Is the US really heading for a second civil war?

Protesters, with one wielding a Confederate battle flag that reads ‘Come and Take It,’ clash with police at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.
Protesters, with one wielding a Confederate battle flag that reads ‘Come and Take It,’ clash with police at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

With the country polarised and Republicans embracing authoritarianism, some experts fear a Northern Ireland-style insurgency but others say armed conflict remains improbable

David Smith

David Smith in Washington@smithinamericaSun 9 Jan 2022 02.00 EST

Joe Biden had spent a year in the hope that America could go back to normal. But last Thursday, the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, the president finally recognised the full scale of the current threat to American democracy.

“At this moment, we must decide,” Biden said in Statuary Hall, where rioters had swarmed a year earlier. “What kind of nation are we going to be? Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm?”

Trump has birthed a dangerous new ‘Lost Cause’ myth. We must fight itDavid BlightRead more

It is a question that many inside America and beyond are now asking. In a deeply divided society, where even a national tragedy such as 6 January only pushed people further apart, there is fear that that day was the just the beginning of a wave of unrest, conflict and domestic terrorism.

A slew of recent opinion polls shows a significant minority of Americans at ease with the idea of violence against the government. Even talk of a second American civil war has gone from fringe fantasy to media mainstream.Advertisement

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“Is a Civil War ahead?” was the blunt headline of a New Yorker magazine article this week. “Are We Really Facing a Second Civil War?” posed the headline of a column in Friday’s New York Times. Three retired US generals wrote a recent Washington Post column warning that another coup attempt “could lead to civil war”.

The mere fact that such notions are entering the public domain shows the once unthinkable has become thinkable, even though some would argue it remains firmly improbable.

The anxiety is fed by rancour in Washington, where Biden’s desire for bipartisanship has crashed into radicalized Republican opposition. The president’s remarks on Thursday – “I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of our democracy” – appeared to acknowledge that there can be no business as usual when one of America’s major parties has embraced authoritarianism.

History looms large as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Statuary Hall to address the threat to American democracy.
History looms large as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Statuary Hall to address the threat to American democracy. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

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Illustrating the point, almost no Republicans attended the commemorations as the party seeks to rewrite history, recasting the mob who tried to overturn Trump’s election defeat as martyrs fighting for democracy. Tucker Carlson, the most watched host on the conservative Fox News network, refused to play any clips of Biden’s speech, arguing that 6 January 2021 “barely rates as a footnote” historically because “really not a lot happened that day”.

With the cult of Trump more dominant in the Republican party than ever, and radical rightwing groups such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys on the march, some regard the threat to democracy as greater now than it was a year ago. Among those raising the alarm is Barbara Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and author of a new book, How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them.

Walter previously served on the political instability taskforce, an advisory panel to the CIA, which had a model to predict political violence in countries all over the world – except the US itself. Yet with the rise of Trump’s racist demagoguery, Walter, who has studied civil wars for 30 years, recognized telltale signs on her own doorstep.

One was the emergence of a government that is neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic – an “anocracy”. The other is a landscape devolving into identity politics where parties no longer organise around ideology or specific policies but along racial, ethnic or religious lines.

Walter told the Observer: “By the 2020 elections, 90% of the Republican party was now white. On the taskforce, if we were to see that in another multiethnic, multi-religious country which is based on a two-party system, this is what we would call a super faction, and a super faction is particularly dangerous.”

Not even the gloomiest pessimist is predicting a rerun of the 1861-65 civil war with a blue army and red army fighting pitched battles. “It would look more like Northern Ireland and what Britain experienced, where it’s more of an insurgency,” Walter continued. “It would probably be more decentralized than Northern Ireland because we have such a large country and there are so many militias all around the country.”

** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE--FILE **This drawing by Alfred R. Waud shows Union Army’s Lt. Van Felt defending his battery in the Battle of Chickamauga near Chatanooga, Tenn., in Sept. 1863, during the American Civil War. The Confederates forced the Union forces to withdraw. (AP Photo/FILE)
Not even the gloomiest pessimist is predicting a rerun of the 1861-65 civil war with a blue army and red army fighting pitched battles. Photograph: AP

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“They would turn to unconventional tactics, in particular terrorism, maybe even a little bit of guerrilla warfare, where they would target federal buildings, synagogues, places with large crowds. The strategy would be one of intimidation and to scare the American public into believing that the federal government isn’t capable of taking care of them.”

A 2020 plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, could be a sign of things to come. Walter suggests that opposition figures, moderate Republicans and judges deemed unsympathetic might all become potential assassination targets.

“I could also imagine situations where militias, in conjunction with law enforcement in those areas, carve out little white ethnostates in areas where that’s possible because of the way power is divided here in the United States. It would certainly not look anything like the civil war that happened in the 1860s.”

Walter notes that most people tend to assume civil wars are started by the poor or oppressed. Not so. In America’s case, it is a backlash from a white majority destined to become a minority by around 2045, an eclipse symbolized by Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

The academic explained: “The groups that tend to start civil wars are the groups that were once dominant politically but are in decline. They’ve either lost political power or they’re losing political power and they truly believe that the country is theirs by right and they are justified in using force to regain control because the system no longer works for them.”

A year after the 6 January insurrection, the atmosphere on Capitol Hill remains toxic amid a breakdown of civility, trust and shared norms. Several Republican members of Congress received menacing messages, including a death threat, after voting for an otherwise bipartisan infrastructure bill that Trump opposed.

Members of a militia group, including Michael John Null and Willam Grant Null, right, who were charged for their involvement in a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, stand inside the capitol building in Lansing in April 2020.
Members of a militia group, including Michael John Null and Willam Grant Null, right, who were charged for their involvement in a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, stand inside the capitol building in Lansing in April 2020. Photograph: Seth Herald/Reuters

The two Republicans on the House of Representatives select committee investigating the 6 January attack, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, face calls to be banished from their party. Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali-born Muslim, has suffered Islamophobic abuse.

Yet Trump’s supporters argue that they are the ones fighting to save democracy. Last year Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said: “If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.”

Last month Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has bemoaned the treatment of 6 January defendants jailed for their role in the attack, called for a “national divorce” between blue and red states. Democrat Ruben Gallego responded forcefully: “There is no ‘National Divorce’. Either you are for civil war or not. Just say it if you want a civil war and officially declare yourself a traitor.”

There is also the prospect of Trump running for president again in 2024. Republican-led states are imposing voter restriction laws calculated to favour the party while Trump loyalists are seeking to take charge of running elections. A disputed White House race could make for an incendiary cocktail.

James Hawdon, director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech university, said: “I don’t like to be an alarmist, but the country has been moving more and more toward violence, not away from it. Another contested election may have grim consequences.”

Although most Americans have grown up taking its stable democracy for granted, this is also a society where violence is the norm, not the exception, from the genocide of Native Americans to slavery, from the civil war to four presidential assassinations, from gun violence that takes 40,000 lives a year to a military-industrial complex that has killed millions overseas.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “America is not unaccustomed to violence. It is a very violent society and what we’re talking about is violence being given an explicit political agenda. That’s a kind of terrifying new direction in America.”

While he does not currently foresee political violence becoming endemic, Jacobs agrees that any such unravelling would also be most likely to resemble Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

Belfast, 1976. Experts say civil conflict in the US would most likely resemble the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Belfast, 1976. Experts say civil conflict in the US would most likely resemble the Northern Ireland Troubles. Photograph: Alain Le Garsmeur The Troubles Archive/Alamy

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“We would see these episodic, scattered terrorist attacks,” he added. “The Northern Ireland model is the one that frankly most fear because it doesn’t take a huge number of people to do this and right now there are highly motivated, well-armed groups. The question is, has the FBI infiltrated them sufficiently to be able to knock them out before they launch a campaign of terror?”

“Of course, it doesn’t help in America that guns are prevalent. Anyone can get a gun and you have ready access to explosives. All of this is kindling for the precarious position we now find ourselves in.”

Nothing, though, is inevitable.

Biden also used his speech to praise the 2020 election as the greatest demonstration of democracy in US history with a record 150 million-plus people voting despite a pandemic. Trump’s bogus challenges to the result were thrown out by what remains a robust court system and scrutinised by what remains a vibrant civil society and media.

In a reality check, Josh Kertzer, a political scientist at Harvard University, tweeted: “I know a lot of civil war scholars, and … very few of them think the United States is on the precipice of a civil war.”

And yet the assumption that “it can’t happen here,” is as old as politics itself. Walter has interviewed many survivors about the lead-up to civil wars. “What everybody said, whether they were in Baghdad or Sarajevo or Kiev, was we didn’t see it coming,” she recalled. “In fact, we weren’t willing to accept that anything was wrong until we heard machine gun fire in the hillside. And by that time, it was too late.”

Trump Has Already Laid the Groundwork to Subvert the 2024 Election

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 9, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Former President Donald Trump arrives for a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 9, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa.

BYKenny BrunoTruthoutPUBLISHEDNovember 28, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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Donald Trump and the Republican Party have laid the groundwork for assuming the U.S. presidency regardless of the result of the 2024 election, and if they choose to pursue this plan, most of the conditions they would need to execute it are already in place.

If this sounds outrageous, please read on, keeping in mind that the presidential election is determined by the slates of electors that states send Congress for certification.

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Given this oddity in our electoral process, here are some things that a politician would need in order to have a chance of subverting the U.S. presidential election:

  • Control over half of state legislatures (something that can be achieved through severely partisan gerrymandering and self-serving redistricting)
  • At least some swing-state legislatures radical enough to either a.) suppress voters sufficiently to achieve their preferred result; b.) replace the Board of Election if it doesn’t arrange for the preferred candidate to win; or c.) send a non-elected slate of electors for certification regardless of the election’s actual result.
  • Control of the House of Representatives, and preferably both houses of Congress.
  • The ability to purge moderates who might not go along with the ending of democracy.
  • Total loyalty from one’s political party and a cult-like allegiance from voters.
  • A compliant, complacent or cooperative Supreme Court.
  • Widespread skepticism among voters about the idea that elections are run fairly (a skepticism that can be fed by the constant challenging of legitimate results by the loser of an election).

And here are some additional factors that could further assist a politician bent on stealing an election in this country:

  • Sufficient voter suppression to make the above plan unnecessary, or at least enough to make results close enough to sow even more doubt about legitimacy of results.
  • Cynicism and confusion so deep that huge numbers of people don’t believe in facts of any kind.
  • Roving white nationalist militias that tout voter suppression and spread skepticism about the legitimacy of elections.
  • A sizable minority of the population that believes deep down that Black people and immigrants are not “real” Americans, and that their votes should not determine the results of elections.

Now, let’s look back at these conditions for how a politician might subvert an election. For Trump and the GOP, most of these boxes are already checked, and most of the others are well underway.

The endless repetition of the Big Lie, the sham audit in Arizona, the new voter suppression laws in 19 states, the demonization of mass media through the “fake news” mantra, the packing of the Supreme Court with Federalist Society-approved right-wing justices, the purging of Rep. Liz Cheney, the encouragement of the Proud Boys… these are sometimes covered as random and disparate strands, rather than part of a plan that makes total sense once you know what the goal is.

Assuming Trump runs for president, he will likely make countless accusations of fraud — echoed by his supporters — between Election Day and December 16, 2024, the date electors in each state meet to formally vote for president and vice president.

On that day legislatures in at least some swing states that Democrats have won could use laws passed in the wake of the 2020 elections to invalidate the results and select a slate of electors for Trump. For example, Senate Bill 202 (the Georgia law famous for prohibiting distribution of water to voters waiting in lines) less famously but more insidiously allows state officials to take over local election boards. In other words, the radical right legislature that passed the law in the first place can easily and legally manipulate the result.

On January 6, 2025, when Congress opens the envelopes, there would either be enough electoral votes for Trump, or enough states with competing slates of electors or other forms of chaos to declare that neither candidate has reached the requisite 270 electoral votes. At that point, the election would be determined by one vote per state. With Republicans having a majority of congressional representatives in a majority of states, and with moderates purged from the party, it’s hard to imagine the states doing anything but selecting Trump. This scenario is plausible even if voter suppression is insufficient to award the popular vote in swing states to Trump. It doesn’t matter how much he loses by if the state legislatures have the power to determine the electoral slate sent to Congress.

What can be done to guard against the possibility that the 2024 election could unfold in this way?

Electoral resistance: The Democrats could mobilize to hold on to a majority of the House of Representatives.

Legislative resistance: The Senate could pass federal voting legislation that would override the worst provisions in the wave of state laws recently passed. In particular, the federal law would have to reverse the takeover provisions that allow the state legislatures to replace or overrule local election boards. This could happen either by suspending the filibuster rule and getting all 50 Democratic Senate votes, or by getting 10 or more Republican senators to support it.

Judicial resistance: President Joe Biden could appoint four or more new Supreme Court justices to block this from happening during the inevitable litigation, and the Senate could confirm them.

State-level resistance: Courageous secretaries of state in swing states could invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits anyone who has taken an oath to defend the Constitution from holding elected office if they have participated in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. These election officials could — and arguably would be obliged to — refuse to place Trump on the ballot.

These steps might seem extreme and even provocative, but without at least one of them, the U.S. is at serious risk of a democracy-shaking attack on its free and fair elections. And at the moment, all of them seem distant and unlikely.

This is a five-alarm fire, yet right now no elected Democrat is consistently sounding the alarm — not Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, not House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not Sen. Bernie Sanders, not Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and definitely not Sen. Joe Manchin. This is DEFCON for democracy, yet the president barely mentions it.

To be sure that democracy will survive in the United States, Democrats must take seriously the possibility of this nightmare scenario and take bold action to prevent it from happening.

Trump casts shadow over Glasgow climate change negotiations

Ben Adler·Senior Climate EditorThu, November 11, 2021, 2:40 PM·3 min readIn this article:

https://news.yahoo.com/trump-casts-shadow-over-glasgow-climate-change-negotiations-224002782.html

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GLASGOW, Scotland — Democrats from the Biden administration and Congress have been in the unusual position at the U.N. Climate Change Conference of taking the blame for the actions of their archnemesis, former President Donald Trump, in public — and in private as well, Yahoo News has learned.

In a private meeting between the Senate delegation and China’s special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, Xie chastised the U.S. repeatedly for Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“I sat down with the Chinese this morning. I thought that was an interesting exchange,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told Yahoo News on Saturday afternoon. “They did not spare their criticism of Donald Trump. [They] said his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was a very bad development for the world.”

“They said that twice. I think it was very pointed,” Durbin added. “I think they were pointing to the unpredictability of a democratic process.”

Dick Durbin
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Depending on which party has occupied the White House over the last nine years, the United States has oscillated widely in its climate policies — much to the frustration of its negotiating partners.

“[Xie] said, ‘Unfortunately, Trump’s withdrawal [was] a huge mistake,’” Durbin recounted, reading the quote directly from his notes of the meeting. “’If Trump had not withdrawn from Paris, we’d have a much better world today.’”

From the first public remarks at COP26 by President Biden and climate envoy John Kerry, in which they expressed regret that the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement during Trump’s tenure, Democrats who support international cooperation to address climate change have had to deal with representing a nation that had completely abandoned the whole process until Biden was inaugurated in January.

“I guess I shouldn’t apologize, but I do apologize for the fact the United States, the last administration, pulled out of the Paris accords and put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit,” Biden said in his address on the first day of the conference.

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Iowa last month. (Rachel Mummey/Reuters)

The next day, in remarks to the COP26 subgroup of nations with a special concern about the health of the oceans, Kerry said he regrets his nation’s temporary withdrawal.

The negotiations in Glasgow are set to produce a successor to the Paris Agreement with the goal of keeping global temperatures from surpassing 1.5°C of rise above preindustrial levels.

Previous Republican presidents such as George W. Bush avoided taking action to combat climate change but broadly accepted climate science and participated in the global climate negotiation process. Trump’s total rejection of climate science and his abdication of any U.S. role in climate diplomacy continue to weaken the U.S. negotiating position because other nations are keenly aware that Trump, or a Republican of his type, could succeed Biden and withdraw the U.S. from agreements signed in Glasgow.

In his own address to COP26 on Monday, former President Barack Obama raised the subject as well. “Some of our progress stalled when my successor decided to unilaterally pull out of the Paris Agreement in his first year in office. I wasn’t real happy about that,” Obama said.

It’s probably safe to assume that Obama and his fellow Democrats weren’t happy about being associated with Trump’s record on climate change either.

Chomsky: Build Back Better Fiasco Exposes How Both Parties Serve Corporate Power

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reacts after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks in front of him to speak at a weekly news conference on August 3, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reacts after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks in front of him to speak at a weekly news conference on August 3, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

BYC.J. PolychroniouTruthoutPUBLISHEDNovember 1, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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The United States is an abysmal outlier among its economic peers when it comes to social protection programs. Consider, for example, paid parental leave. According to a survey of the parental leave systems of 41 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union, the U.S. was the only country that does not mandate a single week of paid parental leave. It also has an infrastructure bordering on the verge of collapse, including crumbling roads and bridges, water and energy systems.

For specific historical and political reasons, the U.S. never developed a European-style social welfare state. However, since the election of President Joe Biden, and thanks to pressures from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, bills have been introduced to fill some glaring gaps. The Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill, in particular, focuses on a long list of social programs that would help close the U.S.’s gap with its liberal-democratic peers when it comes to social protection programs. It would also help fight the climate crisis. But so-called moderate Democrats (actually right-wingers) in Congress have been opponents of such progressive policies from day one and threaten to derail the best opportunity available to transform federal priorities and move U.S. society away from its traditional dog-eat-world mentality.

In the interview that follows, world-renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky assesses the ongoing drama in Congress over President Biden’s spending bills and the political ramifications of the Democrats failing to carry out sweeping social and climate reforms.

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C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, more than two decades after the “end [of] welfare as we know it,” Democrats have the chance to reshape the country’s safety net and close the gap with the U.S.’s liberal-democratic peers on social protection programs, as well as fight the climate crisis. However, in perhaps a rather unsurprising development, it looks like the obstructionist elements inside the Democratic Party will make sure that the U.S. remains a noticeable outlier among developed countries by not having a major social welfare state. Indeed, Joe Manchin, one of the Democratic senators standing in the way of the passage of the reconciliation bill, said that the U.S. should not turn into an “entitlement society.” How do you assess all the drama in Congress around the $3.5 trillion in infrastructure, social programs and combatting the climate crisis, and what does this whole experience reveal to us about the state of U.S. politics in the post-Trump era?

Noam Chomsky: It’s not post-Trump, unfortunately. Former President Donald Trump’s heavy hand has not been lifted. He owns the increasingly radicalized voting base of the Republican Party. The leadership slinks to his Mar-a-Lago palace to plead for his blessing, and the few who dare to raise their heads have them lopped off quickly.

The right-wing Democrats (mislabeled “moderate”) follow along for their own reasons. These are not hard to discern in some cases: It’s not a great surprise that a coal baron who is Congress’s leading recipient of fossil fuel funding (Manchin) should proclaim the fossil fuel industry’s “no elimination” slogan, or that a top recipient of donations from the pharmaceutical industry (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema) should be holding back badly need drug pricing reforms. That’s normal in a political system mired in corruption.

But the rot runs deeper.

It’s often been observed that the U.S. has a one-party political system — the business party — with two factions, Democrats and Republicans. In the past, the Republican faction has tended to be more dedicated to the concerns of extreme wealth and the corporate sector, but with the resurgence of the one-sided class war called “neoliberalism” under President Ronald Reagan, the leadership has been going off the rails. By now they barely resemble a political party in a functioning democracy.

Since the late President Jimmy Carter years, the Democrats have not lagged far behind, becoming a party of affluent professionals and Wall Street donors with the working class handed over to their bitter class enemy.

One of Trump’s occasional true statements was that Republicans could never win a fair election on their actual programs. Recognizing this, since President Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, the party has been mobilizing voters on “cultural issues” — white supremacy, abortion, guns, traditional patriarchal families, God (favoring the evangelical Christian variety)… anything that doesn’t lift the veil on their loyal service to their prime constituency. That way they can at least stay in the running, exploiting the deeply undemocratic features of the electoral system with its built-in advantages for their largely rural voting base.

All this and much more has been extensively discussed elsewhere. We need not elaborate here. It’s playing out in the halls of Congress right now. The extent to which the U.S. is an “outlier” glares at us wherever we look, sometimes in ways that verge on obscenity. Take paid maternity leave. In the U.S.: none. In the next largest country in the hemisphere, Brazil: about four months. That’s in addition to the universal health care, free higher education, and other public benefits that are found almost everywhere.

To be fair, the richest country in the world, with unparalleled advantages, is not alone in denying paid leave to new mothers. (Fathers? Forget about it.) The U.S. is joined by the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

Recently a lead columnist for the London Financial Times quipped that if Sen. Bernie Sanders was in Germany, he could be running on the right-wing Christian Democrat ticket. Not just a witticism, and not a comment on Sanders. Rather, on the socioeconomic system that has been created in the one-party state, dramatically so in the era of vicious class war since Reagan.

It was not always thus. In the 1930s, while continental Europe succumbed to fascism, the U.S. forged a path toward social democracy on a wave of militant labor activism, lively and diverse politics, and a sympathetic administration. Years earlier, the U.S. had pioneered mass public education, a major contribution to democracy and social justice; Europe lagged far behind.In earlier years, it was often not too important which faction of the business party took power. In recent years, it has been. Proto-fascism is on the march.

It’s beyond irony that now Europe is upholding a tattered social democracy while the U.S. declines to Trump-led proto-fascism, or that under Trump, the secretary of education sought to dismantle public education, carrying forward the neoliberal principles that underlie the sharp defunding of public education aimed at its elimination. All this is rooted in the “libertarian” doctrines of Milton Friedman, James Buchanan and other leading figures of the movement, closely linked from its origins to the attack against government “overreach” by desegregating schools.

It’s worth recalling that these doctrines had their origin in bitter class war in interwar Austria, as we’ve discussed before. They are well-suited for its resumption in the neoliberal era.

The Biden effort to move the U.S. somewhat toward the humane norms of other OECD countries is still not dead, but it has been virtually neutralized in Congress. The Republican organization is rock-solid opposed. Its red lines include preservation in full of their one legislative achievement under Trump, “the U.S. Donor Relief Act of 2017,” as Joseph Stiglitz termed the wholesale robbery, which punched a huge hole in the deficit (for a “good” cause, so OK). By charming coincidence this near-$2 trillion gift to the very rich and the corporate sector is about the same as the measly remnants of the Biden reconciliation bill (spread over 10 years) that have barely survived the right-wing assault.

This time the “deficit threat” is definitely not OK, as is loudly proclaimed. Not a good cause this time. Wrong recipients: the poor, workers, mothers and other “unpeople.”

Should the progressives remain opposed to the infrastructure bill if Congress refuses to pass the social safety net bill in its original version?

It’s question of tactics, not principle. That’s not to say that it’s unimportant. Choice of tactics can have very far-reaching consequences. Rather, it means that it’s not easy to answer. There are many imponderables, not least, how it will affect the coming elections. In earlier years, it was often not too important which faction of the business party took power. In recent years, it has been. Proto-fascism is on the march. Worse still, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, we’re are advancing to a precipice from which there will be no return. Four more years of Trumpism might well tip the balance.

Which answer to the question you raise will reduce the likelihood of impending disasters? I don’t see an easy answer. The question may by now be moot, with the vicious cuts in the reconciliation bill.

Won’t there be grave political consequences if Democrats blow the chance to reshape federal priorities? After all, the majority of U.S. people seem to be in support of Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

The Republicans have been pursuing a careful and well-thought-out policy of maintaining power as a minority party dedicated to great wealth and corporate power. It has been openly announced by the most malicious and politically powerful of the gang: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, repeating what worked well for his reactionary cause during the President Barack Obama years (helped by Obama’s quick betrayal of those who believed the pretty rhetoric about “hope and change”).Failure of Biden’s efforts to reshape federal priorities will have a terrible human cost. Beyond that, it will also provide a weapon for the McConnell strategy of harming the country as much as possible and blaming the outcome on the Democrats.

So far, it’s working. If it does work, with Trump and acolytes returning to power thanks to this malevolence, we will be well on our way to proto-fascism and to falling off the precipice. Failure of Biden’s efforts to reshape federal priorities will have a terrible human cost. Beyond that, it will also provide a weapon for the McConnell strategy of harming the country as much as possible and blaming the outcome on the Democrats.

Brutal, but not stupid.

Is there a way to fend off these grave political consequences? Not within the confines of the deeply corrupt and undemocratic political system. The only way that has ever worked, and can work now, is mass popular pressure — what the powerful call “the peasants coming with their pitchforks.”

Trump has been out of office for several months, yet his influence among Republican voters remains unwavering. What continues to drive the pro-Trump crowd?

We’ve often discussed it before, and there has been extensive investigation by social scientists — most convincingly, in my opinion, by Tony DiMaggio.

It’s not just Trump, though he has shown real genius in tapping poisons that run deep in U.S. history and contemporary culture, and in portraying himself as “your savior” — even “the chosen one” — while stabbing you in the back. That’s no small accomplishment for a person with few talents other than chicanery, fraud, and wielding the wrecking ball to destroy everything he can’t claim as his own.

But it’s not just Trump. We can also ask why Nixon’s racist Southern strategy succeeded, or Reagan’s quite overt racism — in his case, apparently sincerely held. We can ask why the abortion and gun frauds took hold, or why in the face of overwhelming evidence, segments of the left join the far right in anti-vax campaigns, at enormous human costs, or why “more than half of President Trump’s supporters [in 2020] embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory of a global satanic pedophile ring that was plotting against the 45th president of the United States,” who was valiantly trying to save the children from such “prominent pedophiles” as Biden, Hillary Clinton, and other “Deep State” suspects.

The signs of collapse of the social order are too numerous and familiar to review once again. To a large extent, it can be attributed to the impact of the one-sided and vicious class war of the past 40-plus years. There are deeper cultural and historical roots. It’s not just the U.S. European racism and xenophobia is even more malevolent in some respects. One sign is the corpses in the Mediterranean, victims of the frenzy of Europe’s dedication to torture the survivors of its centuries of destruction of Africa.

The effort to reveal the roots of such pathologies is no mere academic enterprise, and not just these. We can add the pathologies of the rich and powerful, including the deplorables who hurl the epithet at others. These have been far more consequential. Efforts to understand are of value primarily as a guide to self-reflection and to action to find remedies.

And quickly. Our strange species doesn’t have a lot of time to spare.

Two hosts of ‘The View’ test positive for Covid ahead of interview with Harris

By Betsy KleinArlette Saenz and Kate Sullivan, CNN

Updated 12:36 PM ET, Fri September 24, 2021

'The View' hosts announce co-stars' breakthrough Covid cases before VP's planned interview

https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/24/politics/kamala-harris-the-view/index.html

(CNN)”The View” host Sunny Hostin and guest host Ana Navarro both tested positive for breakthrough cases of Covid-19 ahead of an interview with Vice President Kamala Harris.Harris did not interact with Hostin or Navarro before the show, according to a White House official. Harris went on to conduct the interview from a remote location after a delay.The positive results were announced by “The View” host Joy Behar during the show after Hostin and Navarro were asked to leave the set. Hostin and Navarro were seated at the table with the other hosts at the beginning of the program.

The tables were cleaned and disinfected after they left the set, Behar said, who continued hosting the show on set with her co-host Sara Haines. Behar said Hostin and Navarro were both fully vaccinated.

Harris has received two doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine and was administered both shots live on camera.

“I hope that you’re in a safe spot right now. We did everything we could to make sure that you were safe because we value you so much,” Behar told Harris at the start of their interview.Enter your email or view the Vault By CNN webpage to own a piece of CNN History with blockchain technology.close dialog

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Join us as we open our archives for the first time to offer collectors the opportunity to own a piece of history.Explore NowGet UpdatesHarris responded: “Thank you, Joy, and to everyone. Listen, Sunny and Ana are strong women and I know they’re fine but it really also does speak to the fact that they’re vaccinated and vaccines really do make all the difference. Because otherwise, we would be concerned about hospitalization or worse.”

CNN reported last month that data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 99.99% of people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death.Harris called on Americans to get vaccinated and be responsible.”I’ve been watching, like many of you, with heartache, with the videos of people who are in an ICU bed, who did not get vaccinated, pleading with their family members, ‘please get vaccinated,'” Harris said.

She continued: “You know, when I think of it in the context of any one of us who have had these awful experiences of holding the hands of a loved one who is in an ICU bed, or is near death — like, don’t put your families through that. The vaccine is free. It is safe, and it will save your life. So folks just need to get vaccinated.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

Why won’t US TV news say ‘climate change’?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/02/us-media-hurricane-ida-climate-change

Mark Hertsgaard

It’s media malpractice not to mention that burning fossil fuels drives extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida

Jerilyn Collins returns to her destroyed home to retrieve medicine for herself and her father in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana.
Jerilyn Collins returns to her destroyed home to retrieve medicine for herself and her father in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

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About this contentThu 2 Sep 2021 06.00 EDT

The climate emergency is exploding in various parts of the world this week, but climate silence inexcusably continues to rein in much of the United States media.

Hurricane Ida has left more than a million people in Louisiana without running water, electricity or air conditioning amid a heat index topping 100F. The Caldor fire destroyed hundreds of houses and forced mass evacuations around Lake Tahoe in California. Abroad, vast swaths of Siberia were ablaze while drought-parched Madagascar suffered what a United Nations official called the first famine caused entirely by climate change.

Painstaking scientific research has established that the climate crisis escalates these kinds of extreme weather. In other words, people can now watch the emergency unfold in real time on their TV and cellphone screens.

The vast majority of news coverage instead chose climate silence

The problem is that most viewers won’t make that connection, because most stories don’t contain the words “climate change”. Six of the biggest commercial TV networks in the US – ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and MSNBC – ran 774 stories about Ida from 27 to 30 August, an analysis by the watchdog group Media Matters found. Only 34 of those stories, barely 4%, mentioned climate change.Advertisement

Caldor fire: changing winds offer hope as firefighters battle blaze near Lake Tahoe

https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.478.1_en.html#goog_1976419861https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.478.1_en.html#goog_781130976https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.478.1_en.html#goog_529327534javascript:falsejavascript:false

My own survey of the coverage confirmed the trend. Viewers were shown powerful images – roofs torn off, block after block of houses submerged in floodwaters, first responders pulling weeping victims to safety. They heard plenty of numbers: Ida was a category 4 hurricane with wind speeds of 172 miles an hour and storm surges of 7ft to 11ft. But almost never were they told what was behind all this destruction.

It’s not as if making the climate connection is scientifically controversial or journalistically difficult, as a handful of exemplary stories demonstrated.

On NPR, the reporter Rebecca Hersher said that “climate change is basically super-charging this storm … As the Earth gets hotter because of climate change, the water on the surface of the ocean – it also gets hotter. So there’s more energy for storms like Ida to get really big and really powerful.”

Communities bearing the brunt of harm caused by climate change say that for too long the fossil fuel industry has prioritized profits over the public good.

On CBS This Morning, atop a graphic reading “Massive, fast-growing storms like Ida highlight climate crisis”, the meteorologist Jeff Berardelli pointed out that a hotter planet also means “you evaporate more moisture, the ground gets drier – we’re having the worst drought in 1,200 years in the west.”

In the Washington Post, the reporter Sarah Kaplan called Ida a “poster child for a climate change-driven disaster” and quoted the hurricane specialist Kerry Emmanuel of MIT saying: “This is exactly the kind of thing we’re going to have to get used to as the planet warms.”

The vast majority of news coverage instead chose climate silence.

This amounts to nothing less than media malpractice. Scientifically accurate reporting would not only link this extreme weather to the climate crisis, it would note that climate change is caused primarily by burning oil, gas and coal. ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies have been lying for 40 years about their products causing dangerous climate change. Responsible journalism should tell the truth about what’s driving these terrible storms, fires and famine.

Broadcast television’s failure is especially egregious in that it’s still the leading news source for most people. (About 45% of Americans get most of their news from television, while 18% rely primarily on social media, according to the Pew Research Center.) And it repeats the mistake TV news made while covering the extreme weather events of 2020. In the face of unprecedented fires in Australia and California (remember the orange skies over San Francisco?) and kindred calamities, only 0.4% of commercial TV stories mentioned the climate crisis, Media Matters found.

This kind of journalism leaves the public not just uninformed but misinformed. It gives the impression that these storms and fires are not only terrible (which, of course, is true) but also – to use a phrase that climate breakdown has made obsolete – they’re simply “natural” disasters.

They are not. Of course, hurricanes and wildfires were happening long before human-caused climate change emerged. The climate crisis, however, makes them significantly worse. As a Weather Channel segment on Ida explained, it’s not that “climate change caused the storm, but … that a warming world made Hurricane Ida more powerful”.

What’s odd is that plenty of journalists at big US news outlets know the climate crisis is an important story. And climate coverage had been improving. During the heatwave that scorched the Pacific Northwest in July, 38% of broadcast and cable news segments made the climate connection, Media Matters reported, as did about 30% of this summer’s wildfires coverage. So newsrooms have the ability to make the point when they choose to.

In two months, world leaders will gather in Glasgow for one of the most important diplomatic meetings in history. The Cop26 summit will go a long way toward deciding whether humanity preserves a livable climate on this planet. From now to the summit and beyond, journalism has got to do better.

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Don’t Expect Real Climate Solutions From COP26. It Functions for Corporations.

Activists hold a demonstration marking the delayed COP26 UN climate negotiations on November 13, 2020, in Glasgow, Scotland. The 26th United Nations Climate Change conference was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activists hold a demonstration marking the delayed COP26 UN climate negotiations on November 13, 2020, in Glasgow, Scotland. The 26th United Nations Climate Change conference was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BYSimon PiraniTruthoutPUBLISHEDAugust 29, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in the U.K. in November — the 26th session of the talks that were launched in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 — the governments of the world’s richest countries are making ever-louder claims that they are effectively confronting global warming. Nothing could be more dangerous than for social, labor and environmental movements to take this rhetoric at face value and assume that political leaders have the situation under control.

There are three huge falsehoods running through these leaders’ narratives: that rich nations are supporting their poorer counterparts; that “net zero” targets will do what is needed; and that technology-focused “green growth” is the way to decarbonize.

First, wealthier countries claim to be supporting poorer nations — which are contributing least to global warming, and suffering most from its effects — to make the transition away from fossil fuels.

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But at the G7 summit in June, the rich countries again failed to keep their own promise, made more than a decade ago, to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries. Of the $60 billion per year they have actually come up with, more than half is bogus: analysis by Oxfam has shown that it is mostly loans and non-concessional finance, and that the amounts are often overstated.

Compare this degrading treatment of the Global South with the mobilization of many hundreds of billions for the post-pandemic recovery. Of $657 billion (public money alone) pledged by G20 nations to energy-producing or energy-consuming projects, $296 billion supports fossil fuels, nearly a third greater than the amount supporting clean energy ($228 billion).

Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are magnified by poverty. This year’s floodswildfires and record temperatures in Europe and North America have been frightful enough. The same phenomena cause far greater devastation outside the Global North.

In 2020, “very extensive” flooding caused deaths, significant displacement of populations and further impacts from disease in 16 African countries, the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) annual climate report recorded. India, China and parts of Southeast Asia suffered from record-breaking rainfall and flooding, too.Climate researchers have shown that absolute zero (not “net zero”) emissions is entirely achievable. The path is blocked not by technological factors, but by political ones.

Climate and weather events had “major and diverse impacts on population movements, and on the vulnerability of people on the move,” the WMO reported. Cyclone Amphan displaced 2.5 million people in India and Bangladesh last May. Many could return soon, but 2.8 million homes were damaged, leading to prolonged displacement. Severe storms in Mozambique piled on dangers for tens of thousands of people displaced by the previous year’s floods and who had not been able to return home.

The political leaders’ second fiction is their pledge to attain “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (the U.S., U.K. and Europe) or 2060 (China).

“Net zero” signifies a point at which the amount of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere is balanced by the amount being withdrawn. Once, it may have been a useful way of taking into account the way that forests, in particular, soak up carbon dioxide. But three decades of capitulation to fossil fuel companies, since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992, have turned it into a monster of deceit.

Thanks to corporate capture and government complicity, many of the greenhouse gas emissions projections in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report factor in huge levels of carbon removal by dubious technologies that do not, and may never, work at scale (e.g., carbon dioxide removal, carbon capture and storage, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage). Governments have drawn up “net zero” targets reliant on these myths.

On top of this, the 2015 Paris agreement left rich nations to decide what share of global emissions they would take responsibility for. So the U.K. government, which laughably describes itself as “leading the world” on climate, uses targets for emissions cuts at half the level that scientists say is necessary.

The politicians’ third and more complex deception is in the technology-centered “decarbonization” measures they embrace in the name of “green growth.” These rely on tweaking, rather than transforming, the big technological systems through which most fossil fuels are consumed — transport networks, electricity grids, urban infrastructure, and industrial, agricultural and military systems.

An example is electric vehicles, promoted as the principal means to reduce transport sector emissions. Governments ignore the carbon footprint of the vehicles’ manufacture and electricity use (unless and until the grids are 100 percent green), and the roads and parking spaces that the vehicles use.

Alternative approaches focus on expanding public transport, shifting to non-motorized modes (walking, cycles, electric scooters), and reducing the total number of journeys, especially in cities. In a climate emergency, they ask, shouldn’t we stretch our imaginations beyond lives made miserable sitting in rush-hour traffic?Tackling climate change involves subverting, confronting, confounding and defeating corporate power.

But governments avoid or oppose such solutions, because they would involve confronting the corporate power of oil companies, car manufacturers and property developers, in whose interests it is to perpetuate car culture.

A second example of governments’ corporate-based technology approach involves home heating and cooling. Small-scale technologies that can slash the energy throughput needed — proper insulation, electric heat pumps instead of gas, small-scale renewables generation — are eschewed. Instead, political leaders advocate incremental change to large systems, at a pace that suits the companies that control them.

In the U.K., architects protest as the government loosens building regulations, when it should be tightening them to ensure that new houses are near-zero-carbon. Trades unions in Leeds campaign for insulation and heat pumps — the right solution for the city’s housing stock — instead of a scheme to swap the gas network for hydrogen, that is little more than a survival strategy for the companies producing oil and gas on the North Sea.

In the U.S., community groups advocate zero-carbon energy systems as part of an integrated approach to a “just transition” away from fossil fuels.

Governments resist because the corporations resist. Energy corporations fear decentralized electricity generation outside of their control; property developers despise regulation that compels them to use zero-carbon building techniques; gas distributors hate electric heat pumps. Just as oil companies and car manufacturers dread radical decarbonization of transport, petrochemical giants fear plastic-free supply chains, big agribusiness is terrified by low-carbon food systems, and so on.

Climate researchers have shown that absolute zero (not “net zero”) emissions is entirely achievable, by reducing energy throughput and living differently. The path is blocked not by technological factors, but by political ones: by the dynamics of wealth and power that constitute capitalism — the same dynamics that force the burden of climate change on the Global South.

Tackling climate change involves overcoming those dynamics. It is not so much about replacing bad government with good government, as it is about subverting, confronting, confounding and defeating corporate power. It is about developing a vision of our collective future that goes beyond capitalism.

We see glimpses of the social forces that could achieve this. Resistance to neocolonial resource extraction, which is at the heart of the fossil-fuelled economy, rages across the Global South. In the Global North, there are acts of great heroism — by the saboteurs of the Dakota Access pipeline, for example — and new waves of direct action, by Extinction Rebellion and others, and school strikes in response to climate change.

Climate change protesters often accuse governments of “inaction.” Let’s look at it from a different angle: Governments are acting, but they are acting in accordance with capital’s economic imperatives.

They are allowing global average temperature to rise far more than 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, and pushing the resulting suffering on to hundreds of millions of people outside the rich world. They are empowering fossil fuel producers and corporations in fossil-intensive industrial sectors to dabble with dangerous techno fixes and false “solutions” in the name of economic “growth.” They are protecting their system.

The most powerful response to looming climate catastrophe will come not from within the COP26 process, but from outside it, in the actions of grassroots organizers, communities, social and labor movements, and of society as a whole.

United States nears first major steps to control CO2 emissions

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/24/us-congress-nears-first-major-steps-to-control-co2-emissions

As scientists raise alarm on global warming, the US is close to adopting sweeping green energy and emissions measures.

Wildfires burn in the US West for a fourth consecutive summer as Washington, DC strives to adopt new climate policies [David Swanson/Reuters]
Wildfires burn in the US West for a fourth consecutive summer as Washington, DC strives to adopt new climate policies [David Swanson/Reuters]

By William Roberts24 Aug 2021

The United States is preparing to adopt a raft of new energy policies that will for the first time put the US – the world’s second-worst polluter after China – on a path to meeting its pledge to cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2035.

In a series of measures pending on Tuesday before the US Congress and new directives by the Biden administration, the US economy would begin a broad shift to electric vehicles, solar and wind with reductions in carbon pollution from fossil fuels.KEEP READINGUN climate report ‘code red for humanity’: Guterres‘World War Zero’: Biden names John Kerry as US climate envoyUS climate envoy Kerry to visit Shanghai for climate talksEU reaches ambitious climate deal that could transform economy

“We are moving in the right direction. The question is, will we move fast enough,” said Dan Lashof, the US director of the World Resources Institute, a global research organisation dedicated to working with governments on climate change.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a dire report on August 9 that concludes global warming is happening faster than previously understood and drastic cuts to worldwide emissions are needed to hold the global temperature rise under 2C (3.6F) – the threshold to avoid devastating consequences for humanity.

Since taking office in January, President Joe Biden has rejoined the Paris climate accord – abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump – and pledged to cut US greenhouse emissions 50 percent.

After China, the US is the second-largest producer of greenhouses gases in the world emitting more than 6.6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.

“We have got to cut our emissions by 50 percent or more this decade to have a shot at limiting warming to less than 2C,” Lashof told Al Jazeera.

Clean energy

Major incentives and investments for new clean energy are contained in two major pieces of legislation now pending in Congress, a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill and a $3.5 trillion budget policy.

Both passed the US Senate and are headed for consideration in the House of Representatives this week where Democratic Party unity – which has been shaken – will be required to win passage.

The infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 69-30, includes $65bn to modernise the ageing US electric grid, boost carbon-capture technologies and shift power generation to clean sources like hydrogen.

It further includes $7.5bn for electric vehicle charging stations – key to enabling mainstream adoption of electric vehicles – and $5bn for government purchases of electric and hybrid school buses.

These new federal investments “are helpful”, Lashof said, “but by themselves are by no means adequate”.

New policies

More of the effect from what the US is considering is to be found in an enormous $3.5 trillion budget measure, which sets broad top-line spending goals for Congress.

“We will take on the existential threat of climate change by transforming our energy systems toward renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said when the budget resolution passed the Senate on August 10.

The budget bill includes clean energy, manufacturing, and transportation tax incentives and carbon polluter fees, clean energy technology, clean electricity rebates, financing and research.

The budget authorises up to $135b across five years for a Civilian Climate Corps to be composed of hundreds of thousands of young workers similar to the US’s 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps to work on green public projects.

Corpsmembers would be paid $15 an hour and receive educational benefits for work on renewable energy projects and community conservation.

Final details of many of the Climate Corps plan and other clean energy policies are being hammered out in congressional committees across Congress and will be passed in spending bills to be approved in September.

Electric vehicles

new executive order signed by President Joe Biden on August 5 calls for half of all new vehicle sales in the US to be electric by 2030. At the same time, Biden ordered tougher emissions and fuel economy standards for gas vehicles.https://ea8c6a1989967e1fb875f54dc6a2d553.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“In order to meet the US’s environmental goals, we have to electrify and clean our transportation system, starting from the light-duty vehicles to transit, heavy-duty and everything else,” said Gil Tal, director of electric vehicle research at the University of California-Davis.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.476.0_en.html#goog_306256732Play Video

In light of the UN’s alarming report, the imperative to shift to electric vehicles is urgent, Tal told Al Jazeera. “There is no way to do enough right now. Whatever we can do, we need to push to the max,” Tal said.

In California, the US’s most populous state, where climate-driven wildfires are raging now for a fourth consecutive summer, Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that all new cars and trucks sold in the state must be electric by 2035.

Narrow path

The prospect of congressional approval of new funding and policies to address climate change and cut US emissions is a win for progressives like Sanders and the Democratic Party’s Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who had campaigned on the issue in 2020.

“We’ve had four years of Trump and we’re back in the Paris agreement,” Lashof said.

“The risk is that this is just barely enough if it all gets through. It’s a serious setback if it gets pared back.”

While both the infrastructure bill and budget measure appear headed in tandem for congressional passage, the internal politics in Washington remain tricky and the path to approval is narrow.

House Democrats hold only a 220 to 212 seat majority over Republicans, which leaves House Speaker Nancy Pelosi little room to manoeuvre between warring progressive and moderate wings of her party.

House leaders have set votes on the infrastructure and budget measures as soon as Tuesday.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

When Kabul falls, America is in danger again

https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/567561-when-kabul-falls-america-is-in-danger-again

BY DOV S. ZAKHEIM, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 08/13/21 10:00 AM EDT  933THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL16Share to Facebook Share to Twitter  

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When Kabul falls, America is in danger again

© Getty Images

As Baghdad was falling to the forces of the United States and its coalition partners in March 1991, Iraqi Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, better known to Americans as “Baghdad Bob,” was offering an entirely different account of the events taking place on his doorstep. Among his most memorable quotes — and there were many — were  “There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!” and “They are not even [within] 100 miles [of Baghdad]. They are not in any place. They hold no place in Iraq. This is an illusion … they are trying to sell to the others an illusion.”

As numerous analysts have pointed out, officials in Kabul and Washington appear to be no less delusional than Saddam Hussein’s minister. Moreover, they have been fooling themselves for even longer than Baghdad Bob. American officials have not ceased to believe that the Taliban would abide by the terms of the Feb. 29, 2020, Doha agreement, which was advertised as the first step in a process that would lead both to American and NATO withdrawal of their forces and a settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Yet little has materialized from the Taliban commitment to “intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations.” On the contrary, in a manner reminiscent of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s ultimately successful offensives against the Army of [South] Vietnam, which were stepped up after Henry Kissinger negotiated the 1973 Paris Peace Accords — for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize — the Taliban has stepped up its operations against the Kabul government’s forces throughout the country. 

Nevertheless, even as the Taliban offensive continued to intensify, Biden administration officials believed in the negotiations’ positive outcome and insisted that while the Taliban might control the Afghan countryside, it would not attempt to seize urban areas, and especially provincial capitals. When the Taliban did just that, administration officials posited that the Taliban would not attempt to seize major provincial capitals such as Kunduz, Herat, Kandahar or Mazer-i-Sharif. Kunduz, Lashkar Gah, Herat and Kandahar have fallen; it appears to be only a matter of days before Mazer-i-Sharif falls as well.

Shades of Baghdad Bob. Unfazed by reality, Biden administration spokesmen project confidence that the Taliban will not try to seize Kabul. Instead, the administration continues to put its faith in negotiations and has dispatched chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad on yet another doomed foray to Doha.

This week, in response to the rapid fall of nine provincial capitals to the Taliban, the Afghan government replaced the army chief of staff. The change appears to have had no impact on increasingly dire forecasts as to when, not if, Kabul will fall. U.S. officials reportedly now predict that Kabul will fall much sooner than expected. Previous assessments predicted that the Afghan capital would surrender to the Taliban in six to 12 months after the departure of American forces. Now officials reportedly assert that Kabul could fall within 90 days. Given the degree to which Afghan government forces have melted away, rather than fight the Taliban, 90 days may be an optimistic prediction — which may be why some officials feel that the city will surrender in as little as a month. 

Subsequent to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Vietnamese government had no official relations with Washington until they were restored two decades later. But throughout that period, Vietnam did not serve as a base for attacks on the United States. The same cannot be assumed of the Taliban and Afghanistan. 

It is true that the Taliban is unlikely to project its power beyond Afghanistan’s borders. It is hemmed in by several Central Asian states, as well as Pakistan and Iran, all of which harbor varying degrees of suspicion regarding the group. And it can safely be said that the Taliban leadership wisely will refrain from doing anything to provoke China, Afghanistan’s other far more powerful neighbor.

On the other hand, the Taliban’s commitment at Doha to prevent the renewal of an al Qaeda presence in the country — or for that matter, that of terrorist groups such as ISIS — is likely to go the way of American dreams of a coalition Afghan government. There have been numerous reports that the Taliban never ruptured its ties with al Qaeda, nor that it has any quarrel with ISIS. These organizations may, therefore, find that they can operate freely on Afghan soil. If once again they can train terrorists as they did prior to 9/11, another attack on Americans, whether overseas or in America itself, cannot be ruled out. 

The time for Washington’s reverie about an acceptable outcome to what it calls the “forever war” is long past over. There will be no acceptable outcome. If the Biden team remains committed to withdrawing all American forces by the end of this month, it had better come up with another way to ensure that the updated version of Afghanistan circa 2001 does not come back to haunt Americans after two decades of bloody and costly conflict.

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defen