Climate change brings a potentially devastating “atmospheric river” to California

Megastorms vs. megadroughts:

After years of drought, the Golden State is hit by epic storms — and it’s just the beginning of climate chaos

Megastorms vs. megadroughts: Climate change brings a potentially devastating "atmospheric river" to California
Michelle Wolfe, who had to evacuate her nearby mobile home, looks out toward flooded vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in Forestville, Calif. (Credit: AP/Eric Risberg)

As the incoming Trump administration turns Washington increasingly freakish and bizarre, reinventing government as reality show, Mother Nature is doing something equally dramatic 3,000 miles away. Donald Trump can deny climate change all he wants to, but Californians can’t escape the contrasting weather extremes it’s already causing or affecting. We’re in a cycle of ever more serious droughts broken by more intense storms — harbingers of much more serious challenges to come. What’s happening in California now serves to underscore long-term realities, regardless of the day-to-day fantasies of those who temporarily hold political power.

A series of storms from the vicinity of Hawaii, known as the “Pineapple Express,” have drenched California and parts of Nevada, signaling a likely end to four years of severe drought. Just during the storm that hit Jan. 7 to 10, there were 52 reports of extreme precipitation (meaning more than eight inches of rain in a three-day period), with several measuring twice that. Strawberry Valley, on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, got an amazing 20.51 inches of rain during that storm — more than Los Angeles typically gets in an entire year.

The Pineapple Express is just one example of a worldwide phenomenon known as “atmospheric rivers” or ARs. These are jet streams of moist air, tens to hundreds of miles wide, that can carry roughly 10 times as much water vapor as the Mississippi River at its mouth. Powerful as the current set of AR storms are, they pale in comparison to the month-long storms of 1861-2 that flooded much of the state, creating a 300-mile lake in the San Joaquin Valley. But even worse is possible. In 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey did a study of what a 1,000-year atmospheric river storm — known as ARkStorm — would do. Projected losses were staggering, including property losses around $400 billion (more than three Hurricane Katrinas) with another $325 billion in losses due to business interruption, lasting as long as five years. So Californians are lucky today.

View image on Twitter

The percentage of the state that is defined as “drought-free” has almost doubled overnight, from about 18 percent to 34.5 percent, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought-free area is largely in less-populated Northern California, above an east-west line running from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, but there are broader signs of hope for the whole state.

“This is likely to be the end of the surface-storage drought for most of the state,” wrote water expert Jeffrey Mount, of the Public Policy Institute of California. With a few more days of rain, he predicted, “almost all the major reservoirs will be at or above their seasonal averages … conditions we have not seen in six years. This is great news since reservoirs are the primary source of water for cities and farms.”

Still, the good news has to be sharply qualified. Even before California’s latest drought, a much longer, continent-wide drought was underway, as shown in this panel of eight annual drought maps from the 2009 paper “Megadroughts in North America” by Edward Cook and co-authors. In a related document, they show that during the medieval period, from 1021 to 1382, the majority of the continental U.S. experienced four megadroughts lasting 22 to 40 years, interspersed with occasional isolated non-drought years. These were three to four times longer than similar modern multi-year droughts from 1855 to 1957, which ranged from seven to 10 years. Thus, California’s climate this century is already atypical for the modern era. The state may already be in the middle of a medieval-style megadrought. The state needs more than one good year of rain to begin breathing easier.

The underlying science behind these phenomena is increasingly coming into focus, according to Marty Ralph, director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It has been shown that in major parts of the West drought is due to a reduced amount of precipitation from the wettest days, many of which are AR events,” Ralph told Salon.

“We have also known for about 10 years now that most of the big flooding events in the West Coast, at least, are a result of atmospheric rivers. These findings are especially strong in the West Coast and Southwest, and in Western Europe. Thus, indeed, the future of drought and flood in this region hinges on the fate of ARs. And climate models vary substantially in how they handle this.”

What is certain is that both extreme drought and extreme AR storms, driven by global climate change, pose growing challenges to California and many other places in the decades ahead. The divergent extremes place increasing stress on the whole ecosystem, as well as its physical underpinnings. “It’s a really bad combination of two extremes,” MIT’s Adam Schlosser told Pacific Standard. “The drought dries, and, in some sense, cooks up the ground. It becomes more susceptible to heavy rain. You’re putting together a meta-event that could be quite destructive.”

Schlosser was discussing a paper to which he contributed projecting that California will experience three more extreme precipitation events per year by 2100, although the number could be reduced by half that if aggressive policy measures are pursued. These results are more dramatic, but point in the same direction, as research published last summer by Christine Shields and Jeffrey Kiehl at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

Shields agreed with Schlosser’s warning. “Drought-stricken areas can be significantly damaged by heavy flood,” she told Salon. Although she hadn’t yet read Schlosser’s paper, she warned against overemphasizing any differences. “The different climate projections found in the literature may be due to, in part, a difference in the way the ARs are defined and tracked,” she noted.

It’s also important to distinguish between different measures. “Intensity of rain is not the same thing as overall rain totals, or mean [average] rain,” Shields said. “Potentially stronger rainfall rates would lead to increased likelihood for localized flooding, or flash flooding. Longer durations of storms also might imply increased likelihood for overall rain within the storm itself. It doesn’t say anything about changing the mean rainfall over a given season or region. Any way you slice it, projections should be used as guidelines and not ground truth.”

Those guidelines are all pointing in the same general direction: more climate and weather problems, and more intense problems. But sorting out the differences will be crucial for developing policy responses, Ralph stressed. “The already high variability of annual precipitation in this region could become even more variable in future climate scenarios,” he said. “We don’t have a good handle on which climate projections handle ARs best in the future, and those projections differ substantially in how these events look in the future.  We need to pin this down better, to help inform policy-makers on what to expect in the future for water supply and flood risk.”

When asked what can be done to improve policy responses, Ralph replied, “A major effort is needed to improve short-term predictions of ARs, so that information could be incorporated into myriad decisions made when extreme precipitation occurs, from reservoir operations to transportation to emergency response to flood control, landslides and other impacts such as we’ve seen in California, Nevada and Oregon” over the past few weeks. “Because ARs are the key to seasonal precipitation in this region, we now know what to focus on in terms of research.”

A continent away from Washington, this is what reality-based public policy planning looks like in the age of inexorable climate change. But that doesn’t mean climate science is infallible. Last winter many forecasters predicted significant precipitation fueled by the Pacific climate cycle known as El Niño, and as Ralph puts it, that was a “bust.” At the moment, there are scientific limits on the “predictability of water in the West,” he warned. “We also have the fact that hurricanes and tornadoes attract much of the attention and funding in meteorology. It has been difficult to get adequate focus on these Western water issues.”

Ralph’s center is “creating new AR-oriented forecast tools, built upon new science,” he said. Information about this can be seen in real time on the center’s website, including a “What’s New” section that has brief examples of these products for this last series of storms. You can even sign up for automated email alerts issued daily when there are extreme precipitation events in the West (like the 52 such events mentioned above).

As Californians weather the tail end of this dramatic string of storms, it can be comforting to realize that so much is being done to advance our understanding of the climate challenges facing America’s most populous state. That understanding is starting to translate into better ways of coping with what’s to come, however challenging that future may be. The reality-based community that is mobilizing to protect California’s precarious future in the face of climate change is a model worth celebrating — and also duplicating, in as many realms of public policy as possible. Finding ways to do that that is a top priority for all of us, wherever we live.

 

Plan an Inaugurexit That’s Just Right for You

Posted on Jan 13, 2017

By Chris Storm

  Soon-to-be-President Donald Trump. (Rainier Ehrhardt / AP)

If you sat out Election Day by not voting or by voting for a third-party candidate, there is nothing here for you. You’ve made your bed; enjoy lying in it and watching wall-to-wall inauguration coverage.

But if you are still hoarse from making get-out-the-vote calls or your feet still have the blisters you got while door-knocking during the campaign, or if you need to watch the news with your new friend the airsick bag, read on for some things you can do to push back on Inauguration Day.

To avoid permanent retina damage from the sight of 30-foot gold letters spelling out “TRUMP” on the Capitol dome, you have three options: You can protect yourself from it, cleanse yourself of it or correct your world in the wake of it—like a skin care ad for sudden-onset inauguritis.

Protect

• Unplug. This is the prime directive: Cut off all media, news and social connections. The last thing you want is to see old friends start to rationalize this with the maybe-it-won’t-be-so-bad-after-all Band-Aid. Inauguration coverage is going to be omnipresent. Whatever you are used to watching will be preempted and soaked with so much bunting and B.S. it will send you back to the airsick bag. So pull the plug on all your devices, or at least disconnect the news sources and alerts on your phone.

• Divert. Do something that occupies you. If you have hobbies or skills, go at them for as long as they distract you, then switch to an alternative below. Knitting can suck up hours, for example. Can you paper-mache a festive cover for your TV screen? It will come in handy for the State of the Union too! The inaugural will be endless, followed by ball coverage, so plan your diversions accordingly.

• Venture out. Make a list of the museums and cultural institutions you have not been to or checked out in a while. Hit them all. Then stop for a wonderful dinner at a place without a TV before taking in a concert, play or film. Wind up the evening with a nightcap. Just don’t head home until after the 11 o’clock news.

• Venture out plus. Why not get on a plane, fly away from media centers and rust-belt states and land at a calming retreat? The inauguration is on a Friday, so you could make it a long warm-weekend escape. Hawaii is now an all-blue state, beaches and mai tais included. If that’s too pricey, jump in your car and drive somewhere out of Wi-Fi range.

• Hunker. Hook up a hose over your bedroom window to simulate rain, lower the shades and repeat your new rainy-day mantra—“must finish book”—over and over. Do not get out of the bed unless it’s for a food delivery or bathroom break. Do not answer the phone unless the call is from a pal who is also inaugurexiting.

• Escape. Queue up some visual favorites, but think through the content. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is a great film but will make you think about Agent Orange, our about-to-be president, in a comparative way. Pull it out of rotation. Obviously, pull “The Manchurian Candidate” (either version) as well. All presidential biography films—yank. And be wary of classics like “Born Yesterday.” I recently watched it but started seeing orange hair on Broderick Crawford and hallucinating Judy Holiday with a Russian accent. Whoa! Way too close for comfort.

• Sustain yourself. Stock up on snacks and a box of wine. Don’t drink the good stuff on this mission; boxes tend to contain more, and it’s going to be a long day—and evening. So pack enough mood enhancers to make sure you don’t awaken to see Agent Orange dancing with Ivanka at the Scott Baio ball, the Ted Nugent Ball or the Alt-Right Ball ‘n Burn.

• Work. If you must go in and someone brings up the inauguration, treat it like a sporting event you want to see later. “Oh for God’s sake, don’t spoil it for me” (swallow the little throw-up that surges up in your mouth.) You should know which co-workers to avoid. If you must leave your cube, keep eyes forward or down.

CLEANSE

There’s no way to change what happened now. If you’re thinking you can Harry-Potter it away, you will just magnify the appendix-rupture-like pain you feel. Try these tips instead.

• Couldn’t your social calendar use a good scrubbing? Cleanse it on Inaugurexit Day—a gift that will pay you back all year long!

• Invited to attend a fundraising event where the recipient group is leaving you with a bitter Orange taste? Bet you forgot your uncle’s upcoming operation—he needs you for a few days. These social-event outs will challenge your imagination with excuses that are fun to create and embellish.

• A good primal scream is very cleansing. As soon as they finish the swearing-in, I want you to go to your window and open it, and scream as loud as you can, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Repeat as necessary.

CORRECT

Or as rock legend Warren Zevon wrote, “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Because truly, the shit has hit the fan. We have to play hardball. That means organizing and backing effective organizations that are already lawyered up, because the action is going to be in the courts. Use your safe-and-sane Inaugurexit day to review these organizations. There will be plenty of efforts you can engage in locally, but manage your cash for the big wins.

Indivisible: A group of congressional staffers has created a how-to guide based on the success tea partiers and others had in disrupting Congress’ and Obama’s agenda. Plan during the inauguration and dive in the next day. Make your group part of something bigger and more effective.

Common Cause: Ever wonder why, as our country becomes more diverse, our Congress doesn’t? That’s because in many states, congressional districts have been configured to spit out same-party candidates forever. The contorted district shapes look like the alien alphabet in the movie “Arrival.” Rigged? More like preordained. This solution will be under the other side’s radar, because it is longer-term and because their leader believes “gerrymander” is the kid in “Leave it to Beaver.” Fortunately, Common Cause is a successful, lawyered-up organization that is already on the gerrymandering case. Follow up with them online and start folding up those airsick bags.

ThinkProgress has started its own Trump Investigative Fund. To fight against fake news, which clearly got us to this point, regularly funding them or Mother Jones and others of their ilk will ensure that the pressure stays on. You’ll feel much better knowing you are shining a flashlight on the little orange cockroaches, exposing lies, financial conflicts and Twitter hypocrisies.

Credo: This is a long-distance provider that donates a percentage of your payments to progressive and charitable organizations you help select. Account setup is easy, and any additional financial donation is always in your control as you help patch the forthcoming congressional shredding of the social safety net.

• The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council: The environment has a large orange target and a harsh way of doing its own “correcting” (bye, bye humans). These two groups have lawyered up and won big victories, so consider signing up and saving the planet.

CharityWatch Top Rated: These guys dive deep to let you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.

Resolve to donate to whatever organization fits best with your priorities. You can try to avoid what’s happened, you can shake it off and keep going, but most importantly, fight it.

If none of these tips work for you, you can always volunteer to live fact-check Trump’s inauguration speech. Shouldn’t be too tough. How many lies can you fit into 140 characters?

Chris Storm is a writer who works in marketing in suburban Philadelphia.

Truthdig

Obama’s farewell address: One last round of clichés and lies

631431738-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2

By Niles Niemuth
11 January 2017

President Barack Obama capped his eight years in office with a vacuous and hypocritical farewell address Tuesday night delivered at the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago.

The first-ever presidential farewell address delivered outside of Washington, DC had the atmospherics of an overblown, cheap spectacle. Obama strode onto the stage like a rock star, flanked by oversized American flags, a massive illuminated presidential seal and an introductory soundtrack by the rock band U2.

As with every address Obama has delivered over the last eight years, his speech in Chicago was full of clichés, his rhetoric padded with empty phrases and delivered with a false gravitas, signaled by his trademark pursed lips and affected whisper.

The speech was rife with contradictions, the starkest being the juxtaposition of Obama’s boasting of the great social progress achieved by his administration and his warning of threats to American democracy arising from ever-growing social inequality and economic insecurity.

The president declared: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history… if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11… if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens—you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

“By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

He made no attempt to explain why, given this impressive record of social progress and foreign policy success, his party was routed in the elections and the billionaire demagogue Donald Trump was preparing to succeed him in the White House.

A basic component of the answer, of course, is the grotesquely false rendering of his record and the state of American society as he leaves office. Hardly a week goes by without a new report on signs of extreme social crisis or ever-more obscene levels of wealth among the financial elite. Just in the past month, studies have been published showing the first decline in US life expectancy in 23 years, plunging pay for young adults, a 72 percent surge in deaths from synthetic opioids, and home ownership rates at historic lows for young people.

Other surveys have documented a $237 billion increase in the wealth of the world’s richest 200 billionaires, driven largely by the US stock market boom under Obama, and an acceleration of the transfer of wealth from the bottom half of the US population to the top one percent.

In boasting of presiding over a record number of consecutive monthly job increases, Obama neglected to mention that 94 percent of the new jobs created in the last eight years have been either part-time or temporary.

Noticeably absent from Obama’s remarks was any mention of the social conditions in the city where he was speaking, which is ravaged by high levels of poverty and unemployment, an epidemic of police killings and violence, and a skyrocketing homicide rate.

He lamented in general terms the growth of social inequality and the dangers it poses to American democracy—that is, the threat of a social explosion in the United States.

“While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind—the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills—convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful—a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

As always, he spoke as if none of these social ills had anything to do with the policies pursued by his administration, including severe cuts in social spending on the one side and the bailout of the banks and flooding of money into the stock market on the other.

Another piece of monumental hypocrisy was Obama’s pose of fighting to defend democracy when he has done more to destroy it than perhaps any other US president.

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he declared. “So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.”

This is from a president who has personally authorized the assassination of American citizens and thousands of others around the world with drones-fired missiles, protected and promoted those in the CIA responsible for torture, kept the prison at Guantanamo Bay open, persecuted journalists and jailed whistleblowers, militarized the police, and expanded the illegal surveillance of electronic communications.

Obama also used his farewell address take parting shots at Russia and China, lumping the war against ISIS with efforts to counter both countries, and arguing that aggressive action against the world’s second- and third-largest nuclear-armed powers was the only way to avoid war.

“[T]he fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression,” he said. “If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

Obama spent his eight years in office waging war abroad and war on the working class at home. With Tuesday’s speech, he passed the reins to Trump with a shrug.

WSWS

As a Trump Administration Fast Approaches, Cities and Towns Prepare for Political Resistance

Posted on Jan 5, 2017

By Sally Neas / Yes! Magazine

    Members of 350.org and allies recently gathered outside the Trump transition office in Washington, D.C., to protest the president-elect’s choice for secretary of state. Many municipalities, too, are concerned about the Trump presidency, and in reaction to what they see as threats in the incoming administration are strengthening community self-governance. (betterDCregion / CC-BY-2.0)

Back in March, when Donald Trump was facing off with two now-forgotten candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, the small town of Barnstead, New Hampshire, was quietly protecting its citizens. At their annual town hall, residents voted unanimously for a city ordinance establishing the right to freedom from forced religious identification.

This inconspicuous action was part of a growing national movement for strengthened community self-governance that has found new purpose as the reality of a Trump presidency fast approaches. It came in the form of a community bill of rights, a charter or ordinance that affirms certain rights within a municipality. Similar bills have granted the right to a clean environment, safe and affordable housing, health care, and worker’s rights, among others.

President-elect Trump’s campaign promises, proposed policies, and cabinet appointments offer little confidence that environmentalists, women, people of color, low-wage workers, Muslims, immigrants, and those who identify as LGBTQ will find protection in federal-level policies. In the years to come, community bills of rights are one strategy for cities across the nation to continue to shelter such populations.

In fact, many cities have already begun. At least 10 major sanctuary cities have reaffirmed their position as such, and some, including San Francisco, have released statements or passed ordinances pledging noncooperation with Trump’s policies. Some municipalities, such as Grant Township in Pennsylvania, already have existing community bills of rights.

In Grant, as is often the case, this legislation arose out of environmental battles. “A few years back, the EPA announced a public hearing about an injection well,” said Stacy Long, an elected official on Grant’s Board of Supervisors. “We were horrified, and thought we would simply clue the EPA in on what a terrible idea it would be in our community.”

But residents quickly realized the EPA was likely to issue a permit. Looking for a different strategy, community members turned to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit organization that champions community rights through education and legal support. It worked with Grant Township to write a community bill of rights, which, among other things, included a ban on storing fracked water.

“[Communities] can spend years with normal environmental battles, only to find that they do not have much authority to make a decision at the local level,” said Mari Margil, associate director of CELDF. “We go back with them and help them figure out: Why did they end up in this situation they are in, where they don’t have much in the way of local democratic decision-making authority.”

CELDF’s strategy is fundamentally different from that of other environmental organizations. Instead of working through normal legal channels of permitting and suing, where Margil said activists “can spend years, only to end up getting the thing they did not want,” CELDF works to grant communities fundamental rights over their own natural resources, as was the case in Grant Township. Instead of battling with the gas companies, Grant declared “All residents of Grant Township, along with natural communities and ecosystems within the Township, possess the right to clean air, water, and soil.”

The General Council of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin went a step further this September when it voted to amend its constitution to grant rights to nature itself. If approved by the tribe, the constitution will proclaim: “Ecosystems and natural communities within the Ho-Chunk territory possess an inherent, fundamental, and inalienable right to exist and thrive.”

The Ho-Chunk made their stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and in recognition of the destructive impact of fossil fuel extraction and development. This type of support demonstrates the role that community rights laws could play under Trump, who has pledged to expand fossil fuel extraction and dissolve the EPA.

Environmental battles often pave the way for human rights protections, as was the case with the Barnstead law. It was aimed directly at Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration and followed on the coattails of another community rights law that prevented water privatization.

“Before the election, I was listening to Trump and getting very concerned,” said Kati Preston, who championed the bill. “I am a Holocaust survivor and know that, in New Hampshire, you can pass laws locally.”

New Hampshire’s uniquely independent political climate makes opposing local legislation an unpopular move for elected officials. But in most states, power—and funding—held at higher levels make local legislation a soft target. State governments preempt local governments, and the Federal government preempts the state. CELDF thus makes a philosophical argument that pushes up against preemption.

“Communities are arguing that they have a right to local governance,” Margil said. “We have a fundamental violation of our democratic rights when we have a state legislature that is overriding our ability to protect our communities, protect our people, protect our land. It is a right to community self-governance that is being usurped by industry, by corporations, by state legislatures working hand in hand with corporations.”

Preemption is one of the pitfalls of community bills of rights, as those in Morgantown, West Virginia, discovered. In 2011, the city passed a local ban on horizontal drilling and fracking within 2 miles of town. Within days, a company seeking to drill in the area sued, claiming the city did not have jurisdiction to regulate such activity. A local circuit court agreed, finding cities to be “creatures of the state.”

In 2012, two New York State judges ruled differently. In response to separate municipal fracking bans, they ruled that local governments do, in fact, have the right to set their own environmental laws. These decisions were a victory for local governments on specific issues. But the idea of the right of communities to local self-government will likely be tested under a Trump administration.

The balance between federal, state, and local governments indeed has a long and fraught history that does not necessarily reflect the progressive intentions of CELDF. Calls for local autonomy and states’ rights have echoed throughout history with nasty undertones. Since pre-Civil War America, southern states asserted local control to maintain the institution of slavery, and Confederate states insisted that they were suffering under federal government infringement. Later, the phrase cropped in segregationists’ response to the civil rights movement, and then again in Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, which used the phrase “states’ rights” to pander to Southern voters.

And local-level defiance certainly has a similar flavor to the obstructionism common during the Obama administration. Five states initially refused to comply with major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and after the Supreme Court ruled that bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, many states defied the ruling and maintained such bans. In fact, in his critique of the ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the court’s ruling reaffirmed the state’s “resolve to … return to democratic self-government.”

Despite its speckled past, local self-governance may play an important role under a Trump administration. Although community bills of rights may not have fully sharpened legal teeth, they do offer assurance to a frightened citizenry and direction to cities wanting to protect civil liberties and work toward environmental sustainability. Although they may be barred from executing policies that conflict with state or federal laws, cities and towns can continue to plan for climate change mitigation, offer social services, and fight hate crime. Community bills of rights provide a framework for these and other measures.

Perhaps the most vital role they play is when considering how change happens. It is often iterative: pioneers lay the moral and legal foundation that creates an impetus for broader change. Early desegregationists set the stage for the civil rights movement.

“I think it is a beginning,” Preston said of her community’s anti-religious-persecution law. “If it spreads, it will send a message that we do not want [religious registration] laws. It is simply that: unless you stand up and be counted, bad things will happen.”

Sally Neas wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Sally is a freelance writer and community educator based in Santa Cruz, California. She has a background in permaculture, sustainable agriculture, and community development, and she covers social and environmental issues. She blogs at www.voicesfromthegreatturning.com.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/as_a_trump_administration_fast_approaches_cities_20170105

Sanders’ Social Democracy vs. Trump’s Authoritarian Doctrine

What Trump’s semi-success at the Carrier plant means for the future.

adult experienced industrial worker during heavy industry machinery assembling on production line manufacturing workshop
Photo Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky

President-elect Trump scored a remarkable victory by saving 1,000 of the 2,100 jobs that Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, were outsourcing to Mexico. During the campaign, Trump pledged to stop those jobs from leaving the country and he has come through (much credit should be given to the United Steelworkers for keeping this issue alive).

Trump used the plight of those workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, as a battering ram to pummel Hillary Clinton on trade and the loss of decent paying U.S. manufacturing jobs. Now, his partial success could lead to a mass exodus of working people from Democratic party.

The Myth of the White Working Class

Post-election pundits are propagating the false equation that “industrial workers” equals “white working class,” and that Clinton’s crushing defeat in the Rust Belt was the result of a white worker revolt against political correctness — i.e., they’re racists!

But America’s industrial workforce reflects the future, not the past. The 1,400-person Carrier workforce in Indianapolis, for example, is 50 percent African American. Women make up half of the workers on its assembly lines, and 10 percent of the employees are Burmese immigrants.

This means Donald Trump, bigot in chief, has just saved the decent-paying, unionized jobs of women, African Americans, immigrants and white workers. Look out Democrats.

Benign Neglect at the Democratic Party

Trump’s effort to save these jobs contrasts starkly with the failure of the established Democratic Party to do anything at all about such devastating plant closures. President Obama has never used his bully pulpit to mention even one of the thousands of facilities that shifted abroad under his watch. Similarly, Hillary Clinton remained silent about Carrier during her entire campaign, thereby allowing Trump to morph into the champion of the working class.

But none of that is particularly surprising given how deeply Wall Street/corporate elites are embedded within the Democratic Party. More troubling still is that party elites believe these relocations are economically justifiable.

Neoliberal ideology (the holiness of tax cuts, privatization, deregulation, and the free movement of capital) has become the conventional wisdom of the entire political establishment of both parties. The media in particular echoes the inaccurate notion that these facilities must move so that the parent company can keep up with competition. (Carrier, in fact, is leaving in order to secure more funds for stock-buybacks to enrich hedge funds and top corporate officers.) All of this capital mobility is pictured as result of globalization—a force akin to an act of God.

Virtually every article on Carrier opines that Trump’s quick fix cannot alter the technological march that surely will displace these blue collar workers. What they are really saying is the corporations have the right and obligation to move wherever and whenever they wish in order to boost profits and “shareholder value.” Mainstream economists then assure us that, overall, society is better off due lower-cost imported goods and higher value-added domestic jobs, even if a few workers are sacrificed along the way.

But a “few workers” have turned into millions of family members and members of devastated communities who have seen their lives deteriorate. They are heading Trump’s way.

Sanders to the Rescue?

Bernie Sanders saw all this coming. That’s why he challenged Clinton in the first place, and that’s why he’s now trying to capture the Democratic Party and turn it into the champion of working people against Wall Street and “the billionaire class.”

In the case of Carrier, Sanders is calling on Trump not to accept a compromise that will still allow half of the jobs to be moved to Mexico. Staying true to his radical politics, Sanders also is calling for new “Outsourcing Prevention Act” that would:

  1. Bar companies from receiving future contracts, tax breaks, grants or loans from the federal government if they have announced plans to outsource more than 50 jobs to other countries;

  2. Require all companies to pay back all federal tax breaks, grants and loans they have received from the federal government over the last decade if they outsource more than 50 jobs in a given year;

  3. Impose a tax on all companies that outsource jobs. The tax would be equal to the amount of savings achieved by outsourcing jobs or 35 percent of its profits, whichever is higher.

  4. Prohibit companies that offshore jobs from enriching executives through golden parachutes, stock options, bonuses, or other forms of compensation by imposing stiff tax penalties on this compensation.

Reactionary versus Progressive Populism

The stage is set for an epic struggle between Trump’s right wing populism and Sanders-style social democracy. The corporate-driven Democrats may soon be irrelevant. Either they go along with Sanders and compete for the allegiance with working people, or they get pummeled by more working class defections to Trump’s brand of populism.

Sanders believes that neoliberalism is heart of our problem — that it leads to runaway inequality, a rigged political system, an exploitative Wall Street, and the full-scale assault on the living and working conditions of working people — black, brown, white, gay and straight. That system, he believes, also leads to the dramatic rise of incarceration, urban and rural poverty, and the stalling of real wages for the vast majority of the population.

Sanders understands we only can win significant social democratic reforms if we link together the full set of victims (most of the 99%). He’s talking about the kind of programs that will appreciably improve our lives — free higher education, single-payer health care, a major attack on climate change, massive public job creation, real criminal justice and immigration reform, a Wall Street speculation tax and now the Outsourcing Prevention Act.

Getting it Right

It’s too late to take the Carrier victory away form Trump. It won’t work to belittle Trump by claiming it only covers 1,000 jobs, or that too many public tax breaks were tossed to the corporation, or that globalization will eventually make those jobs go away. One thousand jobs means 1,000 families who will not see their incomes slashed in half, or worse. More importantly it means hope, that maybe outsourcing to low-wage countries can be ameliorated.

As a result, Sanders is making a difficult request both of the Democratic Party, and of progressive activists in general. He is asking us to place working people at the center of our work: “The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”

To get there, Sanders is fanning a contentious debate: He argues that the current practice of identity politics is not a complete political program. As he bluntly stated, “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”

So what does this mean for the efforts of tens of thousands of progressive activists who are deeply engaged in halting climate change, preventing police violence, securing equal rights the LGBTQ community, protecting immigrants, and working on a myriad of other significant causes?

Sanders implies that for any of us to succeed, we all must join the fight to enhance the lives of working people. No matter what our priority issue, we will need to devote time and resources to fight for universal programs that lift us all up. In short, we have to expand our issue silos so that fighting Wall Street and the billionaire class can link us together.Sanders could not be clearer: Either we become a broad-based class movement or we lose. The choice is ours, not Trump’s.

 

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (J. Wiley and Sons, 2013).

 

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/carrier-plant-jobs?akid=14975.265072.Got96S&rd=1&src=newsletter1068440&t=4

Stephen Hawking: Automation and AI is going to decimate middle class jobs

stephen hawking scientist science physics

British scientist Prof. Stephen Hawking gives his ‘The Origin of the Universe’ lecture to a packed hall December 14, 2006 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Hawking suffers from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrigs disease), which has rendered him quadriplegic, and is able to speak only via a computerized voice synthesizer which is operated by batting his eyelids. David Silverman/Getty Images

Artificial intelligence and increasing automation is going to decimate middle class jobs, worsening inequality and risking significant political upheaval, Stephen Hawking has warned.

In a column in The Guardian, the world-famous physicist wrote that“the automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.”

He adds his voice to a growing chorus of experts concerned about the effects that technology will have on workforce in the coming years and decades. The fear is that while artificial intelligence will bring radical increases in efficiency in industry, for ordinary people this will translate into unemployment and uncertainty, as their human jobs are replaced by machines.

Technology has already gutted many traditional manufacturing and working class jobs — but now it may be poised to wreak similar havoc with the middle classes.

A report put out in February 2016 by Citibank in partnership with the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. In the UK, 35% are. In China, it’s a whopping 77% — while across the OECD it’s an average of 57%.

And three of the world’s 10 largest employers are now replacing their workers with robots.

Automation will, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”

He frames this economic anxiety as a reason for the rise in right-wing, populist politics in the West: “We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.”

Combined with other issues — overpopulation, climate change, disease — we are, Hawking warns ominously, at “the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Humanity must come together if we are to overcome these challenges, he says.

Stephen Hawking has previously expressed concerns about artificial intelligence for a different reason — that it might overtake and replace humans. “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” he said in late 2014. “It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

 

 

http://www.businessinsider.com/stephen-hawking-ai-automation-middle-class-jobs-most-dangerous-moment-humanity-2016-12?r=UK&IR=T

Bernie Sanders: Where We Go From Here

The onetime insurgent candidate is now in a position to reshape the Democratic Party and take on Donald Trump.
 bernie-sanders-revolution-wordpress-750x445

It feels like a bomb went off in Washington. In less than a year, the leaders of both major parties have been crushed, fundamentally reshaping a political culture that for generations had seemed unalterable. The new order has belligerent outsider Donald Trump heading to the White House, ostensibly backed in Congress by a tamed and repentant majority of establishment Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss, meanwhile, has left the minority Democrats in disarray. A pitched battle for the soul of the opposition party has already been enjoined behind the scenes.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won overwhelming youth support and 13 million votes during primary season, now sits on one side of that battle, in a position of enormous influence. The party has named him “outreach chair,” and Minnesota congressman and Sanders political ally Keith Ellison is the favorite to be named head of the Democratic National Committee. This is a huge change from earlier this year, when the Sanders campaign was completely on the outs with the DNC, but many see Sanders’ brand of politics as the Democrats’ best shot at returning to prominence.

Sanders’ rise is a remarkable story, obscured by the catastrophe of Trump’s win. When I first visited with Sanders for Rolling Stone, 11 years ago, for a tour of the ins and outs of congressional procedure, he was a little-known Independent in the House from a tiny agrarian state, an eccentric toiler pushing arcane and unsexy amendments through Congress, usually on behalf of the working poor: expanded access to heating oil in the winter, more regional community health centers, prohibitions against regressive “cash-balance pension plans,” etc.

His colleagues gently described Sanders as a hardworking quack, the root of his quackery apparently being that he was too earnest and never off-message, even in private. He had fans among Republicans (some called him an “honest liberal”) and many detractors among Democrats, who often grew weary of his lectures about the perils of over-reliance on donations from big business and Wall Street.

In other words, Sanders was a political loner, making his recent journey to the top of the Democratic Party even more remarkable. He has been put in this position not by internal patronage but by voters who are using him to demand that Democrats change their priorities.

At his Washington office a week after the election, I sat down with Sanders and his wife, Jane, just after the release of his new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. When he offered to get me a copy, I told him I’d already read the e-book, at which he frowned. “Does that have the pictures?” he asked. He was relieved when I told him it did, including black-and-whites from his youth in Brooklyn.

Sanders’ experiences growing up in the hardscrabble Flatbush neighborhood still seem central to the way he looks at the world. All the adults in his neighborhood voted Democratic. The loss of the support of those kinds of people still eats at Sanders, like a childhood wrong not yet corrected. Thus the opportunity he has now to push the Democrats back in that direction is something he doesn’t take lightly. He’s spent his whole life getting to this point.

The senator and his staffers were obviously sorting through a variety of emotions, and it was hard not to wonder what might have been. But Sanders admonished himself once or twice not to look back. “It’s not worth speculating about,” he said.

Instead, Sanders laid out the dilemma facing the Democratic Party. The Democrats must find their way back to a connection with ordinary people, and this will require a complete change in the way they do business. He’s convinced that the huge expenditure of time and mental effort the Democrats put in to raise more than $1 billion for the Clinton campaign in the past year ended up having enormous invisible costs. “Our future is not raising money from wealthy people, but mobilizing millions of working people and young people and people of color,” he says.

On other issues, he was more careful. The senator’s sweet spot as a politician has always been talking about the problems of the working poor: the economic struggles, the anomalous-across-the-industrialized-world story of a decline in life expectancy among rural Americans. But those same voters just lost any sympathy many Democrats might have had by electing the race-baiting lunatic Trump. Exactly how much courting of such a population is permissible? Is trying to recapture voters who’ve made a racist choice in itself racist?

Sanders believes it is a mistake to dismiss the Trump movement as a monolithic expression of racism and xenophobia. Trump’s populist appeals, sincere or not, carried the day, and Democrats need to answer them. Trump pledged not to cut Medicare or Social Security, promised to support re-importation of prescription drugs from other countries, and said he’d reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Sanders insists he and his staff are going to try to hold him to all of these promises. How they’ll manage that is only a guess, but as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders could easily force the Republicans into votes on all of these issues by introducing amendments during the budget resolution process, which begins in January. “Were those 100 percent lies that [Trump] was telling people in order to gain support?” he asks. “We’ll find out soon enough.”

Sanders seems anxious to communicate a sense of urgency to young people. No more being content with think-tank-generated 14-point plans that become 87-point plans in bipartisan negotiation, and end up scheduled to take effect in 2040. People want change right now. To survive Trump and turn the tide, Sanders says, he needs help. “You don’t have to run for president,” he says. “Just get people involved.”

After the election, you called the anger Trump connected with “justified.” When did you first recognize that sense of discontent and alienation was big enough to have the impact it did this past year?
I’ve seen it for years. I’ve seen a media, which has basically ignored the declining middle class, that doesn’t talk about poverty at all, and has no sense of what is going on in the minds of millions of ordinary Americans. They live in a bubble, talk about their world, worry about who’s going to be running 18 years from now for office. Meanwhile, people can’t feed their kids. That’s something I knew.

Talking about those issues, seeing that they resonated, that did not surprise me. How quickly they resonated did surprise me. How weak the Democratic establishment was, and how removed they were from the needs of ordinary people, that also surprised me.

President Obama talked after the election about winning Iowa by going into counties even if the demographics didn’t “dictate” success there. This seemed to be a criticism that the party had decided to ignore big parts of the country.
I talked about that in the book. That’s exactly what we did. We had 101 rallies in that small state. That’s grassroots democracy. You speak to three-quarters of the people who end up voting for you. In New Hampshire, we had just a zillion meetings – far more people came out to our meetings. If you had the time to do that around the country, the world becomes different. The assessment has got to be that not only did we lose the White House to the least-popular candidate in perhaps the history of America, certainly in modern history, but we’ve lost the Senate, we’ve lost the House, we’ve lost two-thirds of the governors’ chairs in this country. We’ve lost 900 seats in state legislatures throughout the country in the last eight years. Maybe it might be time to reassess?

Is there any way to read that except as a massive repudiation of Democrats?
No. I can’t see how any objective person can. It speaks to what I just mentioned; we cannot spend our entire life – I didn’t, but others do – raising money from wealthy people, listening to their needs. We’ve got to be out in union halls, we’ve got to be out in veterans’ halls, and we’ve got to be talking to working people, and we’ve got to stand up and fight for them.

This is how screwed up we are now. When you have a Republican Party that wants to give huge tax breaks to billionaires, when many of their members want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, when they don’t believe in climate change, when they’ve been fierce advocates of unfettered free trade – I’m talking about pre-Trump – why would any working person, when they want to cut programs for working people, support them?

I think we know the answer. We know what the Karl Roves of the world have been successful in doing. They’re playing off working-class people against the gay community, or African-Americans, or Latinos. But that only works when you have not laid the foundation by making it clear to those workers that you are on their side on economic issues.

Look, you may not be pro-choice. But if you know that your congressman is fighting for you and delivering the goods in terms of education, health care and jobs, what you’ll say is, “I disagree with him on that, but I’m going to vote for him.” We’ve seen this in Vermont. We have seen the conservative parts of the state where there are many people who have disagreed with me. But they vote for me, because they know I’m fighting for their rights.

In your book, there are a lot of moments where you say things like, “Look at products like the iPhone. These are American inventions, but they’re not made in America anymore.” Some people will say, “This is nationalism. Why shouldn’t liberal-minded people care about raising the standard of living for poor people in China, in India?”
I heard them. We ran into that big-time from corporate liberals. Two things here. I would say there are very few people in the United States Congress who have a more progressive outlook than I do in terms of global politics and international politics. I am deeply concerned about poverty in countries around the world, and I believe that the United States and other major countries have got to work to address those issues. But you do not have to sacrifice the American middle class in order to do that. I find it ironic that the billionaire class says, “We’re worried about the poor people in Vietnam, and that’s why we’re sending your job to Vietnam.” That’s the billionaire class talking.

Clearly we know what that is about. And you have some “liberals” who echo that point of view. I would like to see the United States government and the rest of the industrialized world work harder, with sensible policy to improve the standard of living, to help people create jobs, and sustainable jobs, not wipe out agricultural sectors. In Mexico, for example, NAFTA devastated, as you know, family farms when people could not grow corn to compete with American corn manufacturers.

How you create a sustainable global economy that protects the poorest people in the world is a very important issue for me. But you surely do not have to do that by wiping out the middle class of this country. I think we have a right in this country to hold corporate America accountable for gaining the benefits of being an American corporation, while at the same time turning their backs on the American working class and the consumers who helped create their profits and their wealth.

What about the criticism you got a lot last year, including from former President Clinton, that this idea that we can do anything about these globalist trends is unrealistic, that all we can do is “harness the energy” of the change?
Donald Trump has rewritten the rules of politics. Let’s give the guy credit where credit is due. No one thought . . . he started off as a joke, right?

CONTINUED:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/bernie-sanders-where-we-go-from-here-w452786