As Costs of Climate Crisis Grow, Protest Movement Escalates

Long term campaigns to decarbonize the economy and demand emergency climate policies are getting stronger, write Kevin Zeese and  Margaret Flowers.

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
PopularResistance.org

The warnings of climate chaos are coming so fast they are difficult to keep up with. Storms, heatwaves and climate-related weather disasters are increasing at a rapid pace. The leadership of the two corporate-dominated political parties are trying to keep the climate issue out of the 2020 campaign, but the movement is becoming too big to ignore.

Climate justice protests against fossil fuel infrastructure, politicians and the media are also growing. An industry publication describes how activists are “driving pipeline rejections” reporting, “From large, interstate pipelines to small lines connecting towns and neighborhoods, anti-fossil fuel activists have proven highly successful at blocking, through regulations or lawsuits, new natural gas infrastructure in the Northeastern United States.”

Reports of Climate Chaos 

Several reports in recent weeks are expressing new concerns about the climate crisis.

An MIT study published last week found that we may be “at the precipice of an excitation” of the carbon cycle. Authors reported that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain critical threshold, it can trigger a reflex of severe ocean acidification that lasts for 10,000 years. The history of the earth shows that over the last 540 million years, this has coincided with four of the five great mass extinctions. Today’s oceans are absorbing carbon at an order of magnitude faster than the worst case in the geologic record, even though humans have only been extracting carbon for the last 100 years. This is likely to be similar to past global catastrophes potentially culminating in the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

A June 20  report by the Center for Climate Integrity found that U.S. coastal communities face more than $400 billion in costs over the next 20 years, much of it sooner, to defend themselves from inevitable sea-level rise.

Related to this, a study published May 20 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that coasts should plan for 6.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100. Ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland could cause far more sea-level rise than previously thought.

These reports are forcing the power structure to face the reality of the climate crisis.  Last month, Moody’s Analytics examined the economic impact of the failure to curb planet-warming emissions in The Economic Implications of Climate Change. Moody’s warns there will be a $69 trillion price tag by 2100 due to the far-reaching economic damage of the climate crisis. They warned: “There is no denying it: The longer we wait to take bold action to curb emissions, the higher the costs will be for all of us.”

These reports come at a time of increased climate-caused disasters.

  • This year, wildfires have scorched more than 1.2 million acres in Alaska, making it one of the state’s three biggest fire years on record. Fires are spreading farther north into the Arctic, burning more intensely and starting earlier in the year as climate models have suggested. On July 4, Anchorage hit 90°F, breaking the city’s all-time record by 5 degrees. Alaska’s statewide average temperature was 7.9°F above average, according to NOAA’s latest National State of the Climate report. For the first time in the 95-year record, the year-long July-to-June average temperature for Alaska as a whole was above freezing.
  • Around the world, global warming has clearly contributed to an increase in extreme fires from tropical rainforests to boreal evergreen forests, and they are often linked with heatwaves. Fires pose new threats to places that aren’t used to experiencing them, including temperate mid-latitude forests near regions with dense populations, as shown by unusual wildfires in places like Germany during last summer’s European heatwave and drought. There is rapid growth of unusually extreme fires burning across South America, Australia, and western North America like the extreme fires in California and Canada last year.
  • In Indian Country, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, weather on the Northern Great Plains has been getting more variable, erratic and destructive. In 2011, the Northern Plains faced a rash of wildfires and drought, followed in 2012, by severe flooding. Occasionally, these take the form of high-powered storms, like tornadoes that ravaged South Dakota reservations in 2016, or the ice storm of 2018, or the bomb cyclone of 2019. A bomb cyclone, last March occurred when an unseasonably hot column of air shot suddenly upward and collided with the frigid high atmosphere sending barometric pressure plummeting. In seconds, the sky erupted bringing devastating wind, storm, and flooding. Homes and ranches of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were hit like a missile, more than 500 homes were left uninhabitable. Click here for information on how you can help.
  • Washington, D.C., just experienced nearly a month’s worth of rain in an hour. According to a paper published in the journal Nature, these intense rains are a byproduct of man-made climate change.
  • Last month was the hottest June on record globally. In Europe, there were record heat waves that sent Europe’s temperatures soaring to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite these realities, there is inadequate action by most nations of the world especially the United States.  President Donald Trump dismissed the need for climate action during the G-20 summit in Japan, saying he doesn’t want to take action to confront the emergency because such a move would threaten corporate profits. As experts have warned, if we do not confront the climate emergency now, we will pay much more later.

DNC Resisting Climate Debate 

In the 2020 election cycle, the Democratic Party is resisting climate change as an issue even though 15 of its presidential candidates, more than 50 of its member organizations in the states, and a slew of progressive organizations that make up its voting base, some armed with petitions bearing over 200,000 signatures, are calling for the Democratic National Committee to hold a separate climate-focused debate. On June 10, the executive committee of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade County — the U.S. metropolitan area considered most vulnerable to sea-level rise — voted unanimously to urge Democrats to devote one of the 12 Democratic presidential debates to the climate crisis.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who rejected a climate-focused debate, tried to explain the party’s opposition in post on Medium, saying it would be impractical to hold a single-issue forum. His refusal led to hundreds of activists sitting in at the DNC headquarters, including sleeping overnight, before the first debate, demanding a debate on climate change.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a  resolution asking Congress to declare that global warming is an emergency and demanding a massive mobilization of resources to protect the U.S. economy, society and national security. They called for “a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive-scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer has entered the 2020 race pledging to spend $100 million and focus his campaign on climate change. In his first television advertisement, he focused on the corruption of government and the economy and on climate. He said: “You look at climate change, that is people who are saying we’d rather make money than save the world.”

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins has put forward an ecosocialist Green New Deal that not only transitions to a clean energy economy but remakes the economy and creates an economic bill of rights while cutting the military budget by 75 percent.

The Climate Justice Movement’s Growing Power

The movement is building power and impacting the direction of the U.S. and the world, but the response by those supporting the status quo was shown in France recently when on the hottest day in French history climate protesters were brutally tear-gassed for demanding climate action. 

This action, occurring in Paris where the Paris Climate Accord was reached, adds to the heightening of the conflict. The inadequate Paris agreement showed the movement must do more than rely on international agreements.

Third Phase 

A longtime labor and climate activist, Jeremy Brecher, describes the climate movement entering a third phase. In the first phase, the man-made climate crisis was confirmed and the movement focused on international agreements and lobbying governments. The second phase arose when the Copenhagen agreement failed, leading to a protest movement against fossil fuel infrastructure, protests of fossil fuel corporations and against investors funding climate-destroying infrastructure.

The third phase centers around a global Green New Deal. It involves protests,  electoral demands, and challenging inaction of fossil fuel-funded politicians. He points to groups like Sunrise, Extinction Rebellion and the Student Strike for Climate as examples of this phase. It is a meta-movement that integrates, environmentalism, ecological restoration, social justice, racial equality, workers’ rights, restorative agriculture, and many other challenges to our unjust and unsustainable world order into a practical program.

Climate protests, which have been ongoing for a decade, are having victories. Recently, two major oil pipelines for carrying crude oil from Canada’s tar sands region were called into question as judges in Minnesota overturned a key approval for a proposed pipeline and Michigan’s attorney general threatened to shut down an aging pipeline under the Great Lakes. These were the latest setbacks for a series of five pipelines designed to transport tar sands that have either been canceled or delayed. The other projects include Energy East and Northern Gateway, both of which were canceled, and Trans Mountain expansion and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which are on hold.

On July 13, climate activists from Beyond Extreme Energy held a protest outside Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’s home in Massachusetts. They demanded that LaFleur vote “no” on all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Jordan Engel listed the 100 people responsible for killing the planet. Holding people accountable is becoming a reality in this new phase of climate activism.

People are connecting the issue of militarism with climate. In Maine, 22 people were arrested protesting spending on Navy ships urging “Fund Climate Solutions, Not Endless War.” The facts are in, the Pentagon is a top global climate polluter. Popular Resistance and other organizations are organizing the People’s Mobilization to Stop the U.S. War Machine and Save the Planet on Sept. 22 and 23, while the UN High Commission meets, and encouraging people to participate in other actions that weekend, the Climate Strike and Puerto Rican Independence Day March. In our most recent interview on Clearing the FOG, we spoke with David Schwartzman, author of “The Earth is Not For Sale,” about ending Fossil Fuel Militarized Capitalism.

Extinction Rebellion brought the protest movement to The New York Times.  On June 24, 70 were arrested demanding the Times cover the climate crisis as a global emergency. During a sit-in on 8th Avenue they chanted “Report the urgency, this is a climate emergency!” On Monday, Extinction Rebellion D.C. demonstrated at the Capitol

The movement continues to grow. More than 7,000 colleges and universities across the globe declared a climate emergency on July 10 committing to mobilize on the crisis.  This month, more than 70 health organizations called for urgent action on “one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced,” calling it the cancer of climate change.” They cite storm and flood emergencies, chronic air pollution, the spread of diseases carried by insects, and heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat has been the leading cause of weather-related deaths.

The movement is having an impact and industry and politicians know it. Long term campaigns to stop climate infrastructure, force banks and investors to divest from the fossil fuel industry and demand emergency climate policies are getting stronger.

At the beginning of July, after a meeting of OPEC in Vienna, their Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo said, “there is a growing mass mobilization of world opinion… against oil,” children “are asking us about their future because… they see their peers on the streets campaigning against this industry.” Barkindo added the “mobilization” was “beginning to… dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry.”

In testimony to British lawmakers this month, famed scientist and environmental advocate David Attenborough said, “We cannot be radical enough in dealing with the issues that face us at the moment. The question is: what is practically possible? How can we take the electorate with us in dealing with these things?” It is the job of the climate movement to push political systems to respond.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers co-direct Popular Resistance.

A version of this article first appeared on PopularResistance.org.




Announcing CN Live! A Weekly Current Events Webcast Beginning Friday on Consortium News

Consortium News announces the launch on Friday of a weekly webcast news show as a successor to the Vigils for Assange that will also delve into other pressing issues of the day.

CN Live! will air every Friday from 2 pm to 4 pm U.S. Eastern time and can be seen here streaming live on Consortium News as well as on our YouTube Channel, our Facebook page and on Periscope. It will also be archived on those platforms.

Besides the latest news on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, our panel will discuss the coming U.S. presidential election, the Middle East, East-West relations, U.S. foreign policy, climate change, media, domestic and international politics and more.

On our premiere edition, Francis Boyle, international law professor, will pick apart the intelligence and political machinations behind the arrest of financier Jeffery Epstein on sex trafficking charges; Marjorie Cohn, professor emeritus of law, and former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, will discuss the Democratic Party primary battle; As’ad AbuKhalil, political science professor, will analyze the latest developments in Syria, Iran and other parts of the Middle East region; and George Szamuely will join hosts Joe Lauria and Elizabeth Vos to dissect the latest news on Assange and WikiLeaks.

Join us Friday at 2 pm EDT for CN Live!

 

 




Kamala Harris’s Distinguished Career of Serving Injustice

The presidential hopeful’s record in California undermines her claim to progressive credentials, says Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn
Truthout

Sen. Kamala Harris is rising in the polls after dramatically confronting former Vice President Joe Biden during the Democratic primary debate about his opposition to federally mandated busing for desegregation. The following week, however, Harris backed away from saying that busing should always be federally mandated, calling it just one “tool that is in the toolbox” for school districts to use. When asked to clarify whether she would support federal mandates for busing, she said: “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.” But Biden’s poll numbers are falling as a result of Harris’s theatrical attack.

Harris, who served as San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011 and California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, describes herself as a “progressive prosecutor.” Harris’s prosecutorial record, however, is far from progressive. Through her apologia for egregious prosecutorial misconduct, her refusal to allow DNA testing for a probably innocent death row inmate, her opposition to legislation requiring the attorney general’s office to independently investigate police shootings and more, she has made a significant contribution to the sordid history of injustice she decries.

Jail Informant Scandal

For years, perhaps decades, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, in cooperation with the Orange County District Attorney, or OCDA, planted teams of informants in the jail to illegally elicit confessions.

Deputy sheriffs placed informants near defendants who were represented by counsel to obtain statements from them. Prosecutors were aware of this program and explicitly or implicitly promised benefits to informants. This violated the defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

In People v. Dekraai, an informant in this program illegally obtained statements from the defendant. After the prosecutor agreed not to use the statements, Dekraai pled guilty to murder and was preparing his defense for a trial on whether he would get the death penalty. He asked the judge to find that the OCDA had a conflict of interest because of its involvement in the jail informant program.

Over a six-month period, the judge held two hearings and heard from 39 witnesses.

The judge found that many witnesses, including prosecutors and law enforcement officers, were “credibility challenged” about the nature of the informant program and their role in it. Some couldn’t remember, the judge determined, but “others undoubtedly lied.”

Thus, the judge concluded that the OCDA had a conflict of interest and recused the entire OCDA office, removing it from any further involvement in Dekraai’s case.

Kamala Harris, who at that time was serving as state attorney general, would then take over the prosecution of the death penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial. But Harris appealed the judge’s ruling and opposed the recusal of the OCDA.

In 2016, the Court of Appeal rejected Harris’s argument and upheld the trial judge’s recusal of the OCDA. The appellate court wrote in its opinion:

“On the last page of the Attorney General’s reply brief it states, “The trial court’s order recusing the OCDA from prosecuting Dekraai’s penalty phase trial was a remedy in search of a conflict.” Nonsense. The court recused the OCDA only after lengthy evidentiary hearings where it heard a steady stream of evidence regarding improper conduct by the prosecution team. To suggest the trial judge prejudged the case is reckless and grossly unfair. These proceedings were a search for the truth. The order is affirmed.”

Attorney Jerome Wallingford represented a man who, like Dekraai, was a victim of the illegal Orange County jail informant program. “Harris should’ve done her job and investigated the informant program based on the findings of the Court of Appeal in the Dekraai case,” Wallingford told Truthout. “But instead, she tried to whitewash the scandal by protecting the DA and blaming the sheriff.”

The job of the attorney general is not to protect the DA. As chief law enforcement officer of the state, the attorney general’s duty is “to see that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced,” as mandated by Article V of the California Constitution. Harris violated her legal duty in this case.

Minimized ‘Outrageous Misconduct’

Harris minimized “outrageous government misconduct” in People v. Velasco-Palacios. The trial court found the prosecutor “deliberately altered an interrogation transcript to include a confession that could be used to justify charges carrying a life sentence, and he distributed it to defense counsel during a period of time when [the prosecutor] knew defense counsel was trying to persuade defendant to settle the case.” After the prosecutor snuck the fabricated confession into the record, it caused the defense counsel to urge the defendant to plead guilty, which undermined the trust the client had in his lawyer.

The trial judge determined that the prosecutor’s action was “egregious, outrageous, and shocked the conscience,” and dismissed the case. Harris’s office appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal, noting that “dismissal is an appropriate sanction for government misconduct that is egregious enough to prejudice a defendant’s constitutional rights.” Significantly, the appellate court stated that “egregious violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights are sufficient to establish outrageous government misconduct.”

But the Court of Appeal rejected Harris’s argument that if the conduct wasn’t physically brutal, it would not satisfy the “shock the conscience” standard required for dismissal.

Once again, Harris was covering up prosecutorial misconduct and ignoring the Supreme Court’s admonition in Berger v. U.S. that the duty of a prosecutor “is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.”

Opposed Investigations of Police Shootings

These cases are not isolated examples of Harris’s less-than-progressive record as a prosecutor.

“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent,” University of San Francisco School of Law Professor Lara Bazelon wrote in a New York Times article titled, “Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor.’” Bazelon added, “Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.”

After a federal judge ruled in 2014 that California’s death penalty system had become so dysfunctional it “violate[d] the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment,” Harris appealed the decision. As a result, California’s death penalty was upheld and remains in place today.

Harris refused DNA testing that could exonerate Kevin Cooper, a likely innocent man on death row, and she opposed statewide body-worn police cameras. Harris favored criminalizing truancy, raising cash bail fees and keeping prisoners locked up for cheap labor. She also supported reporting arrested undocumented juveniles to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, covering for corrupt police lab technicians and blocking gender confirmation surgery for a transgender prisoner. A U.S. District Court judge concluded that withholding the surgery constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Many of Harris’s prosecutorial actions disproportionately hurt people of color.

Harris opposed legislation requiring the attorney general’s office to independently investigate police shootings resulting in death. In 2016, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus called on Harris to do more to strengthen accountability for police misconduct. Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy (D-Sacramento), a member of the Black Caucus, told the Los Angeles Times, “The African American and civil rights community have been disappointed that [Harris] hasn’t come out stronger on this.

Helped ‘Foreclosure King’

Although many of Harris’s prosecutorial actions harmed people of color, a notable one helped the white “foreclosure king” — Steve Mnuchin, now Trump’s Treasury secretary.

Mnuchin was CEO of OneWest Bank from 2009-2015. A 2013 memo obtained by The Intercept alleges that “OneWest rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions.”

After a yearlong investigation, the California attorney general’s Consumer Law Section “uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct.” In 2013, they recommended that Harris prosecute a civil enforcement lawsuit against the bank.

“Without any explanation,” Harris’s office declined to initiate litigation in the case.

Mnuchin donated $2,000 to Harris’s Senate campaign in February 2016. It was his only donation to a Democratic candidate.

In January 2017, the Campaign for Accountability claimed that Mnuchin and OneWest Bank used “potentially illegal tactics to foreclose on as many as 80,000 California homes,” and called for a federal investigation.

Harris wrote in her memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” “America has a deep and dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice.” She added, “I know this history well — of innocent men framed, of charges brought against people without sufficient evidence, of prosecutors hiding information that would exonerate defendants, of the disproportionate application of the law.”

Indeed, the public record indicates that as district attorney and later as attorney general of California, Harris has contributed to the injustice she claims to abhor.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.”

This article is from Truthout and reprinted with permission.




The Antiwar Movement No One Can See

Peace activism is rising, but that isn’t translating into huge street demonstrations, writes Allegra Harpootlian.  

By Allegra Harpootlian
TomDispatch.com

When Donald Trump entered the Oval Office in January 2017, Americans took to the streets all across the country to protest their instantly endangered rights. Conspicuously absent from the newfound civic engagement, despite more than a decade and a half of this country’s fruitless, destructive wars across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa, was antiwar sentiment, much less an actual movement.

Those like me working against America’s seemingly endless wars wondered why the subject merited so little discussion, attention, or protest. Was it because the still-spreading war on terror remained shrouded in government secrecy? Was the lack of media coverage about what America was doing overseas to blame? Or was it simply that most Americans didn’t care about what was happening past the water’s edge? If you had asked me two years ago, I would have chosen “all of the above.” Now, I’m not so sure.

After the enormous demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the antiwar movement disappeared almost as suddenly as it began, with some even openly declaring it dead. Critics noted the long-term absence of significant protests against those wars, a lack of political will in Congress to deal with them, and ultimately, apathy on matters of war and peace when compared to issues like health care, gun control, or recently even climate change.

The pessimists have been right to point out that none of the plethora of marches on Washington since Donald Trump was elected have had even a secondary focus on America’s fruitless wars. They’re certainly right to question why Congress, with the constitutional duty to declare war, has until recently allowed both presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump to wage war as they wished without even consulting them. They’re right to feel nervous when a national poll shows that more Americans think we’re fighting a war in Iran (we’re not) than a war in Somalia (we are).

But here’s what I’ve been wondering recently: What if there’s an antiwar movement growing right under our noses and we just haven’t noticed? What if we don’t see it, in part, because it doesn’t look like any antiwar movement we’ve even imagined?

If a movement is only a movement when people fill the streets, then maybe the critics are right. It might also be fair to say, however, that protest marches do not always a movement make. Movements are defined by their ability to challenge the status quo and, right now, that’s what might be beginning to happen when it comes to America’s wars.

What if it’s Parkland students condemning American imperialism or groups fighting the Muslim Ban that are also fighting the war on terror? It’s veterans not only trying to take on the wars they fought in, but putting themselves on the front lines of the gun controlclimate change, and police brutality debates. It’s Congress passing the first War Powers Resolution in almost 50 years. It’s Democratic presidential candidates signing a pledge to end America’s endless wars.

For the last decade and a half, Americans — and their elected representatives — looked at our endless wars and essentially shrugged. In 2019, however, an antiwar movement seems to be brewing. It just doesn’t look like the ones that some remember from the Vietnam era and others from the pre-invasion-of-Iraq moment. Instead, it’s a movement that’s being woven into just about every other issue that Americans are fighting for right now — which is exactly why it might actually work.

A Veteran’s Antiwar Movement in the Making?

During the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s, protests began with religious groups and peace organizations morally opposed to war. As that conflict intensified, however, students began to join the movement, then civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved, then war veterans who had witnessed the horror firsthand stepped in — until, with a seemingly constant storm of protest in the streets, Washington eventually withdrew from Indochina.

You might look at the lack of public outrage now, or perhaps the exhaustion of having been outraged and nothing changing, and think an antiwar movement doesn’t exist. Certainly, there’s nothing like the active one that fought against America’s involvement in Vietnam for so long and so persistently. Yet it’s important to notice that, among some of the very same groups (like veterans, students, and even politicians) that fought against that war, a healthy skepticism about America’s 21st century wars, the Pentagon, the military industrial complex, and even the very idea of American exceptionalism is finally on the rise — or so the polls tell us.

Right after the midterms last year, an organization named Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness reported mournfully that younger Americans were “turning on the country and forgetting its ideals,” with nearly half believing that this country isn’t “great” and many eyeing the U.S. flag as “a sign of intolerance and hatred.” With millennials and Generation Z rapidly becoming the largest voting bloc in America for the next 20 years, their priorities are taking center stage. When it comes to foreign policy and war, as it happens, they’re quite different from the generations that preceded them. According to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs,

“Each successor generation is less likely than the previous to prioritize maintaining superior military power worldwide as a goal of U.S. foreign policy, to see U.S. military superiority as a very effective way of achieving U.S. foreign policy goals, and to support expanding defense spending. At the same time, support for international cooperation and free trade remains high across the generations. In fact, younger Americans are more inclined to support cooperative approaches to U.S. foreign policy and more likely to feel favorably towards trade and globalization.”

Although marches are the most public way to protest, another striking but understated way is simply not to engage with the systems one doesn’t agree with. For instance, the vast majority of today’s teenagers aren’t at all interested in joining the all-volunteer military. Last year, for the first time since the height of the Iraq war 13 years ago, the Army fell thousands of troops short of its recruiting goals. That trend was emphasized in a 2017 Department of Defense poll that found only 14 percent of respondents ages 16 to 24 said it was likely they’d serve in the military in the coming years. This has the Army so worried that it has been refocusing its recruitment efforts on creating an entirely new strategy aimed specifically at Generation Z.

In addition, we’re finally seeing what happens when soldiers from America’s post-9/11 wars come home infused with a sense of hopelessness in relation to those conflicts. These days, significant numbers of young veterans have been returning disillusioned and ready to lobby Congress against wars they once, however unknowingly, bought into. Look no further than a new left-right alliance between two influential veterans groups, VoteVets and Concerned Veterans for America, to stop those forever wars. Their campaign, aimed specifically at getting Congress to weigh in on issues of war and peace, is emblematic of what may be a diverse potential movement coming together to oppose America’s conflicts. Another veterans group, Common Defense, is similarly asking politicians to sign a pledge to end those wars. In just a couple of months, they’ve gotten on board 10 congressional sponsors, including freshmen heavyweights in the House of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

And this may just be the tip of a growing antiwar iceberg. A misconception about movement-building is that everyone is there for the same reason, however broadly defined. That’s often not the case and sometimes it’s possible that you’re in a movement and don’t even know it. If, for instance, I asked a room full of climate-change activists whether they also considered themselves part of an antiwar movement, I can imagine the denials I’d get. And yet, whether they know it or not, sooner or later fighting climate change will mean taking on the Pentagon’s global footprint, too.

Think about it: not only is the U.S. military the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels but, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War Project, between 2001 and 2017, it released more than 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (400 million of which were related to the war on terror). That’s equivalent to the emissions of 257 million passenger cars, more than double the number currently on the road in the U.S.

A Growing Antiwar Movement in Congress

One way to sense the growth of antiwar sentiment in this country is to look not at the empty streets or even at veterans organizations or recruitment polls, but at Congress. After all, one indicator of a successful movement, however incipient, is its power to influence and change those making the decisions in Washington. Since Donald Trump was elected, the most visible evidence of growing antiwar sentiment is the way America’s congressional policymakers have increasingly become engaged with issues of war and peace. Politicians, after all, tend to follow the voters and, right now, growing numbers of them seem to be following rising antiwar sentiment back home into an expanding set of debates about war and peace in the age of Trump.

In campaign season 2016, in an op-ed in The Washington Post, political scientist Elizabeth Saunders wondered whether foreign policy would play a significant role in the presidential election. “Not likely,” she concluded. “Voters do not pay much attention to foreign policy.” And at the time, she was on to something. For instance, Sen.  Bernie Sanders, then competing for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton, didn’t even prepare stock answers to basic national security questions, choosing instead, if asked at all, to quickly pivot back to more familiar topics. In a debate with Clinton, for instance, he was asked whether he would keep troops in Afghanistan to deal with the growing success of the Taliban. In his answer, he skipped Afghanistan entirely, while warning only vaguely against a “quagmire” in Iraq and Syria.

Heading for 2020, Sanders is once again competing for the nomination, but instead of shying away from foreign policy, starting in 2017, he became the face of what could be a new American way of thinking when it comes to how we see our role in the world.

In February 2018, Sanders also became the first senator to risk introducing a war powers resolution to end American support for the brutal Saudi-led war in Yemen. In April 2019, with the sponsorship of other senators added to his, the bill ultimately passed the House and the Senate in an extremely rare showing of bipartisanship, only to be vetoed by President Trump. That such a bill might pass the House, no less a still-Republican Senate, even if not by a veto-proof majority, would have been unthinkable in 2016. So much has changed since the last election that support for the Yemen resolution has now become what Tara Golshan at Vox termed “a litmus test of the Democratic Party’s progressive shift on foreign policy.”

Nor, strikingly enough, is Sanders the only Democratic presidential candidate now running on what is essentially an antiwar platform. One of the main aspects of Elizabeth Warren’s foreign policy plan, for instance, is to “seriously review the country’s military commitments overseas, and that includes bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.” Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel have joined Sanders and Warren in signing a pledge to end America’s forever wars if elected. Beto O’Rourke has called for the repeal of Congress’s 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force that presidents have cited ever since whenever they’ve sent American forces into battle. Marianne Williamson, one of the many (unlikely) Democratic candidates seeking the nomination, has even proposed a plan to transform America’s “wartime economy into a peace-time economy, repurposing the tremendous talents and infrastructure of [America’s] military industrial complex… to the work of promoting life instead of death.”

And for the first time ever, three veterans of America’s post-9/11 wars — Seth Moulton and Tulsi Gabbard of the House of Representatives, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — are running for president, bringing their skepticism about American interventionism with them. The very inclusion of such viewpoints in the presidential race is bound to change the conversation, putting a spotlight on America’s wars in the months to come.

Get on Board or Get Out of the Way 

When trying to create a movement, there are three likely outcomes: you will be accepted by the establishment, or rejected for your efforts, or the establishment will be replaced, in part or in whole, by those who agree with you. That last point is exactly what we’ve been seeing, at least among Democrats, in the Trump years. While 2020 Democratic candidates for president, some of whom have been in the political arena for decades, are gradually hopping on the end-the-endless-wars bandwagon, the real antiwar momentum in Washington has begun to come from new members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Ilhan Omar who are unwilling to accept business as usual when it comes to either the Pentagon or the country’s forever wars. In doing so, moreover, they are responding to what their constituents actually want.

As far back as 2014, when a University of Texas-Austin Energy Poll asked people where the U.S. government should spend their tax dollars, only 7 percent of respondents under 35 said it should go toward military and defense spending. Instead, in a “pretty significant political shift” at the time, they overwhelmingly opted for their tax dollars to go toward job creation and education. Such a trend has only become more apparent as those calling for free public college, Medicare-for-all, or a Green New Deal have come to realize that they could pay for such ideas if America would stop pouring trillions of dollars into wars that never should have been launched.

The new members of the House of Representatives, in particular, part of the youngest, most diverse crew to date, have begun to replace the old guard and are increasingly signalling their readiness to throw out policies that don’t work for the American people, especially those reinforcing the American war machine. They understand that by ending the wars and beginning to scale back the military-industrial complex, this country could once again have the resources it needs to fix so many other problems.

In May, for instance, Omar tweeted, “We have to recognize that foreign policy IS domestic policy. We can’t invest in health care, climate resilience, or education if we continue to spend more than half of discretionary spending on endless wars and Pentagon contracts. When I say we need something equivalent to the Green New Deal for foreign policy, it’s this.”

A few days before that, at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, Ocasio-Cortez confronted executives from military contractor TransDigm about the way they were price-gouging the American taxpayer by selling a $32 “non-vehicular clutch disc” to the Department of Defense for $1,443 per disc. “A pair of jeans can cost $32; imagine paying over $1,000 for that,” she said. “Are you aware of how many doses of insulin we could get for that margin? I could’ve gotten over 1,500 people insulin for the cost of the margin of your price gouging for these vehicular discs alone.”

And while such ridiculous waste isn’t news to those of us who follow Pentagon spending closely, this was undoubtedly something many of her millions of supporters hadn’t thought about before. After the hearing, Teen Vogue created a list of the “5 most ridiculous things the United States military has spent money on,” comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted out the AOC hearing clip to her 12.6 million followers, Will and Grace actress Debra Messing publicly expressed her gratitude to AOC, and according to Crowdtangle, a social media analytics tool, the NowThis clip of her in that congressional hearing garnered more than 20 million impressions.

Not only are members of Congress beginning to call attention to such undercovered issues, but perhaps they’re even starting to accomplish something. Just two weeks after that contentious hearing, TransDigm agreed to return $16.1 million in excess profits to the Department of Defense. “We saved more money today for the American people than our committee’s entire budget for the year,” said House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings.

Of course, antiwar demonstrators have yet to pour into the streets, even though the wars we’re already involved in continue to drag on and a possible new one with Iran looms on the horizon. Still, there seems to be a notable trend in antiwar opinion and activism. Somewhere just under the surface of American life lurks a genuine, diverse antiwar movement that appears to be coalescing around a common goal: getting Washington politicians to believe that antiwar policies are supportable, even potentially popular. Call me an eternal optimist, but someday I can imagine such a movement helping end those disastrous wars.

Allegra Harpootlian is a media associate at ReThink Media, where she works with leading experts and organizations at the intersection of national security, politics, and the media. She principally focuses on U.S. drone policies and related use-of-force issues. She is also a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. Find her on Twitter @ally_harp.

This article is from TomDispatch.com.




What Italy Can Learn From its Women’s Soccer Team

Where male-dominated soccer, politics and the economy thrive in the cult of individualism, the women work in solidarity with each other, like workers of days gone by, says Attilio Moro.

By Attilio Moro 
in Brussels
Special to Consortium News

Having lost models of alternative values and ways of life to the religion of neoliberalism, these days Italians – and mainly the Italian Left – were content watching the matches of Italy’s national team in the women’s soccer world cup. The team won almost every match, while the national government is losing almost all of theirs: zero growth, rampant crime, dirty cities, huge public debt, high unemployment, brain drain, widespread corruption, even in the judiciary, as recently turned out.

While the female footballers were united in their performance, the central government is divided and ineffective. The former displayed loyalty to each other, while every day the leaders of the two parties allied in the government stab each other in the back.

Feeling ostracized by his European partners, Matteo Salvini – the de facto prime minister of Italy – has turned to Washington, to seek Donald Trump’s protection (odd for a “sovereignist”), just as the ‘Brexiters’ are doing. Meanwhile the Italian soccer club met their adversaries with dignity.

Their male colleagues, the team of the “Azzurri”, are among the best paid soccer players of the world, as Italian politicians are. But both perform badly (the Italian male soccer team has not won anything in years and the most popular and long-lived post-war politician has been media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.)

The women perform for their nation for very little money (their salary does not exceed 50,000 Euros per year, every thing included). Where male-dominated soccer, politics and the economy thrive in the cult of individualism, the women work in solidarity with each other, like workers of days gone by. The women don’t usually pretend to be seriously hurt– as their male colleagues do – every time they fall. They don’t play the victims. They know what they want: to win. But not at all costs. Every time they did, until they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Netherlands on Saturday, they burst out in joy and hardly believed it.

This is sport as it ought to be. As it may have been before it became Big Business: human beings aware of doing something extraordinary and being proud of it. The other female national teams taking part in the Cup behave the same: with ability, technique and grace. With no hubris and blind aggression from too much money, the women’s team enchanted Italy and the world.

Maybe it won’t last: sooner or later money could also flood women’s soccer and change its philosophy and values. It would be sad. Italians would lose one of the few popular models that give them hope. But for now, in this critical period of its recent history, the women of the soccer squad are a precious asset and a model for the country.

Attilio Moro is a veteran Italian journalist who was a correspondent for the daily Il Giorno from New York and worked earlier in both radio (Italia Radio) and TV. He has travelled extensively, covering the first Iraq war, the first elections in Cambodia and South Africa, and has reported from Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan and several Latin American countries, including Cuba, Ecuador and Argentina. Presently, he is a correspondent on European affairs based in Brussels.

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JOHN KIRIAKOU: Adam Schiff—The Left Wing of the Hawk

Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is as big a hawk as any member of the Trump administration, says John Kirikaou.

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

Neoliberal, fake progressive Rep. Adam Schiff (D-C) showed his true colors yet again last week. He said in response to President Donald Trump’s saber-rattling and threats to attack Iran that,

Iran is a thoroughly malign actor, a cause of deep instability in the region, a profound contributor to the violence and misery in Yemen, and one of the most dangerous regimes in the world. Through the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and its proxies, it is also a state sponsor of terror. The threat it poses is real.”

That certainly wasn’t the position of the Obama Administration. Schiff instead has decided to jump into the Trump foreign policy with both feet. He’s made similar threatening statements about Venezuela and China, too.

Let’s look at this one issue at a time. First, Schiff is the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That’s the committee that’s supposed to oversee the CIA and other intelligence services, but which acts more as a clubhouse for CIA cheerleaders.

Schiff has watched Trump tear up the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA; he’s watched the U.S. send additional troops to the Middle East to step up pressure on Teheran; he’s watched war-lovers John Bolton, national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, promise in public to violate international law by attacking Iran. Schiff has also watched a naked U.S. coup attempt in Venezuela.

And what is his response? It’s to tell us, “I’ve read classified documents. If you’ve seen what I’ve seen you would want to attack Iran too. You would want to overthrow Venezuela too. Just take my word for it.” Thanks, but no thanks. I know from first-hand experience how much the CIA lies. I don’t believe a word they say.

Second, Schiff has indeed maintained just as hard a line on Venezuela as he has on Iran. Just two months ago, he called President Nicolas Maduro an “authoritarian” and a disastrous dictator,” and said he, Schiff, “stands with the opposition in calling for free and fair elections and the restoration of democracy. Maduro must refrain from escalating the situation through violence, which will only further the suffering of the Venezuelan people.”

What the esteemed chairman decided to utterly ignore was the fact that Venezuela hadfree and fair elections that the opposition boycotted in order to try to delegitimize them; Venezuela already is a functioning democracy; and it was actually the Trump Administration and the self-appointed “president,” Juan Guaidó, who resorted to violence by initiating a coup attempt against Maduro that failed. Schiff is either dangerously misinformed here or he’s a tool of Bolton’s foreign policy.

Dangerous China

Third, Schiff is as staunchly anti-China as any Republican hawk. In a recent on-the-record talk before the Council on Foreign Relations, he said,

China’s a very dangerous and influential part of that (antidemocratic) trend. It’s certainly true that, you know, Russia has been undermining democracies in Europe and elsewhere. But China has been undermining democracy in a very different way. China’s been undermining democracy in a—in a powerful, technological way, with the promulgation of these so-called safe cities and the safe-city technology where CCTV cameras are ubiquitous. And Chinese citizens now are facially recognized by the software in these cameras. That ties into a database that includes information about their social scores, their credit history, their use of social media. It is big brother come to life. And this is obviously not only a grave threat to the freedom and privacy of the Chinese people and their ability to associate or communicate their freedom, but it also—to the degree that China is now exporting this technology to other authoritarian countries—allows them to perpetuate their autocratic rule. And this, under the masquerade of safety and security.”

The funny thing is that Schiff never bothered to mention that it is actually the UK that is the most surveilled country in the world, with London having more CCTV cameras than any city, anywhere, in any period of human history. He never brought up the fact that China, in its entire history, has never promoted an imperialist foreign policy, like the U.S. and U.K. It doesn’t invade other countries, like the U.S. and U.K. It doesn’t interfere in foreign elections, like the U.S., U.K., Russia, and others. But the position does say a lot about Schiff. It says that he doesn’t care about facts, relying instead on pseudo-patriotic stereotypes. Remember, this guy is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

If there was any doubt at all that Schiff is in the grip of the military-industrial complex, one doesn’t have to rely just on his stated positions on Iran, Venezuela, and China to make the situation any clearer. Just take a look at his donors. The defense contractors love him. Northrop Grumman ($16,217), SAIC ($11,005), Lockheed Martin ($10,298), Boeing ($10,208), Honeywell ($10,025), Raytheon ($7,040), and General Dynamics ($7,038) are all among his major donors.

The sad truth, though, is that we’re stuck with him. Schiff represents Hollywood, California in the House. He usually runs unopposed, and when he does have opposition, he wins with more than 75 percent every time. Another sad truth is that this is the Democratic Party of 2019. Its leadership is neoliberal. It’s interventionist. It ensures that, come election time, none of us has a real choice.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

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What to Expect in the Democratic Debates

Sam Husseini takes a look at some some of the candidates who will be getting national TV attention.  

By Sam Husseini
Special to Consortium News

Following the rigging of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary process in favor of Hillary Clinton and various reforms that have been implemented since, the current mix of candidates heading into the back-to-back TV debates,  Wednesday and Thursday nights, is perhaps the best the DNC establishment could realistically have hoped for.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has been diluted by a massive field and former Sen. Mike Gravel, who has been articulating the broadest and most radical critique of U.S. foreign policy of any candidate, is off the stage, at least for now.

Gravel’s exclusion is especially important because of his temperament and age: he is not bound to respect the traditional pieties, particularly toward the allegedly gravitas-laden, former vice president, Joe Biden. Gravel is presumably not among the older senators the young Biden cozied up to upon entering the revered body in 1973.

It’s unclear how the large stage will play out, but it might mitigate the clear head-to-head contrast on Thursday between Biden and Sanders. It might be seen as a relative diversion. It’s also possible some other candidates might take on the role of undercutting Sanders on behalf of the DNC establishment. Alternatively, the critiques of Biden might be rather watered down and therefore possible for Biden and his proxies to rebut. The wide field also provides a good number of establishment candidates as “backups” in the event that Biden does collapse.

An added layer to this are the “refs”: Russiagate conspiracy peddler Rachel Maddow and friends from the Comcast/NBC corporate family. The debate has of course been deemed “legitimate” by the DNC, which has said it will penalize candidates who participate in debates it doesn’t sanction.

Gabbard: Lone Voice on WikiLeaks

The establishment media have a history of taking gratuitous shots at Sanders and so any stumble from him will be magnified. The same is likely true of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has articulated some legitimate points on foreign policy. She continues to be idiosyncratic by defending Biden on his gaffe about having worked with pro-segregation senators, but she’s been virtually the lone loud voice on issues like the Trump administration targeting WikiLeaks with the Espionage Act — a first against a publisher for unauthorized possession and dissemination of classified information in U.S. history.

Biden’s Vulnerabilities

Biden’s recent remarks on working with segregationists have drawn attention, but not the underlying fact that he was the leading northern Democratic opponent of desegregation, as the noted author and education specialist Jonathan Kozol has noted. Biden is vulnerable on that, though he’ll viciously attack any candidate that would raise that history.

Biden has largely succeeded in spinning his cooperation with segregationists as one of “civility” but his version of bipartisanship obviously doesn’t translate into working with anti-war Republicans such as Ron Paul, the late Walter Jones, Rep. Thomas Massie or Sen. Rand Paul.

Biden clearly benefits enormously from having been Obama’s vice president, though few seem to recall the dynamics that lead to him having that position. During the 2016 campaign, Biden contrasted Obama with prior African American candidates for president as  “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” By picking Biden as vice president, Obama was sending a signal to white Democrats who might be leery of a darker skinned man as president: We’re in safe hands.

In the absence of any clear view of the major negatives of the Obama years, Biden could well be vulnerable by being cast as a substantial part of the reason the Barack Obama presidency didn’t live up to expectations. That kind of case could deflate Biden — the idea that his endless establishment and corporate ties (as detailed in Andrew Cockburn’s piece in Harper’s earlier this year) were a major reason that the Obama administration didn’t go after Wall Street crooks or really bring about the change many hoped for in 2008.

For the record, I didn’t support Obama, arguing instead for a VotePact.org strategy — with conscientious conservatives joining with principled progressives — but many did. A case could be made that if Obama had picked a different running mate, such as Jim Webb, his presidency could have unfolded differently. [See accuracy.org news release from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?”]

Not only did Biden vote for the Iraq invasion, he prevented people from testifying to the Senate against it, for example the former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. Biden would later defend his false claims about Iraqi WMDs by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”

Other candidates should press Biden on this history of engaging in and facilitating Bush war lies, as well as his record of subservience to corporate interests, but with such a crowded stage, full of so many candidates and moderators who share many of those underlying prejudices, Biden might come through remarkably under-scrutinized.

Sanders Weak on Foreign Policy

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, January 2016.(Gage Skidmore via Flickr)Sanders’ stance on economic inequality found great resonance in the public in 2016 and his recent speech on democratic socialism — especially contrasting it with corporate socialism — was quite effective. If he can articulate that clearly, he could stem the name recognition Biden has. Sanders has the greatest potential to generate populist excitement — and in a much more authentic way than how Trump manipulated it in 2016. But last time around, Sanders was vulnerable on his foreign policy positions. He actually called for more Saudi intervention in the Mideast at the time. [see “Sanders’s Screwy Mideast Strategy.”]

He has since become a vocal critic of the horrific Saudi war on Yemen. While he has improved substantially, a case can be made that Sanders has not taken on the U.S. foreign policy establishment sufficiently to articulate a meaningful path out of the perpetual war orthodoxy. He has attempted to invoke war powers to hinder Trump’s backing of the Saudi war, and has raised similar objections with respect to a possible U.S. attack on Iran, but somehow such concerns don’t come up when the U.S. outright bombs Syria.

All the contenders will want to contrast themselves to Trump, but in different ways. Some will do so in ways that come close to being xenophobic in terms of “Russian influence.” Some will reach for important but “low hanging fruit” issues such as  immigration. It will be interesting to see if any candidates besides Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlight Trump’s regressive economic policies.

Warren Strong on Economic Issues 

Warren can benefit by putting forward her strong policy proposals on economic issues, which are often more moderate versions of Sanders’ proposals, and cast herself as something of a compromise candidate. Unfortunately, she seems very weak on foreign policy, see my piece of last year: “The Limits of Elizabeth Warren.”

Andrew Yang & National Income

Andrew Yang could make a strong showing. His embrace of a guaranteed national income could have wide resonance. It’s a strong policy proposal because it’s both universal and has a history of support on both the left and right.

 

Kamala Harris, Law & Order

Sen. Kamala Harris could try to make her law and order background an asset by targeting Trump and other elites in terms of their lack of adherence to legal fidelity. Unfortunately, her record suggests she is quite likely to use legal processes to “punch down.”

Trump’s Anti-Interventionist Façade

By stepping back from bombing Iran last week, Trump is likely skillfully attempting to regain his non-interventionist facade that helped him win in 2016. His administration, however, is packed with hawks and is escalating the continuing but virtually invisible wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. His policies in those countries — as well as on Israel, Venezuela and elsewhere — should be attacked, but might get far less scrutiny than they should. That would be in part, again, to Gravel not being on the stage.

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.

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The UK Tory Leadership Contest is Whittled Down to Two

Boris Johnson is the favourite to win the Conservative leadership contest. But has he got what it takes to strike a Brexit deal with the EU?, asks Johanna Ross.

By Johanna Ross
in Edinburgh, Scotland
Special to Consortium News

The Conservative party leadership contest or “horror show”, as it was referred to by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has now been reduced to a mere double act as favourite Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will now go head-to-head in a bid to become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

With a decisive win of 160 votes on Thursday, Johnson beat both Hunt and Michael Gove, who gathered a mere 77 and 75 respectively in the fifth round, from the original group of 16 all vying to replace Theresa May.

Leadership contests are by their nature steeped in skulduggery, and it’s been rumoured that all has not been squeaky clean in this race – hardly surprising in a Tory party fraught with division. It was reported that supporters of Boris may have been involved in a spot of tactical voting along the way, giving votes to Hunt in order to fend off arch rival Gove.

Indeed no love has been lost between Boris and Gove since the latter stabbed Britain’s most eccentric blonde politician in the back in the previous 2016 leadership contest. This time, no prisoners were taken by their respective campaign teams with every possible skeleton uncovered from the closet. From Johnson being termed a racist, to Gove’s cocaine abuse, attempts were made at every turn to eliminate each other.

But it’s the indefatigable Johnson, former London mayor and foreign secretary, knocked out in the previous contest,  who remains the front runner. And no-one is exactly sure why. Largely seen as the most incompetent and embarrassing of politicians – never mind leadership candidates – this blonde buffoon seems to still carry favour amongst the Tory party faithful.

Perhaps this time he just got the timing right – after the reserved, emotionless May, Boris’ vibrant personality has struck a chord and his undisciplined, shambolic nature is somehow forgiven. He certainly wouldn’t be alone on the world stage – with Trump across the Atlantic and ex-comedian Zelensky in Ukraine – Boris’ antics wouldn’t be out of place.

However, it’s worth noting that despite his popularity within his party, Boris does not have the same degree of support amongst the electorate. In recent weeks the press and social media platforms have been inundated with examples of his worst gaffes and blatant episodes of ignorance, more often than not accompanied by a message of foreboding along the lines of: ‘And this man could be our next Prime Minister…’.

Then he is something of a specialist in making offensive remarks – from describing Muslim women wearing the burka as ‘post-boxes’ to stating that people of African origin have ‘watermelon smiles’. Incredibly, none of this seems to have much impact on his leadership bid, but it remains to be seen how he would fare in a general election.

As for the man left to take on Boris – the mild-mannered, Japanese-speaking Hunt – he could not provide more of a contrast and yet the two also have much in common. Both Oxford graduates, they have clocked up considerable experience in Cabinet and Shadow government and have been MPs for over a decade.

All About Brexit

They also have equally filled the role of foreign secretary, although Boris’ tenure there was arguably more colourful as it was punctuated by arious diplomatic gaffesHe joined in on the prevalent Russia-bashing, coming under intense criticism for early on blaming Russia in the Skripal affair without evidence. For his part, Hunt too has expressed anti-Russian views.  And he’s been scathing in his attacks on WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, condemning a UN expert on torture for concluding that Assange had indeed been tortured. Johnson too slammed Assange for costing the London Metropolitan Police £5.3million.

On Monday Hunt said Britain could join the U.S. in attacking Iran.

However, the real issue the two candidates will be judged on in this contest among only Conservative Party members, is of course Brexit.

Whilst Johnson has been consistent in his approach that Britain leave the EU “deal or no deal” on Oct. 31, Hunt has taken a more nuanced, and some have argued, more realistic stance.  He has argued that a deal ought to be struck with Brussels and thinks he’s just the man to do it. He believes that he alone can renegotiate a deal with the EU which means there would be no need for the Irish backstop.

What’s not clear however is why exactly Hunt thinks he can do any better than May, who with supreme difficulty, presented three different Brexit deals to parliament, for them all to be rejected. Let’s face it: whoever is at the helm of the Brexit ship will encounter the same obstacles from fellow politicians at Westminster, the majority of whom are Remainers and opposed to the very concept of Brexit.

At the least they are calling for a second referendum on Brexit or even a general election, which could be catastrophic for the Conservative government. But if it is to be Boris for prime minister, as all indicators show, it’s highly likely we could see what former leader Tony Blair has called ‘unthinkable’ – a no deal Brexit without any public consultation.

It’s easy to get pre-occupied with the drama of the Conservative leadership contest – the result of which we will know on July 22 – and neglect the wider picture. For if one analyses objectively what is taking place, the argument that Brexit is about carrying out the democratic will of the people when they voted ‘Leave’ in the 2016 referendum, is looking increasingly thin.

A government that doesn’t have a majority, in a party failing in the polls, could carry out what seems like an act of self-harm in taking the UK out of the European Union without a deal. Chancellor Phillip Hammond confirmed earlier this week, plunged into economic oblivion, Britain could find itself in a state which makes even austerity look good, as it tries to go it alone as an independent trading nation.

Furthermore there is the threat to the UK’s territorial integrity. Citizens of Scotland have observed the antics of the Conservative Party leadership contest with some degree of scepticism as they wonder how much it all has to do with them. Not only is the Conservative Party almost redundant in Scotland, and has been for years, but the majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum and reinforced this stance in the recent European elections.

A no deal scenario would be sure to alienate Scottish voters completely and give the added boost needed to the Scottish independence movement. So Brexiteers could well get more than they bargained for if Britain crashes out of Europe – it would be no exaggeration to say we could see the break-up of the United Kingdom.

So regardless of who wins this Tory leadership race, it doesn’t solve the question of Brexit, despite what some Conservative politicians may think. Riding the waves of the post-Brexit seas, it’s really not clear whether the  ship Britannia will sink or swim. But if one thing is certain, with BoJo at the helm, it would be one hell of a ride.

Johanna Ross is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdom.

 




For Tech Giants, a Cautionary Tale From 19th Century Railroads on the Limits of Competition

The tech monopoly giants have a lot to learn from the railroad monopolies of the 19th Century during the First Gilded Age, writes Richard White. 

Southern Pacific steam engine No. 1364 in 1891. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Richard White 
Stanford University

Late 19th-century Americans loved railroads, which seemed to eradicate time and space, moving goods and people more cheaply and more conveniently than ever before. And they feared railroads because in most of the country it was impossible to do business without them.

Businesses, and the republic itself, seemed to be at the mercy of the monopoly power of railroad corporations. American farmers, businessmen and consumers thought of competition as a way to ensure fairness in the marketplace. But with no real competitors over many routes, railroads could charge different rates to different customers. This power to decide economic winners and losers threatened not only individual businesses but also the conditions that sustained the republic.

An 1882 political cartoon portrays the railroad industry as a monopolistic octopus, with its tentacles controlling many businesses. (G. Frederick Keller) 
That may sound familiar. As a historian of that first Gilded Age, I see parallels between the power of the railroads and today’s internet giants like Verizon and Comcast. The current regulators – the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority – and many of its critics both embrace a solution that 19th-century Americans tried and dismissed: market competition.

Monopolies as Natural and Efficient

In the 1880s, the most sophisticated railroad managers and some economists argued that railroads were “natural monopolies,” the inevitable consequence of an industry that required huge investments in rights of way over land, constructing railways, and building train engines and rail cars.

Competition was expensive and wasteful. In 1886 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Missouri Pacific Railroad both built railroad tracks heading west from the Great Bend of the Arkansas River in Kansas to Greeley County on the western border, roughly 200 miles away.

The tracks ran parallel to each other, about two miles apart. Charles Francis Adams, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, called this redundancy the “maddest specimen of railroad construction of which” he had ever heard. And then his own railroad built new tracks into western Kansas, too.

After ruinous bouts of competition like this, rival railroad companies would agree to cooperate, pooling the business in certain areas and setting common rates. These agreements effectively established monopolies, even if more than one company was involved.

Monopolies as Unfairly Subsidized

Anti-monopolists who opposed the railroads’ power argued that monopolies originated not as a result of efficient investment strategies, but rather from special privileges afforded by the government. Railroads had the ability to condemn land to build their routes. They got subsidies of land, loans, bonds and other financial aid from federal, state and local governments. Their political contributions and favors secured them supporters in legislatures, Congress and the courts.

As stronger railroads bought up weaker companies and divided up markets with the remaining competitors, the dangers of monopoly became more and more apparent. Railroad companies made decisions on innovation based on the effects on their bottom line, not societal values.

For instance, the death toll was enormous: In 1893, 1,567 trainmen died and 18,877 were injured on the rails. Congress enacted the first national railroad safety legislation that year because the companies had insisted it was too expensive to put automatic braking systems and couplers on freight trains.

But a monopoly’s great economic and societal danger was its ability to decide who succeeded in business and who failed. For example, in 1883 the Northern Pacific Railway raised the rates it charged O.A. Dodge’s Idaho lumber company. The new rates left Dodge unable to compete with the rival Montana Improvement Company, reputedly owned by Northern Pacific executives and investors. Dodge knew the game was up. All he could do was ask if they wanted to buy his company.

For anti-monopolists, Dodge’s dilemma went to the heart of the issue. Monopolies were intrinsically wrong because they unfairly influenced businesses’ likelihood of success or failure. In an 1886 report on the railroad industry, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Interstate Commerce agreed, stating clearly that the “great desideratum is to secure equality.”

Turning to Regulators for Help

To achieve equality, anti-monopolists wanted more government regulation and enforcement. By the late 1880s, some railroad executives were starting to agree. Their efforts at cooperation had failed because railroads treated each other no better than they did their customers. As Charles Francis Adams put it, his own industry’s “method of doing business is founded upon lying, cheating, and stealing: all bad things.”

The consensus was that the railroads needed the federal government to enforce the rules, bringing greater efficiency and ultimately lower rates. But Congress ran into a problem: If an even, competitive playing field depended on regulation, the marketplace wasn’t truly open or free.

The solution was no clearer then than it is now. The technologies of railroads inherently gave large operators advantages of efficiency and profitability. Large customers also got benefits: John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil, for example, could guarantee large shipments and provide his own tank cars – so he got special rates and rebates. Newcomers and small enterprises were left out.

Some reformers suggested accepting monopolies, so long as their rates were carefully regulated. But the calculations were complex: Charges by the mile ignored the fact that most costs came not from transport but rather from loading, unloading and transferring freight. And even the best bookkeepers had a hard time unraveling railway accounts.

Managing Power

The simplest solution, advanced by the Populist party and others, was the most difficult politically: nationalize the railroad routes. Turning them into a publicly owned network, like today’s interstate highway system, would give the government the responsibility to create clear, fair rules for private companies wishing to use them. But profitable railroads opposed it tooth and nail, and skeptical reformers did not want the government to buy derelict and unprofitable railroads.

The current controversy about the monopolistic power of internet service providers echoes those concerns from the first Gilded Age. As anti-monopolists did in the 19th century, advocates of an open internet argue that regulation will advance competition by creating a level playing field for all comers, big and small, resulting in more innovation and better products. (There was even a radical, if short-lived, proposal to nationalize high-speed wireless service.)

However, no proposed regulations for an open internet address the existing power of either the service providers or the “Big Five” internet giants: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Like Standard Oil, they have the power to wring enormous advantages from the internet service providers, to the detriment of smaller competitors.

The most important element of the debate – both then and now – is not the particular regulations that are or are not enacted. What’s crucial is the wider concerns about the effects on society. The Gilded Age’s anti-monopolists had political and moral concerns, not economic ones. They believed, as many in the U.S. still do, that a democracy’s economy should be judged not only – nor even primarily – by its financial output. Rather, success is how well it sustains the ideals, values and engaged citizenship on which free societies depend.

When monopoly threatens something as fundamental as the free circulation of information and the equal access of citizens to technologies central to their daily life, the issues are no longer economic.The Conversation

Richard White, is Professor of American History, at Stanford University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




Reclaiming Billionaires’ Wealth

Looking beyond classical economic models, Vince Taylor sees vast, private fortunes that belong mostly to society at large.

By Vince Taylor
Znet

Hundreds of commentators have warned that extreme concentration of wealth threatens democracy and social stability. Not a day goes by without a new article with details on the unprecedented growth in income inequality and its dire consequences.

Something is missing, though. No one is proposing measures that would take away wealth from the 600 or so U.S. billionaires and the 20,000 families with hundreds of millions. Why not? Apparently, there is some tacit agreement that even the very richest earned their money, and therefore it would be immoral and un-American to take it away. Certainly, the wealthy promote this idea, but why is it so universally accepted?

One suggestion is because our economic models don’t provide any alternative explanation for wealth accumulation. The classic models view output as a function of capital, labor and technical change. There is no room in these models for gigantic, undeserved bonanzas going to the few. It follows logically from these models that those who acquire vast fortunes must have exceptional gifts. They deserve their fortunes.

When one looks beyond the classical models, one sees clearly that those who have accumulated large fortunes did not in any sense earn them. They captured for themselves wealth that mostly belongs to society at large. There is a strong, logical case for the government to tax all huge fortunes down to the level that society considers acceptable.

Potential Wealth and Surpluses

What the standard models miss is that in the real world, major economic disturbances, innovations, new resources and new markets all create huge amounts of potential wealth where the costs of transforming the potential into actual wealth are far less than the wealth produced. When these wealth surpluses are captured by individuals rather than spread widely across the population, large fortunes are created.

To clarify these concepts, consider a concrete example: an oil fieldthat contains oil worth a billion dollars on the open market. The oil field is not yet discovered. Its potential wealth is a billion dollars. Suppose the costs of exploration, drilling, and all other costs of delivering all the oil to market (actualization costs) were $400 million. The wealth surplus gained from actualizing the wealth of the oil field would be $600 million — one billion dollars (potential wealth) minus $400 million (actualization costs).

Who should get the wealth surplus? The oil field developer has no special moral or economic claim to it. The actualization costs of $400 million, which include a market rate of return on capital, fully compensate the developer for all costs incurred.  If the oil field were part of a “commons,” it would belong to all members of the commons. Government would appropriately collect the wealth surplus and use it for the good of all members of the common.

Under the legal rules of capitalism as currently practiced, all the wealth surplus from the oil field goes to private interests (the developers and financiers). None goes to the public. This is neither equitable nor socially desirable.

As will be shown, the concepts used to explain the oil field example apply equally to potential wealth that is not tangible, for example, unrealized wealth opportunities in finance and technology.

There is no room in standard economic models for fortunes derived from wealth surpluses. In a world of perfect competition, where prices reflect the costs of production, there are no large wealth surpluses to be captured by an individual. The real world is very different. History shows that in times when huge wealth surpluses come into being, large portions of these often have been captured by a few individuals.

The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age of the 1800s exemplifies the appropriation of wealth surpluses by a few individuals — the railroad, steel, and oil monopolists, to cite the most prominent examples. They didn’t create the railroad, steel and oil refining technologies. These grew out of a large body of evolving knowledge developed by many scientists, engineers, and individuals over many years. The monopolists simply got “legal” titles to the wealth that arose from the new technologies. If these particular owners hadn’t gained these legal titles, others would have. In a more perfect society, the steel and railroad and oil refining technologies, would have been considered social assets, belonging to all of the people. The wealth that arose from their development would have been broadly distributed, not flowing disproportionately to a few.

As an example, look more closely at railroads. The introduction of railroad technology transformed transportation. Prior to the railroads, all transportation not by water was by animal-drawn wagons, which were slow and uncomfortable for people and slow and expensive for goods. Suddenly, it became possible to move goods and people incredibly faster and cheaper. This was an economic discontinuity even greater than those created by the automobile and the internet. The wealth surpluses created by the introduction of railroad technology were enormous, unprecedented in magnitude.

The huge wealth surpluses created by railroads attracted every major entrepreneur and speculator of the era. Railroads were the perfect vehicle for accumulating fortunes. Not only did the first railroads create large wealth surpluses, they were natural and completely unregulated monopolies. Owners could charge whatever the traffic would bear, allowing them to appropriate much of the wealth surpluses that the railroads actualized.

According to standard economic models, the introduction of railroads should have increased the wealth of Midwest farmers. Suddenly, the cost of transporting their wheat and corn to market would have fallen precipitously; so their income should have risen accordingly. This did not happen. The railroads set their rates at levels far above the true costs, keeping the farmers in poverty and capturing the created wealth surpluses for themselves.

The wealth surpluses appropriated by the railroad owners made them incredibly wealthy. In a listing of the seventy-five richest people in recorded history, twelve acquired their wealth primarily through ownership of U.S. railroads.

Is anyone willing to argue that the railroad millionaires (billionaires in today’s dollars) created the wealth they accumulated? They didn’t create the technology. They didn’t do the physical labor or produce the materials needed to build the railroads. All that they did was to acquire legal title to the railroads, ownership that allowed them to transfer the wealth surpluses to themselves.

The Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were ruthless businessmen, single-minded in their pursuit of riches, without legal or moral scruples, and gifted with a political and legal environment where greed and survival of the fittest were guiding principles. In a real and concrete sense, they stole most of their fortunes from the general public by establishing monopolies that allowed them to set unfairly high prices.

Grabbing Surplus Wealth

When major innovative technologies emerge, they bring with them major wealth surpluses. What appears to be a repeating pattern is that early pioneers use their quickly generated wealth to establish market dominance, if not complete monopoly, by buying up or crushing competitors. They then are able to capture a large share of the wealth surplus for themselves. When there is a surge in wealth surpluses such as occurred in the late 1800s, a further dynamic seems to be that the courts and Congress come to reflect the interests of the rich and powerful. 

In the United States in recent decades, most fortunes have arisen from micro-chip technology, globalization of trade, innovations in financial markets and, most recently, by capturing a large share of the wealth surpluses arising from the internet.

As was true in earlier eras, the recent entrepreneurs who have reaped large fortunes from wealth surpluses have no economic or inherent right to retain them.

The Internet Age

The internet provides the most compelling and significant example of fortunes arising from private appropriation of wealth surpluses. For the sake of brevity, only the internet example is examined here is detail, but examining fortunes derived from financial innovations and trade globalization would lead to similar conclusions.

From an economic viewpoint, the emergence of the internet can be compared to the discovery of a hugely valuable, virgin, unowned land. The sudden ability to transmit vast volumes of information virtually instantaneously at almost no cost created a myriad of hugely valuable wealth opportunities. The costs of transforming these potential wealth opportunities into actualized wealth have been relatively small. Huge amounts of wealth surplus have been created. Individuals, investors, and corporations, have taken title to much of the wealth surplus, creating a new generation of ultra rich.

There is no valid argument that the individuals who gained fortunes from the internet have a “right” to keep them because they “created” the wealth they gained. That internet billionaires didn’t do so is obvious when considering what would have happened, if Mark Zuckerberg and his backers hadn’t developed Facebook. Absent Zuckerberg, does anyone doubt that something essentially identical would have come into existence at about the same time? Others would be the billionaires, but the functionality would be essentially the same. It is the capitalist system of ownership that has allowed private individuals and corporations to capture the vast surplus wealth of the internet.

Why Internet Wealth Should Belong to Society

It needs to be emphasized again that wealth surplus is the excess of actualized wealth over all the actualization costs (which include a market return on invested capital). Actualization costs fully and fairly compensate the actualizers for their services. Wealth surpluses are windfalls that arise from external factors, not from the labor, capital, and other resources used to transform potential into actual wealth. 

Arguably, the potential wealth of the internet should be treated as residing in a commons. No individual or company created more than a minuscule fraction of the complex web of knowledge and equipment that constitute the internet. No individual or single company developed de novo the technology of the internet. The internet is a consequence of fifty years of inventions, innovations, development and marketing carried out by innumerable individuals; private and publicly funded colleges and research institutes; and corporations.

The activities that brought into being and sustain the internet were and are inextricably interwoven into the web of our society. Society as a whole has a just claim to all of the wealth surpluses arising from the internet.

Other Fortunes However Acquired

We have only looked at the internet in detail, but the same reasoning and findings apply to major fortunes however acquired. Those that gained huge fortunes did not create their wealth. External conditions created huge wealth surpluses, and through luck, skill, or influence, certain individuals were able to transfer a major share to themselves.

Upon close examination, all wealth-generating activities are seen to be dependent on society’s infrastructure, and thus society has a just claim on all wealth surpluses privately appropriated.

Rate of Return

The rate of return on capital equals the amount of annual profit as a percentage of the amount of invested capital. In a perfectly operating, competitive free-market economy, the returns to capital wherever invested will tend to cluster around a “normal market rate of return,” adjusted for risks of individual investments. Shortages and market dislocations may raise rates of returns, but the rises will be temporary.

In contrast, investments that capture substantial wealth surplus will have rates of return on capital that are substantially greater than the normal market rate of return.

Consider Google and Facebook, two quintessential internet companies. Google’s profit in 2017 was $34.9 billion, compared to total capital invested in property and equipment of $42.3 billion, yielding a one-year rate of return of 81percent. Facebook did even better. Its 2018 profit was $24.3 billion compared to invested capital of $13.7 billion, a one-year rate of return of 177 percent.

There is room for disagreement on what constitutes a normal rate of return on capital, but there is no question that Google and Facebook had rates of return that are multiples of a normal rate of return. Arguably a normal rate of return is around 8 percent. This is the average return on investments for the very wealthy, but using a higher value would not change the conclusion that Google and Facebook are capturing huge amounts of wealth surplus.

Rates of return on capital combine the financial benefits of wealth surpluses and monopoly pricing. Google and Facebook have captured such large amounts of wealth surplus because they are unregulated monopolies. Both bought up or crushed all significant competitors.

A Progressive Tax on Excessive Profits

Rates of return on capital far above normal are concrete proof a company is transferring to itself wealth that rightfully belongs to others.  

There is a strong case for a progressive tax on such excess profits. It could start at zero on profits providing a normal rate of return. Marginal rates would rise along with rates of return. For rates of return unarguably above a normal return, a marginal tax rate of 90 percent or even higher is socially and economically justified.

Actual implementation of a tax on such excess profits would need to address numerous practical issues, many of which are common to any tax on company profits, but some of which are specific to this type of tax. One specific issue is setting a value for a “normal” rate of return. Various approaches will yield different values. Those affected will weigh in heavily, and the value chosen will be arrived at through negotiation. Still, history provides some guide. During World War I and World War II the U.S. and England imposed excess profits taxes based on the rate of return on investment. The values chosen were in the range of 6 percent to 10 percent, with 7 percent and 8 percent being most common.

Some other issues are: How are capital investments to be valued? How to allow for depreciation, and obsolescence? How to deal with fluctuations in profits?

While complex and challenging, issues related to implementing an excess profits tax seem no more so than those related to the existing taxation of corporate profits.

Taxation of Wealth

Because those with large fortunes did not create the wealth they hold, they have no inalienable right to keep it. When individuals gain so much wealth that their economic and political power threatens democracy or harms the general wellbeing, society is fully justified in taking away that wealth. Although an excess profits tax and a sharply progressive tax on all sources of income would greatly reduce individuals’ ability to join the ranks of the ultrawealthy, these would not affect existing fortunes.

Individual wealth in the billions of dollars (and arguably, considerably lower levels) creates a threat to social stability and to the continuation of our democracy. A way to reduce socially excessive wealth holdings is through a tax on such holdings that exceeds the return on that wealth. High wealth holders earn an average annual return of about 8 percent on their wealth; thus the tax rate on excessive wealth holdings would need to exceed 8 percent.  It would need to be significantly greater than 8 percent on extreme levels of wealth in order to bring them down to an acceptable level in a reasonable period of time.

Progressive taxes for the purpose of reducing excessive wealth holdings would be revolutionary and vigorously resisted by the wealthy. Because they address a critical need, they deserve careful consideration.

Vince Taylor is an economist, entrepreneur, and activist. He is currently focused on developing public support for taxation to reduce holdings of wealth that threaten democracy. An earlier version of this article appeared on Znet.