Latest News

Patriotic Millionaires Slam Mnuchin/Trump For ‘Selling Out The Country’ On Carried Interest Tax Loophole

Commondreams - 6 hours 24 min ago
Patriotic Millionaires

Yesterday in a press event in Louisville, KY alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that the Administration will not close the carried interest loophole for most Wall Street billionaires, including the vast majority of private equity and real estate fund managers.

Categories: Latest News

Dozens of Marylanders and Elected Officials Gather For Introduction of Urgent 100% Renewable Energy State Bill

Commondreams - 6 hours 51 min ago
Food & Water Watch

On Thursday, August 24th, at noon Marylanders will meet in Baltimore’s Federal Hill Park to call for 100% renewable energy by 2035. Delegate Shane Robinson will announce plans to introduce legislation that will move Maryland to 100% clean energy by 2035 by replacing problematic state renewable portfolio standards with clean energy mandates and incentivizing the development of in-state clean energy generation.

Categories: Latest News

Court Rules FERC Failed to Adequately Review Environmental Impacts of Sabal Trail Pipeline

Commondreams - 6 hours 59 min ago
Sierra Club

Today, the U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the fracked gas Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Categories: Latest News

The Activists Who Helped Shut Down Trump's CEO Councils

Truthout - 12 hours 18 min ago

Also see: "Give Them Hell": Exposing the Corporate Backers of Anti-Immigrant Hate

The CEOs who made up two White House advisory councils have fled like rats on a sinking ship. Their exodus -- a dramatic rebuke of Donald Trump -- came within 48 hours of the incendiary August 15 press conference where the President praised some of the participants of last week's white supremacist rampage in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But many of the CEOs on these councils had been under heavy pressure to disavow Trump's agenda of hate and racism even before Charlottesville. That pressure came from grassroots activists.

The Center for Popular Democracy, Make The Road New York, New York Communities for Change, and several other immigrant and worker advocates had led that activist campaign, targeting the leaders of nine major corporations affiliated with the Trump administration. The campaign, working through a web site called Corporate Backers of Hate, detailed the connections between the nine companies and the Trump administration and encouraged people to send emails to both the CEOs involved and members of their corporate boards.

Throughout the spring and summer, the campaign also held protests against the companies, including a civil disobedience action at the JPMorgan Chase headquarters on May Day, where 12 were arrested, and a march to JPMorgan's annual shareholder meeting, where protestors confronted CEO Jamie Dimon for his company's financing of private immigrant detention and mass incarceration.

The campaign also worked with a broad network of groups, including CREDO, Color of Change, SumOfUs, and Ultraviolet, to gather petitions calling for CEOs to step down from the Business Council. On August 16, they delivered more than 400,000 petitions collected from across the country to New York City offices of JPMorgan and the Blackstone private equity group, demanding that their CEOs withdraw from Trump's advisory bodies.

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman chaired Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum and had personally recruited the group's 16 members, a cohort of execs that included current and past CEOs from some of the country's largest firms, among them Walmart, General Electric, IBM, and General Motors. Schwarzman's firm has become one of the country's largest owners of real estate, and Schwarzman himself has reportedly developed a very close personal relationship with President Trump, sometimes speaking to him several times a week.

The news last week that the CEO councils had been disbanded brought a quick reaction from Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. The choice that executives made to quit the Business Council, Archila noted, "should have been clear long ago -- and because of the tireless and courageous advocacy of those who are affected most by Trump's agenda, they finally made that choice today."

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon also issued a personal statement after the councils disbanded.

"There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned," Dimon noted, "and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity."

Archila and other activists are demanding that the CEOs like Dimon go further to reject Trump's agenda. These execs, she stresses, need "to make clear that white supremacy has no place in this country -- and neither do the private prisons and immigrant detention centers that they help finance."

Daniel Cortés, a member of Make the Road New York who lives in Queens and was part of the group delivering the petitions, says he couldn't believe the leaders of JPMorgan Chase and Blackstone agreed to join Trump's business council in the first place.

"I'm glad to hear they're gone," adds Cortés. "But they still need to stand up against his hateful agenda that targets people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and women. If they don't, they will remain backers of hate and they will continue to feel our outrage."

Categories: Latest News

The Time Is Now To Repeal The 2001 Authorization For Use Of Military Force

Commondreams - 12 hours 26 min ago
Peace Action

Last night, President Trump announced a “new” strategy for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. In it, he made clear that the one thing that he won’t be changing is waging ongoing and unending war.

Categories: Latest News

Congresswoman Barbara Lee: There is No Military Solution in Afghanistan

Commondreams - 13 hours 18 min ago
Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee released the following statement in response to President Trump’s announced plan to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s failure to outline a comprehensive strategy to bring an end to our nation’s longest war. After sixteen years at war, one thing is clear: there is no military solution in Afghanistan. Any lasting peace in Afghanistan must be secured through diplomacy. Further military engagement will only put our brave servicemen and women in harm’s way while doing little to enhance our national security.

Categories: Latest News

Peace Action: No End in Sight in America’s Longest War

Commondreams - 13 hours 24 min ago
Peace Action

In response to President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will "fight to win" in Afghanistan, alongside reports that Trump has authorized an increase of 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, Jon Rainwater, Executive Director of Peace Action, released the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

Win Without War: More US Troops to Afghanistan is Not a Strategy for Peace

Commondreams - 14 hours 1 min ago
Win Without War

Win Without War Director, Stephen Miles, released the following statement in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will expand America’s 16-year war in Afghanistan.

President Trump should have listened to candidate Trump. It is long past time to have ended America’s longest war.

Categories: Latest News

Billionaire Carl Icahn Resigns as Trump Adviser After Reaping Millions From His Time in White House

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

On Friday billionaire investor Carl Icahn left his role as regulatory adviser to Donald Trump, just before the New Yorker published an article entitled "Carl Icahn's Failed Raid on Washington." The article detailed Carl Icahn's potential conflicts of interest, including his heavy lobbying for a rule change about blending ethanol into gasoline, a rule which affects the profits of Icahn's Texas-based petroleum refining company, CVR. According to the New Yorker, in the months after Trump's election, the stock price of CVR nearly doubled, which meant Icahn's own wealth surged, at least on paper, by a half a billion dollars. For more we speak with Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's Energy Program. In March Public Citizen asked lawmakers to investigate Carl Icahn's actions.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

American Prospect Editor Robert Kuttner on His Extraordinary Interview With Steve Bannon

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has left the White House and rejoined the far-right-wing website Breitbart News as the executive chairman. Bannon has been one of Trump's closest and most trusted advisers. After departing the White House, he said, "In many ways I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on. And anyone who stands in our way, we will go to war with." Before his departure, Bannon granted an extraordinary interview to Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of the liberal magazine The American Prospect. For more on Bannon's departure and his interview, we speak with Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Here Are the Hard Numbers on the War in Afghanistan Trump Left Out of His Speech

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

Trump's strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan came with plenty of assurances but no hard numbers. So, Truthout has compiled the latest available data to bring you a snapshot of what the US's longest-running war is costing this country, its allies and the Afghan people.  

President Donald Trump gestures before delivering remarks on the US's military involvement in Afghanistan at the Fort Myer military base on August 21, 2017, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

This story was made possible by support from readers like you. Help Truthout report on the urgent issues of health care, climate change, US foreign policy and more: Make a tax-deductible donation today.

Last night, President Trump was expected to announce that he would be sending several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, where the United States has been at war for 16 years and violence and corruption have become a way of life. Instead, he outlined a vague strategy meant to appease both a public weary of endless war and the military generals who are now among his top advisors.

In his address to the nation from Fort Meyer, Trump did not say how many more troops he would send to Afghanistan, or how much more money he is willing to spend on the war. He only said that restrictions on wartime spending would be lifted, and that military commanders would have the freedom to launch attacks without waiting for approval from Washington.

Trump also refused to give a timetable for withdrawing American forces, saying only that the enemy would not be privy to when and where the US would attack. He said the "nation-building" effort in Afghanistan is over, and the US would no longer seek to forge democracies in foreign lands "in our own image."

Trump did mention that the Taliban could have a place in a functioning Afghan democracy, a sign that the White House might now be willing to negotiate with anti-government forces after years of bloody warfare, but it's not clear what such negotiations would look like.

The president's announcement was a disappointment for those who hoped Trump would deescalate the wars in the Middle East that he criticized as a candidate -- and for the millions of Americans who opposed invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place.  Trump's speech also raises serious concerns about transparency and accountability, as the president hands over the reins of war to military commanders who have long used endless conflicts in the Middle East to ensure a steady stream of funding into their budgets.

Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy who resigned from his US State Department post in Afghanistan in 2009 in protest of President Obama's troop surge, said the US remains in Afghanistan so the military can continue asking Congress for multi-billion dollar budgets while funneling cash to powerful private contractors.

"There's no real grand design or purpose other than the forward momentum of the military industrial complex," Hoh told Truthout.

However, Hoh said that much of the military establishment is fed up with the long process of "nation building," and so is coalescing around Trump's calls for "principled realism" and "strategically applied force" -- in other words, a strategy in which those on the fringes of the empire are simply punished when they create headaches for US leaders.

"And the way to do that is just bomb them or send in the commandos when they get out of line and punish them," Hoh said. "If a village acts up, then burn the village to the ground."

Meanwhile, civilian casualties reached an all-time high in 2016 as Taliban fighters and other rebels fought bloody battles with US-trained Afghan security forces, according to the United Nations. Insurgents are currently making major gains, and the high rates of civilian casualties have remained steady as the Taliban deploys homemade bombs and teams with ISIS fighters to launch attacks on members of pro-government militias in their home villages.

It's impossible to put a price tag on the countless lives that have been destroyed by the war in Afghanistan and other US wars and occupations in the Middle East, especially when we consider consequences such as the rise of ISIS. However, it's important to get some sense of the toll the war is taken, in order to make decisions about its future. Trump's "strategy" comes with plenty of assurances but no hard numbers, so Truthout has compiled the latest available data to bring you a snapshot of what military operations in Afghanistan cost the nation, its allies and Afghan communities:

  • Since President Obama approved a troop surge in 2009, the war in Afghanistan has claimed at least 26,512 civilian lives and injured nearly 48,931 more, according to a July United Nations report. At least 5,243 civilians have been killed or injured in 2017 alone, including higher numbers of woman and children than previous in years.
  • There are currently an estimated 8,400 US troops stationed in Afghanistan, according to reports. Trump did not say how many more troops he would send to fight in the war, but reports indicate that he approved sending 4,000 additional troops, bringing the total number to 12,400.
  • The Department of Defense reports that there have been 2,394 US military casualties as a result of the war in Afghanistan, including 44 casualties since military operations officially "ended" back in 2014.
  • As of 2015, US drone strikes in Northern Pakistan killed between 2,000 and 3,800 people, according to international estimates. About 22,100 Pakistani civilians have been killed and another 40,000 wounded since the US ramped up support for counter-insurgency programs in the country. Violence in Pakistan has created about 1.4 million refugees.
  • Congress has committed more than $800 billion directly to the war in Afghanistan since it began in 2001, but when associate costs such as the price tag of medical services for wounded veterans are factored in, that number easily tops $1 trillion.
  • $1 trillion is also the combined amount of money researchers estimate the US government will need spend on treating wounded veterans from military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan by 2053, according to a 2016 Brown University study.
  • The study also found that, when the war budgets for the Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security are combined with the estimated cost of caring for veterans, the total price tag for US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria since 2001 comes out to nearly $4.8 trillion. 
  • By 2014, the US had incurred $453 billion in interest on money borrowed to pay for the wars. Unless Congress changes the way the US pays for war, interest costs will add $7.9 trillion to the national debt by 2053, an amount that dwarfs the original costs of the all the wars combined, according to the Brown University team.
  • About $110 billion has been allocated to humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001, including at least $4.8 billion for "counter-narcotics" operations. A 2015 report found that the formal Afghan private sector only accounts for 10 to 12 percent of the nation's economy, with much of the rest coming from international and US aid or the black market.
  • As of 2015, 58 percent of the $13.3 billion in USAID funds spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan went to only 10 contractors, and federal auditors have long complained of delays and cost overruns.
  • Critics say these claims of improvements brought about by US reconstruction efforts have been exposed as downright lies: For example, earlier this year the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that the number of Afghan pupils studying in US-funded schools is 70 percent lower than officials reported.
  • The federal government currently spends about 54 percent of its discretionary budget on defense, which is more money than any other country spends on its military by a long shot. If Congress were to accept President Trump's budget proposal, that percentage would increase to 63 percent in 2017 and 68 percent in 2018.
Categories: Latest News

How to Avoid War With North Korea: The Times They Are A-Changin' in North Korea

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

Activists, including several Korean-Americans, rally against possible US military action and sanctions against North Korea, across the street from the United Nations headquarters, August 14, 2017, in New York City. The group called for President Trump to tone down his "pro-war rhetoric" and to engage in diplomatic talks with North Korea. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The United States has beaten its head against the wall of North Korea for more than 70 years, and that wall has changed little indeed as a result. The United States, meanwhile, has suffered one headache after another.

Over the last several weeks, the head banging has intensified. North Korea has tested a couple of possible intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response, Donald Trump has threatened that country with "fire and fury," one-upping the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang. And North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is debating whether to fire a missile or two into the waters around the American island of Guam as a warning of what his country is capable of doing.

Ignore, for the moment, Trump's off-the-cuff belligerence. Despite all their promises to overhaul North Korea policy, his top officials have closely followed the same headache-inducing pattern as their predecessors.

Threaten that all options are on the table? Check.

Apply more sanctions, even tighter ones, fiercer international ones? Check.

Try to twist China's arm to rein in its erstwhile ally? Check.

As Trump flirts with the same default position of "strategic patience" adopted by the Obama administration, two other options beckon: talk or attack.

So far, the prospects for negotiations have been rather dim. True, Trump has directed some backhanded compliments at Kim Jong-un (a "smart cookie") and broached the possibility of talking person-to-person with the North Korean leader. Backchannel discussions with that country's U.N. mission in New York have made modest headway over the last several months on issues like the detention of American citizens. But President Trump is, by nature, erratic, and a purposefully understaffed State Department and distinctly under-informed National Security Council are not exactly firing on all diplomatic cylinders.

Then, of course, there's the other alternative (an option also considered by previous administrations): launching a more concerted effort at regime change.  That approach clearly has some traction both with the impetuous man in the Oval Office and within his administration. CIA chief Mike Pompeo has, for instance, spoken of an imperative to "separate" the regime from its nuclear weapons (and he didn't mean through negotiations). National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster has openly discussed a "preventive war" option against North Korea that sounds ominously like what the United States had in place for Iraq back in 2003. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley even declared at one point that "the time for talk is over." (Presumably she meant the time for talk with, not at, since Donald Trump continues to excel at the latter.)

The fever dream of regime change has persisted in Washington for decades like a bad case of political malaria that repeated doses of realism have never quite eradicated. The irony is that North Korea is indeed changing, just not in response to what the United States is doing. As with China in the 1970s, Washington could encourage those changes by giving up its aggressive ambitions, stepping away from the lukewarm option of "strategic patience," and actually sitting down to talk seriously with Pyongyang without preconditions.

Lest you think it's too late for negotiations, remember that the US was on the verge of bombing Pyongyang in 1994 just before Jimmy Carter went to North Korea and negotiated what would eventually become an agreement to freeze the country's nuclear program. (Yes, once upon a time at least, the Kim family was willing to put that program on hold.) Maybe it's the moment for the purported "adults" in the Trump administration to persuade the president to refocus on his golf game, while some quiet diplomacy gets under way.

Only then will Americans get what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assures us is our birthright: a good night's sleep.

The Dangers of Regime Change

Cuba had a disgruntled former elite. Iraq had its rebellious Shiites and Kurds. Libya had the unsettling tailwind of the Arab Spring, not to mention a whole lot of people who deeply hated its ruling autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.

North Korea has nothing.

Unlike those other targets of regime change, North Korea lacks any significant domestic opposition that could -- at least in Washington's version of a dream world -- rush into a newly created vacuum of authority and set up a more America-friendly government. Indeed, North Korea is a veritable desert of civil society. Forget opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations. It doesn't even have a few courageous figures like Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov or Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, who openly dissented from their government's policies during the Cold War.

The only conceivable alternative to Kim Jong-un at the moment might be the North Korean military, the sole institution with sufficient authority to nudge aside the ruling Workers Party. But it's not clear that there's any genuine daylight between the Kim family and that military. Moreover, were the generals to take over, they might prove more hostile toward outside powers and even more determined in their opposition to domestic reform than the current leadership.

In Cuba, Iraq, and Libya, the United States imagined that regime change would flow from the barrel of a gun -- from, to be exact, the guns of the US military and its paramilitary allies on the ground. However, with North Korea, even the most die-hard regime-change enthusiasts, like conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, are aware of the potentially disastrous consequences of a US strike.

Pyongyang has a dispersed nuclear complex, as well as mobile missile launchers and submarines.  Its deeply entrenched artillery and rocket positions near the Demilitarized Zone, long prepared, could devastate the South Korean capital, Seoul, only 35 miles from the border, and the 25 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. If Washington struck preemptively, the Chinese have been very clear that they would support the North Koreans, which could raise a grim and potentially devastating regional war to the level of a superpower conflict.

No matter how it played out, this would be no "cakewalk" (to use a word once associated with the 2003 invasion of Iraq).  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people -- North Koreans, South Koreans, Japanese, even US soldiers and civilians -- would be at risk. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who considered the option of a preemptive strike during the Clinton administration, now insists that, "whether or not this was a good idea in those days, I am persuaded, I am convinced it's not a good idea today."

For all these reasons, the top officials in the Pentagon have been risk-averse in discussing military scenarios, with Secretary of Defense James Mattis portraying the consequences of war in the region as "catastrophic" and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford acknowledgingthat a military solution would be "horrific." In fact, the Trump administration's strategic review of North Korea policy explicitly advised against any military option, preferring instead to go with "maximum pressure and engagement."

In the back of any regime-changer's mind has to be a single obvious scenario: a replay of Germany's 1990 reunification in which South Korea swallows the North in a single gulp. As it happens, however, South Korea has shown little interest in copying the German example, certainly not under the leadership of its new progressive president, Moon Jae-In. The current government has, in fact, explicitly rejected any war on the Korean peninsula. Moon instead favors the sort of increased economic and social engagement with the North that might someday lead to some kind of slow-motion reunification rather than an overnight absorption of that country (which would also horrify the Chinese).

Such regime-change scenarios always overlook the deeply felt nationalism of most North Koreans. They may not like Kim Jong-un or have much faith in the government, but decades of nationalist education and propaganda have turned that country's citizens into true believers in the North's right to independence and self-determination. Virtually everyone there has served in the military, and there can be little doubt that the population is ready to fight to defend their homeland against outside aggressors. As in Cuba circa 1961, regime-change efforts in North Korea already have the stink of failure to them.

And even were such efforts to succeed, with a catastrophic regional war somehow being averted, the results would undoubtedly rival the cataclysms that engulfed Baghdad in 2003 and Tripoli in 2011. Millions of North Koreans would potentially stream across the borders of both China and South Korea, creating a massive refugee crisis. The economies of northeast Asia would take a major hit, which might send global markets into a tailspin. And don't forget North Korea's nuclear weapons and material, which could elude the search-and-secure efforts of US and South Korean Special Forces and fall into the hands of who knows whom.

You'd think that the examples of Cuba, Iraq, and Libya -- not to mention Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen -- would have cured Washington's regime-change enthusiasts of their recurring illusions. But no such luck, especially since those hawks deeply believe that any negotiations with North Korea will prove utterly futile, merely allowing that country to further strengthen its nuclear program.

History, however, does not bear out that particular prejudice.

Negotiating With "Irrational"

If you think North Korea is too irrational to negotiate with the United States -- or that the Trump administration is too irrational to talk with Pyongyang -- think again.

Back in the 1970s, China was a much crazier place than North Korea, so irrational in fact that thousands of Chinese escaped the madness by fleeing... to North Korea! During the Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 and lasted for roughly a decade, China's leader, Mao Zedong, lost control of his country as teenage Revolutionary Guards unseated seasoned Communist Party officials. Up to two million people died in the nationwide upheaval. The turmoil in that country was matched by turmoil within Mao himself.  In the 1970s, he was overtaken by delusions of grandeur as he began a descent into senility. And yet despite such inauspicious circumstances, the China of that era negotiated quite reasonably with the United States to get the international recognition it so dearly wanted.

In 1970, when President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, decided to orchestrate a diplomatic opening to that country, it wasn't because China had shown any eagerness for negotiations. The White House was instead attempting to put pressure on Moscow by playing nice with Beijing. In this period, Nixon cultivated a "madman theory" in which his aides were to claim that he was acting in a deranged fashion, leading his adversaries, fearing being nuked, to think twice about challenging him. Even so, Nixon has gone down in history as America's great dealmaker thanks to his successful "opening" to China.

In 1972, irrational negotiated with irrational and détente was born.

In contrast to China in those years, North Korea is not in a state of chaos. Whatever else you might think about Kim Jong-un, he's not senile. The country's foreign policy has been relatively consistent over the decades. The development of a nuclear program has, in its own fashion, been a rational response both to the North's loss of an edge in conventional military power to South Korea and to US regime-change threats. (Remember, for instance, the way President George W. Bush tossed the North Koreans into the "axis of evil" with soon-to-be-invaded Iraq and perennially threatened Iran in his 2002 State of the Union address.) In fact, building a nuclear deterrent may be one of the least irrational things that Pyongyang has done over the years.

And don't forget that the United States has successfully negotiated with North Korea on a range of issues from finding and repatriating the remains of American soldiers who died during the Korean War to agreements on nuclear weapons. The 1994 Agreed Framework lasted nearly a decade and effectively froze the North's plutonium-processing capabilities. In an agreement negotiated during the Bush years, that country actually began to destroyelements of its nuclear program. The nuclear deals eventually fell apart because of violations and bad faith on both sides, but they demonstrate that talking with Pyongyang is feasible and can produce concrete results.

Beginning in 1979, aided in part by détente with the United States, China embarked on a series of major domestic reforms. If American officials paid more attention to what's actually going on inside North Korea (aside from its nuclear program), they would see that the country is changing -- in spite of, not thanks to, US policy.

The Change That Matters

I visited North Korea three times in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  There were very few cars on the streets and highways. Cell phones were practically nonexistent. A few semi-private restaurants had just opened in its capital, Pyongyang. Private markets had finally appeared in cities nationwide in response to the breakdown of the government's food distribution system, but they seemed more like stopgap measures the state tolerated than a permanent feature of the economy.

Today, North Korea's political system remains virtually intact (minus a couple hundred officials purged by Kim Jong-un). Its widespread surveillance system is still in place. There's neither freedom of speech nor assembly and tens of thousands of its citizens continue to suffer grim fates in its widespread penal camp system.

But North Korea is changing. Private markets have become a permanent feature of the landscape, and a rising nouveau riche and an expanding middle class are transforming the DNA of the country. Out of a population of 25 million, as many as three million people now own cell phones and there are enough cars in Pyongyang these days to generate the occasional traffic jam. Those who have become wealthy from market activities are buying and installing solar panels to power upscale appliances like wall-mounted televisions.

Capitalism, in other words, has begun to bubble up from below, even though the United States has gone to great lengths to prevent the country from having any interaction with the global economy. It's a delicate balance for the North Korean state. The markets relieve the authorities of the responsibility for meeting certain citizens' needs and taxing the new entrepreneurs brings money into government coffers. But the markets also are a venue for channeling more information from the outside world, as North Korean traders interact with their Chinese counterparts and movies and music from South Korea make their way in via USB drives.

This ongoing transformation of North Korean society has been noted by a few figures in Washington as an opportunity to pursue a kinder, gentler version of regime change. "We worry about the miniaturization of North Korean nukes; what threatens the Kim regime is the miniaturization of information technology," writes former Clinton administration official Tom Malinowski in Politico. "By sharing media with family, friends, and broader networks, and by learning to avoid detection, North Koreans are also gaining skills and connections essential to independent political organization."

It's not clear that the market and greater access to information will, in fact, push North Koreans to organize against the state or embrace American-style democracy. But supporting such changes makes sense anyway. The experience of China suggests that such reforms, even when implemented within a non-democratic system, can reduce the threat of war and conflict. "It has worked before in other countries," economist Rudiger Frank wrote in Global Asia after a recent visit to North Korea. "It will work again."

In 1960, a US National Intelligence Estimate warned that China's "arrogant self-confidence, revolutionary fervor, and distorted view of the world may lead [Beijing] to miscalculate risks. This danger would be heightened if Communist China achieved a nuclear weapons capability." Four years later, China tested its first nuclear weapon.

More than half a century has passed since that moment and China is still no paragon of democracy or human rights. Tensions persist across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea, and Beijing possesses a small but significant arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons. Few people in the United States, however, worry that China will launch an attack against Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, or the White House. China has too much of a stake in the international system to risk losing everything by acting with the "revolutionary fervor" that so worried US officials in 1960. A combination of internal reforms and successful negotiations with Washington transformed that country into a more or less responsible global player.

Embedding North Korea in a similar way in the international system of economic and geopolitical negotiations, not to mention human rights conventions, will reduce the threat it currently poses to its southern brethren, its Asian neighbors, and more distantly the United States. Economic sanctions, military pressure, and intemperate threats, on other hand, will ultimately prove counterproductive, doing little but to intensify the nothing-to-lose mentality of the regime, while failing to encourage the changes already ongoing. By continuing to isolate an already isolated land, the United States is only strengthening the very wall against which it's been banging its head for so many years.

It's way past time for the Trump administration to take a few aspirin and a few deep breaths, and seize this opportunity to talk with the North Koreans before both head and wall sustain irreparable damage.

Categories: Latest News

Finally Seeing the (Torch) Light

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Why Charter Schools Are Losing Support From Democrats

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

Protestors demonstrate against President Trump's then-nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, on Capitol Hill on February 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

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Progressive political candidates and office holders have had little to say about school vouchers and charter schools. They'll need to wise up soon, as vouchers and charters are rapidly being defined by an emboldened grassroots as not at all progressive.

Netroots Protest

Netroots Nation is arguably the most important annual event in the progressive community, and a barometer of what's on the minds of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

At this year's event in Atlanta, the headline-making happening was Democratic primary candidate for Georgia governor Rep. Stacey Evans being shouted down by protesters holding signs saying, "Stacey Evans = Betsy DeVos" and "School Vouchers ≠ Progressive."

Protesters circulated leaflets comparing Evans' past votes on education-related bills to positions DeVos espouses. This included her support for a constitutional amendment in 2015 that would allow the state to convert public schools to charter school management, her support for a "Parent Trigger" that would allow petition drives to convert public schools to charters, and her support of a school voucher program.

After Evans was shouted down, National Education Association vice president Becky Pringle took the stage and demanded progressives "stand in the gap for our children" when conservatives slash education budgets and attack the most vulnerable students in public schools. She received several standing ovations.

Pringle's View

After this, I talked with Pringle about the significance of these protests, and the possibility of a powerful new education movement emerging from the progressive community.

Jeff Bryant: Let's talk about what preceded your speech. Many of the signs the protesters carried addressed school vouchers. Why was that?

Becky Pringle: This progressive crowd understands that vouchers are a scheme to suck money out of public education and funnel it to wealthy people like our current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This crowd is not cool by that, and they have been long time opponents to vouchers. They have more recently begun to understand the nuances of charter schools.

I've had plenty of conversations at Netroots Nation about charter schools, and we will get to that. But I want to call attention to one aspect of vouchers we should address because Georgia has what it calls a tax credit scholarship program that people defend by saying it's different from vouchers.

It's vouchers by another name. There are many names, euphemisms, for vouchers. Proponents of vouchers have learned over the years to use different names, but once you expose that, then they move on to different names. They're very good at evolving their message, but you're talking about taxpayer money being used to fund private schools, and that flies in the face of what public education is supposed to be.

So about charters, Stacey Evans was one of 11 Democrats to vote in favor of Amendment One that would have established the Opportunity School District that would have facilitated state empowered conversion of public schools to charter school management. The Amendment was eventually defeated in a November referendum. Is Evans out of step with most Democrats on that?

The NEA worked really hard with our Georgia affiliate to expose what the OSD is designed to do, and we were successful. We mobilized against a lot of big money to send a very simple message that we need to support our public schools and make sure that every public school is as good as our best public school.

Why haven't Democrats always been behind that simple message?

People say, we can't do it; it's too much money; we can't make education equitable for all kids. So instead, we get into these false conversations about other initiatives. We too often adopt the false language of "failing schools," when we should instead be talking about how we as a society have failed our students.

Along with that false conversation about failing public schools, another conversation I often hear among Democrats is that we need charter schools because they offer some black families the only way to escape failed schools. How would you address that?

It is a challenge for our progressive allies who don't see the long-term impact of this narrative about the need to rescue black families, one at a time, from their inequitably resourced schools. But if that story really is true -- which we could argue -- then what it's saying is that we're going to support and continue to build a system that is still inequitable, a system in which we're going to decide what some students will get and others won't. Also, if the story really were true, in what scenario are the students who get left behind getting what they need? Even if we agree that charter schools are the best option for black families -- and we have data that say that's not always true -- we know that having these charters puts into place a process where there are winners and losers.

I get what you're saying, that the process of school choice doesn't take into account the welfare of all black families, but isn't it right to save some of them?

Approaching the problem of inequity by creating options for just some families is exactly the wrong way because you're accepting the premise that we can't educate all children.

Does that mean NEA is anti-charter?

We're not opposed to charter schools. We have started charter schools, and we have members in charter schools. But charters need to have specific criteria. They need to be accountable, controlled by democratically elected boards, and have transparency. And -- an important condition often overlooked -- they need to be part of the system, not separate. They should be part of a system of education that makes sure every student gets what they need to thrive. We have examples of that.

Is that what you mean by the 'nuance' of charter schools that progressives are finally coming around to?

Progressives at their core share a lot of the same values. But we need to dig down into what it is progressives think charter schools are doing, even for that black family who declares charter schools are working for them. Progressives need to understand that expanding charters is fraught with all kinds of unintended consequences that even those behind the expansions for the right reasons often don't see. What we're seeing is that even in communities where some families have benefitted from charters, like in New Orleans, charter schools are breaking the community apart, and when that happens, the community is not fighting together for its collective good. This diminishes the power of a collective community's ability to demand what it needs for kids.

At Netroots, we've heard a lot about drawing lines in the sand where if Democrats cross, they're no longer a progressive. For instance, any candidate who comes here and is not pro-choice on women's reproductive rights is going to have a hard time. We seem to have a line drawn in the sand on school vouchers. But how do you tell when progressives are closer to drawing a line in the sand on all forms of public school privatization, including charters?

We're getting closer. It's happening. What happened with the NAACP is instructive. It was not easy because Democrats are not yet united around the issue of privatization, and there are many parents in communities of color who still see charters as a way to save kids. But when the NAACP held hearings around the country, I went to the one in New York. I heard the stories, for instance, of parents of special needs students who had been thrown out of charter schools and sent back to public schools whose resources had been decimated due to the money flowing to the charters. What I saw was a rising grassroots understanding among parents that charters are not passing the smell test, and we have to fight for something better for our kids. So I think we're on the verge of a widespread consensus that the current approach to charters is not working.

What should progressives be for instead?

Progressives all share a core value that all students need to be successful, and when they aren't, we need to provide more opportunities. What progressives have lost sight of is the other core value of the collective good. Progressives are going to have to wrestle with that. I see signs they are.

Categories: Latest News

The Myth of "White Safety"

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

Recent events from the election of President Donald Trump to the violence in Charlottesville are grounded in an overriding fear of non-white people. New data on violent deaths shows that all people are safer living in diverse places -- but especially white people. 

New data on violent deaths shows that all people are safer living in diverse places -- but especially white people. (Photo: Pixabay)

The latest manifestation of White Americans' open racial animosity, from the election of President Donald Trump to the recent violence in Charlottesville and the emboldened rhetoric of White nationalists since then, suggests continued anxiety that research indicates is grounded in an overriding fear of non-whites.

But new data show that fear is irrational.

While White people tend to feel safer when they dominate the population, and feel threatened by the visible presence of other races, they actually are safer in racially diverse communities.

Trump's voters -- nearly 90 percent of whom are White and average $72,000 in median family income -- were often motivated by anxiety over increasing diversity and "racial resentment," especially toward "illegal" immigrants. Trump stoked his constituents' fears associating immigrants with violence and drugs, claiming they kill "innocent American(s)" abetted by liberal, immigrant-friendly sanctuary cities that "breed crime."

Trump's demagoguery resonates because it comes amid one of the most dramatic public health declines on record: the fall in recent decades of middle-aged whites' from America's safest demographic to its most endangered today. From 1990 to 2015, deaths of whites 40-64 from drug overdoses rose from 3,000 to 22,000, suicides rose from 9,000 to 19,000, and total violent deaths rose from 24,000 to 58,000.

According to Princeton University economist Angus Deaton, there is correlative evidence that Donald Trump is doing very well in the same areas that are hardest hit by this decline. "…I think it is pretty clear that Mr. Trump has locked into this group of people who are feeling a lot of distress one way or another," Deaton said in an interview with Politico.

They are stressing, overdosing, and dying violently at rates surpassing less-advantaged non-White, younger, and poorer cohorts. And their worst death trends and levels are in predominantly White communities.

Centers for Disease Control mortality data show that whites are actually safer in racially diverse areas -- not only from violent deaths in general but specifically from guns, drugs, and suicides.

There's irony in many Americans' long association of danger with mean downtown streets, and their association of safety with leafy suburban cul-de-sacs and rural lanes.

Consider the city Trump and others often identify with rampant violence: Chicago. It is true that African Americans and Latinos have high homicide rates in the city and surrounding Cook County. However, whites there are much safer, with homicide rates less than half the national average.

The same is especially true of whites in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Seattle, Columbus, and other large "sanctuary cities," where local policies seek to shield immigrants from federal persecution. whites living in and around diverse sanctuary cities are substantially less likely to die from violent death than anywhere else.

Fear-based White flight from "dangerous" cities to the "safety" of suburbs and small towns -- as their urban cores and schools became more racially diverse -- actually increased the odds that whites who fled would die violently.

Conservative politics of White-dominated areas seems to play a role.

The White-safety-in-White-numbers myth can be seen as emanating from a narrative of racial superiority.

2016 study found whites "living in racially isolated communities with worse health outcomes" is "one of the strongest predictors of Trump support." Isolation reinforces the sense of white grievance and siege mentality connected to high levels of racial anxiety many Trump voters seem to feel.

Deaton refers to this wave of grievance and anxiety as "White rage." It manifests in various reactions, he says, from support for far-right political candidates to "deaths of despair."

As middle-aged whites, stressed by socio-economic challenges, were most in need of health care such as mental health counseling, domestic violence and addiction services, budget cuts fueled by conservatives' anti-tax, anti-government politics were slashing these programs. These cuts not only eliminated vital services in predominantly White rural conservative places, they muted local alarms of just how serious White distress was becoming.

Conversely, the more progressive voting patterns of racially diverse, mostly urban residents sustained many vital services that may have helped mitigate the opiate and suicide epidemics in places like New York City and coastal California. Those whites more comfortable among diverse populations also may be less vulnerable to stresses over changing racial demographics. In New York City and urban California, for example, whites have had more time to adjust to their growing minority status.

And there's this. The white-safety-in-white-numbers myth can be seen as emanating from a narrative of racial superiority: whites are safer around other whites than around people of color because whites are better people.

Facts to the contrary may not change self-flattering prejudices. But, over time, mundane pocketbook issues might. A New York Federal Reserve Bank analysis shows the most robust economic futures lie in " areas that are less residentially segregated by race or income," favoring higher-quality schools and community cohesion.

Of course, continued analysis of the new violent deaths data is required. But, during this time of confronting whites' fears, it helps to understand that moving toward communities of diversity, integration, and multicultural environments -- and the progressive social policies that often accompany them -- may benefit whites in terms of both actual physical safety and economic well-being.

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Categories: Latest News

Pushing the People's Platform: An Interview With the President of "Our Revolution"

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

Power does not belong to the person who holds the seat but to the people, and Our Revolution is about pushing the Democratic Party to view the people's agenda through a social, political and economic lens.

Campaigns end, but revolutions endure, says Nina Turner. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr)

Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 65th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and president of Our Revolution.

Sarah Jaffe: What are your thoughts about the national conversation on what has been happening since a whole bunch of various white supremacist groups descended on Charlottesville, Virginia?

Nina Turner: It is heavy. Lots of people are still very raw, and rightfully so... It just brought back all the ugliness in terms of the history of this country ... 1865, I believe, was when the KKK was founded, right after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which set Black folks free from slavery [while] these types of terrorist groups terrorized African Americans throughout the south. So, to come face to face with that kind of legacy in the 21st century is haunting, disturbing.... It just raises so many emotions. This is a heavy time for our country.

I want to talk a little bit about the questions of building a really strong anti-racist left movement now, because it is obviously more important than ever when the president can't bring himself to denounce neo-Nazis. I would like to hear your thoughts about the work that Our Revolution is doing, the work that other folks are doing, to actually build an anti-racist left.

Yes, that is so important. In Our Revolution, we have always had a social, political, economic, environmental justice screen through all of our work. In all of the work that we do, we are looking toward forming that more perfect union, but it is even more necessary now in the face of such overt racism.... We are going to continue to do the things that we have always done; whether it is Medicare for All, whether it is standing up to increase the minimum wage in this country to $15 an hour, whether it is talking about the private prison industrial complex that makes a profit off of keeping folks in prison.... But we are also going to have a deeper conversation about institutional racism in this country, probably in ways that we might not have touched upon so deeply. We have to talk about that, because as much as seeing neo-Nazis marching and KKK-inspired white supremacist groups marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, we still have systemic racism in this country. [It] is very much a part of Our Revolution's work to work on changing systems that promote discrimination and bigotry in ways that hurt communities of color, particularly African American communities.

When you look at wages, for example, people might not see the $15 minimum wage as a racial justice issue, but when you look at wages in this country and the fact that African American women make about 63 cents on every dollar that a white man makes, when you look at the fact that most African American households are led by women, then there is an economic and racial and social justice component to wanting to raise the wage. Now, as we talk about those issues, we are going to talk about those through that lens.

It is bringing people together, too. We need some healing, too, because as bad as this is, we have always been a nation of progress. We have got to take the good, the bad and the ugly parts of our history. We are not going to let a neo-Nazi-KKK remix of the worst kind stop us from knowing and doing what we know it is we can do when we come together. We can't allow ourselves to go backward.

That brings us to the People's Platform. Looking at different countries, different places, things like the Vision for Black Lives platform where these kinds of policy platforms are becoming something that is more and more common, that progressives and leftists are putting out. I wanted to talk a little bit about just the idea of putting together a platform, a list of policies that we are going to push for.

It is important because people need to see it. They need to be able to hold it in their hands if they want to, whether it is on a tablet or a piece of paper. It is the affirmation ... that our value propositions will be expressed through public policy and that is really what the People's Platform is.... The beautiful thing about the People's Platform and the coalition that we have of supporting organizations of the People's Platform is that it is tangible, it is real. The Education for All bill has been introduced that will require the federal government to pay two-thirds of college. We know how important that is to make sure that we have a workforce that is highly educated and highly skilled. That is what this is about. It is about making that kind of investment.

Medicare for All, which is the signature, was the signature of Senator Sanders's campaign. It is the foundation of what we do, which is affirming that we as a country can have Medicare for All, we can create an environment that doesn't leave anybody behind, that is not attached to a job. To me, that kind of thing can spark an entrepreneurial spirit if somebody knows that their health care is not tied to a job and they can dream bigger and they can do things that probably ordinarily they would not do.

And what we are saying to Congress, but particularly to the Democratic Party, particularly to the Democrats that serve in the Congress is, "Here it is. Your members introduced these pieces of legislation. Sign onto them and let us show the people of this country, the folks of this country that this is what we stand for, this is what we are fighting for." It is important to have all of these options, because for some people the environment might be the most important thing, to other people economic justice might be the thing, for other people racial justice. So, we have something in the People's Platform for everybody.

You mentioned health care and Education for All bill. I think the Raise the Wage Act speaks for itself. Let's talk about a couple of the other things on this platform, like the EACH Woman Act, because this has kind of been an issue of tension for a while, that Democrats are saying that abortion is not a litmus test for the party. I would love for you to talk about that particular one and the importance of saying, "This is, in fact, a foundational issue."

It is important. People want to call it a litmus test. It is really just a value proposition that women in this country should have equal access to abortion coverage within their health insurance. To me, this goes within Medicare for All, but we have a separate bill. It is a medical procedure. It is something that we settled in this country and this should not be up for debate. It is a medical procedure. We want people to see it through that lens, that women should have the right to have an abortion and it should be safe, it should be legal, they should be rare. I don't know many people jumping up and down saying, "Abortions for all!"

Somehow, we have lost ground on this debate because I think we talk about it in ways that don't allow people on the other side who might bend a little to fully understand this. It is a medical procedure. It is in that universe and the decision has to be made between the woman, her doctor, her family, whatever decision she makes, but it is a medical procedure and we have to protect women's access to that.

Now, in terms of litmus tests, there are some Democrats that are pro-life. I get it. But they shouldn't legislate that. I grew up in a very religious family. My mother was an evangelist. I was taught from a very young girl that abortion is murder. Some people have been socialized that way through their religion. I get it. I respect their view. What I don't want to have happen is people who run for office and all of a sudden, they are going to legislate that way, they are going to take women back.

There have been people like Vice President Biden who is Catholic who has, at times, talked about this issue from a personal space, but also understanding that someone who holds the people's power, that what we do with that power matters and we should not be doing things that hinder people's abilities. Women have this right and it cannot be taken away. We have to affirm it. I see it through two different lenses. It doesn't mean that a pro-lifer can't run, but what it does mean is that I would want to see them commit to not legislating that way; that they believe that abortion, the right to have one or not have one, because women make lots of decisions ... it should be up to the women. Yes, that is firmly in the People's Platform.

The next thing on this list, again, brings us back to talking about what we were talking about around Charlottesville. Let's talk about voting rights and the decimation of the Voting Rights Act, the attacks on the right to vote on all sorts of levels over the last several years that, among other things, helped put Donald Trump in the White House.

Let's tell the truth that African Americans were terrorized just because they wanted to vote, just because they were fighting for liberation and equal rights in this country. It is just as simple as that. That is the stain on America....

You have elected officials who are systematically, since President Obama was elected, chipping away [at voting rights]. As a state senator, I served in the legislature in Ohio where my Republican colleagues introduced this piece of legislation, that piece of legislation, not to expand the franchise, but just chip-chipping away, and "by coincidence" these bills had a voter suppression impact on guess who? People of color, poor people, students [and] people who have disabilities. Imagine that. It just happened to be the people who tend to ... lean Democrat.

It is a travesty for anyone who is elected to office, who serves in an elective office, to engage in voter suppression. We need to expand the franchise. That is what the Automatic Voter Registration Act is, just a simple, eloquent piece of legislation that just requires every state to enroll every voter when they go get their driver's license. However, I would like to take that further -- when people are born, let's go and register them! Let's get them registered there and then. How beautiful could that be?

Democracy is stronger, is better, is more robust when people participate. We should want to encourage that. In 2016, during the presidential election, too many people opted out. They decided that they weren't going to do it, for whatever reason. I think the voter suppression bill has something to do with it, gerrymandering has something to do with it, people not believing that the system works on their behalf, they don't trust politicians, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. They feel as though they have gotten a bad deal. And they are right. They are absolutely right....

I get why people are frustrated on all sides. There is a power class here within the Democratic Party and also the Republican Party that says, "We know better than you, Mrs. Jones and you, Mr. Gonzalez. We know better. We are going to tell you what to do and what to think. We are going to lock out Black, working class men and women across the spectrum." And people are tired of it -- so they opted out during the presidential election year.

[This should] cause shockwaves for anybody that truly cares about this democracy, that people are just saying, "I am over it and I don't believe anymore." That is when we are really in trouble. Saying to folks that their vote does matter, that their voice matters, and making it easier for them to access that ballot box -- that is the way we should be going in the 21st century, not backward.

The one piece of the platform that is not actually an existing bill that has been introduced in Congress is the climate change bill. I would love for you to talk a little bit about some of the things you would like to see in such a bill.

My climate experts have said environmental justice is a bigger umbrella, but I know that Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is working on introducing that bill. Hopefully, it will be introduced this week. Global warming is a real threat to our communities, to everybody, to everything. What is our obligation to make sure that we secure Mother Earth for ourselves and future generations? Within that bill we will address the issues of reducing emissions and making sure that we have renewable energy. That is just one start to that bill, but overall, I want to see Our Revolution continue to push for the reduction of global warming, which I believe that the congresswoman's bill will tackle, that we should get there by 2034. That we should work to get there, that we should encourage our fellow neighbors and the world to do the same thing, because we certainly cannot take on something like this by ourselves.... Water is a part of that, too ... [making sure] that everywhere in this country folks have access to clean water. We are going to keep pushing. We are going to do a whole umbrella, more than what this bill is going to do, but environmental justice is vitally important to the mission of Our Revolution.

You famously took this platform to the Democratic Party and they didn't treat you very well. I want to ask you about that.

No, they didn't. I don't know why. We had communicated with them three weeks earlier that we were coming. We let them know, "We are going to deliver the platform." We had a press conference earlier that day near the Senate. We had Congressman Ellison speak, Congresswoman Jayapal spoke, Congressman Grijalva spoke, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard spoke. It was a beautiful thing and we just kind of went on a progressive stroll, so to speak. It was very calm, just kind of walk over to the DNC and to be greeted with barricades, to have security guards out there.... It was just stunning.

It didn't have to go that way. The People's Platform is really about the people and many of those bills were talked about in the progressive [DNC] platform that was passed last summer. It very much encapsulates what the Democratic Party said that it stands for. What happened there was truly unfortunate, but I hope beyond that moment, that day, that the Democratic Party will partner with the organizations who have signed on to the People's Platform to both push and lobby all Democratic congress members who sign onto those bills so that we can make that progressive platform real and not just some pretty words that we got all excited about last summer at the convention.

We can take those words and turn them into actions. This is really what people are looking for. It is bigger than what happened. It was unfortunate what happened at the DNC, but I want to take that and invite the DNC to join us on the People's Platform. We had a little over 115,000 signatures on those petitions. People from all walks of life all over this country saying, "We want a People's Platform and here it is. This is our will. Here it is. Join us in this effort."

I hate to say it, but it seems sometimes like the resistance to signing onto this stuff is not because people are opposed to the policies, but that they don't like being pushed.

Well, my God. How do we get change if not by pushing? Women would have never gotten the right to vote without a fight, a push. My ancestors would not have been freed without a push. Let's just think about what status quo has meant generation to generation to generation. All the great changes that we have ever had in this nation, for the most part, 99.9 percent of them came because people were pushed. People with the power were pushed. The status quo was pushed to change the environment by which people have to navigate. So, they might not like the push, but that is what they signed up for.

They also signed up to listen to the voices of the people and hear what the people have to say. That power is temporary. It belongs to the folks in Ohio, it belongs to the folks in California or Michigan or Mississippi. The power does not belong to the person that holds the seat, whether it is local or federal. It belongs to the people. What we are saying is that we want the Democratic Party to reflect that, to be willing to put something on the line for the citizens of this country. They might want to call it a push. We want to call it a policy agenda. It is the People's Platform. They should embrace it and fight for it.

What are the plans going forward to organize people around this? Are there lobby days planned? Are there actions or anything like that?

We have had some lobby days. The members are on recess right now. So, we have had lobby days across the country. Folks going and making phone calls. We are going to continue making calls. We are going to continue to visit offices and we are preparing for when the members are back. But we do have our membership all over the country making those calls, visiting the local offices. If their members are having any type of town halls, visiting their members there and expressing why the People's Platform is important to pushing our nation forward in a very progressive way.

This is not a platform, even though it is being pushed by Democrats, it is not just for Democrats. It is for everybody. The overwhelming majority of Americans, if you take the label off and you just talk about the issue, they agree with these things, they want to see these things. I really very much want the Democratic Party to be the party that will have the bold agenda and that is also willing to push this agenda forward, because if the Democrats won't do it, then who will do it?

We must continue this fight. That is what Our Revolution is about. We are about pushing issues, pushing progressive candidates, and transforming the Democratic Party, holding the Democratic Party accountable to the value proposition. Progress is not always pretty. Sometimes it is a little messy, but at the end of the day, if life is made better, if we can lift anybody a little higher, it is well worth the fight. That is what we do every single day.

I hate to call it a slogan, but one of the things that really motivates us with Our Revolution is we're just really happy that Senator Sanders had the vision to call upon Americans in this country to stand up and create a revolution across this country to take back their voice. Campaigns end, but revolutions endure. This is a generational proposition, that all of us have an obligation to make this space better for the next generation coming after us, and that this cycle repeats again. That that next generation also has a moral obligation to push and make this country and this world better for the next and should be continued and continued and never end. The People's Platform is our way of doing our part to push not only the Democratic Party, but to push the conversation in the political sphere about what it means to make this country better for everybody.

How can people find the People's Platform and get involved with this?

They can go to www.OurRevolution.com. When they go there, the People's Platform landing page pops right up. There is also summerforprogress.com. They can find it there, as well. Please, I want everybody to get involved. Take whatever part of the People's Platform that matters most to them and push for that. Collectively, if we are working toward this end, we are going to see things change in this country. I really do believe it. We can't do it without the people. Join us. We want them to join us.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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Categories: Latest News

How Electric Vehicles Could Take a Bite Out of the Oil Market

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 21:00

When will cars powered by gas-guzzling internal combustion engines become obsolete? Not as soon as it seems, even with the latest automotive news out of Europe.

First, Volvo announced it would begin to phase out the production of cars that run solely on gasoline or diesel by 2019 by only releasing new models that are electric or plug-in hybrids. Then, France and the UK declared they would ban sales of gas and diesel-powered cars by 2040. Underscoring this trend is data from Norway, as electric models amounted to 42 percent of Norwegian new car sales in June.

European demand for oil to propel its passenger vehicles has been falling for years. Many experts expect a sharper decline in the years ahead as the shift toward electric vehicles spreads across the world. And that raises questions about whether surging electric vehicle sales will ultimately cause the global oil market, which has grown on average by 1 to 2 percent a year for decades and now totals 96 million barrels per day, to decline after hitting a ceiling.

Energy experts call this concept "peak oil demand." We are debating when and if this will occur.

A Forecast With Caveats

The International Energy Agency (IEA), which represents 29 oil-importing industrial countries, produces bellwether forecasts that foresee electric cars phasing in slowly. Its baseline projection envisions 140 million electric vehicles on the world's roads by 2040, or about 7 percent of all passenger vehicles at that point. In comparison, only two million electric vehicles are operating today -- 0.2 percent of the 1.2 billion on the road. The IEA estimates this shift will save nearly two million barrels per day of oil, relative to its business-as-usual projection of the world using at least 70 million barrels of oil per day for transportation by 2040. That consumption level would mark a 30 percent increase from roughly 54 million barrels now.

If electric vehicles sales grow faster than the IEA expects, that projection might miss the mark. Should that happen, would global oil demand flatten or decline?

Our research at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis shows that encouraging electric vehicle purchases is just one way policymakers can help phase out oil consumption -- one key to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that stoke climate change and health-threatening pollution.

Given the dominance of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles, which include cars, SUVs and light trucks, replacing them all with electric models will take decades. Automobiles are durable goods that typically remain on the road for 10 to 15 years. Not all drivers will buy a new car, let alone an electric one, soon.

In other words, even if (hypothetically) all new car sales were to instantly turn electric, it would likely be sometime after 2030 before gasoline cars would disappear. Besides, passenger vehicles consume only about 26 percent of the oil used worldwide. Given these stubborn realities and the fact that electric vehicles still represent a tiny portion of new-car sales, reaching a peak in oil demand by 2040 would require more than widespread conversion to electric-powered cars.

But together with other trends taking shape, electric vehicle growth could potentially revolutionize transportation enough for oil consumption to stop growing within this time frame.

Ride-Sharing and Oil

Even if all of Europe mandated that only plug-in vehicles could be sold, starting in 2030, and China followed suit by 2035, that wouldn't bring about peak oil demand by 2040. According to our research, global oil consumption would keep growing until as late as 2050, in part because so many cars and trucks running on gasoline and diesel -- especially in developing countries -- will remain in use.

To see if oil demand could still peak by the middle of this century, if not sooner, we recently began preliminary research modeling the effect of urban sustainability policies on oil demand in the future. This is an important area of analysis since US mayors and municipal leaders from around the world reaffirmed their commitment to climate-change action after President Donald Trump decided to back out of the Paris climate accord.

Using a set of scenarios regarding potential technological and policy interventions in work we will publish soon, we modeled different future oil market demand conditions. We focused on four major trend lines: vehicle electrification, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, more sustainable freight that runs on alternative fuels or reduces vehicle miles traveled through computer-assisted optimization, and urban car-free zones.

We found that making more car-free pedestrian areas in big cities would make a huge dent in global oil demand. This practice -- already common in cities like Copenhagen and Madrid in Europe and Chendu, China -- could make oil demand max out by 2030, as long as enough governments aggressively encouraged drivers to switch to electric cars and mandated more fuel efficiency for road-based freight.

Trucks don't last as long as cars, and many countries are considering policies to encourage the use of natural gas, hydrogen or electric vehicles for heavy-duty trucking.

Commercial ride-sharing might also pare oil demand by reducing the number of miles driven overall if it encourages carpooling. This industry could, in addition, hasten the shift to electric vehicle dominance if -- as widely reported -- it begins to rely on a fleet of autonomous (driverless) vehicles, which would predominantly be electric.

But ride-sharing could fail to reduce fuel demand in the short term if people wind up taking more trips and traveling more miles in passenger cars and relying less on the bus, transit or city train than they used to. Some research suggests that could be happening. For example, scholars at University of California, Berkeley found that a third of the riders they surveyed in San Francisco used these services instead of public transportation -- not to replace trips in taxis or their own cars.

In short, there is no guarantee that more ride-sharing means we'll burn less oil.

What Cities Can Do

In another study, our team at UC Davis teamed up with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an independent global nonprofit, and modeled three urban transportation policy scenarios. We found that global new vehicle sales in 2040 will total between 600 million, if ride-sharing and transit flourish, and 2.1 billion vehicles, should the ride-sharing industry stall -- a huge difference.

Metropolitan policymakers can use other tools. Creating car-free zones, making parking expensive and levying congestion taxes and road usage fees are some examples.

Overall, we believe there is a reasonable chance global oil consumption will peak by 2040. Especially given the growing preference of city dwellers to live in places with less congestion and pollution, a shift away from cars with internal combustion engines -- and from cars in general -- looks not only likely but inevitable. It also seems fairly likely that any company betting on the continued growth of oil sales will be disappointed.

Goldman Sachs says the world could pass this milestone sooner. Researchers at the US investment powerhouse predict that with widespread reliance on electric cars, slower economic growth and a decline in (largely petrochemical-based) plastic production, global oil demand could max out by 2030.

However long it takes, shifting to electric vehicles might not make oil demand level off or decline on its own. But plug-in vehicles, combined with other policies, trends and technologies, will clearly take a toll.

This article has been updated to correct the number of electric vehicles the International Energy Agency includes in its baseline scenario.

Disclosure statement: Amy Myers Jaffe receives funding for research on alternative fuels in the state of California from the California Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission (CEC). She is a researcher at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis which receives funding from a consortium of automotive and energy companies. She has also contributed to a recently published study by the climate advocacy firm Ceres on the benefits of 2 degrees scenario analysis in the energy industry. Some of Lewis Fulton's work relevant to this article has been funded by ClimateWorks and by the STEPS consortium, a funding pool based on grants from a range of corporations and other organizations. There was no direct involvement from any of these foundations, corporations or other organizations in the drafting of this article.

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