State and Local Governments Can Take the Lead on Climate Policy

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(Photo: Philippe Roos / Flickr)

In March, the World Meteorological Organization released data on the state of the earth’s atmosphere in 2016. Last year, it found, was the hottest year since humanity started recording temperatures, continuing a trend of steadily rising mercury.

Inevitably, the rising temperatures led to record severe storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires, from the United States to Brazil to South Africa. Experts believe that the planet will become a much harder place to live if the temperature rise exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius, and will start becoming unlivable if it crosses 2 degrees.

The vast majority of atmospheric scientists attribute these rising temperatures, of course, to emissions from fossil fuels, among other human activities. Yet completely without irony, the Trump administration chose the week after the release of the WMO data to completely roll back even the insufficiently ambitious steps taken by the prior administration to address this looming global disaster.

This is very bad news. But the good news is that there is much ordinary people can still do to ensure that the United States continues to cut back on carbon emissions.

For one thing, we can exert popular pressure on the administration to reverse course, as the tens of thousands of people gathering in late April for the People’s Climate March in Washington are doing, along with thousands more in sister marches worldwide. And we can use the courts to challenge aspects of the administration’s attack on sound environmental policy.

But we can also push a wide range of policy changes in our states and cities to proactively advance a just clean energy agenda, regardless of what’s going on at the federal level.

In fact, states are already being the adults in the room when it comes to taking bold steps to address carbon emissions. Let’s look at just one possible policy — expanding electricity generation from renewable sources, the subject of a report I recently authored for the Institute for Policy Studies.

Transitioning our fossil-fueled electric grid to renewables would reduce emissions more than if we took every single car in the U.S. off the road, so this is a huge deal.

One adult in the room is Oregon, which legislated that coal be completely phased out of its electricity supply by 2030, and that half its electricity come from renewables by 2040.

The legislation in Oregon also enabled the formation of shared solar projects. A shared solar project is an array of solar panels typically located on the roof of a large building such as a school or church, and collectively owned by community members who cannot install solar panels on their own roof, often because they are renters. To ensure economic inclusiveness, Oregon mandated that 10 percent of the capacity of these shared solar projects be set aside for low-income residents.

Given the disproportionate prevalence of poverty among people of color, this is also a step forward for racial justice. And the idea is spreading far beyond Oregon. Shared solar projects are enabled by legislation in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Another adult is California, which not only provides dedicated funding to install solar panels on low-income homes, but also requires that the jobs and skills training in those solar jobs be made accessible to people from underserved communities.

The states displaying these signs of maturity don’t follow predictable political lines. The South Carolina Senate has passed a bill, for example, exempting homeowners with solar panels from paying property taxes on their panels.

Expanding renewable energy helps reduce carbon pollution and makes the energy system more just. It also creates lots of jobs. Energy Department data show that solar energy accounts for 43 percent of direct electricity generating jobs — the most of any one source, even though it represents only 2 percent of generating capacity.

Even after accounting for the coal mining and oil and gas drilling jobs created by fossil fueled electricity generation, solar remains the second largest employer in the sector, with 18 percent of jobs — still ahead of natural gas, which is the single largest source by generating capacity.

If solar can create this many jobs at 2 percent of capacity, imagine what a dynamic job creation engine it would be if we aggressively expanded it. Compared to that, Trump’s fantasy of bringing back coal — which accounts for less than half as many electricity generation jobs as solar, even though its generating capacity is more than 10 times as much — doesn’t even hold a candle.

Yes, states can be grown-ups, counteracting Trump’s perspective on climate change. But it doesn’t happen by magic. It’s going to take lots of local organizing. Environmentalists will have to join hands with anti-poverty groups, civil rights organizations, small businesses, workers, clergy, and other constituencies united in demanding a clean energy economy designed to benefit historically excluded populations and to create good jobs.

So after you march, find out what your state has already accomplished in this regard. If you see room for improvement, start organizing now!

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10 Resistance Victories in Trump’s First 100 Days

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President Donald Trump’s first 100 days will be remembered for the horror of his reckless bombings overseas, his attacks on immigrants, the environment, the Standing Rock Sioux, women, and people of color, and his penchant for choosing billionaires and Wall Street bankers as top officials. But this period will also go down in history for the remarkable popular resistance that has undermined many of Trump’s stated goals for the start of his term.

The true magnitude of this resistance is just starting to become clear. A full 25 percent of Americans, according to a Washington Post poll, say they plan on being “more politically active” this year, and they’re already making their collective power felt in ways that none of us could have imagined just 100 days ago.

Here are 10 big wins that can teach us volumes about how to resist and succeed past Trump’s first 100 days.

1. The Women’s March changed everything.

The 4-5 million people who took to the streets in over 600 cities on January 21 gave confidence to resistance efforts on multiple fronts, including on Capitol Hill.

“When we first got sworn in on January 3, a lot of the Democrats were saying that we had to give Trump’s agenda a chance and confessed to being nervous about taking him on directly,” newly elected Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told us. “After the inauguration and the Women’s March, everyone was singing a completely different tune.”

Anti-misogyny activism got its latest boost near the end of the 100 days as Color of Change, Ultraviolet and others hastened the ouster of Trump ally and longtime Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

2. Airport rallies (and brave judges) postponed the Muslim ban.

When Trump marked his first week in office with an executive order banning U.S. entry for immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries—and to all refugees from anywhere—national outrage quickly turned into spontaneous protests at airports across the country and at the White House.

The outpouring of support for refugees and immigrants provided the political backing for courageous federal judges in Hawaii, Washington, Maryland, and New York to stop both versions of the ban in their tracks. Beyond ensuring the ban’s permanent elimination, the next step will require challenging the aggressive U.S. military policies that are creating the refugee crisis in the first place.

3. Town hall rallies helped defeat Trumpcare.

The Republican Freedom Caucus got most of the credit for bringing down the disastrous Trump-Ryan health care plan. But the tens of thousands of people who packed town hall meetings with their members of Congress in March strengthened the backbones of Democrats and kept moderate Republicans from going along with the Freedom Caucus’ demands.

A key force behind the resistance was Indivisible, which mobilized its nearly 6,000 chapters to protest at town halls from coast to coast.

4. Tax marches threw a wrench in Trump’s tax plan.

More than 100,000 people in 200-plus communities participated in tax marches on April 15. While rally speakers called for a broader fair tax agenda, the central demand of the events was the release of Trump’s tax returns. He is the first president in 40 years to refuse to make them public.

This big-tent message turned up the heat on politicians to join the demand for transparency, boosting the number of Republican lawmakers who have done so to at least 20. The New York Times has called the controversy over Trump’s returns a “central hurdle” to the passage of Trump’s tax reform plan, which is a huge giveaway to wealthy individuals, big corporations and Wall Street banks.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had earlier vowed to get a deal signed by August, admitted after the marches that this is no longer realistic.

5. The sanctuary cities movement is stronger and more inclusive than ever.

Some of the most disturbing images of the first 100 days have been of Trump immigration agents rounding up immigrants for deportation. But there’s a proud history of U.S. cities and towns providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, going back to the U.S. wars in Central America in the 1980s. While Trump has promised to remove federal funding for cities that refuse to cooperate with ICE, the sanctuary city movement is stronger and more inclusive than ever. Projects like Freedom Cities are working to expand protection to other vulnerable communities, like refugees and those facing Islamophobia. Hundreds of sanctuary cities have been joined by congregations, campuses, restaurants, and even some unions.

Trump’s plan to shame these cities by producing a weekly list of undocumented immigrants charged with crimes was suspended after only three reports, after cities and states complained of their inaccuracy. And leaders of sanctuary cities across Southern California have doubled down on their commitment to protect everyone in their communities, promising legal challenges against Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice.

6. The longtime progressive fight against corporate trade agreements paid off with the death of the TPP.

For a quarter-century, a wide spectrum of social movements across the U.S. and the world have fought to defeat corporate-friendly trade deals and advance fair and responsible alternatives.

During the campaign, labor, environmental, family farm, food safety, and women’s groups united in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, pressing candidate Trump (along with his rival, Hillary Clinton) to oppose the deal and condemn its blueprint, NAFTA. While it’s clear that Trump’s billionaire advisers are attempting to walk back their criticism, Trump ended U.S. participation in the TPP early in his first 100 days, a credit to progressives that set an important precedent.

7. States and cities are stepping up climate action.

In recent years, a number of cities and states have sped up the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy, creating jobs while addressing climate change. Groups like People’s Action and their affiliates have brought poor people and communities of color into these plans, making sure that renewable energy doesn’t remain an option for the privileged alone.

In the face of Trump’s attempts to kill Obama’s signature climate change policy, the Clean Power Plan, several cities and states, including California and New York, have committed to sticking to their transition goals, despite the lack of federal support.

And the momentum is growing. The Institute for Policy Studies just released a new report that serves as a blueprint for state legislation to expand solar access to low-income communities. The Science and People’s Climate marches will no doubt help keep up the pressure.

8. A massive popular mobilization defeated an anti-labor CEO as labor secretary.

With Republican control of the Senate, Trump’s cabinet picks sailed through the confirmation process—with one major exception. Labor nominee Andrew Puzder had to withdraw from the process on the eve of his hearing. The fast-food CEO favored robots over workers, bragged about his sexist ad campaigns, and was the target of numerous sexual harassment and wage theft claims.

A wide range of over 60 labor, women’s and food groups, including IPSJobs with Justice, the National Employment Law Project, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, turned Puzder toxic through creative direct action and a steady stream of harsh media coverage that included the voices of Puzder’s own workers.

9. Racial and criminal justice are gaining momentum.

Movements for black lives continue to spread and diversify their agendas in the face of Trump’s condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which raised powerful critiques of America’s racist criminal justice system. As Yale Law professor James Forman Jr. wrote in the New York Times in March: “The movement to reduce the prison population and make our criminal justice system more humane is not in retreat. In fact, it is stronger than ever.”

While Trump and Attorney General Sessions have painted racist pictures of American “inner cities” ravaged by gangs and murders and promised to “send in the feds,” Forman reminds us that most crime policy is set at the state and local levels. And at those levels, a de-carceration movement led by formerly incarcerated people helped spark successful November ballot initiatives on sentencing, bail, parole, and other reforms in states from New Mexico to Oklahoma to California.

Notably, Trump has been silent in his first 100 days on his promise to pursue a “Restoring Community Safety Act,” which would have ramped up federal resources to put more people in jail. Meanwhile, black-led organizations have successfully pressed companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to drop their support of right-wing legislative groups.

10. New heroes and new action centers abound.

Who would have thought that lawyers and judges, starting with the first Muslim ban order, would stand up, often taking to the streets, and be counted? Many members of the media, vilified by Trump, have stood up to the bullying, and the public has responded, with subscriptions to news sources up substantially.

And don’t forget scientists: the Science March may have been the first time they have protested in a mass fashion.

Dozens of new organizations from Indivisible to #grabyourwallet to Bernie’s Our Revolution, have pulled millions of people into action and empowered thousands of new people to run for office. The challenge for the next 100 days is to turn all this people power into a lasting progressive infrastructure that can propel new local and state victories while continuing to thwart Trump’s dangerous national and global agenda.

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Solar Energy Is An Equity Issue

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Given the current assault on responsible climate policy at the federal level, innovative state and local actions will be critical if we are to transition to a sustainable economy with much less racial and economic inequality and greater public control.

A new Institute for Policy Studies report, “How States Can Boost Renewables With Benefits for All,” focuses in on one strategy for a just transition: Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). RPS require utilities to provide a growing share of electricity from solar and wind energy, and are a particularly promising policy option — especially if they increase the benefits of a clean energy transition for low-income families.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have RPS requirements, and eight other states have voluntary renewable energy goals. Building on this progress — by enacting RPS in additional states, tightening current standards, and making voluntary programs binding — would have significant environmental, economic, and social benefits.

Much of the growth in residential solar energy in recent decades has largely benefited white, middle class families. Increasing solar access for low-income households is an equity issue because it removes barriers to participation for populations who have not benefited much from renewable energy but have often borne the brunt of fossil fuel extraction and pollution. Low-income households spend an average of 8.8% of their income on electricity, while the average for all Americans is only 2.9%.

A 2015 study estimates that a typical set of residential solar panels would meet more than half of an average low-income household’s electricity needs. Low-income households are disproportionately African-American and Latino, and hence advancing income- and race-conscious policies for renewables will also advance racial justice.

Effective renewables programs also have the potential for significant creation of good jobs. Solar energy accounted for 43% of U.S. employment in electric power generation in 2015, even though it represented only 2.2% of generation capacity. Similarly, wind energy represented 11.8% of power generation jobs but only 6.8% of generating capacity.

These figures suggest that solar and wind energy growth through expanded RPS and increased low-income solar access would create many more jobs than a business-as-usual energy model. Renewable energy jobs are also comparable in wages to fossil fuel jobs. A typical wind turbine technician, for example, earns $ 25.50 per hour, significantly more than several categories of fossil fuel occupations.

Another benefit of these programs is that they would reduce our economy’s dependence on centralized power generation and distribution by large corporate utilities. The total U.S. electricity market was worth $ 391 billion in 2015. By giving families and small businesses a stake in an expanded renewable energy market, these policies would keep more of this money in communities.

The report concludes by identifying key “best practice” elements of RPS and low-income solar access policies, drawing from successful state models.

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IPS on the Offense: Big Visions for State and Local Power

The Institute for Policy Studies is going on the offense with initiatives in a large number of cities and several key states. Join us and our affiliates for engaging workshops and dialogue that build power and move in the direction of transformative change.

Let’s go beyond reactionary and put forward big visions solutions that will inspire people to think and act differently.


Spring Event Series

Challenging the U.S. War on the Atmosphere: How We Fight Back

April 28 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
St. Stephen’s Church, 1525 Newton St NW

A dynamic teach-in as a prelude to the People’s Climate March (PCM), exploring concrete ways we can advance a just climate agenda and roll back the extractive economy.

Find out more »

State and Local Strategies for Reversing Inequality

May 10 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Institute for Policy Studies, 1301 Connecticut Avenue NW, 6th Floor

Details coming soon

Bringing Global Resistance to the Local Level

Details coming soon

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Report: How States Can Boost Renewables With Benefits for All

Given the current assault on responsible climate policy at the federal level, innovative state and local actions will be critical if we are to achieve a just transition to a sustainable economy. IPS is surveying the array of measures that can accelerate the rapid transition from fossil fuels to clean and efficient alternatives in an equitable fashion. In this study, we focus in on one strategy: Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).  RPS require utilities to provide a growing share of electricity from solar and wind energy, and are a particularly promising policy option — especially if they increase the benefits of a clean energy transition for low-income families.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have RPS requirements, and eight other states have voluntary renewable energy goals. Building on this progress — by enacting RPS in additional states, tightening current standards, and making voluntary programs binding — would have significant environmental, economic, and social benefits:

KEY FINDINGS:

  • RPS expansion can significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The electric power generation sector accounts for nearly 30% of total U.S. GHG emissions. Since residential electricity usage currently makes up more than 37% of national utilities sales, RPS success will depend on dramatically expanding home-based solar energy options — especially for low-income households.
  • RPS expansion creates good jobs. Solar energy already accounts for nearly 43% of direct U.S. employment in electric power generation, even though it only makes up a tiny fraction of the energy we use to power our country.
  • Renewable energy wages are comparable to those in the fossil fuel industry. A typical wind turbine technician, for example, earns $ 25.50 an hour, significantly more than many fossil fuel occupations.
  • Expanding shared solar access advances justice and equity. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in poorly insulated homes with higher heating and cooling costs, which means they spend more of their income on electricity. A typical set of residential solar panels would meet more than half of an average low-income household’s electricity needs — which means cutting their electricity bill drastically.
  • Shared renewables can allow families and small businesses a stake in the renewable energy market. The U.S. electricity market was worth $ 391 billion in 2015. RPS can help keep more of this money in communities.

Drawing from successful state models, the report identifies the following key “best practice” elements of RPS and low-income solar access policies:

  1.      A sufficiently ambitious timetable.
  2.      No non-renewable or dirty power (nuclear energy, trash incineration, or biofuels) included in “renewables” definition.
  3.      A system of tradable renewable energy credits (RECs) to facilitate tracking.
  4.      Meaningful penalties for noncompliance.
  5.      Requirement to fund solar access for low-income households.
  6.      Incorporating a “green jobs” component into the low-income solar program.
  7.      Legislative provision for shared solar, which also incorporates funding for solar access for low-income communities (#5) and its related targeted hiring and training component (#6).

Read the full executive summary and report here [PDF].
Find sharable graphics and social media kit here.

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New IPS Report Provides a Blueprint for States to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Trump Era

(Washington, D.C.) – Given the current assault on responsible climate policy at the federal level by the Trump administration, now more than ever, innovative state and local actions are needed to combat our climate crisis. Many states are already well on their way.

The new IPS report How States Can Boost Renewables With Benefits for All documents how increasing and expanding Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and distributed solar access to low-income households in states can help substantially reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The report also compiles existing state models for RPS expansion to create best practices blueprint for RPS legislation with dedicated funding for increased distributed solar access for low-income households.

“States and local governments can and must pick up the federal government’s slack in advancing an ambitious people’s climate agenda,” report author and IPS Climate Policy Director Basav Sen said. “Expanding access to solar to low-income communities and renters through programs like shared-solar is crucial since electric power generation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and the residential and commercial sectors are the two largest end-users of electricity sales by utilities. If we obtained all of our electricity from renewables, that would have a greater emissions impact than taking every single car in the U.S. off the road.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • RPS expansion creates good jobs. Solar energy already accounts for nearly 43% of direct U.S. employment in electric power generation, even though it only makes up a tiny fraction of the energy we use to power our country.
  • Renewable energy wages are comparable to those in the fossil fuel industry. A typical wind turbine technician, for example, earns $ 25.50 an hour, significantly more than many fossil fuel occupations.
  • Expanding shared solar access advances justice and equity. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in poorly insulated homes with higher heating and cooling costs, which means they spend more of their income on electricity. A typical set of residential solar panels would meet more than half of an average low-income household’s electricity needs — which means cutting their electricity bill drastically.
  • Shared renewables can allow families and small businesses a stake in the renewable energy market. The U.S. electricity market was worth $ 391 billion in 2015. RPS can help keep more of this money in communities.

Read more key findings and the full report at http://www.ips-dc.org/report-how-states-can-boost-renewables-with-benefits-for-all/.

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A Closer Look At Evictions Caused By Increased Housing Costs

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(Photo: Flickr/ Caelie Frampton)

If you’ve never been forced out of your home by a county sheriff while movers carry all of your earthly possessions out onto the curb, knowing what that experience feels like can be almost impossible. Matthew Desmond’s brilliant book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, provides a small window into the lives of families who know that feeling all too well.

Desmond, a just-named Pulitzer Prize winner for his work, spent five years “embedded” in Milwaukee, building the trust of tenants and landlords alike. They shared a level of detail and intrigue that sometimes seems more fitting for a novel than a wonky social policy book.

Three out of four families who qualify for housing assistance, Desmond points out, do not currently receive it. One reason: Public funding has trickled away from housing, leaving the supply of affordable housing miniscule compared to the need. But Desmond, a Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius award winner, also has all the numbers behind his engaging stories. Evicted manages to fit in mountains of data.

“If we want to erase poverty,” Desmond claims, “we need to do something about affordable housing. Without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

Why do we need to subsidize housing in the first place? Simple. Housing costs have soared, incomes have not. Not a single major city in the United States has a minimum wage in effect that could cover the basic cost of living for an adult, much less a family with children. And the subsidies required to make up the difference remain pitifully inadequate.

Evictions don’t so much reflect poverty, Desmond argues, they cause it. Evicted families lose their homes, their communities, their schools, and even their jobs and possessions. To add insult to injury, many end up with court records because they can’t afford the fees associated with their evictions, a record that can later block access to affordable housing.

Evictions used to be rather rare. Crowds sometimes came out to watch and to protest. Evictions have now become a way of life for thousands of families who bounce between temporary shelters, short-term leases, and unstable nomadic lifestyles.

Some cities now have sheriff squads that concentrate solely on evicting families. Moving companies also specialize in evictions — and profit off the pain.

Evictions hurt just everyone else — the families involved, the neighborhood, and the community. Yet until we collectively find the public will to address runaway inequality and the affordable housing crisis, evictions will continue on.

Evicted gives this ongoing crisis the spotlight that has been missing for far too long.

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Brexit, a Wake-Up Call for Europe

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(Photo: Delpixel / Shutterstock)

The European Union is a historic compromise that’s gradually gotten stronger over its half-century existence.

Until 2016. That’s when British citizens, by a very narrow margin, voted to leave the European Union.

It’s hard to come up with Brexit’s price tag for the British. The administrative costs alone of the separation will be about $ 60 billion. But that’s nothing compared to the longer-term effect.

Much depends on the terms of the divorce.

A “hard exit” that doesn’t preserve U.K. access to Europe’s single market would mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs as European businesses and financial institutions relocate to the continent. Also at risk is all the outside investment that’s flowed to the U.K. because of its connection to the European Union. U.S. business alone brought in $ 600 billion in 2015.

A “soft exit,” meanwhile, may preserve privileged access to the EU market, but only if the U.K. permits the free movement of people — exactly what motivated many British to push the reject button in the first place. Even this compromise may not save the British economy from weaker growth, higher unemployment and more debt.

Brexit might also cost Britain its very unity. Scotland, which overwhelmingly backed continued EU membership, has already indicated that it will push for another referendum on independence from the U.K.

In this lose-lose proposition, however, the EU might suffer the greater consequences.

Read the full article on Inside Sources.

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The Hunger President

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(Photo: Feed My Starving Children / Flickr)

One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

The quote comes from Stalin. The policy comes from Donald Trump.

Trump famously changed his policy on Syria after seeing photographs of a couple Syrian children killed by a chemical attack. It didn’t matter that the Syrian government had already killed thousands of children. In targeting the Assad regime, Trump was moved by the tragedy, not the statistic.

When it comes to world hunger, Trump’s resistance to statistics is even more appalling. There are now 1.4 million children at risk of dying from famine. No one apparently has shown Donald Trump, or his daughter Ivanka, any photos of these at-risk children. So, the U.S. president is comfortably ignoring this statistic.

Because of a combination of weather conditions and military conflict — the two horsemen of the 21st century apocalypse — 20 million people are on the verge of starvation in four countries: Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria. It’s the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, according to a senior UN official. In response, the UN put out a request for $ 4.4 billion in emergency assistance to avert catastrophe.

As of the middle of April, it hasn’t even received a billion.

At first glance, the United States comes out looking pretty good in terms of contributions. It tops the list of donors at $ 407 million (followed by various EU countries, Canada, Japan, and even $ 60 million in private pledges).

It turns out, however, that all the money that Washington has contributed this year comes from an allocation made during the Obama administration. Last year, in fact, the United States provided 28 percent of the assistance to the four countries.

This year, USAID hasn’t added anything to meet the emergency famine relief appeal, which is no surprise. In Trump’s budget request, USAID stands to lose 37 percent of its funding. After all, Donald Trump has declared foreign assistance a zero-sum game: What doesn’t go to them can go to us. “America First” means that we protect our own first.

Except that Trump isn’t giving to the most needy at home. Our billionaire president is also threatening to take away the health care of millions of Americans. His proposed federal budget would dramatically reduce programs for the working poor like affordable housing.

The Trump doctrine, such that it is, is really all about taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Trump’s America First approach, then, is a shortsighted, cruel, and ultimately self-defeating shell game. Unless Donald Trump reverses his opposition to foreign aid, he will go down in history not just as the Absentee Golfer President or the Insane Clown President.

He’ll be forever known as the Hunger President.

Full-Spectrum Famine

Yemen has been in a precarious state for some time. It’s a desperately dry place where as many as 4,000 people a year were dying in disputes over land and water even before the outbreak of the current hostilities.

In 2014, a Shia religious-political movement known as the Houthis threw their lot in with ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, a corrupt politician who’d ruled for three decades before losing his position during the Arab Spring protests that swept through Yemen in 2011. Together, they took over the capital and surged southward to expel the government of former military commander Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had holed up in the port city of Aden.

That’s when Saudi Arabia intervened on the side of Hadi and against the Houthis. The United States has been assisting the Saudis from the beginning by sending weapons and providing intelligence. The United States has also been helping to refuel bombers that have increasingly targeted civilian sites such as schools and hospitals.

It’s all part of a larger struggle in the region between the Saudis and their Sunni allies on one side and Iran and its Shia allies on the other, though Iran denies that it has much to do with the Houthi struggle. The Trump administration has only upped the ante by restoring the arms sales to Saudi Arabia suspended by the Obama administration and aligning itself even more closely to Riyadh’s war effort.

The war has pushed Yemen over the brink. The areas where the most fighting has taken place — Taiz and Hodeidah — are, not surprisingly, where the risk of famine is greatest. Both sides are to blame, says Mark Kaye of Save the Children in Yemen:

This crisis is happening because food and supplies can’t get into the country. Yemen was completely dependent on imports of food, medicine, and fuel prior to this crisis. You have one party delaying and significantly preventing food from getting into the country, and another on the ground detaining aid workers or preventing aid and food from getting to areas they don’t want it to go to.

Of course, it doesn’t make much sense to send in food and water to people only to make them into better-fed casualties in the ongoing conflict. And the conflict shows no sign of abating, with the Houthis governing in the capital and the Saudi-backed supporters of Hadi only in tenuous control of areas in the south. The geographic and sectarian divisions that make the conflict more complicated than just Houthi vs. Hadi also make a peace deal that much more elusive.

Of the four countries at risk of famine, Yemen is the place where the United States has perhaps the greatest chance of making a difference. It can stop supporting the Saudi war effort. It can begin to scale back its own drone attacks in Yemen. It can support the UN peace process.

Even just stepping back from the conflict — something that Donald Trump seemed to favor during the campaign as a general approach to any conflict not involving the Islamic State — would deprive the ongoing war in Yemen of some of the oxygen that keeps it going.

Climate Change and Famine

The Pentagon long ago figured out that climate change was becoming a chief driver of conflict worldwide. If anyone can persuade Donald Trump that climate change is real, it’s not going to be environmentalists. It’s going to be people with a lot of medals on their chest, people who know better than anyone that you can’t bomb a famine to make it go away.

The generals could begin a climate-change discussion with Trump by talking about what’s currently going on in Africa. The three African countries on the famine alert – South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria — are all dealing with endemic military conflict. They’ve all been vulnerable to famine in the past. And climate change has been pushing them ever closer to the edge.

Take the example of Somalia, which last experienced a famine in 2011. Somalis depend on agriculture and livestock. Even the most modest increase in temperature throws the ecosystem out of equilibrium.

“Awareness is growing among Somalis themselves about climate change: Communities across the country have noticed marked changes in temperature and rainfall, although most attribute it to divine retribution for the failings of humankind,” writes Halae Fuller in a Stimson Center brief from 2011. “African farmers and herders have adapted to changing environmental conditions with remarkable resilience. But where individual ingenuity fails, Somalia lacks the institutions and government structure needed to protect its population against increased food insecurity.”

A growing population and a shrinking resource base are a recipe for disaster under any circumstance. Throw in two dry spells in 2016, and now nearly half the Somali population needs emergency food relief.

The failure of the international community — and particularly the United States — to help those in desperate need in Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria could become a powerful recruitment tool for anti-Western terrorist organizations. At the very least, the increased competition for limited resources will sharpen already-existing political and sectarian divisions.

The Trump administration could continue to avert its eyes from famine. It could continue to deny the real-world impact of climate change. And it could insist that drone attacks from above are the only way of dealing with terrorists on the ground. But it won’t be able to pretend for long that these problems won’t ultimately affect the United States. The growing number of refugees pouring out of those countries and the growing anger of those who perceive that they’ve been abandoned by the West will necessarily have a blowback effect on the last superpower standing.

On this narrower issue of famine relief, the Trump administration can still change its position. Right now, it’s living off the political capital and budget allocations of the Obama administration. That will run out very soon.

If humanitarianism fails to persuade Trump, perhaps naked geopolitics could do the trick.

Significantly, on that list of donors answering the UN famine appeal, one country is conspicuously absent: China. In the Trump era, China has been very vocal about its desire to be a more prominent player on the world stage. But here’s a reminder: It’s pay to play. If China wants to shoulder global responsibilities, it must start by paying attention to the world’s most vulnerable people.

In the meantime, while China considers the costs of global leadership, the United States still has a chance, by making a splashy and significant contribution to famine relief, to regain some portion of its status as a global leader in an arena that actually means something for the lives of millions of people.

If it doesn’t, Trump will have more than just a couple tragedies on his hands. He’ll face some very damning statistics indeed.

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Fighting Financial Abuse in the Trump Era

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(Photo: Yeexin Richelle / Shutterstock)

Standing up to the big Wall Street banks and predatory lenders has certainly not gotten any easier in the Trump era. In fact, the president and congressional Republicans are eager to roll back many of the post-crisis policies to tame the financial system.

But Amanda Jackson, who takes on powerful financial industry forces every day as the Organizing Manager for Americans for Financial Reform, says she’s drawing strength and inspiration from a surge of activism.

“Trump is forcing people to be more conscious of problems that certain communities have been facing forever,” Jackson told Inequality.org. “There’s no gray area anymore. Either you turn a blind eye to the problems or you answer the call to action. Fortunately, we’re seeing many people answer that call.”

Jackson is currently mobilizing to defend a regulation to prevent abuse of prepaid debit card users. Unlike regular credit and debit cards tied to bank accounts, these cards have not been covered by legal protections against fraud, hidden fees, and unauthorized charges. To protect these consumers, federal regulators adopted new safeguards on prepaid cards last year that are scheduled to go into force in April 2018. But congressional Republicans have introduced legislation to block them.

The problems with the unregulated approach to prepaid cards blew up in 2015, when a business co-owned by Russell Simmons turned into a consumer nightmare. The hip hop mogul had become part of the vanguard of this industry when he created the RushCard about 15 years ago. Business expanded rapidly as Simmons marketed the prepaid plastic to African-Americans as a means of financial control and convenience.

Then in 2015, tens of thousands of RushCard holders lost control of their finances. A technical “glitch” blocked service for as long as several weeks, leaving customers unable to get their direct deposits, make purchases, or pay bills.

The company would eventually agree to pay up to $ 28.75 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit, plus an additional $ 10 million in restitution to customers harmed by the lockdown. But these payouts won’t make up for the immediate hardship suffered by RushCard holders who were already on the financial edge when they lost access to their money. Simmons walked away from the mess in February 2017 by selling out to a competitor, Green Dot, for $ 147 million.

“The RushCard fiasco really opened people’s eyes to the need for regulation and accountability,” Jackson explained. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation conducted a survey in 2015 which revealed that prepaid card use was higher among groups more likely to face discrimination and economic disadvantages, including low-income, less-educated, younger, and black households, as well as disabled people of working age. Nearly 14 percent of black households use prepaid debit cards, compared to only 9 percent of whites.

A Pew Charitable Trusts report estimated that a typical prepaid card user gets hit with $ 10 to $ 30 in fees each month, and overdraft charges can run much higher.

“Recently I talked to a Virginia pastor who’d just given some money to a student slammed by overdraft fees on a prepaid card,” Jackson said. “The problem is so common in his congregation he’s had to put a two-time limit on such help per person.”

Many companies have embraced the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) safeguards as a way to legitimize a service that has developed a shady reputation. But one, NetSpend, which sells prepaid cards through payday lenders and check cashers and is known for high overdraft fees, has mounted a strong opposition campaign. The National Consumer Law Center has pointed out that the leading senate opponent of the safeguards, Republican David Perdue, is from Georgia, where NetSpend’s parent company happens to be headquartered.

Jackson and others in the Americans for Financial Reform coalition are working to mobilize civil rights, consumer, labor, small business, investor, faith-based, and community groups to defend the prepaid card rules during the current congressional recess, which runs until April 21. A vote for repeal could come shortly thereafter. Key opponents “will definitely be hearing from us,” Jackson said, “whether through letters to the editor, social media, lobby visits, or direct action.” The coalition is also coordinating an organization sign-on letter.

All of this activity on prepaid cards is a prelude to a bigger fight over the very future of the CFPB, which was created in response to the 2008 financial crisis. Republicans are pushing proposals that would cripple this new agency’s ability to function as an effective watchdog by politicizing its leadership and eliminating its independent funding.

“It’s not fun to have to fight so hard to defend what you’ve already won,” Jackson said. “But people in the Trump era are motivated. Everyone just wants to do more.”

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