Month: July 2021

Whitewashing History And Suppressing Voters Go Hand In Hand

There’s been a lot of news about the Democratic legislators in Texas who fled the state to prevent Republicans from pushing through sweeping new voter suppression laws.

Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to have them arrested to force them to attend a special session of the state legislature. Now it turns out that voter suppression is not the only “special” project Abbott has in mind. He and his fellow Republicans are pushing a far-reaching “memory law” that would limit teaching about racism and civil rights.

Abbott already signed a bill last month restricting how racism can be taught in Texas schools. But he and other Republicans in the state don’t think it went far enough. The Republican-dominated state-Senate has voted to strip a requirement that white supremacy be taught as morally wrong. Also on the chopping block: requirements that students learn about civil rights activists Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

It’s not just Texas. Just as Republicans are pushing a wave of voter registration laws around the country, they are also pushing laws to restrict teaching about racism in our history, culture, and institutions. CNN’s Julian Zelizer recently noted that such laws downplay injustices in our history and lead to teaching “propaganda rather than history.”

Here’s a good example: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the new legislation is meant to keep students from being “indoctrinated” by the “ridiculous leftist narrative that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism.” If Patrick really believes it is a “ridiculous” idea that racism was embedded in our Constitution from the start, he has already put on his own ideological blinders. And he wants to force them onto teachers and students.

Some of these state memory laws specifically ban teaching that causes “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” As educators have noted, that’s a recipe for erasing and whitewashing history.

“Teachers in high schools cannot exclude the possibility that the history of slavery, lynchings and voter suppression will make some non-Black students uncomfortable,” history professor Timothy Snyder wrote in the New York Times Magazine. Those laws give power to white students and parents to censor honest teaching of history. “It is not exactly unusual for white people in America to express the view that they are being treated unfairly; now such an opinion could bring history classes to a halt.”

Snyder also explained how new state “memory laws” are connected to voter suppression. “In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult,” he wrote. “The memory management enables the voter suppression.”

“The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful,” he explained. “This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.”

As I wrote in The Nation, far-right attempts to suppress honest teaching about racism is meant to “convince a segment of white voters that they should fear and fight our emerging multiracial and multiethnic democratic society” and to “help far-right politicians take and hold power, no matter the cost to our democracy.”

That’s also what voter suppression bills are designed to do. We cannot tolerate either of these assaults on democracy.

Speech At The UN Food Systems Pre-Summit

Jeffrey Sachs at the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit, speaking about food systems transformation, colonialism, the CIA, the Republicans, the UN budget, and taxing the rich.


Our Responsibility To Climate Migrants

Last November, as the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded ground to a close, the last two big storms – Eta and Iota – ripped into Central America. A Washington Post reporter covering their aftermath interviewed a Honduran woman named Blanca Costa, who was sheltering beneath a highway overpass. She supported her three daughters by working as a trash collector, and had three horses to pull her garbage cart. Except now the horses had drowned. “I’ll just have to go on foot now,” said Costa, 40, one of about 100 people finding refuge under the bridge. “But it will be more icult.”

The storms caused massive damage in Central America. According to early estimates, the economic toll in Honduras was equivalent to 40% of the country’s GDP. So, it should not surprise anyone that plenty of people from the region are now on the move.

When climate-driven disasters strike, the vast majority of people don’t need or want to move far. If drought drives a farm out of business, workers usually look for new jobs as near to home as possible. When extreme weather destroys homes, people seek a temporary escape, not permanent relocation. But as adverse climate events become more extreme – and they will – people will need to move farther for longer.

It is of course entirely unfair that Hondurans have done so little to cause the climate crisis that is now taking such a costly toll there. Someone who collects trash with a horse-drawn cart does not generate a lot of carbon dioxide emissions, in contrast to someone in the United States driving a 310-horsepower Ford Bronco SUV.

By any moral calculation, therefore, the US should be figuring out what its responsibilities are to Central American climate migrants. And, whether they cross international borders or not, it should be US policy to make their journeys as safe and humane as possible.

So, if the top priority is to limit temperature increases so that climate disasters force fewer people from their homes, the second priority is to manage the trauma of involuntary migration. Whether governments like it or not, millions of people globally are already resorting to migration to cope with the climate crisis. The US in particular must respond with more than walls, cages, or the stern warning issued by President Joe Biden’s administration to Central Americans: “do not come.”

But climate migrants aren’t heading to the US because they want to. They have no choice, and their journey is at least as traumatic as the storms that caused it. Families are torn apart, and people travel in difficult and dangerous conditions. Some die, others are killed, and many more are robbed, extorted, or assaulted.

The main cause of the danger, death, and suffering migrants face is often international borders. When desperate people are denied the right to cross a frontier safely and legally, they have no option but to do so under cover of darkness, across deserts and oceans, and over fences and walls.

Moreover, border militarization is now big business. Private security firms patrol borders for profit, having secured government contracts totaling billions of dollars to hunt, capture, and imprison migrants and refugees.

This militarization is an increasingly high-tech enterprise. Drones now patrol borders, while facial recognition tools and powerful artificial-intelligence systems identify and track people trying to cross them. Many tech companies that have cultivated feel-good corporate images are in fact deeply involved in surveilling people trying to escape some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions on the planet.

The firms currently profiting from turning borders into death traps will not simply walk away from this lucrative business, while governments hooked on their own “tough on migration” policies won’t back down without a fight. But those seeking justice for migrants and refugees have been fighting and winning immigration battles on the streets. In addition, activists and labor unions are pushing companies to ditch their border-surveillance and detention contracts – and investors are noticing, with Microsoft’s ties with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement the latest to be put under the spotlight.

The climate movement must now act in solidarity with migrant and refugee activists and be part of their efforts to ensure safe, legal migration. We should be thinking about how to support people making dangerous journeys, how to create meaningful work for them, and how to provide education, housing, and health care as they seek new places to settle. And we should be thinking about how to build communities that encompass both new arrivals and existing residents.

These questions have already roiled the politics of many countries. But they won’t go away – quite the contrary. For the sake of climate migrants everywhere, we must address them. Our CO2 emissions pay no attention to national borders, and nor should our compassion.

Climate Change Is About Greed. It’s Time For Big Oil To Pay Us Back

Four interconnected pieces of climate change-related news from the past two weeks reveal America’s predicament. And they also show the way forward, which ultimately must include oil companies’ paying restitution for damage that they have done to the climate and humanity for decades.

The first of the four pieces of climate news is the deadly heat wave hitting the western US and Canada, killing hundreds to date. According to the United Nations, there has been a “staggering increase” in the frequency of such extreme climate events. The earth is now warmer than at any time in the past 12,000 years.

The second is President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan. The Biden plan aims, in part, to join with other nations to build a new 21st-century infrastructure based on renewable energy, electric vehicles and other zero-carbon technologies in order to stop human-induced climate change. To achieve the global aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the world’s energy system should be decarbonized by 2050, along the lines described in a recent report by the International Energy Agency on achieving net-zero by 2050.

As usual, Republican leaders lined up against the parts of the plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “The total amount of funding it would direct to roads, bridges, ports, waterways and airports combined adds up to less than what it would spend just on electric cars,” and that “The far left sees a strong family resemblance between these proposals and their socialist ‘Green New Deal.'” The GOP was joined by Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, whose campaigns are amply funded by the oil and gas industry and coal mining.

The third is the wonderful new Greenpeace UK exposè on ExxonMobil lobbying. Posing as a headhunter, a Greenpeace activist secretly videotaped Keith McCoy, an ExxonMobil lobbyist, explaining the tools of his trade. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes,” McCoy said. “Did we join some shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.”

The lobbyist explained that ExxonMobil’s “support” for a carbon tax is just for show. “Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans. The cynical side of me says we kind of know that. But it gives us a talking point. We can say, ‘What is ExxonMobil for? We’re for a carbon tax.'”

Most importantly, the lobbyist compared lobbying to fishing for Congressmen. You “kind of reel them in.” “Because they’re a captive audience. They know they need you and I need them.” McCoy identified 11 US senators he says are “crucial” to Exxon and describes Manchin as “the kingmaker.” He said that he talked “to his office every week ” (Manchin’s office did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.)

McCoy apologized (though claimed some of his statements were taken out of context), while ExxonMobil’s CEO declared that the lobbyist’s comments “in no way represent the company’s position” on climate policy and its commitment to carbon pricing. Yet Harvard researchers have argued that ExxonMobil has a record of misleading the public that goes back decades. The company has denied that too, claiming the study was activist-funded.

ExxonMobil’s lobbying per se is not illegal. That’s part of the problem. We have a political system that promotes narrow corporate interests above the common good. By misleading the public over many decades, ExxonMobil has compounded the political failure.

Even ExxonMobil’s shareholders are in revolt against the company management’s disgusting resistance to reality. A hedge fund investor won a high-profile proxy fight this past spring to add three new members to the ExxonMobil board of directors who will advocate for the company to adopt a decarbonization policy. The hedge fund argued to the other shareholders that for ExxonMobil to continue down the path of carbon energy is a dead-end, a sure way to strand assets, and a majority agreed.

The fourth is the European Union’s consideration of plans to end the sales of oil-using internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035 and to replace them with electric and other zero-emission vehicles (such as hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles). In Europe, the oil-and-gas industry is much less powerful politically than in the United States. Recently, a Dutch court in The Hague ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash the emissions from its products. The European Union as a whole is moving forward with a European Green Deal to decarbonize the EU energy system no later than 2050. In line with the European plans, Volkswagen recently declared its intention to phase out ICEs in Europe by 2035.

As in so many areas of public life, America is suffering from a broken political system that sells public policies to the highest bidders and the best-organized lobbies. The oil and gas lobby gave nearly $140 million in campaign contributions in the 2020 election cycle, $75 million through individual and PAC contributions and the rest in soft money. Of the $75 million, $63 million, or 84%, went to Republican candidates.

This is “fishing” for Congressmen, indeed. Yet as a result the companies are not merely making ill-gotten gains. Their products are killing fellow Americans and creating havoc worldwide. It’s time for them to pay for this repeated, long-standing, knowing and shocking malfeasance.

ExxonMobil and the other big oil companies owe not only a profound mea culpa to the world for pushing dangerous products, but also restitution for the damage they have caused. As with the drug companies that pushed addictive painkillers on Americans and tobacco companies that pushed killer cigarettes, it’s time for the oil industry to pay heavy penalties on ill-gotten gains, the flip side of which are the death and destruction caused by extreme climate events.

ExxonMobil has a market capitalization of around $260 billion. These and other oil and gas companies should be charged a corporate income tax surcharge to reflect the social cost of carbon of their oil and gas products, now estimated to be around $51 per metric ton of CO2 emissions. Tax penalties should include damages from past emissions as well as ongoing production. Up till now, as a result of America’s pay-to-play politics, the companies have received tax benefits instead of paying tax surcharges.

By charging an income-tax surcharge, the companies would not only pay restitution to society, but would face the incentive to change course before they create a complete disaster for the world. The funds raised by such a surcharge could then help to fund the modernization of infrastructure that America so desperately needs, including the shift to green technologies that protect the planet.

America still has a chance to save itself. Biden is on the right course. In addition to the scaled-down “bipartisan” infrastructure agreement that strips out clean energy, the Democrats are planning a reconciliation bill that includes Biden’s clean energy policy. The American people overwhelmingly support policies to limit climate change.

America’s test, therefore, has come down to the question of honesty, honor and survival. Can we overcome corporate greed and a broken political system to save our nation and our world?