Bernie Just Laid Out a Humane Approach to Dealing with the Coronavirus. Biden Did Not.

In Sunday’s debate, Sanders made a clear-eyed case for taking the profit motive out of healthcare, while Biden railed against “revolution.”

Bernie Sanders at the presidential debate in Washington, D.C. on March 15. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Sunday’s Democratic debate featured urgent questions about how presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden would address the coronavirus pandemic. As the outbreak spreads across the United States at a breakneck pace, officials are faced with two paths of how to respond: hand off public services and assets to further enrich the corporate elite, or expand social programs to protect the working class.

In her influential book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein warned of how free market fundamentalists exploit crises like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina—but at the same time, Klein highlighted the opportunities for positive social change inherent in “communal recovery” to crisis. As disasters make apparent the deep inequities at the heart of our capitalist society, they allow us to rethink and, in Klein’s words, “remake” the world in order to benefit working people.

Sanders has laid out an expansive vision of government intervention to deal with coronavirus, including implementing a Medicare for All system to provide universal testing and treatment for those who contract the virus, as well as free healthcare going forward for all Americans, regardless of income. Sanders also called for guaranteed paid sick leave and a national moratorium on evictions, home foreclosures and utility shutoffs as immediate steps to deal with the crisis.

“What we’ve got to do is move aggressively so that every person in this country understands that they don’t have to worry about money for treatment. I believe in Medicare for All, I will fight for that as president. Do not worry about the cost right now because we are in the midst of a national emergency,” Sanders said during Sunday’s debate, continuing later, “This coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current healthcare system.”

Biden, meanwhile, has endorsed free testing and treatment for coronavirus patients and emergency paid leave, but refused to back Medicare for All, citing concerns about the cost, pragmatism and wisdom of such a universal system.

“You have a single payer system in Italy, it doesn’t work there. It wouldn’t solve the problem at all,” Biden claimed Sunday.

Biden’s critique misses the fact that coronavirus patients in Italy are receiving all of their care free of cost, whereas in the United States, the cost of simply getting tested can reach above $3,000, and the House coronavirus response package recently passed with bipartisan support, which would make testing free, has yet to be signed into law.

The safety threat of the crisis can’t be overstated. The New York Times has reported that up to 214 million Americans could become infected with the virus—over 60% of the population—and 1.7 million could die. What’s more, up to 21 million may require hospitalization, while the country’s healthcare system currently has less than 1 million staffed hospital beds. This could lead to a catastrophic result, where the system becomes overwhelmed and doctors are forced to make impossible decisions about which patients get to live and which don’t, as has already been the case in Italy.

But the potential fallout from the crisis goes much deeper, threatening to bankrupt businesses and individuals alike as a result of the halting of economic activity. Over half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck, relying on a regular influx of cash to pay for bills, rent, childcare and healthcare costs. If their income is stunted by their work shutting down or by getting sick and being forced to stay home, these millions of people face financial disaster—especially with social safety programs having been undermined and restricted in recent years.

“What we have got to address is not just the current economic crisis, but also address the fragility of the economy, in which so few have so much and so many have so little,” Sanders said during the debate.

Biden has used the pandemic as an opportunity to illustrate the flaws of the Trump administration—which are indeed glaring—while Sanders has taken a wider lens, using it as an opportunity to illustrate the flaws in a society that prioritizes profit above all else.  The divide between the two was highlighted in the headlines of dueling CNN op-eds from the candidates, published Sunday. Biden’s read, “The virus lays bare the shortcomings of the Trump administration,” while Sanders’ declared, “Coronavirus highlights the flaws in our healthcare and economic systems.”

The outbreak has put those flaws on full display. On March 12, the Federal Reserve pumped $1.5 trillion in short-term loans into financial markets to help stabilize them. Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is asking Congress to upend the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reforms—put in place to protect from another collapse—as a way to deal with the economic impacts of coronavirus. And Trump himself has floated bailing out the fossil fuel, airline and cruise industries as part of his administration’s response.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled House’s response package excludes a full 80% of the workforce from the bill’s paid sick leave protections. At a time when the richest 10% of America’s families claim 70% of all wealth in the country, Whole Foods—owned by Jess Bezos, the richest man in the world—has encouraged employees to “donate” their own paid leave to fellow workers who get sick.

These responses from the political and corporate establishment don’t come close to dealing with the crisis that’s spreading like wildfire across the country. Doing so will require transforming national priorities, from protecting corporate interests to protecting human life.

Throughout the debate, Biden brushed away Sanders’ calls for a transformative approach, saying “People are looking for results, not a revolution.”

The crisis shows not just the callousness of the current system but the potential for radical change. Pushed by necessity, governments have been responding with measures socialists have long called for: Cities such as Miami and New York are halting evictions. Others like Detroit are reversing their water shutoff policies. Even Trump has announced that those with student loans administered by the government will see their interest fees waived during the crisis.

These policy changes reveal that government has always had the power, and the ability, to protect the most vulnerable residents—it’s just previously chosen not to pursue them. But with the virus becoming a clear and present danger, Americans are realizing more and more that the function of our government must be to provide safety and care for its people. According to a new Morning Consult poll, 41% of adults now say that the outbreak has made them more likely to “support universal healthcare proposals, where all Americans would get their health insurance from the government.”

At the debate, Sanders stated, “This is not the time for profiteering.” If the coronavirus outbreak can show us anything, it’s that when it comes to basic human needs, profiteering never has a place in society. Only solidarity does.



Over 55 Climate Scientists Call BS on Joe Biden’s Claim No Scientists Support Bernie Sanders’ Climate Plan

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, right, at a January 2020 presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

Over 55 scientists have signed an open letter rebuking Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s claim that the climate plan rival contender Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders supports, the Green New Deal, isn’t supported by anyone in the scientific field.

Sanders has proposed spending $16.3 trillion through 2030 to radically reshape the U.S. economy, including $2.37 trillion to renewable energy and storage, over $2 trillion in grants for low- and middle-income families as well as small businesses to buy electric vehicles, and $964 billion in grants for those groups to electrify gas and propane heating systems. His plan also calls for $526 billion on a smart electric grid and hundreds of billions on replacing diesel trucks and buses and new mass transit and high-speed rail lines.

Biden’s plan, while still more sweeping than any prior federal effort to address climate change, calls for $1.7 trillion in new spending and only arrived after immense pressure from environmentalists to detail a concrete approach. Biden has also called for ending fossil fuel subsidies across the G20, a stark departure from his tenure in the Obama administration, when domestic crude oil production skyrocketed by 77 percent. It’s far from nothing, but that hasn’t blunted criticism that it’s not as ambitious as it claims to be on the tin.

But the vice president is insisting that doing more isn’t realistic. Last week, Biden attacked Sanders’ plantelling reporters in New Hampshire that “there’s not a single solitary scientist that thinks it can work,” adding that he doesn’t think zero emissions by 2030 wasn’t possible (note that Sanders’ plan actually calls for 71 percent cut in domestic emissions by that date). 57 scientists from universities and research institutes responded to Biden’s comments in an open letter in support of Sanders released Tuesday.

…“The top scientific body on climate change, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tells us we must act immediately to bring the world together to stop the catastrophic impacts of climate change,” the scientists wrote. “The Green New Deal you are proposing is not only possible, but it must be done if we want to save the planet for ourselves, our children, grandchildren, and future generations.”

“Not only does your Green New Deal follow the IPCC’s timeline for action, but the solutions you are proposing to solve our climate crisis are realistic, necessary, and backed by science,” they added. “We must protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we call home.”

Several of the signatories told Earther that Sanders’ plan recognizes that the U.S. is running out of time to cut emissions and adapt to a changing climate, which will require a massive amount of resources. They also emphasized that continuing to operate in a business-as-usual fashion (which could put the Earth on path to a 3 degrees Celsius rise in global average temperatures or more by the year 2100, far more than the Paris Agreement targets) would have dire consequences. MORE


Activist Naomi Klein Tells Women’s March Crowd That Climate Change Is a Women’s Issue

“All of these issues are interrelated.”

naomi klein giving speech

Getty Images

The fourth annual Women’s March happened on Saturday, and around the globe, people came together to advocate for change across critical social justice issues. Some of the principles the official Women’s March lists in its mission include civil rights, immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, environmental justice, and more. These issues are not separate — they are all intertwined, and many believe we need to take an intersectional approach to the development and implementation of solutions. Canadian author, filmmaker, and activist Naomi Klein is one such believer.

Before introducing senator and presidential nominee Bernie Sanders to the crowd at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Women’s March, Klein took the stage and spoke about why climate change — and many of the natural disasters occurring as a result — is a feminist issue.

“We have seen in the aftermath of all of the disasters that I’ve mentioned, that rates of domestic violence increase — that femicide, the killing of women increases — so of course, all of these issues are interrelated,” she said. She continued, saying that we need to recognize the work that many women do in these situations. “The other thing that we see is that women on the ground in these disaster zones are actually first responders. That it is nurses who are saving lives, that it is home care workers and teachers who are saving lives, saving the lives of the people they care for, of the kids that they teach in their schools.” Thus, Klein believes that when we’re talking about climate change as a women’s issue, other issues like militarism and workers’ rights need to be considered, as well.

“That’s why it is so exciting that we are finally talking about a truly transformational approach to crisis. And that is what the green new deal represents,” she continued. “It is, of course, a jobs plan. It is, of course, a climate plan. But I also see it as a profoundly feminist project, especially if we do it right the way the senator is proposing, especially if we link it with Medicare for All, right? Especially if we link it with universal childcare.” Klein went on to say that jobs like taking care of children and the elderly are often the most undervalued jobs in our culture because they’re considered “women’s work,” but in reality, they require highly valuable skills.

“We need way more of these jobs, and we need to make sure that they’re well-paying jobs, that they’re unionized jobs, and that we value women’s work,” she said, before introducing Sanders.

While introducing him to a cheering crowd, she said, “Bernie Sanders has been standing with women and defending women’s rights for decades. He has been unwavering in his support for our right to control our bodies.” Sanders then took the stage and spoke about issues such as universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, abortion rights, and student debt.

He closed his speech by saying, “The men have got to stand with the women. We are in this together…all women and men, gay and straight, black and white and Latino. We are in this together not only to defeat Trump, but to create the kind of nation that you and I know we can become.”

You can watch both of their speeches here.


The Glimmer of a Climate New World Order

The Amazon fires provoked a promising response at the G-7. Photo: Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

I didn’t know politics could move this fast. It has been barely a week since the world woke up to reports of fires tearing through the Amazon rainforest, and already a new sort of global red line has been established — the first of its kind to be drawn around climate behavior. Led by grandstanding French president Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of the G-7 have essentially told Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that the burning of the Amazon simply cannot stand.

Bolsonaro is himself a showboat, of course, usually excited by the opportunity to troll the community of globalists and liberal cosmopolitans almost literally embodied in the leaders of the G-7 — and particularly in forums bringing those leaders together as though they are puppet-mastering the rest of the world over a continental breakfast. And yet, over the last few days, Bolsonaro has performed a dramatic about-face, moving from shrugging his shoulders at the fires and blaming them on leftist NGOs, to acknowledging they are a problem and deploying his military to put them out. Presumably, this is not just the result of Macron’s rhetoric — “our house is on fire,” the French leader tweeted late last week — but what followed: a promise to spike a major European trade deal with Brazil if Bolsonaro did not take the fires seriously. In other words, a threat to apply the same tools of leverage and sanction and shame to crimes of climate as have been applied, in the past, to violations of human rights and territorial sovereignty.

This is, of course, unprecedented—and much more significant than the paltry $20 million the nations of the G7 pledged to send to Brazil to help fight the fires. It was also, in a way, inevitable. If climate change does transform life on this planet at anything like the scale and speed scientists promise it will, our politics will change with it — and probably quite dramatically. One question this raises is: In what ways? Another is: Will we like what warming does to us? The answers to both are very much open, and we’ve barely begun to develop a political science around climate change that might help us think through the possibilities.

On Friday, I wrote about the fact that, on the very same day that the Brazilian fires became news in America, the U.S. lost its one candidate for president, Jay Inslee, who was committed to taking climate change as seriously as the world’s scientists insist we all must — and I suggested that action on climate may well require an entirely different kind of politics than one that consigns principled crusaders like Inslee to the bin of also-rans. Less than 24 hours after Inslee dropped out, Bernie Sanders dropped his own climate plan — one much grander than anything even Inslee proposed. If Sanders’s gambit represents one new kind of climate politics, this G-7 climate shaming surely counts as another. But what kind is it?

Saturday at the Atlantic, Franklin Foer proposed that meaningful action to combat warming may require that the bedrock principle of national sovereignty be retired, such that leaders like Bolsonaro (or, for that matter, Trump) won’t be able to operate with impunity on climate issues which, despite playing out within those nations’ borders, impact the rest of the world as well (often more so, since impacts are distributed unequally). “If there were a functioning global community, it would be wrestling with how to more aggressively save the Amazon, and acknowledging that the battle against climate change demands not only new international cooperation but, perhaps, the weakening of traditional concepts of the nation-state,” he wrote. “The case for territorial incursion in the Amazon is far stronger than the justifications for most war.”

Foer was writing before Bolsonaro “capitulated,” but the prospect of climate wars seems even more pressing now. The G-7 shame campaign was only a modest step in that direction — individual nation-states acting in concert, not to undermine the sovereignty of a bad actor but to remind him how dependent his country is on the support of other nations, and to threaten to withdraw that support. But it nevertheless allows you to imagine a possible world, probably at least a few years away, in which a similar group of nations — or a similarly concerned single superpower — does take the next step and threatens military action. That is, of course, what often does follow from a sequence of sanctions, and it is more or less how in the aftermath of World War II the nations of the west “consecrated” the principle of human rights. (That is, by fighting wars in its name, if often for other material reasons). If the 21st century is conducted in the shadow of warming as the second half of the 20th was in the shadow of the Holocaust, that sort of succession — from human rights to climate change as the universal touchstone of geopolitics and speakable expression of great-power rivalry — seems not just possible but inevitable.

So — is that where we are headed? Honestly, I don’t know, and don’t know anyone who does. As with everything else when it comes to climate, we are headed into a brave new world with nothing resembling a playbook. But in their brilliant book Climate Leviathan, the political scientists Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright plot a matrix of possible future political responses to climate. The two axes are the relationship to the nation state (i.e., does the world recognize national sovereignty in the face of climate change?); and the relationship to capitalism (i.e., does the world respond to the crisis by doubling down on the importance of capital, or does it retreat from it?). They name the resulting quadrants: Climate Mao (anti-capitalist and nationalist); Climate Behemoth (capitalist and nationalist), Climate Leviathan (capitalist and globalist) and Climate X (anti-capitalist and globalist, basically ecosocialism, which they’re rooting for). But they also acknowledge that each category is too neat — a conceptual framework, not a map of our future. My own guess is that they’re right: that we won’t have any one new paradigm for climate politics, that no one prediction will come to pass in any total way, but that we will evolve those new politics along many different ideological axes.

What would that mean? That there won’t just be ecofascism of the kind that’s been talked about a lot over the last month — right-wing governments throwing up border walls and defining the needs of their own people, in a resource-scarce world, as infinitely more important than the needs of anyone else. There could also be ecofascism of the environmentalist stripe, governments running roughshod over the rights of their citizens to impose deeply disruptive responses to warming and all its impacts — eminent domain on environmental-panic steroids, decarbonization on a military footing. There will likely be more moderated forms of both — some rise in nativism that doesn’t totally revolutionize existing political cultures, some expansion of government authority that adds to rather than obliterates status-quo powers. There may be some form of ecosocialism and, elsewhere, some rejection of economic growth and an embrace of what’s been called “de-growth.” But on the left, some modulated versions are probably likelier, too: a more empathic and redistributive politics that stops short of true collectivization, for instance, and some growing awareness among left-wing leaders around the world that growth is merely one measure of progress, and perhaps a misleading or counterproductive one. In New Zealand, prime minister Jacinda Adern is already pointing the way there.

And probably it won’t be any one of these futures but something more like all of them, all at once, in different places at different times — with different nations responding differently to the challenge, even different parts of single nations, with some regions and some parts of government acting from one set of ideological goals while others move in different directions. That is to say, it is likely to be all quite messy, as politics always is, however much we might wish to imagine a single future, or a single climate “solution” — and however much the neoliberal order of the last political generation promised that all plots moved predictably markets-ward.

In a weird way, the G-7 bullying this past weekend extends the same promise — and makes the awakening of climate conscience among the world’s most powerful nations look somewhat less like a radical political departure than the simple extension of existing (and imperiled) neoliberalism into the realm of climate concern. Still, this is progress. In fact, quite significant progress, I think, since market forces remain quite powerful tools, and since we need all the tools we can get in addressing a crisis of this scale. But, of course, it also has some blindspots.

To begin with, the fires, judged on their own, actually aren’t all that significant a climate event. They are bad, since all fires are bad, climate-wise. But the relatively limited aid the G7 will be sending to fight them is a sign that these fires are neither catastrophic in the short term nor hard to control—$20 million being less than one percent the annual budget of CalFire, the California state fire program. Of course, Bolsonaro’s broader plan to develop and deforest the Amazon would be such an outrageous carbon catastrophe — it could release, over a decade, as much carbon as the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest emitters, release in a year — that it would represent the enactment of a sort of great-man theory of climate disaster. But the fires burning this month are, as the New York Times has shown, mostly on land that has already been deforested — farmers clearing their land as part of their annual rhythm, if on land that was once rainforest and perhaps in a coordinated way to make an ugly gesture of solidarity with their president and his plan to open up yet more of the land. There are more fires burning today in Congo and Angola than in Brazil, almost none of which are true wildfires, like those we’ve seen devastate California and Siberia, but are controlled and defeatable with a relatively minimal effort.

This all makes the G-7 campaign an important symbolic gesture, but perhaps only that, and one for which the ultimate test is what happens after the fires are put out: Will Bolsonaro’s deforestation plan continue, or not? Or perhaps that is only the penultimate test, since there is also the question of whether pressure like this can be employed by nations like France and Canada and the UK to punch up and not just punch down — to influence the world’s biggest carbon emitters, namely China and the United States.

And if the gesture is mostly symbolic, what is the symbol obscuring? Canada’s Justin Trudeau was the first leader to echo Macron’s call to action, but he recently approved the TransMountain pipeline; Japan is financing coal plants built abroad that are as much as 40 times more polluting than those they allow within their borders. In fact, every single member nation of the G-7 is hiding some significant climate hypocrisy behind their pressure on Bolsonaro, however laudable that pressure is. But if the sum total of their collective action this year will be effectively dispatching the Brazilian military to fight fires local farmers had mostly under control, it will be a critically insufficient response. If their pressure forces Bolsonaro to abandon his plans for the Amazon, that would be considerably better. And yet there is much more to be done still, in each of their home countries, none of which are meeting the pledges they made under the Paris accords just three years ago. To pretend that Bolsonaro is the world’s only climate villain, or the Amazon the only region in the world currently in climate crisis, is an act of grand self-delusion.

Still, the value of symbolism is not to be discarded. For a very long time, climate scientists and activists lamented the disinterest of the average person in the issue, in part blaming the media for failing to communicate the scale of the crisis and the urgency of action. They were right, in a way: climate change simply wasn’t on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post every day, and almost never made it onto television news. On the newspaper side, that has already changed, with quite remarkable speed: It’s not every day yet, but the country’s major papers do now devote enviable acreage to the story, often several times a week and frequently illustrated with dramatic above-the-fold photography. The progress in television has been slower, but here the Amazon fires may mark a different kind of turning point — and a recognition among producers that, while climate change may have a longstanding reputation as a ratings-killer, natural disasters do not, especially those that produce fire. Perhaps the blockbuster wall-to-wall coverage of the recent burning of Notre Dame was good training on this point, too.

This fire season has been an unusually mild one, so far, for California, and we’ve yet to see the major hurricane events that have whipped through the Caribbean each of the past two summers. But the coverage of the Amazon fires suggests that, when those terrifying impacts happen, producers may finally be ready to showcase them in the way they should. It is horrible for anyone living in their path, of course, that disasters are getting more frequent and more punishing. But judged strictly from the semi-sociopathic perspective of journalistic narrative, the climate change story is getting “better.” Rather than relying on dry-sounding predictions of centuries-long sea-level rise measured in the centimeters or inches, natural disasters and extreme weather are teaching us all how to tell stories that horrify us into action, even of an imperfect kind. SOURCE

What a Bernie Sanders Presidency Would Look Like

For a complementary perspective, read the alternate cover feature, What an Elizabeth Warren Presidency Would Look Like, by Kathleen Geier.

WE HAVE A DECADE TO TRANSFORM THE U.S. ECONOMY TO STAVE OFF CLIMATE CATASTROPHE, and Bernie Sanders has the only agenda to do so and the only mobilization strategy to get it done. No plan for a better future is worthwhile if environmental crisis renders our future unimaginably bleak.

As Naomi Klein notes, this planetary emergency “entered mainstream consciousness” in the 1980s as the Right and big business launched an “ideological war … on the very idea of the collective sphere.” To take the collective action needed to phase out fossil fuels, our next president must build a foreign policy of radical cooperation alongside a new domestic politics of inclusion—or else witness a racist, nationalist, far-right politics expand its divisive power.

Sanders is the only presidential candidate who has put forward a genuine Green New Deal, a plan to radically remake the economy to serve ordinary people rather than just “greening” the economic system that threatens to end human society as we know it. His Green New Deal would dismantle the fossil fuel industry and put a renewable energy system under democratic control, working with governments around the world to achieve what the science demands.

Sanders’ proposals go beyond piecemeal liberal solutions by targeting the unjust economic system that fuels climate change and pushing an agenda that simultaneously empowers workers and saves the planet. This agenda would help millions of workers join unions, give workers an ownership stake in major corporations, provide universal healthcare and tuition-free higher education, build millions of affordable homes and protect (rather than target) immigrants.

Though President Sanders could execute parts of this agenda on his own, much of it would require Congress. How could it pass, given Republican extremism and likely pushback from even a Democrat-controlled House and Senate? The question poses a serious problem for any program that meets our challenge. And it is one Sanders is uniquely positioned to solve.

Sanders understands that change at this scale will require mass movements to pressure Congress and every level of government—and to change their composition. Americans isolated and atomized by cutthroat capitalism must engage in massive collective action. His political program isn’t just about policy, then, but about the capacity of ordinary people to participate in democracy. This disruption includes, critically, his plans to facilitate direct participation in decisions from our workplaces to our energy systems, shifting the balance of power in our society. No one contends that Sanders alone will spark, let alone be, a mass movement. The Sanders campaign slogan, “Not Me. Us.,” conveys precisely that. Sanders, as he puts it, is “gonna be organizer-in-chief.”

Sanders’ Green New Deal plan, which builds on the resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), will take massive organization to make a reality. His plan alone among Democratic candidates takes seriously the massive public spending ($16.3 trillion, to be exact, much more than Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes) needed to reach 100% renewable electricity and transportation by 2030 with full decarbonization by 2050, a reorientation of public priorities (diverting $1.215 trillion from “military spending on protecting the global oil supply”), the creation of 20 million jobs, and unprecedented levels of public-sector coordination and social mobilization. Sanders is the only candidate who identifies the private ownership of energy as a core problem, calling out the “greed” in our for-profit system, from investor-owned utilities like California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to the fossil fuel companies that collect billions in federal subsidies while contaminating the planet. Saving the planet is impossible without heightening class conflict.

Sanders’ critics who say he would never be able to get much done simply haven’t been paying attention: Sanders’ record of connecting to mass mobilizations and dramatically reshaping public debates sets him apart. Before he ran in 2016, for example, Medicare for All was deemed a pipe dream; now, it’s a center of attention. Unlike Warren, who in her constant equivocation has managed to elicit criticism from all directions, Sanders pledges to introduce Medicare for All legislation during his first week in office. And he has responded to the mainstreaming of Medicare for All by pushing politics in yet more radical directions.

The fight of this generation depends not only on putting forth good policies but on a powerful revival of collective politics. With control of the White House, Sanders and the movements rallied around him could do huge things.

SINCE THE 1970S, American politics has been stunted by neoliberal governance, which invokes “free markets” to protect capital from democratic control and grind down the unions that once checked corporate power. Many came to believe change is impossible, even as capitalism’s costs shifted onto ordinary people and exploited their social bonds to keep the broken system from going off the rails. Young people must borrow for education against their future and their parents’ assets; women can be trapped in abusive relationships because of expensive childcare, low wages and high rents.

Sanders takes neoliberalism’s atomizing points of domination and transforms them into a set of demands for collective freedom, with policies like Medicare for All, free public higher education, universal childcare and pre-K, and the abolition of student and medical debt. These policies would help break the cycle of privatized financial burden and, in doing so, free people to engage in more radicalized struggle.

Sanders’ homes guarantee and Green New Deal for Public Housing, introduced with Ocasio-Cortez, would deliver direct economic benefits while empowering the working class and cutting carbon emissions. Real estate assets, as of 2017, were worth an estimated $228 trillion, “a more valuable asset class than all stocks, shares and securitized debt combined,” according to Savills World Research. As such, they have been a key driver of inequality and household indebtedness. Real estate speculation also, of course, helped spark the global financial crash of 2008.

Building 10 million permanently affordable homes, investing in shared equity homeownership models like community land trusts, enacting nationwide rent control, and upgrading and expanding public housing with local renewable energy would be revolutionary in a country where more than 500,000 people are homeless on any given night, tens of millions pay more than a third or even half their income in rent, and poor people live under the continual threat of eviction. Making housing affordable would make people less urgently dependent on their paychecks. Sanders also pledges to attack the residential segregation and gentrification that consign poor, racialized communities to second-class schools, insecure housing and subpar public services. MORE


What an Elizabeth Warren Presidency Would Look Like

Praising Indigenous ‘Understanding About Sustainability,’ Bernie Sanders Tells Native Community in Iowa ‘They Will be Part of Discussion’

“Young people all over the world are looking to the Native American community for leadership.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of the Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of the Green New Deal outside the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa Thursday told members of the Meskwaki Nation that Native Americans are being looked to for influence in addressing the climate crisis by activists around the world and pledged to work with Indigenous communities to deal with the threats and concerns they face.

“Young people all over the world are looking to the Native American community for leadership,” Sanders said of the climate movement. “Once again, we’re going to need your leadership on how we go forward on respecting the environment.”
Sanders made the stop in Meskwaki Settlement, which is just outside of Tama, Iowa, on Thursday as part of the launch of his “Not Me, Us” Iowa bus tour in support of his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The senator emphasized to the crowd that a Sanders administration would prioritize Native American concerns and would seek their counsel.

“For much too long, Native American people have been lied to, treaties have been broken, land has been taken,” said Sanders. “As president of the United States, we will not be informing the Native American population what is going on—they will be part of the discussion.” MORE


Should billionaires continue to exist?

How taxing wealth could tackle both wealth concentration and the climate crisis


Wealth taxation is back on the progressive political agenda. It is both a refreshing new idea and a return to vogue of a policy established decade ago in Europe. Some remember it as part of François Mitterrand’s 110 propositions pour France, a joint electoral platform in 1981 with the Communist Party that carried him into the Élysée Palace. The solidarity tax on wealth survived multiple right-wing presidents, only to fall recently to President Macron.

Even so, it is an idea whose time has come in North America. It continues to exist in three OECD countries, and both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of the leading three Democratic contenders for U.S. president, have a plan to tax wealth in their platforms. The NDP also included a proposal for a wealth tax in its 2019 election platform, which was met with backlash and bad-faith critiques from the usual suspects.

Matthew Lau, who has written for the right-wing Fraser Institute and Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, called it “class warfare” and “confiscatory” in a Financial Post column. This was followed by another piece in the same publication by the Montreal Economic Institute’s Gael Campman, who claimed taxing wealth would be a “tragic mistake,” seemingly oblivious to the existence of property taxes in Canada. Calling it a “demagogic ploy that ends up being counterproductive,” Campman brings up the prospect of the widely discredited “Laffer effect” of falling tax revenues from increasing taxation.

In a slightly more serious challenge, Robin Broadway and Pierre Pestieau call the wealth tax “Over the Top” in their recent C.D. Howe paper of the same name, stating that it isn’t needed, and it would be more efficient to raise taxes on capital gains. Why not do both? Recent studies such as the CCPA’s Born to Win have shown that Canada’s wealthiest 87 families now own the same amount as the lowest-earning 12 million Canadians, which is approximately equivalent to what everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick collectively owns. In Canada, just two billionaires (David Thompson and Galen Weston) own as much wealth as a third of Canadians.

A bold tax policy package is sorely needed to address this kind of wealth hoarding, which contributes to soaring inequality. Along with a host of other progressive measures, the wealth tax in particular sits in the enviable position of being at the nexus of both good policy and good politics.

According to a recent Ipsos poll, 67% of Canadians believe that “Canada’s economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.” Another poll conducted by Abacus Data found that 67% of Canadians also support the idea of a wealth tax, including 58% of Canadians self-identifying as “right-wing” and 64% of those who say they are in the political “centre.”


In his critique of the NDP’s modest wealth tax proposal, Campman alleges it would force poor farmers to sell their land and cause capital flight. Lau asks how the tax could work when wealth in financial assets can vary day by day depending on the stock market. As the OECD has pointed out, there are ways of getting around all these problems.

The best wealth tax systems have a series of exemptions regarding most forms of middle class wealth, such as pensions and primary homes, as well as exemptions for agricultural property. Assessments can occur every 3–5 years with options to apply for reassessment if a significant change in value occurs, and payments can be made in instalments for those taxpayers facing liquidity constraints.

Wealth taxes can apply to both domestic and international assets, be tied to citizenship and be negotiated by international tax treaties—to eliminate the incentive for capital flight. As proposed by Elizabeth Warren, you can introduce an “exit tax” at the same rate as an estate tax to seize assets from those who do choose to renounce their citizenship. With a rigorous enforcement regime, along with legislation to tackle tax havens, taxing wealth isn’t a pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic idea. It just takes political commitment and good policy design.

Casting aside the nitty gritty, the fundamental question we really should be asking ourselves when we design our wealth tax is should we allow billionaires to continue to exist?

Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, two economists at the University of California, Berkeley who advised Elizabeth Warren on her wealth tax proposal, write that the “revenue maximizing rate” runs as high as 6.5%—far beyond the NDP proposal of 1%. According to the economists, such a low rate would provide permanent revenues due to its quite limited effect on wealth concentration. Higher rates of wealth taxation, say, up to 10%, would more effectively dismantle entrenched wealth concentration over time with the trade-off being the loss of a permanent and reliable source of tax revenue.

Bernie Sanders’s recently unveiled wealth tax plan would cut in half the wealth of the typical billionaire over 15 years, according to Saez and Zucman. When the New York Times interviewed Sanders about his plan, they asked if he thought billionaires should exist in the United States. “I hope the day comes when they don’t,” he responded, adding, “It’s not going to be tomorrow.”

Sanders’s wealth tax (see box) is much more aggressive and much more steeply progressive than Warren’s plan, which begins at a 2% tax on wealth above US$50 million and adds an additional 1% surtax above the billion-dollar mark. The revenue differences are large: over 10 years, Warren’s plan would raise US$2.75 trillion while Sanders’s would raise US$4.35 trillion. The other significant difference is how the Sanders plan obliterates wealth concentration while Warren’s plan has a much more limited effect due to the fact that the wealth of the richest Americans grows at an average rate of 6.6% a year.

By comparison, the NDP’s plan for a 1% flat tax rate on wealth above $20 million seems quite modest. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates the NDP proposal would rake in approximately $70 billion over 10 years, a value that includes the assumption that revenues from the wealth tax will be reduced by about 35% due to tax avoidance.

Rather than being “confiscatory,” as Lau suggests, Saez and Zucman write that “the marginal utility of a billionaire’s wealth is close to zero” and therefore “the revenue consequences of taxing billionaires outweigh the welfare consequences on billionaires.” Imagine for a moment what we could do if Canada plowed $70 billion into reducing poverty, fighting climate change or tackling the housing crisis. Canada’s oil barons can manage with one less yacht.


We can see that a wealth tax would be good for redistribution. What of wealth concentration? Should we not also tax inheritances in order to stop the out-of-all-proportion pooling of family wealth through massive intergenerational transfers? The issue here is political. Sometimes inheritance taxes poll poorly, even when the tax only targets the passing down of unearned wealth. Even so, should we continue to allow oligarchs to control so much wealth and power while other Canadians continue to live in poverty?

The proper design of any wealth tax system ought to both balance revenue generation and target wealth concentration. Which is why if we swear off an inheritance tax, we should be jacking up wealth tax rates. And if we shy away from steeply progressive wealth tax rates, we need to at least implement an inheritance tax.

French economist Thomas Piketty, best known for his best-selling book Capital in the 21st Century, has just put out a new book entitled Capital and Ideology. In it he proposes a wealth tax with a rate that goes as high as 90% for those worth over two billion euros (almost $3 billion). He also states that billionaires actually harm economic growth and should be completely taxed out of existence. In a world in the midst of a climate emergency, it may also simply be necessary.

Piketty writes in Le Monde that “it is increasingly clear that the resolution of the climate challenge will not be possible without a strong movement in the direction of the compression of social inequalities at all levels.” This is because, “at world level, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half the emissions and the top 1% alone emit more carbon than the poorest half of the planet. A drastic reduction in purchasing power of the richest would therefore in itself have a substantial impact on the reduction of emissions at global level.”

When designing our wealth taxes, we should perhaps consider not only their redistributive power but also how they can attack the entrenched power of economic elites—and how this might help us save the planet along the way. As Piketty suggests, a wealth tax could be instrumental in shifting carbon intensive and socially useless elite consumption patterns.

Looking forward into the next decade, when large-scale economic decarbonization is on the agenda, we should also ask ourselves if this should mean moving toward a billionaire-free world. In the future we want to build, if we are asked the question, “Should billionaires exist?”, we should be able to confidently and resolutely answer: no.



How Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax would work
New York Times: The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You


Bernie Wants You to Own More of the Means of Production

Bernie Sanders just released a landmark plan to shift ownership and control of the US economy away from the very affluent and towards workers and the public.

Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally on July 18, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ. Charlie Leight / Getty

ernie Sanders released a proposal today that would gradually shift 20 percent of corporate equity into funds owned and controlled by the workers in each company. The plan, which would apply to all publicly-traded companies and large closely-held companies, would move 2 percent of corporate stock into worker funds each year for a decade. Once the shares are transferred into the funds, workers would begin receiving dividends and have the ability to exercise the voting rights of the shares, including the right to vote on corporate board elections and on shareholder resolutions.

Sanders’s plan is by far the most radical worker ownership proposal put forward by a presidential candidate in recent memory. By last count, the market value of publicly-traded domestic companies stood at $35.6 trillion. This means that the Sanders plan would shift at least $7.1 trillion of corporate equity into worker funds by gradually diluting the value of previously-issued corporate stock.

Those who stand to “lose” from the proposal are the incumbent owners of corporate equity, which are overwhelmingly affluent people. At present, the top 10 percent of families own around 86.4 percent of corporate equities and mutual fund shares, with the top one percent owning 52 percent by themselves. Closely-held businesses, which will also be affected by the scheme if they are large enough, have similarly concentrated ownership, with the top 10 percent of families owning 87.5 percent of private business equity and the top one percent of families owning 57.5 percent of it.

Of course, these incumbent owners will not actually lose anything in an absolute sense. The average historical return of the US stock market has been 9.8 percent per year, while the average return of the last 10 years has been just over 13 percent. The effect of the two percent share issuances is to knock the total rate of return down by two percentage points, meaning that incumbent owners still get richer year-over-year, just less so than they would absent the Sanders plan.

The Sanders proposal largely mirrors an idea first presented by Mathew Lawrence that was recently adopted by Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party. In the Labour Party version of the plan, large UK corporations are required to transfer one percent of corporate equity into “Inclusive Ownership Funds” (IOFs) for ten years, which would effectively shift 10 percent of corporate equity into worker funds. As in Sanders’s plan, UK workers would receive dividends from the IOFs and exercise the voting rights of the equity owned by the funds.

Both the Sanders and Corbyn plans are rooted in a longer market socialist tradition most commonly associated with the Swedish labor movement and Swedish labor economist Rudolf Meidner. Meidner’s 1978 book laid out a plan that would have used similar share issuances (often called “share levies” or “scrip taxes”) to gradually bring Swedish corporations under the ownership of sector funds controlled by unions and communities. A policy based on Meidner’s plan was successfully implemented in the 1980s but the unrelated electoral defeat of the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the 1991 elections caused the policy to be scrapped before reaching its full potential.

Sanders’s new worker funds plan fits neatly alongside other elements of his reformist democratic socialist platform, including the nationalization of the US health insurance industry and the enormous expansion of federally-owned power companies as part of his Green New Deal. Taken together, these and other Sanders policies would significantly shift the ownership and control of the US economy away from the very affluent and towards workers and the public more generally. SOURCE

Klein pushes for Green New Deal in the face of climate crisis

Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Naomi Klein (centre) launched the Leap Manifesto in Toronto in 2015.</p>
Naomi Klein (centre) launched the Leap Manifesto in Toronto in 2015. Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press files

There are few global or international challenges that have brought our species together in solidarity. One can think to D-Day or the Apollo moon landing as examples of western countries using, in the former case, our collective capacity to push back totalitarian hate, and in the latter, defying what we knew was possible in terms of space exploration.

But there has never been a time in human history, which is not very long, where we have stared collectively into the mirror of our own existence.

For the past six decades, we have known that we have been causing catastrophic damage to our home. If you dispute the history of our destruction, Sept. 27 of this year marked the 57th anniversary of the release of Rachel Carson’s environmental science book, Silent Spring. (It should be mandatory reading for all educators.)

Sept. 27 of this year also marked the largest student demonstration in human history, with millions of youth leaving their classrooms to fight for their future and wake the rest of us up. It is this existential struggle that has compelled Naomi Klein, Canadian journalist, activist, and progressive, to release her latest book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a New Green Deal.

The author of No Logo and This Changes Everything, among others, was also a critical player in the development of the Leap Manifesto and the Green New Deal, supported by none other than U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and championed by U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In On Fire, Klein is inspired by the new voice of moral courage on our planet, Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, and the millions of youth turned activists who should be enjoying this time of adolescence but, owing to our greed and neglect, are forced to fight for the very thing that sustains life: planet Earth.

According to Klein, “learning has become a radicalizing act,” whereby in spite of adults, our children are participating in civil disobedience because “they are the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a live reality.” They no longer have the idle pleasure of succumbing to what Aristotle calls akrasia, the human tendency to act against our better judgment.

On Fire provides a series of Klein’s essays written over the past decade, which not only chronicle the monumental and catastrophic canaries in the coal mine (the 2010 BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the rise of fracking, the burning of the boreal forest, etc.), but also make the case for the need of a new understanding of how we live together. Of how we treat and share resources. Of how we become stewards of the Earth so that everyone has the means for a decent life.

And much of this work began in 2015, as Klein and other leaders began to develop the Leap Manifesto. Only four years ago, Canadians and the world were presented with a plan towards sustainability, equity and stability that was scoffed at by the likes of Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and even Thomas Mulcair. Fast forward to 2019, and we’re still debating who will champion which pipeline.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press</p><p>People rally near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of a climate rally, one of many held worldwide on Friday, Sept. 27.</p>
People rally near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of a climate rally, one of many held worldwide on Friday, Sept. 27.   Justin Tang / The Canadian PressAnd we wonder why our children are frustrated and afraid. “They understand that they are fighting for the fundamental right to live full lives,” Klein writes — lives that have been stolen from them.

Following the Leap Manifesto, in 2019 the Green New Deal arrived on Capitol Hill and has provided the basis for a global conversation about a positive pathway forward. Inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Klein helped develop a framework that checks unbridled capitalism, addresses social inequity and fully realizes the planetary emergency that stares us in the face.

The Green New Deal calls for a fundamental shift in how we operate. It calls for us, Klein argues, to “swerve off our perilous trajectory” through “sweeping industrial and infrastructure overhaul.”

It calls for us to stop denying the future of our kids and to become their allies as they lead the way to a positive, inclusive and thriving future.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files</p><p>The global climate strike, held in cities in dozens of countries on Sept. 27, saw millions of youth leave their classrooms in one of the largest worldwide demonstrations in history.</p>
The global climate strike, held in cities in dozens of countries on Sept. 27, saw millions of youth leave their classrooms in one of the largest worldwide demonstrations in history.   Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files 


The Sanders Climate Plan Can Work. Warren’s Can’t.

The NDP’s Wealth Tax: What the Experts Say

Singh says it will help reduce economic inequality, but new approach is widely debated.

The NDP’s tax on the ultra-rich would affect billionaires like Jimmy Pattison. But is such a tax the best way to reduce inequality? Photo by Chris Young, the Canadian Press.

The NDP’s promised wealth tax on the ultra-rich would be a new step to reduce economic inequality in Canada, but quite a modest one compared to proposals being debated south of the border.

And while enthusiasm for a wealth tax is understandable when economic inequality is higher than it’s been since the 1920s, there are better ways to structure the tax system, said David Duff, a University of British Columbia professor who is an expert on tax law.

“I’m not a huge fan of wealth taxes,” Duff said. “Although in principle I would be opposed, I can understand the context for this… We live in a world where we have not taxed, in particular, capital income, certain kinds of income, to the same extent that we tax labour income.”

Policies like taxing capital gains at half the rate of other forms of income or allowing CEOs to be paid in stock options have allowed some people to accumulate large fortunes.

The NDP’s wealth tax would charge one per cent each year on the value of household assets above $20 million. It’s the only party proposing such a tax.

“It’s a wealth tax on those who are very, very, very wealthy,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told The Tyee.

The idea is to make sure people at the very top would pay their fair share, he said. The tax would raise about $9 billion a year from fewer than 2,000 people, Singh added.

Reaction to the proposal to tax wealth has been mixed, with progressive commentators more positive than conservative ones.

column by Matthew Lau in the Financial Post called the proposal “class warfare” and said, “The NDP’s plan for a wealth tax, however, breaks a sort of glass ceiling on the worst taxes proposed in Canada.”

Another Financial Post piece by Montreal Economic Institute researcher Gaël Campan said that while the proposal sounds good, it would be a “tragic mistake.” (The institute has been described as “a kind of Fraser Institute in Quebec.”)…

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives senior economist David Macdonald, meanwhile, argued that the proposal addresses the rise in economic inequality that he and others have long tracked in Canada.

“The wealthiest families in Canada — representing fewer than 100 families, each with net worth over $1 billion — have accumulated more wealth than the bottom 12 million Canadians combined,” he wrote. Those 100 families would pay half the amount that the NDP’s tax would raise.

Macdonald did sound a warning. “Because this tax applies to a very small group of very well-resourced people, their accountants will be busy looking for ways to avoid or at least mitigate it, as the wealthy in other countries have successfully done,” he wrote.

“For legislation of this sort to be effective it would have to be strong, with loopholes identified and quickly shut down, which can certainly present challenges.”

Erika Beauchesne of the advocacy group Canadians for Tax Fairness wrote that while her organization has been promoting an inheritance tax that would apply at death instead of annually, action on inequality is needed.

“The question and debate should no longer be whether we have increased taxes on wealth and capital, but what form they should take,” she wrote. “We should thank the NDP for getting this debate going in Canada and look forward to seeing what other federal political parties propose.”

The discussion about wealth taxes in Canada echoes the debate in the United States where two of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are proposing to tax wealth.

Elizabeth Warren is pitching a two-per-cent annual tax on a household’s net worth over $50 million and three per cent over $1 billion.

And Bernie Sanders is proposing a tax that would start at one per cent on a married couple’s wealth of at least $32 million, then gradually rise in seven steps to a top tax of eight per cent on net worth over $10 billion. MORE



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