Month: June 2018

After The Hurricane: We Don’t Rebuild, We Transform

In this TEDxPittsburgh talk, Yulín Cruz discusses her first hand account of the disaster of Hurricane María and how to rebuild Puerto Rico to increase wellbeing and build resilience in the face of climate change.

 

The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Weaker Than Ever

If you’re looking for good news on the climate front, don’t look to the Antarctic. Last week’s spate of studies documenting that its melt rates had tripled is precisely the kind of data that underscores the almost impossible urgency of the moment.

And don’t look to Washington DC, where the unlikely survival of the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, continues to prove the political power of the fossil fuel industry. It’s as if he’s on a reality show where the premise is to see how much petty corruption one man can get away with.

But from somewhat less likely quarters, there’s been reason this month for hope – reason, at least, to think that the basic trajectory of the world away from coal and gas and oil is firmly under way.

At the Vatican, the pope faced down a conference full of oil industry executives – the basic argument that fossil fuel reserves must be kept underground has apparently percolated to the top of the world’s biggest organization.

And from Wall Street came welcome word that market perceptions haven’t really changed: even in the age of Trump, the fossil fuel industry has gone from the world’s surest bet to an increasingly challenged enterprise. Researchers at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis minced no words: “In the past several years, oil industry financial statements have revealed significant signs of strain: Profits have dropped, cash flow is down, balance sheets are deteriorating and capital spending is falling. The stock market has recognized the sector’s overall weakness, punishing oil and gas shares over the past five years even as the market as a whole has soared.”

The IEEFA report labeled the industry “weaker than it has been in decades” and laid out its basic frailties, the first of which is paradoxical. Fracking has produced a sudden surge of gas and oil into the market, lowering prices – which means many older investments (Canada’s tar sands, for instance) no longer make economic sense. Fossil fuel has been transformed into a pure commodity business, and since the margins on fracking are narrow at best, its financial performance has been woeful. The IEEFA describes investors as “shell-shocked” by poor returns.

The second weakness is more obvious: the sudden rise of a competitor that seems able to deliver the same product – energy – with cheaper, cleaner, better technologies. Tesla, sure – but Volkswagen, having come clean about the dirtiness of diesel, is going to spend $84bn on electric drivetrains. China seems bent on converting its entire bus fleet to electric power. Every week seems to bring a new record-low price for clean energy: the most recent being a Nevada solar plant clocking in at 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour, even with Trump’s tariffs on Chinese panels.

And the third problem for the fossil fuel industry? According to IEEFA, that would be the climate movement – a material financial risk to oil and gas companies. “In addition to traditional lobbying and direct-action campaigns, climate activists have joined with an increasingly diverse set of allies – particularly the indigenous-rights movement – to put financial pressure on oil and gas companies through divestment campaigns, corporate accountability efforts, and targeting of banks and financial institutions. These campaigns threaten not only to undercut financing for particular projects, but also to raise financing costs for oil and gas companies across the board.”

Hey, the movement against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline got so big, the Canadian government had to literally buy the thing in order to try and ram it through. Protesters will die, a former Bank of Canada governor predicted this week – though he added the country will have to muster the “fortitude” to kill them and get the pipeline built.

For activists, the best part of the IEEFA report is a series of recommendations for precisely how to hurt the industry the most, from creating delays that “turn a marginal project into a cancelled one” to “strategic litigation” to “changing the narrative”.

The report’s authors write: “The financial world is just beginning to understand the fundamental weakness of the fossil fuel sector, and barely acknowledges the global climate movement’s growing power and reach. This has created a powerful opportunity to develop and foster a new storyline on Wall Street: that the oil and gas industry is an unstable financial partner just as it faces its greatest test.”

That’s work we’re capable of. If a few years of campaigning is enough to convince the pope we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a few more quarters might finally persuade the suits that there’s more money to be made elsewhere. But speed is clearly of the essence. If massive losses of money loom over Wall Street, massive losses of polar ice loom over us all.

Creative Problem Solving Institute Keynote Remarks

Buffalo, New York – I’m very pleased to be here with you all tonight. I have to have to tell you, when I read about all that The Creative Education Foundation and The Creative Problem-Solving Institute (CPSI) have been doing for so many years, I felt like I found a home. This is the way my mind works. Divergent thinking is my innate tendency. When considering a problem, I usually consider the universe of options and then bring it in. It’s difficult to find interlocutors who think like this, who don’t feel overwhelmed by this approach. Many people don’t understand the distinct ways you have outlined for approaching challenges or opportunities in everyday life – not just in an organizational setting. I’m looking forward to learning some of the tools to train my mind more effectively and to share the processes you have developed – including seeking wild ideas before moving on to convergent thinking. The most important information I gleaned from my readings is an understanding that the process is cyclical and needs to be repeated at each step. I’m sure we’ll have many interesting conversations over the week.

When I think about creativity, I think about the creative artist’s perception that looks beyond what is and imagines what could be. I think about the political leaders who aren’t bound by the status quo and use their official status to bring people together to consider other options to deal with difficult issues. I think about the teachers who bring history to life and really value the innovative thinkers in their classes.

In art, creativity is usually appreciated, often celebrated – at least eventually. In my world, the world of politics and media and, increasingly, in education, conventional wisdom reigns.

In politics, candidates and elected official too often stick close to the talking points they’re given by their parties, their pollsters, and their consultants. They’re very careful to offer plans rather than ideas. They seldom bring their constituents together, listen, discuss and openly collaborate in order to re-define problems and seek innovative solutions together.

It’s very unfortunate for our democracy. This is understandable because everything they do is interpreted through the media.

And the mainstream media has the most convergent thinking that I’ve ever seen. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem for the Fourth Estate and it’s a problem for our democracy. I’ll just give you one example of that limiting of perspectives and ideas – that ‘group-think’ – that had serious consequences.

On the lead up to the Iraq war, every editorial page of the 54 largest newspapers in America except for one – McClatchey News – supported that war, recognized now as one of the worst military decisions in our country’s history.

The few elected officials that spoke up and opposed the war, articulating all the potential consequences, had editorials, newspaper stories, newscasts and television ads that excoriated them for that vote, which is now considered the right vote.

That is only one example of the absolute refusal of the establishment media to consider voices that think differently, that consider other options, that evaluate outcomes – if they are not conventional wisdom.

We’re living at an important time in America. A time that cries out for creative problem-solving, for redefining the problems and the opportunities and devising innovative responses and solutions. And to take action. It’s not possible to solve today’s or tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. We Need to meet the difficult challenges presented by changing ourselves, our approach, the situation, or all of the above.

I believe what Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”

We live in a complex world with complex problems, and solving them requires knowledge, compassion, engagement and creativity. And that’s why Dave Driscoll and I founded the Sanders Institute. Dave, our Executive Director, is here to participate in CPSI, as are his children, Ella and Dylan, who will be attending YouthWise.

“We’re living at an important time in America. A time that cries out for creative problem-solving, for redefining the problems and the opportunities and devising innovative responses and solutions.”

The Sanders Institute believes a vital democracy requires an informed electorate, civil discourse, and bold ideas. Our mission is to revitalize democracy by actively engaging individuals, organizations, and the media in the pursuit of progressive solutions to economic, environmental, racial, and social justice issues.

We focus on shifting the framework of the debate in a progressive direction. As I mentioned earlier, its’ often a heavy lift given the realities of DC politics, mainstream media and the ingrained centrist tendencies of the talking heads and political pundits.  (They can only consider ideas from here to here. We want to move it over here.)

We serve as a progressive counterweight to the conservative – and the moderate – organizations that currently set that very narrow framework of debate. We’re not interested in discussing what they think is possible in today’s climate. We’re interested in communicating a vision for the future and identifying the steps needed to get there.

As a 501(c)3, we don’t engage in outright lobbying or advocacy. We don’t support or oppose specific bills or candidates. We educate. We research important issues and the strengths and weaknesses of current thinking. Then, we develop the arguments for progressive solutions, and provide data and resources for anybody who wants to learn more. And we encourage people to decide for themselves by providing non-partisan, fact-based information.

“We’re not interested in discussing what they think is possible in today’s climate. We’re interested in communicating a vision for the future and identifying the steps needed to get there.”

This is a challenging time to run a think tank. Because amid the nonstop, all-crisis-all-the-time coverage… thought itself – careful, critical, analytical thought – seems to be endangered. We aim to counteract that. We choose to stay focused on our vision, on the issues that affect people’s lives, rather than getting caught up in the latest controversies or scandals, or getting involved in inter-party – or intra-party, squabbles.

There is a strategic and a principled difference that we share with CPSI. We strongly believe in respectful dialogue – civil discourse that allows us to learn why people want what they want, to leverage differences and to find common ground. We don’t believe that lasting change comes from personal attacks, or soundbites, or ambush interviews. Those are all short-on-substance, short-term tactics which definitely attract attention, unfortunately. But they do nothing to further the public good or to effect real change.

Learning about the great work you do here has influenced our thinking and informed our approach. We of course continue to consider critical issues – the climate crisis, income inequality, health care, Native American affairs, criminal justice, war and peace. Now, we are incorporating the creative problem solving process. Clarify, Ideate, Develop & Implement – determining our purpose, participating in divergent and convergent thinking, and identifying outcomes through each step of the process.

The Creative Problem Solving Process develops deliberate creativity, intentional creativity. It develops the habit of creative thinking and enhances innovation and design thinking so it becomes natural to apply these approaches in different situations. Applied imagination, as the book by the same name explains.

We have many creative-minded individuals as Fellows at The Sanders Institute and I’d like to give you just a few examples of their contributions.

  • Senator Nina Turner worked with us to create a series of five short videos addressing specific voting issues with three steps every individual can take to make a difference in each one of those voting issues.
  • Robert Reich has broken down complex issues to three-minute informative and often funny videos. Recently, he did one explaining why we should abolish the debt ceiling and why we need budget parity instead of expanding the military budget at the expense of everything else.
  • Harry Belafonte, who has been a voice of reason for a long time, completed a documentary piece comparing the recent protests and violence in Charlottesville with his own experiences during the civil rights era.
  • Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist for decades, has just completed a series of six short videos on the climate crisis. Set to debut next week, Bill provides powerful, easy-to-understand scientific information with options for action.
  • Jeffrey Sachs, a leading economist, gave a talk on sustainable global development at the T20 conference.  He had to present some pretty depressing facts, but his vision for change left people feeling optimistic and inspired.
  • Danny Glover, a gifted performer, playwright and social activist, constantly brings individuals and organizations together to collaborate and develop fresh perspectives on problems that have faced us for far too long, especially criminal justice issues.
  • While he is not (yet) a Sanders Institute Fellow, Shaun King, tired of all the old ineffective the attempts to end the ridiculous mass incarceration of our citizens, particularly people of color, decided to focus on electing DAs who want to fight for criminal justice.  That office is rarely challenged at the ballot box. As a result, Larry Krasner, who was elected as the new DA in Philadelphia, now requires his DAs to provide a breakdown of the costs associated with sending offenders to prison. He is saving lives, saving taxpayer’s money and educating citizens about the impact of such high levels of incarceration. Even conservatives like what he is doing.

There are many other current Fellows – and soon-to-be Fellows – doing amazing work on the most important issues facing us, protecting the most vulnerable among us, fighting for fairness, equality and justice.

Co-founders Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders and Dave Driscoll representing The Sanders Institute at the CPSI Conference in Buffalo, New York June 2018.

America was envisioned to be a just society. We’ve always held ourselves up to the rest of the world as an example of how the rule of law is supposed to operate in a free, democratic society. And yes, we’ve had some successes. And yes, we’ve fallen short. Sometimes – even now – tragically. But that’s the promise we’ve made as a nation. It’s up to every single one of us to make an effort to live up to that promise.

And that’s what, ultimately, the Sanders Institute wants to do.

When we read in the newspaper that the United States has detained two thousand children at the border, we should recognize that “the United States” is you and me. And we have to speak up. So, when any politician talks about the United States, remember, that is you. And remember, as a citizen in a democracy, you have a responsibility to use your voice to stand up for what you believe in – and to stand up and fight back against what you don’t believe in.

I want to thank The Creative Education Foundation for its decades long leadership and for developing the Creative Problem Solving Process that makes a difference in all our work. And I’d like to thank all the conference organizers for the opportunity to learn from them and the participants, here, at the Creative Problem-Solving Institute.

The Public Purse

As part of the lecture series between UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) and the British Library, Stephanie Kelton speaks on why a government budget should not be looked at in the same way as a household budget.

 

Energy For The Common Good

Aristotle famously contrasted two types of knowledge: “techne” (technical know-how) and “phronesis” (practical wisdom). Scientists and engineers have offered the techne to move rapidly from fossil fuels to zero-carbon energy; now we need the phronesis to redirect our politics and economies accordingly.

The climate crisis we now face is a reflection of a broader crisis: a global confusion of means and ends. We continue to use fossil fuels because we can (means), not because they are good for us (ends).

This confusion is why Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew are spurring us to think deeply about what is truly good for humanity, and how to attain it. Earlier this month, the pope and patriarch each convened business, scientific, and academic leaders, in Rome and Athens, respectively, to hasten the transition from fossil fuels to safe renewable energy.

In most of the world today, the purposes of politics, economics, and technology have been debased. Politics is regarded as a no-holds-barred fight for power, economics as a ruthless scramble for wealth, and technology as the magic elixir for more economic growth. In truth, according to Francis and Bartholomew, we need politics, economics, and technology to serve a far greater purpose than power, wealth, or economic growth. We need them to promote human wellbeing today and for future generations.

America may be the most confused of all. The United States today is rich beyond imagining, with median household income and gross domestic product per capita each equal to nearly $60,000. The US could have it all. Instead, what it has is widening income inequality, falling life expectancy, a rising suicide rate, and epidemics of obesity, opioid overdoses, school shootings, depressive disorders, and other grave ills. The US incurred $300 billion in losses from climate-related disasters last year, including three massive hurricanes – the frequency and intensity of which has risen, owing to fossil-fuel dependence. The US has vast power, wealth, and growth, and yet diminished wellbeing.

The US economy and politics are in the hands of corporate lobbies, including Big Oil. Resources are relentlessly allocated to developing more oil and gas fields not because they are good for America or the world, but because the shareholders and managers of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Conoco Philipps, and others demand it. Trump and his minions work daily to undermine global agreements and domestic regulations that have been put in place to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Yes, we can produce more oil, coal, and gas. But for what? Not for our safety: the hazards of global warming are already upon us. Not because we lack alternatives: the US has ample wind, solar, hydro, and other sources of primary energy that don’t cause global warming. The US economy, alas, is an out-of-control juggernaut, chasing oil wealth and jeopardizing our very survival.

Of course the US is not alone in the mad pursuit of wealth over wellbeing. The same get-rich-quick confusion of means and ends is causing Argentina, host of the G-20 Summit later this year, to pursue fracking of natural gas, with all the associated climate and environmental risks, instead of tapping its bounteous potential in wind, solar, and hydro power. The same corruption of purpose is causing the Canadian government to guarantee a new pipeline to export output from its polluting and expensive oil sands to Asia, while under-investing in Canada’s vast renewable energy sources.

In his meeting with the CEOs of major oil and gas companies, Francis told them, “Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments, and increased levels of poverty.” He noted that the oil companies are engaged in “the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.” And he reminded the executives that, “Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!”

Francis underscored the moral dimension of the problem:

“The transition to accessible and clean energy is a duty that we owe toward millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, poorer countries and generations yet to come. Decisive progress on this path cannot be made without an increased awareness that all of us are part of one human family, united by bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Only by thinking and acting with constant concern for this underlying unity that overrides all differences, only by cultivating a sense of universal intergenerational solidarity, can we set out really and resolutely on the road ahead.”

As Francis was meeting the CEOs in Rome last week, Bartholomew was similarly convening leaders of scientific institutions, UN agencies, and major faiths in Athens and the Peloponnese, to chart a path to environmental safety. Bartholomew also underscored the fundamental moral concern. “The identity of every society and measure of every culture are not judged by the degree of technological development, economic growth or public infrastructure,” he said. “Our civil life and civilization are defined and judged primarily by our respect for the dignity of humanity and integrity of nature.”

The 300 million faithful of the Eastern churches led by the Ecumenical Patriarch are in lands facing extreme dangers from global warming: intense heat waves, rising sea levels, and increasingly severe droughts. The Mediterranean region is already beset by environmental distress and forced migration from conflict zones. Unchecked climate change – which has already contributed to conflict – would spell disaster for the region.

Bartholomew’s conference opened at the Acropolis, the very heart of ancient Athens, where 2,300 years ago Aristotle defined ethics and politics as the quest for wellbeing. The political community, wrote Aristotle, should aim “at the highest good,” to be achieved by cultivating the virtues of the citizenry.

Aristotle famously contrasted two types of knowledge: techne(technical know-how) and phronesis (practical wisdom). Scientists and engineers have given us the technical knowledge to move rapidly from fossil fuels to zero-carbon energy. Francis and Bartholomew urge us to find the phronesis, the practical wisdom, to redirect our politics and economies toward the common good.

An Interview With Nina Turner

One of the principal projects that emerged from Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign was Our Revolution. Since its founding in 2016, OR has organized hundreds of local and statewide groups, endorsed scores of candidates in political races around the country, and supported a wide range of progressive campaigns. The organization could also provide key infrastructure for a Sanders 2020 run for president.

Jacobin spoke to OR President Nina Turner recently. In a wide-ranging interview, she discussed OR’s relationship with the Democratic Party, recent criticism the organization has faced, the meaning of “democratic socialism,” and the urgency of immigration reform.


How does Our Revolution’s political and economic vision differ from that of the Democratic Party establishment?
I can’t answer for them, but I can tell you that the mission of Our Revolution is to create a system in this country that is geared toward helping people live out their greatness. We continue to push that either through electing candidates or through issues — for example, the $15 minimum wage, and certainly Medicare For All, fit that vision for us. We need a living wage, people need tangible things in their lives to help them get closer to that and solving the medical crisis that we have in this country will go a long way.

We need to make sure we have policymakers who understand that men and women should be paid equally for the work that they do; that this [public] education system we have needs to be shored up; that we have to invest our tax dollars to ensure that a child will not be discriminated against or treated differently because of the zip code they live in. All these things are part of an economic package to lift folks in this country. Our Revolution is supporting candidates who are committed to pushing for just that.

The Democratic Party establishment doesn’t necessarily share that vision. What do you think it stands for right now?
At times, when people just look at the horse race, it’s “who wins.” We have two political parties in this country that just care whether their man or their woman wins, without regard for the types of policy positions they take or what they will stand up for. As for Our Revolution, any old blue just won’t do. We need people with a certain type of commitment, so that when they get these seats they will put people power towards that commitment.

If the only concern is that a Democrat wins over a Republican, without concern for what the core values are of the person who’s running under the Democratic banner, then people will get more of the same. They won’t get change.

We can use California as an example. In California, Democrats control every statewide office, they control the legislature — yet we can’t get Medicare for All passed. The nurses [union is] pushing to get this passed, along with other groups, but we can’t get it passed. That’s not a state controlled by Republicans, it’s a state that’s controlled by Democrats.

Or let’s take New York. In terms of voter access and voter rights, one of the worst states for voter rights in the country. Controlled by Democrats, but we can’t even get the legislature and the Governor and others to move policy that will create an environment where all voters matter.

So, if the calculus for the Democratic Party is only to have Democrats elected, without regard for what they stand for and what they’re going to fight for, then that’s a problem.

In 2016 we passed the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Now, what does that mean in 2018? We patted each other on the back, we were happy, we used it as a talking point — hell, I even used it as a talking point. OK, now what does that mean? Does that platform line up with how people are running? Once they win the seat, what are they doing?

Is Our Revolution trying to get mainstream Democrats to concede political demands from the Left, or is it trying to change the face of the party entirely?
Part of our mission is to transform the Democratic Party. So, we’re running and supporting candidates who believe in the pillars of justice that we believe in. And if there’s somebody who’s been part of the establishment and they see the light, that’s fine too.

But the overwhelming majority of the endorsements we make on the candidate side come from our local groups. We have almost 600 groups in 49 states in this country. After less than two years, that is really a big deal. We’re in about seven countries, and our members include about half a million people across this country and internationally.

Does Our Revolution have a game plan if the Democratic Party doesn’t change?
Our plan is to transform the Democratic Party; our plan is to run and elect progressive candidates; our plan is to make sure we continue to build local groups. Groups really are at the center of our universe.

We don’t see everything from an electoral lens, as some organizations do. We see the bulk of our work through an organizing lens. That’s the harder work, but we believe that if we can get people vested and engaged in the process, that over time sheer people power is going to force those who have the power to change.

It is a heavier lift, it’s a longer lift. But let me give you a very real-world example. We can use Senator [Bernie] Sanders’s Medicare-for-All bill. When he first introduced it, nobody would touch it with a ten-foot pole. But now, all of a sudden, he’s got sixteen of his closest friends in the Senate standing by his side when he introduced that bill.

That didn’t happen because people saw the light and said, “Oh yeah, Medicare for All is the thing.” It happened because the American people are demanding that. That is why Our Revolution is committed to building these groups and giving voice to the people: because they are the force that will push the political class to where they need to be.

It sounds like you’re saying that realignment of the Democratic Party is the primary goal right now. What does Our Revolution think about running independent or third-party candidates?
No, that’s not our primary goal. We have three goals that we adhere to. Think about it as a triangle. Our groups are in the center of that triangle. The equal sides are: candidates — we need to run candidates to get the power, so we can get these progressive things passed. Then we have issues, like the Fight for $15 and Medicare for All. And then we have transforming the party. All of those things are of equal value to us.

The overwhelming majority of the candidates we endorse come from our groups. We’ve had groups nominate Green Party members, we’ve had groups nominate independents, and we at national have endorsed those candidates. So, we don’t just look at candidates and say, “Oh you’re a Democrat, you get the endorsement,” or “Oh you’re not a Democrat, you don’t.” Our groups are the leaders in that.

What do you think accounts for the problems Bernie had attracting black electoral support in 2016, and what’s the way forward in addressing this issue?
The Senator was a first-time presidential candidate from Vermont. Newsflash: Vermont is not that ethnically diverse. He was working with what he had. Running for the first time, he didn’t necessarily have relationships with other communities in a deeper way.

Fast forward to 2018. The recent Harvard Harris poll that shows the Senator polling very high in the African-American community. Because he hasn’t stopped in his mission — running for president was the vehicle he was using to continue to push the agenda that he’s always pushed. Now, a greater number of people in communities of color, especially African-American communities, get a chance to see what the Senator was talking about and fighting for in 2016.

Politico recently published a critical story claiming that Our Revolution is disorganized and has failed to channel the momentum of the Bernie campaign. Can you speak a little bit to those charges?
They’re absolutely not true. Our Revolution has seen enormous growth. Again, people need to look at us through the lens of our mission, not through the lens of what they want to propagate. Since I took over — it’ll be a year for me in July — we are up to almost six hundred groups. That happened under my leadership. We have increased our recurring donors under my leadership. We’ve gone deeper, not just in growing our groups but in providing the tools that our groups need to sustain their work.

We have hundreds of candidates across this country who want our endorsement through our groups. That has not stopped, and it will continue. Why? Because Our Revolution has the Good Housekeeping seal for progressives. People want to be part of this movement. That article was more than unfortunate, it just was flat-out untrue. Our Revolution is growing in every way possible.

Another aspect of the Politico story was the revelation of anti-immigration comments made by a former Our Revolution staff member. Do you have anything to say about the substance of her comments, the idea that Latino immigration hurts native-born black communities?
Her comments were wrong. Our Revolution has had and continues to have a strong commitment to immigration reform and DACA. If you were to line up all of our pillar issues, the efforts we’ve given in terms of fighting for immigration reform and DACA is second only to Medicare for All.

We supported California’s SB54, the California Values Act, passing the first ever sanctuary-state legislation in the country; we’ve repeatedly pushed for passage of a clean DREAM Act; we’ve organized local-level support for our groups, fighting back on xenophobic and anti-immigrant legislation in their communities; we’ve organized on the national level through the Our Dream campaign, where we helped to organize a coalition of progressive groups to organize rallies and actions across the country. We’ve made thousands of calls, we’ve emailed 23 million people, and texted 100,000 people seventy different times, all around immigration issues on the national, state, city, and local level.

So you don’t believe that immigration from Latin America has a negative impact on native-born working-class communities.
No, I don’t agree with that.

Can you speak a little bit about the notion that the problem, regarding immigration and many other issues, is that there’s not enough to go around?
In this country, we have to deal with immigration reform and we need to think about immigration more broadly than just immigrants from Mexico and Central America. There are immigrants from Africa who are also being unfairly targeted by ICE, as well as DACA recipients who were born in Asia or the Middle East. Both parties have decided to play political football with this. We need to make sure that we secure the future of our DACA recipients, but also their families — because you can’t just deal with DACA and not deal with the millions of other immigrants in this country who need a way to be able to become citizens of this country.

We have to deal with the economic challenges we have in our communities, and a lot of times when people are suffering, or when people feel like they’re not getting their needs met, it’s human nature to want to blame somebody. And when you have leaders in office like President Trump, who puts gasoline on that kind of stuff, then the fear-mongering continues.

We cannot continue to pit one population of people, one group of people, against another to solve problems of income and wealth inequality. We can’t pit one group of people against another to solve problems of our justice system. We have to come together.

Stephen Covey put it best: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” We have to understand where each other is coming from to fix these problems. And Our Revolution will continue — nothing has changed. That article was totally wrong. We will continue our work on immigration reform and justice.

Our Revolution came out of the Bernie Sanders campaign, who considers himself a democratic socialist. What does that term mean to you?
Our Revolution was certainly inspired by the senator. The board has never sat down and said, “Our organization is a democratic socialist organization.” We are an organization that is trying to change the political dynamics in this country, to bend them to the will of everyday people, and we do that through the electoral process, through organizing. You’ve heard me say that a thousand times.

In terms of my own philosophy about democratic socialism, if democratic socialism means Medicare for All, if it means making sure that we reform the criminal justice system; if it means that a mother doesn’t have to cry herself to sleep at night knowing that her son was born with a congenital heart problem and it’s hard for her to get him health care; if it means making sure that people have a living wage in this country — if that’s what it means to be a democratic socialist, then I am one.

Okay, you had to know this question was coming: do you think Bernie Sanders will run for president in 2020? If so, what kind of effect would that have on American politics the second time around?
I hope the Senator does run again in 2020. He made his mark. He didn’t win that primary, but he won something far greater: he shook the foundations of our politics in this country forever. Our Revolution may or may not have existed, organizations like Indivisible and all the other people who just found their voice — I’m not saying they only found it because of Senator Sanders, but he did dare people to dream a bigger dream, and to see themselves at the center of this a new kind of politics.

He said the only way things are going to change is if millions and millions of people come together and demand that change. People hadn’t heard a politician or an elected official say those kinds of words to them in a very long time.

Some of this bubbling up certainly came because Mr Trump was elected president. But to sustain a progressive movement, it’s not just about what we’re against, it’s about what we are for. And Our Revolution is the personification of what we are for in this country.

The foundation is set. He hasn’t missed a beat in terms of what we’re fighting for. So, to run for president is to take this whole engagement — this whole people-power notion, the notion that everyday people can make a difference in the body politic — he’s gonna take that whole thing to the next level.

He upset the entire political dynamic in 2016 and that’s why so many people now are running. I’m in Oklahoma City right now. Oklahoma is a red state, and I’m sitting across the table with progressives who are volunteering their time; they work full-time jobs but are volunteering hundreds of hours to talk to candidates, to push for issues. Believe it or not, Oklahoma has a long history with socialism. You wouldn’t know that now, but it did. And I’m sitting and talking to people who really want to go back to their roots.

The excitement that’s going to be there about having [Senator Sanders] as the president of the United States is only going to increase. But the movement is not only about that. It’s really about having the force and the will of the people to change the dynamics of politics, to change the lives of everyday people. That was his mission in 2016; I suspect that that will be his mission again in 2020 if he decides to run. So, I do hope that he runs again.

The Military-Industrial Drain

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Eisenhower was a Republican and a former general who helped win World War II for the allies, yet he understood America’s true priorities. But Washington–and especially Trump–have lost sight of these basic tradeoffs.

Since 2001, the Pentagon budget has soared from $456 billion–in today’s dollars–to $700 billion, including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other national security expenses. All told, when you include spending on the military and war, veterans’ benefits, and homeland security, military-related spending now eats up 67 percent of all federal  discretionary spending.

According to the 2018 Military Balance report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the United States already spends more on the military than the next 10 nations combined. Even if the Pentagon budget were cut in half, the United States would still outspend China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea combined.

The military budget has become bloated with waste and abuse. According to the Pentagon’s own internal figures, the department could save at least $125 billion by reducing operational overhead.

Out-of-control defense contractors also drive up spending. In the coming years, cost overruns alone are projected to reach an estimated $484 billion. Meanwhile, the CEOs of the top 5 defense firms took home $97.4 million in compensation last year.

Despite all this, some still argue that military spending is necessary to support good-paying jobs and economic growth. Baloney. America would be much better served by a jobs program that invested in things we really need – like modern roads and highways, better school facilities, public parks, water and sewer systems, and clean energy – not weapons systems.

The biggest reason for increases in Pentagon spending is the incredible clout of the military-industrial complex – Eisenhower’s term. Every year, defense contractors spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to keep federal dollars flowing their way. More than 80 percent of top Pentagon officials have worked for the defense industry at some point in their careers, and many will go back to work in the defense industry.

Since taking office, Trump has increased military spending by more than $200 billion. Let’s take a second to look at how else that $200 billion could be spent.  We could, for example:

Offer free public colleges and universities, as proposed by Bernie Sanders.

And fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

And expand broadband Internet access to rural America.

And meet the growing needs for low-income housing, providing safe living conditions for families and the elderly.

And help repair the physical devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Spending more on bombs and military machinery funnels money away from the American people and into wars. It’s time to rein in Pentagon spending and this endless war machine, and demand investment in America.

The Unconstitutional Census Power Grab

The Trump administration’s decision to alter the 2020 Census to ask people if they are American citizens is an unconstitutional power grab that would hurt many disadvantaged Americans. 

The U.S. Constitution calls for “actual enumeration” of the total population for an explicit purpose:  To count the residents – not just citizens, residents – of every state to properly allocate congressional representatives to the states based on population.

Asking whether someone is a citizen could cause some immigrants — not just non-citizens, but also those with family members or close friends who aren’t citizens — not to respond for fear that they or their loved ones would be deported. In the current climate of fear, this isn’t an irrational response.

The result would be a systemic undercounting of immigrant communities – with two grossly unfair results.

First, these communities and the states they’re in would get less federal aide. Census data is used in over 132 programs nationwide to allocate over $675 billion each year.

An undercount would deprive many immigrant communities and their states of the health care, education and assistance they need and are entitled to.

 

 

Second, these communities and the states they’re in would have fewer representatives in Congress. The Census count determines the distribution of congressional seats among states. Under the Constitution, these seats depend on the total number of people residing in the state, not just citizens.

Which is the real reason for this move by the Trump administration. It’s no secret that immigrants with the right to vote tend to vote for Democrats. So undercounting neighborhoods that are heavily Latino or Asian would mean fewer Democratic members of Congress.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the citizenship question is necessary in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Baloney. The Trump administration has shown zero interest in the Voting Rights Act. It has even defended voter suppression laws in court.

Demanding Answers And Recognition Of Veterans Exposed To Burn Pits

Over 140,000 servicemembers and veterans have reported exposure to burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals over the past three decades. However, based on deployment numbers, the actual exposure rate is likely over a million. Exposure can produce serious and potentially life-threatening health effects, including neurological disorders, rare forms of cancer, lung diseases, and more—triggering some to call the crisis the ‘Agent Orange’ of the post-9/11 generation.

 

 

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus and member of the Congressional Burn Pits Caucus, said: “A few months ago, I got a call from a Vietnam veteran in my district in Hilo, Hawai‘i, who was taking the last breaths of his life. In those final breaths, he wanted to share the struggles that he and so many Vietnam veterans continue to suffer from because of Agent Orange, and their battles with the VA because of the lack of recognition of how Agent Orange impacted, sickened, and took the lives of Vietnam veterans. The last thing this veteran said to me is ‘You can’t help me, but promise me that you will help my fellow veterans from suffering this same consequence.’ That’s why we’re gathered here today.

“Burn pits are the Agent Orange of the post-9/11 generation of veterans. Just over 140,000 veterans have registered in the Burn Pit Registry, but there are far more who are eligible and should be recognized for their exposure. For those of us who deployed to Iraq, others who have deployed to Afghanistan, Kuwait, and other places within the Middle East, burn pits are a part of everyday life. They were not placed in locations far off from where troops were living, breathing, and eating every single day. Service men and women who I served with manned guard towers that were right next to these burn pits. People got sick with the ‘crud,’ that undiagnosable thing that made you hack every single day.

“We’re hearing the effects of this exposure now in the stories today and from our constituents and fellow veterans across the country. A 21-year Army retired veteran in my district from Wai?anae named Chris has received emergency surgery to remove his appendix, a cancerous tumor, and eight inches of his colon since he returned home from multiple deployments in the Middle East. Doctors told him that his cancer was incredibly rare for his age and his fitness level, yet the VA denied his claim to cover him despite the fact that his surgery and illness caused him to be out of work for months. This is one of many stories that we hear of veterans continuing to suffer because of the lack of recognition between their exposure and their illnesses now.

“Congress must take action in the absence of leadership from the VA, and pass the Burn Pits Accountability Act, which I introduced with fellow veteran Congressman Brian Mast, and pass the Family Member Access to Burn Pit Registry Act, introduced by my colleagues Congressmen Ruiz and Castro, to begin to take action and right this wrong. These bills take the first steps to ensure that our country fulfills its debt and promise to our veterans who put their lives on the line in service to this country. I urge our colleagues to support these bills and make it a priority to pass them in Congress.”

Background:

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Brian Mast introduced the Burn Pits Accountability Act (H.R. 5671) to evaluate the exposure of U.S. servicemembers and veterans to open burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals by:

  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense to record whether servicemembers have been based or stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used or exposed to toxic airborne chemicals, including any information recorded as part of theAirborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, in the Periodic Health Assessment (PHAs), Separation History and Physical Examination (SHPEs), and Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHAs).
  • Enrolling any servicemember who meets the above criteria in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless he or she opts-out.
  • Requiring the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to share information relating to the exposure of burn pits and toxic airborne chemicals recorded in PHAs, SHPEs, and PDHAs.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also joined Reps. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) and Joaquin Castro (TX-20) in introducing the Family Member Access to Burn Pit Registry Act to allow family members to register in the burn pits registry on behalf of a deceased servicemember.

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Says Trump Administration Neglected Puerto Rico

The mayor of San Juan says that the US hasn’t adequately responded to the disaster that befell Puerto Rico last year, just as President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency with his wife, Melania, to be briefed on the upcoming hurricane season.

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said that the Trump administration — which defended its Puerto Rico response on Tuesday — has largely failed the island, and a recent study by Harvard showing that the death toll on the island is as much as 70 times higher than the government’s official estimate illustrates that fact.

“The fact is that the Trump administration’s bureaucracy and neglect created a climate of inefficiency that cost lives. Their inability to meet our needs and their lack of empathy continues to be responsible for the slow pace of our recovery,” Ms Cruz told Yahoo News, adding, “If they think they did everything they could, they are admitting they did not do enough. They cannot acknowledge the hundreds and thousands dead because those lost souls are irrefutable proof of their inadequate response.”

“The information … is public by nature,” Judge Lauracelis Roques wrote in that order this week. “People still don’t have a clear picture as to how many lives were lost due to a lack of food, medicine, health services or simply because of an ineffective response to an emergency. That’s why it’s urgent to shed light on all components of government preparedness and response.”

In response to a request for comment, a FEMA spokesperson told The Independent that “FEMA will be in Puerto Rico for years to come, supporting Puerto Rico and their recovery goals. Recovery progress continues with the full support of FEMA and the federal government,” but did not otherwise comment on Ms Yulin Cruz’s comments or the death toll estimates.

“Last year’s hurricane season was historic, but so has been the effort by FEMA and our numerous federal, state and local partners,” the spokesperson said. “To date FEMA has provided more than $1.3 billion in support to survivors of Hurricane Maria and obligated more than $2.2 billion of support to Puerto Rico for Public Assistance projects.”

A request for comment sent to the White House was not immediately returned.