Afghanistan: A review of a misbegotten war and the options

Afghanistan: A review of a misbegotten war

and the options

September 8, 2021

Years of public amnesia about the Afghanistan War

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geopolitics of the Cold War

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

Soviet influence in Afghanistan, 1970s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America supports the Mujahideen

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

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

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

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

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

The emergence of al Qaeda

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

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

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

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

The Civil War

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

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

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

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

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

The ascendance of the Taliban

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

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

The failed “peace agreement”

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

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

Osama bin Laden, the Mujahideen, and al Qaeda

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

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

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

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

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

Tierney continues.

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

The origins of the plot to launch attacks in the US

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

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

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

How the plot unfolded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was responsible?

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

A “War on Terrorism” and endless wars

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

A war on terrorism

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

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

Overwhelming initial support for the US attack on Afghanistan

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

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

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

Fear, anger, and ambivalence

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

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

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

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

Nation building

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

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

No victory in sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corruption

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

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

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

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

More on corruption

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

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

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

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

Ineffective US reconstruction projects.

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

The costs

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

Purposes varied over time

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

Some improvements

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

SIGAR’s role – failed efforts to make reconstruction work

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

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

Trump facilitated the ultimate victory of the Taliban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Joe Biden

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

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

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

The questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The criticisms of Biden miss the point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding thoughts

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

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

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

Bob Sheak, August 17, 2021

Introduction

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

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

Examples of Republican anti-democratic actions and policies

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

#1 – The big lie and the insurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who funded them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Pacs and Dark money explained

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

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

#2 – Efforts to permanently subvert the electoral system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theoharis implores Biden to change his mind, writing:

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

The big lie is fueled by “big money

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

The 2020 elections – a reckoning

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

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

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

A word about “freedom”

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

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

Covid-19 cases soar

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

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

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

Texas

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

Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the Delta Variant

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

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

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

80 million

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

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

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

———————-

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

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

——————-

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

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

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

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

Redfield concurs

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

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

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

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

Who are the unvaccinated and unmasked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the same time, “hard” opposition continues

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

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

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

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

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

#4 – Climate change deniers and detractors

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

—————————–

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

Acknowledge the growing climate crisis

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

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

Deny or deflect the realty of the climate crisis

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

———————–

The Report by the IPCC

Recent scientific evidence documents that the climate crisis is worsening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slim basis for hope

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

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

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

Nations are failing in their commitments

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

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

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

Every degree makes a significant difference

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

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

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

There are options but they require large systemic changes

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

Concluding thoughts

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

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

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

Trump and the Republicans downplay the Jan. 6 insurrection

 Bob Sheak, July 28, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Trump the liar and inciter in chief

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the election to the insurrection

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

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

On his throne

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

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

A maliciously narcissistic con man

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

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

The Big Lie

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

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

Failed attempts to overturn the election

Challenging the election results

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

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

Pence refused to go along

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

Going to the courts

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

Trump ignores the evidence and perpetuates the big lie

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

Trump’s loyal Republican followers embrace the big lie

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

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

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

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

The corporate facilitators

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

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

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

Trump Loyalists in the states

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

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

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

The insurrection

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

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

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

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

———————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LA Times reporters continue the story.

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

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

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

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

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

Trump has second thoughts – momentary as it turns out

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

Trump’s belated “concession”

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

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

————————–

Trump and Republicans make up their own stories about January 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The verifiable facts are the facts

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

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

“Trump Has Convinced His Followers He’s About to Return to Office This Summer [in August],” as reported by Sasha Abramsky (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-has-convinced-his-followers-hes-about-to-return-to-office-this-summer). The logic underlying Trump’s claim is that the audit being conducted of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa country Arizona will find massive voter fraud, this evidence will be the basis of a lawsuit that will end up in the Supreme Court, and the court will rule that the election was significantly flawed and Trump should be identified as the winner – and therefore be anointed the president.

“Last month [June 2021],” Abramski writes, Hill/HarrisX poll found that about 30 percent of Republicans thought it likely Trump would be declared president again this year. Other polling has found that a significant percentage of all respondents think Trump could well return to the presidency in 2021; this includes up to 1 in 5 Democrats and 3 in 10 Independents — who, presumably, largely view this prospect not with glee but with horror.”

There have been a series of other events that promote or imply the big lie and his claim of being reinstated as president in August. Here’s Abramsky’s summary. “Trump himself has been fanning the flames of this fantasy, appearing either in person or from his Mar-a-Lago perch via satellite link at political rallies in which speakers have, at various times, called for martial law, spouted QAnon conspiracy theories and urged military intervention against Joe Biden’s administration. On Telegram and other encrypted social media sites, there are increasingly strident calls for violent actions aimed at reinstating Trump. And die-hard supporters such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon have been touring the country claiming that vote count ‘audits’ in Arizona and elsewhere will trigger Supreme Court rulings that negate Biden’s victory.”

Trump’s fuels his violent-prone movement

This is not a glib charge. Abramsky reports: “Earlier this summer, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) briefed Congress specifically on the danger that this movement could turn to violence again. As the supposed August ‘Trump reinstatement’ date neared, the DHS worried that individuals and groups could shed blood as a way to somehow trigger a broader conflict.”

Concern about a Trump-inspired “military coup”

Abramsky also reports on section of a new book, I Alone Can Fix It, by two Washington Post reporters, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, that details how Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and other top generals believed that, in the weeks leading up to the January 6 congressional certification of the Electoral College vote, Trump was about to order a military coup. The top brass even discussed mass resignations as a way to stymie Trump’s democracy-busting plans. But even if these eventualities had played out, resignations by generals alone would have been insufficient to forestall a coup. Trump could have replaced them.

As Abramsky puts it:

“Trump’s team could simply have appointed other, more pliable generals to replace those unwilling to be complicit in his dictatorial ambitions — men and women whom he would undoubtedly have tried to portray as ‘enemies of the people’ those who opposed Trump and against whom his fierce propaganda apparatus would instantly have been turned.”

In this case, Trump would no doubt declared “a form of martial law and ordering new elections in key swing states.” Indeed, insofar as the military is concerned, a majority of military veterans supported Trump in the 2020 election, and they and other weapons-trained personnel might have joined with the Oath Keepers and other extremist groups to go along with any Trump-led coup.

Abramsky offers the following sobering thoughts.

“The more we learn about Trump’s last months in office, and his willingness to lean on the muscle provided by paramilitary groups such as the Oath Keepers, the clearer it becomes that talk of coups and martial law was far more than just idle chatter. Trump couldn’t fathom losing his reelection bid and bowing out gracefully; he had no interest in a peaceful transfer of power and a preservation of basic democratic principles, and he felt no moral limits on his exercise of power to beget more power. The recent revelations about how worried the military’s top brass were about being ordered into action against U.S. civilians give further evidence of just how close the American democratic experiment came to a catastrophic collapse.”

Trump insists he will be elected president again in 2024

In an opinion article for the New York Times, Michael Wolff posits some reasons on why he thinks Trump will run for the presidency in 2024. He bases his view on an interview he had with Trump at Mar-a-Lago this spring and on what he has learned about the man in writing three books on Trump (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/opinion/trump-2024-michael-wolff.html).

Wolff reports as follows.

“After dinner, I asked about his plans for a presidential library, the traditional retirement project and fund-raising scheme of ex-presidents. There was a flash of confusion on his uniquely readable face, and then anger, aroused, I figured, by the implication of what I seemed to be saying — that his time in office was past.

The former president replied: “No way, no way,” he snarled, “no way.” That is, the Trump thinks he will run for the presidency in 2024. Wolff offers the following interpretation.

“It is [for Trump] an existential predicament: He can’t be Donald Trump without a claim on the presidency. He can’t hold the attention and devotion of the Republican Party if he is not both once and future king — and why would he ever give that up? Indeed, it seemed to be that I was strategically seated in the lobby of Mar-a-Lago when I arrived precisely so I could overhear the efforts by a Republican delegation to court and grovel before Mr. Trump and to observe his dismissive dominance over them.

Trump spent much of the interview “savoring his future retributions” against Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans who had not supported his ongoing “stop the steal” campaign.

Wolff ends the article on a cautionary note. “For Democrats, who see him exiled to Mar-a-Lago, stripped of his key social media platforms and facing determined prosecutors, his future seems risible if not pathetic. But this is Donald Trump, always ready to strike back harder than he has been struck, to blame anyone but himself, to silence any doubts with the sound of his own voice, to take what he believes is his and, most of all, to seize all available attention. Sound the alarm.”

The Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attacks on the U.S. Capitol

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to establish a bipartisan committee to investigate the evidence and issues around the Jan. 6 insurrection. The committee’s full name: The Select Committee to Investigate Jan. 6 Attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

The Initial proposal for a bipartisan investigation rejected by Senate Republicans

Columnist Jennifer Rubin reports that “[h]ouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whom the insurrectionists tried to hunt down on Jan. 6, was deadly serious about getting to the bottom of the day’s events and exposing all groups and individuals who played a role in the attempt to overthrow our democracy. She was willing to have a bipartisan, evenly divided Jan. 6 commission” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/212/jan-6-committee-pelosi-chose-truth-over-theater).

NPR journalist Claudia Grisales fills in the some of the background, reporting that  “Pelosi wanted to set up a bipartisan committee ‘modeled after the commission established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with a panel of commissioners divvied up evenly between the parties and bipartisan subpoena power.’ The House had already agreed to the plan. ‘Earlier in May, the House approved the plan by a vote of 252 to 175, with 35 Republicans joining Democrats in that case.’ But on May 28, Senate Republicans opposed it and used the filibuster to defeat it.” The final vote in the Senate was 54 to 35, with six Republicans voting with Democrats. The Democrats in the Senate need 60 votes to by-pass the filibuster and begin debate on the plan (https://www.npr.org/2021/06/24/1009818514/house-speaker-nancy-pelosi-launches-select-committee-to-probe-jan-6-insurrection).

The plan to create a bi-partisan House Select Committee

Pelosi had already signaled that, if the Senate blocked the bipartisan investigation, she would launch a select committee to take over the probe. So, nearly a month after the Senate filibuster, the Speaker made the following announcement. “This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I am announcing that the House will be establishing a select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection. Jan. 6 was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history … it is imperative that we establish the truth of that day and ensure that an attack of that kind cannot happen and that we root out the causes of it all.”

Rubin continues the story. “Pelosi then decided to form a select committee of 13. She chose Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to participate “and even offered House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the disgraced former president’s chief apologist, the opportunity to name five members. McCarthy picked three who participated in the attempt to overthrow the election results, including one who immediately trashed the committee after his appointment.”

The Republican House Speaker tries to sabotage the committee

The Washington Post editorial board urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to let Keven McCarthy to undermine the January 6 investigation she has proposed (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/20/kevin-mccarthy-picks-jan-6-panel-make-clear-he-wants-continue-coverup). The WP editors identify the obvious.

“Republicans are now intent sabotaging any kind of serious investigation. The board says that “became clear with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) selection of [five] members to serve on the select committee formed to investigate the insurrection,” choosing ‘Jim Jordan of Ohio, Jim Banks of Indiana, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Troy E. Nehls of Texas — for the 13-member committee.’ Expressing his contempt for the investigation, Banks “issued a blistering statement that blasted Democrats, attacked the purpose of the committee and suggested Republicans might use it to attack President Biden. Banks also said: ‘I will not allow this committee to be turned into a forum for condemning millions of Americans because of their political beliefs.’

In response, Pelosi could have accepted the Republican selections and, as Rubin puts it, let them “expose themselves as unhinged, unpatriotic provocateurs.” Instead, she “rejected two of those appointments.” Then House Republican Speaker McCarthy responded by pulling all five of his people, “hysterically threatening on Wednesday [June 23] to run his own investigation,” which, Rubin notes, “would highlight only how unserious and untrustworthy his party truly is.”

Pelosi is able to establish a quasi-bipartisan committee

Pelosi has subsequently chosen another Republican to join the select committee. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), “who condemned the insurrection, voted to impeach the instigator in chief and supported a bipartisan commission,” agreed to participate. The select committee is now composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans.

Rubin sums it up well. “The ‘story’ is simple. “Republicans continue to cover up and defend a violent insurrection instigated by their cult hero. They blocked a bipartisan commission and now won’t participate unless their disruptive members have a chance to throw the committee into chaos.” Now, Rubin maintains, “the select committee can proceed with a “serious, professional, and focused” investigation,” and without “the provocateurs and Jan. 6 apologists. The committee members “can proceed unimpeded through their witness list, subpoena documents and produce a comprehensive account of the day’s events, the forces behind it and the recommended steps to prevent this from reoccurring.”

The Republicans try to discredit Pelosi

Congressional Republicans, not Trump, now appear willing not to totally reject the realty of January 6 that there was a violent assault on the Capito

l. But they want to shift the discussion away from that reality of the insurrection and blame House Speaker Nance Pelosi for the security lapse at the Capitol.

This is issue addressed by Chris Walker, who describes the situation as follows (https://truthout.org/articles/having-failed-to-sabotage-jan-6-inquiry-mccarthy-is-blaming-pelosi-for-the-riot).

“House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who has opposed the formation of a commission at every step of the way, tried to suggest that Pelosi had endangered the lives of workers and officers at the Capitol on the day that a mob of loyalists to former President Donald Trump attempted to interrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

“‘On January 6 these brave officers were put into a vulnerable and impossible position because the leadership at the top failed,’ McCarthy said speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning [July 27, 2021], falsely implying that it was Pelosi’s responsibility to secure the Capitol.

“Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Trump loyalist whom McCarthy tried to nominate to the commission but who was blocked by Pelosi over his lack of integrity, also suggested Pelosi was largely to blame for that day’s events.

“‘Why don’t they want to answer the fundamental question, which is why wasn’t there a better security posture on that day?’ Jordan asked.”

Trump also took up this refrain. “In a statement he published on his campaign website, Trump, who in other situations has downplayed the violence and described his mob of loyalists as “loving” on that day, said that the commission ought to investigate Pelosi herself over what went down.

“‘Nancy Pelosi is spending a great deal of time, effort, and money on the formulation of a Fake and highly partisan January 6 Committee to ask, what happened?’ Trump said in his statement.” Trump continues: “Will Nancy investigate herself and those on Capitol Hill who didn’t want additional protection, including more police and National Guard, therefore being unprepared despite the large crowd of people that everyone knew was coming?”

“The commission…will likely question why the National Guard wasn’t deployed sooner to secure the Capitol on January 6. However, it’s unlikely that Pelosi will be blamed for such inaction, as the National Guard can only be called up by governors of the states in which they reside, or by the president. Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, has no authority to call them into the Capitol building, in the event of violent attacks or other unrest.”

Walker adds: “The insinuations by Trump and Republicans in Congress who are loyal to the former president, suggesting that Pelosi played a role in the violence of that day, also contradict who is in charge of security at the Capitol. Oversight of the Capitol Police is managed by a Capitol Police Board, which is run by various committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. Pelosi is not a member of any committee or board that has oversight over Capitol Police.”

Fact-checking the Republican claim about Pelosi

Tom Kertscher reports on a “fact check” of this claim by Politifact

(https://www.politifact.com/factcheck/2021/feb/25/facebook-posts/no-capitol-security-not-only-pelosis-responsibilit). He describes the Capitol security system as multi-tiered.

“Capitol security is provided by the sergeants-at-arms , who are the chief law enforcement officers for the House and Senate, in coordination with the Capitol Police, a federal law enforcement agency.

“The House sergeant-at-arms reports to the speaker of the House, or Pelosi at the time of the attack. The Senate sergeant-at-arms reports to the Senate majority leader; in the days leading up to and including Jan. 6, that was Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell. 

“Security of the Capitol Complex is the direct responsibility of the four-member Capitol Police Board, which includes both sergeants-at-arms, said Jane Campbell, president and CEO of the United States Capitol Historical Society.”

Politifact rates the Republican claim about Pelosi’s culpability as “mostly false.”

The first hearing before the Select Committee

William Rivers Pitt reports on the first Jan. 6 Hearing on July 27, 2021, and writes that it revealed what we already know: “It was a GOP Riot” (https://truthout.org/arrticles/just-1-6-hearing-reveals-what-we-already-know-it-was-a-gop-riot). Four security policemen testified, including “U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Michael Fanone, Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges and U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn.”

Pitt describes some of what the officers told the Committee.

“Sgt. Gonell spoke after Thompson and Cheney, raw with emotion. The story he told was harrowing. ‘What we were subjected to that day was like something from a Medieval battle,’ said Gonell. ‘We fought hand to hand.’ He expected to die guarding the doorway where he and his fellow officers clashed with the rioters.

“Our children will know we stood for the truth.”

“Officer Fanone spoke next. His was a familiar face, as he has appeared on the news channels multiple times to tell his story, and to scald congressional Republicans for insulting the truth of 1/6. His fury was likewise palpable as he described being tasered on the back of the skull, of getting beaten ruthlessly, and of nearly being killed by his own service weapon as the crowd chanted, ‘Kill him with his own gun!’

“The indifference shown to my colleagues [by Republicans who deny the facts of the day] is DISGRACEFUL,” Fanone roared at one juncture, pounding the table loud enough to make the room jump. Following Fanone was Officer Hodges, who recounted his similar experiences with a brittle calm. Of the three, Hodges was the most unsparing in his clear declaration that the mob which attacked him was by, for and with Donald Trump.

“Hodges, too, wept during his testimony when he reached the portion of his story recounting his close brush with death when he got caught between the two masses of fighting bodies. Most who have followed this story since January will recognize Hodges; he was the officer screaming for help as a man “foaming at the mouth” battered him in his helplessness and tore off his gas mask.

“Officer Dunn opened his testimony with a request for a moment of silence for Brian Sicknick, one of the Capitol Police officers who died after the attack. Dunn — the officer who was captured on camera leading rioters away from vulnerable Congress members — laid out the evident tactical planning that went into the attack, the deliberate coordination of forces for the specific purpose of sacking the Capitol and disrupting the certification of the election.

“Dunn recounted the torrent of racial abuse he absorbed from the mob, and shared that other Black officers he later spoke to had similar experiences to recount. Dunn quoted McCarthy’s searing criticism of Trump, spoken immediately after the attack was over, a vivid counterpoint to the minority leader’s abrupt about-face.”

Concluding thoughts

As argued in this and other posts, our democracy is under assault by Trump and his allies. Trump remains the most powerful person in the Republican Party and he and the party will apparently do anything to regain control of the US Congress and state legislatures across the country in 2022 and 2024.

Meanwhile, Wolff tells his readers that the Mar-a-Lago lobby is “really the throne room,” where “Donald J. Trump presides or is on display” (p. 291). There is “a steady stream of Republican senators and congressmen seeking his endorsement – indeed, almost every Republican officeholder or seeker, save the few opposed to him, who can make the trip seem set to come to Mar-a-Lago to slavishly attend to him” (p. 291).

Trump is unshaken in his beliefs that (1) “he has been forced out of office by an election coup that involves almost all aspects of modern society and its coordinated power centers organized against him,” and (2) “he absolutely believes he is the single most powerful political entity in the United States” (p. 294). On the latter point, Trump promises that every Republican primary race for 2022 will have…a Trump candidate, with the goal of ruling out all other candidates.”

But, with or without Trump, the Republican Party espouses a far-right agenda, opposes any legislation that promotes voters’ rights, and depends on the same Trumpian electoral base.

There is hope amid this reality. Democracy can be saved by a confluence of events: (1) the Democratic Party offers policies that seriously address the society’s crises; (2) there are vibrant and widespread grassroots mobilizations; and (3) Democratic voters turn out in droves in 2022 and 2024.

Hope amid the climate crisis

Bob Sheak, July 9, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I focus on Michael E. Mann’s book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, published in 2021. The concept of “war” in this context suggests that there is an intransigent enemy, prominently the Republican Party and its corporate and wealthy benefactors, that threatens to make life on the planet less and less habitable, and that it will take an equally powerful force to stop them.

Where we stand amid the climate crisis?

Despite the growing body of evidence that we are losing the fight against “climate change” and its myriad and increasingly destructive effects, Mann, who is a well-known and published climate scientist, presents us with a multi-part analysis that is designed most fundamentally to leave readers with some “hope” about the future. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” He continues: “Alone it won’t solve the problem. But drawing upon it, we will” (p. 267)

Bad News

There are many recent books and reports that give us a good understanding of the dire effects and prospects of global warming, how fossil-fuel corporations and an array of other powerful corporate and political forces in and outside of government have created false, but unfortunately effective, narratives denying climate change or deflecting attention away from it. The authors provide extensive documentation of the problem, its causes, the concerted efforts to delegitimize efforts to address the problem, and what can be done to save the planet. Kate Aronoff’s book, Over-Heated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet – and How We Fight Back” is one of these books. Other books on these topics include John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark’s The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin’s Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, Robert Pollin’s Greening the Global Economy, Bill McKibben’s Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, and Ian Angus’s facing the Anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system. There are two themes, among others, that stand out. We don’t have much time to prevent runaway climate collapse and we have the know how to prevent this from happening. In the final analysis, politics will make the difference. In the meantime, things are getting worse.

For summaries of the evidence on the crisis, see two of my recent posts, one sent out on June18 titled “Global warming intensifies: Additional evidence” (https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/1068) and the other on May 26 with the title “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaning solutions are elusive,” https://wordpress.com/posts/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/1009. The best evidence on climate change continues to document that the climate crisis is worsening. For example, Victoria Bekiempis reports for The Guardian that scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have found that the “earth is trapping twice as much heat [in 2019] as it did in 2005. The increase is described as unprecedented (https://theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/17/earth-trapping-heat-study-nasa-noaa). Similarly, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise.  Stephanie Epps reports that “the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in May 2021 hit the highest level ever measured, showing the global coronavirus pandemic did not decrease overall CO2 emissions despite pausing global economies for months. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hit a monthly average of 419 parts per million in May 2021, according to data from NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released Monday” (https://abcnews.com/US/carbon-divide-hit-highest-level-measured-atmosphere/story?id=78137553).

PHOTO: A graph depicts the upward trajectory of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as measured at the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory by NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The annual fluctuation is known as the Keeling Curve.

Hope – looking for a politically feasible way to buttress it

In this post, I’ll focus on Michael E. Mann’s book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, published in 2021. The concept of “war” in this context suggests that there is an intransigent enemy, prominently the Republican Party and its corporate and wealthy benefactors, that threatens to make life on the planet less and less habitable, and that it will take an equally powerful force to stop them.

Despite the growing body of evidence that we are losing the fight against “climate change” and its myriad and increasingly destructive effects, Mann, who is a well-known and published climate scientist, presents us with a multi-part analysis that is designed most fundamentally to leave readers with some “hope” about the future. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.” He continues: “Alone it won’t solve the problem. But drawing upon it, we will” (p. 267). One question: What does the evidence on climate change indicate since Mann’s book was published in 2021? His references go up through July 2020, about a year ago. We’ll see, unfortunately, that some of his hopeful trends have not continued or have mixed and limited results. Mann’s emphasize on carbon pricing as his principal policy initiative appears too limited in its potential effects to reign in greenhouse gas emissions, since it relies on corporate-dominated markets. Nonetheless, Mann’s overall analysis is sophisticated in identifying the false rationales and “non-solution” proposals of those who oppose meaningful action on climate change and offers an analytical framework that is useful, though not definitive, in educating readers, government officials, and citizens generally about some important aspects of the climate crisis.

Not too late

Mann’s main contention is that it is not too late to radically reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are the principal sources of climate change and, through domestic and international efforts, to limit the emissions enough to keep the global temperature from rising no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next decade. To achieve this goal, he argues, policies based on science must be instituted, citizens must be “educated” about the facts and, some at least, must be or become active in the political process. In addition, the disinformation of the fossil fuel interests must be effectively challenged, and the government must move quickly to remove fossil fuels from the energy mix and replace them with renewables, energy efficiency, and other environmentally sustainable technologies. Mann argues, “We need policies that will incentivize the needed shift away from fossil fuel burning toward a clean, green global economy. So-called leaders who resist the call for action must be removed from office” (p. 6). The word “incentivize” may suggest that the climate-related policies of corporations and the ideological commitments of the far-right republican Party can be changed through negotiations with the Republican lawmakers and with some incremental changes. However, it becomes clearer as time passes that there is little or no reason to expect the Republican Party to negotiate in good faith. (See Steve Benen’s documentation of this point in his book, The Imposters: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics). Mann does refer to the need for “systemic” changes, and he supports a limited version of the Green New Deal, but the thrust of his analysis suggests that he would settle for limited “systemic” change.

The “enemy”

And then the obstacles. The Republican Party, major segments of the corporate community, vast networks created by the Koch Brothers and other billionaires, right-wing media that reach many millions of people, and a Trump-loyal base of tens of millions of Americans favor all-out support for fossil fuels and have little interest in supporting renewable energy.

Furthermore, support for fossil fuels is only one of the issues that motivates these right-wing forces. For example, the Republican Party, the climate denying, delaying, minimizing-the-threat party, is working to suppress the voting rights of opponents and to prevent the Biden administration from achieving any significant policy achievements. Even out of office, fossil-fuel champion Trump continues to have a massive following that includes white supremacists, evangelicals, gun rights absolutists, anti-immigration groups, most of whom can apparently be counted on to deny, dismiss, or minimize meaningful action on the climate crisis. The totality of these interests represents an enormous obstacle to winning the war against climate change, but additionally and ominously represent a growing threat to democracy. Andrew Cockburn argues that the Republican Party increasingly exhibits fascist characteristics. Note that fascism represents a force that is not amenable to negotiated settlements (https://counterpunch.org/2021/06/22/the-republican-party-has-turned-fascist-and-is-now-the-most-dangerous-threat-in-world). Here’s some of what Cockburn writes.

“When Donald Trump was in the White House there was much debate about whether or not he could be called a fascist in the full sense of the word, and not merely as a political insult. His presidency showed many of the characteristics of a fascist dictatorship, except the crucial one of automatic re-election.

“But Trump or Trump-like leaders may not have to face this democratic impediment in the future. It was only this year that the final building blocks have been put in place by Republicans as they replicate the structure of fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.

“Two strategies, though never entirely absent from Republican behaviour in the past, have become far more central to their approach. One is a greater willingness to use or tolerate violence against their opponents, something that became notorious during the invasion of the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters on 6 January.

“The other change among Republicans is much less commented on, but is more sinister and significant. This is the systematic Republican takeover of the electoral machinery that oversees elections and makes sure that they are fair. Minor officials in charge of them have suddenly become vital to the future of American democracy. Remember that it was only the refusal of these functionaries to cave in to Trump’s threats and blandishments that stopped him from stealing the presidential election last November.”

On February 19, 2020, I addressed the issue of fascism in America in post titled “The specter of fascism before and during the Trump presidency” (https://wordpress.com/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/558).

Still, cautiously optimistic and a roadmap

Nonetheless, Mann tells us he is “cautiously optimistic…about prospects for tackling the climate crisis in the years ahead.” He is convinced that we can progress through reform of the capitalist system. In making his case, Mann develops five arguments in support of his position. One, he documents that concern with and action about climate change is growing. Two, he rebuts the arguments of fossil fuel interests that deny or deflect attention from the climate crisis, as a way of educating the public and reducing the spread of lies and disinformation. Three, he identifies – and rejects or dubs inadequate– “non-solutions” that are being promoted, such as natural gas as a bridge fuel, the notion of “clean coal,” geoengineering, massive tree planting, and the nuclear energy option. Four, he criticizes those on the left who want nothing less than the transformation of the whole capitalist system, or who have the conception that only viable alternatives are local (e.g., creation of “resilient communities), or who contend that it is “too late” to make meaningful change and that humanity is doomed. And, five, Mann considers carbon pricing, which, if done right and combined with support for renewables, can potentially reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions on the needed scale and in a timely fashion. His overall position is based on the idea that relevant and effective public policy will ultimately reflect science and the facts. If only they would.

#1 – Growing awareness of the climate crisis

Unprecedented events are difficult to ignore

Mann’s optimism is based in part on his contention that recent events have promoted an increased awareness of the climate crisis. He refers to the following events, (1) “a series of unprecedented, extreme weather disasters that have vivified the climate-change threat” (e.g., wildfires in California);  (2) “a global pandemic has now taught us key lessons about vulnerability and risk”;  (3) “the reawakening of environmental activism, and, in particular, a popular uprising by children across the world that has framed climate change as the defining challenge of our time” (p.225); (4) climate experts are coming forward; and (5) fossil fuel industry feeling the heat – e.g., coal is in a death spiral and natural gas coming to be seen as a liability by communities” (p. 233).

Opinion polls identify a growing awareness of the climate crisis

He refers to polls that a majority of Americans now accept the realty of climate change, while the number of people who deny or dismiss it have, according to a 2019 poll, shrunk to the single digits (p. 41). Insofar as public opinion is concerned, Mann thinks we may be close to a tipping point on climate that may precipitate increasing political support and government action. With this in mind, he cites a 2019 Pew Research poll that found 67 percent of the public thinks we’re doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.” Mann notes that this doesn’t mean they prioritize it. Nonetheless, it reflects that a growing majority of Americans not only have some awareness of the climate crisis but that they want government to do more than they have been doing to address this growing problem. Mann cites another 2019 poll, this one conducted by CNN, which “found that ’82 percent of registered voters who identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents consider climate change a ‘very important’ top priority” (232) However, recent polls also identify a partisan divide that suggests that opposition to taking significant action is greater than single digits.

For example, Fred Backus reports on April 21, 2021on a CBS poll (https://cbsnews.com/news/fighting-climate-change-opinion-poll-04-21-2021). According to Backus, when respondents were “asked to choose between general approaches like the environment and climate, 58% of Americans think people should try to do things to shape and change it, while just 42% [not single digits] think people should simply learn to adapt to what happens and make the best of it.” When asked “How should people deal with the climate,” 80 percent of Democrats chose “Do Things to Change,” joined by 54 percent of the Independents, but only 20 percent of Republicans (i.e., 80 percent did not).  

There is good reason to be concerned that the efforts of the Republican Party to further suppress the votes of their opponents and to change the rules on votes are counted and validated may give this far-right leaning party control of the U.S. government in 2022 or 2024, in which case opportunities to address the crisis will go by the board. In such an eventuality, Democratic majorities on this or that poll may be irrelevant. At the same time, Mann does say that it is a waste of time to debate over climate-change issues with those adamantly opposed to taking any genuine steps to ameliorate the climate crisis. It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will be able to so corrupt the political system that any rational approach to the climate crisis will be discarded.

Even the Pentagon views climate change as a growing threat

Mann refers to a recent study commissioned by the Pentagon that warns of a scenario in which electricity, water, and food systems might collapse by midcentury as a result of the effects of climate change.” At the same time, the U.S. military remains a major source of CO2 emissions and other pollutants. See support for this statement in my post of December 11, 2019, titled “The US military is not going to save us or itself from the climate crisis” (https://wordpress.com/post/vitalissues-bobsheak.com/528).

Indications that some in the financial sector are having second thoughts about investing in fossil fuels

Mann writes: “the banking and finance industry is rethinking its role in funding new fossil fuel infrastructure.” The industry is concerned that demand for fossil fuels is on the wane, and it will become burdened with “stranded assets,” that is, there will eventually be significant reductions in demand for oil and gas, thus jeopardizing the investments of the financial institutions. He cites a number of sources that confirm the industry’s concerns. Guardian correspondent Fiona Harvey reports that “high exposure to fossil fuels in their portfolios will be hurt, as those companies and assets cease to be profitable” (p. 234). And, according to “Axel Weber, the chairman of Swiss multinational investment bank UBS, the finance sector is on the verge of ‘a big change in market structure’ because investors are increasingly demanding that the sector account for climate risk and embed a price on carbon in their portfolio decisions” (p. 235).” Additionally, Mann gives these examples: “Goldman Sachs, Liberty Mutual, and the European Investment Bank – the largest international bank in the world – are among the numerous banks and investments firms that are now pulling away from fossil fuel investments” (p. 235).

As in the financial sector, the insurance industry is worrying about the effects from the advance of climate. Mann gives the examples of the insurance giant, The Hartford, Sweden’s central bank, and Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager,” both of which have indicated they will stop insuring or investing in Alberta’s carbon-intensive tar sands oil production. BlackRock has gone even further, announcing it will no longer make investments that come with high environmental risks including coal for power plants.”

There is recent evidence that this trend is gaining momentum. Robertson and Karsh report that “[t]oday’s private equity shops—including the world’s largest alternative asset manager, Blackstone Group Inc.—are pouring capital into fast-growing sectors such as solar, carbon capture, and battery storage. Part of the attraction stems from the rapid adoption of wind and solar as public demand for climate accountability rises. It’s a shift in investment strategy that comes after years of fits and starts for the once struggling renewables space” (https://bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-06/private-equity-is-ditching-fossil-fuels-over-climate-change-concerns).

Young people are involved

There is also momentum in higher education. Mann gives the example of “students at Berkeley are in 2014 demanding the UC Regents divest of fossil fuel holdings and they were successful, along with students at other campuses. “More than a thousand college campuses, including UC Regents, and other institutions throughout the United States (accounting for more than $11 trillion in holdings) have divested of fossil fuel stocks” (p. 237).

Young people around the globe are demanding change. Many of them have been inspired by Greta Thunberg, the teenage from Sweden who “by age sixteen achieved an iconic global cultural status,” then nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, featured on the cover of Time magazine, and “sparked a global youth movement called ‘Fridays For Future.’” In support of the young people, “a group of just under two dozen climate scientists, myself [Mann] included, published a letter in Science magazine that was ultimately cosigned by thousands of other scientists around the world. The letter offered support for them for their efforts” (see p. 253). Fossil fuel interests have taken notice. “In July 2019, OPEC’s secretary general, Mohammed Barkindo, referred to the youth climate movement as the ‘greatest threat’ the fossil fuel industry faces” (254).

#2 – Rebutting the arguments of the fossil fuel interests

ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests have for decades “waged a public relations campaign contesting the scientific evidence and doing everything in their power to block policies aimed at curbing planet-warming carbon pollution” (p. 1). They deny and want to delay any government efforts to address the problem (p. 2). Mann calls it a “massive deflection campaign” (p. 2). It surfaced in the late 1980s. “Joined by billionaire plutocrats like the Koch Brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes, companies such as ExxonMobil funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign…to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil fuel burning. This science denial took precedence even as ExxonMobil’s own team of scientists concluded that the impacts of continued fossil fuel use could lead to ‘devastating’ climate-change impacts” (pp. 2-3). They have been joined by right-wing plutocrats.  And they have been winning (p. 3). Part of the reason they have been winning is that the fossil fuel interests and their supporters have been able to spread false narratives that are designed to confuse, distract, and immobilize people when it comes to the extent and depth of the climate crisis.

Fossil fuel interests have “done everything possible to block subsidies and incentives for their competition – renewable energy – and they’ve had a lot of success doing so” (p. 224). Mann gives the example of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute, which have produced model pro-fossil-fuel policy papers to aid Republican Party leaders in the states to enhance their opposition to meaningful climate action. There are signs, however, that ALEC’s influence is diminishing to some extent. “In recent years, fossil fuel corporations such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP have pulled out of ALEC, concerned about increased public scrutiny of their funding activities.” But not all. Mann notes that “the privately held giant Koch Industries has remained steadfast in its funding of the group. In one year alone, ALEC helped push through seventy bills in thirty-seven states designed to disadvantage clean energy” ALEC has proposed legislation to undermine state policies mandating a fraction of the energy produced come from renewable sources (so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards).” The organization “has also promoted legislation that penalizes those who choose to install solar panels on their homes with solar panels who attempt to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities” (p. 124).

These same interests have attacked and attempted to block government support for electric vehicles (EVs). Mann gives the following examples: “agents of the Koch brothers met with oil-refining and marketing companies in 2015 to pitch a ‘multi-million-dollar assault on EVs” (p. 126). [And] “…Republican senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who was the third-highest recipient of Koch brothers’ dollars during the 2018 election cycle. Barrasso, as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the Fairness for Every Driver Act in 2019. It would not only end federal tax credits for EVs, but in addition would create an annual ‘highway user fee’ for all ‘alternative fuel vehicles” (p. 126).

Combatting narratives designed to deflect attention away from the climate crisis

Here are a few of Mann’s examples.

Lifestyle changes are no enough

Mann challenges the widespread idea that change on the climate front depends on changes in individual lifestyles, not on a need for systemic change. Here’s what Mann writes.

“So they have shifted to a softer form of denialism while keeping the oil flowing and fossil fuels burning, engaging in a multipronged offensive based on deception, distraction, and delay” (p. 3). Mann refers to it as a “deflection campaign” (p. 3). Among other tactics, they have tried to shift “responsibility from corporations to individuals. Personal actions, from going vegan to avoiding flying, are increasingly touted as the primary solution to the climate crisis” (p. 3). Mann does not reject such voluntary action by individuals, but they alone take “pressure off the push for governmental policies to hold corporate polluters accountable” (p.3). The emphasis on voluntary individual action “also provides an opportunity for the enemy to employ a ‘wedge’ strategy dividing the climate advocacy community, exploiting a preexisting rift between climate advocates more focused on individual action and those emphasizing collective and policy action” (p. 4). Mann advocates a strategy that combines individual action with political efforts to make systemic changes. He agrees that “plenty of lifestyle changes… should be encouraged, many of which make us happier and healthier, save us money, and decrease our environmental footprint.” However, “consumer choice doesn’t build high-speed railways, fund research and development in renewable energy, or place a price on carbon emissions. Any real solution must involve both individual action and systemic change,” and requires “collective action aimed at pressuring policymakers who are in a position to make decisions about societal priorities and government investment” (pp. 60-61).

#3 – Do not be fooled by those who propose “non-solutions”

Natural Gas: A Bridge to Nowhere

Natural gas is composed primarily of methane, a fossil fuel that “is energy rich, and… readily burned for heating, cooking, or electricity generation. Or it can be cooled into a liquid (liquefied natural gas, or LNG) that can be used as a fuel for transportation” and in a form that can be exported (p. 148). “Natural gas reservoirs can be found in sedimentary basins around the world…. (p. 148). Trump has promoted national gas as a “freedom gas.” Those on the right often characterize natural gas as a bridge fuel, “a way to slowly wean us off more carbon-intensive fuels like coal and gently nudge us toward a renewable energy future. The rationale is that, nominally, natural gas produces about as half as much carbon dioxide as coal for each watt of power generated.” However, the reality is that natural gas is “nearly one hundred times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a twenty-year time frame.” And when the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to break up the bedrock to get at natural gas deposits inevitably allows some of the methane to escape directly into the atmosphere,” the result of “methane releases from drilling operations, pipelines, and storage facilities.”  The Trump administration disbanded regulations issued by the Obama administration to regulate “fugitive gas, claiming it would save industry millions of dollars” (p. `150). This is a serious mis-step in that the “rise in methane is responsible for as much as 25 percent of the warming (p. 150).

Unclean Coal

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has been advanced as a way to clean the CO2 out of coal utilization. Mann describes how it works: “carbon dioxide related during the burning of coal is scrubbed from emissions and captured, compressed, and liquefied. It is then pumped deep into the Earth, several kilometers beneath the surface, where it is reacted with porous igneous rocks to form limestone.” “The Global CCS Institute reports that there are today fifty-one CCS facilities globally in some stage of development that plan to capture nearly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. (Nineteen are currently in operation, and another thirty-two are either under construction or in development.) – 8 are in US” (p. 151).

Mann refers to six problems with CCS that eliminate the method as a constructive tool in efforts to mitigate and contain rising emissions. First, it “isn’t feasible to bury the billions of tons per year of carbon pollution currently produced by coal burning.” Second, “many coal power plants are not located in CCS-favorable sites” Third, CCS is “related to earthquakes and seismic activity or groundwater flow.” Fourth, “Coal is currently not competitive with other forms of energy in the marketplace…. requiring that coal plants capture and sequester their carbon will only make it more expensive and hasten the collapse of the industry.” Fifth, “CCS is not even carbon neutral in the best of circumstances, 10 percent of the carbon would still escape.” Sixth, most of the carbon that is captured “is placed into tapped oil wells for enhanced oil recovery. The oil that is recovered, when burned, yields several times as much carbon dioxide as was sequestered in the first place by CCS” (p. 152).

Geoengineering, or “What Could Possibly Go Wrong”

The fundamental problem with geoengineering proposals is that they “provides a crutch for beneficiaries of our continued dependence on fossil fuels. Additionally, they are not cheap as ways to decarbonize the economy, and they have the potential to do great harm (p. 159-160). Nonetheless, they appeal to fossil fuel interests and free-market conservatives (pp. 160-164). Mann critically considers 5 geoengineering proposals and dismisses them as viable options in winning the war on the climate. Here I’ll refer to three of his examples.

First, he refers to proposals “to shoot reflective particulates – sulfate aerosols – into the stable upper part of the atmosphere known as the stratosphere, where they would reside for years” and serve to bl0ck some of the heat from the sun. Mann says it is technologically feasible to do this, but it has major problems that argue against such an approach (p. 155).

Mann identifies seven disadvantages. (1) Blocking the heat energy from the sun will have different spatial patterns, “some regions would cool while others warmed. Indeed, some regions would likely end up warming even faster than they would have without geoengineering” – e.g. accelerating the destabilization of the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheet and speeding up global sea-level rise, and some continents could become even drier with worse droughts (p. 155). (2) While “the sulfate particles from geoengineering would be higher up – in the stratosphere – but they would ultimately still make it down to the surface, where they would acidify rivers and lakes.” (3) There is the danger that “sulfate particles may contribute to ozone depletion” (p. 156). (4) The method does not prevent carbon dioxide from continue to build up in both the atmosphere and the ocean – raising ocean acidification. (5) This approach “would require the continuing injection of sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere while carbon dioxide continued to accumulate in the atmosphere.” (6) If some calamity, a war, plague or anything else, “interfered with regular required schedule of sulfate injections, the cooling effect would disappear. (7) would “render less viable one of the most important and safest of climate solutions: solar power” (p. 156)

A second geoengineering approach involves “ocean iron fertilization,” or the sprinkling of iron dust onto the ocean with the purpose of generating phytoplankton blooms which, according to proponents, would take up carbon dioxide when they photosynthesize. That is, they would take carbon out of the atmosphere. Then when the phytoplankton die, they sink to the ocean bottom, burying their carbon with them (p. 157). However, Mann points out, “Iron fertilization leads to more vigorous cycling of carbon in the upper ocean, but no apparent increase in deep carbon burial, which means no permanent removal of atmospheric carbon.” Mann mentions another concern. Ocean iron fertilization “could make matters worse, as it could generate “harmful ‘red tide’ algae blooms that create oceanic dead zones” (p. 157).

Thirdly is a proposal to deal with the climate crisis through massive tree planting. The idea here is to engage in large-scale reforestation of the vast regions of the planet that have been deforested,” and that this effort should be “supplemented by land use and agricultural practices that sequester additional carbon in soils” (p. 165). The rationale is that “by planting trees we can get better-functioned ecosystems; maintain and even increase biodiversity; improve the quality of our soils, air, and water; and better insulate ourselves from the damaging impacts of climate change” (165). It is a partial solution. However, Mann points to the downside.

“One study claimed that an additional 0.9 billion hectares of the planet’s surface is available for this purpose. This translates to billions of new trees that collectively could capture just over 200 billion tons of carbon over the next couple of decades.” – about 11 billion tons of carbon a year. “Regenerative agriculture based on recycling farm waste and using composed materials from other sources, combined with land use practices that enhance soil carbon sequestration, could potentially bury somewhere in the range of 3.5 to 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Such achievements would be praiseworthy. But, Mann says, such levels of carbon removal from the air are overshadowed by the “roughly 55 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide through fossil fuel burning and other human activities.” At most, massive tree planting “would at most only slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a factor of 44 percent. In other words, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would continue to rise, just at a rate that is roughly half as fast” (p. 166). This estimate, however, “is overly optimistic, since the “actual land area available for reforestation may be only about 30 percent of the technically available and area assumed in the recent study” (p. 166).

At the same time, deforestation continues. Mann refers to the authors of a 2020 article in Nature which “demonstrated that the peak carbon uptake by tropical forests occurred during the 1990s and has declined ever since as a result of logging, farming, and the effects of climate change.” For example, the “authors found that the Amazon could go from a sink (a net absorber of carbon) to a source (a net producer of carbon) within the next decade….” (pp. 166-167).

The Nuclear Option

Mann is skeptical that nuclear should play a central role in the required clean, green energy transition (p. 169). He gives six reasons. (1) There is “the risk of nuclear proliferation, and the danger that fissile materials and weapons-applicable technology could make it into the hands of hostile nations with militaristic intentions or terrorists.” (2) There continues to be an unsolved “challenge of safe long-term disposal of radioactive waste.” (3) Large nuclear accidents like the accident at Fukushima have profound and long-lasting impacts of environment and people. (4) Nuclear plants will “always will be vulnerable to natural hazards such as earthquake, volcanoes, or tsunamis (like the one that triggered the Fukushima meltdown).” (5) The complexity of nuclear power plants increases the chances of technical failure or human error (Three Mile Island).” (6) Climate change increases the risk, as, for example, “extreme droughts have led to reactors shut down as the surrounding waters become too warm to provide the cooling necessary to convey heat from the reactor core to the steam turbines and remove surplus heat from the steam circuit” (p. 170).

He rejects the assumption the nuclear power is necessary to decarbonize the economy, writing: “Although it may well make sense to continue with the operation of existing nuclear power plants until they are retired (after twenty to forty years, their typical lifetime), given that the embodied carbon emissions associated with their construction is a ‘sunken’ carbon cost, it makes little sense to build new ones” (p. 171).

#4 – Worries that some on the left have gone too far and have opened up opportunities for the enemy to discredit efforts to combat climate change

 And some have advanced the notion that catastrophe is a fait accompli, “either by overstating the damage to which we are already committed, by dismissing the possibility of mobilizing the action necessary to avert disaster, or by setting the standard so high (say, the very overthrow of market economics itself, that old chestnut) that any action seems doomed to failure” (p 5).

Asking for too much

For example, Mann thinks that the original Green New Deal resolution from progressive Democrats went too far. It was “as a formal resolution by AOC and Senator Ed Markey on February 7, 2019, and advanced a 10-year mobilization over the next ten years. The resolution went beyond measures to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions and included items to guarantee jobs with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people,” along with proposals to provide guaranteed health care, adequate housing, clean water, healthy and affordable food,” and more (p. 94) Mann writes that he broadly supports the GND goals, he has “some concern about the ambitious scope of specific proposals,” namely, that ‘Saddling a climate movement with a laundry list of other worthy social programs risks alienating needed supporters (say, independents an moderate conservatives) who are apprehensive about a broader agenda of progressive social change” (p. 94), and gives climate-change denies the opportunity to argue that “global warming is a hoax promoted as an excuse to expand the size of government.” Mann is also concerned that the GND does not include support for market mechanisms such as carbon pricing (p. 95).

He also criticizes Naomi Klein’s thesis “that neoliberalism – the prevailing global policy model, predicated on privatization and free-market capitalism – must be overthrown through mass resistance [and that] climate change can’t be separated from other pressing social problems, each a symptom of neoliberalism: income inequality, corporate surveillance, misogyny and white supremacy” (p. 95). He fears that should a revolutionary agenda “allows deniers the opportunity to say environmentalists really want to overthrow capitalism and end economic growth (95).

It’s too late to stop climate change

Mann writes: “there is a segment of the climate activist community that not only overplays it, but displays a distinct appetite for all-out doomism,” portraying climate change not just as a threat that requires urgent response, but as an essentially lost cause, a hopeless fight” (pp. 182-183). He dubs this viewpoint as a form of climate nihilism that breeds disengagement and potential fuels “a brilliant strategy for building a truly bipartisan coalition for inaction” (p. 184). They are disillusioned by the lack of adequate action by the government to address the climate crisis and the belief that “both major parties are equally bad” (p. 184).

Mann identifies Guy McPherson, a retired ecology professor from Arizona, [who] is arguable the scientific leader of the doomism movement, a cult figure of sorts, like other doomists.” McPherson “argues that we have already triggered irreversible vicious cycles (for example, the massive release of frozen methane) that will render the planet lifeless in a matter of years. There’s nothing we can do about it.” According to McPherson, humanity is caught in ‘exponential climate change’[that] will render human beings and all other species extinct within ten years owing to supposed runaway warming. Mann maintain there is “no shred of scientific evidence” to support such views.” This all may eventually come to pass, but there is no evidence that supports McPherson’s contention that, in a matter of years, the climate change will render the planet lifeless or, for example, “no evidence that methane will run out of control and initiate any sudden, catastrophic effects.” At the same time, given continuation of current trends, there is little doubt that at some point, perhaps some decades from, now, humanity may reach a point of no return. Given these assumptions, McPherson argues counterproductively that there is no reason now to cut emissions (p. 196). Contrariwise, Mann maintain that there is “compelling evidence that a clean energy revolution and climate stabilization are achievable with current technology. All we require are policies to incentivize the needed shift.” Indeed, we have the tools we need, writing “a combination of energy efficiency, electrification, and decarbonization of the grid through an array of complementary renewable energy sources” can curtail and reverse climate change (p. 177). But, to reiterate, the existing politics may prevent the us from using these tools.

#5 – Mann’s proposals

There is, he writes, a need for both supply-side and demand-side measures to deal effectively with the climate crisis (120). Supply side measures “take the form of blocking pipeline construction, banning fracking, stopping mountain-top-removal coal mining, divesting in fossil fuel companies, and putting a halt to most new fossil fuel infrastructure.” Demand side measures includes carbon pricing and support for renewable energy. Carbon pricing, according to Mann, represents “a means of leveling the playing field in the energy market, so that those sources of energy are not warming the planet (i.e., renewable energy) can compete fairly against those that are (i.e., fossil fuels).” Such a pricing policy “reflects an effort to diminish demand, while fossil fuel divestment campaigns and opposition to pipelines, offshore oil drilling, or mountain-top-removal coal mining constitute efforts to diminish supply” (p. 107).

The concerns of progressives over carbon pricing

Carbon pricing “seems wonkish and abstract, and it’s harder to capture it in a front-page image or a television screen” and it is viewed as “buying into market economics.” It has been attacked from both the right and left. Progressives argue that prices put on carbon emissions will reflect politics and end up being too low to effect any significant change and that it doesn’t take into account social justice issues, that is, the extra financial burden put on the poor and lower-income people (108). On the question of the adequacy of a carbon price, Mann seems to rely on politics and social movements to ensure that any price on carbon is sufficient. On the social justice implications of carbon pricing, Mann responds, “In fact, the carbon-pricing schemes that have been successfully instituted have been progressive in nature. With the ETS scheme implemented by Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, the government compensated low-income earners, who ended up benefiting financially. Under Canada’s carbon tax-and-rebate system, most households actually save money. No less than Pope Francis, a champion of social justice and a true advocate for the poor and downtrodden, has called carbon pricing ‘essential’ for tackling the climate-change ‘emergency’” (p. 109).

One recent development shows perhaps growing support for carbon pricing. Susanna Twidale reports that “[i]nvestors managing more than $6 trillion in assets on Tuesday (July 6] called for a co-ordinated global price on carbon and said emissions costs would need to almost treble by 2030 to reach the world’s climate goals.” Twidale continues: “The call by the The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, whose 43 members include some of the world’s biggest pension schemes and insurers, comes ahead of the next round of global climate talks in November” (https://reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/asset-owners-managing-6-trin-call-global-carbon-price-2021-07-05).

Concluding thoughts

Mann offers the reader a perspective based a coherent, in-depth, well-documented analysis of the obstacles to be overcome in the climate war – and some reasons to be hopeful that they can be overcome. Whether his proposals go far enough is open to question. He may be too cautious in wanting to emphasize market mechanisms like carbon pricing as a principal way to curtail rising greenhouse gas emissions so as not to alienate supporters with talk of transforming the existing capitalist system. However, this may have a downside, that is, it may underestimate the power of mega-corporations, including fossil fuel corporations, and their ability to influence politics and government policy in ways that nullify or reduce the impact of carbon pricing or other market-regulating measure. There is certainly a need to limit corporate power generally and fossil fuels specifically. This goal can be advanced by enforcing anti-trust law, by vastly increasing support for climate-friendly options like solar, wind, geothermal, along with sweeping energy efficiency measures, by ending subsidies to fossil-fuel corporations, by banning the US export of natural gas and oil, by providing transitional support for workers who are displaced from fossil-fuel jobs, and by educating the public about sustainable lifestyle options and what makes for a “resilient community.” See the book, The Community Resilience Reader, for multiple views on resilient communities.

Let me end on a positive note. Matthew Hoffman offers a list of reasons to be hopeful (https://yesmagazine.org/environment/2021/01/12/climate-change-hope-momentum). Here it is.

• The first truly global social movement dedicated to climate action and climate justice has gained in size and strength, beginning with Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for the Future and spreading to the Sunrise Movement in the U.S. and climate justice movements around the world.

• Large-scale capital continues to flee from fossil fuel investments, which are rapidly losing value. According to a recent study by political scientists Jeff Colgan, Jessica Green, and Thomas Hale, this shifting financial ground promises to upend the politics of climate change in important ways, as vested interests lose political power.

• The initial pandemic response demonstrated how societies and economies can pivot quickly in response to an emergency. The longer-term plans for post-pandemic recovery provide an enormous window of opportunity to “build back better,” although this idea does not have universal uptake.

• The Paris Agreement survived the withdrawal of the U.S., which is poised to rejoin after Joe Biden is sworn in as president. Momentum around the agreement was clear at the Climate Ambition Summit where 75 countries announced new national commitments.

• The ranks of countries that have made net-zero commitments is swelling, and a new report suggests that the cumulative effect of countries’ recent pledges (if fully achieved) could keep warming to 2.1 C by 2100, putting a key Paris Agreement goal within reach. Hoffman offers this cautionary note. “These trends don’t guarantee that we have turned the political corner. The forces arrayed against the kind of changes we need are vast and powerful. It will take an enormous amount of energy, resources, and

Global warming intensifies: additional evidence

Global warming intensifies: Additional evidence

Bob Sheak, June 18, 2021

Introduction

In this post, I follow up and add information to what I wrote in my post of May 25, 2021, “The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful political solutions remain elusive.” The main purpose of the present piece is to provide more context and additional evidence regarding the unfolding and escalating crisis, one that has for decades (at least) been taking a terrible toll on humanity and nature and one that is rapidly growing more destructive. The evidence is not uplifting but it is factual. Unfortunately, those in the U.S. who want to deny or avoid any meaningful action represent powerful forces in the society.

In the May 25 post, I referred to climate scientist Michael E. Mann’s new book, The New Climate War, who writes that “our planet has now warmed into the danger zone, and we are not taking the measures necessary to avert the largest global crisis we have ever faced.” In order to address this situation, “we must understand the mind of the enemy” (p. 1). The enemy includes the fossil-fuel corporations (e.g., ExxonMobil, Shell, BP) and their supporters, the billionaire plutocrats “like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes,” who have “funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign beginning in the least 1980s and working to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil-fuel burning” (pp. 2-3). This enemy additionally includes those in government in the U.S. and abroad who deny or dismiss the seriousness of global warming and use their positions to protect and advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.”

At the same time, there may be even more powerful forces, politically and in social movements, that are working to address this existential challenge and engage with others in education, mobilization, and politics to address the crisis. In reviewing Mann’s book, Richard Schiffman notes that, in the final analysis, Mann is optimistic (https://new-scientist.com/article/mg24933160-300-the-new-climate-war-reasons-to-be-optimistic-about-the-future). His optimism is “heartened by the upswell of youth activism and the rapid development of green technologies. Even investors are beginning to flee from fossil fuels.”

The earth is heating up

Some background: A new geological epoch?

We are living in a geological epoch of human-generated increasingly disruptive and catastrophic climate changes that pose an existential threat to humanity. The International Union of Geological Sciences has been considering the evidence on whether the earth has entered a new geological epoch, one referred to as the Anthropocene. This is defined as an epoch in which the activities of humans have become the dominant force, an increasingly deleterious one, in shaping the planet. The concept was first introduced by climatologist Paul Crutzen in 2000. Ian Angus, author of the 2016 book facing the Anthropocene: fossil capitalism and the crisis of the earth system, was interviewed about the concept on The Real News. (http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&ltemid=74&jumival=17159).

Angus gives us some context.

“Well, geologists divide the history of the entire Earth, the billions of years that our planet has been here, into various divisions which mark the different stages of life and the conditions of life in the history of our planet. We have for the last 12,000 years been in what’s called the Holocene, that came about when the Ice Ages ended. All the glaciers retreated, and we’ve had 12,000 years of relatively stable climate. Everything’s been very predictable. It’s the period in which agriculture was invented and all large civilizations were born.

“What became clear in the late 20th century to some scientists was that humanity’s activities have become so great that they were actually changing the way that the world functions. Not just changing individual environments or ecosystems but changing fundamental things about the way the world works. Global warming being the best known of those, but of course the destruction of the ozone layer, and so on. So, the Holocene epoch, some scientists began to argue, was coming to an end. We had moved out of that period of long-term stability and we’re moving into a very different time.”

The crux of this view is that human activities have come to represent the dominant forces in shaping the earth’s ecosphere. There’s no debate about this in the climate science community. Human activities that emit greenhouse gases have had and are having a significant and increasingly negative impact on ecosystems and human societies. At the same time, the debate over whether we are in a new geological period continues, including such questions as to when it exactly started (https://eos.org/articles/the-difficulty-of-defining-the-anthropocene).

A scientific consensus

In a post from September 28, 2018, titled “Reigning in Climate Change,” I submitted that the scientific evidence is overwhelming in agreement that human-caused, increasingly disruptive climate change, is occurring. There are multiple books, an increasing body of scientific research, and a host of in-depth journalistic articles based on authoritative sources that confirm the existence of the phenomenon. Most climate scientists have long endorsed the evidence-based proposition that the climate is changing and that it is happening at an accelerating rate.

Andrea Germanos reports that in November, 2017, nearly 17,000 scientists from 180 countries issued a warning to humanity about the advanced and unfolding disruptive changes in the “biosphere” in a letter published in the international journal BioScience. (2017). Unless humanity, that is the world’ governments, set about making transformative changes in their societies soon, the scientists believe that the best evidenced indicates that there will be “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” The scientists are especially troubled by actually observed trends, that is, of rising greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, agricultural production, and the sixth mass extinction event underway” (http://commondreams.org/news/2017/11/13/over-1500-scientists-just-issued-second-notice-humanity-can-we-listen-now). With respect to agriculture, they are referring to the dominant agriculture system that relies on chemical fertilizers that degrade soil, generates carbon emissions, and overutilize and contaminate water sources.

 An overview from Wikipedia of the scientific consensus.

Several studies have been done to establish that a consensus does exist. “Among the most-cited is a 2013 study of nearly 12,000 abstracts of peer-reviewed papers on climate science published since 1990, of which just over 4,000 papers expressed an opinion on the cause of recent global warming. Of these, 97% agree, explicitly or implicitly, that global warming is happening and is human-caused.[2][3] It is “extremely likely”[4] that this warming arises from “… human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases …”[4] in the atmosphere.[5] Natural change alone would have had a slight cooling effect rather than a warming effect.[6][7][8][9]

“This scientific opinion is expressed in synthesis reports, by scientific bodies of national or international standing, and by surveys of opinion among climate scientists. Individual scientists, universities, and laboratories contribute to the overall scientific opinion via their peer-reviewed publications, and the areas of collective agreement and relative certainty are summarised in these respected reports and surveys.[10] The IPCC‘s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was completed in 2014.[11] Its conclusions are summarized below:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia”.[12]
  • “Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years”.[13]
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear.[14]It is extremely likely (95-100% probability)[15] that human influence was the dominant cause of global warming between 1951-2010.[14]
  • Without new policies to mitigate climate change, projections suggest an increase in global mean temperature in 2100 of 4.8 to 7 °C, relative to pre-industrial levels (median values; the range is 2.5 to 7.8 °C including climate uncertainty).[18]

Wikipedia reports that all national or international science academies and scientific societies agree that global warming is a major challenge. “No scientific body of national or international standing maintains a formal opinion dissenting from any of these main points.” Furthermore, evidence from the prestigious National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) indicates that the hottest years on record are all recent years: 2015, 2016, 2017, and, by all the current evidence, 2018 (https://www.ecowatch.com/hottest-four-years-ever-259119422.html).

The IPCC’s sixth assessment report has been delayed due to the pandemic and is now scheduled to be released in May of 2022.

Some consequences of global warming

Consistent with this evidence, there are a growing number of severe weather events each year, including wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and floods. The snow-ice covers in the polar regions are shrinking, coral reefs are dying, water tables are falling, desertification is spreading, and the oceans are warming and undergoing massive acidification. Some of the changes compound the problems. Extensive deforestation is reducing one of the earth’s most important “carbon sinks,” that is, the ability of forests to take carbon out of the atmosphere. And there are other examples. As the ice/snow sheets in the arctic are reduced, more of the sun’s ultra-violet rays are retained on earth rather than reflected into space. There is also the danger that as the permafrost in northern regions (e.g., Siberia) melts that enormous volumes of methane will be released into the atmosphere. Bill McKibben made the prescient argument in 2010 in his book eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet that the earth’s climate system had already been transformed in ways that made life as we know it increasingly precarious.

Tipping points

I summarized the following information on “tipping points” in a post titled “The realty and challenges of the climate crisis” on December 28, 2019. The evidence is based on scientific research documenting that as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, more of the sun’s heat is trapped in the earth’s atmosphere, temperatures rise, and climate-related disruptions and catastrophes occur more frequently and intensily. Soon, by 2050 according to some estimates – if not sooner – climate scientists tell us the effects of climate change will reach a point where they overwhelm societal or international capacities to recover. They are called “tipping points.” Bob Berwyn writes on how scientists think we are closer to or have already reached climate tipping points (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27112019/climate-tipping-points-permafrost-forests-ice-antarctica-greenland-amazon-nature).

As Berwyn reports, scientists are warning that a point of no return, where “‘abrupt and irreversible changes’ to the climate system could be triggered by small changes in the global temperatures to create ‘a new, less habitable, hothouse climate state.’” And there are “indications that exceeding tipping points in one system, such as the loss of Arctic Sea ice, can increase the risk of crossing tipping points in others.” In an article for Nature, cited by Berwyn, “scientists focused on nine parts of the climate system susceptible to tipping points, some of them interconnected:

 • Arctic sea ice, which is critical for reflecting the sun’s energy back into space but is disappearing as the planet warms.
• The Greenland Ice Sheet, which could raise sea level 20 feet if it melts.
• Boreal forests, which would release more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they absorb if they die and decay or burn.
• Permafrost, which releases methane and other greenhouse gases as it thaws.
• The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a key ocean current, which would shift global weather patterns if it slowed down or stopped.
• The Amazon rainforest, which could flip from a net absorber of greenhouse gases to a major emitter.
• Warm-water corals, which will die on a large scale as the ocean warms, affecting commercial and subsistence fisheries.
• The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would raise sea level by at least 10 feet if it melted entirely and is already threatened by warming from above and below.
• Parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that would also raise sea level significantly if they melted.

Naomi Oreskes and Nicholas Stern give the following examples of how the climate-induced ravages in one part of the climate crisis can affect other parts, with catastrophic effects on societies (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/23/opinion/climate-change-costs.html). They give the following examples: “a sudden rapid loss of Greenland or West Antarctic land ice could lead to much higher sea levels and storm surges, which would contaminate water supplies, destroy coastal cities, force out their residents, and cause turmoil and conflict,” or “increased heat decreases food production, which leads to widespread malnutrition, which diminishes the capacity of people to withstand heat and disease and makes it effectively impossible for them to adapt to climate change,” or “Sustained extreme heat may also decrease industrial productivity, bringing about economic depressions.” But they refer to an even “worst-case scenario,” in which “climate impacts could set off a feedback loop in which climate change leads to economic losses, which lead to social and political disruption, which undermines both democracy and our capacity to prevent further climate damage. These sorts of cascading effects are rarely captured in economic models of climate impacts. And this set of known omissions does not, of course, include additional risks that we may have failed to have identified.”

(Anthony D. Barnosky and Elizabeth A. Hadly have devoted an entire book to the subject: Tipping Points for Planet Earth: How Close are We to the Edge.)

Current evidence from the EPA

In an article published on May 12, 2021, in The Washington Post, Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis report on how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had just “released a detailed and disturbing account of the startling changes that Earth’s warming had on parts of the United States during Trump’s presidency” (https://washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/05/12/us-has-entered-unprecedented-climate-territory-epa-warns). This occurs after years in which “Donald Trump and his deputies played down the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and delayed the release of an Environmental Protection Agency report detailing climate-related damage.” They add: “Trump questioned the idea that burning fossil fuels was warming the planet and endangering Americans’ lives and livelihoods, and his administration delayed an update to the EPA’s peer-reviewed report on climate change indicators, first published in 2010. As a result, the report offers a snapshot of the extent to which the science around climate change grew more detailed and robust during Trump’s term [though not made public] even as his administration at times tried to stifle those findings.”

Elected officials and the public will now belatedly have access to the EPA’s evidence documenting, for example, “the destruction of year-round permafrost in Alaska, loss of winter ice on the Great Lakes and spike in summer heat waves in U.S. cities all signal that climate change is intensifying.” And for the first time, the agency “has said such changes are being driven at least in part by human-caused global warming,” a fact never acknowledged by the Trump administration.

Grandoni and Dennis also report that “EPA staffers said the data detail how the nation has entered unprecedented territory, in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster and becoming more extreme. Collectively, the indicators present “multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now and here in the U.S., affecting public health and the environment,” the agency said.” In preparing the report, the agency compiled a list of 54 climate change indicators used in identifying data across academia, nonprofit institutions and other government agencies to come to its conclusions. For example, the EPA report finds that in 2020 “ocean heat reached its highest level in recorded history,and itfuelsmarine heat waves and coral bleaching.” Additionally: “The extent of Arctic Sea ice also was the second smallest on record dating to 1979. Wildfire and pollen seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.” Here are further examples.

“Heat waves are occurring about three times more often than they did in the 1960s, the agency found, averaging about six times a year. In turn, Americans are blasting air conditioners to stay cool during the hot months, which has nearly doubled summer energy use over the past half-century and added even more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

At nearly every spot measured in Alaska, permafrost has warmed since 1978. The biggest temperature increases were found in the northernmost reaches of the state, where the thawing of the once permanently frozen soil has made it more difficult for Native Alaskans to store wild game underground and for drillers to transport oil by pipeline.

“The agency also released data that shows coastal flooding is happening more often at all 33 spots studied up and down the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.”

Current evidence from NASA and NOAA

In an article published in The Guardian on June 17, 2021, Victoria Bekiempis reports on new findings from scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the “Earth’s ‘energy imbalance approximately doubled’ from 2005 to 2019. The increase was described as ‘alarming’” and unprecedented (https://theguardian.com/science/2021/jun/17/earth-trapping-heat-study-nasa-noaa). In technical terms, “‘Energy imbalance’ refers to the difference between how much of the Sun’s ‘radiative energy’ is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere and surface, compared to how much ‘thermal infrared radiation’ bounces back into space.” The NASA report finds that “A positive energy imbalance means the Earth system is gaining energy, causing the planet to heat up.” The key finding is that the earth “is trapping nearly twice as much heat as it did in 2005.” NASA described the new finding as an “unprecedented” increase amid the climate crisis.” The data comes from “comparing data from satellite sensors – which track how much energy enters and exits Earth’s system – and data from ocean floats.” The rising heat level stems from increases in greenhouse gas emissions that “keep heat in Earth’s atmosphere, trapping radiation that would otherwise move into space.”

An overview of selected evidence

Isabelle Gerrestsen offers the BBC’s “round-up of where we are on climate change at the start of 2021, according to five crucial measures of climate health” (https://bbc.com/future/articles/20210108/where-we-are-on-cliimate-change-in-five-charts). I add supplementary evidence.

1 – CO2 levels, according to Gerrestsen,reached record heights in 2020, topping of at 417 parts per million in May. The trend has been for CO2 levels to rise every year since at least 1958. “We have put 100ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere in the last 60 years,” says Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for climate change and the environment at Imperial College London. That is 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred towards the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.”

A note on the geological history of CO2 in the atmosphere

Joseph Romm writes: “At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) (Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, pp. 1-2). Indeed, he writes, “going back a total of 800,000 years – CO2 levels generally never exceeded 280-300 ppm” (p. 16). Now, as reported by Doyle Rice in USA Today on May 4, 2018, carbon dioxide comprised 410 ppm. Rice cites the Scripps Institute of Oceanography as his source and notes that, according to Scripps, this quantity is the “highest in at least the past 800,000 years.” Be clear, there is agreement on this mind-boggling point by major scientific sources on climate change, with virtual unanimity among climate scientists.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reach historic highs despite the economic slowdown during the pandemic

Despite the pandemic and as economies around the world declined, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, hit historically high levels, according to a report in The Washington Post by Brady Dennis and Seven Mufson (https://washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/06/07/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-record-levels). After declining early in the pandemic, “human-caused emissions rebounded fairly quickly.”

There was indeed a temporary decline. “In 2020, primary energy demand decreased nearly 4 percent, and global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.8 percent, according to the International Energy Agency — the largest annual percentage decline since World War II.” They reached a level that prevailed in 2012, not enough to change the world’s current warming trajectory. But emission levels soon rebounded.

There were 417 parts per million in the atmosphere in May 2020, rising to 419 ppm in May 2021. To reiterate, CO2 levels were approximately 280 parts per million 250 years ago at the dawning of the industrial revolution (Joseph Romm, Climate Change, pp. 1-2). The International Energy Agency (IEA), Dennis and Mufson write, “expects global carbon emissions to surge this year as parts of the world rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The group projected in April that emissions are on track to reach the second-largest annual rise on record.”

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, told them that the record-breaking finding for May 2021 is “significant in that it shows we are still fully on the wrong track.” But it’s hardly surprising, Tans noted, as “humans continue to add about 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere each year. He also said that the only way to “avoid catastrophic changes to the climate will require reducing that number to zero as quickly as possible.” Corinee Le Quere, research professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia concurs that the CO2 concentrations will only stop rising “when the emissions approach zero.” At the same time, the situation is not yet hopeless. Tans “holds out hope that the world will be able to put itself on a better path. The science of how to do that exists, he said, but what remains unclear is whether societies can muster the kind of action that has yet to materialize.”

“Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Highest Level in Over 4 Million Years”

This is the headline of Brett Wilkens article in Common Dreams on June 7, 2021 (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/06/07/atmospheric-carbon-dioxide-hits-highest-level-over-4-million-years). He reports on the findings from scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California who have ascertained through their research that the May 2021 measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere were, as already mentioned, a monthly average level of 419 parts per million, up from 417 ppm in May 2020. The researchers add that this level of CO2 concentration is “now comparable to where it was during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when CO2 was close to, or above 400 ppm.” Wilkens notes that for a time in April “atmospheric COconcentrations surged past 420 ppm for the first time in recorded history.” These and other scientific findings will help to inform officials at the “upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference—also known as COP26—which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland this November.”

——————–

2. Record heat. Gerrestsen writes: “The past decade was the hottest on record. The year 2020 was more than 1.2C hotter than the average year in the 19th Century. In Europe it was the hottest year ever, while globally 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest.” The record-breaking temperatures “triggered the largest wildfires ever recorded in the US states of California and Colorado, and the “black summer” of fires in eastern Australia.”

Record-breaking heat across U.S. west

In an article published on June 15, 2021, for The Washington Post, Matthew Cappucci reports on an historic heat wave that is bringing more than 40 million Americans to triple-digit heat, “with some spots soaring over 120 degrees as records fall across the West. He continues: “The heat in many areas is dangerous, prompting excessive-heat warnings in seven states where temperatures will be hazardous to human health” (https://washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/06/15/record-heat-western-us-draught). Furthermore, the heat “reinforces a devastating drought that continues to reshape the landscape of the West while bolstering worries of what lurks ahead in the fall come fire season. More than half of the western United States is gripped by ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional’ drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the two most severe categories.

He gives the following examples, among others. (1) “On Monday [June 14, 2021], records were shattered in the desert Southwest and the Rockies, including in Tucson, where highs hit 112 degrees. Las Vegas spiked to 110” and expected to reach 113 degrees. (2) “Highs in Phoenix reached 112 degrees on Monday and didn’t fall below 90 until after 3 a.m. They’re slated to crest at 116 or 117 degrees on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before ‘only’ hitting 114 degrees on Saturday. That would set a record every day through Friday.” (3) “Los Angeles should join the triple-digit club as well, hitting 100 degrees on Tuesday before settling into the mid-90s on Wednesday.” (4) “Death Valley, Calif., famous for holding the highest temperature ever observed on the planet, is expected to hit 125 degrees for the remaining days this week. It hit 118 degrees Monday, the nation’s hottest temperature. Wednesday and Thursday could feature highs of 127 degrees, near its June record.” (5) “In California’s Central Valley, most places will hit 90 degrees on Tuesday, but the real heat starts Wednesday — widespread temperatures between 100 and 105 will be the story for places like Redding, Sacramento and Fresno, where excessive-heat warnings are in effect. On Thursday, highs could flirt with 110 degrees, with temperatures approaching 110 on Friday and Saturday. Sacramento could establish a record Thursday by as much as 7 degrees.” (6) “Casper, Wyo., is aiming for 102 degrees Tuesday. Salt Lake City, which hit 102 degrees on Saturday and spiked to 103 on Monday, could come close to tying or breaking the June record of 105 degrees as the mercury continues to soar on Tuesday.”

————————

3. Arctic ice, according to Gerrestsen, reached 38C in eastern Siberia [100.4 degrees Fahrenheit] in June 2020, “the hottest ever recorded within the Arctic Circle. The heatwave accelerated the melting of sea ice in the East Siberian and Laptev seas and delayed the usual Arctic freeze by almost two months.” Furthermore, the melting ice means that less of the heat from the Sun is reflected back into space, more is absorbed by the ocean, and the global temperature rises with all of the myriad environmental damaging effects.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams, reports on findings from The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP). The central point of the AMAP report is this: “Over the past five decades, the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth” (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/20/real-hotspot-study-shows-arctic-warming-3-times-faster-rest-of-earth). Specifically, the AMAP finds that “the Arctic’s annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period” and “Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.” 

Bob Berwyn reports for Inside Climate News on May 20, 2021, on new research documenting how one of the largest Antarctic glaciers is breaking up and the implications (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11062821/the-acceleration-of-an-antarctic-glacier-shows-how-global-warming-can-rapidly-break-up-polar-ice-and-raise-sea-level). The glacier in question is the Pine Island Glacier, a significant part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. According to Berwyn’s reporting, the “Pine Island Glacier is one of two big ice streams that drains the California-size West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is more than a mile thick in places and would raise sea level by about 10 feet if it melts completely.” He quotes the co-author of the study, Pierre Dutrieux, a polar researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. “If this process was to continue, then that would be a problem. That would basically change everything we were predicting in the past. But if that was just like a small hiccup, and now the glacier stabilizes again, then we basically go back to saying the ocean and the atmosphere are driving everything. We’re not saying everything has to be thrown away, but it is pointing to something that was unexpected.” “Currently,” Berwyn reports, “West Antarctic ice shelves are retreating between .5 and 2 miles per year, but other research suggests that, during periods of global warming millions of years ago, some ice shelves may have retreated 6 miles per year. That rate determines how fast sea level rises.”

Overall, the new study provides more evidence that global warming impacts on West Antarctica are intensifying. Dutrieux is quoted: “Just what we’ve seen over the last 20 to 30 years, that’s pretty rapid on the scale of a glacier. They operate on a scale of tens of thousands of years, so to see this much change in a few decades is rather dramatic. The processes we’d been studying in this region were leading to an irreversible collapse, but at a fairly measured pace.” The new findings indicate that “[t]hings could be much more abrupt if we lose the rest of that ice shelf.”

———————

4. Permafrost (from Gerrestsen) “Across the northern hemisphere, permafrost – the ground that remains frozen year-round for two or more years – is warming rapidly. When air temperatures reached 38C (100F) in Siberia in the summer of 2020, land temperatures in several parts of the Arctic Circle hit a record 45C (113F), accelerating the thawing of permafrost in the region. Both continuous permafrost (long, uninterrupted stretches of permafrost) and discontinuous (a more fragmented kind) are in decline.” The permafrost across Siberia, Greenland, Canada, and the Arctic holds “twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does – almost 1,600 billion tonnes. Much of that carbon is stored in the form of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming impact 84 times higher than CO2.”

Wikipedia defines permafrost as “ground that continuously remains below 0 °C (32 °F) for two or more years (often for thousands of years), located on land or under the ocean (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Permafrost). According to Wikipedia, “Permafrost does not have to be the first layer that is on the ground. It can be from an inch to several miles deep under the Earth’s surface. Some of the most common permafrost locations are in the Northern Hemisphere. Around 15% of the Northern Hemisphere or 11% of the global surface is underlain by permafrost, including substantial areas of AlaskaGreenlandCanada and Siberia. It can also be located on mountaintops in the Southern Hemisphere and beneath ice-free areas in the Antarctic. Permafrost frequently occurs in ground ice, but it can also be present in non-porous bedrock. Permafrost is formed from ice holding various types of soil, sand, and rock in combination.”

New research by Monique S. Patzner and an international team of researchers discovered that the quantity of methane gas released from the organic matter as permafrost melts is greater than previously thought (https://sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/2102/09113807.html). It has long been known by scientists that “microorganisms play a key role in the release of CO2 [as methane] as permafrost melts. Microorganisms activated as soil thaws convert dead plants and other organic material into greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide.” However, until now, it thought that the mineral iron, also in permafrost, bound the gases so as to limit somewhat the amount of gas released into the atmosphere or oceans. The research by Patzner and her colleagues found that “bacteria incapacitate iron’s carbon trapping ability, resulting in the release of vast amounts of CO2. This is an entirely new discovery.” The bacteria use the iron as another food source. More research is needed to determine just how much additional gas will be released; however, it will be greater than scientists previously projected.

————————-

5. Forests (from Gerrestsen) – “Since 1990 the world has lost 178 million hectares of forest (690,000 square miles) – an area the size of Libya. Over the past three decades, the rate of deforestation has slowed but experts say it isn’t fast enough, given the vital role forests play in curbing global warming. In 2015-20 the annual deforestation rate was 10 million hectares (39,000 square miles, or about the size of Iceland), compared to 12 million hectares (46,000 square miles) in the previous five years.” While Europe and Asia are regaining temperate forests, South America and Africa are losing tropical forests, most dramatically in Brazil, the Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia. “When forests are cut down or burned, the soil is disturbed and carbon dioxide is released.” Gerretsen points out that the “World Economic Forum launched a campaign this year to plant one trillion trees to absorb carbon. However, she also writes,” While planting trees might help cancel out the last 10 years of CO2 emissions, it cannot solve the climate crisis on its own.” She quotes Bonnie Waring, senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute, who says, “Protecting existing forests is even more important than planting new ones. Every time an ecosystem is disturbed, you see carbon lost.” The most cost-effective and productive way to capture CO2 and boost overall biodiversity is to allow forests “to regrow naturally and rewilding huge areas of land, a process known as natural regeneration, is the most cost-effective and productive way to capture CO2 and boost overall biodiversity, according to Waring.

———————–

Concluding thoughts

In a rational society and world, the evidence that documents the intensification of global warming and the threat it poses to humanity and life on earth would lead to appropriate and proportional U.S. and other government responses.

Over the last four years, Trump and his administration often denied the realty of global warming, while withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement, reversing fuel efficiency standards, opening up public land to oil and gas mining, and ending the ban on the export of gas and oil exports, and loading up the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies with people who supported his anti-scientific views. Trump’s policies had the full support of Republicans in the U.S. Congress, fossil-fuel corporations, billionaires like the Kochs, trade associations, right-wing think tanks, and right-wing media.

 President Biden and congressional Democrats have taken an approach to the climate crisis is diametrically opposite to Trump’s. They accept the scientific evidence, recognize the increasingly severe consequences, and have proposed major legislation to address this massive problem. Jake Johnson provides an update, reporting on how Democrats in the Senate’s Budget Committee are pushing for a $6 trillion infrastructure bill (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/06/17/led-sanders-senate-dems-weigh-6-trillion-infrastructure-bill-bipartisan-talks-fail). He points out that the “$6 trillion plan would go well beyond the roughly $4 trillion in spending that President Joe Biden proposed in his two-pronged infrastructure and safety-net package, which consists of the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.” There is currently circulating in the Senate a two-page document (pdf) listing 11 potential pay-fors, including a reduction in the massive IRS tax gap and ‘asset recycling.’” Of course, Senate Republicans will try to stop any such legislation via the filibuster.

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of 20 senators led Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have proposed a bill “for just $579 billion in new spending, a figure that a number of Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate have rejected as badly inadequate to address the country’s dire infrastructure needs and make necessary investments in green energy.”

At this time, it is not clear how Senate Democrats and Biden will reconcile the differences in their proposals and whether Biden will agree to break up his proposal into smaller bills. Additionally, when faced with an inevitable Republican filibuster in the Senate and regardless of how much Biden and the Democrats may compromise, the Democrats will only advance legislation dealing with the climate crisis in the Senate if they can unify their caucus and by-pass a Republican filibuster. While U.S. politics delay and perhaps end up stopping any meaningful government response to the climate crisis, signs of the accelerating crisis proliferate in the U.S. and around the world.

In conclusion, Kate Aronoff suggests that a massive grassroots movement is a necessary component of any successful effort to quell the climate crisis. Here’s a small sample of what she writes in her book, Over-Heated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet – and How We Fight Back.

“Decarbonizing the global economy and adapting to the climate-changed century ahead will be the single hardest and most important thing our species has ever done. It’s impossible without a big, democratic government and massive state investment, as well as the dismantling of the most powerful industry that has ever existed. That, in turn, seems dangerously far off unless some crucial mass of people see the Green New Deal as their path to a better life and manage to overcome the rank and racist divide-and-conquer politics that have been so successful at stopping efforts to turn these United States into a more perfect union, and this planet into a fairer place….Indeed, many of the good ideas now percolating around the climate movement can be traced back to grassroots struggles waged by people whose home lay in the path of fossils fuel infrastructure and its consequences….” (p. 358)

Will Biden and the Democrats be able to stop Trump’s party from destroying democracy?

Bob Sheak, June 4, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

In this post, I attempt to do two things.

First, I consider the extensive efforts by Trump and the Republican Party to obstruct Democratic policy initiatives in the U.S. Congress and to protect an anti-democratic agenda, while Republicans in states across the country work to extend voter suppression laws and even, yet today, try to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. The framework for much of what Republicans are doing revolves around pushing the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump and doing whatever it takes to hold onto power. Trump is their undisputed “leader.” His mass, cultist-like, base follows him unquestioningly. If they are successful, our already tenuous democracy will be more severely undermined than ever before.

Second, I consider what Biden and Democrats are doing to protect voters’ rights, with special attention to the For the People Act. Democratic success depends on their ability to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster in the U.S. Senate, pass voting rights legislation, combat Republican disinformation, run successful political campaigns, and educate and mobilize their voters for the 2022 elections.

Part 1: The Republican attack on democracy

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

And in the 2020 elections, Republicans increased the number of state legislatures they control. This is important, because the party that has a majority in state legislatures has the power to determine the contours of congressional districts. Alvin Change and Sam Levine refer to the following evidence (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/15/gerrymandering-republicans-map-charts-states).

“Democrats failed to flip any of the legislative chambers they targeted and Republicans came out of election night in nearly the best possible position for drawing districts, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, and will have the opportunity to draw 188 congressional seats, 43% of the House of Representatives. Democrats will have a chance to draw at most just 73 seats. Republicans will probably also be able to draw districts that will make it more difficult for Democrats to hold their majority in the US House in 2022”

If the current efforts to limit the votes of opponents and skew the electoral rules are successful, the Republicans running for federal and state offices will be able to win elections despite losing the popular vote and even when they lose in the electoral college. And there’s more. Whenever there are legal challenges to voting outcomes in these circumstances, the radical-right majority on the Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of what Republicans call voter “integrity” laws and legitimate the anti-democratic thrust of the Republican voter suppression laws.

The likely repercussions of not passing voting rights policies

Consider a not-so hypothetical set of consequences. If the Republicans are successful in suppressing the vote, they will be able to further consolidate their misbegotten electoral advantages and advance a right-wing agenda. The election of Trump and cronies would cascade into the control of the executive branch and the bevy of federal agencies and to both houses of Congress. At the same time, Republicans would control more state legislatures and governorships than they already do. The president, elected by a minority of voters, would then be able to appoint right-wing lawyers to the federal court and Supreme Court.

Such changes would give Trump and a Republican Congress opportunity to consolidate their neoliberal economic agenda, including the goals of lowering taxes, advancing further deregulation, further privatization of public land, prisons, immigrant detention facilities, schools, along with pushing for unrestrained military spending, and a hawkish foreign policy. The impulsive, arrogant, autocratically-aspiring president would again have the power to launch nuclear weapons at a whim. When Republicans have power, they would support legislation that plays to Trump’s base, which is large but far from a majority, on anti-abortion, unrestricted gun ownership, support for Christian nationalism, and white supremacy. Overall, in such a dystopian situation, they would continue to make up their own “facts” to rationalize their goals and policies. Fox News and other extreme rightist media would echo it all and reinforce whatever Trump and the Republicans put forth. (See Henry Giroux’s article on Carlson and the right-wing media at: https://truthout.org/articles/tucker-carlson-is-just-the-tip-of-the-iceberg-in-right-wing-media-war-on-truth.)

Evidence of the escalating Republican attacks on voting rights

Voter suppression

Sam Levine reports for The Guardian thatthe Republican effort to suppress the vote is, as of the end of April, unprecedented “not only in its volume as more than 360 bills with voting restrictions have been introduced so far – but also in its scope” (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republican-voter-suppression-biden).

In an update on May 11, 2021, Nathaniel Rakich and Elena Mejia consider how and where Republicans are making it harder for some Americans to vote, with more to come (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republicans-have-made-it-harder-to-vote-in-11-states-so-far). They refer to data from the Brennan Center for Justice and their own research and report that “at least 404 voting-restriction bills have now been introduced in 48 state legislatures, adding that “nearly 90 percent of them were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republicans.”

Many of these bills will not be approved; however, dozens or more will be approved. According to their analysis of the data, Rakich and Mejia “count 179 that are already dead — either because they were voted down or weren’t passed before a key deadline. Another 137 bills have not yet progressed beyond the committee stage, and at this point, that inaction bodes poorly for their chances of passage. On the other hand, 63 bills are still worth watching, having passed at least one step of the legislative process (with those that have passed two chambers closer to passage than those that have just passed committee). That leaves 25 bills that are already law (back in March, this number was only six); four states have even enacted multiple such laws.”

Rakich and Mejia identify 11 states that had by May 11 already enacted new voting restrictions, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Michigan and Florida should now be added to the list and Texas is on the verge of passing extensive voter suppression legislation. These states could sway the next elections in 2022 to Trumpian Republicans.

This is an “emergency”

Sam Levine writes that the electoral system is in an “emergency.” He underlines the point that during the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency Republican lawmakers have taken an unprecedented effort to make it harder to vote. Even as attacks on voting rights have escalated in recent years, the Republican efforts since January “mark a new, more dangerous phase for American democracy, experts say.”

Levine gives some examples of what the voter-suppression bills include.

“Republicans in states like GeorgiaFlorida and Michigan have taken aim at mail in voting with measures that require voters to provide identification information with their mail in ballot application or ballot (in some cases both). They’ve sought to limit access to mail-in ballot drop boxes, even though they were extremely popular for voters in 2020 and there’s no evidence they were connected to malfeasance.

“Texas Republicans are advancing legislation that would criminalize minor voting mistakes and give partisan poll watchers the ability to record people at the polls. In Georgia and Arkansas, new legislation makes it illegal to provide food or water to people waiting in line to vote. In Michigan, one Republican proposal would even go so far as to block the state’s top election official from providing a link to an absentee ballot application on a state government website.”

If these efforts are left unchecked, Levine posits, “it will likely not only set the stage for Republicans to retake control of the US House in 2022, but also allow the Republican party to hold on to its political power by shutting a rapidly diversifying electorate out from the ballot box.”

Jessica Corbett provides additional information on the Republican’s voter suppression and electoral subversion activities ((https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/27/fears-mount-gops-big-lie-2020-test-run-what-comes-next). She writes: “since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol in January, Republican state legislators have proposed, and in some cases passed, voter suppression bills that critics warn could impact ballot access in key states for next year’s midterms and the elections that follow.” As mentioned, Republican efforts to subvert the electoral system is not new. She refers to an interview by Vox’s Sean Illing with Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris.

“In 2018, Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris told Vox‘s Sean Illing that since the 1990s, ‘we’ve seen a one-sided escalation in which Republicans exploit the vagueness or lack of clarity in the Constitution in order to press their advantage in a variety of arenas—from voter ID laws to gerrymandering to behavioral norms in the Congress and Senate.’ He warned that ‘Democrats have to recognize the urgency of the moment and act accordingly.’”

In a follow-up interview, Illing interviewed Faris on May 27, when he said that “it feels like we’re sleepwalking into a real crisis here, but it’s hard to convey the urgency because it’s not dramatic and it’s happening in slow motion and so much of life feels so normal.” Faris also said, “The most destructive thing that Trump did on his way out the door was he took the Republicans’ waning commitment to democracy and he weaponized it, and he made it much worse to the point where I think that a good deal of rank-and-file Republican voters simply don’t believe that Democrats can win a legitimate election. And if Democrats do win an election, it has to be fraudulent.”

Meanwhile, according to Faris, Republicans are trying to take over election oversight offices in some states, among other shenanigans. Corbett quotes Faris: “Key figures in the attempted election theft are now running for election oversight offices in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan,” he continued. That is, they want to have their people count the votes and determine which votes are valid or not.” At the same time: “The national-level Republican Party has swung hard against the proposed congressional investigation to investigate the [January 6] putsch, and Senate Republicans are likely to filibuster it.”

Example of voter suppression in Texas

In an article for Common Dreams, Jessica Corbett reports on how Republican Texas lawmakers have put forth and will soon pass a voter suppression bill without any Democratic votes that targets people of color and in disregard of overwhelming public opposition (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/30/texas-gop-finalizes-ruthless-voter-suppression-bill-sparking-calls-congressional).

Among other provisions, the bill says: (1) you can vote with a gun permit but not a student ID; (2) no online voter registration; (3) must be deputized to register voters; (4) voters under 65 cannot use fear of covid to vote by mail.” The bill also plans to “limit electoral participation in the largely Democratic Harris County because it would outlaw drive-thru and 24-hour voting, which nearly 140,000 county voters used in the 2020 election.”

Other provisions “include barring election officials from sending absentee ballots to all voters, implementing new identification requirements for Texans who request mail ballots, allowing partisan poll watchers additional access, and imposing harsher punishments on election officials who violate state rules.” There is also language in the bill that would make “it easier to overturn an election, no longer requiring evidence that fraud actually altered an outcome of a race—but rather only that enough ballots were illegally cast that could have made a difference.”

The Texas Republican’s voter suppression initiative is occurring after 750 polling places across the state have been closed in recent years.

Corbett quotes Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Texas, who “slammed the state GOP’s Senate Bill 7 (pdf) in a statement Saturday, declaring that “S.B. 7 is a ruthless piece of legislation.” Journalist and expert on voting Ari Berman said “S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era.” Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez said Saturday [May 30] after a conference committee of state House and Senate members released the final version that “S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era.”

The “big lie” gives momentum to Republican voter suppression efforts

Even before the November 2020 presidential election, Trump was saying that, if he lost the election, it would be due to a “rigged election,” a fraudulent election. He doubled-down on this false claim in the weeks after the election. Indeed, he still persistently tweets that the election was “stolen” from him. Here’s some of what I wrote on January 11, 2021 in a post entitled “America at Crossroads: Trump, the insurrection, and what comes next.” (You can find it at wordpress under vitalissues-bob sheak, or email for a copy to bsheak983@gmail.com.)

————–

In the weeks before and after the presidential election

Advancing the “big lie” that the election was rigged

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that he had won the election by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th.” Glasser continues: “As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). Glasser further writes:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 60 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a… Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others.” And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including an assimilate of some 30,000, that Trump told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

———————-

Republicans “test” the limits

Jessica Corbett also describes the Republican attempts to overturn the 2020 election “a test run,” to test the integrity of the Electoral College certification in the U.S. Congress. According to Vox’s Sean Illing, stopping the certification “never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that.” However, it was a test run searching “for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality.” What is so troubling is that Trump and Republicans were able to tap a narrative that gave the Trump’s base reasons to believe that the election was stolen from Trump. Trump and large swaths of his base appear to welcome court battles and even the possibility of a civil war, that is, if they can’t win by suppressing the vote and controlling enough state legislatures and the Congress to win Republican victories at the polls.

Levine points out that Republicans in the U.S. Congress and in some states echoed and, now with even less dissent, echo Trump’s lie that Biden’s election was based on widespread fraud and therefore is illegitimate. With the help of the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, Republican voices proclaiming the big lie are more pronounced than ever. This false message gave those who assaulted the Capitol on January 6 a self-serving justification, among others, for their violence and destruction. Corbett writes: “Recent legal proceedings for alleged members of the mob that attacked the Capitol have highlighted the effectiveness of the Big Lie—that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump—among voters.”

Explaining away the assault on the Capitol

The January 6 assault on the capitol

As widely reported, on January 6, as several Republican senators tried to block certification of the electoral college vote, Trump urged a large crowd to march on the capitol and protest or somehow disrupt the certification process. The events of the riot, assault, or insurrection have been widely documented and verified by video, interviews with Capitol security personnel, a slew of in-depth reports, and court proceedings involving some of the riot participants.

A spiral and spread of radicalization

The headline of Teri Kanefield’s article in The Washington Post on April 29, 2021 is that “Republican rhetoric is getting more extreme because that’s what the base demands” (https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/04/29/republican-rhetoric-extreme-base). Kanefield is an author and a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. For 12 years, she maintained an appellate law practice in California. She offers this explanation.

“The Republican Party is caught in a spiral of radicalization: Having alienated moderates and corporate donors, some prominent GOP figures are turning to grass roots funding from the more radical segment of its base, which has led them to delve further into the conspiracy theories and dangerous rhetoric that their most passionate voters love but that drove centrists away.”

She later adds: “These Republican leaders are thus in a downward spiral, forced to cater to the most radicalized members of their base. The only way to break the cycle is to break with Trump, denounce the ‘big lie’ that the election was stolen, and stop feeding lies to the base — something they appear unable or unwilling to do.”  

As evidence of extremism in the Republican congressional ranks, Kanefield refers to statements by newly elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Not long after the capitol riot, Greene “liked” a comment on Twitter that advocated putting a bullet through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head.” Previously, Greene had questioned “whether 9/11 was a hoax, flatly stated that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim and accused the Clintons of murdering John F. Kennedy Jr.”

Kanefield also points to how false QAnon and other conspiratorial beliefs have infiltrated the Republican mainstream. The centerpiece of these beliefs, hardly the only one, is that Democrats are part of a global cabal of satanic pedophiles. She buttresses her argument with the following evidence. (`1) “A January YouGov poll found that 30 percent of Republican voters had a favorable opinion of the QAnon belief system.” (2) “Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, noted that a ‘significant plurality, if not potentially a majority, of our voters have been deceived into this creation of an alternate reality.’” (3)  The current party chairman in Texas is Allen West, a former Florida member of Congress who in 2014 described Barack Obama as ‘an Islamist’ who is ‘purposefully enabling the Islamist cause.’” (4) A keynote speaker at a recent Minnesota County Republican event told attendees that George Floyd’s murder was a “hoax.”

(5) “Last week, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, claimed that Democrats are ‘importing’ immigrants to ‘dilute’ the votes of ‘real’ Americans. This is the ‘replacement theory,’ also known as the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory which holds that minorities and immigrants are seeking to replace ‘real Americans.’””

(6) “When former president Donald Trump was brought to trial in the Senate for his role in inciting the insurrection, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to walk a narrow line, as Republicans had done in the past. He nodded to the insurrectionists by voting to acquit Trump is his role in inciting the riot. He then tried to keep the support of moderates and corporate donors by stating immediately after the vote that Trump was ‘morally and practically responsible for the insurrection.’”

McConnell’s attempts to satisfy both sides of the issue didn’t work, but by supporting the big lie and Trump the outcome for the Senate majority leader proved to be beneficial. On the one hand, previously stalwart corporate supporters withdrew their support from McConnell. According to Kanefield, “During the first quarter of 2021, McConnell didn’t receive a single corporate PAC donation. In contrast, during the first quarter of 2019, he took in $625,000 from 157 corporate PACs and trade associations.” On the other hand, McConnell “then pivoted to soliciting donations from individuals by denouncing ‘cancel culture’ and putting forward claims of voter fraud.” This worked. “Appealing to grass roots supporters by stoking conspiracy theories about the election paid off. McConnell hauled in more than $700,000 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2021. Appealing to the radicalized base brought in more than relying on corporate donors had.”

Majority of Republicans polled believe the big lie

And recent polls finds that a majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen. Ariel-Edwards Levy reports on the findings of an Ipsos/Reuters poll released in late May ((https://mercurynews.com/2011/05/28/a-majority-of-republicans-believe-that-2020-election-was-stolen). The new polling results released in May document that a “majority of Republicans, 56%, say they believe that the 2020 election was the result of illegal voting or election rigging… with about 6 in 10 agreeing with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.”

The Ipsos/Reuters poll also finds that Republicans agree, “4% to 30%, with the myth that the January 6 riot at the US Capitol “was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.” This belief is demolished by subsequent investigations, as sources from the FBI to alleged participants in the riot “have shot down the myth that left-wing agitators were involved. Nonetheless, Ariel-Edwards Levy reports “One-quarter of the American public as a whole say they think last year’s election outcome was determined by illegal voting or election rigging, with about 30% saying the election was stolen from Trump and roughly one-third that the Capitol riot was led by left-wingers.”

Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House reject an independent commission to study the January 6 assault on the Capitol

Author and professor Robert Reich tells us on Friday, May 28, “54 U.S. senators voted in favor of proceeding to debate a House-passed bill to establish a commission to investigate the causes and events of the January 6th insurrection. This was 6 votes short of the number of votes needed for ‘cloture,’ or stopping debate – meaning any further consideration of the bill would have been filibustered by Republicans indefinitely.” The upshot is that there will be no bipartisan investigation (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/06/01/republican-party-existential-threat-american-democracy).

Reich delves into how the Senators voted. He writes: “The 54 Senators who voted yes to cloture—in favor of the commission [and to end debate]—represent 189 million Americans, or 58% of the American population. The 35 who voted no represent 104 million Americans, or 32% of the population.” He continues: “In other words, 32% of American voters got to decide that the nation would not know about what happened to American democracy on January 6.” Moreover, “the 35 who voted against the commission were all Republicans.” Why? “They did not want such an inquiry because it might jeopardize their chances of gaining a majority of the House or Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They also wanted to stay in the good graces of Donald Trump, whose participation in that insurrection might have been more fully revealed.” 

What must Democrats do? Reich gives this advice: “Senate Democrats must get rid of the filibuster and push through major reforms—voting rights, as well as policies that will enable more Americans in the bottom half—most of them without college educations, many of whom cling to the Republican Party— to do better.” Better said, then done.

Karen Tumulty also considers the underlying reasons for why the Senate Republicans rejected the proposal in the Senate to create an independent commission to study the January 6 assault on the Capitol (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/28/really-scary-republicans-dont-want-to-face-the-truth-about-jan-6).

There is no mystery here, Tumulty writes. “Anything that looks back to the final ugly spasms of the Trump presidency… would hurt the Republicans’ chances for gaining back control of Congress, McConnell acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday.

As already notes, the Senate Republicans “blocked a motion to invoke cloture [to end debate and vote] on legislation to create a Jan. 6 Capitol attack commission 54-35 on May 28.” Sixty votes were needed to overcome the filibuster. Six Republicans broke ranks, and nine Republicans and two Democrats were absent for the vote. The defeat of the commission bill happened, even though “Democrats had given them just about everything they had claimed to want — including a power-sharing arrangement under which the GOP would have equal representation on the 10-member panel, as well as a say in any subpoenas it might issue.” The commission was to be “structured on the model of the one set up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

Trump’s calls to Republican senators to reject the commission proposal made a difference. Just a week before the vote, “nearly three dozen GOP members joined Democrats in the House last week to approve the proposed commission.” But then “the former president issued a statement blasting those ‘35 wayward Republicans’ and warning of ‘consequences to being ineffective and weak.’” Trump’s power rests on the fact “that a not-insignificant portion of the GOP’s Trumpian base actually appears to believe that the violent mob was justified in its effort to disrupt Congress as it conducted its pro forma tally of the electoral votes that made Joe Biden the 46th president.”

Tumulty offers this concluding assessment. “McConnell may be right that dodging and delaying accountability for what happened on Jan. 6 could help Republicans win back power in Congress. But by standing in the way of a reckoning with the poisonous forces that are growing within the ranks of their own party, they are doing a disservice to the country — one for which democracy itself will ultimately pay a price.”

No end to it: Arizona Republicans promote a phony audit

In an article for The Atlantic, staff writer David A. Graham analyzes the implausible Arizona Republican arguments for advancing a made-up, phony, audit of the 2020 votes cast the heavily Democratic Maricopa County (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/06/arizona-audit-will-only-undermine-faith-democracy/619072).

The so-called audit is becoming a model for Republicans in other states to undertake similar baseless audits. Their purpose is to perpetuate the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.

Graham puts it this way: “The firm that was hired by the Arizona Senate to oversee the count, Cyber Ninjas, which has no evident qualifications and is run by a ‘stop the steal activist, touts ‘the systemic, transparent method we have created to ensure Arizonan and American confidence in the election process and results.’” Republicans in Wisconsin are “launching an Arizona-style investigation, as well as in other states that have moved to restrict voting, such as Texas, Georgia, and Florida, leaders have similarly argued that such efforts are necessary to guarantee faith in elections.”

Maricopa election officials have months ago “conducted both a hand recount of a sample of ballots and a forensic audit.” The real purpose of the Arizona selective county audit is to foster further doubts about the validity of the 2020 presidential election. Graham reports that “Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has begun posting a series of concerns about the security, counting process, equipment, and professionalism of the Cyber Ninjas’s audit at the site.”

Journalists Steven Rosenfeld and Jeremy Stahl have,” Graham writes, “chronicled in detail, the procedures are a mess, which is all but certain to result in a different tally than the official final tally, even if it still finds that Joe Biden beat Trump by a wide margin.” But this charade will “seed only more doubts and questions about the result—and the audit’s sloppy handling of ballots means that the evidence may be irreversibly tainted ahead of any future count. And that’s just what the audit’s proponents want.”

A coup?

Mark Joyella reports that, according to New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, “Trump is telling people he expects to be ‘reinstated” as president by August (https://forbes.com/sites/markjoyella/20201/06/01/maggie-haberman-trump-telling-people-he-expects-to-be-reinstated-as-president-by-august/?sh=7b5b58de7a76).

Here’s how Joyella puts it: “The New York Times’ Washington Correspondent Maggie Haberman reports that former President Donald Trump is telling ‘a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated’ as president by August.”

Trump’s baseless assertions about a stolen election are being reinforced by the phony audit in Arizona and others on the way in other Republican-controlled states. The audits, in turn, help to keep the “big lie” alive. Combined with Republican acts of voter suppression in most states, Republican support in the U.S. Congress for Trump, the tyrannical hold Trump has on Republicans nationwide, and the obedient right-wing media, perhaps there will be further acts of insurrection.

The rub, Joyella says, is that some Trump supporters and QAnon believers hope for a coup that would restore Trump to the White House.

Trump and QAnon

Wikipedia has a section on QAnon (https://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/QAnon).

The online encyclopedia describes QAnon or simply Q as “a discredited American far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satanic,[1] cannibalistic pedophiles run a global child sex trafficking ring and conspired against former President Donald Trump during his term in office.[2][3][4][5] QAnon is commonly described as a cult.[6][7][8] On the Trump-Qanon connection, Wikipedia reports the following.

 “QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018.[35] Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who has promoted QAnon, attended a White House “social media summit” in July 2019.[36][37] QAnon believers commonly tag their social media posts with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, signifying the motto “Where We Go One, We Go All”.[38] At an August 2019 Trump rally, a man warming up the crowd used the QAnon motto, later denying that it was a QAnon reference. This occurred hours after the FBI published a report calling QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism, the first time the agency had so rated a fringe conspiracy theory.[39][40] According to analysis by Media Matters for America, as of October 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 265 times by retweeting or mentioning 152 Twitter accounts affiliated with QAnon, sometimes multiple times a day.[41][42] QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as “Q+”.[43]

Part 2: Biden and the Democrats

Biden’s initial steps through executive actions

Sam Levine reminds us that the “constitution gives the US president little unilateral power over voting laws, a power explicitly given to the states” and that “Biden has done just about all he can to act alone against these efforts.” Levine gives these examples of what Biden has done (https://theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/28/republican-voter-suppression-biden).  

“On the day he was inaugurated, he halted a Trump administration effort to try and use the census to limit non-citizen representation. He has used the power of the power of his bully pulpit to unsparingly criticize the measures (“Jim Crow in the 21st century” is how he described Georgia’s voting measure).” Then in March, Biden “issued a relatively modest, but potentially significant executive order, directing federal agencies to expand voting access. He has created a senior-level White House role focused on voting rights tapped two longtime civil rights lawyers with an expertise in voting rights to top roles at the justice department, which is responsible for enforcing some of the nation’s top voting rights laws.”

Eugene Daniels also reports on Bident’s executive order that was signed on Sunday [March 7]. It came symbolically on the 56th anniversary of the march for voting rights in Selma, Ala., known as ‘Bloody Sunday’” (https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/07/biden-voting-access-474041).

The order was described as an “initial step” to protect voting rights — one that uses the authority of the president “to leverage federal resources to help people register to vote and provide information,” according to an administration official.”

According to Daniels, “Federal agencies will be directed to notify states about the ways in which they can help with voter registration, in addition to being tasked with improving voting access to military voters and people with disabilities. Biden also directed the federal government to update and modernize Vote.gov, the website it operates to provide the public with voting-related information.” It remains to be seen whether Biden’s executive order is an “initial step” or a last step in protecting and opening up access to voting. The prospects for the legislation avoiding a filibuster and being passed with a simple majority in the Senate appear to be challenging. At the same time, Congressional Democrats were just able to pass a Covid-19 relief act on the basis of reconciliation, circumventing a Republican filibuster and passing the legislation with a simple majority, 50 to 49 (one Republican was absent).

Biden also pushes voting rights policies

Biden and his advisers have also authored two voting rights proposals, both of which have been taken up and passed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and have been introduced by Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, they have already passed with a slim Democratic majority in the House. However, unless Democrats can muster 50 votes in the Senate, Republicans will use the filibuster to keep the bills from being passed. The bills are titled (1) For the People Act and (2) the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I’ll focus on the former bill here.

The For Peoples’ Act

The full title of this act, H.R.1 and S.1, “An Act to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”

Wendy R. Weiser, Daniel I. Weiner, and Dominique Erney provide a comprehensive analysis of the proposed legislation, section by section, and what it can accomplish.  (https://brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/congress-must-pass-people-act).

“The Act” they write, “incorporates key measures that are urgently needed, including automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections; a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act; small donor public financing to empower ordinary Americans instead of big donors (at no cost to taxpayers) and other critical campaign finance reforms; an end to partisan gerrymandering; and a much-needed overhaul of federal ethics rules. Critically, the Act would thwart virtually every voter suppression bill currently pending in the states.”

Wikipedia also provides an extensive analysis of the potentially far-reaching provisions of the bill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_the_People_Act).

The Wikipedia account considers 7 key provisions of the bill, dealing with voting rights, election security, campaign finance reform, ethics, findings in support of D.C. Statehood, gerrymandering, and the number of federal election commissioners. With respect to “voting rights,” the bill would eliminate obstacles and institute changes that would streamline and increase the accessibility of voting for the American people.

Here I quote excerpts from Wikipedia on the proposed changes in voting rights.

Excerpts

“The bill would require states to offer same-day voter registration for federal elections[3][2] and to permit voters to make changes to their registration at the polls.[3] It would require states to hold early voting for at least two weeks and would establish automatic voter registration[17][3][2] for individuals to be eligible to vote in elections for federal office in the state.[18] Under the automatic voter registration provision, eligible citizens who provide information to state agencies (including state departments of motor vehicles or public universities) would be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out of doing so.[17] The bill would also expand opportunities to vote by mail and would make Election Day a federal holiday.[17] The bill would require states to offer online voter registration,[3][17] which has already been adopted in 39 states and the District of Columbia;[17] under the bill, states would be required to establish a system to allow applications to be electronically completed, submitted, and received by election officials, and to allow registered voters to electronically update their voter registration information.[17] The bill would establish criminal penalties for persons who ‘corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from registering to vote’ and for voter deception or intimidation (the bill would specifically ‘prohibit knowing and intentional communication of false and misleading information – including about the time, place, or manner of elections, public endorsements, and the rules governing voter eligibility and voter registration – made with the intent of preventing eligible voters from casting ballots’).[17] The bill would instruct the Election Assistance Commission to adopt recommendations for states on the prevention of interference with voter registration.[17]

 The bill would also prohibit the practice of voter caging[17] and restrict the practicing of voter-roll purges[9] by limiting states’ ability to remove registered voters from the rolls[4] and setting conditions for when they could do so.[3] Specifically, the bill would require states to obtain certain information before removing voters from the rolls, and would prohibit voter purges from taking place less than six months before an election.[17] The bill prohibits any person from communicating “materially false” claims meant to prevent others from voting 60 days before an election[20] and compels the attorney general to correct such misinformation.[21] The bill also requires elections officials to timely notify any voter tagged for removal from the rolls and give them an opportunity to contest the removal or seek reinstatement of their registration.[17] It also restores voting rights to felons who complete prison terms.[2][22]

“The bill contains various provisions to promote voting access for people with disabilities and provisions to strengthen the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) by providing additional protections for military and overseas voters.[17] 

“The bill would also create a Congressional task force on voting rights in American territories.[17]

——————————

Can the Democrats in the U.S. Senate muster the votes to get past Republican filibustering and pass the For People Act?

The filibuster, a procedural rule in the US Senate, requires 60 votes to by-pass the filibuster and advance legislation.  Democrats do not have enough votes to eliminate the filibuster, and it’s currently blocking a bill that would block many of the restrictions advancing at the state level and dramatically expand access to the ballot, including national requirements for same-day, automatic and online registration. If Biden and the Democrats do not find ways around the filibuster, then their chances in the elections of 2022 and 2024 are considerably reduced. In the absence of successful policy victories, including H.R. 1, the Democrats would rely on an unprecedented massive voter turnout in the 2020 mid-term election, large enough to overcome Republican suppression, gerrymandering, and subversion of state electoral institutions. Even then, however, that may not be enough.

Sam Levine quotes Amanda Litman, the executive director of Run for Something, “which seeks to recruit candidates for state legislative races.” Litman says, “If the Senate does not kill the filibuster and pass voting rights reforms … Democrats are going to lose control of the House and likely the Senate forever. You don’t put these worms back into a can. You can’t undo this quite easily.”

There are two challenges to which Senate Democrats must successfully respond in order to block Republican filibusters. One, they must use Senate procedures to defeat the filibuster and, two, the must have unity in their caucus to do so. There are presently two prominent holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The two Senators are presently refusing to support procedural changes that would allow Democrats to sidestep the inevitable Republican filibuster and pass S. 1 by a simple majority, that is, 50 Democratic votes plus the vote by Vice-President Kamala Harris. Manchin and Sinema justify their positions in support of the filibuster by arguing that it is a necessary tool to protect input of the minority. It’s not yet clear how Democrats might persuade them to change their minds.

Overcoming a Republican filibuster procedurally

The filibuster is based on the Senate’s cloture rule, “which” Molly E. Reynolds writes, “requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote” (https://brookings.edu/policy2020/votervitals/what-is-the-senate-filibuster-and-what-would-it-take-to-eliminate-it). The Senate is evenly divided, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Given that Republicans are unified in their opposition to virtually any bill put forward by Democrats, this means that it is impossible for Democratically-supported legislation to pass in the Senate as long as this rule stands.

Reynolds discusses a number of procedural options that can circumvent the filibuster. One is often referred to as “the nuclear option,” or formally as “reform by ruling.” It certain circumstances, this option can be employed with support from only a simple majority ofsenators.” A senator can raise a point of order, or claim that a Senate rule is being violated. If the presiding officer (typically a member of the Senate; presently a Democrat) agrees, and has the support of a majority, which would mean that all fifty Senate Democrats plus the vice-president Kamala Harris agree, the ruling would establish a new precedent and permit passage of the legislation in question by a simple majority. This, in theory, would be the most direct way of avoiding a filibuster. The problem is that there are some Democrats who oppose this option and thus, for the time being, eliminate the opportunity of a majority vote. It all hinges on the Democratic holdouts.

Concluding thoughts

The anti-democratic Republican Party and their supporters represent a growing threat to American democracy. Luckily, they don’t yet have a well-organized army of brownshirts to violently attack opponents and rip apart American political institutions, but they have other facilitative conditions.

As I wrote in the earlier post to which I have referred, “Professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identify the signs of the rise of authoritarian behavior and government in their book, How Democracies Die.

First, “there is a rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.” For example, authoritarians want to restrict basic civil or political rights (e.g., voter suppression).

Second, authoritarians deny the legitimacy of their political opponents, as when they describe them as an “existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life,” “describe their partisan rivals as criminals.” Trump’s continuously bellowed “big lie” that the election was stolen and the support for this allegation by much of the Republican Party and Republican base.

Third, authoritarians tolerate or encourage violence. They have “ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias….” Trump and many Republican legislators want to blame the January 6 attempted insurrection on leftist influences and dismiss the actual right-wing mob. Indeed, they encouraged “mob attacks on opponents.” There is little doubt that Trump incited and enflamed those who invaded the Capitol building. The refuse to unambiguously condemn violence and punish it.

Fourth, authoritarians “curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.” For example, they support laws restricting protests and Trump has expressed his hatred toward the mainstream media as “fake news” and worse.

Despite all this, the majority of American voters support democratic values and institutions. Despite all this, the Democratic Party stands against Trump’s authoritarian party and movement. Despite all this, the majority of Americans reject Trump’s “big lie.” Despite all this, there are ongoing investigations by government authorities of Republican corruption.

If Democrats in Congress can find ways to overcome Republican obstruction and enact the For the People Act and other legislation, and if a massive number of people vote in 2022, then the momentum toward authoritarian and autocratic government may be defeated – and Trump finally relegated to the trash heap of history.

The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful solutions are elusive

Bob Sheak, May 26, 2021

The climate crisis intensifies, while meaningful political solutions are elusive

The Debate in the U.S.

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

Those who acknowledge the growing climate crisis

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

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

The deniers and deflects, etc.

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

Waging a war against the climate

In his new book, The New Climate War, climate scientist Michael E. Mann states that “our planet has now warmed into the danger zone, and we are not taking the measures necessary to avert the largest global crisis we have ever faced.” In order to address this situation, “we must understand the mind of the enemy” (p. 1). The enemy includes the fossil-fuel corporations (e.g., ExxonMobil, Shell, BP) and their supporters, the billionaire plutocrats “like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes,” who have “funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign beginning in the least 1980s and working to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil-fuel burning” (pp. 2-3). This enemy additionally includes those in government in the U.S. and abroad who deny or dismiss the seriousness of global warming and use their positions to protect and advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.

Deflection

Mann finds that the climate denial tends now to be “more in the form of downplaying the impacts rather than outright denial of the basic physical evidence” (p. 42). He gives the example of how Trump deflected attention from the part that global warming played in the extensive wildfires that have been afflicting California. The then president did so by disparaging state officials and “blaming them for ‘gross mismanagement’ of the forests, attributing the problem specifically to an absence of ‘raking’ of forests” (p. 42).

Inaction

“The forces of inaction – that is, the fossil fuel interests and those doing their bidding – have a single goal – inaction,” Mann contends. He continues: “The most hard-core contingent – the deniers – are…in the process of going extinct (though there is still a remnant population of them). They are being replaced by other breeds of deceivers, namely, downplayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers, and doomers – willing participants in a multiprongred strategy seeking to deflect blame, divide the public, delay action by promoting ‘alternative’ solutions that don’t actually solve the problem, or insist we simply accept our fate – it’s too late to do anything about it anyway, so we might as well keep the oil flowing.” This is the new climate war (p. 44).

Evidence of Climate change/global warming accumulates

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one of the world’s most authoritative sources of evidence on global warming. In a series of reports on its website, NASA scientists and officials summarize the evidence, the causes, the future effects, and the scientific consensus that global warming is real, has a growing number of dire effects, and there is little time to contain or reverse it   (https://climate.nasa.gov).

The sources

“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. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

“The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause Earth to warm in response.

“Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that 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 ice-age-recovery warming. Carbon dioxide from human activity is increasing more than 250 times faster than it did from natural sources after the last Ice Age.”

Findings

The global temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, driven “largely by increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities.” NASA continues: “Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years, with the most seven most recent years being the warmest.”

According to NASA data, “2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 141-year record have occurred since 2005, with the seven most recent years being the warmest.

The ocean has been warming, “with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit… since 1969.” The ocean has also been acidifying, absorbing between “between 20% and 30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades (7.2 to 10.8 billion metric tons per year).”

Ice sheets are shrinking. Between 1993 and 2019, “Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.” Glaciers are retreating “almost everywhere around the world – including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa.” The snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere “has decreased over the past five decades and the snow is melting earlier.”

Global sea level is rising and has rise “about 8 inches…in the last century, and the rate of increase has accelerated in the last two decades. Arctic Sea Ice is declining rapidly both in its extent and thickness over the last several decades.

There have been a record number of high temperature events in the United States and the number has been increasing, including the “increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.”

Causes

NASA refers to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nation. The report “concluded there’s a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.” NASA specifies that “the industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 414 parts per million in the last 150 years.” There is a “better than 95 percent probability “that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.”

Future effects of global warming

The NASA also refers to how scientists “have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities, and that they forecast “a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit” by the end of the century. Societies will be disrupted, if not crumble, in temperatures above even 2-3 degrees. If current trends continue, there will each year be more droughts and heat waves, hurricanes will become more frequent, stronger and more intense, sea level will rise between 1-8 feet by 2100, and “the Arctic Ocean is expected to become essentially ice free in summer before mid-century.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council adds the following information on the immediacy of the problem (https://nrdc.org/stories/global-warming-101).

“Now climate scientists have concluded that we must limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040 if we are to avoid a future in which everyday life around the world is marked by its worst, most devastating effects: the extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, and other disasters that we refer to collectively as climate change. These effects are felt by all people in one way or another but are experienced most acutely by the underprivileged, the economically marginalized, and people of color, for whom climate change is often a key driver of poverty, displacement, hunger, and social unrest.”

Additionally, a recent study commissioned by the Pentagon warns of a scenario in which electricity, water, and food systems might collapse by midcentury as a result of the effects of climate change” (Mann, p. 44).

A scientific consensus

Most climate scientists agree that global warming is a profoundly serious and growing problem. According to NASA, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree” with the following: “Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

They refer to 18 American Scientific societies, including, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association, the

American Physical Society, the Geological Society of America. They include in their list the U.S. National Academy of Science, the  U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a reference to nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations that hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action (http://www.opr.ca.gov/facts/list-of-scientific-organizations.html).

Additional evidence: Selected examples

Rising temperatures everywhere

Bob Berwyn reports on new studies that “sharpen warnings for unlivable heat in the tropics, and nearly unthinkable extremes in major Northern Hemisphere cities” (https://insideclimatechange.org/news/16052021/extreme-heat-risks-climate-change). At the same time, “many regions are doing little to protect vulnerable populations.”

The findings were presented at the European Geosciences Union online conference in April. They suggest “that many models are underestimating the short-term threat to the most vulnerable areas—densely populated tropical regions—and that the threats aren’t clearly communicated. And a study released in late April showed that, in the U.S., the risk of power failures during such heatwaves could increase the death toll.” 

“One of the studies presented at the conference,” Berwyn points out, “shows that parts of Southern Europe are particularly vulnerable, with heat deaths projected to increase by 7.9 percent in Spain through 2050 if global warming continues at its current pace, but only by half that much if global warming can be capped at 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, as prescribed by the Paris climate pact.”

In the first week of May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency updated its Climate Indicators website, which had been delayed for years by the Trump administration. The data shows “that major U.S. cities experienced three times as many heat waves—four or more days with temperatures that should only occur every 10 years—in the 2010s as during the 1960s. The season in which heat waves occur has lengthened by 47 days. In addition to heat exhaustion, recent research also showed that extreme heat dramatically increases the chances of pre-term births.”

There were record high temperatures in April in central Eurasia and North Africa,  “and a weather station on Crete reported by far the warmest April night on record in Europe, which never dropped below 87 degrees Fahrenheit.” Such heat levels, if persisting through nights, “compound the health threat of heat waves because humans can’t physically recover from scorching daytime temperatures if they don’t cool down after the sun goes down.”

However alarming the data, they may underestimate how extreme heat affects populations. Chloe Brimicombe, a University of Reading climate researcher thinks that the “growing health threats of extreme heat over populated areas are ‘not sufficiently captured’ by major reports and emergency databases, or communicated adequately by English-language media.” Nevertheless, the data are worrisome and the “worst heat wave impacts are ahead.”

The direst projections are for tropical regions in Africa and South Asia, where tens of millions of people are vulnerable to extreme heat. By 2070 in those regions, a combination of extreme heat and humidity will put about 1.5 billion people at risk. Deadly heat waves, formed by the combination of temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity in excess of 90 percent, will start happening annually in those areas, instead of every 25 years, with conditions lingering near that lethal threshold for weeks on end.” Brimicombe says “We are making the tropics unlivable. If warming continues unabated through 2050, ‘loads of people would die and it would lead to mass migration, and that is something we’re not really saying enough about.” 

Even in the United States, “a 2019 study projected thousands of additional heat deaths in cities during the second half of the century, even if global warming is limited to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Fatalities increase even more steeply at higher levels of warming. The European Academy of Sciences projects up to 132,000 additional deaths by 2100 if warming exceeds 3.6 degrees Celsius.”

In North America and Europe, extreme heat by far is the biggest killer driven by global warming, Otto said. That may be the case worldwide, but it’s hard to know because heat deaths still aren’t accurately counted in parts of the developing world, including in Africa, she added.

The climate crisis displaced over 10 million people in past six months

This is the headline of Jessica Corbett’s article, citing figures from a new report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/03/17/climate-crisis-displaced-over-10-million-people-past-six-months). The IFRC is the world’s largest humanitarian network. The report is titled Responding to Disasters and Displacement in a Changing Climate (pdf), and draws data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

The report focuses “on internal displacement—meaning individuals who remain within their home countries.” However, it recognizes that “recent climate-related disasters have also generated calls for just and updated policies related to refugees.”

On March 17, the organization issued a call for urgent international action “to address the rising risk of climate-related displacement, highlighting data that shows disasters such as storms, droughts, fires, and floods internally displaced more than 10 million people from September to February.” There were, additionally, 2.3 million displacements related to conflict during this period.

Corbett quotes Helen Brunt of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who said, “Asia suffers much more than any other region from climate disaster-related displacements. These upheavals are taking a terrible toll on some of the poorest communities already reeling from the economic and social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The report includes eight overall recommendations:

———————

Investment in and focus on local actors and local responders;

Meaningful community engagement and accountability;

A protection, gender and inclusion (PGI)-informed approach and response;

Strengthening national and branch level internal systems and capabilities;

Monitoring population movements in the context of both slow and sudden onset disasters;

Community-led assessments;

Coordinating and promoting the centrality of durable solutions to displacement; and

Humanitarian diplomacy, and multi-stakeholder partnerships and coordination.

——————–

Brunt told Reuters “Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability.” She also said that “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”

Kayly Ober, senior advocate and program manager for the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, told Common Dreams that “Yes, we should invest in climate change adaptation and resilience measures, because it enables people to stay in place if they would like to. But we also need to understand that people are already on the move and will continue to be on the move, especially as climate change impacts increase in intensity and frequency.”

Corbett concludes her article with a statement on an analysis released last year by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics & Peace. The organization “found that as the global population climbs toward 10 billion by 2050, ecological disasters and armed conflict could forcibly displace about 10% of humanity.”

Drought in the Western U.S.

Severe Drought, Worsened by Climate Change, Ravages the American West

Reporting for The New York Times, Henry Fountain reports on how increasing heat and shifting weather patterns are intensifying wildfires and sharply reducing water supplies across the Southwest, the Pacific Coast and North Dakota (https://nytimes.com/2021/05/19/climate/drought.html). The entire region is in drought conditions. The sources of the drought are “warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, which are linked to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, where they trap the sun’s heat.”

Fountain quotes University of Colorado hydrologist Keith Mussleman: “These are regions that regularly go weeks without precipitation. And now we’re talking in some cases about months.” Indeed, “climate scientists now talk of an emerging “megadrought,” one that may rival those that occurred periodically over the past thousand years. Those Southwestern megadroughts, which were discovered by analyzing ancient tree rings, lasted decades — in one case, 80 years.”

The present drought poses an extreme challenge to farmers in New Mexico “who depend on irrigation water from the Rio Grande and other rivers.” The situation is the result of years of “warming temperatures, a failed rainy season last summer and low snowpack this winter,” all of which has “combined to reduce the state’s rivers to a relative trickle.”

Fountain emphasizes that the climate-change-driven drought “is ravaging not only New Mexico but the entire Western half of the United States, from the Pacific Coast, across the Great Basin and desert Southwest, and up through the Rockies to the Northern Plains.” He cites research findings from the United States Drought Monitor, which identifies “84 percent of the West is now in drought, with 47 percent rated as ‘severe’ or ‘extreme.’”

Coping?

Here are examples from Fountain’s article. “In California, wells are drying up, forcing some homeowners to drill new ones that are deeper and costlier. Lake Mead, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, is so drained of Colorado River water that the two states are facing the eventual possibility of cuts in their supply. And 1,200 miles away in North Dakota, ranchers are hauling water for livestock and giving them supplemental forage, because the heat and dryness is stunting spring growth on the rangelands.

“The most significant, and potentially deadly, effect of a drought that is as severe and widespread as any seen in the West is the wildfires that are raging amid hot and dry conditions. And this is well before the full blast of summer’s heat arrives.

“California, Arizona and New Mexico have each had two large blazes, unusual for this early in the year. None has been fully contained, including the Palisades Fire, which has burned 1,200 acres on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

“Officials are predicting when the fire season ends — if it ever does, as warming conditions have made fires possible year-round in some areas — the total could exceed last year’s of 10.3 million acres.”

Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist and climate specialist for CBS News, also reports in an article for CBS News on April 12, 2021, on what some scientists are calling a “permanent drought” across the Western U.S. and others call a “megadrought.” It began 2000 and is the “second worst in 1,200 years” (http://cbsnews.com/news/drought-western-united-states-modern-history).

And, as the U.S. heads into the 2021 summer dry season, “the stage is set for an escalation of extreme dry conditions, with widespread water restrictions expected and yet another dangerous fire season ahead.” Even before the summer begins,” Berardelli writes, “the U.S. Drought Monitor places 60% of the Western states under severe, extreme or exceptional drought.” He adds, “The reason for the extensive drought is two-fold; long-term drying fueled by human-caused climate change and, in the short term, a La Niña event in which cool Equatorial Pacific waters failed to fuel an ample fetch of moisture.”

He cites Kelsey Satalino, the Digital Communications Coordinator from NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System, who says that during the past few months, several states including Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah experienced their most intense period of drought since 2000 and, as a result, “soil moisture content is at its lowest levels in at least 120 years.”

New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that over the past several decades, precipitation has become more erratic and dry periods between rain storms have expanded. Even if rain or snow falls heavier, that’s less important than consistency. Soil moisture and vegetation thrive on precipitation that is spread out more evenly over time, rather than heavy events which tend to run-off, resulting in wasted moisture. 

“At the same time, temperatures across the Western U.S. have increased by a few degrees over the past 50 years. The warmer air provides more heat energy to evaporate moisture from vegetation and soil. As a result, the ground continues to dry out, providing flammable fuel for escalating fire seasons

“In fact, 2020 was the worst fire season in the modern history of the West, with California and Colorado experiencing their largest fires on record…. Simply put, the warmer and drier it gets, the larger fires become.” Moreover, the “fire season in the West is now two to three months longer than it was just a few decades ago.”

Impacts on National Parks

Zoe Schlanger reviews evidence on the detrimental impacts of global warming on America’s national parks. With limited resources park officials are having to choose which of the parks or what in the parks can be saved (https://nytimes.com/2021/05/18/climate/national-parks-climate-change.html). The National Park Service “is conceding that its traditional goal of absolute conservation is no longer viable in many cases.”

In response to the changing conditions, the National Park  Service published in late April “an 80-page document that lays out new guidance for park managers in the era of climate change.”

Schlanger writes: “The document, along with two peer-reviewed papers, is essentially a tool kit for the new world. It aims to help park ecologists and managers confront the fact that, increasingly, they must now actively choose what to save, what to shepherd through radical environmental transformation and what will vanish forever.” The service now is planning for “worst-case scenarios, decide what species and landscapes to prioritize, and how to assess the risk of relocating those that can’t survive otherwise.”

The finding by the National Park Service were “kept in a low profile during the Trump Administration, when the Park Service was at the center of frequent political battles.” In 2018, for example, Trump appointed managers tried to delete humanity’s role in climate change from a report on sea-level rise.”

This changed with the election of Biden: “The day before President Biden’s inauguration, they began publishing their papers, which were years in the making.”

Nonetheless, the situation is dire, with some leading researchers wondering “if the age of North American woodlands is coming to an end.” Such concern is reflected in research that “suggests, in the event of wildfires, “up to 30 percent of forestland might never grow back because global warming favors shrubs or grasslands in their ranges.”

Deforestation

Award-winning journalist Georgina Gustin writes on a research report by Forest Trends that documents “a 50 percent increase in deforestation of tropical woodlands, most of it for agriculture and much of it illegal, since the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19052021/deforestation-climate-change-forest-trends-companies-government).

The report was released on May 18, 2021. Forest Trends “tracks deforestation, legal and illegal, in 23 countries with large areas of tropical forests, including Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rainforest. The research looks at the period, starting in 2014, when dozens of governments, organizations and companies signed onto the New York Declaration on Forests, a voluntary agreement to halve deforestation by 2020 and stop it altogether by 2030.” Instead, deforestation via clear cutting has “increased by more than 50 percent” and commercial agriculture is driving most of the increase.Gustin quotes Cassie Dummett, one of the report’s lead authors, who says, “The scale of the increase in deforestation is really huge, and given all the commitments, is really disappointing and shocking Every year so much is being cleared, and when it’s for commodities, that means that the world’s consumers and governments are complicit.”

Gusten delves further into the sources of the problem, writing:

“Two countries, Brazil and Indonesia, suffered most of the forest losses driven by agriculture, the report found. In Brazil, the world’s largest producer and exporter of beef, nearly 95 percent of the conversion of woodlands to agricultural fields was done illegally. 

“Most of that clearing was driven by a demand for exported commodities. In addition to beef, the biggest culprit throughout Latin America continues to be soy, largely for animal feed and destined for overseas markets, especially China, which has seen a surge in demand for meat. In Indonesia, the largest driver of deforestation continues to be palm oil, which finds its way into a wide array of commercial food and consumer products in markets around the world.

Deforestation has also been undertaken in increased rates due to regulatory rollbacks, “particularly in Brazil, where the government has “allowed both illegal and legal timber cuts to accelerate.” Speculators and “land laundering” have also played a part. Gustin explains: “The legal framework is often exploited, where a nexus of political and business elites are using commercial agriculture as a means of claiming ownership, and the land value increases massively when it’s transformed from forest to agricultural land.”

There have been some actions taken by governments and environmental groups.

Here are Gustin’s examples.

“Lawmakers in the United Kingdom are considering a law that would ban the import of any product linked to illegal deforestation. In the United States, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) has said he will introduce legislation that would ban the import of products linked to illegal deforestation, and has called consuming products connected to such destruction of woodlands “immoral.”

“In March, nearly 30 environmental groups sent a letter to the Biden administration, urging it to put in place regulations that would restrict the import of agricultural products tied to deforestation.” 

“Many conservation and environmental organizations are pushing governments to impose stricter requirements on imports and financial institutions to reduce deforestation.” 

And yet, deforestation continues to increase.

Ice and snow cover melting in the Arctic

Kenny Stancil considers a report issued by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) on May 20, documenting that, over the past five decades, “the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth” (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/20/real-hotspot-study-shows-arctic-warming-3-times-faster-rest-of-earth).

“According to the report,” Stancil writes, “the Arctic’s annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period. Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.”

These changes are “adversely affecting the livelihoods and food security of Arctic communities, especially Indigenous ones…. [and] poses risks to unique terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems in the region, some of which are vulnerable to irreversible harm.” At the same time, the report found, “No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming.” Consider the following examples.

“The rapid mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other Arctic land ice contributes more to global sea-level rise than does the melting of ice in Antarctica.” “Some projections estimate that by 2050, 150 million people worldwide will be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels.” All of these conditions will be exacerbated by additional increases in the annual mean surface air temperatures in the Arctic, which are expected to “rise to 3.3–10°C above the 1985–2014 average by 2100, depending on the course of future emissions” – and could be higher. “Under most emission scenarios,” the report says, “the vast majority” of climate models ‘project the first instance of a largely sea-ice-free Arctic in September occurring before 2050,’ and possibly as early as 2040.

Biden’s initiative and the pushback against it

The argument that the climate crisis is real, that it is worsening, and that powerful interests are stopping or delaying adequate ameliorative response by governments and international organizations has been advanced in this post. There is also no doubt that, if the climate crisis is to be abated, the U.S. must play an important role in efforts to contain or reverse the crisis. But for the process to begin well, such efforts will be successful or not depending on how the domestic politics on global warming play out.

The U.S. lost ground during the last four years, as Trump and his administration did their best to deny and downplay the significance of the crisis, promoting the use of “clean coal” and fossil fuels, opening up offshore public land to drilling, ending an Obama’s fuel-efficiency executive action, supporting the export of oil and gas, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, and appointing their allies to policy-making positions in federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency to subvert the agencies.

Biden is now taking a completely different approach, as he and has administration take the climate crisis seriously and propose policies that, if ever passed by the Congress, would represent important steps in addressing the crisis.

The question in coming months is whether Biden and the Democrats in Congress can find ways to overcome the obstruction of Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Revitalizing U.S. climate policy vis executive action

Ella Nilsen reports on some of Biden’s early climate-related initiatives (https://vox.com/22242572/biden-climate-change-plan-explained).

On Wednesday [January 26, 2021], she writes, “Biden signed a set of executive actions meant to begin making this plan a reality. In them, he directed his administration to take a ‘whole-of-government approach’ to combat climate change, which includes — among other initiatives — ordering federal agencies to purchase electricity that is pollution-free, as well as zero emission vehicles, and directing the US Department of Interior to pause entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore.” Biden has also issued an executive order to have the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement and directed “his agencies to reverse a number of former President Trump’s actions slashing environmental regulations and emissions standards.”

Nilsen refers to a few specific examples. The “Department of Housing and Urban Development will be able to implement new sustainability standards for newly constructed or upgraded affordable housing. It means that the Department of Transportation could be charged with setting up more charging stations for electric vehicles, or spend more money on public transportation. And it means that the Department of Agriculture tries to work with the nation’s farmers to reduce the emissions coming from livestock and soils — about 10 percent of total US greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.”

Biden’s policy initiative

In January, Biden also proposed a $2 trillion dollar “infrastructure” plan to achieve a 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 and to net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. Then, on April 22, 2021, the Biden administration released a “fact sheet” elucidating what his climate plan is designed to accomplish (https://whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/staatements-releases/2021/04/22/fact-sheet-biden-sets-2030-greenhouse-gas-pollution-reduction-target).

In developing the plan, administration officials consulted “important and diverse stakeholders: From unions that collectively bargain for millions of Americans who have built our country and work to keep it running to groups representing tens of millions of advocates and young Americans, the Administration listened to Americans across the country. This also included groups representing thousands of scientists; hundreds of governmental leaders like governors, mayors, and tribal leaders; hundreds of businesses; hundreds of schools and institutions of higher education; as well as with many specialized researchers focused on questions of pollution reduction.”

In the process, according to the Fact Sheet, multiple pathways across the economy were explored for each economic sector of the economy that produces CO2 and non-CO2 greenhouse gases: electricity, transportation, buildings, industry, and lands. 

The fact sheet reiterates the promise of creating a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net zero emissions economy by no later than 2050. To achieve such goals, Biden’s administration “analyzed how every sector of the economy can spur innovation, unleash new opportunities, drive competitiveness, and cut pollution. The target builds on leadership from mayors, county executives, governors, tribal leaders, businesses, faith groups, cultural institutions, health care organizations, investors, and communities who have worked together tirelessly to ensure sustained progress in reducing pollution in the United States.”

In implementing the plan – if supported by the U.S. Congress – the plan “offers an opportunity to support good-paying, union jobs, strengthen America’s working communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice,” while also “empowering the U.S. to build more resilient infrastructure, expand access to clean air and drinking water, spur American technological innovations, and [to reiterate] create good-paying, union jobs along the way.”

What jobs?

The Fact Sheet identifies “line workers who will lay thousands of miles of transmission lines for a clean, modern, resilient grid; workers capping abandoned wells and reclaiming mines and stopping methane leaks; autoworkers building modern, efficient, electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure to support them; engineers and construction workers expanding carbon capture and green hydrogen to forge cleaner steel and cement; and farmers using cutting-edge tools to make American soil the next frontier of carbon innovation.”

Example: Transportation

“The United States can reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector by reducing tailpipe emissions and boosting the efficiency of cars and trucks; providing funding for charging infrastructure; and spurring research, development, demonstration, and deployment efforts that drive forward very low carbon new-generation renewable fuels for applications like aviation, and other cutting-edge transportation technologies across modes. Investment in a wider array of transportation infrastructure, including transit, rail, and biking improvements, will make more choices available to travelers.”

Example: Forests and Agriculture

“The United States can reduce emissions from forests and agriculture and enhance carbon sinks through a range of programs and measures including nature-based solutions for ecosystems ranging from our forests and agricultural soils to our rivers and coasts. Ocean-based solutions can also contribute towards reducing U.S. emissions.”

Can Biden’s climate plan be achieved?

The question is whether Biden and the Democrats in Congress can find ways to overcome the obstruction of Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Lisa Friedman writes on this situation in an article titled “It’s Crunch Time and Biden’s Climate Gambit Faces Steep Hurdles” (https://nytimes.com/climate/clean-electricity-climate.html). Friedman states the issue as follows.

“The linchpin of President Biden’s climate plan faces a perilous path through the Congress, as scientists say nations must move now to aggressively reduce the pollution that is heating the planet and the United States is trying to reassert a leadership role in that global effort.

Among the many components of Biden’s plan, Friedman focuses on one component, which she identifies as an important test cast for whether there will be any of his multifaceted plan ultimately passed into law. On this score, she writes

“The central tool of Mr. Biden’s plan, known as a clean electricity standard, would require power companies to gradually ratchet up the amount of electricity they generate from wind, solar and other sources until they’re no longer emitting carbon dioxide.”

Some version of this approach has been approved by 29 states. However, Friedman argues, it would take adroit maneuvering by Democrats in the U.S. Senate to push a nationwide standard through the divided Senate. That, she says, may require “a fast-track maneuver known as budget reconciliation, which allows some bills to pass with a simple majority.” This “would require the support of all 50 Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the state second only to Wyoming in coal production.” Thus far, Friedman reports, Machin “has been noncommittal when it comes to a clean electricity standard.” The position of Republicans is that “forcing utilities to turn away from coal, oil and gas will mean higher electric bills” and they oppose the standard.

Whatever the outcome, this year may be “the last best chance for the world to get on a legitimate track,” according to former Secretary of State John Kerry, who is now Mr. Biden’s global climate envoy.

Aside from the politics, there are some reasons to be mildly optimistic on the chances of the clean electricity standard to garner wide support, if not passage into law. Friedman refers to: (1) how wind and solar are now cheaper than coal and natural gas; (2) Americans “are witnessing the real-time consequences of climate-fueled disasters like wildfires in California and stronger hurricanes battering their communities”; (3) “Democrats are more unified around tackling climate change than a decade ago”; and (4) “Mr. Biden won the White House based in part on a promise to enact the most aggressive climate agenda in history.” In addition, (5) “some major utilities are for the first time rallying around the idea of a clean electricity standard.” On the latter point, Friedman notes that in recent weeks “13 publicly owned utilities announced support for an aggressive measure that would eliminate 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions from the sector by 2030” and “the Edison Electric Institute, which represents privately owned utilities and whose former president opposed a renewable energy standard in 2007, said it now supports a ‘well-designed’ policy.”

There are problematic aspects of Biden’s “clean energy standard” policy. The administration has suggested that the standard may “include nuclear energy and incorporate technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions, both of which are anathema to the liberal/progressive advocates for greening the economy and society. Friedman reports that “progressives have indicated they will fight any measure that includes anything other than renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal power.”

To illustrate her point, she quotes Mitchell Jones, policy director at Food and Water Watch, one of more than 600 environmental group that signed a May 12 letter to House and Senate leaders rejecting gas “with or without carbon capture sequestration” and what it called other “false solutions” like nuclear.

Finally, Friedman notes that electricity generation is responsible for only 25 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. in 2019, while “the transportation sector produced about 29 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturing and industry produced another 23 percent. Commercial and residential buildings were responsible for 13 percent, and agriculture contributed 10 percent.” The point is that the debate on the proposed clean energy standard, as politically controversial as it is, addresses only a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Concluding thoughts

The climate crisis, reflected most basically in rising temperatures that result from greenhouse gas emissions, is a growing problem across the world, including in the U.S. The solution to the problem is ultimately international, although the U.S. could – and needs to – serve as a major model, facilitator, innovator, subsidizer, and investor if there is to be international success.

However, because the climate diners and detractors have so much political and economic power in the U.S., even modest climate-directed initiatives are in question. But there are even more basic questions about whether a capitalist economy based on the interests of shareholders, profit, and growth, can ever be reformed or transformed enough to begin the process of containing and reducing the climate crisis. So far, the U.S. and the nations of the world have done a poor job in finding ways to significantly curtail the climate crisis.

Thus, whether the Biden administration and the Democrats in the U.S. Congress can navigate their way through the political muddle in Washington to achieve meaningful changes is, disturbingly, an open question.

China becomes the centerpiece of U.S. military policy, though there are options

Bob Sheak – May 17, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

There is bipartisan agreement in Washington that China is the number one threat to US security, economically and militarily. The alleged China threat is a top reason in the justifications for the steadily rising U.S. military budget.

While there are areas of potential military conflict, most notably in the South and East China Seas and over Taiwan, there are also areas of potential agreement. For example, according to economist David Dollar, Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indicated that there are three types of issue areas when it comes to China, including “ones where we will confront China, ones where we will compete, and ones where we can cooperate on the basis of common interests.” The emphasis in Biden’s first 100 days, however, has been on confrontation, and, in this regard, President Biden is “largely continuing Donald Trump’s approach.”  (https://brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/04/26/what-does-bidens-first-100-days-tell-us-about-his-approach-to-china).

Confrontation

While the Biden administration has “discontinued the demonization of the Chinese Communist Party and the implied calls for regime change,” it has, so far,” Dollar writes, “maintained and even stepped up enhanced engagement with Taiwan,” as reflected in the “continued high-level contacts with Taiwanese officials and arms sales.” And, a Defense Department review of China Policy is likely to recommend “some shift of military resources away from the Middle East (witness the withdrawal from Afghanistan) to the Asia-Pacific to counter China—within the context of a flat real defense budget proposed by the president.”

Competition

Outside of the military realm, the U.S. and China are engaged competitively on trade. “Candidate Biden criticized Trump’s tariffs aimed at China as a poorly targeted instrument that hurts the American economy (a Federal Reserve study found that they cost us more than 100,000 jobs).” Still, the new Biden administration, Dollar points out, “is leaving the tariffs in place for the moment, as well as the ‘Phase 1’ trade deal in which China agreed to make large purchases of specific American products (soybeans and other agricultural products, oil and gas, manufactures).”

As of late April, 2021, the two-year trade agreement had one year remaining and had achieved mixed results. On the one hand, “U.S. exports to China are up and are a rare bright spot in U.S. trade.” On the other hand, “the amounts [of exports from the U.S. to China] will fall far short of the agreed targets.” Meanwhile, “there are no talks planned and a lack of high-level appointees in the Trade Representative’s Office, Treasury, and Commerce who would be needed for comprehensive economic discussions.

Technology is another realm of competition. Dollar considers Biden’s language here as being “more about seeing China as a competitor than as treating China as an adversary.” The Biden administration is partly justifying its large infrastructure plan “as needed to compete with China and to prevent China from dominating the technologies of the future.”

Cooperation

Dollar identifies only one area of cooperation between China and the U.S. That is, when “President Xi Jinping was one of the dozens of heads of state who participated in Biden’s virtual climate summit on April 22.” Both countries have commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Thus, climate could be an area of cooperation between China and the West, though Dollar warns, “it could also devolve into a new competition as the U.S. administration pressures China to set more ambitious targets, to get serious about them in the current five-year plan, and to stop financing coal-fired power plants throughout the developing world as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.”

Just one other point. Unlike Trump, Biden wants to rebuild and strengthen ties to the traditional allies of the U.S. the Asian area. However, whatever the White House wants, the allies are not interested in supporting a new cold war with China. Here’s what Dollar writes.

“This was evident in Blinken’s visit to South Korea, initial discussions with European allies, and the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Suga to Washington. Our allies have deeper trade and investment relations with China than we do; and, in fact, since Biden’s election the EU, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and ASEAN have all signed new economic agreements with China. There is some contradiction between the U.S. confronting China and working multilaterally, so it is likely that over time Biden’s China policy will have to become either less confrontational or more unilateral.”

U.S. has a militaristic record in foreign relations

Biden and his administration appear all too willing to push ahead on the military front, perhaps slighting opportunities for negotiations on economic and diplomatic issues. While war with China may not be inevitable, the U.S. is, nonetheless, gearing up its already massive military budget and forces to provide increased focus on the China threat. The danger is that the military posture of the U.S. will draw it into an increasingly dangerous escalation of military encounters with China that could lead to war, even nuclear war. Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, both with considerable military experience, develop a fictional, but realistic, account of how nuclear war can happen in their book, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War (publ. 2021).

Bear in mind that while Biden plans to withdraw the 3,500 U.S. ground troops from Afghanistan by September 1, 2021, there will still be thousands of U.S. contractors and special forces in the country and the ability of the U.S. to use drone weapons and aircraft to bomb from the sky. There is something else.

John Feffer, author and currently co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and fellow at the Open Society Foundations, makes the point that withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan is just the tip of the iceberg

(https://fpif.org/is-the-long-war-finally-ending).

Feffer points out, “…after drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, about 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in the greater Middle East, with 7,000 mostly naval personnel in Bahrain, 13,000 soldiers in Kuwait and a roughly equal number in Qatar, 5,000 in the UAE, and several thousand in Saudi Arabia. U.S. Special Forces are also scattered across Africa, while the United States is still conducting air operations throughout the region.”

And he also refers to the extensive “constellation of U.S. bases around the world that serve as the launching pad for myriad operations. About 220,000 military and civilian personnel operate in more than 150 countries and over 800 overseas military bases. A significant chunk of the Pentagon’s $700 billion-plus budget goes toward maintaining this immense archipelago of force.”

The U.S. as the “indispensable” nation

There is also another consideration when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. As analyzed in his book, The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (2018), political scientist Stephen M. Walt, considers how, certainly since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.S. policymakers have thought of America as the world’s primary, uniquely qualified, and indispensable nation (pp. 13-14).

However, Walt reminds us, instead of building an ever-expanding zone of peace, America’s policies have poisoned relations with Russia, led to costly quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq, and several other countries, squandered trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, and encouraged both states and non-state actors to resist U.S. efforts to exploit them for their own benefit. Instead of welcoming U.S. leadership, allies took advantage by free-riding, adversaries repeatedly blocked U.S. initiatives, and hostile extremists found different ways to attack, divert, and distract. American’s superior economic and military assets could not rescue an approach to the world that was misguided at its core” (p. 14).

Unending U.S. wars

Tom Engelhardt digs deeper into U.S, military history than Walt does. Engelhardt argues that the U.S. has been involved in “unending wars” since he was born in July 1944, “in the midst of a devastating war” (https://counterpunch.org/2021/04/30/american-style-war-until-the-end-of-time).

He points out “[t]hat war ended in August 1945 with the atomic obliteration of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the most devastating bombs in history up to that moment, given the sweet code names ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man.’ Engelhardt’s principal point is this, “The United States has been at war, or at least in armed conflicts of various sorts, often in distant lands, for more or less my entire life. Yes, for some of those years, that war was ‘cold’ (which often meant that such carnage, regularly sponsored by the CIA, happened largely off-screen and out of sight), but war as a way of life never really ended, not to this very moment.” Over these years, “the Pentagon budget would grab an ever-larger percentage of federal discretionary spending and the full-scale annual investment in what has come to be known as the national security state would rise to a staggering $1.2 trillion or more.”

“America’s ‘forever wars’ — once known as the Global War on Terror and, when the administration of George W. Bush launched it, proudly aimed at 60 countries — do seem to be slowly winding down. Unfortunately, other kinds of potential wars, especially new cold wars with China and Russia (involving new kinds of high-tech weaponry) only seem to be gearing up.”

Historian Andrew J. Bacevich complements the thrust of Engelhardt’s analysis in his books about the limits of American power in the world, one of which is appropriately titled The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” The point: U.S. military-based foreign policies that are celebrated to be about bringing peace and less conflict in the world have failed, significantly because U.S. governments and powerful interest groups have frequently only emphasized security goals or U.S. geopolitical interests. The only hope, a scant one, is through multilateral diplomacy and cooperation.

The Biden Administration and China

What Biden Said About China in His First Speech to Congress

Nick Wadhams reports on what Biden had to say about China in his first speech to Congress (https://bloomberg.com/news/article/2021-04-29/human-rights-defense-and-turbines-what-biden-said-about-china). Most of the speech focused on America’s domestic priorities, but the president did sprinkle references to China through it. Biden said that China is the most “consequential nation in the world,” with the second largest economy, and that the U.S. competition with China will determine which country becomes the most dominant international force.

Biden also said that that “he believes the U.S. and China can find areas of cooperation — he cited countering climate change as an example — and that conflict isn’t inevitable. But he vowed that the U.S. will stand its ground when it thinks U.S. or global interests are at stake.” In other words, there may be instances when there is the chance of military conflict. Biden “told President Xi that we will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo—Pacific just as we do with NATO in Europe – not to start a conflict but to prevent one.” He continued: “America won’t back away from our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms and to our alliances.”

Biden’s speech put some emphasis on the need for America to boost its economic resources in the competition with China. The president noted that the U.S. needs to spend more on research and development than it does in order to be competitive. He also criticized China for not playing by the same rules as other major economies, a reference “to everything from trade to currency, industrial policy and the investment needed to combat climate change. He additionally said that the U.S. must increases its production of wind turbines and implicitly other manufactured goods that the U.S. currently imports from China.”Bottom of Form

According to Wadhams, “The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin pushed back at some of Biden’s comments in a regular press briefing Thursday [April 29] in Beijing,” as follows. “Forcing other countries to accept one’s own democratic system and holding the banner of democracy to give orders to the whole world is blasphemy and manipulation of democratic values, which will only create division, hurt relations and undermine stability.”

There are potential political benefits of Biden’s criticisms of China, economic and militarily. His position is “likely to win bipartisan support.” And, it indicates, that there will be a major reorientation in foreign policy and military resources focusing “away from the Middle East and Afghanistan, where he on Wednesday repeated his vow to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops by Sept. 11,” and toward China and the Asia-Pacific regions.

Biden’s initial China policy is consistent with that of previous administrations

Kishore Mahbubani gives the following examples in his book, Has China Won? –  The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy. He points out that, even in today’s deep U.S. partisan divisions, there is partisan agreement on China as a multi-dimensional threat to U.S. national interests, and potential military conflict is of concern.

He refers to General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff who “has said that ‘China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by 2025” (p. 1). America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy included the following statement: “…China and Russia are ‘revisionist powers’ seeking ‘to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions” (pp. 1-2). And “FBI director Christopher Wray said: “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat… and I think it’s going to take a whole-of-society response by us” (p. 2).

Amidst it all, there is a “strong conviction that China is becoming militarily aggressive.” On this point, Mahbubani writes:

“The American security establishment, including the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the FBI, has concluded that China is now a direct threat to America. In September 2019, the Department of Defense reported the remarks of undersecretary of defense for policy John C. Rood as saying that ‘it is not an exaggeration to say China is the greatest long-term threat to the U.S. way of life, but China also poses the greatest challenge to the Defense Department. A month later, Vice President Pence made several remarkable allegations that China’s military behavior had become increasingly provocative over the past year, arguing that China has ‘regularly menace[d]’ and ‘strong-arm[ed]’ its ASEAN neighbors in the South China Sea, while provoking Japan in the East China Sea and using the BRI to ‘establish footholds in ports around the world, ostensibly for commercial purposes, but those purposes could eventually become military’” (pp. 90-91).

First high-level “meeting” under Biden administration between U.S. and China “rocky”

David Dollar reports on the first high-level meeting occurred when Secretary Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, met in Alaska on Blinken’s way back from his first overseas trip, to Japan and South Korea. Dollar reports that “the meeting got off to a rocky start as Blinken criticized China with the TV cameras rolling” (https://brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/04/26/what-does-bidens-first-100-days-tell-us-about-his-approach-to-china).

While the Biden administration has “discontinued the demonization of the Chinese Communist Party and the implied calls for regime change,” it has, so far, “maintained and even stepped-up enhanced engagement with Taiwan,” as reflected in “continued high-level contacts with Taiwanese officials and arms sales.” And, a Defense Department review of China Policy is likely to recommend “some shift of military resources away from the Middle East (witness the withdrawal from Afghanistan) to the Asia-Pacific to counter China—within the context of a flat [2% increase] in real defense budget proposed by the president.”

High-level Biden DOD official does not rule out military conflict with China

In an article for the Defense News, David Vergun quotes Biden’s Deputy Defense Secretary, Kathleen H. Hicks, who says that “conflict with China is not inevitable,” but neither is it out of the question (https://defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/2591598/deputy-defense-secretary-says-conflict-with-china-is-not-inevitable).

Hicks said this in a virtual address to the Aspen Security Forum, where she “talked about the Defense Department’s competition with China and what the department is doing to meet that challenge, especially regarding innovation and modernization.” She acknowledged that China “has the economic, military and technological capability to challenge the international system and America’s interests within it” and that “this is happening all along the continuum of conflict — from routine statecraft, through the use of sharp power or gray-zone tactics, to the potential for sustained combat operations and an expanded and capable nuclear enterprise.”

But the perceived military and security posed by China has high priority. According to Vergun, the Deputy Defense Secretary is particularly concerned about China’s “unlawful claims in the South China Sea.” And she is concerned about how China’s military capabilities are “rapidly advancing in a number of areas, “strengthening its ability to conduct joint operations — and it fields increasingly sophisticated conventional systems, such as long-range precision missiles and integrated air defense systems….  advancing its space and cyber capabilities…. [and] “adding that China presents a prolific and effective cyber espionage threat and possesses substantial cyberattack capabilities.”

Despite such concerns, Hicks said the Department of Defense will do its best to keep open channels of communication and diplomacy. At the same time, the U.S. will continue to support strong military forces and seek to strengthen alliances in Europe and Asia, all of which, Hicks says, “are important in deterring Chinese aggression.”

Additionally, Hicks said, the Defense Department will also continue to devote considerable resources to “the threat and include nuclear modernization, cybersecurity, long-range fires, autonomy, artificial intelligence, shipbuilding and microelectronics.” And the Department will proceed by “[i]ncentivizing innovation, cutting red tape and working closely with the private sector and other government agencies are also important,” along with sharing “best practices and key findings focused on the most important national security challenges.”

And, finally, Hicks notes that “cooperation with Congress is also critical to ensuring the department receives the support required to deter China’s aggression,” concluding that “there be no doubt, China presents a real and enduring challenge.”

DOD galvanizes its resources to assess what they see as the growing China threat

Abhijnan Rej reports on the U.S. Defense Department’s initiative to create a new China Task Force, a “move [that] comes amid a visible push by the Biden administration to meet the China challenge” (https://thediplomat.com/2021/02/us-defense-department-to-create-big-picture-china-task-force). It’s notable that the DOD and not the Department of Defense is undertaking this project. The initiative was made public on February 13, 2021.

According to Rej, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “had briefed Biden on February 10 about the task force during the president’s visit to the Pentagon for the first time since assuming office.

After announcing the existence of the task force to the press, Biden noted later that United States’ approach towards China “will require a whole of government efforts, bipartisan cooperation in Congress and strong alliances and partners.” Then, on a February 7 interview with CBS, “Biden described the China-U.S. relationship as one of ‘extreme competition,’ albeit one where conflict need not be inevitable.

According to a DoD factsheet, “This initiative will provide a baseline assessment of DoD policies, programs, and processes on China-related matters and provide the Secretary of Defense recommendations on key priorities and decision points to meet the China challenge.”

The task force will be comprised “of up to 15 uniformed and civilian DoD employees and headed by Ely Ratner, advisor to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.” The fact sheet indicates “that the task force will ‘align its recommendations with interagency partners to ensure DoD continues to support the whole-of-government approach toward China.’” The task force will focus on “strategy, operations, and force structure, as well as intelligence, role of allies and partners, and U.S. defense relations with China.”

Ratner, who has served under Biden in various capacities in the past. provided further details about the task force, describing its goals as follows:

“What we’re going to do here is try to identify the most important challenges and opportunities for the secretary, try to identify what should serve as his and his team’s top priorities on China, whether those be issues that need secretary-level decisions or guidance, issues that need greater prioritization, attention, and resources, or issues that need either strength and/or new processes to move them forward to address them.”

Earlier, on February 4, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had announced a global force posture review “of U.S. military footprint, resources, strategy and missions.” The review is related to a Biden administration “plan to simultaneously manage a draw-down from legacy conflicts as well as reprogram its military resources towards China and the Indo-Pacific. Making the announcement, Austin emphasized the crucial role U.S. allies and partners as well as well as diplomacy would play in the Biden administration’s defense policy.”

A hotline with China as a measure to avoid war

In an article for Foreign Policy. Jack Detsch reports that Biden is ready to call China in a crisis, but that it’s not yet clear whether Beijing will pick up (https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/05/10/biden-china-xi-jinping-defense-hotline-pentagon). Detsch writes: “The Biden administration is increasingly looking to avoid accidental escalation with China, a senior defense official said, by cooperating on channels to reduce the risk of planes, ships, and troops butting heads on an increasingly crowded map in the Asia-Pacific.”

The need for top-level defense communications will be an issue in June when “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Singapore for what is known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, the top defense summit in the region, where U.S. and Chinese officials have traditionally gaggled on the sidelines.”

When Austin has a chance to talk to his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, “he hopes to prioritize crisis communications and risk reduction in areas such as the South China Sea.” Indeed, Austin will propose creating “multiple avenues to communicate with Beijing to manage the growing strategic competition between the two powers and prevent the onset of a potential conflict, especially as the Chinese navy—the largest in the world—expands its reach further into the Indo-Pacific and is taking an increasingly belligerent posture in the Western Pacific.”

Meanwhile, the DOD believes the risk of conflict with China has increased. Detich reports:

“China has stepped up pressure on U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific in the last several months, including near-daily buzzing of Taiwanese and Japanese air defense zones, and the use of civilian fishing vessels to harden claims to disputed areas in the South and East China Seas, where the U.S. Navy conducts freedom of navigation operations. Just days after President Joe Biden took office, the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group sailed through the South China Sea, after China passed a law in January authorizing coast guard vessels to fire on foreign vessels seen as endangering Chinese sovereignty. And officials and experts expect U.S. and Chinese vessels to face more close calls, with China building more ships every year to overtake the U.S. Navy as the world’s largest.”

The U.S. naval forces in the South China Seas are not just an passive  bystanders

Kishore Mahbubani, referred to earlier, offers the following evidence in his book, Has China Won? –  The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy.

Mahbubani considers how the U.S. has helped to intensify the U.S. tensions with China. He writes, “we do know that American naval vessels routinely carry out naval patrols twelve miles off Chinese shores. Chinese naval vessels do not, so far, carry out naval patrols twelve miles off California or New York. Under international law, the U.S. Navy (and other navies) is perfectly justified to sail twelve miles off Chinese shores. These patrols are not inherently provocative, but the manner in which these patrols are carried out can be.”

He adds: “American justifies its aggressive naval patrolling in the South China Sea on the grounds that is protecting a global public good: ‘freedom of navigation in the high seas.’ The irony about this American claim is that the biggest beneficiary of the global public good that America is protecting is China. China todays trades more with the rest of the world than America does” (102)

Meanwhile, “most of the sea lanes are open international waters through which many naval vessels cross without problem or hindrance.” In one way, China may have over-reached, as Mahbubani describes it. “China has claimed that the waters up to twelve miles from its new constructed features are territorial waters. Unfortunately for China, the UNCLOS provisions on the issue are clear. Countries are not allowed to claim territorial waters around rocks and reefs, even after land has been reclaimed around them” (103).

UNCLOS is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, and is an international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which took place between 1973 and 1982 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Convention_on_the_law_of_the_sea).

Mahbubani takes the position that the “best way to resolve the issue is to take China to the world court” (103). At the same time, President XI Jinping has “tried to provide a face-saving way for both parties to deescalate the rising tensions over the South China Sea when he proposed that China not militarize any of its reclaimed features in the South China Sea if American would not send any naval vessels to provoke the Chinese” (103).

“Miscalculation by either the U.S. or China could precipitate war.

Political scientist Joseph S. Nye considers the factors that could lead to war between the U.S. and China in an article published on March 3, 2021, for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (https://aspistrategist-au/the-factors-that-could-lead-to-war-between-the-us-and-china). There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides, as the two countries enter into a period of increased tensions. Despite the economic and ecological interdependence of the two countries, Nye worries that “miscalculation is always possible and some see the danger of ‘sleepwalking’ into catastrophe, as happened with World War I.”

He continues: “It is dangerous for Americans to over- or underestimate Chinese power, and the US contains groups with economic and political incentives to do both.? The growth of the Chinese economy worries some American policymakers and interest groups. For example, “[m]easured in dollars, China’s economy is about two-thirds the size of that of the US, but many economists expect China to surpass the US sometime in the 2030s, depending on what one assumes about Chinese and American growth rates.

China has also expanded its international trading networks to become the “world’s largest trading economy and its largest bilateral lender.” On this, the realty is stunning.

“Today, nearly 100 countries count China as their largest trading partner, compared to 57 for the US. China plans to lend more than US$1 trillion for infrastructure projects with its Belt and Road Initiative over the next decade, while the US has cut back aid. China will gain economic power from the sheer size of its market as well as its overseas investments and development assistance. China’s overall power relative to the US is likely to increase.”

The Chinese also have disadvantages. Nye refers to several.  He points out: “Even if China surpasses the US to become the world’s largest economy, national income is not the only measure of geopolitical power.” He gives the following examples. “China ranks well behind the US in soft power and US military expenditure is nearly four times that of China. While Chinese military capabilities have been increasing in recent years, analysts who look carefully at the military balance conclude that China will not, say, be able to exclude the US from the Western Pacific.”

The U.S. has geographical advantages. The U.S “is surrounded by oceans and neighbors that are likely to remain friendly,” while “China has borders with 14 countries, and territorial disputes with India, Japan and Vietnam.” America also has an advantage when it comes to energy. The U.S. had grown less dependent on foreign oil imports over the last decade. At the same time, China has become more dependent on energy imports from the Middle East, “which it must transport along sea routes that highlight its problematic relations with India and other countries.”

The US also has demographic advantages. “While the rate of US population growth has slowed in recent years, it will not turn negative, as in Russia, Europe, and Japan. China, meanwhile, rightly fears ‘growing old before it grows rich.’ China’s labour force peaked in 2015 and India will soon overtake it as the world’s most populous country.”

Finally, Nye points out, “America also remains at the forefront in key technologies (bio, nano and information) that are central to 21st-century economic growth. China is investing heavily in research and development, and competes well in some fields. But 15 of the world’s top 20 research universities are in the US; none is in China.”

Withal, Nye comes back to his principal message, that is, that both sides must beware of miscalculation. There are two questions. Will American leaders acknowledge the change in their respective positions in a way that permits a constructive relationship, or will they succumb to fear? Will Chinese leaders take more risks, or will Chinese and Americans learn to cooperate in producing global public goods under a changing distribution of power?”

U.S. doesn’t have a coherent china policy and this increases the chance of miscalculation

Bu Le and Dingding Chen marshal evidence to show that U.S. policy toward China is incoherent (https://thediplomat.com/21021/05/3-reasons-why-the-us-doesnt-have-a-coherent-china-strategy). While there is a consensus in U.S. policymaking circles that the U.S. should be “tough on China,” there is disagreement on what that means and on other significant issues, such as, “how to compete with or confront China, and what issues should be prioritized.” For example, Biden’s administration “still does not have a clear sense of where the trade relationship between the two largest economies in the world should be going.”

The authors identify three major reasons why the U.S. lacks a coherent China policy. First, the U.S. political system is characterized by endless elections, and how consequently policies often change from one administration to the next. As one recent example, “the Trump administration put a heavy emphasis on the trade imbalance issue in the China-U.S. relationship, whereas the Biden administration chose to stress the importance of climate change and human rights issues in the relationship. It is striking how the trade issue is getting so little attention today, whereas two years ago newspapers were filled with it.”

Second, U.S. domestic politics are divided along many lines. On this point, Le and Dingding write: “Even putting aside party polarization, Wall Street, the Pentagon, state capitals, Main Street, and the U.S. Congress all have different views toward China. Sometimes their views might converge on certain themes, but most times their priorities differ widely due to their self-interests. State governments might be actively seeking Chinese investment or trade even as Congress seeks to tighten restrictions on such activities. Wall Street might want to increase high-tech exports to China, while the Pentagon sees this as a security threat. These interests are in constant conflict and competition, meaning it’s hard to even talk about a singular ‘China policy’ in the first place.”

Third, there is in U.S. policy debates “a lack of clear definition of China.” They write on this point,

“Today, China-U.S. ties involve almost all aspects of important bilateral relationships, such as commercial exchanges, security issues, technology trade (as well as competition), values, and global and local issues. Different interest groups within the United States would give different answers as to how to frame the relationship, therefore making a coherent narrative of China very difficult, if not impossible.”

War with China can be avoided and mutual accommodation can be achieved

A new “cold war” with China is unlikely

Journalist and author Jeet Heer takes up this issue in an article for The Nation magazine titled “Cold War Nostalgia Fuels a Dangerous New Anti-China Consensus” (https://www.thenation.com/article/world/china-cold-war-larping).

Heer is optimistic that a new cold war is unlikely and makes two points to support this view.

First, the issues dividing the U.S. and China can be solved through diplomacy. He posits: “The United States has many legitimate issues with China ranging from trade practices to environmental management, labor rights, and human rights. But these are all matters to be settled by diplomacy. None of them call for anything comparable to a Cold War–style global struggle.”

Second, “China has no universalist ideology to sell and it has embraced a capitalist mentality and a nationalist ethos.” To make this point, he quotes Melvy Leffler, “one of America’s most respected diplomatic historians,” who “called attention to the fact that the ideological divide that animated the Cold War no longer exists.” Here is the quote.

“while the Soviet Union’s anti-capitalist message of proletarian justice and equality resonated in much of the world, China has no universalist ideology to sell. Beijing today may disparage Western democracy and tout socialism with Chinese characteristics, but all the world can see that it has embraced a capitalist mentality and a nationalist ethos. The Chinese are not champions of equality and justice, as the Soviets pretended to be, and they have little ability to exploit the discontent in neighboring nations.”

Rather, Heer continues, “In truth, in a world of Covid and climate change, China and the United States are two capitalist world powers with intertwined economies that need to work on finding common solutions to the problems that threaten all of humanity.” Cold War rhetoric is a dangerous distraction from that reality.

China doesn’t pose an existential threat to US

Michael D. Swaine, director of the East Asia program at the Quincy Institute, addresses this issue (https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/21/china-existential-threat-america). He doesn’t doubt that “Beijing’s behavior in many areas challenges existing U.S. and allied interests and democratic values.” And, under Xi Jinping,

“China has used its greater economic and military power to intimidate rival claimants in territorial disputes and punish nations that make statements or take what Beijing views as threatening or insulting actions.”

Moreover, China has also “engaged in extensive commercial hacking and theft of technologies and favors military intimidation over dialogue in dealing with Taiwan. And it has employed draconian, repressive policies in Tibet and Xinjiang and suppressed democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.”

Nonetheless, Swaine insists, “it is extremely counterproductive to U.S. interests to assert or even imply, as many now do, that the above Chinese actions constitute an all-of-societyexistential threat to the United States, the West, and ultimately the entire world, thereby justifying a Cold War-style, zero-sum containment stance toward Beijing. Such an extreme stance stifles debate and the search for more positive-sum policy outcomes while leading to the usual calls for major increases in defense spending.”

A peace agenda

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, with which Swaine is associated, “has issued an East Asia strategy report that takes up this task. It stresses the need for a U.S. policy toward China involving both cooperative and competitive efforts to deal with common overriding threats such as climate change; a more defensive, denial-based (not control- or primacy-based) U.S. and allied force posture in the Western Pacific; more clearly defined and agreed-on sets of international economic and technological norms, structures, and dispute resolution mechanisms; and agreements to limit arms racing and manage future crises. These activities, not an approach tied to a near-total focus on strategic competition with Beijing based on China as an existential threat, will better serve U.S. interests over the long term.”

Concluding thoughts

Military conflict involving the U.S. and China can be avoided if the decision makers in the U.S. and China can find ways to cooperate and compete peacefully, and if they come to understand the potentially existential danger of military conflict. Once initiated, such conflict could escalate to an apocalyptic nuclear war.

Indeed, sadly, the powerful military-industrial complex benefits from conflict and real and manufactured foreign threats and is likely to support a hawkish foreign policy. There are also those on the ideological right who believe there is no compromising with “the yellow menace” and think of China as an unprincipled, expansionist society that wants to dominate the world.  

The future in U.S. relations with China, in foreign relations generally, as well as in domestic policies is, in the final analysis, political. As this post has emphasized, there is always the danger of miscalculation. And there is too much talk even in the Biden administration about the need to maintain America’s dominance in the world.

But there are signs that the forces for peace may be gaining some momentum. The organization Peace Action reports favorable results in the 2020 election (https://peaceaction.org/2020victories). Here’s one example. Peace Action endorsed 75 candidates for Congress who support the charge for a more just, responsible, and peaceful U.S. foreign policy. In a major victory for the peace movement, 54 of them, nearly three-fourths, won their races.

Poverty, the Partisan Divide, and the Future of Democracy

Bob Sheak, May 3, 2021

bsheak983@gmail.com

Introduction

President Biden and his administration are advancing a progressive agenda to reduce poverty and inequality. It is an agenda that is in the tradition of the New Deal, only with more sensitivity and commitment to black Americans and other people of color. Biden and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have already passed the American Rescue Plan, the “first major legislative act under President Biden, at an estimated cost of $1.9 trillion. The plan, discussed in this post, is filled with a broad array of programs, some as broad as expanded aid to nearly every family with children and others as targeted as payments to Black farmers. Biden and the Democrats also have other plans to create jobs, support unionization, and increase government support for infrastructure programs.

However, Republicans and their allies and supporters will oppose them all. They have a long record of working to reduce or minimize the role that government plays, with certain exceptions such as on military spending. Certainly, they as well have a long-standing antagonism to social-safety net programs, a disdain for the poor, a love of low taxes, and, overall, support for a selectively small, deregulated federal government as well as the privatization of any government function that can yield a profit.

This post considers these two irreconcilable views, with a special focus on the issue of poverty. This is a conflict of epoch proportions, the outcome of which will be decided politically. The side that can marshal the support of the greatest number of voters will win. The Republicans are doing their utmost to find ways to suppress the vote of voters deemed favorable to Democrats.

Getting an idea of who the poor are

Poverty in the U.S. is complex, diverse and varies in its impact over time. One thing is clear. It affects a lot of people. The evidence indicates that a majority of people in the U.S. experience one or more spells of poverty during their lives, or times when they cannot afford or have access to the necessities of life in the U.S.

There are a range of experiences. At one end of the poverty spectrum, some people will experience only one short-term poverty spell (no more than a year). At the other end, some will continue persistently being poor for many years (5 or more years) (Mark R. Rank, et. al., Poorly Understood: What American Gets Wrong About Poverty).

In the first section of the book, Poorly Understood, the authors, Mark R. Rank, Lawrence M. Eppard and Heather E. Bullock, challenge the notions that poverty is experienced by only a small minority of the population, mostly people of color, who spend long continuous periods of time on welfare, and who live in inner-city neighborhoods.

The authors draw on evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) as one important source for their analysis. They describe it as follows.

“The PSID is a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of households interviewed from 1968 onward. It has been administered by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, and it constitutes the longest running panel data set both in the United States and the world. The PSID initially interviewed approximately 5,000 U.S. households in 1968, obtaining information on roughly 18,000 individuals within those households. These individuals have since been tracked annually (biennially after 1977), including children and adults who eventually break off from their original households to form new households…. The sample is representative of the entire nonimmigrant U.S. population” (p. 10).

By age 75, 58.5% of American will experience at least one spell of poverty below the official poverty line (which is adjusted for inflation each year). Sixty-eight percent will experience poverty below 125% of this line, and 76% will experience it below the 150% line (p. 11). The basic implication of these data is that poverty, low incomes according to the official measures, affects a majority of Americans by the time they reach the age of 75.

The best longitudinal research, including their own, also challenges the idea that most poor people are mired in a cultural of poverty that keeps them poor for many years, frequently their entire lives, and that it is typically intergenerational. Rank and his colleagues rebut this view, writing: “It turns out that a much more accurate picture is that poverty spells tend to be short but frequent.” They add: “within 1 or 2 years, the majority of people escaped from poverty. Within 1 year, 53% of new spells ended; 70% ended within 2 years, and more than three-fourths within 3 years” (p. 25).

The entrances and exits into poverty are “most often caused by changes in employment status and/or financial resources,” say “getting laid off from a job or having one’s hours cut.” There are other causes as well, such as, changes in family structure; for example, the birth of a child, divorce.

Welfare use?

The PSID data on welfare usage yield similar results. By age 65, 65% of Americans will have spent some part of a year getting benefits from a means-tested welfare program (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance [SNAP], Medicaid), while 58.7% will have been on welfare parts or the whole of two years, 54.2 percent for three years, 48.0% for four years, and 40.3 percent for 5 or more years (p. 13). The authors point out that “only 15.9 percent of Americans will reside in a household that receives a welfare program in 5 or more consecutive years” (p. 13).

The dynamics of welfare use

Some of the poor will hold jobs (part-time, intermittent, full-time) but not earn enough to lift them out of poverty. In some cases, people will find jobs that raise their income enough to lift them out of poverty for a time but then fall back into poverty. Others will remain poor permanently. However, the common pattern, already mentioned, is for people who experience poverty to move in and out of poverty. Welfare use follows the diverse paths of poverty, with short-term and long-term usage, though some do not ever obtain any benefits. The U.S. welfare state overall, and at least since the 1970s, is less generous than the social-welfare systems of most other “rich” countries. For documentation of the last point, see the extraordinarily well researched analysis by Lane Kenworthy in his book, Social Democratic Capitalism (publ. 2020).

Refuting other myths of poverty

Furthermore, as Rank and his colleagues find (chap. 5), there are at any given time more whites who are poor than blacks, though the poverty rate is greater for blacks than for whites. While there are concentrations of inner-city poverty, poverty increasingly exists in the suburbs and, as always, in rural areas. Some poverty conditions are as wretched as anywhere in the world (see examples in Catherine Coleman Flower’s book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, and Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America).

Conflicting Perspectives on the Poor and the causes of Poverty

Those on the political/ideological Right, view poverty as the result of bad choices and/or a culture of poverty. Either way, the poor are said to be responsible for their poverty. And most people, regardless of the conditions affecting their early years, can achieve a non-poverty standard of living with enough determination and hard work.

With perhaps exceptions for those with disabilities and old age, those experiencing poverty therefore do not deserve much or any public assistance. There is a Social Darwinist tilt to the thinking about poverty on the Right (e.g., the Republican Party). It is reflected in the opposition to social-welfare spending by the government and its preference for charity/philanthropy as the principal recourse for the deserving poor. This general attitude goes back to and echoes the harsh Elizabethan poor laws of the early 17th century, with its disdain and punitive treatment of the “undeserving” poor. Historian Michael B. Katz has documented this story in his remarkable books – The Undeserving Poor and In the Shadow of the Poorhouse. Aside from the CARES Act, Trump and his administration were well within this tradition, especially when it came to people of color.  

Centrist and progressive Democrats tend to view poverty as a result of a social system in which there are too few opportunities for some people to earn better-than-poverty wages, or to acquire adequate education, housing, and health care. When Democrats think of the roots of poverty – and inequality – they think of system- or institutionally-rooted problems.

From this view, the conditions and lack of opportunities that cause poverty is said to be the result of the decisions of corporate CEOs and their boards who outsource work to low-wage workers living in countries where there are low taxes and weak or nonexistent regulations. They fire workers who advocate for unions and subvert unionization drives. They designate workers as contract workers so they don’t have to pay for job-related benefits. During recessions, they lay off workers and then often replace them with lower-wage workers. They increasingly automate workplaces when they can. And they hire undocumented workers, to whom they can pay lower wages. They make sure that the executives and shareholders are well compensated while letting workers’ wages stagnate, as they have for decades.

The policies of government play a big role in the creation and continuation of widespread poverty. Consider the Republican Party’s role. When Republican have control of the White House and/or the Congress they cut back spending on the safety net, weaken unions, and imposed restrictive regulations on whom is eligible for benefits. Though some Democrats have done such things as well. Another, more radical view, is that the source of poverty can ultimately be traced to the corporate-dominated capitalist economy that is too unregulated, too privatized, where the rich are under-taxed, and where the economy is subject to regular contractions, and a government that is dominated by the interests of mega-corporations and the rich, so that we get a kind of socialism for the rich.

Both centrist and progressive Democrats see a pressing need to reform or radically change both the capitalist and state sectors, either incrementally (centrists) or structurally (progressives). Republicans favor the status quo.

The effects of poverty

The accumulation of disadvantages

Growing up in poor families create obstacles to the opportunities that may exist. Rank, Eppard and Bullock refer to the concept of “agency” in this context. They write: “True agency requires that individuals have their capabilities fully developed and that they have unobstructed access to important resources (economic, social, cultural, and so on).” They continue.

“All of these components are essential. Capabilities and resources have little use if one does not have access to opportunity pathways within which to utilize them. Likewise, it is difficult to make the most of opportunity pathways without the requisite capabilities and resources” (p. 138).

They add:

“A large body of research clearly demonstrates that the families we are born into, the neighborhoods and communities we grow up in, the schools we attend, the peer networks we are embedded in, the structural arrangement of our country of birth, and a variety of other important social contexts and forces combine to profoundly influence how much agency we ultimately possess.”

The forces that limit individual agency

We do not choose the social contexts and forces that shape us. And there are huge inequalities reflected in the vast range of social contexts and forces. On this point, they write: “high levels of inequality are built into the structure of our society due to the decisions that have been collectively made, and this inequality is getting worse.” The reference to “collectively made” is ambiguous and misleading.

The institutional and social arrangements that exist have been disproportionately influenced by the powerful and rich in the society. See, for example, the analysis by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality). And, then there is the long and devastating history of slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing structural racism that still afflicts blacks and people of color, as well as many whites. Isabel Wilkerson documents the racism in U.S. history, as many others have, in her highly acclaimed book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The point is that some few have been disproportionately responsible for the “collectively made” poverty that exists.

The Deprivations of the poor and near-poor are identified

Paul Buchheit points to evidence that half of America is in or near poverty and poverty has risen more sharply during the pandemic than at any time since the 1960s (https://commondreams.org/views/2021/02/22/2021-update-half-america-or-near-poverty).

He refers to the World Bank’s definition of poverty, which is a “pronounced deprivation in well-being.” In this sense of poverty, there are millions of Americans who are in severe deprivation. This is reflected, he writes, in the following examples: “millions of Americans who are unable to pay for medical treatment; who suffer the stress of delinquent rent and mortgage payments; who see a steady decline of jobs that pay enough to support a family; and who are victims of the surge in drug and alcohol and suicide “deaths of despair” that continue to increase among poor Americans during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Buchheit highlights his argument by referring to five examples of widespread deprivation in the U.S.

#1 – “The Majority of American Households Are Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck During the Pandemic.” He refers to a Washington Post summary of some of the evidence:  “According to Nielsen data, the American Payroll Association, CareerBuilder and the National Endowment for Financial Education, somewhere between 50 percent and 78 percent of employees earn just enough money to pay their bills each month….[this was] before the coronavirus pandemic….[since then] the number of first-time unemployment claims has exceeded 1 million per week, an unprecedented number in U.S. history.” Additionally, “an NPR review states that ‘survey after survey for years has found that most people in the U.S. live paycheck to paycheck.’ There is more. “Both Schwab’s 2020 Modern Wealth Survey and a recent Harris Poll found that a sizable majority of Americans are suffering financial stress during the pandemic. The American Psychological Association concurs. In Bankrate’s latest polling numbers, 6 out of 10 Americans would be unable to afford an unexpected $1,000 expense.”

#2 – “Half of Americans are experiencing food and rent insecurity”

Brookings reports that two in five households with mothers with pre-teen children

were food insecure, meaning that ‘a household has difficulty providing enough

food due to a lack of resources.’” With respect to rent, there are “twelve million

renters [who] owe an average of $5,600 in back rent and utilities. The $1,400

stimulus payment will help keep some housed for just a few months. The “rent and mortgage moratoriums will help some families, but they end in March and June, respectively. But then what?

#3 – “Over Half of Black and Latino Families Lack the Funds to Sustain Them for Three Months at a Poverty Level”

Researchers at Duke University have found that “57 percent of Black families with children and 50 percent of Latino families with children were poor in terms of net worth in 2019,” while the rate for white families was 24 percent. They have virtually no savings.

#4 – “Almost Half of America’s Children Live in Households that Can’t Meet Basic Expenses”

A Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey conducted in early 2021 found that In October 2020 “one out of every five American kids was living in poverty conditions. And it’s much worse for Black and Latino families. Incredibly, two out of three Black children (and slightly less for Latinos) live in households that “have trouble covering usual expenses.”

#5 – “According to One Careful Study, Over Half of Americans Are Trying to Survive Without Full-Time Living-Wage Jobs”

Buchheit refers here to a study by “Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity, which considers part-time workers, those working full-time but earning too little to climb above the poverty line, and discouraged workers who’ve stopped looking for unemployment. As of December 2020, a full 53.9 percent of working-age Americans did not have living-wage full-time jobs.” A Brookings study
The CARES Act relief program made a difference

Buchheit reminds us that government has provided some assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the early stage of this epidemic. He refers to research on the impact of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. Given scientific opinion, the magnitude of the pandemic, and the dire economic effects, even the Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted for the $2 trillion relief package. NPR staff reported that the Senate vote 96 to 0 in favor of the legislation, including most Republicans. The vote occurred after then “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told lawmakers, “Our nation obviously is going through a kind of crisis that is totally unprecedented in living memory” (https://npr.org/2020/03/25/818881845/senate-reaches-historic-deal-on-2t-coronavirus-economic-relief-package).

According to Wikipeida, The CARES Act was touted as “a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 116th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020, in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CARES_Act).

Specifically, the CARES Act included, according to Wikipedia, “$300 billion in one-time cash payments to individual people who submit a tax return in America (with most single adults receiving $1,200 and families with children receiving more), $260 billion in increased unemployment benefits, the creation of the Paycheck Protection Program that provides forgivable loans to small businesses with an initial $350 billion in funding (later increased to $669 billion by subsequent legislation), $500 billion in loans for corporations, and $339.8 billion to state and local governments.” (For a more detailed analysis, check out Leon LaBrecque’s article at https://forbes.com/sites/leonlabrecque/2020/03/29/the-cares-act-has-passed-here-are-the-highlights.

Some evidence

Buchheit cites research:  

“Researchers at Columbia University estimated that the support provided by the CARES Act, passed with bipartisan support maintained the U.S. poverty rate at a level about 30 percent lower than otherwise expected. Stimulus payments have kept us afloat. An overwhelming majority of Americans are in favor of further relief, and the Biden Administration is preparing a massive stimulus bill to accommodate a troubled populace.”

At the same time, such relief programs are limited, in that “for most Americans, stimulus checks will not sustain family needs for more than a few months.”

For the most part, Trump waged a war on poor people

Nathalie Baptiste and Jessica Washington compile evidence for this argument in a February 14, 2020, article for Mother Jones magazine (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/02/trump-isnt-waging-a-war-on-poverty-hes-waging-a-war-on-the-poor). They report on Trump’s 2021 $4.8 trillion budget proposal that, if passed by Congress, “would further decimate the already weakened social safety net.” It calls for “steep cuts to food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other welfare programs that millions of Americans rely on.”

The weakening of an already limited social safety net did not begin with Trump, though he intensified its inadequacies. Baptiste and Washington put it this way: “The once-robust social safety net has been steadily dismantled by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. A series of actions, from Ronald Reagan’s fear-mongering about the government subsidizing luxurious lifestyles for welfare recipients to Bill Clinton’s welfare reform that imposed strict work requirement for benefit recipients, have made it tougher than ever to be poor in America. Now Trump is making it even harder.” 

With Democrats in control of the House in 2020, Trump’s budget did not have a chance of being passed into law. However, Trump had “already rolled out a series of bureaucratic changes that [had] begun to take a tangible toll on the country’s most vulnerable populations and will only inflict more damage in the coming years.”

“There’s been an emphasis on attacking the most vulnerable people in our nation,” says Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Baptiste and Washington give two examples of the programs that have “taken the biggest hit as a result of this administration’s war on the poor, the sick, and the elderly.”

Food Stamps

They write: “SNAP, which is administered by the US Department of Agriculture, feeds more than 40 million Americans each year. Food stamps are vital for low-income people and families and serve as an economic driver across the country, providing customers and revenue for small grocers.” Such food assistance was first instituted during the 1960s. It never provided by itself the means to acquire an adequately nutritional diet, but it was nonetheless significant.

The program became more restrictive under the Clinton administration, which instituted rules that began to make access to food stamps more difficult than earlier, and Trump would make it even harder. Here’s what Baptiste and Washington write.

“As part of Clinton’s welfare reform, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 50 with no dependents were limited to three months of assistance before they had to prove that they were working at least 20 hours a week. At that point, their benefits would lapse, and they would have to meet certain requirements in order to become eligible again. In the past, governors of states with high unemployment rates could request waivers from the rule, and many able-bodied recipients were able to continue receiving food benefits. Now, the Trump administration’s new rule will tighten the requirements for waivers, making it close to impossible for states to request them. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people will lose SNAP eligibility and have to find new ways to make ends meet.”

Baptiste and Washington illustrate their point with the example of “Mr. Smith, a 45-year-old man living in Washington, DC, scrapes together what passes for a living selling a local newspaper as a street vendor, for which he earns $20 a day—on a good day. Each month, he receives $194 from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps. Free meals at various churches and nonprofits are essential to bolster the food supply he is able to purchase. When he gets his benefits at the beginning of the month, he buys groceries in bulk, either foods he can store in his freezer or those with a long shelf life.

Mr. Smith says, “You have to budget. You have to be really frugal. You have to get three meals a day on $6 or $7.”

However inadequate, a new Trump administration rule, scheduled to be instituted on April 1 (2020), “will cause approximately 700,000 people across the country to be kicked off the SNAP rolls.” This was less than earlier number contemplated by the administration. All of this is done by executive order.

According to Mike Dorning, the rule changes were being considered for some months (https://time.com/5632313/trump-food-stamps-new-regulations). In July 2019, The Trump administration was already moving to end food stamp benefits for 3 million people with proposed new regulations curtailing the leeway of states to automatically enroll residents who receive welfare benefits.

Dorning quotes Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, [who] said the Agriculture Department’s action “is yet another attempt by this administration to circumvent Congress and make harmful changes to nutrition assistance that have been repeatedly rejected on a bipartisan basis.” Stabenow also said: “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”

Dorning also quotes what Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said in testimony last month to a House Agriculture subcommittee: “We particularly worry about food‐insecure households with kids and adolescents. Food insecure children have higher rates of fair and poor health, have higher rates of hospitalization, increased risk of asthma.”

Without SNAP, Mr. Smith isn’t sure how he’ll eat. And he knows what hunger is like. “You’re in survival mode instead of productive mode,” he says of his time without SNAP benefits. “You’re walking around like a bear foraging for food.” But even given SNAP’s limitations, “that three months of being able to eat is a life saver.”  

Cash Assistance

Baptiste and Washington also consider the background of cash assistance and how access to it has been steadily curtailed. The concept of supporting poor Americans with cash assistance was first established in 1935 as part of the New Deal, when the Great Depression sent 15 million Americans into poverty. (There was earlier a system of cash assistance through survivors’ insurance for Civil War veterans and their families, analyzed in great depth by Theda Skocpol in her book, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origin of Social Policy in the United States. It faded away as the survivors died.)

Over the subsequent decades, after the 1930s, welfare became a top target of Republican mockery, culminating in President Ronald Reagan’s ridicule of so-called “welfare queens” living large on the taxpayers’ dime. After Clinton’s welfare reform overhauled the program in 1996 and imposed work requirements, what was once welfare became known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

Today, they write, “22 of every 100 US families living in poverty receive cash assistance, down from 68 in 1996.”  They quote LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy and Priorities who says the program only reaches “families who are really, really desperate and don’t have any other options.” Baptiste and Washington give this example.

 “For instance, a single woman with two children living in South Carolina and collecting TANF benefits receives just $292 each month in cash assistance. That doesn’t cover even a third of the state’s average rent for a two-bedroom home, which is $898. Even in states with more generous benefits—like New Hampshire, where that same family would get $1,066—it doesn’t cover rent for the average two-bedroom unit.

Richard Kogan and his colleagues at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities offer this additional information on the Trump administration’s proposed cuts in cash assistance (https://cbpp.org/research/federal-budget/cuts-to-low-income-assistance-programs-in-president-trumps-2020-budget-are).

“The 2020 budget would cut the TANF block grant and eliminate the related TANF Contingency Fund, a cut of $22 billion in fundingover the next decade. TANF provides funds to states for short-term income assistance, work programs, and other crucial supports for poor families with children. Such cuts conflict sharply with the budget’s rhetoric on promoting work opportunities for poor families.”

“Specifically, the budget would require states to spend at least 30 percent of federal and state TANF dollars on work activities, such as education, training, and subsidized employment; work supports, such as transportation assistance; child care; and assessment and provision of services such as case management. Half of that required spending (or 15 percent of the total) would have to be in work and training. But the budget doesn’t make any changes that would encourage states to serve the very families that could benefit from most those resources.

“While targeting more TANF funding to key program areas makes sense, the proposal is seriously flawed. Basic assistance (cash income support to needy families) is not included in the list of areas that would receive minimum targeted funding. The combination of less overall funding and new requirements for spending on work programs — without any requirement that state TANF programs fulfill the key mission of ensuring that very poor families with children can meet their most basic needs — could lead states to shift funds away from basic income assistance. That likely would push more families into severe hardship.”

The Democrats and Biden try to do better

The Democrat legislative proposals in 2020 after the CARES Act

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the HEROES act back in May 2020 and then several subsequent versions of it

Heroes stands for The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act or Heroes Act (H.R. 6800)

According to the staff at Investopedia, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “unveiled [on May 12, 2020] a bill to fund a new round of relief spending to support the U.S. economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and shutdown of wide swaths of the economy” (https://www.investopedia.com/democrats-usd3-trillion-coronavirus-relief-bill-4844752#the-heroes-act). On May 15, 2020, the Democratically-controlled House passed the bill by a vote of 208 to 199, largely on partisan grounds. And then, on Oct. 1, 2020, Democratic legislators passed an updated version of the bill, again with the same result.

In late December 2020, Congress did pass the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, “building on aspects of the earlier Cares Act from March 2020, including extending unemployment insurance payments.” Its price tag was $900 billion.

Sasha Abramsky reports that the Heroes bill “was aimed at delivering trillions of dollars of additional federal funds to support health care systems, unemployment benefits, housing assistance, nutritional programs, as well as money to keep cities and states, public transit systems, schools, and other vital infrastructure functioning. Since then, the House has passed several updated versions of the Act” (https://truthout.org/articles/ever-growing-millions-of-americans-face-eviction-and-hunger-will-congress-act).

Trump and the Republicans made all such Democratic initiatives appear to be partisan and opposed them, claiming that the Act would benefit “only ‘blue states and cities,’ They also hoped through the late spring and summer of 2020 [that] “the pandemic would simply vanish, and the tens of millions of unemployed people would all be able to return to work.” They opposed “expanded unemployment systems, senators such as Lindsey Graham argued that support-oriented measures would sabotage the labor market by providing people with disincentives to re-enter the workforce.” When the Republicans realized the pandemic was not going away, they embraced “much smaller stimulus packages,” and reframed their opposition to the Democrats’ HEROES Act as being fiscally responsible and as stopping the Democrats from funding profligately their favorite programs. All this led to a predictable and extension of “legislative stalemate.”

Meanwhile, Millions of Americans were driven or stayed in poverty or were barely making ends meet. Abramsky offers this summary.

“As a result, in the last weeks of 2020, absent quick congressional action and with the pandemic raging worse than ever, millions of Americans are [were] staring into an economic abyss. Somewhere in the region of 12 million people — millions of them gig workers who don’t qualify, in normal times, for unemployment; and millions more who are now considered to be long-term unemployed and who, again, in normal times would have maxed out their unemployment benefits — will lose their financial lifelines next month” [December 2020]

The problem is deeply rooted in the political-economic system, predates the pandemic, though has been made worse by it. It is reflected in the vastly unequal distributions of income and wealth, creating a situation in which “Three billionaires now possess the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population.” It is reflected in thesomewhere in the region of 13 million households that rent their homes are at risk of eviction once eviction moratoriums end over the coming months,” or that the number of people without health insurance had increased from 26.7 million in 2016 to 29.2 million by the end of 2019. A growing number of people are having difficulty putting enough food on the table. Groups monitoring hunger and food insecurity estimated that 37 million people fell into this category in early 2020. Today, Abramsky writes, “it is 54 million, or one in six Americans. Seventeen millions of these are children. Food banks around the country are reporting unprecedented demand.”

There is more. Abramsky gives examples of how public transit systems are collapsing and public education systems, many already strapped for money, are experiencing reductions in financial support.

Two Decades After the ‘End of Welfare,’ Biden and the Democrats Are Trying to Change Direction

This is the view advanced by Jim Tankersley and Jason DeParle (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/13/business-economy/child-poverty-stimulus.html). The article was updated on March 16.

They argue that the policy instituted by President Clinton’s administration, that “celebrated ‘the end of welfare as we know it,’ challenging the poor to exercise ‘independence’ and espousing balanced budgets and smaller government,” is coming to an end, as the current Democratic Party and the Biden administration moves “in the opposite direction.”

“Behind that shift,” they write, “is a realignment of economic, political and social forces, some decades in the making and others accelerated by the pandemic, that enabled a rapid advance in progressive priorities.” At the same time, they wonder how long this change in political direction will last. Here’s how the put it. “Whether the new law is a one-off culmination of those forces, or a down payment on even more ambitious efforts to address the nation’s challenges of poverty and opportunity, will be a defining battle for Democrats in the Biden era.”

The American Rescue Plan

The “first major legislative act under President Biden [is] a deficit-financed, $1.9 trillion ‘American Rescue Plan’ filled with programs as broad as expanded aid to nearly every family with children and as targeted as payments to Black farmers. While providing an array of benefits to the middle class, it is also a poverty-fighting initiative of potentially historic proportions, delivering more immediate cash assistance to families at the bottom of the income scale than any federal legislation since at least the New Deal.”

President Biden signed the plan into law on Thursday, March 11, 2021. Other temporary provisions in the law includes “include extended and expanded unemployment benefits, increased tax breaks for child care costs and an enlarged earned-income tax credit.”  Tankersley and DeParle report that researches say these antipoverty provisions will, among other benefits, “lift nearly six million children out of poverty.”

Propitious conditions led to the advance and passage of the plan. The authors point to a “summer of protests against racial injustice, and a coalition led by Black voters that lifted Mr. Biden to the White House and helped give Democrats control of the Senate, [putting] economic equity at the forefront of the new administration’s agenda.” The backers say that the passage of the plan marks “the beginning of an opportunity for Democrats to unite a new majority in a deeply polarized country, built around a renewed belief in government.”

Biden’s first 100 days – on the domestic side

Peter Baker reports that in his first nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress on April 28, 2021, Biden presented a vision of how he and his administration hope to shift “how the nation serves its people” (https://nytimes.com/2021/04/28/us/politics/joe-biden-government-plans.html).

As Baker puts it, “President Biden laid out an ambitious agenda on Wednesday night to rewrite the American social compact by vastly expanding family leave, child care, health care, preschool and college education for millions of people to be financed with increased taxes on the wealthiest earners.”

 It is a $1.8 trillion social spending plan,” titled the American Families plan, and is intended “to accompany previous proposals to build roads and bridges, expand other social programs and combat climate change. Biden’s vision of government is transformational and in the tradition of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Biden wants to “prove democracy still works, that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.”

But, as Baker points out, “the succession of costly proposals amounts to a risky gamble that a country deeply polarized along ideological and cultural lines is ready for a more activist government and the sort of redistribution of wealth long sought by progressives.” And this is occurring in a political context in which “Mr. Biden’s Democrats have only the barest of majorities in the House and Senate.”

Nonetheless, Biden can now point to the American Rescue Plan as a good start in moving his conception of government’s responsibilities forward, along with the progress his administration has facilitated in vaccinating millions of Americans against the Covid-19 virus.

The American Families Plan

The $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” as Biden called his latest proposal, would follow the “American Rescue Plan,” and the proposed “American Jobs Plan,” a $2.3 trillion program for infrastructure, home health care and other priorities, is pending.

Baker describes some of the features of the American Families Plan. It includes $1 trillion in new spending and $800 billion in tax credits. It would finance universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds, a federal paid family and medical leave program, efforts to make child care more affordable, free community college for all, aid for students at colleges that historically serve nonwhite communities and expanded subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.” In addition, it would “extend key tax breaks included as temporary measures in the coronavirus relief package [the already enacted Family Rescue Plan] that benefit lower- and middle-income workers and families, including the child tax credit, the earned-income tax credit, and the child and dependent care tax credit.”

The American Families Plan is to be financed by progressive taxes, including an increase in the marginal income tax rate for the top 1 percent of American income earners, to 39.6 percent from 37 percent. His plan also calls for “increases in capital gains and dividend tax rates for those earning more than $1 million a year. And he would eliminate a provision in the tax code that reduces capital gains on some inherited assets, like vacation homes, that largely benefits the wealthy.”

It is clear that Biden’s plans, if they should become law, would, among other effects, have the effect of reducing poverty. Yet another plan is “For Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions”

(https://joebiden.com/empowerworkers). Unions have helped to keep wages up, win medical, pension, and paid vacation time, and have overall been a major force in the Democratic Party. For an in-depth analysis of unions, see Michael D. Yates book Why Unions Matter.

Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions

This pro-worker, pro-union plan opens as follows.

“Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family – the 40-hour workweek, paid leave, health care protections, a voice in your workplace – is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections. Because of organizing and collective bargaining, there used to be a basic bargain between workers and their employers in this country that when you work hard, you share in the prosperity your work created.

“Today, however, there’s a war on organizing, collective bargaining, unions, and workers. It’s been raging for decades, and it’s getting worse with Donald Trump in the White House. Republican governors and state legislatures across the country have advanced anti-worker legislation to undercut the labor movement and collective bargaining. States have decimated the rights of public sector workers who, unlike private sector workers, do not have federal protections ensuring their freedom to organize and collectively bargain. In the private sector, corporations are using profits to buy back their own shares and increase CEOs’ compensation instead of investing in their workers and creating more good-quality jobs. The results have been predictable: rising income inequality, stagnant real wages, the loss of pensions, exploitation of workers, and a weakening of workers’ voices in our society.

“Biden is proposing a plan to grow a stronger, more inclusive middle class – the backbone of the American economy – by strengthening public and private sector unions and helping all workers bargain successfully for what they deserve.” Indeed, during the 1930s-1960s, unions played a major role in the New Deal Coalition that expanded “the middle class” and reduced poverty for blacks as well as whites. 

The specific goals of the pro-unions plan are to: (1) “Check the abuse of corporate power over labor and hold corporate executives personally accountable for violations of labor laws”; (2) “Encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining”; and (3) “Ensure that workers are treated with dignity and receive the pay, benefits, and workplace protections they deserve.”

To get a sense of this plan, just consider the substance of the first goal, that is, to “Check the abuse of corporate power over labor.”

Workers are said to be more essential to the economy than CEOs and hedge fund managers.

“While we could survive without Wall Street and investment banks, our entire economy would collapse without electricians to keep our lights on, auto workers on the line building our cars, drivers who deliver all things we need for our daily lives to our markets, firefighters, ambulance drivers, service workers, educators, and millions more.”

Despite the importance of workers, “employers steal about $15 billion a year from working people just by paying workers less than the minimum wage. On top of that, workers experience huge losses in salary caused by other forms of wage theft, like employers not paying overtime, forcing off-the-clock work, and misclassifying workers. At the same time, these companies are raking in billions of dollars in profits and paying CEOs tens and hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

Furthermore: “employers repeatedly interfere with workers’ efforts to organize and collectively bargain. In nearly all union campaigns, corporations run a campaign against the union. Three in four employers hire anti-union consultants, spending approximately $1 billion each year on these efforts. Corporations fire pro-union workers in one of every three union campaigns and about half of corporations threaten to retaliate against workers during union campaigns. Even workers who successfully are able to form a union are later impeded by corporations who bargain in bad faith. About half of newly organized groups of workers do not have a contract a year later and one in three remain without a contract two years after a successful union election.”

Biden’s plan “will ensure employers respect workers’ rights,” holding “corporations and executives personally accountable for interfering with organizing efforts and violating other labor laws.” Along these lines, “Biden strongly supports the Protecting the Right to Organize Act’s (PRO Act) provisions instituting financial penalties on companies that interfere with workers’ organizing efforts, including firing or otherwise retaliating against workers.”

At the same time, “Biden will go beyond the PRO Act by enacting legislation to impose even stiffer penalties on corporations and to hold company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts, including criminally liable when their interference is intentional.” 

Additionally, Biden “will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to engage in meaningful, collaborative enforcement partnerships, including with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and state tax, unemployment insurance, and labor agencies. And, while Trump has weakened enforcement by sabotaging the enforcement agencies and slashing their investigator corps, Biden will fund a dramatic increase in the number of investigators in labor and employment enforcement agencies to facilitate a large anti-misclassification effort.”

There is more. The plan will stop federal dollars from flowing “to employers who engage in union-busting activities, participate in wage theft, or violate labor law,” and ensure federal contracts only go to employers who sign neutrality agreements committing not to run anti-union campaigns.” And companies that bargain in bad father will be penalized.

Biden’s proposal, “For Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions,” is radical in its vision of bringing greater equality and justice to the workplaces of America. The potential political costs are great. If corporate America throws its support to the Republican Party, now under the sway of Trump, the challenge of getting Democrats elected and reelected in 2022 and 2024 will be greater than in 2020.

The Biden administration has already taken steps to reduce hunger.

Jason DeParle reports that, via an executive order in January, “the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.” The need is great, with “more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/04/us/politics/biden-hunger-programs.html).

Biden “has increased food stamps by more than $1 billion a month, provided needy children a dollar a day for snacks, expanded a produce allowance for pregnant women and children, and authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history.”

The campaign is driven, DeParle posits, “both by the spread of hardship to more working-class and white families and the growing recognition of poverty’s disproportionate toll on minorities. With hunger especially pronounced among Black and Latino households, vital to the Democrats’ coalition, the administration is framing its efforts not just as a response to pandemic needs but as part of a campaign for racial justice.”

And scenes of crowded food banks have provided additional incentives for action. De Parle refers to a “recent Census Bureau survey [which] found that, over the previous week alone, 8.4 percent of adults said their households ‘sometimes’ lacked enough to eat and 2.3 percent said they ‘often’ did. That translates into 23 million hungry adults, plus millions of children.”

Concluding thoughts

Joe Biden and his administration are advancing an agenda that will, if implemented, will provide enormous benefits to poor, working class, and lower middle-class Americans. It will also generate an enormous negative reaction from the corporate community, the rich, many in the top ten or so percent of the income distribution, the Republican Party, the right-wing media, and, of course, Trump, who will find ways to rile up his army of unquestioning followers against Democrats. Republicans in the U.S. Senate will use the filibuster when then can to stymie virtually any legislative initiative from the Democrats. Republican governors and legislators in many states are already instituting rules that are designed to further suppress the vote of their Democratic opponents, with the 2022 and 2024 elections in mind.

In pursuing a progressive agenda, Biden seems to be betting that he and the Democratic Party can hold onto most of the voters who turned out for them in the 2020 elections and increase the support they get from white working-class voters. This will depend on the organizing and educational efforts of liberal and progressive organizations, the ability to raise money for campaigns, the state of the economy, whether the pandemic has been brought under control, and whether the Democrats can find ways to pass some of Biden’s proposals in 2021 and 2022.

The stakes are enormous, for the poor, the working class, broad swaths of the middle class, for people of color, for women, for children, and for those who seek viable options in their gender identities. It comes down to whether justice and democracy will be strengthened or weakened. If the latter, anti-democratic and authoritarian forces in the society are likely to expand and become consolidated under the autocratic-aspiring Trump.

On the other hand, the threats to justice and democracy and the Biden/Democratic agenda may be sufficient enough to convince voters to cast their ballots for Democrats in upcoming elections.  

Biden and the Military-Industrial Complex

Biden and the Military-Industrial Complex

Bob Sheak, April 19, 2021

Foreword

Since Eisenhower identified and warned about a military-industrial complex in his farewell address on January 17, 1961, the corporate and military interests that make it up have always lobbied for increases in the military budget. The “cold war” provided the principal rationale for high-levels of military spending up to 1989, but, after the demise of the Soviet Union and then the attacks in the U.S. on 9/11, the new rationale became a “war on terrorism,” a war that knows no boundaries. In the years following 2001, the U.S. defense budget increased from 2001 through 2012, declined in 2013, and resumed increasing through the last years of the Obama administration and then robustly under Trump.  

In this post, I consider the reasons for the growth of the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower’s warning, how the US military has become a “mass killing” machine globally, the full magnitude of military and military-related spending, Biden’s proposal – with few details – to increase at a much-reduced rate the military budget, along with many ideas on how spending on the military budget may be significantly decreased. 

If Biden fails to achieve diplomatic agreements with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and if he fails to find ways to eliminate the waste and unnecessary and unreliable big weapons programs from the budget, then we will most likely see a continuation of a growing military-industrial complex, accompanied by a new and more lethal “cold war” and the relative lack of funds to deal with such existential threats as “climate change.” The emphasis in this post is on how to reduce military spending and thus the power of the military-industrial complex.

Introduction

The sheer size of the U.S. military makes it a major issue for any analysis of the federal government’s budget, the military’s economic and political power in U.S. society, whether it operates efficiently and with minimum waste, its employment effects, its environmental impacts, the military factor in foreign policy, the militarization of the domestic police force, and whether it is meaningfully accountable to any government agency outside itself. My concern is that the U.S. military-industrial complex is too big and too politically powerful and that, as such, weakens our already limited and tenuous democracy, does more to undermine international cooperation than to advance it, and too often creates the very conditions that foment violence, conflict, the shattering of whole states, extensive death and destruction, and the massive and increasing numbers of refugees we now witness. This is all so clear in the cases on American military wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and in virtually every military intervention the US has engaged in since WWII, certainly since 9/11. There is a clear imperialistic aspect in all of this, as the U.S. tries to keep other countries, especially underdeveloped countries, open to U.S. corporate profit-making, corporate-biased trade, cheap labor, and minerals and other resources.

The Pentagon and the main actors in the federal government continuously find justifications for not only maintaining the status quo but increasing the military’s bloated budget. Islamic terrorism has since September 11, 2001 been the principal justification for this position. There is little compelling analysis in the major media of how U.S. foreign policies and military interventions have served to create the conditions for the rise and growth of this terrorism. There are also other alleged threats to U.S. national security, including those posed by Russia and China, that are used to justify keeping the military-industrial complex large and growing. Some policymakers trumpet the need to overthrow “authoritarian” and “repressive” governments. All such justifications have variously played a role in favor of keeping the military big and strong. At the same time, U.S. leaders maintain supportive relations with authoritarian and repressive regimes when it serves the interests of the U.S. government and corporations that produce military weapons. Saudi Arabia is one blatant example of this hypocrisy.  

Eisenhower refers to the idea of “the military-industrial complex”

Three days before President Eisenhower left office on January 17, 1961, he addressed the “American people” by radio and television. One of the most notable and memorable parts of the speech is when the president talks about the political and economic concerns he had about the growth of the military-industrial complex. Here is what he said.

“Until the latest world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American Experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense without peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=12086).

The speech was given in a troubled and somewhat unique historical time. Eisenhower was concerned about how we would, as a country, achieve some reasonable balance between national defense, the domestic economy, the material well-being of citizens, and democracy. One thing is clear. He was not saying that the military-industrial complex had to be curtailed. Indeed, he emphasized the country would have to maintain strong military forces and the industrial capacity to ensure their strength. The implication was that this emergent military-industrial complex was going to be a permanent fixture in American society. But citizens must remain vigilant to keep it from going too far.

Context

Remember this was a time when the cold war had already reached ominous heights. The Soviet Union had nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets had launched the first satellite into space. The Korean War had ended in a divided Korea involving a truce, not a peace agreement. And China was now under the rule of a communist party led by Mao Tse-Tung . John Kennedy came into office later that January 1961 believing falsely that the U.S. suffered from a “missile gap” vis a vis the Soviets, which became another justification for increasing the military budget.

According to later revelations in The Pentagon Papers, the U.S. government and military establishment were concerned from the end of WWII that Vietnam should not fall under the control of the nationalist forces in North Vietnam led by the nationalist hero Ho Che Minh. Consequently, Truman and then Eisenhower supported the recolonization of the country by the French after WWII. Then in 1955, after the French occupation was overthrown, the U.S. helped to prevent a democratic vote by Vietnamese from all parts of Vietnam to unify the country and instead supported a puppet, unpopular administration in South Vietnam.

After Eisenhower left office in 1961, the next administrations under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon (for much of his administration) were bent on preventing the nationalist/communist regime in North Vietnam from taking control of the entire country. They feared such a turn of events would lead to a “domino effect,” that is, that revolutionary movements in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia would fall to communists, though better identified as nationalists and anti-colonialists. When developments in Vietnam turned against the U.S. backed regimes, President Johnson and his military advisers lied about an attack on American ships that never took place (the Tonkin Gulf incident), and used it as a pretext to vastly escalate the misbegotten, tragic, brutal, terribly destructive, and costly war. These historical events are captured well in John Marciano’s book The American War in Vietnam: Crime or Commemoration?

In Cuba, revolutionary forces led by Fidel Castro had in 1959 overthrew the Batista-ruled government, which had been favored and supported by the U.S., including the Eisenhower administration. There were also anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, movements in Africa and other parts of the underdeveloped countries of the world (e.g., Indonesia, Central America, Guatemala). From the perspective of Eisenhower and others in leadership positions, the turmoil in the Third World was being caused by an expansionist communist movement under the direct influence of the Soviet Union. Thus, U.S. foreign/military policies rested on the assumption that the U.S. had to do its utmost to prevent the success of leftist, nationalist, revolutionary forces wherever they emerged, thus giving the U.S. government more justifications to maintain a powerful U.S. military-industrial complex with both the most modern conventional forces and with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Bear in mind that the U.S. has always used its military forces to advance a certain conception of its national interests. U.S. military forces were used to protect the expansion of American colonists into Native American lands, and in the process killed millions. This goes back to the earliest years of the country. This “manifest destiny” is also exemplified in the 1846-1848 U.S. war with Mexico and resultant massive land acquisition that accompanied it – adding 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory to America. The U.S. Civil War was a boon to the incipient U.S. armaments industry. Then there were interventions in the late 19the century in Central America, the Philippines, Hawaii, and elsewhere. The U.S. has never been without a military and an expansionist, imperialistically-leaning foreign policy, though the military-industrial complex, as referred to by Eisenhower, did not emerge fully until during and after WWII. It was then spurred in the late 1940s by the “threat” posed by the Soviet Union and “communism,” the cold war that followed, resting on the lunatic doctrine of “mutual mass destruction, and the anti-colonial upheavals in South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Of course, there is the tragedy of 9/11 and the subsequent justifications and lies for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and for mounting costly wars against “terrorism.”

Underlying it all, the U.S. government has been concerned with protecting and advancing American corporate interests and their access to minerals, fossil fuels, land, and militarily strategic locations as well as to keeping friendly, often un-democratic governments in power. Of course, this dependence on a military-industrial complex is ever-more challenging in a multipolar world in which competition for scarce resources and military advantage involves an increasing number of countries, most importantly China.

In this context, resource-rich Africa has become the arena for such competition. Nick Turse gives us some idea of how Africa is the renewed focus of U.S. military involvement in his book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Here’s a sample of what he finds in the years of the Obama administration related to Africa, but one of only a host of places where U.S. was involved in ongoing wars (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya), counter-insurgency operations, the proliferation of military bases in hundreds of countries, most of them in underdeveloped countries.

“Over the course of the Obama presidency, American efforts on the [African] continent have become ever more militarized in terms of troops, bases, missions, and money. And yet from Libya to the Gulf of Guinea, Mali to [the] camp in South Sudan, the results have been dismal. Countless military exercises, counterterrorism operations, humanitarian projects, and training missions, backed by billions of dollars of taxpayer money, have all evaporated in the face of coups, civil wars, human rights abuses, terror attacks, and poorly coordinated aid efforts. The human toll is incalculable. And there appears to be no end in sight” (p. 184).

“America as emperor of weaponry”

Big weapons from big weapons makers

In an article published on April 13, 2021, Tom Engelhardt uses this phrase to argue that the United States can be thought of as a “mass-killing machine.” He refers to the military aspects of the U.S. as “Slaughter Central (https://tomdispatch.com/slaughter-central). Unsurprisingly, the top arms makers in the world are located in the U.S., namely, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. He continues his point, referring to examples of the ever-growing lethality of weapon systems.

“…we’re a killer nation, a mass-murder machine, slaughter central. And as we’ve known since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, there could be far worse to come. After all, in the overheated dreams of both those weapons makers and Pentagon planners, slaughter-to-be has long been imagined on a planetary scale, right down to the latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) being created by Northrop Grumman at the cost of at least $100 billion. Each of those future arms of ultimate destruction is slated to be “the length of a bowling lane” and the nuclear charge that it carries will be at least 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That missile will someday be capable of traveling 6,000 miles and killing hundreds of thousands of people each. (And the Air Force is planning to order 600 of them.)”

By the end of this decade, Engelhard reports, the “new ICBM is slated to join an unequaled American nuclear arsenal of presently 3,800 warheads.”

“Cornering the Arms Market” abroad in guns

More from Engelhardt: “…when it comes to arming other countries, Washington is without peer. It’s the weapons dealer of choice across much of the world. Yes, the U.S. gun industry that makes all those rifles for this country also sells plenty of them abroad and, in the Trump years, such sales were only made easier to complete (as was the selling of U.S. unmanned aerial drones to “less stable governments”). When it comes to semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 or even grenades and flamethrowers, this country’s arms makers no longer even need State Department licenses, just far easier-to-get Commerce Department ones, to complete such sales, even to particularly abusive nations. As a result, to take one example, semi-automatic pistol exports abroad rose 148% in 2020.”

“Big ticket” weapons

The five big U.S. weapons producers export for sale, Engelhard writes, “jet fighters like the F-16 and F-35, tanks and other armored vehicles, submarines (as well as anti-submarine weaponry), and devastating bombs and missiles, among other things, we leave our ‘near-peer’ competitors as well as our weapons-making allies in the dust. Washington is the largest supplier to 20 of the 40 major arms importers on the planet.” The Middle East has been the destination for nearly half the arms market between 2015 and 2019. Engelhardt cites Pentagon expert William Hartung, whose research found that during these years “U.S. arms deliveries to the region added up to ‘nearly three times the arms Russia supplied to MENA [the Middle East and North Africa], five times what France contributed, 10 times what the United Kingdom exported, and 16 times China’s contribution.” (And often enough, as in Iraq and Yemen, some of those weapons end up falling into the hands of those the U.S. opposes.)” Overall, this $178 billion export trade in 2020, supplied “no fewer than 96 countries with weaponry and controls 37% of the global arms market (with, for example, Lockheed Martin alone taking in $47.2 billion in such sales in 2018, followed by the four other giant U.S. weapons makers and, in sixth place, the British defense firm BAE).

Troops and bases and drones around the globe

Engelhard again sums it up incisively: “…this country has a historic 800 or so military bases around the world and nearly 200,000 military personnel stationed abroad (about 60,000 in the Middle East alone).” He continues: “It has a drone-assassination program that extends from Afghanistan across the Greater Middle East to Africa, a series of ‘forever wars’ and associated conflicts fought over that same expanse, and a Navy with major aircraft carrier task forces patrolling the high seas. In other words, in this century, it’s been responsible for largely uncounted but remarkable numbers of dead and wounded human beings.” He refers to “Brown University’s invaluable Costs of War Project [which] has estimated that, from the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to late 2019, 801,000 people, perhaps 40% of them civilians, were killed in Washington’s war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.” (The estimate by the Costs of War Project probably underestimates the true extent of the carnage.)

Not all were killed by the U.S. military and some were “American soldiers and contractors.” Nonetheless, “the documented civilian dead from American air strikes in the war years is in the many thousands, the wounded higher yet. (And, of course, those figures don’t include the dead from Afghan air strikes with U.S.-supplied aircraft.) And mind you, that’s just civilians mistaken for Taliban or other enemy forces.” Engelhardt cites investigations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “which followed U.S. drone strikes for years, [and] estimated that, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, by 2019 such attacks had killed “between 8,500 and 12,000 people, including as many as 1,700 civilians — 400 of whom were children,” while “displacing an estimated 37 million people.”

Military spending – the fuel of the military-industrial complex

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

Where do we stand at the onset of the Biden era with respect to military spending?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden requests $715B for Pentagon, hinting at administration’s future priorities

First iteration of Biden’s “defense” budget

Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould report forDefense News that “Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request asks for $753 billion in national security funding, an increase of 1.6 percent that includes $715 billionfor the Defense Department.” A large part of the $38 billion part of the $752 billion, that is the difference between $753 billion and $715 billion, is for the Energy Department that “handles nuclear warheads” (https://defensenews.com/breaking-news/2021/04/09/biden-requests-715b-for-pentagon-hinting-at-administrations-future-priorities). The national security spending, as conceptualized here, does not include many of the military-related spending components about which Amadeo writes.

Insofar as the DOD component is concerned, the $715 billion “amounts to a slight decrease for the Pentagon when adjusted for inflation, and it’s well shy of the Trump administration’s projected $722 billion request for FY22.” At the same time, Biden wants to boost nondefense spending by 16 percent, to $769 billion.”

With respect to defense spending, a portion of the money “is to pay for the pay raise for men and women in uniform, and then the civilians that support them.” An administration official told reporters, according to Peltier, that the defense budget is sufficient to ensure that “the Defense Department he can continue its strategic goals as we outcompete China, and as we ensure that the men and women in uniform have everything that they need.” There will be money spent on shipbuilding, “which dovetails with the Pentagon’s focus on China and Indo-Pacific,” and includes the recapitalization of the Nation’s strategic ballistic missile submarine fleet, and invests in remotely operated and autonomous systems and the next generation attack submarine program.” There is also money “to update information and cybersecurity systems, which will include ‘$500 million for the Technology Modernization Fund, an additional $110 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and $750 million as a reserve for Federal agency information technology enhancements.’”

Identifying how to reduce the Pentagon’s budget

What would it take to reduce the influence and impacts of the military-industrial complex, while at the same time maintaining a credible military position internationally? For one thing, it would require that we eliminate unreliable and costly weapons systems. There are many views on how to do this. Here are some examples.

Example – William Hartung, a defense analyst who covers the economics of Pentagon spending, refers to the proposals “contained in a new letter to key members of Congress from a coalition of over two dozen groups from across the political spectrum (my organization, the Center for International Policy, is a signatory of the letter)” (https://forbes.com/sites/williamhartung/2021/03/24/theres-plenty-of-room-to-reduce-the-pentagon-budget/?sh=17ab002e2001).

In the letter, the signatory groups outline “roughly $80 billion in proposed savings in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, including cancelling additional purchases of the F-35 combat aircraft ($11.4 billion in savings); eliminating the Space Force ($500 million to $2.5 billion in savings); reducing service contracting by 15% ($28.5 billion in savings); canceling the Pentagon’s new ICBM program, formally known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD ($400 million to $2.4 billion in savings); and eliminating the Pentagon’s slush fund, the Overseas Contingency Operations account ($20 billion in savings).”

Hartung gives the following example: “the F-35 program has been plagued by cost and performance problems” and “a series of analyses by the Project on Government Oversight has suggested that the plane may never be fully ready for combat.” With respect to the Space Force, it threatens to further militarize the U.S. approach to space security and will, if implemented, “undermine the ability to use space to enhance life on earth.” Cut out many of the over 600,000 contractors, “many of whom do jobs that could be done more effectively, efficiently, and affordably by civilian government employees. Cutting spending on service contracting by 15% would still leave the Pentagon with roughly a half a million, surely enough to carry out any necessary tasks they may be charged with carrying out.”

Hartung also recommends the cancellation of the new ICBM, known as the GBSD. He cites former Secretary of Defense William Perry [who] has pointed out, ICBMs are “some of the most dangerous weapons in the world” because a president would only have a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them on warning of attack, greatly increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear war. Even if the Pentagon and the Air Force were to persist in deploying ICBMs – which are both dangerous and obsolete – they could save tens of billions in the years to come by cancelling the new ICBM and refurbishing existing missiles.” The Congressional Budget Office, the Rand corporations and other experts have indicated that “existing missiles could be made reliable for another two decades or more in lieu of building an expensive new ICBM. Given that a new ICBM could cost up to $264 billion over its lifetime, this would be a wise move at time when other security risks such as dealing with outbreaks of infectious disease and addressing the ravages of climate change are starved for funding.”

And, finally, Hartung recommends eliminating “the Pentagon’s slush fund, known officially as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO.” He continues: “In recent Congressional testimony, Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight detailed the numerous downsides of funding military objectives in this undisciplined, under-scrutinized, and shortsighted fashion. Not only has the OCO account been used to fund tens of billions worth of projects and activities that wouldn’t have made the cut under the regular process of Pentagon budget review, but it has pushed up the department’s top line to astronomical levels that are far in excess of what is needed to ensure the safety of America and its allies.”

Example – William Astore, William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) who has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, offers “suggestions” on how spending on the military may be reduced (https://thenation.com/article/world/coronavirus-military-spending). Astore’s recommendations dovetail with Hartung’s. Like Hartung, he suggests eliminating the nuclear arsenal modernization program, as a cost over the next 30 years of $1.7 trillion, eliminating the F-35 jet fighter contract with Lockheed Martin costing $1.5 trillion over the course of the contract. But Astore also points to cuts beyond those to which Hartung referred. Astore would reduce by half the 800 U.S. military bases that encircle the globe.

Example – John Nichols reports on the ideas of Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who “thinks the time is right to push the administration and Congress for a broader rethink of spending priorities” (https://thenation.com/article/politics/biden-military-budget). Nichols quotes Pocan as follows: “A proposed increase of $13 billion in defense spending is far too much given [the Pentagon budget’s] already rapid growth at a time of relative peace…. We cannot best build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is larger than it was under Donald Trump.” Pocan identifies some areas of the military budget that should be cut, such as “former President Trump’s excessive $1.5 trillion nuclear modernization plan” and “no new spending on nuclear weapons, as well as the need “to audit Pentagon waste and accountability measures to eliminate slush funds.” Nichols also quotes Win Without War’s Erica Fein: “Deadly pandemics, climate crisis, desperate inequality—the greatest threats to global security do not have military solutions. Yet while we’re repeatedly asked how we will afford to address these truly existential threats; the same question is never asked of adding to the Pentagon’s already-overstuffed coffers. Let’s be clear: continuing to funnel near-limitless resources into the pockets of arms manufacturers while underfunding public goods only undermines the safety of people in the United States and around the world.”

Example – Lawrence J. Korb, who has years of service in government, academia, and think tanks, also has ideas on how to reduce the military budget (https://americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2019/04/29/469086/fy-2020-defense-budget-gets-wrong).

Korb recommends cancelling “the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), a new nuclear cruise missile that experts such as former Secretary of Defense William Perry say is not needed because the stealthy B-21 bomber will be able to penetrate even the most sophisticated air defenses. This step would save $713 million in FY 2020 and $18 billion for the rest of the LRSO program. Moreover, stopping production of the two new tactical nuclear weapons currently being developed would not only save about $1 billion in FY 2020 but would also save $17 billion over the next decade, in addition to decreasing the risk of a nuclear war. As Rep. Smith notes, “Funding new, low-yield weapons would only draw us further into an unnecessary nuclear arms race and increase the risks of miscalculation.”

And: “The Navy should also heed the advice of the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and current acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan not to continue building large nuclear carriers.60 Shanahan and key members of his staff believe that the days of the U.S. aircraft carrier are largely over in the face of advanced threats from China and Russia.” The Air Force “should cancel its plans to buy eight of the outmoded F-15 Eagles in 2020 for more than $1 billion—and 80 total over the next five years.61 Other than allowing Boeing to keep its production line open, there is no real reason for the Air Force to buy these planes, which will cost more than $100 million each, especially since the Air Force has 175 of them already and has not purchased any since 2001.”

Additionally, Korb would have Congress reject the Trump-inspired “space force.” He elaborates: “This force would have between 15,000 and 20,000 personnel and at least three four-star generals and would cost between $2 billion and $13 billion over the next five years. Moreover, it is unnecessary. There is no doubt that the United States needs a space command, much like the U.S. Strategic Command, but it does not need a separate service. Establishing a separate armed force to deal with the threats of space makes no more sense than establishing a separate force to manage the nation’s strategic nuclear capability.62 As House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith pointed out: “It [the space force] is too expensive, it creates more bureaucracy. We don’t want more people, we want to figure out how to better emphasize space.” And, finally, there is not need to increase the size of the active military force. On this point, Korb writes:

“the Army wants to increase the size of its active force; yet it missed its recruiting goals for a smaller force last year by almost 10,000 soldiers, even after giving massive bonuses and lowering its standards. Meanwhile, the Air Force should delay adding new squadrons until it deals with its pilot shortage, and the Navy should cut back its goal of growing to 355 ships by 2034. This is unrealistic even with a $750 billion budget, especially since the Navy just had to spend $24 billion to buy three Zumwalt-class destroyers and has underestimated the cost of the Columbia-class nuclear-armed submarines.”

Concluding thoughts

The debate over military spending will ultimately be resolved politically, in the White House and in the U.S. Congress. That said, the decisions will be influenced by the mega-military contractors and their armies of lobbyists and campaign contributions, the generals in the Pentagon, the competing narratives on what constitutes an adequate military budget, as well as by the pressure from communities that rely on military contracts, military bases, and jobs. Trevor Hunnicutt reports for Reuters that, at the moment, it won’t be an easy road for Biden. His military-spending plan “displeased both liberals hoping to impose cuts and hawks who want military spending to increase to deal with threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – a reminder of the uphill battle Biden faces in delivering the policies he promised as a candidate beyond the COVID-19 emergency” (https://reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-budget-idUSKBN2BW190).

Looming in the background there is the perennial question in foreign relations of how to mix diplomacy and force, or the threat of force. There are some signs that the Biden administration will, as one significant example, continue the past U.S. position vis-à-vis China, that is, viewing that country more as a military and economic threat than as a diplomatic opportunity.

Simone Chun at the Harvard Kennedy School of Politics points out that Biden’s Pentagon “recently asked Congress for an astronomical $27 billion budget increase to support a massive military buildup in Asia  as part of its new Indo-Pacific plan, which calls for a substantially more aggressive military stance against China (https://iop.harvard.edu/get-involved/harvard-political-review/waste-greed-and-fraud-business-makes-world’s-greatest-army). And, Chun writes, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “echoed bipartisan political rhetoric about the “Chinese threat” during his visit to Asia last week [late March]. In a stream of condescending self-righteousness, he unleashed a deluge of recrimination against China and North Korea while pontificating on American exceptionalism.” She elaborates as follows.

“Blinken’s performance seemed tailored to the US domestic audience; a rallying call to win support for the upcoming battle: selling the Pentagon’s costly Asian military buildup plan–and the unprecedented profits it represents for the US military industrial complex–to Congress and American public. Unsurprisingly, US corporate media amplified Blinken’s message, exulting: ‘Blinken blasts aggressive China, North Korea’s systematic and widespread rights abuses.’ At the same time, Blinken and his team have been hard at work in reinforcing  an anti-China stance among their lynchpin Far Eastern military outposts–South Korea and Japan– by ensuring that the respective governments of these garrison states continue to unswervingly toe the US line with regard to Beijing.”

We’ll see in the coming months how the Biden administration addresses the issues of an inflated Pentagon budget, waste, and questionable weapons’ systems. I’ll close by referring to an article by Elliott Negin, senior editor at The Union of Concerned Scientists (https://scientificamerican.com/article/its-time-to-rein-in-inflated-military-budget).

He thinks a good place to start is with the 10 percent, $74 billion, cut in the military budget called for by the Congressional Progressive Caucus mid-July of 2020. He has other ideas for even greater spending cuts in the military budget, as follows.

“Cutting annual U.S. military outlays by 10 percent would be a good start, but even that would barely scratch the surface. Last year, Pentagon watchdog groups offered proposals for much deeper cuts that could still maintain a robust military. For example, the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force—a collection of former White House, congressional and Pentagon budget officials, ex-military officers, and think tank experts—published a report detailing how the Defense Department could cut $1.2 trillion in waste and inefficiency over the next decade. The Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information posted a report recommending ways to cut the Pentagon’s annual budget by $199 billion without compromising national security or military capabilities. And the Poor People’s Campaign’s wide-ranging “moral budget” report went even further, calling for only $350 billion in annual military spending, essentially chopping the Pentagon budget in half.”

Perhaps such proposals are politically outlandish in the present scheme of things. Probably a lot more than the Biden administration will undertake. But there is no doubt that the U.S. spends too much on the military-industrial complex at a time when there is such unprecedented and unmet need in the society and when the world seems already embroiled in a new and more lethal Cold War.