Sunday, May 19, 2019

Critical Global Challenges: Dems in Philly Fall Short

Philly was feisty from ‘tude in the street to the battles in the convention arena. Yet while official events highlighted diversity and 2016 platform planks long championed by Sanders, the rhetoric against corporate power – in the ironically titled Wells Fargo arena – was often feeble. The Democratic Party and Clinton must convincingly commit to priorities championed by Sanders and the left on the climate, war, agriculture, a living wage, and trade. The time is now.

PHILLY

In Philly, much of the movement I saw on these critical issues was outside. At a steamy climate rally, Green Nobel Prize winner Berta Caceres’ daughter Laura Zuniga Cáceres stepped in legacy of her mother with the “It Take Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan,” seeking to bar police and military aid pending investigation into human rights violations.  Musicians, artists, and activists watched Josh Fox’s film “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” on the eve of the Convention. At City Hall, Sanders’ delegates delivered a moving presser urging superdelegates to vote for him, citing solid stands on the TPP and health care. Daily marches to FDR Park shut down Broad Street with peaceful Bernie supporters holding signs against fences and chanting to delegates arriving by train (who, after Monday, were inexplicably redirected to not pass protestors). Dr. Jill Stein high-fived me before cheering us on the language of this broader movement, just minutes later we raced for cover in a spirit-salving monsoon. Global Women spoke out at the DNC and moving art including Zoe Leonard’s “I want a dyke for president” and RocktheVote’s work by Keith Haring, Banksy and Shepard Fairey which reimagined the possible. Yet convention and inside-the-Beltway speakers were less inspiring.

Much of what happened inside Wells Fargo played as counterpoint to the Republican National Convention, even as they reprised Sanders’ motto “Love Trumps Hate.” Many speeches sought to highlight the humanity of the Democratic Party and of Hillary. The religious fundamentalism and xenophobic rhetoric of the RNC certainly deserved an urgent, if loving, counterpunch. But the need by the DNC to humanize a party and candidate also stems from Democratic policies that have, at times, greatly harmed people as they have failed to call out catastrophic global priorities of their corporate backers.

So while we celebrate our strong opposition to a “Christian” anti-poor, anti-woman platform, and laud the critical gains made on college education, health care, and other Sanders’ issues, Americans must collectively echo his truth to power. From Pope Francis to anti-austerity movements worldwide to Sanders, citizens seek societies rebuilt on the “common good.” Right wing and corporations push back, but instead of ceding, we must continue our progress.

We must recognize our platform and rhetoric is highly regressive. It falls unimaginable short in tackling the unprecedented challenges we face in 2016: circumstances largely there for our unwillingness to prioritize people and the planet above corporate gains. Many positions are particularly horrifying when measured against the yardstick of other developed, more democratic nations. And the events of the past two weeks only amplify worry that Democrats will fail to confront power to radically reshape our world.

WAR THROUGH THE LENS OF PROGRESSIVISM & REALITY

Evaluated against the morality of human rights, our inherent call to compassion, and a desire to stem violence, our foreign policy has been catastrophic. The good news is now we are finally admitting it. Sanders – and ironically Trump – raised issues of our terrible record abroad during the primaries. It continued during the Convention as chants of “No More War” greeted former CIA Director Leon Panetta and later Convention speakers (the latter were met with shouts, as ordered, of U-S-A which felt as scarily nationalistic as a Trump rally.) Since the Convention’s end, we’ve embarked on a new phase of bombing Libya, citing support for the government (one of three). Yet neither the 2001 Authorization of Military Force nor an immediate threat can be used as justification. And while the initial attacks on Syria featured a three-week, heavily pro-war biased discussion, the time for discussing new wars has apparently shrunk to zero.

It’s not like we have a great track record. Our illegal wars have brought unimaginably tragic geopolitical consequences. The Iraq invasion, which resulted in an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians losing their lives in the first 18 months and 650,000 by October 2006, led to the subsequent destabilization of Syria by the flow of regional extremists and American-supplied arms. Then the mass devastation of Syria included about 10 million Syrians being displaced as part of the largest refugee crisis since World War II. It overwhelmed neighboring and accessible nations, promoted the rise of the right-wing across Europe and contributed to Brexit.

Bombing People Causes People to Hate You,” of course. Strong pushback to “world is our battlefield” policies helped both Sanders and Trump rise as they questioned our endless wars, NATO involvement, potential no-fly zones and Latin American record. It is impossible to justify the current state of drone warfare with no valid domestic authorization or compliance with international law. Yet the Convention and platform was strong on hegemonic bluster (even condemning the free speech of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (?!)), with little to say about drone warfare, mass surveillance, and casualties (children, civilian, or otherwise). Clinton’s hawkish record in Latin America and the Middle East seems to portend an greater violence.

In addition to a vigorous debate on foreign policy, this nation needs a mental shift in which we accept the truth about our past and today’s realities. We need to accept we’ve contributed to the deaths of tens of millions abroad, in many cases toppling democratic governments. Ignoring this reality in the name of unquestioning “patriotism” has only spread violence. Independent investigations should be done on Iraq, torture, and drone warfare.  But also we need to change our mindset: we need to eliminate the unreasonable expectation that there will be no attacks in America by anyone who has any sympathy with movements abroad. None of us reasonably expect zero violent deaths a year or no car accidents: we know the price we would pay for destruction of civil liberties and our economy would be too great. The stoicism and perseverance of the “Mothers of the Movement” must be our own.  For the enormous misallocation of resources represents the degradation of our dreams: weapons could be traded for school supplies (or plowshares), instead of destabilizing oil-rich countries we could create a sustainable nation, and our government employees could rebuild our infrastructure and health.

TPP & TRADE: TRADE FOR PEOPLE AND THE PLANET

Perhaps most broadly called out issue at the DNC was trade with no-TPP signs, pins, and chants over multiple days. Three trade deals – TISA, TTIP and the TPP – loom on the horizon. Democratic leaders have offered notably mixed signals on the TPP, with the other two being irrationally ignored. Tim Kaine praised it less than a week before being chosen as Hillary’s running mate. He was also one of a small minority of Democrats who voted for fast track authority. Hillary Clinton has also praised the TPP many times, saying it “set a gold standard” with statements by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue saying that she will support it in the White House. Her TPP-related mails are oddly being held til after November.  After a bitter fight, language describing terms of good trade made it into the platform. Yet the Democratic Platform does not take a solid stand against any of these agreements or condemn a vote in the lame duck session on the TPP, despite opposition of all three major presidential candidates.

Of the three deals, the TPP has received the most attention, garnering broad opposition from public advocates. More than 450 environmental, landowner, indigenous and other organizations oppose it as it would threaten the climate imperative of keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. How? Most notably through investor state tribunals by which corporations would be able to sue for lost future profits. TransCanada has sued the US government for $15 billion for nixing the unpopular, climate-destroying Keystone XL Pipeline. Other such cases include corporations bringing over 600 cases against 100 governments. Thus this provision alone would likely chill efforts to pass future labor, environment, climate, labeling, and advertising and other laws in the public interest. More generally, “NAFTA on steroids” – written by corporate lobbyists rather than those working in the public interest – would not increase American jobs, would limit critical access to pharmaceutical drugs, and otherwise expand environmental degradation. Additional fights won democratically or gathering momentum would be crushed also.

These trade deals do not serve mankind. They are not based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or compliant with international labor law. They threaten critical climate and environmental priorities. Indeed our food sovereignty and safety, jobs, and the very ability to govern ourselves –   including ensuring our planet remains viable – would be traded for a boost in corporate profits. And thus all must continue the fight in the lame duck and beyond against trade deals affecting all aspects of American lives.

AGRICULTURE FOR OUR HEALTH AND CLIMATE

It’s not complicated.  There is a huge role for organic and regenerative agriculture which is more nutritious, could tamp down climate change, increase soil quality, decrease erosion, and promote biodiversity and sustainability. It’s as American as apple pie, made with the right apples. Conversely, genetically modified organisms include Monsanto’s glyphosate, which was called “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

Yet progress to a healthy agricultural system has been slow. Then last weekend, conveniently sandwiched between the Convention and the Libya bombing, President Obama signed into law the so-called Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act which preempts Vermont and other states’ laws – referred to as “textbook examples of democracy in action” – from taking effect. It also allows inconvenient, inaccessible and targeted marketing vs. front-of-package labeling, and creates new definitions that could exempt many GMOs from labeling.

The Democratic platform does not mention these central issues, and they had a minimal, if any, role in the Convention. Nominee Clinton was once called “one of the powerful people” who support GMOs and has longstanding ties to Monsanto.

What has our corporate agriculture system, including GMOs which have skyrocketed as US crops and in US consumption, brought us? Has any other nation seen as large decrease in public health outside of war or famine? Over the past two generations, we’ve seen skyrocketing diabetes, obesity, thyroid disease, disability, and pain. A majority of Americans are on on two or more medications and use of pain medication (and from what I’ve seen pain) is growing by leaps and bounds. A new, failed evolution of pharmaceutical pills isn’t fixing us. Our agriculture and food affects our health, creating a vicious cycle that rockets through our bodies, our economy, and our society.  The food we eat causes obesity and other diseases which amp up pain, leading to disability and an inability to work with mounting depression, addiction and suicide.

With a dramatically different system, we could see the return of good health and employment. The battle must not lag scientific certainty: a “Merchants of Doubt” strategy that was used to cast doubt on science of cigarettes, flame retardants, climate change cost us critical time in those fights. Instead we must adopt the precautionary principle, or just common sense. We must move to diets that worked for thousands of years for the planet and its people, and follow in the footsteps of tens of nations who have adopted GMO labeling or banned GMOs, who experience far better health.

BEES AND OUR FOOD SUPPLY

Food, shelter and clothing – why sacrifice a key essential? Bee are responsible for 1 in 3 bites of food we eat, and would be even more were we to move to widely acclaimed and proven plant-based diet. Yet we are ravaging our ability to produce healthy food. Beekeepers are losing one-third of their bees annually. Yet it neither appears as a platform or Democratic priority. How can this not be front and center in our national debate?

It has long been a priority for environmental and health community to decrease the widespread use of neonicotinoids, insecticides implicated in studies as causing bee declines. The European Union greatly restricted most toxic starting in 2013. Here a variety of actions must be taken on a local, state, and national level to save the bees – and us.

CLIMATE SURMOUNTS ALL SO KEEP IT IN THE GROUND

For generations we’ve known need to limit the global temperature rise to 2, if not 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement, if fully adopted, will take us to 2.7 to 3.5 degrees. Obama has spoken to the urgency and made progress largely through a push for renewable energy. Yet he has largely fallen far short on rhetoric and actions to keep 80 percent of identified fossil fuels in the ground, which would have exerted critical leverage in expanding renewables, even as the approach would frustrates oil and gas companies. In fact, administration officials even criticized a call to end new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans.

A huge platform battle was fought over climate language. Many keep-it-in-the ground measures are not Democratic priorities: there is no moratorium on fracking, ban on eminent domain for oil and gas companies, or ban on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the platform. While a carbon tax is in the platform, Clinton has backed away from it. Governor Jerry Brown’s speech – surprisingly one few DNC climate talks – comes from a mixed record in the Golden State. A candidate with stronger corporate and Wall Street ties than Obama (Clinton), not known for climate leadership, may well be Obama 2.0.

Carbon emissions are having calamitous effects on our agriculture, homes, and livelihoods. They pose the “Mother of All Risks” to national security as well as being a proximate cause of the Syrian war.

Regardless of one’s politics or identity it must be key priority that we advocate for aggressively, consistently, and effectively.

A LIVING WAGE AS CORPORATIONS TURN BACK A CENTURY OF LABOR AND CONSUMER GAINS

Will half the jobs be outsourced? How many and what hours will people work? Will monopsony of Walmart and Amazon relentlessly drive down prices by exploiting workers and the environment? Are the labor rights of the 20th century – which brought us regular work hours and weekends off –  to be abandoned?  Will we bring back debtors’ prisons, and what can be considered slave labor in for-profit prisons? And simply how will people earn enough for a decent and dignified living? What happens when we experience what Jacob Hacker calls “The Great Risk Shift,” in our professional as well as personal lives?

Certainly, this includes fight for $15, but it’s critical to recognize this wage alone is not sufficient in anti-worker, anti-consumer world. It must include measures to keep money in people’s hands: even as hedge funds drive a new wave of foreclosures, Americans incur massive debt due to our lottery-price-approach to health care, fraudulent billing and corporate practices target anyone without good access to lawyers, identity theft proliferates, and unpredictable pricing and work hours become the norm. Certainly predatory variable pricing schemes – that bar planning for American workers – should be cracked down on, and a cash economy would help. From housing to nutritious food to health care to transportation, we must work to make the costs of basics predictable and affordable. We all deserve healthy and manageable lives.

A quick #DNCLeak side note: This review – and indeed decisions in just last few days to sign the DARK Act and the bombings – may well have not been made had the Democrats chosen a different nominee. Thus it’s important to address the primary. The outcome reflects a highly unjust process, as shown by #DNCLeaks, that merit far more than cursory firing of e-mail drafters and blame for Russia (the neo-McCarthyism has been criticized Greenwald and the Nation, among others). The estimated 184 missing delegates that would have flipped the pledged delegate count (causing many superdelegates to revisit their allegiance, as they said) is on top of massive manipulation of the democratic process.  But the Democrats – not the Russians – engaged in voter suppression; the DNC mails were written by DNC staff, not the KGB; the pervasive media manipulation and bias was the corporate media’s alone; and the DNC “money laundering” and promotion of Clinton were acts of a party many of us thought represented us. The lack of answers is not okay and calls for unity, short accountability, reeks of entitlement that has pervaded the primary. Future rumored Russian manipulation of our elections, should it happen, comes after Democrats willingly exploited a notably faulty election process. Many talking points ring hollow: Clinton supporters, in fact, targeted Sanders’ supporters and social media; the State Department under Secretary of State Clinton okayed control of transfer of 1/5th of our country’s uranium production capacity to a Russian firm; and we’ve been involved in 40-plus changes of governments and many more elections since World War II. The Democratic Party must look inward at itself and our nation to fix broken institutions rather than playing the foreign government blame game, even as it refocuses itself on the global factors above.

“Let Love Rule” sang Lenny Kravitz in a highly memorable moment at the Convention. But love – more than it is a feeling – is action reflecting kindness and commitment to the wellbeing of others. Love involves sacrifice. Love mandates abandoning models that have little to offer humanity in 2016 and beyond. Love calls on us not only to showcase minorities but shape global forces such that they – and all of us – thrive in a world of justice and sustainability. Obama’s symbolic presidency has fallen short, which provided the impetus behind in Sanders’ revelatory candidacy and recent successful social movements.

Will the Democratic Party put Americans first? An old boss of mine used to say, “Make it so.” Philly, to me, demonstrated that, as of now, the Democrats lack the vision and will to surmount the major challenges of our times which, most simply, require choosing people over corporations. But as we all continue, imbued by the spirit that brought us together, we will take action in the name of our values and our power. We will make it – a world serving common good with unbounded potential – so.

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