The company has been lobbying against the so-called “Fair Repair Act” in New York — legislation that would require manufacturers to sell replacement parts and ban software locks that would keep users from repairing their own devices without a visit to the Genius Bar. This is all important because “right to repair” laws like the bill in New York would help extend the lifespans of some of our most resource-intensive devices by giving people more access and ability to make simple fixes.
In the summer of 2015, Metropolis Magazine named Pittsburgh one of the world’s “most livable” cities and gushed about its infrastructure, “The city has more vertical feet of public stairways than San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Portland, Oregon, combined.”
But the magazine hadn’t done its research. Around the same time, the city’s water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.”
The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe.
For-profit water corporations see America’s crumbling infrastructure as a business opportunity. Either they buy struggling water systems or market their services to cities like Pittsburgh that need the help. At the same time, they use their political clout to cut taxes, choking off the public money necessary to sustain vital water infrastructure. Veolia, along with other corporations like American Water, is a member of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), which actively lobbies for lower taxes.
Last Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city would provide filters for drinking water, which is the right thing to do. But he’s also considering partnering with another for-profit water company to clean up Veolia’s mess.
Partnering with corporations that must turn a profit should be off the table. For-profit water corporations will always have a financial incentive to cut service, shrug off maintenance, and fire employees. When they’re in charge, the high costs of doing business are passed on to residents: privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than those that are publicly owned. Every public dollar that goes to executives and shareholders is a dollar that could be invested in making water clean and affordable.
Pittsburgh’s water needs democratic control and public investment, not corporate takeover.
— source salon.com by Donald Cohen
Is President Donald Trump’s top counterterrorism adviser, Sebastian Gorka, a member of a Hungarian far-right, Nazi-allied group? members of the Vitézi Rend elite order confirmed Sebastian Gorka took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their group, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Vitézi Rend was established in 1920 by self-confessed anti-Semite and Hitler collaborator Admiral Miklos Horthy.
Questions first emerged about Gorka’s ties to the group after the website LobeLog published photographs of Gorka wearing a Vitézi Rend medal on his lapel at a presidential inauguration ball January 20th. Like many members of the Vitézi Rend, Gorka has also listed his name with a lower-case “v” in the middle—Sebastian L.v. Gorka—including during his 2011 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Gorka has denied reports of his involvement with the Nazi-allied group
Larry Cohler-Esses talking:
I worked together with my colleague in Budapest, Lili Bayer, and we were going off of some of the work that was done at LobeLog and with others, where people noticed that Sebastian Gorka wore the medal of the Vitézi Rend, and asked him why, and he said, “Well, it’s a way to honor my father, who spent years fighting fascism and spent years fighting communism.” His father was born in Hungary. His parents fled Hungary after the 1956 revolution. And Sebastian Gorka, himself, was born in London. He wore these medals. He told the press that it was just about his father. And Lili, my colleague in Budapest, was able to find three senior members of the Vitézi Rend in Hungary who said, “No, he’s actually a member” “He’s actually a member.” And this began to seem very notable, because I found that the organization, because of its history, was listed by the State Department in its current Foreign Affairs Manual as a group under the direction—historically, during World War II, under the direction of Nazi Germany. Because of this, the Foreign Affairs Manual listed that there was a presumption of inadmissibility to immigrants who are affiliated with this organization.
Now, to be clear, there’s a couple of nuances here, and I should be very clear about this. After World War II, under the terms of the treaty with Hungary and the Allies, the Vitézi Rend was forcibly disbanded. But it reconstituted itself outside of Hungary among exiles who were loyalists to Admiral Horthy, the wartime ruler of Hungary, with the same ideals, with the same leadership and the same ideology. And after the fall of communism in 1989, the Vitézi Rend came back to Hungary and reconstituted itself there. It split into two factions based on personal leadership. And Sebastian Gorka, we were told by the members of the group, is affiliated with the faction called the Historical Vitézi Rend. We looked a lot at what Gorka himself has written. He has often written in publications. He’s written in publications that are notably anti-Semitic. He’s partnered, to start a political party in Hungary, with known anti-Semites from the far-right Jobbik party. But we have not found that he, himself, has ever said or written anything anti-Semitic. But the question is one about his partners and who he works with and whether he actually is a staunch opponent of anti-Semitism, when he works closely with groups like this.
the Vitézi Rend has some pretty firm rules. You do not get to wear the medal and use the “v” initial unless you join. And joining involves taking a lifelong oath, a oath of fealty to the organization and its principles and to Hungarian nationalism, which the organization is steeped in. We spoke with a senior member of the group, who took note of the “v” that he used both on his doctoral dissertation in Hungary and when he testified before Congress. And he said, “Of course. No ‘v’ without the oath.” So, under these terms of the organization, if he was trying to honor his father, he was dishonoring the rules of the organization that his father was honored by. And I cannot read his mind. I was not in Hungary. But we then found three separate sources in the organization who said he did take the oath, he was initiated in the formal initiation ceremony into the organization.
his status as an American citizen and as a legal immigrant could be undermined. I’m not an expert in immigration law, but in our reporting we spoke to Bruce Einhorn, who was an immigration judge for 17 years. He now teaches immigration and nationality law at Pepperdine University. And perhaps most importantly for this unique situation, before that, he was deputy director of the Justice Department’s Office on Special Investigations. This is the—this was the unit in the Justice Department charged with finding and deporting Nazis and members of other extremist groups who got into the United States by lying about or hiding their background. And he told us that someone who is asked, as you are asked in these applications for immigration and citizenship, about the organizations you joined, and you don’t write it down, is vulnerable to a reversal of their legal immigration status or their citizenship status. He told us that there would be defenses for Gorka if he was prosecuted, but as a prosecutor with OSI for that many years, he said, “This is a case that I would take up. It’s a legitimate case. And it would be a challenging one, but it’s a winnable one.” So, that is the state of the technical legal arguments involved, but they all spring from the fact that he was obligated, if he was a member, to disclose it at the time of his immigration and citizenship application.
there is a phenomenon, that we have commented on in The Forward, where you have people who, because of the role Israel plays in the Middle East and because of their bias against Muslims, they like Israel. And yet, domestically, they can be anti-Jewish. It is possible to be anti-Semitic and pro-Israel. It’s a phenomenon that’s emerged. I don’t know if Gorka is that. As I said, we have never found that Gorka wrote anything anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. What we found are these troubling associations. He said in his White House official statement that it was absurd and outrageous for anybody to say that he was anything other than opposed to anti-Semitism. I don’t know how you define opposition to anti-Semitism, but partnering with a group like Vitézi Rend and with former members of the far-right, anti-Semitic Jobbik party would exclude many definitions of being opposed to anti-Semitism.
The Forward’s editor for special projects.
The South Sudan civil war, which erupted in December 2013, is assuming an increasingly genocidal character, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). In the course of the war, both the US-backed government led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and President Salva Kiir, and SPLA opposition faction led by Vice President Riek Machar, have carried out atrocities against civilians.
On February 7, UN experts officially began registering “warning signs for ethnic cleansing” and “indicators for genocide.” The situation is characterized by “massive insecurity” and “large-scale polarization of communities,” the UN found.
The SPLA regime has organized a “scorched earth” campaign and is carrying out “population engineering” through forced relocation of ethnic minorities. Kiir and other top SPLA officials have directly ordered mass killing and property seizures against civilian communities. SPLA members frequently abuse civilians at military checkpoints and during warrantless searches of residential areas.
Barely six years after its secession from the Sudan, a development hailed by Western bourgeois public opinion as a victory for “democracy” and “the self-determination of nations,” South Sudan is experiencing levels of chaos and social breakdown which bring to mind the worst catastrophes of the 20th century.
Three years of civil war have produced widespread famine and a massive refugee crisis. Some 1.5 million South Sudanese have already become refugees, and 2 million have been displaced internally as a result of the war. Some 700,000 are in refugee camps across the border in Uganda. One million South Sudanese are at risk of starving in the coming year.
The crisis in South Sudan is an advanced manifestation of the unviability and breakdown of the nation-state system across Africa and worldwide. The pressure of world imperialism against the oppressed countries finds its sharpest expression in the weakest nations.
South Sudan’s political structure, controlled by a coalition of generals and aspiring dictators cobbled together with US cash and weapons, ruled for only two years before breaking in two. Between 2012-2013, the Kiir leadership pursued policies aimed at driving the Machar faction out of the government. In an effort to tighten his grip over the South Sudanese government, President Kiir ordered the firing of hundreds of military and political officials and reorganized the top committees of the state so as to entrench his own supporters in power. In December 2013, gunfire broke out during meetings of the SPLM’s National Liberation Council amid circumstances that remain unclear. President Kiir seized on the clashes to accuse Machar of planning a coup, and expel him and his supporters from the government.
The state of war between the SPLA factions has since served, to a large extent, as a pretext for the expropriation and murder of ethnic minorities and civilians generally. The UN found that: “Civilians have been deliberately and systematically targeted on the basis of their ethnicity by armed forces and groups, including SPLA and SPLM/A in Opposition, and also by groups aligned with them. Individuals have been targeted for killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence, sexual slavery and forced marriage. Communities have been subjected to scorched-earth policies that result in the destruction of their homes and means of livelihood. Many of the attacks have been carried out by SPLA soldiers and the militias affiliated with them. Armed groups attack villages, burn homes, kill and rape.”
“Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in horrific attacks, often targeted on the basis of their ethnicity or perceived allegiances,” the UN found.
For all this savagery, the SPLA is merely a local enforcer of the policies and economic interests of the American ruling class. The men organizing the killing from Juba were placed in power as part of a geopolitical operation aimed at opening Sudan’s oil resources to exploitation by American firms. Washington has sought for decades to exploit long-standing conflicts between the Sudan’s northern and southern elites as a means of projecting power against the central Sudanese government in Khartoum, whose ties to China and the Soviet Union threatened to block American companies from accessing Sudan’s oil fields.
Founded in 1983, the SPLA became a favored proxy army of US imperialism, developing close ties with the US political elite and rising, during the 2005-2011 transition process, to assume control of the newly-formed South Sudanese state. The signature black cowboy hat of President Salva Kiir, without which he never appears in public, was a gift from none other than US President George W. Bush, given to Kiir at the White House in July 2006.
While in power, the Kiir and the SPLA have employed ethno-nationalism as an ideological cover for its self-serving collaboration with imperialism. Advertising themselves as leaders of a “liberation” movement, the SPLA’s cadres could be more accurately described as networks of US-backed warlords. They view the South Sudanese state as nothing more than a means of expanding their property and privileges. Despite being expelled from the Juba government, Machar’s opposition forces continue to manage significant business interests and maintain ties to foreign government and corporations. Machar’s militias remain armed and continue to occupy territory and move about the country largely at will. In a telling detail reported by the Sentry, the families of Kiir and Machar, who pose as mortal enemies in public view, live just miles apart in luxurious mansions near Nairobi.
New Kiirs and Machars are being cultivated by American imperialism in countless countries. The historic processes that pushed the United States to support the break-up of the Sudan are active on every continent. They are essentially the same tendencies of development that have defined world politics for 100 years: the domination of finance capital and the economic rivalry between the major nations produces an endless chain of regional wars, military dictators and ethnic slaughters.
The removal of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from the geopolitical landscape has, since 1991, cleared the way for 25 years of relentless economic and military warfare against the former colonial countries. A quarter century of unobstructed capitalist world-rule has produced nothing less then the liquidation of entire sections of world society. Tens of millions are living as homeless refugees, with no social or political rights, as a consequences of the wars and counterrevolutionary economic policies of the world’s capitalist governments.
Last Friday, UN humanitarian leader Stephen O’Brien described the international humanitarian situation as “worse then any time since 1945.” Spreading famine and disease are threatening the lives of 20 million people living in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, O’Brien said.
More South Sudans are being prepared. In every part of the world, the economic and political objectives of the US ruling elite demand not peaceful development and the raising of living standards, but ever greater levels of destruction and robbery. During the epoch of imperialism, as Leon Trotsky wrote, the capitalist organization of world economy becomes its opposite, that is, “barbarous disorganization and chaos.” In lines that could easily have been written yesterday, as an explanation of the broader historical process that has led to the catastrophe in South Sudan, Trotsky wrote:
“The future development of world economy on the capitalistic basis means a ceaseless struggle for new and ever new fields of capitalist exploitation, which must be obtained from one and the same source, the earth. The economic rivalry under the banner of militarism is accompanied by robbery and destruction which violate the elementary principles of human economy.”
The fate of South Sudan, like that of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, shows the future that capitalism and imperialist war have in store for humanity unless stopped by the mobilization of the African and international working class in revolutionary struggle.
On January 19, 1861, runaway slave Lucy Bagby Johnson, 18, was arrested in Cleveland by US federal marshals in the company of her owner, a wealthy Virginia slave owner named William Goshorn. Johnson had escaped several months earlier, making her way to Ohio, where she gained employment as a domestic. Arrested and taken to and from prison past crowds of protesters, Johnson was prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a law that prevented her from testifying on her own behalf. She was ultimately placed on a train and sent south across the Mason-Dixon line that separated “slave” and “free” states, and back into bondage in Virginia.
On February 8, 2017, Guadalupe García de Rayos, an undocumented worker living in Arizona, was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials during a routine visit to ICE’s Phoenix office. Arrested by authorities acting under President Donald Trump’s new anti-immigrant executive orders, García de Rayos, a mother of two teenagers and a US resident since 1996, was spirited away for deportation past hundreds of protesters, among them her friends and family. Like Johnson 156 years earlier, she had no recourse to the courts.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes, or so the saying goes. Several commenters, among them Columbia University historian Eric Foner, have noted similarities between the Fugitive Slave Act, which was a major cause of the American Civil War (1861-1865), and Trump’s January 25 executive orders entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” and “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”
The infamous Fugitive Slave Act, or the “bloodhound law” as the abolitionists called it, enlisted local police in the North as agents of the slave owners by imposing a $1,000 penalty on any law enforcement official who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave, based on as little as an affidavit of ownership from a Southern court. The law precluded the arrested individual, now bound for deportation to slavery, from having a jury trial or being able to testify on his or her own behalf in court. Its specific intent was to prevent cities and towns in northern states from providing sanctuary to runaway slaves and absorbing them into the growing wage-earning working class.
The law made Canada the ultimate destination for most runaway slaves, via the “Underground Railroad”—the system of safe houses and hiding places slaves used to escape bounty hunters, bloodhounds and federal marshals. In Canada, part of the British Empire, laws and court rulings had followed the famous Somerset decision of 1772 in which Lord Mansfield held that in England there “was too pure an air for slaves to breathe in.”
Even more consequentially, attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act increasingly angered masses of people in the North, leading many to believe in the existence of a “Slave Power conspiracy” that was intent on expanding slavery throughout the union.
Like the Fugitive Slave Act, Trump’s executive orders target so-called “sanctuary cities,” where local authorities extend a modicum of social services to undocumented workers and their children, or turn a blind eye to their presence. Like their antebellum precursor, Trump’s orders dragoon local authorities into the apprehension of immigrants, threaten punishment to anyone who would assist immigrants, and deny the apprehended due process.
They have created a new Underground Railroad, with many immigrants attempting to traverse the US in the hope of finding sanctuary in Canada. And, like the Fugitive Slave Act, Trump’s orders have been met with angry protests across the US. The undocumented worker, as with the escaped slave 160 years ago, is the object of a growing sentiment of solidarity.
As striking as the parallels between the Fugitive Slave Act and Trump’s anti-immigrant orders may be, there is also a direct link overlooked by Foner and other commentators. Though separated by 167 years, both are outcomes of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
The Fugitive Slave Act emerged directly out of that predatory war, which was provoked by the Democratic administration of James K. Polk as a means of tamping down the growing controversy over slavery beneath a wave of national patriotism—and adding vast new territories for slavery’s expansion. The stage for war was set by immigration—but at that time, by slaveholding Americans following the expansion of the cotton economy westward and into the province of Tejasin Mexico, where slavery had been illegal since 1829. The central aim of the Anglo-Texan plantation elite, in declaring independence from Mexico in 1836 and then conspiring to join the US, was to secure and expand slave-based cotton production.
Polk’s war looked to have been a smashing success. The American military routed its weaker Mexican rival, occupying Mexico City in September 1847. In the subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States took one-third of Mexico’s territory, forcing Mexican recognition of the annexation of Texas, New Mexico and part of Oklahoma, and ceding what are today the states of California, Arizona and Nevada, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
A great wave of flag-waving patriotism swept the country, as Democrats and Whigs set aside their differences to celebrate “military glory—that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood,” as the young congressman Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of the war, put it. Disgusted, Lincoln left politics and returned to his Illinois law practice.
The writer Henry David Thoreau was put in prison for refusing to pay taxes in protest against the war. “If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose,” Thoreau said.
But some observers understood the predatory war would solve nothing. “Mexico will poison us,” Thoreau’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson presciently warned.
History teaches again and again that wars of aggression have outcomes their plotters fail to predict. Waged to preserve slavery indefinitely, the Mexican-American War instead set into motion a series of events that led in 15 years to its destruction. In the short term, the southern elite’s dream of expanding its slave empire to California was thwarted by the discovery of gold there in 1848, just one week before the signing of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California quickly drew tens of thousands of prospectors, small businessmen and incipient industrialists who demanded “free labor” in the Golden State. It entered the union as a free state in 1850.
Shocked at the loss of California—and the betrayal by northern Democrats led by David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, who had attempted, unsuccessfully, to block slavery from all territories taken from Mexico—the Southern elite demanded redress. This they were given with the Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850, authored by Henry Clay (1777-1852). Bowing before accomplished fact, California, and with it the agricultural bonanza promised by its Mediterranean climate and fertile valleys, would be a free state. In exchange, the South was given an aggressive new Fugitive Slave Act along with “popular sovereignty”—the possibility that slavery could be established in any new territory based on the vote of the free white settler population.
None of this served to appease the South or to defuse the “irrepressible conflict.” Just the opposite. Popular sovereignty ultimately brought a dress rehearsal for war in the form of “Bleeding Kansas,” as the territory filled up with armed free-staters such as abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859), who faced off against the pro-slavery guerrilla bands organized in neighboring Missouri. As for the Fugitive Slave Act, it served only to radicalize Northern public opinion against “the Slave Power.”
Again and again, Northerners poured out into the streets to defend their neighbors and coworkers targeted for extradition to slavery. One example was the rescue of Joshua Glover in Milwaukee in 1854 by a crowd of some 5,000 people. In this way, the Fugitive Slave Act only hastened the Second American Revolution.
The other outcome of the Mexican-American War has been incubating in American history for a much longer time. The new border imposed through Guadalupe Hidalgo attempted to divide in two that which would prove, in the long run, impossible to keep separate: the economy and the people of the southwestern portion of North America.
The treaty left behind tens of thousands of Mexican citizens in the new American states. From the 1850s until the last several decades, Mexicans could, and did, move back and forth across the border with relative ease. Their migration was encouraged in the 1920s after the US effectively prohibited mass European immigration with the National Origins Act of 1924, which imposed no quota on Mexican immigrants.
Then, in the depths of the Great Depression, the Democratic Party administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt targeted Mexicans for deportation and repatriation, including many who were US-born. This was reversed in World War II with the Bracero Program, which over the next 25 years brought several hundred thousand Mexicans to the US as low-paid and highly-exploited “guest-workers.”
The end of the Bracero Program in 1964, combined with the dispossession of the massive Mexican peasantry owing to the “Green Revolution” organized by US banks and agribusiness in collusion with the Mexican elite, fueled a large-scale labor migration. Driven from the land, their subsistence agriculture replaced by cash-crop agricultural export industries, the Mexican and Central American peasantry has been incorporated, in all but name, into the American working class.
Nowhere is the contradiction between nation-state and global economy more clear than on the US-Mexico border. California and Texas, the big prizes taken from Mexico in the 1840s, are today the two most populous American states. Were they independent, they would be the world’s sixth and 10th largest economies, respectively, each by itself larger than the Mexican economy with which they conduct several hundred billion dollars in trade.
Yet, according to a 2012 estimate, each state’s population is 38.2 percent “Hispanic”—a figure that is growing rapidly. From the border, the Mexican and Central American migrants have spread across the US, living and working side by side with US-born workers. Outside of Los Angeles, the largest Mexican-American population is found in Chicago, where some 700,000 reside.
This raises one other telling parallel between the Fugitive Slave Act and Trump’s orders. Both are desperate bids to defend a border against disruptive social and political changes—that is, to stop the progressive advance of history.
The Southern elite had learned that “in the relation between the two races,” as the pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun phrased it, wherever slaves interacted with free workers, black or white, slavery was undermined. It was not accidental that Frederick Douglass learned to read and write and came to know of the North, freedom and abolitionism by living side-by-side as a rented slave with working class boys and men in Baltimore. As the late C. Vann Woodward noted, “[T]he encouragement that city conditions gave to interracial contact, familiar association and intimacy… corroded the master’s authority, diminished his control, and blurred the line between freedom and bondage.”
In the decades before the Civil War, the Democratic Party attempted to arrest these developments by establishing the first segregation laws in the South and in the North, imposing the Fugitive Slave Act, and whipping up racism by suggesting that freed slaves would take the jobs of workers, drive down their wages and rape white women—the very rhetoric aped by Trump and his fascist supporters today.
The failure of these politics, manifested in the election of Lincoln in 1860, required more desperately reactionary measures. Civil War historian James McPherson has described the Southern secession that year as a “preemptive counterrevolution.”
He writes that “rather than trying to restore the old order, a preemptive counterrevolution strikes first to protect the status quo before the revolutionary threat can materialize.” Yet the slaveocracy’s attempt to roll back the wheel of history, which can be traced back to the Fugitive Slave Act, resulted in its destruction. “Seldom in history has a counterrevolution provoked the very revolution it sought to preempt,” McPherson concludes.
Today, powerful historical forces—above all, the growing social power and political consciousness of the working class—threatens America’s decadent oligarchy, personified in Trump and his ultra-right personnel, who are quite conscious that time is working against them. Michael Anton, director of strategic communications for the US National Security Council, last year warned in his pseudonymously published Flight 93 Election that “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
Trump’s anti-immigrant measures, like the Fugitive Slave Act, are an attempt to strike out against history and prevent a gathering revolutionary threat. They will prove no more successful.
The big bad wolf will come. This is what has dictated global climate change narrative for so long. The world has tiptoed around actions that need to be taken at a certain speed and scale to curtail emissions; global agreements have been bent out of shape to appease climate deniers. And in Paris, the world literally scraped the bottom of the barrel to tie up a weak and unambitious agreement to control climate change. All this, because it believed that doing anything more would get the opposition, particularly in the US, riled up.
As a result, the US has made the multilateral world change rules; reconfigure agreements, mostly to reduce it to the lowest common denominator. Then when the world has stitched together a weak and worthless deal, the US has walked out of it. All this while, its powerful civil society and media has hammered home the point that the world needs to be accommodating and pragmatic. “Our Congress will not accept” or, worse, “Republicans will come” has been the common refrain.
This happened in 1992, when in Rio, after much “accommodation” the agreement to combat climate change was whittled down; targets were removed; there was no agreed action. All this was done to bring the US on board. But it walked out. Then came the Kyoto Protocol, the first and only framework for action to reduce emissions. Here again, in December 1997, when climate change proponents Bill Clinton and Al Gore were in office, the agreement was reduced to nothingness—the compliance clause was removed, cheap emission reduction added and loopholes included. All to bring the US on board. Once again, they rejected it.
Then came Barack Obama and his welcome commitment to climate change actions. But what did the US do? It made the world completely rewrite the climate agreement so that the targets are based on voluntary action, not science and the contribution of each country. Each country is allowed to set targets, based on what they can do and by when. It has led to weak action, which will not keep the planet temperature rise below 2°C, forget the guardrail of 1.5°C. This was done to please the Americans who said they would never sign a global agreement which binds them to actions or targets. Paris, fatally and fundamentally, erased the historical responsibility of countries and reduced equity to insignificance.
At all times we have censored the truth of the urgency of climate change; or the need for effective and drastic action by the more powerful and rich countries; or the need to curtail emissions by curtailing or changing lifestyles so that efficiency gains are not lost because of more consumption. The world has restrained its language so that it could get the participation of the most unwilling—the proverbial, and now the real, big bad wolf.
Now that the big bad wolf has come to power, what will the world do?
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is of another shade of this grey. He denies that climate change is happening. He is also certain that the US needs to dig more coal; build more power plants and do everything to ramp up production, which will increase greenhouse gas emissions.
What do we do now? This is the zillion dollar question. Climate change is happening as seen in extreme weather events. It is impacting the poorest in the world, the ones who have least contributed to the stock of emissions in the atmosphere. Will the world now call a spade a spade? Or will it engage in more meaningless censorship so that it woos the undesirable and, in my belief, unchangeable?
I cannot speak for the US civil society, which seems to relish its beltway games. But I do know that we have no option but to push for greater attention and action on climate change. Our priority in India is to reinvent growth without pollution: find ways to urbanise without first investing in private transport systems and then investing in cleaning up the air; or find ways to provide the energy-poor with clean power without first investing in electricity grids that do not reach them. These are our imperatives. Countries like India have the opportunity to do growth differently and we must.
But it is also a fact that the coming of Trump will make it harder for all environmentalists, particularly those working in the emerging countries of the South, to argue that we must stand different. The protectionist agenda will push against globalisation and encourage all to dig deeper and harder to get to the last lump of coal to burn. Forget the climate change crisis. It is tomorrow’s problem.
It is also clear that the coming of Trump will also stop us from scaring ourselves into restraint and self-censorship. The big bad wolf is not coming; it is here. The only way ahead is to confront the reality that the world is getting warmer and the future more insecure and catastrophic. Only then can we hope to change our future.
Earlier this month former US president Barack Obama spoke in Chicago about his plans to build his presidential center on the city’s impoverished South Side. Astonishingly, when the center is completed by 2021, the accumulated cost of building Obama’s monument to his political legacy could exceed $1 billion dollars. According to NBC Chicago, Obama’s library architects indicate the total project could require up to $1.5 billion, more than three times the amount raised by George W. Bush for his presidential center. Bill Clinton by contrast was only able to raise a meager $164 million. In total, the 13 presidential centers aimed at sanitizing the imperialist legacy of the American presidency cost the public more than $64 million each year.