This week we’ll go in-depth on border security and the Green New Deal, plus 7 other stories that you may have missed, and opportunities for action.
1. Border security
By the time you read this, border security talks could be back on—or not. As of Sunday mid-day, they had stalled, according to the New York Times, for which Trump is blaming the Democrats. Democrats are trying to hold funds for a physical wall to $2 billion, while insisting that ICE’s priorities shift from detaining those with criminal records rather than people who have overstayed their visas.
Meanwhile, parts of the wall already built and in progress have impeded the migration not of people but of wildlife, damaging fragile ecosystems, as is visible from drone footage from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Dangers to people abound as well; the military in Nogales, Arizona strung as many as six separate coils of razor wire along the border fence separating the city from Nogales, Mexico—all without consulting city officials. The City Council passed a resolution demanding that the wire be removed, seeing it as a danger to pets, wildlife and children. As one citizen told The Washington Post:
“You hear on the news that an invasion is coming, but in fact,” he said, “border communities have been invaded by our own government.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is sending another 3,750 troops to support border agents.
Those of you interested in the history and viability of border walls may find the Shorenstein’s Center’s background information valuable.
Finally, Mexico is doubling the minimum wage, halving sales tax, and lowering taxes by a third in a new zona libre along the US-Mexico border to reduce emigration and encourage more US companies to invest in Mexican firms.
2. Suspicious timing on billionaires’ contributions to Republicans
Wealthy donors gave Republicans a total of $31.1 million during the two months during which the tax bill was being considered, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which has mapped historical giving patterns and noted the anomalies in this cycle.
The bill that was ultimately passed cut the corporate tax rate and gave significant benefits to the richest Americans. Middle class filers are already starting to see how their refunds have diminished in the face of shifting priorities.
3. McConnell funded by Russians?
Despite Democratic objections, sanctions against three Russian companies were lifted at the end of January. The companies are connected to Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Putin and one-time business partner with Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman who was convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion.
Now, the Daily Kos reports that Mitch McConnell received campaign contributions from Len Blavatnik, whose companies benefited from sanctions being lifted. A Soviet-born American (and also British citizen), Blavatnik donated some $3.5 million to a PAC which benefited McConnell. The Dallas News reported in 2017 on the Blavatnik donations to McConnell, but the story never gained traction.
A background piece from 2017 in the Dallas Daily News details how US citizens with ties to Russia made significant campaign contributions to Republicans. Later the paper pointed out that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen received significant contributions from A T & T as well as from an investment firm controlled by a Russian oligarch.
4. Green New Details
US House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released their Green New Deal Proposal this week. It’s a Resolution, which means it’s not a new law, but more like a statement of purpose or broad blueprint, which (if adopted) would guide (but not bind) the development of the law.
This item will be longer than usual for us, since the proposal is so sweeping. We’re also publishing this item as a separate post, for ease of sharability. (Scroll down to “INTERNATIONAL NEWS” if you’re not interested.)
Here’s the Congressional summary of the resolution, but it’s worth reading the actual text of the proposal, which is easily readable for non-lawyers (and which will inoculate you from the hot takes from people who clearly didn’t read the proposal, only others’ summaries). It starts by acknowledging the climate crisis described by the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC and Fourth National Climate Assessment—and it’s clear they actually read the IPCC summary for policy makers, which outlines which drastic changes are necessary to prevent literally billions from dying of thirst, forest fires, etc. Those changes “include attention to poverty and sustainable development.”
The GND proposal states that, as a primary polluter, the US has a responsibility to lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation,” and ties climate change to income inequality, declining life expectancy in the US, and racial and gender wealth divides, noting that climate issues disproportionately affect “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth” (or “frontline and vulnerable communities”). It notes that climate change is a national security threat.
It proposes a 10-year national mobilization to build resilience to extreme weather and other climate disasters, to repair and upgrade US infrastructure, and to switch to entirely green energy. There’s a long list of ways to do that which we won’t recap here, but which touch on manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, environmental clean-up, and educational opportunities, in coordination and consultation with “frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” It ends with the promise of “providing all people of the United States with—(i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”
On the issue of how we’ll pay for it: investment website The Motley Fool has an explainer of AOC’s 70% top marginal tax rate idea, in which Americans with more than $10 million/year in income would pay 70% on income above $10 million. Her proposal is separate from the Green New Deal, but obviously related.
Representative Ocasio-Cortez, whose educational background is in economics, understands as few leaders seem to do that our problems of late have been problems of deflation, not inflation. She also knows well that both inequality and the loss of our middle class have both caused and been worsened by these deflationary trends, along with their mirror images in the financial markets: our asset price hyperinflations – ‘bubbles’ – and busts. Her Green New Deal aims to do nothing short of reversing this slow-motion national suicide – and end our ongoing ‘planet-cide’ in the process.—”The Green New Deal: How We Will Pay For It Isn’t ‘A Thing’ – And Inflation Isn’t Either” (Robert Hockett, Forbes, 16 Jan 2019)
Frontline and vulnerable communities stand to get it coming and going, from the problem and from the solutions. And unlike big energy companies pursuing growth, unlike idle billionaires fascinated with new tech, unlike banks and financial institutions seeking out new income streams, unlike incumbent industries fat from decades of subsidies, frontline and vulnerable communities do not have the means to fund campaigns and hire expensive lobbyists. They do not have the means to make their voice heard in the scrum of politics.
That’s why progressives exist: to amplify the voices of those without power (a class that includes future generations).—”There’s now an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.: A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.” (David Roberts, 7 Feb 2019, Vox)
Ocasio-Cortez and her allies have rallied around the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark October report. The authors of the report asserted the planet has only 12 years to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit before catastrophic consequences ensue. . . . “What else is there? If we don’t save the planet what else is there to worry about?” Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman, told INSIDER recently. “We either believe that the scientists are right and we have 12 years to avoid cataclysmic failure of our climate system, or we don’t.”—”Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled a Green New Deal that will force 2020 Democrats to take an aggressive stance on climate change” (Eliza Relman, 7 Feb 2019, Business Insider)
Ocasio-Cortez worked closely with the youth-led environmental organization Sunrise Movement to craft the Green New Deal deal and whip up interest in it. Through a series of sit-ins and other actions, the activist group chased down Democratic politicians to win support for the plan. The tactic seems to have worked: The Guardian reported that 60 House members and 9 senators are co-sponsoring the resolution. That includes presidential hopefuls Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren.—”The Green New Deal is here, and everyone has something to say about it” (Justine Calma, 7 Feb 2019, Grist)
We’re reaching a tipping point on climate action. Reaching net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible is vital and it will require a sustained effort over the next decade and beyond. We look forward to working alongside a diverse group of business, labor, environmental justice, science, agriculture, youth and broadly representative civil society groups and communities to turn this resolution into actionable, bipartisan legislation.—”Green New Deal Resolution Pushes Congress to Act on Climate” (Statement by Ken Kimmell, President, Union of Concerned Scientists, 7 Feb 2019)
The bill lists some of these consequences [of inaction]: $500 billion in lost annual economic output for the US by 2100, mass migration, bigger and more ferocious wildfires, and risk of more than $1 trillion in damage to US infrastructure and coastal property.—”Green New Deal bill aims to move US to 100% renewable energy, net-zero emissions” (Megan Geuss, 7 Feb 2019, Ars Technica)
Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked. We cannot tackle one without addressing the other. A Green New Deal would take on both.—”What Is a Green New Deal?” Sierra Club [Undated – could have been written before the Resolution was released – Google Cache is from 10 Feb 2019]
Think this wild-eyed? Think again. Wind costs have fallen by 67% since 2009 while utility-scale solar has dropped by 86% since that time, according to the financial adviser, Lazard. Prudence has been a virtue. But what green energy skeptics have learned is that the public incentives and the overall economics are adding up — progress that will only go forward, given that prices continue to fall while the quality continues to improve.—”The Green New Deal Just Speeds Up The Current Green Wave. Case In Point: Solar-Plus-Storage” (Ken Silverstein, 10 Feb 2019, Forbes)
And, just for laughs:
Nobody is arguing that landing a man on the moon would not be a stirring national achievement. But since when is inspiration a justification for national policy? Far more sensible would be to attempt to get a man a quarter of the way to the moon in 20 years, with a longer-term project to get a full three-quarters of the way there by the year 2000. In point of fact, the technology to get anyone to the moon and back simply does not exist, and there is no proof it will ever exist. Rocket science is incredibly complex, which is why everything else is now described as “it’s not rocket science.”—”Here’s the case against the Green New Deal, by analogy” (Tom Toles, 8 Feb 2019, The Washington Post)
5. North Macedonia now able to join NATO and the EU
On Friday, Greece became the first nation to ratify the admission of the newly renamed Republic of Northern Macedonia to NATO. By a narrow vote in January, Greek MPs accepted an agreement which would rename Macedonia “The Republic of North Macedonia.” North Macedonia is now able to join NATO and the EU. The issue has been contentious in Greece for 27 years because of an area inside the country also called “Macedonia,” a name deeply embedded in Greek history; the newly renamed country had been known as “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” after the Soviet Union dispersed.
The agreement to change the name came out of a complex political process during which in 2016 a coalition of political parties replaced a right-wing nationalist party in North Macedonia and negotiated the Prespa agreement with Greece (named for a lake between the two countries where the negotiations took place), culminating in Greek support for North Macedonia’s admission to NATO. Enacting Prespa did not come easily; the campaign was targeted by Russian disinformation, as Putin is not pleased to see NATO expand. [NYT]
The stakes for North Macedonians are high: “Unemployment and poverty are in the 20-25% range and foreign investment is essential to improve this number” according to Dave Saldana, who was part of an international team of consultants who helped move the process forward. However, there will be no foreign dollars “without border security, internal stability, and open access to trade markets,” he explains—all now possible. He points out that once Bulgaria and Romania entered NATO, foreign investment increased increased sharply. Indeed, GDP went up 133% and 182% respectively (our calculations based on data provided by the World Bank). If North Macedonia follows this model, “more jobs, higher wages, better living standards” will become possible, along with “minimum standards of education, health care, workplace, environmental standards,” Saldana says—all of which will bring increased security to the region. [Independent, Time]
6. Maduro blocking aid to Venezuela
Millions of dollars in US food and medical supplies have been stopped at the Venezuelan border by president Nicolás Maduro, who said on Friday, “The reality is there is no help. It’s a message of humiliation to the people. If they really wanted to help they should lift all the economic sanctions, the financial persecution, and cancel the economic ban that robs us of billions of dollars.” [WaPo] However, Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself president, says humanitarian aid will be allowed in. Canada, on the other hand, is providing $53 million in aid to neither the existing Venezuelan government nor to Guaidó but to non-governmental organizations and countries trying to support Venezuelans leaving the country. [Globe & Mail] Cold Type has a strong round-up of Venezuela news (pdf).
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
7. Drug companies withholding generics from the market
An analysis published in Kaiser Health News reports that of the 1,600 generic drugs approved by the FDA, more than 700 or 43% are not available for sale in the United States. Generic drugs are a key factor in keeping pharmaceutical costs down as they compete with far more costly brand-name drugs under patent protection. Reasons for the absence in the marketplace include costly litigation from patent holders, industry consolidation, and anti-competitive agreements in which brand-name drug manufacturers simply pay generic manufacturers to keep a drug off the shelves. Studies have shown that to bring the cost of a drug down 33%, five versions of a generic need to be available versus the name brand. Clearly, anti-competitive market manipulation is compounding unscrupulous marketing and shameless price gouging as drivers for pharmaceutical industry profits.
8. ‘Virtual’ Pharmacology set to revolutionize medicine
Partnering teams from the University of California San Francisco and the University of North Carolina have built on advances in atomic-scale molecular imaging and computer simulation of novel chemical compounds called “virtual pharmacology” to build a platform that will be able to test over a billion new chemical compounds. Collaborating with a cutting-edge chemical supplier based in Kiev who offers syntheses of new molecules at a price as low as sixty-five dollars per molecule, the team is now able to rapidly test their new drugs to see if real-world testing matches the simulations. Already as a proof of concept of their method, the team concentrated on two bio-mechanisms, a bacterial enzyme called beta-lactamase involved in antibiotic resistance and the D4 dopamine receptor found in the human brain and implicated in psychosis and addictive behavior. The huge database and simulator combed through millions of potential matches. They found several hundred top candidates likely to perform as needed and had them synthesized and after lab testing found the strongest beta-lactamase inhibitor known to date and one of the most powerful dopamine receptor activators ever discovered. This advance is essentially taking biochemistry from what has been a painstakingly hand-crafted process of a single molecule isolated and studied one at a time to a mass-production paradigm in terms of efficiency.
9. Amazon reportedly reconsidering New York headquarters expansion
The much reported-on and controversial race by municipalities to court Amazon to locate its secondary North American headquarters within their cities ended with a split decision and a consolation prize. Amazon chose to split the headquarters into two locations, one in the Washington DC area and the other in Queens, New York City with Nashville, TN receiving a smaller logistics center. Enormous tax-incentive packages were part of the enticement for all three cities and while Nashville and Washington have experienced some local grumbling over the size of the tax breaks, New York City has broken into near revolt over its success. At heart is the question of why the most valuable company in the country would require tax breaks as well as issues of gentrification, urban planning and Amazon’s anti-union stances. This strong backlash has allegedly caused Amazon executives to reconsider the decision, which is expected to take until 2020 to finalize.
- The Americans of Conscience Checklist always has an excellent set of useful actions.
- Martha has sorted through 300 calls for public comment and offered her best suggestions for getting your views documented. Significant this week: proposed changes to banking regulations which would undermine protections against payday loans and water down stress tests for banks; the San Diego border wall; ACA; tightening eligibility for SNAP (food stamps). You might want to have a word about arctic drilling as well.
- Sarah-Hope wonders whether you have thoughts about exporting semi-automatic weapons, preventing victims (including children) of domestic violence from obtaining asylum, investigating whether Kavanaugh committed perjury, escalating deregulation and more. If so, she has summarized these and many other issues for you, and can suggest to whom you might write. Type in, do not click on “whatifknits.com.”
- Tom Dispatch is always a reliable source; look at the resource list on the right side of his page for more of the same.
- If you’d like to tweet to climate deniers and climate obfuscators, Get The Facts Out is all set up for you to do so.