Saturday, March 23, 2019

We Can't Afford to be Moderate in 2020

Beto O'Rourke, a moderate Democrat, raised over $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his presidential campaign
 (Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Politico)
Last year, as you may have heard, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report authored by some of the world's leading climate scientists. The report concludes that "[l]imiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society," per the IPCC's website, and that, specifically, "[g]lobal net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050." Jonathan Watts in The Guardian summarizes the significance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in an article about the IPCC's report: 
At 1.5C the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C, [the report] notes. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.
At 2C extremely hot days, such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer, would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires. 
But the greatest difference would be to nature. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2C compared with 1.5C. Corals would be 99% lost at the higher of the two temperatures, but more than 10% have a chance of surviving if the lower target is reached.
Sea-level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100 if the half-degree extra warming brought a forecast 10cm additional pressure on coastlines. The number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt. 
Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change. One model shows marine fisheries would lose 3m tonnes at 2C, twice the decline at 1.5C. 
Sea ice-free summers in the Arctic, which is warming two to three times faster than the world average, would come once every 100 years at 1.5C, but every 10 years with half a degree more of global warming.  
In a nutshell: between now and 2030, we must take "unprecedented" action in order reduce global CO2 emissions and limit climate change, with extremely dire consequences if we fail to do so. Even if we are to abandon the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal and to aim for no more than two degrees of global warming—which would mean accepting all of the potentially disastrous effects mentioned above—the IPCC report projects this would require a 20% reduction in carbon pollution by the year 2030. Currently, Watts notes, "the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming."

Obviously, global warming is a problem that must be addressed on a global level. However, given that, according to the Global Carbon Project's 2017 numbers, the United States is the world's second-largest carbon dioxide emitter (behind only China, the single most populous country in the world) and its carbon emissions per capita are significantly higher than those of other advanced countries like Germany, Japan, the Czech Republic and Norway, it's more than fair to say that dealing with the impending climate crisis will require especially major action on the part of the US.

This is not the only crisis we may be facing in the near feature. A 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute projects that automation may displace as much as one-third of the American workforce by 2030 and further exacerbate income inequality, already a serious problem. It's fair, even advisable, to take these numbers with a grain of salt. But the fact that robots have taken over jobs once done by human beings is indisputable, and there's little reason to think that it won't continue.

There's a common thread connecting these problems (and many others): capitalism. It's because of the capitalist economic system—the private ownership and management of businesses—that automation looms over us as a threat rather than promising us freedom from having to do jobs that few people actually want to do, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently noted. A future where all of the world's dirty, boring and unrewarding jobs are done by machines should be an appealing one: then we're free to enjoy the goods and services those jobs create and, since nobody has to do those ugly but once-necessary tasks anymore, we're all free to spend our time on things we actually enjoy. But, because these labor-saving machines and the companies that own them are themselves owned and managed by a relative few, that small elite enjoys the benefits of automation (higher profits as they save money on labor) while the displaced workers have to search for some other job that hasn't (yet) been automated out of existence.

Climate change, too, has a lot to do with capitalism. Certainly, socialism isn't inherently environmentally friendly; it's entirely possible to have worker-owned enterprises that pollute the atmosphere just as much as privately owned companies. But capitalism in its current form makes it especially challenging to deal with climate change. Even as public concern about the impact of climate change grows, the sort of radical action that needs to be taken is unlikely to happen because of fossil fuel lobby's influence over public policy. Many of the measures that need to be taken to adequately address our environmental crisis threaten the profits of major corporations, and would require a bold defiance of these powerful entities.

Even if we don't choose to move past capitalism altogether and replace it with a democratically managed economy (which, in my opinion, is desirable for these and many other reasons), it's clear the system as it currently stands will need to be dramatically altered if humankind is to have any sort of decent future. Changes will have to be radical, even unprecedented, and come soon if we're to avoid catastrophe. We are not in a situation were we can continue on our current path, or make a few minor tweaks, or even just a number of moderately significant alterations: if we're to effectively handle the threats facing us, our whole socioeconomic system needs to be straight-up revolutionized.

It's in this context that the 2020 presidential election must be seen. We need someone who can help to bring truly extreme and fundamental change to the country and the world if we're to avoid the sort of future that looks like more like a work of dystopian fiction than it does the world we have today (as ugly and radically imperfect as that world already is). The current Democratic field does not inspire a great deal of hope in that respect. The American political system is so corrupt and rancid that the person we really need as president is some wild-eyed radical who'd readily take a sledgehammer to the whole thing and call a new constitutional convention on Day 1—or who'd at least serve as the ringleader of a nationwide mob so wild and unruly that they could mercilessly terrify Congress into passing policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. No one in the field, as far as I'm aware, fits this description.

So we're forced to look at the options we do have. Unlike last time, there are actually quite a few options on the Democratic side this time around and I won't pretend I've thoroughly looked over each and every one. I can only speak to the ones that I do know about—rest assured, if Pete Buttigieg or Jay Inslee surges to the top of the polls, I'll be sure to learn more about them and share my thoughts. But out of the candidates currently polling above the low single digits—Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker—Sanders is the one who's the the most willing to challenge (and propose alterations to) the capitalist system. Warren is similar in terms of economic policies but has loudly declared her allegiance to capitalism in a way Sanders hasn't. Realistically, they'd probably be very similar presidents on the economic front (my preference for Sanders relates more to foreign policy, where he's challenged America's support for Israel in ways that Warren often hasn't). But still, Sanders is the only one of them who calls himself a socialist.

The point of this post, however, is not specifically to argue in favor of Bernie Sanders—it's more fundamental than that. Sanders' and Warren's supposed radicalism has often been used as an argument against them (even though many of their proposed policies are actually pretty unexceptional when we look at other highly developed countries). We can debate whether either of the two are actually radicals (they aren't, for the record), but the idea that radicalism is undesirable is not only wrong but profoundly dangerous at this point. Rather, we should be demanding radicalism from the Democratic candidates, because we are in a situation where, because of climate change, automation, economic inequality and other issues, radical change is an absolute necessity—not just if we want a better world (though we should, of course, aim for that), but if we want to keep things from getting dramatically, horrifically worse.

If the Democratic candidate for president wins the 2020 election, they will take office in 2021 and (unless they die, resign or are removed from office) serve at least until 2025. That leaves just five years before 2030—the IPCC's deadline for reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent, and the year by which McKinsey Global Institute estimates up to a third of the workforce may have been displaced by automation. If radical change isn't under way at that point, it's a safe bet that we are in some serious trouble.

Furthermore, there's a good chance that if the Democrat wins in 2020, that same Democrat (whoever it turns out to be) will be the party's candidate in 2024 (in all likelihood, if they choose to run for reelection they will get their party's nomination). So if we elect, say, President Beto O'Rourke in 2020, our choice in 2024 will in all likelihood be between Beto and whatever lunatic the Republicans nominate, and whoever wins that election will be in power at least until 2029—just one year before our big deadline. Eight years of moderate Democratic rule will not bring the changes that we need to avert catastrophe, and four years of moderate Democratic rule followed by four years of Republican rule would be even worse. And if major changes aren't underway by 2029, it's pretty much game over.

We're facing steep odds even if we elect a Sanders or a Warren in 2020, given that Congress will still be full of Republicans and establishment Democrats who balk at the sort of "extremist" policies that are desperately needed. But those odds shrink even further if we elect a "moderate" (or re-elect Trump). Beto O'Rourke, who just entered the race and boasts the biggest first-day fundraising haul of any candidate so far, is at least doing us the favor of being openly moderate (and his voting record in Congress confirms that, despite being from a reasonably liberal district, he has often been to the right of the even the majority of his fellow House Democrats). While Joe Biden has (ludicrously) claimed he has "the most progressive voting record of...anybody who would run," this is plainly false and he is perhaps the single most conservative (potential) candidate for president on the Democratic side. Others in the field—Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand—have offered some (largely symbolic or rhetorical) support for policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, but there are real reasons to doubt this would actually translate meaningfully into policy if one of them won the presidency.

It's understandable why, after a few years of the deranged Trump spectacle, left-leaning people might just want some kind of return to the status quo ante Trump. It's also extremely dangerous, given the circumstances. This is not an election where we can afford to vote for candidates on the basis that they're unifying or inspiring or cool or "presidential." The only sane criteria is who will be most willing and able to implement fundamental changes to try to avoid the worst.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Ilhan Omar Affair Shows the Democratic Establishment's Moral Bankruptcy

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP, taken from the The Intercept)
The new Congress is barely two months into its first session and already the Democratic leadership is using their new power as an opportunity to be worthless little toads. When Ilhan Omar, the first black Muslim Congresswoman, did a few entirely accurate tweets about the pro-Israel lobby's influence on Congress, the House leadership took the opportunity to blast her as an antisemite and bullied an unwarranted apology out of her. Now, after Nancy Pelosi cheerfully appeared with Omar on this month's cover of Rolling Stone, Pelosi and some other hacks have drafted a resolution that slimily associates Omar with genuinely awful examples of antisemitism ("justifying the killing or harming of Jews", "accusing Jews of dual loyalty", "anti-Semitic myths...that Jews control the banks, media, and the United States Government") without mentioning her by name, because Omar correctly identified the allegiance to Israel that's demanded of members of Congress.*

Her remarks in both cases were correct and justified, but her opponents took the opportunity to castigate her because, as a black Muslim, she's particularly vulnerable to accusations of antisemitism, and because they want to silence critics of Israel. Anyone who hand-wrung about her phrasing in these comments is, willingly or not, an accomplice in this utterly cynical smear campaign that emanates from people who want Israel's oppression and murder of Palestinians to continue unabated. I won't go into more detail than that here. If my readers want a more in-depth explanation of why Omar is right and said nothing objectionable, I recommended Glenn Greenwald's excellent piece in The Intercept on the Democrats' utterly loathsome resolution gimmick.

Make no mistake. This is not cowardice on the part of Pelosi and the rest of the leadership. The accusation of cowardice is too generous. It implies that they would do the right thing if only they were braver. The reality is much worse: they themselves are supporters of Israel's worst and most sadistic actions and are trying to ensure that no one challenges them. Representative Juan Vargas did us the favor of making this clear when he tweeted that "questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable." Let's take Pelosi: back in 1995, she supported the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the US government to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which didn't end up happening until Donald Trump became president. In 2006, she voted in favor of a resolution that defended Israel's invasion and attack on Lebanon, which would kill over 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians. She faithfully supported Israel in the 2008-2009 Gaza War that killed well over 1,000 Palestinians (16 Israelis were killed in the conflict). As Israel killed over 2,000 Palestinians in 2014, Pelosi once again took its side, blaming Hamas for the conflict (a total of 72 Israelis, 66 of them soldiers, were killed; the vast majority of Palestinian deaths were civilian).

Or we can an even more disgusting case, that of Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, who called Omar's latest comments a "vile anti-Semitic slur." Engel has sponsored a resolution that recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, in complete disregard to the opinion of much of the world; when the UN Security Council condemned Israel's blatantly illegal West Bank settlements in 2016, Engel introduced a resolution to condemn the Security Council's condemnation shortly after; he opposed giving Iran relief from crushing sanctions as part of the nuclear deal because "Iran will be poised to inflict even greater damage to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and our Gulf partners"; and he attended a rally in support of Israel's 2014 assault on Gaza, also attended by demented Islamophobe Pamela Geller.

Rest assured, you will find the same sort of shit if you delve into the records of the rest of the Democrats decrying Omar. Notably, the Senate Democrats are currently led by Chuck Schumer, who has indicated he believes God appointed him as Israel's guardian and said that the Palestinians should be "strangle[d]...economically," explaining that the source of the Israel-Palestine conflict is that "they [the Palestinians] don't believe in the Torah". Had Omar made equivalent remarks, she would probably be somewhere in Guantanamo Bay right now.

Israel is certainly not the only issue where establishment Democrats would like to stamp out any challenge from the left, as illustrated by Pelosi's derision of the Green New Deal and Dianne Feinstein's hostility toward a group of children who showed up at her office to push for the GND. As Donald Trump, the epitome of everything sick and ugly about American capitalism, promised in his State of the Union that "America will never be a socialist country," Nancy Pelosi was behind him (figuratively and literally), clapping politely along. What did Trump mean by that? We would never be a Soviet-style communist dictatorship? A Nordic-style social democracy? A country with programs that are commonplace or universal across the rest of the industrialized world, like universal healthcare and free college? All of the above, in all likelihood. And Pelosi's no dope—she knew what she was applauding. She certainly doesn't want Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's vision for the country to triumph, let alone anything more radical. "We're capitalist," she told a young audience member who asked her about socialism in a 2017 town hall, "and that's just the way it is."

And why should it be any other way? Pelosi, after all, is a multimillionaireSo is Feinstein, for that matter. Chuck Schumer, meanwhile—along with his fanatical support for Israel, which seems to come from sincere, deranged personal conviction—has to busy himself making sure he can keep raking in campaign contributions from Wall Street. Capitalism is a system that's been serving them and their donors pretty well, even it's been impoverishing many others and condemning humanity to a future of climate disasters. The establishment Democrats are capitalists through and through, not simply accepting the system of capitalism as a necessary evil that can be managed and regulated as it is in many European countries, but rather eagerly perpetuating the inequality and injustice that's inherent in capitalism to their own benefit—with an occasional bone tossed to the poor and middle class so they don't get too rebellious and so the establishment hacks can soothe their consciences, if they're burdened with any.

This certainly goes beyond the reptiles in Congress, too. One of Obama's parting gifts was to foist the milquetoast suit Tom Perez on his party instead of allowing the left to score a symbolic victory by seeing Keith Ellison elected DNC chair. The centrist establishment of the Democratic Party is, to reiterate, hell-bent on protecting the status quo from any dramatic left-wing alterations and the Omar travesty shows that they're willing to join hands with the most despicable elements of the right in order to beat down anyone who strays too far, say, by criticizing Our Ally, The Only Liberal Democracy In The Middle East™or pointing out their own amoral fealty to it. 

The current crop of Democratic Party candidates is largely not promising, either, in this regard: Kamala Harris, the former top cop of California and beneficiary of Steve Mnuchin's generosity; Kirsten Gillibrand, who co-sponsored a bill to criminalize boycotting Israel (before withdrawing her support for it under pressure) and has issued a pathetically middling statement equating Omar's statements with Islamophobia and racism from the right; Cory Booker, who denounced Obama's criticism of Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital in 2012 and opposed the 2016 UN resolution condemning Israel's settlements; and millennial-bashing, tough-on-crime, segregation-enabler Joe Biden, among others. Sanders is once again the best option and Warren's not bad (relatively speaking) but we'll see whether either of them can avoid being railroaded by the Party Establishment.

Major left-wing change is impossible as long as these lizards are in power, at least until it becomes career suicide for them to keep thwarting it. In the meantime, they are major obstacles to any attempt at seriously challenging the hegemony of corporate interests or ending any number of America's horrific foreign policies. Anyone who supports them against challenges from the left is either too stupid to understand this or too evil to care, and those who attempt to embrace both the Democratic Old Guard and the more left-wing upstarts, both the Pelosis and the Ilhan Omars, are trying to straddle the Grand Canyon. Cooperation between the left and the Democratic establishment is to some extent an ugly necessity when it comes to fighting against Trump, but make no mistake: the establishment lackeys will have to defeated one way or another, whether it's before the 2020 election or afterward. Their problem is not cowardice or weakness—it's that they're thoroughly committed to a system that needs to be destroyed.


*In the time since I began writing this post, that resolution has been shelved and instead the House approved a generic one condemning hate in general. This shouldn't be taken as any sort of indication of a sincere change of heart on the part of the leadership, but it could be a promising sign for the left.