Steve Frisch: “It’s Time to Kill This Tired Old Cliche That Government Should Run Like a Business”

By SteveFrisch

Editor’s Note: Steve Frisch offered the following comments on his Facebook page in response to the article linked below, about Trump’s appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner to a “swat team to fix government with business ideas”

So I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to create an office to advance innovation in government. How we approach issues and how government provides services should always be getting a fresh look.

I am profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of putting someone in charge who has absolutely no experience in government, and whose success in business was inherited, reporting directly to someone else with equally no experience in government.

Government and business are not the same thing.

Government does the stuff business can’t do or won’t do because there is no profit in it, or the profits to be realized in it have such a long return on investment that the private sector won’t invest in it. The purpose of business is to maximize profit (much to my chagrin) and serving all of the people does not necessarily maximize profit.

Add to that the fallacy of the basic concept that competition inherently provides lower costs and higher efficiency. That concept has been disproved time and time again, in certain areas of investment. Sometimes it just provides an advantage for profit making businesses.

Let’s just take the example of pharmaceuticals. Costs are higher in the US with a basically unregulated market than they are in any other developed nation on earth, largely because government refuses to play the role of negotiating prices and centralizing supply.

Some things are simply so costly that the only way to provide them is for government to take on the burden. Infrastructure, basic research, national defense, and governance itself are prime examples.

The purpose of government as defined in our Constitution is to ‘promote the general welfare.” If one breaks that down based on the meaning of the words, it means, “to support or actively encourage advancements for most or all of the people that improve health, happiness or fortune.”

In essence business, with a mandate to maximize profits to shareholders, and government, with a mandate to promote the general welfare, have sometimes diametrically opposed objectives that are often in competition with each other….that is why we have governments, because what is good for GM is not necessarily what is good for the country.

The idea that reforming government to be like a business also ignores a basic reality of government itself, which Trump just learned by getting his ass handed to him over health care; government is inherently about collaboration between interests to get the best possible deal. Henry Paulson famously said, “You succeed in Washington by collaborating.” Business may be increasingly about collaboration but that ethic has not reached the board room yet; in the board room business is about making decision that affect shareholder value.

Finally this gets down to one basic truth, that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. Kim Kardashian is profitable but has low social value (I would argue the same of The Apprentice). Research has high social value but low profit. There is no worse place to be in business than “the first” one who pioneers a new idea or technology. They bear all the development cost and have to share the profit.

It’s time to kill this tired old cliche that government should run like a business. What we really mean is that government should run efficiently, should provide value, and should promote the general welfare.

There is no worse way to get to that ideal than to give the reins to a guy whose sole qualification for digging into the issue is running his parents real estate fortune.

If one is serious about governing one puts seasoned professional with a track record in the area of expertise being addressed in position of management authority.


Steve_FrischSteve Frisch is President of Sierra Business Council and one of its founding members. Over the last 20 years Sierra Business Council has leveraged more than $100 million of investment in the Sierra Nevada and its communities through community and public-private partnerships.  Sierra Business Council also manages the Sierra Small Business Development Center focusing on advancing sustainable business practices and linking new and expanding businesses to climate mitigation and adaptation funding. Steve manages SBC’s staff and programmatic development.

Prior to joining the Sierra Business Council, Steve owned and operated a small business in Truckee. Steve serves on the board of the California Stewardship Network, the Large Landscape Practitioners Network, the National Geographic Geo-tourism Council, Capital Public Radio, and Leadership For Jobs and a New Economy.  Steve is also a former Fulbright Exchange Program Fellow, sharing information and knowledge gained in the Sierra Nevada in China and Mongolia.  Steve is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Political Science.


The Other Right-Wing Tidal Wave Sweeping America: Federal and State Preemption of Local Progressive Laws

Preemption allows corporations to boost their profits by suppressing local government power, community groups and citizens.

By Don Hazen, Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

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Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Cheapbooks

Last week, the National League of Cities released a report tracking an outbreak of state laws stepping on and nullifying local progressive laws and policies across the country. The picture it paints in seven key areas is shocking to anyone who believes in local democracy.

The report, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption,” says 24 states have preempted local minimum wage increases; 17 have stopped paid sick or family leave; three have voided anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals; three have stopped laws aimed at home sharing (like AirBnB that has tightened affordable housing options); 37 have blocked local regulation of ride sharing (that compete with the more heavily licensed taxis); 17 have blocked municipal broadband (challenging telecom monopolies); and 42 have limited local taxation and spending.

Preemption is the legal term that describes this legal assault, which extends to many more areas, among them firearms, factory farms, pesticide regulation, fracking, nutrition labeling, and e-cigarettes. In almost all instances, preemption is a deliberate state government-sanctioned corporate takeover to boost private profiteering by suppressing local government power, community groups and citizens. The big exception outside profiterting are anti-LGBT measures, which reflect another far-right agenda.

AlterNet’s Don Hazen and Steven Rosenfeld recently spoke to Mark Pertschuk, director of Grassroots Change and Preemption Watch about this insidious trend. Pertschuk discusses its growth in recent years, its explosion in 2016 and 2017 as Donald Trump has diverted media attention, and how grassroots protests have been effective in exposing, slowing and stopping some brazen corporate power grabs.

Pertschuk’s message is harrowing and hopeful. On the one hand, there is huge momentum behind preemption that often protects corporate interests, but sometimes is simply a stand in for right-wing ideology. There is hope, however, because there are key cases where community activists have been able to marshall broad public support and legislatures have backed down. And increasingly, elected officials like Tallahassee, Florida, Mayor Andrew Gillum, have beaten the GOP and gun lobby in court, and are creating coalitions with other elected officials to defend local democracy.

Steven Rosenfeld: Let’s start by asking what preemption is, because it’s kind of an opaque term.

Mark Pertschuk: Well, right… Like voting rights, federal and state preemption are very fundamental issues of democracy and they’ve become much more significant in the last 20 years. The new Trump administration poses a threat of federal preemption that we’ve never seen. I don’t think we’ve ever faced it on this level before in history.

Federal preemption is used to stop progress at both the state and local levels, particularly the local levels, which is where progress is now coming from. The reason that I say that preemption is like voting rights is that in many, many respects, the last operating bastion of democracy is at the local level: counties, cities, school boards, other types of local agencies. That’s where innovations and progress and policy have been made.

The opponents of public health and the opponents of progress know that and they’ve known it for decades. They’ve sewn up Washington. They did that before Trump. They feel very comfortable that they can control the agenda in Washington. And they’ve accomplished that in most states. Even in progressive states, ALEC [the pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council that drafts model bills and finds legislative sponsor, usually Republicans], the individual companies, industries, their lobbyists are confident… Proponents of preemption feel comfortable that they can control the agenda, that they can stop progress that will eat into their profits.

That’s the big picture. Preemption is a difficult term because it’s technical and it’s legal. It simply means when the federal government takes away the authority of states and local communities to pass stronger health, safety, and social justice laws; or when the state takes away the authority of cities and counties to pass stronger health, safety, or social justice policies at the local level. That’s where it’s mostly been in the past 20 years.

Don Hazen: This is across the board from plastic bags to minimum wage to fracking to….

MP: Every issue you can possibly imagine that anyone would care about that impacts workers, health, safety, or the natural environment.

SR: It’s an incredible list. It’s guns, sick pay, tobacco, e-cigarettes, LGBT rights, soda taxes, plastic bags, pesticides, local utility districts, fracking, and sanctuary cities. Even sprinklers!

MP: Fire sprinklers are a good example. This is the other thing, with preemption, with state preemption historically, the way that cities and counties have lost their authority over guns, tobacco, paid sick days, minimum wage, is exactly the same from issue to issue. When you look at what happened in residential fire sprinklers, believe it or not, it is identical to what the strategies that are coming to bear now on paid sick days, for example.

There’s been quite a vital grassroots movement for 30 years that started in California to mandate residential fire sprinklers in all new homes, including single-family homes and town houses, as well as apartment buildings. It’s been quite successful because the main advocates are members of the fire service, fire chiefs and fire marshals. It’s also been a nonpartisan movement, grassroots movement and it started in San Clemente with the fire chief. Now there are more than 360 local ordinances and two states, California and Maryland, require universal fire extinguishers in all residences.

It was a grassroots movement. But about 10 years ago, give or take, the National Association of Home Builders, which is the organization that represents primarily the builders of large developments, decided that they wanted to stop this grassroots movement. It was almost reflexive. Fire sprinklers are very inexpensive in the places where they’ve been mandated just because the price has come down. When you’re doing them in new construction, they’re very cheap, but the industry did it [pushed preemption laws] to do something at the state level. Fifteen states ultimately preempted the local authority to strengthen the building codes or fire codes around residential fire sprinklers.

It’s the first time in history that states have ever taken away the authority of communities of local fire departments, local city councils to strengthen their building code or fire code on a specific issues.

SR: How did these laws get passed in the first place?

MP: There’s really three ways. The first way is raw money. I think it’s basically lobbying power, sophistication and campaign donations. I don’t think that’s a mystery.

The second way, and this is the way that you get legislators who maybe are arguably progressive, cut deals. For example, the other NRA, the National Restaurant Association, or their state affiliate will say, You can have a local law on food and nutrition or on paid sick days, but the only way you’re going to get it, is if you also preempt all stronger local ordinances. It’s used as a bargaining chip, but again it’s like bargaining for voting rights. It’s like saying, We will increase the minimum wage at the state level, but you’re only going to get two-thirds of a vote for every vote in the cities.

You know what I’m saying? In other words, it’s an elected official bargaining away…

Steven Rosenfeld: Their proactive agenda and local options….

MP: Right. You wouldn’t want to negotiate voting rights for cities and by the same token, you don’t want to bargain away local democracy. But that is how it is occurring.

The third way is emerging, which is you have these states where state fiscal mechanisms withhold funds from localities… Arizona is the poster child, where there’ve been these fights over tobacco and a few, a handful of other issues for a while, for decades. But now it’s every issue and you get into these almost grand fights between the state legislature and cities, and the legislature drops the fiscal bomb. They’ve preempted everything by using the fiscal mechanisms, the transfer of municipal funds from the state to the cities. This is over any issue that any single member of the legislature objects to… That also includes police and firefighter money. As a practical matter, that is stopping progress on every single social and health issue.

DH: There’s no backlash from the voters or the courts?

MP: This is a really important question. I’ll start with courts and then voters. This is where voting rights and preemption are radically different. Roughly speaking, the federal constitution is on the side of voting. There are lots of nuances in there.

But very clearly, the federal constitution is 100 percent on the side of [state and federal] preemption. Ultimately preemption is purely a matter of raw politics and grassroots mobilization because the U.S. Constitution says that the federal laws are the supreme law of the land, the Supremacy Clause. The federal constitution, let alone the state constitutions, give almost no fundamental authority to local subdivisions, to cities and municipalities. This is a fight that we cannot ultimately win in the courts… only temporarily perhaps.

SR: I thought Republicans were all for local control.

MP: With very few exceptions, this isn’t about ideology. This is all about money with the possible exception of the LGBTQ discrimination where preemption’s becoming a central issue.

Take a place like Texas where we’ve done a lot of work, and 10 years ago, most legislators, especially Republican legislators, would never have dreamed of preempting local authority because there is a deep tradition of local control. Oil and gas regulation wasn’t preempted in Texas until 2015 because the city of Denton banned fracking via initiative in November 2014.

There was virtually no preemption on any social justice or health or safety issue before that time. But that’s happening now and there’s legislation in their biannual legislature. There are more than 100 preemption bills, including a number of bills that are blanket preemptions like in Arizona. One out of 100 Republicans that have addressed this issue [honestly] have made a nod to the fact that this is a blatant violation of conservative values. Mostly, it’s pure politics.

SR: More than 100 bills in Texas. What’s the rest of the national landscape?

MP: Going back 50 years, 40 years, preemption was something that was just a mechanism for managing the relationships between federal, state and local government. It was really never used as a broad tool for policy change; it was rules of the road. It was not until the 1980s, the late 1980s that the tobacco industry turned state preemption especially into a weapon against a grassroots, health or social change movement. What’s happening today around preemption, both state and potentially federally, is a new phenomenon. It really started six or seven years ago.

It has two attributes. One is that now almost every issue that matters to American voters is at risk of being preempted by either the federal or state government or both. The second is, that the real change is that preemption is being used as a blunt instrument to destroy local democracy, and that’s new.

To get back to your question, what’s happening now and what’s different. In each of the last four years, the threat of preemption has grown and the number of bills introduced has grown. There has been a lot of pushback, but it has not generally been within the political parties. It’s generally been advocacy groups like Family Values @ Work, for example, or Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights working on local smoke-free ordinances, and dozens of other great organizations. There has been success in stopping preemption, but the pressure has grown.

DH: What’s the threshold for success? What does it take—people in the streets?

MP: What industry is trying to do here, it’s almost always industry, is destroy grassroots movements or stop them before they start. Gun violence prevention is the example. Forty-three states have essentially comprehensive preemption, as is the case in Florida. What has happened historically is that when you have five to10 states, even 15 states, that preempt local authority, you still have say 35 states who have that ability to grow grassroots movements for the targeted policy. That means that on a national scale, the strategy of states’ preemption on a single issue has not succeeded in stopping progress. When you get to 20 to 25 states, certainly 30 states, it tends to stop national progress. When you get to 43, the case with firearms, I think we’ve seen the impact of that on the ability to grow a powerful and effective gun control movement.

Let me go back to your other question because it relates to public responses. Yes, 2016 was worse than 2015 in terms of the pressure to pass state preemption and the number of bills introduced. There was a fair amount of pushback, so it wasn’t all bad news. But two things fundamentally changed for 2017. One is that, we hear the term “chaos” around politics now and whether or not you agree that there is chaos, there is a sense among the industry lobbyists at the state level that the attention of the media and the public is on other things, potentially. ALEC sees this as a historic opportunity. What ALEC is really doing is almost a quantitative change, not a qualitative change; they’re just doing what they’ve done for the last six years, but they’re doing more of it. More bills, more pressure, more money to do state preemption across all these issues or ideally for some of these group, lobbyists, do it on all issues all at once if they can, like in Arizona.

The second thing that’s happening is that, we’ve had effectively a firewall at the federal level going back at least eight years, or longer where either whoever was the president or held the Senate majority, or the House was split between the parties. You might not be able to get good legislation passed, say on paid parental leave, paid family leave, but you could stop something really horrible from passing. So there’s been a firewall. Obama in 2009 published a memo saying, I’m directing all of the agencies of the federal government to avoid preemption whenever possible. It was one of the better things ever written about preemption. It was a very strong anti-preemption policy. Of course it’s no longer on the White House website.

We don’t know what’s going to happen at the federal level now, but there’s two things. One is, it is certainly conceivable Congress will pass and the president will sign legislation that preempts stronger state and local laws on any number of issues, that’s number one.

The second is that, a number of federal regulatory agencies already have significant authority to preempt stronger laws. I think of the EPA and toxic chemical regulation, which just got increased preemption that was signed by President Obama. Scott Pruit, who now leads the EPA, has the authority to do some pretty serious preemption of stronger chemical regulations in California and New York, and other states. A lot of those state laws are the underpinning for example, of environmental justice work across the country.

SR: And then there’s a corresponding push in the states with GOP political majorities.

MP: Yes. And we’re talking about probably 40 or more states. This is not just the number of states that may have switched [political majorities] and have trifectas [GOP control of statehouse chambers and governor]. You have the potential of preemption on one or more issues. The second is that, for the first time in memory, you have the potential for preemption of stronger state and local laws on tobacco, nutrition, the list is long.

Groups like the tobacco industry and ALEC, and all of these groups, they’ve been planning this for decades. This is a long-term strategy that they’ve been committed to. What they’re doing is they’re trying to finish a job that they started 20 years ago. They’ve systematically seen the reduction of democratic voice in federal decisions; reduce the voice of ordinary Americans in state decisions, and now the target is cities and counties, period.

DH: But you said that public protests can stop them.

MP: To an extent. There’s several factors, but simply put, the groups that fund and participate an ALEC; companies that participate in ALEC are generally scared to death of city and county action, policies, and more broadly real grassroots movements. The real grassroots movements come from local movements that get things done at the local level. When a city in Oklahoma uses its zoning to regulate factory farms… to protect the environment and human health, and that is part of an environmental justice movement, that’s really scary to industry, because there are thousands of cities and counties in the United States [that could follow that example].

That’s where the tobacco industry got beaten on smoking. That wasn’t just a fundamental policy change, banning smoking. I’m old enough to have smoked cigarettes on airplanes. I know that social movements changed it. It was a huge revolution in public health. These other companies, the other NRA [National Restaurant Association] doesn’t want to ever face what happened to the tobacco industry domestically in the U.S. They’re doing this as a fundamental way of stopping any kind of progressive or health or safety movement.

For example, look at an issue that on its face seems narrow, but is dear to us here and to people in public health—the new soda tax in Berkeley, other Bay Area cities and now Boulder and Philly.

DH: I was just going to bring it up, because the money that the soda industry threw at fighting the Berkeley and recent Bay Area ballot measures was enormous—millions.

MP: That’s a good example of a grassroots movement and impact. The soda tax has straight-up public health benefits. There’s a reduction in consumption. It raises local tax money. But then in all of these places, all, Boulder now, these have really become social justice movements as much as or more than public health movements. The money in Berkeley goes to a universal school gardening program. Every middle school, public school, will have this and it’s really good. It’s more than just good for public health.

The American Beverage Association in this case, Pepsi and Coke, are scared to death. If this is left to grow, in two years we’re going to have 60-70 of these laws, maybe more. They raise revenue and they make people healthier in the community, especially children. They change culture. The culture around soda in Berkeley, now it’s Berkeley, Albany, Oakland, San Francisco, the culture is going to change. The next generation … It’s a little bit like tobacco. People growing up who are at elementary school in Berkeley now are going to have a different attitude about soda than people growing up 10 years ago. This is scary to that particular industry, which also includes the other NRA [National Restaurant Association], which makes a lot of money off Big Gulps.

When there’s a grassroots response and they have one or two really engaged people on the side of local control in the legislature, it’s exposed as an ugly issue. Preemption’s ugly. It is among other things, completely against any true conservative ideology of free market competition and devolving democratic participation closer to the people. When you bring attention to it, including the media and also grassroots, you can show it is not a theory. Groups have been very successful.

DH: But people have to be organized and pay attention.

MP: That’s right. You probably don’t know this, but it’s one of my favorite examples: Ohio just preempted all local minimum wage and benefits, paid sick days, all those benefits. This happened in mid-December, with an amendment to another bill preempting local authority to ban puppy mills. Do you know what puppy mills are? I had no idea. Anyway, it was an amendment to a barely related bill that in the right code section in state law. It goes into effect in March… They did it like that because they don’t like attention from their constituents or from the media. They want to do this in the dark like cockroaches.


Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

 

 


The Constitutional Apocalypse

At the Kentucky Capitol in January, union leaders addressed those protesting a Senate-approved bill making it illegal for workers to be required to join a union or pay dues to keep a job. (Photo: Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)

 
As Trump vilifies the press, the courts, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, protestors and anyone who disagrees with him, it isn’t hard to imagine a modern day Mussolini… or worse. But, an even greater threat lies in the Republican’s march towards full control of state government. If they get there, they will have the frightening power to amend the Constitution into their own authoritarian image… or Ayn Rand’s.Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. They have majorities in both state legislative chambers as well as the governorships in 25 states. The Democrats have total control in only six states and legislative control in two more (see here).If Republicans achieve veto-proof control in 38 states, they can do something that has never been done before ― hold a constitutional convention, and then ratify new amendments that are put forth. To date all amendments have been initiated from Congress where two-thirds of both houses are required. In either case 38 states would be needed to ratify the amendments. The Republicans are well on their way.We know what they are likely to do: end collective bargaining, outlaw abortion, forbid progressive income, estate and Wall Street taxes; prohibit class action law suits, privatize social security, guarantee “free choice” in all school systems, and so on. They would do what they’ve always wanted to do ― outlaw the New Deal and its social democratic programs. And if they get crazy enough, they could end separation of church and state and undo other portions of the Bill of Rights.A paranoid fantasy? Just say President Trump.How did we get here?

Ask the corporate Democrats who have turned losing into an art form.

Since 2008, they have lost 917 state legislative seats. Explanations range from Koch brothers funding to gerrymandering, to voter suppression to the rise of the Tea Party. All partially true.

The Democrats also shoulder a good deal of the blame. Ever since Bill Clinton triangulated into NAFTA and away from working people, the Democratic party’s embrace of financial and corporate elites have become the norm.

Hillary Clinton took $225,000 per speech from Goldman Sachs not because she was corrupt. Rather, this is simply the way the political game is played. You raise money from rich people, and then you back away from attacking their prerogatives while still trying to placate your liberal/worker base. Getting rich along the way is to be expected.

But as economist Jamie Galbraith put it, ultimately it is not possible for the Democrats to be both the party of the predators and the prey.


The failure and rebirth of progressivism?

The amazing acts of resistance popping up all over prove that the progressive spark is alive and well. Even seniors at the Progressive Forum in Deerfield Beach, Florida are planning to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE raids.

While raising hell all over the country, we also should re-examine how our strategies and structures may have contributed to the rise of the right. After all, this electoral coup happened on our watch.

Silo Organizing

Here’s our working hypothesis for how progressives contributed to the rise of the right: We have failed to come out of our issue silos to build a national movement that directly confronts runaway inequality.

For more than a generation progressive organizations have shied away from big picture organizing around economic inequality. Instead we’ve constructed a dizzying array of issue silos ― environment, LBGQ, labor, immigration, women, people of color, criminal justice and so on. We are fractured into thousands of discreet issues, enabled by philanthropic foundations that are similarly siloed.

Few of our groups focused on the way Wall Street and corporate elites strip-mined the economy. Very few of us mobilized around the great crash. Few of us noticed as the CEO/worker income gap jumped from 45 to 1 in 1970 to an incredible 844 to 1 by 2015. We collectively missed how this growing economic inequality was causing and exacerbating nearly all of our silo issues.

We didn’t connect the dots.

Most importantly, we failed to grasp how runaway inequality was alienating millions of working people who saw their incomes decline, their communities whither and their young unable to find decent jobs.

While the Tea Party and the right had a clear message ― big government is bad ― progressives had little to say collectively about runaway inequality.

Enter Occupy Wall Street

By the summer of 2010, the progressive failure was painfully obvious. After Wall Street had robbed us blind and crashed the economy, a Democratic president was about to enter a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to promote austerity. Think about this: While Wall Street got bailed out in full, Obama and the Democrats were about to cut Social Security. Amazing.

Then out of nowhere came Occupy Wall Street. (Out of nowhere is correct because the actions did not originate from any of our progressive silos.) In six months there were 900 encampments around the world. Thankfully, “We are the 99%.” shifted the debate from austerity to inequality.

Unfortunately, Occupy believed in spontaneous political combustion and shunned any and all organizational structures and agendas. Social media, consensus decision making, horizontal anti-organizing, and anti-leadership were to carry the day. In six months they were gone.

Meanwhile the traditional progressive groups watched it rise and fall from the outside. We were spectators as we continued to press forward in our issue silos.

Enter Bernie Sanders

We got a second chance. Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist with a clear social democratic agenda, decided to challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. At first, few of us took him seriously. After all, he’d been around for 40 years, saying the same things but never gaining any traction outside of Vermont.

But like Occupy, he and his message hit a nerve, especially among the young and among disaffected working people who were entirely fed up with the corporate Democrats.

In a flash, Sanders did the impossible. He beat Hillary in several primaries. He drew much larger crowds. He even raised more money from small donors than the Clinton machine could raise from the rich. Progressive unions like the Communications Workers of America and National Nurses United went all in. For a few months the dream looked possible.

But too many other large unions and liberal issue groups committed early to Clinton, thinking she would win easily. That would allow them to gain more access for their issues and for themselves. Didn’t happen.

Trump toppled the Clinton machine in the Rust Belt. Some say he did so with a toxic combination of racism, sexism and xenophobia and that certainly was the case for a good portion of his vote. Others are certain that Comey and Putin made the difference.

But in the Rust Belt Trump won because he picked up millions of those who previously had voted for Obama and Sanders. It is highly likely that runaway inequality, and the trade deals that exacerbated it, defeated Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan alone Hillary received 500,000 fewer votes than Obama. (see here)

What now?

We need to turn the marvelous anti-Trump resistance into a common national movement to that binds us together and that directly confronts runaway inequality. We need to come out of our silos because nearly every issue we work on is connected by growing inequality.

Such a movement requires the following:

1. A common analysis and agenda: As we’ve written elsewhere, resisting Trump is not enough. We need a proactive agenda about what we want that goes beyond halting the Trump lunacy.

The Sanders campaign offered a bold social democratic agenda to young people in particular. Progressive should be able to build broad support around a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, criminal justice reform, humane immigration policies, Medicare for All, fair trade, real action on climate change, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

2. A common national organization: A big problem. We have no equivalent to the Tea Party. We have no grand alliance that links unions, community, groups, churches and our issue silos. There are excellent websites like Indivisible that are successfully encouraging widespread resistance on the congressional level. But they consider themselves to be purely defensive against Trump.

There are hundreds of demonstrations popping up all over but no organizational glue to hold them together. There’s Our Revolution ― an outgrowth of the Sanders campaign ― that is still getting its sea legs. But to date we have no common center of gravity that is moving us forward organizationally.

Ideally we should all be able to become dues paying members of a national progressive alliance. We should be able to go from Paterson to Pensacola to Pomona and walk into similar meetings dedicated to fighting for our common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Perhaps the hundreds of town hall meetings will head that way? It’s too early to tell.

3. An education infrastructure: The Populist movement of the late 19th century waged a fierce battle against Wall Street. It wanted public ownership of banks and railroads. It wanted livestock and grain cooperatives. It wanted a progressive income tax on the rich and public banks. The organization grew by fielding 6,000 educators to explain to small farmers, black and white, how the system was rigged against them and what they could do about it.

We need about 30,000 educators to hold similar discussions with our neighbors about runaway inequality, how it binds us together and what we can do about. (If you’re interested in getting involved see here.)

4. A new identity: Our toughest challenge. For 40 years we’ve been conditioned to the idea that runaway inequality is an immutable fact of life ― the inevitable result of automation, technology and competitive globalization. Along the way, neoliberal (free market) values shaped our awareness.

  • We accepted the idea that going to college meant massive debts for ourselves and our families;
  • That there was nothing abnormal about having the largest prison population in the entire world;
  • That it was part of the game to pay high deductibles, co-pays and premiums for health insurance;
  • That it was OK for the super-rich to hide their money off-shore;
  • That there was nothing to be done about chronic youth unemployment, both rural and urban, other than to try harder and pull themselves up;
  • That it was perfectly natural for a factories to pick up and flee to low wages areas with no environmental enforcement;
  • And that somehow private sector jobs, by definition, were more valuable to society than public ones.

These mental constraints have got to go. We got here as the result of deliberative policy choices, not by acts of God. We need to reclaim a basic truth: the economy should work for its people and not the other way around.

Most importantly, we have to relearn the art of movement building which starts in our own minds―we have to believe that it is both necessary and possible, and that each and every one can contribute to it.

We desperately need a new identity―movement builder.

Is this so difficult to imagine?

Les Leopold

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. All proceeds go to support this educational campaign. (Please like the Runaway Inequality page on Facebook.) His previous book is The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green/2009).

(Join Us! at Runaway Inequality: Resistance is breaking out all over. Millions are eager to help take back our country from the hard right. To get there, we need educators — thousands of them — to spread the word.) 


California’s rain may shed light on new questions about what causes earthquakes

Reprinted from The Conversation

California is particularly earthquake-prone, hosting the great San Andreas fault zone. wlscience/flickr, CC BY-SA

 

In recent weeks, California has experienced unusually heavy rainfall. California is also earthquake-prone, hosting the great San Andreas fault zone.

If there is an unusual surge of earthquakes in the near future – allowing time for the rain to percolate deep into faults – California may well become an interesting laboratory to study possible connections between weather and earthquakes. The effect is likely to be subtle and will require sophisticated computer modeling and statistical analysis.

Earthquakes are triggered by a tiny additional increment of stress added to a fault already loaded almost to breaking point. Many natural processes can provide this tiny increment of stress, including the movement of plate tectonics, a melting icecap, and even human activities.

For example, injecting water into boreholes – either for waste disposal or to drive residual oil out of depleted reservoirs – is particularly likely to trigger earthquakes.

This is because water pressure in the fault zone is important in controlling when a geological fault slips. Fault zones invariably contain groundwater, and if the pressure of this water increases, the fault may become “unclamped.” The two sides are then free to slip past each other, causing an earthquake.

Hydrological changes do not need to be sudden or large to change the water pressure in a fault zone. As aquifers are depleted for irrigation, the water table slowly drops, which may also trigger earthquakes. It is thus unsurprising that extreme rainfall events might also encourage earthquakes. A number of instances of this have been flagged by scientists. For example, swarms of earthquakes in 2002 followed intense rainfall around Mt. Hochstaufen in Germany and the Muotatal and Riemenstalden regions of Switzerland.

Any study of the relationship between weather and earthquakes is likely to take time, and the results to be controversial. In the meantime, now is a good time to check that your gas heater is earthquake-secure and your emergency drinking water is fresh. After all, a “big one” could come at any time.

Triggering earthquakes

People knew we could induce earthquakes before we knew what they were. As soon as people started to dig minerals out of the ground, rockfalls and tunnel collapses must have become recognized hazards.

Today, earthquakes caused by humans occur on a much greater scale. Events over the last century have shown mining is just one of many industrial activities that can induce earthquakes large enough to cause significant damage and death. Filling of water reservoirs behind dams, extraction of oil and gas, and geothermal energy production are just a few of the modern industrial activities shown to induce earthquakes.

As more and more types of industrial activity were recognized to be potentially seismogenic, the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij BV, an oil and gas company based in the Netherlands, commissioned us to conduct a comprehensive global review of all human-induced earthquakes.

Our work assembled a rich picture from the hundreds of jigsaw pieces scattered throughout the national and international scientific literature of many nations. The sheer breadth of industrial activity we found to be potentially seismogenic came as a surprise to many scientists. As the scale of industry grows, the problem of induced earthquakes is increasing also.

In addition, we found that, because small earthquakes can trigger larger ones, industrial activity has the potential, on rare occasions, to induce extremely large, damaging events.

How humans induce earthquakes

As part of our review we assembled a database of cases that is, to our knowledge, the fullest drawn up to date. In January, we released this database publicly. We hope it will inform citizens about the subject and stimulate scientific research into how to manage this very new challenge to human ingenuity.

Our survey showed mining-related activity accounts for the largest number of cases in our database.

Initially, mining technology was primitive. Mines were small and relatively shallow. Collapse events would have been minor – though this might have been little comfort to anyone caught in one.

But modern mines exist on a totally different scale. Precious minerals are extracted from mines that may be over two miles deep or extend several miles offshore under the oceans. The total amount of rock removed by mining worldwide now amounts to several tens of billions of tons per year. That’s double what it was 15 years ago – and it’s set to double again over the next 15. Meanwhile, much of the coal that fuels the world’s industry has already been exhausted from shallow layers, and mines must become bigger and deeper to satisfy demand.

As mines expand, mining-related earthquakes become bigger and more frequent. Damage and fatalities, too, scale up. Hundreds of deaths have occurred in coal and mineral mines over the last few decades as a result of earthquakes up to magnitude 6.1 that have been induced.

Other activities that might induce earthquakes include the erection of heavy superstructures. The 700-megaton Taipei 101 building, raised in Taiwan in the 1990s, was blamed for the increasing frequency and size of nearby earthquakes.

Since the early 20th century, it has been clear that filling large water reservoirs can induce potentially dangerous earthquakes. This came into tragic focus in 1967 when, just five years after the 32-mile-long Koyna reservoir in west India was filled, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck, killing at least 180 people and damaging the dam.

Throughout the following decades, ongoing cyclic earthquake activity accompanied rises and falls in the annual reservoir-level cycle. An earthquake larger than magnitude 5 occurs there on average every four years. Our report found that, to date, some 170 reservoirs the world over have reportedly induced earthquake activity.

The production of oil and gas was implicated in several destructive earthquakes in the magnitude 6 range in California. This industry is becoming increasingly seismogenic as oil and gas fields become depleted. In such fields, in addition to mass removal by production, fluids are also injected to flush out the last of the hydrocarbons and to dispose of the large quantities of salt water that accompany production in expiring fields.

A relatively new technology in oil and gas is shale-gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which by its very nature generates small earthquakes as the rock fractures. Occasionally, this can lead to a larger-magnitude earthquake if the injected fluids leak into a fault that is already stressed by geological processes.

The largest fracking-related earthquake that has so far been reported occurred in Canada, with a magnitude of 4.6. In Oklahoma, multiple processes are underway simultaneously, including oil and gas production, wastewater disposal and fracking. There, earthquakes as large as magnitude 5.7 have rattled skyscrapers that were erected long before such seismicity was expected. If such an earthquake is induced in Europe in the future, it could be felt in the capital cities of several nations.

Our research shows that production of geothermal steam and water has been associated with earthquakes up to magnitude 6.6 in the Cerro Prieto Field, Mexico. Geothermal energy is not renewable by natural processes on the timescale of a human lifetime, so water must be reinjected underground to ensure a continuous supply. This process appears to be even more seismogenic than production. There are numerous examples of earthquake swarms accompanying water injection into boreholes, such as at The Geysers, California.

Other materials pumped underground, including carbon dioxide and natural gas, also cause seismic activity. A recent project to store 25 percent of Spain’s natural gas requirements in an old, abandoned offshore oilfield resulted in the immediate onset of vigorous earthquake activity with events up to magnitude 4.3. The threat that this posed to public safety necessitated abandonment of this US$1.8 billion project.

What this means for the future

Nowadays, earthquakes induced by large industrial projects no longer meet with surprise or even denial. On the contrary, when an event occurs, the tendency may be to look for an industrial project to blame. In 2008, an earthquake in the magnitude 8 range struck Ngawa Prefecture, China, killing about 90,000 people, devastating over 100 towns, and collapsing houses, roads and bridges. Attention quickly turned to the nearby Zipingpu Dam, whose reservoir had been filled just a few months previously, although the link between the earthquake and the reservoir has yet to be proven.

The minimum amount of stress loading scientists think is needed to induce earthquakes is creeping steadily downward. The great Three Gorges Dam in China, which now impounds 10 cubic miles of water, has already been associated with earthquakes as large as magnitude 4.6 and is under careful surveillance.

Scientists are now presented with some exciting challenges. Earthquakes can produce a “butterfly effect”: Small changes can have a large impact. Thus, not only can a plethora of human activities load Earth’s crust with stress, but just tiny additions can become the last straw that breaks the camel’s back, precipitating great earthquakes that release the accumulated stress loaded onto geological faults by centuries of geological processes. Whether or when that stress would have been released naturally in an earthquake is a challenging question.

An earthquake in the magnitude 5 range releases as much energy as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. A earthquake in the magnitude 7 range releases as much energy as the largest nuclear weapon ever tested, the Tsar Bomba test conducted by the Soviet Union in 1961. The risk of inducing such earthquakes is extremely small, but the consequences if it were to happen are extremely large. This poses a health and safety issue that may be unique in industry for the maximum size of disaster that could, in theory, occur. However, rare and devastating earthquakes are a fact of life on our dynamic planet, regardless of whether or not there is human activity.

Our work suggests that the only evidence-based way to limit the size of potential earthquakes may be to limit the scale of the projects themselves. In practice, this would mean smaller mines and reservoirs, less minerals, oil and gas extracted from fields, shallower boreholes and smaller volumes injected. A balance must be struck between the growing need for energy and resources and the level of risk that is acceptable in every individual project.


A California State-Owned Bank Could Help Finance Single-Payer

Editor’s Comment: It seems like serendipity: The Trump administration and the GOP Congress are both hell-bent on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, California state senators  Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) introduce the single-payer Californians for a Healthy California Act (SB 562), and public banking proponent Ellen Brown (who ran for California treasurer in 2014) is now pitching again for state-run banks.

So where’s the serendipity? A California state-run bank could help finance a single-payer health care system in California. The financing of single-payer has so far been the biggest stumbling block in the way of its success in other states — like Vermont and Colorado — where it has been proposed, but defeated.

Ellen Brown, attorney, author of The Public Bank Solution and President of the Public Banking Institute explains in the following article the advantage of public banking.

How to Cut Infrastructure Costs in Half

Americans could save $1 trillion over 10 years by financing infrastructure through publicly-owned banks like the one that has long been operating in North Dakota.

by Ellen Brown

President Donald Trump has promised to rebuild America’s airports, bridges, tunnels, roads and other infrastructure, something both Democrats and Republicans agree should be done. The country needs a full $3 trillion in infrastructure over the next decade. The $1 trillion plan revealed by Trump’s economic advisers relies heavily on public-private partnerships, and private equity firms are lining up for these plumbing investments. In the typical private equity water deal, for example, higher user rates help the firms earn annual returns of anywhere from 8 to 18 percent – more even than a regular for-profit water company might expect. But the price tag can come as a rude surprise for local ratepayers.

Private equity investment now generates an average return of about 11.8% annually on a 10-year basis. For infrastructure investment, those profits are made on tolls and fees paid by the public. Even at simple interest, that puts the cost to the public of financing $1 trillion in infrastructure projects at $1.18 trillion, more than doubling the cost. Cities often make these desperate deals because they are heavily in debt and the arrangement can give them cash up front. But as a 2008 Government Accountability Office report warned, “there is no ‘free’ money in public-private partnerships.” Local residents wind up picking up the tab.

“As a 2008 Government Accountability Office report warned, ‘there is no ‘free’ money in public-private partnerships.’ Local residents wind up picking up the tab.”

There is a more cost-effective alternative. The conservative state of North Dakota is funding infrastructure through the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) at 2% annually. In 2015, the North Dakota legislature established a BND Infrastructure Loan Fund program that made $50 million in funds available to communities with a population of less than 2,000, and $100 million available to communities with a population greater than 2,000. These loans have a 2% fixed interest rate and a term of up to 30 years. The proceeds can be used for the new construction of water and treatment plants, sewer and water lines, transportation infrastructure and other infrastructure needs to support new growth in a community.

If the Trump $1 trillion infrastructure plan were funded at 2% over 10 years, the interest tab would come to only $200 billion, nearly $1 trillion less than the $1.18 trillion expected by private equity investors. Not only could residents save $1 trillion over 10 years on tolls and fees, but they could save on taxes, since the interest would return to the government, which owned the bank. In effect, the loans would be nearly interest-free to the government.

New Money for Local Economies

Legislators in cash-strapped communities are likely to object, “We can’t afford to lend our revenues. We need them for our budget.” But banks do not lend their deposits. They actually create new money in the form of bank credit when they make loans. That means borrowing from its own bank is not just interest-free to the local government but actually creates new money for the local economy.

As economists at the Bank of England acknowledged in a March 2014 report titled “Money Creation in the Modern Economy”, the vast majority of the money supply is now created by banks when they make loans. The authors wrote:

The reality of how money is created today differs from the description found in some economics textbooks: Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits. . . . Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. [Emphasis added.]

Money is not fixed and scarce. It is “elastic”: it is created when loans are made and extinguished when they are paid off. The BOE report said that private banks now create nearly 97 percent of the money supply in this way.

Richard Werner, Chair of International Banking at the University of Southampton in the UK, argues that to get much-needed new money into local economies, rather than borrowing from private investors who cannot create the money they lend, governments should borrow from banks, which create money in the form of deposits when they make loans. And to get that money interest-free, a government should borrow from its own bank, which returns the interest to the government.

Besides North Dakota, many other states and cities are now exploring the public bank option. Feasibility studies done at both state and local levels show that small businesses, employment, low-cost student loans, affordable housing and greater economic stability will result from keeping local public dollars out of the global banking casinos and in the local community. Legislation for public banks is actively being pursued in Washington State, Michigan, Arizona, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and elsewhere. Phil Murphy, the front-running Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor, is basing his platform on a state-owned bank, which he says could fund much-needed infrastructure and other projects.

New Money for a Federal Infrastructure Program

What about funding a federal infrastructure program with interest-free money? Tim Canova, Professor of Law and Public Finance at Nova Southeastern University, argues that the Federal Reserve could capitalize a national infrastructure bank with money generated on its books as “quantitative easing.” (Canova calls it “qualitative easing” – central bank-generated money that actually gets into the real economy.) The Federal Reserve could purchase shares, whether as common stock, preferred stock or debt, either in a national infrastructure bank or in a system of state-owned banks that funded infrastructure in their states. This could be done, says Canova, without increasing taxes, adding to the federal debt or hyperinflating prices.

Another alternative was proposed in 2013 by US Sen. Bernie Sanders and US Rep. Peter DeFazio. They called for a national infrastructure bank funded by the US Postal Service (which did provide basic banking services from 1911 to 1967). With post offices in nearly every community, the USPS has the physical infrastructure for a system of national public banks. In the Sanders/DeFazio plan, deposits would be invested in government securities used to finance infrastructure projects. Besides financing infrastructure without raising taxes, the plan could save the embattled USPS itself, while providing banking services for the one in four households that are unbanked or under-banked.

Reliance on costly private capital for financing public needs has limited municipal growth and reduced public services, while strapping future generations with unsustainable debt. By eliminating the unnecessary expense of turning public dollars into profits for private equity interests, publicly-owned banks can allow the public to retain ownership of its infrastructure while cutting costs nearly in half.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Ellen Brown is an attorney and founder of the Public Banking Institute. She is the author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt, and her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, which explores successful public banking models historically and globally.


Talk: “Implementing Youth-Led Citizen Science Through Plant Phenology”

Sierrs_Science_February_21__2017

Event Details

The Sierra Science Lecture Series at the Nevada County Campus welcomes Kelly Santos in a presentation titled, Implementing Youth-Led Citizen Science Through Plant Phenology. The presentation will be held on Tuesday evening, February 21, from 6:30 – 7:30 pm, in the Multipurpose Center, building, N-12. Come early and enjoy a meet-and-greet and refreshments at 6:00 pm.

Kelly will discuss phenology, the study of when things appear in nature and the influence of seasonal changes and climate change. She will present a citizen science plant phenology project led by the Sierra Streams Institute Education Program that they implemented in two local high schools. Students contributed as citizen-scientists to a national phenological dataset and analyzed and interpreted data to discern long term trends. Come learn about this amazing project, the available curriculum, and find out the many ways to become a citizen scientist!

About our presenter:

Kelly Santos works as an education program Co-Director for Sierra StreamsSierrs_Science_February_21__2017_Kelly_Santos Institute. Kelly was raised in Irvine, CA, and graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.S. in Marine Biology. She brings extensive laboratory, field, and teaching experience to Sierra Streams Institute. In the past, she has worked and volunteered with the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, UC Santa Cruz, Michigan State University, Tahoe Resource Conservation District, as well as Pretoma and Centro de Educación Creativa in Costa Rica. These various positions have taken her from the depths of the kelp forest to lakes in the high sierra and allowed her the opportunity to work among scientists, teachers, environmental managers, and students. In her free time she enjoys exploring the Sierra, cooking, and making photographs.


This presentation is free, and the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. The Nevada County Campus is located at 250 Sierra College Drive, Grass Valley, CA 95945. Parking is $3 on campus and permits can be purchased at the kiosk machine at the main entrance to the campus. For more information about this presentation and others in this series, contact the series coordinator, Jason Giuliani at: jgiuliani@sierracollege.edu.

Sponsored by: NCC Sierra Science Series, Sierra Streams Institute


How to Help Evacuees Who Have Come to Nevada County

By Hayley Yount Severe
(Reprinted from Facebook with permission of the author)

Volunteer_thumbWhen we first heard of the evacuation last week, we began to imagine what we would do in the same situation. Where would our dog go? How would we meet up with our children and grandchildren? What important items would we take with us, leave or simply forget amidst the chaos? Would we stay together; where would we go and who could we trust in a strange area we’re not familiar with? Would we have enough gas to get there? Will we have a home to return to? Imagine being given 30 minutes to leave your home, how would you respond?

I would like to share a story about Donna and Todd. We had many, many pets staying in cars last week, many suffering from extreme anxiety, diarrhea, vomiting. One of our volunteers helped an 88 yr old woman clean her car when both her cats, after day 2, became ill. She was trying to clean her cats with wet ones in the dark car, her clothes were covered in feces and urine. And no shower for 3 days. She had just had surgery a week before, she and her handicapped husband grabbed the cats, their canes and photos of the grandkids and eventually found their way to the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

The husband, age 89, had been sitting up in a chair for 2 days with no sleep, while his wife tended to the cats in their car. On top of that, in the haste to leave Marysville, they forgot their medicine. Our volunteer had to beg the husband not to leave to retrieve the medicines they so badly needed. We found them a lovely home to stay at ( #FriendlyHomesNC) with a wonderful couple who had been giving convalescent care to Mother in their home for 6 years.

The family drove to the Fairgrounds, picked up our elderly couple, took them to their home for hot showers, hot coffee, warm beds, fresh bandages for the wife’s surgical wound, and began the process of getting their meds filled here locally. Oh yes, lots and lots of hugs. Those kitties sure were happy to be out of that car and into a warm blanket that morning.

Stories like this compel us to be vigilant of the coming rains, and very prepared for the next possible evacuation. We have 32 screened homes that are ready to take in evacuees. We will match the evacuees to the appropriate home and assist them in the most urgent needs they may have. We’ve received calls from every corner of our beautiful county offering homes, ranches, Yurts, treehouses, Air B&B’s, condos, RV’s, and several kennels and farm properties suitable for pets. Dog food, toys, kennels and vet checkups too. So many families offered their children’s bedrooms, toys and videos to young families with small children. Toys, diapers, formula, all available for the asking from great service organizations in our county.

I could tell you all many stories such as this, so many people in our community simply could not do enough for these poor people. I heard time and again “There but for the Grace of God”. If you are interested in being added to our list of #FriendlyHomesNC please PM me. We are ready to go if this weekend’s rains exceed the forecast.

Be proud Nevada County, you shine brilliantly in a moment of crisis. Blessings to you all.


Hayley Yount Severe, Associate Publisher/Editor at 101 Things To Do in Wine Country, lives in Lake Wildwood. She says, “We are in the process of setting up a website for people to go where we can match evacuees to Friendly Home folks.” In the meantime, if you wish to volunteer, you may contact her on Facebook by Private Message. 


Loving America and Resisting Trump: The New Patriotism

By Frida Berrigan

So reality has inexorably, inescapably penetrated my life.  It didn’t take long. Yes, Donald Trump is actually the president of the United States. In that guise, in just his first weeks in office, he’s already declared war on language, on loving, on people who are different from him — on the kind of world, in short, that I want to live in. He’s promised to erect high walls, keep some people in and others out and lock up those he despises, while threatening to torture and abuse with impunity.

Still, a small personal miracle emerges from this nightmare. It turns out that, despite growing up an anarchist protest kid who automatically read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States alongside the official textbooks, I love this country more each day.  So I find myself eternally upset about our new political reality-show, about a man so thin-skinned he lashes out at everything and so insulated in his own alt-reality that no response to him seems to matter.

Above all, I am so mad. Yeah, I’m mad at all those people who voted for Trump and even madder at the ones who didn’t vote at all. I’m mad at everyone who thinks the sum total of their contribution to the political well-being of this country is voting every two or four years. I’m mad at our corporate-political system and how easily distracted people are. I’m steaming mad, but mostly at myself.

Yep, I’m mad at myself and at the Obamas. They made empire look so good! Their grace and intelligence, their obvious love for one another and the way they telegraphed a certain approachability and reasonableness. So attractive! They were fun — or at least they looked like that on social media. Michelle in the karaoke car with Missy Elliot singing Beyoncé and talking about global girls’ education! Barack and a tiny Superman at a White House Halloween party. Michelle, unapologetically fierce after Trump’s demeaning Access Hollywood comments came to light. I loved those Obamas, despite my politics and my analysis. I was supposed to resist all his efforts at world domination through drones and sweeping trade deals and instead I fell a little bit in love, even as I marched and fasted and tried to resist.

Falling in Love With My Country

Now, we have a new president. And my love is gone, along with my admiration, my pride, and my secret wish to attend a state dinner and chat with the Obamas over local wine and grass-fed beef sliders.

What’s not gone, though, what’s strangely stronger than ever, is my love for this country.

I didn’t love the United States under Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or Bush the First. I was a kid and they were names on protest banners and headlines in the news. My parents were the Catholic peace activists Liz McAlister and Phil Berrigan, and I grew up in an anarchist collective of Christian resisters. My parents and their friends went to jail repeatedly and resolutely. We demonstrated, rallied, and railed at every institution of power in Washington. Those presidents made the adults around me angry and agitated, so they scared me.

I didn’t love the United States under Bill Clinton either — I was young and in college and opposed to everything — nor under George W. Bush. I was young and in New York City and still opposed to almost everything.

I started calling myself a “New Yorker” three years after moving there when, on a sunny Tuesday morning, airplanes became weapons, tall towers fell, and 3,000 people died. I emerged from my routine subway ride at 14th Street, unaware and unscathed, to stand still with the rest of the city and watch the sky turn black. I spent the rest of that day in Manhattan with friends trying to reach my parents and following the news, as we all tried (and failed) to come to grips with the new reality. Once the bridges reopened, we walked home to Brooklyn that evening, terrified and shell-shocked.

9/11 provided the rationale for sweeping changes in Washington. War by fiat, paid for in emergency supplementals that circumvented Congressional processes; a new Department of Homeland Security (where did that word “homeland” even come from?); a proliferation of increasingly muscular intelligence agencies; and a new brand of “legal” scholarship that justified both torture and indefinite detention, while tucking secret black sites away in foreign countries. All this as the United States went to war against “terrorism” — against, that is, an idea, a fringe sentiment that, no matter how heavily weaponized, had been marginalized until the United States put it on the map by declaring “war” on it.

The U.S. then invaded and occupied big time, including a country that had nothing to do with the terrorists who had attacked us, and we’ve been at war ever since at a heavy cost — now inching toward $5 trillion. Conservative estimates of how many people have been killed in the many war zones of what used to be called the Global War on Terror is 1.3 to 2 million. The number of U.S. military personnel who have lost their lives is easier to put a number to:more than 7,000, but that doesn’t count private contractors (aka mercenaries), or those (far more difficult to quantify) who later committed suicide. Now, President Trump has begun adding to this bloody death toll, having ordered his first (disastrous) strike, a Special Operations raid on Yemen, which killed as many as 30 civilians, including children, and resulted in the death of an American Navy SEAL as well.

September 11th was a long time ago. But I finally fell in love with my country in the days following that awful attack. I saw for the first time a certain strain of patriotism that swept me away, a strain that says we are stronger together than alone, stronger than any blow that strikes us, stronger in our differences, stronger in our unities. I’m talking about the kind of patriotism that said: don’t you dare tell us to go to Disney World, Mr. President! (That was, of course, after George W. Bush had assured us that, while he made war, our response as citizens to 9/11 should be to “get down to Disney World in Florida.  Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”)

Instead of heeding that lame advice, some of us went out and began to try to solve problems and build community. I had read about it in books — the labor movement of the 1920s and 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s — but I hadn’t seen it myself, hadn’t been a part of it before, and I fell in love.

Of course, the drumbeat for war started instantly in Washington and was echoed throughout the nation, but many of us — the intended victims of that attack — said “our grief is not a cry for war.” We circled around the victims’ families; we reminded America that it wasn’t only lawyers and hedge-fund managers who died that day, but cooks and couriers and homeless people and undocumented immigrants, too.

We pulled people from the rubble.  We made the “pile” a place of sacred memory long before a huge monument and gift shop were erected there.  We honored the first responders who died, we stood up for Muslims and Arabs and all those whom ignorance scapegoated.  We marched against war in Afghanistan and then in far vaster numbers against war in Iraq.  We called for an international police response to those acts of terrorism — that weapon of the weak, not the powerful — instead of the unilateral, militarized approach adopted by the Bush administration. We celebrated, and saw as a strength, New York’s incredible diversity. We made art and music and poetry. We prayed in all languages to all the names of God.

The Donald, a One-Man 9/11

I guess I’ve been thinking about September 2001 again because, only weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump already seems like a one-man 9/11. He’s ridden roughshod over business as usual without even a geopolitical crisis or calamity as an excuse — and that’s not so surprising since Trump himself is that calamity.

With a razor-thin mandate, considerable bluster, and a voracious appetite for alt-facts (lies), he’s not so much tipping over the apple cart as declaring war on apples, carts, and anything else beginning with the letter A or C.

It seems almost that random and chaotic. In these weeks, he’s shown a particular appetite for upending convention, saying screw you to just about everyone and everything, while scrapping the rules of decorum and diplomacy. With a sweep of his pen and a toss of his hair, he takes away visas, nullifies months of work by advocates for refugees, and sends U.S. Special Forces off to kill and be killed. With a few twitches of his thumbs he baits Mexico, disses China, and throws shade at federal judges. With a few ill-chosen words about Black History month (comments that would have been better written by my 10 year old), he resurrects Frederick Douglass, disparages inner cities, and slams the “dishonest” media again (and again and again). His almost-month as president can be described as busy and brash, but it barely hides the banality of greed.

Flying Our Flag

Sure, Donald Trump’s a new breed, but perhaps in the end our resistance will make him the aberration he should be, rather than the new normal. So many of his acts are aimed at demeaning, degrading, demonizing, and denigrating, but he’s already failing — by driving so many of us to a new radical patriotism. I’m not the only one falling in love with this country again and this love looks like resistance — a resistance that, from the first moments of the Trump era, has seemed to be almost everywhere you looked.

Even at his inauguration, a group of young people stood on chairs wearing matching sweatshirts spelling out R-E-S-I-S-T in big letters. They had positioned themselves in the inner ring of the Capitol and were loud and visible as Chief Justice John Roberts swore the new president into office. The environmental group Greenpeace greeted Trump’s White House with a daring banner drop from a crane across the street — a huge, bright banner also emblazoned with RESIST. Pink woolen “pussy hats” were popularized by the Women’s March, a global event and possibly the largest demonstration in American history, one that rekindled our hope and strengthened our resolve on inauguration weekend. Now, those hats help us recognize and salute one another.

We’re working hard. We’re tying up the phone lines all over Capitol Hill, turning town halls into rowdy rallies for health care and human rights, shelling out money to support Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the immigration lawyers fighting for people barred from the U.S. and the closest Black Lives Matter chapter. We’re getting organized, getting trained, getting prepared, and getting connected. And we’re doing it all with a sense of humor: the Bowling Green Massacre Victims Fund? Priceless!

We are, in short, resisting in old ways and new.

Given my background, it’s no surprise that I’m not a flag waver. While growing up, I learned a lot more about what was wrong with my country than about what was right with it. But I’m seeing so much that’s right about it in this new Trump era of engagement or, if you prefer, call it radical patriotism. I’m mad… I’m scared… I’m hopeful… I’m still in love — more so than ever — with this country Trump is trying to hijack.

I don’t live in a big city any more. I’m not a scrappy kid in my early thirties either. I’m a mother of three kids and a homeowner. I’ve sunk my roots in a small, struggling, stalwart community along Connecticut’s eastern shoreline and I’m planning to live here for the rest of my life.

New London is a community of 27,000 or so, poor and diverse.  It’s almost a majority-minority community, in fact. We’re home to three refugee families settled from Syria and Sudan. We have a good school system, getting better all the time. Every Wednesday, the chefs at the middle school up the street from my house cook a meal, open the cafeteria, and invite the whole community to eat dinner for five dollars per person. I went with my girls a couple of weeks ago for Cajun shrimp stew and white rice. The room was full and the mood was high. Young professionals and hipsters with kids ate alongside folks who had just stood in line for an hour and a half for a free box of food from the United Way across the street and gotten a free meal coupon as well for their troubles.

New London’s mayor held a press conference soon after in the lobby of City Hall where the heads of all the city departments asserted their support for immigrants and refugees in our community. The last city council meeting was standing room only as people pushed an ordinance to keep fracking waste out of our area.

The weekend after the inauguration, my husband and I raised a flagpole on the second story porch of our house and hung a rainbow peace flag from it. I look up at it every morning waving in the breeze and I’m glad I live here, in this country, in this moment of radical upsurge and a new spirit of patriotism.

I’m talking to my neighbors. I’m going to city council meetings. I’m writing letters to the editor of our local paper. I’m taking my Sudanese neighbors grocery shopping and to the post office. I’m loaded for bear (nonviolently, of course) if anyone tries to mess with them.

american_rainbow_flags_thumbMy kids are the anti-Trumps. “We went to the women’s march in Hartford, Mommy,” two-year-old Madeline shouts every time she hears the word woman. She knows enough to be proud of that. “Look, Mommy! They have a flag like ours!” says four-year-old Seamus with delight whenever he sees another rainbow, even if it’s just a sticker. He’s learning to recognize our tribe of patriots.

We’re engaged, we’re awake, we’re in love, and no one is taking our country from us.


Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Frida Berrigan


Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Trump

By Chris Edelson

Baltimore_Demonstrator“A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.

“At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.”

Read the full article in the Baltimore Sun, here.


Chris Edelson (edelson@american.edu) is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs. His latest book, “Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security,” was published in May 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.


Lawsuit Reveals Melania Trump Saw Presidency as Potential Profit Machine

Lawyers representing the first lady claim President Trump’s wife missed out on ‘once in a lifetime’ endorsement opportunities because of false escort claims

by Nadia Prupis

Reprinted from CommonDreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

First_Lady_TrumpFirst Lady Melania Trump on Monday revealed that she had intended to leverage the presidency into a lucrative venture for herself, with plans to establish “multimillion dollar business relationships” during her time as “one of the most photographed women in the world.”

An attorney for the first lady filed a lawsuit arguing that Trump had missed out on a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to grab up “licensing, branding, and endorsement” deals because of a Daily Mail article that alleged she had once worked for an escort service.

The Washington Post reports:

The suit—filed Monday in New York Supreme Court, a state trial court, in Manhattan—against Mail Media, the owner of the Daily Mail, said the article published by the Daily Mail and its online division last August caused Trump’s brand, Melania, to lose “significant value” as well as “major business opportunities that were otherwise available to her.” The suit said the article had damaged her “unique, once in a lifetime opportunity” to “launch a broad-based commercial brand.”

“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care, and fragrance,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed on Trump’s behalf by California attorney Charles Harder.

The lawsuit comes amid numerous ethical issues surrounding the Trumps’ attempts to profit off the presidency, from sons Eric and Donald Jr. selling private hunting excursions, to daughter Ivanka auctioning off a coffee date, to Trump himself refusing to divest from his corporate empire.

Richard Painter, a White House ethics counsel under former President George W. Bush who co-filed a lawsuit against President Trump for constitutional violations, told the Post that the first lady’s plan to turn her role into a business was troubling.

“There has never been a first lady of the United States who insinuated that she intended to make a lot of money because of the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity of being first lady,” he said.


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