Economy

'Rein them in': Experts urge Congress to act as corporate profits skyrocket past previous records

Economic justice advocates on Wednesday responded to new U.S. government figures showing nonfinancial corporate profits soared to record levels during the third quarter of 2022 by urging congressional lawmakers—most of whom receive substantial corporate campaign contributions—to take action against the capitalist greed that progressive experts say is the main driver of inflation.

The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis reported nonfinancial sector corporate profits of $2.08 trillion during the third quarter, up from just under $1.9 trillion during the same period last year, $1.6 trillion in Q3 2020, and $1.37 trillion from July-September 2019.

Wednesday's figures follow similar record second-quarter profits of $2.07 trillion, as well as a 15.5% increase in Q2 after-tax profits as a share of gross value added for non-financial corporations—the biggest margin since 1950.

"Today's record corporate profits mirror what we have been hearing on earnings call after earnings call: Corporations are gleefully reporting that their strategy to burden families with unnecessary price hikes is working," Rakeen Mabud, chief economist and managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, said in a statement. "Powerful corporations in concentrated industries will keep prices sky high until lawmakers rein them in."

Numerous analyses, including a report released earlier this month by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, have shown that corporations are using soaring inflation as a pretext for consumer price gouging.

Meanwhile, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the Fed will continue to raise interest rates—albeit at a slower pace—in a continuation of the central bank's inflation-fighting strategy.

"Despite some promising developments, we have a long way to go in restoring price stability," Powell stated during an event at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "We will stay the course until the job is done."

Progressive economists and politicians stressed that corporate greed is the real culprit behind high prices, with former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeting Tuesday that "instead of raising interest rates and slowing the economy toward a recession, Congress and [President Joe] Biden should be taking aim at corporate price gouging."

Speaking earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, "Of course the Fed has a role to play in getting inflation under control, but there is a big difference between landing a plane and crashing a plane."

The watchdog group Accountable.US asserted Wednesday that "Corporate greed is driving inflation. As rising costs take a massive toll on American families, companies are raking in record profits and bragging about their sky-high prices."

The next Fed rate hike—which Powell said could come as soon as December—would be the seventh of the year. Earlier this month, the central bank raised interest rates by 0.75% for the fourth consecutive time.

New polling from Navigator Survey found that a majority of respondents believe that the government should focus on "cracking down on corporate greed and price gouging" over "stopping wasteful government spending and handouts."

"Our economic crisis isn't inflation, it's corporate greed," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who earlier this year introduced legislation that would impose a windfall corporate profit tax of up to 95% on companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue—argued earlier this month.

"You don't reduce inflation by giving tax breaks to billionaires and cutting benefits for the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor," Sanders contended. "You combat inflation by taking on corporate greed and passing a windfall profits tax. You combat inflation by taking on the power of the insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the giant food companies and lowering the outrageously high costs of healthcare, prescription drugs, gas, and groceries."

House passes paid sick leave bill to avert rail strike despite worker objections

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday by a margin of 221-207 to pass a concurrent resolution adding seven days of paid sick leave to a White House-brokered contract that was rejected by over half of the nation's unionized rail workforce but that President Joe Biden urged Congress to force through to prevent a nationwide rail strike next month.

Only three Republicans joined 218 Democrats to approve the paid sick leave measure. Three Republicans and one Democrat abstained.

Just minutes earlier, 79 Republicans joined 211 Democrats to pass a strike-averting resolution that would impose Biden's heavily criticized tentative agreement, which in its original form does not guarantee any paid sick leave. Five Republicans did not vote.

Biden—a self-described "pro-labor president"—has been condemned by rail workers and progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups for pressuring Congress to use its authority under the Railway Labor Act of 1926 to ram through his deal to preempt a looming strike.

Prior to the intervention of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who submitted an amendment to add seven days of paid sick leave to the existing settlement on Tuesday night, progressives feared that House lawmakers would advance the White House-brokered pact without trying to improve it.

In a statement praising the House for taking action to prevent a rail shutdown that "would be devastating to our economy and families across the country," Biden failed to mention Bowman's amendment.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), by contrast, said Wednesday in a statement that she "was proud to work alongside Rep. Bowman to push for an amendment to a rail deal that would guarantee seven days of paid leave to railroad workers." Omar thanked House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and the chamber's leadership for bringing the amendment to the floor.

"Railroad corporations are raking in record profits—over $20 billion last year alone," said Omar. "Meanwhile, their workers do not even have the basic protections of a single day of paid or unpaid sick time. In the face of these record profits, railroad workers have made a simple, dignified request for the basic protections of paid leave."

"I will always stand with rail workers and workers around the world," she added, "and will do everything in my power to make sure their basic demands are not ignored."

Both the strike-averting resolution and the concurrent resolution adding seven days of paid sick leave to Biden's deal now head to the Senate.

In a joint statement released in the wake of the House votes, 12 members of the upper chamber—including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—thanked Biden and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh "for their hard work in negotiating a tentative agreement that is better than the disastrous proposal put forward by the rail industry."

However, they said, "Congress can and must make this agreement better."

The lawmakers continued:

For nearly three years our nation's rail workers have been fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic. They have kept our trains on the track even while facing unprecedented challenges. Supply chain problems coupled with increased consumer spending and online shopping habits have put the freight rail industry under incredible strain. And as a result train crews have been working around the clock often with inflexible and unpredictable work schedules to transport everything from food and fuel to medical supplies and cleaning products. But even as the need for worker protections and workplace flexibility have grown, railroad companies provide zero days of paid sick leave to their workers. What this means is that if a rail worker comes down with Covid, the flu, or some other illness and calls in sick, that worker will not only receive no pay, but will be penalized and, in some cases, fired. That is absolutely unacceptable.

"During the first three quarters of this year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $21.2 billion in profits," says the statement. "Guaranteeing seven paid sick days to rail workers would only cost the industry $321 million a year—less than 2% of their total profits. Please do not tell us that the rail industry cannot afford to guarantee paid sick days to their workers."

"We commend the House for addressing this outrageous situation and guaranteeing paid sick days to every rail worker in America," Sanders and his colleagues concluded. "We urge the Senate to quickly take up the House-passed language for a roll call vote and urge our colleagues to support these workers. We look forward to bipartisan support."

When asked Tuesday night by MSNBC's Chris Hayes if he thinks at least 10 Republican senators would back the paid sick leave provision, which is necessary due to the upper chamber's anti-democratic 60-vote filibuster rule, Sanders mentioned that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) had indicated "significant" support for the amendment among his GOP colleagues.

"Look, you have a number of Republicans who claim—claim—to be supporters of the working class," said Sanders. "Well, if you are a supporter of the working class how are you going to vote against the proposal which provides guaranteed paid sick leave to workers who have none right now? So I am cautiously optimistic that we can get this done."

However, the fact that just three House Republicans voted for the measure does not bode well for its prospects in the Senate.

Notably, Cornyn reversed his openness to adding seven paid sick days to the contract on Wednesday, telling Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News: "I just think it's a bad idea for Congress to try to intervene and renegotiate these collective bargaining agreements between labor and management."

As Politico reported, "Rail workers will stay on the job until December 9, [but] certain hazardous materials are likely to start being sidelined over the weekend to avoid being stranded" in the event of a strike.

'More than enough money': House Democrat blasts greedy railroad executives for denying 'basic benefits'

United States Representative Donald Payne Junior (D-New Jersey) on Wednesday blasted the greed of executives in the privatized American railway industry who are refusing to grant paid sick leave and other benefits to their employees.

A 2019 report in the American Journal of Transportation found that railroads "are USA’s most profitable industry with a 50% profit margin." The non-profit organization More Perfect Union noted in September that those "windfall profits have come at the direct expense of their workforce. In the past two decades, operating profit margins nearly tripled for the major carriers, while the percentage of revenue they spent on labor sunk by double-digits."

Payne, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, touched upon these facts in a floor speech.

READ MORE: 'The corporate greed never ends': Bernie Sanders vows to 'stand with rail workers' as possible strike looms

"Time has proven that railroads are unwilling to settle this dispute despite having more than enough money to pay for these basic benefits. Railroad CEO salaries continue to exceed as much as 144 times – 144 times – what the average railroad worker makes. Yet still, they're unwilling to bend for paid sick time off. I wonder what they do when they're sick," Payne said.

"All the while, they know that their profits are built off of the backs of these dedicated rail workers who deserve so much more," he continued. "Despite the challenging decisions to intervene, I will continue to press the rail industry to do what they know to be the right by their workers."

Payne's remarks come amid a growing clash between lawmakers on Capitol Hill, President Joe Biden, and rail workers who are threatening to strike. Union officials feel that the Biden Administration, which has attempted to mediate the dispute, is siding with rail's corporate bigwigs.

"Four of the 12 railroad unions representing a majority of the railroad workforce have rejected a tentative new union contract agreement which fails to address their concerns. If any of the 12 unions go on strike, each union has agreed to honor the picket line," The Guardian explained on Wednesday. Interviews that the paper held with seasoned rail personnel revealed that the tensions are reaching a boiling point.

READ MORE: Rail workers furious over Biden move to preempt strike

“Joe Biden blew it,” Railroad Workers United Treasurer Hugh Sawyer proclaimed. “He had the opportunity to prove his labor-friendly pedigree to millions of workers by simply asking Congress for legislation to end the threat of a national strike on terms more favorable to workers. Sadly, he could not bring himself to advocate for a lousy handful of sick days." Sawyer believes that the impasse shows that "the Democrats and Republicans are both pawns of big business and the corporations."

Nevada State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Chairman Matt Parker said that "the overly simplistic approach that the administration has taken to this whole issue shows how out of touch they are with the plight of railroad workers.”

Jeff Kurtz, a retired locomotive engineer from Iowa, stressed that "it’s not just about paid time off, it’s about time off period" and that “basically what the carriers, and now it looks like what Congress is going to say too, is you are pretty well tied to your job for the rest of your life.”

Kurtz also shared profound disappointment in the president's approach.

“The Presidential Emergency Board was just no help whatsoever,” said Kurtz. “I thought it’d be somewhat more labor-friendly than it was, but it could have been written by the carriers as far as I was concerned.”

While Payne appeared to share their disillusionment, he indicated in his address that the current bill will not contain the provisions that rail workers and unions are demanding, vowing that "once we pass this legislation, we will pass legislation that guarantees paid sick leave for rail workers since the industry has decided they wouldn't."

Late Wednesday afternoon, The New York Times reported:

The bill passed on a bipartisan vote of 290 to 137. It goes next to the Senate, where leaders in both parties have indicated they would move quickly to avoid a disruption to the nation’s rail service.

But with liberal Democrats threatening to withhold their votes unless the legislation granted additional paid leave, a key demand of workers, the House also considered and approved a separate measure to add seven days of compensated sick time to the compact.

That measure passed largely on party lines, 221 to 207, as Democrats sent it to the Senate with the support of just three Republicans, Representatives John Katko of New York, Don Bacon of Nebraska and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Watch below or at this link.

READ MORE: Biden White House reaches a 'tentative' agreement to avoid national rail strike

Jiang Zemin, who opened China to markets and corruption, is dead

Born in Yangzhou in 1926, Jiang was one of the last Chinese leaders to remember the 1949 Revolution. His father died fighting the Japanese while Jiang himself was attending National Central University in Japanese-occupied Nanjing before transferring to what is today Shanghai Jiao Tong University, in 1947. He did not play any role in the Revolution itself, but he did join the Communist Party while in college.

Trained as an engineer, he was useful to the new regime. He was sent to the Soviet Union to get additional industrial training at the Stalin Automobile Works in Moscow and then worked for China’s First Automobile Works, making the Jiefang truck. He slowly rose through the ranks.

What’s pretty remarkable is how boring he really was throughout his career. He managed to come away almost totally unscathed through China’s enormous upheavals. There’s almost no public information on Jiang during the Great Leap Forward; he was just working for the party. The worst thing that happened to him during the Cultural Revolution is that he was sidelined from his main work and semi-exiled to Wuhan, but without any serious problems. He was just a good communist bureaucrat. He left the auto industry by the late 50s and became a boring apparatchik.

READ MORE: Green diplomacy: What if the United States and China cooperated on climate change?

Remarkably boring

When the Cultural Revolution ended, Deng Xiaoping brought Jiang back into the fold. He was deeply involved in the communist state’s transition to dictatorial capitalism. He was one of the key players in the creation of the Special Economic Zones in the South. He then joined the CP’s Central Committee in 1982. In 1985, he became mayor of Shanghai. He was reportedly quite unpopular with the people of the city, but he pushed ahead with the process of capitalizing China. Foreign businessmen loved his plans and investments started pouring into the city. In 1987, he joined the Politburo, stepping down from mayor of the city and instead becoming party secretary for Shanghai.

In 1989, of course, China faced the unprecedented student democratization protestors at Tiananmen Square. This was the boom time for Jiang. Just before the busting of the protests, he was promoted to replace Zhao Ziyang as CCP general secretary because he had a history of defusing student anger while in Shanghai and because Zhao was now seen as too liberal. He was also able to keep his distance from the repression that followed.

When Deng retired later that year, it was Jiang who became the public face of the party, but Deng was still the real power player, working behind the scenes. Jiang understood that Deng’s real power at this point came from the personal connections he had built since the start of the Revolution and while he could not replicate that, he worked hard to build himself a personal power base. No one really saw Jiang as a significant leader up to this time. If anything, he would be a transitional figure to a real power to lead the nation. In some ways, this turned out to be true, but Jiang remained a major player for far longer than expected.

READ MORE: China's geopolitical inroads into Central Asia are coming at Russia’s expense

Cheap, abundant and quiet labor

Most observers believed Jiang would be little more than a transitional figure in Chinese history. And if one considers the rapid consolidation of power under Xi Jinping, I suppose that still holds some water.

But he really was much more than that.

As soon as took power, he started moving the party back to the ideological push of the Mao period as a way to undermine the kind of democratic independence that had led to Tiananmen. The Central Propaganda Department increased in power. Hard to argue that this didn’t work.

Of course, some of the real commitment to democracy by the protestors was shown to be pretty shallow once China rose economically. But decades of ideological work, no matter how counter to Marxism, has proven tremendously effective in China and Jiang deserves a lot of the credit for that, if credit is what we want to give. But Jiang was also still in a pretty tenuous position. When Deng began to criticize him in 1992 for not moving fast enough on economic reforms, Jiang got right in line.

Jiang put the lie to the liberal canard that democracy and capitalism would rise together hand-in-hand. If anything, the Chinese model of dictatorial capitalism became incredibly appealing to global capitalists and politicians, if for no other reason than that one could relocate production there for very cheap wages and be ensured that the government was not going to put up with any meaningful dissent. In 1992, Jiang began to use the term “socialist market economy” to describe China’s new ways under Deng Xiaoping’s spirit.

Communist capitalism

Now, all of this caused the same sort of problems that unrestrained capitalism causes everywhere. Unemployment skyrocketed, reaching 40 percent in some areas. State-owned businesses couldn’t compete with the efficiency of foreign ways and the new China didn’t have much of a safety net for those who couldn’t find work in the new nation.

By the millions, people migrated to the cities without any attempt to ease their transition. Growing wealth in the cities ran up against horrific poverty in the countryside. Organized crime became an ever-greater problem. Both civil and military officials issued illegal bonds to steal money. That the environment was to sacrifice for any and all industrial growth was almost inevitable and the once tremendously ecologically diverse lands of China became pits of pollution, despair and extinction.

But Jiang was primarily concerned with economic stability, believing that continued growth would eventually solve the problems, at least those he felt were worth solving. The Special Economic Zones he promoted became wealthy while the countryside remained impoverished. Always attuned to the power of state propaganda, he started a new program in 1998 dedicated to self-promotion as the nation’s leader and denunciations of opponents.

Deng had not really used state media for personal propaganda, so for many Chinese, this was a return to Maoism, whether good or bad. He placed this pro-business ideology into CP propaganda, creating the “Three Represents” as his version of Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.

This actually changed the ideological foundation of the party from protecting all the people to “the overwhelming majority of the people,” as a way to make the business class happy that they could in fact oppress people in this now quite not-communist state. Leftist hardliners were pretty outraged and the Three Represents have certainly not had the ideological impact of Mao or Deng, but it’s not as if China has somehow reverted back away from capitalism under Xi.

Feed the organ market

Jiang also wanted Falun Gong crushed. He created an entire extralegal department called the 6-10 Department just for this task.

That the Chinese government was so threatened by a non-theistic spiritual mediation movement might seem bizarre, especially given that the government had actually promoted the movement in its early years of the 1980s. But given the history of Buddhist resistance to oppressive regimes in Southeast Asia, it wasn’t too hard to see this movement as a potential site of anti-government activities, at least if that’s what you are looking for.

As its leaders were arrested, a quasi-political movement did develop, with large demonstrations to demand their release. So for Chinese leaders, this was now a provocative challenge to their authority.

What’s remarkable to an outside observer is how far Jiang was willing to take this. Probably 65,000 Falun Gong members were murdered just to feed the Chinese organ market over an eight-year period. At least 2,000 people were tortured to death. Many have commented that internal divisions within the Politburo significantly exacerbated this crackdown as different factions fought for power.

Cheap shoes

As the Chinese economy continued to grow, Jiang also wanted to promote positive relations with the United States. This was also the agenda of Bill Clinton. Jiang visited the US in 1997 and gave a speech at Harvard that was interrupted by Tibetan independence demonstrators. Jiang was absolutely committed to Chinese domination over Tibet and was open to that. He gave an interesting interview to the Times in 2001 that demonstrated both his openness to improving relations with the US and the sharp limits of what China would accept in these conversations. He met with Clinton and Clinton returned the favor by visiting China in 1998.

When NATO forces bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, Jiang didn’t do much protesting with Clinton, even if he expressed some outrage for the domestic audience. Good relations with the US were more important to him. It wasn’t that there weren’t continued tensions, especially over Taiwan, but his pro-western foreign policy paid off big for China.

This culminated with China receiving Most Favored Nation status from the US in 2001 over the protest of labor and human rights advocates. Claims that bringing China into the family of nations would improve conditions there have been proven outright false and of course the nation became the global home of cheap labor for globalized nations.

Moreover, protests of Chinese dissidents in the US against the massive human rights violations of Jiang’s regime were largely marginalized in the US. A lot of these people were refugees in the post-Tiananmen period and had been imprisoned and tortured, including by Jiang’s henchmen. But what chance did human rights have in the face of cheap shoes?

Corruption

As a general rule, Jiang sought better relations with all his neighbors, even Taiwan to some extent. In recent times, he has come under criticism within China for not being as aggressive a nationalist as Xi Jinping and other leaders.

But he was fairly conciliatory toward Russia, working with Boris Yeltsin to settle longstanding border disputes, outraging nationalists who demand a maximalist China, as well as working out the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship with Vladimir Putin in 2001 to lay out a framework for long-term cooperation.

Many observers have placed a great deal of blame for the obscene growth of corruption in China at Jiang’s feet. While I am sure it is a lot more complicated than this, he certainly tolerated more than his fair share.

Quite a few of his close cronies were arrested for corruption after Xi Jinping took power. This was especially true in the military, where Hu Jintao was supposed to be in charge, but was constantly undercut by his subordinates and close Jiang associates Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both known for taking huge bribes in exchange for their assistance.

With personal connections meaning more than skill, the Chinese CP became increasingly devoid of anything but a power structure, with lesser talents with connections moving up the ladder and skilled but less connected people unable to do so without the required money.

Thwarted comeback

In 2002, Jiang began the process of moving on from leadership. He didn’t just disappear of course. But he left the Politburo Standing Committee and stepped down as General Secretary to let a new generation lead. The so-called Fourth Generation was led by Hu Jintao, who was a pretty weak leader in his own right. Most of the leaders of the new Politburo were close to Jiang, with six of the nine having been part of his Shanghai Clique, who had served under him there.

Jiang did remain head of the Central Military Commission until 2004, but this was more ceremonial than anything else, as the CMC is dominated by top generals. He probably was being pushed aside entirely. He was supposed to be head of the CMC until 2007 and he mostly disappeared from public life except as a senior figure to show every now and again after 2004.

He would stand next to Hu at major events such as the Beijing Olympics, major anniversary events and other important events for public consumption. But that’s about it.

However, in 2012, stories came out that Jiang, then 86 years old, was attempting to reassert his power. This was at a moment when central power in China seemed to be diminishing. Hu was pretty weak and Jiang hadn’t been a titan either. But then Xi took power and put down Jiang’s attempts to again have access to power very quickly, becoming the nation’s most powerful leader since Deng, if not Mao.

Legacy

In the end, Jiang has to be seen as an important figure in modern Chinese history, but a lesser leader compared to Mao, Deng or Xi, presumably.

He didn’t transform the nation particularly. He did lead it through a period of growing stability, but one dominated by intense environmental problems and a legacy of inequality. He was involved in consolidating power in the state post-Tiananmen, but also is limited by that same legacy.

His Three Represents disappeared almost immediately from Chinese ideology after he left power, even as China continued on its road to state-controlled capitalism. The corruption of his era is an overwhelming part of his legacy. He did do a good job of settling tensions between China and other powerful nations, but for a nationalistic population, this is not always seen as a positive, especially when Taiwan remains outside the nation.

READ MORE: Watch: Ron Johnson has a 'feeling' that Joe Biden is 'highly compromised' by China

Is Russia fueling France's troubles in Mali?

On November 21, 2022, Mali’s interim Prime Minister Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga posted a statement on social media to say that Mali has decided “to ban, with immediate effect, all activities carried out by NGOs operating in Mali with funding or material or technical support from France.” A few days before this statement, the French government cut official development assistance (ODA) to Mali because it believed that Mali’s government is “allied to Wagner’s Russian mercenaries.” Colonel Maïga responded by saying that these are “fanciful allegations” and a “subterfuge intended to deceive and manipulate national and international public opinion.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Tensions between France and Mali have increased over the course of 2022. The former colonial power returned to Mali with a military intervention in 2013 to combat the rise of Islamist insurgency in the northern half of Mali; in May 2022, the military government of Mali ejected the French troops. That decision in May came after several months of accusations between Paris and Bamako that mirrored the rise of anti-French sentiment across the Sahel region of Africa.

A new burst of anti-colonial feeling has swept through France’s former colonies, where the debates are now centered around breaking with France’s stranglehold on their economies and ending the military intervention by French troops. Since 2019, the countries that are part of the West African Economic and Monetary Union and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa have been slowly withdrawing from French control over their economies (for example, in 2020, the French officially announced that for West Africa, it would end the requirement for countries to deposit half their foreign exchange reserves with the French Treasury through the old colonial instrument of the CFA franc). According to a story that circulated in West Africa and the Sahel—given credence by an email sent by an “unofficial adviser” to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—one of the reasons why France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 was because the Libyan leader had proposed a new African currency instead of the CFA franc.

France denies that the reason for this tension with Mali is due to the new anti-colonial mood. The French government says that it is entirely due to Mali’s intimacy with Russia. Mali’s military has increasingly been establishing closer ties with the Russian government and military. Mali’s Defense Minister Colonel Sadio Camara and Air Force Chief of Staff General Alou Boï Diarra are considered to be “the architects” of a deal made between the Malian military and the Wagner group in 2021 to bring in several hundred mercenaries into Mali as part of the campaign against jihadist groups.

Wagner soldiers are in Mali, but they are not the cause of the rift between Paris and Bamako. The anti-colonial temper predates the entry of Wagner, which France is using as an excuse to cover up its humiliation.

Author Bio: Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

'Coordinated deception': Puerto Rican towns file RICO suit against big oil over climate change denial

A group of 16 Puerto Rican municipalities has sued Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and other fossil fuel giants for alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court and described by plaintiffs as a first-of-its-kind RICO case, accuses Big Oil of colluding to deny the climate-wrecking impacts of their fossil fuel products.

As Reuters reported Tuesday:

The towns say the companies coordinated a multibillion-dollar 'fraudulent marketing scheme' to convince consumers that fossil fuel products do not alter the climate. That campaign ran contrary to the companies' own studies showing their products accelerate climate change, resulting in more deadly storms, the lawsuit said.

The municipalities said the companies outlined a plan of deception in a joint memo that took aim at international climate negotiations in the 1990s. The coordinated deception spanning decades violates U.S. racketeering and antitrust laws among others, the suit claims.

The towns argue that roughly a dozen oil, gas, and coal corporations and other actors are financially responsible for and should pay to cover the damages suffered during the catastrophic 2017 hurricane season, which was intensified by planet-heating pollution.

"The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, featuring six major hurricanes and more than a dozen named storms, caused at least $294 billion worth of damages in the U.S. territory," Reuters reported, citing the lawsuit. "Hurricanes Irma and Maria contributed to an estimated 4,600 deaths and the failure of critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico, the municipalities said."

Marc Grossman, a partner at one of the firms representing the municipalities, called Puerto Rico "the ultimate victim of global warming."

The class action complaint comes just weeks after Puerto Ricans were once again left in the dark for a prolonged period of time after Hurricane Fiona overwhelmed the island's privatized electric grid, sparking protests in several communities as well as a hearing led by local lawmakers.

Fiona made landfall five years after the much stronger Maria triggered an islandwide blackout. In the wake of the 2017 disaster, the island's grid was entirely privatized by LUMA Energy, a joint venture owned by Canadian firm ATCO Ltd. and U.S. contractor Quanta Services Inc.

The United States paved the way for LUMA Energy's corporate takeover of Puerto Rico's grid, and Washington's ongoing domination of the island, which began more than 120 years ago, makes it more vulnerable to the devastating effects of hurricanes such as Maria and Fiona.

In a Jacobin essay published last month, Joe Wilkins wrote:

The commonwealth lost its ability to meaningfully influence structural decisions with a 2016 Barack Obama-era law called the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, known as PROMESA or La Junta. This act allowed the U.S. Congress to infringe on the island's pecuniary autonomy through the appointment of a Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB). Since its formation, the FOMB has enacted severe austerity measures on public services in order to help Puerto Rico 'achieve fiscal responsibility and ultimately reestablish access to credit markets,' according to the text of the legislation. La Junta also gives the FOMB authority to deny unionized utility workers their right to strike. The FOMB's independence from Puerto Rican lawmakers meant that it could clear the way for Puerto Rico's public electrical company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), to sell commonwealth assets and outsource services related to the generation and transfer of electricity. In 2018, legislation was passed to enable the placement of Puerto Rico's energy grid under private management. That 2018 act revealed La Junta's true purpose: raising the bridge to make way for muck-dredging capitalists who have long lusted after utility contracts in the Global South. From then on it was inevitable that PREPA would seek a public-private partnership in order to improve the public grid. That's where LUMA came in.

The American Prospect's Ryan Cooper argued recently that "there are many proximate factors behind Puerto Rico's continued vulnerability to hurricanes and economic dysfunction. But the root problem is political inequality."

"It is an American colony: controlled by the United States government, but without any political representation for the people living there," wrote Cooper. "Until this inequality is rectified, it's a safe bet that Puerto Rico will never fully recover."

Dozens of states and cities around the U.S. have sued fossil fuel corporations in a bid to make highly deceptive polluters pay for climate change-related damages and adaptation costs, mostly in state court.

Oil and gas giants have tried repeatedly to shift jurisdiction over climate liability lawsuits from state courts to federal court, where they think they will be more likely to avoid accountability.

While federal appeals courts have rejected such attempts on multiple occasions this year, the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court is considering taking up an industry-led challenge to a February ruling with far-reaching implications.

Watch: NYC Mayor Eric Adams announces program to involuntarily commit mentally ill homeless people

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced on Tuesday that homeless people who are suspected to be experiencing a "mental health crisis" will be involuntarily committed to hospitals if they refuse to seek treatment of their own accord. Emergency Medical Services personnel will provide training to police officers, firefighters, and other appropriate agencies to implement the new initiative.

“The common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent,” Adams said at a press conference. “This myth must be put to rest. Going forward, we will make every effort to assist those who are suffering from mental illness and whose illness is endangering them by preventing them from meeting their basic human needs.”

Hizzoner's directive comes as the Big Apple grapples with surging income inequality, astronomical rents, crackdowns on tent communities, and spikes in attacks in the metropolis' labyrinthian Subway system. While most of New York's 50,000 homeless residents live in shelters, those who lack sufficient housing often take refuge in climate-controlled railcars.

READ MORE: 'Go blow Trump. You suck': Ted Cruz heckled by New Yorkers during Yankees-Astros playoff final

“When you do an analysis of the Subway crimes, you are seeing that it’s being driven by people with mental health issues," Adams said in October. But his edict applies to wayfarers who pose no threat to others as well, and it instructs healthcare facilities to not release patients until continuing care can be arranged. Adams also highlighted that people surviving on the streets frequently suffer and struggle without anybody to care for them.

“The man standing all day on the street across from the building he was evicted from 25 years ago waiting to be let in; the shadow boxer on the street corner in Midtown, mumbling to himself as he jabs at an invisible adversary; the unresponsive man unable to get off the train at the end of the line without assistance from our mobile crisis team: These New Yorkers and hundreds of others like them are in urgent need of treatment and often refuse it when offered,” the mayor said. “The very nature of their illnesses keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support. Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking.”

Adams further maintained that "it is appropriate to use this process when a person refuses voluntary assistance and it appears that they are suffering from mental illness and are a danger to themselves due to an inability to meet their basic needs. We believe this is the first time that a mayoral administration has given this direction on the 'basic needs' standard in official guidance."

Watch below or at this link.

Mayor Eric Adams Delivers Address on Mental Health Crisis in New York City www.youtube.com

READ MORE: Investigation suggests Carolyn Maloney’s Met Gala ticket may have 'violated House ethics rules': report

Rail workers furious over Biden move to preempt strike

Rank-and-file rail workers voiced frustration and anger late Monday after Joe Biden—a self-described "pro-labor president"—urged Congress to pass legislation forcing unions to accept a contract agreement without any paid sick days, a step that would avert a looming nationwide strike and deliver a win for the profitable railroad industry.

"By forcing workers into an agreement which doesn't address basic needs like healthcare and sick time, President Joe Biden is choosing railroads over workers and the economy," said Ross Grooters, an engineer and co-chair of Railroad Workers United, an inter-union alliance that supports public ownership of the national rail system.

Another worker was more blunt in a text message to labor reporter Jonah Furman: "Words cannot express how fucking livid I am at this administration... people in power, LIKE HIM, would rather screw workers than stand up to fucking robber barons."

While Congress could put forth legislation that would improve the tentative White House-brokered contract deal announced in September, Biden made clear he wants lawmakers "to pass legislation immediately to adopt the tentative agreement between railroad workers and operators—without any modifications or delay—to avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown."

That agreement, which has been rejected by more than half of the country's unionized rail workforce, does not include a single day of paid sick leave and would only allow three penalty-free days off per year for medical visits. But even that time off is heavily constrained: It's unpaid; can only be taken on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday; and must be scheduled at least 30 days in advance.

"These agreements were rejected because the quality of life rail workers and their families have today is abysmal," Ash Anderson, a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED)—one of the unions that voted against ratifying the tentative deal—wrote on Facebook. "There were no provisions to improve the quality of life for rail workers, who continue to be exploited by companies that are earning record-breaking profits while their service suffers and they cut their workforce to the bone."

Anderson continued:

I just want Americans to see the stories of these men and women, the stories of their families. I want Americans to recognize that these workers are being driven out of their chosen profession by the continued harsh conditions, callous discipline, long hours far from home, and basic lack of respect and dignity in the work that President Biden just stated was too important to allow to stop, regardless the cost.

The railroads' record profit margins are safe, their exorbitant stock buybacks and shareholder returns are secured. Americans will have all the conveniences available this busy shopping season. Rail workers will work sick to make sure it's all done, because that's what they have to do.

Shortly following Biden's statement, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced her chamber will move this week to take up legislation requiring rail workers to accept the tentative deal and denying them their right to strike. Without a contract deal or congressional action, a strike could begin early next month.

Echoing Biden, Pelosi insisted that lawmakers are "reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process" and declared that "we must recognize that railroads have been selling out to Wall Street to boost their bottom lines, making obscene profits while demanding more and more from railroad workers."

"But," the Democratic leader added, "we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt."

The White House's intervention answers the call of rail giants and corporate lobbying groups—including the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce—that have been pushing for and banking on congressional action as contract talks remain at a standstill, with rail companies refusing to drop their opposition to workers' basic sick leave demands.

Rail unions had originally pushed for 15 days of paid sick leave, a policy that rail companies estimated would cost around $688 million a year—less than what billionaire Warren Buffett, the CEO of BNSF Railway's parent company, added to his net worth in a single day last week.

The unions have since moved down to asking for four paid sick days, but rail companies remain opposed even as they rake in huge profits and enrich their executives and shareholders. The Lever reported in September that "the CEOs of five of the largest railroad conglomerates have been paid more than $200 million in the last three years, and company shareholders have been boosted by nearly $200 billion in stock buybacks and dividends over the last dozen years."

Matthew Weaver, a carpenter with BMWED, told The New York Times that Biden's decision to step in and force workers to accept a contract agreement opposed by a majority of rail union members "seems to cater to the oligarchs."

"All of rail labor is going to suffer because of this," said Weaver.

Grooters of Railroad Workers United argued that Congress "should ignore White House shortsightedness and introduce the labor-friendly version of a railroad bill"—but it's not yet clear whether progressive lawmakers in the House or Senate will attempt to force amendments to the tentative agreement.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an outspoken supporter of rail workers, told reporters Monday that any legislation preventing a strike must guarantee workers sick leave.

Citing unnamed sources, CNN reported late Monday that "following House passage, Senate action could occur later this week or next."

"The Senate is expected to have the votes to break a filibuster on the bill to avert a potential railway strike, according to those sources," the outlet noted. "There are likely to be at least 10 Republicans who will vote with most Senate Democrats to overcome a 60-vote threshold. The only question is how quickly the bill can come to the floor since any senator can object, dragging out the process and delaying a quick vote."

"Sources are watching Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders closely to see if he upends an effort to get a quick vote," CNN added. "A Sanders spokesman declined to comment."

Ten suggestions for Brazilian President-Elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Dear President Lula,

When I visited you (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) in prison on August 30, 2018, in the brief time that the visit lasted, I experienced a whirlwind of ideas and emotions that remain as vivid today as they were then. A short time before, we had been together at the World Social Forum in Salvador da Bahia. In the penthouse of the hotel where you were staying, we exchanged ideas with Brazilian politician Jacques Wagner about your imprisonment. You still had some hope that the judicial system would suspend the persecutory vertigo that had descended upon you. I, perhaps because I am a legal sociologist, was convinced that this would not happen, but I did not insist. At one point, I had the feeling that you and I were actually thinking and fearing the same thing. A short time later, they were arresting you with the same arrogant and compulsive indifference with which they had been treating you up to that point. Judge Sergio Moro, who had links with the U.S. (it is too late to be naive), had accomplished the first part of his mission by putting you behind bars. The second part would be to keep you locked up and isolated until “his” candidate (Jair Bolsonaro) was elected, one who would give Moro a platform to get to the presidency of the republic later on. This is the third phase of the mission, still underway.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

When I entered the premises of Brazil’s federal police, I felt a chill when I read the plaque marking that President Lula da Silva had inaugurated those facilities 11 years earlier as part of his vast program to upgrade the federal police and criminal investigation system in the country. A whirlwind of questions assaulted me. Had the plaque remained there out of oblivion? Out of cruelty? Or to show that the spell had turned against the sorcerer? That a bona fide president had handed the gold to the bandit?

I was accompanied by a pleasant young federal police officer who turned to me and said, “We read your books a lot.” I was shocked. If my books were read and the message understood, neither Lula nor I would be there. I babbled something to this effect, and the answer was instantaneous: “We are following orders.” Suddenly, the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt came to my mind. To be a sovereign is to have the prerogative to declare that something is legal even if is not, and to impose your will bureaucratically with the normality of functional obedience and the consequent trivialization of state terror.

This is how I arrived at your cell, and surely you did not even suspect the storm that was going on inside me. Upon seeing you, I calmed down. I was faced with dignity and humanity that gave me hope for mankind. Everything was normal within the totalitarian abnormality that had enclosed you there: The windows, the gym apparatus, the books, and the television. Our conversation was as normal as everything around us, including your lawyers and Gleisi Hoffmann, who was then the general secretary of the Workers’ Party. We talked about the situation in Latin America, the new (old) aggressiveness of the empire, and the judicial system that had converted into an ersatz military coup.

When the door closed behind me, the weight of the illegal will of a state held hostage by criminals armed with legal manipulations fell back on me once again. I braced myself between revolt and anger and the well-behaved performance expected of a public intellectual who on his way out has to make statements to the press. I did everything, but what I truly felt was that I had left behind Brazil’s freedom and dignity imprisoned so that the empire and the elites in its service could fulfill their objectives of guaranteeing access to Brazil’s immense natural resources, privatization of social security, and unconditional alignment with the geopolitics of rivalry with China.

The serenity and dignity with which you faced a year of confinement is proof that empires, especially decadent ones, often miscalculate, precisely because they only think in the short term. The immense and growing national and international solidarity, which would make you the most famous political prisoner in the world, showed that the Brazilian people were beginning to believe that at least part of what was destroyed in the short term might be rebuilt in the medium and long term. Your imprisonment was the price of the credibility of this conviction; your subsequent freedom was proof that the conviction has become reality.

I am writing to you today first to congratulate you on your victory in the October 30 election. It is an extraordinary achievement without precedent in the history of democracy. I often say that sociologists are good at predicting the past, not the future, but this time I was not wrong. That does not make me feel any more certain about what I must tell you today. Take these considerations as an expression of my best wishes for you personally and for the office you are about to take on as the president of Brazil.

1. It would be a serious mistake to think that with your victory in Brazil’s presidential election everything is back to normal in the country. First, the normal situation prior to former President Jair Bolsonaro was very precarious for the most vulnerable populations, even if it was less so than it is now. Second, Bolsonaro inflicted such damage on Brazilian society that is difficult to repair. He has produced a civilizational regression by rekindling the embers of violence typical of a society that was subjected to European colonialism: the idolatry of individual property and the consequent social exclusion, racism, and sexism; the privatization of the state so that the rule of law coexists with the rule of illegality; and an excluding of religion this time in the form of neo-Pentecostal evangelism. The colonial divide is reactivated in the pattern of friend/enemy, us/them polarization, typical of the extreme right. With this, Bolsonaro has created a radical rupture that makes educational and democratic mediation difficult. Recovery will take years.

2. If the previous note points to the medium term, the truth is that your presidency will be dominated by the short term. Bolsonaro has brought back hunger, broken the state financially, deindustrialized the country, let hundreds of thousands of COVID victims die needlessly, and promised to put an end to the Amazon. The emergency camp is the one in which you move best and in which I am sure you will be most successful. Just two caveats. You will no doubt return to the policies you have successfully spearheaded, but mind you, the conditions are now vastly different and more adverse. On the other hand, everything has to be done without expecting political gratitude from the social classes benefiting from the emergency measures. The impersonal way of benefiting, which is proper to the state, makes people see their personal merit or right in the benefits, and not the merit or benevolence of those who make them possible. There is only one way of showing that such measures result neither from personal merit nor from the benevolence of donors but are rather the product of political alternatives: ensuring education for citizenship.

3. One of the most harmful aspects of the backlash brought about by Bolsonaro is the anti-rights ideology ingrained in the social fabric, targeting previously marginalized social groups (poor, Black, Indigenous, Roma, and LGBTQI+ people). Holding on firmly to a policy of social, economic, and cultural rights as a guarantee of ample dignity in a very unequal society should be the basic principle of democratic governments today.

4. The international context is dominated by three mega-threats: recurring pandemics, ecological collapse, and a possible third world war. Each of these threats is global in scope, but political solutions remain predominantly limited to the national scale. Brazilian diplomacy has traditionally been exemplary in the search for agreements, whether regional (Latin American cooperation) or global (BRICS). We live in a time of interregnum between a unipolar world dominated by the United States that has not yet fully disappeared and a multipolar world that has not yet been fully born. The interregnum is seen, for example, in the deceleration of globalization and the return of protectionism, the partial replacement of free trade with trade by friendly partners. All states remain formally independent, but only a few are sovereign. And among the latter, not even the countries of the European Union are to be counted. You left the government when China was the great partner of the United States and return when China is the great rival of the United States. You have always been a supporter of the multipolar world and China cannot but be today a partner of Brazil. Given the growing cold war between the United States and China, I predict that the honeymoon period between U.S. President Joe Biden and yourself will not last long.

5. You today have a world credibility that enables you to be an effective mediator in a world mined by increasingly tense conflicts. You can be a mediator in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, two countries whose people urgently need peace, at a time when the countries of the European Union have embraced the U.S. version of the conflict without a Plan B; they have therefore condemned themselves to the same fate as the U.S.-dominated unipolar world. You will also be a credible mediator in the case of Venezuela’s isolation and in bringing the shameful embargo against Cuba to an end. To accomplish all this, you must have the internal front pacified, and here lies the greatest difficulty.

6. You will have to live with the permanent threat of destabilization. This is the mark of the extreme right. It is a global movement that corresponds to the inability of neoliberal capitalism to coexist in the next period in a minimal democratic way. Although global, it takes on specific characteristics in each country. The general aim is to convert cultural or ethnic diversity into political or religious polarization. In Brazil, as in India, there is the risk of attributing to such polarization the character of a religious war, be it between Catholics and Evangelicals, or between fundamentalist Christians and religions of African origin (Brazil), or between Hindus and Muslims (India). In religious wars, conciliation is almost impossible. The extreme right creates a parallel reality immune to any confrontation with the actual reality. On that basis, it can justify the cruelest violence. Its main objective is to prevent you, President Lula, from peacefully finishing your term.

7. You currently have the support of the United States in your favor. It is well known that all U.S. foreign policy is determined by domestic political reasons. President Biden knows that, by defending you, he is defending himself against former President Trump, his possible rival in 2024. It so happens that the United States today is the most fractured society in the world, where the democratic game coexists with a plutocratic far right strong enough to make about 25 percent of the U.S. population still believe that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was the result of an electoral fraud. This far right is willing to do anything. Their aggressiveness is demonstrated by the attempt by one of their followers to kidnap and torture Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, right after the attack, a battery of fake news was put into circulation to justify the act—something that can very well happen in Brazil as well. So, today the United States is a dual country: the official country that promises to defend Brazilian democracy, and the unofficial country that promises to subvert it in order to rehearse what it wants to achieve in the United States. Let us remember that the extreme right started as the official policy of the country. Hyper-conservative evangelicalism started as an American project (see the Rockefeller report of 1969) to combat “the insurrectionary potential” of liberation theology. And let it be said, in fairness, that for a long time its main ally was former Pope John Paul II.

8. Since 2014, Brazil has been living through a continued coup process, the elites’ response to the progress that the popular classes achieved with your governments. That coup process did not end with your victory. It only changed rhythm and tactics. Throughout these years and especially in the last electoral period we have witnessed multiple illegalities and even political crimes committed with an almost naturalized impunity. Besides the many committed by the head of the government, we have seen, for example, senior members of the armed forces and security forces calling for a coup d’état and publicly siding with a presidential candidate while in office. Such behavior should be punished by the judiciary or by compulsory retirement. Any idea of amnesty, no matter how noble its motives may be, will be a trap in the path of your presidency. The consequences could be fatal.

9. It is well known that you do not place a high priority on characterizing your politics as being left or right. Curiously, shortly before being elected president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro stated that the important distinction for him was not between left and right, but between politics of life and politics of death. The politics of life today in Brazil is sincere ecological politics, the continuation and deepening of policies of racial and sexual justice, labor rights, investment in public health care and education, respect for the demarcated lands of Indigenous peoples, and the enactment of pending demarcations. A gradual but firm transition is needed from agrarian monoculture and natural resource extractivism to a diversified economy that allows respect for different socioeconomic logics and virtuous articulations between the capitalist economy and the peasant, family, cooperative, social-solidarity, Indigenous, riverine, and quilombola economies that have so much vitality in Brazil.

10. The state of grace is short. It does not even last 100 days (see President Gabriel Boric in Chile). You have to do everything not to lose the people that elected you. Symbolic politics is fundamental in the early days. One suggestion: immediately reinstate the national conferences (built on bottom-up participatory democracy) to give an unequivocal sign that there is another, more democratic, and more participative way of doing politics.

Author Bio: Boaventura de Sousa Santos is the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His most recent book is Decolonizing the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice.

'The corporate greed never ends': Bernie Sanders vows to 'stand with rail workers' as possible strike looms

A House Republican from Pennsylvania said Sunday that Congress will intervene to stop a nationwide strike if rail companies and unions don't reach a contract agreement soon, a step that would likely force workers to accept a deal without any paid sick days.

Acknowledging that rail workers "have a very reasonable ask" for better benefits and wages as they continue to labor under a punishing scheduling system, Rep. Brian Kevin Fitzpatrick said in a Fox News appearance Sunday that "Congress will not let this strike happen, that's for sure."

"It would be devastating for our economy" Fitzpatrick added. "We'll get to a resolution one way or another."

Powerful industry groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Association of American Railroads have been pressuring Congress to step in after members of the largest rail union in the United States voted to reject a White House-brokered contract deal that rebuffed workers' push for at least 15 days of paid sick leave. The deal, touted by the Biden White House as a victory for workers and profitable rail companies, does not include a single paid sick day.

Under the Railway Labor Act of 1926, Congress has the authority to intervene in rail labor disputes—power it has used in the past. In September, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blocked Republican legislation that would have forced rail workers to accept the inadequate contract recommendations of an emergency board convened by President Joe Biden.

The prospect of congressional intervention ahead of a potential strike on December 9 has angered rail workers who say it would let giant companies off the hook, allowing them to continue abusing their employees while raking in record profits. Rail workers are often forced to be on call 24/7—with minimal rest between long shifts—and are penalized for taking days off for doctor's appointments or health emergencies.

In June, a locomotive engineer died of a heart attack after he put off a doctor's visit when his employer BNSF—a rail giant owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway—called him into work.

"When railroads refuse to give us sick time, what they are saying is their profits are worth more than their workers and the national economy," Ross Grooters, co-chair of Railroad Workers United, tweeted over the weekend. "Hold the railroads accountable. Tell your elected leaders to give railroad workers the sick time they need or let them strike."

Progressive lawmakers have also placed blame for the looming strike with large railroad companies, which have been gorging on their own stock, reporting huge profits, and enriching shareholders and executives while refusing to budge on workers' longstanding demands for basic quality-of-life benefits.

"The corporate greed never ends," Sanders wrote Sunday. "Last year, the rail industry made a record-breaking $20 billion in profits after cutting their workforce by 30% over the last six years. Meanwhile, rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. Congress must stand with rail workers."

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last week that he is "hoping the railroads will get reasonable."

"This is the 21st Century and to have skilled workers being denied sick leave, even unpaid sick leave, is unconscionable," DeFazio told Bloomberg Government. "Freight rail companies are watching their record profits, 'Oh my God, if we give people paid sick leave our stock might drop by a dollar.' Give me a break."

Green diplomacy: What if the United States and China cooperated on climate change?

Michael Klare, Can (Green) Diplomacy Save Us?

Once upon a time, the American government was into scientific problem-solving in a big way. I’m thinking of the World War II years when that government invested upwards of $2 billion (no small sum then) to gather together the greatest available scientific minds to develop a war-ending weapon, the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project, as it came to be called, would employ more than 120,000 people and create that devastating weapon that would obliterate two Japanese cities and, to this day, leaves our world up for grabs.

Still, on a planet where, from flooding to megadrought, melting ice to rising sea levels, everything seems increasingly up for grabs, I sometimes wonder why, more than three-quarters of a century later, the country that created the atomic bomb (and is still willing to invest trillions of dollars in “modernizing” its nuclear arsenal) can no longer imagine a Manhattan Project to mitigate the overheating of this planet? It’s true that the United Nations regularly convenes top scientists at its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to assess “the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for reducing the rate at which climate change is taking place.” And they do produce increasingly horrifying reports on what a disaster the fossil-fuelization of our planet is proving to be.

Despite that, neither this country, nor any other (as far as I know), has been willing to invest big time to come up with breakthrough ways of mitigating climate change in a world where greenhouse gas emissions only continue to rise. Consider it a sorry tale indeed that there is no twenty-first-century Manhattan Project in this country or, for that matter, anywhere else on Earth.

Today, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare takes a tiny bit of genuine good news — the U.S. and China, the globe’s two greatest carbon emitters, are again at least talking about climate change — and tries to imagine where those two governments could actually go if they truly decided to cooperate. All I would add to his thoughts is this: Isn’t it time to establish a Manhattan-Shanghai Project to find new ways to save this planet rather than blowing it to smithereens or overheating it beyond repair? Tom

What If the U.S. and China Really Cooperated on Climate Change? Imagining a Necessary Future

As President Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping arrived on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, for their November 14th “summit,” relations between their two countries were on a hair-raising downward spiral, with tensions over Taiwan nearing the boiling point. Diplomats hoped, at best, for a modest reduction in tensions, which, to the relief of many, did occur. No policy breakthroughs were expected, however, and none were achieved. In one vital area, though, there was at least a glimmer of hope: the planet’s two largest greenhouse-gas emitters agreed to resume their languishing negotiations on joint efforts to overcome the climate crisis.

These talks have been an on-again, off-again proposition since President Barack Obama initiated them before the Paris climate summit of December 2015, at which delegates were to vote on a landmark measure to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (the maximum amount scientists believe this planet can absorb without catastrophic consequences). The U.S.-Chinese consultations continued after the adoption of the Paris climate accord, but were suspended in 2017 by that climate-change-denying president Donald Trump. They were relaunched by President Biden in 2021, only to be suspended again by an angry Chinese leadership in retaliation for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2nd visit to Taiwan, viewed in Beijing as a show of support for pro-independence forces on that island. But thanks to Biden’s intense lobbying in Bali, President Xi agreed to turn the interactive switch back on.

Behind that modest gesture there lies a far more momentous question: What if the two countries moved beyond simply talking and started working together to champion the radical lowering of global carbon emissions? What miracles might then be envisioned? To help find answers to that momentous question means revisiting the recent history of the U.S.-Chinese climate collaboration.

The Promise of Collaboration

In November 2014, based on extensive diplomatic groundwork, Presidents Obama and Xi met in Beijing and signed a statement pledging joint action to ensure the success of the forthcoming Paris summit. “The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have a critical role to play in combating global climate change,” they affirmed. “The seriousness of the challenge calls upon the two sides to work constructively together for the common good.”

Obama then ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to collaborate with Chinese officials in persuading other attendees at that summit — officially, the 21st Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21 — to agree on a firm commitment to honor the 1.5-degree limit. That joint effort, many observers believe, was instrumental in persuading reluctant participants like India and Russia to sign the Paris climate agreement.

“With our historic joint announcement with China last year,” Obama declared at that summit’s concluding session, “we showed it was possible to bridge the old divides… that had stymied global progress for so long. That accomplishment encouraged dozens and dozens of other nations to set their own ambitious climate targets.”

Obama also pointed out that any significant global progress along that path was dependent on continued cooperation between the two countries. “No nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone.”

Trump and the Perils of Non-Cooperation

That era of cooperation didn’t last long. Donald Trump, an ardent fan of fossil fuels, made no secret of his aversion to the Paris climate accord. He signaled his intent to exit from the agreement soon after taking office. “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, PA, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France,” he said ominously in 2017 when announcing his decision.

With the U.S. absent from the scene, progress in implementing the Paris Agreement slowed to a crawl. Many countries that had been pressed by the U.S. and China to agree to ambitious emissions-reduction schedules began to opt out of those commitments in sync with Trump’s America. China, too, the greatest greenhouse gas emitter of this moment and the leading user of that dirtiest of fossil fuels, coal, felt far less pressure to honor its commitment, even on a rapidly heating planet.

No one knows what would have happened had Trump not been elected and those U.S.-China talks not been suspended, but in the absence of such collaboration, there was a steady rise in carbon emissions and temperatures across the planet. According to CO.2.Earth, emissions grew from 35.5 billion metric tons in 2016 to 36.4 billion tons in 2021, a 2.5% increase. Since such emissions are the leading contributor to the greenhouse-gas effect responsible for global warming, it should be no surprise that the past seven years have also proven the hottest on record, with much of the world experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, forest fires, droughts, and crop failures. We can be fairly certain, moreover, that in the absence of renewed U.S.-China climate cooperation, such disasters will become ever more frequent and severe.

On Again, Off Again

Overcoming this fearsome trend was one of Joe Biden’s principal campaign promises and, against strong Republican opposition, he has indeed endeavored to undo at least some of the damage wrought by Trump. It was symbolic indeed that he rejoined the Paris climate accord on his first day in office and ordered his cabinet to accelerate the government’s transition to clean energy. In August, he achieved a significant breakthrough when Congress approved the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which provides $369 billion in loans, grants, and tax credits for green-energy initiatives.

Biden also sought to reinvigorate Washington’s global-warming diplomacy and the stalled talks with China, naming John Kerry as his special envoy for climate action. Kerry, in turn, reestablished ties with his Chinese colleagues from his time as secretary of state. At last year’s COP26 gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, he persuaded them to join the U.S. in approving the “Glasgow Declaration,” a commitment to step up efforts to mitigate climate change.

However, in so many ways, Joe Biden and his foreign policy team are still caught up in the Cold War era and his administration has generally taken a far more antagonistic approach to China than Obama. Not surprisingly, then, the progress Kerry achieved with his Chinese counterparts at Glasgow largely evaporated as tensions over Taiwan only grew more heated. Biden was, for instance, the first president in memory to claim — four times — that U.S. military forces would defend that island in a crisis, were it to be attacked by China, essentially tossing aside Washington’s longstanding position of “strategic ambiguity” on the Taiwan question. In response, China’s leaders became ever more strident in claiming that the island belonged to them.

When Nancy Pelosi made that Taiwan visit in early August, the Chinese responded by firing ballistic missiles into the waters around the island and, in a fit of anger, terminated those bilateral climate-change talks. Now, thanks to Biden’s entreaties in Bali, the door seems again open for the two countries to collaborate on limiting global greenhouse gas emissions. At a moment of ever more devastating evidence of planetary heating, from a megadrought in the U.S. to “extreme heat” in China, the question is: What might any meaningful new collaborative effort involve?

Reasserting the Climate’s Centrality

In 2015, few of those in power doubted the overarching threat posed by climate change or the need to bring international diplomacy to bear to help overcome it. In Paris, Obama declared that “the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.” What should give us hope, he continued, “is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it.”

Since then, all too sadly, other challenges, including the growth of Cold War-style tensions with China, the Covid-19 pandemic, and Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, have come to “define the contours” of this century. In 2022, even as the results of the overheating of the planet become ever more obvious, few world leaders would contend that “it is within our power” to overcome the climate peril. So, the first (and perhaps most valuable) outcome of any renewed U.S.-China climate cooperation might simply be to place climate change at the top of the world’s agenda again and provide evidence that the major powers, working together, can successfully tackle the issue.

Such an effort might, for instance, start with a Washington-Beijing “climate summit,” presided over by presidents Biden and Xi and attended by high-level delegations from around the world. American and Chinese scientists could offer the latest bad news on the likely future trajectory of global warming, while identifying real-world goals to significantly reduce fossil-fuel use. This might, in turn, lead to the formation of multilateral working groups, hosted by U.S. and Chinese agencies and institutions, to meet regularly and implement the most promising strategies for halting the onrushing disaster.

Following the example set by Obama and Xi at COP21 in Paris, Biden and Xi would agree to play a pivotal role in the next Conference of the Parties, COP28, scheduled for December 2023 in the United Arab Emirates. Following the inconclusive outcome of COP27, recently convened at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, strong leadership will be required to ensure something significantly better at COP28. Among the goals those two leaders would need to pursue, the top priority should be the full implementation of the 2015 Paris accord with its commitment to a 1.5-degree maximum temperature increase, followed by a far greater effort by the wealthy nations to assist developing countries suffering from its effects.

There’s no way, however, that China and the U.S. will be able to exert a significant international influence on climate efforts if both countries — the former the leading emitter of greenhouse gasses at this moment and the latter the historic leader — don’t take far greater initiatives to lower their carbon emissions and shift to renewable sources of energy. The Inflation Reduction Act will indeed allow the White House to advance many new initiatives in this direction, while China is moving more swiftly than any other country to install added supplies of wind and solar energy. Nevertheless, both countries continue to rely on fossil fuels for a substantial share of their energy — China, for instance, remains the greatest user of coal, burning more of it than the rest of the world combined — and so both will need to agree on even more aggressive moves to reduce their carbon emissions if they hope to persuade other nations to do the same.

The Sino-American Fund for Clean Energy Transitions

In a better world, next on my list of possible outcomes from a reinvigorated U.S.-Chinese relationship would be joint efforts to help finance the global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Although the cost of deploying renewables, especially wind and solar energy, has fallen dramatically in recent years, it remains substantial even for wealthy countries. For many developing nations, it remains an unaffordable option. This emerged as a major issue at COP27 in Egypt, where representatives from the Global South complained that the wealthy countries largely responsible for the overheating of the planet weren’t doing faintly enough (or, in many cases, anything), despite prior promises, to help them shoulder the costs of the increasingly devastating effects of climate change and the future greening of their countries.

Many of these complaints revolved around the Green Climate Fund, established at COP16 in Cancún. The developed countries agreed to provide $100 billion annually to that fund by 2020 to help developing nations bear the costs of transitioning to renewable energy. Although that amount is now widely viewed as wildly insufficient for such a transition — “all of the evidence suggests that we need trillions, not billions,” observed Baysa Naran, a manager at the research center Climate Policy Initiative — the Fund has never even come close to hitting that $100 billion target, leaving many in the Global South bitter as, with unprecedented flooding and staggering heat waves, climate change strikes home ever more horrifically there.

When the U.S. and China were working on the climate together at COP26 in Glasgow, filling the Green Climate Fund appeared genuinely imaginable. In their Glasgow Declaration of November 2021, John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, affirmed that “both countries recognize the importance of the commitment made by developed countries to the goal of mobilizing jointly $100b per year by 2020 and annually through 2025 to address the needs of developing countries [and] stress the importance of meeting that goal as soon as possible.”

Sadly enough, all too little came of that affirmation in the months that followed, as U.S.-China relations turned ever more antagonistic. Now, in the wake of Biden’s meeting with Xi and the resumption of their talks on climate change, it’s at least possible to imagine intensified bilateral efforts to advance that $100 billion objective — and even go far beyond it (though we can expect fierce resistance from the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives).

As my contribution to such thinking, let me suggest the formation of a Sino-American Fund for Green Energy Transitions — a grant- and loan-making institution jointly underwritten by the two countries with the primary purpose of financing renewable energy projects in the developing world. Decisions on such funding would be made by a board of directors, half from each country, with staff work performed by professionals drawn from around the world. The aim: to supplement the Green Climate Fund with additional hundreds of billions of dollars annually and so speed the global energy transition.

The Pathway to Peace and Survival

The leaders of the U.S. and China both recognize that global warming poses an extraordinary threat to the survival of their nations and that colossal efforts will be needed in the coming years to minimize the climate peril, while preparing for its most severe effects. “The climate crisis is the existential challenge of our time,” the Biden administration’s October 2022 National Security Strategy (NSS) states. “Without immediate global action to reduce emissions, scientists tell us we will soon exceed 1.5 degrees of warming, locking in further extreme heat and weather, rising sea levels, and catastrophic biodiversity loss.”

Despite that all-too-on-target assessment, the NSS portrays competition from China as an even greater threat to U.S. security — without citing any of the same sort of perilous outcomes — and proposes a massive mobilization of the nation’s economic, technological, and military resources to ensure American dominance of the Asia-Pacific region for decades to come. That strategy will, of course, require trillions of dollars in military expenditures, ensuring insufficient funding to tackle the climate crisis and exposing this country to an ever-increasing risk of war — possibly even a nuclear one — with China.

Given such dangers, perhaps the best outcome of renewed U.S.-China climate cooperation, or green diplomacy, might be increasing trust between the leaders of those two countries, allowing for a reduction in tensions and military expenditures. Indeed, such an approach constitutes the only practical strategy for saving us from the catastrophic consequences of both a U.S.-China conflict and unconstrained climate change.

Is America’s infatuation with billionaires finally coming to an end?

It has long been evident that Elon Musk is a moron, at least to those willing to see it. Well before the Tesla CEO overpaid for Twitter in the throes of a tantrum, there was a chorus of mostly-ignored people pointing out, repeatedly, that Musk's mental maturity appeared to have stagnated around the sixth grade. There was the time he rolled out a "ingenious" idea for tunnel-based transportation, only to have people point out that the subway has been around for over a century. Or the time he tried to push a useless and overly complicated plan to rescue a group of Thai children trapped in a cave. Or the time shortly after that when, still angry at being dismissed, he falsely accused the man who actually did save the children of being a pedophile. Or the time he acted like such an idiot on Joe Rogan's podcast that Tesla stock took a dive. Or the time he named his actual child X Æ A-12.

There are infinitely more examples. (His childish feud with rapper Azealia Banks is a personal favorite.) Yet somehow, no matter how often Musk has shown his ass in public, the damage to his reputation was fleeting. The business and tech press would be startled at his dumb behavior, but within 48 to 72 hours, it was all forgotten and Musk went back to being covered as if he were a genius, if perhaps an eccentric one.

Such is the power of the American mythology of the billionaire. The infatuation with our richest capitalists is related to, but in many ways goes even beyond, the illusion that the U.S. is a meritocracy. The notion that to be very rich must also mean you're brilliant permeates our society, justifying both ridiculously low taxes on the wealthiest Americans and the undue influence they exert over our political system. It's a social fiction that dates back to the Gilded Age and has covered up the intellectual deficits of many famous Americans. (Henry Ford comes to mind.) But it's gotten a lot more juice in the past few decades, as the new class of tech billionaires, starting with Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple, forged the image of the singular mastermind who, with little education and limited resources, remakes the world through the sheer power of their intelligence.

This presumption that wealth equals brains has so permeated our society that it's sometimes hard to see how pervasive it is. But the past couple of years — and indeed, just the past couple of months — have really done a number on the belief that having a fat bank account somehow inoculates one from being a dumbass. Watching Musk lay waste to Twitter, for no discernible reason beyond his desire to impress the biggest losers on the internet, has been a wake-up call. It's hard to imagine there will be the same mass forgetting of who Musk really is that we saw after all his previous public face-plants.

But it's not just Musk. The same process is unfolding for the single person who has benefited more than any other from the myth that money means you're smart: Donald Trump.

For those of us who always thought Trump was a dingleberry, it may not seem readily apparent how much he's really gotten a boost from the widespread assumption that wealth comes attached to inherent smarts. Trump coasted on this for decades. The entire premise of his reality show, "The Apprentice," was that he was some kind of business savant. As with Musk, Trump's gross and idiotic behavior — such as pushing the "birther" conspiracy theory about Barack Obama — was largely shrugged off as quirkiness instead of idiocy.

In 2016, a distressingly large number of people were able to tell themselves that it was OK to vote for Trump because his wealth must mean he's smarter than he seems. When I went to the Republican National Convention in 2016, one delegate after another insisted to me that there must be an ocean of intelligence under that dimwitted exterior, and pointed to his real estate empire as proof. Years later, it became clear that his wealth had been handed to him by others, and his principal accomplishment was to piss most of it away.

That was on top of a record of public tomfoolery that reached its zenith when he publicly suggested that doctors had overlooked the possibility that injecting bleach into the human body might cure COVID-19. In true Dunning-Kruger fashion, Trump then congratulated himself on knowing more than the entire medical establishment, due to this insight.

Trump lost the 2020 election for a number of reasons, but we can't overlook the strong possibility that four years of his outbursts disabused some number of his 2016 voters of the claims about his supposedly superior mental acumen. Yet the notion that Trump is a political sage underneath the braying boob exterior continues to have a remarkable hold on the GOP imagination. The expectation that the 2022 midterms would be a "red tsunami" was based in large part on the confidence that the gallery of QAnoners, snake oil salesmen and bumbleheads endorsed by Trump had also been anointed with some secret sauce that only he, in his infinite wisdom, could perceive or understand. Those candidates ended up losing by an average of about five percentage points more than other Republicans not cursed with Trump's blessing. Now the GOP establishment is struggling with the same doubts creeping into the tech press around Musk: Is it possible this guy's success was more about luck and privilege than savvy?

(To be clear, I don't think Trump's a total imbecile. He's a skillful criminal with a certain low cunning. He's just bad at all the things his defenders wanted to believe he was good at: Business, governance, literacy.)

Two examples, even as big as these, do not a trend make. But there's another big sign that the American faith in the galaxy-level intelligence of our wealthiest people is being rattled: the dawning realization that many people have exploited this mythology for the purposes of plain old fraud.

Just this past couple of weeks, we've seen both former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison and the total career implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried, former CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. In both cases, it should have been obvious that what they were selling to investors was pure nonsense. Holmes' alleged blood-test technology showed multiple signs of being a smoke-and-mirrors job, and numerous sensible people have been calling cryptocurrency a scam from the very beginning. However you slice it, a heavy dose of skepticism was warranted in both cases.

But both Holmes and Bankman-Fried managed to quash other people's doubts by leveraging the cult of the billionaire genius. Both expertly played to stereotypes to bamboozle investors. Holmes literally modeled her look and demeanor after Steve Jobs, which was such a weird thing to do that it only reinforced her image as a quirky brainiac. Bankman-Fried hyped himself as a relentless workaholic who slept at the office. Both images are meant to suggest a person too focused on changing the world to care about personal appearance. In reality, these personas were as carefully cultivated as Kim Kardashian's, and they were highly effective in convincing gullible people to part with their money.

Now that these two have been exposed, however, a lot more people are asking hard questions about whether the "grind culture" of Silicon Valley is a farce, akin to the illusion of Trump's business acuity built in the editing bay of "The Apprentice." Holmes and Bankman-Fried might have be written off as outliers a few years ago. But right now there's a growing sense that so much of self-congratulatory tech culture is just a digital version of the Wizard of Oz, especially as another crypto crash seems to happen every couple of weekw. Even Gates and Jobs, who were unquestionably brilliant at developing and marketing innovative computer technology, have lost a little of their luster. Jobs, of course, died of cancer after convincing himself that he knew better than doctors how to treat it. Gates, meanwhile, blew up his marriage by acting like a garden variety jackass. Even genuinely smart people can be stupid sometimes. More importantly, a bunch of people who have tricked everyone into thinking that they're geniuses are finally being revealed as the imposters they always were.

Scholars, attorneys and advocates urge Supreme Court to block GOP efforts to tank student debt relief

A broad coalition of legal scholars, attorneys, labor unions, and advocates filed amicus briefs this week imploring the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the Biden administration's student debt cancellation program, which lower courts have put on hold as Republican officials and right-wing groups attempt to block relief for tens of millions of borrowers.

The series of filings includes a 32-page brief led by the founders of the Student Loan Law Initiative, a project of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and the Student Borrower Protection Center. The law scholars argue that the Biden administration is perfectly within its right to forgive student loan debt "because Congress, through the plain language of the relevant statute, delegated precisely the authority exercised here."

"The relevant statutory text is clear as sunlight," the brief reads. "The HEROES Act of 2003 authorizes the secretary of education to 'waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under [T]itle IV of the [Higher Education] Act [of 1965] as the secretary deems necessary in connection with a... national emergency.' That is exactly what the secretary did here."

Former U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the lead author of the HEROES Act, submitted an amicus brief on Tuesday echoing that assessment.

"In short, the HEROES Act permits the reduction or elimination of a student borrower's debt burden by allowing the secretary to 'relinquish' or 'make more moderate' the provisions that require repayment of student loans," Miller wrote. "This understanding of 'waive' and 'modify' aligns with the way that agencies have interpreted these terms in similar statutory provisions."

Other amicus briefs in support of upholding the Biden administration's debt cancellation program were submitted this week by the American Federation of Teachers, the Student Borrower Protection Center, the National Consumer Law Center, Democracy Forward, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and other organizations. If the program is allowed to proceed, eligible student loan borrowers will receive up to $20,000 in debt relief.

"As briefs from a broad range of people, experts, and legal scholars show, President Biden's debt relief plan for student loan borrowers is legal, necessary, and appropriate," said Skye Perryman, president and CEO of Democracy Forward. "Debt relief will provide crucial assistance to a huge number of people around the country, including in the states whose leaders are currently suing to stop it."

The briefs were filed on the same day the Biden administration announced another extension of the student loan repayment freeze, which will now expire at the end of June.

Last week, the Biden Justice Department formally asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the administration's debt forgiveness program after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued an injunction halting the plan, siding with Republican officials from Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Kansas and leaving tens of millions of people in limbo.

On Wednesday, those six states submitted a brief urging the Supreme Court to reject the Biden administration's effort to restore the student debt cancellation program, which has paused applications as legal challenges unfold.

Right-wing Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has twice rejected emergency requests to block the debt relief plan in recent weeks.

Persis Yu, deputy executive director and managing counsel at the Student Borrower Protection Center, said Wednesday that vulnerable student loan borrowers "deserve better than to be treated like political pawns."

"We have faith that the Supreme Court will see through the political chicanery and allow this critical program to deliver the relief that 40 million working- and middle-class borrowers desperately need," Yu added.

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.

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.

'We did it': Environmentalists laud NY Governor for signing nation's first partial ban on crypto mining

Environmentalists celebrated after Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday approved a two-year moratorium on permits for fossil fuel plants that power cryptocurrency mining operations which use proof-of-work authentication methods to validate blockchain transactions.

While the cryptocurrency industry and its allies opposed the measure—the Digital Chamber of Commerce said it was "severely disappointed" with Hochul's decision to sign the bill into law and set a "dangerous precedent" for energy rules—environmental campaigners heralded it as a model.

"This first-in-the-nation law should set the standard for every other state where crypto miners are coming in, extracting resources, and wreaking havoc," said Liz Moran, Earthjustice's New York policy advocate, in a statement. "Thank you, Gov. Hochul, for setting a precedent for the rest of the country and staying true to New York's climate law mandates."

After also thanking the bill sponsors, Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-125) and Sen. Kevin Parker (D-21), "and all of the advocates who were critical to this effort," Moran noted that the law requires a study by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

"We're very much looking forward to the DEC's fact-finding review, which we're confident will affirm what Earthjustice and the White House have already concluded: crypto mining is a major threat to climate security and needs to be closely regulated," she said.

In September, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club released a report titled, The Energy Bomb: How Proof-of-Work Cryptocurrency Mining Worsens the Climate Crisis and Harms Communities Now.

That same month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy put out a fact sheet highlighting that "depending on the energy intensity of the technology and the sources of electricity used, the rapid growth of crypto-assets could potentially hinder broader efforts to achieve U.S. climate commitments to reach net-zero carbon pollution."

Given the industry's impacts, Moran was far from alone in applauding Hochul's move.

The Divest NY coalition declared that "New York is once again leading the nation on climate."

"We did it!!!" Kelles said in a series of tweets, thanking the governor as well as fellow legislators who backed the bill, which passed the state Assembly in April and the Senate in June "despite enormous pressure from the crypto industry to stop it."

"This is a huge win for our planet and a sign that New York is not afraid to lead the nation in our climate policy," Kelles continued—adding that "I am just filled with so much hope for our planet because of my partners in this fight," whom she called "climate warriors."

In a memorandum Tuesday, Hochul pointed out that "the legislation would still allow the issuance of permits for eclectic energy facilities that use alternatives to carbon-based fuel, such as hydropower, which would permit growth and business development in this industry."

The Democrat's decision to endorse the bill came after she was noncommittal during a debate leading up to her reelection earlier this month and as the crypto industry faces heightened scrutiny.

As The New York Times reported Tuesday:

Earlier this month, the crypto exchange known as FTX suffered a swift and public collapse that led to its declaration of bankruptcy. The fall of what had been a trusted player in the new market has led to broader questions about the future of the exchange, as well as possible criminal charges for its principal, Sam Bankman-Fried.
Mr. Bankman-Fried had been in the process of lobbying New York regulators to permit his exchange to operate in the state. He is also a major Democratic donor who backed a super PAC that spent $1 million to boost Ms. Hochul's running mate, Antonio Delgado, in his primary race earlier this year.
The spending drew accusations from Ms. Hochul’s political opponents, who argued it was a signal that the industry was trying to exert its influence to pressure the governor into vetoing the mining moratorium.

In a Tuesday opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote that "FTX's implosion should be a wake-up call" and if the federal government does not adequately regulate the crypto industry, it will "take down the economy."

Keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius is now practically impossible. But all is not yet lost

The world could still, theoretically, meet its goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, a level many scientists consider a dangerous threshold. Realistically, that’s unlikely to happen.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Part of the problem was evident at COP27, the United Nations climate conference in Egypt.

While nations’ climate negotiators were successfully fighting to “keep 1.5 alive” as the global goal in the official agreement, reached Nov. 20, 2022, some of their countries were negotiating new fossil fuel deals, driven in part by the global energy crisis. Any expansion of fossil fuels – the primary driver of climate change – makes keeping warming under 1.5 C (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times much harder.

Attempts at the climate talks to get all countries to agree to phase out coal, oil, natural gas and all fossil fuel subsidies failed. And countries have done little to strengthen their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the past year.

There have been positive moves, including advances in technology, falling prices for renewable energy and countries committing to cut their methane emissions.

But all signs now point toward a scenario in which the world will overshoot the 1.5 C limit, likely by a large amount. The World Meteorological Organization estimates global temperatures have a 50-50 chance of reaching 1.5C of warming, at least temporarily, in the next five years.

That doesn’t mean humanity can just give up.

Why 1.5 degrees?

During the last quarter of the 20th century, climate change due to human activities became an issue of survival for the future of life on the planet. Since at least the 1980s, scientific evidence for global warming has been increasingly firm , and scientists have established limits of global warming that cannot be exceeded to avoid moving from a global climate crisis to a planetary-scale climate catastrophe.

There is consensus among climate scientists, myself included, that 1.5 C of global warming is a threshold beyond which humankind would dangerously interfere with the climate system.

We know from the reconstruction of historical climate records that, over the past 12,000 years, life was able to thrive on Earth at a global annual average temperature of around 14 C (57 F). As one would expect from the behavior of a complex system, the temperatures varied, but they never warmed by more than about 1.5 C during this relatively stable climate regime.

Today, with the world 1.2 C warmer than pre-industrial times, people are already experiencing the effects of climate change in more locations, more forms and at higher frequencies and amplitudes.

Climate model projections clearly show that warming beyond 1.5 C will dramatically increase the risk of extreme weather events, more frequent wildfires with higher intensity, sea level rise, and changes in flood and drought patterns with implications for food systems collapse, among other adverse impacts. And there can be abrupt transitions, the impacts of which will result in major challenges on local to global scales.

Tipping points: Warmer ocean water is contributing to the collapse of the Thwaites Glacier, a major contributor to sea level rise with global consequences.

Steep reductions and negative emissions

Meeting the 1.5 goal at this point will require steep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, but that alone isn’t enough. It will also require “negative emissions” to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide that human activities have already put into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for decades to centuries, so just stopping emissions doesn’t stop its warming effect. Technology exists that can pull carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it away. It’s still only operating at a very small scale, but corporate agreements like Microsoft’s 10-year commitment to pay for carbon removed could help scale it up.

A report in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that meeting the 1.5 C goal would require cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 50% globally by 2030 – plus significant negative emissions from both technology and natural sources by 2050 up to about half of present-day emissions.

A direct air capture project in Iceland stores captured carbon dioxide underground in basalt formations, where chemical reactions mineralize it.

Climeworks

Can we still hold warming to 1.5 C?

Since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, countries have made some progress in their pledges to reduce emissions, but at a pace that is way too slow to keep warming below 1.5 C. Carbon dioxide emissions are still rising, as are carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program highlights the shortfalls. The world is on track to produce 58 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 – more than twice where it should be for the path to 1.5 C. The result would be an average global temperature increase of 2.7 C (4.9 F) in this century, nearly double the 1.5 C target.

Given the gap between countries’ actual commitments and the emissions cuts required to keep temperatures to 1.5 C, it appears practically impossible to stay within the 1.5 C goal.

Global emissions aren’t close to plateauing, and with the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, it is very likely that the world will reach the 1.5 C warming level within the next five to 10 years.

With current policies and pledges, the world will far exceed the 1.5 C goal.

Climate Action Tracker

How large the overshoot will be and for how long it will exist critically hinges on accelerating emissions cuts and scaling up negative emissions solutions, including carbon capture technology.

At this point, nothing short of an extraordinary and unprecedented effort to cut emissions will save the 1.5 C goal. We know what can be done – the question is whether people are ready for a radical and immediate change of the actions that lead to climate change, primarily a transformation away from a fossil fuel-based energy system.The Conversation

Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University

Joe Biden extends student loan payment freeze as 'baseless political lawsuits' threaten aid

Student debt relief campaigners on Tuesday welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden's decision to yet again extend a temporary pause on federal loan payments in response to Republican lawsuits targeting his cancellation plan.

"I'm completely confident my plan is legal. But right now it's on hold because of these lawsuits. We're not going to back down though, on our fight to give families breathing room," Biden said in a video, noting his administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.

Stressing that "it isn't fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments" while waiting on a court ruling, the president explained that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is extending the freeze to no later than June 30, 2023. Payments would restart 60 days later.

Unveiled in August, Biden's plan would cancel up to $10,000 in debt for federal borrowers with incomes below $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for households. Borrowers who received Pell Grants would have up to $20,000 forgiven.

After the GOP responded with a flurry of lawsuits, the Department of Education earlier this month stopped accepting applications for the relief program. However, tens of millions of Americans have already sent in their information, and the administration has pledged in emails to borrowers that "we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court."

Echoing Biden's confidence that the relief plan will ultimately take effect, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that the pause "gives student loan borrowers more opportunity to pay down their debt and reach important milestones in life like opening a savings account, purchasing a home, and saving for retirement."

Student Borrower Protection Center executive director Mike Pierce similarly stressed that "this extension means that struggling borrowers will be able to keep food on their tables during the holiday season—and the coming months—as the administration does everything it can to beat back the baseless and backward attacks on working families with student debt."

Peirce added that "the Republican politicians set on keeping their constituents in debt should take note: Borrowers made this happen and borrowers will continue to fight until student debt cancellation is won."

Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick also praised the administration's extension—which came amid growing calls for one—while slamming the right-wing interests attempting to kill the program.

"President Biden's repayment pause is a weight off the shoulders of millions of Americans dealing with crushing student debt," she said. "The baseless political lawsuits attacking the administration's relief policies could not come at a worse time as corporate greed continues to drive up prices and the economy heads towards a recession."

"As President Biden prioritizes average Americans in this moment of economic uncertainty, conservative judges and politicians are doing all they can to protect the bottom line of greedy special interests," she continued. "This is a welcome step towards stimulating the economy and providing some economic relief to millions of Americans."

Student Debt Crisis Center president Natalia Abrams praised the extension and warned of the expected impacts of resuming payments.

"Restarting student loan payments is simply not affordable for millions of Americans," she said. "Federal student loan payments must not resume during this critical time—and the pause should continue until the president's student debt cancellation plan is secured."

"We applaud the president for doing the right thing. Too many borrowers, parents, and students have yet to recover from the financial harm caused by the pandemic and the possibility of a winter surge in Covid-19 cases is proof that this crisis is not over," Abrams noted, calling cancellation "essential to helping borrowers recover from the pandemic."

Braxton Brewington, a spokesperson for the Debt Collective, said that "the least the Biden administration could do is not collect on a debt they promised they would cancel."

"This pause extension is necessary, but also the bare minimum," Brewington added. "What 45 million borrowers truly need is a Biden administration that won't allow fringe lawsuits and right-wing courts to undermine economic relief that's already been approved."

Missouri newspaper editorial board shreds GOP for pushing discredited Reagan-era economic theory

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board shredded Republicans for clinging to a pro-tax cut political theory of economics pushed by former President Ronald Reagan decades ago — despite it having repeatedly failed.

The "Laffer curve," famously first scrawled on the back of a napkin at a restaurant by right-wing economist and GOP adviser Arthur Laffer, is the notion that tax cuts actually raise revenue for the government because the investment spurred by more money in the hands of businesses and millionaires grows the tax base more than the marginal revenue lost.

The ideology has a kernel of truth to it in that taxation generally reduces economic activity; however, there has never been any evidence U.S. taxes were high enough to begin with to depress economic activity beyond the returns to government revenue.

"Today’s stubborn Republican mythology that treats tax cuts as a magical economic elixir is largely traceable to Laffer’s theory, which arose in the late 1970s," wrote the board. "His famous 'Laffer curve' presumes to prove that tax cuts for the rich will spur economic investment, causing such strong economic growth that the government’s tax revenue would actually rise instead of falling. Even 1980 Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush derided the notion as 'voodoo economics.' That is, until he became vice president to Ronald Reagan, who embraced it."

"And how did Laffer’s theory, recast as 'Reaganomics,' turn out in practice?" wrote the board. "Yes, the economy was robust in the 1980s after Reagan’s historic tax cuts. But that’s also when the era of big budget deficits began, to the point that Reagan himself had to implement a series of later tax hikes to address it. Republicans today always seem to forget that part of the story. They certainly forgot it in Kansas in 2012, when they went full-Laffer with massive tax cuts. This deliberate test of Laffer’s theory, known as 'The Kansas Experiment,' was a debacle. The state’s economy didn’t skyrocket, but the deficit did, forcing deep cuts to education before the legislature finally acknowledged defeat and reversed the tax cuts."

Republicans then went on to try the same thing at a national scale under Donald Trump, noted the board, passing enormous tax cuts for corporations in 2017 — which did not deliver the sweeping economic growth Republicans promised. In fact, some experts believe, those tax cuts made the post-COVID inflation spell worse than it would have been otherwise. But still, House Republicans want to use their new majority to force President Joe Biden to do another round of tax cuts — when what is really needed to reduce inflation is targeted tax increases.

"You’d think after blaming the Biden administration (with some justification) for making inflation worse by pumping more money into the economy, they would at least see the irony of what they’re proposing, if not its damning precedent," concluded the board.

'Believe they are above the law': Outrage as Starbucks moves to close first unionized shop in Seattle

Starbucks announced late Monday that it will soon shutter yet another unionized location—this time the Seattle shop that was the first to unionize in the coffee giant's home city.

While Starbucks said in a statement that the planned closure is due to "safety and security" concerns, workers and union representatives characterized the decision as clearly retaliatory given the Broadway East and Denny Way's status as the first organized shop in the city where Starbucks was founded and is currently headquartered.

"Starbucks and [billionaire CEO] Howard Schultz believe they are above the law. They believe they can do whatever they want and get away with it," Starbucks Workers United wrote on Twitter. "This is unacceptable and will not stand."

December 9 is the final day before the store will be closed to the public. As Starbucks Workers United Seattle pointed out, that is the one-year anniversary of the first-ever Starbucks union victory in Buffalo, New York last year.

The Broadway and Denny location is one of several unionized stores in Seattle that Starbucks has moved to shut down in recent months as the company continues its relentless anti-union campaign across the country, drawing accusations of mass labor law violations and legal action from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

"On the average month between April and September, the union filed 43 [unfair labor practice] charges, more than one per day," Matt Bruenig of the People's Policy Project noted earlier this month. "The charges generally allege that Starbucks has engaged in retaliation against workers attempting to unionize."

More than 260 Starbucks locations have voted to unionize since last year, but not a single store has secured a contract as management and its anti-union Littler Mendelson attorneys engage in common stalling tactics and abruptly walk out of sessions before any real bargaining can begin.

Last week, thousands of unionized Starbucks workers from hundreds of stores across the country walked off the job to protest management's refusal to bargain in good faith and ongoing punishment of union organizers, which has led the NLRB to ask a federal court for a nationwide cease-and-desist order against the company.

Casey Moore, a Buffalo barista and a member of the National Starbucks Workers United Communications Committee, tweeted late Monday that "what Howard Schultz fundamentally misunderstands about this movement is that we are a fucking hydra."

"Cut down one of us, and there's five new workers to take their place," Moore wrote. "They can fire us, shut down our stores, send whatever messages they want to us, but WE'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE. Nowhere. Not until we win a goddamn contract and hold this company accountable for every last worker they fired and every last store they closed."

Starbucks denies that its recent store closures had anything to do with unionization, but workers say a significant percentage of the stores shuttered were in the process of organizing. In August, Starbucks Workers United said that 42% of the stores the company closed in the preceding months were engaged in union activity.

Last month, Starbucks shut down the first unionized store in Colorado Springs a day before the date that the union had requested for the first bargaining session.

Earlier this month, Starbucks announced the closure of a Portland, Maine location that was the second store to unionize in the state.

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