Tuesday, May 24, 2016
On July 15, 2015, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testified to the Senate Banking Committee: “Demand for housing is still being restrained by limited availability of mortgage loans to many potential homebuyers.” [link]
Dodd-Frank tightened the rules on mortgage lending, but the real cause of the 2008 crash was the ever-more-complex bundling of loans to feed the speculative exuberance of investors. Dodd-Frank, as far as I’ve been able to determine, did nothing to protect the housing market from profiteering investors. Indeed, in 2013, the New York Times reported that the same games had resumed. [link] It seems clear that the main purpose of Dodd-Frank was to protect speculators by limiting the risk that expanding homeownership necessarily entails. In other words, it made it much harder for most people to buy a home for themselves.
This is particularly true for the self-employed, independent contractors, contingent workers, and freelancers, who are projected to represent 40% of the workforce by 2020, if they don’t already. At the beginning of 2014, real estate attorney Shari Olefson, quoted by Yahoo Finance, said that “about 20% of people who have mortgages right now will not be able to get qualified mortgages” and that “more people will be pushed into the rental market” (again, benefiting investors – and Dodd-Frank’s tightened rules do not apply to loans for rental properties). [link]
Census Bureau data show homeownership continuing to plummet in every region of the U.S. since a peak in 2004, most dramatically for those under the age of 45. Since housing prices have also plummeted, that indicates a much deeper change than stagnant pay, which has been that way for most Americans since 1965 and slowly declining since 1999.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Because our country’s electorate is relatively divided along party lines, presidential candidates who are competitive and have been in the public arena for a period of time typically have higher unfavorable ratings.That was a nice try to put the entire blame on partisanship, but there is a clear trend in 2016 that argues against Clinton:
For example, Hillary and Senator Obama have comparable unfavorable ratings – in the most recent Newsweek poll of national registered voters, 43% are unfavorable to Hillary and 40% are unfavorable to Senator Obama. Senator McCain has similar unfavorable ratings – 40% are unfavorable to him in that same poll.
As might be expected, Senator Obama’s unfavorable numbers have steadily risen over the last two years – in a May 2006 Newsweek poll, 10% said they were unfavorable towards him. By July 2007, that number had risen to 19%; 8 months later it was at 28%, and in the two most recent Newsweek polls, conducted in April and May of this year, his unfavorable rating is at 40% – 4 times higher than it was two years ago. Hillary’s unfavorable rating has remained relatively steady (according to the same Newsweek polls, in May 2006, her unfavorable rating was 45% – it is now 43%). Similarly, Senator McCain’s unfavorable ratings have likewise remained relatively unchanged (according to the same Newsweek polls, in March 2008 his unfavorable rating was 35%; 41% in April 2008, and 40% in May 2008; Newsweek did not record unfavorable ratings before March 2008 for Senator McCain).
More importantly, candidates’ unfavorable ratings do not indicate they are too polarizing to win the Presidency; to the contrary, these ratings reflect the divisions in our country between our parties as candidates become known and associated with the Democratic or Republican Party.
In stark contrast, as Bernie Sanders became more widely known, his favorable rating steadily increased:
Even Donald Trump is trending better than Clinton:
Monday, April 25, 2016
Remember that the Presidency is determined by winner-takes-all electors from each state and the District of Columbia. (Only Maine and Nebraska choose electors more proportionally.)
In the 10 “blue” states that have voted so far, Sanders has won the votes by an average of 60–40. All 5 states in tomorrow’s primary are “blue”. [Update: With Clinton winning 4 of those 5 states, Sanders’ average is now 55%–45%.] The remaining “blue” states are Oregon (May 17) and California and New Jersey (June 7). The District of Columbia, also “blue”, votes on June 14.
In the 2 “light blue” states (where the Republican presidential candidate won 1 of the last 4 elections) that have voted so far, Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders has won the votes by an average of 56–44. Adding them to the above, Sanders has won 59%–42% (pardon the rounding errors) of the votes [update: 55%–45%]. The only “light blue” state yet to vote is New Mexico (June 7).
In the 6 “purple” states (which went for the Republican and Democrat twice each) that have voted so far, Clinton has won the votes by an average of 57–41. Adding them to the above, Sanders has still won an average of 53%–46% of each state’s votes [update: 51%–48%]. All of the “purple” states have voted.
Only 1 of the 2 “light red” states (where the Republican candidate won 3 of the last 4 elections) has voted so far, North Carolina, where Clinton won the votes 55%–41%. Adding it to the above, Sanders has still won the votes in each state by an average of 51–48. The “light red” state yet to vote is Indiana (May 3). [Update: With Sanders winning Indiana 53%–48%, he has still won the votes in all of the above states by an average of 51–48.]
In the “red” states, Clinton has won the votes in each so far by an average of only 52–46 [update, May 11: 51–46]. Taking out the Dixie (former Confederacy) states, Sanders has won an average of 62%–36% of each “red” state’s votes [update, May 11: 61%–36%], suggesting the possibility of a nascent “prairie populism” that could give Democrats a chance to win some of those states. All of the Dixie states have voted, and the “red” ones — the only block where Clinton has been consistently strong, and the source of her delegate lead — are very unlikely to go “blue”. The remaining “red” states are West Virginia (May 10 [update: Sanders won 51%–35% (local candidate Paul Farrell got 9%)]), Kentucky (May 17), and Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota (June 7).
Unfortunately, not just for the Party but more importantly for the country as a whole, the Democratic establishment, long in the thrall of the Reaganite DLC, would probably rather lose than turn the Party over to a progressive populist who might actually steer the country into a better direction.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
The first change, recorded at 11:43, began with the title, changing it from "Bernie Sanders Met With Pope Francis, Campaign Says" to "Sanders Says He Met With Pope, Discussing a ‘Moral Economy’ and Climate Change" (no humanizing first names, but also no campaign).
And although more reporting by Jim Yardley (now listed as co-author) was added to Yamiche Alcindor's original, other parts were removed. Notably, the original quoted Jeffrey Sachs in describing the brief meeting, and that was almost completely replaced by the Pope's description of what is now called an "encounter".
In the version recorded at 3:03 p.m., the title was changed again, to "Sanders Briefly Meets Pope at Vatican After Uncertainty Over a Visit" – hinting at the new article to come that will play up a sense of desperate political maneuvering and downplay the actual purpose of the visit, ie, the conference on social and economic justice to commemorate John Paul II's 1991 encyclical "Centesimus Annus".
Here are the original article and the completely different one – now by Jason Horowitz as first author – recorded at 9:56 p.m. Besides the issue of obvious bias in presenting Sanders' trip to the Vatican in as petty a light as possible, it is contemptible that the latter version replaces – without any notice about, let alone a link to – previous versions.
|Bernie Sanders Met With Pope Francis, Campaign Says|
By YAMICHE ALCINDOR
VATICAN CITY — Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, met briefly with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday morning before the pontiff’s trip to Greece, a spokesman for the senator’s campaign said.
“The senator and the pope met this morning as the pope was departing for Greece — the goal is to highlight the refugee crisis that affects this part of the world, and all over the world. They talked about that,” said the spokesman, Michael Briggs.
The meeting lasted about five minutes, said the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, an adviser to the Sanders campaign, who said he had been present. Mr. Sachs said the pope had thanked Mr. Sanders, who arrived Friday at the Vatican for a conference on social and economic issues, “for coming to the meeting and for coming to speak about the moral economy.”
The senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, and Msgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who organized the conference, were also present at the brief meeting, Mr. Sachs said. Mr. Briggs said no photographs were taken, in accordance with rules at the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican City guesthouse where the meeting took place and Francis lives.
The Vermont senator had hoped to meet with the pope during his short trip to Rome, for which he interrupted his campaigning for the New York primary on Tuesday. But as recently as Friday it appeared unlikely to happen, after the pope sent a note saying he would not be able to attend the conference because of his trip to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Mr. Sanders confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press that the meeting had taken place. “It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him,” he said. “I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history.”
Politically, a trip to Rome without a meeting with Francis would have been a blunder, Costas Panagopoulos, a political-science professor at Fordham University who is currently teaching at Yale, had said Friday. “The point is to make sure you are going to get an audience with the pope,” he said. “Anything short of an actual visit will probably be a mistake.”
Mr. Sachs, who spoke with a Reuters reporter as journalists traveling with the pope in Greece listened on a speaker phone, said the meeting was “absolutely not political.”
“This is a senator who for decades has been speaking about the moral economy,” he said of Mr. Sanders.
Jim Yardley contributed reporting from Mytilene, Greece.
|Bernie Sanders Meets With Pope Francis|
By JASON HOROWITZ and YAMICHE ALCINDOR
VATICAN CITY — For a while, Senator Bernie Sanders’s Roman holiday seemed less than it was cracked up to be.
Immediately after his campaign announced that he would leave the United States for a “high-level meeting” at the Vatican, questions arose about the wisdom of the trip. The critical New York primary was just days away. One official of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which hosted the conference Mr. Sanders would attend, even suggested he had fished for the invitation.
Most critically, there seemed to be little chance that Mr. Sanders would meet the Vatican resident whose name he frequently invokes. Pope Francis, it turned out, would not be visiting the conference of the academy, an in-house think tank of the Vatican.
Politically, a trip to Rome without a meeting with Francis would have been a blunder, Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University who is teaching at Yale, had said on Friday. “The point is to make sure you are going to get an audience with the pope,” he said. “Anything short of an actual visit will probably be a mistake.”
Mr. Sanders continued to hold out hope. “I certainly would be delighted and proud if I had the opportunity to meet with him,” he said before leaving New York.
He also had two things going for him: his host, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, an Argentine who is the chancellor of the academy and happens to be close to Francis, and his hotel room, also close to the pope. Mr. Sanders was to stay in a second-floor room at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where Francis keeps his residence.
“So it won’t be difficult to find the pope,” the bishop said last week, seeming to hint at something.
On Thursday, the day before the conference, a Vatican spokesman appeared to end all speculation, saying, “There won’t be a meeting with the Holy Father.”
Bishop Sánchez Sorondo dismissed the statement as “Roman gossip.”
But final word, it seemed, came Friday afternoon in the form of a handwritten letter from the pope apologizing to conference attendees for his absence.
“I will keep them all in my prayers and good wishes, and send them my heartfelt thanks for their participation,” he wrote. “May the Lord bless you. Fraternally, Franciscus.”
Around 5:30 p.m. Friday, the conference’s business ended and Mr. Sanders made an appointment for dinner at the Casa Santa Marta with his foreign policy adviser, Jeffrey D. Sachs, the economist and a fellow conference participant.
Mr. Sanders and his wife, Jane, sat with Mr. Sachs and his wife, Sonia, for a soup and buffet dinner, where they were joined by Bishop Sánchez Sorondo and Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, the pope’s right-hand man and one of the Vatican’s top power players.
“It was a wide-ranging conversation,” Mr. Sachs said. “It was about issues of the church and its history, about Honduras and foreign policy.”
Clinton vs. Sanders vs. Trump: Who Is the True New Yorker?
But the most important words occurred in the middle of dinner, when a personal secretary for Francis arrived with the news Mr. Sanders had been hoping for, Mr. Sachs said.
If Mr. Sanders were in the foyer of the Casa Santa Marta at 6 a.m. the next day, he would be able to speak briefly with Francis as the pope headed to the airport for his Saturday trip to Greece, where the pope would be addressing the migrant crisis.
So early Saturday morning, Mr. Sanders stood in the marble foyer, which looks out onto a large cobblestone drive just inside the Vatican walls. Joining him were his wife, Mr. Sachs and his wife and Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, the senator’s de facto Vatican fixer.
The pope, speaking to reporters on his plane later in the day, described the meeting. “This morning when I was leaving, Senator Sanders was there,” he said, adding, “He knew I was leaving at that time, and he had the courtesy to greet me.”
No photos of the encounter were permitted, but Mr. Sachs said the senator was delighted all the same. He was beaming as he left the guesthouse, and celebrated the informal audience with a victory lap of sorts in St. Peter’s Basilica along with Mr. Sachs and the bishop, passing Bernini’s Baldacchino, a monumental bronze canopy over the papal altar, and Michelangelo’s Pietà.
Aware that his every statement is parsed for deeper meaning, Francis said he was simply being polite, not political.
“I shook his hand and nothing more,” he said. “If someone thinks that greeting someone means getting involved in politics,” he added, laughing, “I recommend that he find a psychiatrist!”
But the candidate was excited to talk about his coveted souvenir.
“I conveyed to him my great admiration for the extraordinary work that he is doing all over the world in demanding that morality be part of our economy,” Mr. Sanders told reporters aboard the plane as it rushed him back to the campaign in New York.
Jim Yardley contributed reporting from Mytilene, Greece.
Saturday, April 09, 2016
From 1916 Portraits and Lives, edited by Lawrence William White and James Quinn
Thomas J. Clarke returns to Ireland from America and helps to invigorate the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)
Constance Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson found Na Fianna Éireann
H. H. Asquith, the Liberal prime minister, promises ‘self-government’ for Ireland
UK general election: Liberal party fails to win an overall majority and requires the support of John Redmond’s 70-strong Irish Parliamentary Party to govern
James Connolly returns to Ireland from America
Another UK general election; Liberals still the largest party with Irish Parliamentary Party holding the balance of power
At a unionist demonstration at Balmoral, near Belfast, Andrew Bonar Law, leader of the Conservative party, pledges the support of British unionists to Ulster unionist resistance to home rule
Asquith introduces home rule bill in House of Commons
Unionists throughout Ulster sign the Solemn League and Covenant to resist home rule
Third reading of home rule bill carried in House of Commons
Home rule bill defeated in House of Lords
Ulster Volunteer Force founded
After passing in the Commons, home rule bill again defeated in the Lords
Tram workers of James Larkin’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union go on strike – a general lockout of union members follows
Irish Citizen Army founded by trade unionists in Dublin
Irish Volunteers formed at meeting in Dublin, presided over by Eoin MacNeill
‘Curragh mutiny’ – General Hubert Gough and most of his officers in the 3rd Cavalry Brigade announce their unwillingness to enforce home rule on Ulster
Cumann na mBan founded as women’s auxiliary to Irish Volunteers
Ulster Volunteer Force gun-running: large quantity of rifles landed at Larne, Donaghadee and Bangor
Home rule bill passes through Commons for third time
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Slav nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia
Ulster unionist provisional government meets in Belfast
Government, nationalists and unionists fail to reach agreement on the status of Ulster at Buckingham Palace conference
Rifles for Irish Volunteers landed at Howth; British troops who failed to disarm Volunteers fire on a crowd at Bachelor’s Walk, Dublin, killing four and wounding thirty
More rifles for Irish Volunteers landed at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow
UK declares war on Germany after German invasion of Belgium
At a conference in Dublin, militant nationalists (mostly IRB) discuss mounting an insurrection during the war
Government of Ireland act, 1914, suspends the introduction of home rule for the duration of the war
At Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, John Redmond encourages Irish Volunteers to join the British army
Eoin MacNeill and other Volunteer leaders repudiate Redmond’s leadership; Volunteers split, the majority forming Redmond’s ‘National Volunteers’
Volunteer minority, still calling themselves the Irish Volunteers, re-organise with Eoin MacNeill as chief of staff, Patrick Pearse as director of military organisation, Joseph Mary Plunkett as director of military operations, and Thomas MacDonagh as director of training
Sir Roger Casement travels to Berlin to seek German help for an Irish insurrection against British rule
IRB creates a military committee of Pearse, Plunkett and Éamonn Ceannt to begin planning for an armed insurrection
Pearse gives stirring graveside oration at the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa warning that ‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’ [link]
IRB military council of Clarke, Seán Mac Diarmada, Pearse, Plunkett and Ceannt formed 1916
IRB supreme council gives approval for armed insurrection
James Connolly confers with IRB military council and is co-opted into their plans (Thomas MacDonagh co-opted in April)
Pearse issues orders to Volunteers throughout Ireland for manoeuvres beginning on Easter Sunday (23 April)
A trawler, the Aud, arrives in Tralee Bay with German arms for the Irish Volunteers and is arrested by a British patrol ship
Sir Roger Casement lands from a German submarine at Banna Strand, Co. Kerry, and is arrested
Eoin MacNeill, of the Irish Volunteers, learns of planned insurrection and countermands orders for Easter Sunday manoeuvres
Military council meets at Liberty Hall and decides to go ahead with insurrection on Easter Monday (24 April); a revolutionary proclamation is signed by the seven members of the council
GPO and several other buildings in Dublin seized by Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army
An attack on Dublin Castle by a Citizen Army unit is repulsed; the unit briefly holds City Hall until overwhelmed later that day
British army reinforcements arrive in Dublin and surround insurgent positions; martial law declared in Dublin
Citizen Army force in St Stephen’s Green comes under heavy fire and withdraws to College of Surgeons
Liberty Hall destroyed and GPO damaged by British shelling
Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and two other prisoners summarily executed at Portobello barracks on orders of Captain J. C. Bowen-Colthurst [link]
Wexford Volunteers take over Enniscorthy
Heavy fighting as British troops advance on insurgent positions around the Four Courts and the South Dublin Union
Unable to hold the Mendicity Institute on Usher’s Island, the small Volunteer garrison under Seán Heuston surrenders
British army reinforcements advancing on Mount Street bridge suffer heavy casualties at the hands of Volunteers from Éamon de Valera’s 3rd battalion
Volunteers in north County Dublin under Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy seize Ashbourne Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks and ambush an RIC patrol sent to re-take it
GPO on fire; insurgents evacuate building and set up their headquarters in 16 Moore Street
Pearse and Connolly agree to unconditional surrender, and send orders to other insurgent posts to do likewise
Final surrenders of rebel commandants in Dublin end the rising; 64 insurgents, 132 crown forces and about 230 civilians killed
Courts martial of 187 leading insurgents; 88 sentenced to death, with 73 commuted to various terms of imprisonment. Over 400 insurgents sent to Britain to be interned; over 3,000 other suspects also arrested, of whom about half are interned
Gun battle ensues between Kent family and RIC at Bawnard House, Castlelyons, near Fermoy, Co. Cork, when Kents resist arrest
Executions of Pearse, Clarke and MacDonagh
Executions of remaining insurgents; Connolly and Mac Diarmada the last to be shot
Found guilty of treason, Roger Casement is hanged in Pentonville jail, London
Release from Frongoch camp and Reading jail of remaining untried Irish political prisoners; convicted insurgents remain imprisoned [their trades]
Remaining 120 Irish prisoners, including Eoin MacNeill, de Valera and Markievicz, released from British jails
Thomas Ashe dies in Mountjoy jail after forced feeding
De Valera elected president of Sinn Féin
A broad front of Irish nationalists oppose conscription at Mansion House conference
‘German plot’ arrests of Sinn Féin leaders
Great War ends
General election: Sinn Féin wins 73 of 105 Irish seats [manifesto]
First meeting of Dáil Éireann at Mansion House, Dublin, declares independence
Irish Volunteer attack on RIC at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary kills two policemen and marks the beginning of the war of independence [link]
Government of Ireland Act, 1920, provides for two subordinate Irish parliaments, one for six Ulster counties, the other for the remainder of the country
George V opens Northern Ireland parliament in Belfast
Truce ends Irish war of independence
Anglo–Irish treaty signed by British government and Sinn Féin delegates in London [link]
Dáil Éireann approves Anglo–Irish treaty by 64 votes to 57 [Constans de Markievics against the treaty]
Irish Free State provisional government elected by protreaty representatives; Michael Collins elected chairman
Free State troops attack antitreaty forces in Four Courts, beginning the civil war
Limerick and Waterford taken by Free State troops (Cork taken 11 August)
Arthur Griffith, president of Dáil Éireann, dies of cerebral haemorrhage
Michael Collins killed in ambush at Béal na Bláth, Co. Cork
First of 77 executions of anti-treatyites by Free State government (last on 2 May 1923) [link]
Formal establishment of Irish Free State with W. T. Cosgrave as president of the executive council
De Valera orders anti-treatyites to cease armed operations, ending the civil war
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Among climate change activists, solutions usually center on a transition to renewable energy. There may be differences over whether this would be best accomplished by a carbon tax, bigger subsidies for wind and solar power, divestment from fossil fuel companies, massive demonstrations, legislative fiat or some other strategy, but the goal is generally the same: replace dirty fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. Such a transition is often given a significance that goes well beyond its immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions: it would somehow make our exploitative relationship to Nature more environmentally sound, our relationship to each other more socially equitable. In part this is because the fossil fuel corporations – symbolized by the remorseless Koch brothers – will be a relic of the past, replaced by ‘green’ corporations and entrepreneurs that display none of their predecessors’ ruthlessness and greed.
Maybe, but I have my doubts. Here in Vermont, for example, a renewable energy conference last year was titled, “Creating Prosperity and Opportunity Confronting Climate Change”. The event attracted venture capitalists, asset management companies, lawyers that represent renewable energy developers, and even a “brandthropologist” offering advice on “how to evolve Brand Vermont” in light of the climate crisis. The keynote speaker was Jigar Shah, author of Creating Climate Wealth, who pumped up the assembled crowd by telling them that switching to renewables “represents the largest wealth creation opportunity of our generation.” He added that government has a role in making that opportunity real: “policies that incentivize resource efficiency can mean scalable profits for businesses.” If Shah is correct, the profit motive – in less polite company it might be called ‘greed’ – will still be around in a renewable energy future.
But at least the renewable energy corporations will be far more socially responsible than their fossil fuel predecessors. Not if you ask the Zapotec communities in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, who will tell you that a renewable energy corporation can be just as ruthless as a fossil fuel one. Oaxaca is already home to 21 wind projects and 1,600 massive turbines, with more planned. While the indigenous population must live with the wind turbines on their communal lands, the electricity goes to distant urban areas and industries. Local people say they have been intimidated and deceived by the wind corporations: according to one indigenous leader, “They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads. We don’t want any more wind turbines.” People have filed grievances with the government (which has actively promoted the wind projects) and have physically blocked access to development sites.
It seems that a transition to renewable energy might not be as transformative as some people hope. Or to put it more bluntly, renewable energy changes nothing about corporate capitalism.
Which brings me to the new film, This Changes Everything, based on Naomi Klein’s best-selling book and directed by her husband, Avi Lewis. I saw the film recently at a screening hosted by local climate activists and renewable energy developers, and was at first hopeful that the film would go even further than the book in, as Klein puts it, “connecting the dots between the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.”
But by film’s end one is left with the impression that a transition from fossil fuels to renewables is pretty much all that’s needed – not only to address climate change but to transform the economy and solve all the other problems we face. As the camera tracks skyward to reveal banks of solar panels in China or soars above 450-foot tall wind turbines in Germany, the message seems to be that fully committing to these technologies will change everything. This is surprising, since Klein’s book flatly contradicts this way of thinking:
“Over the past decade,” she wrote, “many boosters of green capitalism have tried to gloss over the clashes between market logic and ecological limits by touting the wonders of green tech…. They paint a picture of a world that can function pretty much as it does now, but in which our power will come from renewable energy and all of our various gadgets and vehicles will become so much more energy-efficient that we can consume away without worrying about the impact.” Instead, she says, we need “consume less, right away. [But] Policies based on encouraging people to consume less are far more difficult for our current political class to embrace than policies that are about encouraging people to consume green. Consuming green just means substituting one power source for another, or one model of consumer goods for a more efficient one. The reason we have placed all of our eggs in the green tech and green efficiency basket is precisely because these changes are safely within market logic.”
Overall, Klein’s book is far better at “connecting the dots” than the film. The book explains how free trade treaties have led to a huge spike in emissions, and Klein argues that these agreements need to be renegotiated in ways that will curb both emissions and corporate power. Among other things, she says, “long-haul transport will need to be rationed, reserved for those cases where goods cannot be produced locally.” She explicitly calls for “sensible relocalization” of the economy, as well as reduced consumption and “managed degrowth” in the rich countries of the North – notions likely to curdle the blood of capitalists everywhere. She endorses government incentives for local and seasonal food, as well as land management policies that discourage sprawl and encourage low-energy, local forms of agriculture.
I don’t buy everything about Klein’s arguments: they rest heavily on unquestioned assumptions about the course of ‘development’ in the global South, and focus too much on scaling up government and not enough on scaling down business. The “everything” that will change sometimes seems limited to the ideological pendulum: after decades of pointing towards the neoliberal, free-market right, she believes it must swing back to the left because climate change demands a huge expansion of government planning and support.
Nonetheless, many of the specific steps outlined in the book do have the potential to shift our economic system in important ways. Those steps, however, are given no space at all in the film. The focus is almost entirely on transitioning to renewables, which turns the film into what is essentially an informercial for industrial wind and solar.
The film starts well, debunking the notion that climate change is a product of human nature – of our innate greed and short-sightedness. Instead, Klein says, the problem lies in a “story” we’ve told ourselves for the past 400 years: that Nature is ours to tame, conquer, and extract riches from. In that way, Klein says, “Mother Nature became the mother lode.”
After a gut-wrenching segment on the environmental disaster known as the Alberta tar sands, the film centers on examples of “Blockadia” – a term coined by activists to describe local direct action against extractive industries. There is the Cree community in Alberta fighting the expansion of tar sands development; villagers in India blocking construction of a coal-fired power plant that would eliminate traditional fishing livelihoods; a community on Greece’s Halkidiki Peninsula battling their government and the police to stop an open pit gold mine that would destroy a cherished mountain; and a small-scale goat farmer in Montana joining hands with the local Cheyenne community to oppose a bevy of fossil fuel projects, including a tar sands pipeline, a shale oil project, and a new coal mine.
Klein implies that climate change underlies and connects these geographically diverse protests. But that’s partly an artifact of the examples Klein chose, and partly a misreading of the protestors’ motives: what has really driven these communities to resist is not climate change, but a deeply-felt desire to maintain their traditional way of life and to protect land that is sacred to them. A woman in Halkidiki expresses it this way: “we are one with this mountain; we won’t survive without it.” At its heart, the threat that all of these communities face doesn’t stem from fossil fuels, but from a voracious economic system that will sacrifice them and the land they cherish for the sake of profit and growth.
The choice of Halkidiki as an example actually undermines Klein’s construct, since the proposed mine has nothing directly to do with fossil fuels. It does, however, have everything to do with a global economy that runs on growth, corporate profit, and – as Greece knows only too well – debt. So it is with all the other examples in the film.
Klein’s narrative would have been derailed if she profiled the indigenous Zapotec communities of Oaxaca as a Blockadia example: they fit the bill in every respect other than the fact that it’s renewable energy corporations, not fossil fuel corporations, they are trying to block. Similarly, Klein’s argument would have suffered if she visited villagers in India who are threatened not by a coal-fired power plant, but by one of India’s regulation-free corporate enclaves known as “special economic zones”. These, too, have sparked protests and police violence against villagers: in Nandigram in West Bengal, 14 villagers were killed trying to keep their way of life from being eliminated, their lands turned into another outpost of an expanding global economy.
And while the tar sands region is undeniably an ecological disaster, it bears many similarities to the huge toxic lake on what was once pastureland in Baotou, on the edge of China’s Gobi Desert. The area is the source of nearly two-thirds of the world’s rare earth metals – used in almost every high-tech gadget (as well as in the magnets needed for electric cars and industrial wind turbines). The mine tailings and effluent from the many factories processing these metals have created an environmental disaster of truly monumental proportions: the BBC describes it as “the worst place on earth”. A significant shrinking of global consumer demand would help reduce Baotou’s toxic lake, but it’s hard to see how a shift to renewable energy would.
Too often, climate change has been used as a Trojan horse to enable corporate interests to despoil local environments or override the concerns of local communities. Klein acknowledges this in her book: by viewing climate change only on a global scale, she writes, we end up ignoring “people with attachments to particular pieces of land with very different ideas about what constitutes a ‘solution’. This chronic forgetfulness is the thread that unites so many fateful policy errors of recent years … [including] when policymakers ram through industrial-scale wind farms and sprawling… solar arrays without local participation or consent.” But this warning is conspicuously absent from the film.
Klein’s premise is that climate change is the one issue that can unite people globally for economic change, but there’s a more strategic way to look at it. What we face is not only a climate crisis but literally hundreds of potentially devastating crises: there’s the widening gap between rich and poor, islands of plastic in the oceans, depleted topsoil and groundwater, a rise in fundamentalism and terror, growing piles of toxic and nuclear waste, the gutting of local communities and economies, the erosion of democracy, the epidemic of depression, and many more. Few of these can be easily linked to climate change, but all of them can be traced back to the global economy.
This point is made by Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of Local Futures, who explains how a scaling-down of the corporate-led global economy and a strengthening of diverse, localized economies would simultaneously address all of the most serious problems we face – including climate change. For this reason, what Norberg-Hodge calls ‘big picture activism’ has the potential to unite climate change activists, small farmers, peace advocates, environmentalists, social justice groups, labor unions, indigenous rights activists, main street business owners, and many more under a single banner. If all these groups connect the dots to see the corporate-led economy as a root cause of the problems they face, it could give rise to a global movement powerful enough to halt the corporate juggernaut.
And that really could change everything.
Also see: : Oaxaca on this blog, and “Exploitation and destruction: some things to know about industrial wind power”