Don’t Let Corporations Pick What Websites You Visit

net-neutrality-internet

(Photo: Flickr/ Backbone Campaign)

Think about the websites you visit. The movies you stream. The music you listen to online. The animal videos that are just too cute not to share.

Now think about the freedom to use the internet however and whenever you choose being taken away from you. That’s exactly what Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs), are trying to do.

Right now, those companies are constrained by a principle called net neutrality — the so-called “guiding principle of the internet.” It’s the idea that people should be free to access all the content available online without ISPs dictating how, when, and where that content can be accessed.

In other words, net neutrality holds that the company you pay for internet access can’t control what you do online.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted strong net neutrality rules that banned ISPs from slowing down connection speeds to competing services — e.g., Comcast can’t slow down content or applications specific to Verizon because it wants you to switch to their services — or blocking websites in an effort to charge individuals or companies more for services they’re already paying for.

But now the open internet as we know it is under threat again. Net neutrality rules are in danger of being overturned by Donald Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai and broadband companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

But these corporations aren’t doing this alone. They’re getting help from at least eight handpicked members of Congress, all Republicans (Paul Ryan being the most notable), who’ve signed statements of support for overturning the neutrality rules.

Why? All we need to do is follow the money.

These eight lawmakers have all received significant campaign contributions from these corporations. That means the big broadband corporations and their special interest groups are attempting — and succeeding — to influence policymakers’ decisions on rules that affect us all.

The fun doesn’t stop there.

Ajit Pai — the FCC chairman bent on overturning net neutrality — is a former lawyer for Verizon, one of the very companies petitioning to have the rules changed. Lately Pai has been citing an academic paper arguing that the FCC “eschewed economics and embraced populism as [its] guiding principle” in making decisions on issues like net neutrality.

The catch? This paper wasn’t written by independent experts. It was funded and commissioned by CALinnovates, a telecommunications industry trade group. Their biggest member? None other than AT&T, which stands to benefit a lot if these rules are overturned.

This is just one example of “information laundering,” in which corporate-commissioned research is being used to further corporate agendas. It’s just another way corporations are using their money and influence to lobby members of Congress.

During a recent day of action, major websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google stood up in defense of net neutrality by using pop-up ads, GIFs, and videos to inform the public of the issue and ask them to tell the FCC to “preserve the open Internet.”

You too can fight back against corporate influence by calling the FCC and telling them you won’t give up your right to use the Internet the way you want.

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Trump: The Anti-Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan sit down together inside the Hofdi in Reykjavik, Iceland on Saturday, Oct. 11, 1986 at the start of a series of talks. (Photo: Scott Stewart / AP)

Back in the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev had a magic touch internationally. Traveling outside the Soviet Union, he often received the adulation that was so frequently lacking at home. When Gorbachev visited other Communist countries, crowds would turn out to welcome him as a savior.

He had that effect in Beijing when he visited on May 16, 1989. The protests in Tiananmen Square had started the month before, and the protesters saw in Gorbachev a possible future trajectory for China. According to a contemporary account in The New York Times:

The demonstrations were doubly embarrassing for the Chinese leaders because of the obvious enthusiasm that many of the protesters felt for Mr. Gorbachev. Several had prepared banners in Russian hailing him as a great reformer, and a crowd of workers and bicyclists applauded when he drove past them on his way to the Great Hall of the People.

Even more startling was his appearance at East Germany’s celebrations of its 40th anniversary on October 7, 1989. As he passed along Unter den Linden, crowds on either side of East Berlin’s famous boulevard cried out, “Gorby, help us.” Two days later, 70,000 people showed up to demonstrate, non-violently, in Leipzig. The East German regime, as Gorbachev had warned, was living on borrowed time. The Berlin Wall would fall a mere one month later.

Gorbachev made other important visits — Czechoslovakia in April 1987, Romania in May 1987, Cuba in April 1989 — that contributed to a wave of transformation that took place in East-Central Europe (though not China or Cuba). Of course, Gorbachev failed to transform the Soviet Union as he’d hoped and ended up destroying the very structure he wanted to rehabilitate. Still, he’ll be remembered for his contributions to ending the Cold War and bringing hope to many throughout the Communist world.

Now along comes Donald Trump, the head of another putative superpower desperately in need of internal reform. Trump has promised his own form of perestroika in the form of his attacks on the “administrative state.” He offers his own form of glasnost with his obsessive tweeting. Trumpeting a xenophobic foreign policy, he’s also vowed to thoroughly transform the bloc that he nominally leads.

And when Trump goes abroad, he has his own transformative effect. But while Gorbachev promoted democratization in his wake, Trump promotes exactly the opposite.

The Trump Touch

Donald Trump is the Tinkerbell of tyranny. He sprinkles pixie dust on autocracies to make them more so and on democracies so that they move ever closer to dictatorship.

Trump’s touch was on full view in Saudi Arabia during his first overseas stop as president of the free world. It was an odd choice of destinations, since Saudi Arabia is one of the key leaders of the unfree world.

But Saudi Arabia is Trump’s kind of place, where oil is king, women are submissive, no one protests on the street, and the ruling clique does pretty much whatever it wants to do. Trump seemed fully at home in this feudal kingdom, and he had nothing but praise for his hosts. While there, he also met with other autocrats of the Gulf, such as those ruling Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Not long after he left, Bahrain decided that Trump had effectively given the country a green light to crack down on its opposition. A mere two days after meeting Trump in Riyadh, where the president assured King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa that his administration wouldn’t complicate bilateral relations with anything so trivial as human rights considerations, the Bahraini government used force to disband a nonviolent sit-in in support of the country’s most prominent Shiite leader. Five protesters died, and the authorities arrested hundreds. Then, the government shut down al-Wasat, the most prominent independent newspaper, and the Trump administration uttered not a peep of protest.

Saudi Arabia, having extracted a promise of even more U.S. military assistance with which to prosecute its war in Yemen, decided to see how far it could go to leverage its new relationship with the Trump administration. Together with the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, it moved against Qatar, a Gulf outlier for its relatively cordial relations with Iran and its relative tolerance for independent journalism in the form of Al Jazeera. This time, the Trump administration was divided, with Trump himself seeming to side with Riyadh while the State Department and the Pentagon stuck up for Doha, a key ally on military matters in the region.

The latest place to experience this Trump effect is Poland. Since Poland is a democracy, at least for the time being, the people fought back and produced an unexpected result.

The Putative Polish Putsch

Trump’s decision to visit to Poland just before the G20 summit was just as pointed as his choice of Saudi Arabia as a first overseas stop. The Polish government that took over 2015, led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has taken just the kind of stances that Trump loves: against immigration, against a free press, against the rule of law.

Poland was the perfect place for Trump to hammer home his veiled white supremacist message. Peter Beinart, in The Atlantic, contrasts Trump’s speech in Warsaw to George W. Bush speech there in 2003:

In his 2003 speech, Bush referred to democracy 13 times. Trump mentioned it once. And for good reason. Ideologically, what links the current American and Polish governments is not their commitment to democracy — both are increasingly authoritarian. It is their hostility to Muslim immigration. The European Union is suing Poland’s government for refusing to accept refugees. Among Trump’s biggest applause lines in Warsaw was, “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” Given that Trump had linked “our values” to America and Poland’s “tradition,” “faith,” “culture,” and “identity,” it wasn’t hard to imagine whom that leaves out.

Equally important, at least for the PiS audience, was the benediction Trump gave to Poland’s leadership. Poland, Trump said, is “an example for others who seek freedom.”

Shortly after the visit, the Polish ruling party decided to remind the world of precisely what that example represents. It attempted to ram through several laws that would have severely hobbled rule of law in the country. One would have allowed the government to fire all Supreme Court justices and appoint its own replacements; a second would have given parliament, controlled by PiS, the authority to appoint members of the National Council of the Judiciary, a body designed to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Building on earlier moves to eliminate any pesky judicial constraints on its authority, which prompted an EU “probe” into Polish actions, PiS was following a game plan devised by Viktor Orban and Fidesz in Hungary: to clear away all constitutional barriers to creating an illiberal democracy.

The surprise came when Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed the two bills. A former PiS stalwart — he had to resign from the party when he became president — Duda was responding to an EU threat to suspend Poland’s voting rights as well as the enormous wave of protests that had washed over the country. Hundreds of thousands of Poles took to the streets in Warsaw, and many veterans of the Solidarity era, including Lech Walesa himself, spoke out vehemently against the government.

PiS was furious at this apostasy. It put enormous counter-pressure on Duda to force him to sign the third bill in the package, which gives the justice minister the power to appoint the heads of all lower courts.

The EU is nevertheless following through on its threat to begin proceedings against Poland, beginning with a legal suit filed by the European Commission against the country for breaking rules on judicial independence and sizeable fines from the European Court of Justice.

In Poland, Donald Trump sees a future trajectory for his own administration. He hasn’t yet attempted to change the laws regulating the courts because he’s been too busy packing them with right-wing ideologues, starting with Neil Gorsuch at the Supreme Court and including 27 lower-court judges (three times what Obama nominated over the same period). Trump has been woefully slow in filling administration positions, particularly at State, but he’s moved at lightning speed to transform the judiciary.

More generally, Trump’s trips to Saudi Arabia and Poland are part of a new geopolitical realignment that advisers like Steve Bannon are pushing. Forget NATO. Forget the Community of Democracies. Donald Trump wants nothing less than a worldwide suppression of liberal values such as rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and an independent press.

Gorbachev presided over the end of a geopolitical system — the Cold War. Popular protest — in East-Central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself — led to the unraveling of Soviet-bloc Communism as well. Trump may inadvertently preside over the end of U.S. hegemony, as both Europe and Asia chart more independent paths.

Let’s hope that popular resistance destroys his Trumpian perestroika as well, before it gets any further off the ground.

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8 Lessons U.S. Progressives Can Learn From the U.K. Labour Party

(Photo: Victoria M Gardner / Shutterstock)

In March, progressive activists in the United Kingdom had reason to feel deeply discouraged. Nine months earlier, a majority had voted for Brexit, setting in motion plans to pull the U.K. out of the European Union. Then Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May decided to call a “snap election” with the goal of consolidating Tory power in Parliament in the face of weak opposition. The Labour Party, led by progressive Jeremy Corbyn, was polling at a miserable 24 percent and facing the possibility of further marginalization.

But on June 8, Corbyn and the Labour Party experienced a stunning reversal of fortune, almost winning the national election called in to vanquish them. And as of mid-July, Labour is 8 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives.

One key force in this change was a grassroots network called Momentum, formed in 2015 to build participation and engagement in the Labour Party. This election, Momentum mobilized 23,000 members and 150 local chapters through on-the-ground campaigning and social media. Think Our Revolution and MoveOn.org with a powerful electoral field operation.

“The results were beautiful,” said Deborah Waters, a Momentum co-founder and volunteer. “I heard it described as ‘the bitterest of victories for the Conservatives and the sweetest of defeats for Labour.’ The winners didn’t really win and the losers didn’t really lose.”

How did this reversal happen? And what can those of us deep in this Trump presidency learn from it? What follows are eight lessons from Momentum and Labour’s remarkable campaign.

Read the full article on YES! Magazine.

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On Electric Cars, the U.S. Is Stuck in the Slow Lane

electric-car

(Photo: Noya Fields / Flickr)

The French government recently announced a plan to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2040. Not to be outdone, the UK government is now rolling out a similar plan of its own.

These plans sound shockingly radical, but in fact many analysts think those transitions will happen anyway.

For instance, the Dutch bank ING recently predicted that all the cars sold in Europe will be electric by 2030. More conservative estimates put it at 2050. Either way, most experts now see this change on the horizon.

Electric vehicles — or EVs — are already more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts, and could soon become cheaper too. High-end models already outperform conventional engines for speed and acceleration.

Yet potential buyers will continue to be wary as long as the range of batteries remains small, and the network of charging points — think gas stations for electric cars — remains patchy.

Rapidly developing technologies could help overcome this “range anxiety,” as the distance between charges could rise from around 100 miles to over 400 in the next decade. But it’s public policy, rather than technology, that’s the real driver of the EV revolution.

Take Norway, where EVs already account for more than 40 percent of new cars sold.

There, a publicly funded network of free charging stations is driving the surge. The government also offered a range of other perks and incentives: scrapping sales and registration taxes for EVs, exempting them from parking charges and road tolls, and allowing them to dodge heavy traffic by using bus and taxi lanes.

As sales of EVs come to overtake gas-powered cars, the subsidies are being phased out. Yet the benefits continue: A growing fleet of clean vehicles will massively reduce air and climate pollution, and Norway is now well placed to develop and export technologies in a fast growing new industry.

As other European governments get more serious about supporting EVs, some conventional automakers are already embracing an electric future. The Swedish company Volvo recently announced that all of its new cars will be electric or hybrids from 2019 onwards.

U.S. manufacturers, on the other hand, could scarcely be more different.

Oil companies and automakers have successfully lobbied the Trump administration to consider reversing Obama-era fuel-economy standards, which could have supported a shift to hybrids and EVs, as well as cutting pollution that leads to thousands of premature deaths every year.

No wonder the big three U.S. automakers — Ford, GM, and Chrysler — lag way behind their global competitors in developing new EVs. Even stock markets are questioning the wisdom of that bet, as Tesla’s value starts to rival its Detroit competitors.

Fortunately, states and cities can still lead where the federal government is failing.

California is sticking with its fuel-economy standards — the nation’s toughest — and mandating automakers to sell “zero emission vehicles” alongside conventional cars.

California’s cities are also leading the way with public charging points, but they’re not alone. Cities from Seattle to Atlanta are embracing EVs through incentives ranging from tax incentives to carpool lane access.

Of course, promoting EVs alone won’t solve our air pollution problem, or help the U.S. meet its share of global action on climate change — especially where electricity is still produced from coal and other fossil fuels.

We’ll also need better public transportation and changes in how cities are planned, to bring homes closer to shops and workplaces. But electric vehicles will be an important part of getting air pollution and climate change under control.

Local politicians need to step up where the Trump administration is failing, or we risk getting left in the slow lane.

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Consumer Protection Isn’t Here to Stay

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Tenants March to Stop Giveaways to Wall Street Landlords

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How We Can Transition to a “Bottom Up” Economy

The People's Climate March in New York City

The People’s Climate March in New York City (Photo: South Bend Voice/Flickr)

Resistance to the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants, climate change policy, and economic fairness has been fierce. But alongside these efforts—from flooding representatives’ phone lines to packing town hall meetings to marching in protest—it’s also important to begin the work of building alternatives to the systems that underlie the exploitation of people and planet.

The understandable focus on Trump—with his cronyism, bombast, and militarism—can divert us from the fact that several decades of extractive capitalism have fueled extreme wealth and racial inequality, democratic demise, and brought us to the brink of ecological ruin. Wall Street’s debt-based financing system has created a phantom wealth economy delinked from the real economy of goods and services. Trumpism is only the latest appalling chapter in a dominant narrative that holds our unsustainable economy in place, including the myths that a rising tide lifts all boats and that growth is the answer.

In the face of renewed calls for trickle-down economic policy—such as proposed tax cuts for the rich and transnational corporations—we urgently need a clearly articulated theory and practice of sustainable economics that works for local communities. Enter a blessing of a book, Anthony Flaccavento’s Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change.

Bottom Up is a comprehensive primer on the transition to a new economy—the place-based movement to rewire the economy for equity and ecological sustainability. It is rich in stories and detail for the curious or discouraged and those seeking a strategy to move toward a sustainable and equitable future. Flaccavento excels as a storyteller, reporting on successful “bottom-up” ventures and experiments in building new systems around food, energy, health services, worker ownership, community finance, and place-based arts and culture.

Flaccavento’s perspective is grounded in his work as a farmer, entrepreneur, and candidate for Congress, with decades of experience building a regional food system and relocalized economy in southern Virginia. While he lifts up inspiring examples of urban local economy projects, he also deeply understands the challenges facing rural communities that have been bypassed by the lopsided economic gains of the past four decades. In regions like southern Virginia, where the median income is below $ 30,000 a year and the poverty rate is over 25 percent in some communities, new economy solutions have the potential to transcend political differences by creating and fixing infrastructure, generating jobs, increasing food security, and reducing energy costs.

We cannot coast on a “small is beautiful” community garden project or worker-owned café—not while federal policies push down wages.

One challenge in the Trump era is how to leverage place-based movements to impact national policy. I have witnessed local economy activities in New England that appear to operate in a parallel universe, one delinked from national debates over health care, taxation, energy, and farm policy. What would it take to leverage the millions of people who have become engaged in new economy enterprises to be a political force that reshapes the rules governing our national economy? What would a “bottom-up” policy program look like at the state and federal levels?

Flaccavento urges us to move beyond what he calls a “false choice” between local and national issues to recognize “that almost every positive change we make in our own communities is ultimately either undermined or supported by broader economic and political choices.” We cannot coast on a “small is beautiful” community garden project or worker-owned café—not while federal policies push down wages, shift billions to the military, and subsidize corporations that destroy Main Street commerce.

The tools for change that Flaccavento offers in Bottom Up resonate with the social change frameworks of deep-ecology thinker Joanna Macy and Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.

Read the full article at Yes! Magazine.

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Donald Trump and the Triumph of Anti-Politics

globe-nest-drought-hand-dystopia

(Image: Little Perfect Stock / Shutterstock)

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I testified before the great assembly of our land.

When I describe this event to children today, it really does sound to them like a fairy tale. Once upon a time — a time before the world splintered into a million pieces and America became its current disunited states — this old woman was a young idealist who tried to persuade our mighty Congress that a monster was stalking the land.

“Did they listen to you, Auntie Rachel?” they typically ask me.

“Oh, they listened to me, but they didn’t hear me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I thought and I thought, and I wrote and I wrote, and I put together an even better presentation,” I say patiently. “I had to somehow make that monster visible so those mighty people could see it.”

“What did it look like, Auntie Rachel?”

“It was invisible, my dear children, but we could feel its hot breath. And we could see the terrible things that it did. It could make the oceans rise. It could make the crops wilt in the fields. Still, we kept feeding this terrible beast.”

“But why?”

“It’s what the monster demanded. Some monsters want to devour little children. Others insist on young maidens. But this one insisted on tankers of oil and truckloads of coal. Even as it grew, it only demanded more and more.”

At this point, the children are always wide-eyed. “What did you do then?”

“I talked to those great people again. And this time I tried even harder to describe the monster.” As I slip into the past, the faces of the children become those of long-dead politicians. “I provided more detailed graphs of rising temperatures. I cited statistics on the impact of burning coal and oil and natural gas. I displayed photos of what the melting ice and the surging waters had already done. And then I showed them pictures of what the future would look like: submerged cities, drought-stricken lands, dead seas. They looked and still they didn’t see. They listened and still they didn’t hear. Great people,” I conclude, “are not always good people.”

“What did you do then?” they always ask.

“I stopped talking, my darlings. I came here to escape the monster. I came to Arcadia.”

They look disappointed. The children know their fairy tales. They expect someone — perhaps a knight in shining armor — to appear suddenly and slay the monster.

“There was no knight,” I lament. “And the monster still lives. We can feel its hot breath even now.”

Of course, my young charges don’t really understand my story. Today, in 2050, there is no Congress. There are no committee hearings. There are no intergovernmental panels or global gatherings. I might as well be telling them about Roman banquets or medieval jousts. And yet my little students always clamor for more stories of the vanished world of Washington, D.C., 2017, just as they would beg for yet another of Aesop’s fables. But they don’t quite see how these tales of long ago connect to their lives today.

After all, they live in a post-political world.

The Death of Politics

Before the global thermometer went haywire, before the great economic panics of the early 2020s, before the battles escalated between vigilantes and jihadis, before the international community cracked like a mirror smashed by a fist, there was that initial death, which was barely noticed at the time.

As the historians — those left to tell the tale — will inform you, there were no funerals for the death of politics, nor were there obituaries. And even if there had been, few would have shed any tears. The confidence the American public had in Congress back in those days was lower than in any other institution — a mere 9% had such confidence, compared to 18% for big business and 73% for the military.

Politics in the muggy swamp of Washington, where I lived in those antediluvian years, had become a tug of war between two hated teams. Sometimes, one side won and dragged the other through the muck. Then the situation would be reversed. No matter: at the end of the day, everyone was left covered in mud.

Yes, things might have turned out differently. Radical reforms might have been enacted, a new generation of politicians cultivated. But at the moment of greatest peril — to the republic and the world at large — Americans turned their backs on politics, electing the most anti-political candidate in the history of the country. The founding fathers had done everything they could to ensure that the system would not produce such a result, but there was no way they could have anticipated Donald Trump or the circumstances that put him in power.

When the initial Europeans arrived in North America more than half a millennium ago, they brought weapons far more powerful than the stone axes and wooden clubs wielded by the First Nations. But it wasn’t just the guns that proved so devastating. The Europeans carried within them something far more lethal: invisible diseases like smallpox and the flu. Those viruses cut through the Native Americans like so many scythes, killing nine out of every ten of the original inhabitants of this continent.

Many centuries later, Donald Trump arrived in Washington armed with the explicit weapons of extremist rhetoric and sociopathic sangfroid with which he had destroyed his political opponents. But it was what he carried hidden within him that would ultimately turn out to be so catastrophic. Although he had railed against the political establishment in the election campaign that put him in the Oval Office, in his own way he had also played by the political rules to get there. Deep down, however, his greatest urge was to destroy politics altogether: tweet by tweet, outrage by outrage.

And his attack on politics would finish off the world as we knew it in Washington circa 2017. In the end, it would render congressional testimony and Congress itself irrelevant. Even today, more than 30 years later, the bodies are still piling up.

The Judgment of Paris

I teach science to the young children here in Arcadia. It’s not difficult to explain the basic scientific concepts that so changed our world, and we have a well-equipped lab for them to run experiments. So they understand the science of climate change. What bewilders them is how the crisis came about.

“Why didn’t our grandparents run the factories every other day?” a bright young girl once asked me. “Why didn’t they drive those stupid cars just on the weekend?”

Our children know little but Arcadia, and this community is fully sustainable. We produce everything we need here in this corner of what was once the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. What we don’t grow, we synthesize or create on our 3-D printers. We conduct limited trade with the few neighboring communities. If there is an unexpected death, we issue another birth permit. If our solar batteries run low during the winter, we ration energy. Everything is recycled, from our chicken bones to our night soil. The children of Arcadia don’t understand waste.

They also don’t understand the now-strange concept of an international community. They’ve never ventured beyond the walls of our little universe.  It’s only thanks to virtual tourism that they’ve seen the world outside, which just reinforces their desire to remain here. After all, the world out there is just a collection of sharp little shards, what my ex-husband used to call the “splinterlands” of this planet. My students can’t comprehend how those shards, most of them exceedingly dangerous micro-environments, once fit together to form larger nations that in turn sometimes cooperated to solve common problems. It’s like that old story of the elephant and the six blind men. The children of Arcadia can understand the parts, but unsurprising enough, given the events of the last three decades, the whole eludes them.

Think of that long-gone international community, I tell them, as a squalling infant born in 1945 to bickering parents. A troubled childhood was followed by an awkward youth. Only in middle age, with the end of the Cold War in 1989, did it finally seem to come into its own, however briefly.  Unfortunately, within a few short years, it was prematurely in its dotage. In 2017, at 72, the international community was past retirement age, in frail health, and in desperate need of assisted care.

Once upon a time, this aged collective creature, this Knight of the Sad Countenance, was supposed to be our savior, the slayer of the horrible monster. When the time came, however, it could barely lift a lance.

Without some knowledge of the life cycle of the international community, my children can’t possibly understand why global temperatures continued to rise in the first part of this century, despite the best efforts of scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens. Several countries, Uruguay and Bhutan among them, had gone to extraordinary lengths to reduce their carbon footprint, and more than a dozen cities eventually became carbon neutral. Individuals adopted vegetarianism, drove electric cars, turned down their thermostats in the winter — as if lifestyle changes alone could slay the monster.

Unfortunately, a global problem really did require a global response. The Paris climate accord, which 196 countries signed at the end of 2015, was just such an effort. Only two countries refused to sign, one (Syria) because it was mired in a civil war and the other (Nicaragua) due to sheer cussedness. And yet the terms of the agreement were far from adequate. The international community, which had come together in this twilight of cooperation, well understood the enormity of the challenge: to keep global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial average. At best, however, the Paris treaty would have kept temperatures from rising three degrees.  And as everyone now knows, the best was hardly what happened.

In this way did that community abandon the very idea of sustainability and embrace its lesser cousin, resilience. I try to explain to my children that sustainability is all about harmony — maintaining balance, never taking more than what we give back. Resilience, on the other hand, is about making the adaptations required by a crisis, about simply getting by. The judgment of Paris, with its nod toward resilience, was, in fact, an acknowledgment of failure.

Although flawed, it was at least part of a process. That’s what democratic politics is all about, I tell my charges. You have to begin somewhere and hope to improve from there. After all, there’s always the possibility that one day you might even graduate from resilience to sustainability.

But, of course, there’s also the option of going backward, which is exactly what happened, big league — to use an expression of the new American president — in 2017.

The Trump Revolution

It’s an unfortunate fact of our world that destruction is so much easier than construction. Anyone can wield a sledgehammer; few can use a trowel. An inadvertent sneeze can take down the most elaborately built house of cards.

Donald Trump was more than just a sneeze. His devotion to the destruction of the “administrative state” was impressive. At the time, we were all so focused on the domestic side of that destruction — the toppling of the pillars of the welfare state, the repeal of universal health care, the rollback of legal protections and voting rights of all sorts — that we failed to pay proper attention to just how devastatingly that destruction spread internationally.

Yes, the new president cancelled pending trade deals, thumbed his nose at traditional allies, and questioned the utility of agreements like the one that mothballed Iran’s nuclear program. But those were largely bilateral attacks. Much more dangerous were his fierce sallies against the international administrative state.

The most important of these, of course, was his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord. Admittedly, it was a weak, voluntary agreement. Yet even that was too much for Donald Trump. The president declared that the agreement would disadvantage Americans and force workers and taxpayers “to absorb the cost” of reducing greenhouse gas admissions through “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.” It didn’t matter that none of that was true.  Renewable energy programs were creating more well-paying jobs in the United States than the dirty energy industries were trying to maintain.  In his surge of destruction, however, President Trump never felt the need to justify his actions with recourse to actual facts.

The United States, moreover, was both the richest country in the world and historically the largest producer of carbon emissions. As we tell our students here in Arcadia, if you’re most responsible for the mess, you should be most responsible for the clean-up.  It’s a simple concept for children to absorb. Yet it was beyond the ken of most Americans.

Worse than being merely indifferent, the new president was determined to hasten global warming, single-handedly if necessary, by expanding offshore drilling; green-lighting more gas and oil pipelinesreducing restrictions of every imaginable sort on the dirty energy industry; cutting support for the development of alternative energies; encouraging the production of, and reduced emissions standards for, gas-guzzling vehicles; and slashing the budget for the enforcement of environmental standards of every imaginable sort. Trump, in other words, wasn’t just willing to let the buried treasure of fossil fuels well enough alone.  He was eager to feed the monster even more than it demanded.

If we had been living in a normal time, it might have been possible to fight back effectively in political terms against this onslaught. But just as Trump’s carbon-based vision of America and the world was exploding upon us, politics was taken into a backroom and strangled.

The Politics of Antipolitics

I remember the birth of antipolitics. I was a young woman when dissidents in the communist world began to associate official political activity with support for an immoral order. Voting, they believed, was an empty gesture if the ruling party won 99% of the ballots cast. Parliaments were empty vessels if the Party leader and the Politburo always ended up making all the decisions. When politics are compromised in this way, all but the opportunists retreat into antipolitics.

Communism died in 1989, and politics was reborn in those lands of antipolitics — but all too briefly. Within a decade, the new converts to democracy began reverting to their earlier mistrust of anything political and conventional politicians became the enemy.  Collaboration and compromise were once again anathema.

And then this very dissatisfaction with politics as we knew it began spreading beyond the post-communist world. Voters elsewhere became dazzled by the most illiberal of politicians, a crew who were naturals for one-party or one-leader states. Donald Trump was just part of this new fraternity of nationalist populists that included Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Viktor Orban of Hungary.  All of them quickly began concentrating power in their own hands in an attempt to rule by decree (or, in Trump’s case, by executive order). In the process, they used antipolitics strategically to defeat any potential challenges at the domestic and transnational level.

It was odd that, in so many countries, voters seemingly couldn’t wait to disenfranchise themselves through this new antipolitics. To a man, these autocrats came to power not through coups but through elections. Odder still was the fact that, in those years, it was increasingly young people who no longer considered it important to live in a democracy. When only the old believe in such a system, then it, too, is but one step from the grave.

Perhaps the culprit was economic. The major parties in these countries had almost uniformly supported policies that widened the gap between rich and poor, robbing young people of jobs and any hope for a future. No surprise, then, that they lost faith in the secular religion of democracy.

Or perhaps technology killed politics. The computer and the cell phone combined to reduce the attention span required for sustained involvement in public affairs. The micro-communities created by social media obviated the need to interact with those who didn’t share one’s own micro-concerns. And of course everyone began to insist on immediate results at a single keystroke, which, at the political level, translated into an increased preference for decrees.

For a brief moment, the Trump “shock” provoked a counter-reaction. In the United States, there were huge protest marches, while unsympathetic government bureaucrats dug in their heels — but this only strengthened the populist narrative of an irresponsible liberal elite and a hostile “deep state.” In this brief moment of seeming reversal, Trump’s allies in Europe even lost a few elections, but the victors in those contests continued policies that disadvantaged the majority economically and politically and in the next round or the one after the predictable happened.

As those of a certain age remember, Trump himself eventually fell from power, undone in the end by his own self-defeating vengefulness.  At that moment, his critics exulted in their schadenfreude, only to find that he was replaced all too soon by someone who shared his destructive anti-politics without his noxious personal traits.

Trump stunned the international community. His successors gutted it.  And as everyone in Earth’s splinterlands now knows, the monster continued to be fed, while the thermometers, floods, droughts, wild fires, sea levels, tides of refugees, and all the rest continued their inexorable rise.

Childhood’s End

Fairy tales should have happy endings. I assure our children that they are safe inside Arcadia. They can see for themselves how successfully we raise our crops. They are far enough from the ocean’s tidal waves not to fear the waters. They participate in the democratic political life of our community. The occasional breakdown notwithstanding, Arcadia is a small island of hope in a sea of despair.

The temperatures continue their climb. Outside, the scramble for resources becomes bloodier by the year. Many of the communities that once dotted the landscape around us are nothing but a memory. The walls surrounding Arcadia may be next to impregnable and our armory remarkably well stocked, but the question remains: Can we survive without our founding members, who are just now beginning to die off?

We raise and educate our children under the threat of the same monster grown larger yet. As they get older, some of the young accuse my generation and me of failing to slay that creature and, unfortunately, they couldn’t be more right. I believe that we, at least here in Arcadia, did do our best, but sadly it wasn’t good enough.

Soon, it will be our children’s turn. They will tend the crops and maintain the armory. They will continue the search for a scientific solution to climate change in the absence of a political one and an international community to enforce it. And they will be the ones who must make sure that the monster, however much it huffs and puffs and threatens our very livelihood, does not in the end blow our house down, too.

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On Fighting Inequality, Which Nations Do More than Pay Lip Service?

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Republicans are Right: Going to College Hurts

coins-stack-money-graduation-college-university-student-debt

(Photo: iidea studio / Shutterstock)

Going to college is a good thing, right? That’s at least what I was told as a kid, and what led me to get a college degree. I was the first one in my family to do so.

Yet new public opinion polling shows most Republicans think colleges have a negative impact on the country. Unfortunately, they might be right — but not for the reasons you might expect them to give.

Attending college has been proven to unlock opportunities. A report by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities found that college graduates are 24 percent more likely to be employed than high school graduates — and earn $ 1 million more over a lifetime.

Those with college degrees are also more than twice as likely to volunteer, and over three times more likely to give back to charity.

College educations also affect the way people vote. Three-quarters of bachelor’s degree holders vote in presidential elections, compared to just over half of high school graduates.

So why might some view college negatively? Well, there’s a lot of reasons — 1.3 trillion, to be precise. That’s how much debt students, current and former, are carrying in this country: $ 1.3 trillion worth, and rising.

Who’s hit worst by this skyrocketing debt? Women, who owe two-thirds of that amount — and especially black and Latina women.

A recent report from the American Association of University Women found that the average woman who graduated from a four-year university between in 2012 carried $ 21,000 in college debt. That’s about $ 1,500 more than the average man. Black women are even more negatively impacted, averaging over $ 29,000 in student loans.

Worse still, women are paid about 80 cents to every dollar a man makes — a number that falls to 63 cents for black women, and just 54 cents for Latina women, when compared to white men. That means these grads start out deeper in debt and then have a much harder time getting out.

So, is rising Republican opposition to the academy a result of their concern for the economic well-being of black or Latina women? Doubtful.

After all, our GOP-led Congress refuses to engage with potential solutions to close the gender wage gap, which could make huge strides in reducing overall student loan debt. And not a single Republican senator supported the Pay Check Fairness Act, which would make it harder for employers to discriminate based on gender.

Same goes for the College for All Act, a bill put forward by Senator Bernie Sanders to create a debt-free higher education system and help student borrowers refinance their debt. A lot more effort is needed on the federal and local levels to remove this economic burden systemically placed on women.

Unfortunately, the Pew study that showed Republican opposition to universities didn’t dive deeper as to why. However, an old quote from Karl Rove, the Republican mastermind responsible for bringing George W. Bush into office, offers a clue: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans — unless they have too much education and vote Democratic.”

What else about college might rub conservatives the wrong way?

Colleges provide a space for critical thinking where students can expand their minds and become more knowledgeable of the world. That might be why universities have historically played major roles in the resistance to bad public policy — from Vietnam to Iraq to today’s #resistance to Donald Trump.

Fixing higher education means reducing barriers to college, not increasing them. Greater investment in debt-free higher education and debt relief for the most impacted students, including black women like me, is what’s needed — not mindless broadsides against the idea of education.

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