Who Benefits from the Russian Hacking Story? Centrist Democrats.

Compelling new evidence suggests that there was no hack of DNC servers (by Russia or by anyone else), but rather someone inside the DNC copied a mass of data onto a thumb drive. This explanation is supported by metadata showing that the transfer rate of the “hacked” data was on the order of 23 megabytes/second (twice the average rate of ISP servers in 2016, but a typical rate for transfer to a thumb drive). There’s more evidence in the article below.

I have no doubt that Putin and Russian hackers are capable and guilty of many scurrilous acts, and that Trump has many suspicious connections with Russian oligarchs and mob figures, but this particular story has smelled rotten from the beginning. Cui bono? Who benefits from the idea of Russians messing with our election? Primarily the centrist Democrats who want a good explanation for why they lost, and who want to do anything rather than examine their own shortcomings and the need to reform the party from the bottom up.

” … the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.

“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”

“Time stamps in the metadata provide further evidence of what happened on July 5. The stamps recording the download indicate that it occurred in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone at approximately 6:45 pm. This confirms that the person entering the DNC system was working somewhere on the East Coast of the United States. In theory the operation could have been conducted from Bangor or Miami or anywhere in between—but not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone. Combined with Forensicator’s findings on the transfer rate, the time stamps constitute more evidence that the download was conducted locally, since delivery overheads—conversion of data into packets, addressing, sequencing times, error checks, and the like—degrade all data transfers conducted via the Internet, more or less according to the distance involved.”

Read the full article here:
“A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack: Former NSA experts say it wasn’t a hack at all, but a leak—an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system”

Watch “An Inconvenient Sequel” This Weekend—But Then Do This

Actions to take after you see Al Gore’s new documentary

By Mark Rahner
Reprinted from Yes! Magazine under a Creative Commons License

Al-Gore-Inconvenient-Sequel.jpg
Al Gore with former Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya, in the Raya family home. Tacloban City, Philippines, March 12, 2016.
Photo by Jensen Walker.

What’s changed since Al Gore first gave us An Inconvenient Truth?

It’s hotter. In 1999, Seattle friends thought I was an asshole for having air conditioning in my car. Now everyone does. Have air conditioning, that is.

Gore is older, grayer, and maybe thicker in the middle.

There’s an anti-science party running the White House and both chambers of Congress that would make Galileo feel like he really didn’t have it so bad in the Inquisition.

And there’s a sequel.

Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now.

A decade after the former vice president’s Oscar-winning documentary comes his follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. I went to a screening in Seattle where Gore stopped on his tour to promote it, and he might think I’m an asshole, too. Because as effectively sobering, terrifying, and infuriating as the documentary is, it doesn’t go far enough.

Another change: Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now. Seems fair, if not an understatement.

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the film follows the tireless Gore—understandably weary—as he visits glaciers that aren’t just melting, but also exploding like strings of firecrackers; wades with local officials through waterlogged Florida; and works behind the scenes to get India on board for the Paris climate agreement. Meanwhile, he gives slideshows similar—but more dire—to the ones in the first film to climate leadership training groups.

More dire, because the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters have increased along with the denialism funded by the Koch brothers and other polluters. Gore notes the barbs aimed at him for predicting climate change’s threat to New York’s 9/11 memorial site, then shows footage of it being flooded by Hurricane Sandy just a few years later.

The U.S. boasts the only major party in the industrial world that denies climate change science.

Someone sitting behind me sighed heavily and a couple minutes later said, “Jesus …” They continued doing that throughout the entire film.

I fought back my own profanities watching the climate-caused deaths in the Philippines and other horrors documented.

After the credits rolled, Gore walked out to a standing ovation and a fawning fluff session of a Q&A with an awestruck moderator. I was in a theater full of Seattle liberals who didn’t need to be convinced of any of this.

The people who really need to see the movie—in red states or even red regions on the other side of my state—won’t go near it. They wouldn’t listen to Gore if their houses were on fire and he was standing there with a hose. And they’re no more likely to listen to any graduate of his climate leadership groups than they are to read David Wallace-Wells’ July 9 gut punch of a New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

If I’m raining on and submerging the parade, look:

From oncology to engineering, if 97 percent of the experts in any field other than climate science warned us of something, everyone would listen to them and not the outliers. The U.S. boasts the only major political party in the industrial world that denies climate change science. There’s some American exceptionalism.

Deniers appear not to understand that skepticism toward basic science literacy should consist of more than “No, it isn’t,” and that the scientific method has already been applied to climate science. (See: Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and “red team.”)

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

These are people who think we can treat the environment like a toilet for 150 years with no repercussions. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe bringing a snowball to the Senate floor is our real-world equivalent of Kryptonians laughing at Jor-El before their planet goes boom. Inconvenient Sequelincludes footage of an exchange between Gore and Inhofe in which the senator won’t even let Gore finish a sentence.

I’m saying the people who really need to see this movie are The Unreachables.

Now add a president who said climate change is a Chinese hoax and has promised to bail on the Paris agreement. Consider his picks to run the EPA, departments of Energy, Interior, Education … and here we are.

Actual headline, July 31: “EPA museum to scrap climate change displays, add coal exhibit.” Heavy sigh and Jesus, indeed.

Gore and the filmmakers don’t spend a lot of time documenting The Unreachables (my term, not his) and the political polarization that threatens the poles as much as carbon emissions. Trump’s Paris betrayal comes near the end, but Gore leans heavily on optimism. He compares the climate crisis to the fight for civil rights and marriage equality in a moving climactic speech.

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

To that end, Gore urges people to vote the Kryptonians—I mean, deniers—out of office, and the film offers resources for action. You can sign a pledge, organize a screening of the film, download a 10-minute version of Gore’s slideshow, follow the movie across social media. There’s information on voting, reaching out to lean on elected officials, and more.

It’s not nearly as aggressive as the situation demands, given the added threat of The Unreachables.

I think this would be an appropriate action: Trump and every other Republican who’s blocked efforts to mitigate climate change should be charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and everyone at Exxon Mobil who knew about the damage for decades.

Short of that, I have some other suggestions:

Demand that news media end the phony “balance” that gives deniers a platform, let alone equal time with those who understand climate science.

Research the deniers’ talking points so that you can refute them any time they come up in conversation or social media—from Al Gore’s carbon footprint making him a hypocrite to all that sweet dough climate scientists stand to rake in.

Be less polite. No, you don’t respect deniers’ opinions. It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

More climate-related lawsuits. Evidence and facts matter in courts.

Protest by phone, email, town hall, or social media any time a science denier or science illiterate is put in charge of a government science department at any level. Remember Rep. Paul Broun who called evolution and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” and who served on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? And Inhofe, who chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works? People like that need to go do something else.

Agitate to get the money out of politics. That’s at the Koch-fueled root of denialism. Always follow the money.

Until then, no matter where you live, you’re gonna need a car with air conditioning.


Mark Rahner wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Mark is a veteran journalist, talk radio host, comic book author, and podcaster based in Seattle.  

Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Talk

We’re not all ready to have the same conversation, but perhaps that’s a good place to start

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

 

A placard warning against the dangers of climate change used in the March on Washington stands by an overflowing garbage can on Saturday, January 21, 2017. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)

 

My most recent essay, in which I discussed a highly publicized controversy over the efficacy of plans for a comprehensive transition to an all-renewable energy future, garnered some strong responses. “If you are right,” one Facebook commenter opined, “we are doomed. Fortunately you are not right.” (The commenter didn’t explain why.) What had I said to provoke an expectation of cataclysmic oblivion? Simply that there is probably no technically and financially feasible energy pathway to enable those of us in highly industrialized countries to maintain current levels of energy usage very far into the future.

My piece happened to be published right around the same time New York Magazine released a controversial article, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” wrote Wells. “If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.” Wells’s article drew rebukes from—of all people—climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. “Importantly, fear does not motivate,” responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, “and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.”

“We humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species…”It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.”

So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in  this essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming.  Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.

Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species. We’ve been able to do this due to a temporary subsidy of cheap, bountiful energy from fossil fuels, which enabled us to stretch nature’s limits and to support a far larger overall population than would otherwise be possible. But now we are starting to see supply constraints for those fuels, just as the side effects of burning enormous amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas are also coming into view. Meanwhile, using cheap energy to expand resource-extractive and waste-generating economic processes is leading to biodiversity loss; the depletion of soil, water, and minerals; and environmental pollution of many kinds. Just decarbonizing energy, while necessary, doesn’t adequately deal with systemic overshoot. Only a reduction of population and overall resource consumption, along with a rapid reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and a redesign of industrial systems, can do that.

Economic inequality is a systemic problem too. As we’ve grown our economy, those who were in position to invest in industrial expansion or to loan money to others have reaped the majority of the rewards, while those who got by through selling their time and labor (or whose common cultural heritage was simply appropriated by industrialists) have fallen behind. There’s no technological fix for inequality; dealing with it will require redesigning our economic system and redistributing wealth. Those in wealthy nations would, on average, have to adjust their living standards downward.

Now, can we do all of this without a crash? Probably not. Indeed, many economists would regard the medicine (population reduction, a decline in per-capita energy use, and economic redistribution) as worse than whatever aspects of the disease they are willing to acknowledge. Environmentalists and human rights advocates would disagree. Which is to say, there’s really no way out. Whether we stick with business as usual, or attempt a dramatic multi-pronged intervention, our current “normal” way of life is toast.

Accepting that a crash is more or less inevitable is a big step, psychologically speaking. I call this toxic knowledge: one cannot “un-know” that the current world system hangs by a thread, and this understanding can lead to depression. In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually. Some willfully ignore their own mortality for as long as possible; others grasp at a belief in the afterlife. Still others seek to create meaning and purpose by making a positive difference in the lives of those around them with whatever time they have. Such efforts don’t alter the inevitability of death; however, contributing to one’s community appears to enhance well-being in many ways beyond that of merely prolonging life.

In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually.

But is a crash the same as doom?

Not necessarily. Our best hope at this point would seem to be a controlled crash that enables partial recovery at a lower level of population and resource use, and that therefore doesn’t lead to complete and utter oblivion (human extinction or close to it). Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.

This discussion started in the 1970s, though I wasn’t part of it then; I joined a couple of decades later. There is no formal membership; the conversation takes place through and among a patchwork of small organizations and scattered individuals. They don’t all know each other and there is no secret handshake. Some have publicly adopted the stance that a global crash is inevitable; most soft-pedal that message on their organizational websites but are privately plenty worried. During the course of the conversation so far, two (not mutually exclusive) strategies have emerged.

The first strategy envisions convincing the managers and power holders of the world to invest in a no-regrets insurance plan. Some systems thinkers who understand our linked global crises are offering to come up with a back-pocket checklist for policy makers, for moments when financial or environmental crisis hits: how, under such circumstances, might the managerial elite be able to prevent, say, a stock market crash from triggering food, energy, and social crises as well? A set of back-up plans wouldn’t require detailed knowledge of when or how crisis will erupt. It wouldn’t even require much of a systemic understanding of global overshoot. It would simply require willingness on the part of societal power holders to agree that there are real or potential threats to global order, and to accept the offer of help. At the moment, those pursuing this strategy are working mostly covertly, for reasons that are not hard to discern.

The second strategy consists of working within communities to build more societal resilience from the ground up. It is easier to get traction with friends and neighbors than with global power holders, and it’s within communities that political decisions are made closest to where the impact is felt. My own organization, Post Carbon Institute, has chosen to pursue this strategy via a series of books, the Community Resilience Guides;  the “Think Resilience” video series; and our forthcoming compendium, The Community Resilience Reader.  Rob Hopkins, who originated the Transition Towns movement, has been perhaps the most public, eloquent, and upbeat proponent of the local resilience strategy, but there are countless others scattered across the globe.

Somehow, the work of resilience building (whether top-down or bottom-up) must focus not just on maintaining supplies of food, water, energy, and other basic necessities, but also on sustaining social cohesion—a culture of understanding, tolerance, and inquiry—during times of great stress. While it’s true that people tend to pull together in remarkable ways during wars and natural disasters, sustained hard times can lead to scapegoating and worse.

Most people are not party to the conversation, not aware that it is happening, and unaware even that such a conversation is warranted. Among those who are worried about the state of the world, most are content to pursue or support efforts to keep crises from occurring by working via political parties, religious organizations, or non-profit advocacy orgs on issues such as climate change, food security, and economic inequality. There is also a small but rapidly growing segment of society that feels disempowered as the era of economic growth wanes, and that views society’s power holders as evil and corrupt. These dispossessed—whether followers of ISIS or Infowars—would prefer to “shake things up,” even to the point of bringing society to destruction, rather than suffer the continuation of the status quo. Unfortunately, this last group may have the easiest path of all.

By comparison, the number of those involved in the conversation is exceedingly small, countable probably in the hundreds of thousands, certainly not millions. Can we succeed? It depends on how one defines “success”—as the ability to maintain, for a little longer, an inherently unsustainable global industrial system? Or as the practical reduction in likely suffering on the part of the survivors of the eventual crash? A related query one often hears after environmental lectures is, Are we doing enough? If “Enough” means “enough to avert a system crash,” then the answer is no: it’s unlikely that anyone can deliver that outcome now. The question should be, What can we do—not to save a way of life that is unsalvageable, but to make a difference to the people and other species in harm’s way?

This is not a conversation about the long-term trajectory of human cultural evolution, though that’s an interesting subject for speculation. Assuming there are survivors, what will human society look like following the crises ensuing from climate change and the end of fossil fuels and capitalism? David Fleming’s book, Surviving the Future, and John Michael Greer’s, The Ecotechnic Future, both  offer useful thoughts in this regard. My own view is that it’s hard for us to envision what comes next because our imaginations are bounded by the reality we have known. What awaits will likely be as far removed from from modern industrial urban life as Iron-Age agrarian empires were from hunting-and-gathering bands. We are approaching one of history’s great discontinuities. The best we can do under the circumstances is to get our priorities and values straight (protect the vulnerable, preserve the best of what we have collectively achieved, and live a life that’s worthy) and put one foot in front of the other.

The conversation I’m pointing to here is about fairly short-term actions. And it doesn’t lend itself to building a big movement. For that, you need villains to blame and promises of revived national or tribal glory. For those engaged in the conversation, there’s only hard work and the satisfaction of honestly facing our predicament with an attitude of curiosity, engagement, and compassion. For us, threats of doom or promises of utopia are distractions or cop-outs.

Only those drawn to the conversation by temperament and education are likely to take it up. Advertising may not work. But having a few more hands on deck, and a few more resources to work with, can only help.

Message to Democrats: Get on Board With Medicare For All or Go Home

For universal healthcare to become a reality, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board.”

 

Medicare for All “is the only real answer,” said Max Fine, one of the original architects of Medicare. (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

Amid surging support for Medicare for All at the grassroots—which can be seen both in recent polls and at anti-Trumpcare protests, where demonstrators have brandished signs declaring “healthcare is a human right”—activists, physicians, and policy experts are imploring Democratic lawmakers to either get on board with the growing majority of their constituents, or go home.

This coming Monday, July 24, activists across the country are set to target Democratic lawmakers who have yet to sign off on Rep John Conyers’ Medicare for All legislation. The nationwide events, coordinated by the group Millions March for Medicare 4 All, are part of a growing call “for America to do for its citizens what literally every other developed nation in the world has had for decades.”

“The size of one’s bank account should never be the determining factor in whether one gets medical care,” said Beverly Cowling, the organization’s co-founder. “This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages, and we will not stop until every American has access.”

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.'”
—Dr. Carol Paris, Physicians for a National Health Program

Responding to politicians and commentators who argue that incremental improvements to Obamacare and the implementation of a public option are the most practical steps toward universal coverage, Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said in an interview on Democracy Now! that such steps amount to “creating another opportunity for the insurance companies…to put all the sickest people in the public option and keep all the healthiest young people in their plans.”

“We really need to go forward now to a national, improved Medicare for All,” Paris concluded. “And really, the bill in Congress, H.R. 676, Congressman Conyers’s bill, is the way we need to go.”

Writing for Common Dreams on Thursday, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that the public option is “fool’s gold.”

Far from being a step on the path to universal healthcare, the public option “could undermine the movement for single-payer, discrediting a fully publicly financed system that is not a feeble adjunct to the private insurance market,” DeMoro wrote.

She went on:

The Congressional Budget Office in 2013 concluded that adding a public option would not even slice the number of uninsured, and could even encourage employers to dump workers they now cover into the ACA exchanges. With millions still either uninsured or paying exorbitant costs for care, imagine promoting a publicly financed Medicare for all to a public that sees a public option that is just as unethical as the notorious private insurers, or a financial wreck that just went belly up.

Analysts tracking public opinion on healthcare have been startled by the speed with which the debate over Trumpcare has shifted popular attitudes to the left, in the direction of Medicare for All.

As Common Dreams reported on Thursday, 62 percent of Americans—and 80 percent of Democratic voters—now believe it is “the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.”

Indeed, as Max Fine, one of the architects of Medicare, told The Intercept‘s Zaid Jilani recently, the original intent of the program’s creators was to expand it to everyone. Medicare for all, Fine concluded, “is only real answer” to our current healthcare woes.

The job of single-payer proponents now, Dr. Paris emphasized, is to make it politically damaging for Democrats who refuse to listen to their constituents and instead remain committed to a failed for-profit system, under which millions remain uninsured.

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.’ If we wait for that, we’re going to be waiting for the rest of my life, your life, and many more lives,” Paris said.

To translate popular attitudes into public policy, Paris said, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board with this.”

Watch Paris’s full interview on Democracy Now!:

Beyond calling forcefully for Medicare for All during demonstrations against Trumpcare, activists are urging the creation a broader, national movement that will rally support for Medicare for All and pressure lawmakers to act.

On Tuesday, a coalition of dozens of progressive organizations announced the launch of a new initiative called “The Summer of Progress” with the goal of pressuring House Democrats to support, among other legislation, Conyers’ H.R. 676.

Steve Frisch on Trump, Our National Embarrassment: “This Too Will Pass”

By Steve Frisch

The following impromptu “essay” was written by Steve Frisch in the form of a comment to his Facebook friends, and reprinted here with his permission, in honor of July 4th, 2017.

“I think the first step in celebrating America this weekend is recognizing that as much of a national embarrassment as Trump is … this too will pass.

“Yeah, I am embarrassed by having a President, apparently selected by my peers, who brags about grabbing pussy, bullies his opponents and staff, has been implicated by numerous women including his ex-wife in sexual assault, bought a beauty pageant so he could walk in on young women half naked, has been sued by the Department of Justice for racial discrimination, hob nobs with the New York mafia, has been fined for breaking casino gambling rules, has been sued for intimidating tenants in his buildings, was fined $750,000 for breaking anti-trust rules, has bankrupted 4 businesses while saying America needs to be run like one of his businesses, hired undocumented workers while saying we should build a wall, has stiffed literally hundreds of contractors on millions of dollars worth of goods and services delivered to him, and uses the money to buy his own books so he can say they are bestsellers and print fake covers of Time magazine to say how great he is. Oh and did I miss that he has a gold plated shitter?

“It says a lot that that paragraph is so long yet contains a mere fraction of his gauche behavior.

“But lets get real, he is 71 years old, and a friend of mine says we are just a funeral away from perfection.

“I know, I know, I spend a lot of time expressing how disgusted I am with Trump. But I spend a hell of a lot more time working hard to try to counter the idiocy that seems to have descended on our nation and eventually WE will win.

“To all my friends doing all those good things out there to make America a better place for everyone I salute you and love you today.

“Trump and his mind set do not represent this nation. You represent this nation.

“We are a nation that values freedom and individualism, expression and speech, privacy and free will, hard work and the benefits it brings.

“It may take time, and be a fight, and be too slow coming for ‘the other,’ but we value equality, ensconced it in our founding documents, rededicated in blood in the 14th amendment, fought for at Seneca Falls, the lunch counter, in farm fields, at Stonewall, and in court every goddamn day.

“More important, we are a nation and a people who look forward. We are less concerned with our European, or Asian, or African past and their social conventions and traditions than we are the future and making the future count. There is a fundamental American belief in progress and a better future.

“We are bold, brash, assertive, direct, rough hewn, and at times self indulgent and chauvinistic, but at the end of the day we value goodness, honesty, sacrifice and achievement. We still weep and revel in the accomplishment of others. We root for the little guy, followed the Cubs through a 106 year drought, and when every other option is exhausted as Churchill said, we end up doing the right thing. In the end by and large, we are good.

“So celebrate the 4th of July because we are here…and no one or any authoritarian blow hard can take that away.

“Once civic responsibility was a bedrock American value, and compared to many societies it still is…but if we have one challenge in the next few years it will be re-engaging to advance goodness. Our actions to advance democratic governance matter…it is the societies where people give up, hide, protect themselves putting their peers at risk, that democracy dies. We have a responsibility to defend all of those values articulated above every single day. Whether through involvement in an organization, on policy, through charity, in church, or at the indivisible meeting, we uphold democratic values every day and fight for our freedom.

“This too will pass and the next America will be defined by what you do today.”


Steve_Frisch

Steve 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.

 

America Last: Will Trump Set a Record for the History Books?

By Tom Engelhardt
Reprinted from TomDispatch.com

In its own inside-out, upside-down way, it’s almost wondrous to behold. As befits our president’s wildest dreams, it may even prove to be a record for the ages, one for the history books. He was, after all, the candidate who sensed it first.  When those he was running against, like the rest of Washington’s politicians, were still insisting that the United States remained at the top of its game, not an — but the — “indispensable nation,” the only truly “exceptional” one on the face of the Earth, he said nothing of the sort.  He campaigned on America’s decline, on this country’s increasing lack of exceptionality, its potential dispensability.  He ran on the single word “again” — as in “make America great again” — because (the implication was) it just isn’t anymore.  And he swore that he and he alone was the best shot Americans, or at least non-immigrant white Americans, had at ever seeing the best of days again.

In that sense, he was our first declinist candidate for president and if that didn’t tell you something during the election season, it should have. No question about it, he hit a chord, rang a bell, because out in the heartland it was possible to sense a deepening reality that wasn’t evident in Washington.  The wealthiest country on the planet, the most militarily powerful in the history of… well, anybody, anywhere, anytime (or so we were repeatedly told)… couldn’t win a war, not even with the investment of trillions of taxpayer dollars, couldn’t do anything but spread chaos by force of arms.

Meanwhile, at home, despite all that wealth, despite billionaires galore, including the one running for president, despite the transnational corporate heaven inhabited by Google and Facebook and Apple and the rest of the crew, parts of this country and its infrastructure were starting to feel distinctly (to use a word from another universe) Third Worldish.  He sensed that, too.  He regularly said things like this: “We spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we got nothing… And we have an obsolete plane system. We have obsolete airports. We have obsolete trains. We have bad roads. Airports.”  And this: “Our airports are like from a third-world country.”  And on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, he couldn’t have been more on the mark.

In parts of the U.S., white working-class and middle-class Americans could sense that the future was no longer theirs, that their children would not have a shot at what they had had, that they themselves increasingly didn’t have a shot at what they had had.  The American Dream seemed to be gaining an almost nightmarish sheen, given that the real value of the average wage of a worker hadn’t increased since the 1970s; that the cost of a college education had gone through the roof and the educational debt burden for children with dreams of getting ahead was now staggering; that unions were cratering; that income inequality was at a historic high; and… well, you know the story, really you do.  In essence, for them the famed American Dream seemed ever more like someone else’s trademarked property.

Indispensable? Exceptional? This country? Not anymore. Not as they were experiencing it.

And because of that, Donald Trump won the lottery.  He answered the $64,000 question.  (If you’re not of a certain age, Google it, but believe me it’s a reference in our president’s memory book.)  He entered the Oval Office with almost 50% of the vote and a fervent base of support for his promised program of doing it all over again, 1950s-style.

It had been one hell of a pitch from the businessman billionaire.  He had promised a future of stratospheric terrificness, of greatness on an historic scale. He promised to keep the evil ones — the rapists, job thieves, and terrorists — away, to wall them out or toss them out or ban them from ever traveling here.  He also promised to set incredible records, as only a mega-businessman like him could conceivably do, the sort of all-American records this country hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

And early as it is in the Trump era, it seems as if, on one score at least, he could deliver something for the record books going back to the times when those recording the acts of rulers were still scratching them out in clay or wax. At this point, there’s at least a chance that Donald Trump might preside over the most precipitous decline of a truly dominant power in history, one only recently considered at the height of its glory.  It could prove to be a fall for the ages.  Admittedly, that other superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, imploded in 1991, which was about the fastest way imaginable to leave the global stage.  Still, despite the “evil empire” talk of that era, the USSR was always the secondary, the weaker of the two superpowers.  It was never Rome, or Spain, or Great Britain.

When it comes to the United States, we’re talking about a country that not so long ago saw itself as the only great power left on planet Earth, “the lone superpower.”  It was the one still standing, triumphant, at the end of a history of great power rivalry that went back to a time when the wooden warships of various European states first broke out into a larger world and began to conquer it.  It stood by itself at, as its proponents liked to claim at the time, the end of history.

Applying Hard Power to a Failing World

As we watch, it seems almost possible to see President Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in the process of dismantling the system of global power — of “soft power,” in particular, and of alliances of every sort — by which the U.S. made its will felt, made itself a truly global hegemon.  Whether his “America first” policies are aimed at creating a future order of autocrats, or petro-states, or are nothing more than the expression of his libidinous urges and secret hatreds, he may already be succeeding in taking down that world order in record fashion.

Despite the mainstream pieties of the moment about the nature of the system Donald Trump appears to be dismantling in Europe and elsewhere, it was anything but either terribly “liberal” or particularly peaceable.  Wars, invasions, occupations, the undermining or overthrow of governments, brutal acts and conflicts of every sort succeeded one another in the years of American glory.  Past administrations in Washington had a notorious weakness for autocrats, just as Donald Trump does today.  They regularly had less than no respect for democracy if, from Iran to Guatemala to Chile, the will of the people seemed to stand in Washington’s way.  (It is, as Vladimir Putin has been only too happy to point out of late, an irony of our moment that the country that has undermined or overthrown or meddled in more electoral systems than any other is in a total snit over the possibility that one of its own elections was meddled with.)  To enforce their global system, Americans never shied away from torture, black sites, death squads, assassinations, and other grim practices.  In those years, the U.S. planted its military on close to 1,000 overseas military bases, garrisoning the planet as no other country ever had.

Nonetheless, the cancelling of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, threats against NAFTA, the undermining of NATO, the promise of protective tariffs on foreign goods (and the possible trade wars that might go with them) could go a long way toward dismantling the American global system of soft power and economic dominance as it has existed in these last decades.  If such acts and others like them prove effective in the months and years to come, they will leave only one kind of power in the American global quiver: hard military power, and its handmaiden, the kind of covert power Washington, through the CIA in particular, has long specialized in. If America’s alliances crack open and its soft power becomes too angry or edgy to pass for dominant power anymore, its massive machinery of destruction will still be left, including its vast nuclear arsenal.  While, in the Trump era, a drive to cut domestic spending of every sort is evident, more money is still slated to go to the military, already funded at levels not reached by combinations of other major powers.

Given the last 15 years of history, it’s not hard to imagine what’s likely to result from the further elevation of military power: disaster.  This is especially true because Donald Trump has appointed to key positions in his administration a crew of generals who spent the last decade and a half fighting America’s catastrophic wars across the Greater Middle East.  They are not only notoriously incapable of thinking outside the box about the application of military power, but faced with the crisis of failed wars and failing states, of spreading terror movements and a growing refugee crisis across that crucial region, they can evidently only imagine one solution to just about any problem: more of the same.  More troops, more mini-surges, more military trainers and advisers, more air strikes, more drone strikesmore.

After a decade and a half of such thinking we already know perfectly well where this ends — in further failure, more chaos and suffering, but above all in an inability of the U.S. to effectively apply its hard power anywhere in any way that doesn’t make matters worse.  Since, in addition, the Trump administration is filled with Iranophobes, including a president who has only recently fused himself to the Saudi royal family in an attempt to further isolate and undermine Iran, the possibility that a military-first version of American foreign policy will spread further is only growing.

Such “more” thinking is typical as well of much of the rest of the cast of characters now in key positions in the Trump administration. Take the CIA, for instance.  Under its new director, Mike Pompeo (distinctly a “more” kind of guy and an Iranophobe of the first order), two key positions have reportedly been filled: a new chief of counterterrorism and a new head of Iran operations (recently identified as Michael D’Andrea, an Agency hardliner with the nickname “the Dark Prince”).  Here’s how Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman of the New York Times recently described their similar approaches to their jobs (my emphasis added):

“Mr. D’Andrea’s new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.”

In other words, more!

Rest assured of one thing, whatever Donald Trump accomplishes in the way of dismantling America’s version of soft power, “his” generals and intelligence operatives will handle the hard-power part of the equation just as “ably.”

The First American Laster?

If a Trump presidency achieves a record for the ages when it comes to the precipitous decline of the American global system, little as The Donald ever cares to share credit for anything, he will undoubtedly have to share it for such an achievement.  It’s true that kings, emperors, and autocrats, the top dogs of any moment, prefer to take all the credit for the “records” set in their time.  When we look back, however, it’s likely that President Trump will be seen as having given a tottering system that necessary push.  It will undoubtedly be clear enough by then that the U.S., seemingly at the height of any power’s power in 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared, began heading for the exits soon thereafter, still enwreathed in self-congratulation and triumphalism.

Had this not been so, Donald Trump would never have won the 2016 election.  It wasn’t he, after all, who gave the U.S. heartland an increasingly Third World feel.  It wasn’t he who spent those trillions of dollars so disastrously on invasions and occupations, dead-end wars, drone strikes and special ops raids, reconstruction and deconstruction in a never-ending war on terror that today looks more like a war for the spread of terror.  It wasn’t he who created the growing inequality gap in this country or produced all those billionaires amid a population that increasingly felt left in the lurch.  It wasn’t he who hiked college tuitions or increased the debt levels of the young or set roads and bridges to crumbling and created the conditions for Third World-style airports.

If both the American global and domestic systems hadn’t been rotting out before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, that “again” of his wouldn’t have worked.  Thought of another way, when the U.S. was truly at the height of its economic clout and power, American leaders felt no need to speak incessantly of how “indispensable” or “exceptional” the country was.  It seemed too self-evident to mention. Someday, some historian may use those very words in the mouths of American presidents and other politicians (and their claims, for instance, that the U.S. military was “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known”) as a set of increasingly defensive markers for measuring the decline of American power.

So here’s the question: When the Trump years (months?) come to an end, will the U.S. be not the planet’s most exceptional land, but a pariah nation?  Will that “again” still be the story of the year, the decade, the century? Will the last American Firster turn out to have been the first American Laster?  Will it truly be one for the record books?


 

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

 

Democrats – Lemmings in Search of a Cliff: Why You Shouldn’t Bet the Ranch on 2018

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who soared to national prominence during last year’s presidential campaign, is now the most popular politician in the nation. (Photo: Common Dreams / CC BY 3.0)

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans should be on the run.  Trumpcare is toxic, the White House stumbles from disaster to disaster, Trump’s budget is a giant slap in the face to the people who voted for him, and Russiagate just gets worse and worse.

But Democrats—rather than catching what should be a progressive tsunami—are acting like lemmings in search of a cliff.  Here are the details.

The lesson from 2016 should be clear

The age of the neoliberal, elitist, insider politician is gone. The people are wise to it, and they won’t show up to vote for candidates who spout progressive rhetoric, while feeding at the corporate money trough, and backing policies that favor Wall Street and the uber-rich.

“The age of the neoliberal, elitist, insider politician is gone.”

The political mainstream of both parties is either ignoring the extent to which they’ve alienated the people, or they don’t care. Here’s just one finding from a landmark study called the Smith Project that summarizes people’s dim view of both political parties: “Americans overwhelmingly agree (78%–15%) that both political parties are too beholden to special interests to create any meaningful change.”

The analysis also found that “American voters strongly believe that corruption and crony capitalism are among the  most important issues facing our nation—almost equal to jobs and the economy. Political alienation has existed for decades, but it now envelops over three-fifths of all   voters. These are the numbers that precede a political upheaval. (emphasis added)

This kind of alienation explains how Trump got elected by less than 27% of the eligible voters.  The passionately ignorant minority responded to his limbic hymnal of hate, greed, fear, blame, jingoism and xenophobia and showed up; the progressive majority—offered pre-packaged, pseudo-progressive pablum—did not.

Make no mistake, Democrats lost because turnout was low.  And turnout was low because progressives were turned off by their choices—or rather, lack of choices.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the presidential vote in 2016. Despite the headlines about a large turnout, it’s clear that many people weren’t thrilled with their choice, and turnout was lower than anticipated. In fact, in fourteen states, candidates in down ballot races received more votes than candidates for president.

That is, people voted for down-ballot candidates but left the top of the ticket blank. And it would have been the case in fifteen states, but Nevada allows voters to choose “none-of-the-above.” This was unprecedented, and it confirms the public’s rejection of politics as usual found in the Smith Project and in virtually any poll addressing the issue.

The fact is, the majority of Americans hold progressive views on an issue-by-issue basis.

This is why Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America.  He says what he means; he doesn’t equivocate; he backs progressive policies without reservation; he doesn’t take money from dark money Super PACs. The Smith project and nearly all poll addressing voter preference tells us these are the qualities American voters are looking for.

That means many of these sidelined voters could be easily wooed back to voting if Democrats would only run true progressives. In fact, one of the reasons the Democrats have been losing ground at all levels of government since the 70’s is because they’ve abandoned the New Deal policies favoring people, and adopted raw deal policies favoring plutocrats.

So you would think the Democratic Party would be embracing the progressive wing of the party and backing progressive positions and candidates.

But you’d be wrong.

“You would think the Democratic Party would be embracing the progressive wing of the party and backing progressive positions and candidates. But you’d be wrong.”

Instead, the Democrats seem intent on playing the same old cynical, centrist game that has turned them into a minority party.  And that bodes ill for 2018.  Even as Trump lurches from disaster to disaster, the Democrats plot ways to snatch defeat from what should be—indeed, must be, given the stakes—certain victory.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Pushing Perez while derailing Ellison

When the Obama White House recruited Tom Perez to run for Chair of the DNC, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) had been in the race for a month and had collected endorsements from many of the party’s power brokers, as well as the Sanders’ branch of the party. When progressives objected to Perez, Clinton and the Obama surrogates claimed that Perez was “just as progressive” as Ellison. As The New Republic‘s Clio Chang asked before the vote for DNC, if that was indeed the case, why insert him in the race?

While Perez was perhaps the most progressive member of Obama’s cabinet, he supported the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and, more importantly, he was firmly aligned with the establishment. The real reason for shoving him into the race was because Ellison was aligned with Sanders and the emerging progressive arm of the party, and with the Sanders supporters increasing their influence, they were afraid of losing control.  And it seems the establishment would rather lose elections than lose control.

The troubling “Ideas Conference” by the Center for American Progress

Imagine holding an “ideas conference” to seek new ideas, but not inviting one of the few people with new ideas to the discussion.

Imagine billing it as a gathering of progressives and not inviting the most popular progressive politician in America—and the most genuine.

That’s exactly what the Center for American Progress did last week, in their invitation-only gathering which specifically excluded Sen. Sanders.

Imagine realizing you have to have a more populist appeal to win elections, then holding your conference in one of the most expensive hotels in Washington, complete with a $1000 a plate dinner and no website allowing for … well … ideas from the people.

In fact, one of the biggest topics at the CAP conference seemed to center on blaming the Russians for Clinton’s defeat. And yes, she won the popular vote, but in our current system, that’s a consolation prize.

“Trump’s rank idiocy offers Democrats the opportunity of a lifetime.  But the establishment arm of the Democratic Party is apparently more interested in maintaining control of the party than it is in winning elections.”

So let’s say it again, one more time—it was the content of those emails, not the emails per se, that helped to sink Clinton. The emails revealed that, contrary to her progressive rhetoric, Hillary Clinton subscribed to the neoliberal consensus that has empowered the plutocracy, disempowered and impoverished the people, and that is resulting in the wholesale destruction of our planet and our climate.

About the only idea of substance to come out of the CAP meeting was the Marshall Plan for jobs, an ill-conceived hodge podge that contained as much rhetoric about protecting the private sector as it did about guaranteeing jobs.

Now consider the election to head California’s Democratic Party: Here again, the power elite fought off a serious challenge from the progressive wing. Long-time political operative Eric Bauman barely edged out progressive challenger Kimberly Ellis to take control of the California Democratic Party, winning by just 62 votes.

Bauman is a typical DLC Democrat—a pragmatic power-broker who steers by the hood ornament, rather than by a set of values rooted in an ethical framework.  For example, Bauman lobbied heavily for the pharmaceutical industry, when California’s Prop 61 threatened to cut their obscene profits.  Ellis, on the other hand, was a Sanders supporter, who has backed a bold and progressive agenda.

So there you have it.  Trump’s rank idiocy offers Democrats the opportunity of a lifetime.  But the establishment arm of the Democratic Party is apparently more interested in maintaining control of the party than it is in winning elections, so expect a slate of split the difference Democrats, who will struggle at the polls.


John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections, tentatively titled, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track, which will be released in the Spring.

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.) 

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