Boss Trump withdraws US from Paris Climate Agreement, to the delight of fossil fuel interests and other reactionary forces

Overview

I have attached below my article dealing with Trump’s decision to formally begin the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the first international agreement, however limited, to win the participation and approval of over 190 nations. In the article, I describe what Trump did, and then put it in the historical context of how scientists over many decades came to understand the link between fossil fuel emissions and global warming and, in recent years, the need to phase out fossil fuels. I consider how ExxonMobil researchers were finding the links in the 1970s but then decided on a strategy to dismiss this research and create a network to challenge the very idea that global warming was underway. Naomi Oreskes lists and debunks the false claims stemming from ExxonMobil and their network of supporters.

At the same time, there were efforts beginning in 1988 by the UN to create a panel of scientists to investigate the problem and a series of international meetings to figure out to bring the nations of the world together to deal with the growing problem of global warming.

I discuss the positive and skeptical responses on the left to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the accumulating evidence of the reality and increasingly catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis, how the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement are not being met. And I also refer to a just-published book by Michael T. Klare that documents in great detail how the seniors officials at the Pentagon and at regional commands around the world not only accept the reality of global warming but view it as national security problem, while, despite Trump, take steps to protect military facilities around the world, deal with the emergency situations that stem from global warming.

Without US participation and leadership in the international climate agreement, other countries have backed off their commitments to lower carbon emissions – including China.

In the final analysis, as in so many other policy arenas, any solution to global warming is genuine engagement by the US in international efforts and that will require electoral victories by Democrats in 2020 who have bold visions and agenda.

Article

Boss Trump’s withdraws US from Paris Climate Agreement, to the delight of
fossil fuel interests and other reactionary forces
Bob Sheak, November 15, 2019

Trump’s decision to withdraw formally from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

According to an entry in Wikipedia, “[o]n June 1, 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_withdrawal_from_the_Paris_Agreement).”

This was not a surprise. Wikipedia continues: “Trump stated that ‘The Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy,’ and ‘puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.’ [And] During the presidential campaign, Trump had pledged to withdraw from the pact, saying a withdrawal would help American businesses and workers.[2][3] Trump stated that the withdrawal would be in accordance with his America First policy.”

Further clarifying the rules of withdrawal, Wikipedia notes that “in accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date in the relevant country, which was on November 4, 2016 in the case of the United States. On November 4, 2019, the administration gave a formal notice of intention to withdraw, which takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020, four years after the Agreement came into effect in the United States and one day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The White House later clarified that the U.S. will abide by the four-year exit process. Until the withdrawal takes effect, the United States may be obligated to maintain its commitments under the Agreement, such as the requirement to continue reporting its emissions to the United Nations.

“While celebrated by some members of the Republican Party, international reactions to the withdrawal were overwhelmingly negative from across the political spectrum, and the decision received substantial criticism from religious organizations, businesses, political leaders of all parties, environmentalists, and scientists and citizens from the United States and internationally.

“Following Trump’s announcement, the governors of several U.S. states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement at the state level despite the federal withdrawal. As of July 1, 2019, 24 states and Puerto Rico have joined the alliance,[11] and similar commitments have also been expressed by other state governors, mayors, and businesses.”

By any evidence-based reasoning, this was a terrible decision for all those who want a sustainable world to live in. Bear in mind, however, his decision should, unfortunately, not be viewed in isolation of a larger political reality dominated by a long-standing climate denial movement lead by mega fossil-fuel corporations. Of course, Trump has happily fallen in line. In addition to always wanting the limelight, he likes being associated with the powerful and rich and, for all the thousands of twitters, he never acknowledges the growing body of scientific evidence that substantiates the reality of increasingly catastrophic climate change. His decision to withdraw formally from the Paris climate agreement is also another confirmation of his right-wing ideology and the sheer recklessness of his actions and policies. His motto of “Making America Great Again” is based on the belief that it’s best for the US to avoid multilateral treaties and trade deals and approach such matters by negotiating bi-lateral deals, always with the looming threat of sanctions, military action, or trade wars. He is a mixed-up troubadour and facilitator of America’s empire and the idea that America’s power is unmatched and must remain as such.

In the present case, he wants to go along with the long-standing energy status quo and maximize the extraction and use of fossil fuels. But to support a fossil-fuel dominated energy system, he must – and does – discount or ignore what the science says about “climate change,” dismissing the accumulating body of scientific evidence as fake science. He seems untroubled by the indisputable evidence that there is a rise in the incidence of extreme weather events (wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods). He never speaks about how the oceans may soon be emitters rather than absorbers of the sun’s heat, or how sea levels are rising and threatening coastal cities and regions, or about how the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic and polluted and threatening all aquatic life. He is even appears to be buoyed psychologically by the current massive deforestation efforts in Brazil and across the world because it means enterprises are making profits and environmental activists are being defeated. He pays no attention to the fragility of our industrial, chemically based, agriculture and its negative effects on the soil or how the runoffs from the over use of herbicides and insecticides pollutes waterways and, in some cases, lead to the creation of dead zones in the ocean.

At the same time, as mentioned, Trump’s decision to withdraw formally from the Paris climate agreement needs to be put in a larger context for us to understand how his action is undermining a long historical process, involving at various times scientists, national leaders, the UN, environmental activists – all slowly coming to an understanding of the links between fossil fuel emissions, and the rising global temperature, and the multiple harmful effects that stem from all of this and seeing the need for serous action. His decision, along with his policies overall, continue leading us up a path toward increasingly climate-related catastrophes and, if nothing or too little is done, possible societal collapse, if not worse.

The discovery in 1896 of how human activities drive global warming

There has been a long journey preceding the gathering of nations in Paris in December 2015. Richard Monastersky and Nick Sousanis point out in an article, “The Fragile Framework,” published by Nature on November 24, 2015 that as early as 1896 “the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated how changes in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could warm or cool Earth.”

Arrhenius “later suggested humans were raising the planet’s temperature and it would become noticeable in a few centuries.” Arrhenius was right on how human activity was causing the earth’s temperature to rise and that would affect the whole planet, but wrong on how long it would take for this to have a substantial impact. (https://nature.com/articles/527427a).

Here’s what Arrhenius’s insights implicitly captured, as described by Bill McKibben: “When we burn them [fossil fuels], the carbon atoms combine with oxygen atoms in the air to produce carbon dioxide. The molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would have otherwise radiated back out to space. We have, in other words, changed the energy balance of our planet, the amount of the sun’s heat that is returned to space” (Falter, p. 21).

Concern about global warming grew

Naomi Oreskes points out that “Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the last 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long.” Oreskes is professor of history of science and affiliated professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/11/greatest-scam-history-how-energy-companies-took-us-all-in).

The momentum is sidetracked

ExxonMobil’s research confirms the link between fossil fuel emissions and then hides it and helps create a reactionary movement to dispute it

Evidence about the link between fossil fuels and the climate crisis was uncovered by research carried out by ExxonMobil in the 1970s. However, the research findings by this oil giant were hidden from the public after it became clear that such research would potentially have a crippling effect on the oil industry and its profits. It is an example, among many, of how corporate power can have decisive and negative impacts on government policy and public understanding of the issue.

Inside Climate News journalists published a series of reports, based on eight months of investigations, on how scientists at Exxon Corporation (now ExxonMobil) were in the late 1970s and into the 1980s leaders in climate research. You can see the full series of articles at: http://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken.

In collecting the evidence, the Inside Climate News journalists “interviewed former employees, scientists and federal officials, and consulted hundreds of pages of internal Exxon documents” and “combed through thousands of documents including those held at the University of Texas-Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”

The scientists at ExxonMobil carried out research that documented the connection between the burning of fossil fuels, emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas effect from growing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the potential deleterious impacts on humankind and the environment. The view among some in the corporation was that such research would enhance Exxon’s competitiveness in any future energy transition away from fossil fuels.

But in the late 1980s, Exxon executives decided that the corporation’s future profitability would continue to be in oil and gas. The research then took a back seat to the corporation’s continuing commitment to fossil fuels. But there was more than that. Exxon also spent the next decades up to the present promoting the position that the “science” on climate change was uncertain and in creating a network of think tanks to foster this view, while giving a platform and support to “independent” and “skeptical” scientists to generate doubt and confusion about global warming/disruptive climate change. Exxon thus became one of the chief forces in slowing down a transition away from fossil fuels, especially oil and gas, and toward an environmentally sustainable energy system. It unfurled its massive resources to influence elections, lobby government, manipulate public opinion through its public relations offices and media ads, and generally to mislead and confuse the media, government officials, and large segments of the public. This was done while climate scientists in the U.S. and other countries were finding more and more evidence of global warming and a host of ever-more harmful effects to people and ecosystems.

Again, Exxon Mobil was not alone in these efforts.

The mega-energy corporation was joined by other corporations in the fossil fuel industry, industry trade groups, the auto industry and other industries, and other powerful economic, political, and media forces such as the Chamber of Commerce, right-wing media, and the Republican Party. In a recent article, Naomi Oreskes documents the large network of groups directly connected to the fossil-fuel industry that were created or recruited to advance climate-change denialism (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/11/greatest-scam-history-how-energy-companies-took-us-all-in). Here’s some of what she writes.

“If only it has just been that one company, but for more than 30 years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have denied the truth about anthropogenic global warming. They have systematically misled the American people and so purposely contributed to endless delays in dealing with the issue, among other things, discounting and disparaging climate science, mispresenting scientific finding, and attempt to discredit climate scientists.”

“In the 1990s, these allied outfits included the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, Informed Citizens for the Environment, and the Greening Earth Society. Like ExxonMobil, such groups endlessly promoted a public message of denial and doubt; that we weren’t really sure if climate change was happening; that the science wasn’t settled; that humanity could, in any case, readily adapt at a later date to any changes that did occur; and that addressing climate change directly would wreak the American Economy.”

“Similar messaging was pursued by a network of think tanks promoting free market solutions to social problems, many with ties to the fossil-fuel industry. These included the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute.”

In some cases, they personally attacked the reputations of legitimate scientists. Republicans in the US Congress invited representatives of the climate denying groups to hearings to offer testimony that buttressed the fossil-fuel industry’s climate positions.

Intentionally deceptive and false

Oreskes identifies and debunks the main climate denying arguments of the fossil-fuel corporations. Here are the highlights. She writes that climate-change (crisis) deniers have falsely claimed and continue to falsely claim:

#1 – that “climate change will be ‘mild and manageable.’” She counters: “literally hundreds of scientific reports over the past decades, including those US National Climate Assessments, have affirmed that any warming above 2 degrees Centigrade will lead to grave and perhaps catastrophic effects on ‘health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth. The UN’s IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] has recently noted that avoiding the worst impacts of global warming will ‘require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy… infrastructure … and industrial systems.”

#2 –that “global prosperity is actually being drive by fossil fuels.” This may have been true during the Industrial Revolution that began in mid- or early-1800s, the overwhelming scientific and observation evidence now finds that “[d]ruptive climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from the use of oil, coal, and natural gas now threatens both the prosperity that parts of this planet have already achieved and future economic growth of just about any sort.”

#3 – that “fossil fuels represent ‘cheap energy,” though they are hardly cheap when one takes into account “not just the price of extracting, distributing, and profiting from them, but what it will cost in all our lives once you add in the fires, extreme storms, flooding, health effects, and everything else that their carbon emissions into the atmosphere will bring us – they couldn’t be more expensive.”

#4 – that “fossil fuels are the solution to the energy needs of the world’s poorest.” No. “As Pope Francis, global justice leader Mary Robinson, and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – as well as countless scientists and advocates of poverty reduction and global justice – have repeatedly emphasized, climate change will, above all, hurt the poor. It is they who will first be uprooted from their homes (and homelands); it is they who will be migrating into an increasingly hostile and walled-in world; it is they who will truly feel the heat, literal and figurative, of it all.” What do they need? “They need affordable energy” – solar and wind power.

#5 – that renewable energy is too costly. “According to Bloomberg News, however, in two-thirds of the world, solar is already the cheapest form of newly installed electricity generation, cheaper than nuclear, natural gas, or coal.” And there are technological advances that address the intermittency challenge. “Between 2010 and 2017, the price of battery storage decreased a starling 79% and most experts believe that, in the near future, many of the storage problems can and will be solved.”

#6 – that, under Trump, greenhouse gas emissions have been cut. “In fact, US CO2 emissions spiked in 2018, increasing by 3.1% over 2017. Methane emissions are also on the rise and President Trump’s proposal to rollback methane standards will ensure that unhappy trend continues.”

Despite the reactionary denialists, an international movement did emerge to address the climate crisis

[I’ll draw in this section and the next one on the article by Richard Monastersky and Nick Sousanis, “The Fragile Framework,” published by Nature on November 24, 2015 (https://nature.com/articles/527427a).]

Jim Hansen’s 1988 congressional testimony

On June 23, 1988, 102 years after Arrhenius discovery and after the emergence and flourishing of the climate-change denial movement, “NASA s scientist James Hansen told a US Senate hearing that humans were having a clear impact by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. This is an important example of how science follows its own trajectory, unless squashed by authoritarian or fascistic government. Hansen testified: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” Hansen’s testimony helped to spark a series of UN organized international meetings to address the issue

Representatives of Nations from around the world gather to figure out how to address the climate crisis

Subsequent to Hansen’s revelations in 1988, “the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 to assess the issue.” In its first report, the IPCC forecasted that if current trends continue until 2100, the world would be 4 °C warmer than it was in 1850, far above the 2 degrees level later adopted by the international community. At 4 degrees Celsius, rising ocean levels would be a major problem because half of humanity inhabits coastal regions; indeed, at this level, a problem for all of humanity.

Then in June 1992, more than 170 nations gathered for the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Representatives of the nations in attendance “adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which declared: “The ultimate objective of this Convention … is to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” While this was an unprecedented step and while there was concern that global action was needed quickly, “it contained no binding commitments.”

Recognizing this problem, “nations gathered in 1995 in Berlin to “negotiate a stronger accord. But the assembled countries couldn’t agree on specifics,” until Angela Merkel, Germany’s environmental minister at the time, brokered a deal that gave countries two years “to agree on emissions limits for developed nations. It was limited to developed countries because they have been responsible for most of the problem. However limited, some nations were expected to come up with targets reducing their carbon emissions.

As scheduled, countries gathered in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 “to hash out a new treaty. But the representatives couldn’t agree on how much developed nations should trim their respective emissions. The European Union called for a 15% cut. Island nations demanded a 20% cut. Japan proposed a 5% cut. And the US wanted developing countries to act to propose limits on carbon emissions. In a last-ditch effort, negotiators reached an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol. This was progress. The Protocol divided the world in two, “industrialized countries with emissions limits and developing countries without.” Furthermore, agreement also allowed for flexibility in how countries met their commitments.” For example: “Developed nations could get credit for reducing emissions in poorer ones.” Specifically, “Developed countries promised to cut their overall emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels for the period 2008–12,” with each country determining its own target. In the end, however, the US, with the support of then US President George W. Bush, refused to ratify the pact because of concerns that the American economy would suffer while developing nations increased their pollution without limits.

In the meantime, global temperatures soared, partly as a result of the rising carbon emissions from China’s booming economy along with the absence of international standards. In the US, there were political divisions over the issue. Some politicians, like US Senator James Inhofe, denied the “phony science” on which global warming rested and called any such claims “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Such denial or avoidance of the growing scientific evidence became a prominent position of Republicans and the Republican Party. Some Democrats such as US Representative Henry Waxman took an opposite view, defended the science, and cast blame on ExxonMobil and other major US oil corporations of manufacturing controversy and promoting doubt on the reality of global warming. From this viewpoint, the big fossil fuel corporations led efforts to stifle any political action by the US federal or state governments to stem fossil fuel emissions and to garner support, by whatever means, to continue and expand policies fostering fossil fuels.

Amidst it all, the scientific evidence accumulated. In 2007, the IPCC, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that year, declared: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” The research by 2009 indicated that carbon emissions should not exceed 1 trillion tons if nations wanted to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 Fahrenheit). But the “world had already used up more than half of that budget” and was continuing the wrong track.

The next important meeting of the nations occurred at the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Activists “organized demonstrations around the world to push for tighter emission caps,” though their efforts failed while the negotiations delivered only a “provisional accord,” but no treaty or binding agreement.

The process continued in 2010, when the nations met in Cancun, Mexico, and agreed to set a general target to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius and also created “a Green Climate Fund, supported by developed countries to help poorer ones reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.” The developed countries were expected to contribute US$100 billion a year to the fund by 2020. And for the first time, all countries agreed to reduce emissions according to their different responsibilities and capacities.” More than 160 countries had submitted their pledges by 2014.

The stage was thus set for what was to become an historic meeting in 2015 in Paris, historic because it was the first international agreement in which nations agreed to establish targets limiting carbon emissions and to a process by which their success or failure would be assessed.

The terms of the 2015 Climate agreement

The following summary of the context, goals, and limits of the December 2015 UN climate meeting in Paris is provide in a Wikipedia entry titled “2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference).

“The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 or CMP 11 was held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 12 December 2015. It was the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.[1]

“The conference negotiated the Paris Agreement, a global agreement on the reduction of climate change, the text of which represented a consensus of the representatives of the 196 attending parties.[2] The agreement enters into force when joined by at least 55 countries which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.[3][4][5] On 22 April 2016 (Earth Day), 174 [some report 186] countries signed the agreement in New York, [6] and began adopting it within their own legal systems (through ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession).

“According to the organizing committee at the outset of the talks,[7] the expected key result was an agreement to set a goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below 2 °C’ Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century. In the adopted version of the Paris Agreement,[3] the parties also agreed to ‘pursue efforts to’ limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.[2] The 1.5 °C goal will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050, according to some scientists.[2]

“Prior to the conference, 146 national climate panels publicly presented a draft of national climate contributions (called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions”, INDCs). These suggested commitments were estimated to limit global warming to 2.7 °C by 2100 [generally considered insufficient].[8] For example, the EU suggested INDC is a commitment to a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.[9] The agreement establishes a ‘global stocktake’ which revisits the national goals to ‘update and enhance’ them every five years beginning 2023.[3] However, no detailed timetable or country-specific goals for emissions were incorporated into the Paris Agreement – as opposed to the previous Kyoto Protocol.”

A first step?

The climate summit in Paris ended on Dec. 12, 2015. It culminated in an agreement signed initially by 186 to 195 of the participating nations with the promise that each signatory nation would do something, more or less, to reduce its carbon emissions in coming years. Nothing like this had ever been achieved before.

Craig Welch captures at the time the almost ecstatic feeling, a feeling of profound relief, of many who acclaimed the Agreement in an article for National Geographic (http://news-nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/151212-Paris-climate-change-agreement-fossil-fuels/#.VmyojCdAAK.twitter). He writes:

• “The world came together.”
• “More than 20 years after world leaders first tried hammering out an accord to tackle climate change, representatives of 195 nations on Saturday adopted a landmark agreement that seeks to scale back greenhouse gases and trigger a momentous shift away from coal, oil, and natural gas.”
• “’It’s rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world,’ French President Francois Hollande told the delegates Saturday, before the final decision came at about 7:30 p.m. (Central European Time).”
• “After the agreement was reached, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, ‘What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.”
• “’Countries have united around an historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,’ said Jennifer Morgan, international climate expert with the World Resources Institute.”
• “Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore added, ‘Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

Just a few hours after the final Agreement was announced in Paris on Saturday, December 12, President Obama read a statement to the nation
(https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/12/statement-president-paris-climate-agreement).

The President said the Agreement is an unprecedented achievement of historic proportions and it’s taking us in the right direction toward a carbon-free global environment. He also acknowledged that ultimate success depends not only on the signatory nations’ willingness and capacity to follow through on their initial pledges for carbon-reduction but also on their ability to go beyond these pledges. Here is some of what he said:

• “Now, no agreement is perfect, including this one. Negotiations that involve nearly 200 nations are always challenging. Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere. So we cannot be complacent because of today’s agreement. The problem is not solved because of this accord. But make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis. It creates the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.”

• “This agreement is ambitious, with every nation setting and committing to its own specific targets, even as we take into account differences among nations. We’ll have a strong system of transparency, including periodic reviews and independent assessments, to help hold every country accountable for meeting its commitments. As technology advances, this Agreement allows progress to pave the way for even more ambitious targets over time. And we have secured a broader commitment to support the most vulnerable countries as they pursue cleaner economic growth.”

• “Moreover, this agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future. And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before.”

• “What matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation.”

You can find the President’s full 31-page text of the agreement here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/l09.pdf, or at the United Nations: Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties, Twenty-first session, Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015: “Adoption of the Paris Agreement.”

There were many other laudatory articles on the Agreement. John Atcheson wrote on Common Dreams that the Paris Climate Conference established “a framework in which the majority of the world came together and reached agreements to cut back on carbon, and both developed and developing nations recognized a shared responsibility to act” (Atchison, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/12/12/cop-21-what-it-does-and-doesnt-accomplish).

Also writing on Common Dreams, Gwynne Dyer wrote: “We are not out of the woods yet, but we are probably heading in the right direction – and it would be right at this point to put in a good word for the much maligned organization, the United Nations. It is the only arena in which global negotiation like this can be conducted, and its skills, traditions and people were indispensable in leading them to a more or less successful conclusion” (www.commondreams.org/view/2015/12/13/cop21-cheering-and-fearing).

Juan Cole considered that the Agreement, whatever its flaws, “is still important, as a clear signal of sea change in world public opinion” (www.juancole.com/2015/12/after-climate-accord.html). “You can’t address a problem unless you recognize it exists.” He continues: “The argument for moral suasion in international affairs should not be discounted. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 began as no more than a set of aspirations for human dignity. But it has been incorporated into international treaties and instruments and is the background for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which has prosecuted war criminals such as Chad’s Hissen Habre. Many of its principles have also been incorporated into European Union human rights law.” Cole would like the United Nations to “establish by treaty an International Climate Court where torts can be decided.”

New York Times reporter Justin Gillis pinned an article titled “Climate Accord Is a Healing Step, if Not a Cure” (www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/science/earth/climate-accord-is-a-healing-step-if-not-a-cure.html?emc=eta1&_r=0.) Although he had reservations, Gillis also recognized the Agreement of historical importance and as a possible turning point toward a de-carbonized world. He writes:

“And yet 50 years after the first warning about global warming was put on the desk of an American president, and quickly forgotten, the political system of the world is finally responding in a way that scientists see as commensurate with the scale of the threat.”

And then later in the article:

“The deal, in short, begins to move the countries of the world in a shared direction that is potentially compatible with maintaining a livable planet over the long term.

Jamie Henn saw the influence of environmental movements, particularly the divestment movement [calling on financial institutions and pension funds to sell off investments in fossil fuels], in causing the Climate Conference to take positive steps internationally on the climate crisis:

“The fossil fuel industry has tried to critique the divestment campaign from a thousand different angles, but they’ve never been able to argue with its basic logic, which is why every week more and more divestment wins keep coming in. At the reality of the situation begins to sink in, institutions that care about addressing the climate crisis realize that to maintain their investments would amount hypocrisy. Those with moral character, divest. Those who lack it, come under immense pressure to do so.” (www.commondreams.org/views/2015/12/13/after-paris-climate-talks-end-and-movement-continues).

In short, there is a lot to be grateful for. Representatives from most of the nations of the world supported the Agreement, or at least its principal aspiration, that is, to lower greenhouse gas emissions. There is general agreement that fossil fuels must be phased out. Most nations have signed onto an agreement that requires them to reduce the emissions in their own nations. There is flexibility in the Agreement to allow countries to set their own emission-reduction targets within the contexts of their own national situations. There is a framework and process in place for monitoring the progress of the various nation-signatories and for increasing emission mitigation targets. The U.N. seemed to have proven to be an effective organization for organizing the international to take an unprecedented step in dealing with the burgeoning climate crisis.

There were skeptics

The agreement was far from perfect. There were some on the left who were less than impressed. Climate scientist James Hansen perhaps was the most blunt and critical of all, when he called COP21 “a fraud.” He was quoted by Caroline Mortimer in an article for The Independent online as saying the Agreement is just “worthless words.” Mortimer goes on: “Speaking as the final draft of the deal was published on Saturday afternoon, he say: “It’s just b******t [bullshit] for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years….There is no action, just promises.” (www.independent.co.uk/environment/cop21-father-of-climate-awareness-james-hansen-denounces-paris-agreement-as-a-fraud-a677171.html)

The evidence tends to support Hansen’s disappointment that the national representatives at the gathering were unwilling or unable to take the necessary action immediately to limit emissions from fossil fuels. Hansen had long argued that unless we keep the earth’s temperature from rising no more than 1.5degreesC (we’re now over 1 degree), the climate will fall into chaos, societies will collapse, and our grandchildren will inherit a nightmarish world, if they survive. It appears that the 1.5 degree C target was now unreachable, unless there would be something like revolutionary changes in the policies of the US and other major carbon emitters.

What about the 2 degree Celsius goal?

Craig Welch writes: “Before arriving in Paris, 187 countries, representing more than 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, submitted plans to reduce their emissions in coming decades. [However] [t]hose plans come nowhere close of reaching the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees – let alone 1.5 degrees. In fact, analysis by two teams – one in Germany, one associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – say the plans, if followed, would lead to between 2.7 degrees or 3.5 degrees of warming.” (http://news-national-geographic.com/2015/12/151212-Paris-climate-change-agreement-fossil-fuels/#VmyojCdAAK.twitter):

On this point, Dyer similarly writes: “United Nations experts did the math and concluded that these emission cuts fall far short of what is needed. If this is all that is done, then we are headed for at least +2.7 degrees C – or, rather, for a lot more, because of the feedbacks.”

On the question of feedbacks, McKibben gives the following example. “The sea surface temperature has gone up by seven degrees Fahrenheit in recent years in parts of the Arctic. Hidden ice, locked beneath the soils of the Arctic, is now starting melt fast, too, and as the permafrost thaws, microbes convert some of the frozen organic material into methane and carbon dioxide, which cause yet more warming – perhaps, say scientists, enough to add a degree and a half Fahrenheit or more the eventual warming,” (Falter, p. 30).

Atcheson points out, “Scientists know that we are at or near thresholds which have/will trigger feedbacks that will cause even more warming. For example, just 3 of these known feedbacks, by themselves, would add about 2.5 C more warming on top of the 3.5 [2.7 or more] resulting from the Paris agreements, bring total warming to 6 C, or nearly 11 F. At this point we’re really talking about a different planet, not simply a warmed-up Earth.” He adds: “There are no fewer than 12 feedbacks that could amplify warming, so even this could be an understatement.”

Dyer writes that once we have raised the earth’s temperature to 2 degrees C, we have gone too far. “The plus-two limit was always too high. It began as a scientific estimate of when natural feedbacks, triggered by the warming that human beings had caused, take over and start driving the temperatures much, much higher.” This will happen because the “feedbacks will kick in and it will be Game Over.” What we get with plus-two or thereabouts: “runaway warming that can no longer be halted just be stopping human emissions of carbon dioxide. Nature will take over, and we will be trapped on a one-way escalator that is taking us up to +3, +4, +5, even +6 degrees. Hundreds of millions or even billions of people would die as large parts of the planet ceased to be habitable by human beings.” (www.commondreams.org/view/2015/12/13/cop21-cheering-and-fearing)

So far, the evidence supports the Skeptics. The voluntary pledges made in Paris are insufficient

Georgina Gustin writes in November 2019 that, according to a report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is “a dangerous lack of urgency” reflected in the fact that “most countries are not cutting emissions fast enough, and their pledges for the next ten years fall far short of what’s needed” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07112019/paris-climate-agreement-pledges-lack-urgency-picc-timeline-warning).

She quotes former IPCC Chair Robert Watson: “The current pledges, even if fully implemented, are placing us on a pathway to a world 3 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer – a world that would have devastating impacts on food and water security, human health, displacement of people, and loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services.” The report includes such details as these: “Nearly two-thirds of the pledges under the Paris climate agreement are ‘totally insufficient’ to meet critical climate targets” and even if current pledges were full implemented, the world would still be “on a pathway to a world 3 or 4 degrees Celsius warmer….”

Bill McKibben refers to disquieting evidence, writing: “In November 2017, fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issues a stark ‘warning to humanity,” depicting “everything from the decline in fresh-water per person to the spread of anaerobic ‘dead zones’ in the world’s seas.” They “predicted [that] we face ‘widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss” [and] soon…it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” McKibben also refers to a NASA-funded group that recently created the Human and Nature DYnamics (Handy). This group found evidence to justify a pessimistic forecast: “Global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution” (pp. 11-12).

The US is failing to meet its inadequate pledge

This point is taken up by Marianne Lavelle in an article also published by Inside Climate News (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04112019/trump-pull-out-paris-climate-agreement-timing-rules). Her chief point is that, contrary to statements from White Officials like Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, “the consulting firm Rhodium Group estimates that in 2018, as Trump policies took hold, emissions increased 3.4 percent….And the US Energy Information Administration, basing its forecast on current US policies, projected earlier this year [2019] that US greenhouse gas emissions would hold steady through 2050,” that is, would continue increasing.

Examples documenting the growing climate crisis from McKibben’s book Falter

“By most accounts, we’ve used more energy and resources during the last thirty-five years than in all of human history that came before” (13). “In 2015 a study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology pointed out that if the world’s oceans kept warming, by 2100 they might become hot enough ‘to stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis” and “Given that two-thirds of the earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, that would ‘likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans” (p. 34). The ice sheets are melting in the Arctic and Greenland contributing to rising ocean levels. Here’s an astounding finding. In the early summer of 2018, “eight-four researchers from forty-four institutions pooled their data and concluded that the frozen continent had lost three trillion tons of ice in the last three decades, with the rate of melt tripling since 2012.” Considering this finding, scientists are now pointing to sea rises of two meters in he next fifty to 150 years.” Sooner than later. McKibben refers to the book by Jeff Goodall, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World (publ 2017), who notes that the rising sea levels “will create generations of refugees that will make today’s Syria war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production” (p. 40). And, according to the International Organization of Migration, “we may see two hundred million climate refugees by 2050” (p. 42).

Increasingly severe draughts are affecting food production. Already wheat production has stagnated in Australia and the outlook for corn production in the US is poor, with a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) rise in temperature project to “cut US corn production yields by 18 percent” (p. 36). And it’s not only the production of food that is increasingly at risk but also the transporting of food. On this point McKibben writes: “US rivers and canals carry a third of the world’s corn and soy, and they’ve been frequently shut down or crimped by flooding and drought in recent years” (p. 38). Reports also are finding that “raising carbon dioxide levels” speed “plant growth…[and] seem to have reduced the amount of protein in basic stable crops” (p. 38).

Furthermore, researchers have found that bees are affected, as indicated by the decline in “the protein content of the pollen,” which “tracks with the rise in carbon dioxide” (p. 39). There’s more. “…in August 2018, a massive new study found something just as frightening: crop pests were thriving in the new heat…Even if we hit the UN target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, pests should cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent.” Why? “Warmer temperatures accelerate the metabolism of insect pests like aphids and corn borers at a predictable rate.” With rising temperatures, pests become hungrier and their reproductive rates speed up (p. 39).

McKibben offers documentation of other climate-related crises. For example, he refers examples of how we are polluting and overfishing the oceans. “By the middle of this century the ocean may contain more plastic than fish by weight, partly because we toss away so many bottles and partly because we take far more life from the ocean than it can reproduce.” On this latter point, McKibben gives this example: “Since 1950 we’ve wiped out perhaps 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean: swordfish, marlin, grouper” and adds: “This not surprising when one bluefin tuna can bring $180,000 on the Japanese market, or when 270,000 sharks are killed each day for their finds, which add no taste but much status to bowls of soup” (p. 46). And the dominant industrial, chemically dependent, agriculture system is responsible for the “dead zones at the mouths of all major rivers where fertilizers pour into the sea.” Though “overwhelming threat comes…from the fossil fuel we burn and the effects that carbon dioxide that it produces.” “The deep sea is now warming about nine times faster than it was in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.” And coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Port Douglas in Queensland Australia, are dying (p. 47).

Along with the increasing environmental devastation and human and social costs that accompany rising temperatures, there are rising economic costs. McKibben refers to “testimony submitted by climate scientists to a federal court in 2017 [which] said that if we don’t take much stronger action now, future citizens would have to pay $535 trillion to cope with global warming” (p. 41). He gives this little example, among others. “Take one small county in Florida, which needs to raise 150 miles of road to prevent flooding from even minimal sea level rise. That costs $7 million a mile, putting the price tag at over $1 billion, in a county that has an annual road budget of $25 million” (41).
The unhappy truth is that we are on the road to “biological annihilation,” with already half the planet’s individual animals lost over the last decades and billions of local populations of animals already lost. In 2018, researchers reported that some local populations of insects had declined 80 percent – and its’ hard to wipe out insects” as habitats are destroyed by wildfires, forests cleared for mining and farmland, ranching, and poor agricultural practices, large-scale animal feeding operations, pipelines, new housing developments in suburbia and exurbia.

The evidence documenting the escalating climate crisis continues to be reported

A paper published in BioScience on November 5, 2019 by researchers at Oregon State University, as reported by Julia Conley, says that “[m]ore than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries…officially declared a climate emergency and warned of ‘untold human suffering’ if immediate bold action is not taken to stop the warming of the globe” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/11/05/warning-untold-human-suffering-over-1100-scientists-araound-world-declare-climate).

William Ripple, who co-authored the study and led the worldwide coalition of scientists who warned of the climate emergency, stated: “Global surface temperatures, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising.”

The US military brass recognize the climate crisis and, despite Trump, have been taking steps to prepare for it

This is the theme of the just released book (November 12, 2019) by Michael T. Klare, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. His major point is that the senior officials at the Pentagon and in regional commands around the world accept the scientific evidence on the climate crisis and, despite Trump, are planning accordingly. He points out in his Introduction (pp. 1-2) that Trump rescinded Obama’s Executive Order 13653 in 2017, shortly after his ascension to the presidency. Obama’s order “instructed all federal agencies to identify global warming’s likely impacts on their future operations and to take such actions as deemed necessary to ‘enhance climate preparedness and resilience.”

Trump justified his cancellation of the order by asserting “that economic competitiveness – involving, among other things, the unbridled exploitation of America’s oil, coal, and natural gas reserves – outweighed environmental protection as a national priority.” Trump’s command was to “abolish any rules or regulations adopted in accordance with Executive Order 13653.” However, Klare points out, the US Department of Defense quietly but defiantly continued its steps to address the effects of global warming. They did this, Klare finds after investigating Pentagon reports and initiatives, because “many senior officers are convinced that climate change is real, is accelerating, and has direct and deleterious implications for American national security.”

He refers to evidence of that the military have been taking steps “on three crucial fronts: better preparing the military’s own forces and installations to withstand the harsh impacts of climate change; reducing the DOD’s reliance on carbon-emitting fuels; and, not least, cooperating with the militaries of other nations in adopting similar measures.” One basic point is that, contrary to Trump’s policies, US officials have an international aspect in their reasoning on how to deal with the problem. Here’s an example of what Klare’s extensive investigation generally reveals.

“From the very beginning, senior officials have stressed the need to work with other countries in reducing their own climate change vulnerabilities, thereby enhancing regional and international stability. In accordance with this precept, US services have collaborated with foreign militaries in preparing for extreme events, for example, by stockpiling emergency relief supplies, conducting joint disaster relief drills, and helping to harden critical facilities” (p. 236).

The impacts of Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement

Climate scientist Michael Mann was interviewed by Greg Wilpert on the implications of Trump’s decision on The Real News Network (https://therealnews.org/stories/us-withdrawal-from-paris-climate-agreement-will-cause-real-harm). Wilpert reminds us that the US is about to become “the only UN member country in the world that is no longer part of the agreement, even though it “is the world’s largest economy, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and historically has admitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world.” Recognizing the limits of the Paris agreement, Mann nonetheless says that it is the only international game in play, though one that needs significant improvements. He then notes that there are problematic direct and indirect effects of Trump’s decision. The direct effect is that it further diminishes the chances of averting catastrophic warming of the planet by keeping the planet from warming two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The indirect effect is that is “sends the wrong message to other major players, in particular China and India.”

Since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement was first made public, Mann says “we’ve actually seen China now begin to build more coal fired power plants, their carbon emissions have gone back up and we have seen global carbon emissions now being to tick back up because of that.” From Mann’s perspective, the only way to have any hope of curtailing or reversing greenhouse gas emissions is by voting Trump out of office in 2020 and voting in a president and US Congress that takes the climate crisis seriously, rejoins the international climate agreement, and takes bold action to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with solar and wind power and undertake massive action to advance energy efficiencies throughout the society.

Concluding thoughts

The evidence that catastrophic climate change is an accelerating problem is indisputable on any scientific or reasonable basis. At the same time, Trump and the fossil-fuel-led movement ignore or dismiss this evidence and continue brazenly to support practices and policies that exacerbate the climate crisis. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is just one recent example. The resolution of the conflict will be political, and this makes the 2020 elections of utmost importance, given there is so little time to reverse global warming.

If Trump wins the presidency and one or both chambers of the US Congress remain under Republican control, then the growing efforts, domestically and internationally, to curtail and reverse the problem will be marginalized and ineffective.

So, we want a Democratic victory, but hope for one that reflects a bold vision and agenda to deal with the climate crisis, However, there must be narratives and proposals that include but go beyond the climate crisis to win over enough voters. As Green New Deal advocates insist such a vision and agenda must include not only a green transformation of the economy and support for international agreements/treaties to address the climate crisis, but also an agenda that includes a progressive overhaul of the tax system, that plans and implements job creation and assists in retraining workers for the new jobs, that prioritizes the needs of vulnerable communities, that funds adequately public education, that begins a transition to universal health care, and more.

There are many ways to pay for such a progressive agenda. Naomi Klein refers to a few of them in her new book, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (pp. 282-284). The US Congress could simply authorize the funds, “backstopped by the Treasury of the world’s currency of last resort.” She also mentions: the need for a “global minimum corporate tax rate to capture the tax revenue that the Apples and Googles of the world currently dodge with transnational schemes.” The funding for a Green New Deal also “calls for a reversal of monetary orthodoxy, with public investment floating green bonds, supported by central banks.” There should be measures to ensure that polluters pay for the damage they cause. End government subsidies to fossil fuel companies, worth “about $775 billion a year globally, and more than $20 billion in the United States alone.” Subsidies “should be shifted to investments in renewables and efficiency.” Impose a transaction tax on stock transactions on the stock exchange. Cut the military budget by 25 percent. Impose a billionaire’s tax.

Economic professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman go into detail on how to create a truly progressive tax system in their recent book, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. For example, they propose: “a sharply progressive wealth tax to curb the forms of rent extraction associated with extreme and entrenched wealth; an effective taxation of global-straddling companies to reconcile globalization of tax justice; a national income tax to fund the modern social state and alleviate the crushing cost of health care” (p. 195). Their wealth tax proposal would tax at a rate of 2% the fortunes about 50 million and 3% above $1 billion, increase the marginal tax rate of the top 0.1% to 60%, increase the corporate tax rate back to 35%.

In the final analysis, though, we only succeed on the climate front if we win politically.

The tragedy of the Kurds in Syria is just another sad chapter in America’s unending wars

The tragedy of the Kurds in Syria is just another sad chapter in America’s unending wars
Bob Sheak, Oct 28, 2019

Trump’s infamous phone call

Our feckless, maliciously narcissistic president made a phone call and set off a series of events in northeastern Syria that are reverberating in that area and across the Middle East to the detriment of Syrian Kurds and to the geopolitical benefit of Turkey, the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, and to Russia. Reese Erlich reports that in a phone call between Trump and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 6, “Turkey’s president convinced Trump to pull back US troops based in northern Syria, in an area called Rojava by the Kurds, so Turkey could launch an invasion.” Erlich continues: “Once again, The Donald, trusting his ‘gut,’ made a spur-of-the-moment decision” (https://www.juancole.com/2019/10/trump-empire-crumbles.html).

On Monday, October 7, as reported by Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies, “the U.S. withdrew 50 to 100 troops from positions near Syria’s border with Turkey” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/22/trumpls’fake-withdrawal-from-endless-wars). Most of the other 1,000 US troops in northern Syria were also being withdrawn, bringing them back at the time not to the US but to Kurdish areas in Western Iraq (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-better-idea-endless-wars).

In a matter of days, Trump ordered the US troops to return to northeast Syria in response to the political uproar his decision and the ensuing humanitarian crisis of the Kurds and their allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Trump’s administration has more concern about Turkey’s interests than Kurdish interests

An example of an earlier US betrayals of the Kurds

In an article published on October 15, 2019, for Foreign Policy in Focus, Khury Petersen-Smith, points out that “the US betrayal of the Kurds with Trump’s announcement to withdraw US troops is “only writing the latest chapter in a shameful history” (https://fpif.org/trumps-betrayal-of-the-kurds-is-terrible-but-the-answer-is-not-endless-war). The US has long ignored “Turkey’s violence toward the Kurdish people inside and outside its borders, and its government’s escalating repression at home.” There have been other priorities. She gives an example of how the US betrayed the Kurds in Iraq.

“In 1991, after the US defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, President George H.W. Bush encouraged Kurds and others oppressed by the Iraq government to rise up and topple it.” However, Hussein, who remained in power, “crushed the rebellion…while “his forces mercilessly slaughtered tens of thousands. The US stood by and did nothing.

Chris Hedges provides more detail about the 1991 episode (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/10/21/pity-kurds). He writes: “It was December 1991, after the first Iraq war. Saddam Hussein had ruthlessly crushed a Kurdish revolt in the aftermath of Iraq’s defeat that spring by the United States and its allies. Two million refugees had fled toward Turkey and Iran in April 1991. Many froze to death in the snow-covered mountain passes as they tried to escape. The international community, responding to the heartbreaking images, created havens for their return in northern Iraq, forcing Baghdad to withdraw its troops.”

Noam Chomsky provides a broader view of past US betrayals of the Kurds in Turkey as well as in Iraq (https://truthout.org/articles/chomsky-trumps-actions-on-syria-reflect-the-foreign-policy-of-a-con-man).

“Much has been written and said about the betrayal of the Kurds, a U.S. ally in the war against ISIS (also known as Daesh). This isn’t, however, the first time that the U.S. has betrayed the Kurds and other former allies.

“Betrayal of the Kurds has been virtually a qualification for office since Ford-Kissinger abandoned the Kurds to the mercy of Saddam Hussein when they were no longer needed. Reagan went so far as to support his friend Saddam’s chemical warfare campaign against Iraqi Kurds, seeking to shift the blame to Iran and blocking congressional efforts to respond to these hideous crimes. Clinton’s method was to provide the arms for the murderous government assault on Turkish Kurds, which killed tens of thousands, wiped out 3,500 towns and villages, and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. (See Noam Chomsky, The New Military Humanism, Chapter 3. London: Pluto Press, 1999). Clinton’s flood of military aid increased along with the shocking crimes, as Turkey became the prime recipient of American arms (outside of Israel-Egypt, a separate category).”

Turkey is an important US ally and a recipient of and market for US military weapons

Petersen-Smith points to “the fact… that Turkey, a NATO ally that has long provided airspace and collaborated in various ways with the U.S. military [and] has been an important ally of the United States for years.” She adds: “According to the Security Assistance Monitor, from 2002 to this year, the U.S. has given Turkey more than $300 million in military aid. Through the ups and downs of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, the aid keeps flowing and joint operations between the countries’ two militaries have continued. As Turkey begins its offensive in northern Syria, it is likely doing so with American weapons.”

William D. Hartung provides a detailed overview of the US military assistance and sales to Turkey (https://static.wixstatic.com/ygd/fb6c59_dc7c36f8003641b89efb7c0d5a8cb3.pdf).

Here are two examples. “The Turkish Air Force’s stock of combat aircraft is composed entirely of U.S” aircraft. Specifically: “Of 333 combat aircraft possessed by Turkey, 53 are older generation F-5 fighter planes, and 280 are fighter/ground attack planes that are all variants of the F-16, which is co-produced in Turkey. Turkey also has 31 U.S.-origin C-130 transport aircraft.” The US “has supplied the majority of Turkey’s more than 2,400 Main Battle Tanks, including over 900 variants of the M-1 and 850 older generation M-48s, which were purchased in the 1960s and 1970s and modernized in the mid-1980s. In addition, over two-thirds of Turkey’s more than 3,600 armored personnel carriers are U.S.-made M-113s.”

We mustn’t forget as well that the US has an important air base in Turkey called Incirlik Air Base. And, according to a report by Brian Terrell, there are “up to 50 B61 nuclear bombs stored in bunkers at Incirlik” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/10/18/united-states-air-force-incirlik-our-national-black-eye).

The US is committing war crimes

Legal expert Marjorie Cohn makes this point. She argues that “the United States is aiding and abetting Turkey’s war crimes,” as that country invades another country in violation of international law. That makes the US guilty of war crimes (https://truthdig.com/articles/why-wont-the-un-end-the-massacre-of-kurds). There are three elements in the making of a war crime and the US involvement with Turkey satisfies them all. I’ll quote her.

“First, Turkey is committing war crimes. Willful killing, targeting civilians, and willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The U.S. War Crimes Act defines grave breaches of Geneva as war crimes.

“Second, U.S. officials provided the means to commit war crimes. The United States is the primary exporter of weapons to Turkey. In 2017, the U.S. gave $154 million in aid to Turkey, the fourth highest amount provided to any country in Europe and Asia. And The New York Times reported that the U.S. furnished intelligence, including surveillance data, to Turkey that may have enabled its assault on the Syrian Kurds..

“Third, Trump knew that once the U.S. troops left Rojava, the Turkish military would invade it.”

Why be concerned about the Kurds?

For several years, a coalition of groups in northeast Syria called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up mostly of Kurds, provided the main ground force in defeating ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or simply the Islamic State, in that part of the country. Michael Safi reminds us that before SDF was formed in 2015, “the Kurds had created their own militias who mobilized during the Syrian civil war to defend Kurdish cities and villages and carve out what they hoped would eventually at least become a semi-autonomous province within Syria” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/what-is-the-situation-north-eastern-syria-turkey-kurds).

In 2014, Safi continues, the Kurds were fending off “an Islamic State siege of Kobani, a major city under [ISIS] control.” It was during this time that the US recognized the Kurds a reliable partner to help them fight Isis. Safi writes: “They had spent $500m training and equipping other Syrian rebel groups without success. In the Kurds – effective fighters, whose political leaders were secular and advocated modern values such as gender equality – they saw a group with whom they could ally.” Safi continues: “With US support, including arms and airstrikes, the Kurds managed to beat back Isis and went on to win a string of victories against the radical militant group. Along the way the fighters absorbed non-Kurdish groups, changed their name to the SDF and grew to include 60,000 soldiers.” The evidence strongly indicates that, without the SDF, “President Donald Trump could not have declared the complete defeat of Isis,” said Gen Joseph Votel, the American commander of operations in Syria who struck the alliance with the Kurds in 2015.”

Patrick Cockburn reports, “no Americans were killed [while] 11,000 Syrian Kurds were in the five year fight against ISIS” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/11/kurdish-fighters-always-feared-trump-would-be-a-treacherous-ally). The Kurdish fighters, along with their compatriots in the SDF, were mainly armed with only “light weapons like the Kalashnikov and the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) launcher and light machine guns.” They never received the lavish supplies of military from the US that Trump refers to. They drove ISIS out of their strongholds and captured and imprisoned nine to eleven thousand of them. The families of the imprisoned ISIS fighters live in supervised detention camps.

According to Erlich, amidst the war-time chaos, the SDF was building “its version of autonomy in northern Syria,” creating “local councils with women making up half the leadership. Christians, Arabs, and other ethnic/religious groups were guaranteed representation.” It had the potential to become a democratic and peaceful beacon in that part of the Middle East. News reports indicate that there are small oil fields and drilling in several parts of northern Syria. The SDF has been able to sell the oil to help pay for the development of their communities. While Trump has referred to northern Syria as nothing but sand on several occasions, his advisers have helped him understand that there are oil resources there as well. In his mind, this may be an opportunity for an oil giant like ExxonMobil to repair and update the oil facilities that have been damaged by the fighting between the SDF and ISIS. It turns out that this later became the main justification for ordering the US troops back from Iraq to Syria.

Turkey invades

Erdogan wasted no time and three days after the phone call, on October 9, sent troops across the border to attack the Kurdish dominated SDF and commenced the forced and violent removal of Kurds living within 20 miles of the Turkey-Syria border to create a “buffer zone” with the questionable aim of preventing potential hostile acts by Syrian Kurds. Once the Turkey plan to cleanse this area of Kurds was completed, the plan was to have it patrolled and secured by Turkish and Russian troops.

The president of Turkey justifies the invasion in two ways.

One, the Turkish government claims controversially that there are links between the Syrian Kurds and the Kurds inside Turkey, especially links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) within Turkey which has been labeled a terrorist group by Turkey, the US, the UK, NATO, and others. What’s the connection? “Significant numbers of the Kurds in the SDF were also members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) that fought an insurgency against the Turkish state for more than 35 years in which as many as 40,000 people have died.” These are deaths of both Turks and Kurds. There is not a breakdown of the numbers to document the number of fatalities on each side. The PKK initially called for independence and the creation of a separate Kurdish state but has changed its goals to demanding greater autonomy for Kurds inside Turkey.

So there two issues here. The first is the claim that the PKK is a terrorist organization and the second that the Kurds in Syria are linked to it and pose a potential threat to Turkey. There is no evidence, or documented evidence, that Syrian Kurds have committed terrorists acts or represent a potential terrorist threat to Turkey.

On the first and only issue, the PKK in Turkey had for decades been involved in violent acts or clashes with the Turkish military in attempts to win their own Kurdish state independent of Turkey. Though this long conflict, Erlich points out that, unlike ISIS and Al Qaeda, the PKK has never engaged in the massacre of civilians. There is indeed some controversy over whether PKK is a terrorist group.

In March 2019, after nine years of proceedings, a Belgium court acquitted 36 Kurds and companies from charges of terrorism. Apparently, any state associated with NATO can take up accusations of terrorism against individuals or organizations, even when such acts or alleged acts are said to have occurred against another NATO state. According to Wladimire van Wilgenburg, “The Belgian Chamber of Indictment blocked prosecution against all those standing trial in the [terrorism] case, ruling that the conflict involving the PKK in Turkey is an ‘internal armed conflict’ and, as such, the group cannot be considered a terrorist organization” (https://www.kurdistan24.net/3n/news/93c71fbc-6634-4d2c-8729-2d2ea1f0bdd8). The European Court [of] Justice had earlier ruled on November 12, 2018, Wilgenburg writes, “that the listing of the PKK on the EU terror list in 2014-2017 was unlawful, [and] should ultimately lead to a reconsideration [of the listing] of the Kurdish freedom movements and its leaders.”

Two, there are three and half million or more Arab Syrian refugees living in camps or cities in Turkey. Erdogan wants to resettle 1 million of them quickly to the twenty-mile buffer zone on the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syrian border. For some years, the Turkey government had an open border policy toward the refugees from Syria, reflecting Islamic religious values. But the refugees, non-Kurdish Arabs many of whom fled from the onslaught of Syrian government forces, Russian aerial bombardment, and ISIS terrorism, have come to represent a significant drain on Turkey’s budget and, in a poor economy, many Turkish citizens want the refugees out of Turkey. The change in refugee policy, one from open border to removal, also reflects a change in the political situation in Turkey, one that is now dominated by a nationalist discourse that wants the refugees out of the country. In short, these are the forces that are driving Turkey’s ethnic cleansing of Kurds from the Turkey-Syrian border in northeastern Syria.

As of October 23, 2019, there were four immediate effects of the Turkish invasion.

#1 – Kurds are subjected to atrocities as they flee Turkish bombing and US supported and trained “crazy militias”

In an article for The Guardian, Michael Safi reports that by October 14 “the SDF has lost much of its territory [to Turkey forces] and appears to be losing its grip on key cities such as Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/what-is-the-situation-north-eastern-syria-turkey-kurds).

Max Blumenthal writes of how “the US has backed 21 of the 28 ‘Crazy Militias’ leading Turkey’s brutal invasion of Northern Syria” (https://thegreayzone.com/2019/10/16/us-backed-crazy-militias-turkeys-invasion-syria). These are Syrians, some of whom had been provided support by the US with weapons and logistical assistance to fight against the Syrian regime of Assad. They fled the war to find a haven in Turkey. In a story missed by much of the media, Blumenthal refers to video footage showing members of Turkey’s mercenary “national army” executing Kurdish captives as they spearheaded the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. This visual imagery touched off a national outrage, provoking US government officials, pundits and major politicians to rage against this brutality. Blumenthal refers to a Washington Post story of how “a US official condemned the militias as a ‘crazy and unreliable.’” And: “Another official called them ‘thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth.’ And: “Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the scene as a ‘sickening horror,’ blaming President Donald Trump exclusively for the atrocities.” Blumenthal writes that these reactions are appropriate but also miss the tragic historical context of how the US supported and trained these militias in Syria in efforts to overthrown Assad’s government. Here’s how he describes it.

“But the fighters involved in the atrocities in northern Syria were not just random tribesmen assembled into an ad hoc army. In fact, many were former members of the Free Syrian Army, the force once armed by the CIA and Pentagon and branded as ‘moderate rebels.’ This disturbing context was conveniently omitted from the breathless denunciations of US officials and Western pundits.

“According to a research paper published this October by the pro-government Turkish think tank, SETA, ‘Out of the 28 factions [in the Turkish mercenary force], 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH [ISIS]. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA via the MOM Operations Room in Turkey, a joint intelligence operation room of the ‘Friends of Syria’ to support the armed opposition. Fourteen factions of the 28 were also recipients of the U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank guided missiles.” (A graph by SETA naming the various militias and the type of US support they received is at the end of this article).”

He adds the following observation. “In other words, virtually the entire apparatus of anti-Assad insurgents armed and equipped under the Obama administration has been repurposed by the Turkish military to serve as the spearhead of its brutal invasion of northern Syria.”

#2 -A humanitarian disaster

Jake Johnson provides additional evidence on atrocities being committed by Turkish forces and their Syrian Arab militias, citing an Amnesty International report “based on video footage, medical records, and witness testimony from journalists and aid workers,” which details “numerous appalling instances of Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies indiscriminately bombarding residential areas, abducting civilians, and committing murder in cold blood” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/10/18/trump-downplays-attack-kurds-amnesty-details-turkish-war-crimes-and-utterly-callous). Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International, is quoted: “The Turkish military offensive into northeast Syria has wreaked havoc on the lives of Syrian civilians who once again have been forced to flee their homes and are living in constant fear of indiscriminate bombardment, abductions, and summary killings….Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives.”

Writing for Truthdig, Marjorie Cohn reports on the findings of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “a UK-based monitoring group,” that found evidence “that the Turkish military has killed at least 436 people since its offensive began on October 9” (and) “The Kurdish Red Crescent puts the number of civilians killed at a minimum of 235.” The sources indicate that between “160,000 and 300,000 people have fled from their homes” (https://truthdig.com/articles/why-wont-the-un-end-the-massacre-of-the-kurds).
In another article by Patrick Cockburn, readers are informed that the turmoil unleashed by the Turkish invasion will affect “up to 2 million Kurds in the vast triangle of land which the Kurds call Rojava in northeast Syria” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/11/kurdish-fighters-always-feared-trump-would-be-a-treacherous-ally).

#3 – The geopolitical fallout

The Kurds look for support from Assad and the Russians
Safi reports: “After four days of relentless bombardment from the Turkish side, the SDF on 13 October struck a deal to allow Syrian army forces to enter their territory from the west.” SDF leaders chose this course of action to protect themselves from the heavily armed Turkish forces were driving them out of their communities. He continues: “The agreement puts Syrian soldiers on a collision course with Turkish troops and their Syrian militia allies. It is not clear if their fighters will actually clash.” The situation remains in flux. It is still not clear, according to Safi, “how much formerly Kurdish-held land the Turkish side and Syrian government respectively will seek to claim.” In the meantime, Erlich also points out that “the SDF made a quickie deal with the Syrian and Russian governments to jointly block the Turkish offensive.”To limit the Turkish advances, “Syrian army troops quickly deployed to several important cities near the border with Turkey” while “Russian military police began patrolling the strategically located town of Manbij” and other areas.
Russia’s influence grows

John Feffer says, as many have, that the fallout from Trump’s decision now allows Russia “to take the place of the United States” as the principal moderator in northeast Syria. It will serve, with Turkish forces, to maintain the twenty-mile buffer zone that now extend from the Turkish border into northeastern Syria. And it will have the role of trying to keep Turkish and Syrian government forces from attacking each other (https://www.fpif.org/trump-endless-wars). It’s also worth noting that Russia has been a major ally of the Assad regime, which the US had hoped to oust from power. It remains to be seen whether Russia has the capacity to keep Turkey and Syrian government forces from fighting over their respective and conflicting interests in northeastern Syria.

The US role is confused and shortsighted

One outcome appears to be clear, that is, that the US role in the northeast area of Syria – and in all of Syria – has been significantly diminished. As observed earlier, this does not mean that the US is pulling out its military forces out of Syria permanently or bringing the troops home to America. Whatever, Trump’s decisions have left the region in even more chaos, with even more chances of war, and has done great harm to the Syrian Kurds and their allies. While all of this is transpiring, there is little talk in official US circles about calling for a United Nations peacemaking force to secure the border or for the US government to stop giving and selling weapons to Turkey. Trump and his advisers disdain the UN and the Trump supported US military-industrial complex wants the profits.

#4 – The resurgence of ISIS?

The SDF has put nearly 11,000 ISIS fighters into detention camps and prisons across north-eastern Syria, and “tens of thousands of their wives and children” are being held in detention camps. Now under assault by Turkish forces, the SDF does not have the capability to secure the imprisoned ISIS fighters. Thus, it has been pleading for international assistance from the US and other countries in securing these prisoners. Safi sums up the situation as follows.

“SDF leaders have warned they cannot guarantee the security of these prisoners if they are forced to redeploy their forces to the frontlines of a war against Turkey. They also fear Isis could use the chaos of war to mount attacks to free their fighters or reclaim territory…. On 11 October, it was reported that at least five detained Isis fighters had escaped a prison in the region. Two days later, 750 foreign women affiliated to Isis and their children managed to break out of a secure annex in the Ain Issa camp for displaced people, according to SDF officials…. It is unclear which detention sites the SDF still controls and the status of the prisoners inside.”

John Feffer offers this quote from a New York Times’ article: “Over the past several months, ISIS has made inroads into the sprawling Al Hol tent camp in northeast Syria, and there is no ready plan to deal with the 70,000 people there, including thousands of family members of ISIS fighters” (https://www.fpif.org/trumps-endless-wars).

In a news story for the New York Times, David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Schmitt report that, prior to Trump’s announced withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria, “American forces and their Kurdish-led partners in Syria had been conducting as many as a dozen counterterrorism missions a day against Islamic State militants, officials said. That has stopped” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/world/middleeast/isis-syria-us.html). In addition, there are other signs of how ISIS is regaining momentum. Kirkpatrick and Schmitt identify the following developments.

“Those same partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, had also been quietly releasing some Islamic State prisoners and incorporating them into their ranks, in part as a way to keep them under watch. That, too, is now in jeopardy.

“And across Syria’s porous border with Iraq, Islamic State fighters are conducting a campaign of assassination against local village headmen, in part to intimidate government informants.

“When President Trump announced this month that he would pull American troops out of northern Syria and make way for a Turkish attack on the Kurds, Washington’s onetime allies, many warned that he was removing the spearhead of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“Now, analysts say that Mr. Trump’s pullout has handed the Islamic State its biggest win in more than four years and greatly improved its prospects. With American forces rushing for the exits, in fact, American officials said last week that they were already losing their ability to collect critical intelligence about the group’s operations on the ground.

“‘There is no question that ISIS is one of the big winners in what is happening in Syria,’ said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a research center in London.”

Separate from the developments in Northeastern Syria, there are, according to Kirkpatrick and Schmitt, “as many as 18,000 [ISIS] ‘members’ dispersed through Iraq and Syria, including about 3,000 foreign fighters, who “blend in with the larger population or … hide out in remote deserts and mountains.” While Trump announced on October 27, 2019, that the ostensible leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed by US special forces, there is still a question of whether the scattered, but large, ISIS forces will wither or be strong enough to continue recruiting new members and have the operational strength to mount terrorist actions. The conditions seem conducive to the continued existence and operation of ISIS and other terrorist groups, given the millions of refugees in the region, poor economic conditions, the ethnic and religious divisions, and the weak states. Kirkpatrick and Schmitt point out that ISIS forces have continue to mount terrorist attacks without the guidance of Baghdadi, giving these examples.

“Last month [September 2019], as if to prove its continued vitality, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a minibus bombing that killed a dozen people near t he entrance to a Shiite pilgrimage site in the Iraq City of Karbala.” [And] “…within hours of Mr. Trump’s announcement almost two weeks ago that American forces were moving away from the Syrian border with Turkey, two ISIS bombers attacked a base of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the Syrian city of Raqqa.”

Outrage in the US about Trump’s decision

Bipartisan outrage in the US House of Representatives

Medea Benjamin and Nicholas J.S. Davies pen an article on Counter Punch in which they report on the bipartisan vote of 354-60 in the US House of Representatives on October 16 condemning “the U.S. redeployment as a betrayal of the Kurds, a weakening of America’s credibility, a lifeline to ISIS, and a political gift to Russia, China and Iran.” Benjamin and Davies welcome the congressional vote but point out that “this is the same Congress that never mustered the integrity to debate or vote on the fateful decision to send U.S. troops into harm’s way in Syria in the first place. [And] This vote still fails to fulfill Congress’s constitutional duty to decide whether U.S. troops should be risking their lives in illegal military operations in Syria, what they are supposed to be doing there or for how long. Members of Congress from both parties remain united in their shameful abdication of their constitutional authority over America’s illegal war” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/22/trumps-fake-withdrawal-from-endless-wars).

As the Trump administration attempts to juggle a chaotic situation of its own making, the concerns are real, that is, that Trump decision has had a tragic impact the Kurds and others living in Northeastern Syria, led to the increase in Russian influence and to the return of regular Syrian military forces of the Assad regime to this region. On the last point, recall that one of the original reasons for the US military entry into the Syrian conflict was to support anti-Assad forces in the country to overthrow Assad’s regime. Trump’s decision not only reflects how that US project has ended in failure but has given the Assad regime new opportunities to regain lost territory.

Trump is not bringing the troops back to the US from Syria or the greater Middle East

There is another issue raised by Benjamin and Davies. They emphasize that the withdrawal, as it turns out to be a temporary withdrawal, of 1,000 US military forces from this area should not distract attention from the many thousands of US troops and US bombers that are still in action in the region. Indeed, rather than bringing US troops home from the Syria and other parts of the Middle East, the Trump administration has increased its deployments of troops to the greater Middle East by 14,000 since May. The evidence compiled by Benjamin and Davies is eye-opening. They write: “There were already 60,000 troops stationed or deployed in the region, which the Congressional Research Service described in September as a long-term “baseline,’ so the new deployments appear to have raised the total number of U.S. troops in the region to about 74,000.” They also refer to more detailed troop estimates from the Congressional Research Service, namely:

“…14,000-15,000 (plus 8,000 from other NATO countries) in Afghanistan; about 7,000, mostly U.S. Navy, in Bahrain; 280 in Egypt; 5,000-10,000 in Iraq, mostly at Al-Asad air base in Anbar province; 2,800 in Jordan (some may now have been relocated to Iraq); 13,000 in Kuwait, the fourth largest permanent U.S. base nation after Germany, Japan and South Korea; a “few hundred” in Oman; at least 13,000 in Qatar, where the Pentagon just approved a $1.8 billion expansion of Al Udeid Air Base, U.S. Central Command’s regional occupation headquarters; about 3,500 in Saudi Arabia, including 500 sent in July and 2,500 more since September; 1,000-2,000 in Syria, who may or may not really be leaving; 1,750 at Incirlik and Izmir Air Bases in Turkey; and more than 5,000 in the UAE, mostly at Al Dhafra Air Base.

And, under Trump, there has been an escalation of US bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. In Trump’s first 32 months in office,“he is responsible for dropping 17,100 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan and 48,941 on Iraq and Syria, an average of a bomb or missile every 20 minutes.” All these developments indicate that, despite his endless promises to end these wars, Trump has instead been dropping more bombs and missiles on these countries “than Bush II and Obama put together.”

Getting back to the congressional outrage over Trump’s initial troop withdrawal decision. On this, Nicholas Kristoff, columnist for the New York Times, fulminated that Trump “is corroding the entire 75-year-old American postwar international order, built on American credibility and values. Everyone knew that the United States did not always live up to its rhetoric but also that its ideals and commitments counted for something. Until now” (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/19/opinion/sunday/trump-turkey-military.html).

Kristoff’s outrage reflects the very limited attention by him and the network media generally, overlooking the large historical and contemporaneous context in which US military interventions have shattered the political and economic systems of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and contributed to the devastation of other countries. Historian Andrew J. Bacevich has documented and analyzed this larger picture of US interventions in his books. Here is a paragraph from the book America’s War for the Greater Middle East.

“In Washington, one subject in particular remains off limits: the overall progress and prospects of the U.S. military project in the Islamic world. Thirty-five years after Jimmy Carter had issued the Carter Doctrine, that project appeared further removed from completion than when it has begun. By almost any measure, the region was in greater disarray than it has been in 1980. Not only were American purposes unfulfilled, they were becoming increasingly difficult to define with any sort of specificity” (p. 356).

Trump brings the Troops back to northern Syria

Then, as a recent manifestation of this disarray, Trump flipped on his withdrawal decision and decided to bring back the US troops recently moved to western Iraq back to northern Syria. He did this not to protect the Kurds against the Turkish-orchestrated invasion or to reclaim the territory overrun by the Turkish-supported militias, but to protect the small oil fields in various parts of the region and hope there may be potential deals for ExxonMobil or other mega oil corporations.

He earlier flipped on the sanctions he had imposed on Turkey. Here is Erlich’s take on the sanctions. “Trump allowed the invasion, then reversed course by imposing sanctions after the fact. He raised tariffs on Turkish steel imports, halted negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal, and cut several Turkish government ministers off from global banking. None of these measures came close to the US sanctions imposed on Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran—nor were they likely to have any serious impact on the war.” Then “On October 17, Vice President Mike Pence and Erdogan announced a five-day ‘ceasefire,’ during which Kurdish forces would withdraw from an area designated by Turkey” and sanctions would be lifted. Erlich adds that “the Kurds were not part of the negotiations, and as of press time, it seems unlikely they will pull back their fighters.” As it turns out, the Kurds do not have the firepower to contest Turkish forces, so 160,000 to 300,00 Kurds have already been displaced from the 20-mile buffer zone.

No apologies pass his lips

Another stomach-churning point. Trump does not apologize for the havoc he has created. Jake Johnson captured this aspect of Trump’s antics regarding the situation of the Kurds and the SDF in northeast Syria. Trump made light of the humanitarian catastrophe by comparing the conflict between Turkish and Kurdish forces to a “parking lot scrap between ‘two kids.’” The president bellowed at a campaign rally in Dallas, Texas, “Sometimes you have to let them fight. Like two kids in a lot, you gotta let’em fight, then you pull’em apart.” The supporters at the rally probably had no idea that the president “is talking about genocidal slaughter and hundreds of thousands of war victims like it’s a playground squabble” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/10/18/trump-downplays-attack-kurds-amnesty-details-war-crimes-and-utterly-callous). Rather, his followers eat it up believing they are watching a president who is shaking up Washington and draining the swamp. But around the world he is viewed as an impulsive, ego-driven, and dangerous ignoramus.

Concluding thoughts

US foreign policy is unlikely to change in the wake of the tragic events unfolding in northeast Syria. The US presence in that part of Syria will continue, though it will not be nearly as influential as before and will afford less protection to the Kurds. US military force levels in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, and other parts of the Middle East will not be reduced overall. Indeed, the Trump administration is itching for a justification to bomb Iran, which would likely ignite an uncontrollable war and a massive infusion of US forces. And the very influential US military-industrial complex is growing and arguably more powerful than at any time since WWII. The US government has not renounced a first-use policy on nuclear weapons and is in the process of building “usable” tactical nuclear weapons to be available for regional conflicts.

If Trump wins the presidential election in 2020, the present militaristic foreign policy will be given an even more lasting boost. But even if Trump is defeated by a “moderate” Democrat, little will change.There are strong nationalistic sentiments and patriotic rituals abroad in the country that encourage an unquestioning acceptance among millions of Americans for the need to have a huge military force to protect them from terrorism and all sorts of foreign “enemies.” And millions of work in for the Pentagon, military contractors, and at military bases.

US soldiers, whether they have seen combat or not, are viewed as heroes just for putting on the uniform and then getting an honorable discharge. For these reasons and others that don’t come to mind, we can anticipate more of the same kind of militaristic foreign policy coming out of Washington, cheered on by major segments of the American population. Those who speak for peace and diplomacy are marginalized – and always have been. The end of the Vietnam War came mostly from the courage and fighting of the Vietnamize people, and only secondarily from the domestic peace movement.

Avoiding the advances of authoritarian government, corporate power, and climate breakdown

Avoiding the advances of authoritarian government, corporate power, and climate breakdown
Bob Sheak – October 10, 2019

We face multifaceted crises here in the US that require comprehensive, in some ways unprecedented, changes. The role played by mega corporations and large privately-owned businesses like Koch Industries is the major, far from only, source of all the crises focused on in this post. The climate crisis is connected to all parts of the society, especially the energy, transportation, agricultural, and military sectors, that spew large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and contribute to the accelerating, increasingly cataclysmic effects of a disrupted global climate. In the economy, as in other sectors, the chief culprit are the mega-corporations and privately owned giants like Koch Industries that dominate virtually all sectors of the economy, put profits before all other interests, and are a principal direct and indirect source of the climate crisis and of the rising inequalities in the US. The political crisis also involves the disproportionate influence of mega-corporations and big businesses on government policies, especially at the federal level, joined with the Republican Party and what I have called the Right-Wing Alliance in an earlier post (https://vitalissues.bobsheak.com/2019/08/10/analysis-of-and-progressive-alternatives-to-the-dead-end-policies-of-trump-and-the-right-wing-alliance).

In this case, the greatest threat is that our already tenuous democracy will be further weakened by the consolidation of Trump’s power over the federal government, in which case the climate crisis will be exacerbated , the economy will because further dominated by mega-corporations and the rich, a host of right-wing forces, and the society will become more unequal, with the rich and affluent continuing to prosper while the majority of Americans make little headway or worse. Another four years of Trump, if he is re-elected in 2020, will reduce the odds drastically that democracy can be saved and the crises besetting the society ameliorated.

If there is a pathway out of the crisis it is, in the final analysis, a political one that is based on a radical agenda, effective political organization, the efforts of progressive unions, social movements, strong grassroots organizing, small donors, and informed and active citizens from all walks of life. There is evidence that some of this is happening. The 2018 midterm elections and the Democratic ascendance in the US House of Representatives may be a harbinger of bigger victories to come in the 2020 elections – or not.

The crises we face

#1 The climate crisis. Humanity faces the looming scientifically-established probability that in a few decades, the manifold effects of accelerating climate disruption will reach levels that cannot be controlled or reversed. Ice is disappearing from the poles and glaciers. The oceans are warming, acidifying, being filled with plastic and other pollutants, all of which are having lethal effects on corals and aquatic life, fueling extreme storms, and gradually becoming an emitter of carbon rather than a “sink” that absorbs it. The availability of fertile soil and livable habitats is steadily being diminished by industrial agriculture and extractive industries, along with unregulated ranching and the continuing helter-skelter, high fossil-fuel-energy dependent growth of cities (see Ashley Dawson, Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change). Drought, floods, and wildfires are forcing a growing mass of people to become refugees or, if they remain in place, face the need for massive government relief. In the US, the costs of such climate-related events keep rising, destroying homes and whole communities. These are conditions, already occurring in the tropical zones of Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa that generate desperation, increase religious and ethnic divisions, contribute to the rise of extremist groups and movement, and, in many cases, lead to violent conflict. (See Cristian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence). And with the increasing loss of viable, livable habitats, there is a mass species extinction underway, documented, for example, in Elizabeth Kolbert’s eye-opening book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Kolbert writes:

“In an extinction event of our own making, what happens to us? One possibility…is that we, too, will eventually be undone by our ‘transformation of the ecological landscape…. [bearing in mind that] humans remain dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems. By disrupting these systems – cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans – we’re putting our own survival in danger. Among the many lessons from the geological record, perhaps the most sobering is that in life, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results. When a mass extinction occurs, it takes out the weak and also lays low the strong…. The anthropologist Richard Leakey has warned that ‘Homo Sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims’” (pp. 267-268).

#2 The economic crisis – This is reflected in the great and growing power of mega-corporations and the rich in the US who have a disproportionate influence on what is produced, how it is produced, where it is produced, who benefits or not from the process, along with massive sales efforts to keep consumers buying the products and services that stream from the economy. Through supply- and production-chains, the influence of such corporations extends to other countries, especially those offering cheap labor, low taxes, little regulation, natural resources for exploitation, markets, and other favorable conditions (e.g., see Intan Suwandi’s book, Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism). Thus, the evidence is substantial. Mega-corporations have a significant, if not dominating, economic influence in most countries, and certainly in the US (e.g., David C. Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains).

Here’s what I wrote on corporate concentration in a post sent out on November 2, 2017, titled “Corporate dominance in the US economy.”

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There is no doubt that we have a capitalist economy dominated by mega-corporations that measure their success by their profits and the value of their stocks compared to those of their domestic and foreign competitors. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a megacorporation as “a huge and powerful corporation.” You get some sense of the size of these corporations from the numbers generated each year by Fortune magazine in its “Fortune 500” list of the largest corporations in the economy. In the magazine’s most recent list for 2017, the magazine finds that “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP [gross domestic product], $2 trillion in revenues, $890 billion in profits, and $19 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide” (http://fortune.com/fortune500/list). The corporation with the most revenues in 2017 is Walmart, with $485.8 billion in revenues. The corporation with the most profits in 2017 is Apple, with $45.7 billion. The biggest corporations have more assets than most nations. According to Quora, there are 220 U.S. “firms” with revenues of $2 billion or more (https://www.quora.com/Forbes-400-How-many-companies-in-the-world-generate-over-US-1-billion-in-annual-revenue).

Here’s another way of thinking about the role played by mega-corporations. The domination of industry-specific markets by a few large corporations is defined as an oligopoly. In the U.S. economy, most industries are oligopolies. We have an economy in which virtually all industries and markets are dominated by a few mega-corporations. According to Wikipedia, “An oligopoly (from Ancient Greek ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning ‘few’, and πωλεῖν (polein), meaning ‘to sell’) is a market form wherein a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. Oligopoly has its own market structure.” Wikipedia continues: “With few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others. According to game theory, the decisions of one firm therefore influence and are influenced by decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists needs to take into account the likely responses of the other market participants” (https://en/wikipedia/wiki/Oligopoly).

Tim Wu throws further light on this form of corporate concentration in an article for The New Yorker entitled “The Oligopoly Problem” (https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-oligopoly-problem). He refers to Barry Lynn’s 2011 book Cornered “which carefully detailed the rising concentration and consolidation of nearly every American industry since the nineteen-eighties.” Lynn’s chief finding is that dominance by two or three firms “is not the exception but increasingly the rule.” Wu gives this example, among others: “while drugstores seem to offer unlimited choices in toothpaste, just two firms, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, control more than eighty percent of the market….” Wu argues that there should be more government regulation of such arrangements.
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The wealth and power of the mega-corporations and the rich also results in a political system (taken up in the next section) that reflects their interests. But the grave problem is that their interests are not compatible with a sustainable environment, democracy, or justice, unless there are powerful enough countervailing forces to challenge their power and reign in their excesses. As it stands, there is soaring inequality within and between most societies, reaching unprecedented levels in the US. In this country, it is reflected as well in widespread job insecurity and low and stagnating wages, a for-profit health care system that fails to provide coverage of tens of millions of people and that profits when insurance claims are denied (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/08/30/health-care-reformer-wendell-potter-profit-system-unraveling). There are as well great disparities in housing, education, and other institutional sectors of the society. Author Anand Giridharadas captures one crucial dimension of the problem as follows:

“When the fruits of change have fallen on the United States in recent decades, the very fortunate have basketed almost all of them. For instance, the average pre-tax income of the top tenth has doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold – even as the average pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same” (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, p. 4).

#3 The political crisis. An alliance of rightwing forces, most importantly the mega-corporations and the rich, marshal major resources and votes to dominate government to the detriment of ordinary people. The US government, especially involving the Republican Party, is dominated by mega-corporations and by the rich and their well-funded networks of think tanks, lobbyists, right-wing campaign contributors, trade associations, the wholesale use of strategically placed political ads during elections, highly organized and funded grassroots mobilization efforts, and lavish spending to oppose any political initiatives in the states that threaten the interests of mega-corporations. There are various responses to this situation from the center-left and from Democrats. One of the challenges is whether a unified and effective political response can be forged out of the multiplicity of interests on the anti-right side of the political spectrum, one that is able to win the support of a majority of voters.

#4 The corrupting, dangerous, anti-democratic effects of the Trump presidency With the support of what I’ve called the “right-wing alliance,” Trump’s policies, appointments, xenophobia, and fear-mongering rhetoric, has undermined our already tenuous democracy. If Trump wins in 2020, democracy will be fatally eclipsed, the climate crisis will be accelerated, and the economy will become even more concentrated in a few corporations, with billionaires taking an ever-greater share of wealth. Such trends will take us toward something like the vision of billionaires Charles and David Koch, as documented in Christopher Leonard’s book, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, that is, a vision of an economy dominated by mega-corporations. They want a limited government that favors the rich and powerful, all but eliminates federal taxes, gives them a free hand in dealing with their employees, and gives them the opportunity to have virtually total and free access to public land and resources, Theirs is a vision in which there are no viable unions, where public and social insurance programs receive little government support, and where government pays little or no attention to the climate crisis, while there are opportunities to engage in unregulated business practices that generate harmful environmental effects (called “externalities) without being penalized.

The sheer breadth of what Trump has done to us

Here is a long but incomplete list of Trump’s contributions to the undermining of the environment, democracy, fairness, and security in the US. (If you have the time, please add to the list.)

• His lies flow from his mouth in an unending torrent of tweets and various often spur-of-the-moment public statements. The most recent count of Trump’s false and misleading statements by the Washington Post has it at 12,019 through early August of this year (2019) (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trumps-claims-database).
• His behavior is, according to psychiatrists and other professionals, indicates he has malicious narcissistic personality, in which what counts most to him is winning, regardless of the consequences. His erratic behavior is of particular concern in all areas, but one is especially worrisome, that is, he has the authority to order the launch of nuclear weapons whenever he chooses. Recall that he has threatened to use nuclear weapons on North Korea and Iran (e.g., his “fire and fury” statements), and has asked publicly why, with the huge nuclear bomb stockpile the US already has, the US doesn’t use them. The problem of Trump’s mental state and nuclear weapons is taken up by psychiatrists, psychologists and other psychological professionals in the book edited by John Gartner, Steven Buser & Leonard Cruz titled Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump. (Note also that Trump has unilaterally withdrawn from the multilateral treaty with Iran to keep that country from developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons, although Iranian leaders have never expressed a desire to do so and international inspectors never found violations.)
• He has withdrawn from the intermediate nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, setting in motion the increasingly probably start of a new Cold War.
• He wants to increase government funding for the modernization of the US nuclear bomb arsenal, going beyond what Obama proposed.
• He is authorizing the creation of another branch of the military services called the Space Force, making outer space another area of conflict.
• Like other authoritarian leaders, he loves to rant and rave at the rallies of his adoring supporters, where he stokes their white nationalist, anti-immigrant, pro-gun, anti-Islam, and other negative stereotypes and prejudices
• Likewise, in the authoritarian mode, he loves the idea of being the commander in chief of vast military forces and craves to have huge military parades in Washington, D.C. over which he would preside.
• He has “only kind words for Vladimir Putin, and even effusively embraced North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines” (Robert Kuttner, The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy, 53).
• His foreign policy revolves significantly around military threats, economic sanctions, and threats to withdraw American aid.
• He disdains the United Nations and wants American’s foreign policy to revolve around “America First” principles and a complex series of bilateral military and trade agreements shaped by the rich and powerful.
• He advances his policies frequently through executive orders, attempting to govern by decree. Executive orders allow the president to bypass Congress, sometimes as a matter of little general import (e.g., “Delegation of authority to Approve Certain Military Decorations,” April 20, 2018) and in other instances to order actions that have great import and that the Congress might want to consider (e.g., “Providing for the Closing of Executive Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government on December 24, 2018”). (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_executive_orders_by_Donald_Trump).
• He has filled or is filling key cabinet positions and positions in federal agencies with people who will do his bidding, often appointing them to “acting or temporary” positions” that make it easy for him to remove them if they prove to be slightly uncompliant. Check out John Nichols book, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to The Most Dangerous People in America.
• He uses his office to discredit and demean his political opponents. Although the story is ongoing, there is evidence that he and/or key associates were involved in encouraging Russia and perhaps other countries to release scurrilous information against Hillary Clinton in 2016 that negatively affected her presidential campaign. Kuttner writes in his new book, The Stakes: 2020 and Survival of American Democracy: “Not only did Russian intelligence hack and leak embarrassing private emails of Clinton’s campaign staff; the Russians timed the leaks to deliberately upstage the most potentially damaging revelation about Trump: the tape of his comment that he could grab women ‘by the pussy’” (54). There are now new revelations in August and September of 2019 that he and/or key associates have tried to push the Ukrainian President to dig up unfavorable information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the current election process leading up to 2020. The US House has launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions, the first step in the impeachment process. There are several recently published books that help a reader understand the history and legal procedures of impeachment. (e.g., Former US Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman’s book, The Case for Impeaching Trump).
• Trump wants a government shrouded in secrecy, as reflected in his seeming rejection of the whistleblower statues, calling a recent whistleblower a spy and a traitor who deserves a death sentence.
• He has from the start of his presidency used the power of his office and personal lawyers to ensure that his tax records would not be released to the Congress and public, raising the suspicion that he has less wealth than he has claimed and/or that information reveal how he is indebted to Russian oligarchs or other nefarious sources. According to Kuttner, “Russians with close ties to the Kremlin have long financed Trump’s businesses when he could not get any other funding.”
• He and his family seem to be profiting from his presidency. Here are some examples of what Kuttner finds in the public record. “Russians with close ties to the Kremlin have long financed Trump’s businesses when he could not get any other funding.” “The Chinese did special favors to cut red tape so that Trump’s daughter could obtain patent and trademark benefits, granting Trump family businesses thirty-eight special trademarks in all.” “The Saudis have extensive business dealings with son-in-law Jared Kushner.”
• He intimidates Republicans in Congress, who mostly follow his initiatives out of fear that he will use his tweets and mobilize his base against them when they run for re-election.
• He likes the role Mitch McConnell plays in the Senate, as the Senate majority leader refuses to send most bills that come from the House onto Senate committees for review and then for votes on the Senate floor. McConnel has said that he will block House-supported bills unless the President first approves them.
• He fully supports the fossil fuel industries and has little interest in renewables, energy efficiency, conservation, or the preservation of public parks and forests
• He is trying to reverse and obliterate the fuel efficiency standards enacted into law under the Obama administration.
• He advances policies that mostly play to the corporate and wealthy wings of his support – tax cuts, deregulation, privatization, subsidies, lucrative contracts.
• He doesn’t like government regulation, unless it benefits businesses and the rich.
• He has advanced policies to serve his right-wing base – on abortion, immigration, gun regulation, charter schools….
• He wants a highly exclusionary immigration policy and has set his sights on achieving something like a “fortress America,” closed in by impenetrable walls and advanced security features. Recent new reports say he has mused outloud about that migrants to the southern border might be gunned down, or at least shot in the legs.
• He is loading the federal judiciary with conservative judges and has already filled openings on the Supreme Court with dependable “conservative” justices, which especially delights the evangelical wing of his core constituencies. They want an end to abortion, support for “Christian” schools, and a re-ascendance of Christianity in US culture, disregarding the constitutional mandate of the separation of religion from the state. (This story is told in detail by Jeff Sharlet in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.)
• He continuously denigrates the media for producing fake news, calls reporters the enemy of the people, and has lauded FoxNews for its supportive coverage of him. He has also said that he would love to have a major news network of his own that always support his positions.
• He has shown sympathy toward white nationalists/supremacists, and they have become not only a part of his core support but also represent a potentially violent threat to those who dissent or are identified as “different.” Bear in mind his exhortations in praise of violence at many of his rallies.
• Trump has said that if there is a national emergency before the 2020 elections, he would consider postponing the presidential election.
• He has said that he would like to be president for life.

What if Trump wins in 2020?

If the Democrats fail to unseat Trump in 2020, there will be decisive turn toward authoritarian government and a further decline of democracy. And, most assuredly, a Trump White House will more than ever serve the interests of corporations, the rich, and bring the country an increasingly authoritarian presidency, an even more compliant US Congress, an even more right-wing biased Supreme Court and federal judiciary, while multiple right-wing interests will be advanced, including those who favor white supremacy, fundamentalist Christian beliefs, an exclusionary nationalism, maximum gun rights, and the end of reproductive rights. There will be a further evisceration of environmental regulations and unbridled support of fossil fuels, subsidies for industrial agriculture, and policies that already exacerbate the cataclysmic climate crisis. Along with all this, you can count on more military spending, more wars, a heightened threat of nuclear war, the end of privacy, and a return to a Hoover-like FBI.

And in this dystopian but unfortunately plausible scenario, the mega-corporations will reap the biggest benefits. Consider some examples of what the government already does for the corporate-dominated private sector of the economy. The benefits are vast, including: government contracts and subsidies (e.g., very profitable military contracts); beneficial regulations (e.g., no anti-trust enforcement); opportunities to profit from public property and resources (e.g., mining, timbering, and ranching in national forests and elsewhere); doing the basic research on products and then giving them to corporations (e.g., the Internet, the iPhone, drugs); regressive, federal income taxes, with innumerable loopholes; anti-union policies (e.g., right to work laws); and the privatization of any potentially profitable government functions (e.g., for-profit prisons and detention facilities, charter schools, highly-paid private contractors hired by the Pentagon and intelligence services); and the protection of their property by taxpayer funded police and fire departments.

Who loses and will lose even more if Trump has a second term? Many of us. Here are a few examples. The children who end up in under-funded and under-resourced schools and who previously had no pre-school learning opportunities. The teachers who have low salaries, large classes, work in old buildings that have no school counselors or psychologists and no library and wellness facilities. The school children who will go to schools fearing for the lives in a context in which assault weapons are readily available. The children and families who are food insecure or who live in substandard housing or in communities like Flint Michigan and thousands of other communities where the water is unsafe to drink because of contaminated water or old lead pipes that leach into the drinking water. The students who are left after leaving college with large debt. The workers who can’t find work at all, who are in low-paid, insecure jobs, who work in non-union jobs under oppressive management in which wages don’t keep up with productivity or rising prices. The workers who cannot retire because they don’t have a pension and must continue working, often in low-wage jobs, well into their seventies and eighties. The 80 million plus people who don’t have health insurance or are under-insured, along with those who cannot afford to use the insurance they have because of the high premiums and copays. If Trump wins in 2020, those with pre-existing conditions may not be able to get health insurance at all. The women who want an abortion but can’t find an affordable clinic or professional provider. The minority citizens who continue to experience disproportionately from institutional discrimination and voter suppression. And how all of us are increasingly affected by the unabated climate crisis.

Still, there are promising indications

(I draw again from Kuttner’s book.)

Democrats had a partial electoral win in the 2018 midterm elections

Democratic candidates, many progressive, did well in the 2018 midterm elections. Kuttner points out that “miraculously” the Democrats flipped 40 Republican seats to become the majority in the House,” “…took 7 governorships (raising total to 23),” “…won 360 state legislative seats from Republicans,” “increased the number of states where they held not only the governor but both legislative chambers from 7 to 14 (Republican trifecta control fell to 21 states).” Democrats benefited from a high turnout rate of 49.2 percent of eligible voters, which “was the highest in any midterm in over a century,” and involved 116 million votes in 2018 compared to 83 million in the previous 2014 midterm (102-103). “In addition to the 40 Democrats who flipped Republican House seats, another 42 Democrats lost by just 8 points or less” (108)

A massive mobilization

It resulted from a massive infrastructure of citizen organizing, fund raising, and voter mobilization on the progressive side (127). There was “extensive on-the-ground-work by dozens of groups like Indivisible,” a loose federation of grassroots organizations involving 6,000 groups (104). Indivisible was started by two former Democratic staffers, Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg, a married couple, who wrote a playbook that went viral (104). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is the official House Democratic fundraising body for candidates, launched a Red to Blue project aimed at flipping Republican seats, endorsed 104 candidates, mostly challengers (105).

“These efforts combined with ‘a great deal of small-money fundraising by candidates and their supporters, meant that Democrats were financially competitive’” (105). “Act Blue, the umbrella groups for small-money Democratic donors, raised an astonishing $1.6 billion for all races, federal, state, and local” – average donation was $39.67.” “House Democrats in the general election collected nearly $296 million in small donations, more than three time the $85 million collected by Republicans.” “All told, Democratic House candidates raised $923 million in the 2017-2018 election cycle, compared to the Republican’s $612 million… (105). In the Senate, Democrats raised $504 million to the Republicans $396 million.” One caveat. These figures do not include the independent political spending of “the Koch Brothers and other sources of immense independent-expenditure funding. But, when all is said and done, the funding from right-wing sources “was swamped by volunteer grassroots organizing, much of it from women (106).

Focused on pocketbook such as health care, Social Security, decent wages, and education (7).

This is exemplified by the victory of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who “won reelection in 2018 by a margin of 6 points, [while]]other Democratic candidates in Ohio lost (8). “About two-thirds of the Democrats who flipped Republican seats won as pocketbook populists, supporting either Medicare for All or Medicare at age fifty-five, expanded Social Security benefits, controls on prescription drug prices, a higher minimum wage, and relief of college debt” (163). The Republican attacks on the public schools is another issue of broad concern for communities across the country.

Indications that more voters who moving in a liberal direction politically

• “the percentage of Democrats who now identify as liberal rather than moderate has risen steadily in the past decade. By 2018 more than half of all Democrats considered themselves liberal” (182)
• “a large majority of Democrats are substantively progressive on the issues.” For example: “Fully 70 percent support Medicare for all – a figure that includes 82 percent of self-identified Democrats and even 52 percent of Republicans, as a well as a majority of independents”
• “Large majorities also support making higher education debt-free.”
• “Pew found that 58 percent of Americans supported a $15 minimum wage.”
• “According to Gallup, 62 percent of Americans approve of unions – a fifteen year high” – and found “broad majority support for a large infrastructure program” (182).

Concluding thoughts

In the final analysis, any chance of ousting Trump and having Democrats take control of both houses of the US Congress will be the result of a confluence of factors. For example, large numbers of people on the independent/liberal/lift parts of the political spectrum will have to be unified in support of candidates who have progressive ideas and advance platforms that deal with the big picture challenges of climate disruption and concentrated economic power as well as issues that are of immediate and practice concern of voters. The Democratic presidential nominee must be a person who can beat Trump in debates and who has the experience, intelligence, energy, quickness of mind, and toughness to sustain many months of campaigning. This person must have the support of the emboldened Democratic Party and others who see the need for transformative changes. This candidate will need a nation-wide organization of staff and volunteers to reach out to tens of millions of Americans, promote an agenda that meaningfully addresses the climate, economic, and political crises, all the while educating and energizing the public, registering the unregistered voters, raising many millions of dollars from small donors, challenging violations of voting laws when they are identified, and getting voters to the polls on election day.

It remains to be seen whether Democratic candidates running for office will have the vision, courage, and support to call for such changes. It remains to be seen whether a majority of citizens will go along with calls for large systemic changes if they are offered as options. Many Americans understandably just want to see improved opportunities for jobs, a higher minimum wage, access to decent schools for their children, affordable and safe housing, affordable health care, affordable prescription drugs, progress on ending racial, gender, and other types of discrimination, and focus on the immediate challenges they face. The argument in this post is that they will not be forthcoming without systemic changes.

Rather, as the thrust of the argument indicates, there is a need for big systemic changes and not much time left to avoid climate catastrophe, an economy that increasingly works more and more for the benefits of the rich and powerful, and a political system in which democracy is steadily being eclipsed by those with great power and wealth. Muddling through by hoping for and sometimes getting incremental change will not reverse the large trends that are unfolding. In the best of eventualities, progressive Democrats and others will be able to build on the momentum of 2018 and, in 2020, reverse the right-wing forces that are pushing the US toward an authoritarian government, environmental chaos, and greater inequality.

Phasing out fossil fuels: the hurdles and prospects

Phasing out fossil fuels: the hurdles and prospects
Bob Sheak, 9-14-19

The problem

The growing excess of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) traps more and more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere rather than radiating it back into space. As a result, the earth’s temperature goes up on land and in the oceans, resulting in a hotter planet leading to all sorts of disruptive and harmful effects. Dahr Jamail describes the problematic effects as follows in his new book, The End of Ice.

“Our planet is rapidly changing, and what we are witnessing is unlike anything that has occurred in human, or even geologic, history. The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane… has been scientific fact for decades, and according to NASA, ‘There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.’ Evidence shows that greenhouse gas emissions are causing the Earth to warm ten times faster than it should, and the ramifications of this are being felt, quite literally, throughout the entire biosphere. Oceans are warming at unprecedented rates, droughts and wildfires of increasing severity and frequency are altering forests around the globe, and Earth’s cryosphere – the parts of the Earth so cold that water is frozen into ice or snow – is melting at an ever-accelerating rate. The subsea permafrost in the Arctic is thawing, and we could experience a methane ‘burp’ of previously trapped gas at any moment, causing the equivalent of several times the total amount of CO2 humans have emitted to be released into the atmosphere. The results would be catastrophic” (p.4).

The sources of the problem

Greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide and methane, are accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere at levels that are unprecedented in human history and even for the past hundreds of thousands of years. Greenhouse gases stem from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, and military operations, from land degrading industrial agriculture, poor ranching practices, and concentrated animal feeding operations, from deforestation, from a capitalist economy that requires continuous helter-skelter economic growth, and from governments that accept the alleged growth imperative and privilege corporate interests over interventions in the interests of the public and environment. And the problem is also perpetuated from a consumerist culture goaded on by massive corporate advertising that defines the good life and relative status of people as the ability to consume ever more things. But of all the sources, the fossil fuel industries are the largest source of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gases. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carbon dioxide represents 82 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted in the US, while, in second place, methane accounts for 10% (https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-of-greenhouse-gases).

Consider the evidence that the climate crisis is real and that it is in large part the result of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

The evidence that the climate crisis is real

The trends are well documented in a growing body of scientific research and empirical observation and evidence. Climate scientist Michal Mann has provided an understandable analysis of this complex problem in his book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying our Policies, and Driving US Crazy. But the literature is huge (just goggle term “climate change.) The realty of the climate crisis is accepted by most climate scientists, by all academies of science, by majorities of people who are surveyed on the issue, as well as by virtually all political parties around the world except the Republican Party in the US, by those who profit from the current system, by the right-wing media, and by those who oppose or fear the radical changes that are said to be required to phase out fossil fuels. Insofar as the scientific community is concerned, there is little doubt about the connection of fossil fuel emissions and global warming. Wikipedia has a “chapter, updated on August 29, 2019, on the “scientific consensus” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_consensus_on_climate-change). The following quote captures the thesis of the Wikipedia chapter.

“The current scientific consensus is that:
• Earth’s climate has warmed significantly since the late 1800s.
• Human activities (primarily greenhouse gas emissions) are the primary cause.
• Continuing emissions will increase the likelihood and severity of global effects.
• People and nations can act individually and collectively to slow the pace of global warming, while also preparing for unavoidable climate change and its consequences.

“Several studies of the consensus have been undertaken.[1] 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]”

Current examples of the effects of the unfolding climate crisis

Dahr Jamail does as good a job as anyone in regularly and comprehensively updating the research on the effects of the climate crisis. In Jamail’s latest “dispatch” on September 3, 2019, published on Truthout, he offers one of his in-depth reviews of the recent research findings, recent experience with severe weather events, and current and projected trends that reflect global warming (https://truthout.org/articles/alaskas-sea-ice-completely-melted-for-first-time-in-recorded-history).

He opens his analysis with this example. “The country of Iceland has held a funeral for its first glacier lost to the climate crisis. The once massive Okjökull glacier, now completely gone, has been commemorated with a plaque that reads: ‘A letter to the future. Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.” But this is a crisis that is already upon us. And Jamail follows with these examples. “July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth since record keeping began in 1880. Nine out of the 10 hottest Julys ever recorded have occurred since 2005, and July was the 43rd consecutive July to register temperatures above the 20th century average.” And: “In Greenland, scientists were stunned by how rapidly the ice sheet is melting, as it was revealed the ice there was not expected to melt like this until 2070. The melt rate has been called ‘unprecedented,’ as the all-time single-day melt record was broken in August as the ice sheet lost a mind-bending 12.5 billion tons of water in one day. It is worth remembering that the Greenland ice sheet contains enough ice to increase global sea levels by 20 feet, and it is now predicted that it will lose more ice this year than ever before.” Additionally: “Also for the first time in recorded history, Alaska’s sea ice has melted completely away. That means there was no sea ice whatsoever within 150 miles of its shores, according to the National Weather Service, as the northernmost state cooked under record-breaking heat through the summer.”

Then he reports on how rising temperatures are affecting the earth, water, fire, and air. I’ll draw on a few of Jamail’s examples under each of these categories.

The earth– “A recent UN report estimates 2 billion people are already facing moderate to severe food insecurity, due largely to the warming planet. The other contributing factors are conflict and economic stagnation, but extreme weather events and shifting weather patterns are a large and growing contributor to this crisis, which is sure to escalate over time.” “Nine out of the 10 hottest Julys ever recorded have occurred since 2005.” Many animals “are no longer able to adjust quickly enough to the climate crisis. While birds are laying their eggs earlier as temperatures and conditions change, and are doing what they can to coax their chicks to hatch sooner, it is still not enough to keep pace with the dramatically shifting climate. Many more extinctions are on the horizon.” “Courtney Howard, board president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, told The Guardian that she believes the climate crisis is causing worsening states of mental and physical health around the world, and says these issues will become some of the most important of our time.” “…a leading economic historian warned recently that the climate crisis could very well become the trigger for the next global financial crisis by way of causing instability and massive disruptions in markets.”

The Water – In Zimbabwe, “some places are seeing 18 hours per day without electricity. Imagine that in the summer heat. Dams providing hydropower lack water. Power blackouts are spreading, and taps are running dry in Harare, the capital city, “affecting more than 2 million people, who have been trying to cope with not having access to municipal drinking water.” One million people in India were displaced by “flooding from heavier than usual monsoon rains.” “…a recent study published in Science Advances warned that megadroughts will likely beset the U.S. Southwest within decades. The study stated that the megadroughts are ‘almost assured,’ and will be on a scale not seen since medieval times.” “A recent and critically important study showed that one quarter of the total global population across 17 countries is already affected by extreme water stress. Lebanon, Qatar and Israel/Palestine top a list of places with the worst water shortages, as the growing climate crisis threatens more ‘day zeroes’ — days where major cities will literally run out of water.” “In the U.S., a recent report showed how 21 beach towns, including Miami Beach, Galveston, Atlantic City and Key West, will soon be underwater.” “Meanwhile, the oceans continue to warm as they absorb the brunt of the heat human activity is adding to the atmosphere, and the warming waters are literally pushing Pacific salmon to the brink of their ability to survive, according to another report.” “… scientists have expressed alarm and shock about the fact that the permafrost across the Canadian Arctic is thawing out 70 years sooner than previously predicted.”

The fire – “In Alaska alone, at the time of this writing, at least 1.6 million acres have burned from at least 100 wildfires this summer. Wildfires in Siberia could well burn into October when the first snows fall, as at least 6.7 million acres have burned across Russia. “…wildfires in California have already become 500 percent larger than they were since the 1970s.” Forests in the Pacific Northwest are not growing back after recent fires. And “another report reaffirmed the fact that even the rainy Northwest is now facing the inevitable increased risk of wildfires due to higher temperatures, increasing drought and lower humidity.”

The air – “By 2050, Florida will have more days that feel like 100 degrees Fahrenheit (100°F) than any other state in the U.S., according to a recent study. Washington D.C. currently averages one week per year of 100-degree days, while by 2050 that could rise to two months. The same study warned that climate disruption will expose millions of people across the U.S. to “off-the-charts” extreme heat.” “The burning of fossil fuels reached an all-time record last year.” “… Europe sizzled under a record-breaking heat wave this summer, as heat from the Sahara baked the continent and temperature records toppled en masse. There are far too many records to name from that heatwave, but notable was the fact that Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands recorded their highest temperatures ever during Europe’s second major summer heatwave.”

Kate Aronoff identifies some recent examples of the effects of global warming in the US. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/27/climate-change-green-new-deal-republicans?CMP=share_btn_link).

“For a growing stretch of the country, climate change isn’t a joke but a deadly, imminent threat. Biblical flooding in the midwest this past month has left farmlands devastated and at least 20 people dead, all while the country lacks a comprehensive plan to handle such disasters. The Pine Ridge Reservation is experiencing a devastating state of emergency thanks in part to decades of federal neglect of and divestment from indigenous communities. And there are still people struggling to recover in Puerto Rico from 2017’s devastating hurricane season – efforts being actively undermined by a sociopathic indifference to the fate of that island’s residents. Rising temperatures are already a clear and present danger to millions of Americans, and disastrous Republican policy is already making it worse.”

The Fossil Fuel companies are at the center of the problem

The big fossil fuel companies gather and extract the oil, natural gas, and coal, process them for a wide variety of uses, and distribute them via pipelines, trains, trucks and ships to electric power plants, gasoline stations, petrochemical plants and other business, and, in the case of natural gas, increasingly for export to other countries. And in the US, fossil fuel companies are producing “a staggering scale of new oil and gas production,” as reported by Andrea Germanos (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/21/us-set-blow-other-countries-away-staggering-scale-new-oil-and-gas-production). Her source is a report released by Global Witness, a human and environmental rights group. The analysis by Global Witness “shows how the U.S. is on track to dwarf other nations’ shares of new oil and gas production over the next decade. In fact, says the analysis, 61 percent of all new global production is likely to come from the United States.” Murray Worthy, senior campaigner at Global Witness, says “No other country comes even close.”

And they haven’t done it on their own. The fossil fuel companies and their allies are – and have been – able to influence federal and state governments to subsidize their oil and natural gas, give them tax breaks, and open public lands with low-price leases while providing at public expense infrastructure and security for the companies that extract fossil fuels. Clayton Coleman and Emma Dietz, researchers at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, offer a detailed analysis of fossil fuels subsidies(https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs).

They write:

‘The United States provides a number of tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry as a means of encouraging domestic energy production. These include both direct subsidies to corporations, as well as other tax benefits to the fossil fuel industry. Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil. European Union subsidies are estimated to total 55 billion euros annually. [You can find an extensive analysis of fossil fuel subsidies at:

“Historically, subsidies granted to the fossil fuel industry were designed to lower the cost of fossil fuel production and incentivize new domestic energy sources. Today, U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to fund many fossil fuel subsidies that are outdated but remain embedded within the tax code. At a time when renewable energy technology is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil power generation, and a coordinated strategy must be developed to mitigate climate change, the broader utility of fossil fuel subsidies is being questioned.

“There are many kinds of costs associated with fossil fuel use in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These negative externalities have adverse environmental, climate, and public health impacts, and are estimated to have totaled $5.3 trillion globally in 2015 alone.” ….“rather than being phased out, fossil fuel subsidies are actually increasing. The latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) report estimates 6.5 percent of global GDP ($5.2 trillion) was spent on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017, a half trillion dollar increase since 2015. The largest subsidizers are China ($1.4 trillion in 2015), the United States ($649 billion) and Russia ($551 billion). According to the IMF, ‘fossil fuels account for 85 percent of all global subsidies,’ and reducing these subsidies ‘would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.’ An Overseas Development Institute study found that subsidies for coal-fired power increased almost three-fold, to $47.3 billion per year, from 2014 to 2017.”

One reason why greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels continue to be so high and rising is reflected in the “shale revolution.”

The shale revolution

Andrea Germanos gives us a sense of the magnitude of this revolution (https://commondreams.org/news/2019/03/11/climate-crisis-be-damned-shale-revolution-poised-make-us-net-exporter-oil-three). She reports that the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that “U.S. production growth [of oil and natural gas from shale rock formations] has exceeded expectations.” According to the IEA, the US will account for “70 percent of the rise in global oil production and some 75 percent of the expansion in LNG [liquified natural gas] trade over the next five years.” By 2024, “the US will export more oil than Russia and will edge up to the number two spot, right behind Saudi Arabia.” This production for domestic and foreign use ‘will impede the rest of the world’s ability to manage a climate-safe, equitable decline of oil and gas production.” By 2021, the US will be a net oil exporter. And this shale production “could spew 120 billion tons of new carbon pollution into the atmosphere—roughly equivalent to the lifetime emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants.”

The power and influence of the Koch Brothers

The libertarian, neoliberal Koch Brothers have been at the center of the efforts to have government allow for the unbridle extraction, production, and distribution of fossil fuels and the denial of the related climate crisis, mobilizing 400-450 billionaires to fund organizations, like that Koch’s flagship Americans’ for Prosperity Foundation. The Koch Brothers and their fellow billionaires fund the campaigns of right-wing political candidates, support extensive lobbying efforts, pay for massive political ads for their favorite candidates, create faux grassroots groups to support politicians who want to maximize fossil fuels, and support think tanks, academics, and scientists who advance pro-industry goals.

The story of the Koch Brothers has been told in great detail in the books by Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Daniel Schulman, The Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, and Christopher Leonard, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America. You can also find an excellent documentary, originally aired on December 2016, at the online site of The Real News Network, “Trump, The Koch Brothers and Their War on Climate Science” (https://therealnews.com/stories/trump-the-koch-brothers-and-their-war-on-climate-science).

In a review of the book Kochland, Jane Mayer offers the following information on how the Kochs and their allies have stymied congressional action that would have better regulated fossil fuels and would have taken steps toward addressing the climate crisis (https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/kochland-examines-how-the-koch-brothers-made-their-fortune-and-the-influence-it-bought).
“The Kochs’ key role in stopping congressional action on climate change is well-known, but longtime environmental activists, such as Kert Davies, the director of the Climate Investigation Center, credit Leonard with discovering that the Kochs played an earlier and even more central role in climate-change denial than was previously understood. In 2010, Davies authored a report, for Greenpeace, that labelled the Kochs ‘The Kingpins of Denial,’ but he told me that he hadn’t realized that their role went as far back as 1991. (A copy of a flyer for the Cato conference can be seen at Koch Docs, a new digital collaborative-research project, directed by the liberal corporate watchdog Lisa Graves, which tracks the Kochs’ influence.)

“According to ‘Kochland,’ the 1991 conference was called ‘Global Environmental Crisis: Science or Politics?’ It featured many of the same characters who have spread doubt about the reality of climate change and continue to challenge the advisability of acting against it. Among the speakers was Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at M.I.T., who is quoted in the brochure as saying there was ‘very little evidence at all’ that climate change would be ‘catastrophic.’

“‘Kochland’ is important, Davies said, because it makes it clear that ‘you’d have a carbon tax, or something better, today, if not for the Kochs. They stopped anything from happening back when there was still time.’ The book also documents how, in 2010, the company’s lobbyists spent gobs of cash and swarmed Congress as part of a multi-pronged effort to kill the first, and so far the last, serious effort to place a price on carbon pollution—the proposed ‘cap and trade’ bill. Magnifying the Kochs’ power was their network of allied donors, anonymously funded shell groups, think tanks, academic centers, and nonprofit advocacy groups, which Koch insiders referred to as their ‘echo chamber.’”

Electing a President

And in an in-depth article for The Intercept, Lee Fang reports on his extensive research on how the Koch Brothers money and influence were of critical importance in the election of Donald Trump (https://theintercept.com/2019/08/26/david-koch-donald-trump). Here are some of his key findings.

“In 2016, Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’s primary vehicle for influence that operates as a privately run political party, hired over 650 staffers, deploying many to battleground states, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, to turn out Republican voters. The field staff filled in the gaps left by Trump’s chaotic field operation. In Wisconsin alone, Americans for Prosperity staff, equipped with state-of-the-art voter contact technology, made 1.5 million phone calls and knocked on nearly 30,000 doors.”

“Late in the campaign, the Koch money flowed to television advertisements in the Rust Belt, including the crucial states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that hammered Hillary Clinton. Political scientist Thomas Ferguson has persuasively argued that the spending blitz by Republican billionaires, including Koch, in late October and early November, was the decisive factor in Clinton’s defeat. Koch groups spent $4.3 million in Wisconsin, eclipsing the $3 million spent by the Clinton campaign, with television ads that sought to simultaneously tear down Democrat Russ Feingold and Clinton, a pattern repeated in other crucial swing states.

“What’s more, over the previous eight years, the Koch network had plowed tens of millions of dollars into the region, with a focus on Wisconsin, to transform the state, once a progressive bastion, into a laboratory for the radical right. The network focused carefully on political investments designed to change the power alignment throughout the upper Midwest: new barriers to voting, dramatic restrictions on labor unions, and investments in a localized conservative voter mobilization apparatus. The states that produced the Electoral College victory over Clinton had been primed for electing a future GOP presidential nominee, and Trump was simply the beneficiary.

“MORE IMPORTANT, however, are the structural investments and vindictive political style nurtured by Koch. Though he wielded power largely behind closed doors, in the shadows of a complex web of dark-money lobby groups and think tanks, there were public glimpses of the Koch fiefdom. The most revealing of these can be seen in the the archived footage, preserved on C-SPAN, of the 2009 Americans for Prosperity annual gala.

“The event space was transformed into a miniature presidential convention hall, complete with vertical placards among the rows to represent the various states of the union. But these were not elected delegates convened to nominate an American president. These were the assorted paid operatives and talking heads that had taken a wrecking ball to progressive society. They were there to thank their benefactor in an Orwellian four-hour tribute. A parade of prominent Republican politicians and pundits took the microphone, followed by staff of Americans for Prosperity, to sing praises to Koch, who stood before the hall. As each operative stood to explain what they had accomplished on his behalf, they dutifully addressed the billionaire as ‘Mr. Chairman.’”

“The assembled speakers at the 2009 convention were quick to form the basis of Trump’s inner circle. Newt Gingrich, who helped open the event, was the first major figure from the GOP establishment to endorse Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination. Larry Kudlow, another speaker at the event, is now in the executive office shaping Trump’s economic policies. Trump himself appeared at Americans for Prosperity events as early as 2014.

In short, the Kochs and the fossil fuel industries, especially oil and natural gas, have effectively put huge resources to get their way. By the end of the Obama administration, Christopher Leonard writes, Charles and David Kochs had a combined wealth of $84 billion and by 2018 “Charles Koch’s fortune [alone] amounted to $53.5 billion” (Kochland, p. 570). They owned 80% of Koch Industries, employed 120,000 people in 60 countries, half in the US. The company has had annual revenues of over $100 billion, and would have ranked seventeenth on the Fortune 500 in 2013 if the company had been a public company (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_Industries).

Outside of coal, the fossil fuel corporations overall are doing super well, as indicated earlier. Jamail reports that “the burning of fossil fuels,” the principal source of the climate emergency, “reached an all-time record last year [2018], according to oil giant BP.” Julia Conley cites a report from the thinktank Carbon Tracker that details how ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and BP have “invested $150 billion in climate-warming fossil fuel projects since the beginning of 2018. These investments are going into “offshore drilling, tar sands, and fracking projects in the US and around the world. Indeed, investments in fracking projects alone have been described as a “shale revolution” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/09/06/definition-of-insance-greed-investing-billions-new-projects-fossil-fuel-corporations).

The Republican Party, a handmaiden of the fossil fuel industries

This connection between the Republican Party has been many times by investigators. In January of this year, Rebecca Leber reported on research from the Center for American Progress that finds “150 Congressional Republicans Represent Fossil Fuel Companies Instead of Their Communities (https://desmogblog.com/2019/01/30/150-congressional-republicans-climate-deniers-fossil-fuel-companies). These 150 members of the US Congress are “climate deniers,” who have collected $68 million in “dirty money” for non-identified donors.” The top recipients, all Republicans, are Mitch McConnel ($3,018,793), Jim Inhofe ($2,111,110), John Cornyn ($3,344,515), Ted Cruz ($3,372,000), and Kevin Brady ($1,753,762). These sums do not include money spent by donors “on outside PACs and support.” The 150 oppose regulations on fossil fuel companies. By now, there are few Republicans in the US Congress that are willing to support any legislation that would support regulating fossil fuels or acknowledging the climate crisis and the need for meaningful government to address this crisis.

Republican opposition to regulation and denial or dismissal of the climate crisis is revealed in a Senate vote on the Green New Deal. Kate Aronoff reported that in March of this year [2019], “The Republican party…voted unanimously against the Green New Deal in Tuesday’s vote; 43 Democrats voted present to show unity. But like many of their Republican colleagues – and a few Democrats who joined Republicans in their no vote – neither Lee nor McConnell speak or vote for themselves. With mountains of campaign donations, they are deputized to act on behalf of the coal, oil and gas companies who fund their re-election campaigns; combined, the two senators have accepted more than $6m from fossil fuel interests over the course of their careers. In the 2017-2018 election cycle, more than four-fifths of the energy sector’s $8.5m in donations went to Republican candidates. An analysis released on Tuesday from Oil Change International found that – in total – the senators who voted against the resolution yesterday have accepted a total of $55m in donations from fossil fuel interests” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/27/climate-change-green-new-deal-republicans?CMP=share_btn_link).

Additional evidence on the Congressional Republican position on climate change and implicitly on energy policy is provided by Emily Atkin in an article published by The New Republic on May 8 (https://thenewrepublic.com/article/153844/republicans-dead-planet-earth). She finds “Republicans in Congress remain unwilling to speak honestly about the existential threat global warming poses to humanity and the natural world” and “do not acknowledge the extent of man’s responsibility for causing it.” In addition, she writes, “Most GOP politicians might not be willing to call climate change a Chinese hoax, but they’re fine if Trump continues to do it. They’re also fine with anything Trump does to worsen climate change—whether it be dismantling greenhouse gas regulations or refusing to sign an international accord stating warming is a problem in the Arctic. They’re fine with keeping quiet in the face of major scientific reports, like the one released Monday saying that 1 million species now risk going extinct due to human activity. No wonder the CO2 Coalition, a group that falsely argues that carbon dioxide is good for humans, is expanding its presence on Capitol Hill: It sees a receptive audience.” Insofar as the climate crisis is concerned, there is little hope “that the Republican Party as a whole will propose serious climate change solutions in the near or even distant future.” Atkins adds: “Given that there’s little more than a decade left to implement those solutions, there’s no reason to wait for them. If the increasingly dire reports, or the issue’s rising prominence among young voters, aren’t enough to sway Republicans, what will be? It’s time to stop treating the Republican Party as a potential partner in solving the climate crisis, and start seeing it as the immovable obstacle it’s always been.”

The additional machinations of the Republicans, with the help of the US Supreme Court

Selective voter suppression

As indicated by the previous text, there are powerful economic and political forces that oppose any regulation of fossil fuels, deny or dismiss the unfolding realty of the climate crisis, use their vast resources to support politicians who agree with them, organize sophisticated grassroots political efforts and conduct massive disinformation campaigns in attempts to convince people that their opponents are naïve and wrong and even anti-American. And at the state level, Republican politicians do their best to suppress the vote through ID laws, voter roll purging, perhaps hacking voting machines, and rigging congressional districts through gerrymandering.

Julia Conley, staff writer at Common Dreams reports on a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice that revealed “17 million Americans were dropped from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/02/17-million-americans-purged-voter-rolls-between-2016-and-2018-analysis-finds).

According to the Brennan Center’s study, this is largely a consequence of “the loosening of the Voting Rights Act,” that followed from the Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder in 2013,” which gave “states with long histories of voter discrimination free reign to purge voters from their rolls without federal oversight.” The decision eliminated the legal requirement that these states “no longer have to obtain ‘pre-clearance,’ or approval from the Department of Justice (DOJ), before they make changes to voting procedures—allowing them to slash their voter rolls liberally, often resulting in voter suppression of eligible voters.” The researchers at the Brennan Center find that “Shelby County single-handedly pushed two million people off voter rolls across the country over four years after the case was decided.”

Closing voting places

Mike Ludwig reports that over the past 6 years, 1,688 polling places have been closed in 13 states (https://truthout.org/articles/more-people-are-voting-but-1688-polling-places-have-closed-in-six-years). “Civil rights groups are warning an “epidemic” of polling place closures has swept 13 states, including several southern states with deep histories of racial voter suppression,” according to Ludwig. “Civil rights groups say the mass shuttering of polling places could make it harder for rural voters, voters with disabilities, lower-income voters and people of color to access the ballot next year.” He continues: “In the six years since the Supreme Court gutted a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act, making it easier to shut down polling places, local election officials in 13 states have closed 1,688 polling stations, according to a new report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF). Most of the closures occurred after the 2014 midterm elections. In 2018, when midterm voter turnout reached a record high, there were 1,173 fewer polling stations in these states than there were just four years earlier.”

“The LCEF report largely focuses on nine states and jurisdictions in six others that were covered by the “preclearance” section of the Voting Rights Act because of histories of voter discrimination, in some cases dating back to the days of Jim Crow,” according to Ludwig. He adds: “Until the Supreme Court threw out the preclearance section in its 2013 decision in Shelby vs. Holder, local election officials in these jurisdictions were required to notify voters of any planned poll closures well ahead of time and prove to federal overseers in the Justice Department that any voting changes would not discriminate against voters of color.” No more.

Can those who want fossil fuels to be phased out have a winning chance against such interconnected economic and political power?

Chris Hedges argues persuasively that those who hold economic and political power, “the Capitalists,” are mobilizing their forces more than ever because they are afraid (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-capitalists-are-afraid). The implication is that the proponents of phasing out fossil fuels, often as just one component of a larger agenda related to ending all sources of the climate crisis, have corporations and the Republicans and their allies worried the other side (our side) has a chance of winning.

Here are other reasons why they are afraid.

One, the science and facts that document a climate crisis and link it to the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels continue to be generated by research that cannot be empirically refuted. The National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA) offers an expert summary of the evidence: https/climate.nasa.gov/evidence.

The agency collects information from Ice cores drawn from “Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers [which] show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of [previous] ice-age-recovery warming.” In addition, “Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale.” The evidence reveals that the “current warming trend” is “the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.” And: “There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.” Then there are the specific results. The global temperature is steadily rising. Oceans are warming. The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are shrinking. Glaciers are retreating in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa. The amount of spring now cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased. Global sea levels is rising and accelerating slightly every year. Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly in extend and thickness. The number of record high temperatures in the US has been increasing. The ocean is becoming acidified as it absorbs carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.

Two, there is an increasing flood of information from websites, a host of environmental organizations, authors and journalists, celebrities, NGOs, that help people to become informed about and keep up with the news/evidence on the climate crisis. Just one example. The Environmental Science Degree website lists identifies the 101 top web resources on climate change (https://www.environmentalsciencedegree.com/climate-change). Here is the introduction to the article.

“Climate change has become the focus of a great deal of scientific scrutiny in recent years, and it has become apparent that increasingly erratic weather patterns, extinction of many species, and other significant global-scale events are directly correlated with climate change. To understand the short and long term causes and effects of global climate change, it is important to look at the past, as paleoclimatologists do, as well as the present conditions that influence the climate, including greenhouse gases, natural and anthropogenic changes in landscapes, and even the temperature and acidity of polar ice and the world’s oceans. Understanding and adapting to climate change is a massive, interdisciplinary undertaking, and the sites listed here have lots of information from every possible angle.”

Three, surveys document that more and more people understand that the extreme and volatile weather and many other disruptive and catastrophic environmental events they see on the news or experience first-hand are related to fossil fuels. Recent surveys of the public confirm this. Joseph Hold reports on a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/a-growing-number-of-americans-are-alarmed-about-global-warming).

The survey found “roughly 60 percent of Americans are either ‘alarmed’ or ‘concerned’ about global warming and that the percentage who are alarmed doubled from 2013 to 2018. The percentage of conservative Republicans who are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried about global warming more than doubled in the same five-year period, growing from 14 to 32 percent (compared with 80 percent of moderate to conservative Democrats and 95 percent of liberal Democrats as of December 2018).” Such surveys do not tell us whether Americans are willing to support a phasing out of fossil fuels, but they do indicate that there is growing concern over the climate crisis. It should not be too much of a leap, given the scientific evidence, to make the connection to fossil fuels.

Four, there are more and more activists in the US and around the world rallying, marching demonstrating, and organizing to phase out fossil fuels. This is exemplified in the planned global student climate strikes scheduled for September 20 and 27. The September 20th mobilization occurs three days “before a UN emergency climate summit being held in New York. Groups will also gather there.

There is an abundance of information about the strike at: https://globalclimatestrike.net. There you will find that “people in 150 countries are organizing for the global strike,” some of whom “will spend the day in protest against new pipelines and mines, or the banks that fund them; some will highlight the oil companies fueling this crisis and the politicians who enable them.” There is a broad coalition supporting the strike, including “NGOs, unions and social movements across the world,” along with “environmental, public health, social justice, and development groups. There are 450 planned strike actions already planned in the US. And there will be uncounted millions of people who cannot join the strike but support it “on the sidelines.”

The organizers of the strike say we need to strike to let decisionmakers and the public know this: “If we don’t act now to transition fairly and swiftly away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy access for all, the injustice of the climate crisis will only get worse.” And all the horrendous conditions associated with this crisis will be intensified and uncontrollable.

Locally, 350.org is organizing students and others supporting the global student climate strike to assemble at the statehouse in Columbus Ohio on September 20, 2019, that is at 1 Capitol Square, Ohio 43215, from noon until 2 p.m.

Five, more and more Democrats in state and local governments who focus on the crisis and propose measures to phase out fossil fuels. By December of 2018, Alexander C. Kaufman writes, “Forty-four mayors, 63 county and state legislators and 116 city council members were among the officials from 40 states ― including some [former] top oil and gas producers ― who signed an open letter issuing a sweeping, full-throated call for the phaseout of fossil fuels and adoption of Green New Deal-style climate policies (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/green-new-deal-local-officials_n_5C13df27e4049efa7520236). The signatories for the letter were organized “by Elected Officials to Protect America, a nonprofit formed in 2015 to rally support for local climate action. It lays out three demands. It calls for 100 percent renewable energy, though does not specify a timeline. To buttress that, it proposes ending ‘public subsidization of fossil fuels,’ and divesting from fossil fuel companies to ‘shift public investments to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean energy and pay for the harm fossil fuels cause our states and municipalities.’ Another demand “urges the ‘end of permitting of new oil, gas, and coal projects and infrastructure” and proposed “phasing out production within 2,500-foot public health buffer zone of occupied buildings and vulnerable areas” ― a policy that would essentially severely restrict new drilling.”

Six, there are reasons to be hopeful. Wendy Becktold identifies 10 reasons (https://sierraclub.org/series/10-reasons-feel-hopeful-about-climate-change-2019). Here are some examples from her article. She reports that “more than 1,000 institutions have sold their investments in fossil fuels,” New York City had divested its $189 billon pension fund from fossil fuels.” Coal production is shrinking. In December 2018, “nine states, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Vermont – and the District of Columbia announced a regional plan for limiting carbon emissions in the transportation sector.” In 2018, “seven cities, counties, and states filed lawsuits against” some of the “90 companies [that] are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the observed increases in global surface temperatures…seeking to recover damages brought on climate-change-related disasters.” The political winds are shifting as a result of the 2018 elections. There is now an “historic number of Democrats (many of them women and people of color) elected to the US House of Representatives. One of them was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has gone on to advocate for a green new deal. And, in Sweden, then 15-year old Greta Thunberg started a global movement of students to fight against climate change when she decided to skip school every Friday and “sit outside the Swedish Parliament and protest the failure of politicians to act on climate change.”

Concluding thoughts

The 2020 elections in the US will probably determine whether those who want significant government action in phasing out fossil fuels over the next 1-3 decades will be able to decisively overcome the power of the fossil fuel industries and the Republican Party and advance and expedite a plan to accomplish this. There are hurdles. Even if the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 has a progressive/leftist/socialist agenda and endorses the phase out, he or she will face the power and money of the fossil fuel companies and probably most of corporate America, obviously the Republican Party, some unions connected to the fossil fuel industries, most if not all of Trump base of 63 million or so voters, much of the network media, including public radio and television, a substantial number of independents, along with white suburban women who are turned off by Trump’s behavior and his policies that are opposed to the right to abortion and that virtually eliminate the reproductive rights of women but who fear the kind of radical change embodied in the phase out of fossil fuels, and

A Democratic presidential candidate who endorses a phase out of fossil fuels is also like to have an agenda that calls for other significant changes, such as, great increases in support for solar, wind, and energy efficiency, raising taxes on corporations and higher-income Americans, taxes on short-term transactions on the stock markets, the withdrawal of government contracts from businesses that set up companies abroad, and finding ways to tax the money that is in tax havens. This presidential candidate is also likely to support substantial reductions in the military budget. She or he is also likely to support Medicare for all, a more open border than the US now has, a full-employment policy, retraining and assistance for workers displaced from jobs, increased support for public schools and reduction in the costs of public higher education, as well as proposals on how to oppose racism through development programs for black and brown communities, a major reform of the criminal justice program and the defunding of private prisons and detention facilities. The only way that this candidate wins is by having (1) an effective campaign organization, (2) the active support of a coalition of unions, minority groups, and a wide range of progressive groups, (3) the support of some millions of supporters who give small donations, (4) a candidates who campaigns vigorously, (5) a strategic plan for running political ads, and (6) a voter registration and get-out-the vote drive to bring millions of previously non-voters to cast their ballots.

Nobody knows what the outcome will be. A centrist Democratic president would be better than Trump on many issues. And it may turn out that such a Democrat will end up running and winning against Trump. If elected, the Democratic President may try to advance a modest carbon tax, perhaps some sort of carbon sequestration policy, perhaps increased support for renewables and energy efficiency. But she or he is unlikely to support a policy to phase out fossil fuels in two or three decades. Under Trump, the worst conceivable outcome, fossil fuel interests will continue to be given maximum government support and the climate crisis will rapidly worsen. Under a centrist Democrat, there might be, in the best circumstances, some reforms but not enough to reduce meaningfully the US greenhouse-gas contribution to the global climate crisis. The best outcome would be someone like Bernie Sanders who is calling for the phase out of fossil fuels and other systemic changes. But, as Bernie has written, it would take “revolution” – and the commitment, voice, and action of young people like Greta Thunberg and the millions of students and supporters from around the world she has inspired.

Climate chaos, land degradation, corruption – Trump makes it worse

Bob Sheak, Climate chaos, land degradation, corruption – Trump makes it worse
August 27, 2019

The purpose of this paper is to consider recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and land degradation. The title of the report is “Climate Change and Land Degradation.” The full IPPC report can be accessed at https://www.ippc.ch/report/srccl. One of the principal contributions of the report is to provide extensive and scientifically-based evidence on how agriculture and other land uses contribute significantly to global warming, along with the emissions from fossil fuels.

The land degradation that the IPCC authors have in mind is linked to how food is grown and consumed, how forests are harvested for lumber, but more, and the greenhouse gases that are emitted in the process, even as the land itself is degraded. The sources of land degradation are complex, from industrial farming, large ranches, over-fishing, meat-heavy diets, and the enormous waste of food, involving the inefficient storage, transportation, and consumption of food to and the growth of landfills. There are also important issues that go beyond the global focus of the IPCC report concerning in the US the use and leasing of public land that prioritizes profit over public interests.

The dominant type of farming in the US and much of it in the major countries of the world requires heavy equipment, hybrid and GMO seeds, lots of water, toxic chemicals to protect against pests and weeds, and other practices that are unsustainable.Large-scale ranching often destroys grass and other plants. Deforestation eliminates services provided by healthy forests to protect soil against wind, retain water, and nourish complex ecosystems necessary for a host of species.

Large agribusiness companies are at the center of the agricultural, timber, and mining aspects of unsustainable land use. There is opposition to these practices, and there are sustainable alternatives. The principles and practices of organic farming and healthy diets are well known. But the political forces are now arrayed against the alternatives, and the Trump administration is making the problem of land degradation even worse than it has been.

First, some good news

Proposals to rapidly phase out fossil fuels are having some effect. There are a wide range of international organizations, environmental groups, and a growing number in the public who think that such changes are necessary. Some Democrats in the US Congress are advocates and a number of Democratic presidential candidates are on board, seeing the need for major changes in US energy policy, from fossil fuels to renewables, energy efficiency measures, mass public transit, and more. Bernie Sanders’ plan is the most detailed (https://www.businessinsider.com/bernie-sanders-16-trillion-climate-change-plan-most-expensive-yet-2019-8). Democrats in the US Congress have also put forth a proposal for a “Green New Deal,” about which has been covered widely in the media, especially online. (See https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2019/03/16/the-green-new-deal-its-critics-and-its-promise.)

The movement is apparently having some impact on public opinion. Despite the efforts by the fossil fuel industry, the Trump administration, the Republican Party, and right-wing media to deny or dismiss climate change/global warming, a majority of American believe that climate change is happening and that it is caused largely by “human activities.” Glenn Branch reports in May on a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication that “offers new data on Americans’ beliefs and attitudes about climate change….documenting that 70 percent of respondents answered affirmatively that global warming is happening, while 17 percent answered no, and 14 percent answered don’t know” (https://ncse.com/news/2019/05/new-climate-change-poll-highlights-political-differences-0018916).

But, nonetheless, the problem of climate change and its increasingly harmful effects increases

The scientific evidence documenting this problem continues to come forth. Julia Conley reports that, according to research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), July 2019 “was the hottest month the planet has ever experienced since the government began recording global temperatures nearly 140 years ago,” breaking the previous record set in July 2016 and “the 43rd July in a row with above-average temperatures.” She further reports that July” was the 415th consecutive month when the world was warmer than average” [and] “Last month, NOAA reported that June 2019 was the hottest June on record.” The ice in the Arctic melted far more than average in July. Marco Teseco, a climate scientist at Columbia University put it this way for Grist: “‘We are seeing record after record after record.” And: “‘It looks like the worst case scenario put forward by the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] could be an underestimate because we are seeing ice melting now that we expected 30 to 40 years from now” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/15/global-temps-continue-soar-upward-noaa-confirms-2019-was-hottest).

A big challenge: disconnecting the American economy from fossil fuels

The understandable focus on the sources of the climate crisis has largely been on the greenhouse gases emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels and the need to stop using them as fast as we can, though the challenge to do so is immense. There is a need for rapid transition away from oil and gas to renewables and energy efficiency that would require transformational changes across the economy, including in the energy, transportation, construction, manufacturing, and other sectors. However daunting, the present situation forces us to make a choice as to whether to suffer the consequences of additional warming of the planet with all its cataclysmic effects or support transformational changes. And the challenge is made even more difficult because, according to recent scientific estimates, humanity only has a few decades at most before calamitous weather events, a seriously degraded environment, failed states, and rising waves of desperate people can be reduced or reversed.

Greenhouse gas emissions: 63% from fossil fuels, but a striking 37% from agriculture and the related processing, packaging and distribution of food
.

One of the chief findings in the IPCC report is that efforts to curtail global warming must pay serious attention to how land in a general sense is used and its effects. According to Georgina Gustin, the authors of the IPCC report are referring to “the entire food production system, with transportation and packaging included,” a system that “accounts for as much as 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions,” and the need to prioritize in the US and worldwide “better land use, less-meat-intensive diets and eliminating food waste.” Specifically, “Agriculture and deforestation account for 23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the report says that if the entire spectrum of food production were factored in—from growing crops to transportation and packaging—that percentage could be as high as 37 percent”(https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08082019/ipcc-agriculture-report-food-system-overhaul-climate-change-deforestation).

These IPCC assessments were reached through a collaborative scientific approach

As Guston describes it: “Negotiations over the final wording of the report, which was written after assessing thousands of studies, began in Geneva last week (first week in August). Attendees said the talks were bogged down at times by negotiators from countries, including the United States, with powerful biofuels and livestock industries. Still, they call for a very different kind of agricultural system that adds carbon to the soil, limits greenhouse-gas emitting fertilizers, stops deforestation while supporting reforestation and protecting forests, along with other efforts to manage land in ways that contain rather than release carbon and methane gases into the earth’s atmosphere.

Here is a list of key findings from the IPCC report’s findings on land degradation and associated problems.

• Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Dominant agricultural practices are ones that degrade the land, including the increased use of nitrogen fertilizer, high intensity water usage, and other practices that destroy the soil and the micro-organisms that nourish the soil and plants.
• “Around three-quarters of the global ice-free land, and most of the highly productive land area, are by now under some form of land use…Grazing land is the single largest land-use category, followed by used forestland and cropland.”
• “An estimated one quarter of total anthropogenic GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions [from land uses] arise mainly from deforestation, ruminant livestock and fertilizer application, and especially methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture….”
• More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
• The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
• Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
• There is a gender-dimension to the problem of land degradation. According to the report: “A gender inclusive approach offers opportunities to enhance the sustainable management of land. Women play a significant role in agriculture and rural economies globally. In many World religions, laws, cultural restrictions, patriarchy and social structures such as discriminatory customary laws and norms reduce women’s capacity in supporting the sustainable land resources. Therefore, acknowledging women’s land rights and bringing women’s land management knowledge into land-related decision-making would support the alleviation of land degradation and facilitate the take-up of integrated adaptation and mitigation measures.”
• Population growth has put increasing demands on the food-producing and -distribution systems.
• In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
• One of the outcomes of current land-use practices is rising food insecurity, a situation in which there is too little food availability to meet basic needs or the inability to access food. “After a prolonged decline, world hunger appears to be on the rise again with the number of undernourished people having increased to an estimated 821 million in 2017, up from 804 million in 2016. Of the total undernourished in 2018, “256 million” lived in Africa, and “784 million” in Asia (excluding Japan).”
• Unequal land arrangements and access to land is “strongly affected by local land ownership.” The authors also refer to how existing “power relations often disfavor disadvantaged groups such as small scale farmers indigenous community or women.” They add that “large-scale land acquisition (LSLA) are a factor in driving food insecurity. “LSLAs are promoted by investors and host governments on economic grounds (infrastructure, employment, market development), but their social and environmental impacts can be negative and significant.”
• Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992. According to the report: “Urban and other infrastructure areas expanded by a factor of 2 since 1960, resulting in disproportionately large losses of highly-fertile cropland.”
• Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totaling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.

The authors not only assess the cause and effects of agriculture and forestry on global warming but also consider changes that would reduce such effects. Here is a list of proposals from the report.

• Farming more sustainably, i.e., using less fertilizer, lowering tillage and employing practices that increase the soil’s ability to hold carbon. In a section on “land management,” the authors says there is high agreement among the contributors to the report “on choices such as agroecology (including agroforestry), conservation agriculture and forestry practices, crop and forest species diversity, appropriate crop and forest rotations, organic farming, integrated pest management, the preservation and protection of pollination services, rain water harvesting, range and pasture management, and precision agriculture systems.” They add: “Conservation agriculture and forestry uses management practices with minimal soil disturbance, such as no tillage or minimum tillage, permanent soil cover with mulch combined with rotations to ensure a permanent soil surface, or rapid regeneration of forest following harvest.”
• Large-scale tree-planting on previously unforested land. The authors of the IPCC report write: “Reforestation is a mitigation measure with potential co-benefits for conservation and adaptation, including biodiversity habitat, air and water filtration, flood control, enhanced soil fertility and reversal of land degradation.”
• Manage fisheries to prevent over-fishing (e.g., impose quota or temporary bans on endangered fisheries).
• Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Rapid reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions that restrict warming to ‘well-below’ 2 degrees C [say by phasing out fossil fuels] would generally reduce the negative impacts of climate change on land ecosystems” (e.g., less drought). And changes to a sustainable system of agriculture and land use generally would lower greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
• Changing diets – “‘Diets present major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gases as well, because diets that are rich in plant-based foods emit lower greenhouse gases than diets that are very heavy in red meat consumption,’ Rosenzweig said. The report’s authors conclude that, by 2050, dietary changes could free up hundreds of millions of acres of land, which could help avoid deforestation and reduce emissions.” — The most optimistic scenario, in which fewer resources are consumed and more people adopt “low greenhouse gas” diets, would translate to lower emissions and help keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the aim of the Paris climate agreement.
• Reducing food waste – “The authors say reducing food waste is another key strategy for cutting emissions from the food system. Nearly a third of the food produced in the world is lost or wasted.” To address this problem, the authors recommend “advancing harvesting technologies, storage capacity, and efficient transportation” as methods that “could all contribute to reducing these losses with co-benefits for food availability, the land area needed for food production and related CHG emissions.” They also point to the need for individuals to waste less food, for there to be less food waste at the retail level, and for there to be reductions in food waste along production and consumption supply chains.” Generally, “overconsumption was found to waste 9-10% of food bought” A further benefit of reducing food waste is that if it was reduced by 50%, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by “20 to 30% of total food-sourced GHGs

On the one hand, the IPCC authors have done us all a great favor by bringing further attention to the problems of land degradation and forcing us to think about big solutions. Indeed, it is important to highlight the problems of how land is degraded by current agricultural and forestry practices, how high-meat diets from prevalent livestock ranches interact with the accelerating problem of climate disruption, and how food security for hundreds of millions of people across the planet is undermined by the enormous scale of food waste that is part and parcel of the present dominant agriculture system. More than that, it provides additional factually based, verifiable evidence that helps to dispute and reveal the counterproductive policies of the Trump administration, as the administration brazenly opens more public lands, including national parks, to mining, farming, ranching, logging and fracking, while also eviscerating laws and regulations that have been designed to protect the public land and the species that inhabit them. Trump, his advisers, and the powerful corporate interests that benefit in profits and enhanced political and economic power from these unsustainable policies, ignore the extensive damage that is being wrought for their short terms economic gains and political advantage. (I’ll come back to this below.)

On the other hand, the report fails to consider how, for example in the US, the problems of land use, reflected in the current agriculture system and in related land uses, are a consequence of a capitalist system that is inherently exploitative of people and land at home and abroad. On this point, the dominance of agribusiness in the US agricultural system has been well documented. For example, Vandana Shiva, physicist and world renown environmental thinker and activist, tireless crusader for economic, food, and gender justice, has written about “the toxic cartel,” which includes the “Big 6 pesticide and GMO corporations that own the world’s seed, pesticide and biotechnology industries.” They include: “BASF, Bayer, Dupont, Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto, and Syngenta.” Dupont is said to be merging with Dow, and Bayer with Monsanto (p. 57). The principal owners of these corporations are “investment funds like Vanguard, Blackrock, Capital group, Fidelity, State Street Global Advisers, Norges, Bank Investment Management (NBIM), and others” (p. 58). The toxic cartel, Shiva writes, is expanding and “going beyond the convergence of seeds, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, to farm equipment and information technologies, and to climate data, soil data, and insurance in a bid to have total control over our daily food” (p. 62). There can be no solution to the problem of land degradation without an effective challenge politically to the influence of this complex of powerful interests.

Along these lines, the IPCC report says nothing about how the governments in the US and other “rich” countries have facilitated the commercial and extractive land-relevant interests of mega corporations, ranchers, and others private, for-profit interests in perpetrating or launching practices that degrade the land, while paying little attention to the sustainability or regenerative practices, the plight of small farmers or farm workers, or the importance small farmers in the solution. Vandana Shiva has also written extensively about the latter point (e.g., Who Really Feeds the World: The Failures of Agribusiness and the Promises of Agroecology). US government farm and farm-relevant policies have been crucial in enabling the current unsustainable and land degrading agriculture system to continue, and played a particularly important role with respect to public land and how administrations have opened this land, allowing private corporate interests cheap, easy, little regulated access to exploit the public’s land for farming, ranching, the extraction of minerals and fossil fuels, timber, and for various other commercial interests.

Going in the wrong direction with Trump – on public land

Randi Spivak reports generally on how Trump and his administration are “attacking our public lands” and plundering them at a terrifying rate, as they have “kicked the door open and let in profiteers to mine, drill, frack, log, and bulldoze. Along the way, it’s worsening the climate crisis, endangering wildlife, and divesting our natural inheritance to fatten the dividends for massive corporations” (https://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/public-lands-trump-climate-change-20190816). Spivak brings to our attention to how Trump and his administration have “slashed” the budgets for two national monuments in Utah, while the “Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America’s public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber, and livestock interests since the day he took office.” And a lot of land is at stake. We are talking today about “670 million acres of forests, canyons, rivers, wetlands, mountains, and high deserts. Native American sacred sites. Ancient migratory pronghorn paths and towering temperate rainforests. Pristine streams that feed wild salmon and endangered pikeminnow. Prehistoric artifacts.”

Undermining the Endangered Species Act has general implications

Then, in early August, 2019, Spivak reports that “Trump launched a massive attack on imperiled wildlife, finalizing changes to the Endangered Species Act that could lead to extinction for hundreds of animal and plant species. The changes, which will make it harder to protect wildlife habitat from development, come in the face of urgent scientific warnings that humans have driven up to 1 million species worldwide to the brink of extinction.”
In an article for Inside Climate News, Sabrina Shankman points out that Endangered Species Act has been given credit “with keeping 99 percent of listed species from becoming extinct, including humpback whales and bald eagles” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13082019/climate-change-endangered-species-act-arctic-trump-changes-polar-bear-wildlife). The revisions advanced by the Trump administration will “make it harder to take climate change into account when deciding whether a species needs protection,” “limit protections for critical habitat,” and allow “agencies to consider economic interests when deciding whether to list a species – something that was explicitly forbidden in the past.” That is, profits will take precedence over the environment. Also, “Under the new application of the rule, a species can only be listed as threatened if its population is going to be affected in the ‘foreseeable future,’ allowing decisionmakers in the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA to ignore long-term threats like climate change.”

Who benefits? Shankman nails it: “The oil and gas industry, which has long argued that the Endangered Species Act restricts its ability to pursue natural resources by putting some areas off limits, would benefit from the revisions, and the American Petroleum Institute said it welcomed the Interior Department’s changes. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, whose president was with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for the announcement, also applauded the move, calling it.” And: “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement that the revisions ‘fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.’”

Trump and his administration want to lease millions of acres of public land to oil companies and other for-profit enterprises

Zach Coleman reports for Grist on this story (https://grist.org/article/under-trump-public-lands-could-see-leases-on-millions-of-acres). He writes: “The administration’s new policies would bring sweeping changes to this Rocky Mountain landscape, facilitated by a growing bond between federal officials and the oil and gas industry. Emails and other communications between government employees obtained by E&E News reveal directives and orders by Trump officials to shelve environmental policies to speed energy development.” He continues: “In one instance, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke courted oil and gas drillers in private by assuring them that changes to federal land policy would make their companies more profitable.”

The land is being sold at bargain-basement prices. The policies of the Trump administration “will set the nation on a future course of reliance on fossil fuels that cause climate change, more air and water pollution in rural areas, and new threats to endangered species. In return, the government charges oil companies as little as $2 per acre to lease the land for drilling.” Trump administrators have already been implementing such leases and hope it turns out to be a long-term trend. According to the documents obtained by E&E News, Trump “wants to open millions of acres across the West, all owned by taxpayers, to private oil and gas companies. Last year alone, his administration put 11.9 million acres on the auction block. It was the most in nine years. In sheer size, that’s twice as big as Vermont.” It remains to be seen whether all the leases will be purchased. They justify the self-off as one that will generate revenues for federal and state governments and claim that the royalties from the leases will be used for conservation, under-estimate the volume of greenhouse gases that are expected to be emitted, and downplay how the policy has been coordinated with fossil-fuel interests.

Unsustainable land use practices existed prior to Trump; he just doubles-down on them

Such practices did not begin with Trump, as Christopher Ketchum lays out the history of how the public land have for generations been plundered for profit in his book, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West. He considers the history of this helter-skelter, exploitative and corrupt process. One example: “During the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth, much of the land was leased and sold off in a frenzy of corrupt dealings. Railroads, corporations, land speculators, mining interests, and stockmen gorged on the public domain, helped along by the fabulously pliable General Land Office, which from 1812 until its closure in 1946 privatized more than a billion acres, roughly half the landmass of the nation” (p. 23). This land acquisition, abetted by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service, has led to the despoliation of the soil and grasslands, to damage and destruction to eco-systems and habitats, and the extinction of wildlife and plant species. Ketchum provides a rich, in-depth historical analysis of how private interests have benefited from access to public lands. Here’s a recent example.

“State and federal officials of both parties, elected and appointed, defend the panoply of subsidies as the cattlemen’s divine right, passing legislation and tweaking regulations to favor the industry and protect it from oversight. Consider this emblematic instance: when in 2010 the Department of the Interior funded $40 million for the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] to conduct a broad study of ecological trends and ‘change agents’ on public lands, the Obama administration exempted grazing – the change agent with the heaviest footprint. ‘One of the biggest scientific studies ever undertaken by BLM was fatally skewed from its inception by political pressure, reported the nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). ‘When the scientific teams were assembled at an August 2010 workshop, BLM managers informed them that grazing would not be studied due to anxiety from ‘stakeholders’ – code for ranchers – and ‘fear of litigation.’ A participating scientist remarked at the time, ‘We will be laughed out of the room if we don’t [include] grazing.’ PEER’s executive director, Jeff Ruch, observed, ‘If grazing can be locked so blithely into a scientific broom closet, it speaks volumes about science-based decision-making” (p. 70).

Jim Robbins highlights the effects of the industrial-type farming practice have occurred for a long time and it is “one of the most ecologically destructive things that humans do.” He continues: “Plowing large fields every year causes a mammoth loss of topsoil; erosion removes 30 tons of soil per hectare per year, on average, according to one study.” The monoculture crops are subject to diseases that can wipe them out. The fungus Tropical race 4, for example, has decimated the global Cavendish banana crop – the kind we all eat – largely because they are a genetically identical fruit grown in vast one-crop plantations” (https://e360yale.edu/features/with-new-perennial-grain-a-step-forward-for-eco-friendly-agiculture).

Evaggelos Vallianatos observes that American farmers “have been addicted to huge petroleum-fueled machines, mountains of petroleum-based fertilizers, and rivers of petrochemical poisons.” She continues: “These ‘inputs’ undermine the fertility and life of the land. Petrochemicals [the herbicides, insecticides] fight nature, primarily by killing beneficial microorganisms in the soil and poisoning beneficial insects and other wildlife” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/08/12/farm-rot-is-eating-america-alive). This method of “farm chemical warfare has been going on for several decades.”

It was decades ago when Rachel Carson brought the world’s attention to the lethal effects of DDT and chemicals in food production in her famous book, Silent Spring, in 1962. The research then and since then show documents that “petrochemical companies, and the land grant universities have been inventing toxic weapons of the farmers [that] keep farmers hooked on every newer hazardous substances” and keep farmers on a chemical treadmill, as insects morph into ever more resistant varieties. Vallianatos points out that the spraying starves birds and other wildlife, poisons honeybees, impoverishes wildflowers and reduces the amounts of pollinated plants and crops. A recent peer-reviewed study published August 6, 2019, “revealed that American agriculture is now about 50 times more deleterious to insects than it was 25 years ago. The second terrible truth is that neonicotinoid insect-killing chemicals account for 92 percent of the growing toxic wrath of land and farming.” Additionally, Vallianatos writes, “Insects, after all, are the ‘food web’ sustaining life on Earth. They are essential for birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles, and mammals. They decompose animal wastes and dead vegetation, enriching the soil. They make farming possible. They pollinate our crops and eat those bugs harming our fruits, vegetables, and other crops.”

Carey Gilliam has spent recent decades in researching the effects of toxic chemicals in agriculture, with attention to the role that Monsanto has played in this continuing story. In her book, White Wash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science (2017), she documents how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have refused to test for the herbicide named glyphosate, known by consumers as Roundup, a weed killer patented, produced and distributed by the mega-corporation Monsanto, which recently merged with another mega-corporation, Germany’s Bayer AG. Gillam notes that glyphosate “has for many years been the most widely used herbicide in the world” (p. 9). Research has indicated that glyphosate may cause cancer in animals and humans, and that “Monsanto faces a long list of people who attribute their cancers to Roundup (p. 15). Nonetheless, the weed killer is found virtually everywhere in the environment. Gillam writes:

“By 2013, glyphosate use was so widespread that U.S. government researchers were documenting it in our air and waterways as well as in human and animal urine, including that of dairy cows. An analysis of state water agency data by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found glyphosate in tap water in at least six states, flowing through water utilities that serve more than 650,000 people” (p. 20).

Sustainable alternatives are available – some examples

The recommendations from the IPCC report on land degradation

Recall that the IPCC report on land degradation offered a set of proposals aimed at the regeneration of the land, including how to farm sustainably, large-scale tree planting, management of fisheries, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and poor agricultural and land-use practices, changes in diets away from red-meat consumption, the need to greatly diminish food waste.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ report on “sustainable agriculture”

The Union of Concerned Scientists have issued a report in which “sustainable agriculture” based on agroecological principles and practices is defined (https://www.ucsusa.org/food-agriculture/advance-sustainable-agriculture/what-is-sustainable-agriculture). The report posits that “[e]nvironmental sustainability in agriculture means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources” that is based on” building and maintaining health soil, managing water wisely, minimizing air, water, and climate pollution, and promoting biodiversity. According to the scientists, sustainable agriculture practices includes “several key sustainable farming practices, such as:

“Rotating crops and embracing diversity. Planting a variety of crops can have many benefits, including healthier soil and improved pest control. Crop diversity practices include intercropping (growing a mix of crops in the same area) and complex multi-year crop rotations.”

“Planting cover crops. Cover crops, like clover or hairy vetch, are planted during off-season times when soils might otherwise be left bare. These crops protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients, and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides.”

“Reducing or eliminating tillage. Traditional plowing (tillage) prepares fields for planting and prevents weed problems, but can cause a lot of soil loss. No-till or educed till methods, which involve inserting seeds directly into soil, can reduce erosion and improve soil health.”

“Applying integrated pest management (IPM). A range of methods, including mechanical and biological controls, can be applied systematically to keep pest populations under control while minimizing use of the chemical pesticides.”

“Integrating livestock and crops. Industrial agriculture tends to keep plant and animal production separate, with animals living far from the areas where their feed is produced, and crops growing far away from abundant manure fertilizers. A growing body of evidence shows that a smart integration of crop and animal production can be a recipe for more efficient, profitable farms.”

“Adopting agroforestry practices. By mixing trees or shrubs into their operations, farmers can provide shade and shelter to protect plants, animals, and water resources, while also potentially offering additional income.”

“Managing whole systems and landscapes. Sustainable farms treat uncultivated or less intensively cultivated areas, such as riparian buffers or prairie strips, as integral to the farm – valued for their role in controlling erosion, nutrient runoff, and supporting pollinators and other biodiversity.”

There is also research that confirms the viability of agroecological principles and practices. They give this example: “an ongoing study at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm research center has shown that complex crop rotation systems can outproduce conventional monocultural in both yield and profitability.” You can obtain further details and a wealth of information by going to the Union of Concerned Scientist site and accessing a series of reports related to sustainable agriculture.

Example of ecologically sustainable farming

In an article for Yes! Magazine, Kristin Ohlson gives us examples of ecologically sustainable farms (https://truthout.org/articles/for-a-sustainable-climate-and-food-regenerative-agriculture-us-the-key/?utm_source=sharebutton&utm_medium=mashshare&utm_campaign=mashshare). She tells of a visit to a South Dakota cornfield with “entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren.” She witnesses corn “as a high as an elephant’s eye” and describes the field as follows.

“Instead of the sunbaked, bare lanes between cornstalks that are typical of conventional agriculture, these lanes sprout an assortment of cover crops. These are plants that save soil from wind and water erosion, reduce the evaporation of soil moisture, and attract beneficial insects and birds. Like all plants, these cover crops convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into a liquid carbon food, some for themselves and some to support the fungi, bacteria, and other microscopic partners underground. A portion of that carbon stays there, turning poor soil into fragrant, fertile stuff that resembles chocolate cake.”

This thriving cornfield is part of an experiment of a research institute called Ecdysis that Lundgren started back in 2016. They conduct “comparative studies between conventional agriculture and regenerative agriculture, which is generally defined as agriculture that builds soil health and overall biodiversity and yields a nutritious and profitable farm product.” Furthermore: “Regenerative farmers avoid tilling so that they protect the community of soil microorganisms, the water-storing pores they create underground, and the carbon they’ve stashed there. They encourage plant diversity and plant cover that mimics nature in their fields, avoid farm chemicals, and let farm animals polish off the crop residue.”

In 2018, Lundgren published a study that, according to Ohlson, “followed 10 cornfields per farm on 20 farms over two growing seasons, half of which were regenerative and half conventional. The study tracked soil carbon, insect pests, corn yield, and profits.” The key findings? “…while the regenerative farms used older, lower-yielding corn varieties without fertilizer and had lower yields, their overall profits were 78% higher than the conventional farmers.” This was partly “because the regenerative farmers’ costs were so much lower, with no cash outlays for costly insecticides and GMO seeds. They also ‘stacked enterprises’ and had two or more sources of income on the same acre—in this case, they grazed their cattle on corn residue after harvest and got a premium price for pastured beef. What was the primary factor correlating with farm profitability? The amount of carbon and organic matter in the farmers’ fields, not their yields.”

Finally, Ohlson refers to a 2018 interview with soil scientist Rattan Lal, “one of the first people to connect the loss of soil carbon caused by destructive farming to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” In that interview, “Lal said that he and his colleagues estimated that regenerating landscapes—farms, forests, coastlands, and so on—could restore up to 150 gigatons (a gigaton equals 1 billion tons) of carbon to the world’s soil in 80 years.” Continuing, he said: “All the extra vegetation grown to put that carbon in the soil would store 150–160 gigatons more, resulting in a terrestrial biosphere holding an additional 330 gigatons of carbon, equal to a drawdown of 150 to 160 parts per million of CO2 from the atmosphere,” and concluded: ‘We should encourage the policy makers that this process of restoring degraded soils and ecosystems is a win, win, win option.”

Concluding thoughts

As in other spheres of our oligarchically-structured contemporary life, here in the US we are saddled with a President and administration who want to advance private interests over the public interest generally and specifically how their policies pay no attention to how to protect the soil and conserve water, forests, fisheries, etc. and only think of how to give away public land to for-profit enterprises.

Nonetheless with all that going on, we are fortunate to have what appears to be a growing movement of people here and across the world who are concerned about ending fossil fuels, and engaging variously in support of policies that support sustainable agriculture, reforestation projects, a greening of economies, and, in these and other ways, challenge existing power structures. We are fortunate to have farmers who sustain the land. We are fortunate to have scientists who carry out illuminating research and investigative journalists who unveil the truth. We are fortunate to have authors who dig into sources to reveal what’s going on behind the scenes. We are fortunate to have some elected representatives in the US Congress and across the country who have the courage and knowledge to support bold policies. We are fortunate to have teachers at all levels who are committed to their students and strive to understand and convey the sound information. We are fortunate to have many citizens who find time to be informed about important issues. And we are fortunate that time to create sustainable alternatives has not yet run out.

Analysis of and Progressive Alternatives to the Dead-End Policies of Trump and the Right-Wing Alliance

Analysis of and progressive alternatives to the dead-end policies of Trump and the right-wing alliance
Bob Sheak, August 10, 2019

The evidence based on verifiable facts depicts a reality of the US that is deeply troublingly, especially when this evidence is so often missed, ignored, misconstrued, or intentionally distorted. It takes a bit of time and effort to stay informed on the array of important issues that confront us. Here is a sample of what so many people are missing from a report by Jake Johnson on the distribution of wealth that captures how badly the present political-economic system is so unequally skewed in favor of the rich and powerful among us (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/05/if-inequality-continues-grow-current-rate-richest-americans-will-own-100-us-wealth). The point is that, rather than trickling down, wealth has flowed up in torrents.

“If wealth inequality in the United States continues to soar at its current rate,” Johnson reports, “the top 10 percent of Americans could own 100 percent of the nation’s net worth by 2052.” The supporting data for this contention comes from the Federal Research, which document that “[f]rom 2013 to 2016, the top 10 percent of households increased their share of total wealth from an amazing 75.3 percent to a stunning 77.2 percent. That’s a share gain of 1.87 percent in just three years.’” If that rate of increase continues, they will take the 22.8 percent now held by the other 90 percent of the population, fueled by Trump’s massive tax cuts for the rich. Johnson also refers to the published research of the University of California Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman that just 400 Americans “own more than the bottom 150 million Americans.” Between 1989 and 2018, “the top one percent increases its total net worth by $21 trillion.” At the same time, according to a report by Matt Bruenig published on Common Dreams in June, “Federal Reserve data…show that the bottom half of Americans lost $900 billion in wealth between 1989 and 2018.”

The Right-wing alliance

Presently, the chief beneficiaries of the opposition to scientific and verifiable evidence on the economic, political, and social conditions of the country are the groups that make up the right-wing alliance. It is based on an affinity of interests and ideologies, with a massive propaganda effort to sustain and consolidate the current unequal, environmentally destructive, and corporate-dominated capitalist system. The alliance includes Trump, his advisers, the Republican Party, the red state political leaders, Trump’s base of 63 million or so voters, the mega-corporations that dominate all sectors of the economy, and probably most businesses and trade associations, along with right-wing experts, think tanks, political-action groups, and right-wing media. This seemingly disparate assorted of groups find enough common ground in combining economic, militaristic, nationalistic, white supremacist, xenophobic, anything-goes gun advocates, evangelical fundamentalists, and anti-environmental ideologies and interests.

The base is regularly energized by Trump’s tweets and rallies and a broad right-wing propaganda establishment. Ari Rabin-Havt and Media Matters elaborates on “the world of post-truth politics” in their book, Lies, Incorporated. They document the existence of what they label “Lies, Incorporated,” which is “made of lobbyists, PR companies, media lackeys, unethical ‘experts,’ and unscrupulous think tanks. This is a “growing industry that exists to create and disseminate fictitious public policy ‘facts’ on behalf of business and ideological interests willing to pay for them,” and to identify strategies for sustaining support from the broad right-wing base (pp. 5-6).

The center of power

Not all segments of this right-wing alliance necessarily espouse or are even concerned about every aspect of the policies and practices that emanate from such a vast and variegated right-wing coalition. But there is a center of power that keeps the primary focus on economic and political issues.

This center revolves around the key activists in this coalition, including Trump and his key advisers and appointees, those who run the mega-corporations, the rich, and key Republicans in the US Congress. They are supported by major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, The American Enterprise, and more more. They have their experts of all kinds to support their positions – trained staff, public relations advisers, lobbyists, lawyers, “conservative” economists, high-tech experts, etc. – who advance self-serving explanations and justifications to preserve and advance the advantages of the center of power, with a heavy dose of propaganda. And they use the most sophisticated computer hacking approaches from organizations like Quantum Analytica that use massive data bases on millions of people to manipulate how voters in key congressional districts vote or discourage people from voting. Then, focusing on those identified as “persuadable,” money pours in from “dark money” political contributors to barrage these citizens with misinformation and ads attacking Democratic candidates and their policies. This is supplemented by nefarious but often effective voter suppression efforts by the Republican Party establishment in the various states (e.g. gerrymandering, burdensome voter ID laws, misinformation about when and where to vote, the lack of reasonably located voting places, too few voting machines).

Those at the center of this right-wing coalition consolidate and advance their illiberal policies at home and abroad that are designed to favor the mega-corporations and the rich with selective and opportunistic support for programs of other parts of the society when politically it is expedient to do so. Domestically, neoliberal economic policies includes an emphasis on tax breaks for corporations and the rich, reducing regulations on the mega corporations and the private sector, re-directing government revenues away from public education, social-welfare programs of all kinds, as well as efforts to privatize or increase privatization of any parts of the public sector or public land from which there are potential profits to be made.

Indeed, the right-wing alliance can only win elections by using its political power by using manipulating the information received by undecided, moderate, and nonvoters in key congressional districts to support Republican candidates or by suppressing the vote of those likely to choose Democratic candidates. And they did this effectively enough in the 2016 election to elect a buffoon, malicious narcissist, and reckless President and an obstructionist and right-wing Republican candidates to the US Senate and House. It is not all bleak. The 2018 mid-term election gave Democrats, including progressive Democrats, control of the US House of Representatives. However, there is also reason to see a foreboding reality.

Central arguments of the right-wingers for “more of the same” – with some rebuttal

First, they contend that government spending, regulation and taxation should be avoided to the maximum extent – unless it benefits them.

They argue that government is mostly inefficient and wasteful, except when government reduces taxes, regulations, and opens public land, or schools, or prisons, or infrastructure to be privatized, or coastal waters to be mined for oil. They have had their eyes on privatizing Social Security and Medicare for a long time and do their best to oppose reforms that would strengthen these hallmark social programs. They make room for big exceptions. It’s okay to spend an enormous amount of taxpayer money on “national defense” for an already bloated military, far more than any other country. It’s okay for the government to do the basic research on new drugs if it then gives them long-term patents for-profit corporations to produce and sell the drugs for whatever price they chose. And it’s okay to run up the national debt without any real concern about the eventual disastrous economic consequences. There are plenty of such examples.

Steven Pearlstein writes on the anti-regulation views of the right wing as follows. “The mindless animosity toward all regulation…has now provided a rationale for handing over the keys to independent regulatory agencies to lobbyists and executives from the very industries they are supposed to regulate….Their aim is to hollow out these agencies from the inside – to maintain the fiction that the government is still protecting workers, consumers, investors and the environment while, in reality, trusting markets to restrain predatory business behavior.” And: “After gaining control of both the White House and Congress in 2016, Republicans moved aggressively to rescind dozens of Obama-era regulations that would surely strike most Americans as fair and reasonable. These include a rule setting strict environmental standards for oil and gas drilling in national parks and wildlife refuges, a rule barring federal student loans at for-profit colleges whose graduates never get jobs and a rule requiring financial advisers to act in the best interest of their customers. They include a rule preventing mines from dumping debris into nearby rivers and streams and a rule preventing cable and phone companies from collecting and selling information about the internet sites visited by customers. They even set out a to repeal a long-standing rule preventing restaurant owners from taking waiter’s tips for themselves” (Can American Capitalism Survive? Why Greed is Not Good, Opportunity is Not Equal, Fairness won’t make up Poor (2018). p. 14).

Pearlstein also points out that they want tax cuts so bad that “[e]ven the long-cherished conservative ideals such as balancing budgets and investing in infrastructure have been tossed overboard in the relentless pursuit of tax cuts, which are now the reflexive Republican solution to any problem” (p 15). Of course, for corporations and their political supporters the chase for profits continues to take precedence over all other interests.

Second, they contend that the unbridled “market” should be the rule in the economy, with some self-serving exceptions.

The right-wingers argue that generally a competitive “free market” is the best way to allocate the society’s resources, because, they say with a straight face, it unleashes the entrepreneurial spirt of investors and leads to innovation and capital accumulation. They ignore contrary evidence. They ignore the uncompetitive reality of oligopoly and concentrated corporate power (more on this point below). They ignore how corporate executives and the bankers have hollowed out US manufacturing, investing in low-wage economies rather than in the US economy and workers. They ignore, and welcome, the lavish compensation given to corporate executives. They ignore the principal of the polluter pays. Profits are foremost in their business decisions. Many executives act as though they are above the law.

The Corporate Crime Reporter publishes a running list of corporate crimes, posting examples every week (https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/corporate-crime-morning-minute-podcast). Here are the examples for the last two weeks (as of this writing, Aug 9).

Week of August 5, 2019
Friday August 9, 2019 Is Amazon Liable for Defective Products Sold on Its Site?
Thursday August 8, 2019 Tech Millionaire Fined $3.7 Million After Destroying Wetlands for Winery
Wednesday August 7, 2019 How Trump’s Political Appointees Overruled Tougher Settlements With Big Banks
Tuesday August 6, 2019 NRA Chief Sought Help of Group’s Ad Agency in Trying to Buy $5 Million Mansion
Monday August 5, 2019 Defense Contractors Tighten Grip on Pentagon

Week of July 29, 2019
Friday August 2, 2019 Breast Implants Linked to Rare Cancer Recalled
Thursday August 1, 2019 Taco Seasonings Recalled
Wednesday July 31, 2019 FTC Fines Facebook $5 Billion
Tuesday July 30, 2019 3M China Bribery Probe
Monday July 29, 2019 Most California Lawmakers Took Money from Convicted Felon PG&E

There is another important point. The right-wing proponents of the “free market” dismiss the economic reality that a few mega-corporations control most of the assets, revenues, sales, and profits in most sectors of the economy and do their best to mislead the public about this reality. The real concern is that extraordinary economic power will distort markets and have a un-democratic impact on government. Here’s what I wrote about the concentration of corporate wealth in a post sent out on November 2, 2017, disputing the contention that the US has an economy driven by competitive markets.

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From November 2, 2017 post.

There is no doubt that we have a capitalist economy dominated by mega-corporations that measure their success by their profits and the value of their stocks compared to those of their domestic and foreign competitors. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a megacorporation as “a huge and powerful corporation.” You get some sense of the size of these corporations from the numbers generated each year by Fortune magazine in its “Fortune 500” list of the largest corporations in the economy. In the magazine’s most recent list for 2017, the magazine finds that “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP [gross domestic product], $2 trillion in revenues, $890 billion in profits, and $19 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide” (http://fortune.com/fortune500/list). The corporation with the most revenues in 2017 is Walmart, with $485.8 billion in revenues. The corporation with the most profits in 2017 is Apple, with $45.7 billion. The biggest corporations have more assets than most nations. According to Quora, there are 220 U.S. “firms” with revenues of $2 billion or more (https://www.quora.com/Forbes-400-How-many-companies-in-the-world-generate-over-US-1-billion-in-annual-revenue).

Here’s another way of thinking about the role played by mega-corporations. The domination of industry-specific markets by a few large corporations is defined as an oligopoly. In the U.S. economy, most industries are oligopolies. We have an economy in which virtually all industries and markets are dominated by a few mega-corporations. According to Wikipedia, “An oligopoly (from Ancient Greek ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning ‘few’, and πωλεῖν (polein), meaning ‘to sell’ is a market form wherein a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. Oligopoly has its own market structure.” Wikipedia continues: “With few sellers, each oligopolist is likely to be aware of the actions of the others. According to game theory, the decisions of one firm therefore influence and are influenced by decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists needs to take into account the likely responses of the other market participants” (https://en/wikipedia/wiki/Oligopoly).

Tim Wu throws further light on this form of corporate concentration in an article for The New Yorker entitled “The Oligopoly Problem” (https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-oligopoly-problem). He refers to Barry Lynn’s 2011 book Cornered “which carefully detailed the rising concentration and consolidation of nearly every American industry since the nineteen-eighties.” Lynn’s chief finding is that dominance by two or three firms “is not the exception but increasingly the rule.” Wu gives this example, among others: “while drugstores seem to offer unlimited choices in toothpaste, just two firms, Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive, control more than eighty percent of the market….” Wu argues that there should be more government regulation of such arrangements.
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The right-wing disinformation apparatus also ignores the obviously flawed medical system dominated by insurance, pharmaceutical, and medical-equipment corporations that keep prices rising for medical care, prescription drugs, hospital care, and a system in which tens of millions of American cannot afford insurance or afford medical care when they are insured. And they dismiss how the mega-banks and mega-auto corporations were among the principal causes of the Great Recession in 2007-2009, or that they were kept in business with an enormous federal government bailout, while millions of ordinary citizens lost their jobs and homes. They ignore furthermore how the Federal Reserve employed a method called “quantitative easing” to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars of toxic (valueless) assets that threatened the viability and bottom lines of the mega financial institutions on Wall Street. And, astoundingly and brazenly, the banks have grown bigger since the recession, while the “too big to fail” rule is now institutionalized in practice and in place for another taxpayer bailout the next time the mega banks and their speculative investment strategies lead to another market crash. The point: forget all this hogwash about a competitive economy based on a “free market.”

Third, they contend that only the free market economy can produce strong growth and the fruits of it will trickle down.

The economic growth that the “free” market produces is said to trickle down to the middle and working classes in jobs, income, wealth, and a slew of commodities of all sorts. However, the evidence indicates that more and more of the jobs are jobs that have little security, no benefits, low wages, and no union protection. And the distribution of incomes and wealth have reached record levels of inequality since the “roaring twenties,” as much of it goes to the most affluent and richest segments of the population. Examples abound of the lack of trickle down in the growing number of people who find it difficult or impossible to find decent and safe housing, or safe water to drink, or afford medical care, who or are “food insecure,” or whose children attend under-resourced schools, or whose parents must, if they are physically able, continue working into their 70s and 80s.

Anand Giridharadas refers to examples of widespread deprivation in his book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, where he writes: “the average American’s health remains worse and slower-improving than that of peers in other rich countries”; “the average twelfth grader tests more poorly in reading than in 1992”; “the share of young people who own a business has fallen by two-thirds since the 1980s”; “illiteracy has remained stubbornly in place and that the fraction of Americans who read at least one work of literature a year has dropped by almost a quarter in recent decades”; “the average pretax income of the top tenth of Americans had doubled since 1980, that of the top 1 percent has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001 percent has risen more than sevenfold – even as the pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same” (p. 4).

Jake Johnson, whose article on the highly unequal distribution of wealth I cited on the first page, reports on a study that uses figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Kaiser Family Foundation that finds the costs of employer-sponsored health insurance soared from 1999 through 2017 by 127 percent, while the median -household income rose only 2 percent, reflecting the stagnation in wages (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/07/eating-away-workers-wages-employer-sponsored-health-insurance-soared-121-1999). Johnson adds: “‘By 2017, family coverage absorbed more than double that amount, to about 31 percent of take-home pay,’ according to Axios. ‘Health insurance has hovered consistently around 31 percent of household income since 2012, as companies shifted their employees to plans that had steady premiums but higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.’”

Additionally, Robert Reich offers a refutation of the “free market” narrative as well. He writes that in the US there is “Socialism for the rich” (https://truthdig.com/articles/robert-reich-america-is-a-socialist-country-for-the-rich). For right-wingers, Reich points out, “socialism means getting something for doing nothing.” And that “pretty much describes the $21 billion saved by the nation’s largest banks last year thanks to Trump’s tax cuts” and the “$31.4 billion that “went into massive bonuses for bank executives.” At the same time, more than 4,000 lower-level bank employees lost their jobs. Reich gives other examples of how Trump is “promoting socialism for the rich and harsh capitalism for everyone else, pointing to how under Trump “GM has got more than $600 million in federal contracts plus $500 million in tax breaks.” He continues: “Some of this has gone into the pockets of GM executives. Chairman and CEO Mary Barra raked in almost $22 million in total compensation in 2017 alone.” These lucrative subsidies, tax breaks, and executive compensation occurred while “GM is planning to lay off more than 14,000 workers and close three assembly plants and two component factories in North America by the end of 2019.”

Here are some other examples identified by Reich: “Sears is doling out $25 million to the executives who stripped its remaining assets and drove it into bankruptcy, but it has no money for the thousands of workers it laid off.” And: “As Pacific Gas and Electric hurtles toward bankruptcy, the person who was in charge when the deadly infernos roared through Northern California last year (caused in part by PG&E’s faulty equipment) has departed with a cash severance package of $2.5 million. The PG&E executive in charge of gas operations when records were allegedly falsified left in 2018 with $6.9 million.” Then there was Equifax’s Richard Smith who retired in 2017 “with an $18 million pension in the wake of a security breach that exposed the personal information of 145 million consumers to hackers,” and “Wells Fargo’s Carrie Tolstedt departed with a $125 million exit package after being in charge of the unit that opened more than 2 million unauthorized customer accounts.” And, to rub it in, Trump wants to cut the estate tax for the superrich, many of whom have never done a day’s work in their lives, to apply only to estates valued at over $22 million per couple.” Over the next three decades, “an estimated $30 trillion will go to their children.” Reich notes that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now proposing that the estate tax be repealed altogether.”

Government supported research has been critical in spurring innovation

There is yet another point worth making, that is, innovation generally and high-tech innovations specifically have often stemmed from research in government labs, or subsidized research in universities, or public-private partnerships with researchers from the private sector. Economics professor Mariana Mazucato has written a brilliant book, The Value of Everything, thoroughly documenting this fact. Here just a sample of what she has found.

“…the iPhone…depends on publicly funded smartphone technology, while both the Internet and SIRI were funded by the Defense Department of Defense; GPS by the US Navy; and touchscreen display by the CIA. In the pharmaceutical sector, research has shown than two-thirds of the most innovative new drugs (new molecular entities with priority rating) trace their research back to funding by the US National Institutes of Health. Meanwhile, some of the greatest advances in energy – from nuclear to solar to fracking – have been funded by the US Department of Energy, including recent battery storage innovations by ARPA-E, DARPA’s sister organization. Both Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), have recently written about the immense benefits their companies gained from public investments: as well as the Internet and the html code behind the worldwide web written in CERN, a pubic lab in Europe, Google’s very algorithm was funded by a National Science Foundation grant” (p. 194).

Fourth, they contend that economic inequalities are not a problem because they reflect differential achievements and perhaps even genetic differences, not differential opportunities.

The historic and rising inequality that has been recorded since the 1970s should not be of concern to policymakers, they contend, because incomes, wealth, and other benefits are said to be based on merit, that is, hard work, IQ, the right education, and moral rectitude. From this view, the richest are the most meritorious of all, while the poor are said to deserve their desperate positions because of their own bad decisions and/or lack of a work ethic. Consistent with this Social Darwinist view, the right-wing leaders and propogandists want public assistance to be kept at a minimum or eliminated altogether to avoid giving incentives to the poor and needy a “free ride.” The same is true, they say, of minimum wages, that is, keep it low or eliminate it.

Such claims that government benefits to people with lower incomes are bad for society because there are too many people who don’t want to work for a living are challenged by historic examples. From 1939 to 1969, for example, there were opportunities related to WWII and the fact there was a labor shortage as a result of 11 million men and women in the armed forces, and then unique conditions that existed in the ensuing decades that gave great advantages to the US economy. According to estimates based on officially-based poverty standards, the poverty rate fell from 64-68 percent in 1939 to 12 percent by 1969 (from Sheak’s unpublished 2002 book draft, Poverty, Corporate Power, and the Welfare State – can send info on request; also see the extraordinary analysis of sociologist Edward Royce in his book, Poverty & Power: The Problem of Structural Inequality, 3rd ed).

The implication is that when there were opportunities, people who had previously been left and out and poor and/or because of racial or gender employment discrimination took advantage of the opportunities. These years, from the late 1930s to 1969, had high rates of economic growth (4% +), strong unions, job security for many with benefits and good wages, high taxes, the GI bill, the building of the inter-state highway system, the inclusion of the disabled under Social Security, a minimum wage that approximated labor productivity, the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, and more.

It was far from perfect, as the country was still affected by institutional racism and sexism. This was a period, moreover, when the ratio of CEO pay to workers’ pay was about 30-to-1. In recent years, according to one major study of 225 companies, it is now 339-to-1overall, and 997-to-1 in fast food and retail (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/16/ceo-worker-pay-ratio-america-first-study). Since the 1970s, the average wage of workers has stagnated, while the compensation of corporate CEOs has skyrocketed. This had little to do with meritocracy and more to do with corporate power, the primacy of keeping stocks high in value, corporate policies of deindustrialization and corporate investment abroad to low-wage countries, the right-wing assault on labor law and its enforcement, the increase in the number of right-to-work states, a falling minimum wage, the replacement of workers by automation, contracting out work to non-union firms, and similar practices, as well as trade policies that are devoid of protections for worker rights, human rights, the environment , and that prioritized corporate interests over democratic interests.

Fifth, they contend that the economic and political systems we have and US foreign interests need to be protected from foreign enemies as well as keeping markets open for US corporate exploitation through an ever-more profligate “national defense.”

The makers and shakers in this right-wing coalition benefit from or go along with pouring ever-more money into “national defense,” as the basis for a foreign policy that is increasingly based on war or the threat of wars, military interventions, 800 to 1,000 military bases located in 70 or more countries. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the US, for example, has “the highest combined battle fleet tonnage[10][6] and the world’s largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction.” Continuing: “With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the U.S. Navy is the third largest of the U.S. military service branches in terms of personnel. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018,[2] making it the third-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force and the United States Army” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy).

William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger give us some in-depth understanding of the extraordinary amount of taxpayer money that goes to pay for national “defense” and defense- related expenditures in an article for The Nation magazine. (https://www.thenation.com/article/tom-dispatch-america-defense-budget-bigger-than-you-think). Taking their numbers from Trump’s FY2020 budget proposal, the base budge for national defense is $750 billion, which would be “one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam wars.” This money would pay for the 1.8 million military personnel, the 800,000 in military reserve units, and the 600,000 private contractors, and for the costs of maintaining facilities, housing, uniforms and equipment, feeding the troops, medical care, transportation, adding a Space Force, and a huge array of weapons from small-arms weapons to major weapons’ systems.

Also, according to Hartung and Smithberger, the base budget does not include the regular “cost overruns on major weapons programs like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent—the Pentagon’s unwieldy name for the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile—and routine overpayments for even minor spare parts (like $8,000 for a helicopter gear worth less than $500—a markup of 1,500 percent).” There is more like “the overpriced weapons systems the military can’t even afford to operate, like a $13 billion aircraft carrier, 200 nuclear bombers at $564 million a pop, and the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons system in history, at a price tag of at least $1.4 trillion over the lifetime of the program, the latter a program, this F-35 that “may never perform as advertised.”

The Pentagon “also maintains its very own slush fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, which is supposed to pay for the War on Terror—that is, the US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa. In practice, it does that and so much more.” This includes a proposed nearly $174 billion, only $25 billion of which “is meant to directly pay for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The rest will be set aside for what’s termed enduring activities that would continue even if those wars ended or for routine Pentagon activities that couldn’t be funded within the constraints of the budget caps.” Hartung and Smithberger note that the “2020 OCO also includes $9.2 billion in ‘emergency” spending for building Trump’s beloved wall on the US-Mexico border.”

Then there are other military-related operations and costs that are not included in the basic national defense budget. Part of the Department of Energy’s budget, about $24.8 billion, is dedicated to running “a nationwide research, development, and production network for nuclear warheads and naval nuclear reactors that stretches from Livermore, California, to Albuquerque and Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to Savannah River, South Carolina. Its laboratories also have a long history of program mismanagement, with some projects coming in at nearly eight times their initial estimates. $9 billion goes to “the FBI for homeland security-related activities, $216 billion for Veterans Affairs, a substantial part of which is for providing care for veterans who suffer from “the physical and mental wounds of war.” The sad fact is this: “Hundreds of thousands of returning troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, illnesses created by exposure to toxic burn pits, or traumatic brain injuries.” The cost of caring for these vets will total “more than $1 trillion in the years to come.” The estimated budget for the Department of Homeland Security is $69.2 billion, with “nearly a quarter of a million employees, includes spending budgets for “the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secret Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.”

Hartung and Smithberger say that all the proposed activities thus far identified add up to $1.0469 trillion for 2020. But there are three more items. One, the international affairs budget of $51 billion has been cut under the Trump administration but still includes in the president’s 2020 budget the money for “the budgets of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development Diplomacy.” Two, “The proposed $80 billion budget for intelligence is $80 billion, for “the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence, the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, the Office of Naval Intelligence, Marine Corps Intelligence, Coast Guard Intelligence, and Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up to coordinate the activities of the other 16. And, three, the defense share of the national debt is $156.3 billion.

Hartung and Smithberger arrive at a “final tally” of “$1,254,200,000,000. Thus, when all the spending they identify is considered, the Trump government wants to spend $500 billion more than the base budget of approximately $750 billion, plus the uncalculated costs of overruns and inflated prices, or of the unnecessary wars, or of a military presence all over the world. They expect that if the average taxpayer was “aware that this amount was being spent in the name of national defense—with much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive—it might be far harder for the national-security state to consume ever-growing sums with minimal public pushback. For now, however, the gravy train is running full speed ahead, and its main beneficiaries—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and their cohort—are laughing all the way to the bank.”

It might be added. Trump and his advisers, with the support of the military contractors and compliance of the military brass, are drumming the war beats for a war with Iran, withdrawing from arms control treaties with Russia, preparing for war (a nuclear war) with Russia and China, modernizing the US nuclear arsenal, while, as just outlined, increasing spending on an already bloated and over-extended national defense. Bear in mind that the US still has a policy that allows for the first (preemptive) use of nuclear weapons, allows for lunch on command, and that embodies the irrational belief that the US could “win” a nuclear war, with only a few tens of billions of American casualties. (Read Daniel Ellsberg’s in-depth analysis of this craziness in his book, The Doomsday Machine, 2017).

Summing up the critique of the right-wing assumptions

If not effectively contested politically, the agenda of the right-wing alliance will further consolidate corporate power, increase the already extraordinary wealth of the rich, make government less democratic, irrationally do little to reverse the accelerating climate disruption, do little to rebuild the manufacturing sector, do too little to prevent further deterioration in the nation’s infrastructure, drive more Americans into insecure, low wage jobs and poverty, foment divisions and racism, pour vast resources into “securing the border,” put more people into the prison system, do nothing about the regulation of guns, and pursue foreign policies that rely on the threat of military force and nuclear war, and sanctions, and trade wars. The “America First” slogan that is so dear to the hearts of Trump’s base stupidly ignores the fact that the US economy is highly dependent on other countries for vital raw materials and goods of all kind, and that, like it or not, we live in a highly interdependent and interconnected world. The path on which the right-wing activists, their enablers, and supporters are taking us will lead us to economic ruin, environmental calamity, unprecedented inequality, the loss of allies abroad, and war, if not nuclear war.

Items for an incomplete alternative progressive agenda to advance democracy, equality, fairness, and sustainability

#1 – Reduce the size and power of the mega-corporations
• anti-trust enforcement
• eliminate corporate money in political campaigns
• limit corporate lobbying
• no more bailouts, no more quantitative easing, no “too big to fail” bailouts
• support public banks
• limit copyrights and patents
• reform corporate governance by requiring the participation of workers, consumers and others to have representation on corporate boards

#2 – Strengthen democracy
• make it easier to register to vote
• take steps to end the voter suppression tactics of the Republicans
• work to repeal “corporate personhood”
• promote public funding of political campaigns
• limit “special interest” money in politics
• enfranchise ex-felons who have served their time
• takes steps to stamp out domestic terrorism
• take steps to protect the privacy of Americans from “capitalist surveillance” (see Shoshana Zuboff’s book by that title)

#3 – “green” the economy
• phase out fossil fuels as quickly as feasible
• end government subsidies for fossil-fuel companies
• put solar panels on very government and military building and facility
• support companies that manufacture solar panels and wind turbines domestically
• support organic farming, while reducing support for industrial agriculture
• protect the viability of national parks and endangered species
• plant lots of trees

#4 – implement a plan to address the national infrastructure problem
• e.g.: highways, roads, ports, sanitation and water systems, high-speed rail, low-emission public transportation

#5 – raise taxes on the rich and corporations
• raise the corporate and individual tax rates
• raise tax on short-term capital gains and dividends
• institute a transaction tax on stock trading
• increase the estate tax by lowering the amount of inherited wealth that is untaxed

#6 – reduce the “defense budget”
• directly reducing the amount spent on the military
• reconsider the policy of “modernizing” the nuclear arsenal
• enter or re-enter treaties that aim to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
• comply with obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty

#7 – strengthen the economic position of the working and middle classes
• push for a full-employment policy, which includes the creation of jobs in the public sector
• raise the minimum wage
• strengthen collective bargaining law for public as well as private sector workers
• oppose “right to work” proposals and laws
• pass legislation that would guarantee paid maternity leave, vacations, paid sick days
• expand the Earned Income Tax Credit
• Subsidize child care
• Share profits with employees

#8 – take steps to fix the public education system through college
• increase federal financial support for schools and teacher education
• support the idea that teachers and community officials and citizens should have a major say
• redraw school district boundaries to end segregation by class and put students in same school systems
• reduce, excuse, and find alternative ways to deal with the huge and rising student debt
• increase and encourage support for community colleges
• support an interim program of bussing, as the Marshall plan to end poverty is implemented

#9 – build a progressive social-welfare security system
• support universal health care legislation – e.g., “Medicare for all”
• do what it takes to maintain the solvency of all aspects of Social Security – e.g., eliminate the ceiling on the “wage tax”
• reduce the high rates of poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity, say with a Marshall Plan for poor communities or a “universal basic income”

#10 – have a foreign policy that aims to strengthen peaceful, non-military options, arms reduction, mutual trade arrangements, and non-exploitative investment rather than policies that assert “America First”
• rebuild the state department
• support the United Nations efforts to address the problems of the world’s nations, the poor, the environment, and economic development
• don’t support authoritarian governments or allow weapons to be sold to them
• better regulate and reduce the foreign sales of weapons to “developing” countries
• emphasize “development” projects in relations to “developing countries” that build their domestic economies – e.g., work to realize “the Sustainable Development Goals”
• enter into multilateral trade agreements that prioritize workers’ rights, human rights, environmental protection, green energy, and international tax avoidance
• avoid attempts to gain advantages and enhance America’s interests through sanctions, military and covert interventions, threats of conventional or nuclear war, tariff wars

Some of the challenges

The situation is clear: There’s a lot that needs to be done if Americans are going to reverse the un-democratic, corporate-dominated economy, the rising inequalities, the environmentally-devastating policies and practices, the war-mongering path that Trump and his administration are taking us. And there are additional concerns and questions about whether the process of robust change will even have a chance to begin.

One, will the Democratic Party have the vision, courage, and ability to advance a progressive agenda in the 2020 elections? It’s worrisome that many Democrats have been overly dependent on donations from corporate PACs, have been willing to support large increases in the military budget, flawed educational policies, a reckless “all-of-the-above” energy policy, a Federal Reserve board dominated by the mega-banks, etc.?

Two, will the American electorate in 2020 be able to understand what is at stake and not succumb to the fear-mongering, racist, divisive rhetoric, disinformation, and duplicitous policies of Trump and the Republican Party and/or have so many of their votes denied by Republican voter suppression tactics?

Julia Conley reports on a study by the Brennan Center for Justice that found how millions of Americans “are still suffering the consequences of the 2013 Supreme Court decision [Shelby County v. Holder] that loosened restrictions of the Voting Rights Act, giving states with long histories of voter discrimination free reign to purge voters from their rolls without federal oversight” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/02/17-million-americans-purged-voter-rolls-between-2016-and-2018). The study found “that 17 million Americans were dropped from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018—almost four million more than the number purged between 2006 and 2008.” Furthermore: “The problem was most pronounced in counties and election precincts with a history of racial oppression and voter suppression. In such areas voters were kicked off rolls at a rate 40 percent higher than places which have protected voting rights more consistently.” Indeed: “The Brennan Center said that while there are legitimate reasons for removing names from a state’s voter database, such as a relocation to another state or a death, many voters’ names—especially those of minority voters—are purged even though they meet the state’s requirements for casting a ballot.” And: “Voters often do not realize they have been purged until they try to cast a ballot on Election Day—after it’s already too late,” according to one of the researchers. Bear in mind that this is only one method for suppressing the vote of those who would otherwise vote for Democratic candidates.

Three, if Democrats win the 2020 elections and control the White House and both chambers of the US Congress, will they be able to find ways around Republican obstructionist tactics (e.g., the filibuster) and advance elements of the progressive agenda?

Four, can a progressive agenda be advanced without further increasing or having a plan to reduce expeditiously the already unsustainable national debt, which exceeds $22 trillion and is steadily rising?

Five, should the issue of some sort of “reparations” to African-Americans in compensation for the long history of slavery and racial oppression continuing to this day is an issue be prioritized? Or is the progressive agenda already sufficient, if implemented, to address many of the unfair and pressing issues African Americans still face?

Six, amidst the plethora of issues that need serious attention, there is one that is definitive in its deleterious and destabilizing effects, that is, climate change, or, as Dahr Jamail labels it, anthropogenic climate disruption. (See his book, The End of Ice.) Everything humans do depends on a relatively stable climate. We’re told by scientists that the US government – and other governments across the globe – has only a limited time to act to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps 10-30 years before the disruptive climate change already well underway will be beyond control and reach a point that threatens life as we know it. Therefore, if nothing else, the massive fossil fuel complex must be rapidly phased out and replaced by renewables, energy efficiency measures, and whatever else will reduce greenhouse emissions (e.g., electric cars, eco-designed or revamped cities), along with efforts to extract the extraordinary level of carbon that is already in the atmosphere (e.g., protecting and enhancing public land, stopping deforestation, along with massive reforestation and regenerative farming). On the latter subject, see the article by Juliett Majo, “Landmark UN Report Emphasizes Crucial Role of Regenerative Farming Practices to Address Climate and Food Emergencies (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/08/09/landmark-un-report-emphasizes-crucial-role-regenerative-farming-practices-address).

In the meantime, the effects of climate disruption continue to be shockingly manifest all around us. Andrea Germanos reports on the July 2019 report of the World Meteorological Organization that July “may go down as the hottest month the planet has seen thus far in recorded history and “on track to be among the five warmest on the books, from 2015 to 2019” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/02/july-has-re-written-climate-history-month-could-go-down-planets-hottest-ever). The WMO chief is quoted: “The extraordinary heat was accompanied by dramatic ice melt in Greenland, in the Arctic, and on European glaciers” while “[u]nprecedented wildfires raged in the Arctic for the second consecutive month, devastating once pristine forests which used to absorb carbon dioxide and instead turning them into fiery sources of greenhouse gases.”

The time is not for moderation but for transformative change.

What to do when faced with Trump, desperate refugees, climate disruption

What to do when faced with Trump, desperate refugees, climate disruption?
Bob Sheak – July 29, 2019

There is a steady stream of reports and widespread concern about how migrants attempting to enter the US through the southern border with Mexico are being cruelly and illegally mistreated. There is little doubt, outside of what the Trump administration and its supporters think, that the situation at the border is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. It remains to be seen how much harm Trump’s anti-immigration policies will continue to have, but they have already caused immense suffering among migrants seeking entry into the US.

Trump’s well-known purpose is to stop most migrants from entering the US, with special focus on the US-Mexico border and those fleeing from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. That’s not all. Trump is also determined to increase the deportation rate of the undocumented workers and families that already reside in the US., although I won’t write much about this topic here. The focus of this post is on the border. Why are so many migrants from Central America making the long, dangerous, and uncertain trek to seek a safe place to live in the US.? What has the Trump administration done to keep a large and increasing number of them from relocating in the US, while putting a large and increasing number of them into under-resources detention facilities for long period of time? And what are the alternative policies that would, if implemented, minimize the suffering of migrants and expedite decisions on their asylum claims?

Whatever the policies, the migration out of Central America (and other under-developed countries) will most likely continue in large numbers unless the conditions drive people to emigrate are radically changed. And the prospects are not good, given that such changes would be opposed not only by the wealthy and government elites in these countries but by the imperialistic, America-first policies of the Trump administration and his Republican allies in the US Congress. This is not to say that previous governments have not advanced policies in these countries that have been un-democratic and self-serving. The present situation is seriously complicated by the effects of increasingly destabilizing, existentially threatening climate disruption. As it stands now, the number of people forced to migrate is going up, the number reaching the border is rising, while Trump’s policies is “succeeding” in reducing the number of asylum seekers who are permitted to enter the US.

In the meantime, the Trump administration and the US Congress are spending an enormous amount of taxpayer money on trying to seal off the border and on rounding up undocumented individuals and families living in the US for deportation. In the process, they are intentionally compounding the misery of the migrants who come to the border and generating widespread destabilizing fear in the undocumented population residing in the US.

Part 1: A review of Trump’s anti-immigration policies

The Wall

Wikipedia gives a useful account of Trump’s build-the-wall saga (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump_wall. Trump promised to construct a much larger border wall than the one that existed during his 2016 presidential campaign, “claiming that if elected he would ‘build the wall and make Mexico pay for it.” The President of Mexico at the time, Enrique Pena Nieto, stated that his country would not pay for the wall. And, up to the present, this has been the unwavering position of the Mexican government.

On January 25, 2017, after being elected, “Trump signed Executive Order 13767, which formally directed the US government to begin attempting wall construction along the US border with Mexico using existing federal funding,” though “actual construction did not begin at this time due to the significant expense and lack of clarity on how it would be funded.

Trump continued to grapple with Democrats in Congress through 2017over funding and threatened at his rallies and through his tweets to shut down the government if Congress did not approve funding. Congress refused and Trump did partially shut down the federal government for 35 days, from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019, and insisted that he would “veto any spending bill that did not include $5.7 billion in border wall funding.” This turned out to be the longest government shut down in US history. In the end, Trump lost this battle and did not get the funding he wanted.

The persistence of Trump on obtaining funding from Congress for the border wall continued. Congress did authorize $1.4 billion for border security, but that did not satisfy the president. On February 15, 2019, he “signed a Declaration of National Emergency, saying that the situation at the Mexico-United States border is a crisis requiring money allocated for other purposes to be used instead to build the wall.” Following this, “Congress passed a joint resolution to overturn the emergency order, but Trump vetoed the resolution.” This led Trump to say that he would go ahead and transfer already authorized funds for other purposes (e.g., military funds) to be transferred to wall building projects. Up to the present, July 2019, this effort has been stopped by the courts (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-29/judge-blocks-trump-s-funding-plan-for-more-sections-of-the-wall). However, it was just announced on the Public Television’s News Hour, that the Supreme Court has ruled to allow Trump to shift $2.5 billion from other agency budgets to border security (July 26, 2019).

According to the US Customs and Border Protection agency, as of July 2019, construction “had begun to replace old fencing [but] no new wall had yet been built” with government money.

There are currently “a series of vertical barriers” along the border, “a discontinuous series of physical obstructions variously classified as ‘fences’ or ‘walls.’” In January 2019, there were 580 miles of barriers in place, according to US Customs and Border Protection. There are also other security measures “provided by a ‘virtual fence’ of sensors, cameras, and other surveillance equipment used to dispatch United States Border Patrol agents to areas where migrants are attempting to cross the border illegally. Legal expert Marjorie Cohn points out that Trump is” increasing his illegal militarization of the southern border by deploying 2,100 additional troops to join the 4,500 military personnel already there” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum).

Uncertain and punitive treatment for those who get to the border

Trump and his administration have done a lot more than push for a wall. Once in the White House, Trump and his administration have advanced a series of policies that violate or attempt to re-interpret existing immigration laws to reduce, if not stop, the number of migrants permitted to enter the country legally as well as those attempting to enter illegally. When one policy doesn’t work or is met with public outrage, Congressional opposition, and/or legal challenges, another one with the same intent is concocted.

One thing is clear. Overall the policies have had the effect of intensifying the suffering of those who come to the border and who typically have few if any hopeful options. From the perspective of the administration, this is exactly what they have intended, that is, to make conditions so bad that word would get back to others in their home countries that the costs of migration to the US-Mexico border are too great to justify the arduous and dangerous trek of over a thousand miles from Central America, through Mexico, to the border with the US. In advancing such policies, they ignore or dismiss the deteriorating and unsafe conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries that compel them to migrate.

The subjectivity of the asylum application process

It is not clear when a claim for asylum into the US is acceptable? Kate Smith tries to clarify the issue, writing that, even after waiting for extended periods of time, the official acceptability of such a claim rests initially on whether the claimants’ are able to present acceptable evidence that they have “suffered persecution or fear that will they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group or political opinion” https://www.cbsnews.com/donald-trump-on-immigration-topics-likely-2019-state-of-union-fact-check).

However, decisions by border officials and immigration judges have a large subjective element as well as reflecting whatever the current policy agenda of the White House happens to be. The facts indicate that many claims have been rejected. In 2018, during the second year of Trump’s reign, “the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processed about 100,000 ‘credible fear’ claims, the first step in an immigrant’s asylum proceedings.” She continues: “Judges decided about 42,000 asylum cases during the same time period, more than any other year since 2001,” and “rejected 65 percent of the asylum claims they ruled on in 2018.”

Immigration lawyer Jennifer Harbury provides further details in an interview on Democracy Now on the process by which migrants seek “legal resettlement,” or legal entry, into the U.S. It’s complex that requires asylum seekers provide not only considerable documentation but must satisfy other requirements as well. (https://www.democracynow.org/2018/7/9/human_rights_lawyer_jennifer_harbury_on). Here is what some of what she said.

“…under 8 U.S.C. 1225, [a person] goes up to the port of entry, knocks on the door and literally says, ‘I’m in danger. I need to apply for asylum.’ And as I said earlier, they then go to a credible fear interview [no criminal record] and then to a detention center, initially, and they’ll be put in proceedings before an immigration judge. The way – the norm that has always been in place for either group of people, whether they went by the river or went across the bridge – is that if they’ve got perfectly good identification, they’ve never committed a crime, they’re not a threat to anyone, they’re just on the run from the cartels, and they have legal status relatives, citizen or LPR [legal permanent resident of the U.S.], who will take them in and sponsor them and pay all their expenses.”

At that point in the process, a person or parent and children who satisfied all these requirements would pre-Trump have “always been released” on conditional approval of resettlement. Zong and Batalova (cited earlier) point out, “Once granted U.S. protection, refugees and asylees are authorized to work and may also qualify for assistance (including cash and medical, housing, educational, and vocational services) to facilitate their economic and social integration into society.” Trump contemptuously calls this a “catch and release” policy that he is determined to end and has advanced policies that are aimed at ending “catch and release.” Bear in mind, that only a shrinking minority of migrants seeking a safe haven in the US are resettled in the US. And Caitlin Dickerson cites information from Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, that case management programs have been used in the past to ensure immigrants show up for court have proven to be “both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/22/us/immigration-detention.html).

Metering: To delay entry and hope that migrants return to their home countries

The metering method, begun in mid-2018, requires migrants who have come to the border claiming the right of asylum to sign their name on a “notebook,” be given a number, sometime later be called for an asylum hearing before an immigration judge, but in the meantime be required to remain on the Mexican-side of the border. often without shelter and other basic requirements of life and neighborhoods that are unsafe. Some give up and try to enter the US illegally. If they are caught on the US-side of the border, they often will be put in a detention facility until their asylum status is assessed by an immigration judge. This may take weeks, months, or more. Either way, they can be in a limbo time awaiting an official decision on whether they will be granted asylum or not.

Dara Lind addresses the issue of metering in an article for Vox (https://www.vox.com/2018/11/28/18089048/border-asylum-trump-metering-legally-ports). She describes what she has seen: “…asylum seekers wait, for days or weeks or (increasingly) months: sometimes in migrant shelters whose capacity has stretched to the breaking point, sometimes huddling together on bridges, sleeping on the street, in the cold, vulnerable to violence they hoped to escape in their home countries.” Under the pertinent law, the US government has an obligation to consider asylum claims once migrants have approach a US port of entry.

The metering policy grows out of a situation in which the CBP (Custom and Border Patrol) officials have been unable to deal with the large number of asylum seekers. Lind elucidates: ““Logistically…there’s a limit to how many asylum seekers CBP officials can process at once. People seeking asylum are generally [in the past] held in federal custody until they can undergo a screening interview with an asylum officer [and be given] medical and background checks shortly after their arrival. At ports of entry, officers also have to check the papers of people coming who already have legal status and scan cars for drugs and other contraband.”

Given the large number of asylum seekers, metering is one method by which the Trump administration has enabled border officials to avoid the ordinary, legal process. According to Lind’s on-the-ground research, the practice of metering varies along the border from entry port to entry port, but fundamentally when asylum seekers present themselves at ports of entry, they are told there’s no room for them to enter the country at that time and that they should sign their name(s) on a waiting list or to remain close to the entry port to await being called. In some cases, there are no lists and those who happened to be at the head of the line will be called first. In the meantime, they find shelter and other necessities on their own or, if they are lucky, obtain some assistance from the Mexican government, local volunteers, or NGOs that help out for a period of time. For example, Lind describes how the government in Tijuana, Mexico, converted a sports complex into a temporary shelter for 4,700 migrants.

The metering process has often backfired. After long waits, some unknown number of migrants cross the border between ports of entry with the paid help of smugglers or on their own. The number who actually avoid apprehension is unknown, though apprehensions by CBP continue to rise.

“Remain in Mexico”

In this case, migrants who reach the US-Mexico border are told to return to the Mexican towns near the border, which are violent places with limited or no shelters or centers in which they can stay, and, as transits, they are particularly vulnerable. Marjorie Cohn, professor-emeritus of law and prolific writer tells us that “Remain in Mexico” policy the colloquial name for “Migrant Protocols Program” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum). It is a program designed to return asylum seekers and migrants to Mexico. It differs from the metering program in that it offers no official opportunity to be considered for asylum in the US. In both cases, they are prevented from entering the US for an asylum hearing. The “Remain in Mexico” program began on January 25, 2019. Within five months, Cohn writes, “the U.S. had returned 15,079 people – including at least 4,780 children – who came mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Human Rights Watch reported at least 29 instances of harm to asylum seekers in Juárez, including kidnapping, violent attacks and sexual assaults.”

In an in-depth report, journalist Debbie Nathan provides a recent analysis on the program, verifying what Lind, Cohn, and others have documented, that is, how Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” Policy “exposes migrants to rape, kidnapping, and murder in dangerous border cities” (https://theintercept.com/2019/07/14/trump-remain-in-mexico-policy). By the end of June, 2019, “almost 17,000 asylum-seekers up and down the border” had been booted out of US border cities or told that, if metered, they would have an opportunity by and by to be considered for asylum, but only if they were at a port of entry at the time when their number was called. In the meantime, US border officials told them that they were to remain in Mexico. There are times when the metering and “remain in Mexico” policies are very similar in their impact, that is, they both are designed to keep asylum seekers from entering or remaining in the US border areas.

Hansen emphasizes a point already made, that is, the cities to which they returned or in which they remained were “crime-ridden Mexican border cities for months, even years, waiting for U.S. courts to decide their asylum claims.” According to Hansen, “Every few weeks, refugees enrolled in the MPP [Migrants Protocols Program] are brought into U.S. border cities such as El Paso to see an immigration judge. But after their hearings, they are sent back to Mexico, to cities so violent that the U.S. State Department recommends that Americans limit travel to them or avoid travel entirely.” She refers to Juarez as an example, which “is one of the 50 most violent cities in the world, so dangerous that the State Department forbids its employees from traveling through the poverty-stricken northern and western parts of the city.

While forced to remain in border cities near the border, they are vulnerable to being abused or attacked because most “are transient, poor, and without local ties.” Jeremy Slack, a University of Texas at El Paso anthropologist, has extensively documented what happens to immigrants in Mexican border cities in his recently published book, Deported to Death. As Hansen interprets Slack’s findings: “They are at severe risk of being robbed, kidnapped for ransom, beaten, raped, murdered — or at the very least, traumatized by violence they witness.

There are some 5,000 children up and down the border who are in the MPP, “and they are not spared from assaults. Among many examples, Hansen gives the following example.

“In July, I learned from an immigration lawyer in California that a distraught client had called to report that her sister, a Salvadoran woman, with a 14-year-old, 10-year-old, and 3-year-old, were kidnapped in Juárez. The “California family scraped together $4,000 for a ransom payment, and after several days, the family was freed near a church in downtown Juárez. The mother said that she and her children had been captured after the kidnappers had spotted them wandering into Juárez disoriented, after being dumped there following their enrollment into MPP. When I met them by the church, the family told me that during their captivity they’d had almost nothing to eat, and they barely slept. After being freed, they made it to a migrant assistance organization that operates behind locked doors. A psychologist there told me that the family was suffering from shock, including the kids.”

Hansen also describes what happens for migrants who beat the odds and have their cases assessed by an MPP court (her example is a court in El Paso). Most do not have legal representation, even pro bono lawyers are in scarce supply. Observers from Human Watch observed multiple MPP hearings in El Paso and only three out of 54 persons had legal representation. The asylum seekers tell their stories to Judge Nathan Herbert, who “is always punctiliously pleasant and respectful to the refugees, calling them ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am,’ and asking after their children’s health before testimony begins. His politesse only underscores the Alice-in-Wonderland absurdity and cruelty of the MPP.” And, adding to the already dire conditions of asylum seekers, Judge Herbert doesn’t proceed with a case unless there is legal representation.

In a few cases, according to a Reuters report cited by Hansen, “about one in 100 migrants in the MPP receive non-refoulement interviews that get them out of Mexico. To pass the interview, according to the rules, one must show that it is ‘more likely than not’ that they will be subjected to violence.” But, this rule is ignored in practice, because the US government takes the position that “a migrant [who] has already been victimized in a third country [Mexico as opposed to their home country] does not mean they will be hurt in the future.” Hansen clarifies this point: “An asylum officer recently told Vox that the standard for prevailing on a non-refoulement claim regarding Mexico is ‘all but impossible for applicants to meet.’ “Another officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me that they think the standard violates the law.”
The MPP has been challenged. According to Hansen, “Back in February, a few weeks after the MPP was first rolled out, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other civil rights groups sued the government, arguing that the MPP violates U.S. immigration and administrative law, as well as U.S. obligations under international law not to send people back to countries where they are threatened. The plaintiffs at first won a preliminary injunction, but the government appealed. In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the MPP could continue pending resolution of the appeal. Today the MPP remains in effect indefinitely.”

Hansen cites a new Human Rights Watch report that says the US government is now planning to vastly expand the MPP and “Mexico expects to receive 60,000 migrants by August [2019].”
Punitive, long-term detention

If they have gained entrance into the country with a pending asylum claim, have been apprehended after entering the country “illegally,” or give themselves up an entry port without asylum-appropriate papers, they are increasingly put into sorely inadequate detention facilities that are ill-suited to provide even minimally adequate space, food, heat or cooling, medical care, or decent accommodations for children. Marjorie Cohn also addresses this issue with her typical legal and analytical expertise (https://truthout.org/articles/indefinite-detention-of-migrants-violates-international-law).

On June 26, 2018, according to Cohn, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents and to reunite them. This was after 2,300 children had been separated since May 5. Then on June 29, “the Department of Justice filed a notice of compliance with the court order, but indicated its intention to indefinitely detain families together.” Cohn adds that indefinite detention violates international law, noting that such detention can last for months or even years. On July 2, “a federal judge in Washington ordered the government to give asylum applicants a meaningful opportunity to be released….[But] More than 1,000 applicants have been incarcerated for months or years with no resolution of their cases.”

According to Cohn, the indefinite detention policy of the Trump administration violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US has ratified, and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, “which says treaties shall be the supreme law of the land.” According to the UN Human Rights Committee, “the expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, detentions are arbitrary [and unlawful] if they do not accord with due process and are manifestly disproportional, unjust or unpredictable,” and “Keeping families locked up for months with no good reason is unjust and inappropriate. It denies them due process and a timely resolution of their legal claims. And their time of release is unpredictable.” Cohn points out that “Negative effects of prolonged detention may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in violation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the United States has ratified.”

There are exceptions under this law: “Parties to the covenant may refuse to comply with them only ‘in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.’ But, Cohn quotes Aflred de Zayas, UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equable international order, who says “Neither the war on terror nor restrictive immigration policies justify indefinite detention.”

The atrocious conditions in detention facilities

As already indicated, the conditions in the detention facilities are bad. Adam Serwer reviews the recent evidence on the conditions in an article for The Atlantic magazine on July 3, 2019 (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/border-facilities/593239).

Observers who have visited immigration detention facilities in the Southwest have “reported that children were being held in cruelly austere conditions.” They told the press that at the facility in Clint, Texas, children, as young as 7 and 8 were sleeping on concrete floors and being denied soap and toothpaste. Many of the children were “described as wearing clothes caked with snot and tears … caring for infants they’ve just met.’ Serwer quotes a visiting doctor called the detention centers “torture facilities.” He refers to reports that “at least seven children have died in U.S. custody in the past year, compared with none in the 10 years prior.” And, astoundingly, Serwer writes that “[m]ore than 11,000 children are now being held by the U.S. government on any given day.” Beyond such beastly deprivations, “the administration has canceled recreational activities, an act that, like the conditions themselves, likely violates the law.”

There’s more evidence. According to Serwer, “At a processing center in El Paso, Texas, 900 migrants were ‘being held at a facility designed for 125. In some cases, cells designed for 35 people were holding 155 people,’ The New York Times reported. One observer described the facility to Texas Monthly as a ‘human dog pound.’ The government’s own investigators have found detainees in facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement being fed expired food at detention facilities, ‘nooses in detainee cells,’ ‘inadequate medical care,’ and ‘unsafe and unhealthy conditions.’ An early-July inspector-general report found ‘dangerous overcrowding’ in some Border Patrol facilities and included pictures of people crowded together like human cargo. More than 50,000 people are being held in facilities run by ICE, and something close to 20,000 in facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, and more than 11,000 children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. (The government describes them as “unaccompanied,” a label immigration advocates say is misleading because many were separated by the government from the relative who brought them) Some of the people detained by the U.S. government have entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas; some are simply seeking to exercise their legal right to asylum.”
Serwer continues.

“‘There were definitely parts of the Obama program that did similar—and, in fact, some of the same—things,’ said Chris Rickerd, a policy counsel at the ACLU. ‘But this all-encompassing skepticism of asylum seekers fleeing violence—justifying cruel treatment, justifying changes in the law, and justifying overcrowding to the point of unsafe and deadly conditions—[is] of a scale and a type that we haven’t seen before.’ One pediatrician who visited a Border Patrol facility in Texas observed ‘extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.’ Photographs show migrants huddled together, languishing in filth behind chain-link fences, some with little more than Mylar blankets for shelter. The president’s defenders on Fox News have compared these conditions to summer camp and house parties.”

As I argued earlier, these policies are intentional, or as Serwer writes, “deliberately inflicted suffering on children to deter illegal immigration, with its use of family separation. It has altered immigration policy and the asylum process so as to force the authorities to hold migrants, whether they have properly sought asylum at a port of entry or crossed illegally, and has made it more difficult for children to be released to sponsors in the United States by threatening to arrest and deport family members who lack legal status. By deliberately throttling the asylum process, the administration has pushed desperate migrants to risk death by crossing the border illegally rather than presenting themselves at ports of entry, and has sought to prosecute those who would help migrants survive the journey by leaving them food and water, effectively making the federal misdemeanor of illegal entry a capital crime. In private, some Border Patrol agents consider migrant deaths a laughing matter; others are succumbing to depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.”

And, even with all of it, the number of people seeking refuge here continues to rise. And the response of the Trump administration is to intensify the “unlawfully draconian treatment it has inflicted on migrants.”
How many are in detention now?

Caitlin Dickerson reports that government detention facilities are unable to find the spaces for the increasing number of asylum seekers (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/22/us/immigration-detention.html).

The number of migrants housed in the detention facilities has risen every year since 2015, and is “currently housing 50,223 migrants, one of the highest on record, and about 5,000 more than the congressionally mandated limit of 45,274.” Therefore, federal immigrant authorities are being forced to scour the country to find space to for the rising number of detainees. She quotes Kevin K. McAleenan, then acting homeland security secretary, as saying: “It’s clear that all of our resources are being stretched thin. The system is full, and we are beyond capacity.”

The numbers at risk are daunting

Bear in mind that in 2019 there are over 31 million people living in Guatemala (17.3 million), El Salvador (4.5 million) and Honduras (9.6 million). According to the research of Stephanie Leutert, Director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin, migrants from Guatemala, El. Salvador, and Honduras, make up half of the total migrants coming to the US border in 2018 who were apprehended by US border officials, that is, over 150,000 plus a small number who came through ports of entry and were granted asylum (https://www.lawfareblog.com-whos-really-crossing-us-border-and-why-they’re-coming).

According to an article by Georgina Gustin, “the World Bank projects that nearly 4 million people from Central America and Mexico could become climate migrants by 2050.” The crisis is already reflected in the number of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who were apprehended by the US Border Patrol in 2018 as they attempted to cross the border. In that year, 115,722 people from Guatemala were apprehended, 76,513 from Honduras, and 31,369 from El Salvador, for a total of 223,604 (https://insideclimatenews.org/98072019/climate-change-migration-honduras-drought-crop-failure-farming-deforestation-guatemala-trump).

The numbers may become confusing, but overall those seeking asylum continue to go up, while the number granted asylum goes down.

Trump’s attempt to eliminate asylum altogether

The Trump’s Department of Justice and Homeland Security advanced a new rule, the “interim final rule,” on July 15, 2019. The rule says that migrants, including unaccompanied children, must apply for refugee status in any country they travel through on their way to the US. For those fleeing from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras, this would be Mexico. The rule specifies that unless the request is rejected, they are assumed to have asylum in that country and so requests for asylum in the US will be considered unnecessary. Marjorie Cohn contends that “the new asylum rule undermines well-established law and prevents refugees fleeing persecution from receiving asylum” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum). She continues that the Interim Final Rule (IFR) “creates an enormous bar to eligibility for asylum” and explains her reasoning as follows.

“Under the IFR, a noncitizen who crosses or tries to cross the U.S. southern border is ineligible to apply for asylum unless he or she: (1) applied for and was denied asylum in at least one country through which he traveled en route to the United States; (2) demonstrates that she is the ‘victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons’; or (3) has traveled to the U.S. only through countries that were not parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, or the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” Mexico is a party to these laws. North Korea isn’t.

Cohn states unequivocally that the IFR violates existing law. She writes: “It is well-settled that merely traveling through a third country is not a valid basis to categorically deny asylum to refugees who arrive in the United States. It is also widely accepted in international refugee law that ‘asylum should not be refused on the ground that it could be sought from another State.”

Cohn is hardly alone in her opposition to the rule. Here are some examples from Cohn’s article. “U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the new asylum rule ‘will put vulnerable families at risk.’ UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, issued a statement saying it ‘believes the rule excessively curtails the right to apply for asylum, jeopardizes the right to protection from refoulement, significantly raises the burden of proof on asylum seekers beyond the international legal standard, sharply curtails basic rights and freedoms of those who manage to meet it, and is not in line with international obligations.’

On July 16, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California, arguing “on behalf of four immigrants’ rights groups that the IFR violates US and international Law,” and, fortunately, the judge supported their argument. Miran Jordan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs pen an article in the New York Times on the court’s decision, reporting as follows: “Judge Jon S. Tigar of the United States District Court in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction against a new rule that would have effectively banned asylum claims in the United States for most Central American migrants, who have been arriving in record numbers this year. It would have also affected many migrants from Africa, Asia and other regions.” In his ruling, Judge Tigar also argued that the rule is likely to be invalid “because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws” and because “the government’s decision to put it in place was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/24/asylum-ruling-tro.html).
Despite all their anti-immigration efforts, the flow of asylum seekers does not diminish

More recent figures indicate that Trump’s policies have not deterred the flow of migrants from Central America. According to CBS News, “More than 490,000 migrants were apprehended or turned away at the southwest border between January and May” of 2019 (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ice-border-patrol-conditions-at-controversial-migrant-detention-centers-focus-of-congressional-hearing).

Camilo Montoya-Galvez reports: “Border apprehensions spike to 92,000 in March” and “We’ve arrived at the breaking point” (https://www.nytimes.com/border-apprehensions-103000-migrants-apprehended-along-us-mexico-border-customs-and-border-protection-says. He writes:

“U.S. immigration authorities apprehended or turned back more than 103,000 migrants — including approximately 53,000 families and nearly 9,000 unaccompanied children — along the U.S.-Mexico border last month, further overwhelming the Trump administration’s efforts to address the unprecedented surge in migrant families from Central America heading north.

“‘We’ve arrived at the breaking point,’ Brian Hastings, chief of law enforcement operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told reporters Tuesday. About 92,000 of the 103,000 migrants were apprehended between ports of entry, while nearly 11,000 migrants who appeared at ports of entry to claim asylum were deemed “inadmissible” and turned back, according to CBP statistics.

“With an average of 3,000 apprehensions per day in March, Hastings said immigration authorities are struggling to confront an ‘unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis’ near the southwestern border. In the previous month, the busiest February for border officials in the last 12 years, the government apprehended more than 76,000 migrants — including about 36,000 families — along the southern border. A senior Trump administration official told CBS News CBP is projecting approximately 150,000 apprehensions this month.”

Alan Besin, Nate Bruggeman and Ben Cohrbaugh,offer further documentation on the border crisis (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/04/05/border-crisis-donald-trump-226573).

“In fiscal year 2017, the last year of the Obama administration and the first of Trump’s, 303,916 migrants were arrested by the Border Patrol. This was the lowest level in more than three decades. The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations had worked hard to tackle the problem of illegal migration through substantial increases in border security staffing, improvements in technology, innovations in strategy and improved security coordination and assistance to Mexico. Coupled with improved economic conditions in Mexico, these administrations were hugely successful in deterring and breaking the cycle of illegal crossing: Unlawful Mexican economic immigration, which had historically been the primary immigration enforcement issue at the border, dropped nearly 90 percent between 2000 and 2016.
“But the nature of undocumented immigration to the U.S. has changed. Today, it is primarily driven not by Mexican economic migrants—and not by a flood of criminals, as Trump claims—but rather by large numbers of families and minors from Central America who are seeking political asylum. Although this issue first rose to public attention in 2014, the influx then was only a fraction of what it is today. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that triple the number of 2017 apprehensions—more than 900,000—will occur at the southern border in 2019. Many of those will be migrants seeking asylum, and they will descend on a border and immigration court system ill-equipped to handle those claims.

Part 2: Why are they fleeing?

They migrants from Central America are fleeing not only the staggering levels of gang violence, government corruption, and persecution that is highlighted in media accounts but also the high levels of poverty, deprivation, and deteriorating environmental conditions that exist in these countries. These are conditions that have deep roots in history but are being exacerbated by the effects of relentlessly unfolding climate disruption and structural inequalities that have deep roots in history of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Historical roots

It has been well documented by historians that the countries of Central and South America have been ruled much of the time, certainly over the two hundred years, by authoritarian and self-serving government that siphon off foreign assistance money, promote foreign investment to extract resources, exploit cheap labor, and enable land graps and special treatment to forcing corpoations. And the US has been instrumental in fostering such conditions. Historian Greg Grandin provides an in-depth analysis of the US involvement in creating this system in his book, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006). The thrust of his analysis is captured in the following paragraph.

“An interventionist military posture, belief that America has a special role to play in world history, cynical realpolitik, vengeful nationalism, and free-market capitalism have all driven U.S. diplomacy in one form or another for nearly two centuries. But what is new is how potent these elements have become and how tightly they are bound to the ambitious of America’s domestic ruling conservative coalition….” (p. 7)

Legal scholar Majorie Cohn echoes Grandin’s account and provides a concise summary, as follows.

“The history of U.S. intervention in the Northern Triangle countries has destabilized them and exacerbated the migrant crisis. “[W]e must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States,” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-is-obliterating-the-right-to-asylum).

Recent examples

Alison Bodine and Tamara Hansen point to how the relationship between U.S. intervention in Latin America and the severe problems in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala “is most clearly expressed by the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/23/imperialist-made-crisis-migrants-and-refugees). They elaborate: “10 years ago, the United States backed a right-wing overthrow of the elected government of Manuel Zelaya. Since then political repression, state violence, and increasing poverty in Honduras have escalated, creating structural and institutional vacuums, along with deep instability throughout the country. After the U.S. supported coup Honduras ended Manuel Zelaya’s presidency, a country with a prospect of political and economic development became a failed state.”

Trump and right-wing forces in the US frequently refer to the gangs, like MS-13, throughout the region, and how gang members are said to join migrants on their way to the US-Mexico border. There is little evidence to verify this point. Nonetheless, gang violence is a prominent reason in causing the flight of migrants out of Central America. At the same time, an often overlooked part of the story is that the gangs, or many of them, were created in the US. On this point, Bodine and Hansen say the gangs “were first formed in U.S. prisons, and then transplanted to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala when people were released from prison and then deported.” The cite UNHCR reports to illustrate some of the consequences, and write: “Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America. Several cities, including San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are among the 10 most dangerous in the world. The most visible evidence of violence is the high rate of brutal homicides, but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019//07/23/imperialist-made-crisis-migrants-and-refugees).

Guns made in the US often end up in the hands of gangs and drug cartels

Francis Moore Lappe presents evidence to substantiate this statement as follows (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/23/blood-on-our-hands-how-we-help-drive-immigration-north). More than 212,000 US weapons are smuggled across the US southern border into Mexico each year. The process begins when the guns are purchased from American gun dealers located in the US who “rely on this business to stay afloat.” According to a 2013 report by researchers at the University of San Diego. In Mexico, “these weapons end up in the hands of drug cartels or get shipped to gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador,” says The Associated Press. In Honduras, “armed holdups on public transportation are a regular occurrence, where nearly half of the unregistered weapons originated in the U.S.,” reports the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Lappe continues: “El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and “almost half of weapons found at the country’s crime scenes are from the U.S. officials here estimate.”

Diminishing Opportunities

For the people in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras , there are presently a growing number of famers cannot grow enough food to feed themselves and to sell for money to buy essentials. There are many others who, amidst high levels of unemployment, cannot find paid work with wages that enable them to stay out of poverty. And corrupt governments there offer too few and inadequate public assistance, while promoting policies that disproportionately benefit foreign corporations and their own wealthy classes. These are systemic problems.
Hannah Holleman documents in her new book, Dust Bowls of Empire: Imperialism, Environmental Polices and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism, that farmers not only in Central America but around the world have been locked into an agricultural system imposed by rich, capitalist countries that drive them into debt, degrades the soils and depletes water sources. This unsustainable situation is combined and made worse by the intensifying effects of climate disruption, reflected in increasing periods of drought and other extreme weather events.

The effects of climate disruption

Oliver Milman, Emily Holden, and David Agren address how climate change is increasingly figuring into the mass migration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/30/migrant-caravan-causes-climate-change-central-america). They report that “[w]hile violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the exodus, experts say the big picture is that changing climate is forcing farmers off their land – and it’s likely to get worse.” They confirm what so many others have found that most of the migrant caravans come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, “the three countries devastated by violence, organized crime and systemic corruption, [have roots] which can be traced back to the region’s cold war conflicts.” Now people in these countries also being increasingly afflicted by climate change.

According to experts interviewed by Milman, Holden, and Agren, climate change “is likely to push millions more people north towards the US.” The journalists quote Robert Albro, a researcher at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, says, “‘The focus on violence is eclipsing the big picture – which is that people are saying they are moving because of some version of food insecurity,’ And Albro continues: “‘The main reason people are moving is because they don’t have anything to eat. This has a strong link to climate change – we are seeing tremendous climate instability that is radically changing food security in the region.’ Albro adds:
“Migrants don’t often specifically mention ‘climate change’ as a motivating factor for leaving because the concept is so abstract and long-term…. But people in the region who depend on small farms are painfully aware of changes to weather patterns that can ruin crops and decimate incomes.”

“An unimaginable refugee crisis”

In another report for The Guardian in December 2016, Damian Carrington reminds us that the facts about climate change had been verified and well known for decades by scientists. Even the US military came around back in 2016 to acknowledge how the increasing ravages of climate change would generate
an unimaginable refugee crisis (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/01/climate-change-trigger-unimaginable-refugee-crisis-senior-military).

Carrington also quotes Brig Gen Stephen Cheney, a member of the US Department of State’s foreign affairs policy board and CEO of the American Security Project, as follows: “Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal.” Carrington also reminds readers that in September of 2016, “coalition of 25 US military and national security experts, including former advisers to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, warned that climate change poses a ‘significant risk to US national security and international security, increased risk of terrorism as states fail, and unprecedented migration that would overwhelm international assistance.’ Cheney is also quoted as saying that “Countries are going to pay for climate change one way or another… The best way to pay is by tackling the root causes of climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. If we do not, the national security impacts will be increasingly costly and challenging.”

The example of one Honduran village

In a report published by Inside Climate News (cited earlier), Georgina Gustin provides a graphic example of one village in Honduras that faces a choice: “Pray for Rain or Migrate” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08072019/climate-change-migration-honduras-drought-crop-failure-farming-deforestation-guatemala-trump).

The name of the village is El Rosario with a population of 500 people whose staple crops are corn and beans. Gustin describes the community and how people are trying to cope without regular or enough rain. The situation is precarious in this village, though it is not atypical in that generally poverty afflicts nearly two-thirds of all Hondurans, according to Gustin. And, she quotes the US Agency for International Development that Honduras “is also among the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, because of its ‘high exposure to climate-related hazards. Gustin continues:

“For a period of 20 years, from 1998 to 2017, it was among the three most weather-battered countries in the world, a distinction largely attributable to Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country in 1998. The situation is projected to get more dangerous, especially in Western Honduras, which is predicted to become a climate ‘hotspot,’ with greater temperature increases.”

The situation of people living in El Rasario, like in many villages in Central America and around the world, is that farmers need assistance in learning “new techniques for planting drought-tolerant crops” like sorghum and deep-rooted crops to control erosion, and new cash crops like avocados and plantains that survive in heat with less water, but, according to John Chater, who represents “a non-profit development group called Partners of the Americas, there “are very few organizations providing that training.” During the Obama administration, Congress doubled funding to the region from $338 million in 2014 to $754 million in 2016, and began directing more funding to climate and agriculture programs.” But the Central American governments and “the donor community” have “abandoned small and mid-sized agriculture for years,” while President Trump “has called for slashing foreign aid in general.” According to Gustin:

“In March [2019], Trump said his administration would cut aid to Central American countries to punish them for failing to stop migration flows….In June, the administration made the cuts official, saying it would withhold some of the funds allocated by Congress for the 2017 fiscal year and would suspend all funds Congress approved for 2018. The administration said it would also make 2019 and 2020 funds conditional.”

The problem of the people in El Rosario is also worsened not only by the effects of climate disruption, unsustainable farming practices, and the lack of government assistance and foreign aid, but also by extensive deforestation. Gustin offers some evidence. “For the past 10 or 15 years, maybe longer, people here have watched as loggers cut down the pine forests around them.” She describes the effects.

“The vast subtropical pine forests surround the village, which are now seriously diminished, once helped lower temperatures, controlled erosion and created a natural irrigation system that kept rainfall from running down the hillsides and taking precious soil.”

Part 3: A framework of feasible solutions

The migration out of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras will continue in large numbers and rise unless the conditions driving the emigration are radically changed. The prospects are not good, given that such changes would be opposed not only by the wealthy elites in these countries but by the imperialistic, America-first policies of the Trump administration and his Republican allies in the US Congress. We don’t have much time. Nonetheless, if the political landscape changes in 2020, and progressive Democrats have a significant voice in the federal government, it is useful to identify what a humane border policy would entail.

The elements of a comprehensive immigration policy on asylum seekers

Nonetheless, one can imagine progressive and radical alternatives that, if implemented, would in various combinations, reduce the suffering of migrants and increase the number who are permitted to enter the US. It would adhere to international and national laws on refugees, while expanding the criteria that define a legitimate asylum claim. It would decriminalize those who are caught trying to enter illegally. It would expedite the asylum process so that migrants who satisfy the criteria can enter the country without long waits. There would not be the dreadful detention facilities that exist under Trump, rather there would adequately-resourced and humanely managed facilities for those who have crossed the border illegally or who are waiting for an asylum decision by an immigration judge. Children would not be separated from their parents and unaccompanied children, those who come without a parent or legal guardian, would be housed in appropriate facilities until homes were found for them. Those permitted to relocate in the US would be provided with transitional assistance, unless that had relatives or other sponsors who were able to assist them. One thing is for sure. There would be far less detention than now.

End detention for asylum seekers

Alexia Fernandez Campbell argues for the end of detention (https://www.vox.com/2019/7/4/20681298/trump-migrant-detention-camps). She recommends two alternatives. “One alternative is to release immigrants under community supervision, in which a nonprofit group or government contractor provides families with social workers, who help them find housing and transportation, and who make sure they attend court hearings and comply with the law.” And: “Another alternative is to release immigrants with electronic monitoring, which generally involves placing GPS ankle monitors on adults and assigning them caseworkers.”

Similar policies were in place just a few years ago, Campbell informs us, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ran “the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), which involves electronic monitoring, and the less restrictive Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which relied on community monitoring. The administration ended one of the programs and has not expanded the other. The methods used in these programs are available to DHS, and are much cheaper than traditional detention — but the Trump administration is operating as if locking everyone up in squalid conditions is the only way.” The enforcement of these alternatives relies on how ICE officers decide to enforce it and she worries about this. But, if the enforcement question can be resolved, her basic position stands, that is, there have been and can be alternatives to detention.

She gives the example of the “Family Case Management Program,” which was launched by the Department of Homeland Security in 2015 “ in response to the waves of mothers and children seeking asylum from gang violence.” The program released families in certain cities where they were “monitored by social workers, who helped them find lawyers, housing, and transportation and made sure they attended their court hearings.” According to ICE, it worked pretty well, “though officers never had more than 1,600 people enrolled in the program during the two years it existed (compared to more than 350,000 immigrants who were held in ICE detention centers just in 2016). Ninety-nine percent of participants “successfully attended their court appearances and ICE check-ins. It’s also economical to putting people into detention. Campbell cites numbers from DHS: “it cost about $133.99 per day to hold an adult immigrant in detention and $319.37 for an individual in family detention.” But, “the agency said the average cost of placing someone in an alternative programs is $4.50 per day.” She also cites a report from NBC News that found “housing immigrants in tent cities would cost a whopping $775 per detainee.”

This is not an “open border” policy. There would still be a need under this policy for some system of border security to enforce the new immigration system, and that would mean keeping some migrants out of the country. Who might be kept out? Perhaps gang members, those with criminal records, persons who have known records of domestic violence. However, there would be far more migrants admitted into the country than is now the case.

Assistance to the “home” countries from which asylum seekers flee

The number of migrants from the northern tier of Central America might be curtailed at the source. The US could help to reduce the number of migrants who are forced to migrate in the first place. This could be accomplished by launching a modern-day Marshal Plan to address the complex political, economic, and environmental problems responsible for the rising levels of migration to the US border. This would only work if the authoritarian political structures and neoliberal economic policies that now prevail are somehow ended.

Changing US foreign policy goals from “America first” to recognizing the need for equitable international relations with “under-developed” countries

However, much of the needed change must occur in the US itself. These are changes that require discussion that go far beyond this post and that address the concerns of American citizens, which feed the opposition to immigration. Nonetheless, here are some general ideas. There is a need to stop or severely restrict the sale of guns to Mexico. The drug policy in the US must be changed, with the goal of reducing the supply of illegal drugs that now come into the country through US ports of entry, and of enhancing assistance for Americans who use such drugs. US foreign policy must stop propping up authoritarian government leaders in these countries and stop opposing political forces that want to control over their own resources.

A Green New Deal to allay the fears some Americans have about immigration and address the unfolding climate crisis

The implementation of a Green New Deal would be a first step in significantly addressing the climate crisis and the economic insecurities of Americans. It calls for the development of plans to phase out fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support renewable forms of energy and energy efficiency measures, create and begin to implement a full-employment policy, address the country’s infrastructure problems, and provide a social safety net to ensure that all Americans are assured adequate medical care, housing, and the other basics of a decent and dignified life, along with an improved public school systems, affordable or free post-high school education, universal, and single-payer health care.