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."
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.
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.
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:
- About 104,000 people have been killed as a result of armed conflict in Afghanistan since 2001. More than 31,000 were civilians, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University.
- 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.
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.
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.
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)
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 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.
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.
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.
A 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.
Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.
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.
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.
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.
Greenville, Mississippi—In March, President Trump revealed his "skinny budget," a rough sketch of the nascent administration's fiscal priorities and objectives that included deep cuts to education and nutrition programs. Budget chief Mick Mulvaney defended the move. "[The programs] are supposed to help kids who don't get fed at home so they do better in school," Mulvaney said at a press conference on the day of the announcement. "Guess what? There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually doing that. There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results, helping kids do better in school."
In Greenville, Mississippi, a town on the Blues Highway in the Mississippi Delta where every public school student receives free breakfast and lunch, Joan Rowe, director of the local Boys and Girls Club, heard that comment and immediately thought: "They should come down here."
Rowe and her colleagues across the Delta are watching with keen attention as the federal government aims to slash vital programs and relax school meal standards that have helped combat pervasive community health concerns and poor academic performance in one of the nation's neediest states.
Video by Emrys Eller.
The Trump administration's proposed budget would nix the Greenville afterschool program and impose deep cuts in other areas that impact school meals and nutrition. The USDA, which administers numerous grants and programs that help feed needy children, is facing a budget cut of $4.7 billion, or 21 percent of its discretionary spending, while the Department of Education's budget could fall by more than $9 billion. Even if Trump's budget never passes, the administration has already put its stamp on school meals. Newly installed Department of Agriculture chief, Sonny Perdue, is rolling back school lunch nutrition standards.
The moves befuddle researchers, who cite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that more meals for school children, and specifically more nutritious meals, benefit kids in a myriad of ways, not only in the short term, but throughout their lives. Recent studies indicate the impact of healthier meals is even greater on low-income children.
"I think there is a disconnect between the policy makers and the reality in many places," said Michele Leardo, assistant director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. "They haven't experienced what it's like to go home and not get a meal. Some of these students are getting all three meals of the day at school -- free breakfast, free lunch and an afterschool meal. I think they are out of touch with what these kids face, and how vital these programs really are."
Many communities in the Mississippi Delta have better access to casinos, convenience stores and fast food than to grocery stores selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Sherry Jackson, who runs federal programs for the Greenville School District in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, views the proposed cuts with dismay. "[They] make me feel sick to my stomach," she said.
"There is nowhere else for parents to turn; we are the safety net," she added.
In Greenville, the people stitching that net together are loath to imagine what will happen if holes develop.
On a humid Wednesday afternoon in April, children wearing khaki pants and polo shirts color-coded to their grade level trickled into the Boys and Girls Club of Greenville, one of five sites for Greenville's 21st Century Community Learning Centers, an afterschool program. The center faces closure if the Trump budget passes.
Inside, tutor Louise Cox helped a group of 16 elementary and middle school students with their homework and ran them through math and language exercises. In another room, an instructor directed high school students in computer and career placement lessons. A forest green pennant from Delta State University, a school in nearby Cleveland, was tacked to the wall alongside motivational posters, alphabet charts and multiplication tables. Rowe, the director, who was born and raised in Greenville, repeatedly reminds the children how important it is to graduate high school and move on to college, just as she did.
Rowe would also like to offer a lesson to the federal budget experts like Mulvaney. "I'd tell them to come out here and see what the children are faced with," Rowe said "Not everyone is privileged. I remember I walked the kids over to the bank a while back to give them a lesson on banking. We walked in and the kids were amazed by the elevator -- they'd never seen one before."
Mississippi's graduation rates and test scores have lagged behind the national average for years, but recently started to catch up. The four-year graduation rate was up to 82 percent in 2016, an improvement from 74 percent in 2012 and close to the national average of 83 percent. But in Greenville, where about 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the high school graduation rate is just 62 percent, one of the lowest in the state.
Greenville was once a prosperous and progressive city, but industry, including barge building and factory work, has slowly abandoned the area. Today the population is roughly 32,000, down from a high of 45,000 in 1990. The school district is shrinking with the community, and funding continues to decline. The district, held up as a model of integration when it became the first in the state to desegregate back in the 1960s, has become largely segregated again, with black children in public schools and white children in private ones. Today, 94 percent of Greenville's public school students live in poverty.
"A lot of them are latchkey kids. They eat a lot of fast food and some of their parents don't cook at all," said Patricia Allen, nutrition director for Greenville School District. "It's not like when I was a kid and you were taught how to cook, and maybe had fried chicken once a week as a treat. There is nobody at home for them. Nobody is providing food for them, period. They look forward to coming to school to get that meal. I see a lot of children that I'm sure are not getting the proper nutrition at home."
Good nutrition is vital for kids, who have a high metabolic rate and are growing. The effects of hunger and malnutrition go far beyond a grumbling stomach and daydreams of pepperoni pizza during algebra class, potentially causing lasting physiological damage and reduced brain development. Low levels of iron and long-term food insecurity are linked to cognitive delays. When blood glucose levels are low, adrenalin, cortisol and other hormones are released, leading to feelings of agitation and irritability. When a child is hungry the body prioritizes vital needs, dedicating scarce calories to organ function and growth. Hunger in school children is linked to an inability to focus, lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, and often leads to grade repetition.
An array of new research has reinforced previous studies showing school meals have a profound impact on students' academic outcomes, attendance, and overall health. Initiatives that help the most needy, either through direct financial means or programs like free school lunch, have benefits that last decades -- boosting income, health and other life outcomes. The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers is one such program, offering academic help and an evening meal to mostly low-income children enrolled in underperforming schools. Under the president's proposed 2018 budget, the program, which currently serves 1.8 million children through a $1.1 billion federal grant, would be eliminated.
Annual reports from the US Department of Education have consistently found 21st Century improves grades, test scores, class participation and student behavior.
"The data and performance indicate that this broad-reaching program touches students' lives in ways that will have far reaching impact," report author Sylvia Lyles, director of the USEDs Office of Academic Improvement, concluded in the 2016 report.
During the 2014-15 school year, approximately half the students who regularly attend the 21st Century program improved their math and English grades. In Mississippi, more than one third of program participants increased their math and reading assessment scores, according to the report.
While the USED study did not compare 21st Century participants to those not enrolled in the program, a 2013 Texas study did. That report found significant benefits, particularly for high school students: After school participation was associated with higher test scores, and led to much higher rates of grade level progression for students in grades nine to 12. Middle school students enrolled in the program missed fewer days of school and had fewer disciplinary incidents.
In Greenville, after the homework session with Cox, the kids slurped up spaghetti and meatballs and a fruit cup around 5:30 p.m. Then they ran outside for recess while they waited for their evening pickup. Rowe and the Greenville Boys and Girls staff feed, tutor and provide recreation for 50 students.
Brenda Birkhead is one parent who leans on Rowe and the 21st Century Program. The single mother of 10-year-old LaNiya Birkhead, a fourth grader at Greenville's Weddington Elementary School, works at a local clothing store.
"The 21st Century program really boosts the children," she said. "I know my daughter is safe. I know when I pick her up she has been fed dinner, she's had some exercise, and her homework is done."
Birkhead makes $8.50 an hour, slightly above the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25. Mississippi has no state minimum wage. She works more than 30 hours per week, and often has to close the store at 8 p.m. and work weekend shifts.
"Without the Boys and Girls Club and programs like 21st Century, my back would be up against the wall," she said.
Up the road in Cleveland, Mississippi, Shenika Maiden carefully observed the lunch time assembly line at Bell Academy, inspecting for waste and other inefficiencies. The nutrition and food services director for Cleveland School District, Maiden has overseen the recent evolution in the district's school lunches. In single file, children grab their trays, choose between a banana and a fruit cup, and then receive green beans, mashed potatoes with gravy, a whole wheat roll, and hamburger steak.
"Shhhhhh. Listen. You hear that?" she asks. "They're not talking. They're not playing around. That means they're eating."
It's a reassuring sound. Since the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act went into effect in 2012 with new nutrition standards for school meals, Maiden has been working to cut sodium and fried foods, and add whole grains, fruits and vegetables to the lunch trays.
Less than 10 years ago Bell Academy, an elementary school, was failing and facing a state takeover. In 2010, it was completely revamped with a new magnet math, science and health curriculum, a direct response to rising childhood obesity rates. Recently, the school has been getting B's and C's on its state report cards. Principal Sonya Swafford says the magnet program, particularly the health portion, which is backed by a patchwork of federal grants, has brought the school a sense of purpose and community. "It's given us our own little limelight," she said.
"In general, nutrition in the community is poor. There are high rates of poverty in the Delta, and many of our families receive SNAP benefits," Maiden said, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps. "It's a big issue. Many of the people who get SNAP buy the cheapest food items, junk food … hot dogs."
In the Mississippi Delta, where many of the communities have little access to affordable, fresh ingredients, the school meal program serves multiple purposes. Children who do not get enough nutrition at home get the food they need to learn and thrive, but the hope is that teaching healthy eating habits will also reverse a troubling trend. Mississippi has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country, with almost 40 percent of the state's children considered obese or overweight.
"Change was necessary. Maybe Michelle Obama went a little far with it, and it was a lot at one time, but it was needed." Maiden said, referring to the former first lady's championing of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. "Now we're seeing a big jump in the quality of school meals. These children will be healthier in the future, if we continue the course. If they get used to eating this way at a young age, they'll make that choice on their own when they're older."
The standards required by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act were recently dialed back by new USDA director Sonny Perdue, who referenced the need to add flexibility and reduce food waste.
"This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals," Perdue stated when he announced the change in May. "If kids aren't eating the food, and it's ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition -- thus undermining the intent of the program."
After the implementation of the new rules, some states complained of waste and declining school lunch participation, but those figures have since rebounded. A 2016 Journal of the American Medical Association study assessing the Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act found the new standards significantly improved meal quality in school cafeterias and had only a negligible impact on participation.
The nation's public schools feed a lot of children -- 30 million -- and companies are willing to meet their needs. "The manufacturers have been great. Schools buy a lot of food, so they'll accommodate us," Maiden said.
Since the school meal standards went into effect, there have been significant increases in the amount of fruits and vegetables children are eating, coupled with an increase in fiber consumption and reductions in sodium and saturated fat intake, the JAMA study found. Another study, showed the percentage of calories from saturated fat in the average lunch fell from 9 percent to 6 percent after the changes.
"There's definitely a lot of variance, but since 2012 the average nutritional floor of school lunches has moved up," said Michael Anderson, an associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of a recent study on nutrition in school lunches.
Kids can still find junk food at school, but it comes with more limitations and alternative ingredients. Some schools are installing filtered, cooled water fountains and turning off soda machines until after the school day. Snacks at Bell Academy, available for an extra 50 cents, included whole grain brown rice crispy treats or reduced-fat Doritos. Next year, the district is partnering with Pizza Hut, which is using a new school-approved recipe incorporating low-fat cheese and a whole wheat crust.
Although the new standards have shown results, making nutritious meals that the children will eat, while also staying on budget, remains a challenge. The same study that lauded the lower levels of saturated fat and sodium raised concerns regarding lower amounts of calcium and Vitamin C.
"The hope is kids will take the [health] information home and share it with their families," said Leardoof NYU's Institute for Education and Social Policy. "There are a lot of needy families that aren't exposed to the best options and information for healthy eating. They live near bodegas and fast food restaurants, and don't have easy access in their communities to healthy ingredients."
Five years into the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, research shows kids at schools serving more nutritious meals are doing better academically. Anderson's study found the California schools with healthier school lunches scored, on average, four percent higher on standardized tests. Also, the poorest students saw the most impact, with academic gains 40 percent higher for those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The study determined healthier meals cost approximately $80 more per year per student; to achieve similar testing improvements through reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers would cost five times as much.
"As an education policymaker you have multiple levers you can pull to improve performance," Anderson said. "If you're looking for the most return for dollars spent, school meals is a good place to start."
Sherry Jackson, the Greenville director for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and other federal programs, has already had a glimpse of what would happen under the proposed cuts. During the 2016-17 school year the district lost nearly half its after school sites, representing spots for 250 children, due to a state accounting error that forced Mississippi to severely curtail participation in the program.
"I had parents calling me frantic, in tears," Jackson said. "They had nowhere else to turn, and were very worried about what they would do. I think they felt punched in the gut after seeing their kids thrive in the program."
It is communities like Greenville, with very few local resources to fall back on, that will see the deepest impact from any changes. "If it closes, I don't know what I would do," said Brenda Birkhead, LaNiya's mom. "It would be devastating."
Hear reporter Tovin Lapan talk about this story with the Education Writers Association.
Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the OSAN Airbase in South Korea, April 16, 2017. (Photo: Jeon Han / Republic of Korea)
Will this time be different? Has Trump finally crossed a line that's the beginning of the unraveling of his presidency?
Last week he threatened nuclear war with North Korea. This week he doubled down on defending white supremacists even as his allies, corporate executives and military and intelligence chiefs, backed away.
Trump keeps spinning out. After a few cities removed monuments of Confederate Civil War heroes, he tweeted Thursday, "The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!"
The idea of replacing Trump is now edging back into the public's mind. The Washington Post's famed 1970s Watergate scandal reporter, Carl Bernstein, is urging the press to dig into sentiment for replacing Trump inside the GOP.
Petitions are circulating. A national PRRI poll released Thursday found 40 percent favor impeaching Trump. That's 72 percent of Democrats, compared to 58 percent six months ago, and 38 percent of independents, compared to 27 percent in February. Only 7 percent of Republicans, however, want to see him ousted, a figure holding firm from February.
With Congress firmly in GOP hands, the question becomes when would the House, which initiates the impeachment process, realize that it's in the GOP's benefit to do so. Of course, Trump could step down, as unlikely as that sounds. All of this is uncharted territory. But the latest Trump chaos is on par with last fall's grabbing-pussy boasts that at the time prompted some Republicans to consider their options for replacing candidate Trump.
All of these machinations lead to taking a closer look at Vice President Mike Pence, who would become history's latest accidental president -- even if he, too, is under the cloud of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian collusion in the campaign. (In January, Pence told CBS News the campaign had no contacts with Russia, a claim that has been disproven.)
What would Pence bring to the presidency that's not already in Trump's White House, besides self-control and a lack of drama, threats of nuclear war and overt embraces of neo-Nazis and slavery-defenders? The answer appears to be even more doctrinaire right-wing positions than those taken by Trump. Pence would shepherd the agenda repeatedly rubber-stamped by the House and Senate GOP and vetoed by President Obama. As FiveThirtyEight.com noted after his selection, he's the most far-right veep nominee in 40 years.
Pence was a smooth-talking radio host before being elected to the House, where he served in the leadership with current Speaker Paul Ryan. He was elected Indiana governor in 2012, but his backing of a "religious freedom" bill allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals caused such an economic backlash that his career seemed over until Trump rescued him.
Virtually all of his policy positions are in sync with the GOP's draconian 2016 platform, adopted at the convention soon after he introduced himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." While it might be a relief for virtually everyone left of the political center should Trump be fired, Pence actually knows how Washington works and could deeply damage government and many public policies.
A quick survey of Pence's stances is revealing -- beyond his habit of never meeting alone with a woman other than his wife because he believes such interactions are implicitly sexual. As the Washington Post put it, "There's little distance between that perspective and that of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to sit next to a woman on an airplane, or the fundamentalist Muslims who demand that women be covered head to toe to contain the unstoppable sexual allure that renders men unable to control their urges."
Here are snapshots from a biography of his career: After he was elected to the House in 2000, he opposed President George W. Bush's expansion of Medicare prescription drug benefits. During his 12 years in Congress, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions. None became law. He opposed Obama's Affordable Care Act, needless to say.
After becoming governor in 2013, he faced a state fiscal crisis. He cut tens of millions from the budget for higher education, social agencies and human services. Although Indiana's economy had the nation's worst job growth, he signed bills blocking local governments from raising the minimum wage or requiring businesses to offer better benefits. He pushed cutting income and business taxes, but would not sign laws reversing other regressive taxes.
Pence was a big booster of privatizing government services, whether new highways or traditional public schools. He repeatedly acted to boost charter schools and vouchers and undermine the teachers' unions, including making the state Board of Education an arm of the executive branch. From there, he clashed with educators over treatment of transgender students.
On energy and the environment, he rolled back energy efficiency standards, denounced and fought with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and declared Indiana was a pro-coal state. On guns, he signed a bill to let people keep guns in their cars parked on school grounds, recruited the NRA to train the Indiana National Guard and pre-empted the city of Gary from suing gun manufacturers whose weapons were sold illegally.
On health, he and the state GOP defunded Planned Parenthood, even with southern Indiana experiencing an HIV epidemic. He opposed needle exchanges for drug addiction treatment. While he did accept Obamacare funds to expand state-run Medicaid, he added bigger co-payments for recipients.
Pence received national attention after signing a so-called religious freedom bill in 2015, prompting some big state employers -- notably Angie's List -- to cancel a state-based expansion in Indianapolis, costing the state 1,000 jobs. The backlash forced him to rescind parts of the law. On women's health and reproductive rights, Pence has been a fundamentalist, signing into law a bill banning abortion procedures and penalizing providers. A federal court overruled the law, saying it was unconstitutional.
Pence also tried to create a state-run news service, to circumvent local media. He's repeatedly stonewalled reporters seeking public documents. He is known for using private emails to conduct official business -- the same thing he criticized Hillary Clinton for. And he tried but failed to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in the state. A court stopped him.
In the fall 2016 campaign, Pence said his role model for the vice presidency, if elected, would be Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's powerful surrogate.
"I frankly hold Dick Cheney in really high regard in his role as vice president and as an American," he told ABC-TV. "Vice President Cheney had experience in Congress as I do, and he was very active in working with members of the House and the Senate."
While tens of millions of Americans want the nightmare of Trump to end, a different right-wing takeover looms should Pence inherit the Oval Office. One can ask, as Carl Bernstein has, whether Republicans and careerists in military and intelligence circles have completely lost faith in Trump. It's anybody's guess when congressional Republicans will decide whether they would be better off with a President Pence -- notwithstanding Mueller's probe.
The country's last accidental president was Gerald Ford, who took office after Richard Nixon resigned, and wasn't re-elected in 1976 after issuing a full pardon for Nixon two years before. Ford did not get much done in his time in office. But the mid-1970s was another era.
Should Pence inherit the job, and should the GOP maintain its control in Congress, the far right could have even more power than it does today.
Psst! Did you know that Truthout is a nonprofit publication? The lion's share of our budget comes from reader donations, and it's easier than ever to support this kind of journalism! Click here to get started.
Single-payer health care is still a controversial idea in the US, but a majority of physicians are moving to support it, a new survey finds. Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm.
There's a growing sense of inevitability as more doctors assume single-payer is on the horizon. (Photo: megaflopp / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
You'll never see a paywall at Truthout and we'll never artificially restrict your access to the news. Can you pitch in to help keep it that way? We rely on our readers to keep us online, so make a one-time or monthly donation today!
Single-payer health care is still a controversial idea in the US, but a majority of physicians are moving to support it, a new survey finds.
Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm. In its 2008 survey, opinions ran the opposite way -- 58 percent opposed single-payer. What's changed?
Red tape, doctors tell Merritt Hawkins. Phillip Miller, the firm's vice president of communications, said that in the thousands of conversations its employees have with doctors each year, physicians often say they are tired of dealing with billing and paperwork, which takes time away from patients.
"Physicians long for the relative clarity and simplicity of single-payer. In their minds, it would create less distractions, taking care of patients -- not reimbursement," Miller said.
In a single-payer system, a public entity, such as the government, would pay all the medical bills for a certain population, rather than insurance companies doing that work.
A long-term trend away from physicians owning their practices may be another reason that single-payer is winning some over. Last year was the first in which fewer than half of practicing physicians owned their practice -- 47.1 percent -- according to the American Medical Association's surveys in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Many doctors are today employed by hospitals or health care institutions, rather than working for themselves in traditional solo or small-group private practices. Those doctors might be less invested in who pays the invoices, Miller said.
There's also a growing sense of inevitability, Miller said, as more doctors assume single-payer is on the horizon.
"I would say there is a sense of frustration, a sense of maybe resignation that we're moving in that direction, let's go there and get it over with," he said.
Merritt Hawkins emailed its survey Aug. 3 and received responses from 1,003 doctors. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The Affordable Care Act established the principle that everyone deserves health coverage, said Shawn Martin, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Academy of Family Physicians. Inside the medical profession, the conversation has changed to how best to provide universal coverage, he said.
"That's the debate we're moving into, that's why you're seeing a renewed interest in single-payer," Martin said.
Dr. Steven Schroeder, who chaired a national commission in 2013 that studied how physicians are paid, said the attitude of medical students is also shifting.
Schroeder has taught medicine at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center since 1971 and has noticed students' increasing support for a single-payer system, an attitude they likely carry into their professional careers.
"Most of the medical students here don't understand why the rest of the country doesn't support it," said Schroeder.
The Merritt Hawkins' findings follow two similar surveys this year.
In February, a LinkedIn survey of 500 doctors found that 48 percent supported a "Medicare for all" type of system, and 32 percent opposed the idea.
The second, released by the Chicago Medical Society in June, reported that 56 percent of doctors in that area picked single-payer as the "best care to the greatest number of people." More than 1,000 doctors were surveyed.
Since June 2016, more than 2,500 doctors have endorsed a proposal published in the American Journal of Public Health calling for a single-payer to replace the Affordable Care Act. The plan was drafted by the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which says it represents 21,600 doctors, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer.
Clare Fauke, a communications specialist for the organization, said the group added 1,065 members in the past year and membership is now the highest since PNHP began in 1987.
Both Donald Trump and his neoliberal opponents seem to agree that NAFTA has been good for Mexicans, but in reality, the pact caused Mexico to lose millions of jobs, especially in the agricultural sector, and resulted in a sharp increase in migration to the US. If NAFTA is renewed, it will continue to benefit transnational corporate moguls rather than workers.
Robert Lighthizer, then-nominee to serve as United States Trade Representative, meets with Senator Charles E. Grassley, January 18, 2017. On August 16, Lighthizer met with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico to open talks on renegotiating NAFTA. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect at midnight on January 1, 1994. That night, thousands of Indigenous Mayans rose up in arms in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, seizing at least five towns and declaring NAFTA a "death certificate" for people like themselves. This was just the beginning of Mexico's troubles in a year that brought countless protests, hotly disputed elections and the assassinations of two of the then-ruling party's leaders. 1994 ended with a sudden devaluation of the peso, the start of an economic collapse from which the country didn't recover fully for years.
NAFTA is back in the news this month: On August 16, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico, the other two NAFTA nations, to open talks on renegotiating the pact.
While it's true that NAFTA was just one of the many problems Mexico had in the 1990s, we have to wonder, given the renewed focus on the trade accord, why US mainstream media have carried so little discussion of the events that accompanied NAFTA's rollout in Mexico. The reason may be a consensus among opinion makers about NAFTA and similar trade pacts.
It is an article of faith across party lines that these accords are beneficial to our trading partners in the Global South. On the right, we have President Trump, who told CBS during the campaign that "Mexico ... is taking our jobs. I love the Mexican people. They're great people. But the leadership is too smart for our country.... We're being defrauded by all these countries." On the other side, we have commentators who insist that NAFTA's been good for the US economy but still go along with Trump's claim that Mexicans benefit from it. Some even assert that these trade pacts are the only hope for the developing world.NAFTA's lifting of protective tariffs left Mexico's family farms unable to compete against imports from US-subsidized agribusiness firms.
The numbers tell a different story. In 2009, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace issued a report on Mexico after 15 years of NAFTA. The researchers found some positive results -- including trade growth and an 80 percent productivity increase in the manufacturing sector -- but little improvement in areas such as economic growth, inequality and the disparity between Mexican and US wages. Interestingly, the worst news was about jobs. The export assembly plants known in Mexico as maquiladoras gained some 660,000 jobs, most of them probably manufacturing jobs outsourced from the United States and lost to workers here. But at the same time, NAFTA's lifting of protective tariffs left Mexico's family farms unable to compete against imports from US-subsidized agribusiness firms. The result was the disappearance of 2.3 million jobs in Mexico's agricultural sector -- a net loss of some 1.6 million jobs for Mexicans.
This helps explain a sharp increase in Mexican migration to the United States "from about 350,000 per year before NAFTA to nearly 500,000 per year by the early 2000s," according to the report. Many of these immigrants are the unauthorized residents Trump is now deporting.
It's true that NAFTA produced some winners. Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim moved into the top 10 on Forbes' list of the world's billionaires, Walmart became Mexico's largest private employer, and US corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Bartlett Grain and Cargill profited handsomely from our country's agricultural exports to Mexico, worth $17.7 billion in 2016. NAFTA critics suggest that trade accords negotiated behind closed doors by business-oriented experts are bound to produce results like these and that future negotiations should be handled by the people left behind in previous pacts.
In fact, there have been several efforts to bring together civil society groups from Canada, Mexico and the United States to formulate demands for a more equitable accord. The DC-based nonprofit Global Trade Watch has been promoting the idea for years, and a meeting in Mexico City in May this year has set the project in motion. The agenda would include proposals to create or strengthen protections for labor organizing, for small-scale farming, for the environment, and for the rights of women and people of color -- along with a more rational approach to migration than what we have now.
These grassroots efforts are important, although they aren't likely to sway the policy makers in the short term. US negotiator Lighthizer talked tough on August 16, telling the press that "NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement," but a letter he sent Congress in May suggests that the Trump administration will actually go ahead with what is pretty much a modernized version of the old NAFTA, its flaws intact.
Still, at the very least, we can use the new attention on trade to start dispelling the fantasy that NAFTA was a giveaway to Mexico. This was never a conflict between the people of the NAFTA nations; the conflict was between the super-rich and all the rest of us, and we're the ones who have been losing.
As former industrial communities seek to rebuild their economies around clean energy, two cities in the Midwest provide examples with starkly different outcomes.
Chicago's Southeast Side and Newton, Iowa both used to house thriving industries, keeping residents with a solid toe in the middle class through well-paid and steady factory work. In Chicago it was steel, while Newton boomed under the all-encompassing attentions of the Maytag family and their washing machine factories.
Thirty years later, those core industries have left both areas and a handful of different businesses have taken their place. In Newton, the Maytag sites have been reborn to manufacture wind turbine bodies and blades. But in Chicago, the jutting land formerly housing US Steel remains empty.
While urban Chicago and rural Iowa are different in obvious ways, experts say there are still common factors that influence how a green economic development transition takes place.
Greg Carlock, a climate researcher with the World Resources Institute, says that sustainable development is a wide-ranging and complicated process, but he has seen some essentials emerge. These were detailed in a study for the Brookings Institute in 2011 which found that any green development transitions require long-term commitment to incremental changes, a shared public-private vision, public support, specialization and strategies that take local context into effect.
And to understand how this plays out in real life, says Carlock, look at the local level.
"All changes are local, if you can identify these local models you have created the enabling environment for action," he says.
Who Is Leading the Transition -- and Bringing the Resources?
Where the transitional plan comes from, and who has buy-in, is a significant factor. In Newton, the shock from the unexpected loss of their biggest employer pushed both local officials and community leaders to band together to find a new major employer for the area.
In contrast, the Southeast Side was just one of many areas in Chicago competing for economic development funding -- and the valuable lakefront real estate is also being targeted by multiple parties for development.
US Steel, the company that dominated a 369 acre site called the South Works, closed in 1992. It left an area of polluted and vacant land, one of the last few pieces of Chicago's lakefront that was undeveloped or unclaimed. A series of development proposals has come and gone for the area, including a Solo Cup Factory and high-rise housing, to no avail.
Today there are three primary plans for developing the space. The first is the Green Economic Industrial Corridor plan, a blueprint created by the Southeast Environmental Task Force that re-imagines redevelopment of the site as including environmentally friendly businesses and residential space as well as integrating renewable energy.
The second is called the Chicago 808 Lakeshore Master Plan, a joint venture between a Spanish housing developer and a social media security platform called WELink to create apartments with up to 12,000 homes, and include extensive green spaces and gardens.
And most recently, the city of Chicago reached a deal with a developer to buy the property to convert the site into a mixed-use development which will include housing as well as manufacturing space.
These initiatives, announced over the last several years, however, are mostly stalled, moving slowly or in the very initial stages.
Alberto Rincon, a native of the Southeast Side, briefly a development intern with local alderman Sue Garza's office and currently a graduate student at Harvard University completing a fellowship with the City of Chicago's Mayor's office, says he saw a lack of coordination, coherence and concreteness in these efforts that kept them from moving forward.
The stalling is also an example of the ways in which poorer neighborhoods of color, and particularly those further away from the city center, see less investment. As the Southeast Side, which is more than 70 percent Latino and majority working class, has been struggling to find a developer for the area, complicated projects with more city backing, like the development of an elevated walking trail on the wealthier and whiter Northwest Side, have moved forward.
"People don't really know a lot about what is going on around here," says Rincon. Unlike initiatives in other areas that have had direct mayoral backing, the Southeast Side has been working with numerous local partners but is rarely a pet project of the mayor's office. "It's important to collaborate because it allows communities to tap into the resources and skill-sets needed to see a project through," says Rincon.
Carlock says that a disconnect between citizens and government is common, and unfortunate. "If the needs of the people in the area can't be conveyed up through the political apparatus, then the incentives aren't aligned and the will won't be there," he says.
In Newton, Maytag announced in 2007 that it would be selling out to Whirlpool and closing the doors of its factories, which at their peak employed one in every five people in the town of 15,000 people. The leadership of the town -- both then-mayor Chaz Allen and the Newton Development Corporation, a business group -- saw the need for an immediate solution.
With Iowa already a leader in wind energy, the city decided to court two companies -- TPI Composites, which makes wind turbine blades, and Trinity Structural Towers. Among the incentives for the companies, which eventually settled in Newton, were Maytag's existing infrastructure, a workforce familiar with manufacturing, the city's willingness to help redevelop the land for TPI Composites, and the availability of state-level funds to offer training programs.
"We had the workforce and we had the access to capital," said Frank Liebl, executive director at the Newton Development Corporation, "and it gave us confidence that this was a good place to locate."
Carlock says having a clear economic argument for a certain type of energy or industry is also often helpful when localities are considering large investments.
"When it makes economic sense, it aligns with values because it supports people," says Carlock. "Everyone is motivated by positive economic outcomes, particularly when there is good policy alignment and market incentives."
In Iowa, wind energy was the obvious answer. The state creates a larger share of its electricity from wind energy than any other in the country, and its wind energy infrastructure was rapidly growing. The state also offered tax incentives for areas that were interested in transitioning to green energy. Newton was also connected to rail lines that could carry components to other markets.
"It just happened that wind energy was taking off at the time, and we were in the right place," says Liebl. "We want to create a new workforce, and let these youngsters know there is a career in manufacturing."
Green development in a larger city can be more complicated. In Chicago, clean energy manufacturing competes with other needs, such as those for tourist areas, nature reclamation and expanding affordable housing in an already densely populated area.
That said, Carlock says, there is "a clear global trend about where it is in the interests of global and national government to go in sustainability."
A May 2017 report called "Sizing Up Our Region's Green Economy," from the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that the clean economy in the Chicago region was growing faster than other sectors, and that there were clear specialties that included energy services, lighting, and air-water purification.
On the Southeast side, access to the Calumet River for bringing materials in and out of the area, as well as a population trained to work in manufacturing settings, could make it an area particularly good for green energy manufacturing, says Rincon.
On the former US Steel site, Rincon says he would like to see wind or solar manufacturing, which could be helped by the state's recent passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which promises support for bringing clean energy jobs to low-income communities.
The recently elected alderman of the 10th ward, Sue Garza, knows well the need for a livelihood for the residents of the area -- her father was Ed Sadlowski, legendary union activist and former director of the United Steelworkers of America. Garza, before becoming alderman, was a former public school counselor and union activist.
"Traditionally the 10th ward has always been an industrial corridor, everyone comes to bring dirty industry and landfills," she says. "But we want no more landfills, no more toxic waste. We want something that will revitalize the whole Southeast side of the city."
This story was produced as part of the Social Justice News Nexus fellowship at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. It was also supported by the Fund for Environmental Journalism.
In a special broadcast today, we remember legendary comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who passed away on Saturday in Washington, DC at the age of 84. Gregory became one of the most popular comedians in the country, paving the way for generations of African-American comedians. On Sunday Chris Rock wrote on Instagram, "We lost a king. They'll never be another. Read his books. Look him up you won't be disappointed. Unfortunately the America that produced Dick Gregory still exists." Dick Gregory was the first African-American comedian to sit on the couch of The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Parr. As his popularity grew, so did his activism. In 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon. Dr. Greg Carr, chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University and a friend of Gregory, described him as a perpetual student. "His intellectual capacity was honed to precision with a lifetime of deep study," Carr told Diverse Magazine. We feature Dick Gregory in his own words in our 2002 interview with the comedian in our old firehouse studio. We first interviewed Gregory just months after Democracy Now! went on television. In a special broadcast today, we remember legendary comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who passed away on Saturday in Washington, DC at the age of 84. Gregory became one of the most popular comedians in the country, paving the way for generations of African-American comedians. On Sunday Chris Rock wrote on Instagram, "We lost a king. They'll never be another. Read his books. Look him up you won't be disappointed. Unfortunately the America that produced Dick Gregory still exists." Dick Gregory was the first African-American comedian to sit on the couch of The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Parr. As his popularity grew, so did his activism. In 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon. Dr. Greg Carr, chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University and a friend of Gregory, described him as a perpetual student. "His intellectual capacity was honed to precision with a lifetime of deep study," Carr told Diverse Magazine. We feature Dick Gregory in his own words in our 2002 interview with the comedian in our old firehouse studio. We first interviewed Gregory just months after Democracy Now! went on television.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a special broadcast. We remember the pioneering comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. He died on Saturday in Washington, DC, at the age of 84. In the early 1960's Dick Gregory became one of the most popular comedians in the country and paved the way for generations of African-American comedians from Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. On Sunday, Chris rock wrote on Instagram, "We lost a king. There will never be another. Read his books, look him up. You won't be disappointed. Unfortunately, the America that produced Dick Gregory still exists," Chris Rock wrote. Dick Gregory was the first African-American comedian to sit on the couch of "The Tonight Show" then hosted by Jack Parr. But as his popularity grew, so did his activism. He was jailed and beaten by Birmingham police for parading without a permit in 1963. He took a bullet in the knee while trying to calm a crowd during the Watts riots in 1965. That same year he spoke at one of the first major teach-ins on the Vietnam War at University of California, Berkeley.
DICK GREGORY: As far as war, as far as the way that radical group will say, oh they just holding this meeting because they want to duck the draft. They will always think of little petty things to say. But I tell you one thing, I'm not against armies as long as this the army that's going to come in after a tornado and help clean up. I'm not against the Army if the type of Army that is going to go around the world and distribute food to everyone. But, I'd love to ask the boys in Washington, DC how a Negro and standing up and say, he's non violent, and white America loves that and going to send me over to kill somebody? No, nonviolence to me means not that I'm not supposed to hit American white man, nonviolence mean to me that death might put me on its payroll, but I'll never put death on my payroll.
AMY GOODMAN: Two years later in 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon.
DICK GREGORY: I had already announced 18 months ago that I was a presidential candidate as a write-in because I feel that the two-party system is obsolete. The two-party system is so corrupt and immoral that it cannot solve the problems confronting the masses of the people in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Dick Gregory, by his account, pulled an astonishing 1.5 million votes, but the official tally put him at 47,000 votes. And that was as a write-in candidate. During the campaign, Dick Gregory was arrested by U.S. Treasury agents for printing and distributing fake American currency with his picture on the bills as campaign literature. He also became well-known for his hunger strikes for justice. In 1967, he weighed more than 280 pounds and smoke and drank heavily. Then he began a public fast, starting Thanksgiving Day, to protest the war in Vietnam. 40 days later, he broke his fast with a hearty glass of fruit juice. He weighed 97 pounds. In the summer of 1968, he fasted for 45 days as a show of solidarity with Native Americans. The following summer, he did another 45 days of fast in protest of de facto segregation in the Chicago public schools. In 1970, Gregory went 81 days to bring attention to the narcotics problem in America. Beginning in 1971, he went nearly three years without solid food, again, to protest the war. During that stretch, he ran 900 miles from Chicago to Washington, DC During the Iran hostage crisis, Dick Gregory traveled to Tehran in an effort to free the hostages and he traveled to the north of Ireland to advise hunger-striking IRA prisoners. In his campaign against hunger, he traveled to Ethiopia more than 10 times. More recently, his face appeared in newspapers across the country for his community action to -- approach to investigate allegations behind the CIA's connection with drugs in the African American community. He camped out in dealer-ridden public parks and rallied community leaders to shut down head shops. He protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested. Throughout his life, Dick Gregory has been a target of FBI and police surveillance. And he was virtually banned from the entertainment arena for his political activism. When we come back from break, we we'll hear from Dick Gregory in his own words. Again, Dick Gregory died at the age of 84 in Washington, DC Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: "Imagine" by John Lennon, partly inspired by Dick Gregory. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. As we continue our special remembrance of the life of the legendary comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. He died Saturday at the age of 84 in Washington, DC. I spoke to Dick Gregory many times. We're going to go back, though, first to 2002 when we were in our firehouse studio's in downtown Manhattan.
DICK GREGORY: When you think about what on happened September 11 of last year, the number one problem confronting America, there is never another act of terrorism if this country stays as frightened as it is, cannot survive. I mean, I never understood what Roosevelt meant when he said, "nothing to fear but fear itself." I been married 43 years and the biggest problem i have with my wife, literally when I first got married, is scared. She could can't handle debt. "When we going to pay Sears and Roebuck? You act like we got some money. We don't have no money. And when I get me some money, Sears and Roebuck now my first priority" Well, look, Sears knew I wasn't gonna pay for that stuff when I got it. On the back of the application they said who's going to pay for this? I said, "your mama." About two weeks later I walk in the house and she's like, losing her -- "they did it. They did it." I asked her what's wrong. "They did it. They did it. Here it is final notice. Final notice." I looked at it. Final notice. Hm. Thank God we won't be hearing from them no more. You don't have to worry. Listen, I have a brother that's so worried, he called me the other day, he said, "they about to repossess my car. What must I do?" Don't park in front of the house. Just simple. Don't worry. And for those of you out there, those book collectors, look, I don't know how many of you aware of the fact that 60% of those bill collectors that call you, they are prison inmates. I mean, I had a triple serial killer call me the other day to embarrass me because I'm late paying Neiman Marcus. I said, "punk, you come get the money. You leave the jail and come get the money." And then another thing you have to stop doing, stop having your children lie to the bill collectors. You go to the phone, "tell them I'm not here." How you going to tell a child to lie and then tell them one day "never lie to me"? You go to the phone, "Dick Greg?" "Yeah, this is Dick." They don't know what to do. You see, they've been trained that you going to say you're not there. And when you say you there, they run back to the manual. "What do you say when they say they there?" He comes back, "this is not you." I said, "boy, how old are you?" "22 years old." "Let me tell you something, I've been owing this company this money for 38 years. What makes you think you're going to collect it in your lifetime?" And then when they can't intimidate you, then they bring the high echelon people; Phd's, psychologists, psychiatrists and the call goes like this "hi, there, guy. When can we expect a payment?" "Well, I'm not in control of your expectations. Matter of fact you can expect a payment all the time." And so, when you stop letting fear interrupt -- I mean, fear, fear. If you look at NBC, CBS, ABC and the black community, I mean, black folks have looked at the news -- and I know black folks that haven't even got nothing, got locks on their door. I mean, how you going to something from -- I got a cousin in Kansas City, Missouri, he had 27 locks on the door and haven't got nothing in house. I said, "boy, if somebody broke in here, they would leave something." And the house he live in is so small, he stuck the key in the door one day and stabbed 12 people. They was in the backyard. So, when you stop and think about -- I mean, just think about this for a minute. I keep asking the black community, what do you mean by black on black crime? And that's what I tell white folks, you got to listen to black folks because sometimes they be saying stuff that sound good, but they be talking about you all. For instance, black on black crime. Ask anybody and they say, we tired of black folk killing black folk. Now they didn't say they was tired of killing. They said they were not tired of black folks killing black folks. Then who be left? I mean, it's a simple matter. If you go to China today, who do you think is killing Chinese in China? If you go to Italy tomorrow, who do you think is killing Italians in Italy? You kill where you live. And if 98% of all white folks that was murdered in America last year was murdered by white folks. If they're not talking about white on white crime. Why we going to talk about black on black crime? Like I said, you kill where you live. And to all you black folks out there that's worried about black on black crime, join the NAACP, the Urban League, PUSH, SCLC. Get out here with us and work to integrate this country, and I guarantee you, if I'm living in a white suburban neighborhood and somebody -- my old lady make me mad enough to want to shoot somebody, I'm not going to jump in my car and drive all the way back to the ghetto and shoot you. Trust me. I mean, like I say, you kill where you live. But, look at these stats; 98% of all homicides in America is caused by friends or relatives. And 96% of all homicides in America is caused from arguments, not breaking and entering. So, we don't need more locks on our doors, we need locks on our attitude.
So, when you look at fear -- and I understand that because at the height of the civil rights movement when I would go south, I mean, I was frightened. Thank God I went anyway. And at that time I did not understand that fear and God do not occupy the same space. And because of the non-fear that the king and that nonviolent movement had, I was able to lose mine. And so, when you stop and think, I'm 70 years old. When I was the youngster, we celebrated Negro history week. Now we celebrate Black Month. Now, tell me that's not progress. Because when you know they getting ready to give us a month, and be that month with all them days missing. I mean, I did not expect a 31 day'er, but I was like wiped out when they laid February on us. 'Cause most blacks that I know, not only do we not like February, we don't even understand it. I mean, what's a groundhog? I mean, February 2 of this year, I was in Saint Louis. The white dude said, "Brother Greg, today is Groundhog Day. What do you think'll happen if the groundhog see it's shadow?" So I said, "man, back up. I don't play that ground---" And he got real hostile, "what do you mean you don't play groundhog? You anti-American? Anti-social?" I said, "I didn't know you was going to feel that way. You feel that way about it, ask me again, I'll play it." He said, "today is Groundhog Day. What do you think will happen today if the groundhog sees his shadow, boy?" I said, "six more weeks of winter, sir. But, since we going to play it, let's keep playing. Suppose that groundhog come out today and don't see his shadow, but see five black dudes? Do you know what that means?" He got nervous. "No, no, no, what does it mean?" "It means six more weeks of basketball, chump." And then we moved from February 2 to February 14. Which is not just Valentine's Day, but saint -- saint. I mean, that is the only day on the calendar that is called "saint."
The people of Manila have always struggled to survive day to day, but now they're cheating death every night. The vices and bandits that usually roam the streets are being eclipsed by a crueler menace: the foot soldiers of President Rodrigo Duterte's authoritarian regime.
Last week, Duterte brought another summer nightmare to the region, with 32 "drug personalities" slaughtered in 67 police operations, deployed in a series of raids on the provincial outskirts of the city. The massacre capped a year of thousands of killings in a hyper-militarized drug war, which seems to be growing bolder following Duterte's recent expansion of military rule.
The formal imposition of martial law has shown that much of the president's working-class base remains loyal. Banking on promises of stability and development, many are still lured by the political deal he proudly campaigned on -- trading democracy for "law and order" -- even as his administration robs them of both. His brazen populism and incendiary rhetoric is now undermining the labor movement that helped bring him to power, as the government continues to fail to protect workers from exploitation.
But dissent is brewing among some allies on the left, who have supported him since his days as a renegade mayor of Davao. Late last month, the left-wing Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Labor Center set up a street encampment to protest martial law and demand labor reforms.
"Poverty, hunger and oppression among workers have worsened under Duterte's continued promotion of cheap, contractual and repressed labor," the group declared in its July 24 manifesto, denouncing the president's economic policy as "subservient to the neoliberal dictates of the US and China."
Breaking from labor's general tolerance of Duterte's hardline tactics, the group contended that martial law was "merely being used to curtail civil liberties and suppress workers' and people's legitimate demands and struggles." At the same time, the military crackdown on a rebellion on Mindanao island, Duterte's home region and long a site of communal conflict, "has served as a threat to other workers asserting their demands for regular jobs and living wages," they write.
The chaos that Duterte generates is providing justification for bludgeoning the insurgency and tightening his grip on the urban core. Capitalizing on a strongman persona, his scorched-earth policing agenda has led to mass imprisonment and extrajudicial slaughter with virtually no due process, according to international human rights authorities.
But disillusionment with Duterte's image as a "voice of the people" is spreading among the rank-and-file. Old labor alliances have bristled at the Labor Ministry's ongoing failure to address systematic abuses of worker rights, neglect of longstanding union demands for stronger regulation of subcontracting and refusal to implement meaningful land reform. With an estimated 24 million irregular contract workers nationwide, girded by a highly unequal tiered wage structure, unemployment and social disenfranchisement fester amid state oppression and neoliberal free markets.
The parallels between Duterte's reign of terror and Trumpism go beyond the optics of nationalist bravado and vulgar soundbites. Both figures have mastered the art of manipulating media and social anxieties to distract the public from the root causes of social dysfunction.
In reality, political insurrection from militants on the country's marginalized outskirts, along with the war on drugs, both reflect the abysmal social inequality and deprivation that his regime has inherited and perpetuated. The chief victims of Duterte's drug wars, after all, are the jobless, disenfranchised youth who have been trapped for generations in a maelstrom of corruption and exploitation. Yet mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings and rampant police-led brutality continue in a crackdown that rights advocates have condemned as a "war on the poor."
Amnesty International observed in February that police-led and vigilante street violence "have overwhelmingly hit the urban poor. And the police and paid killers have built an economy off extrajudicial executions. Witnesses and family members repeatedly told us how the police stole money and other valuables from their homes, and wedding rings off the fingers of the deceased."
The police and vigilante aggression unleashed by Duterte's anti-crime campaigns, now steeled by martial law in Mindanao, has provoked tense backlash from faith groups and human rights advocates who fear a return to the dictatorship days under Marcos. An opposition prosecutor has even tried to get Duterte charged at The Hague, apparently with little impact on domestic politics. But Duterte's grip on civil society will only be broken when he loses the faith of his working-class followers, the vast majority of whom support his drug war policies, although most express concern about extrajudicial murder impacting them or someone they know.
Nonetheless, militant workers might be crystallizing a grassroots opposition.
Following the protest camp action in late July, KMU Chair Elmer Labog stated via email that the campaign was one of several mass uprisings across the country that month, largely driven by frustration with dismal wages, the exploitation of precarious subcontracted workers and pervasive state violence under martial law.
Labog, nonetheless, acknowledges the challenges of organizing under authoritarianism, arguing: "Once again these are dangerous times for organizers and mass leaders, but we had survived the worst attacks under Marcosian rule. We have learned a lot from our experiences during those dark days under martial law." While some "yellow unions" are still standing by Duterte, Labog notes, "They would eventually be isolated by supporting anti-people and anti-worker policies of the US-Duterte regime."
Partido Manggagawa, a labor-left opposition party, expressed solidarity with KMU's protest camp, but also pointed out that KMU remains somewhat compromised -- indirectly tied to the regime through key cabinet posts held by party affiliates "who are serving in Duterte's cabinet have not resigned, so there is an ambivalence."
Partido Manggagawa, meanwhile, has joined a national federation of leftist labor groups, Nagkaisa, to sign a collective opposition statement to Duterte's oppressive policies. The coalition linked the fate of working people to the need to disinvest in violent and repressive institutions, and to focus instead on social remedies that actually raise the quality of life, rather than fuel more bloodshed. At the heart of labor's demands are issues of basic welfare: fair taxation of the rich, stable family-supporting jobs and rehabilitation for youth and communities trapped in the drug crisis.
The group cautioned, "It will be very unproductive [for Duterte] to spend his remaining years in office for this costly war. War is both destruction and political distraction. It neither creates nor equally redistributes social wealth that is now concentrated in the hands of oligarchs."
The statement also denounced regime's militarization of society when there was "a better war to wage and win against contractualization, low wages and high prices of basic goods and services. If you want peace, Mr. President, build social justice and economic inclusion first."
Echoing a long legacy of oppressive administrations, Duterte has built power by aggravating social divisions. Finding common ground among all the communities under his grip, however, can sow real populism -- if a critical mass can rise again against authoritarian rule.
The program has stood the test of time well. (Photo: eric1513 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Last week marked the 82nd anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's signing the bill that created Social Security. The program has stood the test of time well.
It accounts for more than half of the income for 60 percent of senior households and more than 90 percent for almost one third. It has reduced poverty rates among the elderly from more than one-third to roughly the same as the rest of the adult population. In addition, it provides disability insurance, as well as life insurance for family members, for almost the entire working-age population.
This is a pretty good track record. This is the reason the program is hugely popular and efforts at privatization, like President George W. Bush's 2005 effort, have all gone down in defeat. It's hard to beat Social Security.
A big part of the benefit of Social Security is that it is very efficient. The administrative costs of the retirement portion of the program are just 0.4 percent of what is paid out in benefits each year. By comparison, the costs of even relatively well-run privatized systems, like those in Chile or the United Kingdom, are 10-15 percent of benefits. That difference would amount to $80 billion a year (close to $1 trillion over a 10-year budget horizon) being paid out to the financial industry instead of to retirees.
This was a huge hurdle for President Bush to overcome with his privatization plan. His main route was to invent stories about the much higher returns that workers would be able to earn with the privatized accounts he promised them.
But this story of better returns turned out to be based on phony numbers. Essentially, his crew was extrapolating stock returns from a period when the economy was growing fast and price-to-earnings ratios in the stock market were much lower. Their claims about future returns could not be reconciled with the Social Security trustees growth projections that provided the basis for the debate.
To make this point, we invented the "No Economist Left Behind" test where we challenged supporters of privatization to write down numbers for capital gains and dividend yields that added to the stock returns assumed by the Bush administration. This amounted to writing down two numbers that added to 7 percent (the annual real return they assumed for stocks), a task which should not be too difficult for someone with a Ph.D. in economics.
It turned out the privatizers were not up to the challenge. If they picked a high number for real stock returns (say 5 percent), they would soon have price-to-earnings ratios well over a hundred to one. No economist wanted to be associated with this prediction.
The alternative was to assume a high dividend yield. This quickly had companies paying out more than all of their profits in dividends or share buybacks. This meant they wouldn't even be able to invest enough to maintain their capital stock, also an unlikely scenario.
The moral of the story is that there is no free lunch in financial markets. That was true back in 2005 and is probably even truer today. Price- to-earnings ratios are even higher than in 2005, and profits are an unusually large share of national income, meaning that they are likely to grow at a slower pace than the economy as a whole in future years. With real estate also at unusually high prices, it is virtually guaranteed that returns to all forms of financial capital will be considerably lower in future years than in the past.
In this story, the best way to generate wealth for future retirees is to minimize the money that is wasted in fees for the financial industry. This is the route being followed by the states of Illinois, California and Oregon, all of which have passed legislation that allows workers in the private sector to invest with their public employee retirement funds. Several other states are close behind in this process.
While these plans keep a strict separation of the funds, they allow workers throughout the state to invest their money by taking advantage of the structure already in place for public employees. The savings on administrative expenses compared to existing IRAs or 401(k)s can easily be on the order of 1-2 percentage points annually. This difference could translate into almost $30,000 in additional savings for someone putting aside $2,000 a year for 30 years, a difference of close to 30 percent.
In short, insofar as we want to supplement the income provided by Social Security, we should look to the program as a model. Keep it simple and keep the costs low. If people want to speculate in financial markets they are welcome to do so, but retirement policy means simple and cheap, and if that reduces profits for the financial industry, that's good too.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks alongside fellow Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Joe Donnelly during an event to unveil "A Better Deal on Trade and Jobs," in front of the US Capitol on August 2, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
Resistance to Trump's authoritarianism will not come from a two-party system that has been shaped by neoliberalism and the power of the financial elite. Despite its rebranding efforts, the Democratic Party is far from embracing the anti-capitalist vision of radical change needed to make democratic socialism into a real alternative in the United States.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks alongside fellow Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Joe Donnelly during an event to unveil "A Better Deal on Trade and Jobs," in front of the US Capitol on August 2, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
There is a certain duplicity in the Democratic Party's attempts to remake itself as the enemy of the corporate establishment and a leader in a movement to resist Trump and his mode of authoritarianism.
Democrats, such as Ted Lieu, Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren, represent one minority faction of the party that rails against Trump's racism and authoritarianism while less liberal types who actually control the party, such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, claim that they have heard the cry of angry workers and are in the forefront of developing an opposition party that will reverse many of the policies that benefited the financial elite. Both views are part of the Democratic Party's attempt to rebrand itself.
The Democrats' new populist platform, called "A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages" has echoes of FDR's New Deal, but it says little about developing both a radical democratic vision and economic and social policies that would allow the Democratic Party to speak more for the poor, people of color and young people than for the corporate and financial elite that run the military-industrial-entertainment complex. Their anti-Trump rhetoric rings hollow.
For Democratic Party leaders, the rebranding of the party rests on the assumption that resistance to Trump merely entails embracing the needs of those who are the economic losers of neoliberalism and globalization. What they forget is that authoritarianism thrives on more than economic discontent, as the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, made clear. Authoritarianism also thrives on racism, xenophobia, exclusion, expulsion and the deeming of certain subgroups as "disposable" -- a script that the "new" Democratic Party has little to say about.
David Broder has recently argued that being anti-Trump is not a sufficient political position because doing so inures people to a myriad of neoliberal policies that have impoverished the working class, destroyed the welfare state, waged foreign wars and a war on public goods, polluted the environment, created massive inequities and expanded the reach of the punishing and mass incarceration state. Even though these neoliberal policies were produced by both Republicans and liberal Democrats, this message appears to have been taken up, at least partly, by the Democrats in a focused attempt to rebrand themselves as the guardians of working class interests.
For too many members of the Democratic Party, Trump is the eccentric clown who unexpectedly stepped into history by finding the right note in rousing an army of "deplorables" willing to invest in his toxic script of hatred, demonization and exclusion. Of course, as Anthony DiMaggio, Thomas Frank, Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, Paul Street and others have pointed out, this is a false yet comforting narrative for a liberal elite whose moralism is as suffocating as is their belief in centrist politics. Neoliberal policies, especially under Clinton and Obama, created the conditions for Trump to actually come to power in the first place.
Trump's presidency represents not merely the triumph of authoritarianism but also the tragedy of a neoliberal capitalism that benefited investment bankers, Wall Street, lawyers, hedge fund managers and other members of the financial elite who promoted free trade, financial deregulation, cutthroat competition and commercialization as the highest measure of individual and market freedom. Trump is not simply the result of a surprising voter turnout by an angry, disgruntled working class (along with large segments of the white suburban middle class), he is also the endpoint of a brutal economic and political system that celebrated the market as the template for governing society while normalizing a narrative of greed, self-interest and corporate power. Trump is the mirror reflection of the development of a form of illiberal democracy and authoritarianism that mixes neoliberal economic policies, anti-immigrant bigotry, the stifling of free speech, hyper-nationalism and a politics of disposability and exclusion.
A History of Betrayal by Both Political PartiesGetting in bed with Wall Street has also been a favorite pastime of the Democratic Party.
The tyranny of the current moment bespeaks a long history of betrayal by a financial and political class that inhabits both major parties. It is no secret that the Republican Party has been laying the groundwork for an American-style authoritarianism since the 1970s by aggressively pushing for massive tax cuts for the rich, privatizing public goods, promoting a culture of fear, crushing trade unions, outsourcing public services and eliminating restrictions designed to protect workers, women and the environment. But they have not been the only party reproducing the dictates of neoliberalism. Getting in bed with Wall Street has also been a favorite pastime of the Democratic Party.
It was the Democratic Party, especially under President Clinton, that prepared the groundwork for the financial crisis of 2007 by loosening corporate and banking regulations while at the same time slashing welfare provisions and creating the conditions for the intensification of the mass incarceration state. The Clinton administration did more than court Wall Street, it played a decisive role in expanding the neoliberal gains that took place three decades before he was elected. Nancy Fraser insightfully sums this up in her contribution to The Great Regression anthology:
Neoliberalism developed in the United States roughly over the last three decades and was ratified with Bill Clinton's election in 1992.... Turning the US economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization.... Continued by his successors, including Barack Obama, Clinton's policies degraded the living conditions of all working people, but especially those employed in industrial production. In short, Clintonism bears a heavy share of responsibility for the weakening of unions, the decline of real wages, the increasing precarity of work, and the rise of the 'two-earner family' in place of the defunct family wage.
The Obama administration continued this abandonment of democratic values by bailing out the bankers and selling out millions of people who lost their homes while at the same time aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. It was the Obama administration that added a kill list to its foreign policy and matched it domestically with educational policies that collapsed education into vocational training and undermined it as a moral and democratizing public good. Obama mixed neoliberalism's claim to unbridled economic and political power with an educational reform program that undermined the social imagination and the critical capacities that made democracy possible. Promoting charter schools and mind-numbing accountability schemes, Obama and the Democratic Party paved the way for the appointment of the hapless reactionary billionaire Betsy DeVos as Trump's Secretary of Education. And it was the Obama administration that enlarged the surveillance state while allowing CIA operatives who tortured and maimed people in the name of American exceptionalism and militarism to go free. In short, the flirtation of neoliberalism with the forces of illiberal democracy was transformed into a courtship during the Clinton and Obama administrations and until death do us part under Trump.
The growing disregard for public goods, such as schools and health care, the weakening of union power, the erosion of citizenship to an act of consumption, the emptying out of political participation, and the widening social and economic inequality are not only the product of a form of ideological extremism and market fundamentalism embraced by Republicans. The Democratic Party also has a long legacy of incorporating the malicious policies of neoliberalism in their party platforms in order to curry favor with the rich and powerful. Neoliberalism stands for the death of democracy, and the established political parties have functioned as its accomplice. Both political parties, to different degrees, have imposed massive misery and suffering on the American people and condemned many to what David Graeber has described in his book The Democracy Project as "an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future." While Trump and the Republican Party leadership display no shame over their strong embrace of neoliberalism, the allegedly reform-minded Democratic Party covers up its complicity with Wall Street and uses their alleged opposition to Trump to erase their criminogenic history with casino capitalism. With Republican majorities, mainstream Democrats share an unwillingness to detach themselves from an ideology that challenges the substance of a viable democracy and the public spheres and formative cultures that make it possible.
Democratic Party Remains Complicit in Neoliberal and Authoritarian Politics
Chris Hedges has laid bare both the complicity of the Democratic Party in neoliberal and authoritarian politics as well as the hypocrisy behind its claim to be the only political alternative to challenge Trump's illiberalism. He is worth quoting at length:
The liberal elites, who bear significant responsibility for the death of our democracy, now hold themselves up as the saviors of the republic. They have embarked, despite their own corruption and their complicity in neoliberalism and the crimes of empire, on a self-righteous moral crusade to topple Donald Trump. It is quite a show.... Where was this moral outrage when our privacy was taken from us by the security and surveillance state, the criminals on Wall Street were bailed out, we were stripped of our civil liberties and 2.3 million men and women were packed into our prisons, most of them poor people of color? Why did they not thunder with indignation as money replaced the vote and elected officials and corporate lobbyists instituted our system of legalized bribery? Where were the impassioned critiques of the absurd idea of allowing a nation to be governed by the dictates of corporations, banks and hedge fund managers? Why did they cater to the foibles and utterings of fellow elites, all the while blacklisting critics of the corporate state and ignoring the misery of the poor and the working class? Where was their moral righteousness when the United States committed war crimes in the Middle East and our militarized police carried out murderous rampages?
According to Katie Sanders, writing in PunditFact, under the Obama presidency, the Democrats "lost 11 governorships, 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats, and 913 state legislative seats and 30 state legislative chambers." And the losses and humiliations got worse in 2016 elections. It is no secret that the Democratic Party is a political formation of diminished power and hopes. Yet, in the face of Trump's authoritarianism, it has attempted to reinvent itself as the party of reform by updating its worn out economic policies and ideological scripts. As proof of its reincarnation, it has proposed a platform titled "A Better Deal," signaling a populist turn in economic policy. A number of its economic reforms would certainly help benefit the poor and underprivileged. These include proposed increases of the minimum wage to $15, tax credits to encourage job training and hiring, regulations to lower drug costs, stronger anti-trust laws and a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. The platform, however, does not support universal health care, and it says nothing about providing free higher education, reducing military spending or reversing the huge growth in inequality.
As Anthony DiMaggio points out, the plan "doesn't even reach a Bernie Sanders level of liberalism, and it is a far cry from the kind of progressive populist policies introduced in FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society/War on Poverty." Eric Cheyfitz adds to this argument by insisting that the plan does nothing to challenge the rapacious system of unfettered capitalism the Democrats and Republicans have supported since the 1970s. Democrats are completely unrepentant about having supported the deregulation of capital and thus ushered in a new form of US authoritarianism. Moreover, any reform policy worth its name would directly address income inequality and the power of the military-industrial complex, while fighting for single-payer health care and a redistribution of wealth and power. There will have to be a massive refiguring of power and redistribution of wealth to address the health care crisis, poverty, climate change, inadequacies in education and the plague of mass incarceration -- problems not addressed in the Better Deal. It is not unreasonable to assume that such vexing challenges cannot be addressed within a two-party system that supports the foundational elements of predatory capitalism.
In spite of the horrendous neoliberal ideology and reactionary policies driving the Democratic Party, various Democrats and progressives cannot bring themselves to denounce either capitalism as the bane of democracy nor its suffocating hold on its reform efforts. They appear thunderstruck when asked to denounce a corrupt two-party system and develop a social movement and political apparatus that supports democratic socialism.
For instance, unrepentant centrist liberals, such as Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, have castigated progressives within the party while unapologetically embracing neoliberalism as a reform strategy. They believe that the Democratic Party has lost its base because it rushed to defend "identity politics" and leftist ideas and that workers felt abandoned by the party's "shift away from moderate positions on trade and immigration, from backing police and tough anti-crime measures." Instead, they claim that the Democratic Party needs "to reject socialist ideas and adopt an agenda of renewed growth, greater protection for American workers ... return to fiscal responsibility, and give up on ... defending sanctuary cities."
This sounds like a script written by a Trump policy advisor. It gets worse. Others such as Leonard Steinhorn have argued that the real challenge facing the Democratic Party is not to change their policies but their brand and messaging techniques. This argument suggests that the Democrats lost their base because they failed to win the messaging battle rather than the loss being due to moving to the right and aligning themselves with corporate and moneyed interests.
Suffering from an acute loss of historical memory, Jonathan Chait argues that the Democratic Party never embraced the policies of neoliberalism and has in its recent incarnations actually moved to the left, upholding the principles of the New Deal and Great Society. As Leah Hunt-Hendrix observes:
One need not be anti-capitalist to understand that the Democratic [Party] ... allowed for policies that deregulated the finance sector (under President Bill Clinton), allowed for the privatization of many public goods (including the weakening of the public education system through the promotion of charter schools) and bailed out Wall Street banks without taking measures to truly address the needs of struggling working Americans.
Chait seems to have overlooked the fact that Trump and Sanders have proved conclusively that the working class no longer belongs to the Democratic Party or that the Democratic Party under Clinton and Obama became the vanguard of neoliberalism. He goes even further, arguing implausibly that neoliberalism is simply an epithet used by the left to discredit liberals and progressive Democrats. Chait appears oblivious to the transformation of the Democratic Party into an adjunct of the rich and corporate elite.
Is Chait unaware of Clinton's elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, his gutting of the welfare system and love affair with Wall Street, among his many missteps? How did he miss Obama's bailout of Goldman-Sachs, the abandonment of education as a public good, his attack on whistleblowers, or the Democrats' assault on organized labor via NAFTA? Was he unware that, in a White House interview given to Noticias Univision 23, Obama admitted that his "policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican?"
In the end, Chait is most concerned about what he calls an attempt on the part of the left to engage in the trick of bracketing "the center-left with the right as 'neoliberal' and force progressives to choose between that and socialism." He goes on to say that "The 'neoliberal' accusation is a synecdoche for the American left's renewed offensive against the center-left and a touchstone in the struggle to define progressivism after Barack Obama [and] is an attempt to win an argument with an epithet." Because of his fear of democratic socialism, Chait is like many other centrists in the Democratic Party who are oblivious to the damaging effects of the scorched-earth neoliberal polices adopted under the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Other progressive spokespersons, such as John Nichols and Leah Hunt-Hendrix, and groups, such as Our Revolution and the Incorruptibles, want to rebuild the Democratic Party from the base up by running candidates with progressive values "for local offices: in state houses, city councils, planning commissions, select boards and more." The emphasis here would be for activists to revitalize and take over the Democratic Party by turning it to the left so that it will stand up for the poor and underprivileged.
Tom Gallagher adds to this reform strategy by arguing that Bernie Sanders should join the Democratic Party -- forgetting that when he supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, he presented himself as a defacto member of the party in all but name.
Many of the strategies proposed to move the Democratic Party away from its history of centrism and the violence of neoliberalism are noble: If they were enacted at the level of policies and power relations, they would certainly make life easier for the poor, vulnerable and excluded. Progressives are right to be motivated and inspired by Sanders's courage and policies. Sanders's campaign against a rigged economy that redistributed wealth and income upward on a massive scale to the rich and corporate robber barons, coupled with his critique of the fixed political system that protected neoliberalism, provided a new language that had the potential to be visionary. But there is a difference between calling for reform and offering a new and compelling vision with an emphasis on a radical transformation of the political and economic systems.
At the same time, calls for a new vision and supporting values for radical democratic change do not mean abandoning attempts at reforming the Democratic Party as much as viewing such attempts as part of a broader strategy designed to make immediate progressive gains on a number of fronts. Most importantly, such a strategy moves beyond reform by pushing the party to its ideological and political limits so as to make visible the endpoint of liberal reform. At stake here is the assumption that such a strategy will make clear that the Democratic Party is incapable of being transformed radically and as such should not be expected to be on the forefront of radical democratic change.
Political and ideological centrism is endemic to the Democratic Party: It has never called for restructuring a system that is corrupt to the core. As a result, in the words of Nancy Fraser, the antidote to authoritarianism "is a left project that redirects the rage and the pain of the dispossessed towards a deep societal restructuring and a democratic political 'revolution'." The power of a left-progressive presence in the United States will, in part, depend on developing a comprehensive and accessible narrative that is able, as Nancy Fraser observes, to "articulate the legitimate grievances of Trump supporters with a fulsome critique of financialization on the one hand, and with an anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-hierarchical vision of emancipation on the other." The left needs a populism with a social conscience, one that allows young people, workers, the middle class, and others to see how their futures might develop in a way that speaks to their needs and a more just and equitable life, one in which the utopian possibilities of a radical democracy appear possible.
Looking Beyond the Democratic Party
A new vision for change cannot be built on the legacy of the Democratic Party. What is needed is a concerted attempt to figure out what democratic socialism will mean and look like in the 21st century. This suggests rethinking the meaning of politics, one that can rekindle the social imagination. Central to such a struggle is the role education must play in creating the formative culture capable of creating critical and engaged citizens. In this case, politics moves beyond ephemeral protests and recalibrates itself to create the public spheres that enable progressives to think about what long term movements, organizations and institutions can be aligned to create new political formations willing to confront neoliberal capitalism and other forms of oppression, not simply as symptoms of a distorted democracy but as part of a more radical project unwilling to compromise on identifying root causes.
Michelle Alexander is right in warning us that it would be a tragedy to waste the growing resistance against Trump "by settling for any Democrat the next time around." I would similarly argue that we should not settle for a choice between good or bad Democrats. We must instead struggle for a radical restructuring of society, one that gives meaning to a substantive democracy. Resistance cannot be either defensive or ephemeral, reduced to either a narrow criticism of Trump's policies or to short-lived expressions of protests. As Michael Lerner has pointed out, protests are moments, and however pedagogically and politically valuable, do not constitute a movement. As Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis have suggested in their book Liquid Evil, protests function as "an explosion of political subjectivity" and generally tell us what people are against but not what they want. Coupled with a new vision, moral language and democratic values, the left and other progressives need a platform for thinking beyond neoliberal capitalism.
As David Harvey observes, the problems Americans face are too intractable and extensive to resolve without a strong anti-capitalist movement. This will only take place if progressives create a broad-based social movement that aligns struggles at the local, state and national level with democratic movements at the global level. The peripheral demands of single-issue movements cannot be abandoned, but they must translate into wider opportunities for social change. There should be no contradiction between the call for educational reform, women's rights and ecological change and what Katrina Forrester calls an alternative economic and political vision for America. At the same time, it is a mistake for progressives to look at society only in terms of economic structures and issues. A mass-based movement to challenge neoliberalism and authoritarianism cannot be constructed unless it also commits to struggle against the many forms of oppression extending from sexism and racism to xenophobia and transphobia. Only a movement that unifies these diverse struggles will lead us toward a radical democracy.
Politics becomes radical when it translates private troubles into broader systemic issues and challenges the commanding institutional and educational structures of neoliberalism. To be effective, it must do so in a language that speaks to people's needs, enabling them to both identify and invest in narratives in which they can recognize themselves and the conditions that produce the suffering they experience. For this reason, the call for institutional change is inextricably connected to the politics of social transformation. Such transformation must propel us toward an international movement to build a society that embraces the beauty of universal emancipation and promise of a radical democracy. At a time in history when the stakes for democracy are so threatened and life on the planet itself so imperiled, collective action is the only way out of the age of illiberal democracy. It is time to go for broke.
Sterling and Stray, a now abandoned coal mine in Tennessee, is seen on May 18, 2017. (Photo: Valerie Vozza for Equal Voice News)
Clairfield, Tennessee -- On the northern slope of Cooper Ridge -- a long, low-slung rise in Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains -- sits the 127-year-old Hatfield Cemetery, a well-maintained strip of flower-adorned plots where gravestones older than a century sit next to still-fresh graves.
Bright pink ribbons hang in the tree branches surrounding the cemetery, marking 100 feet from the burial grounds. Beyond them is planned one of the largest surface coal mines in Tennessee's history. The mine will soon surround the cemetery. On an afternoon in May, a swath of clear-cut logging was visible through the trees, and heavy machinery could be heard over the sound of chirping birds.
The Cooper Ridge mine will span a total of roughly 1,400 acres of land, both above and below ground, stretching from the southern tip of the ridge where it will encircle Hatfield Cemetery to the northern tip, where it will sit right above the Clairfield Elementary School, which serves 92 students.
The massive surface mine went through most of the permitting process under former President Barack Obama's administration, and would likely have moved forward with much the same design no matter the result of the recent of Election 2016.
But environmental advocates fear that weakened protections under President Donald Trump could aggravate the mine's impact on local residents.
They point to legislation Trump signed in February rolling back the Stream Protection Rule, a regulation that had increased water testing and protection measures, such as "hydrologic balance" as the Sierra Club points out, near surface mines.
Some locals fear the damage to their drinking water -- not to mention the mountains they call home -- could be irreversible.
Around the country, safe drinking water has soared as a topic of concern for families and environmental justice advocates, after dangerously high levels of lead in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan prompted a federal emergency last year. The Standing Rock protests last year also drew worldwide attention to the issue of clean water, which has surfaced in smaller communities, such as Tornillo, Texas.
More than 4 million Americans -- many of them in rural areas -- live in places where dangerous contaminants in drinking waters exceed legal limits, according to a new database from the Environmental Working Group.
In Claiborne County, where Cooper Ridge is located, and in the surrounding counties rural counties nearly everyone gets their drinking water from wells.
The water table in the mountains is complex and unpredictable, and the heavy metals and waste exposed by surface mining can potentially affect drinking water miles away.
Children are especially at risk when it comes to the effects of heavy metal contamination of drinking water, with the toxic byproducts of coal mining frequently including lead, mercury and arsenic.
Long-term exposure to these toxins can stunt neurological development and damage vital organs, and some heavy metals can even cause cancer.
"Most of the mines around here are back in the hills, back in the hollers, and this one is going to be right in your face," said April Jarocki, a mother of five who has lived in this Tennessee community for nine years.
"The mine is literally hundreds of feet above an elementary," said local resident DJ Coker, who, along with Jarocki, is co-coordinator of the Citizen's Water Monitoring Project, a local initiative that recruits volunteers to test the streams and ponds that dapple the area's mountains.
The project catalogs the existing effects of acid mine runoff from decades of the industry. It also helps serve as an early warning system for damage to the watershed from new mines.
"We don't have much here, so we have to protect what we have and care for what we have, and that's what bonds us together," said Coker, who grew up in the area, left for college, and then returned abruptly before completing his studies to help care for his mother, who was seriously injured in a car crash.
"We care for other people, we care for everything," he said. "The environment gives you so much. It gives you peace, it gives you food when you need it, and the least I can do is protect it."
April Jarocki, a resident in Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains, tests water on May 18, 2017, for any pollutant that might have come coal mining activity. (Photo: Valerie Vozza for Equal Voice News)
"We're the Treehuggers"
On the northwest side of Cooper Ridge sits Clearfork Valley, a community cobbled together from several unincorporated towns along the Clear Fork Creek. The residents of the valley are relatively isolated even from their county governments -- they've lobbied unsuccessfully for several years to get an ambulance station, since the closest one is over a half hour away.
Cell phone service is practically nonexistent, and the two options for internet service are an expensive satellite uplink or archaic dial-up connections.
Much of the land surrounding the valley is owned by out-of-state shell corporations. But since 1977, the Woodland Community Land Trust has been purchasing land in the area a few acres at a time, to return it to community use and protect it from strip mining.
"We own 450 acres, so we're competing with them, our 450 to their thousands," said Tonia Brookman, director of the trust.
Then, she said, letting out a laugh: "We're the treehuggers."
Brookman, though personally opposed to further strip mining in the area, realizes that jobs are the first priority for the community, where employment options are limited. Unemployment in this area remains high, and many residents live on $600 to $700 a month.
The operators of the Cooper Ridge mine project say that it will create about 85 jobs at its peak, each paying around $50,000. The mine is expected to operate for about nine years.
"When you have no jobs, 85 jobs sounds like a lot to this community," Brookman said. "When you're thinking about this type of employment, you're not going to say anything negative about it."
It is a dilemma faced by many Appalachian communities, which have seen coal mining employment declining steadily as major seams are exhausted, and cheaper natural gas and Wyoming coal flood the market, diminishing demand.
Brookman and other community members in this part of northern Tennessee, as well as in Appalachia in general, have been pushing for new solutions beyond ever larger and higher altitude surface mines.
The land trust includes two long-abandoned coal mines, which could be eligible for federal remediation funding.
In cooperation with the University of Tennessee's agriculture program, the land trust has applied for an EPA Brownfields grant, which they want to use to reclaim one of the abandoned sites and turn it into a hops farm.
The working farm, which would be hydroponic because of the region's poor topsoil, could employ as many as 65 people, Brookman said.
There's only one problem with the plan, but it's a big one. The federal budget proposal put forward by Trump includes huge cuts to the Brownfields program, a popular initiative that helps communities convert abandoned industrial sites into productive economic uses. Trump's budget would cut the program by more than 30 percent.
Brookman fears that, far from ending the 'war on coal' and boosting the economy of Appalachia, which voted heavily in favor of Trump in November, the president's policies and budget proposals could devastate the region. The administration's budget also proposes eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a multi-state agency that injects millions in economic and infrastructure development grants into the region.
In April, Mick Mulvaney, the president's budget director, said in a television interview that Trump "probably didn't know what the Appalachian Regional Commission did," but had decided to eliminate the agency anyhow.
"ARC does so much for this community," said Brookman, noting that financial support for several of the homes on the land trust came from the agency in the 1990s.
"The sad part is: How long is it going to take after this funding gets cut? How many years is it going to take before they realize what's happened? It's going to make a huge impact here, and not just here but all rural communities. And rural communities are the ones that voted for Trump. They believed what he said -- that he was going to make it great again. Everything he's cutting is affecting the people who supported him and believed in him."
A Game of Cat and Mouse
On a May afternoon, Jarocki and Coker headed up the northern base of Cooper Ridge to one of their water testing sites in Valley Creek. Next to the creek is a natural gas wellhead that appears to be abandoned, protruding from a foul-smelling rust-orange pond coated with a filmy sheen.
The pond spills an orange plume into Valley Creek, where Jarocki, wearing waders, measured the creek's temperature, acidity and conductivity. A mile or so downstream, Valley Creek joins the Clear Fork, which runs past Clairfield Elementary School and then hooks north into Kentucky to join the Cumberland River, which wanders back into Tennessee before joining the Ohio River and, ultimately, the Mississippi.
The region's complex hydrology means that even with planning, mining often has unintended consequences on the water table. Ann League is the executive director of SOCM, a member-run organization formally known as Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. SOCM fights for economic and environmental causes in Tennessee.
League had little interest in politics until strip miners began razing Zeb Mountain near her home. Soon after, her well water turned orange -- so much so that after a shower she'd wake up with rust-colored stains on her pillow.
Stories like this abound in the Cumberland Mountains, making the Citizen's Water Monitoring Project something of an environmental neighborhood watch program. Volunteers from the community join Coker and Jarocki once a month to check water quality at various testing sites in the area.
The test results are fed into an open database maintained by the Appalachian Citizens Enforcement Project, which collects citizen water quality data from similar groups in four states.
If the water quality test results are concerning, as they frequently are, they can be used to file official complaints that trigger a state inspection. The testing data also can be used to put citizen lobbying pressure on lawmakers and bolster lawsuits against mining companies.
But it's a task that can feel thankless, and requires a constant game of cat and mouse. Jarocki and Cocker are careful not to trespass, but given warning, they claim, the mining companies use a trick to distort test results: throwing a car battery into a drainage pond to temporarily neutralize any heavy metals that have leached out from the mining site.
Fighting for the Future
The Cooper Ridge mine has received all but one of the permits it needs to move forward, and appears set to open soon, barring massive community outcry. The jobs it will create will be among the few new Appalachian coal mining jobs created so far under the Trump administration.
But many residents are concerned about long-lasting impacts on health, especially children's health. Claiborne county, where Cooper Ridge is located, has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the state, at 18 percent.
The permit area of the surface mine extends to within roughly a half mile of the Clairfield elementary, right up the slope from the school, raising concerns about dust from the mine further jeopardizing the children's health.
"It's a very different time we're in, and I'm still wrapping my head around what it means for our communities," said Bonnie Swinford, an organizer with the Tennessee Sierra Club.
"The massive funding cuts that are happening right now are especially disappointing at a time where we're getting beyond the talk about the 'war on coal.' Communities are ready to figure out what is next for their economy, and we're no longer stuck in this place where it's taboo to talk about what's beyond coal," she said.
DJ Coker and April Jarocki worry that by the time the environmental impact on their community becomes clear, long-lasting damage will have already been done.
To build upon the grassroots efforts to protect the environment, they want to expand their water testing efforts and recruit more volunteers.
"I spent a lot of years looking for home," Jarocki said. "My children love these mountains. There's something about this part of the mountains that feels like home."
"I want my kids to see that when they're older, and I want my grandkids to see that. I want those kids to swim in the creeks, and to see these beautiful mountains."