi

Tom Kertscher reports on a “fact check” of this claim by Politifact

(https://www.politifact.com/factcheck/2021/feb/25/facebook-posts/no-capitol-security-not-only-pelosis-responsibilit). He describes the Capitol security system as multi-tiered.

“Capitol security is provided by the sergeants-at-arms , who are the chief law enforcement officers for the House and Senate, in coordination with the Capitol Police, a federal law enforcement agency.

“The House sergeant-at-arms reports to the speaker of the House, or Pelosi at the time of the attack. The Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader; in the days leading up to and including Jan. 6, that was Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell. 

“Security of the Capitol Complex is the direct responsibility of the four-member Capitol Police Board, which includes both sergeants-at-arms, said Jane Campbell, president and CEO of the United States Capitol Historical Society.”

Politifact rates the Republican claim about Pelosi’s culpability as “mostly false.”

The first hearing before the Select Committee

William Rivers Pitt reports on the first Jan. 6 Hearing on July 27, 2021, and writes that it revealed what we already know: “It was a GOP Riot” (https://truthout.org/arrticles/just-1-6-hearing-reveals-what-we-already-know-it-was-a-gop-riot). Four security policemen testified, including “U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges and U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn.”

Pitt describes some of what the officers told the Committee.

“Sgt. Gonell spoke after Thompson and Cheney, raw with emotion. The story he told was harrowing. ‘What we were subjected to that day was like something from a Medieval battle,’ said Gonell. ‘We fought hand to hand.’ He expected to die guarding the doorway where he and his fellow officers clashed with the rioters.

“Our children will know we stood for the truth.”

“Officer Fanone spoke next. His was a familiar face, as he has appeared on the news channels multiple times to tell his story, and to scald congressional Republicans for insulting the truth of 1/6. His fury was likewise palpable as he described being tasered on the back of the skull, of getting beaten ruthlessly, and of nearly being killed by his own service weapon as the crowd chanted, ‘Kill him with his own gun!’

“The indifference shown to my colleagues [by Republicans who deny the facts of the day] is DISGRACEFUL,” Fanone roared at one juncture, pounding the table loud enough to make the room jump. Following Fanone was Officer Hodges, who recounted his similar experiences with a brittle calm. Of the three, Hodges was the most unsparing in his clear declaration that the mob which attacked him was by, for and with Donald Trump.

“Hodges, too, wept during his testimony when he reached the portion of his story recounting his close brush with death when he got caught between the two masses of fighting bodies. Most who have followed this story since January will recognize Hodges; he was the officer screaming for help as a man “foaming at the mouth” battered him in his helplessness and tore off his gas mask.

“Officer Dunn opened his testimony with a request for a moment of silence for Brian Sicknick, one of the Capitol Police officers who died after the attack. Dunn — the officer who was captured on camera leading rioters away from vulnerable Congress members — laid out the evident tactical planning that went into the attack, the deliberate coordination of forces for the specific purpose of sacking the Capitol and disrupting the certification of the election.

“Dunn recounted the torrent of racial abuse he absorbed from the mob, and shared that other Black officers he later spoke to had similar experiences to recount. Dunn quoted McCarthy’s searing criticism of Trump, spoken immediately after the attack was over, a vivid counterpoint to the minority leader’s abrupt about-face.”

Concluding thoughts

As argued in this and other posts, our democracy is under assault by Trump and his allies. Trump remains the most powerful person in the Republican Party and he and the party will apparently do anything to regain control of the US Congress and state legislatures across the country in 2022 and 2024.

Meanwhile, Wolff tells his readers that the Mar-a-Lago lobby is “really the throne room,” where “Donald J. Trump presides or is on display” (p. 291). There is “a steady stream of Republican senators and congressmen seeking his endorsement – indeed, almost every Republican officeholder or seeker, save the few opposed to him, who can make the trip seem set to come to Mar-a-Lago to slavishly attend to him” (p. 291).

Trump is unshaken in his beliefs that (1) “he has been forced out of office by an election coup that involves almost all aspects of modern society and its coordinated power centers organized against him,” and (2) “he absolutely believes he is the single most powerful political entity in the United States” (p. 294). On the latter point, Trump promises that every Republican primary race for 2022 will have…a Trump candidate, with the goal of ruling out all other candidates.”

But, with or without Trump, the Republican Party espouses a far-right agenda, opposes any legislation that promotes voters’ rights, and depends on the same Trumpian electoral base.

There is hope amid this reality. Democracy can be saved by a confluence of events: (1) the Democratic Party offers policies that seriously address the society’s crises; (2) there are vibrant and widespread grassroots mobilizations; and (3) Democratic voters turn out in droves in 2022 and 2024.

Hope amid the climate crisis

Bob Sheak, July 9, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I focus on Michael E. Mann’s book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, published in 2021. The concept of “war” in this context suggests that there is an intransigent enemy, prominently the Republican Party and its corporate and wealthy benefactors, that threatens to make life on the planet less and less habitable, and that it will take an equally powerful force to stop them.

Where we stand amid the climate crisis?

Despite the growing body of evidence that we are losing the fight against “climate change” and its myriad and increasingly destructive effects, Mann, who is a well-known and published climate scientist, presents us with a multi-part analysis that is designed most fundamentally to leave readers with some “hope” about the future. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” He continues: “Alone it won’t solve the problem. But drawing upon it, we will” (p. 267)

Bad News

There are many recent books and reports that give us a good understanding of the dire effects and prospects of global warming, how fossil-fuel corporations and an array of other powerful corporate and political forces in and outside of government have created false, but unfortunately effective, narratives denying climate change or deflecting attention away from it. The authors provide extensive documentation of the problem, its causes, the concerted efforts to delegitimize efforts to address the problem, and what can be done to save the planet. Kate Aronoff’s book, Over-Heated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet – and How We Fight Back” is one of these books. Other books on these topics include John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark’s The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin’s Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, Robert Pollin’s Greening the Global Economy, Bill McKibben’s Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, and Ian Angus’s facing the Anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system. There are two themes, among others, that stand out. We don’t have much time to prevent runaway climate collapse and we have the know how to prevent this from happening. In the final analysis, politics will make the difference. In the meantime, things are getting worse.

For summaries of the evidence on the crisis, see two of my recent posts, one sent out on June18 titled “Global warming intensifies: Additional evidence” (https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/1068) and the other on May 26 with the title “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaning solutions are elusive,” https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/1009. The best evidence on climate change continues to document that the climate crisis is worsening. For example, Victoria Bekiempis reports for The Guardian that scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have found that the “earth is trapping twice as much heat [in 2019] as it did in 2005. The increase is described as unprecedented (https://theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/17/earth-trapping-heat-study-nasa-noaa). Similarly, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise.  Stephanie Epps reports that “the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in May 2021 hit the highest level ever measured, showing the global coronavirus pandemic did not decrease overall CO2 emissions despite pausing global economies for months. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a monthly average of 419 parts per million in May 2021, according to data from NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released Monday” (https://abcnews.com/US/carbon-divide-hit-highest-level-measured-atmosphere/story?id=78137553).

PHOTO: A graph depicts the upward trajectory of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as measured at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory by NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The annual fluctuation is known as the Keeling Curve.

Hope – looking for a politically feasible way to buttress it

In this post, I’ll focus on Michael E. Mann’s book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, published in 2021. The concept of “war” in this context suggests that there is an intransigent enemy, prominently the Republican Party and its corporate and wealthy benefactors, that threatens to make life on the planet less and less habitable, and that it will take an equally powerful force to stop them.

Despite the growing body of evidence that we are losing the fight against “climate change” and its myriad and increasingly destructive effects, Mann, who is a well-known and published climate scientist, presents us with a multi-part analysis that is designed most fundamentally to leave readers with some “hope” about the future. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” He continues: “Alone it won’t solve the problem. But drawing upon it, we will” (p. 267). One question: What does the evidence on climate change indicate since Mann’s book was published in 2021? His references go up through July 2020, about a year ago. We’ll see, unfortunately, that some of his hopeful trends have not continued or have mixed and limited results. Mann’s emphasize on carbon pricing as his principal policy initiative appears too limited in its potential effects to reign in greenhouse gas emissions, since it relies on corporate-dominated markets. Nonetheless, Mann’s overall analysis is sophisticated in identifying the false rationales and “non-solution” proposals of those who oppose meaningful action on climate change and offers an analytical framework that is useful, though not definitive, in educating readers, government officials, and citizens generally about some important aspects of the climate crisis.

Not too late

Mann’s main contention is that it is not too late to radically reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are the principal sources of climate change and, through domestic and international efforts, to limit the emissions enough to keep the global temperature from rising no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next decade. To achieve this goal, he argues, policies based on science must be instituted, citizens must be “educated” about the facts and, some at least, must be or become active in the political process. In addition, the disinformation of the fossil fuel interests must be effectively challenged, and the government must move quickly to remove fossil fuels from the energy mix and replace them with renewables, energy efficiency, and other environmentally sustainable technologies. Mann argues, “We need policies that will incentivize the needed shift away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy. So-called leaders who resist the call for action must be removed from office” (p. 6). The word “incentivize” may suggest that the climate-related policies of corporations and the ideological commitments of the far-right republican Party can be changed through negotiations with the Republican lawmakers and with some incremental changes. However, it becomes clearer as time passes that there is little or no reason to expect the Republican Party to negotiate in good faith. (See Steve Benen’s documentation of this point in his book, The Imposters: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics). Mann does refer to the need for “systemic” changes, and he supports a limited version of the Green New Deal, but the thrust of his analysis suggests that he would settle for limited “systemic” change.

The “enemy”

And then the obstacles. The Republican Party, major segments of the corporate community, vast networks created by the Koch Brothers and other billionaires, right-wing media that reach many millions of people, and a Trump-loyal base of tens of millions of Americans favor all-out support for fossil fuels and have little interest in supporting renewable energy.

Furthermore, support for fossil fuels is only one of the issues that motivates these right-wing forces. For example, the Republican Party, the climate denying, delaying, minimizing-the-threat party, is working to suppress the voting rights of opponents and to prevent the Biden administration from achieving any significant policy achievements. Even out of office, fossil-fuel champion Trump continues to have a massive following that includes white supremacists, evangelicals, gun rights absolutists, anti-immigration groups, most of whom can apparently be counted on to deny, dismiss, or minimize meaningful action on the climate crisis. The totality of these interests represents an enormous obstacle to winning the war against climate change, but additionally and ominously represent a growing threat to democracy. Andrew Cockburn argues that the Republican Party increasingly exhibits fascist characteristics. Note that fascism represents a force that is not amenable to negotiated settlements (https://counterpunch.org/2021/06/22/the-republican-party-has-turned-fascist-and-is-now-the-most-dangerous-threat-in-world). Here’s some of what Cockburn writes.

“When Donald Trump was in the White House there was much debate about whether or not he could be called a fascist in the full sense of the word, and not merely as a political insult. His presidency showed many of the characteristics of a fascist dictatorship, except the crucial one of automatic re-election.

“But Trump or Trump-like leaders may not have to face this democratic impediment in the future. It was only this year that the final building blocks have been put in place by Republicans as they replicate the structure of fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.

“Two strategies, though never entirely absent from Republican behaviour in the past, have become far more central to their approach. One is a greater willingness to use or tolerate violence against their opponents, something that became notorious during the invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters on 6 January.

“The other change among Republicans is much less commented on, but is more sinister and significant. This is the systematic Republican takeover of the electoral machinery that oversees elections and makes sure that they are fair. Minor officials in charge of them have suddenly become vital to the future of American democracy. Remember that it was only the refusal of these functionaries to cave in to Trump’s threats and blandishments that stopped him from stealing the presidential election last November.”

On February 19, 2020, I addressed the issue of fascism in America in post titled “The specter of fascism before and during the Trump presidency” (https://wordpress.com/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/558).

Still, cautiously optimistic and a roadmap

Nonetheless, Mann tells us he is “cautiously optimistic…about prospects for tackling the climate crisis in the years ahead.” He is convinced that we can progress through reform of the capitalist system. In making his case, Mann develops five arguments in support of his position. One, he documents that concern with and action about climate change is growing. Two, he rebuts the arguments of fossil fuel interests that deny or deflect attention from the climate crisis, as a way of educating the public and reducing the spread of lies and disinformation. Three, he identifies – and rejects or dubs inadequate– “non-solutions” that are being promoted, such as natural gas as a bridge fuel, the notion of “clean coal,” geoengineering, massive tree planting, and the nuclear energy option. Four, he criticizes those on the left who want nothing less than the transformation of the whole capitalist system, or who have the conception that only viable alternatives are local (e.g., creation of “resilient communities), or who contend that it is “too late” to make meaningful change and that humanity is doomed. And, five, Mann considers carbon pricing, which, if done right and combined with support for renewables, can potentially reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions on the needed scale and in a timely fashion. His overall position is based on the idea that relevant and effective public policy will ultimately reflect science and the facts. If only they would.

#1 – Growing awareness of the climate crisis

Unprecedented events are difficult to ignore

Mann’s optimism is based in part on his contention that recent events have promoted an increased awareness of the climate crisis. He refers to the following events, (1) “a series of unprecedented, extreme weather disasters that have vivified the climate-change threat” (e.g., wildfires in California);  (2) “a global pandemic has now taught us key lessons about vulnerability and risk”;  (3) “the reawakening of environmental activism, and, in particular, a popular uprising by children across the world that has framed climate change as the defining challenge of our time” (p.225); (4) climate experts are coming forward; and (5) fossil fuel industry feeling the heat – e.g., coal is in a death spiral and natural gas coming to be seen as a liability by communities” (p. 233).

Opinion polls identify a growing awareness of the climate crisis

He refers to polls that a majority of Americans now accept the realty of climate change, while the number of people who deny or dismiss it have, according to a 2019 poll, shrunk to the single digits (p. 41). Insofar as public opinion is concerned, Mann thinks we may be close to a tipping point on climate that may precipitate increasing political support and government action. With this in mind, he cites a 2019 Pew Research poll that found 67 percent of the public thinks we’re doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.” Mann notes that this doesn’t mean they prioritize it. Nonetheless, it reflects that a growing majority of Americans not only have some awareness of the climate crisis but that they want government to do more than they have been doing to address this growing problem. Mann cites another 2019 poll, this one conducted by CNN, which “found that ’82 percent of registered voters who identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents consider climate change a ‘very important’ top priority” (232) However, recent polls also identify a partisan divide that suggests that opposition to taking significant action is greater than single digits.

For example, Fred Backus reports on April 21, 2021on a CBS poll (https://cbsnews.com/news/fighting-climate-change-opinion-poll-04-21-2021). According to Backus, when respondents were “asked to choose between general approaches like the environment and climate, 58% of Americans think people should try to do things to shape and change it, while just 42% [not single digits] think people should simply learn to adapt to what happens and make the best of it.” When asked “How should people deal with the climate,” 80 percent of Democrats chose “Do Things to Change,” joined by 54 percent of the Independents, but only 20 percent of Republicans (i.e., 80 percent did not).  

There is good reason to be concerned that the efforts of the Republican Party to further suppress the votes of their opponents and to change the rules on votes are counted and validated may give this far-right leaning party control of the U.S. government in 2022 or 2024, in which case opportunities to address the crisis will go by the board. In such an eventuality, Democratic majorities on this or that poll may be irrelevant. At the same time, Mann does say that it is a waste of time to debate over climate-change issues with those adamantly opposed to taking any genuine steps to ameliorate the climate crisis. It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will be able to so corrupt the political system that any rational approach to the climate crisis will be discarded.

Even the Pentagon views climate change as a growing threat

Mann refers to a recent study commissioned by the Pentagon that warns of a scenario in which electricity, water, and food systems might collapse by midcentury as a result of the effects of climate change.” At the same time, the U.S. military remains a major source of CO2 emissions and other pollutants. See support for this statement in my post of December 11, 2019, titled “The US military is not going to save us or itself from the climate crisis” (https://wordpress.com/post/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/528).

Indications that some in the financial sector are having second thoughts about investing in fossil fuels

Mann writes: “the banking and finance industry is rethinking its role in funding new fossil fuel infrastructure.” The industry is concerned that demand for fossil fuels is on the wane, and it will become burdened with “stranded assets,” that is, there will eventually be significant reductions in demand for oil and gas, thus jeopardizing the investments of the financial institutions. He cites a number of sources that confirm the industry’s concerns. Guardian correspondent Fiona Harvey reports that “high exposure to fossil fuels in their portfolios will be hurt, as those companies and assets cease to be profitable” (p. 234). And, according to “Axel Weber, the chairman of Swiss multinational investment bank UBS, the finance sector is on the verge of ‘a big change in market structure’ because investors are increasingly demanding that the sector account for climate risk and embed a price on carbon in their portfolio decisions” (p. 235).” Additionally, Mann gives these examples: “Goldman Sachs, Liberty Mutual, and the European Investment Bank – the largest international bank in the world – are among the numerous banks and investments firms that are now pulling away from fossil fuel investments” (p. 235).

As in the financial sector, the insurance industry is worrying about the effects from the advance of climate. Mann gives the examples of the insurance giant, The Hartford, Sweden’s central bank, and Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager,” both of which have indicated they will stop insuring or investing in Alberta’s carbon-intensive tar sands oil production. BlackRock has gone even further, announcing it will no longer make investments that come with high environmental risks including coal for power plants.”

There is recent evidence that this trend is gaining momentum. Robertson and Karsh report that “[t]oday’s private equity shops—including the world’s largest alternative asset manager, Blackstone Group Inc.—are pouring capital into fast-growing sectors such as solar, carbon capture, and battery storage. Part of the attraction stems from the rapid adoption of wind and solar as public demand for climate accountability rises. It’s a shift in investment strategy that comes after years of fits and starts for the once struggling renewables space” (https://bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-06/private-equity-is-ditching-fossil-fuels-over-climate-change-concerns).

Young people are involved

There is also momentum in higher education. Mann gives the example of “students at Berkeley are in 2014 demanding the UC Regents divest of fossil fuel holdings and they were successful, along with students at other campuses. “More than a thousand college campuses, including UC Regents, and other institutions throughout the United States (accounting for more than $11 trillion in holdings) have divested of fossil fuel stocks” (p. 237).

Young people around the globe are demanding change. Many of them have been inspired by Greta Thunberg, the teenage from Sweden who “by age sixteen achieved an iconic global cultural status,” then nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, featured on the cover of Time magazine, and “sparked a global youth movement called ‘Fridays For Future.’” In support of the young people, “a group of just under two dozen climate scientists, myself [Mann] included, published a letter in Science magazine that was ultimately cosigned by thousands of other scientists around the world. The letter offered support for them for their efforts” (see p. 253). Fossil fuel interests have taken notice. “In July 2019, OPEC’s secretary general, Mohammed Barkindo, referred to the youth climate movement as the ‘greatest threat’ the fossil fuel industry faces” (254).

#2 – Rebutting the arguments of the fossil fuel interests

ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests have for decades “waged a public relations campaign contesting the scientific evidence and doing everything in their power to block policies aimed at curbing planet-warming carbon pollution” (p. 1). They deny and want to delay any government efforts to address the problem (p. 2). Mann calls it a “massive deflection campaign” (p. 2). It surfaced in the late 1980s. “Joined by billionaire plutocrats like the Koch Brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes, companies such as ExxonMobil funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign…to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil fuel burning. This science denial took precedence even as ExxonMobil’s own team of scientists concluded that the impacts of continued fossil fuel use could lead to ‘devastating’ climate-change impacts” (pp. 2-3). They have been joined by right-wing plutocrats.  And they have been winning (p. 3). Part of the reason they have been winning is that the fossil fuel interests and their supporters have been able to spread false narratives that are designed to confuse, distract, and immobilize people when it comes to the extent and depth of the climate crisis.

Fossil fuel interests have “done everything possible to block subsidies and incentives for their competition – renewable energy – and they’ve had a lot of success doing so” (p. 224). Mann gives the example of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute, which have produced model pro-fossil-fuel policy papers to aid Republican Party leaders in the states to enhance their opposition to meaningful climate action. There are signs, however, that ALEC’s influence is diminishing to some extent. “In recent years, fossil fuel corporations such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP have pulled out of ALEC, concerned about increased public scrutiny of their funding activities.” But not all. Mann notes that “the privately held giant Koch Industries has remained steadfast in its funding of the group. In one year alone, ALEC helped push through seventy bills in thirty-seven states designed to disadvantage clean energy” ALEC has proposed legislation to undermine state policies mandating a fraction of the energy produced come from renewable sources (so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards).” The organization “has also promoted legislation that penalizes those who choose to install solar panels on their homes with solar panels who attempt to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities” (p. 124).

These same interests have attacked and attempted to block government support for electric vehicles (EVs). Mann gives the following examples: “agents of the Koch brothers met with oil-refining and marketing companies in 2015 to pitch a ‘multi-million-dollar assault on EVs” (p. 126). [And] “…Republican senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who was the third-highest recipient of Koch brothers’ dollars during the 2018 election cycle. Barrasso, as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the Fairness for Every Driver Act in 2019. It would not only end federal tax credits for EVs, but in addition would create an annual ‘highway user fee’ for all ‘alternative fuel vehicles” (p. 126).

Combatting narratives designed to deflect attention away from the climate crisis

Here are a few of Mann’s examples.

Lifestyle changes are no enough

Mann challenges the widespread idea that change on the climate front depends on changes in individual lifestyles, not on a need for systemic change. Here’s what Mann writes.

“So they have shifted to a softer form of denialism while keeping the oil flowing and fossil fuels burning, engaging in a multipronged offensive based on deception, distraction, and delay” (p. 3). Mann refers to it as a “deflection campaign” (p. 3). Among other tactics, they have tried to shift “responsibility from corporations to individuals. Personal actions, from going vegan to avoiding flying, are increasingly touted as the primary solution to the climate crisis” (p. 3). Mann does not reject such voluntary action by individuals, but they alone take “pressure off the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable” (p.3). The emphasis on voluntary individual action “also provides an opportunity for the enemy to employ a ‘wedge’ strategy dividing the climate advocacy community, exploiting a preexisting rift between climate advocates more focused on individual action and those emphasizing collective and policy action” (p. 4). Mann advocates a strategy that combines individual action with political efforts to make systemic changes. He agrees that “plenty of lifestyle changes… should be encouraged, many of which make us happier and healthier, save us money, and decrease our environmental footprint.” However, “consumer choice doesn’t build high-speed railways, fund research and development in renewable energy, or place a price on carbon emissions. Any real solution must involve both individual action and systemic change,” and requires “collective action aimed at pressuring policymakers who are in a position to make decisions about societal priorities and government investment” (pp. 60-61).

#3 – Do not be fooled by those who propose “non-solutions”

Natural Gas: A Bridge to Nowhere

Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a fossil fuel that “is energy rich, and… readily burned for heating, cooking, or electricity generation. Or it can be cooled into a liquid (liquefied natural gas, or LNG) that can be used as a fuel for transportation” and in a form that can be exported (p. 148). “Natural gas reservoirs can be found in sedimentary basins around the world…. (p. 148). Trump has promoted national gas as a “freedom gas.” Those on the right often characterize natural gas as a bridge fuel, “a way to slowly wean us off more carbon-intensive fuels like coal and gently nudge us toward a renewable energy future. The rationale is that, nominally, natural gas produces about as half as much carbon dioxide as coal for each watt of power generated.” However, the reality is that natural gas is “nearly one hundred times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a twenty-year time frame.” And when the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to break up the bedrock to get at natural gas deposits inevitably allows some of the methane to escape directly into the atmosphere,” the result of “methane releases from drilling operations, pipelines, and storage facilities.”  The Trump administration disbanded regulations issued by the Obama administration to regulate “fugitive gas, claiming it would save industry millions of dollars” (p. `150). This is a serious mis-step in that the “rise in methane is responsible for as much as 25 percent of the warming (p. 150).

Unclean Coal

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has been advanced as a way to clean the CO2 out of coal utilization. Mann describes how it works: “carbon dioxide related during the burning of coal is scrubbed from emissions and captured, compressed, and liquefied. It is then pumped deep into the Earth, several kilometers beneath the surface, where it is reacted with porous igneous rocks to form limestone.” “The Global CCS Institute reports that there are today fifty-one CCS facilities globally in some stage of development that plan to capture nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. (Nineteen are currently in operation, and another thirty-two are either under construction or in development.) – 8 are in US” (p. 151).

Mann refers to six problems with CCS that eliminate the method as a constructive tool in efforts to mitigate and contain rising emissions. First, it “isn’t feasible to bury the billions of tons per year of carbon pollution currently produced by coal burning.” Second, “many coal power plants are not located in CCS-favorable sites” Third, CCS is “related to earthquakes and seismic activity or groundwater flow.” Fourth, “Coal is currently not competitive with other forms of energy in the marketplace…. requiring that coal plants capture and sequester their carbon will only make it more expensive and hasten the collapse of the industry.” Fifth, “CCS is not even carbon neutral in the best of circumstances, 10 percent of the carbon would still escape.” Sixth, most of the carbon that is captured “is placed into tapped oil wells for enhanced oil recovery. The oil that is recovered, when burned, yields several times as much carbon dioxide as was sequestered in the first place by CCS” (p. 152).

Geoengineering, or “What Could Possibly Go Wrong”

The fundamental problem with geoengineering proposals is that they “provides a crutch for beneficiaries of our continued dependence on fossil fuels. Additionally, they are not cheap as ways to decarbonize the economy, and they have the potential to do great harm (p. 159-160). Nonetheless, they appeal to fossil fuel interests and free-market conservatives (pp. 160-164). Mann critically considers 5 geoengineering proposals and dismisses them as viable options in winning the war on the climate. Here I’ll refer to three of his examples.

First, he refers to proposals “to shoot reflective particulates – sulfate aerosols – into the stable upper part of the atmosphere known as the stratosphere, where they would reside for years” and serve to bl0ck some of the heat from the sun. Mann says it is technologically feasible to do this, but it has major problems that argue against such an approach (p. 155).

Mann identifies seven disadvantages. (1) Blocking the heat energy from the sun will have different spatial patterns, “some regions would cool while others warmed. Indeed, some regions would likely end up warming even faster than they would have without geoengineering” – e.g. accelerating the destabilization of the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheet and speeding up global sea-level rise, and some continents could become even drier with worse droughts (p. 155). (2) While “the sulfate particles from geoengineering would be higher up – in the stratosphere – but they would ultimately still make it down to the surface, where they would acidify rivers and lakes.” (3) There is the danger that “sulfate particles may contribute to ozone depletion” (p. 156). (4) The method does not prevent carbon dioxide from continue to build up in both the atmosphere and the ocean – raising ocean acidification. (5) This approach “would require the continuing injection of sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere while carbon dioxide continued to accumulate in the atmosphere.” (6) If some calamity, a war, plague or anything else, “interfered with regular required schedule of sulfate injections, the cooling effect would disappear. (7) would “render less viable one of the most important and safest of climate solutions: solar power” (p. 156)

A second geoengineering approach involves “ocean iron fertilization,” or the sprinkling of iron dust onto the ocean with the purpose of generating phytoplankton blooms which, according to proponents, would take up carbon dioxide when they photosynthesize. That is, they would take carbon out of the atmosphere. Then when the phytoplankton die, they sink to the ocean bottom, burying their carbon with them (p. 157). However, Mann points out, “Iron fertilization leads to more vigorous cycling of carbon in the upper ocean, but no apparent increase in deep carbon burial, which means no permanent removal of atmospheric carbon.” Mann mentions another concern. Ocean iron fertilization “could make matters worse, as it could generate “harmful ‘red tide’ algae blooms that create oceanic dead zones” (p. 157).

Thirdly is a proposal to deal with the climate crisis through massive tree planting. The idea here is to engage in large-scale reforestation of the vast regions of the planet that have been deforested,” and that this effort should be “supplemented by land use and agricultural practices that sequester additional carbon in soils” (p. 165). The rationale is that “by planting trees we can get better-functioned ecosystems; maintain and even increase biodiversity; improve the quality of our soils, air, and water; and better insulate ourselves from the damaging impacts of climate change” (165). It is a partial solution. However, Mann points to the downside.

“One study claimed that an additional 0.9 billion hectares of the planet’s surface is available for this purpose. This translates to billions of new trees that collectively could capture just over 200 billion tons of carbon over the next couple of decades.” – about 11 billion tons of carbon a year. “Regenerative agriculture based on recycling farm waste and using composed materials from other sources, combined with land use practices that enhance soil carbon sequestration, could potentially bury somewhere in the range of 3.5 to 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Such achievements would be praiseworthy. But, Mann says, such levels of carbon removal from the air are overshadowed by the “roughly 55 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide through fossil fuel burning and other human activities.” At most, massive tree planting “would at most only slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a factor of 44 percent. In other words, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would continue to rise, just at a rate that is roughly half as fast” (p. 166). This estimate, however, “is overly optimistic, since the “actual land area available for reforestation may be only about 30 percent of the technically available and area assumed in the recent study” (p. 166).

At the same time, deforestation continues. Mann refers to the authors of a 2020 article in Nature which “demonstrated that the peak carbon uptake by tropical forests occurred during the 1990s and has declined ever since as a result of logging, farming, and the effects of climate change.” For example, the “authors found that the Amazon could go from a sink (a net absorber of carbon) to a source (a net producer of carbon) within the next decade….” (pp. 166-167).

The Nuclear Option

Mann is skeptical that nuclear should play a central role in the required clean, green energy transition (p. 169). He gives six reasons. (1) There is “the risk of nuclear proliferation, and the danger that fissile materials and weapons-applicable technology could make it into the hands of hostile nations with militaristic intentions or terrorists.” (2) There continues to be an unsolved “challenge of safe long-term disposal of radioactive waste.” (3) Large nuclear accidents like the accident at Fukushima have profound and long-lasting impacts of environment and people. (4) Nuclear plants will “always will be vulnerable to natural hazards such as earthquake, volcanoes, or tsunamis (like the one that triggered the Fukushima meltdown).” (5) The complexity of nuclear power plants increases the chances of technical failure or human error (Three Mile Island).” (6) Climate change increases the risk, as, for example, “extreme droughts have led to reactors shut down as the surrounding waters become too warm to provide the cooling necessary to convey heat from the reactor core to the steam turbines and remove surplus heat from the steam circuit” (p. 170).

He rejects the assumption the nuclear power is necessary to decarbonize the economy, writing: “Although it may well make sense to continue with the operation of existing nuclear power plants until they are retired (after twenty to forty years, their typical lifetime), given that the embodied carbon emissions associated with their construction is a ‘sunken’ carbon cost, it makes little sense to build new ones” (p. 171).

#4 – Worries that some on the left have gone too far and have opened up opportunities for the enemy to discredit efforts to combat climate change

 And some have advanced the notion that catastrophe is a fait accompli, “either by overstating the damage to which we are already committed, by dismissing the possibility of mobilizing the action necessary to avert disaster, or by setting the standard so high (say, the very overthrow of market economics itself, that old chestnut) that any action seems doomed to failure” (p 5).

Asking for too much

For example, Mann thinks that the original Green New Deal resolution from progressive Democrats went too far. It was “as a formal resolution by AOC and Senator Ed Markey on February 7, 2019, and advanced a 10-year mobilization over the next ten years. The resolution went beyond measures to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions and included items to guarantee jobs with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people,” along with proposals to provide guaranteed health care, adequate housing, clean water, healthy and affordable food,” and more (p. 94) Mann writes that he broadly supports the GND goals, he has “some concern about the ambitious scope of specific proposals,” namely, that ‘Saddling a climate movement with a laundry list of other worthy social programs risks alienating needed supporters (say, independents an moderate conservatives) who are apprehensive about a broader agenda of progressive social change” (p. 94), and gives climate-change denies the opportunity to argue that “global warming is a hoax promoted as an excuse to expand the size of government.” Mann is also concerned that the GND does not include support for market mechanisms such as carbon pricing (p. 95).

He also criticizes Naomi Klein’s thesis “that neoliberalism – the prevailing global policy model, predicated on privatization and free-market capitalism – must be overthrown through mass resistance [and that] climate change can’t be separated from other pressing social problems, each a symptom of neoliberalism: income inequality, corporate surveillance, misogyny and white supremacy” (p. 95). He fears that should a revolutionary agenda “allows deniers the opportunity to say environmentalists really want to overthrow capitalism and end economic growth (95).

It’s too late to stop climate change

Mann writes: “there is a segment of the climate activist community that not only overplays it, but displays a distinct appetite for all-out doomism,” portraying climate change not just as a threat that requires urgent response, but as an essentially lost cause, a hopeless fight” (pp. 182-183). He dubs this viewpoint as a form of climate nihilism that breeds disengagement and potential fuels “a brilliant strategy for building a truly bipartisan coalition for inaction” (p. 184). They are disillusioned by the lack of adequate action by the government to address the climate crisis and the belief that “both major parties are equally bad” (p. 184).

Mann identifies Guy McPherson, a retired ecology professor from Arizona, [who] is arguable the scientific leader of the doomism movement, a cult figure of sorts, like other doomists.” McPherson “argues that we have already triggered irreversible vicious cycles (for example, the massive release of frozen methane) that will render the planet lifeless in a matter of years. There’s nothing we can do about it.” According to McPherson, humanity is caught in ‘exponential climate change’[that] will render human beings and all other species extinct within ten years owing to supposed runaway warming. Mann maintain there is “no shred of scientific evidence” to support such views.” This all may eventually come to pass, but there is no evidence that supports McPherson’s contention that, in a matter of years, the climate change will render the planet lifeless or, for example, “no evidence that methane will run out of control and initiate any sudden, catastrophic effects.” At the same time, given continuation of current trends, there is little doubt that at some point, perhaps some decades from, now, humanity may reach a point of no return. Given these assumptions, McPherson argues counterproductively that there is no reason now to cut emissions (p. 196). Contrariwise, Mann maintain that there is “compelling evidence that a clean energy revolution and climate stabilization are achievable with current technology. All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift.” Indeed, we have the tools we need, writing “a combination of energy efficiency, electrification, and decarbonization of the grid through an array of complementary renewable energy sources” can curtail and reverse climate change (p. 177). But, to reiterate, the existing politics may prevent the us from using these tools.

#5 – Mann’s proposals

There is, he writes, a need for both supply-side and demand-side measures to deal effectively with the climate crisis (120). Supply side measures “take the form of blocking pipeline construction, banning fracking, stopping mountain-top-removal coal mining, divesting in fossil fuel companies, and putting a halt to most new fossil fuel infrastructure.” Demand side measures includes carbon pricing and support for renewable energy. Carbon pricing, according to Mann, represents “a means of leveling the playing field in the energy market, so that those sources of energy are not warming the planet (i.e., renewable energy) can compete fairly against those that are (i.e., fossil fuels).” Such a pricing policy “reflects an effort to diminish demand, while fossil fuel divestment campaigns and opposition to pipelines, offshore oil drilling, or mountain-top-removal coal mining constitute efforts to diminish supply” (p. 107).

The concerns of progressives over carbon pricing

Carbon pricing “seems wonkish and abstract, and it’s harder to capture it in a front-page image or a television screen” and it is viewed as “buying into market economics.” It has been attacked from both the right and left. Progressives argue that prices put on carbon emissions will reflect politics and end up being too low to effect any significant change and that it doesn’t take into account social justice issues, that is, the extra financial burden put on the poor and lower-income people (108). On the question of the adequacy of a carbon price, Mann seems to rely on politics and social movements to ensure that any price on carbon is sufficient. On the social justice implications of carbon pricing, Mann responds, “In fact, the carbon-pricing schemes that have been successfully instituted have been progressive in nature. With the ETS scheme implemented by Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, the government compensated low-income earners, who ended up benefiting financially. Under Canada’s carbon tax-and-rebate system, most households actually save money. No less than Pope Francis, a champion of social justice and a true advocate for the poor and downtrodden, has called carbon pricing ‘essential’ for tackling the climate-change ‘emergency’” (p. 109).

One recent development shows perhaps growing support for carbon pricing. Susanna Twidale reports that “[i]nvestors managing more than $6 trillion in assets on Tuesday (July 6] called for a co-ordinated global price on carbon and said emissions costs would need to almost treble by 2030 to reach the world’s climate goals.” Twidale continues: “The call by the The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, whose 43 members include some of the world’s biggest pension schemes and insurers, comes ahead of the next round of global climate talks in November” (https://reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/asset-owners-managing-6-trin-call-global-carbon-price-2021-07-05).

Concluding thoughts

Mann offers the reader a perspective based a coherent, in-depth, well-documented analysis of the obstacles to be overcome in the climate war – and some reasons to be hopeful that they can be overcome. Whether his proposals go far enough is open to question. He may be too cautious in wanting to emphasize market mechanisms like carbon pricing as a principal way to curtail rising greenhouse gas emissions so as not to alienate supporters with talk of transforming the existing capitalist system. However, this may have a downside, that is, it may underestimate the power of mega-corporations, including fossil fuel corporations, and their ability to influence politics and government policy in ways that nullify or reduce the impact of carbon pricing or other market-regulating measure. There is certainly a need to limit corporate power generally and fossil fuels specifically. This goal can be advanced by enforcing anti-trust law, by vastly increasing support for climate-friendly options like solar, wind, geothermal, along with sweeping energy efficiency measures, by ending subsidies to fossil-fuel corporations, by banning the US export of natural gas and oil, by providing transitional support for workers who are displaced from fossil-fuel jobs, and by educating the public about sustainable lifestyle options and what makes for a “resilient community.” See the book, The Community Resilience Reader, for multiple views on resilient communities.

Let me end on a positive note. Matthew Hoffman offers a list of reasons to be hopeful (https://yesmagazine.org/environment/2021/01/12/climate-change-hope-momentum). Here it is.

• The first truly global social movement dedicated to climate action and climate justice has gained in size and strength, beginning with Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for the Future and spreading to the Sunrise Movement in the U.S. and climate justice movements around the world.

• Large-scale capital continues to flee from fossil fuel investments, which are rapidly losing value. According to a recent study by political scientists Jeff Colgan, Jessica Green, and Thomas Hale, this shifting financial ground promises to upend the politics of climate change in important ways, as vested interests lose political power.

• The initial pandemic response demonstrated how societies and economies can pivot quickly in response to an emergency. The longer-term plans for post-pandemic recovery provide an enormous window of opportunity to “build back better,” although this idea does not have universal uptake.

• The Paris Agreement survived the withdrawal of the U.S., which is poised to rejoin after Joe Biden is sworn in as president. Momentum around the agreement was clear at the Climate Ambition Summit where 75 countries announced new national commitments.

• The ranks of countries that have made net-zero commitments is swelling, and a new report suggests that the cumulative effect of countries’ recent pledges (if fully achieved) could keep warming to 2.1 C by 2100, putting a key Paris Agreement goal within reach. Hoffman offers this cautionary note. “These trends don’t guarantee that we have turned the political corner. The forces arrayed against the kind of changes we need are vast and powerful. It will take an enormous amount of energy, resources, and

Global warming intensifies: additional evidence

Global warming intensifies: Additional evidence

Bob Sheak, June 18, 2021

Introduction

In this post, I follow up and add information to what I wrote in my post of May 25, 2021, “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful political solutions remain elusive.” The main purpose of the present piece is to provide more context and additional evidence regarding the unfolding and escalating crisis, one that has for decades (at least) been taking a terrible toll on humanity and nature and one that is rapidly growing more destructive. The evidence is not uplifting but it is factual. Unfortunately, those in the U.S. who want to deny or avoid any meaningful action represent powerful forces in the society.

In the May 25 post, I referred to climate scientist Michael E. Mann’s new book, The New Climate War, who writes that “our planet has now warmed into the danger zone, and we are not taking the measures necessary to avert the largest global crisis we have ever faced.” In order to address this situation, “we must understand the mind of the enemy” (p. 1). The enemy includes the fossil-fuel corporations (e.g., ExxonMobil, Shell, BP) and their supporters, the billionaire plutocrats “like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes,” who have “funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign beginning in the least 1980s and working to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil-fuel burning” (pp. 2-3). This enemy additionally includes those in government in the U.S. and abroad who deny or dismiss the seriousness of global warming and use their positions to protect and advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.”

At the same time, there may be even more powerful forces, politically and in social movements, that are working to address this existential challenge and engage with others in education, mobilization, and politics to address the crisis. In reviewing Mann’s book, Richard Schiffman notes that, in the final analysis, Mann is optimistic (https://new-scientist.com/article/mg24933160-300-the-new-climate-war-reasons-to-be-optimistic-about-the-future). His optimism is “heartened by the upswell of youth activism and the rapid development of green technologies. Even investors are beginning to flee from fossil fuels.”

The earth is heating up

Some background: A new geological epoch?

We are living in a geological epoch of human-generated increasingly disruptive and catastrophic climate changes that pose an existential threat to humanity. The International Union of Geological Sciences has been considering the evidence on whether the earth has entered a new geological epoch, one referred to as the Anthropocene. This is defined as an epoch in which the activities of humans have become the dominant force, an increasingly deleterious one, in shaping the planet. The concept was first introduced by climatologist Paul Crutzen in 2000. Ian Angus, author of the 2016 book facing the Anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system, was interviewed about the concept on The Real News. (http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&ltemid=74&jumival=17159).

Angus gives us some context.

“Well, geologists divide the history of the entire Earth, the billions of years that our planet has been here, into various divisions which mark the different stages of life and the conditions of life in the history of our planet. We have for the last 12,000 years been in what’s called the Holocene, that came about when the Ice Ages ended. All the glaciers retreated, and we’ve had 12,000 years of relatively stable climate. Everything’s been very predictable. It’s the period in which agriculture was invented and all large civilizations were born.

“What became clear in the late 20th century to some scientists was that humanity’s activities have become so great that they were actually changing the way that the world functions. Not just changing individual environments or ecosystems but changing fundamental things about the way the world works. Global warming being the best known of those, but of course the destruction of the ozone layer, and so on. So, the Holocene epoch, some scientists began to argue, was coming to an end. We had moved out of that period of long-term stability and we’re moving into a very different time.”

The crux of this view is that human activities have come to represent the dominant forces in shaping the earth’s ecosphere. There’s no debate about this in the climate science community. Human activities that emit greenhouse gases have had and are having a significant and increasingly negative impact on ecosystems and human societies. At the same time, the debate over whether we are in a new geological period continues, including such questions as to when it exactly started (https://eos.org/articles/the-difficulty-of-defining-the-anthropocene).

A scientific consensus

In a post from September 28, 2018, titled “Reigning in Climate Change,” I submitted that the scientific evidence is overwhelming in agreement that human-caused, increasingly disruptive climate change, is occurring. There are multiple books, an increasing body of scientific research, and a host of in-depth journalistic articles based on authoritative sources that confirm the existence of the phenomenon. Most climate scientists have long endorsed the evidence-based proposition that the climate is changing and that it is happening at an accelerating rate.

Andrea Germanos reports that in November, 2017, nearly 17,000 scientists from 180 countries issued a warning to humanity about the advanced and unfolding disruptive changes in the “biosphere” in a letter published in the international journal BioScience. (2017). Unless humanity, that is the world’ governments, set about making transformative changes in their societies soon, the scientists believe that the best evidenced indicates that there will be “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” The scientists are especially troubled by actually observed trends, that is, of rising greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, agricultural production, and the sixth mass extinction event underway” (http://commondreams.org/news/2017/11/13/over-1500-scientists-just-issued-second-notice-humanity-can-we-listen-now). With respect to agriculture, they are referring to the dominant agriculture system that relies on chemical fertilizers that degrade soil, generates carbon emissions, and overutilize and contaminate water sources.

 An overview from Wikipedia of the scientific consensus.

Several studies have been done to establish that a consensus does exist. “Among the most-cited is a 2013 study of nearly 12,000 abstracts of peer-reviewed papers on climate science published since 1990, of which just over 4,000 papers expressed an opinion on the cause of recent global warming. Of these, 97% agree, explicitly or implicitly, that global warming is happening and is human-caused.[2][3] It is “extremely likely”[4] that this warming arises from “… human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases …”[4] in the atmosphere.[5] Natural change alone would have had a slight cooling effect rather than a warming effect.[6][7][8][9]

“This scientific opinion is expressed in synthesis reports, by scientific bodies of national or international standing, and by surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Individual scientists, universities, and laboratories contribute to the overall scientific opinion via their peer-reviewed publications, and the areas of collective agreement and relative certainty are summarised in these respected reports and surveys.[10] The IPCC‘s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was completed in 2014.[11] Its conclusions are summarized below:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia”.[12]
  • “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years”.[13]
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear.[14]It is extremely likely (95-100% probability)[15] that human influence was the dominant cause of global warming between 1951-2010.[14]
  • Without new policies to mitigate climate change, projections suggest an increase in global mean temperature in 2100 of 4.8 to 7 °C, relative to pre-industrial levels (median values; the range is 2.5 to 7.8 °C including climate uncertainty).[18]

Wikipedia reports that all national or international science academies and scientific societies agree that global warming is a major challenge. “No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of these main points.” Furthermore, evidence from the prestigious National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) indicates that the hottest years on record are all recent years: 2015, 2016, 2017, and, by all the current evidence, 2018 (https://www.ecowatch.com/hottest-four-years-ever-259119422.html).

The IPCC’s sixth assessment report has been delayed due to the pandemic and is now scheduled to be released in May of 2022.

Some consequences of global warming

Consistent with this evidence, there are a growing number of severe weather events each year, including wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods. The snow-ice covers in the polar regions are shrinking, coral reefs are dying, water tables are falling, desertification is spreading, and the oceans are warming and undergoing massive acidification. Some of the changes compound the problems. Extensive deforestation is reducing one of the earth’s most important “carbon sinks,” that is, the ability of forests to take carbon out of the atmosphere. And there are other examples. As the ice/snow sheets in the arctic are reduced, more of the sun’s ultra-violet rays are retained on earth rather than reflected into space. There is also the danger that as the permafrost in northern regions (e.g., Siberia) melts that enormous volumes of methane will be released into the atmosphere. Bill McKibben made the prescient argument in 2010 in his book eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet that the earth’s climate system had already been transformed in ways that made life as we know it increasingly precarious.

Tipping points

I summarized the following information on “tipping points” in a post titled “The realty and challenges of the climate crisis” on December 28, 2019. The evidence is based on scientific research documenting that as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, more of the sun’s heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, temperatures rise, and climate-related disruptions and catastrophes occur more frequently and intensily. Soon, by 2050 according to some estimates – if not sooner – climate scientists tell us the effects of climate change will reach a point where they overwhelm societal or international capacities to recover. They are called “tipping points.” Bob Berwyn writes on how scientists think we are closer to or have already reached climate tipping points (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27112019/climate-tipping-points-permafrost-forests-ice-antarctica-greenland-amazon-nature).

As Berwyn reports, scientists are warning that a point of no return, where “‘abrupt and irreversible changes’ to the climate system could be triggered by small changes in the global temperatures to create ‘a new, less habitable, hothouse climate state.’” And there are “indications that exceeding tipping points in one system, such as the loss of Arctic Sea ice, can increase the risk of crossing tipping points in others.” In an article for Nature, cited by Berwyn, “scientists focused on nine parts of the climate system susceptible to tipping points, some of them interconnected:

 • Arctic sea ice, which is critical for reflecting the sun’s energy back into space but is disappearing as the planet warms.
• The Greenland Ice Sheet, which could raise sea level 20 feet if it melts.
• Boreal forests, which would release more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they absorb if they die and decay or burn.
• Permafrost, which releases methane and other greenhouse gases as it thaws.
• The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a key ocean current, which would shift global weather patterns if it slowed down or stopped.
• The Amazon rainforest, which could flip from a net absorber of greenhouse gases to a major emitter.
• Warm-water corals, which will die on a large scale as the ocean warms, affecting commercial and subsistence fisheries.
• The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would raise sea level by at least 10 feet if it melted entirely and is already threatened by warming from above and below.
• Parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that would also raise sea level significantly if they melted.

Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern give the following examples of how the climate-induced ravages in one part of the climate crisis can affect other parts, with catastrophic effects on societies (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/23/opinion/climate-change-costs.html). They give the following examples: “a sudden rapid loss of Greenland or West Antarctic land ice could lead to much higher sea levels and storm surges, which would contaminate water supplies, destroy coastal cities, force out their residents, and cause turmoil and conflict,” or “increased heat decreases food production, which leads to widespread malnutrition, which diminishes the capacity of people to withstand heat and disease and makes it effectively impossible for them to adapt to climate change,” or “Sustained extreme heat may also decrease industrial productivity, bringing about economic depressions.” But they refer to an even “worst-case scenario,” in which “climate impacts could set off a feedback loop in which climate change leads to economic losses, which lead to social and political disruption, which undermines both democracy and our capacity to prevent further climate damage. These sorts of cascading effects are rarely captured in economic models of climate impacts. And this set of known omissions does not, of course, include additional risks that we may have failed to have identified.”

(Anthony D. Barnosky and Elizabeth A. Hadly have devoted an entire book to the subject: Tipping Points for Planet Earth: How Close are We to the Edge.)

Current evidence from the EPA

In an article published on May 12, 2021, in The Washington Post, Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis report on how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had just “released a detailed and disturbing account of the startling changes that Earth’s warming had on parts of the United States during Trump’s presidency” (https://washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/05/12/us-has-entered-unprecedented-climate-territory-epa-warns). This occurs after years in which “Donald Trump and his deputies played down the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and delayed the release of an Environmental Protection Agency report detailing climate-related damage.” They add: “Trump questioned the idea that burning fossil fuels was warming the planet and endangering Americans’ lives and livelihoods, and his administration delayed an update to the EPA’s peer-reviewed report on climate change indicators, first published in 2010. As a result, the report offers a snapshot of the extent to which the science around climate change grew more detailed and robust during Trump’s term [though not made public] even as his administration at times tried to stifle those findings.”

Elected officials and the public will now belatedly have access to the EPA’s evidence documenting, for example, “the destruction of year-round permafrost in Alaska, loss of winter ice on the Great Lakes and spike in summer heat waves in U.S. cities all signal that climate change is intensifying.” And for the first time, the agency “has said such changes are being driven at least in part by human-caused global warming,” a fact never acknowledged by the Trump administration.

Grandoni and Dennis also report that “EPA staffers said the data detail how the nation has entered unprecedented territory, in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster and becoming more extreme. Collectively, the indicators present “multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now and here in the U.S., affecting public health and the environment,” the agency said.” In preparing the report, the agency compiled a list of 54 climate change indicators used in identifying data across academia, nonprofit institutions and other government agencies to come to its conclusions. For example, the EPA report finds that in 2020 “ocean heat reached its highest level in recorded history,and itfuelsmarine heat waves and coral bleaching.” Additionally: “The extent of Arctic Sea ice also was the second smallest on record dating to 1979. Wildfire and pollen seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.” Here are further examples.

“Heat waves are occurring about three times more often than they did in the 1960s, the agency found, averaging about six times a year. In turn, Americans are blasting air conditioners to stay cool during the hot months, which has nearly doubled summer energy use over the past half-century and added even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

At nearly every spot measured in Alaska, permafrost has warmed since 1978. The biggest temperature increases were found in the northernmost reaches of the state, where the thawing of the once permanently frozen soil has made it more difficult for Native Alaskans to store wild game underground and for drillers to transport oil by pipeline.

“The agency also released data that shows coastal flooding is happening more often at all 33 spots studied up and down the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.”

Current evidence from NASA and NOAA

In an article published in The Guardian on June 17, 2021, Victoria Bekiempis reports on new findings from scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the “Earth’s ‘energy imbalance approximately doubled’ from 2005 to 2019. The increase was described as ‘alarming’” and unprecedented (https://theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/17/earth-trapping-heat-study-nasa-noaa). In technical terms, “‘Energy imbalance’ refers to the difference between how much of the Sun’s ‘radiative energy’ is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and surface, compared to how much ‘thermal infrared radiation’ bounces back into space.” The NASA report finds that “A positive energy imbalance means the Earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up.” The key finding is that the earth “is trapping nearly twice as much heat as it did in 2005.” NASA described the new finding as an “unprecedented” increase amid the climate crisis.” The data comes from “comparing data from satellite sensors – which track how much energy enters and exits Earth’s system – and data from ocean floats.” The rising heat level stems from increases in greenhouse gas emissions that “keep heat in Earth’s atmosphere, trapping radiation that would otherwise move into space.”

An overview of selected evidence

Isabelle Gerrestsen offers the BBC’s “round-up of where we are on climate change at the start of 2021, according to five crucial measures of climate health” (https://bbc.com/future/articles/20210108/where-we-are-on-cliimate-change-in-five-charts). I add supplementary evidence.

1 – CO2 levels, according to Gerrestsen,reached record heights in 2020, topping of at 417 parts per million in May. The trend has been for CO2 levels to rise every year since at least 1958. “We have put 100ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere in the last 60 years,” says Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for climate change and the environment at Imperial College London. That is 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred towards the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.”

A note on the geological history of CO2 in the atmosphere

Joseph Romm writes: “At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) (Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, pp. 1-2). Indeed, he writes, “going back a total of 800,000 years – CO2 levels generally never exceeded 280-300 ppm” (p. 16). Now, as reported by Doyle Rice in USA Today on May 4, 2018, carbon dioxide comprised 410 ppm. Rice cites the Scripps Institute of Oceanography as his source and notes that, according to Scripps, this quantity is the “highest in at least the past 800,000 years.” Be clear, there is agreement on this mind-boggling point by major scientific sources on climate change, with virtual unanimity among climate scientists.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reach historic highs despite the economic slowdown during the pandemic

Despite the pandemic and as economies around the world declined, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, hit historically high levels, according to a report in The Washington Post by Brady Dennis and Seven Mufson (https://washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/06/07/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-record-levels). After declining early in the pandemic, “human-caused emissions rebounded fairly quickly.”

There was indeed a temporary decline. “In 2020, primary energy demand decreased nearly 4 percent, and global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.8 percent, according to the International Energy Agency — the largest annual percentage decline since World War II.” They reached a level that prevailed in 2012, not enough to change the world’s current warming trajectory. But emission levels soon rebounded.

There were 417 parts per million in the atmosphere in May 2020, rising to 419 ppm in May 2021. To reiterate, CO2 levels were approximately 280 parts per million 250 years ago at the dawning of the industrial revolution (Joseph Romm, Climate Change, pp. 1-2). The International Energy Agency (IEA), Dennis and Mufson write, “expects global carbon emissions to surge this year as parts of the world rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The group projected in April that emissions are on track to reach the second-largest annual rise on record.”

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, told them that the record-breaking finding for May 2021 is “significant in that it shows we are still fully on the wrong track.” But it’s hardly surprising, Tans noted, as “humans continue to add about 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere each year. He also said that the only way to “avoid catastrophic changes to the climate will require reducing that number to zero as quickly as possible.” Corinee Le Quere, research professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia concurs that the CO2 concentrations will only stop rising “when the emissions approach zero.” At the same time, the situation is not yet hopeless. Tans “holds out hope that the world will be able to put itself on a better path. The science of how to do that exists, he said, but what remains unclear is whether societies can muster the kind of action that has yet to materialize.”

“Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Highest Level in Over 4 Million Years”

This is the headline of Brett Wilkens article in Common Dreams on June 7, 2021 (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/06/07/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-highest-level-over-4-million-years). He reports on the findings from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California who have ascertained through their research that the May 2021 measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere were, as already mentioned, a monthly average level of 419 parts per million, up from 417 ppm in May 2020. The researchers add that this level of CO2 concentration is “now comparable to where it was during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when CO2 was close to, or above 400 ppm.” Wilkens notes that for a time in April “atmospheric COconcentrations surged past 420 ppm for the first time in recorded history.” These and other scientific findings will help to inform officials at the “upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference—also known as COP26—which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland this November.”

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2. Record heat. Gerrestsen writes: “The past decade was the hottest on record. The year 2020 was more than 1.2C hotter than the average year in the 19th Century. In Europe it was the hottest year ever, while globally 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest.” The record-breaking temperatures “triggered the largest wildfires ever recorded in the US states of California and Colorado, and the “black summer” of fires in eastern Australia.”

Record-breaking heat across U.S. west

In an article published on June 15, 2021, for The Washington Post, Matthew Cappucci reports on an historic heat wave that is bringing more than 40 million Americans to triple-digit heat, “with some spots soaring over 120 degrees as records fall across the West. He continues: “The heat in many areas is dangerous, prompting excessive-heat warnings in seven states where temperatures will be hazardous to human health” (https://washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/06/15/record-heat-western-us-draught). Furthermore, the heat “reinforces a devastating drought that continues to reshape the landscape of the West while bolstering worries of what lurks ahead in the fall come fire season. More than half of the western United States is gripped by ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the two most severe categories.

He gives the following examples, among others. (1) “On Monday [June 14, 2021], records were shattered in the desert Southwest and the Rockies, including in Tucson, where highs hit 112 degrees. Las Vegas spiked to 110” and expected to reach 113 degrees. (2) “Highs in Phoenix reached 112 degrees on Monday and didn’t fall below 90 until after 3 a.m. They’re slated to crest at 116 or 117 degrees on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before ‘only’ hitting 114 degrees on Saturday. That would set a record every day through Friday.” (3) “Los Angeles should join the triple-digit club as well, hitting 100 degrees on Tuesday before settling into the mid-90s on Wednesday.” (4) “Death Valley, Calif., famous for holding the highest temperature ever observed on the planet, is expected to hit 125 degrees for the remaining days this week. It hit 118 degrees Monday, the nation’s hottest temperature. Wednesday and Thursday could feature highs of 127 degrees, near its June record.” (5) “In California’s Central Valley, most places will hit 90 degrees on Tuesday, but the real heat starts Wednesday — widespread temperatures between 100 and 105 will be the story for places like Redding, Sacramento and Fresno, where excessive-heat warnings are in effect. On Thursday, highs could flirt with 110 degrees, with temperatures approaching 110 on Friday and Saturday. Sacramento could establish a record Thursday by as much as 7 degrees.” (6) “Casper, Wyo., is aiming for 102 degrees Tuesday. Salt Lake City, which hit 102 degrees on Saturday and spiked to 103 on Monday, could come close to tying or breaking the June record of 105 degrees as the mercury continues to soar on Tuesday.”

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3. Arctic ice, according to Gerrestsen, reached 38C in eastern Siberia [100.4 degrees Fahrenheit] in June 2020, “the hottest ever recorded within the Arctic Circle. The heatwave accelerated the melting of sea ice in the East Siberian and Laptev seas and delayed the usual Arctic freeze by almost two months.” Furthermore, the melting ice means that less of the heat from the Sun is reflected back into space, more is absorbed by the ocean, and the global temperature rises with all of the myriad environmental damaging effects.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams, reports on findings from The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP). The central point of the AMAP report is this: “Over the past five decades, the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth” (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/20/real-hotspot-study-shows-arctic-warming-3-times-faster-rest-of-earth). Specifically, the AMAP finds that “the Arctic’s annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period” and “Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.” 

Bob Berwyn reports for Inside Climate News on May 20, 2021, on new research documenting how one of the largest Antarctic glaciers is breaking up and the implications (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11062821/the-acceleration-of-an-antarctic-glacier-shows-how-global-warming-can-rapidly-break-up-polar-ice-and-raise-sea-level). The glacier in question is the Pine Island Glacier, a significant part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. According to Berwyn’s reporting, the “Pine Island Glacier is one of two big ice streams that drains the California-size West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is more than a mile thick in places and would raise sea level by about 10 feet if it melts completely.” He quotes the co-author of the study, Pierre Dutrieux, a polar researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. “If this process was to continue, then that would be a problem. That would basically change everything we were predicting in the past. But if that was just like a small hiccup, and now the glacier stabilizes again, then we basically go back to saying the ocean and the atmosphere are driving everything. We’re not saying everything has to be thrown away, but it is pointing to something that was unexpected.” “Currently,” Berwyn reports, “West Antarctic ice shelves are retreating between .5 and 2 miles per year, but other research suggests that, during periods of global warming millions of years ago, some ice shelves may have retreated 6 miles per year. That rate determines how fast sea level rises.”

Overall, the new study provides more evidence that global warming impacts on West Antarctica are intensifying. Dutrieux is quoted: “Just what we’ve seen over the last 20 to 30 years, that’s pretty rapid on the scale of a glacier. They operate on a scale of tens of thousands of years, so to see this much change in a few decades is rather dramatic. The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace.” The new findings indicate that “[t]hings could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

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4. Permafrost (from Gerrestsen) “Across the northern hemisphere, permafrost – the ground that remains frozen year-round for two or more years – is warming rapidly. When air temperatures reached 38C (100F) in Siberia in the summer of 2020, land temperatures in several parts of the Arctic Circle hit a record 45C (113F), accelerating the thawing of permafrost in the region. Both continuous permafrost (long, uninterrupted stretches of permafrost) and discontinuous (a more fragmented kind) are in decline.” The permafrost across Siberia, Greenland, Canada, and the Arctic holds “twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does – almost 1,600 billion tonnes. Much of that carbon is stored in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming impact 84 times higher than CO2.”

Wikipedia defines permafrost as “ground that continuously remains below 0 °C (32 °F) for two or more years (often for thousands of years), located on land or under the ocean (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Permafrost). According to Wikipedia, “Permafrost does not have to be the first layer that is on the ground. It can be from an inch to several miles deep under the Earth’s surface. Some of the most common permafrost locations are in the Northern Hemisphere. Around 15% of the Northern Hemisphere or 11% of the global surface is underlain by permafrost, including substantial areas of AlaskaGreenlandCanada and Siberia. It can also be located on mountaintops in the Southern Hemisphere and beneath ice-free areas in the Antarctic. Permafrost frequently occurs in ground ice, but it can also be present in non-porous bedrock. Permafrost is formed from ice holding various types of soil, sand, and rock in combination.”

New research by Monique S. Patzner and an international team of researchers discovered that the quantity of methane gas released from the organic matter as permafrost melts is greater than previously thought (https://sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/2102/09113807.html). It has long been known by scientists that “microorganisms play a key role in the release of CO2 [as methane] as permafrost melts. Microorganisms activated as soil thaws convert dead plants and other organic material into greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.” However, until now, it thought that the mineral iron, also in permafrost, bound the gases so as to limit somewhat the amount of gas released into the atmosphere or oceans. The research by Patzner and her colleagues found that “bacteria incapacitate iron’s carbon trapping ability, resulting in the release of vast amounts of CO2. This is an entirely new discovery.” The bacteria use the iron as another food source. More research is needed to determine just how much additional gas will be released; however, it will be greater than scientists previously projected.

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5. Forests (from Gerrestsen) – “Since 1990 the world has lost 178 million hectares of forest (690,000 square miles) – an area the size of Libya. Over the past three decades, the rate of deforestation has slowed but experts say it isn’t fast enough, given the vital role forests play in curbing global warming. In 2015-20 the annual deforestation rate was 10 million hectares (39,000 square miles, or about the size of Iceland), compared to 12 million hectares (46,000 square miles) in the previous five years.” While Europe and Asia are regaining temperate forests, South America and Africa are losing tropical forests, most dramatically in Brazil, the Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia. “When forests are cut down or burned, the soil is disturbed and carbon dioxide is released.” Gerretsen points out that the “World Economic Forum launched a campaign this year to plant one trillion trees to absorb carbon. However, she also writes,” While planting trees might help cancel out the last 10 years of CO2 emissions, it cannot solve the climate crisis on its own.” She quotes Bonnie Waring, senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute, who says, “Protecting existing forests is even more important than planting new ones. Every time an ecosystem is disturbed, you see carbon lost.” The most cost-effective and productive way to capture CO2 and boost overall biodiversity is to allow forests “to regrow naturally and rewilding huge areas of land, a process known as natural regeneration, is the most cost-effective and productive way to capture CO2 and boost overall biodiversity, according to Waring.

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Concluding thoughts

In a rational society and world, the evidence that documents the intensification of global warming and the threat it poses to humanity and life on earth would lead to appropriate and proportional U.S. and other government responses.

Over the last four years, Trump and his administration often denied the realty of global warming, while withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement, reversing fuel efficiency standards, opening up public land to oil and gas mining, and ending the ban on the export of gas and oil exports, and loading up the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies with people who supported his anti-scientific views. Trump’s policies had the full support of Republicans in the U.S. Congress, fossil-fuel corporations, billionaires like the Kochs, trade associations, right-wing think tanks, and right-wing media.

 President Biden and congressional Democrats have taken an approach to the climate crisis is diametrically opposite to Trump’s. They accept the scientific evidence, recognize the increasingly severe consequences, and have proposed major legislation to address this massive problem. Jake Johnson provides an update, reporting on how Democrats in the Senate’s Budget Committee are pushing for a $6 trillion infrastructure bill (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/06/17/led-sanders-senate-dems-weigh-6-trillion-infrastructure-bill-bipartisan-talks-fail). He points out that the “$6 trillion plan would go well beyond the roughly $4 trillion in spending that President Joe Biden proposed in his two-pronged infrastructure and safety-net package, which consists of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.” There is currently circulating in the Senate a two-page document (pdf) listing 11 potential pay-fors, including a reduction in the massive IRS tax gap and ‘asset recycling.’” Of course, Senate Republicans will try to stop any such legislation via the filibuster.

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of 20 senators led Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have proposed a bill “for just $579 billion in new spending, a figure that a number of Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate have rejected as badly inadequate to address the country’s dire infrastructure needs and make necessary investments in green energy.”

At this time, it is not clear how Senate Democrats and Biden will reconcile the differences in their proposals and whether Biden will agree to break up his proposal into smaller bills. Additionally, when faced with an inevitable Republican filibuster in the Senate and regardless of how much Biden and the Democrats may compromise, the Democrats will only advance legislation dealing with the climate crisis in the Senate if they can unify their caucus and by-pass a Republican filibuster. While U.S. politics delay and perhaps end up stopping any meaningful government response to the climate crisis, signs of the accelerating crisis proliferate in the U.S. and around the world.

In conclusion, Kate Aronoff suggests that a massive grassroots movement is a necessary component of any successful effort to quell the climate crisis. Here’s a small sample of what she writes in her book, Over-Heated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet – and How We Fight Back.

“Decarbonizing the global economy and adapting to the climate-changed century ahead will be the single hardest and most important thing our species has ever done. It’s impossible without a big, democratic government and massive state investment, as well as the dismantling of the most powerful industry that has ever existed. That, in turn, seems dangerously far off unless some crucial mass of people see the Green New Deal as their path to a better life and manage to overcome the rank and racist divide-and-conquer politics that have been so successful at stopping efforts to turn these United States into a more perfect union, and this planet into a fairer place….Indeed, many of the good ideas now percolating around the climate movement can be traced back to grassroots struggles waged by people whose home lay in the path of fossils fuel infrastructure and its consequences….” (p. 358)

Will Biden and the Democrats be able to stop Trump’s party from destroying democracy?

Bob Sheak, June 4, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I attempt to do two things.

First, I consider the extensive efforts by Trump and the Republican Party to obstruct Democratic policy initiatives in the U.S. Congress and to protect an anti-democratic agenda, while Republicans in states across the country work to extend voter suppression laws and even, yet today, try to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. The framework for much of what Republicans are doing revolves around pushing the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump and doing whatever it takes to hold onto power. Trump is their undisputed “leader.” His mass, cultist-like, base follows him unquestioningly. If they are successful, our already tenuous democracy will be more severely undermined than ever before.

Second, I consider what Biden and Democrats are doing to protect voters’ rights, with special attention to the For the People Act. Democratic success depends on their ability to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate, pass voting rights legislation, combat Republican disinformation, run successful political campaigns, and educate and mobilize their voters for the 2022 elections.

Part 1: The Republican attack on democracy

The Republican Party has mounted major efforts to shape the electoral system in ways to limit significantly the opportunities for voters, aimed at voters of color and other perceived opponents. The Republicans have long been engaged in voter suppression. Among other authors, Carol Anderson documents how Republicans have used suppression tactics for 150 years to harass, obstruct, frustrate, and purge American citizens from having a say in their own democracy (One Person, One Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, p. 2). What is new in this era of the Trump-dominated Republican Party, is the breadth and depth of voter suppression and efforts to subvert other institutional aspects of the electoral system.

And in the 2020 elections, Republicans increased the number of state legislatures they control. This is important, because the party that has a majority in state legislatures has the power to determine the contours of congressional districts. Alvin Change and Sam Levine refer to the following evidence (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/15/gerrymandering-republicans-map-charts-states).

“Democrats failed to flip any of the legislative chambers they targeted and Republicans came out of election night in nearly the best possible position for drawing districts, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, and will have the opportunity to draw 188 congressional seats, 43% of the House of Representatives. Democrats will have a chance to draw at most just 73 seats. Republicans will probably also be able to draw districts that will make it more difficult for Democrats to hold their majority in the US House in 2022”

If the current efforts to limit the votes of opponents and skew the electoral rules are successful, the Republicans running for federal and state offices will be able to win elections despite losing the popular vote and even when they lose in the electoral college. And there’s more. Whenever there are legal challenges to voting outcomes in these circumstances, the radical-right majority on the Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of what Republicans call voter “integrity” laws and legitimate the anti-democratic thrust of the Republican voter suppression laws.

The likely repercussions of not passing voting rights policies

Consider a not-so hypothetical set of consequences. If the Republicans are successful in suppressing the vote, they will be able to further consolidate their misbegotten electoral advantages and advance a right-wing agenda. The election of Trump and cronies would cascade into the control of the executive branch and the bevy of federal agencies and to both houses of Congress. At the same time, Republicans would control more state legislatures and governorships than they already do. The president, elected by a minority of voters, would then be able to appoint right-wing lawyers to the federal court and Supreme Court.

Such changes would give Trump and a Republican Congress opportunity to consolidate their neoliberal economic agenda, including the goals of lowering taxes, advancing further deregulation, further privatization of public land, prisons, immigrant detention facilities, schools, along with pushing for unrestrained military spending, and a hawkish foreign policy. The impulsive, arrogant, autocratically-aspiring president would again have the power to launch nuclear weapons at a whim. When Republicans have power, they would support legislation that plays to Trump’s base, which is large but far from a majority, on anti-abortion, unrestricted gun ownership, support for Christian nationalism, and white supremacy. Overall, in such a dystopian situation, they would continue to make up their own “facts” to rationalize their goals and policies. Fox News and other extreme rightist media would echo it all and reinforce whatever Trump and the Republicans put forth. (See Henry Giroux’s article on Carlson and the right-wing media at: https://truthout.org/articles/tucker-carlson-is-just-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-in-right-wing-media-war-on-truth.)

Evidence of the escalating Republican attacks on voting rights

Voter suppression

Sam Levine reports for The Guardian thatthe Republican effort to suppress the vote is, as of the end of April, unprecedented “not only in its volume as more than 360 bills with voting restrictions have been introduced so far – but also in its scope” (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republican-voter-suppression-biden).

In an update on May 11, 2021, Nathaniel Rakich and Elena Mejia consider how and where Republicans are making it harder for some Americans to vote, with more to come (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republicans-have-made-it-harder-to-vote-in-11-states-so-far). They refer to data from the Brennan Center for Justice and their own research and report that “at least 404 voting-restriction bills have now been introduced in 48 state legislatures, adding that “nearly 90 percent of them were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republicans.”

Many of these bills will not be approved; however, dozens or more will be approved. According to their analysis of the data, Rakich and Mejia “count 179 that are already dead — either because they were voted down or weren’t passed before a key deadline. Another 137 bills have not yet progressed beyond the committee stage, and at this point, that inaction bodes poorly for their chances of passage. On the other hand, 63 bills are still worth watching, having passed at least one step of the legislative process (with those that have passed two chambers closer to passage than those that have just passed committee). That leaves 25 bills that are already law (back in March, this number was only six); four states have even enacted multiple such laws.”

Rakich and Mejia identify 11 states that had by May 11 already enacted new voting restrictions, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Michigan and Florida should now be added to the list and Texas is on the verge of passing extensive voter suppression legislation. These states could sway the next elections in 2022 to Trumpian Republicans.

This is an “emergency”

Sam Levine writes that the electoral system is in an “emergency.” He underlines the point that during the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency Republican lawmakers have taken an unprecedented effort to make it harder to vote. Even as attacks on voting rights have escalated in recent years, the Republican efforts since January “mark a new, more dangerous phase for American democracy, experts say.”

Levine gives some examples of what the voter-suppression bills include.

“Republicans in states like GeorgiaFlorida and Michigan have taken aim at mail in voting with measures that require voters to provide identification information with their mail in ballot application or ballot (in some cases both). They’ve sought to limit access to mail-in ballot drop boxes, even though they were extremely popular for voters in 2020 and there’s no evidence they were connected to malfeasance.

“Texas Republicans are advancing legislation that would criminalize minor voting mistakes and give partisan poll watchers the ability to record people at the polls. In Georgia and Arkansas, new legislation makes it illegal to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote. In Michigan, one Republican proposal would even go so far as to block the state’s top election official from providing a link to an absentee ballot application on a state government website.”

If these efforts are left unchecked, Levine posits, “it will likely not only set the stage for Republicans to retake control of the US House in 2022, but also allow the Republican party to hold on to its political power by shutting a rapidly diversifying electorate out from the ballot box.”

Jessica Corbett provides additional information on the Republican’s voter suppression and electoral subversion activities ((https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/27/fears-mount-gops-big-lie-2020-test-run-what-comes-next). She writes: “since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol in January, Republican state legislators have proposed, and in some cases passed, voter suppression bills that critics warn could impact ballot access in key states for next year’s midterms and the elections that follow.” As mentioned, Republican efforts to subvert the electoral system is not new. She refers to an interview by Vox’s Sean Illing with Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris.

“In 2018, Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris told Vox‘s Sean Illing that since the 1990s, ‘we’ve seen a one-sided escalation in which Republicans exploit the vagueness or lack of clarity in the Constitution in order to press their advantage in a variety of arenas—from voter ID laws to gerrymandering to behavioral norms in the Congress and Senate.’ He warned that ‘Democrats have to recognize the urgency of the moment and act accordingly.’”

In a follow-up interview, Illing interviewed Faris on May 27, when he said that “it feels like we’re sleepwalking into a real crisis here, but it’s hard to convey the urgency because it’s not dramatic and it’s happening in slow motion and so much of life feels so normal.” Faris also said, “The most destructive thing that Trump did on his way out the door was he took the Republicans’ waning commitment to democracy and he weaponized it, and he made it much worse to the point where I think that a good deal of rank-and-file Republican voters simply don’t believe that Democrats can win a legitimate election. And if Democrats do win an election, it has to be fraudulent.”

Meanwhile, according to Faris, Republicans are trying to take over election oversight offices in some states, among other shenanigans. Corbett quotes Faris: “Key figures in the attempted election theft are now running for election oversight offices in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan,” he continued. That is, they want to have their people count the votes and determine which votes are valid or not.” At the same time: “The national-level Republican Party has swung hard against the proposed congressional investigation to investigate the [January 6] putsch, and Senate Republicans are likely to filibuster it.”

Example of voter suppression in Texas

In an article for Common Dreams, Jessica Corbett reports on how Republican Texas lawmakers have put forth and will soon pass a voter suppression bill without any Democratic votes that targets people of color and in disregard of overwhelming public opposition (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/30/texas-gop-finalizes-ruthless-voter-suppression-bill-sparking-calls-congressional).

Among other provisions, the bill says: (1) you can vote with a gun permit but not a student ID; (2) no online voter registration; (3) must be deputized to register voters; (4) voters under 65 cannot use fear of covid to vote by mail.” The bill also plans to “limit electoral participation in the largely Democratic Harris County because it would outlaw drive-thru and 24-hour voting, which nearly 140,000 county voters used in the 2020 election.”

Other provisions “include barring election officials from sending absentee ballots to all voters, implementing new identification requirements for Texans who request mail ballots, allowing partisan poll watchers additional access, and imposing harsher punishments on election officials who violate state rules.” There is also language in the bill that would make “it easier to overturn an election, no longer requiring evidence that fraud actually altered an outcome of a race—but rather only that enough ballots were illegally cast that could have made a difference.”

The Texas Republican’s voter suppression initiative is occurring after 750 polling places across the state have been closed in recent years.

Corbett quotes Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Texas, who “slammed the state GOP’s Senate Bill 7 (pdf) in a statement Saturday, declaring that “S.B. 7 is a ruthless piece of legislation.” Journalist and expert on voting Ari Berman said “S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era.” Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez said Saturday [May 30] after a conference committee of state House and Senate members released the final version that “S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era.”

The “big lie” gives momentum to Republican voter suppression efforts

Even before the November 2020 presidential election, Trump was saying that, if he lost the election, it would be due to a “rigged election,” a fraudulent election. He doubled-down on this false claim in the weeks after the election. Indeed, he still persistently tweets that the election was “stolen” from him. Here’s some of what I wrote on January 11, 2021 in a post entitled “America at Crossroads: Trump, the insurrection, and what comes next.” (You can find it at wordpress under vitalissues-bob sheak, or email for a copy to bsheak983@gmail.com.)

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In the weeks before and after the presidential election

Advancing the “big lie” that the election was rigged

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that he had won the election by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th.” Glasser continues: “As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). Glasser further writes:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 60 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a… Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others.” And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including an assimilate of some 30,000, that Trump told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

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Republicans “test” the limits

Jessica Corbett also describes the Republican attempts to overturn the 2020 election “a test run,” to test the integrity of the Electoral College certification in the U.S. Congress. According to Vox’s Sean Illing, stopping the certification “never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that.” However, it was a test run searching “for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality.” What is so troubling is that Trump and Republicans were able to tap a narrative that gave the Trump’s base reasons to believe that the election was stolen from Trump. Trump and large swaths of his base appear to welcome court battles and even the possibility of a civil war, that is, if they can’t win by suppressing the vote and controlling enough state legislatures and the Congress to win Republican victories at the polls.

Levine points out that Republicans in the U.S. Congress and in some states echoed and, now with even less dissent, echo Trump’s lie that Biden’s election was based on widespread fraud and therefore is illegitimate. With the help of the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, Republican voices proclaiming the big lie are more pronounced than ever. This false message gave those who assaulted the Capitol on January 6 a self-serving justification, among others, for their violence and destruction. Corbett writes: “Recent legal proceedings for alleged members of the mob that attacked the Capitol have highlighted the effectiveness of the Big Lie—that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump—among voters.”

Explaining away the assault on the Capitol

The January 6 assault on the capitol

As widely reported, on January 6, as several Republican senators tried to block certification of the electoral college vote, Trump urged a large crowd to march on the capitol and protest or somehow disrupt the certification process. The events of the riot, assault, or insurrection have been widely documented and verified by video, interviews with Capitol security personnel, a slew of in-depth reports, and court proceedings involving some of the riot participants.

A spiral and spread of radicalization

The headline of Teri Kanefield’s article in The Washington Post on April 29, 2021 is that “Republican rhetoric is getting more extreme because that’s what the base demands” (https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/04/29/republican-rhetoric-extreme-base). Kanefield is an author and a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. For 12 years, she maintained an appellate law practice in California. She offers this explanation.

“The Republican Party is caught in a spiral of radicalization: Having alienated moderates and corporate donors, some prominent GOP figures are turning to grass roots funding from the more radical segment of its base, which has led them to delve further into the conspiracy theories and dangerous rhetoric that their most passionate voters love but that drove centrists away.”

She later adds: “These Republican leaders are thus in a downward spiral, forced to cater to the most radicalized members of their base. The only way to break the cycle is to break with Trump, denounce the ‘big lie’ that the election was stolen, and stop feeding lies to the base — something they appear unable or unwilling to do.”  

As evidence of extremism in the Republican congressional ranks, Kanefield refers to statements by newly elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Not long after the capitol riot, Greene “liked” a comment on Twitter that advocated putting a bullet through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head.” Previously, Greene had questioned “whether 9/11 was a hoax, flatly stated that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim and accused the Clintons of murdering John F. Kennedy Jr.”

Kanefield also points to how false QAnon and other conspiratorial beliefs have infiltrated the Republican mainstream. The centerpiece of these beliefs, hardly the only one, is that Democrats are part of a global cabal of satanic pedophiles. She buttresses her argument with the following evidence. (`1) “A January YouGov poll found that 30 percent of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of the QAnon belief system.” (2) “Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, noted that a ‘significant plurality, if not potentially a majority, of our voters have been deceived into this creation of an alternate reality.’” (3)  The current party chairman in Texas is Allen West, a former Florida member of Congress who in 2014 described Barack Obama as ‘an Islamist’ who is ‘purposefully enabling the Islamist cause.’” (4) A keynote speaker at a recent Minnesota County Republican event told attendees that George Floyd’s murder was a “hoax.”

(5) “Last week, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, claimed that Democrats are ‘importing’ immigrants to ‘dilute’ the votes of ‘real’ Americans. This is the ‘replacement theory,’ also known as the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory which holds that minorities and immigrants are seeking to replace ‘real Americans.’””

(6) “When former president Donald Trump was brought to trial in the Senate for his role in inciting the insurrection, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to walk a narrow line, as Republicans had done in the past. He nodded to the insurrectionists by voting to acquit Trump is his role in inciting the riot. He then tried to keep the support of moderates and corporate donors by stating immediately after the vote that Trump was ‘morally and practically responsible for the insurrection.’”

McConnell’s attempts to satisfy both sides of the issue didn’t work, but by supporting the big lie and Trump the outcome for the Senate majority leader proved to be beneficial. On the one hand, previously stalwart corporate supporters withdrew their support from McConnell. According to Kanefield, “During the first quarter of 2021, McConnell didn’t receive a single corporate PAC donation. In contrast, during the first quarter of 2019, he took in $625,000 from 157 corporate PACs and trade associations.” On the other hand, McConnell “then pivoted to soliciting donations from individuals by denouncing ‘cancel culture’ and putting forward claims of voter fraud.” This worked. “Appealing to grass roots supporters by stoking conspiracy theories about the election paid off. McConnell hauled in more than $700,000 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2021. Appealing to the radicalized base brought in more than relying on corporate donors had.”

Majority of Republicans polled believe the big lie

And recent polls finds that a majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. Ariel-Edwards Levy reports on the findings of an Ipsos/Reuters poll released in late May ((https://mercurynews.com/2011/05/28/a-majority-of-republicans-believe-that-2020-election-was-stolen). The new polling results released in May document that a “majority of Republicans, 56%, say they believe that the 2020 election was the result of illegal voting or election rigging… with about 6 in 10 agreeing with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.”

The Ipsos/Reuters poll also finds that Republicans agree, “4% to 30%, with the myth that the January 6 riot at the US Capitol “was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.” This belief is demolished by subsequent investigations, as sources from the FBI to alleged participants in the riot “have shot down the myth that left-wing agitators were involved. Nonetheless, Ariel-Edwards Levy reports “One-quarter of the American public as a whole say they think last year’s election outcome was determined by illegal voting or election rigging, with about 30% saying the election was stolen from Trump and roughly one-third that the Capitol riot was led by left-wingers.”

Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House reject an independent commission to study the January 6 assault on the Capitol

Author and professor Robert Reich tells us on Friday, May 28, “54 U.S. senators voted in favor of proceeding to debate a House-passed bill to establish a commission to investigate the causes and events of the January 6th insurrection. This was 6 votes short of the number of votes needed for ‘cloture,’ or stopping debate – meaning any further consideration of the bill would have been filibustered by Republicans indefinitely.” The upshot is that there will be no bipartisan investigation (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/06/01/republican-party-existential-threat-american-democracy).

Reich delves into how the Senators voted. He writes: “The 54 Senators who voted yes to cloture—in favor of the commission [and to end debate]—represent 189 million Americans, or 58% of the American population. The 35 who voted no represent 104 million Americans, or 32% of the population.” He continues: “In other words, 32% of American voters got to decide that the nation would not know about what happened to American democracy on January 6.” Moreover, “the 35 who voted against the commission were all Republicans.” Why? “They did not want such an inquiry because it might jeopardize their chances of gaining a majority of the House or Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They also wanted to stay in the good graces of Donald Trump, whose participation in that insurrection might have been more fully revealed.” 

What must Democrats do? Reich gives this advice: “Senate Democrats must get rid of the filibuster and push through major reforms—voting rights, as well as policies that will enable more Americans in the bottom half—most of them without college educations, many of whom cling to the Republican Party— to do better.” Better said, then done.

Karen Tumulty also considers the underlying reasons for why the Senate Republicans rejected the proposal in the Senate to create an independent commission to study the January 6 assault on the Capitol (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/28/really-scary-republicans-dont-want-to-face-the-truth-about-jan-6).

There is no mystery here, Tumulty writes. “Anything that looks back to the final ugly spasms of the Trump presidency… would hurt the Republicans’ chances for gaining back control of Congress, McConnell acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday.

As already notes, the Senate Republicans “blocked a motion to invoke cloture [to end debate and vote] on legislation to create a Jan. 6 Capitol attack commission 54-35 on May 28.” Sixty votes were needed to overcome the filibuster. Six Republicans broke ranks, and nine Republicans and two Democrats were absent for the vote. The defeat of the commission bill happened, even though “Democrats had given them just about everything they had claimed to want — including a power-sharing arrangement under which the GOP would have equal representation on the 10-member panel, as well as a say in any subpoenas it might issue.” The commission was to be “structured on the model of the one set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

Trump’s calls to Republican senators to reject the commission proposal made a difference. Just a week before the vote, “nearly three dozen GOP members joined Democrats in the House last week to approve the proposed commission.” But then “the former president issued a statement blasting those ‘35 wayward Republicans’ and warning of ‘consequences to being ineffective and weak.’” Trump’s power rests on the fact “that a not-insignificant portion of the GOP’s Trumpian base actually appears to believe that the violent mob was justified in its effort to disrupt Congress as it conducted its pro forma tally of the electoral votes that made Joe Biden the 46th president.”

Tumulty offers this concluding assessment. “McConnell may be right that dodging and delaying accountability for what happened on Jan. 6 could help Republicans win back power in Congress. But by standing in the way of a reckoning with the poisonous forces that are growing within the ranks of their own party, they are doing a disservice to the country — one for which democracy itself will ultimately pay a price.”

No end to it: Arizona Republicans promote a phony audit

In an article for The Atlantic, staff writer David A. Graham analyzes the implausible Arizona Republican arguments for advancing a made-up, phony, audit of the 2020 votes cast the heavily Democratic Maricopa County (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/06/arizona-audit-will-only-undermine-faith-democracy/619072).

The so-called audit is becoming a model for Republicans in other states to undertake similar baseless audits. Their purpose is to perpetuate the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

Graham puts it this way: “The firm that was hired by the Arizona Senate to oversee the count, Cyber Ninjas, which has no evident qualifications and is run by a ‘stop the steal activist, touts ‘the systemic, transparent method we have created to ensure Arizonan and American confidence in the election process and results.’” Republicans in Wisconsin are “launching an Arizona-style investigation, as well as in other states that have moved to restrict voting, such as Texas, Georgia, and Florida, leaders have similarly argued that such efforts are necessary to guarantee faith in elections.”

Maricopa election officials have months ago “conducted both a hand recount of a sample of ballots and a forensic audit.” The real purpose of the Arizona selective county audit is to foster further doubts about the validity of the 2020 presidential election. Graham reports that “Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has begun posting a series of concerns about the security, counting process, equipment, and professionalism of the Cyber Ninjas’s audit at the site.”

Journalists Steven Rosenfeld and Jeremy Stahl have,” Graham writes, “chronicled in detail, the procedures are a mess, which is all but certain to result in a different tally than the official final tally, even if it still finds that Joe Biden beat Trump by a wide margin.” But this charade will “seed only more doubts and questions about the result—and the audit’s sloppy handling of ballots means that the evidence may be irreversibly tainted ahead of any future count. And that’s just what the audit’s proponents want.”

A coup?

Mark Joyella reports that, according to New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, “Trump is telling people he expects to be ‘reinstated” as president by August (https://forbes.com/sites/markjoyella/20201/06/01/maggie-haberman-trump-telling-people-he-expects-to-be-reinstated-as-president-by-august/?sh=7b5b58de7a76).

Here’s how Joyella puts it: “The New York Times’ Washington Correspondent Maggie Haberman reports that former President Donald Trump is telling ‘a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated’ as president by August.”

Trump’s baseless assertions about a stolen election are being reinforced by the phony audit in Arizona and others on the way in other Republican-controlled states. The audits, in turn, help to keep the “big lie” alive. Combined with Republican acts of voter suppression in most states, Republican support in the U.S. Congress for Trump, the tyrannical hold Trump has on Republicans nationwide, and the obedient right-wing media, perhaps there will be further acts of insurrection.

The rub, Joyella says, is that some Trump supporters and QAnon believers hope for a coup that would restore Trump to the White House.

Trump and QAnon

Wikipedia has a section on QAnon (https://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/QAnon).

The online encyclopedia describes QAnon or simply Q as “a discredited American far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satanic,[1] cannibalistic pedophiles run a global child sex trafficking ring and conspired against former President Donald Trump during his term in office.[2][3][4][5] QAnon is commonly described as a cult.[6][7][8] On the Trump-Qanon connection, Wikipedia reports the following.

 “QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018.[35] Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who has promoted QAnon, attended a White House “social media summit” in July 2019.[36][37] QAnon believers commonly tag their social media posts with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, signifying the motto “Where We Go One, We Go All”.[38] At an August 2019 Trump rally, a man warming up the crowd used the QAnon motto, later denying that it was a QAnon reference. This occurred hours after the FBI published a report calling QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism, the first time the agency had so rated a fringe conspiracy theory.[39][40] According to analysis by Media Matters for America, as of October 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 265 times by retweeting or mentioning 152 Twitter accounts affiliated with QAnon, sometimes multiple times a day.[41][42] QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as “Q+”.[43]

Part 2: Biden and the Democrats

Biden’s initial steps through executive actions

Sam Levine reminds us that the “constitution gives the US president little unilateral power over voting laws, a power explicitly given to the states” and that “Biden has done just about all he can to act alone against these efforts.” Levine gives these examples of what Biden has done (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republican-voter-suppression-biden).  

“On the day he was inaugurated, he halted a Trump administration effort to try and use the census to limit non-citizen representation. He has used the power of the power of his bully pulpit to unsparingly criticize the measures (“Jim Crow in the 21st century” is how he described Georgia’s voting measure).” Then in March, Biden “issued a relatively modest, but potentially significant executive order, directing federal agencies to expand voting access. He has created a senior-level White House role focused on voting rights tapped two longtime civil rights lawyers with an expertise in voting rights to top roles at the justice department, which is responsible for enforcing some of the nation’s top voting rights laws.”

Eugene Daniels also reports on Bident’s executive order that was signed on Sunday [March 7]. It came symbolically on the 56th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala., known as ‘Bloody Sunday’” (https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/07/biden-voting-access-474041).

The order was described as an “initial step” to protect voting rights — one that uses the authority of the president “to leverage federal resources to help people register to vote and provide information,” according to an administration official.”

According to Daniels, “Federal agencies will be directed to notify states about the ways in which they can help with voter registration, in addition to being tasked with improving voting access to military voters and people with disabilities. Biden also directed the federal government to update and modernize Vote.gov, the website it operates to provide the public with voting-related information.” It remains to be seen whether Biden’s executive order is an “initial step” or a last step in protecting and opening up access to voting. The prospects for the legislation avoiding a filibuster and being passed with a simple majority in the Senate appear to be challenging. At the same time, Congressional Democrats were just able to pass a Covid-19 relief act on the basis of reconciliation, circumventing a Republican filibuster and passing the legislation with a simple majority, 50 to 49 (one Republican was absent).

Biden also pushes voting rights policies

Biden and his advisers have also authored two voting rights proposals, both of which have been taken up and passed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and have been introduced by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, they have already passed with a slim Democratic majority in the House. However, unless Democrats can muster 50 votes in the Senate, Republicans will use the filibuster to keep the bills from being passed. The bills are titled (1) For the People Act and (2) the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I’ll focus on the former bill here.

The For Peoples’ Act

The full title of this act, H.R.1 and S.1, “An Act to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

Wendy R. Weiser, Daniel I. Weiner, and Dominique Erney provide a comprehensive analysis of the proposed legislation, section by section, and what it can accomplish.  (https://brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/congress-must-pass-people-act).

“The Act” they write, “incorporates key measures that are urgently needed, including automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections; a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act; small donor public financing to empower ordinary Americans instead of big donors (at no cost to taxpayers) and other critical campaign finance reforms; an end to partisan gerrymandering; and a much-needed overhaul of federal ethics rules. Critically, the Act would thwart virtually every voter suppression bill currently pending in the states.”

Wikipedia also provides an extensive analysis of the potentially far-reaching provisions of the bill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_the_People_Act).

The Wikipedia account considers 7 key provisions of the bill, dealing with voting rights, election security, campaign finance reform, ethics, findings in support of D.C. Statehood, gerrymandering, and the number of federal election commissioners. With respect to “voting rights,” the bill would eliminate obstacles and institute changes that would streamline and increase the accessibility of voting for the American people.

Here I quote excerpts from Wikipedia on the proposed changes in voting rights.

Excerpts

“The bill would require states to offer same-day voter registration for federal elections[3][2] and to permit voters to make changes to their registration at the polls.[3] It would require states to hold early voting for at least two weeks and would establish automatic voter registration[17][3][2] for individuals to be eligible to vote in elections for federal office in the state.[18] Under the automatic voter registration provision, eligible citizens who provide information to state agencies (including state departments of motor vehicles or public universities) would be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out of doing so.[17] The bill would also expand opportunities to vote by mail and would make Election Day a federal holiday.[17] The bill would require states to offer online voter registration,[3][17] which has already been adopted in 39 states and the District of Columbia;[17] under the bill, states would be required to establish a system to allow applications to be electronically completed, submitted, and received by election officials, and to allow registered voters to electronically update their voter registration information.[17] The bill would establish criminal penalties for persons who ‘corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from registering to vote’ and for voter deception or intimidation (the bill would specifically ‘prohibit knowing and intentional communication of false and misleading information – including about the time, place, or manner of elections, public endorsements, and the rules governing voter eligibility and voter registration – made with the intent of preventing eligible voters from casting ballots’).[17] The bill would instruct the Election Assistance Commission to adopt recommendations for states on the prevention of interference with voter registration.[17]

 The bill would also prohibit the practice of voter caging[17] and restrict the practicing of voter-roll purges[9] by limiting states’ ability to remove registered voters from the rolls[4] and setting conditions for when they could do so.[3] Specifically, the bill would require states to obtain certain information before removing voters from the rolls, and would prohibit voter purges from taking place less than six months before an election.[17] The bill prohibits any person from communicating “materially false” claims meant to prevent others from voting 60 days before an election[20] and compels the attorney general to correct such misinformation.[21] The bill also requires elections officials to timely notify any voter tagged for removal from the rolls and give them an opportunity to contest the removal or seek reinstatement of their registration.[17] It also restores voting rights to felons who complete prison terms.[2][22]

“The bill contains various provisions to promote voting access for people with disabilities and provisions to strengthen the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) by providing additional protections for military and overseas voters.[17] 

“The bill would also create a Congressional task force on voting rights in American territories.[17]

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Can the Democrats in the U.S. Senate muster the votes to get past Republican filibustering and pass the For People Act?

The filibuster, a procedural rule in the US Senate, requires 60 votes to by-pass the filibuster and advance legislation.  Democrats do not have enough votes to eliminate the filibuster, and it’s currently blocking a bill that would block many of the restrictions advancing at the state level and dramatically expand access to the ballot, including national requirements for same-day, automatic and online registration. If Biden and the Democrats do not find ways around the filibuster, then their chances in the elections of 2022 and 2024 are considerably reduced. In the absence of successful policy victories, including H.R. 1, the Democrats would rely on an unprecedented massive voter turnout in the 2020 mid-term election, large enough to overcome Republican suppression, gerrymandering, and subversion of state electoral institutions. Even then, however, that may not be enough.

Sam Levine quotes Amanda Litman, the executive director of Run for Something, “which seeks to recruit candidates for state legislative races.” Litman says, “If the Senate does not kill the filibuster and pass voting rights reforms … Democrats are going to lose control of the House and likely the Senate forever. You don’t put these worms back into a can. You can’t undo this quite easily.”

There are two challenges to which Senate Democrats must successfully respond in order to block Republican filibusters. One, they must use Senate procedures to defeat the filibuster and, two, the must have unity in their caucus to do so. There are presently two prominent holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The two Senators are presently refusing to support procedural changes that would allow Democrats to sidestep the inevitable Republican filibuster and pass S. 1 by a simple majority, that is, 50 Democratic votes plus the vote by Vice-President Kamala Harris. Manchin and Sinema justify their positions in support of the filibuster by arguing that it is a necessary tool to protect input of the minority. It’s not yet clear how Democrats might persuade them to change their minds.

Overcoming a Republican filibuster procedurally

The filibuster is based on the Senate’s cloture rule, “which” Molly E. Reynolds writes, “requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote” (https://brookings.edu/policy2020/votervitals/what-is-the-senate-filibuster-and-what-would-it-take-to-eliminate-it). The Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Given that Republicans are unified in their opposition to virtually any bill put forward by Democrats, this means that it is impossible for Democratically-supported legislation to pass in the Senate as long as this rule stands.

Reynolds discusses a number of procedural options that can circumvent the filibuster. One is often referred to as “the nuclear option,” or formally as “reform by ruling.” It certain circumstances, this option can be employed with support from only a simple majority ofsenators.” A senator can raise a point of order, or claim that a Senate rule is being violated. If the presiding officer (typically a member of the Senate; presently a Democrat) agrees, and has the support of a majority, which would mean that all fifty Senate Democrats plus the vice-president Kamala Harris agree, the ruling would establish a new precedent and permit passage of the legislation in question by a simple majority. This, in theory, would be the most direct way of avoiding a filibuster. The problem is that there are some Democrats who oppose this option and thus, for the time being, eliminate the opportunity of a majority vote. It all hinges on the Democratic holdouts.

Concluding thoughts

The anti-democratic Republican Party and their supporters represent a growing threat to American democracy. Luckily, they don’t yet have a well-organized army of brownshirts to violently attack opponents and rip apart American political institutions, but they have other facilitative conditions.

As I wrote in the earlier post to which I have referred, “Professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identify the signs of the rise of authoritarian behavior and government in their book, How Democracies Die.

First, “there is a rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.” For example, authoritarians want to restrict basic civil or political rights (e.g., voter suppression).

Second, authoritarians deny the legitimacy of their political opponents, as when they describe them as an “existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life,” “describe their partisan rivals as criminals.” Trump’s continuously bellowed “big lie” that the election was stolen and the support for this allegation by much of the Republican Party and Republican base.

Third, authoritarians tolerate or encourage violence. They have “ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias….” Trump and many Republican legislators want to blame the January 6 attempted insurrection on leftist influences and dismiss the actual right-wing mob. Indeed, they encouraged “mob attacks on opponents.” There is little doubt that Trump incited and enflamed those who invaded the Capitol building. The refuse to unambiguously condemn violence and punish it.

Fourth, authoritarians “curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.” For example, they support laws restricting protests and Trump has expressed his hatred toward the mainstream media as “fake news” and worse.

Despite all this, the majority of American voters support democratic values and institutions. Despite all this, the Democratic Party stands against Trump’s authoritarian party and movement. Despite all this, the majority of Americans reject Trump’s “big lie.” Despite all this, there are ongoing investigations by government authorities of Republican corruption.

If Democrats in Congress can find ways to overcome Republican obstruction and enact the For the People Act and other legislation, and if a massive number of people vote in 2022, then the momentum toward authoritarian and autocratic government may be defeated – and Trump finally relegated to the trash heap of history.