Bill Gates, I Implore You to Connect Some Dots

Bloomberg, Dimon and Gates call liberal tax ideas unfair. But excessive wealth is the real threat.


Credit…CJ Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

The billionaire class has begun unloading on Elizabeth Warren. A few days ago, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase — at just $1.6 billion in net worth, a comparative piker — said Senator Warren “vilifies successful people.” Then Bill Gates ($107 billion), in an onstage interview with The Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, mused about what his tax bill might be in a Warren presidency and left the door open to voting for Donald Trump should Democrats nominate Ms. Warren. And then Michael Bloomberg ($52 billion), who had previously criticized Ms. Warren as anti-corporate, signaled his intention to jump into the race, obviously out of concern at her rise.

I’m not expert enough to judge the wisdom of Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax. I know that there are questions about its constitutionality and that several European nations tried a similar approach and found it unworkable (though four countries still have it). I don’t get why the candidates aren’t simply proposing to increase marginal income tax rates on dollars earned above some very high figure. That seems a lot more straightforward to me.

So this column is not a brief for Ms. Warren’s wealth tax or for her candidacy — I don’t have a preferred candidate. Instead, I want to make a simple plea to the country’s billionaires: Multibillion-dollar fortunes are often called excessive and decadent. But here’s something they’re rarely called but ought to be: anti-democratic. These fortunes will destroy our democracy.

Why “anti-democratic”? Why would it matter to our democracy whether Jeff Bezos is worth $113 billion (his current figure) or $13 billion?

This is carnage, plain and simple. No democratic society can let that keep happening and expect to stay a democracy. It will produce a middle and working classes with no sense of security, and when people have no sense that the system is providing them with basic security, they’ll make some odd and desperate choices.

This is obviously not hypothetical. It’s happening. It’s what gave us Mr. Trump (well, that plus the campaign lies). It’s what made Britons vote Leave (well, that plus the campaign lies). It’s what has sparked protests from France to Chile to Lebanon, and it’s what is making the Chinese model — no democracy, but plenty of security — more attractive to a number of developing countries around the world than the American model. Our billionaires ought to ponder this.

I imagine that Mr. Gates is repulsed by Mr. Trump on some level, and at the end of the day probably couldn’t vote for him. But if I could meet Mr. Gates, I’d ask him: Sir, do you not see the link between your vast fortune and the ascendance of Donald Trump? If not, I implore you to connect some dots. Wealth has shifted to the top. It has been taken away from the middle class. That makes people anxious. Anxiety opens the door to demagogues. It’s not complicated.

We need changes in our laws and institutional structures that will alter what economists call pretax distribution. This is a point made by the economist Dean Baker — that income inequality is less a result of tax policy than laws and regulations that have made the rich richer before taxes are even imposed. These changes have to do with

And yes, we do need to tax rich people more. In my lifetime, the top marginal tax rate has gone (roughly speaking) from 91 percent to 77 percent to 50 percent to 35 percent to today’s 37 percent. That’s too low. I’m not with Bernie Sanders, who says there should be no billionaires. That’s too punitive. But I do think Mr. Bezos could get by on $15 billion or so.

Billionaires will protest that they’d rather give it away than trust the government with it. I applaud their generosity. But even someone as rich as Michael Dell, who went on a rather infamous riff along these lines at Davos, could not build a nationwide high-speed rail system, clean the country’s air and water (and keep them clean), create a network of free opioid clinics across the country or give towns that have been hollowed out by the global economy a second chance. Only government can do those things. MORE

Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing About Access to Trump

Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing About Access to Trump
United States Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. (Bureau of Reclamation / Flickr)

Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside Ritz–Carlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America, or IPAA, already had watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines – rules concerning smog, hydraulic fracturing and endangered species protection.

Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of the department.

“We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.”

But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.

“It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week, I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week, we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks, we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”

In that Ritz-Carlton conference room, Russell also spoke of his ties to Bernhardt, recalling the lawyer’s role as point man on an association legal team set up to challenge federal endangered species rules.

“Well, the guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior,” he said, referring to Bernhardt. “So that’s worked out well.”

Now, Bernhardt is in line for a promotion: The former oil industry lobbyist has been nominated by Trump to be the interior secretary. MORE

Trump makes it official: U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord

“It’s a sad reminder of where the world’s former leader on climate change now stands,” one critic said.

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The Trump administration notified the international community Monday that it plans to officially withdraw from the Paris climate accord next fall, a move that will leave the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases as the only nation to abandon the global effort to combat climate change.

President Trump has long criticized the 2015 accord and insisted that the United States would exit it as soon as possible. As recently as last month, Trump called the agreement “a total disaster” and argued that the Obama administration’s pledges to cut carbon emissions under the deal would have “hurt the competitiveness” of the United States.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration had sent official notification of its plans to the United Nations.

“In international climate discussions, we will continue to offer a realistic and pragmatic model — backed by a record of real world results — showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions, and more secure sources of energy,” Pompeo said. “We will continue to work with our global partners to enhance resilience to the impacts of climate change and prepare for and respond to natural disasters.”
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Trump Administration to Begin Official Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord

President Trump leaving the United Nations Climate Change Action Summit last month.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing the formal withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to three people briefed on the matter, a long expected move that nevertheless remains a powerful signal to the world.

The official action sets in motion a withdrawal that still would take a year to complete under the rules of the accord. Abandoning the landmark 2015 agreement in which nearly 200 nations vowed to reduce planet warming emissions would fulfill one of President Trump’s key campaign promises while placing the world’s largest economy at odds with the rest of the globe on a top international policy priority.

“I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided climate accord, was a total disaster for our country,” he told a crowd of cheering men and women in hard hats on Wednesday at a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Trump gave no indication that he understood the intricacies of withdrawal or what his administration has planned for the coming days. Instead, he sounded as if the United States was already out of the accord.

“I thought when I did that it would be very tough, and all I do is get applauded for that move,” Mr. Trump said.President Trump delivering remarks at a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the State Department declined to say whether the agency has drafted its notice to the United Nations that will start the yearlong clock before the United States can officially separate itself from the global effort to curb global warming.

But in a statement the agency said, “The U.S. position on the Paris Agreement has not changed. The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”

Under the rules of the Paris Agreement, Nov. 4 is the earliest date on which the Trump administration can submit a written notice to the United Nations that it is withdrawing. It would go into effect exactly one year later. That could make the yearlong countdown a central issue in the coming presidential campaign.

 

 

NAOMI KLEIN: ONLY A GREEN NEW DEAL CAN DOUSE THE FIRES OF ECO-FASCISM


School children hold placards and shout slogans as they participate in the Strike for Climate Change protest outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 15, 2019. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

ORGANIZERS ARE EXPECTING huge numbers to turn out for the Global Climate Strike, beginning on September 20 and continuing through September 27. It builds on the first global climate strike, which took place on March 15, and attracted an estimated 1.6 million young people, who walked out of class at schools on every continent.

But this week’s strike will be different. This time, young organizers have called on adults from all walks of life to join them in the streets. So in addition to schools in over 150 countries, almost 1,000 workers at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle have pledged to walk out, as have some faculty unions, Britain’s Trades Union Congress, and many others. There is a plan to shut down Washington, D.C. on September 23.

This diversity of the groups involved may well prove to be a new stage in the climate movement, with many more movements and constituencies seeing themselves in the struggle against climate breakdown — as well as in the emerging vision for an intersectional justice-based Green New Deal.

And it’s a good thing too, because as Donald Trump spews racist hate at Bahamian refugees fleeing the wreckage of Hurricane Dorian and growing numbers of far-right killers cite environmental damage as a justification for their rampages, there is a pressing need to confront the ways in which the fires of climate breakdown are already intersecting with the fires of white supremacy and surging xenophobia globally.

These are themes I explore in-depth in my new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal,” from which this essay is excerpted.

An Eco-Fascist Massacre
9781982129910-On-Fire_book-cover-1568407104Image: Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

In Christchurch, New Zealand, the March 15 School Strike for Climate started in much the same way as in so many other cities and towns: Rowdy students poured out of their schools in the middle of the day, holding up signs demanding a new era of climate action. Some were sweet and earnest (I STAND 4 WHAT I STAND ON), some less so (KEEP EARTH CLEAN. IT’S NOT URANUS!).

By 1 p.m., about 2,000 kids had made their way into Cathedral Square, at the city center, where they gathered around a makeshift stage and donated sound system to listen to speeches and music.

There were students of all ages there, and an entire Maori school had walked out together. “I was so proud of the whole of Christchurch,” one of the organizers, 17-year-old Mia Sutherland, told me. “All of these people had been so brave. It isn’t easy to walk out.”

Just as Sutherland was psyching herself up to deliver the final testimony of the day, one of her friends gave her a tug and told her, “You have to shut it down. Now!” Sutherland was confused — had they been too loud? Surely that was their right! Just then, a police officer walked onto the stage and took the mic away from her. Everyone needs to leave the square, the officer said over the sound system. Go home. Go back to school. But stay away from Hagley Park.

A couple hundred students decided to march together to City Hall to keep the protest going. Sutherland, still confused, went to catch a bus — and that’s when she saw a headline on her phone about a shooting 10 minutes away from where she was standing.

It would be several hours before the young strikers grasped the full horror of what had transpired that day — and why they had been told to stay away from a park near the Al Noor Mosque. We now know that at the very same time as the students’ climate strike, a 28-year-old Australian man living in New Zealand drove to that mosque, walked inside, and, during Friday prayers, opened fire. After six minutes of carnage, he calmly left Al Noor, drove to another mosque, and continued his rampage. By the end, 50 people were dead, including a 3-year-old child. Another would die in the hospital weeks later. An additional 49 were seriously injured. It was the largest massacre in modern New Zealand history. MORE

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Climate Summit: What’s at Stake for Canada and the World

What needs to happen in New York starting Monday.

TrumpTrudeauPodiums.jpg
Off target: The nations led by Trudeau and Trump, like most other signatories to the Paris agreement, are far behind in fulfilling their UN emissions reducing pledges. Photo via the White House Flickr.

As world leaders converge on New York City for the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, they enter what may be the most consequential week in climate politics since Donald Trump’s surprise election as president of the United States in 2016. Trump, of course, announced soon after taking office that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, the landmark treaty signed at the last big UN climate summit in 2015.

UN Secretary General António Guterres convened this week’s summit precisely because the United States and most other countries remain far from honouring their Paris pledges to reduce heat-trapping emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. This includes Canada, whose inadequately slow progress Environment Commissioner Julie Gelfand earlier this year described as “disturbing.”

The events of the coming days — including a global climate strike on Sept. 20 by the activists whose protests in the past year have pushed the term “climate emergency” into news reports around the world — may help answer a question that has loomed over humanity since Trump’s election: Can the rest of the world save itself from climate breakdown if the richest, most powerful nation on earth is pulling in the opposite direction?

And what happens if other developed countries elect fossil fuel-supporting leaders who have little interest in solving the crisis, as could be the case in Canada after the federal election this fall?

Signed in December 2015 by every government on earth except North Korea and Costa Rica, the Paris Agreement stands as the strongest achievement of climate diplomacy since governments first debated the issue at the UN “Earth Summit” in 1992. In a shock to climate insiders, the agreement not only committed signatory governments to limit temperature rise to the relatively less dangerous level of 2 degrees Celsius. It also obliged governments to keep temperature rise “well below” 2 C and, in a major victory for the most vulnerable countries, to strive for 1.5 C.

That half-degree may not sound like much, but it spells the difference between life and death for low-lying coastal nations such as Bangladesh and island states such as the Maldives — two of many places that, science says, would literally disappear beneath the waves with more than 1.5 C of warming.

The announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was big news, but also widely misunderstood. Despite Trump’s bluster, the U.S. withdrawal still has not happened. Precisely to guard against such capriciousness, the negotiators in Paris stipulated that every signatory was legally bound to remain in the agreement until four years after the treaty took effect, which would only happen after countries responsible for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified it. Thus, the Paris Agreement did not take effect until Nov. 4, 2016. That means the United States cannot leave until November 4, 2020 — which, not by accident, is one day after the U.S. 2020 presidential election. If Trump loses that election, his successor almost certainly would move to remain in the Paris Agreement.

Trump is not expected to attend this week’s summit; the U.S. delegation will instead be led by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal company lobbyist who is now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In keeping with Trump’s denial of climate science and his administration’s dismantling of environmental regulations and accelerating of fossil fuel development, Wheeler testified to the U.S. Senate last January that he would not call climate change “the greatest crisis” facing humanity.

Which highlights a question that may shape whether this summit turns out to be a success, a failure, or something in between: What role will the United States play? Will it be a spoiler, actively seeking to disrupt progress? Will it be a braggart claiming to, as Wheeler boasted (inaccurately) in that testimony, represent “the gold standard for environmental progress”? Or will it be more like the addled uncle at the family reunion whose babblings provoke eye-rolls and are ignored?

“Don’t bring a speech, bring a plan!” For months now, that’s what Secretary General Guterres has been telling heads of state and government. Instead of the endless blah-blah-blah heard at most UN meetings, Guterres wants this summit to be more like “show-and-tell,” a meeting where governments share concrete and replicable examples of how they are cutting emissions and boosting resilience to the climate impacts already unfolding. As such, the summit aims to address a glaring deficiency of the Paris Agreement. In part, because the agreement made emissions cuts voluntary, global emissions have continued to increase since 2015. MORE

AOC demands Trump’s impeachment amid probe into his Scottish resort

Donald Trump (left) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezGetty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has issued a fresh call to impeach President Trump amid reports of a House investigation into a military stop at his Scottish golf club.

“The President is corrupt and must be impeached,” the freshman Democrat posted on Twitter Friday.

The tweet was a response to news that a U.S. military air crew slept over at Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland early this year – fueling Democrats’ suspicions that he is profiting from government use of his properties.

The House Oversight Committee has been probing the matter since April, according to Politico.

AOC has called for Trump’s impeachment several times since she took office in January.

“Opening an impeachment inquiry is exactly what we must do when the President obstructs justice, advises witnesses to ignore legal subpoenas, & more,” she tweeted in June. SOURCE

Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science

“…the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.”


The Huntington Canyon coal-fired power plant in Utah. The White House, already pursuing major rollbacks of greenhouse-gas emission restrictions, is amplifying its attack on fundamental climate-science conclusions. CreditCreditBrandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, brushed aside dire predictions about the effects of climate change, and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line rather than a prognosis.

Now, after two years spent unraveling the policies of his predecessors, Mr. Trump and his political appointees are launching a new assault.

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests. MORE

Millions of Americans Flood Into Mexico for Health Care — the Human Caravan You Haven’t Heard About

The US-Mexico border crossing at Tijuana, Mexico. The US's "dental refugees" flock to Mexico in the thousands every day, seeking affordable care.
The US-Mexico border crossing at Tijuana, Mexico. The US’s “dental refugees” flock to Mexico in the thousands every day, seeking affordable care.PHILIPPE TURPIN / PHOTONONSTOP / GETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration is trying to convey panic that there’s an immediate crisis on the southern border, pointing to caravans of desperate people who have traveled thousands of miles.

It’s true that Latin and Central Americans are coming to the US fleeing violence and poverty, much of it caused by destructive US trade policy over the course of decades. But there’s another massive “border crossing” phenomenon afoot — and Trump has not said a word about it. We’re talking about thousands of US citizens crossing the border each day in search of affordable health care.

At just one checkpoint in Yuma, Arizona, up to 6,000 Americans cross the border every day and enter the bustling Mexican town of Los Algodones, seeking heath care.

Unlike the Trump administration that seeks to build a wall between the countries, Los Algodones welcomes Americans seeking dental care with open arms.

Los Algodones has to be seen to believed. There are more dentists per capita than anywhere else in the world. It seems like every square foot of public space wall is covered with advertisements promising quality and affordable dental care, vision care and prescription drugs. The community’s economy is built to serve the flood of “dental refugees” — mostly senior citizens from the US and Canada seeking major dental care they cannot afford in their own countries, even with insurance. MORE

The glaring hole in Trump’s address: Climate change


(Al Drago)

President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night zigzagged between paeans to unity and sops to his hardcore base. He eulogized World War II soldiers and then wheeled on immigrants and leftist rivals at home. But absent amid the nativist demagoguery and partisan jockeying was any reference to the threat looming above all others: climate change.

That’s no surprise. Trump is an avowed climate skeptic who casts environmentalist efforts as challenges to American sovereignty, not ways to stave off a planet-wide disaster. As much of the United States endured a deep freeze last month, Trump took to Twitter to plead for more “global warming.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need

Experts quickly noted that the president was confusing weather with climate — and that the warming of the Arctic could lead to sharper, snowier cold spells in the North American winter.

“Only with an ill-informed citizenry could you plausibly dismiss the consensus of the world’s scientists based upon a single cold spell,” wrote climate scientist Michael E. Mann. “Trump and, more to the point, the fossil fuel interests whose bidding he is doing have weaponized the public’s poor understanding of science.”

Trump is certainly at odds with the global scientific community — including leading scientists in the United States and even in his own government. In November, the Trump administration tried to bury the terrifying findings of its own National Climate Assessment by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving. In that report, researchers affiliated with a number of federal agencies offered alarming conclusions about the increased risk of natural catastrophes because of the changing climate. MORE

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