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Updated: 1 hour 17 min ago

How to talk to your relatives about climate change: A guide for the holidays

6 hours 28 min ago

Most people who know me are too polite to question climate change when I’m around, but there are relatives and old family friends who hint at the great divide between their worldviews and mine. I think they sincerely believe that I would crush the economy forever if I had my way. On the other end of the spectrum are friends and family who are alarmed by climate and genuinely want to know what we and our elected officials can do about it. But no matter who’s in the mix, it’s hard to bring my work home for the holidays. Most of the time it feels easier to leave our existential crisis unmentioned.

Last year, the Washington Post reported on research underscoring the importance of talking about climate change. The main takeaway was that people avoid talking about climate with their peers because they worry their peers won’t share their concerns. As explained by the study’s co-author, that creates a “kind of spiral, where people are silent because they don’t know what other people think and people don’t know what other people think because nobody’s talking about it.”

Since the election, the public debate around climate change has only become more toxically politicized, which makes it even more appealing to remain silent – another boon for Exxon and the fossil fuels industry. At the very least, it can feel pointless to try to argue with anyone who isn’t fully convinced about climate change by now. But at the interpersonal level, I still believe that hearts and minds can change at a dinner table and that those individual changes matter collectively.

Consider the transformative shift in opinion – and law – on marriage equality in this country. That shift is inconceivable without the courage of people who came out to their friends and families. The climate fight is different in fundamental ways, but progress similarly depends on a transformative shift in opinion and law. Right now, only one in five Americans hear people they know talk about climate change at least once a month, which says to me that we aren’t talking to our friends and families enough.

It has grown easier to make the case that climate change matters after a year of unprecedented hurricanes and wildfires. For people who are unconvinced about the role of climate change in these events, it’s worth mentioning that scientists are now able to determine with a very high degree of certainty how much more likely these disasters become with rising temperatures. For instance, a recent study found that the total area burned in the western U.S. over the past 33 years was double the size it would have been without any anthropogenic warming. That additional area equaled the area of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

If you want to push back on any argument that there are always anomalies in the weather, here is an especially powerful graphic that shows the undeniable increase in temperatures over the last century, with escalating increases since the 1980s.

Maybe more important than the science or data, which has left many people unmoved, is the willingness to share your personal experience of climate change. For example, climate change knocked at my door in the middle of the night last month. I was home alone with my 5-year-old son. There was so much smoke, it got in through closed windows and woke us up. A fire was raging in the Napa Valley, and for the next five days, there was no view out our windows, just gray. All the kids at school were wearing masks. Everyone felt sick from the bad air, and everyone knew someone who had been evacuated. We were addicted to news of the fire, which were uncontainable for days because it was too hot and dry for the time of year. There was nothing to do but hope for a merciful change in the weather, which didn’t come until after 43 people had died and 8,400 structures had burned. When we talk about the way climate change is getting real, it’s hard to have a superficial, partisan debate.

And then there’s the hopeful news about clean energy. That’s your ace card. A few compelling facts to put in your pocket:

  • The cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70 percent since 2010 in the U.S.
  • In fact, solar is on track to become the world’s cheapest source of power on an unsubsidized basis.
  • With no fuel cost and lower operating and maintenance costs, solar and especially wind are outcompeting even the most efficient new gas plants in states like Texas.
  • Renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy in the U.S.
  • While solar accounted for only 1 percent of our power mix in 2016, it already employs more people than the entire coal industry.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, solar installer is the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S., with wind technician coming in at a close second.

Why is all of this such good news? Clean energy is a boon to the economy no matter what your views on climate are. Right now, China is positioning itself to dominate the new energy economy, while the U.S. is doubling down on the fossil economy of the past. But there is still time for the U.S. to lead, if we make clean energy a top-line, bipartisan issue in this country.

For those who feel too defeated by the scale of climate change to engage, it’s worth underscoring that we are witnessing an energy revolution that can secure the future if we force progress fast enough. Burning fossil fuels accounts for roughly three-quarters of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, along with much of the worst air and water pollution in this country. Transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy is the most important thing we can do to limit climate change. Clean energy also happens to be a powerful engine for health, wealth and democracy given the outsize contribution of fossil fuel interests to our money-in-politics problem.

The Trump administration and the fossil fuels industry is actively working against clean energy progress, but we have the tools, the courts, and the people power to keep advancing clean power in states and cities. If you want to talk about how we keep making progress over the next three years, a few concrete examples are written up here and here and here. The way that people are showing up, around the country, to transform our energy system is a source of hope and cheer for me and my colleagues at Earthjustice. Help us spread the word!

The post How to talk to your relatives about climate change: A guide for the holidays appeared first on NationofChange.

Categories: News

Earth dinner

6 hours 34 min ago

Let’s talk Turkey!

No, not the orange butterball sitting in the Oval Office.

I’m talking about the real thing, the big bird, 46 million of which we Americans will devour on this Thanksgiving Day.

It was the Aztecs who first domesticated the gallopavo, but leave it to the Spanish explorers to “foul-up” the bird’s origins. They declared it to be related to the peacock – wrong! They also thought the peacock originated in Turkey – wrong! And, they thought Turkey was located in Africa – well, you can see the Spanish were pretty confused.

So is the origin of Thanksgiving itself. The popular assumption is that it was first celebrated by the Mayflower immigrants and the Massosoit natives at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1621. Not so, say the proponents of the Jamestown colony down in Virginia – they claim the Thanksgiving feast was first had there in 1608.

Hmph! Hold your horses, pilgrims. Folks in El Paso, Texas, say it all began way out there in 1598, when Spanish settlers sat down with people of the Piro and Manso tribes, gave thanks, and then feasted on roasted duck, geese and fish.

“Ha!” says a Florida group, asserting the very, very first Thanksgiving happened in 1565 when the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine and friends from the Timucuan tribe chowed-down on “cocido” – a stew of salt pork, garbanzo beans and garlic – washing it all down with red wine.

Wherever it began, and whatever the purists claim is “official,” Thanksgiving today is as multicultural as America. So let’s enjoy! Kick back, giving thanks we’re in a country with such ethnic richness and dive into your turkey rellenos, moo-shu turkey, turkey falafel, barbecued turkey…

Whatever you are planning on having for dinner to mark this year’s day of thanks, how about having an earth dinner?

Not that you’d eat earth, but that you and others would gather around a table for a social occasion to celebrate the bounty of our good, green earth. This is not just another Thanksgiving event, but a festive opportunity to have friends and family cook, eat and drink together while reveling in the culture of food.

Most of us don’t realize that our dinner tells many stories, embodying our personal histories, family memories, music, art, and other connections… besides our tummies. To help reawaken those cultural links in a way that can be tasty, touching and fun, the folks at Organic Valley Family of Farms have come up with the novel idea of Earth Dinners.

The concept simply involves throwing some sort of dinner party at which the food is not merely consumed, but also is the focus of table talk, reminiscing, singing, laughing, game playing, and whatever else you can dream up. It can be a potluck dinner, a buffet, a five-course gourmet meal, a backyard barbeque… whatever suits you. The key is to know something about the food being served – where it comes from, the history of some of the ingredients, songs written about it and so on.

The goal is to get everyone connecting in some personal or cultural way to the dinner as it progresses. Ask guests to tell stories about their very first food memory, or to recall any family member who was a farmer or a jolly cook. Invite people of diverse backgrounds and all ages. Ask a farm family to join you, or a cheesemaker or others involved in producing food. Then – eat, talk, enjoy!

Rootstock is a cooperatively produced blog authored by organic farmers and part of the Organic Valley Family, they offer a sort of Earth Dinner starter kit, with tips on everything from menus to party favors, as well as providing reports on successful dinners that others have put together.

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Categories: News

Native people and allies pledge to stop Keystone XL

6 hours 44 min ago

I’m in Lower Brule, South Dakota, where elected tribal officials, spiritual leaders, Native grassroots organizations, youth groups, and traditional women’s societies have gathered with non-Native farmers, ranchers and others affected by the Keystone XL pipeline. That project to carry tar sands from shale fields in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico threatens our water, our livelihoods and our sacred sites.

We were together Monday when we heard the news Nebraska’s Public Services Commission gave approval to an alternative route for the pipeline.

Yes, we were sad, and angry. But within minutes, we went from being sad to being strategic. That decision opens a new terrain to continue the fight to prevent the building of KXL, and it can be stopped if we build on the strong relationships between Native leadership and non-Native farmers and ranchers. We can leverage the power of organized prayer in a values-led campaign that puts Mother Earth above profit-hungry fossil fuel corporations.

What we learned in Standing Rock

Many of us are veterans of Standing Rock. We learned so much during those long, cold months at the Oceti Sakowin camp, in our struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

We won at Standing Rock, even though the oil is now flowing. Because over 400 tribes came together to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for their sovereign, moral and inherent right to protect the Missouri River and Mother Earth.

Native peoples have a unique role to play in building a movement that defends the planet, and in creating a future where we all can live in healthy communities.

Joining our struggle

What began as a struggle to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and sacred sites grew into an international movement to protect the water for the 17 million people who live, work and play along the shores of the Missouri. Along the way, we were joined by by thousands more from all around the world.

As we believe, we’re all related, and that all we do in life, and nature has an impact on every one of us.

So the mood at our gathering today is that in the present, we can act on the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors, and protect future generations from destruction if we work strategically. We must lead with love for humanity, for community and for Mother Earth.

We must plan and organize, not just politically, but also with the prayers that will give us the strength and courage to do what we need to do to stop this pipeline. Tribal leadership and Native communities are the keys to winning this struggle.

TransCanada knows

The truth is that TransCanada, the pipeline’s builders, aren’t happy. Nebraska allowed their project to proceed, but they didn’t get what they wanted. A new route means TransCanada has to decide if the costs of proceeding are worth it.

TransCanada’s investors must face questions of the viability of building a pipeline that has been fought for years as oil prices have dropped. Quarterly earnings come out December 9, and their shareholders meet on December 15. According to the New York Times, they still haven’t decided whether they will proceed with building the pipeline.

The price of oil is still low. And the movement we started at Standing Rock succeeded in the divestment of $5 billion from the Dakota Access Pipeline. City governments, union pensions and individuals were convinced by the power of the Oceti Sakowin Camp that it was immoral to have their money fund that pipeline. We can do the same with Keystone XL, and TransCanada’s investors know it.

What we see

So what we see here in Lower Brule is that all up and down the new proposed route, there are possibilities to challenge the building of Keystone XL.

Sadly, we’re also gathered near where 210,000 gallons are leaking from the Keystone 1 pipeline. TransCanada has proven that they’re not prepared to deal with this kind of calamity, nor can they protect the precious aquifer and wells that are critical for ranching, irrigating crops and drinking water.

The movement to stop Keystone XL has momentum, because it is grounded in the Indigenous practices of living in harmony with nature. Ourstrategy and tactics are rooted in the inherent responsibility of indigenous communities to do whatever is necessary to protect the land, water and air from destruction.

Our power has grown

Response to this week’s KXL permit decision comes out of years of united resistance between Native and non-Native landowners. Our power has grown since Standing Rock. People now understand that if we build unity, if we build a movement with compassion for Mother Earth and concern for Humankind, we can win the hearts and minds of a broad cross section of people in this country.

And if we beat Keystone XL, we can disrupt the pro-fossil fuel campaign coming from the White House. We will signal an unmistakable challenge to all those running for office in states where American Indians are concentrated that the Native vote is the swing vote, which will be mobilized all the way from prayer camps to the voting booth.

There’s a very keen awareness that this fight is important not only for those who live along the pipeline, but also for how our country can become less dependent on fossil fuels, and we can move towards the protection of our planet.

A family reunion

So here in Lower Brule, we’re holding a family reunion: veterans of the first successful KXL fight, the Standing Rock family, with newcomers, Natives with non-Natives. Strategizing, sharing stories and renewing our shared commitment to protecting the sacred from desecration by fossil fuels has made us even stronger.

But the coming battles are going to be new, not like the ones in the past, and will demand all our strength. The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have.

The NO KXL movement is being built from a spiritual starting point that’s rooted in the traditional Lakota, Dakota culture and origin stories, in the grassroots and in sovereign treaty rights that have been so often ignored.

Wherever you are

Together with our allies like 350.org, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network, we “Promise to Protect the Sacred.” So if the need arises, if we have exhausted all local avenues, when we need assistance, people from all over the world will be called to come to Nebraska and South Dakota to physically stop the building of this pipeline.

Wherever you are, please take a moment to remember think about how you can be a part of this historic movement to stop Keystone XL.

Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual and inherent right to be caretakers of the planet. The sacred teachings of our cultures reflect the resilience that has brought us this far, by prioritizing kinship, reciprocity and community building. It’s about preserving relationships and living in balance, with all things – natural, human and animal.

The post Native people and allies pledge to stop Keystone XL appeared first on NationofChange.

Categories: News

Congressman apologizes for nude selfie

6 hours 58 min ago

Shortly after a nude photo appeared online depicting a Texas congressman displaying his exposed genitals, Rep. Joe Barton apologized on Wednesday for his glaring lack of judgment. Throughout his public apology, the Republican congressman attempted to distant himself from any similarities to GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore’s alleged pedophilia and sexual assault.

“While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” Rep. Barton told the Texas Tribune on Wednesday. “Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”

Along with the nauseating photo, which was anonymously posted online, a screenshot was posted of the 68-year-old’s sext message that read, “I want u soo bad. Right now. Deep and hard.”

“You’re as aware of what was posted as I am,” Barton told the Texas Tribune during a phone interview on Tuesday. “I am talking to a number of people, all of whom I have faith in and am deciding how to respond, quite frankly.”

Representing Texas’s 6th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1985, Barton announced his re-election bid earlier this month. Although Barton admitted that he was deliberating whether or not to drop out of the race, a spokeswoman for the congressman stated on Wednesday that he has no intention of resigning and has not formally withdrawn his bid for re-election.

“Moving forward, I expect for Mr. Barton to make the correct decision for his constituents and his family. I am saddened for everyone involved,” Pilot Point Rep. Michael Burgess recently told the Dallas Morning News.

In his apology, Barton emphasized that he had “consensual” relationships with “mature adult women” in a blatant attempt to distance his actions from the heinous allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore from Alabama. Accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl at his home and a 16-year-old waitress in his car, Moore allegedly dated several teenage girls in his late 20s and early 30s.

Earlier this year, Moore admitted during an interview that he first noticed his future wife at a dance recital when she was 15 years old. Moore recalled, “When I was deputy district attorney, many years before we got married, I saw her at a dance recital and I was standing, oh, at the back of the auditorium and I saw her up front. And I remember her name, it was Kayla Kisor. KK. But I remember that and I didn’t meet her there…it was, oh gosh, eight years later or something, I met her. And when she told me her name, I remembered.”

Instead of condemning Moore’s alleged crimes or Barton’s admitted stupidity, President Donald Trump has offered an open invitation to allow accused pedophiles and sex offenders into Congress in order to garner the Republican votes that he so desperately needs to pass legislation. Due to Trump’s own allegations of sexual harassment and assault, the president lacks the moral authority to condemn their actions without hypocritically calling attention to his own misconduct.

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Categories: News

Respect existence or expect resistance

7 hours 1 min ago

Last week in Bonn, Germany, thousands gathered at the heavily secured United Nations climate conference, dubbed “COP 23,” a Potemkin village of bureaucrats, politicians, environmentalists, journalists and local support staff. Sixty kilometers away, in the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest, scores of activists, living in treehouses, defended the old growth woodland in an ongoing struggle to save the rare ecosystem from destruction and stop the expansion of Europe’s largest open-pit mine, a sprawling hole in the earth where energy company RWE extracts lignite, or brown coal, the dirtiest coal on earth. Hanging over both was the political pall cast by President Donald Trump, who announced June 1 that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the global climate change accord negotiated by all the countries of the world.

“Whilst the United States might be saying that it’s pulling out, it still continues to play a destructive role,” Asad Rehman, executive director of London-based War on Want, told us on the Democracy Now! news hour, broadcasting from inside COP 23 (“COP” stands for “Conference of Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). “Donald Trump has come here, backed by his fossil fuel pals. He’s come here to wreck the climate negotiations.”

Big promises were made in Paris in 2015: Each signatory to the Paris Agreement made a voluntary pledge to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. If pledges are met, the theory goes, then the global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels will be capped at 1.5, or, at worst, 2 degrees Celsius (2.7-3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), avoiding the worst consequences of climate disruption. Rich countries, largely responsible for the world’s polluting carbon emissions to date, pledged hundreds of billions of dollars to poorer nations, to allow them to recover from climate damage already done, and to pursue a renewably powered development path.

In response to Trump, U.S. civil society organized the “We Are Still In” coalition, with over 2,500 elected officials, state and local governments, CEOs, businesses, universities, faith leaders and grassroots organizations committing to meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals, since the Trump administration won’t. It is a big coalition, and not without dissension. As California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was speaking in Bonn, protesters began chanting, “California’s fracking spreads pollution,” and “Keep it in the ground!” Brown responded, addressing an indigenous activist: “I agree with you. In the ground. Let’s put you in the ground so we can get on with the show here.” The grim imagery of a white governor threatening to put a Native American in the ground was not missed by anyone.

Just one year ago, as families gathered in the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday predicated on the wholesale whitewashing of the colonial genocide against Native Americans, the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline on Standing Rock Sioux tribal territory in North Dakota was being subjected to increasingly intense state violence. Police and National Guardsmen unleashed so-called “less than lethal” armaments, with rubber-coated steel-ball bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, LRAD sound cannons and water cannons fired on crowds in subzero temperatures. The Standing Rock Sioux call the pipeline “the black snake,” carrying fracked petroleum from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, for transfer to another pipeline to carry it to the Gulf Coast. The black snake’s arrival in Lakota territory has long been prophesied.

Last Thursday, as COP 23 was wrapping up, a massive leak in the Keystone pipeline was discovered in South Dakota. At least 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the pipeline, just as TransCanada, the pipeline’s owner, was seeking final permission from Nebraska’s Public Utilities Commission to build its Keystone XL pipeline. Despite the leak, the PUC granted the permit for the controversial KXL to carry toxic tar sands oil from Canada to the hurricane-battered U.S. Gulf Coast for refining. President Barack Obama, after years of resistance, finally killed the pipeline. Trump, as soon as he took office, boastfully greenlighted both KXL and DAPL.

Back in the Hambach Forest, activists are bracing for RWE and German police to raid their treehouse villages, arrest them all and clear-cut the remaining 10 percent of the ancient forest. “It’s time to resist against state power,” a forest defender named Indigo told us. Commenting on the nearby COP 23, she added, “It’s time that we take responsibility for our own lives … that we create a world which gives us the power to act, instead of hoping that other people will solve problems.”

The day before the climate summit opened, 4,500 people marched into the open pit and halted mining for the day. Nearby, in the remaining occupied forest, a banner was strung between two ancient oaks. It proclaimed, “Respect existence or expect resistance.”

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Categories: News

CBS and PBS fire Charlie Rose amid sexual harassment allegations

Thu, 2017-11-23 03:00

In response to a recent Washington Post report detailing decades of sexual misconduct and harassment, both CBS and PBS announced on Tuesday that veteran journalist Charlie Rose has been fired by both media organizations. According to the allegations, at least eight women have accused Rose of making unwanted sexual advances, appearing nude in their presence, or groping them.

“A short time ago we terminated Charlie Rose’s employment with CBS News, effective immediately,” CBS News President David Rhodes wrote in a note to his staff on Tuesday. “This followed the revelation yesterday of extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior said to have revolved around his PBS program.

“Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace – a supportive environment where people feel they can do their best work. We need to be such a place.”

Rhodes concluded, “I’m deeply disappointed and angry that people were victimized – and that even people not connected with these events could see their hard work undermined. If all of us commit to the best behavior and the best work – that is what we can be known for.”

“In light of yesterday’s revelations, PBS has terminated its relationship with Charlie Rose and canceled distribution of his programs,” a PBS spokesperson said in a statement. “PBS expects all the producers we work with to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect.”

Both CBS and PBS immediately suspended Rose on Monday in the wake of the Washington Post article before deciding to terminate the 75-year-old reporter. On Tuesday morning, Rose’s co-hosts, Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King, appeared on “CBS This Morning” to address the sexual harassment allegations against him.

“There is no excuse for this alleged behavior,” O’Donnell asserted. “It is systematic and pervasive, and I’ve been doing a lot of listening, and I’m going to continue to do that. This I know is true: Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility.”

“We are all rocked by this,” King admitted. “And I – I want to echo what Norah said. I really applaud the women that speak up despite the friendship. He doesn’t get a pass because I can’t stop thinking about the anguish of these women, what happened to their dignity, what happened to their bodies, what happened maybe to even their careers.”

In a statement posted to Twitter, Rose wrote, “In my 45 years of journalism, I have prided myself on being an advocate for the careers of the women with whom I have worked. Nevertheless, in the past few days, claims have been made about my behavior toward some former female colleagues.

“It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these accusations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.

“I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will too. All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives.”

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Categories: News

Costa Rica runs 300 days on renewable energy

Thu, 2017-11-23 02:30

According to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), Costa Rica has run entirely on renewable energy for more than 300 days in 2017, and they have not needed to resort to thermal backup to generate power since May 1.

This accomplishment adds to an already impressive renewable track record. Costa Rica ran on renewable energy for 299 and 271 days in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The U.S. generated only about 15 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2016.

Currently, 99.62% of the Costa Rica’s electricity production comes from its five clean energy sources: water, wind, sun, geothermal and biomass, with hydroelectricity generating the largest percentage of energy:

  • Hydroelectric: 78.26%
  • Wind: 10.29%
  • Geothermal: 10.23%
  • Solar and biomass: 0.84%

It’s important to note that this incredible statistic can be misleading. We are talking about electricity consumption only.

According to Costa Rican clean development adviser Dr. Monica Araya, 99% renewable energy production is a “fantastic achievement,” but “It hides a paradox, which is that nearly 70 per cent of all our energy consumption is oil.”

And not all renewable electricity is created equal. Hydroelectric power provides the majority of the country’s electricity, but dams can have negative environmental and social consequences.

Thankfully, wind energy production has also reached a record high in 2017, contributing 1,014.82 gigawatt hours just since January.

With 16 wind farms located in the provinces of San José and Guanacaste and winds expected to increase through the December, wind energy production is proving to be an important part of the renewable energy future in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has achieved something incredible and shown the rest of the world what’s possible with renewable energy.

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Categories: News

What is the true cost of inequality?

Thu, 2017-11-23 02:22

The 12 months that ended this past summer, suggests the just-released annual Global Wealth Report from the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, ought to be cause for celebration. The world has never been richer. Credit Suisse’s researchers have discerned “a significant increase in wealth across the globe.” Net worth worldwide has increased by a remarkable $16.7 trillion over just the past year.

So why aren’t people worldwide cheering? That “significant increase in wealth,” the new Credit Suisse numbers make clear, has benefited only a precious few. The top 1 percent globally now hold 50.1 percent of the world’s household wealth, up from 45.5 percent at the start of the century.

Within that top 1 percent, the really rich – deep pockets with at least $50 million in net worth – are clearly leading the way. Since 2000, Credit Suisse calculates, the wealth of this “ultra high net worth” cohort has multiplied “five-fold.”

About half of these ultras, 49 percent, reside today in the United States. Credit Suisse counts 72,000 of these ultra-rich Americans. Some context: China, the host to the world’s second-highest collection of $50 million-and-up personal fortunes, has only 18,100 ultras.

Some additional context: The United States hosts over 25,000 more ultra-rich individual fortunes than the nations with next nine highest ultra-rich totals combined.

The trickle-down

How much of this enormous wealth at America’s economic summit trickles down to average Americans? Not much.

At first glance, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The average American adult, the Credit Suisse data show, boasts $388,585 in net worth. Only two other nations in the world – Switzerland and Australia – have higher net worth averages.

But wealth averages can be deceiving. They represent a nation’s total household net worth divided by the nation’s total number of adults. The more wealth a nation’s rich hold, the higher the average will be. A nation of one millionaire and nine other adults with no wealth at all would have an average individual net worth of $100,000.

So net worth averages can tell us next to nothing about the actual life experience of the typical person. To see how a nation’s most typical adults are doing, we need instead to calculate each nation’s median adult net worth. That means finding the net-worth level that represents the point at which half a nation’s adults have more wealth and half have less.

The new 2017 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report helpfully calculates these medians. Switzerland and Australia again top the global list. The typical Swiss adult has a net worth of $229,000. The typical Australian, $195,400. And the typical American? A mere $55,876. Twenty nations in all have higher median adult net worths than the United States.

The true cost of inequality

Just how much is inequality costing ordinary Americans? Comparing the United States to other more egalitarian-minded developed nations can give us a vivid sense of the high toll that inequality exacts. Take, for instance, the example of Japan, one of the world’s most equal nations.

In their new Global Wealth Report, Credit Suisse’s researchers describe the 2017 Japanese economy as “still in the doldrums.” But ordinary Japanese households would almost certainly take their “doldrums” over the economic status quo in the United States any day of the week.

The numbers explain why. The United States has over 50 times more ultra-rich than Japan, and that enormous wealth at the top has the U.S. average net worth towering over the average Japanese net worth, by a $388,586 to $225,057 margin. But Japan shares its household wealth far more equally than the United States. The typical Japanese adult holds $123,724 in net worth, much more than double the $55,876 U.S. median adult net-worth figure.

Ordinary Americans, in effect, are each paying what amounts to an “inequality tax.” If we distributed our wealth as equally as the Japanese distribute theirs, the typical American would likely be somewhere around $100,000 richer.

Or take Australia, a nation that now sports almost the exact same average adult wealth as the United States. The average Aussie has a $402,603 net worth, just a bit above the average American’s $388,586. The net worth of the median – most typical – Australian? A stunning $195,417, four times the median adult net worth in the United States.

Australians used to see their nation as a relatively equal society. They don’t anymore. Rising inequality has become a major Australian political issue. But Australia remains far more equal a society than the United States. The top 1 percent in Australia only holds an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s wealth.

America’s top 1 percent, Federal Reserve researchers reported earlier this fall, now holds 38.6 percent.

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Categories: News

On the rehabilitation of George W. Bush

Thu, 2017-11-23 02:10

He received a prestigious award from the West Point Association of Graduates. He published a “runaway” bestselling autobiography. Last February, a lavishly produced book celebrating his paintings of Americans who served in the military was, as Time put it, “burning up the Amazon charts.”

Still, the liberal media wasn’t ready to embrace George W. Bush – not at least until he made some oblique criticisms of the current tenant of his old position, suggesting that, in the present political climate, “bigotry seems emboldened.” Seems? Have you been to Charlottesville lately, Mr. Bush?

The former president was less tentative on the main subject of his address to a conference on “democracy” he’d organized in New York City: the importance of free trade and the need for a large American footprint in the world. “We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade,” he said, “forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.” More on that speech later.

Not the first rehab job

George W. Bush is hardly the first disgraced Republican president and war criminal to worm his way back into American esteem. Richard Nixon remains the leader in that department.  He spent his later years being celebrated as an elder statesman and a master of realpolitik in international relations. In the process, he managed to shake off the dust of Watergate.

In those years, few even remembered that his was the first administration in which both the president and vice president resigned. In 1973, that disgraced vice president, Spiro Agnew, pled guilty to a felony count of tax evasion, but not before he’d bequeathed the English language a few of its most mellifluous sobriquets, among them the “nattering nabobs of negativism” and the “effete corps of impudent snobs” (aimed at those who opposed the Vietnam War).

Nixon’s rehabilitation not only reduced the Watergate scandal in American memory, but also essentially obliterated his greater crimes, among which were these:

  • while still a presidential candidate in 1968, he opened a secret back channel to the South Vietnamese government to keep it out of peace talks with the North that might have benefited his Democratic opponent;
  • in the war itself, he oversaw the expansion of the CIA’s Phoenix Program of torture and assassination in which, as historian Alfred McCoy has described it, “the formalities of prosecution” of suspected Viet Cong were replaced “with pump and dump – pumping suspects of information by torture and then dumping the bodies, more than 20,000 of them between 1968 and 1971”;
  • he also oversaw an expansive, illegal, and undeclared war in Cambodia (which, when it was about to come to light, he described as a brief “incursion” into that country);
  • he oversaw the saturation or “carpet” bombing of the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, and that country’s major port, Haiphong;
  • and he presided over the “first 9/11,” the 1973 military coup that murdered Chile’s elected president, Salvador Allende, ushering in years of terror and torture under General Augusto Pinochet.

And don’t think that Richard Nixon is the only other example of such a post-presidential rehabilitation. Ronald Reagan is now remembered by friend and foe alike as a kind, folksy president and a wily strategist who ended the Cold War by forcing a cash-strapped Soviet Union to keep up with U.S. defense spending and then negotiated directly with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. When he died in June 2004, the New York Times was typical in the largely fawning obituary it ran, describing him as “the man who restored popular faith in the presidency and the American government.”

That obituary did at least mention the Iran-Contra conspiracy in which President Reagan approved the (illegal) sale of arms to Iran to fund his (illegal) support of the Nicaraguan Contras, the murderous rebel force that sought to overthrow that country’s leftist Sandinista government. “The deception and disdain for the law,” commented the obituary, “invited comparisons to Watergate, undermined Mr. Reagan’s credibility, and severely weakened his powers of persuasion with Congress.” An odd set of observations about a man being hailed for restoring faith in the presidency, but consistent with the contradictions inherent in any lionization of Reagan.

Lest we forget, he was also the president who began his first term by attacking unions, starting with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, a move which so many years later still results in regular flight delays, thanks to a 27-year low in the number of air controllers. Reagan also inaugurated the mania for deregulation that led to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ultimately to the subprime mortgage crisis and financial meltdown of 2007-2008. His presidency reinforced what would become a never-ending slide in the value of real wages and his tax policies were the starting point for what has, in our own time, become not an inequality gap but an inequality chasm that has now left three men with the same amount of wealth as 160 million Americans. (Not surprisingly, depending on who’s calculating it, the United States either has the world’s highest or perhaps fourth-highest Gini score, a measurement of economic inequality.)

Nixon had to wait many years for his rehabilitation and Reagan’s was largely posthumous.  At a vigorous 71, however, Bush seems to be slipping effortlessly back onto the national stage only nine years after leaving office essentially in disgrace.  He will evidently have plenty of time to bask in history’s glow before the first of those nostalgic obituaries are written.  And for that, he can thank Donald Trump.

W. redux?

During that October 17th speech in which he criticized Trump without mentioning his name, George W. Bush touted the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World.” There, he bemoaned the degradation of political discourse by “casual cruelty,” noting that “bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.” Like the rest of his family, Bush does not share Trump’s aversion to immigrants, so he added that this country seems to be forgetting “the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

Articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Guardian eagerly reported Bush’s implicit criticisms of the president as a hopeful sign of resistance to Trumpism from the “responsible” Republican right. Politico simply labeled the event a “George W. Bush speech on Trumpism,” although much of it was about the decline of democracy in Europe and the value of free trade.

It’s certainly true that his speech included oblique critiques of the man who repeatedly insulted his brother Jeb as “a very low-energy kind of guy” and knocked him out of the race to be the third Bush to sit in the Oval Office, but it’s worth reading the whole address. It’s vintage W. – that is, vintage W. as a war criminal. He began, for instance, by reprising the lie that “since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies.”

As Alfred McCoy demonstrates in his recent book, In the Shadows of the American Century, that is a particularly disingenuous description of a 70-year history in which Washington supported and, in a remarkable number of cases was directly involved in, the destruction of free societies. A list of examples would perhaps begin with the 1953 British and U.S.-backed coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh that would install the despotic Shah in power in that country.  It would certainly continue with the 1954 U.S. and United Fruit Company coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala (an early instance of Washington’s post-World War II “encouragement” of anything-but-free-trade); the 1960 CIA-backed coup against, and the murder of, Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; and the 1973 military coup in Chile. An honest history would also include the active “encouragement” of societies that were anything but free, including those run by juntas, dictators, or military governments in Greece, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Uruguay, Iraq, and South Korea, to name just a few.

Of course, George W. Bush is hardly the first president to lie about the post-World War II record of the United States.  Nor is he the first to suggest that “American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places,” which he attributed in his speech to the lack of the democracy Washington put so much effort into destroying in more than 70 countries across the planet.

And don’t forget that it was precisely the pretext of a direct threat to American security that led to the most criminal lie of his career: the insistence that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that the U.S. invasion of his country was justified by a (legally questionable) case of preemptive self-defense. By initiating a war of aggression, by loosing “shock and awe” on the capital of a nation that had not attacked ours, President Bush committed a war crime. Indeed, it was the first in the list of crimes for which the leaders of Nazi Germany were indicted at Nuremberg after World War II: the ultimate crime against peace.

Few Americans have ever heard of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but in 1928 the United States signed it and the Senate ratified it by a vote of 85-1. The 50 signatories of that treaty renounced war as a means of settling international disputes and, as the authors of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World have argued, by implication made aggressive war a violation of international law. The U.S. Constitution states in Article 6 that “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” By invading Iraq, Bush broke both international and U.S. law.

In addition to his crimes against peace, Bush and his administration were also the authors of such traditionally recognized war crimes as torture and the use of chemical weapons. One of the uglier aspects of the U.S. military’s battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah was its use of white phosphorus, an incendiary munition. Phosphorus ignites spontaneously when exposed to air.  If bits of the chemical attach to human beings, skin and flesh burn away. The burning continues as long as there is oxygen available, sometimes right into the bone.

In short, isn’t it a little early to begin rehabilitating the man responsible for indefinite detention at Guantánamo, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and at least 150,000 Afghans – not to mention the trillions of U.S. dollars shoved down the memory hole in pursuit of the futile wars that followed?

Leda and the Swan

The same year that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed, William Butler Yeats published a collection of poems called The Tower. It contains what many consider his masterpiece, the harrowing sonnet “Leda and the Swan.” In it, Yeats recreates the moment in Greek myth when Zeus, the ruling god of Olympus, having taken the form of a swan, rapes the helpless human woman Leda, leaving her pregnant with a daughter.  That daughter became Helen of Troy, whose abduction was the casus belli for the Trojan War.

The poet begins with the victim’s shock and awe:

“A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

In the final stanza, Yeats writes:

“A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.”

In those brief words can be read an entire history of war and death, recounted more fully in the 15,693 lines of the Iliad, all somehow encapsulated in that first act of violence.

In his poem, Yeats implies that Zeus knows full well the final outcome of his act. Similarly, perhaps, the “swans” of Washington in 2003, which was at that time the planet’s own imperial Olympus, had more than an inkling of the broken walls, the burning roofs and towers their invasion of Iraq might engender. As early as 1996, future Vice President Dick Cheney’s fellow hawks Richard Perle and Douglas Feith – who would later join the Bush administration as adviser on the Defense Policy Board and under secretary of defense for policy – helped write a report for Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then running the Israeli government for the first time. Titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” it urged the leaders of Israel’s right-wing Likud party to leave behind the nation’s previous geopolitical strategy by abandoning peace negotiations with the Palestinians and using military means to actively restructure the Middle East in their favor.

“Israel,” the authors argued, “can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.” Such a campaign would begin by “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” The ultimate goal was a realignment of power in the region, with Syria destabilized, a monarchy in Iraq, and a new regional alliance among Turkey, Jordan, and Israel.

It would prove to be the geopolitical equivalent of a movie preview. In the wake of 9/11, the same cast of characters would take a similar path in Washington and, in the end, that “rolling back” operation would shake or destroy country after country from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Yemen.  Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria has certainly been destabilized in ways almost impossible to imagine, through the rise of ISIS (born in an American military prison) and a vicious, multi-sided civil war that, by early 2016, had left more than a tenth of its population killed or injured.  In the process, more than 10 million people, including untold numbers of children, were turned into internal or external refugees.

Netanyahu, in fact, would reject the “clean break” proposal (perhaps because it also suggested that Israel make a clean break with its dependence on U.S. aid), but the neocons were undeterred. In 1998, they resurrected the plan as part of a new pressure group they formed, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and presented it to Bill Clinton in a letter encouraging him to direct “a full complement of diplomatic, political, and military efforts” to “remove Saddam Hussein from power.”

Nor were they overly concerned about the legality of such a move, writing that “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the U.N. Security Council.” In other words, the country should not be “crippled” by adherence to the U.N. Charter, whose Article 51 prohibits unilateral war-making without Security Council approval, except in cases of immediate “individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

Like Netanyahu, Clinton ignored their suggestion. However, the signatories of the letter included many figures who would become key players in the Bush administration, among them Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Richard Armitage, Reagan hold-over Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad, who among other roles served as Bush’s special envoy and ambassador at large for free Iraqis. And it included, of course, Cheney adviser and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who had prepared a draft of a 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document for President George H.W. Bush in which he argued for the importance of U.S. readiness to take unilateral military action, whether approved by the United Nations or not.

In other words, the top officials of the Bush administration took office already planning to attack Iraq. It only awaited 19 mostly Saudi terrorists hijacking four American commercial airliners on September 11, 2001. That would be the pretext to launch what has become a “generational struggle” that would eventually destroy Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen (and almost as a side dish, Afghanistan), and which now threatens to engulf the entire Greater Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia, from Afghanistan to the Philippines, in a set of never-ending wars and spreading terror movements.

All that suffering sprang from the actions of one feckless president and his crew. So what if – after 16 years of fruitless war, 16 years of disintegrating American infrastructure, 16 years of almost unprecedented inequality – George W. Bush does find Trump’s rhetorical style distasteful? Is that really any reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero?

The post On the rehabilitation of George W. Bush appeared first on NationofChange.

Categories: News

7 not-so-subtle messages Congress is sending with its tax plans

Thu, 2017-11-23 02:00

There is no better way for any legislature – be it a tribal council, a state assembly, or a Congress – to telegraph what’s most important to a society than through tax policy. How a government collects revenue says what constituent groups are seen to matter. And, conversely, what groups and issues are insignificant. And, that of course, is Indian Country.

As Adrian Sinclair wrote in Cronkite News: “Indian Country once again does not have a seat at the table.” Tribes “aren’t treated the same as state and local governments across the board on a whole series of issues,” John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said after the hearing. “Tribes are … either ignored or they’re an afterthought.” He said state governments in many cases have more power than tribal governments, like the federal Adoption Tax Credit, which gives a credit to parents who adopt a child with special needs. But the credit only applies when a state court, not a tribal court, rules that a child has special needs.

So Indian Country is a perfect illustration for my larger point: A country’s tax policy shows what it values. The key to this idea is simple when a nation wants more of something, then taxes it less. And, other hand, if a nation wants less of something? Tax it more.

All interest on debt was deductible when the first income tax was created in 1894. Why? Because Americans did not like to borrow. It was almost immoral. As a writer for Harper’s Weekly warned, a man in debt “must smile on those he hates, he must extend his hand where he would strike, he must speak pleasantly with a curse in his throat … He wears dependence like a yoke.”

But Congress made debt a better deal. You could borrow money for that new farm, or especially a home, and the government would subsidize the loan by making it a tax-deductible transaction. By the 1920s car loans were the bigger deal. Americans were borrowing, buying, and deducting. Congress created a monster with that policy and today debt is one of America’s great loves. Then in 1986 Congress switched gears: Today individuals can only deduct mortgage interest. But even that single benefit was generous. You could buy a big house. A bigger house. A ginormous house. And deduct 100 percent of the interest up to the cost up to $1.1 million of debt. And that tax deal includes second homes.

So as a policy, the Congress was telling we the people to buy bigger houses. And go ahead, get that second house in the woods or on the lake.

This tax reform will change the way we consumers spend money.

That’s what tax reform is, setting parameters for what the elected leaders think is important for a national policy. So, if it becomes law, this tax reform will change the way we consumers spend money. Perhaps we’ll buy and build smaller houses and rent a cabin on the lake instead of purchasing one. This might be a good outcome for all of us. This is actually a pro-climate policy. (Please don’t tell Congress.)

This same priority process is true for renewable energy. Congress created incentives for wind, solar, and other renewable energy. But, now the Republican plan is to reverse course, and reward oil, gas, and especially coal. Tax policy will favor fossil fuel development and renewable energy will, therefore, cost more. But will companies still invest? Who knows? We do know the calculations will be way more complicated. And, did I mention, renewable energy will cost more.

Let’s consider the overarching messages, the narrative, that will form policy in the tax bill before the Senate and the one already passed by the House of Representatives.

1. The bigger the corporation, the bigger the break

The tax bills paid by corporations are driving the legislation in both the House and the Senate. Republicans argue that if taxes are lower, companies will invest more in the United States (instead of other countries) and hire more people at higher wages. This debate is complicated because the current tax code is full of loopholes (something that Republicans say will be fixed). But the bottom line is that U.S. companies have a higher tax rate than what other countries charge, but, and this is huge, the companies actually pay less in federal taxes than what other countries charge.

As the Harvard Business Review says: “First and foremost, corporate taxes are important because they help pay for government services. While they don’t account for as much U.S. tax revenue as they once did, they remain one of the central ways the government raises funds. According to the Tax Policy Center, “The corporate income tax is the third largest source of federal revenue, after the individual income tax and payroll taxes.”

The Senate bill is evolving. It also rewards big business.

The House bill cuts the top rate that large corporations pay from 35 percent to 20 percent. It would be the largest one-time drop in the big-business tax rate ever. And it’s a permanent change (the individual rates expire after a decade) at least until there’s another tax bill.

Companies will also get more deductions for purchasing new equipment. And there is an incentive for companies to move their profits back to the United States from low-tax countries.

The Senate bill is evolving. It also rewards big business. But to reduce the cost of the entire package, it delays reducing the corporate rate until 2019. (Imagine every business in the country holding off on just about any new activity because the tax laws changed next year.)

The metaphor: Multinational corporations rule.

2. It’s tough being rich

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof writes that it’s hard being a billionaire these days. “Why, some wealthy folks don’t even have a home in the Caribbean and on vacation are stuck brooding in hotel suites: They’re practically homeless! Fortunately, President Trump and the Republicans are coming along with some desperately needed tax relief for billionaires.”

One way this works is be reducing the tax when someone inherits a wealthy estate. Both versions start this tax at $11 million. The House eliminates the so-called “death tax” in 2024 while the Senate keeps the tax but raises the exemption.

A second provision changes what’s called the Alternative Minimum Tax. The way that works is that after a tax return is completed, and there’s a whole slew of deductions, there is a calculation to see if that taxpayer should still pay something. The idea is to make sure that people earning more than $130,000 a year still pay an income tax, even if they find deductions in every corner. That goes away.

And there is one more goody for the rich. Charitable contributions can still be deducted.

The metaphor: Wealthy families so need our help. OMG.

3. Why Work?

This part of the debate starts with the corporate tax rates. The Trump administration argues that cutting corporate taxes will benefit workers because companies will reward workers with better wages.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claims that “many, many economic studies show that more than 70 percent of the burden of corporate taxes are passed on to the workers.” However, economists are divided. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out “this claim is misleading … the evidence indicates that most of the benefits from a corporate rate cut would go to those at the top, with only a small share flowing to low- and moderate-income families. Mainstream estimates conclude that more than one-third of the benefit of corporate rate cuts flows to the top 1 percent of Americans, and 70 percent flows to the top fifth. Corporate rate cuts could even hurt most Americans since they must eventually be paid for with other tax increases or spending cuts.”

This tax policy will sharply reduce federal spending across the board.

The bottom line is that the tax bill will not make life easier for people earning under $75,000 a year. The income tax portion might go down (depending on family size, smaller, in this case, is better) but costs will go up for education and healthcare.

And, on top of that, this tax policy will sharply reduce federal spending across the board. Last week the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) came out against both the House bill and the Senate Finance Committee bills in part because of this point. “NCAI and NAFOA view it as deeply regrettable that neither the House nor the Senate bill takes seriously Indian Country’s priorities for tax reform,” a news release said. “With respect to tribal nations, unless tribal provisions are included, the current tax reform legislation amounts to little more than a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next ten years. This deficit increase will inevitably create pressure to cut federal programs and services that are extremely important to tribal communities. Deficit-financed tax cuts that lead to austerity budget cuts would affect all Americans, but would disproportionately impact American Indians and Alaska Natives who rely on federal funding of the trust responsibility as well as social programs.”

The metaphor: Workers don’t matter.

4. Help mom and pop sell stuff

Most people who own a small business structure their entity as Limited Liability Corporations, S-Corps, or a partnership. This means that the income generated is reflected on the individual’s tax return. The House lowers the taxes on profits from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and has a 9 percent increase on the first $75,000. The Senate goes a different route with a new incentive for small business. This is “pass-through income” because of the structure. And this part of reform really does solve a problem. Small business is critical – especially in Indian Country – but does not get the attention (or the breaks) that large corporations do.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, said last week, “As a former small business owner, I understand firsthand how burdensome the current tax code is on Main Street. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act delivers relief to mom-and-pop shops in our communities so that they can hire more individuals, grow their business, and invest more in our local economy.”

The metaphor: Small business is cool, too.

5. Elite colleges? Or is it, college only for the elite?

The House bill is an all-out attack on higher education. This is nonsense. Especially when the country needs to be competitive in a digital, knowledge-based world.

First up: Tax private universities’ endowments with a tax of 1.4 percent on portfolios that exceed $250,000 per full-time student. Only about 100 schools would be affected, and it penalizes colleges that have resources. Since those university operating costs will not go down, it’s not likely that this will result in more financial aid for students. The House also makes it impossible for tax-exempt bonds from private – and some public – institutions. This will make campus construction projects more expensive.

The House bill eliminates the deduction of interest for student loans. Americans now owe more than $1.4 trillion on student loans. It already is making it more difficult for young college graduates to buy homes and transition into the middle class. This provision will be just one more thing. (And student loans are already stacked against the borrower. You can’t get rid of them in bankruptcy.) So instead of solving a problem, Congress is making it worse.

Congress is keen to add tuition waivers to the tax revenue pool.

The House bill also repeals the Lifetime Learning Credit, eliminates the Coverdell savings accounts, but does expand the American Opportunity Credit.

The House bill would also classify tuition waivers as income (making a graduate student wealthy for tax purposes.) Imagine a “bump” in student’s income that is equal to tuition, some $30,000, $40,000, or even more.

Laurie Arnold of the Colville Tribes and director of Native American Studies and an Assistant Professor of History at Gonzaga University, remembers trying to explain this to Congress when she was in graduate school. “Many members of Congress had children enrolled in large/research universities, yet had no idea that graduate students teach the majority of introductory classes at those institutions. In general, the disconnect about this was broad, and many Members fell back on the language that not taxing the stipends was simply another tax break.”

Stipends are now taxed. And Congress is keen to add tuition waivers to the tax revenue pool. This will make it more difficult for people to pay for graduate school, and increase the debt levels for those who do. As a national policy, this makes no sense. None.

As UCLA neuroscientist Astra Bryant told Wired magazine: “I mentor two underprivileged undergraduate women, and my concern for them is that an increased tax burden would make it financially impossible for them to afford to pursue a Ph.D.”

And for Indian Country? There is already a shortage of graduate students and Ph.Ds. Why should it be made more difficult?

The metaphor: College is stupid.

6. The growing gap between rich and poor

The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. “The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to benefit from the proposed tax changes. The poorer you are, the less likely you are to leave poverty,” writes Camille Busette for the Brookings Institute.

“Let me distill that: over one third of American households had trouble putting food on the table, putting a roof over their heads, or getting medical care; blacks and Hispanics are falling further behind whites in net wealth; and 99 percent of Americans hold a diminishing 76 percent share of income in the U.S. These are all alarming trends, but to have one-in-three consumers report that they cannot regularly put food on the table in the U.S., one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is the most deeply disturbing,” Busette writes. “Such a miserly budget, in combination with the tax reform plan, could mean the loss of some very important services for low-income and poor Americans.”

The tax reform measures will require massive budget cuts. Soon. Tribal governments will be hit hard. We already know how difficult sequestration was for tribes a few years ago. The kinds of cuts that will be needed to pay for these tax cuts will cost significantly more than sequestration.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities pegs these coming budget cuts at $5.8 trillion, $800 billion in cuts below sequestration levels.

The metaphor: You can’t afford to be poor.

7. Obamacare? Really? Again?

A serious question: Which house of Congress hates health care more?

The House kept the Affordable Care Act insurance mandates, but eliminates medical deductions. So a family that is dealing with a catastrophic, expensive medical event won’t be able to offset any of those costs from their tax bill. Already this provision is limited to higher income taxpayers. It’s only open to people who itemize their deductions, an estimated 8.8 million claimed it on their 2015 taxes, according to the IRS. But for those families that need this break, it’s a big deal.

Health care is only for those who can afford it.

Then the best thing Congress could do to help people with medical debt is to legislate another expansion of Medicaid. As Kaiser Health News reported: “A study from the Urban Institute may shed light on why Medicaid eligibility remains a pressing problem: medical debt. While personal debts related to health care are on the decline overall, they remain far higher in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. In some cases, struggles with medical debt can be all-consuming.”

The Senate is using tax reform to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. Again. The Senate would “save” money by ending the requirement to purchase insurance. It saves tax dollars because the government would not have to pay the subsidies for those who sign up under the plan (including those from Indian Country who get no cost plans under the exchanges).

And, repeating myself here, should a form of these bills become law, cuts will be across the board. The Indian Health Service (as well as Medicaid) will need to restructure because it will have so many fewer dollars.

The metaphor: Healthcare is only for those who can afford it.

A cold December

Congress wants to wrap up this debate before the end of the year and begin the provisions in the new tax year.

One more thing about values. The two tax bills define what’s important to a society. Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski was a champion on health care and was a key vote to stop the last Affordable Care Act repeal effort in the Senate. But this time there are competing values. She has also been a longtime supporter of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. That’s in the bill. It’s her provision. So, is she willing to give up on health care for more oil? And what about climate change? Murkowski was eloquent at the Alaska Federation of Natives saying that she is witnessing first-hand the impact in northern communities. This tax bill gives fossil fuels a boost – at the expense of the climate.

What’s really important? We are about to find out.

The post 7 not-so-subtle messages Congress is sending with its tax plans appeared first on NationofChange.

Categories: News

Bernie Sanders is now backing Randy Bryce – which could be very bad news for Paul Ryan

Thu, 2017-11-23 01:34

Randy Bryce took the political world by storm this June when he released a stunning television ad announcing his campaign to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan. Bryce is running for Ryan’s seat in Wisconsin’s southeastern 1st congressional district, which straddles Milwaukee’s metropolitan border.

“I decided to run for office because not everybody’s seated at the table – and it’s time to make a bigger table,” Bryce says in the ad. “If somebody falls behind, we’re so much stronger if we carry them with us. That’s the way I was raised. We look out for each other.”

The ad helped raise almost half a million dollars for Bryce’s campaign in just twelve days.

An Army veteran and an ironworker by trade, Bryce mixes an everyman’s appeal with genuine progressive politics – a stark contrast with Ryan’s straight-laced conservatism. And Bryce received a boost to his progressive credentials last week when he was officially endorsed by Bernie Sanders.

“We’ve got to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from people like Paul Ryan,” Sanders said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “I think Randy Bryce has an agenda that is going to make sense to working families. We need Randy in Congress.”

Sanders and Bryce line up on a range of issues, from unwavering support for workers and union rights to a $15 minimum wage.

Explaining why he stands with workers fighting for a higher wage, Bryce tells In These Times, “I’ve always been supportive of a $15 minimum wage. Otherwise what we’re doing is just giving welfare to corporations. We shouldn’t be subsidizing corporations so that they can profit more on the people’s backs.”

Bryce also shares Sanders’ belief in a universal healthcare system, backs the Vermont senator’s Medicare for All bill and supports a massive investment in infrastructure spending to revitalize deindustrialized communities like those in his Wisconsin district. Joe Dinkin, spokesperson for the Working Families Party – of which Bryce is a member and endorsed candidate – says that what connects Sanders and Bryce is a commitment to progressive values.

“What Bernie sees in Randy Bryce is a working-class progressive that draws a perfect contrast to ‘Wall Street’ Paul [Ryan],” Dinkin says. “Randy wants to guarantee healthcare for all, to rebuild America’s roads and bridges and to make the billionaires pay for it. Paul Ryan wants to give billionaires a massive tax cut and make the middle class pay. This endorsement, coming from America’s most popular political leader, is a huge deal and proves that this is a top-tier race.”

Bryce says it’s not only his policy positions that set him apart from Ryan, but also his commitment to representing the needs of his constituents rather than outside interests.

“It’s about getting trust,” Bryce says. “It’s not just showing up a few weeks before election day and trying to get people to vote. It’s about actually being involved in the community – to listen and then to come up with ways to implement the needs of the community.”

Bryce may still appear to be a longshot candidate. A recent Public Policy (PP) Poll shows him trailing Ryan by seven points. But Bryce’s campaign says that these numbers will change as more voters get to know who the candidate is and what he stands for (the PP poll shows 69 percent of respondents still aren’t familiar with Bryce).

Ryan beat his Democratic opponent in 2016 by 35 points, so the race currently sitting at single digits represents a significant change in the political winds. The Bryce campaign’s own internal polling shows Bryce winning in 2018 by a 3-point margin – assuming more voters get to know him.

Democrats are currently engaged in what some are calling a civil war over the future of the party and, in many ways, over the future of the resistance to President Trump. Randy Bryce’s campaign offers echoes of the party’s past – of FDR’s ambitious New Deal, of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty – and potentially signals a new direction for the party’s future.

“We need more working people to run for office. We understand it. We get the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck,” Bryce tells In These Times.

Asked whether his campaign will help inspire more working people like himself to run, he replies, “It’s already happening. People are contacting me. We’re seeing a record number of candidates come out everywhere. And a lot of Republicans that are going to have to fight for their seats see this wave coming, and they’re retiring in pretty big numbers.”

Sanders’ embrace of Bryce is another indicator that progressive challengers are gaining steam in the upcoming election cycle. Rather than giving in to Trump’s demagoguery or Ryan’s austerity, Bryce is trying to prove that what voters are really looking for are commonsense solutions to their problems. While the Right pushes for building a “big, beautiful wall” and enacting tax cuts for the rich, Bryce is countering with proposals for higher wages and jobs building infrastructure – policies that will clearly improve working people’s lives.

He is also showing that candidates from outside the political establishment can help usher in this new progressive vision for both the Democratic Party and the country as a whole.

“We have enough lawyers in Congress,” says Bryce “There aren’t a lot of garbage men, ironworkers, building tradespeople. We need more people that actually know what it’s like to struggle so that we have a government that’s receptive to our needs.”

The post Bernie Sanders is now backing Randy Bryce – which could be very bad news for Paul Ryan appeared first on NationofChange.

Categories: News

A partisanship of the heart: Interior measures towards a re-visioning of capitalism’s imperium of death.

Wed, 2017-11-22 09:28

According to a nationwide study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a greater number of U.S. Americans died (approximately 65,000) from drug overdoses last year than were killed during the course of the Vietnam War.

All part and parcel of capitalism’s war against life itself. The emotional and physical pain, anxiety, and depression inflicted by the trauma inherent to a system sustained by perpetual exploitation has proven to be too much for a sizeable number of human beings to endure thus their need to self-medicate.

The root of addiction is trauma. The soul of the nation is a casualty of war. There is not an Arlington Cemetery for these fallen, no hagiographic ceremonies will be performed over their graves nor statues erected in memoriam. Their ghosts will howl through the long, dark night of national denial. Listen to their wailing. It is an imprecatory prayer. A curse and augury … that admonishes, our fate and the fate of the nation will converge … as the nation will stagger, keening in lament, to the abyss.

The solution: Within each of us swells a deathless song. Powerful. Resonate. Piercing. A song, miraculous of influence, plangent with the force to seize back your soul from the death-besotted spirit of the age. Let it rise from within you. Notice: how flocks of empire’s death birds scatter like ashes in the wind.

Yet it will not be possible to navigate around the cultural deathscape; we must walk through it and chronicle its serial affronts to our humanity:

“You have to see that the buildings are anorexic, you have to see that the language is schizogenic, that ‘normalcy’ is manic, and medicine and business are paranoid.” — James Hillman

Try this: Simply stand in the isle of a corporate, Big Box chain store or in the parking lot of a strip mall that squats, hideous, on some soul-defying, U.S. Interstate highway and allow yourself to feel the emptiness and desperation extant. The tormented landscape, besieged by an ad hoc assemblage of late capitalist structures, emporiums of usurped longing, reflects the desperate, rapacious nature of late capitalist imperium.

Compounding the pathos, the forces in play impose a colonizing effect upon the mind; therefore, a large percent of the afflicted have lost the ability to detect the hyper-entropic system’s ravaging effects. Stranded among the commercial come-ons and hyper-authoritarianism inherent to late-stage capitalism’s imperium of death, the human psyche, like the biosphere of our planet, subjected, at present, to humankind-wrought ecocide, has begun to display the terrible beauty of a nightmare.

Internal weather has grown increasingly chaotic: the earth’s oceans and seas are rising; wildfires rage; drought scorches the earth. And conditions will grow increasingly inhospitable in regard to the flourishing of inner life, personal and collective thus will continue, and at accelerating rates, to be reflected in the web of phenomena we know as human culture.

Growing up in a working-class social milieu, as I did, I am confronted, more and more, by the news of the large number of men I grew up with who are dying in their 50s. As of late, when I contemplate the fact, I am forced to pause and seek solitude because my eyes become scalded with tears. I’ve known, over the years, hundreds of human beings, born into and ensnared by the crime against humanity known as poverty, broken by the culture of greed and social degradation, and blamed by the clueless and the callous for the tragic trajectory in which impersonal fate and the wounding culture, by no fault of their own, has placed them.

Thus arrive: Tears of rage; tears of outrage. Tears unloosed by passion and tempered by compassion … fall. If poverty was not so profitable for the greed-head elite, both punitive-minded conservatives and affluence-ensconced liberals alike, the situation would be addressed and rectified. The cause of the reprehensible situation, it should go without saying, is not the fault of the poor but the poverty of spirit at the core of capitalism.

Truth is the system, a hierarchy of ghouls, is maintained by harvesting the corpses of the powerless, by means of imperial slaughter and domestic, economic exploitation. Deep down, we know it. The system’s psychopathic beneficiaries, in particular, are aware of the reality. In fact, their desiccated hearts require being irrigated by blood. From the evidence of their actions, it appears they revel in the knowledge of the damage they incur. They appear to believe they will enter the golden dominion of heaven by climbing a mountain of corpses. It is time we dragged them back down to earth and subjected them to our earth-borne fury.

Or so goes my own (powerless) revelry. Of course, we the powerless, at this point, have been left with scant little but a dreaming heart. When we allow heartless power to subdue and usurp our longings, we languish. Thus many die of a broken spirit. The world itself can appear to be depleted of mercy. In turn, all too many begin to mirror the malevolence of the upper castes thereby losing their own measure of mercy.

Hostility directed at the poor is the shopworn, demagogic sleight-of-hand trick used to distract from realities such as: Every McMansion and high-end luxury high-rise constructed creates multitudes of the homeless. Every low pay, no benefits, no future Mcjob serves to decimate an individual, heart and spirit. Moreover, the beneficiaries of the system promote the lie that shame should be the exclusive dominion of those broken by their system, a system, which is, in essence, a form of government-sanctioned gangsterism, by which they, the ruthless few, and they alone, benefit.

As a result, in an age of denial and duplicity, change tends to arrive violently. Reactionary, racist soreheads, brandishing Tiki torches, construct an ambulatory klavern in the hateful night. Maledictory tweets rise and roil the imperial air like a nimbus of locust. Unmoored from their sense of humanity by lashing angst and alienation, gunmen, in acts of warped libido, raise assault rifles and kill with no more connection to the strangers they slaughter than do stateside-deployed pilots of the empire’s predator drones.

We human beings, as a species, have arrived at a profound point of demarcation: paradigm shift or perish. Yet, and the fact is mortifying in its implications, there is not a sign of the emergence, even an incipient one, of a viable resistance to the present order. Weekend marches and boutique protests might promote (ephemeral) feelings of affinity and jack the adrenal systems of participants. But the events have proven woefully inefficacious in regard to the rising and raging tides of adversity we face.

(In addition, monopolist, internet corporations, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, at the behest of U.S. governmental forces, are further marginalizing the already almost vaporous left by means of presence-abridging algorithms of leftist websites and outright censorship of social media content. Dissenting voices are being ghosted into oblivion.)

An aura of bleakness prevails. Hope seems a fool’s palliative. The victims of drug overdoses and, in general, the large and rising, without precedent, untimely deaths of middle-aged, laboring-class people should be regarded as canaries in the coal mines of the late-stage capitalist order, an augury of calamities that loom due to the exponentially increasing harm being inflicted upon both humanity and environmental forces crucial to sustaining the continued viability of the human race.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” C.G. Jung

Although it does not have to be the case. If reality is met head-on, if empire, external and its inner analog, is renounced and challenged, then a liberation staged by the heart’s partisans can begin, thereby freeing up a great amount of acreage — a fructifying landscape — wherein both the earth’s ecosystem and the architecture of human desire can begin to co-exist and cross-pollinate thus a crucial re-visioning of oneself and the culture can begin.

The post A partisanship of the heart: Interior measures towards a re-visioning of capitalism’s imperium of death. appeared first on NationofChange.

Categories: News