Author: Evan Rose

Melting Alaska Wants To Drill More Oil

If you wanted an example of the reason we’re still losing the fight to slow the earth’s heating, the proposed Willow oil project in Alaska should suffice.

This should be the no-brainer of all time. The ConocoPhillips plan for a massive new oil field development flies in the face of all climate science and reason. It would be producing huge quantities of oil for at least the next three decades—long past the point when scientists say we must stop using it (and long past the point when, with a serious effort to electrify transportation, we’d need it).

And it would do so in a place—Alaska—already warming faster than almost any place on the planet. Warming so fast that taxpayers are already having to pony up huge sums of money to relocate coastal villages inland. Emissions from the Willow project’s oil would cause $19.8 billion in climate damages; it would generate $3.4 billion in federal tax revenue, which is…a lot less.

How insane is this project? ConocoPhillips has said it may need to freeze the rapidly thawing ground with massive chillers in order to drill for the oil that will drive that melt even higher. “Where necessary we use cooling devices (thermosyphons) that can chill the ground enough in the winter to help it remain frozen through the summer,” ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman explained, a sentence that historians (assuming there are some) will someday parse in an effort to understand exactly how off-track a civilization can go.

It would be an enormous step backward for the U.S. All the way back in 2015, when the Obama-Biden administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, the president said “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change, Frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.” That’s far truer now—back then we hadn’t yet signed the Paris climate accords. Back then we hadn’t had the massive heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest, nor the massive fires in California, nor the massive floods in Pakistan. Back then Sudan hadn’t suffered through five straight dry rainy seasons. Back then large swaths of Alaska’s waterways had not yet turned orange from a warming-driven plankton bloom that threatens local drinking water supplies.

If you want numbers, an analysis from the Center for American Progress finds

the carbon emissions expected from Willow would negate the estimated 129 MMT of carbon emissions avoided by reaching the president’s goals of deploying 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030 and permitting 25 GW of solar, onshore wind, and geothermal energy on public lands by 2025. Put another way, allowing the Willow project to proceed would result in double the carbon pollution that all renewable progress on public lands and waters would save by 2030.

President Biden has done good work for the climate—from the Inflation Reduction Act to the recent decision to protect Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. But physics doesn’t grade on a curve. When Interior Secretary Deb Haaland makes the call on this project, she’ll be deciding whether to put a truly massive slug of carbon dioxide into the air—co2 that will long outlive her, and all the rest of us.

She’ll come under huge pressure: as always, Alaska’s politicians, Democratic and Republican, want more drilling. The power structure is so pervasive that Alaska Public Media, when it ran a story on the fight, put it right next to a big notice thanking ConocoPhillips for its support.

The Willow complex is located on the National Petroleum Reserve, created many decades ago by people with foresight, who knew that the smart decision in the moment was to save the oil so we would be able to see if we needed it later. In 2023, the best and highest use of that oil is clearly to keep it in the ground. If we don’t reserve that oil, if instead we spill it into the air, we will pay a huge price. Alaska will pay more price than most (though those same politicians will do their bipartisan best to make all Americans share the cost of the damages.) We can’t keep doing this; this is clearly the place to stop. Deb Haaland, and Joe Biden, need to stand up to the pressure.

The “National Debt” Is No One’s Fault

On March 27, 2018, a group of economists from the conservative Hoover Institution published an op-ed declaring that A Debt Crisis is on the Horizon. They wrote:

For years, economists have warned of major increases in future public debt burdens. That future is on our doorstep…Unless Congress acts to reduce federal budget deficits, the outstanding public debt will reach $20 trillion a scant five years from now, up from its current level of $15 trillion…When treasury debt holders start to doubt our government’s ability to repay, or to attract future lenders, they will demand higher interest rates to compensate for the risk…Such high interest payments would crowd out financing of needed expenditures to restore our depleted national defense budget, our domestic infrastructure and other critical government activities…

About a week later, five former chairs of the White House Council of Economic Advisors—including Janet Yellen and Jason Furman—countered with an op-ed of their own. They titled it A Debt Crisis is Coming. But Don’t Blame Entitlements. Here’s their opening paragraph. Notice how it affirms rather than counters the core of the conservative argument.

A group of distinguished economists from the Hoover Institution, a public-policy think tank at Stanford University, identifies a serious problem. The federal budget deficit is on track to exceed $1 trillion next year and get worse over time. Eventually, ever-rising debt and deficits will cause interest rates to rise, and the portion of tax revenue needed to service the growing debt will take an increasing toll on the ability of government to provide for its citizens and to respond to recessions and emergencies. None of that is in dispute.

As a reader of The Lens, you know that when the debate is broadened to include voices like mine, all of that is in dispute. But among establishment figures on both sides of the political aisle, there is shared agreement that something must be done to address America’s looming debt problem.

Thus, the debate—such as it is—revolves around who’s policies got us into this (supposed) mess, what we should do about it, and how much time we have to address the so-called problem.

That debate will intensify tomorrow, when President Biden meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to discuss raising the debt limit. McCarthy has made it clear that republicans are seeking (unspecified) spending cuts in exchange for their help in lifting the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, the White House says it’s in no mood to negotiate. The president wants a clean vote to raise the debt limit, and he has threatened to “veto everything” if Congress sends him a deal that includes spending cuts that would jeopardize the economic recovery.

It’s anyone’s guess as to how this ends. But one thing is clear: no one in either party seems to want to have an honest conversation with the American people. Already, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle are talking and tweeting about how our (supposed) debt dilemma is mostly the fault of the other party.

You could argue that it’s endemic to our politics. I know from my time working for the democrats on the US Senate Budget Committee that messaging is everything and that politicians rarely stray from their talking points. There is also comfort in the familiar.

 

Pointless Finger-Pointing

It’s not that there isn’t a cohort of lawmakers who have been exposed to alternative ways of thinking about these issues. It’s that most of them haven’t figured out how to talk to the American people without starting from the shared premise that our nation is facing a serious debt problem. And once you concede that there’s a debt crisis, you have little choice but to identify the culprit.

Unfortunately, you find the same finger-pointing among economists.

For example, the conservative economists at the Hoover Institution pointed the finger at programs like Social Security and Medicare, singling them out as the main drivers of our (supposed) debt crisis:

As is well-known, our deficit and debt problems stem from sharply rising entitlement spending…To address the debt problem, Congress must reform and restrain the growth of entitlement programs and adopt further pro-growth tax and regulatory policies…If Congress acts now, it can avoid a fiscal collapse…It is time for action.

Not so fast, said the former CEA chairs who served under democratic administrations:

It is dishonest to single out entitlements for blame…[They] are not the primary cause of the recent jump in the deficit…The federal budget was in surplus from 1998 through 2001, but large tax cuts and unfunded wars have been huge contributors to our current deficit problem. The primary reason the deficit in coming years will now be higher than had been expected is the reduction in tax revenue from last year’s tax cuts, not an increase in spending.

In other words, our guy (President Clinton) presided over a balanced budget, and then your guy (President G.W. Bush) came in and piled on a bunch of debt with his tax cuts and “unfunded” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, we’re in trouble, but it’s your fault, not ours.

It’s so counterproductive.

The pandemic gave us a brief reprieve from this pointless finger pointing, as democrats and republicans—working together—used fiscal deficits to shore up the balance sheets of families, businesses, and state & local governments. When reporters raised concerns about how much money the government was preparing to spend, President Trump dismissed any cause for alarm, explaining, “It’s $6.2 trillion and we can handle that easily because…it’s our money. It’s our currency.”

I hate to tell you, but he was right.

  


In the early phase of the pandemic, almost no one pointed a finger at the mounting fiscal deficit or the rise in the (so-called) national debt. Headlines like this one, proclaiming that we are all MMTers now, became commonplace. It started to feel like we might actually have an honest conversation about the limits to government spending.1

But now we are backsliding.

The debt ceiling fight has brought renewed attention to the anticipated path of future spending relative to income. The annual deficit already exceeds $1 trillion, and it is expected to rise sharply (for a variety of reasons, including the Federal Reserve’s hiking of interest rates) in the coming years.

Instead of opening up an honest dialogue about what this all means (and doesn’t mean) for the lives of everyday people, it’s back to finger-pointing.

 

 

We can go down this path for another half-century, trading barbs like, “Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is in the White House.” Or we can stop it and finally have an honest conversation.

How refreshing would it be to turn on the TV and find a member of Congress flipping the script? Pressed to share their ideas about how do deal with America’s “ballooning debt problem,” imagine hearing them riff from these talking points:


There is no debt crisis. Not today and not on the horizon.

The national debt poses no risk to our nation’s finances.

The so-called “debt” is just the dollars we spent but didn’t tax back.

It’s part of the broader US money supply.

It will not leave future generations with a lower standard of living or a crushing burden of debt and taxes.

It is nothing like running up your personal credit card.

We do not eventually need to “pay it off.”


That’s not a comprehensive list—feel free to add your own in the comments—and lawmakers would obviously need to be well equipped to defend each statement. It would take hard work, but it can be done!

How do I know? Because the (now former) Chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Yarmuth, has done it.

 

 

In Closing

There’s another reason why the finger-pointing is so frustrating. While democrats and republicans blame one another for “blowing up the deficit” with tax cuts, unfunded wars, spending on social programs, etc., the truth is that so much of what happens really just depends on the state of our economy.2

As MMT economist Eric Tymoigne shows in this recent article, deficits shrink in a booming economy (mostly because a progressive tax code substantially boosts tax revenue). Over time, if the deficit gets too small to support the private credit structure, it chokes off the boom. Unless something happens to recharge aggregate demand, the slowdown can evolve into recession. When that happens, the automatic stabilizersswing the other way, moving the deficit higher.

You can see this clearly in the data. When the unemployment rate is rising (blue line), the government budget tends to move more deeply into deficit (red line). Over the last year, the opposite happened. As President Biden likes to remind us, the fiscal deficit shrank from $2.6T to $1.4T last year. That was, in part, due to the ongoing economic recovery.

 

 

But what happens if the recovery falters, as most economists anticipate, sometime this year?

I would suggest that Democrats should be particularly cautious with the finger-pointing right now. Setting aside the fact that their rhetoric reinforces dangerous myths about the government’s finances, they should think about whether all of this bragging about shrinking the deficit is going to serve them well if/when the US economy tips into recession ahead of the next election. If that happens, then there’s a good chance the deficit will be increasing as we head into 2024.

So let’s stop the finger-pointing and improve the conversation. Here’s another talking point to get us started.

 

 


1- At its core, MMT is about replacing an artificial/imaginary/phony budget constraint with a real resource/inflation constraint.

2- In MMT parlance, it is driven by the net savings desires of the non-government sector.

Ben Jealous On Authoritative Brutality And How To End Racism In America

The nation is in shock over the vicious beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. What’s even more perplexing is that the crime—all five officers have been charged with second-degree murder—was committed by five fellow Black men.

“It confuses a lot of people,” says Ben Jealous, author, advocate and former NAACP president. “A lot of people think abuse of policing is simply about racism. When we think about the Black experience with racism, it’s so traumatic for us as individuals that we often disconnect from its very colonial, authoritative system. The way kings built empires was to divide people in order to conquer them. The way they kept everybody in line, whether they were indentured Europeans or African slaves, was with authoritarian policing. This is an extension of that.”

Studies prove that officers who have a sense of higher authoritarianism, “results in you being killed even more than racism,” Jealous points out. He explores the root cause of racism and more in Never Forget Our People Were Always Free: A Parable of American Healing, inspired by Jealous’ own life experience of a biracial upbringing. “I was born on a bridge between Black and white, North and South, and even the old 13 colonies and the new world of California and the Pacific Rim,” Jealous declares. “And while much of my life that bridge has been on fire, never has it been more on fire than it is right now.”

Jealous’ book is a collection of parables that aim to heal America’s wounded heart and end the social caste system that established racism by strengthening the bonds among Americans of all races, creeds, colors and political ideologies. Jealous draws inspiring lessons and hope for restoring our country’s strength and unity from stories of his ancestors, and interweaves vivid anecdotes from family, friends, mentors, colleagues and strangers who have shaped his life’s mission and his faith in humanity.

“I grew up in a southern family with a long tradition of telling the same story over and over and over again, usually my grandparents. They were trying to teach you something,” shares Jealous. “So these are all stories with a lesson. They’re drawn from my lived experience and weave back into ancient history pretty fast. And maybe the hardest part is I had to dig into my own family history in order to really write this book.”

Living in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland, Jealous has been surrounded by conservative views, but his interactions have yielded a surprising conclusion. “Getting to know my neighbors better, fishing, drinking, and walking the dog with a lot of them who voted for Trump, what was top of my mind is how much we have in common: similar aspirations for our kids and values and families and a similar preference in whiskey,” he says. “The overwhelming majority of this country wants to be one nation, to see their kids raised with hope and have that hope turn into real prosperity. And that’s what this book is.”

One of the book’s most compelling parables centers around a minister/Ku Klux Klan member who had a nervous breakdown in the 1940s after participating in a heinous act. He left the klan and moved to a diverse area to regain his sanity, decency and command of his family. “This is a story that ultimately underscores the need for us to practice the Golden Rule,” Jealous notes, adding how the lesson was explained to him by the man’s son. “He said his dad would say, ‘ Any poor white man who has his hand on the neck of a Negro pulling them down in the ditch needs to recognize he’s down in the ditch with them. And a rich man walks down the middle of the road, laughing at them both.’ That’s ultimately what Dr. King was trying to teach us at the end of his life. Dr. King was not assassinated in the midst of a desegregation battle. Dr. King was assassinated trying to bring poor whites and poor Blacks together. That was the purpose of his Poor People’s Campaign.”

Jealous recalls how many leaders have lost their lives in that quest to unite Blacks and whites, including Black Panther’s Fred Hampton, who was assassinated in 1969 by the Chicago police department. “He was mostly focused on bringing poor whites and poor Blacks together through the Black Panther Party and the Young Patriots Organization,” Jealous exclaims. Another was NAACP leader Harry T. Moore, who was murdered in 1951 for his activism. “He was the president of Florida’s progressive party, which was seeking to unite whites and Blacks in Florida.”

At the end of this month, Jealous will become the first Black head of the Sierra Club, the nation’s oldest and largest environmentalist organization. “Our Black and Brown communities are the most likely to support environmental protection,” he shares. “Our family history is very close to the earth, historically we come from farms in rural communities. We come from Africa. We come from people who have been aware of their environment for centuries, even though we may have been for the last several decades in urban environments. And even there, we’re the most vulnerable to climate change. My hope with the Sierra Club is to build an even bigger coalition by opening the doors wider and making more strategic alliances with Black and Latino pastors and business people and those leading poor whites as well. The reality is, when it comes to planet Earth, we are truly all in the same boat. With climate change, we need to be doing everything we can to stop it. The fate of this planet is the fate of us all.”

At A Time Of Inflation, California Should Take A Bold Step To Tame Rising Health Care Costs

The word of the year for 2022 could have been “inflation.” Air travel prices rose nearly 40% from a year earlier. Grocery, housing, energy and other prices are also up. And once again, the cost of health care, which makes up nearly a fifth of our economy, is rising sharply.

Most health insurers in the individual market are expecting premium increases between 5% and 14% this year, according to Axios, and family out-of-pocket health care costs have jumped 10%.

But health care is different from other elements of the consumer price index. There is a way to control health care inflation while providing everyone with high-quality coverage.

Universal public financing of health care — often called single-payer coverage or “Medicare for all” — can cure what ails us both medically and financially.

Single-payer coverage would control health care inflation by eliminating the excessive profits and charges, outrageous drug prices and bureaucratic waste inherent in our current system of private health insurance.

Want proof? We have it.

The single-payer advocacy coalition Healthy California Now and the National Union of Healthcare Workers recently developed a household health care cost calculator for use by individuals and families who live in California. It’s designed to compare the costs associated with a single-payer program to current health care expenses.

So far, 4,000 households have tried it. Users enter their premium payments for the prior year, employer premium contributions, out-of-pocket expenses and annual income. The calculator then compares their costs under the current system to projected single-payer taxes at their income level.

Eighty-seven percent of those who used the calculator found average annual savings of more than $6,000 per household. Medicare beneficiaries were more likely to achieve net savings at a slightly lower average, $5,150 per household. The 13% of households that wouldn’t enjoy net savings generally had very low current premium and out-of-pocket expenses due to extremely generous health plans or annual incomes exceeding $350,000.

Take five minutes and try this exercise for yourself at Healthy California Now’s website.

The results are consistent with economic studies of single-payer health care systems. Most people save under single-payer for two reasons. First, single-payer actually lowers total costs while improving coverage by drastically cutting spending on profits and paperwork. Second, a single-payer insurance program is funded by a tax plan that everyone contributes to, so the burden increases at higher incomes and for corporations paying their share.

While divided government in Washington, D.C., will stop single-payer from moving onto the national stage anytime soon, California is a different story. Our leaders in Sacramento already have the initial steps out of the way, and they have the power to make single-payer a reality for the state.

The Healthy California for All Commission, formed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature last year, defined a “unified financing” plan offering universal coverage and comprehensive benefits for everyone. Under this plan, out-of-pocket costs and cost-sharing would be eliminated. Rather than payments to private insurers, the funding would come from a progressive tax that can easily generate the necessary funds.

The tax plan used in the calculator includes a 2% sales tax on nonessential items plus a payroll tax that starts at incomes of at least $75,000 and a personal income tax that starts at $300,000 a year. Additional taxes would be levied on the state’s wealthiest individuals and corporate profits.

It’s true that some well-paid professionals would be at risk of paying more for single-payer coverage, and the super-wealthy would have to share some of the burden. But in exchange, all Californians would get a system that guarantees excellent coverage, including for long-term care, and a health plan that efficiently and equitably covers health care costs for everyone.

We can fight health care inflation while providing quality care for all, and California can show the way. The words on everyone’s lips this year should be “Medicare for all.”

Michael Lighty is an Oakland-based advocate of Medicare for all.
James G. Kahn is a professor emeritus at UC San Francisco.

The Trump Coalition Of MAGAs And Oligarchs Lives On, As Dangerous As Ever

The two parts of the Republican Party — the MAGA cultural warriors and the economic oligarchs — need each other.

The oligarchy — billionaires, top CEOs, and moguls of Wall Street — wants lower taxes (which requires less government spending) and fewer regulations. Most basically, it wants to continue to siphon off more of the economy’s total gains.

To do so, it needs the MAGA cultural warriors to keep America divided over non-economic issues (abortion, gay rights, immigration, voting rights, religious freedom) so most Americans won’t look up and see where all the money has gone.

And the MAGA warriors need the oligarchy’s money for their campaigns.

This was the coalition and the strategy Trump relied on. The oligarchy financed Trump Republicans. In return, the oligarchs got lower taxes and regulatory rollbacks, while Trump and his MAGAs distracted the public with culture wars and warriors.

Even though Trump is no longer president and Kevin McCarthy has been installed as Speaker, little has changed. The same MAGA-Oligarchic coalition is still aiming to siphon off the economy’s gains for the oligarchy while disguising its effort with culture wars that keep Americans angry and divided. The MAGAs, meanwhile, feed off oligarchic campaign money.

Yes, the congressional Republican Party is factious. But don’t mistake it for a civil war. In reality, as the MAGAs and oligarchs jockey for positions in the lead-up to the 2024 election, each is testing the other’s power — making small compromises and adaptations where necessary.

Look, for example, at the critical role played last week by two oligarchic SuperPACs bankrolled by billionaires — the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) and the Club for Growth. The Club for Growth describes itself as a “leading free-enterprise advocacy group” that promotes tax cuts and deregulation — pure oligarchy. CLF spent nearly $260 million during the 2022 election cycle, helping McCarthy and his allies win the House. Its top donors are billionaires — banking scion Timothy Mellon, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, and Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin, as well as the Koch network.

To win the House for Republicans in the midterms, these SuperPACs quietly swung primaries away from controversial candidates such as Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina and Joe Kent in Washington. This caused some anxiety among the MAGAs. So during negotiations for making McCarthy Speaker, the two SuperPACs agreed not to spend money in future open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts. A small concession.

To cinch the deal, McCarthy also promised to hold a vote on a budget that will balance the deficit in a decade and cap discretionary spending levels at fiscal 2022. This will require major spending cuts — thereby opening the way for more tax cuts and bigger tax loopholes. The oligarchs couldn’t be happier.

The fiscal deadlines looming this year over spending bills and an increase in the debt ceiling also favor the oligarch’s economic conservatism because they too may lead to reduced spending and create opportunities for tax cuts.

But they also pose a potential problem for the billionaires. If the deadlines result in government shutdowns or the serious threat of a default on the nation’s debt, the oligarchy could lose a boatload of money. So expect backroom negotiations between the oligarchs who don’t want economic chaos and the extreme MAGAs who would be happy with it. This bargaining will be a central drama inside the congressional Republican Party over the next nine months.

The House MAGAs will spend most of their energies on fiery culture war investigations — of Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, the FBI, the IRS, other Democrats, and alleged socialists and pedophiles. The fireworks will conveniently distract the public’s attention from the oligarch’s economic looting.

Trump continues to be the central force within this coalition of economic oligarchs and MAGA culture warriors.

Speaking to reporters after he became Speaker, McCarthy was effusive in thanking Trump, who backed him for Speaker (after McCarthy helped rescue Trump by visiting him at Mar-a-Lago soon after the attack on the Capitol). “I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence,” McCarthy said. “I was just talking to him tonight, helping get those final votes.”

The is the reality we’re in, folks. But it is not a cause for defeatism or cynicism. The Democratic Party under Joe Biden will continue to fight back. The rest of us must continue to try to get big money out of politics, make the electoral college irrelevant, and protect and expand voting rights.

Bill McKibben Discusses A Decade-Long Activist Crusade To Shame Banks Into Stopping Investment In Fossil Fuels

When Bill McKibben sought to put the fossil fuel industry out of business, he made his case in the media. Then he took his show on the road.

Hitting roughly 27 cities in 29 days in the fall of 2012, the prominent American author, climate activist and co-founder of 350.org sold out venues across the United States, introducing thousands to the idea that by pressuring institutions — universities, faith-based groups, banks, pension funds — ordinary people could force huge sums of money away from the coal, oil and gas companies fuelling the climate crisis. By the time the roadshow wrapped up, calls for divestment were sprouting on 300 college campuses nationwide.

The movement only grew from there. Today, as lethal flooding and heat waves put climate action front and centre around the world, a global campaign to divest from fossil fuels has taken hold in boardrooms, on university campuses, among faith groups and beyond. Earlier this year, that campaign reached a milestone: more than 1,500 institutions with $40 trillion in assets under management committed to divesting from fossil fuels.

In an interview with Canada’s National Observer, McKibben unpacks the ties between fossil fuels and colonialism, the art of shifting an industry’s social licence to operate and how the movement is spawning a new generation of politically engaged citizens on college campuses around the world.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Today’s push to divest from fossil fuels was inspired in part by earlier divestment campaigns against South African apartheid. Why was this such an effective strategy?
Back in apartheid times, there were relatively few levers that people had in the west to put pressure on South Africa. This was the Reagan era, so the government wasn’t going to do anything. But pressuring South Africa’s financial backers proved very useful. So when we were thinking about this, one of the first people that I got in contact with was Desmond Tutu, who had won the Nobel in part for his work around that, and I said, “Do you mind if we borrow this tactic?” ’Cause we didn’t want to just do it without asking, and he said, “Please, please. If apartheid was the human rights issue of a generation ago, then climate change is the human rights issue of now.” And he went on to be very helpful on this work, including managing to get King’s College London, which was one of his alma maters, to divest from fossil fuels. And so that connection back to apartheid was really crucial because it taught people how to do this.

Can you talk about the other link between South Africa and North America: the shared history of oppression of Indigenous groups by a settler group. What are the similarities and differences, and how does divestment work as a strategy in that context?
It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the fossil fuel industry is the perfect example of a colonial enterprise. Fossil fuel is concentrated in a few places around the world, so controlling those places is key. It’s why the fossil fuel industry hates renewable energy so much. The sun is diffuse and exists everywhere, so there is no way to monopolize its output. This has been a link all the way back to the beginning of this work on the financing of fossil fuels.

The first divestment push I heard of was the work Indigenous leaders in Canada were doing around the tarsands — going over to Europe to try and get banks to stop financing them.

That tactic, thinking about the financing of all this, has a history and much of that history is tied up with the powerful use of it by Indigenous communities.

 

 

A lot of the push for divestment is coming from college and university campuses. For many of the young activists, it’s their first time, getting involved in social movements. Does divestment then function as an on-ramp to the climate movement more generally?
Yes, and this one’s not speculative because the history is extraordinarily clear. Probably the most important part of the recent environmental movement in the States, at least politically, is the Sunrise Movement, which brought us the Green New Deal and the legislation that descended from it. They shook up things. Almost all of the leaders of the Sunrise Movement, the people who founded it, cut their teeth doing divestment work in college and wanted to keep on after graduation and moved onto politics, in a sense.

Sunrise’s founding executive director, Varshini Prakash, successfully led the fight to divest from fossil fuel when she was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts. It was an early win in the divestment campaign.

So there’s no question that by allowing this fight to go on at thousands of different places, it’s brought up thousands and thousands of able leaders.

How does the fossil fuel divestment movement fit with other tactics?
It’s always going to be a multi-pronged strategy, but all of it is aimed at, in the largest sense, weakening the power of the fossil fuel industry. Our analysis from the beginning identified this as the single biggest factor standing in the way of doing what scientists, economists and everyone else is telling us we should be doing. Without that vested interest, we’d be making way more progress. So the social licence part was our original goal, and I think it’s been highly effective in that way. Young people are no longer under any illusions about the fossil fuel industry, for instance. They understand it to be a predatory, self-interested [industry] that’s imperilling their future in obvious ways. The whole divestment movement got big enough that it began to interfere with industry’s ability to access capital. This was clearest early on, especially in the coal industry, where you begin to hear executives complain they couldn’t raise money anymore because there were so many funds that were closed to them.

When Peabody Coal filed for bankruptcy some years ago, they listed divestment as one of the reasons. Divestment has now extended into the oil and gas realm. Shell, in its annual report two or three years ago, said divestment had become a material risk to its business, which pleased me because Shell’s business is a material risk to life on the planet. So having taken $40 trillion off the table for these guys is no small feat, I think.

All of this has led to a profound shift in the zeitgeist and the understanding of what’s normal, natural and obvious. When we began, these oil companies were the biggest companies in the world, and their power seemed unassailable. They’re still very strong but they’re shadows of themselves in certain ways, too.

No tactic wins by itself. There are many fronts in this fight, but divestment has been an important one. It’s helped people understand straight-ahead politics is not the only way. You can make change in [other] ways. The metaphor in my mind is that there are two levers big enough to make change in the climate picture at this point. One of those levers is marked politics, the other is marked money.

Instinctively, we pull the politics lever because it seems like that’s where change comes. But I think it’s been important that we’ve been yanking on this other lever, too.

The DNC Moves To Block Debate On Dark Money, But We Won’t Quit

The stakes are too high for Democrats – and democracy – to let our party’s primaries turn into auctions won by the highest bidder.

Last week, Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer and I appeared before the party’s Resolution Committee at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in National Harbor, Md. We were there to speak in favor of our resolution calling on the party to ban the use of “dark money” in Democratic primaries.

We made the decision to introduce our resolution because, as Democrats, we believe that our elections shouldn’t be shaped by the corrupting influence of special interests able to spend millions to silence those who oppose them.

Despite the 2020 Democratic Party platform directly calling for a ban on unregulated, non-reportable expenditures from PACs and 501c4 groups, this year alone we saw tens of millions of dark money dollars spent targeting progressive candidates across the country – including races in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Oregon, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, and more. For example, $6 million in dark money was spent to defeat former Maryland representative Donna Edwards, more than $4 million to defeat Representative Andy Levin of Michigan, and another $4 million to defeat Jessica Cisneros in Texas. Even progressives who won – Representative Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Representative Cori Bush (Mo.), and Pennsylvania state Senator Summer Lee – had to withstand an onslaught of a combined $10 million in negative ads designed to tarnish their reputations.

Because it appeared that some of the party’s leadership was not displeased with the effort to stop the advance of progressive candidates, we knew we had an uphill fight. For several reasons, however, we felt certain that at least we would start a much-needed debate on this critical issue.

Progressive leaders in the party like Senator Bernie Sanders and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus made clear their support for our effort. Leading progressive publications like The Nation and organizations like Progressive Democrats and Our Revolution wrote about it and urged readers and members to show their support. It’s important to note, as well, that our resolution had been endorsed by over three dozen other DNC members.

Given this support from an important component wing of the party and the fact that our resolution was grounded in the party’s own platform, what happened at the meeting left me shell-shocked.

We introduced the resolution and spoke about why it was important, mentioning the damage that dark money does to our democracy and to the reputation of candidates slandered by the ads purchased by these shadowy groups. We explained the feelings of frustration and powerlessness that the massive expenditures create in voters who see elections bought and sold by the highest bidders.

In her powerful statement to the committee, Judith Whitmer noted:

Letting our primaries devolve into auctions, rather than elections, has done more than simply create an unequal and unfair playing field. In races around the nation, we’ve seen these underhanded tactics used to silence debate on critical issues, with competing views buried under an avalanche of dark money-funded messaging. This same anonymity has been used to not only defeat capable Democratic candidates but to smear their names and tear down their reputations. Faced with the prospect of an uneven playing field tilted by millions in untraceable funds, many would-be candidates have been discouraged from running at all—costing our party not just young leaders but the trust of underrepresented and marginalized communities we most need to reach. While any one of those issues alone would be cause for action, most alarming of all has been the insidious effect dark money has had on faith in our democracy.

And she concluded with:

Our elections are not for sale. Every voice in our party deserves an equal say, and every vision deserves a free and fair chance. Our democracy is only as strong as the public’s faith in it. It’s up to our party to lead by example.

After our presentation, the Resolutions Committee chair asked if any member of the committee wanted to put our resolution up for a vote. There was dead silence in the room. With not one of the two dozen committee members in attendance willing to call for a vote, the resolution died.

I had been a member of the resolutions committee for over two decades and served as its chair for 10 years. During my tenure I saw how staff, under the direction of party leaders, would work to whip votes to defeat resolutions they deemed unacceptable. Because members of the committee are all appointed by the chair, many feel they need to accept direction to stay in the good graces of the party.

I had a similar experience in February of 2003 when party leaders and staff browbeat members of the committee to oppose my resolution calling on Democrats to oppose the Iraq War. Because I refused to withdraw my resolution, I was allowed to introduce it and speak on its behalf. And then, as now, I was forced to watch as the party faithful sat in silence and accepted the chair’s call to refuse that the resolution be considered for a vote.

During my time as chair, I rejected this practice. I wanted resolutions to be debated and voted on. It’s called democracy. What happened to our resolution last week was the opposite of democracy. It wasn’t just that that the party gave a pass to dark money groups to continue to despoil our elections. It was also the use of pressure by party leaders to silence debate and refuse to allow a vote in the resolutions committee on an issue of importance to the future of our party and democracy itself.

As Democrats, we are right to be concerned about the dangers posed by Republican state legislatures acting to make it more difficult to vote; false claims about voting machines; and the continued threat of violence by extremist groups. Given this, it is deeply troubling to watch our party fail to protect the integrity of our own primary contests by refusing to act to ban dark money groups from spending millions of unreported dollars raised from billionaires (including Republicans) to smear and silence progressive voices.

Because we believe that banning dark money is vital to future of our democracy and our party, we will not be defeated. We will return at the DNC winter meeting with stronger support—more endorsements from DNC members, members of Congress, and Democrats nationwide. Because we now know how the game is being played, we will work to insure a debate and a vote on this critical issue.

A Milestone In Holding People Accountable For Jan. 6

A New Mexico judge has done the country a big favor.

Judge Francis Mathew upheld a little-known provision of the U.S. Constitution and removed a public official for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. I hope other judges have the courage to follow his lead.

The principle that no person is above the law — that powerful people have to obey the laws like everyone else — is essential to a democratic society. If this principle is not enforced, corrupt leaders will undermine the rule of law and democracy itself.

Judge Mathew ruled that a county commissioner who participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol can no longer hold public office. The ruling was based on a section of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed after the Civil War. It forbids anyone from holding public office if they had taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the country.

The judge found that Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin helped lead the mob that used violence to try to prevent Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election. Griffin later bragged about his role and suggested that there might be another insurrection coming.

Judge Mathew’s ruling is a milestone in the effort to hold public officials accountable for trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It should provide a road map — and some moral courage — to other judges considering legal efforts to hold state legislators and others accountable for trying to undermine democracy.

Another important effort to hold powerful people accountable for the insurrection is being conducted by the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection and the schemes that led up to it.

The committee’s public hearings this summer gave the American people a powerful dose of truth telling about the lies and deceptions of Trump, members of his legal team and his political allies. The committee’s investigation is continuing, and we can look forward to more public hearings this fall.

Members and staff of the committee have spent countless hours digging through emails and other public records, and interviewing former Trump administration officials and lawyers, members of Congress and far-right activists who promoted Trump’s lies about election fraud. They are still at it. Among the people they hope to interview this fall are former Vice President Mike Pence, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and far-right activist Ginni Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Truth is a first step toward accountability. But it cannot be the only step.

The committee’s efforts to get a full picture of the illegal scheming to overturn the election is essential. So is punishing wrongdoers and preventing future attempts to subvert our elections.

There are plenty of wrongdoers who need to be held accountable, punished and prevented from using powerful government positions to undermine democracy and the rule of law. And that includes former President Trump, whose lies about a “stolen” election fueled the insurrectionists’ anger.

In our system of government, there are many people with roles to play in defending our democracy. Congress can use its oversight power to reveal the corruption within the White House. The Justice Department can prosecute criminals like those who attacked the Capitol Police and those who broke other laws as they tried desperately to keep the defeated Trump in power. Judges can hold public officials accountable for violating the Constitution.

And we the voters can defend democracy by electing local, state and national officials who are committed to the democratic process — and rejecting those who seek power for the purpose of interfering with our elections and our ability to hold powerful people accountable.

Dear America, What’s With All The Religious Labels?

Back in the 1960s, Americans were deeply divided on matters of war and race – and Christians in America were on both sides of the divide.

While Martin Luther King Jr and religious leaders associated with his Southern Christian Leadership Conference led protests and committed acts of civil disobedience demanding civil rights, they were countered by white Christian preachers in the south who warned of the dangers of violating God’s will by ignoring the punishment God had meted out to the “sons of Ham”. And while New York’s Catholic cardinal Francis Spellman travelled to Vietnam to bless US troops as they battled “godless communism”, a Jesuit priest named Daniel Berrigan led fellow clergymen and women in protests against the war, often resulting in their arrest and imprisonment (in one case, for burning the Selective Service files of young men who were to be drafted to serve in the military).

During this entire period, Christianity wasn’t described as a warlike or racist faith. Nor were King and Berrigan referred to as “Christian protesters”. There weren’t any drawn-out theological debates in an effort to determine which interpretation of Christianity was correct. Rather these individuals were defined by what they did. There were either “segregationists” or “civil rights leaders”, not “Christian segregationists” or “Christian civil rights leaders”. They were “supporters of the war” or “peace activists, not “Christian supporters of the war” or “Christian peace activists”.

What may have been understood, at least implicitly, was that just because a person or institution uses religious language to validate certain behaviours, that does not make their behaviour “religious”. Nor does this behaviour define, by itself, the religion to which the person or institution adheres. This is something that many of us in the West still understand, at least when it comes to Christianity. Despite former president George W Bush indicating that America was carrying out God’s will in the Iraq war, we knew not to refer to that conflict as a “Christian” war. This understanding, however, has not carried over to our discussion of Islam.

For reasons beyond the scope of this piece, when dealing with Islam, political leaders, media commentators and ordinary folk here in the West appear intent on using religious language to describe every aspect of life and all forms of behaviour, both good and bad, as “Muslim”. In doing so, we create confusion for ourselves and others, leading at times, to incoherence and some very strange policies.

For example, faced with the threat of individuals and groups using the religious language of Islam to validate their acts of terror, we refer to them as “Muslim terrorists”. But then because we recognise that they represent only a tiny fraction of Muslims, we maintain that they “don’t speak for Islam”. This then leads us down the tortuous path of attempting to define what is “good” Islam versus “bad” Islam – creating a kind of “state-sanctioned” interpretation of a faith – something we understood not to do when it involves Christianity.

Another example: a colleague, for whom I have the greatest respect, wrote a book in which he first correctly debunks the notion of “Muslim terrorists”, but then goes on to write a chapter about “Muslim oil” – by which he means oil coming from the Middle East and Central Asian and some African countries. If “Muslim oil” can be defined in this way, does that make US and Canadian oil “Christian” or “secular democratic” oil? Should we consider Venezuelan oil “Bolivarian” oil?

You may recall when the Obama White House sponsored a summit for “Muslim entrepreneurs” – which they described as focusing on entrepreneurs from “Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities around the world”. Aside from troubling questions about what message this sends to businesspeople from the Arab world or Indonesia or elsewhere who may not be Muslim, or what local sectarian tensions such an effort may exacerbate, what exactly is a “Muslim entrepreneur”? Or, for that matter, what is a “Christian entrepreneur” or “Hindu entrepreneur”?

We continue to hold the line on treating Christianity and the acts of its nominal adherents in a similar fashion. When former president Donald Trump had troops disperse Black Lives Matter demonstrators in front of the White House so he that could march through Lafayette Square and pose in front of St John’s Church holding up a Bible, was that a Christian action? When Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, proclaims himself to be a “Christian nationalist”, do we accept that at face value?

At the end of the day, there are xenophobic nationalists, there are terrorists, there is oil, and there are people who start up and run businesses. They are better defined by what they do and not by their faith. For government or the rest of us to insist on defining them by faith, or even how they describe themselves or how they define their actions, is at best careless. It also runs the risk of western governments treading into the murky waters of defining “good” or acceptable religion, or of applying a religious litmus test on groups which, in itself, makes a political statement that is most certainly none of our business, and can be dangerous.

Arizona Could Be Major Threat To Democracy

Red flags are flying for democracy and democratic values. We need to pay attention to the threats — and also to signs that we can work together to preserve our freedoms.

This summer’s primary elections are making it clear that our rights and freedoms are threatened by the rising power of extremists within the Republican Party.

Consider the Aug. 2 primaries in Arizona. President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state sent many Arizona supporters of former President Donald Trump down a deep hole of lies and conspiracy theories about the election. They engineered a ridiculous “audit” that stirred up election-deniers from across the country but failed to undermine Biden’s victory.

Responsible Republicans defended the election and its outcome, but on Aug. 2, they were outvoted by Trump’s troops. Mark Finchem, who claims against all evidence the election was stolen from Trump, won the nomination to be secretary of state.

He has called for the 2020 election to be decertified. He wants to get rid of early voting and restrict voting by mail — and give legislators the power to override voters. Finchem, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, is a member of the Oath Keepers, the far-right group whose members were involved in planning and leading the assault. A state Republican consultant told The Atlantic, “I would absolutely expect Finchem to both bend the meaning of laws and throw up roadblocks to the normal election procedures.”

Arizona Republicans have also nominated Blake Masters for the U.S. Senate. Masters’ campaign was backed and funded by far-right billionaire Peter Thiel, who has openly said he no longer believes in democracy. Masters has blamed gun violence on “Black people.” His campaign has generated excitement among the white nationalist crowd that was energized by Trump.

In the Arizona governor’s primary, Trump endorsee Kari Lake won the Republican nomination and will face Democratic nominee Katie Hobbs.

Lake, an election conspiracy advocate, calls President Biden “illegitimate” and has said if she wins, she will instruct the attorney general to seize all voting equipment in the state.

Arizona is also home to politicians who openly embrace white nationalists, including U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who both won their primaries.

Other extremists have picked up Republican nominations this summer, including election conspiracy theorist Doug Mastriano, who has campaigned with QAnon activists in his bid for governor of Pennsylvania; Trumpist election denier Dan Cox for governor of Maryland; Confederate sympathizer Michael Peroutka for attorney general of Maryland, who has said laws passed by the state legislature are illegitimate because in his eyes, legislators broke God’s law by embracing marriage equality; and Big Lie promoter Kristina Karamo for secretary of state in Michigan.

The list goes on — too many to name in a single column.

This is bad news. In a political system dominated by two political parties, it is dangerous to have one party taken over by the kind of truth-rejecting, voter-suppressing, authoritarianism-embracing people who are still driven by the same lies and rage that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on our country.

But Trumpists aren’t winning all their races. We have seen examples of courageous Republicans standing up to the Trump mob.

And voters in Kansas gave us another big bright spot on Aug. 2, when they rejected an anti-choice referendum by more than 20 percentage points.

After the Supreme Court’s hard-right majority overturned Roe v. Wade, anti-choice legislators have rushed to pass more extreme anti-abortion bills targeting health care workers and even friends and family who help someone needing abortion care. Those bills represent the wishes of powerful religious right groups that have a lot of influence in the Republican Party, but they don’t represent the public, which overwhelmingly supports access to abortion.

Given a choice about whether to strip abortion rights protections out of the state constitution and give legislators a green light to pass a ban, Kansas voters overwhelmingly voted no.

That victory for privacy, freedom and bodily autonomy was driven by huge voter turnout and the organizers who worked to achieve it. It is a promising sign that many Americans can be motivated to vote this year by the Supreme Court’s harmful embrace of a restrictive and regressive social agenda.

Let’s make it so.