Independent Media Institute

Senator Raphael Warnock's re-election is a victory for Social Security

Social Security was on the ballot in Georgia’s December 6 run-off election. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock’s re-election is a win for working families. It is a victory for Gold Star families, paralyzed veterans, seniors, and indeed all of Social Security’s over 65 million current beneficiaries and all future beneficiaries.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

It is a loss for Republican politicians and their Wall Street donors who are determined to reach into our pockets and steal our hard earned benefits. If Herschel Walker had won, he would have rubber stamped the Republican agenda to cut Social Security’s modest but vital benefits.

Walker proudly campaigned with and took money from Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), the author of a plan that would put Social Security on the chopping block every five years. If Walker had been elected, he would have been a rubber stamp for Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), whose plan would put Social Security on the chopping block every single year.

What cuts do Republicans have in mind? The Republican Study Committee, a group that counts about 75 percent of House Republicans as members, released a detailed plan to cut Social Security in multiple ways: Raising the retirement age to 70 (a 21 percent benefit cut), slashing middle class benefits, and handing billions of dollars of Social Security’s revenue over to Wall Street and private insurance corporations.

Republican politicians in Washington have been clear about how they plan to force those cuts into law—and Walker would have been a rubber stamp for that plan. Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy has announced the Republican plan to take hostage the must-pass debt limit next summer. The ransom to be paid in exchange for their votes? Cuts to our earned Social Security benefits.

Nor is McCarthy only speaking for House Republicans. Senator John Thune (R-SD), number two Senate Republican leader, has echoed McCarthy’s plan to hold the debt limit hostage to Social Security cuts.

It is important to recognize that, as a self-funded program that has no borrowing authority and can only pay benefits if it has sufficient revenue to cover every penny of the cost, Social Security does not add even a penny to the federal debt. It is not contributing a penny to the debt whose limit must be raised to avoid a default by the United States on its obligations. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress want to cut our earned benefits so badly, they’re willing to risk an economic catastrophe to make it happen.

Fortunately, Senator Warnock won, giving the Democrats a clear majority in the Senate. President Biden and the Democrats he leads have made it clear that they are committed to expanding Social Security, with no cuts, while requiring the wealthiest to begin to pay their fair share. And Senator Warnock himself understands how important our Social Security system is.

He recognizes that Social Security embodies the best of American and religious values—values that Senator Warnock has lived by his entire life. Among those values are that it is our birthright as human beings to have dignity, freedom and independence; that hard work should be rewarded; that we have responsibilities and concern for ourselves, our families, and our neighbors; and that we are all connected, sharing the same risks and benefits.

Social Security is as reliable as it is essential. Through pandemics, wars, and economic recessions, Social Security has always continued to reliably pay monthly benefits, allowing its beneficiaries and their families to pay rent, buy food, and fill life-saving prescriptions.

Senator Warnock understands that Americans of all political backgrounds rely on our earned Social Security benefits, and supports protecting and expanding them. He knows how important Social Security benefits are for the people of Georgia, both now and in the future.

In his two years in the Senate, Warnock has been a champion for seniors. As a member of the Senate Aging Committee, he led the successful fight to cap the cost of insulin for seniors. He was part of the winning vote to finally allow Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma to lower drug prices.

Now, Georgia voters have re-elected Senator Warnock. Warnock and his Democratic colleagues have a mandate to protect Social Security’s earned benefits. Fortunately, President Biden and Demcrats in Congress have made clear that not only do they oppose cuts, they will not negotiate over debt limit legislation with the Republican terrorists who plan to kidnap it.

To avoid a dangerous and potentially calamitous game of chicken when a default is imminent, Democrats should thwart the kidnappers by raising or eliminating the debt ceiling before the end of this year. That will foil the Republican hostage-taking plans, a plan to force highly unpopular and unwise social cuts that voters in Georgia—and across America—resoundingly rejected in this year’s midterm elections.

Author Bio: Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. She is the author of The Truth About Social Security and The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works! and the forthcoming Social Security Works for Everyone!

Why Georgia rejected Herschel Walker

More than 48 percent of Georgians voted for Herschel Walker, showing Republican loyalty in a battleground state.

In a stunning finale to 2022’s federal elections, Georgians reelected Sen. Raphael Warnock in a runoff that concluded Tuesday night, where the incumbent Democrat and Atlanta pastor defeated Herschel Walker, a football star who was handpicked by Donald Trump but was rejected by the Peach State’s diverse urban and suburban voters.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Warnock won by 98,000 votes out of more than 3.5 million votes cast, a margin of 2.8 percent in a race where Warnock campaigned vigorously on his accomplishments—and the state Democratic Party and many grassroots civil rights groups urged Georgians to vote. Walker, in contrast, sought to leverage his celebrity to be elected to high office, but his campaign was shadowed by disturbing revelations about his personal life and further impaired by dodging questions and strange stump speeches. He conceded the race before 11 p.m.

By the campaign’s close, Walker reverted to clichéd Republican talking points that mocked Democrats, while Warnock continued to speak of his state’s unmet needs and his hope that they could be addressed in Washington. Despite that contrast in substance and leadership capacities, the runoff’s margin underscored that Georgia’s Republican voters still are a formidable and loyal bloc in one of the country’s newest battleground states.

When Warnock took the stage after 11 p.m., he pledged to work for all Georgians in sermon-like remarks that framed his election as an affirmation of American democracy’s progress.

“It is my honor, to honor, the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: the people have spoken,” he said. “I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children. Voting is faith put into action. And Georgia, you have been praying with your lips and your legs; with your hands and your feet; your heads and your hearts. You have put in the hard work and here we are standing together.”

Warnock, who was elected to a two-year term in 2020 that also went to a runoff election, is the first Black Georgian to be elected to a full term as a U.S. senator. He noted how his parents had struggled under segregation, and how voter suppression was still very much alive in his state.

“There are those who would look at the outcome of this race and say that there is no voter suppression in Georgia,” Warnock said. “Let me be clear. Just because people endured long lines that wrapped around buildings, some a block long; just because they endured the rain and the cold, and all kinds of tricks in order to vote, doesn’t mean that voter suppression does not exist. It simply means that you, the people, have decided that your voices will not be silenced.”

“Let us not forget that when we entered this runoff, a vestige of the ugly side of our complicated American story, state officials said that we couldn’t vote on Saturday,” Warnock continued. “But we sued them, and we won. And the people, once again, rose up in a multi-racial, multi-religious coalition of conscience… and you voted because you believe as I do.”

Warnock was referring to a mid-1960s state law that required a runoff when no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote. That law was adopted to try to keep Black candidates from winning office. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, initially said that GOP-authored election law modifications adopted in 2021 (after Democrats won the state’s presidential and senatorial elections) barred Saturday voting in a shortened runoff season.

Ironically, various provisions in that GOP-drafted law, as well as Trump’s proclamations that the only voting that should count are those cast in person on Election Day, probably undermined Republican turnout during the runoff. As the results trickled in, it was clear that many more Democrats than Republicans took advantage of voting before Election Day, as well as using mailed-out ballots. Moreover, the weather on Tuesday across metro Atlanta and its surrounding counties, where most of the state’s voters from both major parties reside, was dismal—foggy, damp, and cold. Such conditions often depress turnout, especially among seniors and elderly voters, who are a key GOP constituency.

As the runoff came to a close, Republican strategists said that Walker needed voters in GOP-majority rural counties to turn out in comparable or slightly better numbers than in November’s general election, where he trailed Warnock by 38,000 votes. (A Libertarian candidate prevented any contender from winning more than 50 percent.) Walker also needed to boost his numbers by roughly 5 percent in metro Atlanta counties, where Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who was re-elected, received tens of thousands more votes than the football star.

While Republicans predicted that Kemp’s last-minute efforts to boost Walker’s candidacy could prove pivotal, Walker never obtained the votes that he needed in the Atlanta region. In rural areas, by contrast, Walker’s support remained strong. Yet Warnock did not lose votes in rural counties, and he saw his support grow in the state’s metro regions.

Visits to precincts north of Atlanta where Walker hoped to increase his support—because Kemp won by large margins—hinted that Walker would fall short.

In a half-dozen precincts in Cobb County, a stretch of suburbs on Atlanta’s north side, the turnout was steady but generally not crowded. There were hardly any elderly voters visible. And voters repeatedly said that neither last-minute campaign ads for both candidates nor Kemp’s efforts on Walker’s behalf changed many voters’ intentions.

“People had their mind made up,” said Amie Carter, who works in technology sales. “Spending all that money on paper and TV ads was probably not very influential.”

Monica Brown, a Black social scientist who worked to turn out Black voters in Cobb County, said Walker’s history of domestic violence and buffoonish campaign antics mortified many people in communities of color.

“When we think of Black excellence—this notion that you have to be more prepared, better—in this particular race, where was that excellence?” she asked. “We cannot afford to lessen it. What is the rationale for picking this guy?”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Why workers are angry over the rail strike intervention

The United States Senate acted in a show of rare unity recently in voting 80 to 15 to pass a bill forcing rail workers to accept their employers’ contract offer without a strike. There was no such unity to pass an amendment introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have given rail workers seven paid sick leave days. That bill did not pass even though 52 senators voted for it, as it failed the requisite 60-vote threshold.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

According to the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, “Almost every elected member of Congress campaigns on being ‘for the working class.’” But, in response to the failure to pass the sick leave amendment, the Brotherhood pointed out that Congress’s actions “demonstrated they are for the corporate class.”

The Brotherhood is among several unions representing a little more than 100,000 people working in the rail industry. This is more than half of all rail workers in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Because trains operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, railroad workers’ schedules may vary to include nights, weekends, and holidays. Most work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week.” A job so crucial that the entire U.S. economy is dependent on it pays a median salary of less than $65,000 a year with no paid sick leave whatsoever.

Explaining why Congress felt it necessary to pass a bill to make it illegal for rail workers to strike for better conditions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “A nationwide rail shutdown would be catastrophic—a shutdown would grind our economy to a halt, and every family would feel the strain.” President Joe Biden similarly explained that the congressional intervention in averting a rail strike would help avoid “devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country.”

An economy that devastates workers, leaving them underpaid for a high-pressure job with no sick days, is apparently just fine.

Instead of using its power to force the private rail companies to grant paid sick leave to rail workers, Congress used its levers of power to side with corporate forces rather than with workers. It chose to uplift profits over workers’ needs.

The cost of those profits is tangible and minuscule. Sanders pointed out in a tweet on November 29 that, “Guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers would cost the rail industry a grand total of $321 million a year—less than 2 percent of its profits.” Meanwhile, he added, “Rail companies spent $25.5 billion on stock buybacks and dividends this year.”

To help private rail companies secure $321 million a year in profits, Congress and the president inserted themselves into contract negotiations and sold out more than 100,000 workers.

As President Biden said in September 2021, “I intend to be the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history.” But nearly 30 years ago as a U.S. senator—on the matter of the rail industry in particular—he was more pro-labor than he is today, becoming one of a handful of senators to vote against averting a rail strike. Then-Senator Biden, explaining his ‘no’ vote, said in 1992, “I am… concerned that we are rewarding a concerted decision of the railroads [to negotiate in bad faith] that would have caused fevered expressions of outrage by industry had the unions taken a similar step.”

Today’s congressional intervention indeed rewards the private rail industry that has been engaged in a relentless bid to cut costs in the service of profits.

Corporate media outlets, whose business model is in line with rail companies, have disproportionately amplified lawmakers’ pro-industry talking points. But what are worker unions saying?

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, one of the unions involved, said it “does not support the notion of Congress intervening in our collective bargaining negotiations to prevent a strike.”

Instead, the union said, “If Congress truly wants to take action to improve the industry for our members, then we recommend legislation that will work to reverse the devastation of Precision Scheduled Railroading [PSR].”

Buried near the end of one article, Associated Press explained the gist of PSR without mentioning it by name, saying that, “The rail industry has aggressively cut costs everywhere and shifted its operations to rely more on fewer, longer trains that use fewer locomotives and fewer employees.”

According to rail company Union Pacific Railroad (UP), this method “keeps inventory (and supply chains) moving.” UP touts PSR’s “benefits to Shippers and Receivers,” who are the company’s’ primary customers. The company makes no mention at all of the toll this “efficiency” has taken on its workers.

Congress could have used its power to force rail companies to address the impact of PSR on workers. But instead, it used its power to side with corporate rail industry profits. It is an underlying assumption of how our society and government are structured that any intervention in the acquisition of profit is seen as a threat to the economy.

It’s no wonder rail workers feel betrayed. One Chicago worker named Rhonda Ewing told the New York Times ahead of the congressional vote, “We know it’s holiday time, which is why it’s the perfect time to raise our voices. If Biden gets involved, he takes away our leverage.”

Coming so soon after the 2022 midterm elections and far enough from the 2024 presidential election, lawmakers have few worries about losing reelection bids based on their voting record. This suggests that Congress and the president timed the votes to maximize their political leverage.

But rail workers are not likely to forget the government’s betrayal. “The political pandering and showboating by the elected officials in the Railroad’s pockets will not diminish our resolve nor remove the respect each Signalman is owed for keeping the economy afloat on a daily basis,” said the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen in a press release.

And other workers who are increasingly in solidarity with one another in an economy obviously rigged to benefit wealthy corporate employers, are angry too. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, for example, accused Biden of siding with “wealthy bosses,” and reiterated its support for unions saying, “we will always be in solidarity with all workers.”

Unions are drawing battle lines, demanding that the government flip the script of who the national economy is supposed to benefit.

“The Federal Government inserted itself into the dispute between the railroads and the Railroad Workers under the premise that it must protect the American economy,” wrote Tony D. Cardwell, president of BMWED-IBT, one of the rail unions involved in negotiating contracts. “Yet,” he said, “when the Federal Government makes that decision, its Representatives have a moral responsibility to also protect the interests of the citizens that make this nation’s economy work—American Railroaders.”

In other words, we need an economy that works for the people, not the other way around.

Cardwell warned that the lawmakers’ actions are “nothing less than anti-American, an abdication of their oath of office,” and that, “you are deemed, in my eyes, unworthy of holding office.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Cities step up to fix the world's broken food system as leaders dawdle

We’re facing an unprecedented “code red for humanity,” in the words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres—yet global action has stagnated.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The world’s eyes are upon the international body now that the curtains have closed on COP27, its annual climate change convention, held in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, in November, and open at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal in December.

Amidst the lackluster headlines spanning these events, though, Guterres—whose own agencies have warned of industrial animal agriculture’s climate perils for more than 15 years—issued a more grassroots plea.

Speaking to the leaders of the C40 cities who gathered last month at a climate summit of their own, he declared, “With more than half of the world’s population, cities are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost.”

Indeed, cities—where unwavering football fandoms are born, debates over classroom curricula are waged, and unique lexicons take form (yinz know what we mean, Pittsburgh)—shape the way we live, learn, and, crucially for planetary health, eat.

Guterres is no stranger to environmental inaction among his peers. In his appeal, he explained that despite decades of tireless work, current national pledges—or a lack thereof—will carry us into the next decade with a 14 percent increase in global emissions.

Facing a near-certain future of mass flooding, heatwaves, biodiversity loss, and displaced populations, he called upon these mayors: “Your citizens look to you to provide leadership, action, and protection that is often lacking at the national level.” These words came just months after a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report announced a dire need to cut methane emissions by a third. And C40 itself hasn’t minced words in advocating for a two-thirds reduction in the world’s most notorious methane emitter: meat.

For these reasons, our organizations and nearly 200 others urged the mayors of C40 to kickstart immediate action to transform our destructive food system on the eve of their annual summit (where, we noted, beef still had a front-row seat on the menu)—but not just at the event’s catered banquets.

Instead of waiting years for commitments to trickle down from above, municipal leaders around the world (and particularly those of C40’s nearly 100 major cities, constituting a quarter of the global economy) must seize a rapidly shrinking opportunity to shape food culture from the ground up by prioritizing plant-based foods.

To grasp the oft-overlooked power of the grassroots, consider the case study of Marshall, a small town in Texas cattle country: six-term Mayor Ed Smith, who reaped health benefits after shifting to a plant-based diet in 2008 following a cancer diagnosis, launched a healthy eating campaign, complete with an annual festival, community potlucks, and even visits by a troupe of plant-powered firefighters. Hailing from a ranching family, Smith was already beloved by his citizenry, and his initiative radiated outward, from local churches to the assistant fire chief who kicked his diabetes meds after going plant-based.

Meanwhile, a duo of doctors in Burin, a 2,500-person town in rural Newfoundland, have been credited with getting the population hooked on vegan foods through workshops and veggie potlucks after noticing that about 80 percent of illnesses they treated were brought on by diet and lifestyle. By supporting patients with the struggles that hit closest to home—not drought in North America’s heartland, but staving off heart disease long enough to see their grandchildren grow up—Drs. Arjun and Shobha Rayapudi have planted seeds of dietary change across their whole community.

But, of course, we need to scale up from these small towns—and quickly—to revive both our planet’s and our own health, currently clinging to life on the operating table. As C40 acknowledged in a recent report, “Eating less red meat and more vegetables and fruits could prevent annually 160,000 deaths associated with diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke in C40 cities.” These concerns were front of mind with officials in New York City—where, like the world at large, heart disease is the number-one killer—as they unveiled at a recent White House conference that their entire public hospital system is now serving plant-based meals by default.

Through this subtle “nudge,” the city is actually setting a bold new paradigm, wherein patients must opt out (twice) if they don’t want the vegan chef’s special. Sixty percent are happily chowing down, adding up to nearly 800,000 meals annually. Using a model published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies, we determined that if a city serving a million meals per year implemented a program like New York’s, it could save the equivalent emissions of driving a passenger car over 1 million miles.

New York’s not alone in this visionary initiative. Millions are collectively discovering a key ingredient to change on our own dinner tables, and these roots are growing entire forests. Within the last decade, dozens of municipal leaders, including the fifteen C40 cities who have signed the Good Food Cities Declaration, have heard the cries from their citizenry to undo the harms of the 20th century’s brainchild, the factory farm. Cities like Berkeley, San Diego, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Helsinki, Washington, DC, and Montreal (host to the upcoming COP15) have made historic commitments to reduce their own meat procurement, with DC’s mayor even issuing a proclamation in support of a global transition to a plant-based food system.

In October, Los Angeles joined 19 others, from Didim in Turkey to Buenos Aires in Argentina, in endorsing the Plant Based Treaty, an international treaty putting food systems at the heart of the climate crisis. Councilmember Paul Koretz proclaimed, “This landmark resolution marks a vital cultural shift as Americans prioritize both combating climate change and improving their health.”

The direct footprints of city-procured meals are just the start. By putting more plants on the plates they serve in schools, hospitals, convention centers, and events, these cities are helping citizens rethink their food norms and ushering in a more resilient way of eating.

Recent polling by VegTO found that citizens are already eager to cut back on their meat intake in their day-to-day lives, with over half intending to eat more plant-based foods if their leaders make them more accessible. Cities can follow a number of best practices, like those we outlined in our letter to C40, to invest in, improve the affordability of, and incentivize plant-based options: from supporting community programs like the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank (which has provided over 350,000 meals to people struggling with food insecurity) and school gardens like Massacussetts’ CitySprouts, to running public information campaigns as Haywards Heath Town Council did for Veganuary. Beyond their own board rooms, city officials can help plant-forward eating proliferate everywhere.

In lieu of wringing our hands each night about every step forward that’s been thwarted by governmental gridlock on the world’s stage, each of us can play a profound role in changing the food landscape in our own cities and towns—the communities where we gather to eat, where we forge traditions, and where we eke out our values. We cannot, of course, let our global leaders off the hook; after all, a quilt is always stronger with all of its individual squares sewn firmly together. But as more of us call upon our own leaders to flip their food norms, embrace the Plant Based Treaty and the Good Food Cities Declaration, and make plant-based foods accessible to all, we’ll create the unified front that’s needed to move our global leaders toward addressing animal agriculture’s massive deforestation, species extinction, water pollution, and resource depletion.

As leaders at the U.N.’s biodiversity conference debate the extinction crisis, they’ll gaze out the convention center’s windows upon the skyline of their host city of Montreal. Perhaps they’ll catch wind of a resolution recently passed by the city to curtail its dependence on meat for the sake of our imperiled planet and serve at least 75 percent vegetarian meals in its public venues, including the one in which they’re gathered. Perhaps they’ll be moved by Montreal’s bold strides to take another look at a U.N.-supported report implicating the food system as the primary driver of biodiversity loss—and they’ll return home energized about a new food future.

From bagels and poutine in the bustling city of Montreal to backyard barbeques in rural Marshall, every city’s voice is needed in the fight for our planet, and it starts with one citizen writing their council member or showing up at town hall. Piece by piece, each of our communities will become cornerstones of a new global food system centered around plants.

Author Bio: Laura Lee Cascada is the campaigns director for the Better Food Foundation and the founder of the Every Animal Project, a collection of true tales reshaping our relationship with animals.

Nital Jethalal is a policy analyst and economist and oversees the economics and policy sections of Plant Based Data. He also sits on the board of directors for VegTO, as president, and the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank.

Anita Krajnc is executive director of the Animal Save Movement, a worldwide network of Save groups bearing witness to farmed animals, and global coordinator of the Plant Based Treaty initiative. She is co-author of the forthcoming book, The Secret Life of Pigs: Stories of Compassion and the Animal Save Movement (Lantern, 2023).

Why our skin wrinkles in water

The pruning up of fingertips when we bathe or swim is a phenomenon of the human body that is so common and yet little understood. Despite many decades of scientific inquiry, until recently, the reasoning remained elusive. A common belief was that the wrinkling of wet skin was caused by osmosis. But a definitive study in 2011 turned the enigma of “wet-induced wrinkles” from a passive, purely chemical reaction of water molecules into an interesting evolutionary idea—what if pruney skin was an adaptation that gave our ancestors a better grip in wet conditions?

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Let’s explore the experimental and historical reasoning that led to this understanding of what water does to fingers and toes.

The scientific reason why human skin develops wrinkles when it has been exposed to water is grounded in the anatomical structure of the skin. Skin is composed of three layers. The epidermis (the outermost layer) hydrates the body. The dermis (the middle layer) assists in thermoregulation. Finally, the hypodermis (the deepest layer) protects the body from harm. It is the epidermis that holds the key to understanding pruney skin. As Richard Gray reports in a June 2022 BBC article, citing the 2003-2004 work by neurologists Einar Wilder-Smith and Adeline Chow, the pattern of skin wrinkling in water “depends on the way the outermost layer of skin—the epidermis—is anchored to the layers beneath it.”

The common misconception that osmosis-related swelling is the sole reason our skin wrinkles in water hinges on the idea that as the epidermis encounters water, water molecules pass through the epidermis from the watery environment into the skin cells. This happens most noticeably in fingers and toes because the outermost part of the epidermis contains a layer of dead keratin cells that is thickest on the hands and feet. (The keratin layer serves to protect the nerves and tissue below the skin from being harmed with their use during our regular, skin-abrasive activities such as scrapes and grazing.) But as Becky Summers writes in a 2013 Nature magazine article, the osmosis theory has been criticized since the 1930s, when researchers discovered that skin wrinkling “does not occur when there is nerve damage in the fingers.” In light of the discovery of the nervous system’s role, another factor besides osmosis must contribute to the reasoning behind the activity of wrinkling—perhaps, another line of thinking went, constriction of blood vessels underneath the surface of the skin was the primary cause of the wet-skin wrinkling effect.

Some scientists have suggested wrinkling to be an evolutionary function and one that our body has adapted over time. A leader in 21st-century thinking on the question is Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist at 2AI Labs in Boise, Idaho. He and his team worked to prove that the pattern of skin wrinkling appeared to be optimized for providing a drainage network that improves grip. One of the helpful analogies they invoke is that of rain treads on a tire: the wrinkle patterns on wet fingertips similarly help with draining water and increasing surface area for a better grip.

Changizi’s study upended the previously generally accepted belief about osmosis and built on the work of Wilder-Smith and Chow and others regarding the involvement of the nervous system and vasoconstriction in the phenomenon. In Changizi’s 2011 study published in the scientific journal Brain, Behavior, and Evolution, participants picked up wet or dry objects including marbles of different sizes. Half of them picked up the objects with dry, unwrinkled hands, and the other half picked up objects with wrinkled fingers that they had soaked in water for 30 minutes. The participants picked up the wet marbles faster with wrinkled fingers rather than the ones with dry fingers. Wrinkled fingers seemingly made no difference to the speed of picking up dry objects. In other words, the rain tread effect channels water away from fingertips and aids in the ability to grip wet objects.

Until Changizi’s study, there was no concrete proof that wrinkled fingers offered humans any advantage. Just five days after the study was published, science journalist Ed Yong covered the exciting new hypothesis and the reaction by Changizi’s colleagues in Nature. By proving the utility of pruney fingers (the evolutionary biological key beyond the underlying science of water and human biochemistry), the study transformed our understanding of the purpose of wrinkled fingers.

The study also raises questions about how the wrinkling adaptation helped our ancestors. Certainly, it made it easier for them to gather food from wet vegetation and provided better grip in the rain. Archaeological researcher Deborah Barsky details the extent to which the Homo genus had to adapt to more aquatic environments in her 2022 book, Human Prehistory: Exploring the Past to Understand the Future. She describes how the “distant past offers new perspectives on present-day challenges,” linking the idea that wrinkled fingers could be an archaic trait that we share with our even earlier ancestors.

The wrinkling of wet hands and feet certainly confers an advantage when it comes to gripping objects, and there appear to be no clear evolutionary disadvantages. There are clear implications that suggest this adaptation had advantages for our ancestors. Was this adaptation crucial to our survival? Was it needed for our ancestors to grip fruit in the rain and catch fish in marshes? To escape predators by climbing wet terrain? It is likely that the answer goes beyond one simple, definitive one. There may be yet other advantages lurking within the crevices of our wrinkled fingers and toes waiting to be discovered.

Author Bio: Omala Snyder studies English literature, creative writing, and international relations at Dartmouth College, where she works at the student newspaper. Born and raised in London, England, she plans to pursue a career in journalism.

Populist climate action and species survival require thinking about freedom from specific oppressors

In September 2022, an international group of climate scientists published a study showing that the world was close to, or in some cases had even surpassed, key tipping points in the climate crisis that would trigger irreversible changes in the world’s ecosystems. These include the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, tropical coral reef die-off, the abrupt thawing of Northern permafrost, the loss of Barents Sea ice, the melting of mountain glaciers, the dieback of the Amazon rainforest, and changes to the West African monsoon that will impact the Sahel region of Africa.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

These points launch the world into the unknown and unknowable, as they engage feedback loops the consequences of which we cannot accurately predict. And yet those predictions concern the mass suffering and death of tens of millions, and maybe more. We are at a tipping point. And President Biden has yet to declare the climate emergency he publicly pondered in July 2022. He likely (and legitimately) fears a political backlash; populism is seen now as a barrier to climate reforms.

What’s wrong? Threats to our species as a whole, and to our survival, are amorphous things. They are too large, and too slow, for us—for the slowly evolving human brain—to see properly. But threats framed as originating from other persons, from the people around us are not. Our species is quite accustomed to dealing with such threats—this is the history of war. And in the case of things like pandemics, where amorphous threats like contagions were framed as threats by the government to deprive us of liberty, they have triggered terrifying populist responses.

The climate crisis certainly is a form of oppression, exacted upon a vast majority of middle and low-income folks by a wealthy few in a fossil fuel industry that knew and hid the facts of what it was doing, and the relatively few politicians and world leaders that authorized and enabled their acts. And while we are accustomed to scientists and those same politicians framing news regarding the crisis, or very young persons like Greta Thunberg with their angry but relatively muted responses centered on the rights of future generations, we can imagine other framings.

What if the news that climate crisis-driven heat waves are killing people were not framed as a study or science at all, but the still true vision of a handful of wealthy elites and the few thousand political cronies that protect their profits by committing the indiscriminate killing of children, of grandmothers, and of pregnant women. Why not see it this way, in the terms our brains might react to? Why not frame it in terms of class, which triggers action on the right and left, often beyond the margins? Yes, climate change is an ethereal thing we cannot touch, like the bullets of Putin’s army, but that’s merely a choice of how we perceive it. Who pays the price of the crisis and who benefits from it, and the science that shows such a flow of responsibility, is a fact.

It could be that we do not frame it in this way because that framing does not present any particular solution, any better solution, than more amorphous frames. We still need to go to courts and other bodies to determine liability. We still need governments, and their processes to regulate emissions or build systems of sequestration. We still need massive regulatory networks to implement climate mitigation plans.

All of this is true, but it is also true that—like the trials at Nuremberg—the world has faced unprecedented threats and the situations that followed them with unprecedented systems of justice. Perhaps climate change is such an unprecedented threat, justifying solutions—like the demanding particularly culpable corporations follow the lead of companies like Patagonia—and begin to transform their structure accordingly to start to repair the damage they have caused.

That sort of demand, regardless of governments, would be particularly appropriate were the repairs treated as reparations and the beneficiaries future generations—the most likely class of persons to be harmed. Future generations could be best compensated through effective family planning incentives, entitlements, and reparations awarded to their parents through novel devices like private baby bonds that encourage sustainably sized families likely to maximize the resilience of their children. If we believe that government derives from the people, these solutions—ones that involve the creation of those people—precede and exceed the ability of governments, and the companies they protect, to refuse.

Moreover, how we frame the crisis can trigger the governmental processes described above by motivating officials to act, much the way the framing of the pandemic created massive political backlashes. There are many other examples of amorphous threats transformed into tangible ones. Certainly, the harms caused by the crisis, and the irreversible harms the tipping points promise, are cause for a populist backlash, if we just find a way to see it as the oppression of many by a few that it is.

Author Bio: Carter Dillard is the policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement. He served as an Honors Program attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and also served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal.

Why Raphael Warnock’s reelection could tip the future balance of the American economy

Michael McMullen spent years agonizing over the failing pension plan that put his golden years at risk.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

He wrote numerous postcards and made countless phone calls urging Congress to step in and safeguard his future. But not until he and fellow Georgians elected Raphael Warnock to the Senate in 2021 did the Democrats have the final vote needed to pass legislation stabilizing that plan and other multiemployer pension funds on the brink of collapse.

Warnock saved McMullen’s retirement and that of 1.3 million other Americans—then cast scores of other votes that helped to shift the nation’s trajectory from peril to progress. Now, reelecting Warnock in Georgia’s December 6 runoff is crucial to continuing the country’s hard-fought path forward.

“He’s for the working class, for the middle class,” summed up McMullen, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1703, which represents workers at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Cedar Springs, Georgia, who are already benefiting from the pension-saving provisions of the American Rescue Plan that Warnock pushed over the goal line in March 2021.

McMullen and other union members had grown increasingly alarmed over the years about their paper industry pension plan, one of about 130 multiemployer retirement funds hurtling toward insolvency because of Wall Street recklessness, corporate bankruptcies, and other factors outside workers’ control.

Some of his coworkers already delayed retirement to build up savings in case the fund went broke, while others worried about meager retirements in which they’d have to choose between buying food or prescriptions.

“They were really worried about it,” McMullen said, adding that the plan’s impending failure also portended the demise of stores and restaurants relying on retirees for business. “It would have been like a mill closing.”

Unions and their Democratic allies repeatedly attempted to save the plans, but the pro-corporate Republicans in control of the Senate blocked all efforts to safeguard the futures that many workers and retirees had spent decades building.

Warnock’s election in 2021—he won a seat previously held by a Republican—helped to give Democrats the razor-thin Senate majority needed to finally pass the pension legislation without a single Republican’s support.

“It took every Democratic vote. If they didn’t have that one vote, they couldn’t have passed it,” McMullen said of Warnock, recalling how the anxiety that he and others harbored about their pensions vanished in an instant.

Working with President Joe Biden and the Democrat-led House, the new Senate majority went on to pass other legislation pivotal to defeating COVID-19 and surmounting the economic crisis wreaked by the previous administration.

Warnock, a pastor with working-class roots, delivered crucial support for the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that’s modernizing the nation, creating middle-class jobs, and revitalizing American manufacturing.

In October, for example, Solvay Specialty Polymers announced that IIJA support will enable it to build an electric vehicle battery parts plant in Augusta, Georgia, creating dozens of manufacturing jobs and expanding the state’s foothold in the clean economy.

Warnock passionately defended voting rights amid Republicans’ efforts to disenfranchise millions of working-class voters across the country, warning that people were being “squeezed out of their democracy.”

He led the Senate’s passage of the CHIPS and Science Act to build out critical supply chains and enhance national security.

And he not only sponsored but also pushed through legislation that imposes a $35-a-month cap on insulin costs for Medicare recipients and limits seniors’ overall out-of-pocket drug costs to $2,000 a year.

“I know seniors who pay $400 to $500 a month for insulin. To have that capped at $35 is a lifesaver,” noted Darryl Ford, president of USW Local 254, which represents hundreds of American Red Cross workers in Georgia and other states.

Ford, who’s campaigned for Warnock and spoken to him during conference calls arranged by the Georgia AFL-CIO, respects the senator’s deep connection with everyday Georgians and lifelong commitment to serving others. “‘I’m not in love with politics. I’m in love with change,’” Ford said, repeating from memory one of Warnock’s favorite expressions.

“He’s authentic. When I see him, I can see my dad. I can see myself. He motivates you to want to fight, to want to make things right,” Ford said, noting Warnock’s continued support for legislation making it easier for workers to form unions and seize control of their own destinies.

Voters elected Warnock in 2021 to serve out a predecessor’s unexpired term. Since then, he’s earned a full term of his own, Ford said, noting that Warnock—a freshman legislator with no prior government experience—amassed a remarkable record of accomplishments in under two years and won praise for reaching across the aisle to move critical legislation forward.

“He’s there to work,” Ford added. “He’s not there to make the backdoor deals. I wish we could have more senators like that.”

Author Bio: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

The renewable energy transition is failing

Despite all the renewable energy investments and installations, actual global greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing. That’s largely due to economic growth: While renewable energy supplies have expanded in recent years, world energy usage has ballooned even more—with the difference being supplied by fossil fuels. The more the world economy grows, the harder it is for additions of renewable energy to turn the tide by actually replacing energy from fossil fuels, rather than just adding to it.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The notion of voluntarily reining in economic growth in order to minimize climate change and make it easier to replace fossil fuels is political anathema not just in the rich countries, whose people have gotten used to consuming at extraordinarily high rates, but even more so in poorer countries, which have been promised the opportunity to “develop.”

After all, it is the rich countries that have been responsible for the great majority of past emissions (which are driving climate change presently); indeed, these countries got rich largely by the industrial activity of which carbon emissions were a byproduct. Now it is the world’s poorest nations that are experiencing the brunt of the impacts of climate change caused by the world’s richest. It’s neither sustainable nor just to perpetuate the exploitation of land, resources, and labor in the less industrialized countries, as well as historically exploited communities in the rich countries, to maintain both the lifestyles and expectations of further growth of the wealthy minority.

From the perspective of people in less-industrialized nations, it’s natural to want to consume more, which only seems fair. But that translates to more global economic growth, and a harder time replacing fossil fuels with renewables globally. China is the exemplar of this conundrum: Over the past three decades, the world’s most populous nation lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, but in the process became the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal.

The Materials Dilemma

Also posing an enormous difficulty for a societal switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is our increasing need for minerals and metals. The World Bank, the IEA, the IMF, and McKinsey and Company have all issued reports in the last couple of years warning of this growing problem. Vast quantities of minerals and metals will be required not just for making solar panels and wind turbines, but also for batteries, electric vehicles, and new industrial equipment that runs on electricity rather than carbon-based fuels.

Some of these materials are already showing signs of increasing scarcity: According to the World Economic Forum, the average cost of producing copper has risen by over 300 percent in recent years, while copper ore grade has dropped by 30 percent.

Optimistic assessments of the materials challenge suggest there are enough global reserves for a one-time build-out of all the new devices and infrastructure needed (assuming some substitutions, with, for example, lithium for batteries eventually being replaced by more abundant elements like iron). But what is society to do as that first generation of devices and infrastructure ages and requires replacement?

Circular Economy: A Mirage?

Hence the rather sudden and widespread interest in the creation of a circular economy in which everything is recycled endlessly. Unfortunately, as economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen discovered in his pioneering work on entropy, recycling is always incomplete and always costs energy. Materials typically degrade during each cycle of use, and some material is wasted in the recycling process.

A French preliminary analysis of the energy transition that assumed maximum possible recycling found that a materials supply crisis could be delayed by up to three centuries. But will the circular economy (itself an enormous undertaking and a distant goal) arrive in time to buy industrial civilization those extra 300 years? Or will we run out of critical materials in just the next few decades in our frantic effort to build as many renewable energy devices as we can in as short a time as possible?

The latter outcome seems more likely if pessimistic resource estimates turn out to be accurate. Simon Michaux of the Finnish Geological Survey finds that “[g]lobal reserves are not large enough to supply enough metals to build the renewable non-fossil fuels industrial system … Mineral deposit discovery has been declining for many metals. The grade of processed ore for many of the industrial metals has been decreasing over time, resulting in declining mineral processing yield. This has the implication of the increase in mining energy consumption per unit of metal.”

Steel prices are already trending higher, and lithium supplies may prove to be a bottleneck to rapidly increasing battery production. Even sand is getting scarce: Only certain grades of the stuff are useful in making concrete (which anchors wind turbines) or silicon (which is essential for solar panels). More sand is consumed yearly than any other material besides water, and some climate scientists have identified it as a key sustainability challenge this century. Predictably, as deposits are depleted, sand is becoming more of a geopolitical flashpoint, with China recently embargoing sand shipments to Taiwan with the intention of crippling Taiwan’s ability to manufacture semiconductor devices such as cell phones.

To Reduce Risk, Reduce Scale

During the fossil fuel era, the global economy depended on ever-increasing rates of extracting and burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The renewables era (if it indeed comes into being) will be founded upon the large-scale extraction of minerals and metals for panels, turbines, batteries, and other infrastructure, which will require periodic replacement.

These two economic eras imply different risks: The fossil fuel regime risked depletion and pollution (notably atmospheric carbon pollution leading to climate change); the renewables regime will likewise risk depletion (from mining minerals and metals) and pollution (from dumping old panels, turbines, and batteries, and from various manufacturing processes), but with diminished vulnerability to climate change. The only way to lessen risk altogether would be to reduce substantially society’s scale of energy and materials usage—but very few policymakers or climate advocacy organizations are exploring that possibility.

Climate Change Hobbles Efforts to Combat Climate Change

As daunting as they are, the financial, political, and material challenges to the energy transition don’t exhaust the list of potential barriers. Climate change itself is also hampering the energy transition—which, of course, is being undertaken to avert climate change.

During the summer of 2022, China experienced its most intense heat wave in six decades. It impacted a wide region, from central Sichuan Province to coastal Jiangsu, with temperatures often topping 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and reaching a record 113 degrees in Chongqing on August 18. At the same time, a drought-induced power crisis forced Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., the world’s top battery maker, to close manufacturing plants in China’s Sichuan province. Supplies of crucial parts to Tesla and Toyota were temporarily cut off.

Meanwhile, a similarly grim story unfolded in Germany, as a record drought reduced the water flow in the Rhine River to levels that crippled European trade, halting shipments of diesel and coal, and threatening the operations of both hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.

A study published in February 2022 in the journal Water found that droughts (which are becoming more frequent and severe with climate change) could create challenges for U.S. hydropower in Montana, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, French nuclear plants that rely on the Rhône River for cooling water have had to shut down repeatedly. If reactors expel water downstream that’s too hot, aquatic life is wiped out as a result. So, during the sweltering 2022 summer, Électricité de France (EDF) powered down reactors not only along the Rhône but also on a second major river in the south, the Garonne. Altogether, France’s nuclear power output has been cut by nearly 50 percent during the summer of 2022. Similar drought- and heat-related shutdowns happened in 2018 and 2019.

Heavy rain and flooding can also pose risks for both hydro and nuclear power—which together currently provide roughly four times as much low-carbon electricity globally as wind and solar combined. In March 2019, severe flooding in southern and western Africa, following Cyclone Idai, damaged two major hydro plants in Malawi, cutting off power to parts of the country for several days.

Wind turbines and solar panels also rely on the weather and are therefore also vulnerable to extremes. Cold, cloudy days with virtually no wind spell trouble for regions heavily reliant on renewable energy. Freak storms can damage solar panels, and high temperatures reduce panels’ efficiency. Hurricanes and storm surges can cripple offshore wind farms.

The transition from fossil fuel to renewables faces an uphill battle. Still, this switch is an essential stopgap strategy to keep electricity grids up and running, at least on a minimal scale, as civilization inevitably turns away from a depleting store of oil and gas. The world has become so dependent on grid power for communications, finance, and the preservation of technical, scientific, and cultural knowledge that, if the grids were to go down permanently and soon, it is likely that billions of people would die, and the survivors would be culturally destitute. In essence, we need renewables for a controlled soft landing. But the harsh reality is that, for now, and in the foreseeable future, the energy transition is not going well and has poor overall prospects.

We need a realistic plan for energy descent, instead of foolish dreams of eternal consumer abundance by means other than fossil fuels. Currently, politically rooted insistence on continued economic growth is discouraging truth-telling and serious planning for how to live well with less.

Author Bio: Richard Heinberg is a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival.

African water conflict threatens security, health, and the environment

Water is a finite resource on our planet. We can only rely on what we have, which translates to about 2.5 percent of drinkable fresh water. Of that amount, only 0.4 percent currently exists in lakes, rivers, and moisture in the atmosphere. The strain of this limited supply grows by the day and as this continues, the detrimental impact will continue to be felt in places least equipped to find alternative solutions—in particular, the African continent.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The global population is estimated to reach around 9.6 billion people by 2050. This is triple the number of humans on the planet just a few decades ago, having to exist with the same amount of water, not taking into account the nonhuman animals and plants that also rely on water to survive.

More than a third of the planet’s population living without access to clean, safe water live in sub-Saharan Africa. And nearly two-thirds—some four billion people—live in water-scarce areas. With this number set to steadily rise, the United Nations predicts that around 700 million people across the world might be “displaced by intense water scarcity” by 2030.

Scarcity-Led Conflict and Crisis

Each year, the world is seeing extreme water-related events including heatwaves and droughts. In 2021 on the African continent alone, Madagascar, Kenya, and Somalia experienced severe water shortages. And with scarcity, conflict tends to follow.

A number of African conflicts are being fueled by competition for dwindling natural resources. At a state level, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have been engaged in a continuing dispute over fresh water in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Similar issues are playing out across every level of society.

Cameroon, for instance, experienced a violent dispute over water between fishermen and herders in a town near the border of Chad in December 2021. The disagreement over rights to water found in a shrinking Lake Chad led to the death of 22 people and a further 100,000 people displaced from their homes as the two groups fought.

“Once conflicts escalate, they are hard to resolve and can have a negative impact on water security, creating vicious cycles of conflict,” said Susanne Schmeier, senior lecturer in water law and diplomacy at IHE Delft.

This negative feedback loop fueled by conflict is further compounded by the effect on water quality, agriculture, and forced migration. “With very rare exceptions, no one dies of literal thirst,” said Peter Gleick, head of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. “But more and more people are dying from contaminated water or conflicts over access to water.”

This insight speaks to the complex interplay between water shortage and conflict. According to research from the Pacific Institute, the impact of water on agriculture plays an even greater role in contributing to conflict—a view backed up by the fact that agriculture accounts for 70 percent of fresh water use in Africa.

Another conflict-causing factor is the social impact of water shortages. With up to a quarter of the world’s population facing serious water scarcity at least one month of the year, people are being forced to migrate. In 2017, at least 20 million people from Africa and the Middle East left their homes due to food shortages and conflict caused by serious drought.

Food Insecurity Due to Impact on Wildlife and Agriculture

Food insecurity caused by water shortages is being compounded by the loss of wildlife. With a drop in their rainy seasons, Kenya’s sheep, camels, and cattle have been in decline. This has led to a threat of 2.5 million people potentially going without food due to drought, according to the United Nations.

The impact of drought is taking a severe toll on agriculture, particularly in counties where this forms the mainstay of their economy. In South Africa, for instance, agriculture is key to the functioning of the country when it comes to job creation, food security, rural development, and foreign exchange.

Water shortages in the country impact both commercial and subsistence farmers. But it is the subsistence farmers who are hardest hit by the droughts, according to a 2021 paper published by a group of international scientists in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

While commercial farmers are able to offset a lack of rain through alternative water supplies, as well as storage and irrigation technologies, subsistence farmers who are reliant on rain, the scientists write, “are particularly susceptible to drought as they highly depend on climate-sensitive resources.” They also point out that the impact is worsened by the fact that this form of farming is tied to farmers’ own food security.

Adaptation

There is no way to avoid the impacts of water scarcity and drought. The best thing to do is manage and mitigate risk where possible. A tool proposed by the group Water, Peace and Security is an early warning monitor capable of tracking information on rainfall, crop yields, and political, economic, and social factors. According to the group, this tool would “predict water-related conflicts up to a year in advance, which allows for mediation and government intervention.”

Another common de-risking approach to conflict is water-sharing agreements. Since the end of World War II, 200 of these agreements have been signed. Despite this, the UN has consistently failed to introduce a Water Convention that would see over 43 countries sharing transboundary rivers and lakes.

A good example where a water-sharing agreement helped avoid conflict can be found in Southern Africa. In 2000, with tensions rising over shared resources, an agreement was reached between Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia that helped avoid further issues.

Reducing water loss remains the most recommended method countries should adopt to avoid future catastrophes. Agriculture and mining, in particular, are two industries that could do more to limit their water wastage. Another policy, suggested by Iceland, is to increase the price of water in relation to its supply, as a way to help curb water wastage.

Desalination is also a popular method used to free up more water, using seawater to increase supply. Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses desalination to supply the country with at least 50 percent of its water supply. Water recycling, known as “gray” water is another low-cost alternative used by farmers to offset the impact of drought.

As water scarcity continues to become more commonplace, so too will these mitigation and adaptation strategies. The question is, will they be enough?

Author Bio: Robin Scher is a writer based in South Africa. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. Find him on Twitter @RobScherHimself.

The University of California comes to a standstill as academic workers strike

Nearly 50,000 academic workers at the University of California launched a historic strike on November 14 after contract negotiations with their employer failed. Postdoctoral scholars, researchers, trainees, fellows, graduate student instructors, readers, and tutors, who are from 10 UC campuses across the state and are unionized with United Auto Workers, walked out of their jobs.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Such workers are not traditionally associated with militant labor actions as intellectual work has historically been well-compensated in the United States. But, as universities have increasingly adopted corporate models of operation, the same sort of delineation in pay seen in other industries has taken hold in academia, with administrative executives earning top dollar while rank-and-file workers have seen their wages shrink relative to inflation. At the top of workers’ list of demands is better pay, one that is tied to the cost of living, and especially the cost of housing.

“What the UC is proposing in terms of… small percent increases in annual salary, essentially that results in a net loss” to workers, says Joyce Chan, a postdoctoral scholar in neurosciences at UC San Diego. Chan, who serves on the bargaining team for UAW 5810, is referring to the fact that California is one of the most expensive states to live in. She says, “our proposals are not only realistic, but we feel they are necessary.”

The university’s bargaining position can be boiled down to an expectation that its core academic workers simply have to accept a life of hardship. UC Provost Michael Brown, in a letter responding to the union’s demand, wrote, “Tying compensation directly to housing costs… could have overwhelming financial impacts on the University.”

But Chan counters that “30 to 80 percent of our income goes toward making rent alone.” Indeed, Brown did not dispute the fact that rent consumes too much of a graduate student’s paycheck. He only countered that it would be too hard for the university to do anything about it. In other words, if workers cannot afford to live, that’s their problem.

According to FairUCNow.org, a website set up by the UAW unions involved in the UC contract negotiations, academic workers “do the majority of teaching and research at UC, yet UC is refusing to offer us a fair share of the record-setting grant and state funding that our labor brings in.”

Chan points out that “our working conditions are our student’s learning conditions”—a logic familiar to one adopted by unionized school teachers in K-12 public schools. “If the UC meets our demands for fair compensation, we would be far more able to focus on the teaching, on the research, on everything that makes the University of California great,” she adds.

Brittany Drake, a PhD candidate at UCLA, tweeted in support of the strike, saying, “I do not doubt that many brilliant students research, careers, and health are being compromised due to the added financial stress, and hope that they will receive the support they deserve rather than admonishment.” She points out how, during her first two years in graduate school, she slept on friends’ couches, in her office, and even in her car. University administrators “admonished” her for spending nights in her office, but, she said, “No one asked if I was okay or needed help.”

Union members say the university can indeed afford to pay its academic workers more. “As California’s biggest [public] employer, the UC has a $46 billion annual budget,” says Chan, adding that “the [UAW] proposals for graduate workers would end up being less than 3 percent of the UC budget.” That academic workers cannot afford rent on their salaries is tantamount to them paying UC to work, instead of the other way around. In other words, it’s stolen labor.

“We have the right to demand better pay and better working conditions, and also to be able to demand things and to be heard,” says Chan. “We’re united and we’re ready to hold them accountable.”

In addition to sending a message to the university that workers demand better than what is being offered, the strike is also alerting the entire university community to the long-standing plight of graduate students and postdoctoral workers. The sight of thousands of UAW members rallying and picketing at UC campuses has inspired solidarity from faculty members who rely on the labor of their researchers and teaching assistants. James Vernon, chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, addressed a UAW picket on UC Berkeley’s campus, saying, “The system is broken and you’re going to help fix it and we are here as faculty to support you in that effort.”

UC’s academic researchers and workers are responsible for ushering critical intellectual work—not only to California, but also to the U.S. and world. “Our students in the sciences, they go on to become doctors, they go on to become engineers, that contribute to infrastructure, and also medicine,” says Chan. “I think it can’t be understated how important the university’s research is in social mobility, in improving people’s futures, and also in the arts as well, in creating work that moves people.”

The UC strike is also part of a broader trend of labor actions nationwide. In the same week that the strike began, Starbucks workers in more than 100 stores that have voted to join a union held a one-day strike to protest their employer’s refusal to bargain in good faith. UPS drivers, who are gearing up for a potentially major strike of their own next year, have been informed by their union, the Teamsters, that they can show solidarity with UC striking workers by refusing to cross the picket to deliver packages.

“For a lot of the academic workers at the UC, we see this pattern of indignity and unfair wages, unfair contracts, as a sort of universal theme, not only in the States but also worldwide,” says Chan. She cites that UC workers have been inspired by the actions of Starbucks workers in the U.S., as well as other companies and workers throughout the world.

“Not every teaching moment happens in a classroom,” says Chan. “Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

How union solidarity improves everyone’s healthcare

Alyssa Stout and her 800 coworkers banded together to keep Oroville Hospital open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, working around the clock to save countless lives.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

But these union members didn’t stop there. They brought that same unwavering solidarity to the bargaining table earlier in 2022 and won a new contract with safety enhancements and other provisions designed to leave the workforce, the hospital, and their Northern California community stronger than before.

Stout and her colleagues are among thousands of union healthcare workers nationwide who are harnessing the collective power they forged during the pandemic to dramatically improve America’s system of care.

“I feel we have more leverage now than we ever did before, just because people realize we’re needed,” said Stout, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9600 and an X-ray technologist at Oroville, recalling how union workers put their lives on the line and pulled their communities through the crisis.

“People realize, in general, now how important the health care community is,” she continued, noting local residents signed petitions, reposted the union’s social media messages, and took other actions to support the workers’ recent contract negotiations. “It all kind of trickles down. People want to see us being treated well so they’re treated well. We were fighting for everyone.”

Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities wrestled with turnover long before the pandemic, partly because they tried to save money on the backs of workers in crucial but long-underappreciated departments such as environmental services and dietary. But nurses, certified nursing assistants, and other caregivers couldn’t have saved COVID-19 victims without the contributions of colleagues who sanitized rooms and prepared nutritious meals.

So workers at Oroville stood together for a contract providing significant raises to all union members, underscoring the collective effort essential to operating the hospital and ensuring patients continued access to an experienced, stable workforce committed to delivering ever better care across every department.

The contract also establishes a labor-management safety committee that gives a real voice to the front-line workers who best know how to address the hazards they and their patients face every day. Union members provided management with photos documenting cluttered hallways and blocked fire exits, driving home the need for collective vigilance and worker input in a part of the country where a wildfire destroyed another hospital just a few years ago.

“Our safety has to be a priority. Otherwise, we can’t be there for the patients we care about,” observed Stout, noting the challenges of the pandemic fostered greater cohesion and tenacity that union members brought to bear at the bargaining table.

Across the country, other union contracts are yielding similar improvements for workers, patients, and their communities.

More than 2,700 nurses and other workers at UMass Memorial Health Care in Massachusetts won significant raises and other enhancements that not only recognize the sacrifices they made throughout the pandemic but will also help the system’s hospitals recruit and retain the workforce patients need.

Nurses at three Steward Health Care hospitals in Florida achieved protections from unsafe scheduling and the creation of an infectious disease task force in their new agreements, while workers at Kaleida Health in New York successfully fought for wages increases, a health and safety committee and the health system’s commitment to create 500 new positions to address unsafe staffing issues.

And nearly 80 members of USW Local 7798-1 attained management’s commitment to address safe staffing concerns, among other gains, in a new agreement they ratified on November 14 with Copper Country Mental Health in Michigan.

“I do see a new trend,” said Local 7798-1 President Scott Skotarczyk, referring to the power that pandemic-tested healthcare workers are bringing to the bargaining table. “Look at what we did in this agreement. We got a pay increase. We got—for our more senior staff—an increase in vacation time. We didn’t give anything up.”

The contract also spells out a procedure for developing timely, effective responses when clients act out, creating safer environments for both workers and residents in the agency’s group homes.

“This is a stressful job,” Skotarczyk said, noting the contract improvements will help to facilitate the stable, experienced workforce needed to help clients build more independent lives.

“The more time you spend in this field, the more effective you are,” he said. “I’ve learned over the years what works best.”

Workers at union-represented hospitals have better patient outcomes, more inspections for workplace hazards, and better access to personal protective equipment (PPE), among many other advantages, than their counterparts at other facilities. Now, union members’ successful advocacy for themselves and their patients is fueling a wave of union drives across the healthcare industry.

More than 800 interns, residents, and other doctors at the University of Illinois Chicago formed a union in 2021, for example, citing the need to band together and fight for the long-overdue resources essential to patient care. Overall, according to new research from the AFL-CIO, 71 percent of healthcare workers would vote to unionize their workplaces.

“Don’t give up. Don’t back down,” Stout advises healthcare workers who want to leverage union power at their workplaces.

“We all made it, and we all helped each other,” she said of her coworkers at Oroville over the past few years. “We’re so much stronger together.”

Author Bio: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

Humanity’s first cultural revolution and how can it help us today

We live in a fast-moving, technology-dominated era. Happiness is fleeting, and everything is replaceable or disposable. It is understandable that people are drawn to a utopian vision. Many find refuge in the concept of a “return” to an idealized past—one in which humans were not so numerous, and animals abounded; when the Earth was still clean and pure, and when our ties to nature were unviolated.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

But this raises the question: Is this nothing more than a utopian vision? Can we pinpoint a time in our evolutionary trajectory when we wandered from the path of empathy, of compassion and respect for one another and for all forms of life? Or are we nihilistically the victims of our own natural tendencies, and must we continue to live reckless lifestyles, no matter the outcome?

Studying human prehistory enables people to see the world through a long-term lens—across which we can discern tendencies and patterns that can only be identified over time. By adopting an evolutionary outlook, it becomes possible to explain when, how, and why specific human traits and behaviors emerged.

The particularity of human prehistory is that there are no written records, and so we must try to answer our questions using the scant information provided for us by the archeological record.

The Oldowan era that began in East Africa can be seen as the start of a process that would eventually lead to the massive technosocial database that humanity now embraces and that continues to expand ever further in each successive generation, in a spiral of exponential technological and social creativity. The first recognizable Oldowan tool kits start appearing 2.6 million years ago; they contain large pounding implements, alongside small sharp-edged flakes that were certainly useful for, among other things, obtaining viscera and meat resources from animals that were scavenged as hominins (humans and their close extinct ancestors) competed with other large carnivores present in their environments. As hominins began to expand their technological know-how, successful resourcing of such protein-rich food was ideal for feeding the developing and energy-expensive brain.

Stone tool production—and its associated behaviors—grew ever more complex, eventually requiring relatively heavy investments into teaching these technologies to successfully pass them onward into each successive generation. This, in turn, established the foundations for the highly beneficial process of cumulative learning that became coupled with symbolic thought processes such as language, ultimately favoring our capacity for exponential development.

This had huge implications, for example, in terms of the first inklings of what we call “tradition”—ways to make and do things—that are indeed the very building blocks of culture. Underpinning this process, neuroscientific experiments carried out to study the brain synapses and areas involved during toolmaking processes show that at least some basic forms of language were likely needed in order to communicate the technologies required to manufacture the more complex tools of the Acheulian age that commenced in Africa about 1.75 million years ago. Researchers have demonstrated that the areas of the brain activated during toolmaking are the same as those employed for abstract thought processes, including language and volumetric planning.

When we talk about the Acheulian, we are referring to a hugely dense cultural phenomenon occurring in Africa and Eurasia that lasted some 1.4 million years. While it cannot be considered a homogenous occurrence, it does entail a number of behavioral and technosocial elements that prehistorians agree tie together as a sort of unit.

Globally, the Acheulian technocomplex coincides generally with the appearance of the relatively large-brained hominins attributed to Homo erectus and the African Homo ergaster, as well as Homo heidelbergensis, a wide-ranging hominin identified in Eurasia and known to have successfully adapted to relatively colder climatic conditions. Indeed, it was during the Acheulian that hominins developed fire-making technologies and that the first hearths appear in some sites (especially caves) that also show indications of seasonal or cyclical patterns of use.

In terms of stone tool technologies, Acheulian hominins moved from the nonstandardized tool kits of the Oldowan to innovate new ways to shape stone tools that involved comparatively complex volumetric concepts. This allowed them to produce a wide variety of preconceived flake formats that they proceeded to modify into a range of standardized tool types. Conceptually, this is very significant because it implies that for the first time, stone was being modeled to fit with a predetermined mental image. The bifacial and bilateral symmetry of the emblematic Acheulian tear-shaped handaxes is especially exemplary of this particular hallmark.

The Acheulian archeological record also bears witness to a whole new range of artifacts that were manufactured according to a fixed set of technological notions and newly acquired abilities. To endure, this toolmaking know-how needed to be shared by way of ever more composite and communicative modes of teaching.

We also know that Acheulian hominins were highly mobile since we often find rocks in their tool kits that were imported from considerable distances away. Importantly, as we move through time and space, we observe that some of the tool-making techniques actually show special features that can be linked to specific regional contexts. Furthermore, population densities increased significantly throughout the period associated with the later Acheulian phenomenon—roughly from around 1 million to 350,000 years ago—likely as a result of these technological achievements.

Beyond toolmaking, other social and behavioral revolutions are attributed to Acheulian hominins. Fire-making, whose significance as a transformative technosocial tool cannot be overstated, as well as other accomplishments, signal the attainment of new thresholds that were to hugely transform the lives of Acheulian peoples and their descendants. For example, Acheulian sites with evidence of species-specific hunting expeditions and systematized butchery indicate sophisticated organizational capacities and certainly also suggest that these hominins mastered at least some form of gestural—and probably also linguistic—communication.

All of these abilities acquired over thousands of years by Acheulian peoples enabled them not only to settle into new lands situated, for example, in higher latitudes, but also to overcome seasonal climatic stresses and so to thrive within a relatively restricted geographical range. While they were certainly nomadic, they established home-base type living areas to which they returned on a cyclical basis. Thus, the combined phenomena of more standardized and complex culture and regional lifeways led these ancient populations to carve out identities even as they developed idiosyncratic technosocial behaviors that gave them a sense of “belonging” to a particular social unit—living within a definable geographical area. This was the land in which they ranged and into which they deposited their dead (intentional human burials are presently only recognized to have occurred onward from the Middle Paleolithic). To me, the Acheulian represents the first major cultural revolution known to humankind.

So I suggest that it was during the Acheulian era that increased cultural complexity led the peoples of the world to see each other as somehow different, based on variances in their material culture. In the later Acheulian especially, as nomadic groups began to return cyclically to the same dwelling areas, land-linked identities formed that I propose were foundational to the first culturally based geographical borders. Through time, humanity gave more and more credence to such constructs, deepening their significance. This would eventually lead to the founding of modern nationalistic sentiments that presently consolidate identity-based disparity, finally contributing to justifying geographic inequality of wealth and power.

Many of the tough questions about human nature are more easily understood through the prism of prehistory, even as we make new discoveries. Take, for instance, the question of where the modern practice of organized violence emerged from.

Human prehistory, as backed by science, has now clearly demonstrated that there is no basis for dividing peoples based on biological or anatomical aspects and that warlike behaviors involving large numbers of peoples, today having virtually global effects on all human lives, are based on constructed imaginary ideologies. Geographical boundaries, identity-based beliefs, and religion are some of the conceptual constructs commonly used in our world to justify such behaviors. In addition, competition buttressed by concepts of identity is now being accentuated due to the potential and real scarcity of resources resulting from population density, consumptive lifestyles, and now also accelerated climate change.

On the question of whether or not the emergence of warlike behavior was an inevitable outcome, we must observe such tendencies from an evolutionary standpoint. Like other genetic and even technological traits, the human capacity for massive violence exists as a potential response that remains latent within our species until triggered by particular exterior factors. Of course, this species-specific response mode also corresponds with our degree of technological readiness that has enabled us to create the tools of massive destruction that we so aptly manipulate today.

Hierarchized societies formed and evolved throughout the Middle and Late Pleistocene when a range of hominins coevolved with anatomically modern humans that we now know appeared in Africa as early as 300,000 years ago. During the Holocene Epoch, human links to specific regional areas were strengthened even further by the sedentary lifestyles that developed into the Neolithic period, as did the inclination to protect the resources amassed in this context. We can conjecture the emergence of a wide range of sociocultural situations that would have arisen once increasing numbers of individuals were arranged into the larger social units permitted by the capacity to produce, store, and save sizable quantities of foodstuffs and other kinds of goods.

Even among other animals, including primates, increased population densities result in competitive behaviors. In this scenario, that disposition would have been intensified by the idea of accumulated goods belonging, as it were, to the social unit that produced them.

Bringing technology into play, we can clearly see how humans began to transform their know-how into ingenious tools for performing different acts of warfare. In the oldest toolkits known to humankind going back millions of years, we cannot clearly identify any artifacts that appear adequate to be used for large-scale violence. We don’t have evidence of organized violence until millions of years after we started developing tools and intensively modifying the environments around us. As we amplified the land-linked identity-based facet of our social lives, so did we continue to develop ever more efficient technological and social solutions that would increase our capacity for large-scale warfare.

If we can understand how these behaviors emerged, then we can also use our technological skills to get to the root of these problems and employ all we have learned to finally take a better hold of the reins of our future.

Author Bio: Deborah Barsky is a researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and associate professor at the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, with the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). She is the author of Human Prehistory: Exploring the Past to Understand the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2022).

Democrats didn’t win the midterms — they simply held the line


Americans invested in the idea of living in a democracy heaved a collective sigh of relief the day after the 2022 midterm elections when it became clear that the dire predictions of a Republican sweep were overblown. Democrats made greater gains than expected, winning races in both the Senate and the House that they didn’t expect to.

It happened because masses of people cast ballots, defying long-standing historical trends of low midterm turnout. Voters almost matched the high turnout of the 2018 elections when outrage over Donald Trump’s first two years in office pushed Congress into the hands of Democrats. Stung by their opposition’s showing and by Trump’s reelection loss two years later, Republicans ramped up voter suppression efforts, hoping to blunt the impact of an increasingly young, diverse, and enthusiastic electorate.

Liberal-leaning voters showed up to the polls during this latest midterm election largely in response to the overturning of abortion rights, but also to stave off right-wing extremism.

Although the worst did not come to pass during the midterms, simply holding the line against a descent into fascism is not enough. Republicans are wresting control of the nation’s steering wheel as hard as they can and forcing it as far right as possible. Their party has divested itself from democratic norms and thrown its weight behind Trump and his lies. They have invested in stripping people of their bodily autonomy and fashioning a dangerous world ruled by force and a riotous mob mentality. Much more is needed in the face of such hubris: Fascists need to be placed on the defensive, and a split Congress is not enough to do so.

Three major factors explain why Democrats didn’t win outright control of both congressional chambers: First, Republicans have aggressively reduced the impact of Democratic votes; second, Democrats were unable or unwilling to articulate a clear message of why their agenda is better than that of the Republicans; and third, the corporate media refused to center people’s well-being in their framing of election-related issues.

Republicans have played the long game on suppressing democracy, redrawing district maps for years in order to favor their candidates and appointing conservative, partisan judges into federal courts to affirm those maps. They have done so in tandem with a slew of voter suppression laws in states they control—which is the majority. Analilia Mejia, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, says in an interview that such efforts are “a strategy utilized to negate the power of a rising Black and Brown electorate.”

The GOP is also terrified (or should be) of young people voting. Recall in the 2016 presidential race when Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump was blamed, in part, on younger voters who weren’t motivated to show up to the polls. Two years later, that trend was reversed in the first midterms of Trump’s presidency. Now, four years after that, young voters have realized the dangers of apathy and showed up to the polls in force, casting a majority of their ballots for Democrats.

Mejia says “the policies that really motivate people” to vote are “the policies that we know will essentially save humanity and the planet and stop climate change; the policies that we know will ensure that our children, that our elders, that those most vulnerable in our communities have the resources that they need to not only survive but thrive—[these] are policies that are supported by the vast majority of people.”

This—including the overturning of abortion rights at the Supreme Court—was precisely what motivated so many young people and people of color to vote in the 2022 midterms. Varshini Prakash, executive director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate justice organization, told Common Dreams, “For us, it’s never been just about defeating Donald Trump… We turn out to fight for the issues our generation faces every day, like the impending climate crisis, protecting our reproductive freedoms, and ending gun violence in our schools.”

And yet, climate justice, economic justice, and racial justice were largely missing from the story that Democrats told in order to motivate people to go to the polls.

Rather than tout how his administration and his party would ensure a just transition to renewable fuels, President Joe Biden was fixated on gas prices and how to lower them. Instead of showcasing how the 2021 American Rescue Plan was a good example of federal government action on inequality, candidates running for office were on the defensive against Republicans’ and the media’s hammering of inflation as a central election issue. In contrast to their 2020 promises to tackle racist police brutality and mass incarceration, Democrats decided to pass a bill to increase police funding and stave off GOP accusations of being “soft on crime.”

Voters showed up in spite of this. But they may have shown up to elect Democrats in even higher numbers had climate, economic, and racial justice been front and center ahead of the midterms. “These are popular ideas,” says Mejia.

Not only did Democrats refuse to fully articulate these popular ideas, but the corporate media also shaped its coverage to suit the GOP’s agenda. Outlets aggressively played up the Republican Party’s line that inflation was the central issue of the election—one for which, they alleged, Democrats bore sole blame.

Take one New York Times article published on Election Day. “Inflation is almost certainly the issue pushing the economy to its current prominence,” wrote the Times’ economic reporter Jeanna Smialek in a story headlined, “Inflation Plagues Democrats in Polling. Will It Crush Them at the Ballot Box?” Just hours after it was published, such a confident claim fell apart as the Democrats were most certainly not “crushed” at the ballot box.

Mainstream U.S. corporate news media outlets could have taken a page out of their British counterpart’s book, the Guardian, which publishes analyses like that of former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich. “Corporations are using rising costs as an excuse to increase their prices even higher, resulting in record profits,” wrote Reich, offering an explanation for inflation largely missing from U.S. outlets.

One Wall Street Journal article went as far as explaining quite convincingly that rather than being sparked by Democrats’ policies, inflation was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the U.S. was in line with other nations and with historical trends. Yet the Journal couldn’t resist framing the piece with the misleading headline: “Midterm Election Could Make Democrats Latest Governing Party to Pay Price for Inflation.”

Most U.S. newspapers have spent the past year banging the drum of inflation and exaggerating its impact. They have accepted the dogma that higher wages, lower unemployment, and government assistance are the source of rising prices rather than corporate greed.

Mejia is aghast at the consensus that is emerging to tackle inflation through increasing interest rates and slashing benefits. She finds it “unbelievable that the way we dig ourselves… out of an economic crisis is by inflicting strategic targeted and sustained pain to those who are most vulnerable.”

She says that “the only way out of here, out of this moment, is through investment in people, in civic participation, and increasing our political power and voice.”

Perhaps if the Democratic Party had centered its midterm platform on such an approach, and perhaps if the corporate media had not distorted the truth, victory would not have been defined by simply holding the line against a fascist GOP; it would have been—and could have been—an outright defeat of authoritarianism and injustice. Too much is at stake, and our standards of success cannot be low.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How workers and pro-union lawmakers team up for fair trade

Lamar Wilkerson and his co-workers at U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Tubular Operations help to lead the battle for America’s energy security, producing the top-quality pipe that keeps oil, natural gas, and other products flowing through vast distribution networks.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

But as workers at the Alabama plant labor to build out this critical infrastructure, they face an insidious threat. Foreign countries quietly dump cheap tubular goods in U.S. markets, putting their jobs and the nation’s safety at risk.

Fortunately, workers can count on pro-union officials like U.S. Reps. Frank Mrvan of Indiana and Tim Ryan of Ohio to stand with them in the fight for fair trade.

Just last week, the United Steelworkers (USW) and congressional allies won key protections for the Fairfield workers—and their counterparts at other pipe manufacturers across the country—with a U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruling triggering duties on unfairly traded tubular goods from Argentina, Mexico, Russia, and South Korea.

“We want to keep everything American made,” explained Wilkerson, president of USW Local 1013, which represents hundreds of workers at Fairfield. “That’s what built this country. That’s what needs to continue to build this country.”

The ITC determined—based on evidence provided by the USW and others—that American workers have been “materially injured” by the unfair imports of these oil country tubular goods (OCTG). Russia and South Korea illegally subsidized the production of these items and acted, along with the other two countries, to dump these products in the United States at artificially low prices and steal market share from U.S. pipe manufacturers.

“As the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, I am committed to continuing to do everything possible to ensure that bad actors and countries that cheat know that American trade laws will be fully enforced,” Mrvan said in arguing for the duties during a hearing before the ITC in September. “We must continue to work to ensure that all American workers and the domestic pipe and tube industry are able to compete on a level playing field.”

The new duties on imports will not only rebalance the scales, giving Wilkerson and his colleagues a fair shot at competing with foreign suppliers, but also facilitate the continued safe and reliable development of domestic energy supplies.

Union members at Fairfield and other plants take great pride in making products “of the best quality,” Wilkerson said, noting workers manufacture a “line pipe” for carrying the oil or gas as well as a casing that provides additional security for distribution networks.

Some of these pipelines link production fields to refineries and chemical and petrochemical plants, while others deliver energy to customers. Because these lines traverse waterways, residential neighborhoods, and other sensitive areas, the nation has strong incentive to rely on only the strongest, most dependable components.

And foreign-produced pipe, Wilkerson noted, is “cheaply made. It may be no good when it goes in the ground.”

The ITC’s decision on OCTG will ripple through the economy, helping to protect not only the thousands of union members manufacturing pipe across the country but thousands more workers at the steel plants supplying pipe-making facilities.

“Northwest Indiana is home to an incredible steel and manufacturing base, and the dedicated workforce and members of the United Steelworkers provide the material and hot-rolled steel that is used to make OCTG products,” Mrvan reminded the ITC in September.

Unions and pro-worker officials waged similar battles over the years to safeguard family-sustaining jobs in America’s aluminum, magnesium, paper, tire, and many other industries. They’ve joined forces to fight foreign dumping of hot-rolled, cold-rolled, and flat-rolled steel along with steel wheels and rebar.

And they teamed up to fight previous dumping of tubular goods in U.S. markets.

“When I return to my district later this month, I want to assure my constituents that we have taken appropriate steps to remedy this pervasive problem,” Ryan, now running for U.S. Senate, told the ITC during a hearing in 2009 as China flooded America with cheaply made pipe. The ITC ultimately ruled that the imports damaged American industry, triggering duties against the cheaters.

Again, in 2014, Ryan stepped up to help workers successfully beat back an influx of OCTG from various countries.

“You’ve got to be really vigilant about it. You’ve got to pay attention all the time,” observed Charles Perko, president of USW Local 3267, noting trade offenders not only continually attempt to infiltrate U.S. markets but try to circumvent duties the federal government imposes on unfairly traded products.

While workers and unions contribute unique expertise to trade cases, elected officials can use the bully pulpit to draw attention to cheating and the power of their offices to move complaints through enforcement agencies, observed Perko, whose local represents workers at Evraz’s OCTG mill in Pueblo, Colo.

“They’re going to listen to someone who has ‘senator’ or ‘member of Congress’ after their name,” he added, pointing out that some officials—including Ryan, Mrvan, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Reps. Terri Sewell of Alabama and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut—have national reputations for standing watch with workers on trade.

Wilkerson said workers already feel the impact of efforts to safeguard America’s OCTG industry. In the months since the USW and its congressional allies launched a united front against cheaters, the company created new jobs at Fairfield and increased overtime for union members.

“Business is really good right now,” Wilkerson said.

Author Bio: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

Republicans are attacking the heart of our democracy the same way they did in 1964 — and for the very same reason

Will we be governed by representatives we elect, or people put in office by angry mobs storming capitols?

Nations have to figure out how they are to be governed. Most of recorded history tells the story of kings, popes, priests, lords and barons who ruled through violence and imposed themselves on their people rather than the people selecting them.

That was the great American experiment. Replacing a violent hereditary warlord king with a president and congress elected by the people. Democracy.

But democracy only functions properly when the people trust that its essential mechanism — voting — is honest and true.

And that dependence on trust in elections — that vulnerability of all democracies — is exactly where Donald Trump and his fascist followers are aiming their weapons of mass deception.

But Trump isn't doing it alone: He's following a script that has played out in multiple countries over many tragic years and wars, and is now possible in America (and is spreading around the world) because of a decision a Republican campaign made in 1964.

Our country is also experiencing this deep crisis of democracy because, in large part, the media hasn't been doing their job about this issue of faith in the security of our vote. There's a hell of a history here.

Republicans have been attacking the heart of our democracy right out in the open since 1964 and covering it up by yelling about "voter fraud."

It's a phrase they essentially invented, although it was occasionally used by the Confederacy during its later years when they tried to suppress poor white voters who opposed the oligarchy.

No other developed country in the world worries about "voter fraud" because it's been nonexistent in most modern democracies. It's not a thing anywhere except in the United States, and now Brazil. And it's only a thing here because of this strategy that was developed in 1964.

Most countries don't even have what we call voter registration, because they don't want a system to try to cut back on the number of people who can vote.

If you're a citizen, you vote. You show up with your ID and vote at any polling location you choose; in many countries because you're a citizen they simply mail you the ballot and you vote by mail. Everybody gets one.

After all, what kind of idiot is stupid enough to risk going to prison to cast one vote out of millions? What possible payoff is there to that? And the one time somebody tries to do it at scale — like the Republican scheme a few years ago in North Carolina to buy a few dozen mail-in ballots from low-income people in a trailer park — it gets exposed because it's almost impossible to cover things like that up for any period of time. After all, it would take thousands of votes in most places, sometimes tens of thousands, to alter election outcomes.

In all the intervening years since Republicans began this continuous and relentless attack claiming that this "voter fraud" was happening in Black and Hispanic communities across America, our media has been totally asleep at the switch.

Remember the hours-long lines to vote we've seen on TV ever since the '60s in minority neighborhoods? Those are no accident: they're part of a larger program the GOP has used to suppress the vote — to suppress democracy — for 60 years now.

Probably to keep from offending their white audience, and also to prevent Republicans squeals of "liberal media bias," America's news media has historically treated those long lines and other barriers to voting that conservatives have thrown up as if they were simply a bizarre force of nature.

"Who could imagine why this is?" they seem to say, sometimes noting that the poll workers in Black districts are also themselves usually Black — even though they have no say over how many voting machines or polling places their precincts get from the white-controlled state.

The media's message over the past 60 years has been clear: "Black people, apparently, can't even figure out how to vote right."

This assault on the democratic system at the heart of our republic has a long history, stretching back to the era when the Republican Party first began trying to cater to the white racist vote.

The GOP made this transition after Lyndon B. Johnson and his Democrats passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act just five months before that year's November election.

In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater — who was running for president on the Republican ticket — openly opposed the Civil Rights Act that Johnson had just pushed through Congress. He was doubly opposed to the Voting Rights Act that Johnson had teed up for 1965 if he was re-elected.

At the time:

  • 35.5 percent of the citizens of Mississippi were Black but only 4.3 percent were able to register to vote.
  • Alabama was 26% Black: 7% could vote.
  • South Carolina was nearly one-third Black (29.2%) but only 9% of that state's African Americans could successfully register to vote.
  • Alabama was 26% Black but the white power structure made sure only 7% could vote.

These were not accidents: From poll taxes to jellybean counting to Constitution-interpreting requirements, most Southern states had erected massive barriers to Black people voting.

These elections where only white people were allowed to vote in large numbers were — by definition — naked attacks on democracy.

After all, it's not really democracy when a "free and fair" election was held but, in fact, large numbers of people who legally qualified and wanted to vote weren't allowed their voice.

How can that not be a crisis for a nation that calls itself a democratic republic?

By 1964 people across the country were starting to agree with that assessment, which is why the Civil Rights Act was passed, producing a lot of angry and disaffected Dixiecrats.

Republicans decided it was a great time to pry the Southern racist vote away from the Democrats. Their rallying cry would be that Black people were engaging in "voter fraud."

But don't bother looking through newspaper archives to see if the American media exposed this new GOP invention as a fraud itself: They rarely raised the question until the past year or two.

I worked in radio news back in the later 1960s and 1970s and don't recall a single major-story mention of Goldwater's racist vote-suppressing positions and the GOP's sudden use of the phrase "voter fraud" during that era. (And I was paying attention: My dad was an enthusiastic Republican who'd corralled me into going door-to-door with him for Goldwater when I was 13.)

Reported on or not, back in 1964 Goldwater and his Republicans wanted to keep Black people from voting. And the media was fine going along with them: After all, this was a time when the only Black faces on TV were portrayed as criminals, minstrels or buffoons. The advertising money that paid the salaries of television executives was only interested in a white audience.

But Republican efforts in 1964 were complicated by the civil rights movement and its leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. African Americans and their allies were marching across the country for their right to vote, and had acquired a strong affinity for and loyalty to the Democratic Party that had just put civil rights into law.

Panicked, consultants on Goldwater's team realized they needed a justification for an ongoing and even amped-up campaign to block the Black and Hispanic vote.

So they came up with a story that they started selling during the 1964 election through op-eds and letters to the editor, in political speeches, and on right-wing radio and TV programs like Joe Pyne's (Buckley would pick it up on his PBS "Firing Line" show three years later and promote it till the day he died).

This 1964 story was simple: There was massive "voter fraud" going on, exclusively in America's cities, where mostly Black people were voting more than once in different polling places and doing so under different names, often, as Donald Trump said in 2019, "by the busload" after Sunday church services.

In addition, the Republican story went, "illegal aliens" living in the United States were using stolen Social Security numbers to vote by the millions.

None of it was true, but it became the foundation of a nationwide voter suppression campaign that the GOP continues to use to this day: a campaign based on a lie of "voter fraud" that the media was more than happy to amplify. This lie to disenfranchise Black and brown people was the original sin that has brought us to today's crisis.

After all, "if it bleeds it leads" and this GOP assertion that Black and Hispanic people were voting illegally was a juicy scandal that the white electorate ate up.

For six decades, partisan Republican pundits have shown up on TV news programs at election time to opine about America's "crisis" of voter fraud.

For six decades, Republican-controlled states have worked to make it more difficult to vote and easier to throw people off the voting rolls in Democratic parts of the state.

William Rehnquist, for example, was a 40-year-old Arizona lawyer and Republican activist in 1964, when his idol, Barry Goldwater, ran against Lyndon Johnson for president.

Rehnquist helped organize a program called Operation Eagle Eye in his state to challenge the vote of Hispanic and Black voters and to dramatically slow down the voting lines in communities of color to discourage people who had to get back to work from waiting what would become hours in line to vote.

As Democratic poll watcher Lito Pena observed at the time, Rehnquist showed up at a southern Phoenix polling place to do his part in Operation Eagle Eye:

"He knew the law and applied it with the precision of a swordsman," Pena told a reporter. "He sat at the table at the Bethune School, a polling place brimming with black citizens, and quizzed voters ad nauseam about where they were from, how long they'd lived there — every question in the book. A passage of the Constitution was read and people … were ordered to interpret it to prove they had the language skills to vote."

Rehnquist was richly rewarded for his activism; he quickly rose through the GOP ranks to being appointed by President Nixon in 1972 to the U.S. Supreme Court, and was elevated in 1986 by President Reagan to chief justice, a position he used to stop the Florida Supreme Court's mandated vote recount in 2000, handing the White House to George W. Bush.

(Interestingly, two then little-known lawyers who worked with the Bush legal team to argue before Rehnquist that the Florida recount should be stopped were John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh. Bush rewarded Roberts by putting him on the court as chief justice when Rehnquist died, and gave "Beerbong Brett" a lifetime position as a federal judge in 2006.)

Rehnquist's Arizona arm of Operation Eagle Eye was one of hundreds of such formal and informal Republican voter suppression operations that exploded across the United States in 1964. As the New York Times noted on Oct. 30, 1964:

Republican officials have begun a massive campaign to prevent vote fraud in the election next Tuesday, a move that has caused Democrats to cry "fraud."

The Republican plan, Operation Eagle Eye, is designed, according to party officials, to prevent Democrats from "stealing" the 1964 election. Republicans charge that the election was stolen in 1960.

Keep in mind, this was novel back then. Nobody had been talking about "voter fraud" outside of a few Southern states for about a century. Certainly not in national news. The Times article continued:

The Democratic National Chairman, John M. Bailey, has criticized the Republican plan as "a program of voter intimidation." He has sent a protest to all 50 state Governors and has alerted Democratic party officials throughout the country to be on their guard.

"There is no doubt in my mind," Mr. Bailey wrote the state chairmen yesterday, "that this program is a serious threat to democracy as well as to a Democratic victory on Nov. 3rd."

But that was about it for the media taking on this particular Republican lie. In the 58 years since then, with the exception of the past year or two, no major American news media has seriously challenged the Republican excuses for blocking Black voters or purging voting rolls the way, for example, Brian Kemp has just done in Georgia this election and last.

And now the GOP has extended its campaign against Democrats voting by making it harder for students to vote (allowing, for example, gun licenses as voter IDs but not state college ID cards) and culling huge numbers of mail-in votes through "exact signature match challenges."

Millions of votes are expected to be challenged this year by the tens of thousands of Republican election volunteers, and in most states those ballots will never be counted unless the voters show up at the secretary of state's office to prove that their signature is still theirs.

With the blessing of five Republicans on the Supreme Court in 2017, they've also doubled down on caging and voter roll purges, stripping the right to vote from millions just this year alone.

And, as I noted in "The Hidden History of the War on Voting," the GOP has expanded its suppression efforts to women:

Those [Republican controlled] states, specifically, are the places where "exact match" and similar ALEC-type laws have been passed forbidding people to vote if their voter registration, ID, or birth certificate is off by even a comma, period, or single letter. The impact, particularly on married women, has been clear and measurable. As the National Organization for Women (NOW) details in a report on how Republican voter suppression efforts harm women:

"Voter ID laws have a disproportionately negative effect on women. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, one third of all women have citizenship documents that do not identically match their current names primarily because of name changes at marriage. Roughly 90 percent of women who marry adopt their husband's last name. That means that roughly 90 percent of married female voters have a different name on their ID than the one on their birth certificate. An estimated 34 percent of women could be turned away from the polls unless they have precisely the right documents."

MSNBC reported in an article titled "The War on Voting Is a War on Women" that "women are among those most affected by voter ID laws. In one survey, [only] 66 percent of women voters had an ID that reflected their current name, according to the Brennan Center. The other 34 percent of women would have to present both a birth certificate and proof of marriage, divorce, or name change in order to vote, a task that is particularly onerous for elderly women and costly for poor women who may have to pay to access these records." The article added that women make up the majority of student, elderly and minority voters, according to the Census Bureau. In every category, the GOP wins when women can't vote.

Again, these Republican crimes against our democracy are laying around in plain sight but rarely mentioned in news stories about elections and election outcomes.

The GOP has to do this today for the same reason they did in 1964: Republican positions both then and now are not generally popular.

Who'd vote, after all, for more tax cuts for billionaires, more pollution, banking and media deregulation, privatizing Medicare, gutting Social Security, shipping jobs overseas, keeping drug prices high and preventing workers from forming unions?

On the other hand, corporate America — including the massive corporations that own most of our media — love the GOP for the same reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Which may have something to do with why our media almost never discusses these Republican efforts beyond vaguely quoting Democratic outrage about ambiguous "voter suppression" charges.

This is one dimension of a much larger nationwide campaign of Republican assaults on our democracy executed through the phony excuse of trying to stop "voter fraud."

This year, and particularly in 2024, they're reviving Operation Eagle Eye to have armed white militia men and Ron DeSantis' dystopian "election police" confront people in their own neighborhoods on Election Day, all in a craven attempt to discourage minority voting.

Doubling down on that effort, they're also stepping up the rate at which they close polling places in largely Black communities to further stretch out lines and discourage voters.

And they're putting up billboards across the dozen or so states with anti-felon voting laws warning that under some circumstances voting is a crime that can land them in prison.

Other states have criminalized registering people to vote; the smallest error can now land you in prison in several Republican-controlled states. These laws have killed multiple voter registration drives in those states; the League of Women Voters recently had to stop their registration efforts in Florida, for example.

When Donald Trump started squealing about the 2020 election being "stolen" after his wipeout 7 million-vote loss and being crushed in the Electoral College, the media treated it like a joke for more than a year.

As a result, it's now an article of faith among over 70 percent of Republicans, driving one of them to attack Nancy Pelosi's husband in an attempt to assassinate the speaker of the House; thousands of other people who have believed this Republican lie of voter fraud were whipped into a frenzy by Donald Trump to attack the U.S. Capitol.

This situation has reached today's crisis point because our media has almost entirely ignored the truth about this Republican scam for almost 60 years. Even today, about the only network that covers the work of people like Marc Elias (disclosure: I donate to Democracy Docket) is MSNBC, and even then only occasionally.

Mark Twain is sometimes quoted (probably apocryphally) as saying, "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on." Social media has given the saying a whole new meaning, but in this case an updated version may be: "When a lie is ignored by the media for decades it becomes a believed 'truth' that the liars can then use to pass legislation destructive of democracy itself into law and through the courts."

No democracy anywhere in the world can work if its citizens don't believe their votes are legitimately counted, as we can see today in Brazil. This lie that was merely a convenience around the edges in 1964 is now a harpoon pointed right at our elections, what Thomas Paine called "the beating heart" of our republic.

If it's not debunked and destroyed, it could well signal the end of democracy in America and the beginning of a Putin/Orbán-style fascism.

It's beyond time for our media to do their damn job and point out the evil lie the Goldwater campaign buried deep in our collective psyche way back in 1964, before it succeeds in killing American democracy altogether.

Successful tool-lending libraries force us to rethink what the public is willing to share

As the old saying goes, there’s a right tool for every job—but what happens when a sizable tree branch falls in someone’s driveway after a big storm and the person neither owns a chainsaw nor has the extra cash to rush off to purchase a new one? Or perhaps a student with a tiny apartment doesn’t have storage space for tools, and suddenly needs a drill to fix the sagging cabinet door in the kitchen but has never used one and doesn’t know how to.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

For all of these moments when the right tool for the job is out of reach, there are lending libraries that have been springing up around the country, which supply more than just books.

According to a 2021 study by an alumna from San José State University (SJSU), tool libraries were first documented in the United States in the 1940s. These unique institutions lend devices such as power and hand tools, yard and garden implements, and even kitchen utensils to those in need of the right tool, but without the means to own or store them.

According to the San José State University study, more than 50 tool libraries were operating in the United States until May 2021. There was a boom in the number of tool-lending libraries in the late 1970s with the establishment of these libraries in places such as Berkeley, California, which opened in 1979 with one staff member in a portable trailer, according to the study. After more than 40 years of evolution, the Berkeley Public Library’s (BPL) current tool lending library can now be accessed through BPL’s website.

The study, which compiled “news clippings, refereed articles, blog posts, and websites,” according to the author, pointed out that scholars of the subject traditionally thought that tool-lending libraries sprang up in the late 1970s. However, earlier examples date further back to the 1940s when the public library in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, opened the first tool lending library.

At the end of World War II, domestic utensils such as kitchen and yard implements were in short supply as the raw materials normally used in their production were diverted to support war efforts.

Informal tool lending within communities was common at that time, according to the study, and in 1943, the Grosse Pointe Public Library created its first tool lending library, which is still in operation, and can also be accessed online like its cousin in Berkeley.

The first inventory of about 25 tools was donated to the Grosse Pointe Public Library by the Boys’ Work Committee of the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club, who, according to the study, donated the tools to the community to “encourage manual dexterity in the younger generation.”

Today, the Grosse Pointe Public Library’s collection of tools includes more than 150 implements and devices ranging from bolt cutters to bird-watching binoculars, and even includes yard games such as bocce ball and croquet sets. All games, devices, and implements borrowed from the institution come with a how-to information pamphlet.

The local Rotary Club adopted the responsibility of maintaining and repairing a varied catalog of items, and still does so today. The study’s author stated that the survival and growth of the Grosse Pointe Public Library’s tool collection might not have been possible without the involvement of the Rotary Club, and that it was the only tool library in the country until the mid-1970s.

The second known tool-lending library in the United States was formed in Columbus, Ohio, in 1976. The tool lending library was established by the local city government and provided free tools and implements to homeowners and renters within the city, stated the study. The Columbus tool library was established in a warehouse that now contains more than 5,000 implements such as hammers, drills, and ladders, which can be borrowed for durations ranging from one day to a week.

In 2009, the nonprofit ModCon Living took over operations of the Columbus-based tool library from the local government and now finances the endeavor through membership fees and donations.

Another tool library was established in Seattle, Washington, in the late 1970s by a University of Washington professor who used tools and implements donated to him by students moving away after the school year and graduation. When the collection grew too big for the professor to maintain single-handedly, the Phinney Neighborhood Association took over operations of maintaining these tools.

The Phinney Tool Library is still in operation and carries about 3,000 items including an array of power and hand tools as well as unique implements such as apple pickers and a cider press. According to the study, tools in the Phinney library that are beyond repair are donated to local artists where they find a second life as a component in a craft piece or art installation.

The greatest increase in tool-lending libraries in the United States came around 2008 during the Great Recession, according to the study, with institutions like the Sacramento Library of Things in California and the Chicago Tool Library in Illinois opening as part of this “tool-lending movement.” Another organization that provides tools to charitable groups instead of individuals, called ToolBank USA, was also established at that time in 2008. The study’s author credits advances in technology like cloud-based software to the continued boom in tool lending libraries across the United States.

Tool lending libraries have also been established overseas in the United Kingdom, stated the study. Scotland’s Edinburgh Tool Library was established in 2015, which inspired similar institutions in areas like Leith and Portobello in Edinburgh, and in 2018, a Library of Things was established in London, England, which is run by volunteers who assist interested organizations and municipalities in creating their own tool libraries.

With the popularity of audio and digital books and rising inflation increasing the cost of tools and implements everywhere, public libraries in the United States and around the world may all adopt the tool-lending precedents established by pioneers such as the Grosse Pointe and Berkley public libraries, which have tool lending models that have been used successfully for decades.

Author Bio: Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food, and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.

How the national infrastructure program boosts workers across the economy

Chris Frydenger and his coworkers at the Mueller Co. in Decatur, Illinois, began ramping up production of valves, couplings, and other products used in water and gas systems soon after President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

But the life-changing impact of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure program really struck Frydenger, grievance chair for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-838, when management reached out to the union with an unprecedented proposal.

The company asked to reopen the local’s contract and negotiate an additional pay increase so it could hire and retain enough workers to meet the dramatic spike in orders. “Everybody in the union got a raise,” Frydenger recalled.

Historic improvements to America’s roads, bridges, airports, public utilities, and communications networks have generated surging demand for aluminum and steel as well as raw materials like nickel and ore and the pipes, batteries, valves, and other components needed for thousands of infrastructure projects.

That demand, in turn, continues to create family-sustaining jobs, put more money in workers’ pockets, and lift the middle class, just as labor unions and their Democratic allies predicted when they pushed the legislation through Congress and onto Biden’s desk.

“This story needs to be told, for sure. It at least doubled our business in a short period of time,” said Frydenger, noting the local’s 408 members not only received middle-of-the-contract pay increases but also continue to avail themselves of all the overtime they want.

Workers use that extra money to buy cars and appliances, remodel their houses, and support local businesses, among many other purposes, helping to extend the IIJA’s reach to virtually every segment of the local economy.

“It’s had such an impact that in our new hire orientations, our general manager talks about it,” Frydenger said of the IIJA. “That’s how big an impact it’s had on sales. He gives all the credit to the infrastructure bill.”

The billions allocated for drinking water, sewer, and stormwater upgrades will enable utilities across the nation to extend distribution systems, replace aging pipes, curtail runoff, and address lead and other contaminants. And investments in natural gas infrastructure—as well as solar, wind, and hydrogen power—will help the country build a more secure, reliable energy base.

Domestic procurement requirements in the infrastructure law will ensure these projects rely on products such as those made at the Decatur plant. What makes Frydenger happier still is knowing that his union brothers and sisters up and down the supply chain also have brighter futures because of the infrastructure push.

An increasing number of orders prompted Mueller Co. to expand its purchases of brass, a raw material in the company’s production process. Helping to fill that need are about 225 members of USW Local 7248 at Wieland Chase, a brass manufacturing plant in Montpelier, Ohio, and about 50 members of USW Local 9777 at H. Kramer & Co., a brass and bronze ingot foundry in Chicago.

“The orders have just piled up because of the rebuilding and construction,” said Local 9777 President Steve Kramer, noting that the business boom spurred by the infrastructure program helped his members win good raises and other gains in a recently completed contract with the foundry. “When orders are up and they’re under the gun, we’ve got a little more leverage.”

“They’re growing. They just hired more people,” Kramer said of the foundry’s increased business with Mueller Co., among other customers. He added that the IIJA also has boosted production and employment at many of the 40 or so other USW-represented companies covered by his amalgamated local.

The Decatur plant sells products directly to customers. But it also ships some of what Frydenger and his coworkers make to other Mueller facilities, where even more USW members are experiencing the benefits of the infrastructure program.

“It just flooded our orders,” said Chad Dickerson, president of Local 00065B, which represents about 450 union members who manufacture Mueller fire hydrants in Albertville, Alabama, known as the “fire hydrant capital of the world.”

“It’s definitely created some jobs for us,” said Dickerson, adding, “We’re going to start staffing a weekend crew.”

The increase in orders “probably added 50 jobs we never would have had,” and Dickerson estimated the need to create up to 100 more jobs in coming months.

Those hydrants go to places like Groton, Connecticut, where members of USW Local 9411-00 provide water and sewer service to thousands of customers.

“The Mueller hydrant is our standard throughout the system,” explained Kevin Ziolkovsky, Local 9411-00 unit president, whose members at Groton Utilities serve the city of Groton and a handful of neighboring communities.

Crews installed some of the hydrants in a housing plan during a recent maintenance program, he said, calling them “easy to work on” and “tough as steel.” He added that even after they’re struck by vehicles, an occasional occurrence, USW members need only “change a few parts and put them back in service.”

Ziolkovsky and his coworkers look forward to using more of those hydrants and other Mueller products in infrastructure program projects that would boost customers’ safety and quality of life.

“Any time you upgrade the system, you reduce the possibility of water main breaks or blockages,” Ziolkovsky observed. “Your water quality increases. Your water pressure is better.”

Workers at Mueller have been making these top-of-the-line products for about 150 years. With the infrastructure program, Frydenger noted, they’ll continue making them—and newer versions—for decades to come.

“We’re innovating more every day,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much it fills my heart to be part of this.”

Author Bio: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

A deficit spending scam brought down the United Kingdom's prime minister. Who’s next?

With its disguises as “high finance” for the mystified and “Keynesian fiscal policy” for those “in the know,” deficit spending by the government was quite a successful scam for a long while. When the UK’s ex-prime minister opened her new government in September, Liz Truss followed tradition by trying to run the oft-used scam again. But this time it did not work. Eventually, even successful scams stop working. Its failure became hers but also her party’s, the Conservatives.’ Neither of them understood the scam’s limits. Perhaps its disguises had worked best on those who repeated them most in thought and word.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In its UK version, the deficit spending scam entailed the Conservative (but also some Labor) governments repeatedly cutting taxes on corporations and the rich. Serving their donors explains most of this. Without this scam, such behavior would have forced governments to act in traditional ways they now sought to avoid. One way would be to raise taxes on others to offset tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Governments only dared to do that partially, never enough to compensate for revenues lost from the tax cuts benefiting corporations and the rich. The other way would be to cut government spending. Governments did that also, especially when the Conservatives recast public services as unnecessary, wasteful, counterproductive, or in short, “socialistic.” But doing so angers the masses and risks losing votes for the government. Even when the masses could be distracted by campaigning against select foreigners (via Brexit against Europe and via Ukraine against Russia), public service cuts never compensated for what corporations and the rich were saving by having their taxes cut.

Enter the scam that claimed deficit spending “solved” the governments’ problems. Governments could 1) keep cutting their rich patrons’ taxes, 2) avoid offsetting tax increases on the middle and poor, and 3) avoid social service cuts. The scam was to spend without imposing taxes to raise the funds required to support spending (“deficit spending”). While deficit spending violated traditional rules for governments to balance their budgets, new and extreme economic threats (the dot-com crash, the Great Recession, the COVID-19 crash, and the sanctions war against Russia) justified trying to implement the scam. Alternatively, deficit spending could be justified as practical, a regrettable necessity of managing those recurrent business cycles.

Deficit spending came to be politicians’ magic sauce. It enabled them to boast about all they could spend on (for employers and employees) without raising taxes as if doing so flowed from the governmental efficiency of politicians. Governments could pander to corporations and the rich without it leading them to impose government austerity measures on the rest. The 1 percent gained a lot while the 99 percent gained a little.

The scam’s seamy side was massively “underreported.” It was and still is a fact that UK governments borrowed most of the money for deficit spending from the UK corporations and the rich. Once the government had cut taxes, the money saved by those corporations and the rich could be and was often lent to that government. The scam offered a certain “no-brainer” opportunity to corporations and the rich. Instead of making a one-time tax payment to the government (like other taxpayers do) corporations and the rich can instead lend that money to the government. The government security obtained in exchange provides repayment in full in the future plus annual interest payments till then.

This scam has worked for many years across global capitalism. After former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson lied his way out of office, Liz Truss presumed she could and would run the scam again, loudly and proudly, with the usual political applause. All her predecessors had. But this turned out to be the time and the place where the scam would hit its limits. Ironically, the very beneficiaries of the tax cuts Truss proposed for the corporations and the rich were the “investors” who balked. They took a good look at the UK government’s financial conditions and decided not to lend it more money without much higher interest rates (and maybe not even then). Very quickly—as these things often go—higher interest rates drove down bond prices threatening UK pension plan assets. Suddenly, the unraveling of the UK economy could be glimpsed as could be its risks for global capitalism. Leading the blind, President Joe Biden said of Liz Truss that she had “made a ‘mistake.’”

The old scam’s Achilles’ heel: at some point, corporations and the rich might see too much risk in lending the government money they saved from their cut taxes. The very repetition of the scam over decades might accumulate levels of the UK’s national debt plus conditions in global capitalism that are rendered risky. Lending the UK still more money suddenly made little sense as an investment; other options were better.

It is true that the capitalist political economy positions the government in a structurally impossible dilemma. Both employer and employee classes want government services for themselves and likewise want to pay minimal taxes. The wealth and power concentrated with the employer class make them consistently more successful in tilting public finance their way. They get the services they want and likewise, shift the tax burden onto others. When conditions change and no longer enable the employer class to prevail that way in determining what the government does, big changes happen. In the 1930s Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes showed how deficit spending could fix broken capitalism without endangering capitalism itself. In the awful depths of that crash (capitalism’s worst to date), there was no time or space to worry that deficit spending’s “fix” was only partial and temporary or about limits to its effectiveness. That would excuse Keynes, but hardly the multitude of politicians, academics, and journalists who could have and should have seen—but never saw—the scam and the injustice involved.

Will the UK working class learn that prevailing economic theories and policies have always been partisan in the class sense of serving and favoring employers over employees? Most of what passes as “the economic policy we need now” is really pleading by a self-interested employer class. Raising interest rates to fight inflation is the big example these days. Among the forms and fields of class struggle, debunking economic policies’ claims of being class neutral is an ongoing battle.

Author Bio: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, Understanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.

Elon Musk plans to profit from Twitter, not create a town sq​uare for global democracy

The world’s richest man has bought one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is currently worth about $210 billion, and in November 2021 he was worth nearly $300 billion—an unheard-of figure for any individual in human history. Not only does his wealth bode ill for democracy, considering the financial influence that he has over politics, but his acquisition of Twitter, a powerful opinion platform, as a private company also further cements his power.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

To put his money into perspective, if Musk wanted to gift every single Twitter user $800, (given that Twitter has about 238 million regular users) he would still have about $20 billion left over to play with and never ever want for money. Musk’s greed is the central fact to keep in mind when attempting to predict what his ownership of Twitter means.

Musk has shrewdly fostered a reputation for being a genius, deserving of his obscene wealth. But his private texts during Twitter deal negotiations, recently revealed in court documents during legal wrangling over the sale, paint a picture of a simple mind unable to come to terms with his excess. His idea of “fun” is having “huge amounts of money” to play with.

And, he has an outsized opinion of himself. Billionaires like Musk see themselves as being the only ones capable of unleashing greatness in the world. He said as much in his letter to the Twitter board saying, “Twitter has extraordinary potential,” and adding, “I will unlock it.” Such hubris is only natural when one wields more financial power than the human brain is capable of coming to terms with.

Musk has also been adept at cultivating a reputation for having a purist approach to free speech, and diverting attention away from his wealth. Former president Donald Trump, who repeatedly violated Twitter’s standards before eventually being banned, said he’s “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands.” Indeed, there is rampant speculation that Musk will reinstate Trump’s account.

But, Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of Digital Justice and Civil Rights at Free Press, said in an interview earlier this year that Musk is not as much of a free speech absolutist as he is “kind of an anything-goes-for-Twitter future CEO.”

She adds, “I think that vision is one in which he imagines social media moderation of content will just happen. But it doesn’t just happen by magic alone. It must have guardrails.”

The guardrails that Twitter has had so far did not work well enough. It took the company four years of Trump’s violent and inciteful tweets, and a full-scale attack on the U.S. Capitol, to finally ban him from the platform. In the week after Trump and several of his allies were banned, misinformation dropped by a whopping 73 percent on the platform.

Twitter delayed action on Trump’s tweets only because its prime goal is to generate profits, not foster free speech. These are Musk’s goals too, and all indications suggest he will weaken protections, not strengthen them.

According to Benavidez, “His imagined future that Twitter will somehow be an open and accepting square—that has to happen very carefully through a number of things that will increase better moderation and enforcement on the company’s service.” Musk appears utterly incapable of thinking about such things.

Instead, his plans include ideas like charging users $20 a monthto have a verification badge next to their names—a clear nod to his worldview that money ought to determine what is true or who holds power.

Benavidez explains that “because it has helped their bottom lines,” companies like Twitter are “fueling and fanning the flames for the most incendiary content,” such as tweets by former Twitter user Trump and his ilk, incitements to violence, and the promotion of conspiracy theories.

There is much at stake given that Twitter has a strong influence on political discourse. For example, Black Twitter, one of the most important phenomena to emerge from social media, is a loosely organized community of thousands of vocal Black commentators who use the platform to issue powerful and pithy opinions on social and racial justice, pop culture, electoral politics, and more. Black Twitter played a critical role in helping organize and spreading news about protests during the 2020 uprising sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.

But within days of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, thousands of anonymous accounts began bombarding feeds with racist content, tossing around the N-word, leaving members of Black Twitter aghast and traumatized. Yoel Roth, the company’s head of safety and integrity—who apparently still retains his job—tweeted that “More than 50,000 Tweets repeatedly using a particular slur came from just 300 accounts,” suggesting this was an organized and coordinated attack.

Whether or not Musk’s buyout of Twitter will actually succeed in making history’s richest man even richer by rolling out the welcome mat to racist trolls is not clear. Already, numerous celebrities with large followings have closed their Twitter accounts. Hollywood’s top Black TV showrunner, Shonda Rhimes posted her last tweet, saying, “Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye.”

Twitter also impacts journalism. According to a Pew Research study, 94 percent of all journalists in the U.S. use Twitter in their job. Younger journalists favor it the most of all age groups. Journalists covering the automotive industry are worried about whether criticism of Tesla will be tolerated on the platform. And, Reporters Without Borders warned Musk that “Journalism must not be a collateral victim” of his management.

Misinformation and distrust in government lead to apathy and a weakening of democracy. This is good for billionaires like Musk, who has made very clear that he vehemently opposes a wealth tax of the sort that Democrats are backing. Indeed, he has used his untaxed wealth to help buy the platform. If Twitter is capable of influencing public opinion in order to help elect anti-tax politicians, why wouldn’t Musk pursue such a strategy?

Musk has made it clear that he will not be a hands-off owner. He set to work as soon as the deal was cemented by firing Twitter’s top executives and the entire board. As a privately owned company, Twitter will now answer to Musk and his underlings, not to shareholders.

Benavidez summarizes one of the most important lessons that Musk’s purchase offers: “It can’t simply be that this company or that company is owned and at the whim of a single individual who might be bored and want to take on a side project.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Nevada County becomes a harbinger of the chaos that election deniers will wreak

A hand count has been halted. Most voters won’t use computers to vote.

One day after Nevada’s Supreme Court and Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske shut down a hand count of 2022 general election ballots in a rural county whose GOP leaders fell under the spell of 2020 election deniers, the man at the center of that political storm—Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf—was determined to resurrect the controversial process.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Standing outside the Bob Ruud Community Center in Pahrump, an early voting site in a town of 45,000 located at the base of a desert county that stretches for 170 miles along Nevada’s western flank, Kampf said he spent a sleepless night writing a proposal to revive the hand count. It was stopped because observers were hearing how people voted, which is illegal in Nevada before voting ends.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was working on my revised procedure,” he said on Friday, October 28. “The procedure was what I had conceived of before I even got into this office [in August], which was a silent process… They [Cegavske’s staff] might get it tomorrow.”

Inside the voting center on Friday afternoon, it was quiet. As a Democratic Party observer noted, there were more poll workers than voters. A Republican Party observer said there had been no trouble apart from one man trying to bring his gun inside (Nye is a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”) He was told to leave it in his car. Another man who voted in the morning tried to vote again. Poll workers recognized him and told him to leave. The Democratic observer asked about a voter who put their absentee ballot on top of a drop box—not in it.

These mostly calm scenes belie the political issues and stakes raised by Nye County’s rebellion in election administration. Led by Trump Republicans who control the Board of County Commissioners, Nye County has broken with how the rest of Nevada is conducting the 2022 general election in two major ways.

First, until it was halted on October 27, Nye County was conducting a hand count of 2022 general election votes that also were being counted on state-approved voting system computers. The hand count was an effort to assess the accuracy of the computers. Second, county officials want most voters to cast a hand-marked paper ballot, not a computer-marked ballot on a state-approved system.

Across Nevada, most 2022 general election voters will cast a mailed-out ballot—which is a hand-marked paper ballot. In 2021, Nevada’s Democrat-led legislature adopted this way of voting after it was used during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also offers in-person voting before and on Election Day. Almost all Nevada counties use touch screen computers for their in-person voting. These systems use software to record votes, which Nye County’s commissioners no longer trust.

If Nye County executes its plans, it could foreshadow what elections may be like in states should 2020 election-deniers win on November 8.

Political Theater

The hand count has received the most attention and is a reaction to the distrust of computer voting systems by ex-President Donald Trump and his loyal followers. Last March, Jim Marchant, who became Nevada’s 2022 Republican secretary of state nominee, and several 2020 conspiracy theorists made a presentation to the Nye County Board of County Commissioners as the first stop on a statewide tour urging the banning of voting machines and adoption of hand counts.

The GOP-majority commission was swayed. It started pressuring the longtime county clerk, Sandra Merlino, to move to an all-paper, hand-counted election. She opposed that plan and resigned a few months later after 28 years of service in county government. Kampf, a retired corporate executive who specialized in supply chain controls and audits for Fortune 500 companies, was appointed interim clerk. He is expected to be elected on November 8.

Outside the Bob Ruud Community Center on Friday, neither Kampf nor Frank Carbone, a Republican county commissioner standing with him, would say what they distrusted about computer voting systems. Instead, they said that their constituency—the 69 percent of county voters who voted for Trump in 2020—had concerns that must be addressed.

“The Board of County Commissioners made a decision. It said they wanted to go to paper ballots. And that’s what we did,” said Carbone. “It has nothing to do with disliking machines. It had nothing to do with any of that process. The people said this is what they wanted.’”

So, on Wednesday, October 26, six teams of five people—plus political party observers, reporters, and voting rights lawyers watching—started reading aloud every vote that had been cast on a batch of 50 general election ballots and began to manually tally the votes. In 2020’s presidential election, roughly 25,000 votes were cast in Nye County. By day’s end, the teams only got through 50 ballots, because, among other things, counting mistakes were made.

Lawyers from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter noted that they could hear the results, and on Thursday filed an emergency motion saying the hand count violated state law banning the release of results before the close of voting on Election Day.

Hours later, Nevada’s Supreme Court and secretary of state ordered the hand count to immediately stop. The high court told Nye County—meaning Kampf—to work out a hand count procedure that the secretary of state could approve. Kampf stayed up most of Thursday night revising his plans.

Kampf said his revised plan would have three members of each hand-counting team eye every ballot without saying aloud how people voted. They would write down the votes cast. If discrepancies appeared, a recount process would ensue and be documented. Thus, instead of speedy computer tabulators, there would be volunteers parsing bundles of 25 ballots, one contest at a time.

What gets lost in the political drama surrounding these details is that the hand count—which Kampf and Carbone said is to inspire public trust—has become a public relations sideshow. Even though Nye County’s GOP leadership wanted the hand count to replace the state’s official vote-counting process, that preexisting lawful system—as Nevada’s Supreme Court noted—remains in place. The hand count will have no impact on the official tabulation of votes in 2022’s general election. At this point, the hand count is merely an unofficial recount that may take months.

All Hand-Marked Paper Ballots

The more significant ongoing development, at least from an election administration perspective, is what has escaped notice by local and national media. That development is what Nye County is doing to ensure that almost every ballot cast will be a hand-marked paper ballot, not a computer-marked ballot.

In 2021, Nevada joined the handful of states that are mailing every registered voter a paper ballot. But not every voter will vote by mail. Nevada allows voters to opt out from receiving a mailed-out ballot, an acknowledgment that some Republicans, like their ex-president, do not trust any ballot that was not cast in person and counted on Election Day. It was not hard to find such voters in Pahrump.

“I didn’t ask for one,” said Bill Becht, who was manning a booth for the GOP candidate for sheriff. “I received one and promptly threw it in the trash.”

Every Nevada county also will have in-person voting sites. There people can register and vote on the same day. Those who do not want to use a mailed-out ballot can vote. And people with disabilities can use a computer voting station. In most counties, including Nye County before the 2022 general election, the in-person voting was done on a touch screen computer made by Dominion Voting Systems—the vendor demonized by Trump and his ardent followers, which is currently suing Fox News and other defendants in a billion-dollar defamation case.

Dominion’s computer system has voters selecting their candidates by touching a large rectangular screen. The computer, in turn, records the choices on a thumb drive locked inside. After voting ends, the drive is removed by poll workers and taken to county headquarters where its subtotals are compiled into the overall results on a central tabulating computer. Each touch screen voting station also prints the votes on a paper roll that can be seen, but not accessed, by voters.

Nye County is the only Nevada County this fall that will not use the touch screens except when requested by an infirm voter or person with disabilities.

At Nye County’s three early voting sites, there is only one touch screen voting station set up. In contrast, at the community center in Pahrump, there were 36 privacy booths on four rows of tables, where voters would fill out their paper ballot by hand using a pen. An overflow room had additional privacy booths.

Poll workers checking in voters gave out pre-printed paper ballots. (There are 13 different ballots across the county, which vary by local races.) When combined with paper ballots mailed out by the state, Nye County has found a way to replace almost entirely all of its computer ballots with hand-marked paper ballots.

As of noon on October 29, 6,097 mailed-out ballots had been received by the county, the clerk’s office said. An additional 1,125 pre-printed ballots had been given out and cast in person at the early voting sites. Only 53 voters used the computer voting station for people with disabilities. Together, those ballots represented a 17.7 percent voter turnout.

In general, hand-marked ballots are praised by experts because they are a direct record of a voter’s intent. Jennifer Morrell, a former election official now with the Elections Group, a consulting firm that assists officials, said that using all hand-marked paper ballots in polling places with one ballot-marking device for people with disabilities was not uncommon. “I’ve seen it in many jurisdictions across the country that operate a precinct polling location model.”

Both Kampf and officials in the county clerk’s office stressed that they were making sure that the number of legal voters and ballots issued each day was the same—to ensure that no illegal votes were cast. Election officials routinely check this aspect of elections to prevent fraudulent voting or to trace illegal voting.

More Paper Means Later Results

The shutdown of Nye County’s hand count has halted that aspect of its election administration rebellion. It remains to be seen whether Secretary of State Cegavske will accept Kampf’s proposal to restart that process.

But Nye County’s use of hand-marked paper ballots may have other Election Day impacts. If there is a heavy turnout on Election Day, particularly near the close of voting, it is likely that the tasks associated with counting all of the paper ballots will delay the release of its preliminary results until Wednesday, November 9, or later. Such late reporting in 2020 was criticized by Trump as an indication of a corrupt election, although that claim was factually inaccurate.

But if Nevada’s statewide and federal elections come down to the wire, Nye County—whose southern tier is in a U.S. House district now held by a Democrat—could be among the last of Nevada’s counties to report.

That delay would be due to several factors. The clerk’s office, where its central tabulating computers are located, is in Tonopah. That office is where all of the paper ballots are scanned and counted. (The scanner makes a digital image of every side of every ballot. Software then correlates a voter’s ink marks with the ballot’s layout of candidates and ballot measures.)

Tonopah is 168 miles and two-and-one-half hours to the north of Pahrump—on a two-lane highway locals call the “highway of death” because the speed limit is 70, it is unlit at night, and wild horses and burros wander onto the road.

That distance will delay the counting of the last tier of ballots from Pahrump, the county’s population center. Additionally, if the state allows the hand count to resume, Kampf’s staff in Tonopah has to fill out additional chain-of-custody paperwork so the paper ballots can be returned to Pahrump in batches of 25 ballots for the hand count. This will add more time to counting ballots.

Nevada, like many states, has taken steps to speed up its reporting of results. It allows county offices to preprocess mailed-out ballots before Election Day. The paper ballots given out at in-person voting sites can be counted starting on Election Day, which, in Nye County, will help the Tonopah office to get ahead of the ballots that will arrive after voting ends.

But Trump Republicans who oppose any form of voting other than in-person voting on Election Day and who expect results on Election Night are likely to be frustrated. Trump has said anything outside this window cannot be trusted. So even if Nye County is a harbinger of what elections may look like if election-denying candidates win this fall, some aspects of elections won’t change. Producing accurate results, even or perhaps especially in Republican-run counties, takes time.

“It would be nice to have the results by midnight on election night, but it won’t happen that way this time,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, Nye County Democratic Party chair. “That’s another consequence of the Big Lie.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Hand count halted in Nevada county as court rips pro-Trump official

One of the country’s most high-profile efforts by Trump Republicans to avoid using ballot-marking computers in 2022’s midterm elections and instead count votes by hand is coming apart at the seams.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Less than two days after Nye County, Nevada, began a controversial hand count led by an interim county clerk who is a 2020 election denier, Nevada’s Supreme Court and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, issued consecutive orders late on Thursday, October 27, shutting down the operation until after Election Day, November 8.

The twin orders were narrowly focused on a hand count process that interim Clerk Mark Kampf created this fall and debuted on Wednesday, October 26. On its first day, only 50 ballots were hand counted. In the county’s 2020 presidential election, 30,000 ballots were cast by voters, suggesting a full hand count would not finish before the deadlines in state law.

Most of Nye County’s voters are located in its southern tier, which is near Las Vegas. That location makes Nye County a potentially pivotal swing district in one of 2022’s battleground states.

Many of Nevada’s statewide and congressional contests are very close, according to numerous polls, including seats now held by Democrats. Among those are one U.S. House seat and a U.S. Senate seat.

The Nevada Supreme Court order agreed with an emergency motion filed by the ACLU of Nevada earlier on October 27 that contended that the counting process violated other state election laws that require vote counts to remain secret until after Election Day.

The process created by Kampf, which led the ACLU to sue earlier in October, had two people reading aloud the choices made by voters on their ballots, and three other individuals tallying those results. When the hand count commenced on October 26, six teams counted 50 ballots and nearby observers—including ACLU lawyers—heard the voters’ choices. The observers also witnessed many counting errors, causing the teams to recount votes multiple times.

Nevada’s Supreme Court said that reading aloud the results violated state law and ordered the county to cease immediately. It also ordered the county and secretary of state to work out another hand count process that would begin after the November 8 Election Day.

“Observers may not be positioned so as to become privy to the ballot selections and room tallies,” the court’s October 27 order said. “The specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning so as not to violate this mandate is for respondents and the Nevada Secretary of State to determine.”

However, the secretary of state’s rebuke implied that the state and county might not agree on an acceptable hand count process.

“The current Nye County hand counting process must cease immediately and may not resume until after the close of polls on November 8, 2022,” said Cegavske’s October 27 letter. “Further, no alternative hand counting process may proceed until the Secretary of State and Nye County can determine whether there are any feasible ‘specifics of the hand-count process and observer positioning’ that do not ‘violate [the Supreme Court’s] mandate.’”

The issues at the center of the two orders are not the only problems shadowing Nye County’s handling of the 2022 general election.

In the 2020 presidential election, roughly three-quarters of the county’s voters supported Donald Trump. In late 2019, Nye County’s supervisors declared the county was a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” meaning that its citizens could carry weapons into public buildings.

On October 26, a female election worker with a gun tried to confiscate the notes being taken by an ACLU observer. That incident was not the subject of orders by the state Supreme Court and secretary of state.

There are other issues. Voting Booth visited several early voting sites in other rural Nevada counties. Those counties, which are less populous than Nye County, appeared to have far more electronic voting stations per site than Nye County, where Kampf has opposed using the ballot-marking computers.

How insufficiently deploying election equipment will affect the county’s voter turnout is an open question whose impact remains to be seen.

Offloading climate responsibility on the victims of climate change

An interview with Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length from the author’s conversation with Nnimmo Bassey on October 7, 2022. For access to the full interview’s audio and transcript, you can stream this episode on Breaking Green’s website or wherever you get your podcasts. Breaking Green is produced by Global Justice Ecology Project.

In this interview, Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian architect and award-winning environmentalist, author, and poet, talks about the history of exploitation of the African continent, the failure of the international community to recognize the climate debt owed to the Global South, and the United Nations Climate Change Conference that will take place in Egypt in November 2022.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Bassey has written (such as in his book To Cook a Continent) and spoken about the economic exploitation of nature and the oppression of people based on his firsthand experience. Although he does not often write or speak about his personal experiences, his early years were punctuated by civil war motivated in part by “a fight about oil, or who controls the oil.”

Bassey has taken square aim at the military-petroleum complex in fighting gas flaring in the Niger Delta. This dangerous undertaking cost fellow activist and poet Ken Saro-Wiwa his life in 1995.

Seeing deep connections that lead to what he calls “simple solutions” to complex problems like climate change, Bassey emphasizes the right of nature to exist in its own right and the importance of living in balance with nature, and rejects the proposal of false climate solutions that would advance exploitation and the financialization of nature that threatens our existence on a “planet that can well do without us.”

Bassey chaired Friends of the Earth International from 2008 through 2012 and was executive director of Environmental Rights Action for two decades. He was a co-recipient of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, the recipient of the 2012 Rafto Prize, a human rights award, and in 2009, was named one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment. Bassey is the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think tank, and a board member of Global Justice Ecology Project.

Steve Taylor: Climate change is a complex problem, but maybe there’s a simple solution. What might that look like?

Nnimmo Bassey: Simple solutions are avoided in today’s world because they don’t support capital. And capital is ruling the world. Life is simpler than people think. So, the complex problems we have today—they’re all man-made, human-made by our love of complexities. But the idea of capital accumulation has led to massive losses and massive destruction and has led the world to the brink. The simple solution that we need, if we’re talking about warming, is this: Leave the carbon in the ground, leave the oil in the soil, [and] leave the coal in the hole. Simple as that. When people leave the fossils in the ground, they are seen as anti-progress and anti-development, whereas these are the real climate champions: People like the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta, the territory where Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered by the Nigerian state in 1995. Now the Ogoni people have kept the oil in their territory in the ground since 1993. That is millions upon millions of tons of carbon locked up in the ground. That is climate action. That is real carbon sequestration.

ST: Could you talk about the climate debt that is owed to the Global South in general, and African nations in particular?

NB: There’s no doubt that there is climate debt, and indeed an ecological debt owed to the Global South, and Africa in particular. It has become clear that the sort of exploitation and consumption that has gone on over the years has become a big problem, not just for the regions that were exploited, but for the entire world. The argument we’re hearing is that if the financial value is not placed on nature, nobody’s going to respect or protect nature. Now, why was no financial cost placed on the territories that were damaged? Why were they exploited and sacrificed without any consideration or thought about what the value is to those who live in the territory, and those who use those resources? So, if we’re to go the full way with this argument of putting price tags on nature so that nature can be respected, then you have to also look at the historical harm and damage that’s been done, place a price tag on it, recognize that this is a debt that is owed, and have it paid.

ST: You’ve discussed in our interview how some policies meant to address climate change are “false solutions,” particularly those intended to address the climate debt owed to the Global South and to Africa in particular. Could you talk a bit about the misnomer of the Global North’s proposals of so-called “nature-based solutions” to the climate crisis that claim to emulate the practices and wisdom of Indigenous communities in ecological stewardship, but which actually seem like an extension of colonial exploitation—rationalizations to allow the richer nations that are responsible for the pollution to continue polluting.

NB: The narrative has been so cleverly constructed that when you hear, for example, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), everybody says, “Yes, we want to do that.” And now we’re heading to “nature-based solutions.” Who doesn’t want nature-based solutions? Nature provided the solution to the challenges [that Indigenous people have] had for centuries, for millennia. And now, some clever people appropriate the terminology. So that by the time Indigenous communities say they want nature-based solutions, the clever people will say, “well, that’s what we’re talking about.” Whereas they’re not talking about that at all. Everything’s about generating value chains and revenue, completely forgetting about who we are as part of nature. So, the entire scheme has been one insult after another. The very idea of putting a price on the services of Mother Earth, and appropriating financial capital from those resources, from this process, is another horrible way by which people are being exploited.

ST: How does REDD adversely impact local communities on the African continent?

NB: REDD is a great idea, which should be supported by everyone merely looking at that label. But the devil is in the detail. It is made by securing or appropriating or grabbing some forest territory, and then declaring that to be a REDD forest. And now once that is done, what becomes paramount is that it is no longer a forest of trees. It is now a forest of carbon, a carbon sink. So, if you look at the trees, you don’t see them as ecosystems. You don’t see them as living communities. You see them as carbon stock. And that immediately sets a different kind of relationship between those who are living in the forest, those who need the forest, and those who are now the owners of the forest. And so, it’s because of that logic that [some] communities in Africa have lost access to their forests, or lost access to the use of their forests, the way they’d been using [them] for centuries.

ST: As an activist, you have done some dangerous work opposing gas flaring. Could you tell us about gas flaring and how it impacts the Niger Delta?

NB: Gas flaring, simply put, is setting gas on fire in the oil fields. Because when crude oil is extracted in some locations, it could come out of the ground with natural gas and with water, and other chemicals. The gas that comes out of the well with the oil can be easily reinjected into the well. And that is almost like carbon capture and storage. It goes into the well and also helps to push out more oil from the well. So you have more carbon released into the atmosphere. Secondly, the gas can be collected and utilized for industrial purposes or for cooking, or processed for liquefied natural gas. Or the gas could just be set on fire. And that’s what we have, at many points—probably over 120 locations in the Niger Delta. So you have these giant furnaces. They pump a terrible cocktail of dangerous elements into the atmosphere, sometimes in the middle of where communities [reside], and sometimes horizontally, not [with] vertical stacks. So you have birth defects, [and] all kinds of diseases imaginable, caused by gas flaring. It also reduces agricultural productivity, up to one kilometer from the location of the furnace.

ST: The UN climate conference COP27 is coming up in Egypt. Is there any hope for some real change here?

NB: The only hope I see with the COP is the hope of what people can do outside the COP. The mobilizations that the COPs generate in meetings across the world—people talking about climate change, people taking real action, and Indigenous groups organizing and choosing different methods of agriculture that help cool the planet. People just doing what they can—that to me is what holds hope. The COP itself is a rigged process that works in a very colonial manner, offloading climate responsibility on the victims of climate change.

How solidarity helps workers through life’s struggles

Navigating washed-out roads and piles of debris, Mayra Rivera quickly began checking on coworkers and neighbors after Hurricane Fiona battered Puerto Rico in September.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Rivera, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8198, realized she’d spend months if not years helping the island navigate a daunting cleanup and recovery process. But her immediate goal was ensuring community members had the basics:

Safe food. Clean drinking water. And, just as important, a shoulder for survivors to lean on as they began picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

While labor unions continue their traditional fights for decent wages, affordable health care, and safe working conditions, they’re also stepping up to help workers manage stress and the threats to mental health that they encounter on and off the job.

Rivera, whose local represents municipal workers in the southern coastal city of Ponce, collaborated with the USW’s Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education in recent years to deliver disaster and mental resilience training to island communities pummeled by a string of hurricanes and earthquakes.

The training includes techniques for helping families prepare physically and psychologically for disasters, such as assembling “go bags” to sustain them in case of extended evacuations. The program, adapted from resources and materials developed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program, also helps to boost residents’ safety and confidence by demonstrating how to guard against contaminants, downed power lines, and other hazards that hurricanes leave in their wake.

And the training showcases strategies—like providing social support, as Rivera offered in Fiona’s aftermath—to help survivors maintain the resilience essential to persevering after tragedy strikes. Rivera knows that the same solidarity that lifts up workers on the job also can help disaster survivors get through their darkest days.

“They start talking and talking and talking. They need to talk. People need to be heard,” said Rivera, recalling how eagerly residents related their experiences to her after Fiona knocked out power to the entire island, destroyed infrastructure, and flattened entire communities.

Providing this kind of outlet is especially critical, she noted, to maintain hope among people who were still trying to bounce back from five-year-old Hurricane Maria when Fiona walloped them again.

Tarps still covered thousands of homes that lost their roofs during Maria. Fiona destroyed some of the same infrastructure all over again. The wave of disasters created a looming mental health crisis that Rivera says her union is well suited to help address.

“We are a family,” said Rivera, who lost her own farm during Maria and can relate on a personal level with coworkers, neighbors, and others impacted by disaster. “It’s easier for them to open up to us.”

Studies document the therapeutic power of social connections.

Researchers from Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, tracked about 2,200 Hurricane Sandy survivors between the ages of 54 and 80 over a period of years. They found lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among those who experienced higher levels of social cohesion after the storm, which struck Puerto Rico and parts of the United States, along with several other countries, in 2012.

Similarly, a Harvard study found that strong social connections mattered more than material resources, such as food and shelter, in helping elderly survivors cope with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Social interaction even helped to stave off the cognitive decline many survivors experienced after the tragedy.

Disasters exacerbate threats to mental health and give unions special opportunities to help workers and communities endure. But unions also help members combat corrosive, everyday stressors that chip away at their families’ well-being.

Unions bargain strong contracts, for example, with paid sick days, bereavement leave, assistance programs, and other resources to help workers juggle job and family pressures—then zealously enforce those contracts to ensure members actually derive the intended benefits.

USW Local 8599’s contract with the Fontana (California) Unified School District provides leave that workers may use to spend time with dying relatives. When a supervisor tried to block one worker from using the leave, Local President Dawn Dooley immediately intervened with school officials, securing the union member both the time off and peace of mind.

Dooley continually reminds members that they’re never up against management alone. “You have the right to representation,” she says, “even if the conflict occurs at a potluck dinner.”

As more and more Americans report problems with stress, unions seek new ways to leverage the power of solidarity and equip workers in the fight for mental health.

When the communications company TELUS began harassing workers for taking restroom breaks, USW Local 1944 used the grievance process to safeguard members’ rights and safety. But the local, which represents thousands of workers at company call centers across Canada, also launched a broader campaign to protect members from the burnout they risked because of their stressful jobs.

Among other steps, the local’s Women of Steel committee published a series of user-friendly guides on how to address fatigue, anxiety, and depression. The guides explain that burnout is “the consequence of a high-performance culture,” not a personal failure, and emphasize the importance of sharing frustrations with coworkers and union leaders.

“We lift them up and give them a safe space so they can have a conversation,” Local President Donna Hokiro explained. “People feel empowered.”

“We fight for you,” she added of the union, “but we also teach you how to fight for yourself.”

Author Bio: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

A third of 2022 midterm voters may use mailed-out ballots

Growing numbers of voters will mark their ballots at home, latest data finds.

Despite both a torrent of lawsuits attacking every aspect of voting with mailed-out ballots in the 2020 presidential election as well as post-election efforts in GOP-led states to pass laws limiting their use, a record-setting 42 million or more Americans are likely to vote using mailed-out ballots in the 2022 general election—a 40 percent increase from the last midterm election in 2018.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

One of the largest contributing factors to the expected increase in mailed-out ballot voting in the 2022 elections is that a few states, led by California, will mail every voter a ballot after temporarily expanding that voting option during the 2020 presidential election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But another notable cause of the increase is that several battleground states that expanded access to mailed-out ballots in 2020 will also see growing slices of their electorate vote this way in 2022, according to election analysts and campaign data brokers tracking voters this fall.

Those battleground states include Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where the volume of requests by voters for mailed-out ballots is significantly greater than during the last midterm election in 2018.

As of October 13, Florida had 1.3 million more requests for mailed-out ballots for the 2022 election than in all of 2018, according to the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), a nonprofit that promotes this manner of voting and has been tracking its likely use. Michigan had 775,000 more requests in 2022 compared to 2018, Pennsylvania had 1.1 million more, and Wisconsin had 300,000 more.

Nevada, whose U.S. Senate contest is among a handful of races that could decide that body’s majority, also will be mailing every voter a ballot this fall.

“I think it is just people getting comfortable with mailed-out ballots because of the pandemic,” said Gerry Langeler, NVAHI research director.

On the other hand, a few GOP-led states that Donald Trump won in 2020—and where he and his allies attacked this means of voting in court and in the media—are seeing the number of requests for mailed-out ballots in 2022 remain similar or decrease as compared to 2018, according to data collected by NVAHI and Catalist, a campaign data broker serving Democratic candidates.

As of October 13, “26 days from Election Day,” Catalist reported that Arizona and Ohio had comparable numbers of requests for mailed-out ballots to four years ago. The number of requests for mailed-out ballots in Iowa and North Carolina, with competitive U.S. Senate races, had dropped significantly compared to 2018. (Some of this shortfall may be delays in reporting to state officials and brokers, Langeler said.)

Thirty-Five Percent of Midterm Voters?

Broadly speaking, voters have three options to cast ballots: in person before Election Day, in person on Election Day, and using a mailed-out ballot before or on Election Day. Each option has different requirements for the voter before they have a ballot in their hands. (With mailed-out ballots, some states will send every voter a ballot, other states send voters an application before they are sent a mailed-out ballot, and other states require voters to apply on their own and meet specific qualifications.) In general, GOP-led states have more rigorous protocols, although there are some exceptions. Utah mails all registered voters a ballot, for example, which is the same as California and Vermont.

In the 2020 presidential election, a record-setting 65.6 million people voted with mailed-out ballots. Another 35.8 million people voted in person before Election Day, according to the U.S. Elections Project, led by University of Florida professor of political science Michael P. McDonald, one of the nation’s foremost voter turnout experts.

Historically, turnout in midterm elections has been a third or more lower than in presidential elections. But even with an overall lower turnout, the most recent data shows a shift toward mailed-out ballots. Compared to the 2018 midterm elections, when 42.2 million ballots were mailed out and 30.4 million voters used them—resulting in a 71 percent turnout—nearly 54 million ballots have been sent out by mid-October 2022, more than three weeks before 2022’s Election Day.

“As of October 14, 2022, NVAHI estimates that about 18 million more ballots will be mailed out in 2022, compared to 2018—60 million versus 42 million—and that if historic return rates apply, at least 12 million more ballots will be returned (42 million versus 30 million),” a memo from NVAHI said, basing its prediction on 2018’s 71 percent return rate. “If the 2022 turnout rate matches 2018, that will equate to about 118 million votes cast, so mailed-out ballots will account for 35 percent.”

As of October 21, Langeler said that 57.4 million ballots had been requested or mailed out.

“Many states where the voter must request a mailed-out ballot are not yet reporting their volume of requests,” an October 21 update from NVAHI noted. “So, the 2022 numbers will continue to grow over the next few weeks as more voters apply for mailed-out ballots.”

The growing embrace of voting from home is more remarkable because no other means of voting was attacked as vigorously by Trump-supporting Republicans in 2020, according to a detailed report by the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project published in July 2021. It noted that every step of the process in this manner of voting was “the subject of over 260 pre-election lawsuits challenging how the procedures and rules of mail voting apply in the pandemic—an unprecedented volume of litigation on the topic.”

That litigation amplified attacks on mailed-out ballots by top Trump administration officials, such as his Attorney General Bill Barr. In 2022, the former attorney general told the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol that Trump’s stolen election claims had been investigated by the FBI and were “bullshit.” But in late July 2020, then-Attorney General Barr told the House Judiciary Committee that it was “common sense” that foreign countries could corrupt U.S. election results by forging large quantities of mailed-out ballots.

That assertion, like virtually all of Trump’s voter fraud claims, was false, noted Michael P. McDonald in his new book, From Pandemic to Insurrection: Voting in the 2020 US Presidential Election. “It would be incredibly difficult for a foreign government to counterfeit mail ballots such that unwitting election officials counted them,” he wrote.

“A greater threat to mail ballot integrity is that some voters will attempt to cast a mail ballot, only to discover election officials rejected it,” McDonald continued, noting that upwards of 600,000 mailed-out ballots were rejected for a variety of technicalities (from improperly labeling and signing the ballot return envelope to signatures that didn’t match a voter’s registration form). “The minutiae of casting a mail ballot are many… please carefully follow all instructions!

Still, the projected increase in mailed-out ballot use in the 2022 midterm elections will not be uniform nationally, but varies state-by-state and is dependent on each state’s laws.

In 2021, 14 states, mostly led by GOP majorities, rolled back or complicated some aspect of accessing a mailed-out ballot, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. (Those states were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.) In 2022, the Brennan Center reported that restrictive laws were passed in five states that will be in effect for the midterms. (Those states were Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.)

However, in this same period, a greater number of states passed laws expanding access to mailed-out ballots—including California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Vermont, which adopted laws to institute all-mail voting, previously offered only in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

According to the Brennan Center, 16 states expanded or eased some aspect of accessing a mailed-out ballot in 2021. (Those states were California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.) In 2022, the Brennan Center reported, six states passed laws expanding access that will be in effect for the 2022 midterms. (Those states were Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.)

While a handful of states passed laws that the Brennan Center characterized as “restrictive” and “expansive”—a sign that using mailed-out ballots in those states is highly regulated—the likely impact on the 2022 midterm elections is that a third or more of the nation’s voters will cast their votes via mailed-out ballots.

The development in the method of voter participation in which 42 million or more Americans are likely to vote from home is a paradigm shift among the electorate.

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

What Social Security should actually be paying to survive in this economy

Social Security is one of the most popular and progressive government programs in the United States. But Republicans, who try to obscure their real agenda, are bent on cutting it.

Inflation continues to rise in the United States. Although gas prices have recently fallen since their record high over the summer, the cost of groceries rose by 11.4 percent over the last year, and there is no expectation that they will fall back to reasonable levels. Prices overall have risen by 8.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index report covering September 2022 as compared to the same month last year. While most working Americans are not getting hefty wage raises to compensate for inflation, seniors will see their Social Security benefits—which are pegged to inflation—rise next year. Starting in January 2023, beneficiaries will see an 8.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) bump in their Social Security checks.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Conservatives are scoffing at this automated increase, as if it were a special treat that the Biden administration has cooked up to bribe older voters. Fox News reported that there was a “social media backlash” against White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s tweet lauding the upcoming increased COLA benefits for seniors. The outlet elevated comments by the conservative America First Policy Institute’s Marc Lotter, who retorted to Klain, “Nice try Ron. Raising benefits next year does not help seniors with the higher prices they are paying today or the higher prices they’ve been paying since you took office.”

But Social Security benefits have risen automatically with inflation since 1975 by design, precisely so that the livelihoods of seniors are not beholden to partisanship. This is an imminently sensible way to ensure that retired Americans, who spent their working lives paying Social Security taxes, can have a basic income.

If conservatives are complaining that an 8.7 percent bump is not enough to counter inflation, one might expect them to demand an even greater increase to Social Security benefits.

But, as is often the case with conservative economic logic, hypocrisy abounds. Bloomberg Government reporter Jack Fitzpatrick recently reported that several House Republicans who are vying to chair next year’s House Budget Committee if their party wins a majority in the November 2022 general elections are crafting plans for reductions, not increases. They hope to leverage negotiations on raising the 2023 debt ceiling by demanding cuts to Social Security and Medicare—programs that the GOP loves to deceptively label “entitlements.”

Fitzpatrick, using conservatives’ nakedly partisan language, said that Republican negotiators “could subsequently put major entitlement programs in play.” One of the GOP members of Congress eyeing the committee leadership, Georgia’s Buddy Carter, was more forthcoming about his plan, saying, “Our main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary—it’s got to be on entitlements.” Another Republican lawmaker, Jodey Arrington of Texas, also hoping to chair the crucial committee, understood the value of discretion when discussing cuts to programs favored by his constituents. He warned his Republican colleagues against getting too specific because “this can get so politicized.”

But Republicans have been demanding cuts to so-called entitlement programs for at least the past seven years running, in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Oddly, the Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler found no evidence to back up Democratic Senator Patty Murray’s recent claim that “Republicans plan to end Social Security and Medicare if they take back the Senate.” Awarding Murray four “Pinocchios”—the Fact Checker column’s highest possible rating for lies—Kessler assured readers, saying, “Don’t worry, seniors: There is no such plan.” (In the hundreds of comments on the piece, many readers called out Kessler’s obvious service to Republicans in helping to hide their agenda.)

Social Security is one of the best, most popular government-funded programs in the nation. I recently explained its workings to my parents who emigrated from the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. a year ago. The custom they are familiar with in countries like the UAE is that of a “gratuity” or severance, paid to retiring workers—a lump-sum tip—based on their salary and number of years worked.

I explained that in contrast, U.S. workers pay a small percentage of their wages into the Social Security fund their entire working life. Upon retirement, workers draw a monthly sum based on their salary, years worked, and the current cost of living. While this may not sound as enticing as receiving a large sum of money at once, the monthly payments will never run out and last from retirement until death. My parents were duly impressed.

This year, to mark the 87th anniversary of Social Security, Data for Progress found in a poll that the program remains extremely popular and that a majority of voters want to increase benefits.

Those surveyed also worried that Congress could cut current or future benefits, or privatize the program. Most had not heard about Republican plans for cuts, however, suggesting that the efforts to hide the GOP’s real agenda have generally worked.

And, most were in favor of a very simple solution to ensure that Social Security’s funds don’t run out as revenues have dropped due to increasing inequality, and life expectancy has increased: make the wealthy pay their fair share. Social Security payroll taxes are capped at $147,000 in wages currently (and beginning in 2023 will increase a modest 9 percent to $160,200). That means those earning a million dollars a year in 2022 pay the same amount into Social Security as those earning $150,000. Removing the cap ensures that the fund will remain solvent and stable.

Social Security, in spite of some flaws, is also one of the nation’s most progressive programs, helping to further racial and gender justice among older Americans.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), “Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and less opportunity to save and earn pensions, including Black and Latino workers and their families, who face higher poverty rates during their working lives and in old age.”

Furthermore, CBPP finds that “Social Security is especially important for women, because they tend to earn less than men, take more time out of the paid workforce, live longer, accumulate less savings, and receive smaller pensions.”

In spite of enduring Republican desires to cut the program, it is not nearly as generous as it ought to be. A global comparison of government retirement benefits by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2019 found that the U.S. ranked 24th on the ratio of worker benefits to earnings. This is below average for OECD countries, and lower than the benefits paid by countries like Turkey, Greece, Estonia, and Latvia, in spite of the U.S. being the richest nation in the world.

In other words, there is a basis for the conservative critique that an 8.7 percent increase in Social Security benefits slated for 2023 is insufficient. But the solution is to make benefits more generous, rather than to cut the program as Republicans aim to do.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Election deniers and defenders poised for next voting war battle

There is little doubt that pro-Trump Republicans are going to challenge voters and contest results that they do not like in 2022’s general election. And should they lose those challenges and contests, they are not likely to accept the results.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The warning signs are everywhere.

There are recruitment drives to challenge voters and voter registrations. There are instructions to disrupt the process and counting of votes. There are assertions not to trust any vote-counting computer. Some general election candidates are already claiming that the results will be rigged unless they win.

Election officials and their defenders are anticipating these actions. They have written and shared guides on how to deal with subversive poll workers and unruly party observers. Election officials have been urged to build relationships with the press before crises hit, and tell stories about “friends and neighbors” who run the process to build trust. They are being reminded to bolster cybersecurity, be calm and professional, and use posters and handouts that explain the process.

But as the November 8, 2022, Election Day nears, it appears that the people most likely to be attacking and defending the process are, in many respects, talking past each other. What the critics are seeking—a level of simplicity and transparency in the vote-counting protocols and rules—is not what is being teed up and offered to the public in defense of the voting to come.

“In a lot of these close races, the margins are not going to be close enough for a recount, but close enough that the election deniers will be able to attack the results,” said Chris Sautter, an election lawyer who has specialized in post-election challenges and recounts since the 1980s. “The margin that triggers recounts is much smaller than the margin that will trigger attacks.”

Stepping back, a key question that has hovered over the investigations by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol remains: How much can the electoral system be stressed before it breaks, whether from disruptions, disinformation, partisan interference, or something else that is unexpected but swirls out of control later this fall?

“We will soon find out if American democracy is robust enough,” concluded the New Yorker’s Sue Halpern, in an October 4 report that detailed how “Republican-led legislatures and right-wing activists alike are making things more difficult for election officials.”

The Coming Attacks

There have been no signs in recent months that pro-Trump Republicans have tempered their belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Instead, there are ample signs that their mindset is becoming more belligerent.

In early August, after the FBI raided the ex-president’s home in Mar-a-Lago to retrieve secret documents that should not have left the White House, there was an uptick in social media posts threatening a coming “civil war.” On August 29, Trump again cited baseless 2020 conspiracies and demanded a new election.

Trump loyalists and copycat candidates have built on these sentiments.

Matt Braynard, an ex-Trump campaign staffer whose claims that voter fraud tilted the 2020 election have been debunked by media fact-checkers, nonetheless announced plans on October 5 to “challenge votes” in nine battleground states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—and is recruiting volunteers.

Days before, at an October 1 forum in Arizona, Shawn Smith, a retired Air Force Colonel, member of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and president of Cause of America, another election-denying group, told the audience that no voting system computer is reliable. “The people telling you they are secure are either ignorant or lying,” he said, before naming 10 of the nation’s top election regulators, election administration experts, and voting industry spokespeople. These experts are some of the same people now advising local election officials on how to respond to threats this fall.

Jim Hoft, the founder and editor of the Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump website that has championed Trump’s false stolen election claims and sees the January 6 insurrectionists as heroes, has gone further. On October 3, his site published an “action list… to save our elections from fraud,” whose instructions include urging party observers inside election offices to “escalate,” “disrupt,” or “require a temporary shut-down of the faulty area” if they see anything suspicious. The action list also recommended that postal workers should be followed, “incident reports” should be prepared, and lawyers should “[f]ile lawsuits demanding oversight.”

“Patriots must register as poll workers, observers, and get involved,” Hoft wrote. “But we must do more.”

Meanwhile, candidates who have embraced Trump and his “big lie,” such as Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake in her August primary or New Hampshire GOP U.S. Senate nominee Don Bolduc on October 10, said the vote count was rigged in 2020 and was likely to be rigged again this fall.

“And as long as we have this type of fraud and irregularities that are susceptible to our system across this country, we are going to be in big trouble,” Bolduc told a radio interviewer. “So, it’s less about whether we focus on 2020[’s] stolen election and [more about] how we focus on how we’re going to win in 2022 and [that we] don’t let it happen.”

Arming Election Defenders

Meanwhile, nearly a dozen organizations—from federal agencies tasked with cybersecurity, to nonprofits specializing in voting rights and running elections, to professional organizations of election administrators, to consulting firms staffed by former election officials—have been preparing and sharing guides, tools, and taking other steps to defend the process and the 2022 general election’s results.

“Thanks to the folks at… [the Alliance for Securing Democracy,] Brennan Center, Bipartisan Policy Center, Bridging Divides Initiative, Center for Election Innovation & Research, Center for Tech and Civic Life, CISA [U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency], The Elections Group, National Association for Media Literacy Education, and National Association of State Election Directors for all the work they’ve done for elections officials and for providing the resources here,” wrote Mindy Moretti, editor of Electionline.org, a news and information hub for election officials, in an October 6 weekly column that listed and linked to more than 40 publications, guides, and other resources.

The topics covered include audits, communications, cybersecurity, election management, election security at polls and operations centers, legal advice, mis/disinformation, insider threats by election workers, poll worker security gaps, de-escalation techniques, nonconfrontational training strategies, standards of conduct for election workers, testing voting systems, voting by mail, and more.

The “De-Escalation Guidance for Poll Workers,” from Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative, for example, emphasizes planning, training, and monitoring one’s responses.

“Familiarize yourself with federal and state laws and guidance on polling place disruptions and unauthorized militia,” it said✎ EditSign in its section on planning. “Remember the goal is not to win an argument but to calm verbal disruptions and prevent physical disruptions,” it advised as part of its training guidance. “While de-escalating don’t: order, threaten, attempt to argue disinformation, or be defensive.”

“As trite as it sounds, you need to take control of the ‘narrative’ before it takes control of you,” wrote Pam Fessler, a former National Public Radio reporter who covered elections for two decades there, in “Telling Our Story: An Elections Communications Guide,” written for the Elections Group, a consulting firm run by former election officials.

“Of all the stories you have to tell, the most important one is this: ‘Our elections are safe and secure, and run by Americans you can trust,’” Fessler’s communications guide said. “It’s about feelings and belief, more than numbers and facts. Those who question the legitimacy of elections refer to what they believe are ‘facts’ about voting discrepancies, but their appeal is largely emotional: ‘People are trying to steal our elections; we need to take our country back.’”

“You can counter by appealing to these same emotions—patriotism, desire for freedom and civic pride,” it continued. “You might even find common ground. Many of those who question the voting process believe they too are defending democracy and that if they don’t, they risk losing control of their lives.”

Ships in the Night?

Arguably, the country has not seen as wide an array of proactive measures among election officials to anticipate and counter potential disruptions and propaganda. In 2020’s general election, the focus concerned implementing new protocols that surrounded mailed-out ballots and safer in-person voting—as COVID-19 vaccines were not yet available—and cybersecurity to protect voter and ballot data.

However, what is not emphasized in these tools is what some pro-Trump Republicans say that they have been specifically seeking, which is easily understood evidence that results are accurate. That desire is behind their movement’s push for states to stop using vote-counting computers and to count all ballots by hand.

Pro-Trump legislators in six states (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia) introduced bills in 2022 to ban these computers. A handful of rural towns and counties have put forth measures to require hand counts and a few have passed, including in Nye County, Nevada, a swing state. Candidates such as Arizona’s gubernatorial nominee Lake and GOP secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem have sued to require hand counts. (They lost in court in September rulings but have appealed.)

Beyond studies that have also shown that electronic vote-count systems are more accurate than hand counts (which are error-prone due to their repetitive nature and can take days to complete), the current timelines in many states between Election Day and when the official results must be certified do not accommodate hand counts—especially in states where millions of ballots are cast.

Moreover, the margins in state law that trigger recounts (which come after the results are certified) are generally 1 percent or less. That volume is much smaller than the volume of votes that pro-Trump Republicans have claimed were suspect in 2020—even though they never offered any proof that was accepted by a court.

Thus, while election officials and their defenders might be preparing to convince reasonable Americans that the voting and counting is accurate and legitimate, it appears that pro-Trump Republicans who did not accept 2020’s results will not find much to be reassured by—since their movement’s self-appointed IT experts continue to say that election system computers cannot be trusted.

These factors and seemingly irreconcilable views are poised to collide after November 8. This is why growing numbers of pundits are starting to ask aloud if the system will hold under the coming stress test from election deniers.

“Until we are able to return to the point where the losing side accepts the vote count as valid, we’re going to be trapped in a world of election wars,” said Sautter. “Of course, transparency, public oversight, and public access are paramount to restoring faith in our elections so that we can get to that point.”

Author Bio: Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

New discoveries about human prehistory are opening up revolutionary possibilities

Discoveries in the fields of human origins, paleoanthropology, cognitive science, and behavioral biology have accelerated in the past few decades. We occasionally bump into news reports that new findings have revolutionary implications for how humanity lives today—but the information for the most part is still packed obscurely in the worlds of science and academia.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Some experts have tried to make the work more accessible, but Deborah Barsky’s new book, Human Prehistory: Exploring the Past to Understand the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2022), is one of the most authoritative yet. The breadth and synthesis of the work are impressive, and Barsky’s highly original analysis on the subject—from the beginnings of culture to how humanity began to be alienated from the natural world—keeps the reader engaged throughout.

Long before Jane Goodall began telling the world we would do well to study our evolutionary origins and genetic cousins, it was a well-established philosophical creed that things go better for humanity the more we try to know ourselves.

Barsky, a researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and associate professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, who came to this field through her decades of studying ancient stone tool technologies, writes early in her book that lessons learned from the remote past could guide our species toward a brighter future, but “that so much of the information that is amassed by prehistoric archeologists remains inaccessible to many people” and “appears far removed from our daily lives.” I reached out to Barsky in the early stage of her book launch to learn more.

Jan Ritch-Frel: What would you suggest a person consider as they hold a 450,000-year-old handaxe for the first time?

Deborah Barsky: I think everyone feels a deep-seated reverence when touching or holding such an ancient tool. Handaxes in particular carry so many powerful implications, including on the symbolic level. You have to imagine that these tear-shaped tools—the ultimate symbol of the Acheulian—appeared in Africa some 1.75 million years ago and that our ancestors continued creating and re-creating this same shape from that point onwards for more than a million and a half years!

These tools are the first ones recognized as having been made in accordance with a planned mental image. And they have an aesthetic quality, in that they present both bilateral and bifacial symmetry. Some handaxes were made in precious or even visually pleasing rock matrices and were shaped with great care and dexterity according to techniques developed in the longest-enduring cultural norm known to humankind.

And yet, in spite of so many years of studying handaxes, we still understand little about what they were used for, how they were used, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not they carry with them some kind of symbolic significance that escapes us. There is no doubt that the human capacity to communicate through symbolism has been hugely transformative for our species.

Today we live in a world totally dependent on shared symbolic thought processes, where such constructs as national identity, monetary value, religion, and tradition, for example, have become essential to our survival. Complex educational systems have been created to initiate our children into mastering these constructed realities, integrating them as fully as possible into this system to favor their survival within the masses of our globalized world. In the handaxe we can see the first manifestations of this adaptive choice: to invest in developing symbolic thought. That choice has led us into the digital revolution that contemporary society is now undergoing. Yet, where all of this will lead us remains uncertain.

JRF: Your book shows that it is more helpful to us if we consider the human story and evolution as less of a straight line and more so as one that branches in different ways across time and geography. How can we explain the past to ourselves in a clear and useful way to understand the present?

DB: One of the first things I tell my students is that in the field of human prehistory, one must grow accustomed to information that is in a constant state of flux, as it changes in pace with new discoveries that are being made on nearly a daily basis.

It is also important to recognize that the pieces composing the puzzle of the human story are fragmentary, so that information is constantly changing as we fill in the gaps and ameliorate our capacity to interpret it. Although we favor scientific interpretations in all cases, we cannot escape the fact that our ideas are shaped by our own historical context—a situation that has impeded correct explanations of the archeological record in the past.

One example of this is our knowledge of the human family that has grown exponentially in the last quarter of a century thanks to new discoveries being made throughout the world. Our own genus, Homo, for example, now includes at least five new species, discovered only in this interim.

Meanwhile, genetic studies are taking major steps in advancing the ways we study ancient humans, helping to establish reliable reconstructions of the (now very bushy) family tree, and concretizing the fact that over millions of years multiple hominin species shared the same territories. This situation continued up until the later Paleolithic, when our own species interacted and even reproduced together with other hominins, as in the case of our encounters with the Neandertals in Eurasia, for example.

While there is much conjecture about this situation, we actually know little about the nature of these encounters: whether they were peaceful or violent; whether different hominins transmitted their technological know-how, shared territorial resources together, or decimated one another, perhaps engendering the first warlike behaviors.

One thing is sure: Homo sapiens remains the last representative of this long line of hominin ancestors and now demonstrates unprecedented planetary domination. Is this a Darwinian success story? Or is it a one-way ticket to the sixth extinction event—the first to be caused by humans—as we move into the Anthropocene Epoch?

In my book, I try to communicate this knowledge to readers so that they can better understand how past events have shaped not only our physical beings but also our inner worlds and the symbolic worlds we share with each other. It is only if we can understand when and how these important events took place—actually identify the tendencies and put them into perspective for what they truly are—that we will finally be the masters of our own destiny. Then we will be able to make choices on the levels that really count—not only for ourselves, but also for all life on the planet. Our technologies have undoubtedly alienated us from these realities, and it may be our destiny to continue to pursue life on digital and globalized levels. We can’t undo the present, but we can most certainly use this accumulated knowledge and technological capacity to create far more sustainable and “humane” lifeways.

JRF: How did you come to believe that stone toolmaking was the culprit for how we became alienated from the world we live in?

DB: My PhD research at Perpignan University in France was on the lithic assemblages from the Caune de l’Arago cave site in southern France, a site with numerous Acheulian habitation floors that have been dated to between 690,000 and 90,000 years ago. During the course of my doctoral research, I was given the exceptional opportunity to work on some older African and Eurasian sites. I began to actively collaborate in international and multidisciplinary teamwork (in the field and in the laboratory) and to study some of the oldest stone tool kits known to humankind in different areas of the world. This experience was an important turning point for me that subsequently shaped my career as I oriented my research more and more towards understanding these “first technologies.”

More recently, as a researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA) in Tarragona, Spain, I continue to investigate the emergence of ancient human culture, in particular through the study of a number of major archeological sites attributed to the so-called “Oldowan” technocomplex (after the eponymous Olduvai Gorge Bed I sites in Tanzania). My teaching experience at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and Rovira i Virgili University (Tarragona) helped me to articulate my findings through discussions and to further my research with students and colleagues.

Such ancient tool kits, some of which date to more than 2 million years ago, were made by the hands of hominins who were very different from ourselves, in a world that was very distinct from our own. They provide a window of opportunity through which to observe some of the cognitive processes employed by the early humans who made and used them. As I expanded my research, I discovered the surprising complexity of ancient stone toolmaking, eventually concluding that it was at the root of a major behavioral bifurcation that would utterly alter the evolutionary pathways taken by humankind.

Early hominins recognizing the advantages provided by toolmaking made the unconscious choice to invest more heavily in it, even as they gained time for more inventiveness. Oldowan tool kits are poorly standardized and contain large pounding implements, alongside small sharp-edged flakes that were certainly useful, among other things, for obtaining viscera and meat resources from animals that were scavenged as hominins competed with other large carnivores present in the paleolandscapes in which they lived. As hominins began to expand their technological know-how, successful resourcing of such protein-rich food was ideal for feeding the developing and energy-expensive brain.

Meanwhile, increased leisure time fueled human inventiveness, and stone tool production—and its associated behaviors—grew ever more complex, eventually requiring relatively heavy investments into teaching these technologies to enable them to pass onwards into each successive generation. This, in turn, established the foundations for the highly beneficial process of cumulative learning that was later coupled with symbolic thought processes such as language that would ultimately favor our capacity for exponential development. This also had huge implications, for example, in terms of the first inklings of what we call “tradition”—ways to make and do things—that are indeed the very building blocks of culture. In addition, neuroscientific experiments undertaken to study the brain synapses involved during toolmaking processes show that at least some basic forms of language were likely needed in order to communicate the technologies required to manufacture the more complex tools of the Acheulian (for example, handaxes).

Moreover, researchers have demonstrated that the areas of the brain activated during toolmaking are the same as those employed during abstract thought processes, including language and volumetric planning. I think that it is clear from this that the Oldowan can be seen as the start of a process that would eventually lead to the massive technosocial database that humanity now embraces and that continues to expand ever further in each successive generation, in a spiral of exponential technological and social creativity.

JRF: Did something indicate to you at the outset of your career that archeology and the study of human origins have a vital message for humanity now? You describe a conceptual process in your book whereby through studying our past, humanity can learn to “build up more viable and durable structural entities and behaviors in harmony with the environment and innocuous to other life forms.”

DB: I think most people who pursue a career in archeology do so because they feel passionate about exploring the human story in a tangible, scientific way. The first step, described in the introductory chapters of my book, is choosing from an ever-widening array of disciplines that contribute to the field today. From the onset, I was fascinated by the emergence and subsequent transformation of early technologies into culture. The first 3 million years of the human archeological record are almost exclusively represented by stone tools. These stone artifacts are complemented by other kinds of tools—especially in the later periods of the Paleolithic, when bone, antler, and ivory artifacts were common—alongside art and relatively clear habitational structures.

It is one thing to analyze a given set of stone tools made by long-extinct hominin cousins and quite another to ask what their transposed significance to contemporary society might be.

As I began to explore these questions more profoundly, numerous concrete applications did finally come to the fore, thus underpinning how data obtained from the prehistoric register is applicable when considering issues such as racism, climate change, and social inequality that plague the modern globalized world.

In my opinion, the invention and subsequent development of technology was the inflection point from which humanity was to diverge towards an alternative pathway from all other life forms on Earth. We now hold the responsibility to wield this power in ways that will be beneficial and sustainable to all life.

Author Bio: Jan Ritch-Frel is the executive director of the Independent Media Institute.

Healthy ecosystems need birds. But billions fatally strike glass windows every year

Birds cannot see glass windows, fatally crashing in alarming numbers. That’s bad for them, humans, and the environment.

Glass windows have existed since as long ago as 290 CE, if only in a limited supply of small sheets. It seems fair to say that window glass has enriched human aesthetic, cultural, physiological, and psychological well-being for at least 16 centuries. Even one small pane is enough to admit a bit of the sun’s light and warmth into an enclosed space. The tendency of builders—and the willingness of their clients—to use this product in large quantities apparently resulted from the need of human society to seek safety within the solid walls of dwellings away from the reach of marauders. Sheet glass permitted viewing the out-of-doors from the comfort and protection of indoors. In the Middle Ages, ecclesiastical interests led to the lavish use of both tinted and clear panes. These windows were used in the cathedrals of Europe and then in the domestic dwellings of the rich, especially in Tudor England. The technical ability to manufacture large sheets of glass was developed at the turn of the 20th century. With the building boom that followed World War II, 1945 to the present, flat glass has become a prominent, even dominating, construction material used in the majority of human dwellings and other structures. In 2009, 6.6 billion square miles (17 billion square kilometers) of flat glass was manufactured worldwide, which is about the area of the U.S. state of Delaware, at a value of $23.54 billion. The amount of glass used in construction has continued to increase annually.

This excerpt is from Solid Air: Invisible Killer—Saving Billions of Birds from Windows by Daniel Klem Jr. (Hancock House, 2021) and was edited and produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The history of window glass as a source of bird fatalities is similarly ancient and progressive. The confirming obituaries, however, do not begin to appear in the literature until well after 1800, with the development of modern ornithology in Europe and North America. Thomas Nuttall published the first scientifically documented window fatality in his 1832 book A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and of Canada. He described how a hawk in pursuit of prey flew through two panes of greenhouse glass only to be stopped by a third. The next account was by Spencer F. Baird and his colleagues Thomas M. Brewer and Robert Ridgway in Volume 1 of their 1874 three-volume work A History of North American Birds. They described how a shrike struck the outside of a clear pane while attempting to reach a caged canary.

To put the scale of losses by various human-related bird killers in perspective, my speaking and writing, starting in the late 1980s, included “sound bite” tactics. The purpose was to capture the attention of anyone who might be moved to listen and take action. One such tactic involves comparing bird losses at windows to those from higher-visibility oil spills. Prominent oil spills that have captured international attention as environmental disasters include the Exxon Valdez disaster and the more recent Deepwater Horizon fire and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. By any assessment, the Exxon Valdez oil spill was a horrific environmental disaster. The oil tanker Exxon Valdez released 260,000 barrels of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. The spill was estimated to have killed 100,000 to 300,000 marine birds. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill is estimated to have caused as many as 2 million bird deaths. By contrast, in the 1970s my original and lowest estimate of losses from window collisions in the U.S. alone was 100 million bird kills a year. This minimum window-kill number equals the toll from 333 annual Exxon Valdez disasters and 100 Deepwater Horizon oil spills every year. Yet those writing in the media about assaults on the Earth’s environment are either unaware, unconvinced, or willing to overlook the horrific loss of bird life occurring at windows.

In 2013, expressing concern and emphasizing the interconnectedness of life, Travis Longcore and P.A. Smith, writing in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, warned that avian deaths from windows and other human-associated mortality factors pose a growing deleterious effect on the world’s ecosystems and the goods and services birds provide them.

In a money-centered world, those goods and services are getting increased attention, especially considering what it might cost to have humans try to do the same work. Pest control is one service birds provide that contributes to productive yields of valuable crops such as coffee and grapes. They also provide public health benefits such as consuming insect disease vectors and scavenging the dead. They play a role in pollination and seed dispersal and provide high-quality fertilizer from seabird guano. Birds also serve as ultra-sensitive indicators of environmental health on the local, regional, and global levels. The “web of life” that Alexander von Humboldt described as essential to the health and very existence of humankind is as relevant today as it was when he wrote about it two centuries ago. Like every other living being, birds are an essential part of that complex, interacting super-organism that encompasses all life.

One of the most dramatic pest control events occurred in 1848, in what is now the city of Great Salt Lake, Utah. To many, the event was a true miracle. California gulls (Larus californicus) descended on the so-called “Mormon crickets” (Anabrus simplex), an insect that is not actually a cricket but a katydid that grows to 8 centimeters (3 inches) and voraciously consumes vegetation. Crops and even their own are on the menu during their swarming phase that can see them move across 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of agricultural fields in a day. These gulls were credited with saving about 4,000 Mormon pioneers by eating the katydids and preventing them from consuming their second harvest. As a grateful tribute, a monument to the California gull today stands prominently in Salt Lake City, commemorating the life-saving service of this bird to people.

The services of mosquito-eating birds contribute to limiting the spread and prevention of malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases. This is a particularly important aid in tropical climates, where several species, but especially martins and swallows, have protected Indigenous people from the earliest times until now. Vultures the world over are specifically adapted to removing the dead and with them the accompanying organisms that spread diseases among humans and other animals. At the turn of the 21st century, the dramatic disappearance of vultures in India virtually eliminated the service they provided in scavenging livestock carcasses. The consequence of this loss was an estimated 48,000 human deaths between 1992 to 2006 from rabies and a cost of $34 billion to the national economy. Other vulture-connected health-related costs of $24 billion were linked to the increase in scavenging feral dogs and rats that carry rabies and bubonic plague, respectively, in addition to other human-susceptible diseases.

Hummingbirds offer pollinating services for commercial flowering plants and many human foods. The dispersal of seeds by fruit-eating birds ensures reforestation and with it ecological succession that consists of a chain of changes in habitat that provides homes to variously adapted life—including diverse bird species and the food and shelter they require to survive and sustain healthy populations.

One practical service birds provide is preying on insects across the boreal and temperate forests of North America. Given the number of species preying on insects, collectively the presence of birds can have meaningful consequences for the health of the trees in these forests. Martin Nyffeler and his colleagues, writing in the journal the Science of Nature in 2018, estimated that the world’s insectivorous birds annually consume 400 to 500 million metric tons of insects per year. Forest birds account for 70 percent of this amount, or greater than 300 million tons a year. Especially for forests, the ecological and economic importance of birds eating harmful insect pests has tangible worldwide value.

Author Bio: Daniel Klem Jr. is the Sarkis Acopian Professor of Ornithology and Conservation Biology at Muhlenberg College.

600 million metric tons of plastic may fill Earth's oceans by 2036 without immediate action

Fossil fuel stakeholders have been seeking new revenue in the petrochemical industry in general, and plastics in particular.

As the private transportation sector shifts focus to batteries, biofuels, and green hydrogen, fossil fuel stakeholders have been seeking new avenues of revenue in the petrochemical industry in general, and in plastics in particular. That’s bad news for a world already swimming—literally—in plastic pollution. Product manufacturers and other upstream forces could reverse the petrochemical trend, but only if they—along with policymakers, voters, and consumers—continue to push for real change beyond the business-as-usual strategy of only advocating for post-consumer recycling.

This article first appeared on Truthout and was produced in partnership with Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Plastic, Plastic Everywhere

Some signs of change are beginning to emerge. Public awareness is growing over the plastic pollution crisis, including the area of microplastics. A study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund in 2020 found 86 percent of consumers in the United States were willing to support measures to cut down on plastic pollution, such as single-use plastic bag bans and increased recycling. Private sector efforts to reduce plastic packaging are also beginning to take effect.

However, these trends won’t necessarily lead to a global slowdown in plastic production or use, let alone a reversal. The United States, for example, is both a leading producer of plastic and the largest source of plastic waste in the world. The OECD estimates that, under a “business-as-usual” scenario, plastic waste will triple globally by 2060. Petrochemical producers are also eyeing growing markets in Asia and Africa.

Even if some nations kick the plastic habit, the global benefit of their efforts could easily be offset by rising demand for plastics elsewhere in the world. In a 2016 report titled, “The New Plastics Economy,” the World Economic Forum (WEF) noted that global plastic production totaled 311 million metric tons in 2014, up from just 15 million metric tons in 1964. The WEF also anticipated that the total plastic production would double to more than 600 million metric tons by 2036.

One key driver that is fueling plastic production is the increased availability of low-cost natural gas in the U.S., which was a result of the George W. Bush administration’s successful efforts to lift Clean Water Act protections on shale gas operations, resulting in “billions of gallons of toxic frack fluid from being regulated as industrial waste,” according to Greenpeace USA. By 2018, the shale gas boom of the early 2000s was credited with stimulating a decade-long petrochemical buildout in the U.S. totaling 333 chemical industry projects since 2010, with a cumulative value of $202.4 billion. Of interest from a global perspective, almost 70 percent of the financing was from direct or indirect foreign sources.

Another driving force on the supply side is the shift from crude oil (petrol) to oil for plastic production, a trend fostered in part by a glut of ethane produced by the fracking boom. The decarbonization of the transportation sector does not necessarily slow down crude oil production to refineries. “As traditional demands for oil—vehicle fuels—are declining as the transport sector is increasingly electrified, the oil industry is seeing plastics as a key output that can make up for losses in other markets,” noted a November 2021 article in the Conversation. Consequently, refiners are becoming more dependent on the petrochemical market.

Steppingstone to Change: Recycling

The impacts of plastic production and waste are already manifold, from the local destruction and greenhouse gas emissions caused by oil and gas drilling and refinery operations to the ever-increasing load of plastic waste in the environment including microparticles in the air, water, soil, food supply, and ultimately in the human body.

Plastic is also a major threat to wildlife, and in particular, marine species, as so much plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans. Unless we take concrete steps and “change how we produce, use and dispose of plastic, the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple from 9-14 million… [metric tons] per year in 2016 to a projected 23-37 million… [metric tons] per year by 2040,” according to the United Nations Environment Program.

Fossil energy stakeholders have long touted a downstream solution to reduce plastic pollution—namely, recycling. The generations-long failure of this strategy is all too obvious: As the United Nations Environment Program points out, “Of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste generated globally so far [since the 1950s], less than 10 percent has been recycled.” Despite recent advances in recycling technology, the amount of recycled plastic in the production stream mostly remains pitifully low across the world. Nations with lax environmental regulations—mainly poor countries—have become destinations for mountains of mismanaged plastic waste, in addition to bearing the weight of pollution related to plastic processing.

Recycling is still important, but the resolution of the plastic crisis requires swift and practical action several steps upstream, at the seats of source and demand.

Seeds of Change

Absent the political will to turn off the plastic spigot at the source, the task is left to supply chain stakeholders and individual consumers.

That is a monumental task, but not an insurmountable one. The rapid evolution of the renewable energy industry illustrates how the global economy can pivot into new models when bottom-line benefits are at play, along with policy goals and support from voters, consumers, and industry stakeholders.

In terms of reducing upstream consumption of petrochemicals, consumer sentiment can influence supply chain decisions, as demonstrated by three emerging trends that can drive the market for more sustainable products and packaging.

One trend is the growing level of public awareness of the ocean plastic crisis. Images of plastic-entangled turtles and other sea creatures can spark an emotional charge that gets more attention from consumers than street litter and landfills. The tourism, hospitality, and fishing industries are also among other stakeholders that have a direct interest in driving public awareness of ocean plastic.

In a related development, the public awareness factor has rippled into the activist investor movement, which is beginning to focus attention on the financial chain behind the petrochemical industry. In 2020 the organization Portfolio.earth, for example, launched a campaign on the role of banks in financing petrochemical operations.

The second trend that is gaining momentum is related to new recycling technology that enables manufacturers to replace virgin plastics with waste harvested from the ocean. However, this circular economy model must be implemented from cradle to grave and back again in order to prevent waste from ending up in the ocean, regardless of its content.

In a similar problem-solving vein, new technology for recycling carbon gas can provide manufacturers with new opportunities to build customer loyalty through climate action. The company LanzaTech provides a good example of growth in the area of recycling carbon. The company’s proprietary microbes are engineered to digest industrial waste gases or biogas. The process yields chemical building blocks for plastics as well as fuels. Other firms in this area are also harvesting ambient carbon from the air to produce plastics and synthetic fabrics, among other materials.

A third trend is the emergence of new technology that enables manufacturers to incorporate more recycled plastic into their supply chains overall. In the past, bottles and other products made from recycled plastics failed to meet durability expectations. Now manufacturers are beginning to choose from a new generation of recycled plastics that perform as well as, or better than, their virgin counterparts.

The problem is that all of these trends are only just starting to emerge as significant forces for change. In the meantime, fossil energy stakeholders have no meaningful incentive to pivot toward supporting a transition out of petrochemicals, let alone a rapid one.

In fact, for some legacy stakeholders, the renewable energy field appears to be an exercise in greenwashing. Shell is one example of an energy company that touts its wind and solar interests while expanding its petrochemical activities. An even more egregious example is ExxonMobil, which continues to publicize its long-running pursuit of algae biofuel, an area that is still years away from commercial development.

Until policymakers, voters, and consumers exercise their muscle to reduce plastic pollution at the source, the petrochemical industry will continue feeding the global plastic dependence regardless of the consequences for public health and planetary well-being.

Author Bio: Tina Casey has been writing about sustainability, the global energy transition, and related matters since 2009. She is a regular contributor to CleanTechnica and TriplePundit, where she also focuses on corporate social responsibility and social issues.

Brazil’s Lula remerges to a very different political world

If Lula wins reelection, he must not only rebuild the social investments that Bolsonaro destroyed, but also restore trust in a nation damaged by fascism’s sophisticated propaganda machine.

Brazil’s first round of elections, held on October 2, yielded a major victory for the man who held the presidency from 2003 to 2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Winning 48 percent of the vote in a multicandidate race, Lula now heads to a runoff against incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, who won 43 percent. It’s the first chapter of a dramatic comeback for a leader who was once hailed as the epitome of Latin America’s resurgent left, who was then imprisoned on corruption charges by a politicized judiciary, eventually was released, and has now emerged onto the political scene in a very different nation than the one he once led.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

A founding member of Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT), Lula ran for president several times before winning in 2002. A year later I recall sitting in a huge stadium in Porto Alegre for the second annual World Social Forum (WSF), getting ready alongside tens of thousands of people to hear the new president speak. The WSF was an organized response to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, where world leaders annually hobnob with corporate executives to explore capitalist solutions to the problems created by capitalism.

In 2003, the crowds that had gathered in a Porto Alegre stadium to explore alternatives to capitalism greeted Lula with coordinated roars of “olè olè olè Lula!” It seemed at that moment that everything could change for the better, and that, in the words of Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who also addressed the WSF, “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.” Indeed, Lula’s rewriting of Brazil’s economic priorities emphasizing benefits for low-income communities was a welcome change in a world seduced by neoliberalism. He went on to win reelection in 2006.

In subsequent years, Lula moved closer toward the political center. Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, says, “I don’t think Lula is this radical left-wing person” today. In an interview she explains, “many social movements had criticisms of the Workers’ Party before because they thought [the party] could move to make structural changes in Brazil.” Still, she maintains that Lula’s changes to Brazil were profound. “The amount of investment that the Workers’ Party did, in education for example, [was] unprecedented.” She asserts that “they really made concrete improvements in the lives of people.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and Bolsonaro swept into power, glorifying the ugliest aspects of bigoted conservatism and making them central to his rule, and decimating Lula’s legacy of economic investments in the poor. Business executives in the U.S. celebrated his win, excited at the prospect of a deregulated economy in which they could invest, and from which they could extract wealth.

Today Latin America’s largest democracy has been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Bolsonaro’s fascist and conspiracy-fueled leadership elevated snake oil cures above commonsense scientific mitigation. The Amazon rainforest has suffered the ravages of unfettered deforestation, and its Indigenous inhabitants have been exploited beyond measure.

Bizarrely, some corporate media pundits in the United States place equal blame on Bolsonaro and Lula for Brazil’s worrisome status quo. Arick Wierson writes on NBCNews.com, “these pressing problems are the result of the policies and actions of Brazilian leadership over the past two decades—inextricably linked to both the Lula and Bolsonaro administrations.”

The Economist advises Lula to “move to the center” in order to win the election, implying that his social and economic agenda is too leftist. A PT spokesperson told the Financial Times that if Lula wins a third term in the October 30 runoff election, he plans to focus on the “popular economy,” meaning that “the Brazilian state will have to fulfill a strong agenda in inducing economic development,” which would be achieved with “jobs, social programs, and the presence of the state.”

It speaks to the severe conservative skewing of the world political spectrum that a leader like Lula is still considered left of center. According to Mendonça, “I don’t think that investing in education and health care, in job creation, is a radical idea.” She views Lula as “a moderate politician,” and says that now, “after a very disastrous administration of Bolsonaro, Lula again is the most popular politician in the country.”

Most Brazilians appear to have tired of Bolsonarismo. A Reuters poll found that Lula now enjoys 51 percent support to Bolsonaro’s 43 percent ahead of the October 30 runoff race. But, just as the 2016 U.S. presidential race yielded a win for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, the candidate who had been widely expected to win, there is no guarantee that Lula will prevail.

And Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” has worryingly taken a page out of the disgraced American leader’s 2020 election playbook in claiming ahead of the first round of elections that Lula loyalists plan to steal the election. “Bolsonaro has been threatening not to accept the result of the election,” says Mendonça. “His discourse is very similar to Trump’s discourse.”

Just as Trump—in spite of damning and overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office—remains disconcertingly popular among a significant minority of Americans, Bolsonaro enjoys a stubborn level of allegiance within Brazil. He has reshaped the political landscape so deeply that the lines between reality and propaganda remain blurred.

“We had years and years of attacks against the Workers’ Party,” says Mendonça. She asks us to “imagine if all mainstream media [in Brazil] were like Fox News.” Additionally, Bolsonaro has built what she calls “a huge infrastructure to spread fake news on social media.” And, like Trump, Bolsonaro enjoys support from evangelical churches.

“The challenge is how you resist that type of message,” worries Mendonça. She dismisses claims that Brazil is politically polarized as too simplistic, saying that it “doesn’t really explain that there was this orchestrated effort to attack democracy in Brazil.” Putting Brazil into an international context, she sees Bolsonaro as “part of this global far-right movement that uses those types of mechanisms to manipulate public opinion and to discredit democracy.”

The nation and the world that a resurgent Lula faces are ones that require far more sophisticated opposition and organized resistance than when he last held office more than a decade ago.

Ultimately, the challenges facing Lula, the PT, and Brazilians in general are the same ones that we all face: how do we prioritize people’s needs over corporate greed, and how do we elevate the rights of human beings, of women, people of color, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ individuals, and the earth’s environment, in the face of a rising fascism that deploys organized disinformation so effectively?

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Voting systems: How they work, vulnerabilities, and mitigation

Authors’ Note: Today’s voting systems have strengths and weaknesses. The new report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation” was created to explain how these systems work and to discuss vulnerabilities at key junctures that have been exploited by partisans seeking to sow chaos and doubt about the results. It is the authors’ hope that readers—from voters, to trusted community leaders, to journalists, policy experts, and lawmakers—will better understand how elections are run and how votes are detected and counted and will bring an evidence-based mix of skepticism and realism to this foundational feature of American democracy.

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation” by Duncan A. Buell and Steven Rosenfeld.

The world of running elections is little understood and widely politicized. Partisans who do not understand the stages of the voting and counting process have been quick to criticize elections as illegitimate when their candidates lose. These critics have made unfounded claims about the operations of voting systems and actions of election workers. Their accusations ignore many of the checks and balances that catch administrative mistakes and are intended to ensure accurate results.

This article was produced in partnership with Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. This excerpt and the full report are both licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Still, election systems, like any large electronic infrastructure composed of subsystems, are not without vulnerabilities that can impede their operation or be exploited by individuals seeking to tarnish the process. One of the biggest problems shadowing the national update of voting systems (following Russian meddling in the 2016 election) has been procedural lapses that caused incorrect vote count results to be released soon after Election Day. These errors were not quickly acknowledged but propelled much of 2020’s election disinformation.

More specifically, the lapses were failures by election officials and their contractors to verify that the information and data in their systems have been accurately programmed and synced. This involves configuring the ballot layouts, the scanners that analyze the ink marks on ballots and assign votes, and the tabulators compiling subtotals into vote counts. When this information has been incorrect or uncoordinated, the unofficial results released immediately after Election Day have wrongly assigned vote totals. In most of the cases we know of, the errors were caught and corrected before the winners were certified. But these errors have fueled great partisan rancor.

When programming errors occurred in 2020’s presidential election in Antrim County, Michigan, a rural expanse with fewer than 24,000 residents, Donald Trump’s supporters claimed the initial incorrect tally reflected an untrustworthy election across the state. These partisans launched an investigation that reveled in stolen election clichés and which revealed a lack of factual knowledge of how election systems work. But because most voters do not know how elections are run, these and other false claims have lingered. As of fall 2022, tens of millions of voters still believe that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

Our new report explains how the vote-counting pathways in the latest generation of election systems works, their technical vulnerabilities, and some remedies. Its authors have spent years studying elections in complementary spheres. Duncan A. Buell is a lifelong computer scientist and more recently a county election official in South Carolina. Steven Rosenfeld is a national political reporter who has specialized in election administration and voting rights.

The authors believe the public is best served by understanding the interrelated mechanics behind voter registration, casting votes, detecting votes on ballots, and compiling results. Today’s voting systems are layered and complex, and like the people who run them, they are not error-free. Thus, it is important that mistakes, where they occur, are understood, contextualized, and not exploited.

Today’s voting systems can produce an extensive evidence trail of every operation that follows the voter and their ballot. Not all of the data sets accompanying these steps are public records in every state. But many crucial records often are. Additionally, many election officials are not always comfortable with sharing the powerful data they possess—data that could attest to results and pinpoint and rectify problems. However, this report describes and deconstructs election infrastructure as transparently as possible to steer disputes to reality-based factors and evidence.

Click here to read or download the full report

Author Bio: Duncan A. Buell retired in 2021 from the University of South Carolina, where he was a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and was department chair and interim dean. He served as a consultant to the League of Women Voters of South Carolina on election technology and analyzed Election Systems and Software (ES&S) election data from South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, and Colorado. He also was a member of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections for Richland County, South Carolina. He is a co-author of the 2022 report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the nonprofit Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others. He has written or co-authored six books on election topics, including 2021’s oral history, “The Georgia Way: How to Win Elections,” and most recently, the 2022 report “Voting Systems: How They Work, Vulnerabilities, and Mitigation.”

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