More research documents the advance of catastrophic climate change. Massive government mobilization for renewable energy is needed

More research documents the advance of catastrophic climate change. Massive government mobilization for renewable energy is needed.
Bob Sheak, December 1, 2018

The scientific and expert evidence documenting the profoundly destructive and accelerating changes in the earth’s climate continues to accumulate. We are talking about a steadily rising earth’s temperature stemming from human activities that are affecting virtually all aspects of societies and habitats all over the world.

Those who deny, evade, postpone action, or offer only marginal reforms, including most importantly those in powerful economic and governmental positions, serve only to perpetuate and compound this terrifying trend. Investigative journalist and author Dahr Jamail names the phenonmon anthropogenic climate disruption, calling attention to how human activities, particularly those involved in generating greenhouse gases, are responsible for the myriad climatic and environmental impacts that are leading to the massive extinction of species and threatening to upend the foundations of human life. See Jamail’s running series of over 200 in-depth reports on “anthropogenic climate disruption” going back to 2012 at: https://truthout.org/series/planet-or-profit.

Recent headlines give us a sense of the severity of the problem.

“Will we survive climate change” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/science/climate-change-doom.html)

“How extreme weather is shrinking the planet” (as more and more habitats are degraded or destroyed) (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/26/how-extreme-weather-is-shrinking-the-planet)

“California wildfires: Where is the climate change outrage?” (https://truthout.org/articles/california-wildfires-where-is-the-climate-change-outrage)

“We’ve never seen this: massive Canadian glaciers shrinking rapidly” (www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/30/canada-glaciers-yukon-shrinking)

“Sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff: 60% of Earth’s wildlife wiped out since 1970” (https://www.commondrams.org/news/2018/10/30/humanity-sleepwalking-towards-edge-cliff-60-earths-wildlife-wiped-out-1970)

“US automakers double down on trucks and SUVs, despite talk of a cleaner future” (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/15102018/automakers-gm-ford-pickup-suv-electric-vehicle-emissions-standard-climate-change-industry-bailout)

“Earth’s ice loss ‘is a nuclear explosion of geologic change” (https://truthout.org/articles/earths-ice-loss-is-a-nuclear-explosion-of-geologic-change)

“Disaster awaiting to happen as Trump quietly approves massive oil drilling project in arctic waters of Alaska coast” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/25/disaster-waiting-happen-trump-quietly-approves-massive-oil-drilling-project-arctic)

New Evidence

There are two new authoritative reports on this growing problem. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers an international perspective on the causes and consequences, with some attention to “solutions.” Volume Two of the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment focuses on this serious multi-faceted problem in the U.S. The reports can be viewed as complementary in that they both are based on increasingly sophisticated and abundant evidence that the effects of climate change are massive and represent a rapidly growing problem that requires a commensurate response by governments, a response that is thus far sorely lacking. Indeed, as we know, Trump and the Republicans in Washington reject or ignore both reports and advance policies that compound the climate crisis. And the Democrats have yet to advance policies that adequately confront the problem, though there is some reason to be hopeful about the policies that will emerge from the Democratically-controlled House that will be seated in January 2019.

In what follows, I will focus on the IPCC report, after a short summary of the U.S. National Climate Assessment.

Domestically

The U.S. National Climate Assessment is the second major scientific report issued on the subject. It was issued this month (November, 2018). Thirteen federal agencies were involved in the production of this report and an earlier one issued in 2017.

According to an article by Coral Davenport and Kendra Pierre-Louis in The New York Times, the 1,656-page assessment “lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South.” Furthermore: “Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury….”

And: “No area of the country will be untouched, from the Southwest, where droughts will curb hydropower and tax already limited water supplies, to Alaska, where the loss of sea ice will cause coastal flooding and erosion and force communities to relocate, to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where saltwater will taint drinking water.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/climate-highlights-climate-assessment.html).

The evidence just keeps piling up.

Internationally

The recent IPPC report “was written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies,” and was accepted at a session of the UN General Assembly on October 6, 2018by 180 countries (15 countries were absent), including the U.S. delegation. According to a report written by Coral Davenport for the New York Times, “a State Department statement said that ‘acceptance of this report by the panel does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report. Davenport writes:

“The State Department delegation faced a conundrum. Refusing to approve the document would place the United States at odds with many nations and show it rejecting established academic science on the world stage. However, the delegation also represents a president who has rejected climate science and climate policy”
(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate-ipcc-2040.html).

The Paris Climate Agreement

The basic point of the IPPC report was to assess whether the goals of the 2015 international Paris climate agreement were being achieved. Let’s take a detour back to Paris. In December 2015, the countries of the world sent representatives to this UN-sponsored event in Paris. The goals of the meeting was to find ways for the countries of the world to limit global greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would keep the average global temperature from rising to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, with the “aspirational” goal of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and also to assist less-developed countries to deal with effects of climate change.

Over the ensuing two years, by November of 2017, 194 countries had signed onto the agreement, with 147of their governments ratifying it. Obama had signed the agreement. Bill McKibben recalls that the agreement would result in hope and goodwill and spur a transition to alternative energy sources, “and that once nations began installing solar panels and wind turbines, they’ find it easier and cheaper than they had expected.” McKibben quotes Philip A. Wallach, a Brookings Institution fellow, who hoped that the meeting had spurred “a virtuous cycle of ambitious commitments, honestly report progress to match, and further commitments following on those successes” (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/11/22/global-warming-very-grim-forecast).

But things didn’t go as countries of the world hoped they would. Once in office, Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement, a process that takes three years to finalize. Trump’s decision made the US the only country in the world to leave the Paris accord. Because of the size of the U.S. economy and the level of its carbon emissions, second only to China’s, international action to stem to rise of the earth’s temperature was set back.

The Associated Press “asked two dozen climate scientists what would happen if the U.S. reneges on its commitments under the Paris Agreement,” as reported by Stefan Beckett for CBS News on June 1, 2017. “They said that doing so would make it more difficult to prevent crossing a dangerous threshold in global temperatures,” and, if the agreement falls apart, “could result in an additional 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each year, speeding up the rate of rising sea levels and melting ice sheets” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paris-climate-agreement-what-you-need-to-know).

Questions on whether global temperature can be slowed or stopped

The scientific evidence becomes more and more difficult to ignore, though Trump, the Republicans, and the fossil fuel industry led by ExxonMobil continue to oppose policies that would address the problem. The evidence compiled in the IPPC report indicates that the severe weather, ice melting, warming and acidification of the ocean, rising ocean levels, and more, will have major disruptive effects on humans, involving war, conflict, and proliferation of refugees, and more. The already bad situation will worsen as we approach1.5 degrees Celsius, and it will wreak more harm as we go beyond that level. So far, the IPPC finds that global governments are mostly not doing enough to reign in rising temperatures. The IPCC report is blunt in saying that global warming “is likely to reach [and perhaps surpass] 1.5degrees C [or 2.7degrees F] between 2030 and 2050 if it continues to increase at the current rate.” (http://ippc.ch/pdf/special-reports/sr15/wr15_spm_final,pdf).

One of the contributors to the IPCC report, Heleen De. Coninck, associate professor in Innovation Studies at the Environmental Science Department at Radboud University’s Faculty of Science in the Netherlands, provides further background in an interview at The Real News, iterating what climate scientists are saying, namely, that going beyond 1.5 degrees toward 2 degrees will have a great and devastating effect worldwide.

Coninck says that “…the parties in the Paris agreement have asked for [the IPCC] to answer the question whether they can still make the 1.5 degree target limits, and how that would compare to limiting global warming to 2 degrees. The Paris agreement says that we, as a world, should stay well below 2 degrees temperature rise compared to pre-industrial, and strive for [no more than a] 1.5 degree temperature rise. In terms of the differences in impacts, this report has really added a lot to the understanding of that. For instance, we know now that under a 2 degree limit, pretty much all the coral reefs in the world would just die out. Under a 1.5 degree limit, some of them would still be left” (https://therealnews.com/stories/author-of-new-ipcc-report-says-she-still-has-hope). In either case, there is a tremendous loss of reefs.

Some Highlights of the IPPC report of November 2018

In a long essay, Bob Berwyn reports on highlights of the report (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07102018/ipcc-climate-change-science-report-data-carbon-emissions-heat-waves-extreme-weather-oil-gas-agriculture).

Human activities, especially those involving fossil fuels, have already generated globally a one-degree Celsius increase above preindustrial temperatures. And the world is moving quickly toward 1.5 degrees. What is disturbing is that even at the present 1-degree global average temperature that has risen beyond pre-industrial levels, there are significant climate disruptions and calamities. Berwyn gives these readily familiar examples.

“Sea level rise is already causing frequent flooding and contaminating fresh water supplies on low lying islands. In Indonesia, the rising water and erosion has inundated poor coastal communities….” Additionally, “Satellite measurements from recent years show seal level rising faster than expected, and new data from ancient ice layers, tree rings and other sources suggest the polar ice sheets are more vulnerable to extensive melting at 1.5 degrees C warming that previously believed.”

Berwyn quotes Christopher Weber, “global lead scientist for climate and energy for the World Wildlife Fund, who said “We’re already seeing impacts like super storms, wildfires and heat waves from 1 degree of warming.” These are impacts that were not expected to occur under temperatures reached 2 degrees.

Feedback loops and tipping points increase the likelihood of unanticipated surges in temperatures

Jon Queally quotes Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, who told The Guardian that the IPCC report “fails to focus on the weakest link in the climate chain: the self-reinforcing climate tipping points and runaway warming” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/09/whats-not-latest-ipcc-report-much-much-more-terrifying-new-research). Queally also quotes Johan Rockstrom and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden who “found that it is precisely these feedback loops and tipping points that should most frighten and concern humanity,” and Nobel prize laureate Mario Molino who says:

“…the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system, and the other sources of climate pollution.”

For example, as the ice cover melts in the Arctic, more of the sun’s heat is absorbed by the open ocean rather than reflected back into space.

We are on track to blow past 1.5 degrees Celsius

This is what the scientists involved in the IPCC glean from the thousands of peer-reviewed studies they have evaluated. In the absence of “a radical transformation of energy, transportation, and agricultural systems, the world will hurdle past the 1.5 degree Celsius target…by the middle of the century,” if not sooner (i.e., by 2040 or even 2030).

If this should happen, then “nearly all of the planet’s coral reefs will die, droughts and heat waves will continue to intensify, and an additional 10 million people will face greater risks from rising sea levels, including deadly storm surges and flooded coastal zones.”

Indeed, in the absence of transformative changes, the world most likely will surpass 2 degrees, headed, according to Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, and move toward increases of 3 and 4 degrees Celsius. In this eventuality, we will enter a period of chaos and institutional and societal collapse. But just a one-half degree increase in the average world temperature, rising to 1.5 degrees, can have, according to University of Florida sea level expert Andrea Dutton (quoted by Berwyn), “far-reaching impacts on our ability to survive on this planet.” It’s extraordinary and terrifying that climate scientists are telling us that if greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficiently curtailed and soon, there will be environmental havoc and human misery across the globe.

With the right government and international policies, the earth’s temperature can be kept from reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius. But we don’t have nearly enough such policies.

The implication of this statement is that the U.S. China, and other countries with large economies and high-levels of greenhouse gas emissions, will find a way by 2040 to “cut global emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050, according to the IPPC report. Heleen De. Coninck (cited previously), one of the contributors to the IPPC report, still has hope that the governments of the world can adopt and implement the right policies. She thinks that we still have a chance to “shift from a predominantly fossil fuel-based system to a predominantly renewables-based system that is also very efficient with energy.”

In addition to shifting massively to renewable energy, she also hopes that we can learn how to preserve our forests, which keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and transform our agricultural system in ways to protect and retain carbon-absorbing soil, along with raising fewer cattle, which belch methane into the atmosphere. In addition, she says we need to reduce international trade and the transportation that involves long distance travel between countries, along with building energy-efficient buildings and transport. She adds, “If you plan your city in a way that you can reduce your transport needs and make your houses more efficient, you could do that in one go through urban planning policies, for instance.” She also refers to the need to develop carbon dioxide removal technologies to reduce the gas that is already in the atmosphere.

So far, however, there is too little progress in any of these areas. The countries of the world are not moving toward such outcomes. Berwyn writes:

“Existing pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions submitted under the Paris Agreement don’t come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even 2 degrees Celsius.” Rather, “scientists say they would result in closer to 3 or 4 degrees Celsius of warming.”

In the meantime, “extreme weather is shrinking the planet”

Bill McKibben discusses how liveable habitats for human beings are declining as the temperatures rise and extreme weather events proliferate. He reminds us that “in the past thirty years we’ve seen all twenty of the hottest years ever recorded.” And, he adds: “The melting of the ice caps and glaciers and the rising sea levels of our oceans and seas, initially predicted for the end of the century, have occurred decades early.” Continuing, he writes: “The planet’s diameter will remain eight thousand miles, and its surface will still cover two hundred million square miles,” but “the earth, for humans, has begun to shrink, under our feet and in our minds” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/11/26/how-extreme-weather-is-shrinking-the-planet).

The shrinking is reflected in along the world’s coastlines, where rising ocean and sea levels force people to abandon their communities. McKibben quotes a book written by Orrin Pilkey, an expert on sea levels at Duke University: “Like it or not, we will retreat from most the world’s non-urban shorelines in the not very distant future.” And the populations in coastline cities will increasingly suffer from storms and flooding. McKibben gives several examples of cities across the globe, including even Boston, about which he writes: “In the first days of 2018, a nor’ easter flooded downtown Boston; dumpsters and cars floated through the financial district.”

The habitability of some continental interiors will be undermined by soaring temperatures, disrupting all aspects of human activities. McKibben writes: “Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000.” He gives several examples. The summer of 2018 was the hottest ever measures in some areas of India, and record heat waves occurred in cities in Pakistan, Iran, Montreal, Africa, Korea. Algeria, and in parts of the American southwest. In the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, “triple-digit temperatures with soaring humidity levels [produced] a heat index of more than a hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit.” So, more and more places in the world are “becoming too hot for humans.” Furthermore: “As the planet warms, a crescent-shaped area encompassing parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the North China Plan, where about 1.5 billion people (a fifth of humanity) life, is at high risk of such temperatures in the next have century,” if not before that, as the IPPC report warns.

It’s not only human that are being affected by rising temperatures. McKibben points out that “[w]e have already managed to kill off sixty percent of the world’s wildlife since 1970 by destroying their habitats and now higher temperatures are starting to take their toll.”

McKibben’s next example of how the earth’s habitable areas are shrinking for humans concerns as access to safe water diminishes. One study carried out in 2017 by Manoj Joshi of the University of East Anglia “found that, by 2050, if temperatures rise to two degrees a quarter of the earth will experience serious drought and desertification.” Among other points, McKibben points out that we have “already overpumped the aquifers that lie beneath the world’s breadbaskets; without the means to irrigate, we may encounter a repeat of the nineteen thirties, when droughts and deep plowing led to the Dust Bowl….”

Finally, one-fifth of the ground in the Northern Hemisphere is underlaid with permafrost. With rising temperatures, the permafrost is melting and as it melt “it releases more carbon into the atmosphere.” This is turn leads to cracks in roads, tilting housings, and uprooted trees. The cost is going to be enormous. McKibben cites a report released by ninety scientists in 2017 that “concluded the economic losses from a warming Arctic could approach ninety trillion dollars in the course of the century.”

What is needed?

I again rely on Bill McKibben’s analysis, drawing on an article he wrote for New Republic magazine in August, 2016 (https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii).

His basic argument is that the U.S. government needs to undertake a massive war-level mobilization if we are to have any chance of stopping and reversing the disruptive and cataclysmic climate change that is besetting humanity. Implicitly, if this were to happen, the U.S.’s example would likely reverberate around the world and help to galvanize the international community to join the effort.

Indeed, the idea is not far-fetched. In July of 2016, McKibben reminds us, “the Democratic Party issued a platform that called for a World War-II-type ‘global climate emergency.’ In fact, Hillary Clinton’s negotiators agreed to plans for an urgent summit ‘in the first hundred days of the next administration’ where the president will convene ‘the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.’”

There is at least one major part of such a plan that has been developed by Mark Z. Jacobson, “a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and the director of its Atmosphere and Energy Program.” Jacobson has been working on the plan for years “with a team of experts to calculate precisely how each of the 50 states could power itself from renewable resources.” McKibben is convinced that “Jacobson’s work demonstrates conclusively that America could generate 80 to 85 percent of its power from sun, wind, and water by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050.” And: In the past year, the Stanford team has offered similar plans for 139 nations around the world.”

There is enough land for the plan to go ahead, that is, it would need only “about four-tenths of one percent of America’s landmass to produce renewable energy, mostly from sprawling solar power stations.” And we have enough raw materials, like neodymium, to make the wind turbines, and enough lithium for batteries to run electric cars.

Implementing such a plan

McKibben refers to Tom Solomon, a retired engineer, “took Jacobon’s research and calculated how much clean energy America would need to produce by 2050 to completely replace fossil fuels. The answer: 6,448 gigawatts.” Here’s how Solomon then preceded, according to McKibben.

“So Solomon did the math to figure out how many factories it would take to produce 6,448 gigawatts of clean energy in the next 35 years. He started by looking at SolarCity, a clean-energy company that is currently building the nation’s biggest solar factory in Buffalo….Using the SolarCity plant as a rough yardstick, Solomon calculates that America needs 295 solar factories of a similar size to defeat climate change – roughly six per state – plus a similar effort for wind turbines.”

The factories don’t require any new technology. They do require good local technical schools that could supply the workforce, local contractors who could get the local permits, order the needed materials, level the ground and excavate, lay foundations, build walls, columns and a roof – “and facilitate each of the stations for factory machine tooling with plumbing, piping, and electrical wiring”; and train a workforce of 1,500.”

Such a massive effort was accomplished during WWII

McKibben is talking about a mobilization of people and resources like that which was done in the first years of WWII. The planning and the implementation of the war-effort was done mostly by the federal government, which “birthed a welter of new agencies with names like the War Production Board and the Defense Plant Corporation, the latter of which, “between 1940 and 1945, spent $9 billion on 2,300 projects in 46 states, building factories it hen leased to private industry.” By the end of the war, “the government had a dominant position in everything from aircraft manufacturing to synthetic rubber production.”

Mark Wilson, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has written book, involving “a decades-long study of the mobilization effort, entitled Destructive Creation. McKibben quotes Wilson, who says “It was public capital that build most of the stuff, not Wall Street.” And, continuing: “They placed the contracts, they moved the stuff around.” McKibben further describes Wilson’s research findings, as follows.

“The feds acted aggressively – they could cancel contracts as war needs changed, tossing factories full of people abruptly out of work. If firms refused to take direction, FDR ordered many of them seized. Though companies made money, there was little in the way of profiteering – bad memories from World War I, Wilson says, led to ‘robust profit controls, which were mostly accepted by America’s industrial tycoons. In many cases, federal authorities purposively set up competition between public operations and private factories: The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard build submarines, but so did Electric Boat of Groton, Connecticut. ‘They were both quite impressive and productive,’ Wilson says.”

How would it start today?

McKibben imagines what a president could do immediately upon taking office.

“Much of what we need to do can – and must – be accomplished immediately, through the use of executive action that FDR relied on to lay the groundwork for a wider mobilization. The president could immediately put a halt to drilling and mining on public lands and waters, which contain at least half of all the untapped carbon left in America. She could slow the build-out of the natural gas system simply be correcting the outmoded way the EPA calculates the warming effect of methane, just as Obama reined in coal-fired power plants. She could tell her various commissioners to put a stop to the federal practice of rubber-stamping new fossil-fuel project, rejecting those that would ‘significantly exacerbate’ global warming. She could instruct every federal agency to buy all their power from green sources and rely exclusively on plug-in cars, creating new markets overnight. She could set a price on carbon for her agencies to follow internally, even without congressional action that probably won’t be forthcoming. And just as FDR brought in experts from the private sector to plan for the defense build-out, she could get the blueprints for a full-scale climate mobilization in place even as she rallies the political will to make them plausible. Without the same urgency and foresight displayed by FDR – without immediate executive action – we will lose the war.”

Concluding thoughts

At this moment in history, we await to see whether Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives will lead to the creation of some of the political groundwork for a transformation of the energy sector, calling for the phasing out of fossil fuels and proposing a plan for a renewable-energy system. There are reasons for some optimism. There is the precedent of WWII war mobilization. There are detailed plans for the conversion of the energy sector to renewables. Some Democrats are calling for a “green new deal.” Newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, representing the 14th Congressional District in New York, has unveiled a plan for a “Green New Deal” (https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal), and there are ideas for how to pay for it (https://huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-green-new-deal-cost-us-5c0042be4b027f1097bda5b). Some states and cities in the U.S. are planning to achieve zero-emissions or significantly reduced emissions over the coming years. A large majority of Americans now agree that climate change is a problem and must be addressed. The cost of solar panels and wind turbines has fallen and is now highly competitive in price.

But, as the reports from the IPPC and US National Climate Assessment indicate, the problem of catastrophic climate change is growing, not declining, and, ominously, we don’t have much time before the problem is irreparable and totally out of control.

The midterm elections: Consolidation of right-wing rule avoided. Now what?

The midterm elections: The consolidation of right-wing rule avoided. Now what?
Bob Sheak, November 12, 2018

The midterm election – overall

Initial tallies indicated that 49 percent of the electorate voted in the 2018 midterm elections. This included an “estimated 113 million people…making this the first midterm in history to exceed over 100 million votes,” according to an article by Jennifer De Pinto (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/record-voter-turnout-in-2018-midterm-elections). Additionally, she writes, “you’d have to go all the way back to 1914 to get a turnout rate above 50 percent.” Turnout in the last midterm elections in 2014 were one of the lowest on record, “with only 36.4 percent of eligible voters participating in the election.” There is a chance that, once all the votes are counted, the number of votes cast will reach or exceed 50 percent. The outpouring of voter participation was about Trump’s presidency, both for and against. But, as the following evidence indicates, Democrats made significant gains in the House, in governors’ races, and in other state-wide offices, while winning some important ballot initiatives. And, as much as anything, this means that the one-party, right-wing government at the federal has been ended and there have been democratic electoral and ballet-initiative victories in the states.

At the same time, Democrats lost ground in the Senate and are unlikely to find many issues that will garner the support of Republicans and overcome partisan gridlock. Amidst it all, Trump is still the president and through his crony appointees exercise great influence over the vast executive branch of the federal government. His core support among tens of millions of Americans appears to be stronger than ever. One recent poll indicates that he has a 46 percent approval rating. Corporate power remains largely unscathed. Few members of either party seriously challenge the military-industrial complex. The President’s foreign policy takes us toward a new cold war with Russia, as he withdraws from treaties governing nuclear weapons and pours money into new nuclear weapons. And we must not forget, the U.S. aggressively approaches relations with North Korea, Iran, and China in ways that deepen mutual antagonisms and the possibility of military conflict. There is still no indication that either party is willing or able to confront adequately the scale and existential threat of the accelerating climate crisis. There is little discussion of phasing out fossil fuels. The right-wing Supreme Court is prepared to undo the reproductive rights of women and, given the opportunity, further eviscerate civil rights, collective bargaining, immigration law, and to consider changes in the U.S. Constitution that would comply with right-wing interests.

The Democrats are left with two years, until the 2020 presidential elections, to build on their limited successes in the midterm elections.

Energizing Democratic voters

On a positive note, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns summarize the midterm results as follows.

“The president unwittingly galvanized a new generation of activism, inspiring hundreds of thousands angered, and a little disoriented, by his unexpected triumph to make their first foray into politics as volunteers and candidates. He also helped ensure that Democratic officeholders would more closely reflect the coalition of their party….

“It was the party’s grass roots, however, that seeded Democratic candidates with unprecedented amounts of small-dollar contributions and dwarfed traditional party fund-raising efforts. The so-called liberal resistance was undergirded by women and people of color and many of them won on Tuesday, including Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, Lauren Underwood in Illinois and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia.”

“Indeed, the coalition of voters that mobilized against Mr. Trump was broad, diverse and somewhat ungainly, taking in young people and minorities who reject his culture-war politics; women appalled by what they see as his misogyny; seniors alarmed by Republican health care policies; and upscale suburban whites who support gun control and environmental regulation as surely as they favor tax cuts. It will now fall to Democrats to forge these disparate communities alienated by the president into a durable electoral base for the 2020 presidential race at a time when their core voters are increasingly tilting left” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/us/politics/midterm-elections-results.html).

Democrats control The House of Representatives

As widely anticipated, Democrats won a majority in the House, but lost ground in the Senate. Writing for Our Future, Robert Borosage analyzes exit poll data and sees a “blue wave with a harsh red undertow” reflected in the numbers (https://ourfuture.org/20181107/2018-midterms-blue-wave-red-undertow). The blue wave, not the strongest, is reflected in the voting for the House of Representatives, where Democrats gained at least 30 seats with the possibility of adding another 7 or so seats. They started out with 193 seats, needed 218 to take control of the House, and surpassed that number in the elections, bringing their total to at least 225. As of Nov 9, according to Ballotpedia, “Democrats had gained a net total of 32 seats,” while there are “still eight competitive races where a winner has not been declared.” So, the only outstanding issue is how large the Democratic majority will be in the House, the outcome of which awaits the result of the “eight competitive races” yet to be decided.

In an article for The New York Times, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report that enthusiasm among Democrats help to explain the large turnout (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/us/politics/midterm-elections-results.html). They write: “…the Democrats’ House takeover represented a clarion call that a majority of the country wants to see limits on Mr. Trump for the next two years of his term. With the opposition [the Democrats] now wielding subpoena power and the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, still looming, the president is facing a drastically more hostile political environment in the lead up to his re-election.”

The results in the Senate were not as good, where Republicans gained a net of one seat, increasing their majority from 52 to 53, leaving the Democrats with 47. This is unfortunate in that it gives the Republicans the power to confirm Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, to veto legislation supported by the Democratically-controlled House, and to stop any impeachment initiative coming from the House.

What Democrats can accomplish

Democratic-control of the House does give Democrats the opportunity to stop Senate legislation that would further reduce taxes on the rich and corporations or subvert government programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety-net programs. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is likely to be less challenged by Republicans due to the widely popular issue of pre-existing health conditions, an issue that generated huge support for Democrats. Though Republicans are likely to oppose any attempts to improve the ACA (e.g., imposing regulations on rising health insurance and prescription drugs). The House under Democratic control will also be able to gather information through its subpoena power or, more likely, by holding hearings about Trump’s links to Russia and whether the president has obstructed the investigation into these issues by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Generally, Democrats can hold hearings that focus attention on the party’s issues and that help educate the public. In the meantime, we have as a bitterly divided country that has just barely moved away from the continuation of a right-wing, one-party government headed by a narcissistic and reckless president.

The People for the American Way sent out an email following the midterm election that points to a “defensive strategy,” somewhat like the one I just described in the previous paragraph. It outlines succinctly what the House Democrats can accomplish. Here it is. (Their website: http://www.pfaw.org/action-center.)

“Because Democrats took back the House, our democracy has survived (at least for another two years) — we FINALLY have a meaningful check on the Trump administration’s lawlessness and corruption, and we can finally have some accountability…

“Because Democrats took back the House, the social safety net survives – we know that Social Security and Medicare would have been targeted for utter destruction had Republicans retained full control of Congress…

“Because Democrats took back the House, Republicans won’t fully be able to do away with the Affordable Care Act, at least legislatively…

“Because Democrats took back the House, Trump and his far-right allies won’t be able to pass another massive tax scam that shifts all of our nation’s wealth upward to corporations and the GOP’s billionaire donors…

“And because Democrats took back the House, Democrats now have a chance to show America a real alternative vision to Trump’s agenda of bigotry, division, and right-wing extremism. Already we see positive signs that Democrats are going to focus on desperately needed reforms that are immensely important to and popular with a vast majority of Americans, and that put Democrats in stark contrast with the extremist GOP. It’s health care, of course, but it’s also anti-corruption measures and ethics reform; infrastructure and jobs; and democracy reforms to address big money in politics and voting rights. We’ll be working hard to mobilize a grassroots movement over the coming weeks to make sure this agenda is prioritized in the first days of the 116th Congress.”
What else do Democrats in the House plan?

In an article for The New York Times, Nicholas Fandos, reports that “Democratic leaders say they would use their first month in the House majority to advance sweeping changes to future campaign and ethics laws, requiring disclosure of shadowy political donors, outlawing gerrymandering of congressional districts and restoring key enforcement provisions to the Voting Rights Act.” They will “work to improve the Affordable Care Act,” “prepare an onslaught of investigations into alleged malfeasance by the president and his administration,” prepare a more liberal and detailed $1 trillion infrastructure package, and, among other items, “’prepare the way with evidence’ for energy conservation and other climate change mitigation legislation” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/07/us/politics/house-democrats-nancy-pelosi.html).

Democrats at the state level

Zach Montellaro reports that “Democrats flipped governorships in seven states Tuesday, installing governors poised to play key roles in the next redistricting process in 2021 and 2022 — but Republicans held onto several major states, giving no party a clear leg up two years ahead of the census.” Prior to the elections on November 6, there were 33 Republican governors, 16 Democratic, and 1 Independent. Not all were up for election. Democrats won the governor’s races over Republican opponents in Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan though Republicans retain control of the state legislative houses. In Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico, Democrats now have full control over state government. Overall, there are now 23 Democratic governors, up from 16. These numbers are in some cases not the final ones. In contested races, the Republicans held onto Indiana and Missouri, while the results in Georgia and Florida appear to be unresolved and possibly requiring a recount of the votes. All these results indicate that Democrats will have some increased influence in state-level policies, including over congressional redistricting decisions in 2020, because of their success in the midterm elections. The states under Democratic control can now become what Borosage refers to as “laboratories of democracy.”

Redistricting

I received an email from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee on Friday, November 9, that the 2018 election had dealt a “body blow to partisan gerrymandering (info@democraticredistricting.com). The email included evidence that Democrats had made gains in state legislatures, namely:

• Democrats flipped six legislative chambers: Colorado Senate, Maine Senate, Minnesota House, New Hampshire House and Senate, and New York Senate
• Democrats broke supermajorities in four chambers: North Carolina House and Senate, Michigan Senate, and Pennsylvania Senate
• Democrats made addition gains in seven legislative chambers: Ohio House and Senate, Michigan House, Texas House and Senate, and Pennsylvania House and Senate

According to Montellaro’s report (cited previously), “Colorado and Michigan also passed ballot measures, supported by the NDRC [National Democratic Redistricting Committee], that transferred redistricting power from legislators and governors to independent commissions. (Democrats also elected new governors in both states, ending unified GOP control over Michigan’s state government.) The results represent progress for Democrats since 2010, when Michigan and Wisconsin — along with Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was reelected — were three states where GOP-controlled redistricting after the 2010 census hit Democrats especially hard, but Tuesday’s results guaranteed Republicans won’t have unified control in those states this time. Another ballot measure to establish a redistricting commission in Utah is too close to call.

At the same time, Montellaro points out that “Democratic gubernatorial candidates were reported to fall short in Ohio and Florida [though there is a recount in Florida], with dozens of congressional districts between them, and Democrat Stacey Abrams currently trails in Georgia, though her campaign believes late-counted ballots could lead to a December runoff. The Republican Party has trifectas [the state house and both legislative branches] in all three of those states. And reelection wins by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan could give Republicans a seat at the table in those Democratic-dominated states during the next redistricting process.” The latest news is that there are likely to be recounts for the Senate and governor’s races in Florida and Arizona, as well as in Georgia.

An overview of ballot initiatives

Negin Owliaei gives us a detailed breakdown on ballot initiatives. He reports: “Voters weighed in on a host of high-profile issues and, for the most part, passed measures to protect and expand the rights of people across the country” (https://inequality.org/great-divide/2018-midterms-ballot-initiatives-breakdown). In Florida, the voters “repealed a Jim-Crow-era disenfranchisement law, with a 64 percent favorable vote, that restores access to voting rights to as many as 1.4 million people convicted of felonies who have done their time in prison, probation, parole, etc. In Arkansas and Missouri, voters supported modest increases in the minimum wage, which will affect “a combined one million workers.” The minimum wage in Arkansas will increased from $8.50 to $11 by 2021 and in Missouri from $7.85 to $12 by 2023. In Massachusetts, voters “upheld a law protecting the rights of trans people in public accommodations.” Voters in Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Idaho “passed Medicaid expansion initiatives,” giving an additional 300,000 people medical coverage. In Colorado, “65 percent of voters who said yes to A,” the state “officially abolished slavery as a form of punishment by removing a clause in the state’s constitution that kept it legal for those convicted of a crime.” A handful of cities in California “successfully voted in policies to address the affordable housing and homelessness crisis.” For example, “Oakland passed a slew of measures to make housing more equitable, including increased renter protections from eviction, a vacancy tax on properties used less than 50 days a year, and a change in the property tax structure to ensure high-end homeowners play their fair share.”

The climate crisis

James Rainey reports on NBC News on ballot measures regarding global warming (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mixed-vote-global-warming-ballot-measures-lose-democrats-gain-power-n933766). His overall interpretation of the relevant ballot initiatives is that “[e]vironmentalists lost high-profile ballot fights this week to combat climate change and promote conservation.” He continues: “But they took heart that new Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives and several governorships could pave the way for future victories against fossil fuels and global warming.” However, the victorious initiatives to which he refers are so modest as to be of little help in stemming the continuing rise in global warming.

The biggest defeat “came in Washington state, where a measure to tax carbon dioxide emissions lost 56 percent to 44 percent, despite backing from a broad coalition of Democratic, environmental, union and Native American groups.” And there were other setbacks. “Arizona voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would have required the state to get half its power from renewable energy like wind and solar power by 2030.” In Colorado, rules that would have pushed oil and gas drilling substantially farther from homes, businesses, streams and rivers were defeated 57 percent to 43 percent. And in Alaska, a “Stand for Salmon” initiative aimed at protecting the state’s favorite game fish lost 64 percent to 36 percent. Rainey points to two victories. In Nevada, voters approved a measure to require the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from green sources by 2030 with 59 percent of the vote. And “Georgia passed “an amendment…to put 90 percent of sales taxes on sporting goods toward conservation efforts,” with the “estimated $200 million collected over a decade” helping to “create parks and protect wildlife habitat.”

Gun Control

Based on a review of initiatives on gun control, German Lopez draws this conclusion: “Gun control advocates didn’t get all the wins they were hoping for on Election Day, but all in all, the 2018 midterm elections were pretty good for supporters of strong gun laws” (https://www.vox.com/2018/11/07/180721461/midterm-election-gun-control-ballot-initiative-congress-results). Lopez identifies some positive movement at the state level. A statewide ballot initiative in Washington State curtailing access to assault rifles won. Democrats in the House representing Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Colorado, South Carolina, and Kansas displeased the National Rifle Association so much that they were given an F or low rating by the NRA. There were Democrats who ran their elections with strong emphasis on the need for gun regulation. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican “signed a gun control package into law that expanded background checks and lets officials take guns from people deemed at risk for violence, among other changes.”

Attorney general races and fossil fuels

There were, moreover, important races for the position of attorney general in the states. Alexander C. Kaufman reports on these races in an article for Huffington Post, with particular attention to how Democratic attorney generals are challenging fossil fuel corporations (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/midterms-democrats-attorney-general-climate-lawsuits_us_5be5f199e4b0e8438897aa58). Here’s the thrust of what he writes.

“Democrats scored a string of state attorney general victories on Tuesday night, ousting loyal oil and gas allies and threatening to add to mounting lawsuits against the industry over climate change.

“The party flipped four states and held 13, re-electing incumbents in seven of them. in an election sweep that secured Democrats 27 states that represent over 58 percent of the U.S. population and 63 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The top-cop posts are considered the “most effective way” to challenge President Donald Trump’s environmental agenda.

“During the Obama administration, Republican attorneys general became a fearsome opposition force, coalescing around legal challenges to landmark power plant, health care and water regulations. The new Democratic majority comes as the party’s rising stars are already jockeying to make names for themselves by sparring with the Trump administration.”

Kaufman reports that Rhode Island and New York are already suing oil companies. And, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Colorado, Democrats won on initiatives to challenge oil companies, despite the industry spending over $100 million to defeat them.

It remains to be seen whether initiatives and legal challenges such as those to which Kaufman refers will succeed enough to reduce carbon emissions. However, the record shows that the financial penalties from legal suits can easily be absorbed financially by the oil industry. Nonetheless, the legal approach may be important as one part of a larger strategy, but it is time-consuming and expensive and does not have any direct effect on reducing oil production and the emissions that accompanies it. And, if such suits end up in the right-wing Supreme Court, the industry will prevail over any challenge by environmentalists.

Concluding thoughts

The elections leave us with a complex set of legislative arrangements and the prospect of considerable gridlock, especially at the federal level. At the same time, Democrats are now in a better position to influence policies in more states than they were before the elections. Borosage provides a summary of the outcomes that is consistent with the evidence reviewed in my essay: “Democrats took the House, moving towards flipping over 30 seats, took seven gubernatorial races and counting, and made significant gains in down-ballot races –winning over 330 state legislative seats, six state legislatures and breaking 4 GOP supermajorities, with more victories to com.” Okay, breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, Trump and the Republicans will control a lot more than the Democrats will.

There is good news. At the national level, House Democrats may well be able to defend important and popular programs, stymie advances in the Republican agenda, and protect Mueller’s investigations. And Democratic political forces at the state level may be able to have a decisive influence on redistricting, on some climate and environmental issues, on whether to adopt Medicaid expansion, on imposing regulations of oil and gas corporations, on opposing “right to work” laws, on raising state minimum wage laws, and more.

But the overall situation is not so good and there is not a lot of time. In one of Dahr Jamail’s recent (Nov. 2, 2018) highly informative reviews of developments on anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), he refers to the new U.N. Report that warns of impending climate catastrophe (https://truthout.org/articles/new-un-report-warns-of-impending-catastrophes-as-world-warms-glaciers-melt). Here is what he writes.

“The biggest news in the corporate media regarding climate change since my last dispatch has been the UN report stating that we have 12 years left to limit a full-on climate change catastrophe. To avoid this fate, we would need to spend those 12 years curbing global emissions dramatically. Essentially, there would need to be a government-mandated plan across the globe that would enable us to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade (1.5°C) rather than the 2°C goal of the 2015 Paris climate talks. Eliminating that extra .5 of warming would save tens of millions of people from sea level rise inundation, and hundreds of millions from water scarcity and a myriad of other catastrophic impacts. Limiting warming to 1.5°C would, scientists have said, require a radical rethinking of virtually every facet of modern society, including an abandonment of our entire fossil-fuel based economy. However, currently, we are headed for at least a 3°C increase by 2100, with no mass government mobilization in sight.”

The implication of the U.N. report is that the ice cover in the polar regions, in Greenland, and on mountain tops will continue to shrink, the ocean levels will rise, desertification and draughts will ravage forests and soils, disrupting agriculture around the world, severe weather events will increase in frequency and intensity, some parts of the world will become uninhabitable due to high and humid temperatures, and the number of environmental refugees will soar. There is a lot more to be concerned about. Here’s one example from Jamail’s article.

“A recent study in a paper published August 31 in the journal Science warned that for each degree of rise in global temperature, insect-driven losses to the staple crops of rice, wheat and corn increase by 10-25 percent. Given we are already at 1.1°C warming, we are already seeing these losses, which are sure to increase. ‘In 2016, the United Nations estimated that at least 815 million people worldwide don’t get enough to eat,’ the University of Washington Press wrote of the study. “Corn, rice and wheat are staple crops for about 4 billion people, and account for about two-thirds of the food energy intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.”

“At the same time, scientists are deeply concerned about the fact that non-pest insect numbers are declining rapidly. Bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs and other insects are far less abundant, and scientists around the world warn that these insects are crucial to as much as 80 percent of all the food we eat. ‘You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects,’ University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy told the AP.”

The upshot?

We can appreciate the great efforts that went into the Democratic electoral victories, and hope they are but a first step toward achieving a more rational, just, and humane political system that will usher in societal transformation that we need. Right now, though, we have a long way to go electorally. Still, the door is not closed.

Let me close by quoting David Korten’s bold agenda in an article recently published in Yes magazine titled “Why I have hope in the face of human extinction” (https://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/why-i-have-hope-in-the-face-of-human-extinction-20181101). Something like this kind of agenda seems appropriate, given the dire conditions we face. It perhaps calls for far more than we can expect, given political and economic realities. Korten insists that it is a “hopeful” agenda, that is, one that is feasible – with considerable luck and effort.

“We humans now have the knowledge and technology to move beyond the violence, fear, and daily struggle for survival that besets the lives of so many. We have the capacity to secure a world of peace, beauty, diversity, creativity, material sufficiency, and spiritual abundance for all people, and have all that in balance with Earth’s ecosystems. Achieving such a goal requires that we make this vision our common goal and transform our cultural narratives, institutions, and infrastructure accordingly—a steep but imperative challenge.

“Success requires leadership from all levels of society, including from people everywhere working to grow community-facilitating cultural values, institutions, and infrastructure in the places where they live. Together we need to achieve four conditions critical to the transition.

“1. Earth balance. We must reduce humanity’s total environmental burden to bring us into sustainable balance with the capacity of Earth’s generative systems. This requires immediate action to eliminate nonessential consumption—including fossil fuels and weaponry. Longer-term action is needed to create institutional and physical structures that make doing the right thing easy and enjoyable—for example, designing urban environments to make the essentials of daily living readily accessible by biking, or walking in safe and pleasant neighborhoods connected by convenient mass transit.

“2. Equitable distribution. We must achieve an equitable distribution of wealth and power. Immediate action is required to stop the further concentration of wealth while advancing equitable cooperative ownership, restoring the commons, and connecting the rights of ownership with corresponding responsibilities.

“3. Life-serving technologies. We must advance technologies that strengthen rather than impair life’s regenerative capacity. Immediate action is required to roll back use of harmful technologies, including the use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and our dependence on carbon and nuclear energy. Longer-term action is needed to develop and apply technologies that better meet human needs while simultaneously restoring the environment, such as developing greener agricultural practices and creating buildings designed for natural heating and cooling.

“4. Living communities. We must rebuild relationships of people to one another and to nature to create strong, healthy, deeply democratic living communities. This will involve reducing dependence on money while encouraging sharing and mutual self-help in the places where people live. Immediate action is required to block further concentration of corporate power, while taking longer-term steps to break up existing concentrations, secure the accountability of governments to the people, advance equitable participation in local cooperative ownership and shared housing, and establish rules that assure the accountability of businesses to the communities in which they operate.

“The transition will test the limits of human creativity, social intelligence, and commitment to collaborate in the face of relentless establishment opposition. We now equate money to wealth and see making money as the key to well-being and happiness. In doing so, we ignore the reality that we are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth. Money is merely a number that has no intrinsic value. To destroy life only so that the financial assets of billionaires can grow is a monumental act of collective stupidity.

“Forward-looking communities around the world are engaged in advancing these transformations on both micro and macro scales. Their activities must become the norm everywhere, with all peoples and governments freely sharing the lessons of their efforts to develop proven, deeply democratic approaches to local self-reliance and liberation from corporate rule. The well-being of people and planet will rise, as corporate profits fall.

“It is time to unite as families, communities, and nations in our common identity as members of an ecological civilization, with a commitment to creating the possible world of our shared human dream.”

Obstacles to meaningful change

Obstacles to meaningful change

Bob Sheak, Oct 23, 2018

The consolidation of right-wing power

It’s no secret what Trump, the Republican party, the mega-corporations, many or most of the rich, Fox News and other right-wing media, along with tens of millions of Trump/Republican supporters want. Note that this is a huge slice of society, and with the corporations controlling huge financial, productive, and physical resources. A glimpse at the 2018 Fortune 500 list is illustrative. According to the Fortune website, “Fortune 500 companies represent two-thirds of the U.S. GDP with $12.8 trillion in revenues, $1.0 trillion in profits, $21.6 trillion in market value, and employ 28.2 million people worldwide.” Walmart and Exxon Mobil were first and second on the list, Walmart with over $500 billion in revenues and Exxon Mobil with $244,363,000,000. And there is little doubt that most of those who are corporate CEOs and others who have powerful positions in the economic-political system, like the status quo and whatever policies stand to protect and enhance their privileges and power. This is true of the rich generally. Take little regulated hedge fund operators who profit from speculative investing that adds no real value to the economy. Les Leopold wrote a book in 2013 on this subject with the revealing titled How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning off America’s Wealth.

Anand Giridharadas, author, previous columnist for the New York Times, who teaches at New York University, offers a concise explication of what corporations and rich want.

“These elites believe and promote the idea that social change should be pursued principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform” (Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, p. 30)

Money in Politics

There is no doubt that corporations and wealthy donors contribute significantly to campaign contributions and lobbying at both the federal and state levels. In his recent book, Can American Capitalism Survive? Steven Pearlstein offers these facts.

“Nearly $7 billion was spent to influence the results of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections in the United States, up from $3 billion in the 2000 election cycle. To that we must add another $3 billion a year that corporations and industry associations now spend on lobbying, double what it was 20 years ago.

He continues.

“This escalation in spending is partly the result of court rulings that have chipped away at limits on what individuals and corporations can donate and spent to support policies and candidates they favor and oppose those they do not. But it is also a result of the upward shift in the distribution of income. When a small network of billionaires headed by brothers Charles and David Koch is both able and will to spend $800 million in a single election cycle, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the United States has crossed the line into plutocracy” (pp. 157-158).

And Robert Reich adds:

“By the 2016 campaign cycle, corporations and Wall Street contributed $34 for every $1 donated by labor unions and all public interest organizations combined” (The Common Good, p. 84).

Looking back to the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Larry Lessig reminds us:

“0.26 percent of us give more than $200 to congressional campaigns, 0.05 percent of us max out to any congressional candidate, and 0.01 percent spend more than $10,000 in a campaign. These figures are from the 2010 election cycle; in the 2012 elections, the number of those given $200 or more to congressional candidates actually shot up dramatically (to 0.53% of the U.S. adult population.) To be a viable candidate in federal elections, one essentially needs to secure the approval – in the form of dollars – of a group that is far more elite even than the top one percent” (quoted by Richard L. Hasen, Plutocrats United, p. 40).

Pearlstein refers to similar data from the research of professor Nick Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago, who finds:

“…surveys… all have found that individuals who contribute at least $200 to federal candidates are ‘overwhelmingly wealthy, highly educated, male, and white.’ In 2004, for example, 58% of those donors were male, 69% were older than fifty, 78% had a family income over $100,000, and 91% had a college degree. In 2012, these donors amounted to just 0.4% of the population, but supplied 64% of the funds received by candidates from individuals…. [and] study after study has concluded that donors hold more extreme views than the public at large” (p. 43).

Recent Supreme Court decisions have made it easier for big donors to hide their identities by creating “super PACs” that do not require the disclosure of the donors. Hasen refers to research on this issue.

“According to a report by Demos and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, in the 2012 elections ‘nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93% of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000 – from just 3,318 donors or the equivalent of 0.0011% of the U.S. population” (p. 44).

What they get

The corporate-connected donors get access to legislators and sometimes appointments to the President’s cabinet or other policy-influencing positions in the executive branch. See John Nichols’ book, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse for Trump’s appointments to “cabinet secretaries and assistants, commissioners and counselors, blood relatives and retainers, billionaire ‘advisers’ and unindicted co-conspirators.” For example, billionaire Betsy DeVos was nominated and confirmed by the Senate to be the Secretary of Education. Nichols quotes Elizabeth Warren on the decision. “It is hard to imagine a candidate less qualified or more dangerous.” According to Nichols: “…she had never taught in a public school and nor had she administered one. No. she had not served on an elected school board. No, she had not sent her children to public schools. No, she had never applied for a student loan and nor had her children” (p. 4). This is an agency, which in 2017, had “a budget of $70 billion, more than four thousand employees and responsibility for serving 50 million students in 16,900 school districts nationwide, along with 13 million post-secondary students” (p. 3).

Over the years, DeVos and her family had contributed $200 million to the Republican Party. And she has spent a great deal of time and money advocating for profit-based charter schools, which is in sync with the long-standing Republican position on privatization of education and other government functions. On the issue of education policy, Nichols writes that Betsy DeVos “was delighted that the Trump administration’s [2018] budget blueprint called for steering $1.4 billion toward the gimmicky ‘school choice’ programs that she had championed for decades as an alternative to public education – and that the historian of education… Diane Ravitch decries as a ‘hoax’ that destroys communities and destroys public schools” (p. 252).

Much more

 The bailouts and hidden subsidies

Wall Street banks, which were the main causes of the Great Recession in 2007-2009, got huge bailouts, even though their reckless policies caused the recession. Nomi Prins points out that banks obtained a $13 trillion bailout, “doled out from the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to back to biggest players on Wall Street, “while leaving the banking and investment structures intact” (It Takes a Pillage, p. 5). The auto industry was given emergency government loans in 2008. Prins points out: “As of late April 2009, the Treasury had poured a total of $32.7 billion in total loans to General Motors, GMAC, Chrysler Holding, and Chrysler Financial to help the firms avoid bankruptcy….” (p. 73). This was part of an $800 “stimulus package” initiated by the Obama administration. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy enabled the banks to unload toxic, worthless securities on the public. James K. Galbraith comments on this: “the Federal Reserve pursued its programs of ‘quantitative easing,’ which were ongoing purchases of mortgage-backed securities.” He continues: “While this program was touted as support for the economy, its obvious first-order effect was to help the banks clean up their books and to bury potentially damaging home loans deep in the vaults of the Fed itself, where they might – or might not – eventually be paid” (The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, p. 184).

The big tax cut

Trump and the Republicans pushed through a tax law in December 2017 that significantly reduced corporate taxes, from 35% to 21%, and gave the rich disproportionate tax breaks. Rather than new investment and jobs, much of the corporate tax bonanza was spent on buying back stocks in corporations to increase their value, buying up other companies, or investing abroad. Citing a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Julia Conley summarizes various findings of the tax cut effects as follows: “The GOP’s promises that companies would boost hiring and salaries after receiving their tax cuts have been proven categorically false since the beginning of the year, with just six percent of companies’ windfall going to employees’ wages and the vast majority rewarding wealthy shareholders.” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/07/24/no-evidence-goptaxscam-has-benefited-most-americas-republicans-unveil-plan-double).”

Economist Dean Baker finds that the tax cut did not lead to increased domestic investment.

“…when we’re actually looking post-tax cut, you know, what has happened since the tax cut was passed or was known it would be passed, we look at the data we have from January and February [2018], and there’s nothing going on there. The data on durable goods or capital goods orders, so this is what companies are ordering by way of new investment equipment, that’s actually down slightly in January and February. I wouldn’t make a big point of it being down. But the point is they had projected, the Trump administration had projected a huge rise in investment, and we are certainly not seeing that.

“Another measure, the National Federation of Independent Business, has a monthly survey of its members that they have been doing for more than 30 years now, and they asked them, do they expect to increase capital expenditures over the next 3 to 6 months? And again, here, too, we have data, January and February, nothing. It’s maybe a very, very modest uptick, but it’s back to levels we saw last year, as far back as 2014” (http://therealnews.com/t2/story:21368:Economic-Benefits-of-Tax-Cuts-Should-Have-Arrived—Where-Are-They%3F).

The military-industrial complex

The big arms producers got a boost from increases in the 2018 and 2019 military budgets, going up over a trillion dollars when all military-related expenditures in the federal budget are included, that is the $700-plus basic Pentagon allocation, veteran’s benefits, nuclear-weapons’ programs in the Department of Energy, money for the fight against terrorism abroad and domestically, and annual interest related to budget deficits related to military-related interventions and war. Kimberly Amadea identifies four components in her analysis of the 2018FY military budget (https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-military-budgetcomonents-challenges-growth-3306320)

First, she refers to the $616.9 billion “base budget for the Department of Defense.” Second, $69 billion is allocated to the “overseas contingency operations for DoD to fight the Islamic State Group.” Third, $181.3 billion goes to the Department of Veterans Affairs ($83.1 billion), the State Department ($28.3 billion), Homeland Security ($46 billion) and the National Nuclear Security Administration in the Department of Energy ($21.9 billion). The fourth and last component identified by Amadea is “$18.7 billion in OCO funds for the State Department and Homeland Security to fight ISIS.” The total of all components is about $890 billion. Her estimates do not include military-related interest on the debt. This is significant. Note that the 2018 budget deficit rose to $779 billion, and some part of it was related to the massive increase in military spending. If the interest related to military spending is added to the other components of military-related spending, the total goes well beyond $1 trillion. This benefits the arms makers, their employees, and the Pentagon above all.

William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex and other books and many articles, gives us some details on how the top weapons contractors will fair (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/17/how-pentagon-devours-budget). He writes:

“…contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. They expect a bonanza from the skyrocketing Pentagon expenditures. Don’t be surprised if the CEOs of these five firms give themselves nice salary boosts, something to truly justify their work, rather than the paltry $96 million they drew as a group in 2016 (the most recent year for which full statistics are available).

“And keep in mind that, like all other U.S.-based corporations, those military-industrial behemoths will benefit richly from the Trump administration’s slashing of the corporate tax rate.  According to one respected industry analyst, a good portion of this windfall will go towards bonuses and increased dividends for company shareholders rather than investments in new and better ways to defend the United States.  In short, in the Trump era, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are guaranteed to make money coming and going.

“Items that snagged billions in new funding in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget included Lockheed Martin’s overpriced, underperforming F-35 aircraft, at $10.6 billion; Boeing’s F-18 “Super Hornet,” which was in the process of being phased out by the Obama administration but is now written in for $2.4 billion; Northrop Grumman’s B-21 nuclear bomber at $2.3 billion; General Dynamics’ Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine at $3.9 billion; and $12 billion for an array of missile-defense programs that will redound to the benefit of… you guessed it: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing, among other companies.  These are just a few of the dozens of weapons programs that will be feeding the bottom lines of such companies in the next two years and beyond.  For programs still in their early stages, like that new bomber and the new ballistic missile submarine, their banner budgetary years are yet to come.

“In explaining the flood of funding that enables a company like Lockheed Martin to reap $35 billion per year in government dollars, defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Groupnoted that ‘diplomacy is out; air strikes are in… In this sort of environment, it’s tough to keep a lid on costs. If demand goes up, prices don’t generally come down. And, of course, it’s virtually impossible to kill stuff. You don’t have to make any kind of tough choices when there’s such a rising tide.’”

Other profitable sectors with dubious societal benefits

The prices of pharmaceuticals continued to rise, boosting the profits of pharmaceutical corporations and, when coupled with rising insurance rates, making it financially difficult for tens of millions of Americans to obtain adequate or any health care. Oil and gas corporations continue to do well and are given more opportunities by the Trump administration to lease and mine for oil and gas off the U.S. coastline, off Alaska, and on national parks, despite warnings of how fossil-fuel emissions contribute to ever more dire global warming.

CEO compensation soars, while average employee/worker earnings stay flat

Corporate CEOs earn hundreds of times more than their average employees and the gap is rising. Chuck Collins gives us this fact: “In the mid-1960s, the ratio of CEO pay and average worker pay was about 20:1. In recent years, the ratio has swollen to more than 300:1” (Is Inequality in America irreversible?, p. 7). Furthermore, Collins points out: “Between 1980 and 2013, the richest 1 percent saw their average real income increase by 142 percent, with their share of national income doubling from 10 percent to 20 percent.” And: “Since the economic meltdown of 2008, an estimated $91 of every $100 in increased earnings have gone to the top 1 percent” (p. 8).

Wages overall continue to stagnate, despite rising productivity. Union membership among private-sector workers is down to less than 7 percent. The federal minimum wage continues to erode. Here’s one fact from Collins book: “In 1970, the bottom half of wage earners, roughly 117 million adults, made an average of $16,000 a year in current dollars. By 2014, earnings for the bottom half of households had remained virtually unchanged, bumping up slightly to $16,200” (p. 6). To pin down this point, Collins notes that “[h]alf of US jobs pay less than $15 an hour and 41 million workers earn under $12 an hour, or less than $25,000 a year” (p. 18).

Some good news on Democrats and fund raising

Some reports indicate that Democratic Party and supportive PACs good news are outspending their Republican counterparts in the 2018 mid-term elections and related spending. According to Open Secrets, “The Center for Responsive Politics projects that more than $5 billion will be spent during the 2018” and “Democrats will spend nearly $300 million more than Republicans — $2.5 billion to $2.2 billion. If current trends continue, Blue will outspend Red for the first time in 10 years” (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/10/cost-of-2018-election).

Of course, this trend add to the information that the Democrats are likely to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, some 10 or so governorships, and perhaps a number of state legislatures and municipal governments. However, if such anticipated Democratic victories come to pass, this would be an indication that a majority of voters are fed up with Trump/Republican policies and corruption. At the same time, it’s not clear how far Democratic officeholders would be able or willing to bend the arc away from the current right-wing agenda.

The abundance of right-wing constituencies beyond the corporate CEOs and billionaires

The right-wing side of the political divide also includes many evangelicals who want America to be a Christian nation and want a Supreme Court and federal judiciary in the hands of ultra-conservative justices. It includes xenophobes, super-patriots, white nationalists and white supremacists, and those who want the government to quash the LBGTQ community, those who oppose the reproductive rights of women, and those who hold an absolutist position on unrestricted access to and ownership of guns, even high-powered assault weapons.

They stick with Trump despite his lies and flip flops

They tolerate or admire the malicious narcissism of Trump, despite his unending stream of lies and his appointments of Wall Street and corporate executives to key positions in his administration, just the opposite of “draining the swamp.”

They don’t seem to care that the revelations that much of Trump’s personal wealth stems from his father’s real estate ventures and from tax evasion and fraud. This story is told in well-documented detail by David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner in a long article for the New York Times. They write:

“Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

“But the Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

“Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.” (https://www,nytimes.com/interative/2018/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-tax-schemes-fred-trump.html).

They like Trump’s rejection of climate science and evidence-based discourse generally, unless it comes from right-wing “experts.” They like his efforts to delegitimize the media with his unceasing claims of “fake news.” They like his statements at rallies that encourage violence against his opponents in the crowd. They like Republican efforts to systematically suppress the vote of those who tend to support Democrats. They don’t mind government actions to suppress dissent generally.

There are several reports that indicate Trump’s supporters remain unflagging in their support, despite criticisms of the president. Writing for The New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters reports that “dozens of Trump voters, as well as pollsters and strategists, described something like a bonding experience with the president that happens each time Republicans have to answer a now-familiar question: ‘How can you possibly still support this man?’” One possible electoral consequence: “Their resilience suggests a level of unity among Republicans that could help mitigate Mr. Trump’s low overall approval ratings and aid his party’s chances of keeping control of the House of Representatives in November.” And:

“Republican voters repeatedly described an instinctive, protective response to the president, and their support has grown in recent months: Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is now about 90 percent. And while polling has yet to capture the effect of the last week’s immigration controversy, the only modern Republican president more popular with his party than Mr. Trump at this point in his first term, according to Gallup, was George W. Bush after the country united in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/politics/republican-voters-trump.html).

Further, it remains to be seen whether the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh will lead more women, including Republican women voters, to withdraw their support of Trump and the Republicans and throw their support of Democratic candidates. This story is still unfolding. But, according to a report by Christopher Cadelago for Politico,

“White House aides and allies conceded that throughout the touch-and-go confirmation battle, they weren’t sure whether Kavanaugh would hold on in the face of the sexual assault allegations and the prevailing #MeToo movement that has swept the country for more than a year. But with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) coming out in support of Kavanaugh Friday afternoon — giving the judge enough votes to get through — Trump’s gamble to stand with him has conservatives feeling like they narrowly escaped catastrophe” (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/10/05/kavanaugh-confirmation-trumps-base-876298).

Cadelago also reports that White House officials and Republican pollsters are upbeat about what their polling indicates after reviewing polling that shows a narrowing of the “so-called enthusiasm gap between Republicans and already motivated Democrats in key states. And they are encouraged by a surge in fundraising over the final week in September.

The right-wing forces and their agenda going forward

They want further dismantling of the welfare state, keeping taxes low, deregulating government agencies, undermining collective bargaining, privatizing as many government functions as they can, building up an already inflated military, promoting a hyper nationalistic and militaristic “America first,” foreign policy to protect “the homeland,” threatening war with Iran, supporting dictators, ignoring the genocides in Gaza and Yemen, and going along with the continuation of a vast network of U.S. military bases around the world, while withdrawing, weakening, or attacking a host of international agreements and UN programs under the slogan of “America first.” And, most disturbing, their support for buttressing the fossil-fuel dominated energy system continues unabated, even after the most recent report by the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) documenting that catastrophic effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions will destabilize human societies across the globe. Jon Queally reports:

“If the latest warnings contained in Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which included pronouncements that the world has less than twelve years to drastically alter course to avoid the worst impacts of human-caused global warming and that nothing less than keeping all fossil fuels in the ground is the solution to avoid future calamities—have you at all frightened or despondent, experts responding to the report have a potentially unwelcome message for your already over-burdened heart and mind: It’s very likely even worse than you’re being told.” Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate is quoted: “The IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/10/09/whats-not-latest-terrifying-ipcc-report-much-much-more-terrifying-new-research).

You can find an informative summary of the report on the IPCC website at: https://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events?pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml.

There is more. They favor or are content to go along with the President and other Republican leaders in accepting unprecedented corporate concentration in industry after industry by a few mega corporations. Anti-trust enforcement is becoming an historic relic. They welcome or have no idea of the disproportionate political power that such corporations wield on elections, from lobbying, and in the appointments by the president to policy-influencing positions in the executive branch of government. They accept the views that what really matters are reducing government interference in their lives and allowing an unfettered capitalist system and the corporate-dominated private sector to flourish. The questionable assumption here is that such a political-economic system produces optimal economic growth and benefits that trickle down to most people. Will the next economic recession rupture the Republican base? And it remains to be seen whether Trump’s base of support will splinter over issues such as “pre-existing conditions” and the anticipated Republican plan to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and the rising costs of housing and education.

The right-wing version on inequality – and the poor, struggling workers, and unions

They have a self-serving Social Darwinist twist on inequality. Those with wealth and power are believed to have earned what they have because of superior intelligence, extraordinary ingenuity, and/or hard work. Why do Trump’s non-rich constituencies go along and seem little concerned about increasing inequality? There are many reasons, but one that stands out is that many of them are doing okay financially, if not doing very well.

Blaming the poor justifies helps to legitimate political and institutional inequalities

Overall, the right wing assumes that the poor are themselves responsible for their situation. How could it be otherwise if people are believed to sort themselves out in the society’s income and wealth hierarchies according to merit and there is assumed to be -at least for the present – a plenitude of, if not equally available, opportunities. So, given these assumptions – other parts of the agenda fall logically in place. They support policies that reduce benefits for those who do not have the means to acquire necessities. They pay little attention to the under-funding of schools in districts with high concentrations of poor households. The issue here is that they rely on property taxes in communities with low property values and little or no industry. Steven Pearlstein documents this point as follows:

“According to the Education Law Center’s 2014 annual report, in only 14 states do schools with high concentrations of poverty households get more in pupil funding than districts with no students in poverty. The rest either have regressive state and local funding structures, with high poverty schools receiving less per pupil than no-poverty schools (19 states), or are neither regressive nor progressive (15 states). Analysis from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development indicates that, among advanced economists, only the United States, Turkey and Israel have school funding structures that are this regressive” (Can American Capitalism Survive?, pp. 112-113).

They claim there are plenty of jobs, but ignore that many don’t pay a living wage

The right-wing adherents also argue that there are plenty of jobs available everywhere and therefore poverty can be avoided if only people who work and have no need for welfare. They disregard facts about employment. The economy is filled with low-wage jobs, less-than-full-time jobs, jobs that have little security, and jobs that offer no benefits. And they ignore how many poor people do work, cycling in out of poverty, as they work when there are available jobs for which they are qualified and fall back into poverty when the jobs end or their life circumstances (e.g., illness) make it impossible to continue.

Barriers to employment

Those on the political right who rehash the old well disputed argument about poverty being the result of people wanting to avoid work ignore the poor who are children, disabled, single-parents who can’t afford child care and may not have transportation, the elderly without adequate pensions or any pension, and those who are already working, often full-time, in jobs that pay a poverty-wage. The ignore the hardships and the accumulation of disadvantages that poor children and families often experience. I’ll quote again some of the evidence documenting this statement from Pearlstein’s book.

They ignore how disadvantages begin early in life

“The latest research confirms that it is the earliest environmental influences that matter most. ‘Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning with the prenatal period and extending through the early childhood years,’ a panel of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in a landmark study published in 2000” (p. 109). I delved into one small aspect of this in an earlier post on the “poisoning of Flint.”

They want to deepen the institutionalization of poverty

Based on the victim-blaming assumptions of the Republicans, they want to further limit access to public assistance for the poor; for example, forcing those getting food stamps or Medicaid to work at least twenty hours a month. The predictable outcome would be to increase the number of poor people who will end up with no or even more inadequate government support.

Anti-union

Moreover, Republicans want to pass laws that limit the ability of workers to unionize and eliminate occupational health and safety regulations. A growing number of states now have “right to work” laws and the right-wing Supreme Court has just decided, 5 to 4, that unions can no longer collect fees for their services from non-union members in a workplace, that is for increased wages and benefits or protecting workers from violations of collective bargaining contracts. The right-wing forces in the country hate unions, which have been among the most important institutional vehicles for reducing poverty in American history. Professor Jason Stanley has a useful summary.

“Today, ‘right to work’ legislation has passed in twenty-eight U.S. states, and at the time of this writing threatens to be validated by the Supreme Court, at least for public unions. These laws forbid unions to collect dues from employees who do not wish to pay them, while requiring unions to provide employees who do not choose to pay dues equal union representation and rights. Such legislation is intended to destroy labor unions by removing their access to financial support. ‘Right to work’ is an Orwellian name for legislation that attacks workers’ ability to collectively bargain, thereby robbing workers of a voice” (How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, p. 174).

Criminalizing the poor

In municipalities strapped for revenues, the criminalizing poverty has become a way of generating revenues. Peter Edelman devotes his new book to this subject, which is titled Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America. He writes:

“Beyond mass incarceration, beginning in the 1990s we adopted a new set of criminal justice strategies that further punish poor people for their poverty. Low-income people are arrested for minor violations that are only annoyances for people with means but are disastrous for the poor and near poor because of the high fines and fees we now almost routinely impose. Poor people are held in jail to await trial when they cannot afford bail, fined excessive amounts, and high with continuously mounting costs and fees. Failure to pay begets more jail time, more debts from accumulated interest charges, additional fines and fees, and, in a common penalty with significant consequences for those living below or near the poverty line, repeated driver’s license suspensions. Poor people lose their liberty and often lose their jobs, are frequently barred from a host of public benefits, may lose custody of their children, and may even lose their right to vote” (p. xiii).

As indicated, the expansion of the already massive system of jails and prisons, imprisoning disproportionately high numbers of African Americans and Latinos, and the building of for-profit detention centers and concentration camps for refugees trying to enter the country are a testimony to how the poor suffer from institutional arrangements and government policies that limit opportunities and ignore the tribulations and consequences of poverty. All the while, the president and Republican Party advance the most anti-immigration policies in generations.

The Challenges

We now find ourselves in a political situation in which approaches one-party rule, as the Republicans have control of the presidency, more and more of the executive branch agencies, both houses of the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court and more and more positions in the federal judiciary, and the majority of state governments. Responding to the challenge, Democrats and activists of all stripes are working to register, educate, and mobilize voters for the upcoming mid-term elections in November. And polls indicate that they have a good chance of taking control of the House of Representatives, electing perhaps 10 additional Democratic governors…. And there is the hope that there will be additional Democratic victories in 2020.

If all this should transpire, there are great and pressing challenges to confront. It will take not only a mobilized and educated electorate and victories at the polls that bring strong progressive Democratic majorities to the White House and the U.S. Congress, but also strong initiatives to implement policies that reign in corporate power, introduce progressive taxes, campaign finance reform, and a Medicare-for-all health care policy, that protect voters’ rights, that strengthen the social safety net and consider the idea of a basic income for everyone, that reverse the anti-union “right to work” laws, that accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels toward conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, that revamp foreign policy in ways to advance international agreements and reduce the threats and use of military force, that renew international efforts toward rational climate and environmental policies, that are aimed at phasing out of nuclear weapons, that ensure protection of the reproductive rights of women and the constitutional rights of all citizens to fair treatment….

There is much to be done, the opposition is powerful and relentless, and there little time to do it.

 

Kavanough clinches right-wing majority on Supreme Court, another step toward Republican domination

Kavanaugh clinches right-wing majority on the Supreme Court,
representing another step toward Republican domination
Bob Sheak, October 9, 2018

The dismaying significance of Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday, October 6, 2018, is that it further consolidates right-wing control of the court. But that’s only part of a larger story. Kavanaugh’s confirmation is another step in the unfolding eclipse of democracy, as all branches of the federal government have been already falling under the increasing influence of the Republican Party and their allies.

The Republican Party already controls the White House, both houses of the U.S. Congress, and the majority of state legislatures. It enjoys the massive support of the Koch Brothers network of billionaires, most corporations. industry trade associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Businesses. Trump has rallied tens of millions of most white Americans, especially white men, to his banner and they seem unperturbed by, for example, his unending lies, his disrespectful behavior and statements about women, his apparent gross misrepresentations about his personal wealth, his tax cuts favoring big corporations and the wealthy, his efforts to eliminate Obama’s Affordable Care Act with no concern about the access and affordability of health care for millions of vulnerable Americans. The Republican Party has in some states limited political opposition by using gerrymandering, accompanied by voter suppression laws, and, in some cases, have made it difficult for citizens to vote by reducing the number of voting places, limiting early voting opportunities, and keeping those with felony records (after they have served their time) off the voting rolls altogether. On this topic, see Zachary Roth’s book, The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy, or Ari Berman’s Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, or Anthony J. McGann, et.al., Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty.

To top it off, they have the Supreme Court in their pocket – and for generations to come.

Agencies in the executive branch being reshaped in favor of right-wing interests

Before turning to the principal focus of this essay on the Supreme Court, there is another aspect of the Republican/Right-wing domination of the political system that is worth a few thoughts about the federal bureaucracy. Trump is using the presidency to appoint people to his cabinet and to authoritative positions in the agencies that make up the executive branch of the federal government who have no prior experience, no interest in what the agencies have and are accomplishing, and whose mandates are to reduce the budgets, programs, and personnel (e.g., by not filling vacancies) in these agencies.

In his new book, The Fifth Risk, award-winning journalist Michael Lewis documents that Trump and his appointees typically have no idea of and little interest in learning what the agencies do – or how their work is often of vital to the public interest. Their mission is ideological, that is, to cut budgets that do not serve their corporate and wealthy supporters and to do so without any interest in or understanding of the consequences. There has been a lot of media coverage of how the EPA has been affected as Scott Pruitt worked to eliminate environmental regulations and stifle any agency work related to climate change. But, as Lewis cogently argues, the problem is not limited to this agency. He examines in-depth some of the innovative and important programs going on in the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which, among other things, oversees the National Weather Service.

Take the Department of Energy, which has a yearly budget of $30 billion and about 110,000 employees, with responsibilities for maintaining and guarding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, providing inspectors internationally to ensure that nuclear-bomb materials do not get into the hands of terrorists, cleaning up the world historic mess left behind by the U.S. manufacture of 70,000 nuclear bombs in places like the Hanford site in the state of Washington, and developing programs to shape “Americans’ access to, and use of, energy.” Trump and his appointees have no interest in learning from the thousands of experienced and skilled people who work for this agency. If anything, they want less regulation of and more government support for fossil fuels, less support for renewables, more government money spent on “modern” nuclear weapons, a policy of selective intimidation toward countries like Iran and North Korea who have or could have nuclear weapons, and scorn of international efforts to deal with the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Here’s some revealing examples from Lewis’ book of just how diabolical the process is with respect to the Department of Energy. Two weeks after the election, Trump created a “Landing Team…. led by, and mostly consisted of, a man named Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, which, upon inspection, proved to be a Washington, DC, propaganda machine funded with millions of dollars from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.” Lewis continues: “Pyle himself had served as a Koch Industries lobbyist and ran a business on the side writing editorials attacking the DOE’s attempt to reduce the dependence of the American Economy on carbon” (p. 38). Then Pyle was replaced by “a handful of young ideologues who called themselves “the Beachhead Team,” who mainly ran around insulting people and who believed “that everything that government does is stupid and band and the people in it are stupid and bad.” Finally, former Texas governor Rick Petty was picked and confirmed by the Senate to head the DOE. Lewis notes that at his confirmation hearing, “Perry confessed that when he called for its elimination [during his earlier presidential bid] he hadn’t actually known what the Department of Energy did – and he now regretted having said that it didn’t do anything worth doing” (p. 47). But Lewis wondered whether he knew anything now. Former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told Lewis that Perry has spent only “minutes, not hours” with him to learn about the agency. A DOE staffer told Lewis in June 2017: “He’s never been briefed on a program – not a single one, which to me is shocking” (p. 48)

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Before Kavanaugh – already a right-wing Supreme Court

The partisan thrust of the Supreme Court existed prior to Kavanaugh’s nomination and conformation. The editorial board of The New York Times offers a concise overview of how the Supreme Court was already a partisan, right-wing court even before Kavanaugh was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The title of the editorial: “Brett Kavanaugh Will Fit Right In at the Pro-Corporate Roberts Court” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/22/opinion/brett/kavanaugh-supreme-court.html).

They make their main point in these words: “Under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. the court has given big business a leg up on workers, unions, consumers and the environment — and will do so even more aggressively if the Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s choice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy.” Well, as we now all know, Kavanaugh has been confirmed.

However, the Court was already a right-wing dominated, partisan court for some time. Indeed, this is undisputedly the case under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. since 2005. Indeed, this was not always the case. There were a series of court decisions prior to Roberts ascendance to the court, mostly going back before Reagan, that supported the rights of workers, women, minorities, and the need for laws that protect the environment. There have been few such decisions during the Roberts’ court. Given the composition of the Supreme Court, such laws will most likely be further weakened or terminated in coming years.

The board makes it clear that the right-wing justices on the Roberts’ Court have done what they can to further strengthen corporate power and that the addition of Kavanaugh will cement this trend.

The evidence.

“Corporations won the power to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns in the 2010 Citizens United decision. The owners of businesses have earned the right to cite their personal religious beliefs to deprive workers of reproductive health care. At the same time, the justices have made it harder for employees and customers to sue big businesses by allowing corporations to require mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts people are forced to sign if they want jobs or want to buy goods and services. The court has also made it easier for polluters to get away with poisoning the air and water.”
The NYT editors point out that many such corporate-supportive decisions had been decided by “five conservative justices” who have “shown no restraint in rejecting judicial precedent and in substituting their own judgment for that of lawmakers.” Most recently, “public sector unions with contracts covering nearly seven million workers” were struck a severe blow to their continuing existence” in a 5-to-4 decision made in June 2018.The decision struck down “a unanimous 40-year-old decision that state governments and unions had long relied on.” The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees “held that government workers covered by union contracts do not have to pay fees for collective bargaining expenses if they are not members.” While not directly involving businesses, the decision “will hurt all workers because benefits won by unions often establish benchmarks that help improve wages and working conditions even at companies without unions.”
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Author Bill Blum offers some additional examples of the corporate bias of the Roberts’ court.

“…the Roberts court not only opened the floodgates to corporate money in elections [via the Citizens’ United Decision] but time and again has acted to shield companies from liability for defective and dangerous products (Reigel v. Medtronic Inc.), and reduce the financial risks of environmental pollution (Baker v. Exxon). The court has also made it increasingly difficult for women and exploited minorities to bring anti-discrimination class actions (Ledbetter v. Goodyear), and undermined the power of organized labor (Know v. SEIU).”

Blum also refers to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota Law Review that “found that the Roberts court’s five conservatives rank among the nine most pro-business justices in the past 65 years.”
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“The Roberts Court Protects the Powerful for a New Gilded Age”

This the title of an article by law professor Jedediah Purdy that also appeared in The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/28/opinion/sunday/supreme-court-kennedy-roberts.html).

Purdy sees an increasingly conservative pattern in Supreme Court decisions in recent months and years that undermined unions, supported Texas’ gerrymandering, opened the gates to unlimited corporate campaign spending, reduced the reproductive rights of women, reduced access to Medicaid, reversed recent marriage-equality decisions, supported Trump’s Muslim immigration ban, and made it more difficult for workers to bring changers against employers for wage theft.

Take the example of unions. Purdy writes, “Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court has consistently issued bold, partisan decisions that have been terrible for working people. Like the NYT editors, Purdy also refers to Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, decided on Wednesday [June 27, 2018].” In this decision, “the Supreme Court ruled “that public-sector unions may not charge nonmembers ‘agency fees’ for contract negotiation and other services that affect all employees in the same workplace, members and nonmembers alike.” Justice Elena Kagan dissented in this decision, arguing that it “allowed employees to opt out of paying union fees while getting the benefits of representation risks starving the unions of resources, leading to ineffectiveness and collapse. Moreover, knifing unions at a time of intense controversy over state austerity budgets and widespread teachers’ strikes suggests, as Justice Kagan wrote, that the court ‘wanted to pick the winning side’ in these fights by ‘weaponizing the First Amendment [free speech], in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.’”

Here are other examples from Purdy’s article.

Regarding “wage theft,” Purdy refers to a court ruling in Epic Systems v. Lewis in which “employees claiming wage theft – their employers trimmed paychecks by undercounting hours – could be forced to bring their complaints individually to private arbitrators hired by their employers, rather than bring a class action in court.”

Regarding mandatory arbitration as a way of stifling labor – “In 1992, as the Supreme Court began to allow arbitration to enter employment relationships, only 2 percent of non-unionized companies-imposed arbitration on their workers. Today the figure is 54 percent and sure to grow because it conveniently ties the hands of disgruntled or mistreated workers. These cases have replaced a majority of employees’ legal protections with a system of private agreements that replicates the unequal bargaining power of workers and companies. Arbitration agreements will become only more important as “gig” employers such as Uber devise their contracts to get around labor law.”

Regarding health care: “In 2012, in its first ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the court hamstrung Congress’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility from the very poor to the working poor by effectively making expanded coverage optional for states. About 2.2 million people are uninsured as a result, nearly 90 percent of them in Southern states whose economies have always relied on low-cost labor. About half of those left out of the Medicaid expansion are black or Hispanic.”

Regarding campaign contributions: “The 1970s court also returned to its old habit of dressing economic power in constitutional principle. The dominance of the very rich in American politics is often attributed to the Citizens United decision of 2010, but that case only amplified a 1976 opinion, Buckley v. Valeo, in which the court shredded post-Watergate campaign-finance regulation and announced that private individuals could spend unlimited sums on candidates (including themselves). When the Roberts court used the First Amendment to protect corporate (and union) political spending in Citizens United, it was extending a longer-running trend. This is part of what Justice Kagan means when she observes that the conservative majority is weaponizing the First Amendment.”

If Purdy has his way, the court would be making very different decisions that it has. He writes: “we need campaign-finance laws that limit the influence of wealth and treat citizens as equals. We need a labor law that helps workers organize in new kinds of workplaces, such as home health care and the gig economy. We need antitrust law that can wrestle with the new quasi-monopoly power of platform-based companies such as Amazon and Facebook. We need forms of social caretaking and security that are even stronger and more universal than Obamacare.”
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Kavanaugh is replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy – no moderate

Andrew Cohen, a senior editor at The Marshall Project and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, makes the case that most – not all – of the decisions made by Justice Anthony Kennedy were with the four conservatives justices (https://newrepublic.com/article/149449/anthony-kennedy-no-moderate).

Cohen reminds us that Kennedy was nominated by President Reagan, then confirmed by the Senate, in 1988. Ideologically, Cohen says, Kennedy could only be considered “moderate” when contrasted “to conservative flamethrowers like Thomas, Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Neil Gorsuch.” Kennedy did vote with the liberals on the court occasionally, in deciding against capital punishment where the defendants had intellectual disabilities or where a juvenile had committed the homicide. Kennedy also supported same-sex marriage and, to quote Cohen, “has largely hewed to the Court’s precedent in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which updated and modernized the constitutional right to an abortion first announced in Roe v. Wade.” All these precedents are now likely to be challenged and overturned with the addition of Kavanaugh to the court.

Mostly, however, Kennedy’s conservative leanings came to the fore in most of the decisions he cast. Cohen gives some relatively recent examples, starting in 2006.

“In 2010, Kennedy sided with his fellow conservatives and moneyed interests in Citizens United v. F.E.C, a case in which the Court for the first time recognized that political spending was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Justice Kennedy wrote that decision, equating corporations with people, and the grim effects of it on our politics are everywhere around us: from the dark money flowing into campaigns around the country, to the extension of “corporate” rights into other areas of constitutional law.

“In areas like religious freedom, Kennedy earlier this month sided, gingerly, against a gay couple who were discriminated against by a Colorado baker who refused to bake them a same-sex marriage wedding cake. Yes, the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v.Colorado Civil Rights Commission is an obvious compromise and not the blow that religious activists had hoped it would be; but when you pair it with the Court’s ruling in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, in which Kennedy again sided with his conservative colleagues, it’s not hard to see where this area of the law is heading. It’s headed sharply to the right, at a pace that now will accelerate in Kennedy’s absence.

“So, too, will the partisan push for voter suppression accelerate. Five year ago, Kennedy sided with his fellow Court conservatives in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Countless citizens either already have been or soon will be disenfranchised as a result of that ruling, one of the worst in the court’s long history. Nothing Kennedy has done since 2013 has suggested he has any remorse or regret over how Republican lawmakers around the country reacted to that ruling. Not for nothing, Kennedy also helped spur modern-day voter suppression when he signed onto a 2008 ruling out of Indiana, Crawford v. Marion County, which endorsed voter ID laws now used by Republicans to disenfranchise the poor, the elderly, students, and minority voters.

“And don’t forget the guns. Kennedy has voted with the majority in the two seminal gun rights cases of our time. In District of Columbia v. Heller he signed onto Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision, recognizing for the first time a personal right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. And in McDonald v. Chicago he voted to apply that newly-recognized Second Amendment right to state laws through the Fourteenth Amendment. In each instance, the vote was 5–4; in each case, Kennedy voted with the gun lobby and for a view of gun rights that Justice Warren Burger, a Nixon appointee, once called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud” he had seen infect the courts.

“He was a consistent voter for employers over employees, for corporations over consumers, and against unions—right down to one of his final votes in the public sector employee union case the Court decided Wednesday in another 5-4 vote in which the conservatives prevailed. He was also a regular voter for police and prosecutors over criminal suspects or defendants, even though he was troubled by prison overcrowding and the persistent overuse of solitary confinement. Right down to last week, in the Fourth Amendment case titled Carpenter v. United States, he was an ardent supporter of government surveillance at the expense of individual privacy rights.

“For a judge who has held so many key cases in the palm of his hand over the past decade, for someone perceived by so many as having so much power to shape the course of American law and history, he may have saved his lamest response for last. In Trump v. Hawaii, with religious and racial discrimination rife, all he could muster was a vote for the Trump administration’s travel ban and a mealy-mouth concurrence in which he implored federal officials—who repeatedly have ignored the Constitution—not to ignore the Constitution. He ended thus with a whimper, unwilling to check the implementation of the Trump administration’s bigotry into policy and practice.”

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Enter Kavanaugh

“a corporation masquerading as a judge”

Ralph Nader describes Kavanaugh in unqualified terms as “a corporation masquerading as a judge” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/09/06/stop-brett-kavanaugh-corporation-masquerading-judge). He writes: “With Kavanaugh, it is all about siding with corporations over workers, consumers, patients, motorists, the poor, minority voters, and beleaguered communities.” When his overall judicial record is considered, “Kavanaugh could be the most corporate judge in modern American history.” Nader refers to “[t]wo meticulous reports on his judicial decisions, one by the Alliance for Justice (AFJ) and one by Public Citizen demonstrate that for him it’s all about corporations uber alles.”

The AFJ finds that “Kavanaugh has repeatedly ruled against efforts to combat climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases. He also repeatedly ruled against protections for clean air. He has repeatedly sided with the wealthy and the powerful over all Americans. He has fought consumer protections in the areas of automobile safety, financial services, and a free and open internet. Kavanaugh has also repeatedly ruled against workers, workplace protections and safety regulations.”

Public Citizen’s report provides some details on Kavanaugh’s judicial record, namely, that he “ruled 15 times against worker rights, 2 times for worker rights. On environmental protection, he ruled 11 times for business interests and 2 times for the public’s interest. On consumer and regulatory cases, he ruled 18 times for businesses and 4 times for consumer protection interests. In the area of antitrust or anti-monopoly, he ruled 2 times for the corporations and zero times for market competition.”
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Getting him confirmed quickly

Legal expert Marjorie Cohn identifies some of the reasons why the GOP was so eager to confirm Kavanaugh (https://truthout.org/articles/five-reasons-why-the-gop-is-rushing-to-confirm-kavanaugh). She argues that it was principally because they wanted him confirmed before the court’s new term begins in October. She also agrees that the upcoming mid-term elections in which Democrats had an outside chance of taking control of the Senate was a consideration. But, she contends, the press for a decision on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the court has more to do with the cases on the Supreme Court’s docket. Specifically, “Republicans are hoping to ensure the outcome of several hot-button cases, including those involving double jeopardy, immigration, age discrimination and the Endangered Species Act.” She continues: “Moreover, there is the possibility that the Supreme Court could also decide to take up additional cases affecting gerrymandering, gay and transgender rights, and the separation of church and state.”

Very importantly, there is a pending case involving arcane provisions in the Constitution regarding “double jeopardy” that has relevance for President Trump personal legal situation and with his authority to pardon others or even himself in instances where they are found guilty in federal court.

Cohn writes: “Potentially most consequential for Trump is the case of Gamble v. US, which could affect his ability to pardon his associates, and even himself. On June 4, 2018, Trump tweeted, ‘I have the absolute right to PARDON myself.’

“The pardon power, located in Article II, section 2 of the Constitution, says, “The president … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” It limits the president’s pardon power to federal offenses.

“In Gamble v. US, the justices will decide whether prosecuting a person in both state and federal courts for the same crime violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, ‘No person shall … be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb …’

What’s at stake for Trump? “If the Court follows its long-standing precedent, Trump could exercise his pardon power in federal proceedings but not in subsequent state proceedings for the same offense. Even if Trump were to pardon Paul Manafort, who was convicted of fraud in federal court, New York and Virginia state prosecutors could still bring charges against him.” And if Trump is ever “charged in a federal prosecution and he endeavored to pardon himself, the state of New York could then file criminal charges against him regarding the same matter.” Under such circumstances, as the law now stands, “Trump would be powerless to pardon himself in the state case.” However, now with Kavanaugh and a solid right-wing court, the justices are poised to “narrow the scope of the Double Jeopardy Clause” in way to reduce the right of state authorities to file criminal charges.

Kavanaugh to the rescue. Cohn notes that “Kavanaugh has said a sitting president should not be ‘distracted’ by having to answer to a civil or criminal case, notwithstanding the Court’s ruling in Clinton v. Jones. He has demonstrated extreme deference to presidential power and would likely vote to limit the criminal exposure of Trump and his associates.”

Cohn gives four other examples of how Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court will advance right-wing causes. On immigrants’ rights, the court is going to decide “in Nielson v. Preap whether the government can detain immigrants for the duration of their deportation proceedings, without a hearing, because they have past criminal records.” We can expect that Kavanaugh will support the government’s right to detain immigrants in these situations. Why? According to Cohn, “Kavanaugh’s record demonstrates contempt” for the rights of immigrants.

There are other pending cases before the Supreme Court regarding age discrimination, the endangered species act, gerrymandering and more. Kavanaugh’s record on the federal bench indicates that he “favor employers over employees,” favors economic development over wildlife habitats, and favors restrictions or additional requirements for voting rather than fewer.

In her conclusion, Cohn writes: “Republicans know that Kavanaugh would provide a reliable vote against immigrants, workers, voters, and gay and transgender people. He would deliver a dependable vote for employers, private property and church-state bonding. The GOP can also rest assured that Kavanaugh would do his best to immunize Trump from criminal liability and enable him to continue their mean-spirited, right-wing agenda.”

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Corporate-funded lobbyists pressed for Kavanaugh’s confirmation

In a report for The Intercept, Lee Fang reports on a wave of lobbying that pressed for the Senate confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court (https://theintercept.com/2018/10/04/brett-kavanuagh-supreme-court-confirmation-corporate-regulations).

According to Fang’s research, “Business groups with interests before the U.S. Supreme Court have orchestrated a multifaceted campaign to pressure the Senate to swiftly confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court. The advocacy reaches across the influence economy of Washington, D.C., with the largest corporate lobbying groups and billionaires working in concert with Republican operatives to elevate Kavanaugh to a lifetime posting atop the judiciary.

“Few businesses, however, have stamped their names on the effort. Most major corporations and wealthy donors are instead using 501(c) nonprofit groups that do not require donor transparency to air upward of $15 million in reported advertising spending in order to convince the public to support Kavanaugh’s nomination. Other conservative groups contributing to the ad war have not disclosed how much they are spending, likely bringing the total much higher.

“Among the groups publicly campaigning for Kavanaugh to be confirmed are the giants of pro-business lobbying — organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity. Lesser-known, business-funded political groups, such as the Republican Attorneys General Association, are also spearheading campaigns. Meanwhile, a host of industry groups — funded by many of the same corporate interests that fund the larger lobbying organizations — are eagerly waiting for Kavanaugh to be elevated and rule on cases that will affect their businesses.

What is Kavanaugh’s appeal?

Fang gives us the answer. “Kavanaugh has ruled against consumer rights, against labor organizers, and against class action lawsuits — a record that places him squarely in the Fortune 500’s corner. The Constitutional Accountability Center, after analyzing key rulings on workers rights, corporate regulations, and multinational corporate liability, found that Kavanaugh “has sided with corporate and business interests even when consumers, workers, and regulatory agencies had the text of the law and precedent on their side.” Similarly, the progressive consumer rights group Public Citizen analyzed Kavanaugh’s decisions and found that the judge sided with big business in 76 percent of cases brought before him in the D.C. circuit.

“Likewise with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest pro-business lobbying federation in the country, which represents firms such as Dow Chemical, Prudential, ExxonMobil, and Goldman Sachs. The group has long challenged environmental and financial regulations on the basis that regulators acted beyond the limits of statutory authority. The powerful lobby announced in August that it would mobilize support for Kavanaugh, claiming it would score support for Kavanaugh as a “key vote” in evaluating members of Congress. The Chamber spends tens of millions of dollars every election cycle against lawmakers who cross them on major votes.”
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What’s the upshot?

We don’t have to guess about the role Brett Kavanaugh will play on the already highly partisan Supreme Court. If there is hope for progressive change, it will not come from, or be facilitated by, this court (https://www.thenation.com/article/democrats-must-stop-pretending-the-court-apolitical).

The future rests on whether there are forces abroad at all levels of the society, from communities, to states and regions, to nationwide, that can be mobilized and unified around democratic, egalitarian, and environmentally sustainable values and goals. It’s not yet clear how this could happen. The odds do not appear very good. And yet the next chapters of our national story have yet to be written. The door on meaningful change has not been closed. And it’s awesome at times when we hear inspiring voices of what could be coming from many thousands of places across our land.

Reigning in Climate Change?

Reigning in Climate Change?

Bob Sheak, September 28, 2018

Governor Jerry Brown recently joined with others to convene the Global Climate Action Summit in September 12-14, 2018, in San Francisco. The purpose: to boost international efforts to keep the earth’s temperature from rising to no higher than 2 degrees Celsius, a measure that is believed to be a point at which irreversible and catastrophic climate changes will occur. (See Joseph Romm’s discussion of the 2-degree measure in his book, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, pp. 151-159). Those attending the Summit included officials from state and local governments, from non-profit organizations, experts from academia, and corporate executives. While the Summit was filled with good intentions and though it wound up on a high note, there are reasons to question whether it will have the political impact that will move humanity toward a stable and sustainable climate. One lingering question, among many, is whether we in the U.S. and those in other capitalist economies can find ways to live compatibly and sustainably with nature in an economy that requires unending growth.

The disconcerting evidence: the transformation of the earth’s climate continues unabated

What the scientists say

The scientific evidence is overwhelming 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 last November 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 overutilizes and contaminates water sources.

 Wikipedia, the on-line public encyclopedia, has an overview of the scientific position on global warming/climate change.

“Several studies of the consensus have been undertaken.[1] Among the most-cited is a 2013 study of nearly 12,000 abstracts of peer-reviewed papers on climate science published since 1990, of which just over 4,000 papers expressed an opinion on the cause of recent global warming. Of these, 97% agree, explicitly or implicitly, that global warming is happening and is human-caused.[2][3] It is “extremely likely”[4] that this warming arises from “… human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases …”[4] in the atmosphere.[5] Natural change alone would have had a slight cooling effect rather than a warming effect.[6][7][8][9]

“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 7 to 4.8 °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 with this scientific opinion on global warming. “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 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 intensive 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.

The initial international responses in the 1990s

As the scientific evidence mounted on climate change in the 1980s and early 1990s, a global treaty on the environment was approved at the United Nations by all the world’s leading countries. It is called United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was formally agreed upon at the Conference of the Parties (COP) at the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit. According to Joseph Romm, “The goal of the treaty was to set up an international process to ‘stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-caused] interference in the climate system” (Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know). It was acknowledged that “the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs” (p. 150). It followed that, though controversial, the “developed country parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.” This has not yet happened, as of twenty-six years later in 2018.

There have been subsequent COP gatherings in most years. In 1997, the countries gathered in Kyoto, Japan, and negotiated “the Kyoto Protocol, which set targets and timetables [but] only for the emissions of rich countries.” While almost every industrialized nation ratified the Protocol, the United States did not. The agreement failed in reducing global emissions, due to “the absence of the United States coupled with rapid growth in developing countries’ emissions post-2000, particularly China’s,” and “overall global emissions continue to grow.” But over the years the most momentous meeting came in December 2015 at the twenty-first meetings of COP.

A commitment to action by the nations of the world

 Representatives from over 160 countries convened a two-week conference on November 30, 2015, in Le Bourget in Paris – and other countries not in attendance expressed their support. The principal objective of the conference was to achieve for the first time a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world. Binding! Each of the nations were asked to submit specific targets and timelines for reducing their respective emissions. The hope was that, in the aggregate, the global temperature would be kept below 2 degrees Celsius (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_United_Nations_Climate_Change_Conference).

Even before the conference, 180+ countries had made such commitments to develop specific targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and timelines. President Obama read a statement to the nation, saying that the Agreement was an unprecedented achievement of historic proportions and it’s taking humanity in the right direction toward a carbon-free global environment. He also acknowledged that ultimate success depended not only on the signatory nations’ willingness and capacity to follow through on their initial pledges but also on their ability to go beyond these pledges (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/12/statement-president-paris-climate-agreement).

There was a lot to be thankful for. The world’s leaders supported, in principle if not action, the need to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Most nations had identified, or were expected to identify, specific targets for emissions reductions. There was a framework and process in place for monitoring the process. However good the initial intentions, the targets have not yet been translated into the promised action. The famous climate scientist James Hansen expected as much when he said that “There is no action, just promises” (https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/cop21-father-of-climate-awareness-james-hansen-denounces-paris-agreement-as-a-fraud-a677171.html).

Craig Welch writes in a piece published in the National Geographic reporting that according to two important scientific evaluations of the emission-reduction targets submitted by the nations, the targets will not achieve their goal of keeping the earth’s temperature below the 2-degree target. Here’s what Welch wrote.

“Before arriving in Paris, 187 countries, representing more than 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, submitted plans to reduce their emissions in coming decades. [However] [t]hose plans come nowhere close of reaching the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees – let alone 1.5 degrees [as recommended by James Hansen and other climate scientists]. In fact, analyses by two teams – one in Germany, one associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – say the plans, if followed, would lead to between 2.7 or 3.5 degrees of warming” (http://news-national-geographic.com/2015/12/151212-Paris-climate-change-agreement-fossil-fuels/#VmyojCdAAK.twitter). In this eventuality, the climate disruptions (e.g., severe weather events) we now experience would become more frequent and more destructive, leading to vast numbers of environmental refugees, failed states, violence, and widespread poverty.

Falling short

In a recent article published in the New York Times, Brad Plumer reports that, limited to begin with, “most national governments are falling short of their promises to curb greenhouse gas emissions” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/climate/california-climate-summit.html). To make matters worse, Plumer adds, “the Trump administration has been pushing to roll back many of the most prominent federal climate policies” at the Environmental Protection Agency and all agencies in the executive branch that have any influence on energy/environmental policies. Then, on June 1, 2017, Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

Especially bad climate news continues under Trump

Timmons Roberts identifies the reasons that motivated Trump to do this in an article for Brookings (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/planetpolicy/2018/06/01/one-year-since-trumps-withdrawal-from-the-paris-climate-agreement). The president believes that the claims about climate change are a hoax and dismisses or ignores the massive scientifically-derived evidence to the contrary. He dislikes international agreements of any sort and, according to Roberts, had “developed a posture that asserted American dominance and unwillingness to be influenced by foreign governments.” Trump promises coal miners that he will rollback Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. His decision was political in other respects as well, including his close relations with “radical right-wing organization funded by the fossil fuel industry [which] influenced his campaign, the transition into the presidency,” and his administration continuously. Roberts adds: “his cabinet, top advisers, and appointees are direct transplants from fossil fuel companies and the think tanks organizations they fund.” And his decision and general views on climate change and his fossil-fuel oriented energy policy are in line with the position taken by the Republican Party and Republicans in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Responses to Trump and the reality of the climate crisis

Brad Plumer reports in the article referred to above that there was an almost immediate response to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. He writes: “Hours after President Trump announced last year that the United States would exit the Paris climate deal, a broad group of governors, mayors and business executives declared that they would uphold the agreement anyway and continue tackling global warming on their own”(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/climate/california-climate-summit.html).

There were two developments or reactions that were given added momentum or that were forthcoming.

States, local governments, and even some corporations have taken or plan steps to reduce carbon emissions.

California’s Governor Brown signed a bill on September 10, 2018, Plumer writes, requiring the state “to get 100 percent of [its] electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045,” while also setting “a goal of putting 5 million electric cars on the road by 2030” and “dedicating $2.5 billion to vehicle rebates and charging infrastructure.” Other states, such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington, are taking similar steps. But as of now, according to Plumer, “[o]nly 16 states and Puerto Rico have actually promised to uphold the Paris agreement. Most of those states are led by Democrats, and efforts to persuade Republican-led states like Ohio or Texas to join have been largely unsuccessful.”

There is also some positive activity at the city level. In more than “70 cities have signed onto a goal of buying enough renewable power to offset all of their electricity consumption, though many mayors are now pondering how to pull that off.” At the same time, while many power plants now burn natural gas and renewables rather than coal, there are still a lot of emissions from “cars and trucks, farming, and industrial sectors like cement and steel.” And, when you consider the full story of natural gas, from the mining of silica, to the transportation of the silica, chemicals, and water to fracking sites (all materials used in the extraction of natural gas from deep in the ground), to leaks in the pipelines and flaring of gas, to the drilling for the gas [and oil], to the pipelines that convey the gas to power plants and other production sites, to the burning of the gas in power plants, to the transportation of wastes from the fracking sites, there is a tremendous amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, emitted into the atmosphere. For example, Sharon Kelly reports for Desmogblog on a new study that finds “methane leaks from oil and gas are 60 percent higher than EPA estimates (https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/06/21/methane-leaks-oil-gas-60-higher-epa-estimates-science-study-edf).

There is some positive news on the corporate front. Plumer notes that “dozens of Fortune 500 companies including Google, Apple and Wal-Mart have voluntarily invested billions of dollars into building new wind and solar farms to power their operations.” But the great majority are doing nothing or nothing of real significance.

While there is some laudable activity, the U.S. is overall not doing so well. Plumer writes that “the United States is still falling far short of its Paris Agreement pledges.” He refers to a study in June of this year “by the research firm Rhodium Group [which] estimated that the country was on pace to get only about halfway to former President Barack Obama’s promise under the pact to cut America’s emissions at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.” This already limited goal was not being achieved.

The Global Climate Action Summit

 Another response to Trump’s policies, as reported by Plumer, came from California’s Governor Brown, who organized a meeting, dubbed the Global Climate Action Summit, to bring “an array of governors, mayors and business executives from around the globe “to promote their successes in cutting greenhouse gas emissions locally and to encourage one another to do more. Representatives from other countries were in attendance, as Plumer reports.

 Governor Brown met with Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief climate negotiator, and announced plans for California and China to work together on zero-emissions vehicles and fuel-cell research. Later in the week, several blue-state governors met behind closed doors with the environment ministers of Canada and Mexico to forge new partnerships on issues like electric vehicles and curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

“There was no shortage of announcements at the meeting. Cities like Tokyo, Rotterdam and West Hollywood signed joint pledges to only buy zero-emissions buses after 2025. Companies like Walmart and Unilever rolled out new programs to limit deforestation in their huge supply chains. Dozens of philanthropic groups committed $4 billion over the next five years to fight climate change.”

According to the Summit’s website, there were four highly optimistic goals.

#1 – It will be a moment to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens with respect to climate action. – This was accomplished.

#2 – It will also be a launchpad for deeper worldwide commitments and accelerated action from countries—supported by all sectors of society—that can put the globe on track to prevent dangerous climate change and realize the historic Paris Agreement.

#3 – The decarbonization of the global economy is in sight. Transformational changes are happening across the world and across all sectors as a result of technological innovation, new and creative policies and political will at all levels.

#4 – States and regions, cities, businesses and investors are leading the charge on pushing down global emissions by 2020, setting the stage to reach net zero emissions by midcentury.​​ Summit (https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/about-the-summit)

While the Summit included only a relatively small number of actors, given the global aspirations of the Summit, the organizing premise was lofty, that is, “if a handful of leading-edge states, cities and businesses can demonstrate that it’s feasible — and even lucrative — to go green in their own backyards, they might inspire others to follow suit. That, in turn, could [it was hoped], make it easier for national leaders to act more forcefully.” Governor Brown and the other participants wanted also to let the world know that there were groups outside of the Trump’s government in the United States that would speak for the nation on climate policy. And, indeed, there is now a U.S. coalition, at least in name, consisting of “16 states, Puerto Rico, hundreds of cities and nearly 2000 businesses” that “has vowed to press ahead with climate action and ensure that the United States meets former President Barack Obama’s Paris pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.”

Brown and other Summit leaders also hoped that their gathering would generate momentum “around action on clean energy and global warming as United Nations climate negotiations are scheduled to take place in Poland in December (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/15/climate/california-climage-summit.html). However, it is expected to be a contentious meeting, as government officials from over 180 states attempt to “finalize a ‘rule book’ for implementing the Paris Agreement,” while taking up complex and controversial issues “like how to track and verify emissions cuts,” and how many nations will decide “whether to strengthen their national pledges on climate action, which are currently far too weak to avoid drastic warming.” There were preliminary negotiations in Bangkok this month (September 2018) that “fell into disarray… as poorer countries accused wealthier nations, including the United States, of reneging on their promises for financial aid to fight climate change.”

There are other concerns. Researchers associated with the Governor’s efforts released a road map, Plumer writes, “for what it would take to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.” He continues: “It entailed a rapid transformation of the world’s energy system (measures such as banning the sales of gasoline vehicles in many cities within a decade) that went far beyond many of the proposals made in California.” He adds:

“Those states and cities would have to pursue ambitious new policies, like retrofitting hundreds of buildings to make them more energy efficient and plugging methane emissions from landfills, to get closer to the target. They would also have to persuade several other states beyond the blue coastal enclaves to join them, the report found.

“For example, mayors from dozens of the world’s largest cities promised to cut the amount of trash they send to landfills in half, build more carbon-neutral buildings and encourage walking and cycling in their cities over the next few decades. But how well these mayors follow through remains to be seen.”

 Grassroots critics raise questions about Gov. Brown’s record and the authenticity of the summit

In addition to the doubts about whether the Summit’s coalition will be effective nationally or internationally, Oliver Milman covered protests outside the conference hall in a story for The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/13/san-francisco-global-climate-action-summit-protests). He reported that thousands of protestors “attempted to barricade entrance at the summit and criticized Jerry Brown for allowing over 20,000 drilling operations” in the state. They claimed that “he has largely abandoned certain neighborhoods to pollution from oil and gas drilling operations. California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the country. Across the US, sicknesses linked to air and water pollution are disproportionately felt by people of color, who are far more likely to live near power plants, landfills and other toxic sites.” Milman writes further: “Activists chanted ‘Tell Jerry Brown to keep it in the ground’ and held signs reading ‘Don’t drill’ and ‘We’re drowning’. There were scuffles as police attempted to remove several protesters who chained themselves to the gates of the conference building in downtown San Francisco. Inside the venue, protesters interrupted a speech by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, by chanting: ‘Our air is not for sale.’”

Something must be done

It remains questionable whether the next COP (Conference of the Parties) meeting, or any subsequent international meeting, can be successful in reducing carbon emissions enough to keep the earth’s temperature under the 2-degree goal. As indicated in this essay, some of the evidence indicates that many nations are failing to fulfill their promises to reduce emissions. In the United States, the second largest carbon emitter, Trump and his Republican and corporate allies are by and large pushing fossil fuels and environmental deregulation. While the renewables part of the U.S. energy system is growing, fossil fuels still provide the lion’s share of energy, while the transportation system and the U.S. military still run overwhelmingly on gasoline, and while homes and buildings are air-conditioned with electricity generated largely by coal and increasingly by natural gas. While many U.S. citizens tell pollsters that they are concerned about the environment, it is not a high priority for the majority of Americans, and it is not likely to be an issue that figures prominently in the upcoming mid-term elections scheduled for November of this year.

In one of his terrifically informative reviews of recent research on the human-driven cataclysmic climate change and the multitude of dire environmental effects that accompanies it, Dahr Jamail offers the following discomforting introductory statements to his most recent post of September 25, 2018 (https://truthout.org/articles/brace-for-impact-as-the-climate-end-game-has-arrived).

“…the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) will assuredly continue to worsen.

“In one of the more important recent scientific studies, published in the journal Science, researchers warn that ACD could cause many of the planet’s ecosystems to become unrecognizable.

“’Our results indicate that terrestrial ecosystems are highly sensitive to temperature change and suggest that, without major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, terrestrial ecosystems worldwide are at risk of major transformation, with accompanying disruption of ecosystem services and impacts on biodiversity,” reads the abstract of the study.

“Stephen Jackson, the lead author of the study, told The Washington Post, “Even as someone who has spent more than 40 years thinking about vegetation change looking into the past … it is really hard for me to wrap my mind around the magnitude of change we’re talking about.”

“This summer’s extraordinary heat wave across the Northern Hemisphere was and is in no way an anomaly. Another recent study warned that there will be at least four more years of extreme temperatures. This means temperatures are expected to be warmer than expected, even above and beyond the abnormal warming being generated by ACD.

“Given the fact that there are already places in the Arctic where the ground no longer freezes, even during the winter, this does not bode well.

“Another recent report, What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk by Australian researchers with the independent think tank National Centre for Climate Restoration, is blunt about the fact that we are rapidly leaving the safe zone for human habitability on the planet. They note that ACD poses an ‘existential risk to human civilization,’ with dire consequences unless dramatic actions are taken toward mitigation. The paper also points out how climate research, including the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has consistently underplayed these risks and leaned towards conservative projections. The paper even goes on to call the IPCC ‘dangerously misleading’ regarding its low-ball predictions of accelerating ACD.

“’Climate change is now reaching the end-game,’ the foreword to the report reads, ‘where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.’”

Is there a way forward that will cut carbon emissions enough?

If we are to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming/climate change, or what Jamail calls anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), there has to be an awakening to the problem of the citizenry in the U.S., Europe, Japan, China, Brazil, Russia, India, Australia, and elsewhere, accompanied by the education and mobilization of citizens to change politics as usual and realize that hyper consumption, unlimited economic growth, and vast military spending must end. And there must also be a compelling vision of what it is that can replace the current system. You can find, as an example, such a vision in the work of James Gustave Speth, Carla Santos Skandier, and Johann Bozuwa, titled “Taking climate action to the next level” (https://thenextsystem.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/2018-09/Climate_Final-for-web.pdf). In their introduction, they provide an overview of their position. If you have time, read the report for the specific proposals and supporting evidence. From the introduction:

“We need to start implementing energy interventions today in key points of the system with the aims of deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency, and changing our political economy to one that is truly just and democratic.

“Three groundbreaking and complementary interventions…could start transforming the power structures that promote and enable our problematic energy and economic systems: Quantitative Easing for the Planet charts ways to halt fossil fuel extraction and dissolve entrenched opposition from major fossil fuel companies at the federal level; Public Ownership for Energy Democracy investigates opportunities for putting electricity generation and distribution back into community hands while enhancing democratic governance starting at the local level; An Anchor Strategy for the Energy Transition spells out how large mission-driven energy consumers can help build community systems and local demand for renewable energy sources, jobs, and investments, creating alternatives to today’s extractive economy.”

Theirs is a radical proposal that runs counter to current policies that favor private-sector solutions. They recommend, among other changes, considerable nationalization: (1) “the government should secure control of fossil fuel reserves [and keep them in the ground] by promoting a federal buyout of the top U.S.-based, publicly-traded fossil fuel companies,” and (2) the “transitioning of energy utilities to public ownership” [encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy]. There is little reason to think that such changes are about to happen. Nonetheless, it’s useful to think about large-scale proposals for change away from the status quo that, by all the scientific evidence, takes us toward extreme disorder and misery. In the final analysis, radical change is what is needed. There is little doubt that the future will be shaped by necessity. The question is who will determine what is to be done. Governor Brown should be given credit for taking a modest step in the right direction. But a lot more is needed.

The Vietnam War: no justification, no happy ending

The Vietnam War: no justification, no happy ending

Bob Sheak

Oct 4, 2017, Sept 21, 2018

I wrote this essay awhile ago in response the the Ken Burns’ 10-part documentary on The Vietnam War. I thought then, and now, that his attempt to offer a “balanced view of the war” in which both side were said to be responsible and the US policy was advanced by honest mistakes by well-meaning US leaders was inaccurate. U.S. foreign/military policies since then (and before in many instances) have continued to reflect US economic and political interests rather than the interests of people in the societies the US has attacked. It is now caught up endless wars and threatening yet new wars. It’s important to continually make efforts to unveil the truth about these policies, based unfortunately on misleadingly notions that US foreign policy reflects the desire to advance democratic and altruistic values – or the unwitting but understandable and forgivable judgments of US leaders.

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The 18-hour, 10-part, documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick aired on the Public Broadcasting System in September. It cost $30 million to produce and reflects ten-years of investigative work by the documentarians, who were “assisted by their producer Sarah Botstein, writer Geoffrey Ward, 24 advisers, and others,” according to Nick Turse (https://theintercept.com/2017/09/28/the-ken-burns-vietnam-war-documentary-glosses-over-devastating-civilian-toll).

There is no doubt that The Vietnam War is a remarkable, creative work that will stir emotions and memories about the U.S. involvement in that war, a war that began for the U.S. in 1955 and lasted until 1975 when negotiations with the North Vietnamese closed the final chapter on U.S. military engagement in that country.

The documentary will ignite multiple opinions on why the war was fought, how it was fought, and why it ended as it did. Nonetheless, as historian and war veteran Andrew J. Bacevich writes, the documentary embodies a high quality of production, a seamless narrative, “cutting from the war zone to the home front (theirs and ours) and back again,” a surprising amount of footage on the North Vietnamese, and “a soundtrack consisting of pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s,” many of them expressing a yearning for peace and an end to the war  (http://thenation.com/article/the-vietnam-war-past-all-reason). Reflecting the widespread appeal of the documentary, the book based on it is already a best seller on Amazon.

Burns and Novick made the film to provide an authoritative factual and visual documentation of that war, to present multiple – in their view equally – valid viewpoints on it, and to bring some closure to and national reconciliation about the bitter and divisive debate that beset the nation during the war and since then.

In my reading of recent commentaries on Vietnam, and despite all of the laudable aspects, the film has some notable shortcomings. I’ll just touch on a few of them.

“All sides suffered equally”

The war, according to Burns and Novick, was “begun in good faith, by decent people” and that it was “a tragedy,” wrongly implying, according to Basevich, that all sides suffered equally. Frank Joyce reminds us that it was the US that invaded and bombed Vietnam, used its air force to spray millions of tons of Agent Orange onto forests and crops, dropped napalm bombs on civilians, and whose troops massacred women, old people and babies and dump their bodies into mass graves (https://www.alternet.org/documentaries/ball-o-confusion-comin-your-tv-ken-burns-pbs-series-vietnam-gives-its-corporate). Joyce continues:

“Truth: The United States government invaded Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; not the other way around. Before that, the U.S. provided financial and military support to the French war to keep Vietnam a colony. Any suggestion that the U.S. was somehow the victim of the war is not just wrong, it is yet another example of the moral confusion for which our nation pays a far greater price than we are willing to admit.”

There is no doubt that both sides paid heartbreakingly high prices for this war. The costs to the US were immense. Out of the 2,594,000 personnel who served in Vietnam, 58,220 Americans died, 153,303 were wounded and 1,643 ended up missing, according to Alan Rohn (https://thevietnamwar.info/how-much-vietnam-war-cost). Brian Handwerk reports that studies such as the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, conducted in the 1980s, found that some 271,000 veterans of the war may still had full post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD (http://www.smthinsonianmag.com/science-nature/over-quarter-million-vietnam-war-veteransstill-have-ptsd-180955997).

And the economic costs for the U.S. were staggering. According to Rohn,

“The Department of Defense (DOD) reports that the United States spent about $168 billion (worth around $950 billion in 2011 dollars) in the entire war including $111 billion on military operations (1965 – 1972) and $28.5 billion on economic and military aid to Saigon regime (1953 – 1975). At that rate, the United States spent approximately $168,000 for an “enemy” killed. However, $168 billion was only the direct cost. According to Indochina Newsletter of Asia Resource Center, the United States spent from $350 billion to $900 billion in total including veterans’ benefits and interest.”

But for the Vietnamese, civilians as well as combatants, the devastation and casualties of the war were by most conventional measures greater than they were for America. Lawrence Wittner reports on some of the evidence.

“…the people of Vietnam paid a very heavy price for their independence from foreign domination.  Some three million of them died in the American War, and another 300,000 are still classified as MIAs.  In addition, many, many Vietnamese were wounded or crippled in the conflict.  Perhaps the most striking long-term damage resulted from the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange (dioxin) as a defoliant.  Vietnamese officials estimate that, today, some four million of their people suffer the terrible effects of this chemical, which not only destroys the bodies of those exposed to it, but has led to horrible birth defects and developmental disabilities into the second and third generations.  Much of Vietnam’s land remains contaminated by Agent Orange, as well as by unexploded ordnance (UXO).  Indeed, since the end of the American war in 1975, the landmines, shells, and bombs that continue to litter the nation’s soil have wounded or killed over 105,000 Vietnamese — many of them children (http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/05/18/the-vietnam-war-after-40-years).

In his Intercept article cited earlier, Nick Turse adds some numbers to Wittner’s summary, citing research done by Harvard Medical School, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and a Vietnamese government estimate. According to these sources, 5.3 million Vietnamese civilians were wounded, 11 million civilians were driven from their lands and made homeless at one time or another, and as many as 4.8 million were sprayed with toxic defoliants like Agent Orange.

Highlighting how Vietnamese civilians paid a very high price during the war, Turse reports the following.

“War is not combat, though combat is a part of war. Combatants are not the main participants in modern war. Modern war affects civilians far more and far longer than combatants. Most American soldiers and Marines spent 12 or 13 months, respectively, serving in Vietnam. Vietnamese from what was once South Vietnam, in provinces like Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, as well as those of the Mekong Delta – rural population centers that were also hotbeds of the revolution – lived the war week to week, month after month, year after year, from one decade to the next. Burns and Novick seem to have mostly missed these people, missed their stories, and, consequently, missed the dark side of the conflict.”

Turse continues:

“To deprive their Vietnamese enemies of food, recruits, intelligence, and other support, American command policy turned large swathes of those provinces into ‘free fire zones,’ subject to intense bombing and artillery shelling, that was expressly designed to ‘generate’ refugees, driving people from their homes in the name of ‘pacification.’ Houses were set ablaze, whole villages were bulldozed, and people were forced into squalid refugee camps and filthy urban slums short of water, food, and shelter.”

Turse spent a decade gathering evidence for his book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. His investigative work for the book is based not only on archival research but also on many visits to Vietnam and interviews with Vietnamese peasants, officials, and others. In his article he provides the reader with glimpses of what it was like to be a Vietnamese civilian during the years of the war, especially while under numerous US bombing and artillery attacks. By the way, Turse refers to Pentagon figures for January 1969 alone, when “air strikes were carried out on or near hamlets where 3.3 million Vietnamese.” What did he learn from his interviews?

“They talked about homes burned again and again and again, before they gave up rebuilding and began living a semi-subterranean existence in rough-hewn bomb shelters gouged into the earth. They told me about scrambling inside these bunkers when artillery fire began. And then they told me about the waiting game.

“Just how long did you stay in your bunker? Long enough to avoid the shelling…but not so long you were still inside it when the Americans and their grenades arrive. If you left the shelter’s confines too soon, machine-gun fire from a helicopter might cut you in half. Or you might get caught in crossfire between withdrawing guerrillas and onrushing US troops. But if you waited too long, the Americans might begin rolling grenades into your bomb shelter because, to them, it was a possible enemy fighting position.”

Bear in mind that, in the first years of the escalated war, Secretary of State Robert McNamara and other top administration officials held the view that “victory over the Viet Cong was to be achieved by quantifiable ‘kill ratios,’ to reach the elusive tipping point where the insurgency could no long replenish its troops,” according to Reed Richardson (http://commondreams.org/views/2017/09/28/ken-burns-vietnam-war-object-lesson-failures-objective-lens). Richardson continues: “This approach hard-wired incentives to secure a high ‘body count’ down the chain of command, with the result that US soldiers often shot civilians dead to pad their tallies and thereby move up in the ranks.”

 Why did the US escalate the war, first in supporting the French colonialists, then in supporting and propping up an unpopular puppet president and government in South Vietnam after having sabotaged a national election that would have kept Vietnam undivided, then through a US-planned overthrow of that president, followed by an enormous escalation of the US military involvement in the war, both in the number of troops and the scale of the bombing?

 Why did President Johnson authorize an escalation of the war?

In the final analysis, it was President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not only to continue the war in Vietnam but escalate it – again and again – to the point where there were over 500,00 US troops in the country by the late 1960s and a scale of massive bombing greater than even during WWII. Nick Davies reports, “The US dropped more high explosives on Vietnam than the allies used on Germany and Japan in the second world war” (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/22/vietnam-40-years-on-how-communist-victory-gave-way-to-capitalist-corruption).

Bacevich points out that Burns and Novick do not attempt to answer the question of why Johnson followed this path, despite having deep reservations. Here’s what Bacevich writes on this important question.

“Their lack of interest in this central issue [that of Burns and Novick] is all the more striking given the acute misgivings about a large-scale US intervention that Lyndon Johnson repeatedly expressed in the fateful months between late 1964 and early 1965.” …. The anguished president doubted that the war could be won, didn’t think it was worth fighting, and knew that further expansion of US involvement in Vietnam would put at risk his cherished Great Society domestic-reform program. He said as much in taped conversations with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, National Security adviser McGeorge Bundy, and his friend Georgia Senator Richard Russell, among others. Despite his reservations, Johnson – ostensibly the most powerful man in the world – somehow felt compelled to go ahead anyway. Yet Burns and Novick choose not to explore why exactly Johnson felt obliged to do what he did not want to do.”

Bacevich offers his own generalized explanation on why the U.S. continued and then escalated the war. It was because “a brain-dead national security establishment [was] unable to conceive of political alternatives to escalation; a fear that admitting military failure will exact unacceptable political costs, whereas the costs of perpetuating an unwinnable war are likely to be tolerable; and, perhaps above all, the iron law of American exceptionalism, centered on the conviction that Providence summons the United States to exercise global leadership always and everywhere, leadership having long since become synonymous with a willingness to use force.”

Misconceived US policies prior to the US escalation.  Prior to the US escalation in 1965, the US governments under Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson hoped that a South Vietnamese government would emerge that would win the support of the south and carry the war successfully against the enemy largely with its own troops and, of course, US weapons, a small number of special forces, and military advisers. However, as historian Alfred McCoy writes in his new book, In the Shadows of the American Century, the US supported Ngo Dinh Diem from 1954 to 1963 because he was an anti-communist, even though his regime had only “a narrow political base within the army, among civil servants, and in the minority Catholic community.”

Among other misbegotten policies, the Diem regime resisted the implementation of rural reforms that “possibly could have won him [Diem] a broader base among the country’s peasant population” (p. 67). The regime was plagued from 1960 to 1963 by Buddhist riots in the cities and spreading communist rebellion in the countryside. In these pathbreaking years, McCoy writes,

“…the US mission in Saigon tried every conceivable counterinsurgency strategy to eradicate the Viet Cong – bringing in helicopters and armored vehicles for conventional mobility, deploying Green Berets for unconventional combat, building up regional militias for localized security, and constructing ‘strategic hamlets’ to isolate eight million peasants inside fortified compounds theoretically controlled by Diem militia. Nothing worked. By 1963, the Viet Cong had grown from scattered bands of fighters into a guerrilla army that controlled more than half the countryside” (pp. 67-68). During this period, “the country…collapsed into further military coups and countercoups that crippled army operations. Over the next thirty-two months, Saigon had nine different governments and a change of cabinet every fifteen weeks – every one of them incompetent, corrupt, and ineffective” (p. 68).

The U.S. government’s justifications for the escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in 1965

The escalation was precipitated by a lie involving what is referred to as “the Tonkin Bay incident.” But there were also deeper reasons having to do with how the U.S. government conceived of America’s geo-political interests in the “cold war.” First, consider the lie.

The Lie

In an article titled “The Truth about Tonkin” for the Naval History Magazine, Lieutenant Commander Pat Patterson identifies the evidence.

“Questions about the Gulf of Tonkin incidents have persisted for more than 40 years. But once-classified documents and tapes released in the past several years, combined with previously uncovered facts, make clear that high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War” (https://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2008-02/truth-about-tonkin).

Patterson’s evidence is impressive.

“Nearly 200 documents the National Security Agency (NSA) declassified and released in 2005 and 2006, however, have helped shed light on what transpired in the Gulf of Tonkin on 4 August. The papers, more than 140 of them classified top secret, include phone transcripts, oral-history interviews, signals intelligence (SIGINT) messages, and chronologies of the Tonkin events developed by Department of Defense and NSA officials. Combined with recently declassified tapes of phone calls from White House officials involved with the events and previously uncovered facts about Tonkin, these documents provide compelling evidence about the subsequent decisions that led to the full commitment of U.S. armed forces to the Vietnam War.”

Wikipedia provides a concise summary of the incident (https://en/wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Tonkin_incident). The Gulf of Tonkin lies off the coast of North Vietnam.

“The Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnamese: Sự kiện Vịnh Bắc Bộ), also known as the USS Maddox incident, was an international confrontation that led to the United States engaging more directly in the Vietnam War. It involved either one or two separate confrontations involving North Vietnam and the United States in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. The original American report blamed North Vietnam for both incidents, but eventually became very controversial with widespread claims that either one or both incidents were false, and possibly deliberately so. On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox, while performing a signals intelligence patrol as part of DESOTO operations, was pursued by three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats of the 135th Torpedo Squadron.[1][5] Maddox fired three warning shots and the North Vietnamese boats then attacked with torpedoes and machine gun fire.[5] Maddox expended over 280 3-inch and 5-inch shells in a sea battle. One U.S. aircraft was damaged, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats were damaged, and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed, with six more wounded. There were no U.S. casualties.[6] Maddox “was unscathed except for a single bullet hole from a Vietnamese machine gun round”.[5]

“It was originally claimed by the National Security Agency that a Second Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred on August 4, 1964, as another sea battle, but instead evidence was found of ‘Tonkin ghosts’[7] (false radar images) and not actual North Vietnamese torpedo boats. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War, the former United States Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted that the August 2 USS Maddox attack happened with no Defense Department response, but the August 4 Gulf of Tonkin attack never happened.[8] In 1995, McNamara met with former Vietnam People’s Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp to ask what happened on August 4, 1964 in the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident. “Absolutely nothing”, Giáp replied.[9] Giáp claimed that the attack had been imaginary.[10]

“The outcome of these two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by ‘communist aggression’. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for deploying U.S. conventional forces and the commencement of open warfare against North Vietnam.

“In 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there were no North Vietnamese naval vessels present during the incident of August 4.

To complete the story, the Wikipedia account of the incident describes Johnson’s response to order the bombing of North Vietnam and the U.S. Congress supported his decision through a joint resolution.

“President Johnson, who was up for election that year, ordered retaliatory air strikes and went on national television on August 4. Although Maddox had been involved in providing intelligence support for South Vietnamese attacks at Hòn Mê and Hòn Ngư, Johnson denied, in his testimony before Congress, that the U.S. Navy had supported South Vietnamese military operations in the Gulf. He thus characterized the attack as “unprovoked” since the ship had been in international waters.”

Then the U.S. Congress acted.

“As a result of his testimony, on August 7, Congress passed a joint resolution (H.J. RES 1145), titled the Southeast Asia Resolution, which granted President Johnson the authority to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without the benefit of a declaration of war. The resolution gave President Johnson approval “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.”[42]

The US and the Cold War

Robert Freeman addresses this issue in his article “Choosing Quagmire: The Essential Context of Vietnam” (http://commondreams.org/views/2017/09/30/choosing-quagmire-essential-context-vietnam). The context was the Cold War, “the 45-year conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that began at the end of World War II.” The U.S. government had convinced itself in the 1950s-1960s that it was losing this war, though this was overblown and perhaps served the military and international interests of the U.S. administration, the Pentagon, and national security establishment.

Still, there were reasons to justify the U.S. government’s paranoia about the Soviet threat. First, the Soviet Union had done the bulk of fighting to defeat Hitler, losing 70 men for every one the U.S. lost in World War II,” though the U.S. military, government, and media paid almost sole attention to the military achievements of U.S. and allied forces and stoked an American mythology of the war. Second, the Soviet Union had – and continued to have – a powerful military force. The Soviets finished the war “with control of more than 150,000 square miles of Eastern Europe – Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria.” Third, economically, the Soviet Union’s economy had done well during the Depression and continued to grow after WWII. There was never mass unemployment in the Soviet Union. So, the “communist” system during the 1950s and 1960s still posed a seemingly viable alternative to the system of capitalism in the U.S. Fourth, the Soviets had beaten the U.S. into space and launched Sputnik in 1957.

Freeman summarizes: “In other words, in light of its military record, its basic organizing system, its economic accomplishments, and even its scientific achievements, the Soviet aura of power and prestige at the end of World War II was at an all-time high. If the Cold War was to be a contest of rival systems, it was not at all clear at the outset that the U.S. and its system would prevail.”

At the same time, Freeman points out, the US “was the only major combatant in World War II that had not been physically devastated by the fighting. Its industrial systems were enormously boosted by wartime production. It enjoyed the protection of two vast oceans. Its economy was by far the largest and most dynamic in the world. It had the world’s largest air force and navy and held a monopoly on the atomic bomb, not to mention a demonstrated willingness to use it.” Despite all this, the U.S. “the managers of the emerging American empire managed to convince themselves, or at least their people, that they were at risk, and they responded accordingly.”

The end of the old forms of colonialism

There was an additional reason for U.S. cold-war policy, and that was “the global movement of anti-colonialism that began at the end of World War II.” Freeman makes these points.

“Between 1945 and 1965, more than 100 new nations came into existence through this national independence process. It’s easy to see why. The Europeans had bankrupted themselves, both morally and financially, by starting not one but two World Wars within just 30 years. They could not plausibly retain their imperial domination of the developing world any more.

“So, developing world countries which made up most of the world were now in play. Would they be picked up by the Americans or would they go to the Soviets? It was literally going to be the greatest land grab in the history of the world.  From the beginning, however, it looked to be going badly for the U.S.

“India gained independence from Britain in 1947. It immediately declared itself socialist and put itself into the Soviet camp.  In 1949 when the communists won the civil war in China, American fear turned to panic.

“The Soviet Union, India, and now China, together representing 4/5ths of the land mass of Asia and more than half of all humans on the planet, had thrown in with the Soviet side. It really looked to the U.S. like it was losing the Cold War. This was the impetus for McCarthyism in the 1950s. But worse was still to come.

“First, in the Korean War, the U.S. could only fight the Soviet-backed North to a draw. The mightiest military on the planet could not win. Then, when the European imperial states would not give their colonies independence, the colonies began to go to war to achieve it, just as the Americans had, in 1776.

“Indonesia fought a bloody war to secure national independence from the Dutch. Kenya fought an eight-year war with England to gain its independence. Angola fought the Portuguese for 13 years to win its freedom. And so on throughout much of the developing world.

“And when they did go to war, since the capitalist European states would not give them their freedom, the colonial states sometimes turned to the Soviet Union for help.  This is what happened in Cuba.  The U.S. refused to recognize the revolution that overthrew the grotesquely corrupt Fulgencio Bautista so Castro turned to the Soviets for help.

So, Freeman argues, Vietnam was a part of a larger upsurge of nationalist revolutions that were changing the political-economy of the globe, and U.S. leaders decided that they would not let Vietnam fall into the Soviet camp. At the same time, it is clear that Ho Che Mein, the leader of North Vietnam and the most popular figure in the whole of Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s, was a nationalist most of all and wanted Vietnam to be an independent country. However, when faced with a U.S. policy that was antagonistic to his leadership, he turned to the Soviet Union for assistance and got it. It went like this.

“…in February 1946, the president of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, approached U.S. president Harry Truman, asking for American help in evicting the French, much as the French, ironically, had helped the Americans evict the British 170 years earlier. But Ho Chi Minh was a communist, and the U.S. was engaged in the larger, life-and-death planetary war against communism. So, Truman turned Ho down, and helped the French instead.”

“And so, with nowhere else to go, Ho turned to the Soviets for help, to fight not only the French but, eventually, the Americans as well. This was the “original sin” that poisoned the U.S. position in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. It is what made it impossible for the U.S. to ever “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.”

Whither Vietnam?

Despite the devastation, Vietnam has managed to make some uneven economic progress in rebuilding its economy and country in recent decades, becoming more and more ensconced the capitalist global economy in the process.

Historian Lawrence Wittner offers these upbeat observations of contemporary Vietnam from his research and a visits to the country.

“Traveling through Vietnam during the latter half of April 2015 with a group of erstwhile antiwar activists, I was struck by the transformation of what was once an impoverished, war-devastated peasant society into a modern nation.  Its cities and towns are bustling with life and energy.  Vast numbers of motorbikes surge through their streets, including 4.2 million in Hanoi and 7 million in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  A thriving commercial culture has emerged, based not only on many small shops, but on an influx of giant Western, Japanese, and other corporations.  Although Vietnam is officially a Communist nation, about 40 percent of the economy is capitalist, and the government is making great efforts to encourage private foreign investment. Indeed, over the past decade, Vietnam has enjoyed one of the highest economic growth rates in the world.  Not only have manufacturing and tourism expanded dramatically, but Vietnam has become an agricultural powerhouse.  Today it is the world’s second largest exporter of rice, and one of the world’s leading exporters of coffee, pepper, rubber, and other agricultural commodities.  Another factor distancing the country from what the Vietnamese call ‘the American War’ is the rapid increase in Vietnam’s population.  Only 41 million in 1975, it now tops 90 million, with most of it under the age of 30 — too young to have any direct experience with the conflict.”

Wittner adds:

“Vietnam has also made a remarkable recovery in world affairs.  It now has diplomatic relations with 189 countries, and enjoys good relations with all the major nations.”

“Victorious in war but defeated in peace”

It would be nice to end on this positive note. However, Wittner’s observations miss deeper realities of contemporary Vietnam. In an in-depth article published by The Guardian, Nick Davies (cited earlier) writes:

“In spite of losing the military conflict, the Americans and their allies [South Koreans] have returned with the even more powerful weapon of finance, forcing the Vietnamese down a road they did not choose. Now, it is their leaders who are telling the biggest lie of all” (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/apr/22/vietnam-40-years-on-how-communist-victory-gave-way-to-capitalist-corruption).

Davies describes the immediate post-war situation in the mid-1970s. The US left Vietnam in a state of physical ruin, with devastated roads, rail lines, bridges and canals, paddy fields littered with high explosives and Agent Orange, two-thirds of the villages in the south destroyed, orphans roaming the street, and a heroin epidemic. The new government “estimated it was dealing with 10 million refugees; 1 million war widows; 880,000 orphans; 362,000 war invalids; and 3 million unemployed people.” The country was having to import rice. The US never delivered on the $3.5 billion reconstruction payment agreed to at the Paris negotiations ending the war. The US imposed a trade embargo. Vietnam’s socialist project began to collapse and its initial policies failed to give peasant farmers incentives to produce. By the late 1980s, “the leadership was forced to allow the peasants to start selling surplus produce, and so capitalism began to return.”

Then the shift to more capitalism occurred with some rapidity. By 1994, “the US was appeased and lifted the trade embargo,” and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund began to help. By 2005, “Vietnam was part of the global capitalist economy.” State-owned companies were sold to private investors. In 2006, it was given membership in the World Trade Organization.

In the process, however, inequality and corruption increased. Some evidence: “Transparency International last year [2014] reported that Vietnam is perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, doing worse than 118 others and scoring only 31 out of a possible 100 good points on the index.” And further: “A 2012 report of the World Bank notes that ‘inequality is back on the agenda.’ Between 2004 and 2010, income of the poorest 10% of the population fell by a fifth, it found, while the richest 5% in Vietnam were not taking nearly a quarter of the income.” And then “millions of farmers have been driven off the land to make way for factories or roads.” Hundreds of thousands of workers have been made redundant “as the private owners of the old state-owned companies set about cutting costs.” Now an increasing number of Vietnamese workers try to get by in the informal sector of the economy, with no protection against exploitation by employers. Healthcare and schooling are no longer free.

Final thoughts

If the US had supported Ho Che Minh after the Vietnamese had defeated the French colonialists in 1954, the history of Vietnam may well have turned out differently. Vietnam could have started out with a popular president, rich farm land, rivers, and forests, and a political culture based on egalitarian values. Today, such an option seems more remote than ever. Much of what I’ve written here is missed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War. They hoped that their documentary would help to heal the divisions in the U.S. and bring a kind of reconciliation between the Vietnamese and US peoples. But, in trying not to take sides, they fail to help viewers understand the depth and terrible long-lasting consequences of what the US did to Vietnam. The documentary also fails to grasp the larger geo-political dynamics that limit the options of small countries in the global capitalist economy.

The specter of fascism and the future of democracy

The specter of fascism and the future of democracy

Bob Sheak, September 16, 2018

 

Carl Boggs, professor of social sciences at National University in Los Angeles, has written extensively on the U.S. power structure, identifying three crucial centers of power, including the mega-corporations, the presidency and executive branch of the government, and the military-industrial complex. They are pivotal, he maintains, in determining the major economic, political, and military policies for the United States and, through media, public relations, think tanks, and various experts, in shaping the society’s culture. They represent a power structure that is inimical to democracy, has always limited democracy, and is in the process of further diminishing it.

In his most recent book, Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads, Boggs opening sentences capture the thrust of his analysis: “In this book I argue that the United States, the most exemplary liberal democracy in the world in terms of reputation, is well along the path to a new type of fascism, or what might be called a ‘fascist equivalent – ruled by a modern power structure that is increasingly oligarchical and authoritarian, not only politically, but economically and culturally” (p. 1). Boggs does not argue that the US is fascist yet, but rather that there are structural and other developments that are moving in that direction.  He refers to “a merger of historical forces that seem to be gaining momentum: corporatism, super-patriotism, militarism, imperialism, racism” (p. 2).

Boggs tells us that he is intellectually indebted to C. Wright Mills, a famous sociologist from the 1940s-1950s, who published a path-setting book titled The Power Elite in 1956, “where he explored the rapid growth of the freewheeling corporate sector with a confluence of state, business, and military interests” and how these developments were “already subverting liberal-democratic institutions” (p. 2). Boggs contends that the power of these institutional forces has grown immensely since Mills’ book was published. He puts it this way.

“What Mills found during the 1950s has surely expanded and deepened since: state, corporate, and military power has become more concentrated and integrated, the big-business and banking sectors impacting all realms of American society, beginning with government where Congress, the White House, state legislatures, federal agencies, parties, and elections have been colonized and reshaped by stupendous networks of wealth. Corporate interests were able to decisively influence policies, laws, and public opinion through a complex matrix of lobbies, think tanks, PACs (political action committees), and the media” (p. 2).

Friendly Fascism?

Boggs’ research leads him to find that fascism can have different manifestations, depending on the conditions in a given society. The principal implication is that, if fascism comes to the U.S., it will be rooted in the history and reflect the specific conditions that prevail at the time. Citing Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism (1982), he suggests that “a distinctly American fascism is destined to be of a more ‘friendly’ type, without major social disruptions, systematic terrorism, paramilitary actions, Mussolini-style demagoguery, or outright attacks on the Constitution” (p. 11) – and that elements of liberalism will co-exist with right-wing authoritarianism (p. 10). For example, there is no large-scale fascist (or neo-fascist) movement or party” in the U.S. today. But, to reiterate, there are other troubling signs.

The troubling signs

Why is it important to consider all this? It’s important for those who value democratic values, the constitution, the importance of an independent judiciary, the rule of law, an informed and engaged citizenry, and social justice because these values and institutions offer us the potential protections against the abuses that inevitably follow from an economy and government increasingly dominated by the rich and powerful, and they offer us opportunities, however slim, to help create a better and sustainable alternative. Unless we understand how power in the higher circles of the society operate, we will not be able to identify, let alone effectively address, the great economic, political, international, and environmental challenges that threaten us here and across the world.

Power becomes more and more consolidated at the top

Boggs argues that the situation has become so dire that we now confront a system that is becoming more and more fascistic, that is, a situation marked by such tendencies and trends as follows. Democracy and its basic values are being eclipsed. Corporate power is becoming more concentrated in a fewer corporate and seems increasingly unassailable. Right-wing forces, with support from the rich and major corporations, control the major institutional levers of state power. Republicans use their power to control the legislative process, rig congressional districts, and suppress the vote. The Supreme Court and the federal judiciary are becoming increasingly politicized and dominated by ultra-conservative justices.

The domestic and global scope of American corporate and state power has no parallel. The “integration of corporate, state, and military power is more advanced in the U.S. than anywhere except perhaps China.” The American power elite, Boggs observes, “now possesses more leverage across the globe than any ruling groups in Europe, Asia, Latin American, or elsewhere” (pp. 151-152). It has accumulated vast wealth and power within the existing domestic institutional arrangements so that “there is no need to resort to a single-party dictatorship and terror under a supreme leader” (p. 152). The major media pay little critical attention to these situations, unless they are celebrating them. All of this “co-exists with many formal structures and norms of Constitutional democracy – a ‘democracy’ to be sure,” where party competition, elections, and legislative activity still exist but have been steadily undermined by the wealth and power of ruling elites (p. 156). Sadly, Boggs writes, “corporations, Wall Street, federal government, the military, educational system, surveillance network…are systematically and unapologetically authoritarian, never much impacted by voting results” (p. 175).

Quoting from Sheldon S. Wolin’s book, Democracy, Inc. (2007) on the last point, Boggs writes: “One cannot point to any national institutions that [today] can be accurately described as democratic…” Congress, the presidency, court system, parties, state agencies, workplaces, schools and universities, and of course the military” (p. 7). A turning point for Wolin was “an enlarged ‘power imaginary’ that surfaced during and after World War II.” This was manifest in the following: “War mobilization, superpower ambitions, nuclear politics, the security state, and permanent war economy all served to extend the boundaries of power, eroding constitutional limits while feeding into statist, corporate, and imperial authoritarianism – the very stuff of historical fascism” (p. 7).

There is another recent book that serves to document the concentration of power not only in the U.S. power structure but internationally as well. Peter Philips identifies 389 individuals who lead and/or are associated with “the most important networks of the Global Power Elite.” They are “the core of the policy planning nongovernmental networks that manage, facilitate, and protect the continued concentration of global capital,” “providing the ideological justifications for their shared interests and establishing the parameters of needed actions for implementation by transnational governmental organizations.” The title of the book is Giants: The Global Power Elite.” The benefit of the book is that it provides the names of the individual, their bios, their connections to mega-corporations and to important nongovernmental organizations, and how they are continually thinking and planning about how to protect and advance their interests within capitalist political-economic systems. It is anti-democratic in its essence and coordinated thrust.

The military keeps growing

The military continues to grow, and does so in support of corporate interests abroad, unending, destructive, counterproductive wars and interventions, and at the expense of other non-military domestic programs. It has grown amidst “a process of global expansion, development of a Cold War ideological consensus, and narrowing of elite political culture binding Democrats and Republicans to a common international agenda.” At the same time, “the political and popular culture grew increasingly militarized, visible not only in foreign policy but in the media, high rates of crime, gun mania, and the world’s largest prison system” (p. 116). There is hardly a sports or pubic event that is not begun without patriotic songs and symbols.

By 2016, Pentagon “spending consumed more than half of all discretionary spending – at nearly one trillion dollars dwarfing expenditures of potential rivals such as Russia and China.” It “employed more than three million people worldwide, held fully 80 percent of the federal inventory, operated more than 800 bases in dozens of countries, and possessed a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the planet several times over” (p. 118).

Weapons makers profit exorbitantly by leading the world in unfettered foreign weapons sales – providing the means that fuel disorder, violence, repression, and wars across the globe (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/08/16/donald-trump-gunrunner-for-hire).

There are other costs, as spending on the military is one of the principal sources of the climbing national debt and comes at the expense of  reduced spending and “austerity” in “social programs and public infrastructure, as spending “devoted to missiles, planes, ships, and guns” take precedence over spending for “roads, water and power facilities, bridges, public transportation, and education” (p. 118).

Despite this awesome military force, the elites who make up the power structure worry about losing military preeminence in the world. U.S. elites are concerned in recent years about nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Boggs refers to R. J. Lifton’s concept of “nuclearism,” or the “ideology of U.S. nuclear power…would allow the world’s dominant warfare state to set its own international rules and norms promoting its supposedly unique set of virtues, including the ‘American model’ of corporate globalization” (p. 125). But, also importantly, the U.S. military is mired in costly and catastrophic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, has extended provocatively NATO military forces in Eastern Europe on the border of Russia, is involved in dangerous naval operations in the South China Sea with China, supports Saudi Arabia’s military onslaught on Yemen, is expanding its present in Africa, allows US arms producers to sell by far more armaments to other countries than any other nation, and is making outer space the new battleground.

The huge military is said by to be a force for peace. In realty, it has done little to promote peace and has been stuck in unauthorized wars that have ravaged countries, killed and uprooted millions of people, created the conditions for the spread of “terrorist” groups, and cost hundreds of billions of dollars along with many tens of thousands of American casualties, men and women, who have fought in these wars. The published work of Andrew J. Bacevich in such books as The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism or Chalmers Johnson’s book, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. Among other proposals, Johnson writes that “[w]e need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the long-term wounds our soldiers receive and the combat stress they undergo.” And “we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives” (p. 196). In his recently published book, A Nation Made by War, Tom Engelhardt offers an apt summary.

“…we’re truly in a new American age, whether of the plutocrats, by the plutocrats, and for the plutocrats or of the generals, by the generals, and for the generals – but most distinctly not of the people, by the people, and for the people.

“After all, for more than sixteen years, the US military has been fighting essentially failed or failing wars – conflicts that only seem to spread the phenomenon (terrorism) they’re supposed to eradicate – in Afghanistan, Iraq, more recently Syria, intermittently Yemen, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. Meanwhile Donald Trump’s generals have been quietly escalating those wars. Hundreds, possibly thousands, more American soldiers and special ops forces are being sent into Syria, Iraq, and neighboring Kuwait (about which the Pentagon will no longer provide even inaccurate numbers); US air strikes have been on the rise throughout the region; the American commander in Afghanistan is calling for reinforcements; drone strikes recently set a new record for intensity in Yemen; Somalia may be the next target of mission creep and escalation; and it looks as if Iran is  now in Washington’s sniper scopes” (p. 146).

But it is all good for the Pentagon in increased budgets and power and for the arms producers in profits.

Programs created to have wide benefits are attacked and citizen participation declines

To reiterate, social-welfare programs are being eviscerated, along with environmental and consumer protections. There is increasing inequality in all aspects of the society, trends that go back to the 1970s, especially arising during the years of the Reagan administration. Citizens are increasingly detached from community and political activity and preoccupied with private worries, how to pay the bills, debt, entertainment, consumption. Boggs refers to signs of how vigorous democratic politics have declined, as evidenced by how “widespread and dynamic participating, institutional accountability, broad access, issue knowledge and awareness, sense of political efficacy – have sharply declined in recent decades.” Forty to fifty percent of the electorate don’t vote in presidential elections and sixty percent or more who don’t typically vote in mid-term elections. And, Boggs points out, “[r]ecent history shows…that counterforces to the political establishment – social movements, alternative parties, community enclaves – have not been sufficiently durable to challenge the status quo” (p. 165).

It should be noted, however, that there is robust activity in the civic culture and that such activity demonstrates that resistance to the power elite has not come close to being eliminated, though it has not been particularly successful either. But it exists. On this score, Henry Giroux writes in his recent book:

“While Trump attempts to expand its alt-right social base under its authoritarian hierarchy, forces for grassroots resistance are mobilizing around a renewed sense of ethical courage, social solidarity, and a revival of the political imagination. We see this happening in the increasing number of mass demonstrations in which individuals are putting their bodies on the line, refusing the fascist machinery of misogyny, nativism, and white supremacy. Airports are being occupied, people are demonstrating in the streets of major cities, town halls have become the sites of resistance, campuses are being transformed into sanctuaries to protect undocumented students, scientists are marching en masses against climate change deniers, and progressive cultural workers, public intellectuals, and politicians are speaking out against the emerging authoritarianism. In a number of red states, middle-aged women are engaged in the ‘grinding scutwork of grassroots organizing’ while addressing the big issues such as ‘health care and gerrymandering, followed by dark money politics, education, and the environment.’ Democracy may be in exile in the United States, and imperiled in Europe and other parts of the globe, but the spirit that animates it remains resilient” (American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, p. 306).

A private-public system of surveillance is massively expanding

There are ominous signs and the power elite has consolidated enormous control of the society’s principal economic, political, and military sectors. In addition to the fascist tendencies already discussed, our privacy is in danger of being eclipsed by an ever-more sophisticated state surveillance system augmented by large communications corporations. Julia Angwin offers an insightful analysis of this phenomenon in her book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance. And Yasha Levine documents the historical and contemporary influence of the military in creating the internet and how tech-industry giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon now collect massive amounts of information on millions of Americans in the book, Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. The internet can be used for good or bad. On the one hand, Levine writes:

“Today, we live in a troubled world, a world of political disenfranchisement, rampant poverty and inequality, unchecked corporate power, wars that seem to have no end and no purpose, and a runaway privatized military and intelligence complex – and hanging over it all are the prospects of global warming and environmental collapse. We live in bleak times, and the Internet is a reflection of them: run by spies and powerful corporations just as our society is run by them. But it isn’t all hopeless.”

On the other hand:

“Not all surveillance is bad. Without them, there can be no democratic oversight of society. Ensuring oil refineries comply with pollution regulations, preventing Wall Street fraud, forcing wealthy citizens to pay their fair share – none of these would be possible. In that sense, surveillance and control are not problems in and of themselves. How they are used depends on our politics and political culture” (p. 274).

Under the current power arrangements, however, there is every reason to believe that most of us have lost control over our personal information and live in a world where we have little privacy. David Gray looks at how use of the internet technology by corporations and the federal government is now little protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in his book The Fourth Amendment in an Age of Surveillance. The Fourth Amendment was designed to guarantee a basic degree of security against threats of unreasonable governmental intrusion.” However, it is increasingly irrelevant today and fails to address issues related to the electronic media. Gray writes:

“…in a recent ranking compiled by Privacy International comparing surveillance practices and privacy protections among nations, the United States landed at the very bottom, earning the designation ‘endemic surveillance society’ along with Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Russia, China, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom” (p. 6).

Boggs points to the enormous expanse of the government’s intelligence/surveillance systems as follows.

“…the system has expanded to include no fewer than 17 federal agencies along with hundreds of state and local bodies charged with homeland security, surveillance, espionage, covert operations, and everyday law enforcement.”

“…American surveillance entities vacuum up billions of electronic transactions daily, enabling them to locate and observe millions of people through cell-phone activity, social media transactions, and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates. The NSA in turn shares part of its voluminous information with such intelligence-oriented bodies as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), FBI, CIA, Defense Information Agency (DIA), IRS, and multiple layers of state and local police forces.”

He continues:

“The NSA, moreover, has worked closely with such corporations as Microsoft, Verizon, AT&T, Apple, and Google, all central to the smooth functioning of American communications technology. The agency has produced a massive watch list, identifying more than a million potential ‘threats,’ entered into the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) and Terrorist Identities Group (TIG).”

“…in 2013 alone, the NSA collected more than 125 billion telephone items and 97 billion pieces of computer data from around the world, much from (theoretically exempt) American citizens….” (p. 183).

There are additional concerns stemming from the current power structure. Dissent is fraught with risks, though not yet systemically quashed. More and more government functions are privatized, the infrastructure deteriorates, and ecosystems are degraded and depleted in record numbers, while increasingly cataclysmic climate change unfolds with little restraint on corporate polluters in the context of an unplanned and increasingly unregulated, profit-first capitalist economy.

Fewer constraints on the power elite amidst the “war on terror”

 Since 9/11, constraints on U.S. power have further diminished, Boggs contends, “as the War on Terrorism perpetually legitimates the imperial state, cloaking its naked drive for economic and geopolitical advantage behind the wounded innocence of avenging victim, as in the case of Germany following its World War I defeat and then added humiliation at Versailles” (p. 7). And the ascendance of Trump to the White House, along with a right-wing cabinet, the systematic assaults and diminution of the federal bureaucracy, the undermining scientific research and environmental protections and attacks on the science itself, the ruthlessness of the Republican Party, the concurrence of most segments of the corporate community, and a cult-like following of tens of millions of Americans – all indicate that the U.S. has more fascist elements and tendencies than ever before. Boggs notes: “The sad truth is that popular movements, local organizations, and third parties ultimately constitute the only hope for challenging, possibly reversing, the seemingly relentless fascistic trends identified through this book. Such resistance will be the last line of defense in a world of unprecedented crises, overwhelming challenges, and potential disasters” (p. 179). But this line has yet to reverse the growing concentration and consolidation of power.

Reactionary Populism gains new life under Trump

 Along with all the rest, the right-wing political forces have gained strength from the growth of a reactionary populism since the 1990s, including “local militias, Christian fundamentalists, and the Tea Party among them.” Boggs points to how Trump benefited, as 35 percent of his presidential vote come from evangelical constituencies (pp. 12-13). His presidency has “apparently lent new legitimacy to the evangelical movement, especially the selection of Mike Pence as vice-president and Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As American society moves ever rightward,” Boggs writes, “evangelicals have grown in numbers, organizations, media presence, and general influence. They work indefatigably through state legislatures, PACs, think tanks, conferences, and medical outlets to carry out ‘God’s work, hoping to Christianize secular institutions, beginning with education, bringing ‘family values’ and patriotism to the forefront.” Boggs thinks that they “could help to solidify a social bloc behind fascistic tendencies….” (p. 13).

Historian Kathleen Belew documents the growth of “the white power movement” in the U.S. in her brilliant, but disturbing, book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Here is some of what she found.

“While white power featured a diversity of views and an array of competing leaders, all corners of the movement were inspired by feelings of defeat, emasculation, and betrayal after the Vietnam War and by social and economic changes that seemed to threaten and victimize white men. White power also qualifies as a movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching social network.

“White power activists used a shared repertoire of actions to assert collectivity. Public displays of uniformed activists chanting slogans and marching in formation aimed to demonstrate worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment to both members and observers. Activists encouraged dress codes and rules about comportment and featured the presence of mothers with children, Vietnam veterans, and active-duty military personnel. Members showed unity by donning uniforms and by marching and chanting in formation. They made claims about their numbers. They underscored their commitment with pledges to die rather than abandon the fight; preparing to risk their lives for white power; and undertaking acts that put them at legal and physical risk. A regular circulation of people, weapons, funds, images, and rhetoric – as well as intermarriages and other social relationships – bound activists together” (pp. 10-11).

And they thrive.

“The state and public opinion have failed to sufficiently halt white power violence or refute white power belief systems, and failed to present a vision of the future that might address some of their concerns that lie behind the more diffuse, coded, and mainstream manifestations” (p. 239).

The white power movement, ultra-nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, armed, opposed to progressive values and ideas, poses no threat to the power elite. They represent the potential street fighters against those who criticize the existing power structure from progressive and leftist points of view.

The Democratic Party falters

While there are policy differences that divide the Democrats from the Republicans on “secondary or tertiary” issues like immigration, gay marriage, abortion, both parties, Boggs contends, support “modern capitalism and the warfare state” (p. 159). Though it is important to recognize that in the Democratic Party there is a progressive caucus that sets it apart from the Republicans on most issues. Certainly, progressive Democrats strongly support civil rights, progressive taxes, the need to regulate the economy and break up some of the mega-corporations, less spending on the military, immigration reform that provides for pathways to citizenship and honors international laws on refugees, the need to rachet up support for renewable forms of energy, and the vital importance of government spending on infrastructure, housing, education, job training, and other policies that provide benefits to ordinary Americans. And Obama and his administration should be given credit for signing the international agreement in Paris in December 2015 aimed at limiting greenhouse emissions, the advance of federally-binding fuel-efficiency standards for cars, vans and light truck, and in the successful multilateral agreement signed with Iran, the UK, France, the EU, Germany, Russia on banning Iran from ever developing nuclear bombs.

And it’s uplifting to follow Bernie Sanders political involvement in the U.S. Senate and in support of progressive candidates across the country. He is one of the political leaders who will help us to envision what can and must be done in the pursuit of truth and a more democratic and just society and world. Here is a sample of what he says in just published article.

“The truth is, however, that to effectively oppose rightwing authoritarianism, we cannot simply go back to the failed status quo of the last several decades. Today in the United States, and in many other parts of the world, people are working longer hours for stagnating wages, and worry that their children will have a lower standard of living than they do.

“Our job is to fight for a future in which new technology and innovation works to benefit all people, not just a few. It is not acceptable that the top 1% of the world’s population owns half the planet’s wealth, while the bottom 70% of the working age population accounts for just 2.7% of global wealth.

“Together governments of the world must come together to end the absurdity of the rich and multinational corporations stashing over $21tn in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and then demanding that their respective governments impose an austerity agenda on their working families.

“It is not acceptable that the fossil fuel industry continues to make huge profits while their carbon emissions destroy the planet for our children and grandchildren” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/09/13/new-authoritarian-axis-demands-international-progressive-front).

But it’s also true that Obama and the Democratic Party generally supported the bail-out of the big banks in 2008, allowed the banks to sell its junk assets to the Federal Reserve. They supported increased military spending, military engagements throughout the world, drone warfare, an energy policy that included oil, gas, and nuclear energy, and were weak on poverty, public job creation, raising the minimum wage, single-payer medical insurance. They remain tied to big money for campaign contributions. Obama did little to reach out to peace groups, unions, or other civic organizations. His trade proposals, like the TPP, had “bad labor laws and practices, few if any consumer or environmental protections that can be enforced in courts of law, and precious little freedom of speech” (Ralph Nader, To the Ramparts: how Bush and Obama paved the way for the Trump presidency, and why it isn’t too late to reverse course, p. 165).

Is avoidance of the political/economic/military reality a better option?

Given the enormity of the challenge and the awesome power of mega-corporations, the imperial presidency, and the military, such an analysis that highlights their awesome power may have the effect of undermining citizen and collective activism and efforts by people to support the kind of changes that are necessary. The reality of a power elite may be too much to contemplate. One may respond by coming to the belief that there are no effective ways to orchestrate a political strategy that will lead to systemic/structural changes. The odds of making such changes do indeed appear unlikely now. If this is the response, then there will be those who become fatalistic and become or remain politically and intellectually disengaged. Or the response may be to focus one’s energies on how in some limited local way one can contribute. Or focus on an important single issue. And such efforts will not, by themselves, be enough. Local and regional efforts will and are occurring, but such efforts alone have not and will not change the existing power arrangements and the attendant policies that are diminishing democracy, fostering ever-greater inequalities, impelling a militarized foreign policy and war, and threatening all of us here and around the world with more environmental devastation.

My approach seeks truth, even when it is disturbing and does not reveal, or readily reveal, a clear political path to a better world. But it does help to confront the realty of our situation and such information is a necessary element in the efforts to challenge the power and retrograde policies of those who now have it.