Why Do We Pretend to Clean Up Ocean Oil Spills?

ENVIRONMENT
Many scientists describe such efforts as ‘prime-time theatre.’ Yet the farce continues.

Gulf-Oiled-Pelicans-June-3-2010 Heavily oiled Brown Pelicans captured at Grand Isle, Louisiana on Thursday, June 3, 2010 wait to be cleaned of Gulf spill crude at The Fort Jackson Wildlife Care Center in Buras, LA. Photo Credit: IBRRC
Photo Credit: International Bird Rescue Research Center

[Editor’s note: This article is from Hakai Magazine, an online publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems. Read more stories like this at HakaiMagazine.com.]

When the Deepwater Horizon well operated by BP (formerly British Petroleum) exploded and contaminated the Gulf of Mexico with at least 650 million litres of crude oil in 2010, blue-smocked animal rescuers quickly appeared on television screens. Looking like scrub nurses, the responders treated oil-coated birds with charcoal solutions, antibiotics and dish soap. They also forced the birds to swallow Pepto-Bismol, which helps absorb hydrocarbons. The familiar, if not outlandish, images suggested that something was being cleaned up.

But during the chaotic disaster, Silvia Gaus poked a large hole in that myth. The German biologist had worked in the tidal flats of the Wadden Sea, a region of the North Sea and the world’s largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud, and critical bird habitat. A 1998 oil spill of more than 100,000 litres in the North Sea had killed 13,000 birds in Wattenmeer National Park, and the scientist had learned that cleaning oil-soaked birds could be as harmful to their immune systems as the oil accumulating in their livers and kidneys. Kill, don’t clean, she advised responders in the 2010 BP spill. Gaus then referred to scientific studies to support her unsettling declaration. One 1996 California study, for example, followed the fate of brown pelicans fouled by oil. Researchers marked the birds after they had been “cleaned” and released them into the wild. The majority died or failed to mate again. The researchers concluded that cleaning brown pelicans couldn’t restore them to good breeding health or “normal survivability.” Another study from 1997 observed that once birds affected by an oil spill had been cleaned, they fared poorly and suffered higher than expected mortality rates.

And, consider the 2002 sinking of the MV Prestige. The tanker split in half off the coast of Spain, spilling more than 70 million litres of highly toxic bunker fuel that coated more than 600 beaches with oil. The catastrophe killed some 300,000 seabirds. Although response teams diligently cleaned thousands of animals, most of the birds died within a week. Only a few hundred ever made it back to the wild. In fact, said Gaus, studies indicate that, in general, the post-treatment survival rate of oil-soaked birds is less than one per cent.

Not all bird cleaning is futile. Rescuers saved thousands of penguins following the MV Treasure spill off South Africa in 2000, for example. Success stories, however, are rare. In the Gulf of Mexico, the giant BP spill probably killed nearly a million birds. Gaus’s comments highlighted two uncomfortable realities: cleaning oily birds is a risky business, and the marine oil spill cleanup can often do more harm than good.

A theatrical response

In many respects, society’s theatrical response to catastrophic oil spills resembles the way medical professionals respond to aggressive cancer in an elderly patient. Because surgery is available, it is often used. Surgery also creates the impression that the health-care system is doing something even though it can’t change or reverse the patient’s ultimate condition. In an oil-based society, the cleanup delusion is also irresistible. Just as it is difficult for us to acknowledge the limits of medical intervention, society struggles to acknowledge the limits of technologies or the consequences of energy habits. And that’s where the state of marine oil spill response sits today: it creates little more than an illusion of a cleanup. Scientists — outside the oil industry — call it “prime-time theatre” or “response theatre.”

Oiled turtle rescued from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (image: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries/Flickr CC)

The hard scientific reality is this: a big spill is almost impossible to contain because it is physically impossible to mobilize the labour needed and current cleanup technologies in a timely fashion. When the City of Vancouver released a study in 2015 on the effectiveness of responses to large tanker or pipeline spills along the southern coast of British Columbia, the conclusion was blunt: “collecting and removing oil from the sea surface is a challenging, time-sensitive and often ineffective process,” even in calm water.

Scientists have recognized this reality for a long time. During the 1970s when the oil industry was poised to invade the Beaufort Sea, the Canadian government employed more than 100 researchers to gauge the impacts of an oil spill on Arctic ice. The researchers doused sea ducks and ring seals with oil and set pools of oil on fire under a variety of ice conditions. They also created sizable oil spills (one was almost 60,000 litres, a medium-sized spill) in the Beaufort Sea and tried to contain them with booms and skimmers. They prodded polar bears into a man-made oil slick only to discover that bears, like birds, will lick oil off their matted fur and later die of kidney failure. In the end, the Beaufort Sea Project concluded that “oil spill countermeasures, techniques and equipment” would have “limited effectiveness” on ice-covered waters. The reports, however, failed to stop Arctic drilling.

Part of the illusion has been created by ineffective technologies adopted and billed by industry as “world class.” Ever since the 1970s, the oil and gas industry has trotted out four basic ways to deal with ocean spills: booms to contain the oil; skimmers to remove the oil; fire to burn the oil; sand chemical dispersants, such as Corexit, to break the oil into smaller pieces. For small spills these technologies can sometimes make a difference, but only in sheltered waters. None has ever been effective in containing large spills.

BP oil workers attempt to clean oil covered sand on June 23, 2010 in Pensacola Beach, Florida (image: Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock.com)

Conventional containment booms, for example, don’t work in icy water, or where waves run amok. Burning oil merely transforms one grave problem — water pollution — into sooty greenhouse gases and creates air pollution. Dispersants only hide the oil by scattering small droplets into the water column, yet they often don’t even do that since conditions have to be just right for dispersants to work. Darryl McMahon, a director of RESTCo, a firm pursuing more effective cleanup technologies, has written extensively about the problem, and his

The issue partly boils down to scale, explains Jeffrey Short, a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research chemist who studied the aftermath of the 2010 BP disaster as well as the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, which grew at the alarming rate of half a football field per second over two days. “Go try and control something like that,” says Short. Yet almost 30 years after the Exxon Valdez contaminated much of Prince William Sound, the cleanup technology has changed little.

“What I find the most disturbing is the tendency for responsible authorities and industry to adopt technologies mainly because of their optics and with scant regard for their efficacy,” says Short. In addition, chaos rules in the aftermath of a spill. The enormous political pressure to do something routinely sacrifices any duty to properly evaluate what kind of response might actually work over time, says Short. “Industry says ‘we just want to clean it up,’ yet their demonstrative ability to clean it up sucks.”

Consider, for a moment, the industry’s dismal record on oil recovery. Average citizens may think that a successful marine oil spill cleanup actually involves recovering what has been spilled. They may also expect the amount of oil recovered would increase over time as industry learns and adopts better technologies. But there has been little improvement since the 1960s.

During the BP disaster, the majority of the oil evaporated, dropped to the ocean bottom, smothered beaches, dissolved, or remained on or just below the water’s surface as sheen or tar balls. Some oil-chewing bacteria offered assistance by biodegrading the oil after it had been dispersed. Rough estimates indicate that, out of the total amount of oil it spilled, BP recovered three per cent through skimming, 17 per cent from siphoning at the wellhead, and five per cent from burning. Even so, that’s not much better than theExxon Valdez spill in 1989 when industry recovered an estimated 14 per cent of the oil. Transport Canada admits that it expects only 10 to 15 per cent of a marine oil spill to ever be recovered from open water. “Even informed people are taken aback by these numbers,” says Short.

Nor are the numbers any better for small marine spills (smaller than 7,950 litres). This year, York University researchers discovered that offshore oil and gas platforms reported a total of 381 small spills between 1997 and 2010. Only 11 spills mentioned the presence of seabirds, yet it only takes a dime-sized blotch of oil in cold water to kill a bird.

A dead seabird, possibly a great egret, covered in oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. (image: Michael Martin/Flickr CC)

The danger of wishful thinking

Self-reporting combined with an appalling spill-recovery record underscores how poorly industry’s preferred technologies perform in the field. Deploying dispersants, for example, is about as effective as cleaning oil-soaked birds and remains another example of response theatre designed to hide the real damage. During BP’s catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company sprayed over 6.8 million litres of Corexit. It was the largest volume of dispersant ever used for an oil spill and one giant chemical experiment.

Researchers have known for decades that mixing oil with Corexit rarely works. Short compares it to adding detergent when you’re washing dishes: it produces a cloudy suspension that scatters through the water but hovers close to the top. Sweden has banned its use, and the U.K. followed suit, based on the potential danger to workers. That didn’t stop the aerial bombing of Gulf of Mexico waters with Corexit — which actually killed oil-eating bacteria — because it looked as if the authorities were doing something. Their work made little difference. Bottlenose dolphins, already vulnerable, died in record numbers from adrenal and lung diseases linked to oil exposure.

“We’ve put the wrong people in charge of the job,” says McMahon, who has charted industry’s oil spill myths for years. Corexit, industry’s favorite dispersant, is widely believed to contain hydrocarbon, which gives it an ominous undertone. The product was first developed by Standard Oil, and its ingredient list remains a trade secret. Although the oil industry boasts a “safety culture,” everyone really knows that it operates with a greed culture, adds McMahon. Over the years, industry has become adept at selling an illusion by telling regulators and stakeholders whatever they want to hear about oil spills (in the past, executives claimed that their companies recovered 95 per cent of spilled oil).

In Canada, multinational oil companies also own the corporations licensed to respond to catastrophic spills. The Western Canadian Marine Response Corp., for example, is owned by Kinder Morgan, Imperial Oil, Shell, Chevron and Suncor while the Eastern Canada Response Corp. is owned by Ultramar, Shell, Imperial Oil and Suncor. In a recent analysis on this cozy relationship, Robyn Allan, an economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, concluded that letting international oil companies determine the goals and objectives of marine spill preparedness and response was a flagrant conflict of interest.

Large spills, which can destroy fisheries and entire communities, can impose billion dollar cleanup bills and still not restore what has been lost. The cleanup costs for the Exxon Valdez disaster reached US$2 billion (paid by various parties), and Exxon fought the federal government’s claim for an extra $92 million for restoration, until the government dropped their claim in 2015. To date, BP has spent more than US$42 billion on response, compensation and fines in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, the evidence shows that nearshore and in-port spills are four to five times more expensive to clean up than offshore spills and that heavy oil, such as bitumen, costs nearly 10 times more than light oils because it persists longer in water. And yet, no more than C$1.3 billion has been set aside in Canada for a major oil spill — a sum experts find woefully inadequate. According to a University of British Columbia study, a release of 16,000 cubic metres of diluted bitumen in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet would inflict at least $1.2 billion worth of damage on the local economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism and promoting its “natural” beauty. That figure doesn’t include the cost of a “cleanup.”

Based on the science, expecting to adequately remedy large spills with current technologies seems like wishful thinking. And there will be no change unless responsible authorities do three things: give communities most affected by a catastrophic spill the democratic right to say no to high-risk projects, such as tankers or pipelines; publicly recognize that responding to a large oil spill is as haphazard as responding to a large earthquake and that there is no real techno-fix; and recognize that industry won’t adopt more effective technologies that actually recover oil from the ocean until governments and communities properly price the risk of catastrophic spills and demand upfront multibillion-dollar bonds for compensation. “If they spill, they must lose a bloody fortune,” says Short.

Until those reforms take place, expect more dramatic prime-time theatre on oiled ocean waters. But we shouldn’t for a moment believe we’re watching a cleanup. The only things being wiped clean are guilty consciences.

[Editor’s note: The bird in the image by Michael Martin was incorrectly identified as a pelican. According to Kris Wiese, an environmental scientist at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention & Response, it appears to be a great egret. The caption has been corrected. Thanks to Kris Wiese for the close read and the correction.]

Does Hillary Clinton Understand the Biggest Divide in American Politics?

Posted on Jul 25, 2016

By Robert Reich

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is missing a crucial point of this election.(Susan Walsh / AP)

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s website.

Does Hillary Clinton understand that the biggest divide in American politics is no longer between the right and the left, but between the anti-establishment and the establishment?

I worry she doesn’t – at least not yet.

A Democratic operative I’ve known since the Bill Clinton administration told me “now that she’s won the nomination, Hillary is moving to the middle. She’s going after moderate swing voters.”

Presumably that’s why she tapped Tim Kaine to be her vice president. Kaine is as vanilla middle as you can get.

In fairness, Hillary is only doing what she knows best. Moving to the putative center is what Bill Clinton did after the Democrats lost the House and Senate in 1994 – signing legislation on welfare reform, crime, trade, and financial deregulation that enabled him to win reelection in 1996 and declare “the era of big government” over.

In those days a general election was like a competition between two hot-dog vendors on a boardwalk extending from right to left. Each had to move to the middle to maximize sales. (If one strayed too far left or right, the other would move beside him and take all sales on rest of the boardwalk.)

But this view is outdated. Nowadays, it’s the boardwalk versus the private jets on their way to the Hamptons.

The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a system rigged by big corporations, Wall Street, and the super-wealthy.

This is a big reason why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. It’s also why Bernie Sanders took 22 states in the Democratic primaries, including a majority of Democratic primary voters under age 45.

There are no longer “moderates.”  There’s no longer a “center.” There’s authoritarian populism (Trump) or democratic populism (which had been Bernie’s “political revolution,” and is now up for grabs).

And then there’s the Republican establishment (now scattered to the winds), and the Democratic establishment.

If Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party don’t recognize this realignment, they’re in for a rude shock – as, I’m afraid, is the nation. Because Donald Trump does recognize it. His authoritarian (“I’ am your voice”) populism is premised on it.

“In five, ten years from now,” Trump says, “you’re going to have a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years, that are angry.”

Speaking at a factory in Pennsylvania in June, he decried politicians and financiers who had betrayed Americans by “taking away from the people their means of making a living and supporting their families.”

Worries about free trade used to be confined to the political left. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, people who say free-trade deals are bad for America are more likely to lean Republican.

The problem isn’t trade itself. It’s a political-economic system that won’t cushion working people against trade’s downsides or share trade’s upsides. In other words, a system that’s rigged.

Most basically, the anti-establishment wants big money out of politics. This was the premise of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. It’s also been central to Donald (“I’m so rich I can’t be bought off”) Trump’s appeal, although he’s now trolling for big money.

A recent YouGov/Economist poll found that 80 percent of GOP primary voters who preferred Donald Trump as the nominee listed money in politics as an important issue, and a Bloomberg Politics poll shows a similar percentage of Republicans opposed to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.

Getting big money out of politics is of growing importance to voters in both major parties. A June New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 84 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans want to fundamentally change or completely rebuild our campaign finance system.

Last January, a DeMoines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers found 91 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats unsatisfied or “mad as hell” about money in politics.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to move toward the “middle.” In fact, such a move could hurt her if it’s perceived to be compromising the stances she took in the primaries in order to be more acceptable to Democratic movers and shakers.

She needs to move instead toward the anti-establishment – forcefully committing herself to getting big money out of politics, and making the system work for the many rather than a privileged few.

She must make clear Donald Trump’s authoritarian populism is a dangerous gambit, and the best way to end crony capitalism and make America work for the many is to strengthen American democracy.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/does_hillary_clinton_understand_biggest_divide_american_politics_20160725

Donald Trump’s Strategy for Victory Is Clear, but Are Democrats Able to See It?

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Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein during the plenary session titled “Equality for Girls and Women: 2034 Instead of 2134?” at the Clinton Global Initiative 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

There is an adage, based on Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”: “Know your enemy.” After watching Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, I wonder just how well Democrats really know Trump and his strategy.

It is easy to paint the businessman-turned-politician as a “racist” and “misogynist.” He is all those things and more. In fact, those descriptors are part of his political strategy. Pointing them out without seeing the larger picture of how he is planning on winning the November election is a recipe for failure.

I knew that if I watched Trump give his speech, I would be so enraged by his loathsome manner and disgusting rhetoric that it might blind me to his bigger plan. When I read the transcript later, I still felt rage, but the topics appeared to be a confusing mess, with Trump jumping from domestic to foreign policy with no apparent coherence. But then a pattern emerged.

Broadly speaking, Trump is using a simple combination of two political devices, pivoting deftly from one to the other. The first is the tried-and-true form of dog-whistle politics to rally racial resentment. The second taps into anger and legitimate public disgust over the failures of capitalism. In other words, he is solidifying the resentment-filled voter base that backed him from the start, and is overtly wooing the base that Bernie Sanders inspired but abandoned when the Democratic Party undermined his nomination. Trump’s acceptance speech was a repetitive exercise in this two-prong approach, and with the combination of these two seemingly disparate voter bases, he sees victory in November.

Never mind that Trump himself is a key player in the financial system that has devastated ordinary Americans—he gets away with that contradiction by earning the oxymoronic and Orwellian moniker of “blue-collar billionaire” from the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr.

Over and over in his speech, Trump invoked the fear of the “other” (which Hillary Clinton embodies simply by being a woman) and then pivoted to the economy. For example, he brought up the case of Sarah Root, a 21-year-old woman who died when her car was slammed by an undocumented immigrant who apparently had been driving drunk.

“I’ve met Sarah’s beautiful family,” Trump said. “But to this administration, their amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders. What about our economy?”

The non sequitur about the economy was followed by statistics meant to appeal to people of color: “Nearly four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58 percent of African-American youth are not employed. Two million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the president took his oath of office.”

By the way, The Washington Post and other fact-checking organizations have issued a comprehensive list of lies and exaggerations in Trump’s speech, which include the aforementioned statistics. But of course, facts are there to be manipulated into the dire portrait of the nation that Trump is painting.

Here is another example of Trump invoking the fear of the “other,” this time personified by Islamic State and white Americans’ fear of losing imperial prestige: “[Islamic State] has spread across the region, and the world. Libya is in ruins, and our ambassador [the late J. Christopher Stevens] and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers.” He later invoked Clinton’s kowtowing to moneyed interests: “Big business, elite media and major donors are lining up behind the campaign of my opponent because they know she will keep our rigged system in place.”

Still later in his speech, he jumped back to domestic policy by touting the killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., with no mention whatsoever of police violence and killings of black Americans. This, of course, was Trump using dog-whistle politics to win over pro-police and racist white voters. But then he quickly pivoted to the economy, saying, “This administration has failed America’s inner cities. It’s failed them on education. It’s failed them on jobs.”

He (wrongly) accused Clinton of having an immigration policy of “mass amnesty, mass immigration and mass lawlessness” that “will overwhelm your schools and hospitals, further reduce your jobs and wages.” Such a macabre vision plays directly to nativist fears of immigrants, which Trump once more followed with a switch to the economy by promising “a different vision for our workers. It begins with a new fair trade policy that protects our jobs and stands up to countries that cheat.”

When he got around to summarizing his approach to the presidency, he used the same pivot again: “My plan will begin with safety at home—which means safe neighborhoods, secure borders and protection from terrorism. There can be no prosperity without law and order. On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of new jobs and trillions in new wealth that can be used to rebuild America.”

Trump, who likely would have been roundly defeated by Bernie Sanders in a general election (as many polls suggested), is determined to pick up Sanders fans by whipping up the general public frustration with the failures of capitalism. At one point, Trump just comes out and says it: “I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders—he never had a chance. But his supporters will join our movement, because we will fix his biggest issue: trade.”

If Democrats want to beat Trump in November, they need to recognize this strategy fast and adopt the progressive-sounding economic proposals that Trump is offering as he tries to reconcile conservative white voters with economic liberalists. In other words, Clinton needs to embody Sanders, and fast. That way, she can combine Democratic stalwarts (those who planned to vote for her all along) with the independents Sanders rallied and win by a comfortable margin in November. Of course, the Democratic Party could have ensured a win early on by refusing to undermine Sanders’ candidacy. Recent internal documentsleaked by Wikileaks have shown the contempt the party had for the candidate best suited to usher in a decisive win.

But it’s too late to worry about that now. All Clinton can do is understand Trump’s strategy and work to beat it. That would mean renouncing the very Wall Street ties she has relied on throughout her career, ties that have in large part earned her well-deserved, collective contempt from the public. Instead, she is relying on voters choosing her because she is not Trump. If Trump is espousing a politics of fear through his racism and misogyny, Clinton is no different. The fear she is relying on is a fear of Trump himself. And that may not be enough.

 

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and executive producer of Uprising, a daily radio program at KPFK Pacifica Radio, soon to be on Free Speech TV (click here for the campaign to televise Uprising). She is also the Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that supports women’s rights activists in Afghanistan and co-author of “Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence.”

 

The new working class

Trump can talk to disaffected white men, but they don’t make up the “working class” anymore

Democrats need to get comfortable with using the term “working class” or risk losing those voters to Trump

The new working class: Trump can talk to disaffected white men, but they don't make up the "working class" anymore
Donald Trump (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

Thursday night, Trump spent considerable air time speaking (more like yelling) about how America’s steel and coal workers have been ignored and sold-out for decades by both political parties. He promised to bring back those long-disappearing jobs and to put their needs front and center in his administration. As the daughter of a steel worker, I admit it was nice to finally hear someone talk about how the old industrial working class was robbed of their dignity and livelihood, with little regard for the devastation left behind.

But that working class — the blue-collar, hard-hat, mostly male archetype of the great post-war prosperity — is long gone. In its place is a new working class whose jobs are in the now massive sectors of our serving and caring economy. And so far, neither Trump nor Clinton have talked about this new working class, which is much more female and racially diverse than the one of my dad’s generation. With Trump’s racially charged and nativistic rhetoric, he’s offering red meat to a group of Americans who have every right to be angry — but not at the villains Trump has served up.

The decades-long destruction of American manufacturing profoundly changed the working class — neighborhoods, jobs and families. What had once been nearly universal, guaranteed well-paying jobs for young men fresh from high school graduation were yanked overseas with little regard for the devastation left behind.

To add insult to injury, the loss of manufacturing jobs was often heralded as a sign of progress. As the economic contribution of these former working-class heroes to our nation dwindled and the technology revolution sizzled, in many people’s minds, millions of men became zeroes. They seemed to be a dusty anachronism in a sparkling new economy.

Black men, who had fought for decades for their right to these well-paying jobs, watched them evaporate just as they were finally admitted to competitive apprenticeships and added to seniority lists. When capital fled for Mexico or China, the shuttered factories in America’s biggest cities left a giant vacuum in their wake, decimating a primary source of jobs for black men that would never be replaced.

The economic vacuum would be filled with a burgeoning underground economy in the drug trade, which was met with a militarized war on drugs rather than an economic development plan. That war continues today — the scaffolding upon which our prison industrial complex is built and the firmament upholding the police brutality and oppression in black communities that result in far too many unarmed black men being shot and killed by police.

As for the once privileged, white working-class man, the dignity and sense of self-worth that came with a union contract and the trappings of middle-class life are sorely missed and their absence bitterly resented. In the absence of real commitments from either political party to promote high-quality job creation for workers without college degrees, conservative talk-radio’s echo chamber and the rhetoric of far-right conservative politicians have concocted a story about who is winning (and taking from government) in this post-industrial economy: African-Americans and immigrants.

These are the contours shaping our nation’s political debate.

Trump has hitched his presidential wagon to the pain of the white working class, though far more rhetorically than substantively. With his anti-immigrant pledge to “build a wall” and his unicorn promises to rip up trade agreements and bring manufacturing jobs back to our shores, Trump promises to make the white working class “winners” again.

But the sad reality is that his campaign represents nothing more than yet another cynical political ploy to tap the racial anxiety and economic despair felt by white working-class men. It is a salve to soothe with no real medicine for healing the underlying wound.

Trump, and the Republican Party more broadly, offers no solutions or even promises to address the grave economic insecurity of the broader working class today, whose jobs are more likely to be in fast food, retail, home health care and janitorial services than on an assembly line. Unlike their predecessors, today’s working class toils in a labor market where disrespect — in the form of low wages, erratic schedules, zero or few sick days and arbitrary discipline — is ubiquitous. Gone are the unions and workplace protections that created a blue-collar middle class — the best descriptor for my own family background. Today’s working class punch the clock in a country with the largest percentage of low-paid workers among advanced nations, with the paychecks of African-Americans and immigrants plunging even further, particularly among women.

Thanks to the brave action and demands of movements like Fight for $15, United We Dream and Black Lives Matter, the Democratic Party is finally offering a robust official platform to improve the lives of today’s working class, not the one of my father’s generation. After decades in which working-class plight went largely overlooked by the Democrats in favor of a more centrist, pro-business stance, the party’s progressive economic shift should claim broad support among the new working class. As noted in my book, “Sleeping Giant,” unlike a generation ago, today’s working class is multiracial and much more female — more than one-third of today’s working class are people of color. Nearly half (47 percent) of today’s young working class, those aged 25-34, are not white people. And two-thirds of non-college educated women are in the paid labor force, up from about half in 1980.

The Democratic Party, both through its platform and its candidate, supports higher wages, paid sick days, affordable child care, college without debt and reifying the right to a union. With a platform more progressive than any in recent history, especially on economic and racial justice issues, there should be no doubt that the Democratic Party is the champion of the working class, at least on the merits. But most people don’t read party platforms or study policy positions. Instead, they listen and watch, waiting for cues that a candidate “gets” them and is actually talking to them.

For despite the platform language and Hillary Clinton’s stated positions, the Democratic Party hasn’t been talking to the working class. The words “working class” seem all but erased from the Democratic lexicon — in its speeches, ads and on its social media. The party’s language still clings to vague notions of “working people” or “hard-working Americans” or the false notion of a ubiquitous “middle class.” It may well be that the party has bought the political spin that “working class” is code for “white and male” — but actually, it’s people of color who are much more likely to consider themselves working class. And as the party of racial and social justice, Democrats are missing a big opportunity to sell its economic platform to this new working class.

The General Social Survey, a long-running public opinion survey, found in 2014 that 46 percent of respondents identified themselves as working class compared to 42 percent who identify as middle class. Black and Latino individuals were much more likely than whites to identify as working class. Six out of 10 Latinos and 56 percent of blacks consider themselves working class, compared to just 42 percent of whites. In fact, in every year since the early 1970s, the percentage of Americans who identify as working class has ranged between 44 and 50 percent. Interestingly, younger people are also more likely to consider themselves working class, with 55 percent of 18-29 year olds identifying as working class compared to 36 percent who identify as middle class.

Yet Trump has won the rhetorical war for the working class — despite his pitch being narrowly tailored to disaffected white men. There is no doubt in my mind that the Democratic Party is the party of the working class — white, black and brown — at least substantively. But by failing to explicitly use the term “working class,” the party risks not being heard by the very voters who have the most at stake in this election.

Pentagon wants Clinton, racists want Trump — either way Wall St. wins

trump_clinton (1)In May 2015, weeks before Donald Trump declared his candidacy, he took a friendly phone call from his long-time golf buddy Bill Clinton. On the call, Clinton, according to the Washington Post, “encouraged Trump’s efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party and offered his own views of the political landscape.” (Both sides admit to the call). Hillary Clinton had declared her own candidacy days earlier.

The Washington Post article continued, “People with knowledge of the call in both camps said it was one of many that Clinton and Trump have had over the years, whether about golf or donations to the Clinton Foundation.”

Indeed, federal records show the Trump family donated to Hillary Clinton in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007. He gave at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In Trump’s star-studded 2005 wedding, it was none other than Sen. Hillary Clinton who got the seat in the front row—ahead of Billy Joel, Katie Couric, Tony Bennett and all the rest of the celebrities.

They’re all friends. This is the truth that neither the Clinton or Trump teams will admit now that they are trading insults on a daily basis on the campaign trail. Trump brags about his assets that surpass $1 billion, while Clinton plays down her wealth to appear “relatable.” But they are of the same social class and they travel in the same elite circles. Bill and Hillary Clinton themselves have a net worth of $111 million—from a “career in public service.” The Trumps and Clintons call each other for advice. They party, socialize and golf together. They even use the exact same tax havens—Trump and Clinton have registered their private corporations at the same Delaware address, alongside  285,000 other corporate entities.

The candidates are not identical, of course. Trump’s brazen racism and sexism has given confidence to like-minded people nationwide to follow his example. His campaign has had the effect of throwing open the window to the smell of the country’s rotting bigotry—a stink that will not be easily removed even if he loses. If he were to turn his unconstitutional campaign promises into actual policies, they would amount to a virtual declaration of war against immigrant and Muslim communities.

On the other side, Clinton offers Black and Latino communities sweet phrases while ejecting and talking down to Black Lives Matter activists who dare bring up her real record as a politician. She was a champion of the militarization of the police, of mass incarceration policies, the gutting of welfare, and record-setting deportations.

Trump bears responsibility for dozens of racist assaults and hate crimes while mainstreaming a culture of bigotry that will undoubtedly lead to more. Clinton bears responsibility for a decades-long political assault on Black and Latino communities.

Many rightfully wonder if Trump’s reckless language and unchecked machismo would lead to new wars, including nuclear ones. But Clinton’s declared foreign policies are perhaps more dangerous. Her saber-rattling against Russia and for NATO expansion plans and aggressive interventionism in Syria, Ukraine and Libya follow the neoconservative playbook and constitute the most plausible real-life scenarios for World War III.

Before, during and after the Iraq war, Clinton marched in lockstep with the Bush administration. No wonder the whole Republican foreign policy establishment is backing her over Trump!

Domestically, Hillary Clinton has built a career around doing the bidding of Wall Street and even served “proudly” as a director for the low-wage corporate giant Walmart. A champion of the bank bailout, she and Bill Clinton received $153 million in speaking fees since 2000 for 51 speeches to banks. To this day, she has refused to release the transcripts from those speeches. She recently accepted the endorsement of Henry Paulson, onetime CEO of Goldman Sachs and secretary of the treasury during the Bush and Obama administrations. Before engineering the bank bailout, Paulson made hundreds of millions off of the toxic home loans that left millions of people in the U.S. without livelihoods or homes.

Trump embodies a whole class of sleazy landlords and developers, who buy favors and regulatory changes from politicians to make super-profits at the expense of poor and working-class tenants. So the choice is between Trump, a billionaire who buys out politicians, and Clinton, a politician in the employ of billionaires.

That’s the current state of American “democracy” in a nutshell: a pure sham, a rigged process dripping with corporate money to ensure the selection of an ultra-rich racist imperialist. Trump and Clinton each have higher unfavorable ratings than any presidential candidate in U.S. history. A recent tweet captured the sentiment of millions: “there must be a cheaper way to find the worst people in society.”

How to defeat Trump and the far-right

Since 1978, the cost of tuition has gone up 1,100 percent. Health care has gone up 600 percent. Food has gone up 240 percent and shelter has gone up 380 percent. Meanwhile, typical wages have just risen 10 percent and minimum wage workers have seen their wages plummet 5 percent. The wealth of average CEOs has gone up 937 percent.

The Democratic and Republican establishments have together engineered the country’s vast inequality with anti-worker trade deals, de-unionization, the deregulation of Wall Street and the elimination of social services. They have fed hatred of immigrants, attacked the Black community, and pitted workers against each other in election after election. This status quo, which Clinton represents, is what gave birth to the Trump phenomenon in the first place, and her presidency would also provide fertile ground for continued far-right organizing. Quite simply, supporting Clinton is not the way to beat back Trump.

To really defeat the far-right and Trump, it will take a movement against Wall Street—demanding health care, jobs, housing and education as guaranteed rights and standing up militantly against racism and xenophobia.

Into the elections—and beyond

Third-party candidates are growing in popularity. The Libertarian and Green party candidates polling higher than ever and the Party for Socialism and Liberation is seeing more national interest in socialist politics than in previous campaigns. But the corporate media is giving these candidates pitifully little media coverage and is expected to exclude them from the presidential debates. So the country is being told to pick between Donald Trump and the guest of honor at his most recent wedding.

Millions, we hope, will disobey these orders and reject the false choice between the widespread misery of the status quo and far-right chauvinism. In either case, regardless if Trump or Clinton wins, there is no question that the future will be one of even more intense struggle. It will be struggle for the working class in general, for all oppressed communities, as well as for the movements for peace and environmental justice.

https://www.liberationnews.org/pentagon-wants-clinton-racists-want-trump/

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