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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Dani Rodrik: China’s Boldest Experiment [feedly]

The estimable Rodrik on China

China's Boldest Experiment

Dani Rodrik

Paul Krugman: The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian [feedly]

Some may think these args a bit shrill. But K is right on, IMO, to warn that the authoritarian power base is well heeled, and bigger than Trump by orders 
of magnitude.

The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian  

Paul Krugman

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven't lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he's also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we're actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

Yet those forces may prevail all the same.

If you want to understand what's happening to our country, the book you really need to read is "How Democracies Die," by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.

What we've seen instead are coups of a subtler form: takeovers or intimidation of the news media, rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters, new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote, corrupted courts.


The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively taken over the bulk of the media; destroyed the independence of the judiciary; rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents; gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.

As Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban has worked against democratic norms.CreditRoni Rekomaa/Bloomberg, via Getty Images
As Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban has worked against democratic norms.CreditRoni Rekomaa/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control.

As Levitsky and Ziblatt say, the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, "are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose."

Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.

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And the G.O.P. has engaged in extreme gerrymandering. Some people have been reassured by the fact that the Democratic landslide in the popular vote for the House did, in fact, translate into a comparable majority in seats held. But you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren't reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.

Let's talk, in particular, about what's happening in Wisconsin.

There has been a fair amount of reporting on the power grabcurrently underway in Madison. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices' power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.

What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.

In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don't matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.

And here's the thing: As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned the power grab in Wisconsin, the similar grab in Michigan, or even what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina. Elected Republicansdon't just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland's Law and Justice; they also share those parties' contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.

Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren't so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we'd be well along the path to permanent one-party rule. Instead, we're heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.

But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.

The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 11, 2018, on Page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian. Order Reprints | Today's Paper | Subscribe

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Jared Bernstein: Nick Hanauer’s Progressive Labor Standards: A bold idea to do more than just repair the damage. [feedly]

Pros and Cons of Gradualism when taken to a theoretical level.....

Nick Hanauer's Progressive Labor Standards: A bold idea to do more than just repair the damage.

According to Wikipedia, Nick Hanauer is "an American entrepreneur and venture capitalist." True, but very incomplete. Hanauer is also a prominent progressive thinker, advocate, funder, and writer. I'll get to the purpose of this post in a moment (to amplify a new piece out today in the journal Democracy) but I've long appreciated Hanauer's ability to frame economic problems and solutions in ways that both make common sense and point the way forward toward bolder policies than many of us tend to come up with.

Probably the most prominent example of his work—no less than President Obama used to reference it all the time—is Hanauer and Eric Liu's "middle-out economics," a concept that puts the middle class, not the wealthy, at the center of the economy:

"It is time to kill the myth of trickle-down economics — and to replace it with the true story of middle-out economics…Middle-out economics argues that national prosperity does not trickle down from wealthy businesspeople or corporations; rather, it flows in a virtuous cycle that starts with a thriving middle class." 

Amen! But beyond not doing the obviously wrong thing—cutting taxes for the wealthy—what are some specific examples of policies that would promote middle-out economics?

How about "progressive labor standards?"

In this new piece, Hanauer looks closely at an area of public policy that is essential for pushing back on the increasingly disproportionate power of capital: labor standards or regulations that protect vulnerable workers from employer exploitation. Their long erosion is one reason why worker bargaining clout is so low, and it is neither an accident nor a benign act of nature. It's an explicit part of the anti-worker, anti-union conservative project.

Based on this recognition, Hanauer lays out a counter-agenda that goes much further than many of us in the labor standards debate who seek mostly to repair the erosion and prevent egregious maltreatment of vulnerable workers—to adjust the federal minimum wage for inflation, to prevent wage theft and misclassification of regular employees as self-employed. Basically, we're playing defense.

Hanauer plays offense. He calls on progressives to go outside the box and ramp up labor standards to curb corporate power, especially that of large companies whose increased concentration within their industries is raising employer- over worker-power even further. Though I offer caveats below, it's refreshingly bold stuff!

Hanauer adds an important dimension to the inequality diagnosis that sets up the piece. It's no longer adequate to consider only the widening distributions of wages, income, and wealth between households. Certain firms now dominate their industries, where they can set prices and wages (importantly, these so-called "monopsonist" firms have tended to hold down wages but not to raise prices). Geographical inequality is another key dimension, as the individuals and companies benefiting the most from the consolidation of income and wealth are highly geographically concentrated, leading to rising spatial inequality between prosperous tech hubs and the rest of the country.

Market concentration is a key target of progressive labor standards: "74 percent of e-books are sold by Amazon, 75 percent of candy is sold by Mars and Hershey, and 86 percent of basketball shoes are sold by Nike. Retail is particularly concentrated, with 69 percent of the office supply market controlled by Office Depot and Staples, 90 percent of the home improvement store business by Lowes and Home Depot, and an astounding 99 percent of the drug store market dominated by just CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid."

The key to progressive labor standards is to not merely establish a set of workers' benefits, but to scale the benefits to employer size. The minimum wage might start at a "regionally adjusted" $15 and hour but go as high as $22 an hour, based on an employer's size and market power:

Just like a progressive income tax employs multiple tax brackets to levy higher tax rates based on the size of one's income, a progres­sive minimum wage might apply multiple "wage brackets" based on the size of a company's workforce.

Hanauer proposes a graduated scale to cover the full spate of labor standards, including retirement and health benefits, paid leave, and overtime policies. Presumably, fines for violations would be scalable as well, so wage theft and misclassification would be much costlier to Apple than to the guy with an apple cart.

Ok, how could this go wrong? One issue is measuring and thus penalizing labor exploitation. A metric that has surfaced in this evaluative space is: "do employees receive public benefits?" Trust me, I understand the problem of large, profitable firms whose workers don't earn enough to avoid collecting public benefits. But to ding companies who hire such workers threatens to both vilify benefit receipt and engender an unintended version of "statistical discrimination," where employers are careful not to hire workers who look to them like someone who might draw public assistance. Let's work to raise wages, not to expose benefit recipients to potential discrimination.

Second, it is harder than it sounds to surgically target one type of firm over another, in no small part because to do so creates an incentive for a targeted firm to make themselves look like a non-targeted firm. Hanauer's aware of such gaming potential and offers a good idea to prevent it, a "whichever is larger" rule, meaning the progressive standards get applied to workers based on the largest entity in the employment relationship. Thus, an employee outsourced from a small firm who works at a large firm is under the standards of the latter. Still, my experience is that carefully defining and enforcing such rules can be hard, which is one reason why raising taxes on those at the top of the income and wealth scale is a straightforward, progressive complement to these ideas, one Hanauer is fully signed on to.

Finally, while Hanauer wants to rebalance power between small and large businesses, I also worry about progressive standards leading to a real division between good jobs at large employers and much less good ones at small employers. Clearly, he's justly proposing to raise labor costs at firms whose industry power allows them to set wages too low. But I can imagine a local labor market where this creates some weird competitive pressures. This is why economists tend to prefer uniform regulations that don't create competitive disadvantages for one firm over another. That said, Hanauer's goal here is to offset some of the evolving advantages of larger, powerful firms.

But all big ideas come with big challenges and none of these are insurmountable. Moreover, many of us on the progressive left tend to fall into a trap Hanauer avoids: negotiating with ourselves. Given the deep-pocketed, relentless opposition from the forces of inequality, to start out where we want to end up is formula for consistently under-delivering. To do so invokes significant negative consequences for both the effectiveness of our policies, while reducing the political support from the many voters who long for a true progressive agenda, one that doesn't nibble at the edges of power, but takes big bites out of it.

In other words, let us continue to look for the boldest ideas we can come up with in the pursuit of middle-out economics!

 -- via my feedly newsfeed

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Piketty: A European Progressive Manifesto

We need to reduce inequality within countries, not between them, and invest in the future of all Europeans

Since the election of anti-European governments across the EU, and with Brexit looming, it is no longer possible to continue as before. We cannot simply wait for the next departures, or further dismantling without making fundamental changes to present-day Europe.Our continent is caught between political movements whose programme is confined to hunting down foreigners and refugees, on one hand, and on the other those who claim to be European but in reality continue to consider that hardcore liberalism and the spread of competition are enough to define a political project. They don't recognise that this lack of social ambition is what leads to feelings of abandonment.

There are some movements attempting to end this fatal dialogue and address the structural problems that have arisen after a decade of economic crisis. There is no lack of these specifically European-critical situations: structural underinvestment in the public sector, particularly in training and research, a rise in social inequality, acceleration of global warming and a crisis in the reception of migrants and refugees.But these movements often have difficulty in formulating a coherent alternative project, and in describing precisely how they would like to organise the Europe of the future.

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This is why we, European citizens from different backgrounds and countries, are today launching this appeal for the in-depth transformation of the European institutions and policies. Our manifesto contains concrete proposals, in particular a project for a democratisation treaty and a budget project – and we have made it all publicly available. Our ideas may not be perfect, but they do have the merit of existing. The public can access them and improve them. They are based on a simple conviction: Europe must build a new model to ensure the fair and lasting social development of its citizens. The only way to persuade them is to abandon vague and theoretical promises. If Europe wants to restore solidarity with its citizens it can only do so by providing concrete evidence that it is capable of establishing cooperation and by making those who have gained from globalisation contribute to the financing of public-sector good. That will mean making large firms contribute more than small and medium businesses, and the richest taxpayers paying more than poorer taxpayers. This is not the case today.


Our proposals are based on the creation of a budget for democratisation that would be debated and voted on by a new, sovereign European assembly. This will at last enable Europe to equip itself with a public institution capable of dealing with crises in Europe immediately and of producing a set of fundamental public goods and services in the framework of a lasting and solidarity-based economy. The promise made at the treaty of Rome of "harmonisation of living and working conditions" will finally become meaningful.

This budget, if the European assembly so desires, will be financed by four major European taxes, the tangible markers of this European solidarity. These will apply to the profits of major firms, the top incomes (over €200,000 a year), the highest wealth owners (over €1m ) and carbon emissions (with a minimum price of €30 a tonne). If it is fixed at 4% of GDP, as we propose, this budget could finance research, training and the European universities, an ambitious investment programme to transform our model of economic growth, the financing of the reception and integration of migrants, and the support of those involved in carrying out this transformation. It could also give some budgetary leeway to member states to reduce the regressive taxation that weighs on salaries or consumption.

The issue here is not one of creating a transfer of payments across Europe – taking money from the "virtuous" countries to give it to those that are less so. The project limits the gap between expenditure deducted and income paid by a country to a threshold of 0.1% of its GDP – this could only be increased should there be consensus to do so. This threshold can be raised in case there is a consensus to do so, but the issue is primarily of reducing the inequality within countries, not between them, and of investing in the future of all Europeans. But those calculations would exclude spending that benefits all countries equally, such as action on climate change. Because it will finance European public goods benefiting all countries, the budget for democratisation will de facto also foster convergence between countries.

Because we must act quickly but we must also get Europe out of the present technocratic impasse, we propose the creation of a European assembly. This will enable these new European taxes to be debated and voted as also the budget for democratisation. This European assembly can be created without changing existing European treaties.

The assembly would, of course, have to communicate with the present decision-making institutions (in particular the Eurogroup in which the ministers for finance in the eurozone meet informally every month). But, in cases of disagreement, the assembly would have the final word. If not, its capacity to be a locus for a new transnational political space where parties, social movements and NGOs would finally be able to express themselves would be compromised. Equally its actual effectiveness, since the issue is one of finally extricating Europe from the eternal inertia of intergovernmental negotiations, would be at stake. We should bear in mind that the rule of fiscal unanimity in force in the European Union has for years blocked the adoption of any European tax and sustains the eternal evasion into fiscal dumping by the rich and most mobile, a practice which continues to this day despite all the speeches. This will go on if other decision-making rules are not set up.

Given that a newly created European assembly would have the ability to adopt taxes and to affect the very core of the democratic, fiscal and social compacts of states, national and European parliamentarians must be central. This is why we propose, in the democratisation treaty available online, that 80% of the members of the European assembly should be from national parliaments, with 20% from the present European parliament. This choice merits further discussion. In particular, our project could also function with a lower proportion of national parliamentarians (for instance, 50%). But in our opinion an excessive reduction of this proportion might detract from the legitimacy of the European assembly in involving all European citizens in the direction of a new social and fiscal pact, and conflicts of democratic legitimacy between national and European elections could rapidly undermine the project.

Thus national elections will de facto be transformed into European elections. National elected members will no longer be able to simply shift responsibility on to Brussels and will have no other option than to explain to voters the projects and budgets they intend to defend in the European assembly. By bringing together the national and European parliamentarians in one single assembly, habits of co-governance will be created which at the moment only exist between heads of state and ministers of finance.

We now have to act quickly. While it would be preferable for all EU countries to join the project without delay – especially the four largest countries in the eurozone (which represent more than 70% of the GNP and population) – it is designed so that it can be adopted and implemented by any set of countries that wish to do so. It enables those who wish to make immediate progress by adopting this project to do so right now. We must all assume our responsibilities to participate in a detailed and constructive discussion on the future of Europe, lest our continent is left to sink further into damaging division.

• Thomas Piketty is professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics

EU raises funds to fight 'disinformation war' with Russia

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Other signatories: Sébastien Adalid, Michel Aglietta, Nacho Alvarez, Julie Bailleux, Marija Bartl, Pedro Bacelar de Vasconcelos, Marie-Layre Basilien-Gainche, Myriam Benlolo Carabot, Loïc Blondiaux, Karolina Borońska, Andreas Botsch, Patrick Boucheron, Emmanuel Bouju, Begnina Boza-Kiss, Hauke Brunkhorst, Bojan Bugarič, Klaus Busch, Julia Cagé, Lucas Chancel, Christophe Charle, Christian Chavagneux, Amandine Crespy, Fabio De Masi, Anne-Laure Delatte, Donatella Della Porta, Yves Deloye, Paul Dermine, Brigitte Dormont, Guillaume Duval, Susanne Elsen, Emanuele Ferragina, Bastien François, Philippe Frémeaux, Diane Fromage, Miguel Gotor, Julien Grenet, Ulrike Guérot, Gabor Halmai, Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur, Stéphanie Hennette, Rudolf Hickel, Mario Hübler, Élise Huillery, Simon Ilse, Liora Israel, Michael Jacobs, Yannick Jadot, Luis Jimena Quesada, Christian Joerges, Kädtler Jürgen, Iphigénie Kamtsidou, Jakob Kapeller, Pascale Laborier, Justine Lacroix, Sylvie Lambert, Camille Landais, Sandra Laugier, Rémi Lefebvre, Steffen Lehndorff, Nicolas Leron, Ulrike Liebert, Pascal Lokiec, Philippe Maddalon, Mikael Madsen, Paul Magnette, Maria Malatesta, Francesco Martucci, Frédérique Matonti, Dominique Meda, Robert Menasse, Sophie Meunier, Zoltan Miklosi, Eric Millard, Robert Misik, Éric Monnet, Alberto Montero, Daniel Mouchard, Ulrich Mückenberger, Jan-Wener Muller, Olivier Nay, Sighard Neckel, Fernanda Nicola, Silke Ötsch, Walter Ötsch, Bruno Palier, Mazarine Pingeot, Martin Pigeon, Sébastien Platon, Thomas Porcher, Christophe Prochasson, Thomas Ribemont, Julie Ringelheim, Daniel Roche, Pierre Rosanvallon, Ruth Rubio Marin, Guillaume Sacriste, Emmanuel Saez, Gisele Sapiro, Francesco Saraceno, Thomas Sauer, Patrick Savidan, Frédéric Sawicki, Axel Schäffer, Alan Scott, Thomas Sterner,Julien Talpin, Stéphane Troussel, Laurence Tubiana, Boris Vallaud, Fernando Vasquez, Antoine Vauchez, Brigitte Young, and Gabriel Zucman

•This article was amended on 10 December 2018. A previous version wrongly included several names on the list of signatories. This has been corrected.

John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV
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Meng arrest a huge provocation to China [feedly]

How would you like to be an American executive or worker in China, right now?

Meng arrest a huge provocation to China

The arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is a dangerous move by US President Donald Trump's administration in its intensifying conflict with China. If, as Mark Twain reputedly said, history often rhymes, our era increasingly recalls the period preceding 1914. As with Europe's great powers back then, the United States, led by an administration intent on asserting America's dominance over China, is pushing the world toward disaster.

The context of the arrest matters enormously. The US requested that Canada arrest Meng in the Vancouver airport en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, and then extradite her to the US. Such a move is almost a US declaration of war on China's business community. Nearly unprecedented, it puts American businesspeople traveling abroad at much greater risk of such actions by other countries.

The US rarely arrests senior businesspeople, US or foreign, for alleged crimes committed by their companies. Corporate managers are usually arrested for their alleged personal crimes (such as embezzlement, bribery or violence) rather than their company's alleged malfeasance.

Yes, corporate managers should be held to account for their company's malfeasance, up to and including criminal charges; but to start this practice with a leading Chinese businessperson, rather than the dozens of culpable US CEOs and CFOs, is a stunning provocation to the Chinese government, business community, and public.

Meng is charged with violating US sanctions on Iran. Yet consider her arrest in the context of the large number of companies, US and non-US, that have violated US sanctions against Iran and other countries. In 2011, for example, JPMorgan Chase paid US$88.3 million in fines for violating US sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Yet chief executive officer Jamie Dimon wasn't grabbed off a plane and whisked into custody.

And JPMorgan Chase was hardly alone in violating US sanctions. Since 2010, the following major financial institutions paid fines for violating US sanctions: Banco do Brasil, Bank of America, Bank of Guam, Bank of Moscow, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Clearstream Banking, Commerzbank, Compass, Crédit Agricole, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, ING, Intesa Sanpaolo, JP Morgan Chase, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, National Bank of Pakistan, PayPal, RBS (ABN Amro), Société Générale, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Trans-Pacific National Bank (now known as Beacon Business Bank), Standard Chartered, and Wells Fargo.

None of the CEOs or CFOs of these sanction-busting banks was arrested and taken into custody for these violations. In all of these cases, the corporation – rather than an individual manager – was held accountable. Nor were they held accountable for the pervasive lawbreaking in the lead-up to or aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, for which the banks paid a staggering $243 billion in fines, according to a recent tally.

In light of this record, Meng's arrest is a shocking break with practice. Yes, hold CEOs and CFOs accountable, but start at home in order to avoid hypocrisy, self-interest disguised as high principle, and the risk of inciting a new global conflict

In light of this record, Meng's arrest is a shocking break with practice. Yes, hold CEOs and CFOs accountable, but start at home in order to avoid hypocrisy, self-interest disguised as high principle, and the risk of inciting a new global conflict.

Quite transparently, the US action against Meng is really part of the Trump administration's broader attempt to undermine China's economy by imposing tariffs, closing Western markets to Chinese high-technology exports, and blocking Chinese purchases of US and European technology companies. One can say, without exaggeration, that this is part of an economic war on China, and a reckless one at that.

Huawei is one of China's most important technology companies, and therefore a prime target in the Trump administration's effort to slow or stop China's advance into several high-tech sectors.

America's motivations in this economic war are partly commercial – to protect and favor laggard US companies – and partly geopolitical. They certainly have nothing to do with upholding the international rule of law.

The US is targeting Huawei especially because of the company's success in marketing cutting-edge fifth-generation (5G) wireless technologies globally. The US claims the company poses a specific security risk through hidden surveillance capabilities in its hardware and software. Yet the US government has provided no evidence for this claim.

A recent diatribe against Huawei in the Financial Times is revealing in this regard. After conceding that "you cannot have concrete proof of interference in ICT [information and communications technology], unless you are lucky enough to find the needle in the haystack," the author simply asserts that "you don't take the risk of putting your security in the hands of a potential adversary." In other words, while we can't really point to misbehavior by Huawei, we should blacklist the company nonetheless.

When global trade rules obstruct Trump's gangster tactics, then the rules have to go, according to him. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted as much last week in Brussels. "Our administration," he said, is "lawfully exiting or renegotiating outdated or harmful treaties, trade agreements, and other international arrangements that don't serve our sovereign interests, or the interests of our allies." Yet before it exits these agreements, the administration is trashing them through reckless and unilateral actions.

The unprecedented arrest of Meng is even more provocative because it is based on US extra-territorial sanctions, that is, the claim by the US that it can order other countries to stop trading with third parties such as Cuba or Iran. The US would certainly not tolerate China or any other country telling American companies with whom they can or cannot trade.

Sanctions regarding non-national parties (such as US sanctions on a Chinese business) should not be enforced by one country alone, but according to agreements reached within the United Nations Security Council. In that regard, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 calls on all countries to drop sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Yet the US – and only the US – now rejects the Security Council's role in such matters.

The Trump administration, not Huawei or China, is today's greatest threat to the international rule of law, and therefore to global peace.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Working Class Studies: Trouble in Paradise [feedly]

Trouble in Paradise

On the 8th of November, Paradise went up in flames.  This small town in Northern California held about 28,000 people, many retirees on a fixed budget.  This was not a rich town.  The median household income was $41,000, 94% of the residents were white, and a third of the town was occupied by people who rented their homes.  Less than one-quarter of its residents had a four-year college degree.  In 2016, Donald Trump won Butte County by four percentage points.  It is fair to say that if Chico, the county's liberal bastion, had not been included in the count, the margin would have been much higher.

I know all of this because my parents lived there.  They fled, like the rest of the town, on that windy rainless morning last month.  It took us three weeks to find out definitively that their house was absolutely obliterated.  Looking at the picture of the property, provided by CalFire, gave the same emotional punch as seeing an empty child's swing in action or kicked over tricycle with wheels still turning.  All that remained amidst the rubble was half a chimney and a brick retaining wall that my father had built with his own hands, with skills learned from his father before him, a bricklayer by trade.  Everything else was ashes.

The fire that burned Paradise, the Camp Fire, was one of the worst in the state's history, certainly the deadliest.  The combination of drought conditions and high winds, plus the peculiar geography of the place, located on a ridge that, during the fire operated as a chimney, made this a fast-moving and unusually destructive fire.  At its peak, it was burning a football field every three seconds.  There was seemingly little time between the announcement of a nearby fire and my Dad seeing flames in his backyard.  Thousands of people fled for their lives, 88 at last count not making it, some dying as they drove away or trying to leave their burning cars behind.  When it was over –  and it took weeks to contain the fire – almost 14,000 homes, approximately 95% of all the homes in Paradise, were turned to ash.

I will leave it to others to debate who is to blame for this particular fire.  We all know the bigger answer already.  Warmer climate, attributed to human extraction and use of fossil fuels, is just going to make fires like the one that destroyed Paradise more common.  We are literally setting the planet on fire, and I don't see any solutions coming down the pike in my lifetime, certainly not in my parents'.

What I do want to address is our response to those in the fire's destructive pathway.  During the recent gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests in France, over, of all things, a fuel tax (which would surely decrease the consumption of fossil fuels), graffiti went up all over Paris (you've got to admire the French their ability to build barricades and make protests looklike protests).  One graffito read "la crise climatique est une guerre contre les pauvres – climate change is a war against the poor.'  I think whoever threw this one up was onto something important.

More than two weeks after the Camp Fire, about a thousand now-homeless people were still camped out in a Walmart parking lot.  I followed the story intently, and one of the things that most struck me about the situation was the total lack of services.  FEMA had no presence there.   Everything was by donation – Comcast provided a hot spot Wi-Fi, local food trucks gave out food, area residents donated clothes and toys.  In other words, people were huddling together and helping each other, with little to no state services.  After the rains came, all these people were displaced to various shelters around Chico.   But no one knew who gave the orders.  Now, more than a month later, FEMA still appears to have no plan on how to get the 28,000 people displaced by the fire into short-term or long-term housing.

Climate change may not be a plot against the working class, but we will definitely face the brunt of its first impacts.  We can take care of each other, as many private citizens seemed to be trying to do in Chico, or we can save ourselves first.  As Evan Osnos reported in one of the most sobering stories of the past two years, some of the wealthiest people in America are choosing the latter option.  These "doomsday preppers" stockpile weapons, build garrisons, buy property in New Zealand (as a form of "apocalypse insurance"), or make arrangements for getting off the planet entirely.  But we don't need to follow Elon Musk here; we see it closer to home in the renting of private firefighters to save wealthy neighborhoods.  Or the building of a great big wall on our Southern border to keep the refugees of climate change at bay.

Right now, the fears of the wealthy class and the strategies of isolation it has adopted appear to have the upper hand in the shaping of our policy.  We've teargassed women and children seeking asylum.  We've set up detention camps for teenagers.  We've sent thousands of troops to the border.  Most Americans do not agree with these policies, although misleading stories in the media, presidential tweets, and fear itself can always swing people in the other direction.  Many of us were surprised when the Bundy family (Cliven and Ammon) came out this past week criticizing the administration's border policies. The Bundys are well- known in my parts for their illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.  They are usually portrayed as right-wing libertarians who would happily roll back all federal protections of the environment.  The month-long armed occupation, which protested federal management and control of public land, ended with one death, several arrests, and little jail time for the organizers, sparking outrage among many on the Left.

Ammon Bundy said the presidential characterization of the migrant caravan was "fear-based, and frankly, based on selfishness."  I think we have to agree with him.  However boneheaded and distasteful the Bundy-led occupation was, it was also a striking example of working-class solidarity.  This was very evident in the footage aired as part of the PBS documentary, No Man's Land.   It is also a good reminder that allies can pop up in a number of different guises and places.

Climate change is real and it is affecting us now.  This is no longer news.  According to the most recent government report, "climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities."  Climate change is a war against the poor.  One could argue that selfishness, greed, and capitalism have got us into this mess.  We may never be able to get out of it.  The human race may not be saved.  But how we choose to deal with its consequences, whether we let the rich build bunkers and fly to the moon, or we work together to protect, shelter, and welcome those hit first, well, that may decide whether we are worth saving at all.

Allison L. Hurst

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Global Policy: Oil Companies Spent Millions to Defeat Green New Deal in Washington State [feedly]

Oil Companies Spent Millions to Defeat Green New Deal in Washington State

limate change appeared on the ballot in numerous states during the 2018 midterm elections, an indication of the growing concern among average citizens about the catastrophic effects of fossil fuel burning. But the struggle for regulations on emissions was repeatedly blocked by the money machinery of the oil industry. Record amounts of money were spent trying to derail the efforts of activists and labor unions fighting to save the environment. One such instance was over Initiative 1631 in Washington State where the oil industry spent more than $30 million trying to sabotage the struggle for a better world. In this exclusive Truthout interview, Jeff Johnson — who led the fight for the passing of Initiative 1631 — reflects on the lessons activists nationwide can draw for the future from the climate change struggle in Washington State.

C.J. Polychroniou: Jeff, share with me the background of the movement you led in Washington State for climate change and Initiative 1631.

Jeff Johnson: For the record, I am one of seven leaders representing communities of color, the environmental community, tribes and labor that came together to form the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. The Alliance spent three years building a climate justice movement based on principles of equity and giving assistance and voice to those most disproportionately impacted by climate disaster. Initiative 1631 was a product of this work.

I-1631 created a carbon fee of $15 a metric ton on carbon pollution and would have used the resulting $2.3 billion generated over five years to invest in clean energy, clean water and healthy forests – creating tens of thousands of family wage jobs and pulling 20 million tons of CO2 out of the air every year.

I-1631 would have codified a "Just Transition" for our communities in the following ways:

  • Giving heating and electric assistance to low income families.
  • Investing 35 percent of carbon revenue into disproportionately impacted communities.
  • To qualify, grantees would have had to meet high-quality labor standards: prevailing wages, apprenticeship utilization, community workforce agreements with local hire, clean provisions, clean record on employment [and] health and safety.
  • Exempt Energy Intensive Trade exposed industries from fee but not requirements to lessen carbon emissions. This provision would have prevented the leakage of pollution and jobs out of state. It would have also protected our base manufacturing industry for helping produce the infrastructure we need for the clean energy economy.
  • Income, health benefits, and pension support for dislocated fossil fuel workers along with two years of retraining benefits, peer counseling, and relocation expenses. These benefits were intended to make workers, their families and their communities whole.
  • Fifteen-member oversight committee made up of a majority of individuals representing communities of color, tribes, environment, public health and labor. Those most impacted by climate disaster were put in the role of making the decisions about where clean energy investments were made.

Unions were divided over Initiative 1631, and generally speaking, the labor movement in the US hasn't been so far supportive of policies geared toward combating climate change. What led at least certain unions in Washington State to support your struggles, and do you see the rest of unions catching up with the menace of climate change any time soon?

Unions representing 60.2 percent of the 450,000 members of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO supported I-1631 and care passionately about addressing climate change. To a varying degree they understand the existential nature of the crisis we face and understand that working people are disproportionately impacted by climate disaster. Some of our unions, mostly building trades, were opposed to the initiative on the grounds that it would cost their members more money and/or crowd out dollars for investing in transportation projects. While I understand their arguments, I think they are both wrong and short-sighted.

As more and more jobs, income, property, lives and public resources are lost to climate disasters the understanding that we need to deal with the issue systemically will grow. Unfortunately, it is a moral race that we are currently losing.

The oil industry spent exuberant amounts of money and spread many lies in its attempt to defeat Initiative 1631. Do you think that Initiative 1631 would have passed if it wasn't for the role that the oil industry played in opposing it?

The oil industry spent $31.5 million on defeating I-1631. This initiative was the most expensive in our state's history. The great obscenity of this of course was the oil industry, the world's wealthiest industry, trashing I-1631 because it would raise the price of fossil fuels. With pockets and trunks stuffed with cash they said this without a smile on their faces. Of course, they laughed all the way to the bank.

What is even more obscene is the fossil fuel industry is a major funder of the "Right to Work" movement and voter suppression laws aimed at quashing the voices of working people and communities of color.

Without all this oil money, I-1631 would have stood a much better chance of passage (polling numbers and field work had been consistently positive prior to the onslaught of TV, radio and social media ads). Nonetheless, it is difficult to get people to vote for increased costs during a time of outrageous income and wealth inequality. It is also hard to pass game-changing measures when progressive funders are slow to ante up resources and too many politicians and respected community leaders remain silent on the issue. Building a climate justice movement, a people's movement, takes time.

What are the lessons that we can draw from the Washington State climate change struggle?

We can't give up. I-1631 was not only game-changing but fell down on the right side of history. We now have an infrastructure of climate justice stewards that we created around our state over the past 18 months and we need to keep them working and organizing around clean energy issues, e.g., deep dive energy retrofits, 100 percent clean efforts, building out the EV, electrical vehicle[s], infrastructure, community solar, wind and geothermal projects, etc.

The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy will continue educating and organizing until we create an equitable transition away from fossil fuels. And one in which community and labor voices determine what our economic future looks like.

What's next on your agenda with regards to climate change?

I have begun lobbying our Governor [Jay Inslee] on including the equity and "Just transition" language from the initiative into legislative efforts that he is forwarding for January 2019.

Given the existential nature of the climate crisis and the urgency before us, I will continue to speak out and organize on climate justice issues. To do anything less would be inexcusable.



C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism's politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout's Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books.

This post first appeared on Truthout and was reposted with permission.

Image credit: Carlos Ebert via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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