We Can Afford a Green New Deal

Photo: Getty

The Green New Deal has been pilloried by everyone from House Leader Nancy Pelosi to basically every Republican for being too expensive. Despite that, it turns out implementing it would be really cost effective.

New research shows it’s not only “economically credible,” but also that it’s correct to assume that social welfare programs are needed to draw down carbon emissions. The analysis used the dollar amounts laid out in Senator Bernie Sanders’—who suspended his presidential campaign on Wednesday—climate plan to come to its conclusion. In doing so, it makes the case for presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to, if he wins the White House, work with Democrats to pass the Green New Deal legislation introduced last year by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and build it out.

What is solidarity? During coronavirus and always, it’s more than ‘we’re all in this together’

A woman claps above a banner reading “everything will be all right,” in Rome. This phrase has appeared on social media and at balconies and windows across Italy as the country faces coronavirus.Medical researchers around the world are involved in an unprecedented collaboration to test experimental treatments for COVID-19. When Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, announced the initiative in mid-March, he called it the “solidarity trial.”

Across the globe, local expressions of solidarity appear to be spreading as individuals take it upon themselves to act on behalf of others in need.

From the WHO to government leaders and citizen actionsexpressions of solidarity may appear to be a good and common-sense response to the crisis. Yet, as American author Barbara Ehrenreich suggests, fascists, religious zealots or nations at war also unite in solidarity to advance their agendas. Some groups can mobilize solidarity for destructive purposes.

While solidarity may be a fundamental human need, the meaning of solidarity and what it requires of us is elusive. In my work, I explore how realizing solidarity depends on education. Teaching for solidarity requires relationships, intentions and actions grounded in explicit ethical and political commitments. I am interested in how the values that underpin these commitments define the differences between “us” and “them.”

Whether we are confronting a pandemic, global warming, income inequality, racism or gender-based violence, solidarity depends on how we come together. It is defined by how we understand and enact our responsibilities to, and relationships with, each other.

People stand on their balconies for a physically distant show of social support amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Milan, Italy, in March 2020. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)

Equally responsible for a debt

The word solidarity has its roots in the Roman law of obligation that held a group of people bound together — in solidum — as equally responsible for a debt. The contemporary uses of the concept go back to the French Revolution and the ideal of human solidarity articulated by philosopher and “champion of socialism,” Pierre Leroux.

For Leroux, solidarity was necessary for human well-being and flourishing. But in their 1848 Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels conceptualized solidarity as an expression of the shared experience and specific political needs of the working class.

Solidarity has also been a central concept in Catholic social teachings since the end of the 19th century. It figures prominently in liberation theology, in which solidarity and communion with the poor is a fundamental spiritual commitment.

This brief history illustrates that solidarity depends on some idea of what it means to be “us.” In my forthcoming book, I explore the educational challenges that arise when people invoke solidarity in colonial societies.

I examine what happens when solidarity is contingent on others being more like us, thinking more like us and believing what we believe.

Universalistic solidarity

German philosopher Kurt Bayertz points to four uses of the concept of solidarity.

The first, universalistic solidarity, suggests all human beings have a moral duty to work together for the benefit of all. This is implied whenever someone says “we’re all in this together.”

While compelling, this view of solidarity ignores differences and potential conflict between the needs and values of different groups. It overshadows how the impact of a crisis isn’t equal among different groups.

Civic solidarity

The essence of civic solidarity is that we don’t necessarily have a personal relationship with those on whose behalf we take action. Civic solidarity involves an indirect commitment through taxes or charity contributions. Practising physical distancing is also an act of civic solidarity.

Lacking a personal sense of connection to and reciprocity with those who benefit from civic solidarity can undermine solidarity effortswhich may lead to the need for legal enforcement.

Social solidarity

Bayertz’s third use, social solidarity, refers to how societies stick together, but also to how certain groups act together as a community to protect their interests.

Maclean’s magazine contributing editor Stephen Maher suggests that in the United States, Donald Trump supporters’ acceptance of the president’s early response to the virus, which downplayed its possible impact, reflected low levels of social solidarity.

But this is misleading. Trump’s right-wing conservative supporters don’t lack social solidarity. Rather, their sense of solidarity coheres around a commitment to ideals of freedom from restrictions and protecting their financial resources and investments as a way to ensure their own well-being.

Likewise, there is a strong sense of solidarity among conservative religious groups that rely on Christian faith over science to protect themselves.

A strong sense of social solidarity is crucial for advancing all kinds of political agendas and values.

People prepare places to sleep in a parking lot acting as a makeshift camp for homeless people on March 30, 2020, in Las Vegas. A shelter closed when a man tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Political solidarity

Political solidarity revolves around issues of inequality related to class, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Political solidarity usually involves one group acting in support of another, even though groups may not be affected equally by injustices.

Political solidarity raises questions about identification, privilege and reciprocity, as expressed, for example, through the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

Yet the concept of political solidarity is crucial for addressing how pandemics exacerbate existing social inequalities. Ignoring this actually undermines other forms of solidarity.

Three critical aspects of solidarity

Whatever form we invoke, it’s helpful to remember three aspects of solidarity:

Solidarity is always about relationships. We cannot be in solidarity alone. Who are we in solidarity with and what defines that relationship?

Solidarity always requires us to be intentional about our commitments. What is the aim of our solidarity and where do those commitments come from?

Solidarity requires actions that also change us, perhaps even a sacrifice. What am I willing to do and give up in order to ensure the well-being of others, whether they are like or unlike me?

Toward creative forms of solidarity

Acknowledging the ethical and political commitments that we bring to solidarity is crucial. Otherwise, solidarity can “turn against us,” as Barbara Ehrenreich suggests.

For instance, some solutions, such as physical distancing, become impossible for communities that are already under-resourced, such as the homelessOtherwise allied nations like Canada and the U.S. find themselves in conflict as both seek to ensure the supply of personal protective equipment for health-care workers.

Artist Jeff Saint works on a mural of a crying eye with images symbolizing the historic coastal whaling city, New Bedford, Mass., reflected in its pupil, surrounded by coronavirus spores on March 31, 2020. He and fellow artist Ryan McFee hope to eventually replace the spores with flowers as the virus is defeated. (Peter Pereira/The Standard-Times via AP)

 

Being explicit about ethical and political commitments will become increasingly important as governments ask us to compromise our personal freedoms and civil liberties to contain the spread of the virus.

Such compromises and the global character of the current crisis demand that we also think of solidarity as creative.

As the “crisis blows open the sense of what is possible,” in the words of journalist Naomi Klein, we are forced to imagine new ways of being with one another. We also have the opportunity to rethink our values and intentions, and to re-narrate the stories we tell about who we are, where we belong and with and to whom we share a debt.

SOURCE

Canadian oilpatch cutbacks expected to continue despite OPEC deal

A de-commissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. File photo by The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

Canadian oil wells will continue to be shut down amid weak global oil prices despite an agreement to limit production struck by OPEC and other major producers on the weekend, producers say.

The price of Western Canadian Select bitumen-blend oil rose by almost five per cent on Monday morning from Thursday’s close, but remained stuck below US$5 per barrel as U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil prices inched up by an equally modest amount.

Both oil prices drifted lower through the day on Monday and wound up in negative territory, with WTI down 35 cents at US$22.41 per barrel and WCS settling at US$3.96, down 43 cents or almost 10 per cent.

“It’s all helpful but I still think we’re in a very challenging situation,” said Grant Fagerheim, CEO of Calgary-based Whitecap Resources Ltd., in an interview.

The agreement comes too late to allow a quick rebalance in the oil supply and demand market, he said, explaining that oil storage facilities have rapidly been filling while Saudi Arabia and Russia ramped up output after failing to reach an agreement to continue production limits in March.

The deal signed Sunday will result in a reduction of 9.7 million barrels per day of crude production in May and June and provides for lower reduction levels to follow.

Fagerheim said Whitecap is working on an analysis of all of its western Canadian wells to determine which are currently cash flow positive.

“If we have to pay to produce, we’ll look to suspend that production,” he said, adding shut-ins could start as soon as this weekend.

The Canadian industry has shut down operations producing about 400,000 bpd but Fagerheim said he expects that will more than double to as much as one million barrels per day — 20 per cent of the total — offline over the next few weeks.

The OPEC+ deal provides some assurance and stability to markets but it doesn’t match the reduction in demand caused by measures taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kevin Birn, a Calgary-based oil market analyst at IHS Markit.

“The scale and the scope of this agreement is really a big deal,” he said in an interview. “It is unprecedented … but sadly, the demand destruction we’re seeing is even greater.

Canadian oilpatch cutbacks expected to continue despite OPEC agreement

“What that means is this doesn’t solve the situation linked to the virus and the trajectory of the virus.”

Global oil demand is expected to shrink by about 20 million bpd — one in five barrels of production — in the current month, IHS says in a forecast.

Canadian producers have already shut down wells accounting for about half a million barrels of oil per day because they can’t make money at current prices, Birn added, and that trend will continue until global energy demand rebounds.

Oil producers will shut down their least profitable operations first, likely starting with heavy oil, where prices have been hit harder than light oil, said Jeff Tonken, CEO of Birchcliff Energy Ltd. and chair of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“We’re going to have forced shut-ins because the economics don’t work,” he said, while also predicting an eventual recovery.

“What will happen is demand will come back as people start to come out of their homes and as the economy starts to move.”

Shale oil wells in the United States and Canada also produce natural gas. Tonken said a recent firming of natural gas contract prices likely results from expectations that associated gas output will fall as oil wells are shut down.

In a report updated on Sunday, Desjardins analysts said more than one million barrels per day of western Canadian oil production will probably be taken offline despite the OPEC deal.

“Some cuts are better than no cuts — that much is clear,” the report notes.

“But when the 9.7 million bpd cut is put into the context of a 25 to 35 million bpd hit to global crude demand, it clearly is not enough.”

SOURCE

This story by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2020.

 

Canada’s universal single-payer health-care system is our best vaccination against the neoliberal virus

U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from the press about COVID-19 on April 7, 2020. Image: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr

Image: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr

Who would have thought a decade ago, or even six months back, that Canada’s chances of surviving as a unified country would be better than those of the United States?

The thought the mighty United States of America — e pluribus unum, and all that — could be on the cusp of an existential crisis is still unthinkable to most in those disunited states. Little commentary anywhere has suggested this is even a vague possibility, let alone an actual thing. Not, at least, until California Governor Gavin Newsom declared himself to be the leader of a “nation-state.”

And yet, as the revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin famously observed, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.” Now that we’ve lived through a few of those weeks, we might want to reassess our eternal verities.

The growing fault lines in American society are more obvious daily, even if no one is paying much attention.

The one most likely to be pointed out in online commentary is the sheer incompetence and malice of the Trump presidency. And yet, as many mainstream commentators have pointed out, Donald J. Trump is merely a product of a party, economy and political system that are deeply dysfunctional. Nevertheless, the United States has survived presidents almost as bad as Trump, and could survive his administration too, all things being equal.

Likewise, America has congenital flaws — its sclerotic, fundamentally undemocratic slaveholder constitution, and its deeply ingrained racism, two striking examples each tied one to the other. Yet in 244 years since the Declaration of Independence that has not been enough to tear the United States apart either, although it was a near thing in the 1860s.

Americans assumed, as did the rest of us, that president Abraham Lincoln had settled that question forever — as indeed he did for the past 155 years. But that the father of waters will flow unvexed to the sea for another century and a half no longer seems a certainty.

As Lincoln observed, drawing from scripture, “a house divided against itself, cannot stand.” And the United States in the annus horribilis 2020 is a house divided against itself — the immediate causes are the divisive intentions of the Trump presidency and the global coronavirus plague, but the underlying malady is the ideological virus of neoliberal economics.

The refusal to plan, reliance on globalized supply lines for food and medicine, the treatment of any prudent act of planning or stockpiling material as mere inefficiencies have exacerbated the current crisis. But these are merely symptoms of neoliberalism.

The problem is its deadly ideology — as potentially fatal to states as individuals — best summarized by neoliberalism’s patron saint Margaret Thatcher in 1987: “You know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

Thanks to this bogus doctrine, which serves both to mask and justify the power of certain families, the United States is now a house divided against itself, the fault lines made obvious by the dual catastrophes of Trumpism and COVID-19.

There is class war, of course, prosecuted not just by Trump and his administration, but by the whole United States Congress and its corporate funders. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died 75 years ago yesterday, may have saved capitalism from itself for a few generations, but the dark spell cast by neoliberal dogma persuaded the American ruling class it could dispense with the New Deal altogether, and so it really seemed for a spell.

Now the only institution of the New Deal still mostly whole is the United States armed forces. This may not be England in 1819, but if you don’t think that’s a two-edged sword to all who wield, just watch the video of captain Brett Crozier departing the aircraft carrier named for the other president Roosevelt!

Beyond the continuing class war, the United States is almost literally two countries — or more, if you go as Newsom did by geography. One, a Third World backwater, bedevilled by ignorance and theocracy; the other, a modern social democratic state, educated and productive, being dragged kicking and screaming back into a darkening dystopia in which even the fiction of universal suffrage appears to be disappearing.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, may not yet have perished from the earth, but everywhere in the United States it is under assault or the battle has been lost.

That could have gone on, possibly until the nightmare end, without Trump, without COVID. Now, I’m not so sure. Given the president’s conduct, the support for it in flyover America, and the death it is bringing, can Calexit or Nyexit be far away? Or even Texit?

Remember, the world laughed in 1970 when Andrei Alekseevich Amalrik asked “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” Well, you can argue, he was wrong about the details. There was no war with China, and the USSR survived until 1991.

Yet he laid bare many of the fissures in Soviet society. Of Russia under its sclerotic Communist party leadership, he observed: “many peasants find someone else’s success more painful than their own failure. In general, when the average Russian sees that he is living less well than his neighbor, he will concentrate not on trying to do  better for himself but rather on trying to bring his neighbor down to his own level.” If this doesn’t sound like flyover America under Trump, seen through the lens of neoliberalism instead of communism, you haven’t been paying attention.

And consider this: If it had been the North that resolved in 1860 to leave the Union, the United States would undoubtedly be at least two disunited countries today. One would be of the Third World, the other of the First. The northern one would be a lot like Canada.

Our own domestic neoliberals are quick to cry “Canada is broken” whenever they aren’t getting their way. They scoff at the idea that our great system of national public health care, which began in Saskatchewan in only 1962 and quickly spread across the country, is a distinct part of our national character.

And yet, it is the popularity of our universal, national single-payer health care system that has been the rallying point of Canadian resistance to the worst depredations of neoliberal dogma, our vaccination against the virus of neoliberalism. It remains our hope.

As such, it is part of the glue that continues to hold our country together.

Canada is not broken, no matter how much the Conservative parties of the Prairies wish it were.

The U.S.A. is broken.

SOURCE

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

 

Could libertarian and neoliberal ideology implode from this pandemic?

A copy of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." Image: eflon/Flickr

Image: eflon/Flickr

This pandemic fundamentally challenges us to rethink norms and clichés about freedom and authority; about the individual, the community and the “state.”

As this pandemic unfolds, we are having to relearn solidarity the hard way; from the bottom up. The phrase “we are all in this together” has spread as quickly as the virus. This reflects growing compassion, gratitude and solidarity. It is also a plea for those not adhering to public health orders to realize their behaviour puts others at risk. It empowers the concerned public and elected officials to apply more social and legal pressure to bring pandemic deviancy in check.

Inherited partisan political views, of both “left” and “right,” have not prepared us very well to face this global health crisis and the unfolding climate crisis. There is widespread confusion about the difference between freedom from and freedom to. It is one thing to be free from political oppression, it is quite another to live in a society that facilitates the freedom to participate, organize and access goods and services that enhance our quality of life.

The roots of the libertarian fallacy

The libertarian view that the individual must relentlessly fight against interference from the government has mushroomed since the 1970s. That government intrusion in our lives must be fervently resisted gained credence from still popular writers such as U.S. Russian refugee, Ayn Rand. By 2009, the combined annual sales of her four novels exceeded one million. Her famous book, Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957 during the Cold War, topped more than seven million sales after the 2009 financial crash.

The contemporary libertarian view, especially in the U.S., is greatly rooted in opposition to communism. It encouraged the reframing of freedom from authoritarian governments to mean freedom from government authority. The constitutional pursuit of “liberty” in the name of achieving “happiness” was easily slanted this way. The Republican Tea party broadened the support. Bernie Sanders’ call for a universal single-payer health-care system, along Canadian or European lines, was met with libertarian attacks that this would make America socialist — even if such a system can be shown to extend health care to everyone and reduce overall costs.

The libertarian view easily fed into the spread of neoliberalism. Perpetual global economic growth for profit was the new end-game. The freedom to accumulate grew along with the big-box stores. Mass advertising stimulated demand; wants were transformed into perceived needs. China was willing to produce almost anything that Walmart could successfully sell.

Initially there was no attention paid to the resulting indebtedness of individuals or their lack of freedom from the gouging banks. With their simplistic formulas for fiscal austerity, neoliberal politicians offloaded debt from the government onto families. We were left free to pursue private childcare, if we could find and afford it, but were not free from scarcity, high costs and family anxiety.

The growing private, for-profit market of consumer choices steadily undercut communitarian norms. It accelerated the growth of narcissistic behavior. The growth in identity politics has added to our confusion.

The libertarian view of “rights” has been much more influential than we want to admit. Rights can’t exist without responsibilities. We can’t expect to have our rights respected if we don’t take responsibility to protect the rights of others. This pandemic creates a very new context for the politics of difference and the politics of resentment.

Meanwhile, we are still trying to find our way through the impact of the internet on our views of freedom and authority. Initially the proliferation of platforms by private corporations was widely seen as enhancing almost everyone’s freedom to communicate, network, research or start a business. There was little awareness or concern that we were not free from the corporate business model; to collect, mine and market data extracted from us.

When there were indications that there was government surveillance of citizens, which breached privacy, there was uproar. During his presidential campaign, Trump purchased the most sophisticated corporate internet data to target political messages that stressed being free from corrupt political practices in “the swamp.” Disinformation was perpetrated under the populist cover of pursuing the American dream, while Trump was accusing the media of spreading “fake news.” A similar thing happened with Brexit. There must be regulation of the information industry, and governments and politicians alike must be held accountable to the rule of law.

Widespread confusion from neoliberalism

But this will not happen easily. We became even more confused about freedom and authority because of all the anti-government propaganda about how privatization, deregulation and free trade will “trickle down” to serve us all. We have been bombarded by positive messages about these three pillars of neoliberalism since the late 1970s, when global corporate expansion ramped up. The stature of the self-made entrepreneur who becomes a multi-millionaire steadily rose as that of the public servant continued to fall. Commercialized celebrity culture spread into every nook and cranny. Unions that stood in the way of privatization of the public-service sector for profit, were attacked as entitled elites. The “citizen” was renamed a “consumer” by government officials who believed that public services must now meet the bottom line. Environmentalists who opposed deregulation were continually labelled as anti-development or even anti-worker. Property rights were touted more than civil rights. The term “public interest” was used less and less, while public spaces shrank. Neoliberal theorists claimed that the “end of history” had arrived.

But COVID-19 has put an abrupt end to this nonsense.

The need for multinational solidarity

There are huge lessons coming about socio-political organization. And we have to park our ideological stereotypes to learn from the evidence. A BBC documentary on the Wuhan lockdown indicated that early on, the Chinese government closed down public transit because it would be a huge vector for the virus. The city then marshaled volunteers to provide transportation for health-care workers and patients. This volunteerism in a communist country may seem counter intuitive, but it suggests that the relationships between individuals, families, community and government in China’s historical and cultural context is more complex and nuanced.

There is much to learn about how the quick action of authorities, along with applied science, flattened the curve in several Asian countries. Also, so far, we don’t see Germany with nearly as large a death rate as some other European countries. This may prove to be because Germany had standardized state-based testing authority and capacity in place, with federal authority able to coordinate. It seems that Germany has been able to isolate and treat patients earlier, with more ICU capacity, and to instigate contact tracing to nip the spread in the bud.

This contrasts sharply with the U.S. where the central authority, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was gutted by Trump, and there was deep confusion about states taking on testing, and how an overall strategy could be coordinated. And, of course, all this muddle occurred without universal health care. Collective preparedness, not laissez-faire corporate individualism, ensures that more people will remain free from the ravages of this virus and will be free to live and breathe after the pandemic is over.

In Canada we were not prepared with standardized, quick turnaround, province-based testing capacity that could then be federally coordinated. But we have moved in this direction. Nor did we heed the lessons from the 2003 SARS pandemic, and maintain an inventory of protective equipment. We are still scurrying to catch up.

Rather than us being protected from this pandemic by being free from government authority, our freedom to continue to eat, to have electricity and heat, and to access healthcare if we need it, is solidly based on socio-economic infrastructures being quickly reorganized by authority that flows both ways.

Academic and scientific freedom from authoritarian or largely ignorant politicians facilitates the freedom to execute a rational pandemic strategy. International cooperation accelerates creating a vaccine. Local capacity to do testing and contact tracing is going to be essential to enable any easing of social isolation that won’t, in turn, risk the virus returning to the wider province or country. Responsible, informed authority will enhance human freedom and security.

After this global health crisis subsides there will need to be a major reset to review dependence on particular supply chains, to enhance local food security, and to make our societies and communities more resilient. We should implement an equitable guaranteed annual income, which is long overdue as the capacity of the changing work world to distribute income continues to falter.

A supply chain that was truly built to serve human needs around the planet would look a lot different than the one we now have. It would shift the nature of our freedoms and the priorities of our elected authorities. It would be far less wasteful and less carbon-intensive. The reduction in global emissions and pollution, the return of air and water quality and habitat health that we are now witnessing, with the brakes put on neoliberal economic growth, must continue to be pursued.

Future pandemics are not only possible but probable if we return to business as usual. People may think they will again be free to live a high-carbon life that sends toxic wastes into the oceans and atmosphere. But the creatures that are our ecological neighbours will not then be free from our harmful intrusions, and we will not be free from devastating climate changes, along with new pandemics.

Our solidarity, what we consider our truly important freedoms and the purposes that we want elected authorities to pursue, has to encompass taking care of our common home, the planet. Let this sink in, deeply, while our minds are so firmly focused on the need for solidarity to get out from under COVID-19.

SOURCE

Activist-author Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies and a founding director of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association. He has written several books including Canada’s Deadly Secret and After Iraq. His book, Moving Beyond Neo-Liberalism in Saskatchewan is available here.

The False Hope of a Pandemic Basic Income

A man walks down an empty Yonge Street in Toronto. Photo by Myles Herod/Instagram.

In the conditions of extreme economic dislocation that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, a crisis of unemployment is unfolding in Canada that is already dire and that will certainly intensify. More than one million jobs were lost in March, spiking the unemployment rate by 2.2 to 7.8 percent. This is the biggest monthly increase since comparable data was first gathered more than 40 years ago. Yet, in the midst of this disaster, it is estimated that a full third of those thrown out of work will be ineligible either for Employment Insurance (EI) or the hastily fashioned Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

While the immediate lockdown is likely to continue for weeks, and with sustained conditions of mass unemployment staring us in the face, income support for those out of work is obviously a major issue. Not surprisingly, calls for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), even presented as a “pandemic basic income,” have mounted in recent weeks. Some governments are making sympathetic noises in response. There has been considerable fanfare over the supposed introduction of a UBI in Spain. No universal payment has yet been put in place, but when it announced the minimum income program the Spanish government took care to suggest that a full UBI is being contemplated for introduction at some point in the future.

With millions of people facing extreme economic hardship, the idea of UBI continues to resonate among a section of the left. I would argue, however, that far from representing a progressive alternative, basic income leads us in a direction that would be entirely in keeping with a post-pandemic agenda of austerity for working class people and bailouts for the rich.

Well before we were dealing with a worldwide pandemic, I maintained that vesting progressive hopes in a system of basic income constitutes an attempt to “make…peace with [the] neoliberal order and accept a commodified form of social provision.” As a social policy end run around the dominant regressive agenda, the UBI project fails to challenge low wage precarious work or the degrading of the social infrastructure, asking only for a basic payment provided out of general revenues, and it is taken on faith that the adequacy of this can somehow be assured.

If UBI were to be implemented, progressive hopes would quickly be dashed on the rocks of neoliberal reality. It will take the form of a meagre payment that functions as an effective subsidy to low wage employers and that replaces, rather than complements, other elements of social provision. As public services are gutted and privatized, basic income recipients will find themselves shopping in the rubble of the social infrastructure with its cash replacement. In the period following the pandemic, when austerity and wage cutting are widespread and a ruthless drive to restore rates of profit and pay the bill for corporate bailouts gets underway, UBI would be an even more lethal weapon in the neoliberal arsenal.

The problems with UBI in the context of the pandemic are revealed most clearly in what the policy measure fails to address, rather than in what it proposes. The fact that we live under the threat of global pandemics in the age of neoliberal capitalism—a threat that will still be with us when COVID-19 is finally contained at terrible cost—is itself an indication of the need to look for solutions not within that system, but beyond it, by challenging and defeating it. However, as economies grind to a halt and the markets warn us of a major global slump ahead (that is by no means entirely related to the pandemic), how can we ensure that the basic needs of working class people are met and that their living standards are not decimated?

Who pays for the COVID-19 catastrophe?

In the wake of COVID-19, governments will be ready, willing and able to bailout capitalists, while remaining reluctant to provide for workers and the communities they belong to. Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson puts thousands of workers on unpaid leave, even as he calls for a £7.5 billion bailout for the airline companies. The Trudeau government is hammering out the details of a multibillion-dollar giveaway to the oil and gas companies in Canada. This kind of welfare for the rich has to be implacably opposed and the notion that the general tax revenues should be deployed to keep workers and their families alive during the pandemic offers only another form of public subsidy to capitalist institutions. Layoffs of workers have to be prevented and the corporations that have profited from their labour for so long must be forced to shoulder the costs of keeping workplaces idle for any period of time. A fight for no bailouts without public ownership is the only approach that makes any sense if the current period is not to become the greatest free ride for the rich in history and a prelude to austerity on an unprecedented scale.

At every point, workers and communities under threat are pointing a way forward that implicitly raises the twin issues of who will pay and who will be in control. Italian workers have mounted a wave of strikes against employers who disregard their safety. Bus drivers in Detroit have forced the transit authority to suspend fare collection. The RMT union in the UK has called for requisitioning taxi fleets during the pandemic to ensure access to food and other necessities. The logic of and need for such measures is so compelling that even very reactionary governments have been forced to take exceptional steps, such as suspending evictions. Letting capitalism off the hook by granting corporations what amount to wage subsidies, moves us in exactly the wrong direction. The old Maoist slogan “make the rich pay” has never been more relevant than at the present time.

Beyond the immediate struggle to survive in the face of the pandemic, we need to understand that the legitimacy of capitalism itself is now confronted with a test of historic proportions. Why is this massive public health crisis unfolding with public healthcare systems degraded by decades of neoliberal austerity? Why, in the name of profit, were employers and the governments that serve their interests able to delay preventative measures that could have saved lives? And as the pandemic gives way to a major economic slump, what of the measures and resources that are needed to meet the needs of hard hit working class and poor communities?

Tens of millions of people will ask these kinds of questions and socialist answers and solutions will resonate powerfully. While we must, of course, embrace the most robust demands and wage the toughest struggles to win greatly improved and fully accessible income support systems in these harsh times, we don’t want inadequate solutions that extend a peace offering to the neoliberal order. We need radical alternatives, fighting demands and bold plans of action. The concept of a basic income fell short before this searing crisis and it has even less to offer us in the face of it.

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John Clarke is a writer and retired organizer for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). Follow his tweets at @JohnOCAP and blog at johnclarkeblog.com.

Dimitri Lascaris wants the Green Party to be the champion of Canada’s left

Dimitri Lascaris, a long-time activist, author and former class-action lawyer is running to be the next leader of the Green Party of Canada. Photo by Vadim Daniel.

During last year’s federal election, the Green Party of Canada had its best performance ever. The party more than doubled its national vote count from 2015 (6.4 percent), added a new MP to its ranks, and fought to position climate change as the top-of-mind issue in Canadian political discourse.

Still, the Greens ultimately failed to sharpen their message and establish a firm foothold in the House of Commons. Several key issues served to derail the party’s prospects for broader appeal, and despite some late-campaign momentum that had many expecting a third-place finish, it ended up without any real leverage in a minority parliament.

Elizabeth May got bogged down in questions about her—and by extension, the party’s—official position on abortion, while Pierre Nantel, a high-profile candidate who quit the NDP to run for the Greens in a Montreal-area riding, courted controversy for doubling down on his sovereignist views.

Above all, however, it was the Green’s failure to distinguish itself as a bold progressive faction (on issues other than the environment) that proved its downfall. How could a party that ran with an unsophisticated and wide-eyed slogan of “Not Left. Not Right. Forward” break through to disgruntled voters on either side of the political spectrum?

Strangely, despite promising progressive policy measures including free tuition, cancellation of student debt, pharmacare and a “guaranteed liveable income,” the party’s now former leader concluded that, from the point of view of the Greens, “the whole idea of a left-right dichotomy is something of an anachronism.”

The Greens now find themselves again at a crossroads. May stepped down in November after 13 years at the helm, and the party’s leadership convention is slated to take place in Charlottetown in early October (if COVID-19 doesn’t move the date).

So far, there are six candidates vying to replace May: Annamie Paul, a lawyer and international affairs specialist from Toronto; Alex Tyrrell, the leader of the Green party in Quebec; Amita Kuttner of Burnaby, who holds a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics; David Merner, a lawyer, public servant and former Green Party candidate for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke in 2019; Judy Green, a grandmother from Nova Scotia who has held positions with the Canadian Forces; and Dimitri Lascaris, a lawyer who ran for the Greens in London in 2015, and served as a shadow cabinet minister without holding a seat in the House of Commons.

Lascaris, a long-time activist, author and class-action lawyer who focuses on human rights and environmental law, should be known to many on the left. He is a board member of the Real News Network, a progressive outlet founded by Paul Jay and based in Baltimore and Toronto, and has spent many years campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, even leading a push within the Green Party to support elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).

Lascaris is not only an effective and articulate activist, he’s an accomplished writer and lawyer to boot. He was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2012. The following year, Canadian Business Magazine included him as one of the 50 most influential people in Canadian business, describing him as the “fiercest legal advocate for shareholder rights.” Four years ago, Lascaris ended his law career and committed himself full-time to work as an activist and writer on issues ranging from climate change to Canadian foreign policy.

Lascaris is intent to push the Green Party to the left, and to dispense with the notion that ideological camps on the right or the left have lost their meaning. Above all, though, he wants to give progressives a place to stake their long-term future, and give the majority of Canadians who hold progressive views a real voice in parliament.

Canadian Dimension spoke with Lascaris on Saturday, April 11.


Harrison SamphirRight off the top: what do you think of how the Liberals have handled the pandemic so far?

Dimitri Lascaris: If you look at what we are doing as a snapshot of the current world in which we live, I’d say from a public health perspective we’re doing a pretty good job. The Liberals have taken limited resources during an unprecedented public health crisis and managed, primarily through strong spatial distancing measures, to keep the infection rate and the mortality rate down. If you compare us, for example, to our neighbours south of the border, and adjusting for population size, Canada has fared much better in terms of apparent infections and deaths. But we should also acknowledge that the risk of a pandemic has been known for years, and in my view there’s no excuse for the fact that a wealthy country like Canada does not have adequate quantities of protective equipment to deal with a crisis of this nature.

We don’t have an adequate supply of masks for frontline healthcare workers, and we don’t have a well thought-out plan to increase the hospitalization capacity in this country. There will come a time when we will have to analyze all of that, and ask ourselves the hard question about how much of this should have been anticipated and prepared for from a public health perspective, and I think that’s a discussion that must be had in order to avoid something like this happening again in the future. But I think right now, considering the resources available to the government, it’s done a pretty good job. From an economic perspective, I think its performance has been much less satisfactory.

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What Bioneers Are Saying About COVID-19

For decades, the Bioneers community has been uplifting solutions and inspiring movements for a more just world. But the recent COVID-19 outbreak has posed a unique challenge: How can we bring people together while keeping them apart?

Following is a collection of what the Bioneers community is saying about COVID-19, featuring leaders in diverse fields, from medicine to animal cognition to climate justice. This is the first edition of our “regular round-up,” and we will continue to share news and information from our community ongoing.

Picture of Naomi KleinNaomi Klein in The Intercept: Coronavirus Capitalism – And How to Beat It

In this video, author and activist Naomi Klein explains how this time of crisis can — and is — exploited by governments around the world “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks.” She calls on working class people to pressure politicians for meaningful change, and bailouts not only for big business, but for the people.

“This crisis — like earlier ones — could well be the catalyst to shower aid on the wealthiest interests in society, including those most responsible for our current vulnerabilities, while offering next to nothing to the most workers, wiping out small family savings and shuttering small businesses. But many are already pushing back — and that story hasn’t been written yet.”

Watch Naomi Klein speak about her book “The Shock Doctrine” and marveling at the Earth.

 

Picture of Bill McKibbenBill McKibben in The New Yorker: What Can the Coronavirus Teach Us?

Bill McKibben, climate activist and founder of 350.org, reflects on the economic disruption, human toll and physical shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working and home

While people are home, planes are on the ground and cruise ships are docked at bay, the Earth is slowly healing, but what are less destructive means to that same end? The ability of communities to adapt to new circumstances proves an optimistic reminder of humanity’s resilience.

Read more from Bill McKibben about best-selling book “Falter,” the magic of nature, and what we’ve learned about climate change in the last 30 years.

 

Carl Safina is an ecologist and award-winning author whose work revolves around humanity’s relationship with the natural world. In this essay, he points out how the “driving forces of this pandemic include our broken relationship with the rest of the living world.” The deadly source of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, often contracted in wildlife markets and through other methods of capturing and killing animals, is just as much of a wake-up call now as it has been numerous times before.

“What’s needed to reduce the frequency of new diseases adapting to humans from wildlife, farmed wild animals, and farmed domesticated animals is, basically, to stop farming and eating them.”

Read more from Carl Safina about intelligence in nature and what animals think and feel.

 

Rupa Marya is a doctor, professor and leading activist whose work connects medicine with social justice. As a medical provider on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak response, she’s sharing her knowledge in this guide.

These tips cover how to take care of yourself, strengthen your immune system against the threat of the virus, and protect your loved ones.

Read more from Rupa Marya about social medicine and decolonizing healthcare.

 

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced many employees to transition to working at home, but some workers — like those in the hospitality and service industries — don’t have the choice. As restaurants and bars close across the country, thousands of workers are being abruptly left without income. Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and president of One Fair Wage, is launching an emergency fund for these workers who may not have a safety net to pay their bills or afford the cost of living day-to-day.

“Nationwide, many service workers are paid the federal sub-minimum wage of just $2.13 — which hasn’t been increased in almost three decades,” the article reads. “Seven states have moved to One Fair Wage with tips on top, but everywhere else in America, restaurant workers and other tipped workers rely on tips to feed their families and pay their bills.”

Read more from Saru Jayaraman about fair wages for workers and women in the service industry.

 

Outbreaks of infectious diseases like COVID-19 will become the new norm as the climate crisis worsens, and time is running out to address this root cause and prevent more disasters. In this press release, the Climate Justice Alliance is demanding urgent action from the government in transitioning to a more sustainable society that works for all, noting how the COVID-19 crisis is revealing glaring inequities in our healthcare system, energy infrastructure, and economic protections for workers.

“Coronavirus is here and is a litmus test for how the climate crisis will destabilize markets, open opportunity for disaster capitalism, disrupt global supply chains, and expose inadequate or failing systems like our healthcare system. … Frontline communities have been here before and we know how corporations and special interest groups use people’s suffering for profit.”

Read more about how the Climate Justice Alliance puts community rights above corporate rights.

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The environmental vaccine: how COVID-19 opens the door to a Green New Deal

Growing Strong Together”. Artwork by Sarah Bloom/Creative Action Network.

We live in an era of overlapping crises: climate change, global inequality, the rise of the far-right, nuclear proliferation, and now, COVID-19.

As I write this, governments worldwide continue to be paralyzed in the face of desperate demands to respond effectively to a pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 25,000 people. Meanwhile, those whose tepid responses are sufficient to maintain the status quo are lauded as leaders.

Based on the evidence we have thus far, it seems unlikely that most politicians are up to the challenge. As working people wonder how they are going to pay rent, and businesses shutter amid soaring unemployment, COVID-19 is making clear what progressives have known for years: we need a bold plan to transition away from our current destructive energy and economic systems to stop climate change and prevent future pandemics.

Moreover, we face a historic choice: overcome this crisis and return to the way things were, or take ambitious action to transform our societies for the better.

Naomi Klein’s seminal work, The Shock Doctrine, attracted global attention for its analysis of how right-wing governments have exploited “shocks” such as economic downturns and natural disasters to further their own goals. Despite its publication over a decade ago, progressive movements have been unable to respond in kind. While this may derive from a (albeit just) moral stance of not wanting to profit off of others’ misfortunes, the fact is that capitalizing on catastrophe to inaugurate a new economic and political order is an effective strategy—when used correctly.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives. Conventional media sources continue to focus on the economic damage it has wrought, and yet there seems to be some underlying benefits and lessons to be learned. This is most clear in the case of the biosphere.

The European Space Agency has released astonishing satellite data of reductions in pollution, cloud cover and nitrogen dioxide over China and Italy. While dolphins and swans may not have actually returned to Italian coasts and cities as a result of reduced tourism, it is clear that the reduction of industry and travel has had profound and immediate effects. This is not a new lesson for us: the closure of the skies following 9/11 had immediate and tangible impacts and the effects of large bombing raids during the Second World War were even more localized.

The message here is not that we should end air travel, nor that we should be utilizing geoengineering. It is instead a call to action, that despite the famous naysaying of George Carlin, we can and should be responsible for our impacts on nature. We can, and should save the planet. COVID-19 has shown us just how quickly our destructive footprint on the natural environment can be reduced.

So, how do we do this? We can use this crisis just as reactionary elements have for decades, but with the benefit of all as the goal. This shock will be ongoing, and will probably last for months. It is an opportunity and a window to catalyze a just transition. Instead of spending billions bailing out old, conventional energy and maintaining the status quo, now is the time to spend those same amounts on renewable energy production. There will of course be growing pains as coal miners move and retrain, oil sands mines are halted, tailings ponds reclaimed, and orphan wells closed and remediated. But was this not always the goal of the environmental movement? A Green New Deal on its own is an admirable and beneficial goal, but it is enhanced by the opportunity of this crisis, and has the potential to look more like a revolution than anything in generations.

Governments around the world are comparing the resolution of the COVID-19 crisis to a war. After all, it was World War II and the New Deal that launched an era of globally unprecedented economic growth, prosperity and the swelling of the middle class.

Let us use this ‘war on COVID-19’ and the Green New Deal to learn from our past mistakes, and prepare us for a socially and environmentally just future.

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Burgess Langshaw-Power is a policy wonk and incoming PhD student based in Ottawa. His interests include climate change, global affairs and geoengineering. Follow him on Twitter @blangshaw