Despite a minuscule majority, House Democrats have overcome Republican opposition and passed legislation this year reworking voting laws, toughening gun background checks and fulfilling other party goals. Yet in the 50-50 Senate, which Democrats control because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, bipartisan cooperation will be the only pathway to passage for many bills.
The Senate GOP’s superpower: filibusters, bill-killing delays that would force the chamber’s 50 Democrats to win votes from at least 10 Republicans to prevail. That gives Republicans tremendous power over much of Biden’s and Democrats’ agenda, and it’s fueling frustration among progressives who want senators to abolish the filibuster rule.
“Everything we love is at stake,” first-term Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said Thursday, ticking off a list of House-passed bills gathering dust in the Senate. “Not just everything we love, but everything we need.”
It would take all 50 Democratic senators — plus Harris — to abolish or curtail the filibuster, over the certain objection of the chamber’s 50 Republicans.
But moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have opposed eliminating it, and Democrats say others in the party quietly oppose the move as well. Filibuster defenders say the threat of the tactic encourages the two parties to work together.
“The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship,” Manchin wrote in a Washington Post opinion essay this month, a sentiment many Democrats consider naive.
Filibuster supporters also say Democrats would regret eliminating the rule once the GOP, inevitably at some point, returns to majority control. Democrats in past GOP-run Senates have used it to prevent Republicans from curtailing abortion rights and in other fights.
Significantly, Biden has already won the capstone of his first months’ agenda — the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, signed into law in March. In coming months, he stands a strong chance of achieving a second major triumph on his proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which the White House says would create millions of jobs.
“The biggest pieces of Biden’s agenda, that he’s put the most political capital behind, already became law” or have a strong chance of that, said Matt Bennett, a top official with Third Way, a centrist Democratic group.
Democrats passed the virus relief bill over unanimous Republican opposition because they used special budget rules preventing GOP filibusters. They might resort to the same procedure for the infrastructure bill to prevail if, as seems strongly possible, they can’t reach compromise with Republicans.
But use of the procedure circumventing filibusters is strictly limited by Senate rules. Since January alone, that’s stymied Democratic initiatives beloved by the party’s core liberal voters, including bills easing voting restrictions, reviving portions of the Voting Rights Act, tightening gun restrictions and helping women win salaries equal to men’s pay. The bill granting statehood to the District of Columbia also faces no chance in the Senate.
Under pressure after this week’s conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer in the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, senators are trying to negotiate a compromise for overhauling police procedures. A House-passed bill would ban chokeholds, improve police training and end immunity of many police officers from lawsuits.
The roadblocks have prompted progressives like Bush to continue pressing Democratic senators to eliminate the filibuster. Some top Democrats have repeatedly dangled the threat of doing just that. Liberals hope pressure on Senate Democrats to end the rule will build as House-passed bills stack up in the chamber.
“This chamber can work in a bipartisan fashion to get things done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday after it passed the bill taking modest steps to ease violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “That doesn’t mean we forgo our principles. That doesn’t mean we cut back on the boldness that is needed. But it means we try to work with our Republican colleagues whenever we can.”
At a news conference last month, Biden advocated a return to an earlier filibuster version that forced objecting senators to speak on the Senate floor until one side or the other surrendered. He added that if a “complete lockdown” occurred, “we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday that “Mitch McConnell is still the problem.” She was referring to Democrats’ nemesis, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, who exactly two years ago happily described himself as the “Grim Reaper” killing progressive bills in his chamber.
McConnell, however, isn’t to blame for all their Senate woes. Democrats currently lack 50 Senate votes for expanded gun background checks, raising the minimum wage and some other priorities, so eliminating the filibuster wouldn’t be enough.
Republicans are already playing offense on the filibuster fight. McConnell warned on the Senate floor Thursday that Democrats want to eliminate the procedure to push though legislation imposing new federal voting rules, adding more Supreme Court justices and creating a new Democratic-controlled state.
“Rewriting the rules of American politics to exclusively benefit one side,” McConnell said.
Looking ahead to 2022 elections when Republicans hope to win congressional control, the GOP House and Senate campaign committees are savoring using the issue.
“It’s going to become a standard question” for Democrats, said Chris Hartline, spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “They’ll have to say that they support getting rid of the filibuster, or they will face the ire of their liberal base” if they don’t.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that the United States will cut emissions by 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 as part of its commitment to the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Biden’s announcement came during the administration’s virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, which aimed to push climate action around the world.
A key goal of the Summit was “to keep a limit to warming of 1.5 degree Celsius within reach.” A 2018 special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that global greenhouse gas emissions need to drop by 50 percent by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But Biden’s emissions pledge will not do enough to reach this goal, according to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a scientific organization that measures governmental climate action.
The group found that Biden’s new target is “considerably stronger” than the United States’ previous Paris Agreement goal under President Barack Obama, which entailed cutting emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. However, the analysis concluded that Biden’s plan still falls 5 to 10 percent short of what’s needed to keep warming within 1.5 degrees by 2030.
But even if the U.S. reduced its emissions target by that additional amount, experts say the country still wouldn’t be contributing its fair share to the global effort to combat the climate crisis. Considering the country’s past impacts on the planet, and the resources it has available to help developing nations address climate change in other parts of the world, critics say the U.S. is duty bound to adopt a far more ambitious and far-reaching climate action plan.
Biden’s pledge “doesn’t go far enough, and we expect much more, especially because the Biden administration is viewed as being sympathetic to environmental and climate justice,” said Meena Raman, a Malaysia-based legal adviser and senior researcher at the Third World Network (TWN), a nonprofit international research and advocacy organization involved in development issues and North-South affairs.
“The U.S. has been a laggard in so far as climate action is concerned,” Raman added, pointing to the country’s failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and its history of opposition to climate action during UN climate change negotiations.
The Biggest Polluter In History
The idea that global emissions need to fall by 50 percent by 2030 “is a global average target,” said Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist from Eswatini, the Southern African country formerly known as Swaziland. Hickel serves on the Statistical Advisory Panel for the U.N. Human Development Report 2020, the advisory board of the Green New Deal for Europe, and on the Harvard-Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice.
To meet that target, Hickel told The Daily Poster that the United States and other high-income nations “have a responsibility under the terms of the Paris Agreement to cut emissions much faster than [Biden’s pledge], given their overwhelming contributions to historical emissions.”
The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the first major international climate change treaty, acknowledged that countries should address the crisis “in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions.” The Paris Agreement is a treaty within UNFCCC.
This meant developed countries should bear more responsibility in global sustainability efforts, based on the outsized impact their societies have on the environment and the technologies and financial resources they command.
Therefore, said Hickel, Biden’s announcement “might sound ambitious,” but it is “totally inadequate and flies in the face of climate justice.”
A 2020 paper by Hickel explored the concept of “carbon budget,” the idea that the atmosphere is part of the global commons and all countries should only emit their fair share of carbon dioxide. According to the paper, the United States has already overshot its share of the carbon budget by 40 percent. Overall, the Global North has overshot its carbon budget by 92 percent, with the European Union being responsible for 29 percent of that total.
Biden’s new emissions pledge means that “the U.S. will continue to colonize the atmospheric commons, gobbling up the fair shares of poorer nations, causing enormous destruction in the process,” said Hickel. “Why should anyone in the Global South accept this? It is morally and politically untenable.”
Hickel noted that the United States should instead “commit to reach zero emissions by 2030, and to pay reparations for climate damage to countries in the Global South.” Such effort would include helping to facilitate emission reduction efforts in poorer nations that have yet to consume their fair share of the global carbon budget.
The U.S. Climate Fair Share Project, an effort backed by 175-plus climate organizations, also believes the United States should do more to combat climate breakdown in developing countries. The project has concluded that in order to cover its fair share of climate impacts, the U.S. would have to cut its emissions by 195 percent — meaning the country would have to be responsible for negative emissions.
To achieve this goal, the U.S. Climate Fair Share Project says the United States would need to cut emissions by 70 percent, then meet the remaining 125-percent reduction by financing international climate efforts and providing technological support to developing countries.
“The U.S., like wealthy countries in general, has a fair share [of emissions reductions] that is too large to be achieved domestically,” noted the project. ”Wealthy countries can do their fair shares by supporting developing countries as they seek levels of ambition greater than they could achieve on their own, levels that are actually commensurate with the 1.5°C temperature goal.”
The 2018 IPCC Special Report elaborated on how temperature rise has already caused “profound alterations” to human and natural systems, leading to extreme weather, droughts, floods, sea level rise, and biodiversity loss, causing unprecedented risks to vulnerable populations. Referring to developing countries, the report noted “the most affected people live in low and middle income countries, some of which have already experienced a decline in food security, linked in turn to rising migration and poverty.”
References in Biden’s emissions reduction plan to relying on net-zero emissions and private-sector involvement are also raising concerns.
A White House press release on the plan said “America’s 2030 target picks up the pace of emissions reductions in the United States, compared to historical levels, while supporting President Biden’s existing goals to create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050. There are multiple paths to reach these goals, and the U.S. federal, state, local, and tribal governments have many tools available to work with civil society and the private sector to mobilize investment to meet these goals while supporting a strong economy.”
Net-zero goals have been heavily criticized for distracting from an urgent need to drastically cut down emissions on the assumption that future technologies can sequester the carbon that is emitted today.
As for private-sector participation, Harjeet Singh, global climate lead at the international non-governmental organization ActionAid, pointed out that there is “a worrying focus on the private sector to deliver.”
“How can we have confidence in companies driven by profit margins when we’re not seeing real zero targets from businesses, especially from the polluting industries most responsible for the climate crisis?” Singh asked.
For example, many private U.S. fossil fuel companies have announced dubious net-zero targets while failing to commit to reducing oil and gas output and opposing policies that would help reduce emissions. Between 2000 and 2016, the fossil fuel industry spent over $2 billion in lobbying efforts to kill climate action.
“Fossil fuel groups like the American Petroleum Institute have lobbied U.S. governments under presidents from both parties,” said Raman at the Third World Network. “So Biden has inherited a huge problem, but his [emissions cut] announcement doesn’t do enough.”
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Dan White is the former San Francisco supervisor who killed Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone. The note, posted on Twitter on Saturday, April 24, on club letterhead, was addressed to Carlson with the subject line, “RE: Your membership in the Dan White Society, and exaltation of the murder of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California and our club’s name sake.”
“It is both heinous and unsurprising that Tucker Carlson found a common cause with Dan White,” Edward Wright, the club’s co-president, wrote to The Chronicle via email. “Carlson has made a career out of trafficking in the same privileged and reactionary sense of victimhood that led White to (the) murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone.”
The group was founded in 1976 as the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club and was the city’s first Democratic club with the word “gay” in its name. The club is among the larger political groups in San Francisco and was renamed for Milk after his assassination.
“From championing the white nationalist ‘replacement theory,’ dehumanizing trans people, exalting police brutality, and vilifying social and cultural diversity, Carlson’s rhetoric and White’s violence are fruits of the same poisonous tree,” Wright wrote. “Their culture war has a body count.”
On the Tuesday, April 20, episode of Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the host spoke out against Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple for allegedly contacting Carlson’s college acquaintances and looking into his background. Carlson said that Wemple had pulled his college yearbook and called his classmates to “see if we’d done anything naughty at the age of 19.”
The next day, Wemple published a piece that was critical of Carlson’s on-air statements after the guilty verdicts of former police Officer Derek Chauvin in his trial for the killing of George Floyd.
A viral clip from the Tuesday episode showed Carlson laughing at guest Ed Gavin, a former corrections officer from New York City, after Gavin called Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd “excessive.”
Aker’s tweet also referenced Wemple, saying: “Perhaps this is the story that @TuckerCarlson was trying to get ahead of. In his college yearbook, he listed himself as a member of the ‘Dan White Society.’ Dan White was the man who murdered Harvey Milk.”
Although it is not known for certain if the Dan White referenced in Carlson’s yearbook is the former San Francisco supervisor and police officer who assassinated Milk and Moscone in 1978, many Twitter users agreed with Akers’ assessment and criticized the television host. Among those weighing in were comedian Billy Eichner, former Navy Secretary Mabus and Republican group the Lincoln Project.
“Dan White was an assassin who murdered the mayor of San Francisco and a San Francisco city supervisor in cold blood,” LGBTQ activist Cleve Jones, who was a friend and community organizer with Milk, told The Chronicle.
He said of Carlson: “I just can’t wrap my mind around the depth of his depravity.”
Carlson went on to say that he “went back with someone I knew and grabbed the guy by the — you know — and grabbed him and hit him against the stall with his head, actually. And then the cops came and arrested him.” In 2019, Media Matters for America compiled audio of Carlson’s appearances on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” radio show between 2006 and 2011, where he used racist, sexist and homophobic language, including the word “fag.”
Carlson has been the subject of at least three major boycotts since 2018 over comments he has made that have been characterized as racist, sexist and anti-immigrant. In 2020, after the host called Black Lives Matter demonstrators “criminal mobs,” advertisers including the Walt Disney Co. and Sandals pulled commercials from Carlson’s show.
Fox News has not responded to The Chronicle’s requests for comment.
Tony BravoTony Bravo is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @TonyBravoSF
By Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin | April 26, 2021 (tikkun.org)
By Σ, retouched by Wugapodes – File:Noam_Chomsky_portrait_2017.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85616571
[Editor’s note: The environmental crisis is the most important challenge facing all of humanity. We at Tikkun congratulate President Biden for breaking the tradition of many moderate Democrats in office who have only proposed mild changes that do not even begin to address the systematic global disaster humanity faces. Yet Biden’s strikingly powerful steps, likely to be challenged not only by Republicans but also by “moderate” Democrats in the Congress, are a good first stepbut not yet visionary enough. So that is why we also congratulate U.S. Senator Markey and his allies in the Senate and House of Representatives who have introduced the Green New Deal which comes closer to taking the steps needed. The interview below helps us understand why that is so important. We also invite you, after reading the important points made by Chomsky and Pollin below, to take the time to read the ESRA Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which takes the steps needed to overcome the vetoes any serious environmental action is likely to face from the right-wing dominated Supreme Court—read it at www.tikkun.org/esra. – Rabbi Michael Lerner firstname.lastname@example.org]
On the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin were interviewed for publication in Truthout by C.J. Polychroniou (interview questions in bold).
The theme of Earth Day 2021, which first took place in 1970 with the emergence of environmental consciousness in the U.S. during the late 1960s, is “Restore Our Earth.” Noam, how would you assess the rate of progress to save the environment since the first Earth Day?
Noam Chomsky: There is some progress, but by no means enough, almost anywhere. Evidence unfortunately abounds. The drift toward disaster proceeds on its inexorable course, more rapidly than rise in general awareness of the severity of the crisis.
To pick an example of the drift toward disaster almost at random from the scientific literature, a study that appeared a few days ago reports that, “Marine life is fleeing the equator to cooler waters — this could trigger a mass extinction event,” an eventuality with potentially horrendous consequences.
It’s all too easy to document the lack of awareness. One striking illustration, too little noticed, is the dog that didn’t bark. There is no end to the denunciations of Trump’s misdeeds, but virtual silence about the worst crime in human history: his dedicated race to the abyss of environmental catastrophe, with his party in tow.
They couldn’t refrain from administering a last blow just before being driven from office (barely, and perhaps not for long). The final act in August 2020 was to roll back the last of the far-too-limited Obama-era regulations to have escaped the wrecking ball, “effectively freeing oil and gas companies from the need to detect and repair methane leaks — even as new research shows that far more of the potent greenhouse gas is seeping into the atmosphere than previously known … a gift to many beleaguered oil and gas companies.” It is imperative to serve the prime constituency, great wealth and corporate power, damn the consequences.Tikkun needs your support to bring the kind of analyses and information we provide. Click Here to make a tax-deductible contribution.
Indications are that with the rise of oil prices, fracking is reviving, adhering to Trump’s deregulation so as to improve profit margins, while again placing a foot on the accelerator to drive humanity over the cliff. An instructive contribution to impending crisis, minor in context.
Even though we know what must and can be done, the gap between willingness to undertake the task and severity of the crisis ahead is large, and there is not much time to remedy this deep malady of contemporary intellectual and moral culture.
Like the other urgent problems we face today, heating the planet knows no boundaries. The phrase “internationalism or extinction” is not hyperbole. There have been international initiatives, notably the 2015 Paris agreement and its successors. The announced goals have not been met. They are also insufficient and toothless. The goal in Paris was to reach a treaty. That was impossible for the usual reason: the Republican Party. It would never agree to a treaty, even if it had not become a party of rigid deniers.
Accordingly, there was only a voluntary agreement. So it has remained. Worse still, in pursuit of his goal of wrecking everything in reach, the hallmark of his administration, Trump withdrew from the agreement. Without U.S. participation, in fact leadership, nothing is going to happen. President Joe Biden has rejoined. What that means will depend on popular efforts.
I said “had not become” for a reason. The Republican Party was not always dedicated rigidly to destruction of organized human life on Earth; apologies for telling the truth, and not mincing words. In 2008, John McCain ran for president on a ticket that included some concern for destruction of the environment, and congressional Republicans were considering similar ideas. The huge Koch brothers energy consortium had been laboring for years to prevent any such heresy, and moved quickly to cut it off at the past. Under the leadership of the late David Koch, they launched a juggernaut to keep the party on course. It quickly succumbed, and since then has tolerated only rare deviation.
The capitulation, of course, has a major effect on legislative options, but also on the voting base, amplified by the media echo-chamber to which most limit themselves. “Climate change” — the euphemism for destruction of organized human life on Earth — ranks low in concern among Republicans, frighteningly low in fact. In the most recent Pew poll, just days ago, respondents were asked to rank 15 major problems. Among Republicans, climate change was ranked last, alongside of sexism, far below the front-runners, the federal deficit and illegal immigration. Fourteen percent of Republicans think that the most severe threat in human history is a major problem (though concerns seem to be somewhat higher among younger ones, an encouraging sign). This must change.
Turning elsewhere, the picture varies but is not very bright anywhere. China is a mixed story. Though far below the U.S., Australia and Canada in per capita emissions — the relevant figure — it nevertheless is poisoning the planet at much too high a level and is still building coal plants. China is far ahead of the rest of the world in renewable energy, both in scale and quality, and has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2060 — difficult to imagine at the present pace, but China has had a good record in reaching announced goals. In Canada, the parties have just released their current plans: some commitment but nowhere near enough. That’s aside from the terrible record of Canadian mining companies throughout the world. Europe is a mixed story.
The Global South cannot deal with the crisis on its own. To provide substantial assistance is an obligation for the rich, not simply out of concern for their own survival but also a moral obligation, considering an ugly history that we need not review.
Can the wealthy and privileged rise to that moral level? Can they even rise to the level of concern for self-preservation if it means some minor sacrifice now? The fate of human society — and much of the rest of life on Earth — depends on the answer to that question. An answer that will come soon, or not at all.
Bob, in hosting the Earth Day 2021 summit, Biden hopes to persuade the largest emitters to step up their pledges to combat the climate crisis. However, the truth of the matter is that most countries are not hitting the Paris climate targets and the decline in emissions in 2020 was mostly driven by the COVID-19 lockdowns and the ensuing economic recession. So, how do we move from rhetoric to accelerated action, and, in your own view, what are the priority actions that the Biden administration should focus on in order to initiate a clean energy revolution?
Robert Pollin: In terms of moving from rhetoric to accelerated action, it will be useful to be clear about what was accomplished with the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Noam described the Paris agreement and its successors as “insufficient and toothless.” Just how insufficient and toothless becomes evident in considering the energy consumption and CO2 emissions projections generated by the International Energy Agency (IEA), whose global energy and emissions model is the most detailed and widely cited work of its kind. In the most recent 2020 edition of its World Energy Outlook, the IEA estimates that, if all signatory countries to the Paris agreement fulfilled all of their “Nationally Determined Contributions” set out at Paris, global CO2 emissions will not fall at all as of 2040.
It’s true that, according to the IEA’s model, emissions level will not increase any further from now until 2040. But this should be cold comfort, given that, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), CO2 emissions need to fall by 45 percent as of 2030 and hit net-zero emissions by 2050 in order for there to be at least a decent chance of stabilizing the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In other words, soaring rhetoric and photo opportunities aside, the Paris agreement accomplishes next to nothing if we are serious about hitting the IPCC emissions reduction targets.
The “American Jobs Plan” that the Biden administration introduced at the end of March does give serious attention to many of the main areas in which immediate dramatic action needs to occur. It sets out a range of measures to move the U.S. economy onto a climate stabilization path, including large-scale investments in energy efficiency measures, such as retrofitting buildings and expanding public transportation, along with investments to dramatically expand the supply of clean energy sources to supplant our current fossil fuel-dominant energy system. Burning oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy is now responsible for about 70 percent of all CO2 emissions globally.
The Biden proposal also emphasizes the opportunity to create good job opportunities and expand union organizing through these investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. It also recognizes the need for just transition for workers and communities that are now dependent on the fossil fuel industry. These are important positive steps. They resulted because of years of dedicated and effective organizing by many labor and environmental groups, such as the Green New Deal Network and the Labor Network for Sustainability.
I also have serious concerns about the Biden proposal. The first is that the scale of spending is too small. This is despite the constant barrage of press stories claiming that the spending levels are astronomical. During the presidential campaign, Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal was budgeted at $2 trillion over four years, i.e., $500 billion per year. His current proposal is at $2.3 trillion over eight years, i.e., somewhat less than $300 billion per year. So, on a year-by-year basis, Biden’s current proposal is already 40 percent less than what he had proposed as a candidate.
This overall program also includes lots of investment areas other than those dealing with the climate crisis, such as traditional infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and water systems; expanding broadband access; and supporting the care economy, including child and elder care. Many of these other measures are highly worthy. But we need to recognize that they will not contribute to driving down emissions. I would say a generous assessment of the Biden plan is that 30 percent of the spending will contribute to driving down emissions. We now are at a total annual budget of perhaps $100 billion. That is equal to 0.5 percent of current U.S. GDP.
It is conceivable that this level of federal spending could be in the range of barely adequate. But that would be only if state and local governments, and even more so, private investors — including small-scale cooperatives and community-owned enterprises — commit major resources to clean energy investments. By my own estimates, the U.S. will need to spend in the range of $600 billion per year in total through 2050 to create a zero-emissions economy. That will be equal to nearly 3 percent of U.S. GDP per year.
But the private sector will not come up with the additional $400-$500 billion per year unless they are forced to do so. That will entail, for example, stringent regulations requiring the phase out of fossil fuels as energy sources. As one case in point, utilities could be required to reduce their consumption of coal, natural gas and oil by, say, 5 percent per year. Their CEOs would then be [held responsible] if they fail to meet that requirement.
At the same time, the Federal Reserve can easily leverage federal spending programs by establishing Green Bond purchasing programs at scale, such as in the range of $300 billion per year to finance clean energy investments by both state and local governments as well as private investors. Right now, a significant number of Green Bond programs do already exist at state and local government levels, including through Green Banks. These are all worthy, but are operating at too small a scale relative to the need.
Beyond all this, those of us living in high-income countries need to commit to paying for most of the clean energy transformations in low-income countries. This needs to be recognized as a minimal ethical requirement, since high-income countries are almost entirely responsible for having created the climate crisis in the first place. In addition, even if we don’t care about such ethical matters, it is simply a fact that, unless the low-income countries also undergo clean energy transformations, there will be no way to achieve a zero-emissions global economy, and therefore no solution to the climate crisis, in the U.S., Europe or anyplace else. The Biden proposal to date includes nothing about supporting climate programs in developing economies. This must change.
Noam, when surveying reactions to whatever environmental gains have been made over the past 50 years, one observes a rather unsurprising pattern, which is, namely, that the right assigns virtually all credit to businessmen and to capitalism, while the left to environmental activists, and contends that the only hope for a greener tomorrow mandates the rejection of capitalist logic. Is capitalism saving or killing the planet?
Chomsky: It’s close to a truism that, “capitalist logic will kill the planet.” That’s one of the many reasons why business has always rejected the suicidal doctrines that are piously preached. Rather, the business world demands that a powerful state, under its control, intervene constantly to protect private power from the ravages of an unconstrained market and to sustain the system of public subsidy, private profit that has been a cornerstone of the economy from the early days of industrial state capitalism….
The only way to answer the question posed is to look at examples. Let’s pick a central one: a Green New Deal. In one or another form, such a program is essential for survival. A few years ago the idea was ignored or ridiculed. Now it is at least on the legislative agenda. How did the transition occur? Overwhelmingly, thanks to wide-ranging activism taking many forms, culminating in the occupation of congressional offices by activists of Sunrise Movement. They received support from representatives swept into office on the Sanders wave of popular activism, notably Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, joined by senior Sen. Ed Markey, who had long been concerned with environmental issues.
There’s a long way to go from legislative agenda to implementation, but we can be confident that steady and dedicated activism will be a prime factor in carrying the project forward; to be concrete, in pressing Biden’s program, itself a product of sustained activism, toward the kinds of policies that are necessary to reach such goals as net-zero emissions by mid-century. The example breaks no new ground. It is, in fact, the norm.
The protestations of the right are, however, not without merit. Given the right structure of benefits and threats, private capital, driven by profit and market share, can be enlisted in pursuing the goal of species survival. That covers contingencies ranging from incentives to invest in solar power to imposing what the private sector calls “reputational risks,” the polite term for the fear that the peasants are coming with the pitchforks.
There is an impact. We see it in the current rage for ESG investment (environmental and social factors in corporate government) — all, of course, in service of the bottom line. We also see it in the solemn pledges of corporate executives and business groups to reverse their self-serving course of recent years and to become responsible citizens dedicated to the common good — to become what used to be called “soulful corporations” in an earlier phase of this recurrent performance — which may, on occasion, have an element of sincerity, though always subject to institutional constraints.
Such impacts of popular activism should not be dismissed — while always regarded with due caution. They may induce the search for private gain to veer in a constructive direction — though far too slowly, and only in limited ways. Like it or not, there is no alternative now to large-scale governmental projects. The reference to the New Deal is not out of place.
Whatever the source, the outcome should be welcomed. It’s of no slight importance when “More than 300 corporate leaders are asking the Biden administration to nearly double the emission reduction targets set by the Obama administration,” including big boys like Google, McDonalds, Walmart.
The choice is not popular activism or managerial decisions, but both. However, a little reflection on time scales, and on the urgency of the crisis, suffices to show that the critical problems must be addressed within the general framework of existing state capitalist institutions. These can and should be radically changed. At the very least, serious moves should be made to escape the grip of predatory financial capital and the rentier economy that impedes the right mixture of growth/de-growth: growth in what is needed, like renewable energy, efficient mass transportation, education, health, research and development, and much more; de-growth where imperative, as in fossil fuel production. But overall, substantial social change, however important for decent survival, is a long-term project.
Bob, certain studies seem to indicate that the climate crisis won’t be stopped even if we reduced greenhouse gas emissions to zero. I am compelled therefore to ask you this: Is the climate crisis a race we can actually win?
Pollin: I am not a climate scientist, so I am not qualified to answer the question at the first, most critical level of climate science itself. But I can at least comment on some related points.
First, we do know what the IPCC has said about what is needed to have a reasonable chance at climate stabilization — that is, first of all, to cut global CO2 emissions by 45 percent as of 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to stabilize the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. How are we doing in terms of meeting those goals? The only fair assessment is that, to date, the record is dismal.
I would add here one additional set of observations beyond what we have already described. That is, climate scientists have known about the phenomenon of global warming since the late 19th century. But, as a steady pattern, the average global temperature only began rising above the pre-industrial level in the late 1970s. By the mid-1990s, the average temperature was 0.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. As of 2020, we are nearly at 1 degree above the pre-industrial level. If we follow the pattern of the past 20 years, we will therefore breach the 1.5 degrees threshold by roughly 2040.Tikkun needs your support to bring the kind of analyses and information we provide. Click Here to make a tax-deductible contribution.
What happens if we do breach the 1.5 degrees threshold? I claim no expertise on this, and I think it is fair to say that nobody knows for certain. But we do at least know that the patterns we are already seeing at our current level of warming will only intensify. Thus, the World Meteorological Organizations’ provisional 2020 report, “State of the Global Climate” finds that,
“Heavy rain and extensive flooding occurred over large parts of Africa and Asia in 2020. Heavy rain and flooding affected much of the Sahel, the Greater Horn of Africa, the India subcontinent and neighboring areas, China, Korea and Japan, and parts of southeast Asia at various times of the year. Severe drought affected many parts of interior South America in 2020, with the worst-affected areas being northern Argentina, Paraguay and western border areas of Brazil…. Climate and weather events have triggered significant population movements and have severely affected vulnerable people on the move, including in the Pacific region and Central America.”
We also know that poor people and poor countries have already borne the greatest costs of the climate crisis, and that this pattern will continue as global average temperatures increase. As the economist James Boyce has written, poor people “are less able to invest in air conditioners, sea walls and other adaptations. They live closer to the edge … and the places that climate models show will be hit hardest by global warming — including drought-prone regions of sub-Saharan Africa and typhoon-vulnerable South and South East Asia — are home to some of the world’s poorest people.”
It therefore seems clear that we are obligated to act now on the premise that the climate crisis is a race that we can still win, even if we don’t know for certain whether that is true. But in addition, it is important to also recognize that advancing a global Green New Deal is fundamentally a no-lose proposition, as long as it includes generous transition support for fossil fuel-dependent workers and communities. This is because, first, the global clean energy transformation will be a major source of job creation in all regions of the world as well as creating a viable path to building a zero-emissions global economy. It will also significantly improve public health by reducing air pollution, lower energy costs across the board, and create opportunities to deliver electricity to rural areas of low-income countries for the first time.
All of these impacts will also help break the grip that neoliberalism has maintained over the global economy over the past 40 years. If we do end up building a viable clean energy system through a global Green New Deal, we will therefore also succeed in advancing democracy and egalitarianism.
World-renowned scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, is the institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, laureate professor of linguistics, and also the Agnese Nelms Haury chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. A leading progressive economist, Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics, is co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission. This interview has been lightly edited.
We’ve received another action report from our friends of the Anarcha-Feminist Group Amsterdam. This time they squatted a building to raise awareness and directly challenge the colonial and racist past and present of Netherlands. In response the riot police not only brutally evicted them but attempted to murder one of them. We present bellow their own account of the events followed by the original statement they released after occupying the building.
Solidarity with the Anarcha-Feminist Group Amsterdam! Death to the racist colonialist capitalist patriarchal state and the enforcers of its violence!ACAB all around the world!
What happened at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 136
This is going to be personal, this is going to be emotional.
We are people with feelings, with political convictions, with longing for freedom. Our struggle and our wounds are written and felt in our bodies. We are angry and we are sad, we are tired and we are determined. Evictions are public spectacles, collective traumas. Certain people are to blame. So we will name them and we will shame them.
Why we squatted Oudezijds Voorburgwal 136:
There are many reasons to squat. The line between personal reasons and political is – as always – blurred. We not only squat because of a need for affordable housing with an imagination of what this space could be, but also with anger towards the racism, colonialism and capitalism this building represents. Watch the video to see our political statement.
On the illegal eviction:
We don’t believe in justice under this racist, patriarchal, capitalist system. We don’t recognise its laws, courts or authority. Nobody needs more than the house they live in. All property is theft and everyone that needs a home should take it from those that have multiple houses- especially when they are not using them. Still, it seems worth mentioning that this was an illegal eviction. We are not surprised when those in power break their own laws; we quickly learned to expect it. We had been in the building already for 5 days and had made it our home, we provided the cops with evidence (see here: ). Initially, when the cops showed up (pretty soon after we dropped some banners), they said they would respect our house peace (“huisvrede”) and told us everything looked okay when we handed them the evidence. Only to come back a few hours later to inform us that the riot cops were on their way to evict us. We were told by the head of police that it was Femke Halsma the mayor of Amsterdam who called for the eviction, there is a clear conflict of interest there, as it is the Municipality that owns the building.
It took 12 riot vans and about 100 cops to evict the 3 people inside from our home and political space. Comrades and sympathetic bystanders got beaten by cops while rich neighbours sipped away at their chardonnay enjoying “the spectacle”, like our lives are some kind of entertainment. One of our comrades got snatched, beaten and abducted by plain-clothed cops (video on Twitter).
On the attempted murder of our comrade by the riot cops, their racism and the snitch ass neighbour from next door:
Some might have seen a picture or a video of one of our comrades hanging from a window on the 7th story of the building. Some bystanders might have watched it from across the street, we know you were watching too, Janny Alberts. If our comrade would have died, their death would have been on your hands too. Before going out of the window, while the riot cops were smashing our front door, the comrades inside were upstairs. When looking out of the window, the neighbour next door encouraged us to come to his house. We asked if we could come to his balcony and he replied by saying “Yes, of course” . Essentially, he told us he would provide us safety and help us escape. It was this that encouraged our comrade to climb out of the window. When we realised they were not going to be able to make the climb, we tried pulling them back up. It was at this moment that the riot cops grabbed us, the people who were holding our hanging comrade, and pulled us away, even though we stated multiple times that if we would let go, our comrade would fall and possibly die. It was luck, not care on the cops’ behalf, that caused our comrade to survive. Luckily, they landed on a little latch on the side of the building. If our comrade wouldn’t have landed there, or if they would have slipped and lost balance while falling down, they would have died. The cops tried to kill them. After the attempted murder of our comrade, they called us “tyfus wijven” twisted our wrists and pushed us down the stairs. The first thing the neighbour told our comrade, who was still standing on the little latch, was that they were under arrest. The arrest took place on the roof and was executed through the neighbour’s house. Later we would realize that he had already let the cops inside before he encouraged us to climb out – or maybe he was an undercover.
After being dragged away from our comrade, who was still in a dangerous situation on the rooftop, a male riot cop searched our black femme comrade, both inside the building and outside by the riot van. Even though she protested that she should be patted down by a female cop, they did not listen. Various cops inquired about 5 times whether our black comrade ‘had any sharp objects on her’. This question was not once asked about our two white comrades. Furthermore, an innocent black passerby got snatched and beaten by the cops without provocation.
By no means are we trying to say that this situation is exceptional. Cops are class traitors and racists. They are and have been murdering and harassing POC on our streets, in their houses and in prisons, whenever they can, whenever they feel like.
NV ZEEDIJK’s Green Light District is a state-sanctioned gentrification project paid for by tax payer’s money:
NV Zeedijk is a company largely owned by the municipality (78%), they bought the building on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 136 with taxpayers money. Janny Alberts is the Director of NV Zeedijk. The municipality has been buying up places like this one from whom they see as “criminals”- (in our eyes all landlords are parasites, whether they are criminals or not, because all wealth is made through the exploitation of working-class people) to make the red light district “nicer”. In reality, NV Zeedijk’s “greenlight district campaign” is gentrification mixed with a good dose of greenwashing. They are pushing out the poor and the situation for sex workers, who are already in a precarious situation, is worsening. With the many windows closing, rent prices for the ones that left have gone up. Because of this, sex workers are forced to accept worse contracts. The municipality’s campaign of “cleaning up” the red light district is a campaign of social cleansing. Removing people they don’t like out of their sight.
Oudezijds Voorburgwal 136 used to be social housing. The families that lived there were forced to leave after the person, in whose name the original social rental contract was made, died. Though NV Zeedijk is still waiting for planning permission on permits and there are no clear plans with the building yet, it looks like they will build luxury apartments in a place that used to be social rent. The building was empty for 3 years when we squatted it, except for some property guardians (anti-kraak- property guardians are not tenants, they are guardians that live under precarious conditions and have signed away their tenant rights).
NV Zeedijk represents everything we resent. They use the language of being socially woke to cover up their social cleansing campaign. They evicted 3-4 families so that a supposedly environmentally friendly company can sell their over-priced soap bars. They left the top floors (the ones we were occupying) empty for three years. And they proudly display the slavery and colonialism The Netherlands participates in on their building.
Here’s their original statement for the occupation of the building:
We, the Anarcha-Feminist Group Amsterdam, have squatted this building. Built in the 18th century, its front unashamedly displays a flashy engravement of Dutch colonizer Cornelis Tromp. This engravement depicts Tromp next to a young Black man who he kidnapped and enslaved. Tromp and his family gainded their riches through murder and exploitation of non-white people during colonial times, yet he continues to be honoured and depicted as a national hero.
Tromp is only one example of the terrors of colonialism. It is clear that the Dutch state and society continue to avoid confronting their violent colonial past. The effects of its exploitation have not disappeared with the supposed end of colonialism, rather racism has been institutionalized (de toeslagenaffaire being a recent example amongst many) and colonialism has been dislocated to prisons and the global south.
While the government is actively protecting these racist and colonial statues and symbols, honouring warlords and murders like J.P. Coen, Tromp and Michiel de Ruyter, POC fighting against racism and colonialism are actively being prosecuted by the state. Marisella de Cuba, a woman working on anti-racist and women’s struggles, was doxxed by facists on twitter and later fired from her job at CED. We stand in solidarity with Marisella and all other anti-racist activists fighting against colonialism.
In Amsterdam traces of colonialism are everywhere, from the racism ingrained in white people’s minds to recently renovated statues that glorify racist and colonisers. It is time to decolonise white minds and our city. Colonialism and capitalism cannot be separated. Colonialism provided the logic of exploitation, theft and cruelty that capitalism depends on.
Decolonize Amsterdam now!
This building used to be social housing, however three years ago the family that was living there got kicked out. As of the last 3 years, it has been empty except for the part that has been used by a gentrifying, pretending to be woke, soap bar. The plans that have been proposed but have not been approved yet consist of building even more expensive apartments. Meanwhile, student accommodation and social housing is still vastly unavailable for those who need it. We don’t need more houses for the rich, we need affordable housing for all.
LGBTQ+, immigrant rights, harm reduction, and criminal justice reform groups, led by people who trade sex, launched a 20+ organization coalition, Decrim NY, to decriminalize and decarcerate the sex trades in New York City and state. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York announced Wednesday what it called a “paradigm shift” by saying it will no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage.
“Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. “For years, rather than seeking criminal convictions, my office has reformed its practice to offer services to individuals arrested for prostitution. Now, we will decline to prosecute these arrests outright, providing services and supports solely on a voluntary basis.”
At a virtual court appearance, Vance said his office was dismissing 914 prostitution and “unlicensed massage” cases to reflect the new policy.
His office is also dismissing over 5,000 “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” cases. State lawmakers in February repealed the law that criminalized such loitering. Dubbed the “walking while trans” law, its critics say (pdf) the law was used to targt BIPOC and transgender communities.
“By vacating warrants, dismissing cases, and erasing convictions for these charges, we are completing a paradigm shift in our approach,” Vance said, pointing the fact that many cases go back to the 1970s and 1980s.
Vance added that reforms would not have been possible “without the tireless work of dedicated individuals who changed not only our laws, but law enforcement’s understanding of their lived experiences.”
The move in New York follows similar steps already taken by other cities, as the New York Timesnoted:
Abigail Swenstein, staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project, welcomed the development. “Countless sex workers, those profiled as sex workers, and trafficking victims have suffered under the weight of convictions and warrants,” she said. “These perpetual punishments extend into family and immigration court, and impact our clients’ ability to find stability through housing and employment.”
“However,” Swenstein added, “today’s announcement should not supplant the need to pass legislation that would fully decriminalize sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offense.” She called on lawmakers to pass the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, S6419, which would decriminalize sex work.
An analysis released in October by the ACLU provides evidence for that legislation, finding that full decriminalization of sex work better supported such workers’ safety, health, and economic well-being compared to more restrictive and punitive approaches.
“Right now, millions of people are asking what we can do to reduce abuse by law enforcement, racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and our overall jail and prison populations,” LaLa Zannell, the ACLU’s Trans Justice campaign manager, said at the time.
“One policy that can achieve all of these goals—particularly for Black trans women and immigrants—is to recognize that sex work is work and treat it like any other industry,” said Zannell. “Sex workers have been saying they face significant violence from police and clients for decades and it is time that we all listen to these voices when determining how to improve safety for sex workers.”Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act, which, if passed by the Senate and President Joe Biden, would give state-legal cannabis businesses access to banks and other financial institutions. (Photo: Darren415/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Hailed by advocates as an important milestone on the road to full marijuana legalization, the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would open the door to banking services for the legal cannabis industry.
“As we continue to push forward with full legalization, addressing this irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of banking services to state-legal cannabis businesses is a top priority.” —Rep. Earl Blumenauer
All House Democrats and more than half of Republicans in the lower chamber voted to approve the SAFE Banking Act, which passed by a vote of 321-101. If approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden, the measure would allow banks and other financial institutions to serve state-legal cannabis businesses without running afoul of federal prohibition law.
The House passed a similar bill in 2019. However, the measure never made it past the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.)—who has introduced versions of the bill since 2013—said on the House floor ahead of the vote that “the fact is, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle—prohibition is over.”
“I hope this bill is an icebreaker for the House to take up other reforms and finally remove the conflict between state and federal laws,” he said.
After the successful vote, longtime cannabis legalization advocate Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tweeted that “this is a step toward ending the failed war on drugs and bringing restorative justice to our Black and Brown communities.”
Other lawmakers and elected officials, especially in states where recreational or medical marijuana use is legal, applauded the bill’s passage.
“As we continue to push forward with full legalization, addressing this irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of banking services to state-legal cannabis businesses is a top priority,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said in a statement after the vote. “This is a critical element of reform that can’t wait, and I urge our cannabis champions in the Senate to take up this legislation as soon as possible.”
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) asserted that “Colorado’s multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry employs thousands of people. They should have the same security and access to banking as any other business.”
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington—which in 2012 became one of the first two states to legalize recreational cannabis—said the SAFE Banking Act will provide legal marijuana businesses “a safer, more transparent financial market.”
Cannabis legalization advocates also hailed Monday’s vote. NORML—the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws—said that if signed into law, the bill “would improve the safety of legal marijuana marketplaces and foster more entrepreneurship in the emerging legal industry.”
NORML political director Justin Strekal said that “for the first time since Joe Biden assumed the presidency, a supermajority of the House has voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization.”
“However, the SAFE Banking Act is only a first step at making sure that these state-legal markets operate safely and efficiently,” he added. “The sad reality is that those who own or patronize the unbanked businesses are themselves criminals in the eyes of the federal government, which can only be addressed by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”
Steve Hawkins, executive director of Marijuana Policy Project, called Monday’s vote “hugely important.”
“This will unlock banking services that certainly will be a benefit to small operators in the space as well as social equity businesses,” Hawkins toldMarijuana Business Daily.
“The SAFE Banking Act is only a first step at making sure that these state-legal markets operate safely and efficiently.” —Justin Strekal, NORML
The SAFE Banking Act has a much better chance of passage now that Democrats control a Senate whose members increasingly favor an end to federal marijuana prohibition. Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—whose home state legalized recreational cannabis use last month—is currently working on federal marijuana reform legislation with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Biden, however, remains opposed to full federal legalization. Cannabis activists hope that sustained grassroots pressure and the continuing parade of states ending prohibition could spur the president to reconsider his position. According toBusiness Insider, recreational marijuana is now legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia, with medicinal use allowed in 36 states. Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
Susan Sontag. She was a brand long before most writers knew they needed one. Even if you’ve never read a Sontag book, you can still engage with her seriousness by studying her darkly handsome, scathingly sensible face, as photographed by Richard Avedon or Diane Arbus or Annie Leibovitz. A major 20th-century cultural critic, as well as novelist and filmmaker, Sontag was all about interrogating Western art and literature to discover their embedded morality (or lack thereof): “The wisdom that becomes available over deep, lifelong engagement with the aesthetic,” she wrote, “cannot be duplicated by any other kind of seriousness.”
Decades ago, Susan Sontag meant the world to me. My pals and I were, to use the 1970s label, “lesbian feminists.” We were also insecure, angry, unformed, and uninformed. Then, like a Genius-IQ Wonder Woman, Sontag landed, wielding game-changing books like Notes on Camp,Against Interpretation, Trip to Hanoi, AIDS and Its Metaphors,The Volcano Lover… Some were great; some not; all demanded rethinking lots of your life. The fact that this drop-dead brilliant woman was also beautiful and famous seemed to us 20-somethings like simple moral Justice; we couldn’t have asked for more. Looking back, though, we probably should have.
Recently, Benjamin Moser published Sontag: Her Life and Work, his 800-page biography of Sontag, which is brilliantly comprehensive and, in terms of Sontag’s personal life, possibly the most engaging outlay of Too-Much-Information I’ve ever read. Moser frames Sontag’s conflicted, sexually ambivalent life by studying it through her preoccupation with metaphor: a thing itself in play with its image. “Sontag’s real importance increasingly lay in what she represented,” summarizes Moser. “The metaphor of ‘Susan Sontag’ was a great original creation.”
Moser’s biography is the story of a woman who craved, even as a child, becoming part of the liberal wing of Western culture’s literary establishment. By her early thirties she was securely ensconced in what pundit Norman Podhoretz called “the Family,” a predominantly New York Jewish intellectual lineage, shaped in the 1940s around Partisan Review and extending through The New York Review of Books. Though she grew up, a ferociously intelligent female in the mid-twentieth century and had to fight for every ounce of intellectual independence, Sontag didn’t denounce the Patriarchy; she deeply knew and appreciated its aesthetic power.
Sontag began life in 1933, as Susan Rosenblatt. After her father died when she was five, Susan and her sister were raised in the more culturally stultifying parts of Tucson and Los Angeles by an alcoholic mother who, when Susan was 12, married WWII pilot Nathan Sontag. Other than giving her a more euphonious surname, Nat wasn’t too useful, warning his book-addicted stepdaughter that men don’t marry girls who read all the time. But at the age of 17, Susan, precocious in all things, married her university professor, Philip Rieff, and at 19, gave birth to a son, David. Finding the relationship increasingly suffocating, Sontag spent most of her marriage breaking away and gaining child custody, while her work garnered critical attention.
Nat Sontag, however, may have been on to something. Susan, who kept a diary from childhood, wrote as a teenager, “My desire to write is connected to my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon to match the weapon society has against me.” Sontag’s tortured lesbian identity is in fact the central nervous system of Moser’s book. Though her affairs with men were relatively short and less complicated, Sontag pursued, throughout her life, a series of passionate, unhappy, sometimes abusive relationships with women –Irene Fornes, Lucinda Childs, Annie Leibovitz, among others – which were open secrets in the art world.
Reading Sontag’s biography, you’re sadly aware of the paralyzed horror this woman would feel at seeing this rendition of her life. Moser devotes a chapter to the likelihood that Sontag’s closetedness – long after it was remotely necessary – was largely responsible for her signature lack of self-awareness and empathy, her occasional homophobia, her reliance for selfhood on the opinions of others.
Having conducted a phenomenal amount of interviews and research, Moser connects as many psychosexual, interpersonal, and historical dots as he can to present Susan Sontag as an epically accomplished and complicated woman. It’s an authoritative book and, as such, can presume too much, judge too easily, and evade the mystery that lies at the heart of any human being. It can also focus on the personal at the expense of the political.
Politically, the book offers a sort of cooked, National-Public-Radio certitude about history, as if “we of the liberal intelligentsia” already know and agree on what’s happened: the fall of the USSR and the Berlin Wall were good; the Oslo Accords were promising; Cuba’s revolutionary “New Man” evoked Nazi purity. While Moser would never dismiss Sontag’s lesbianism as a phase, he easily does so with her politics.
Sontag’s “radical” phase began in the 1960s, when she developed an interest in revolutionary societies. She spent some time in North Vietnam during the war and, in Partisan Review, famously wrote of the white race as “the cancer of human history.” In “the American Bloomsbury,” Moser observes, where it was cool to debate revolution, Susan Sontag became “that most radical of radicals.” But this phase came to a definitive halt at a 1982 Town Hall smack-down with the New Left, when Sontag – supported by her friend, Joseph Brodsky, a poet expelled from the USSR – decried Communism as fascism, “Successful Fascism, if you will.” This was the moment, according to a friend, that Sontag finally “ceased being “radical” and reverted to being “intelligent.”
Moser includes a dust-up between Sontag and the poet Adrienne Rich – openly feminist and lesbian. Sontag’s essay, “Fascinating Fascism,” had attributed the newfound popularity of the Nazi-friendly work of filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to feminists. Rich wrote to correct Sontag: it was not feminists; it was the cinephile establishment that promoted Riefenstahl. Deeply affronted, Sontag called Rich an “infantile leftist” whose demagoguery was yet another example of fascism. Rich, herself a distant relative of the Family – and writer, according to Moser (and many others, including me), “of essays in no way inferior to Sontag’s” – was effectively banned from The New York Review of Books, which never published her again.
Adrienne Rich probably didn’t miss the Family for long; she was already heading off to society’s “infantile” margins to write some of her best work examining white women’s role in the history of enslavement and colonialism, exposing compulsory heterosexuality in building Empire. Here, on these “fanatical” margins, Susan Sontag would have ceased to think or exist.
But these margins have also encompassed centuries of art, scholarship, and literature by intellectuals and artists – largely Black, Brown, Indigenous – who knew, usually first-hand, the colonialism, enslavement, and genocide on which the esteemed New York Review aesthetic has been built. While James Fennimore Cooper was writing The Last of the Mohicans, David Walker, son of an enslaved father, wrote his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World; while J.D. Salinger was writing Catcher in the Rye, Aimé Césaire wrote Discourse on Colonialism; while Joseph Brodsky was writing poetry, so were Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Essex Hemphill…
It isn’t that radicals don’t deserve criticism. Sometimes, as Sontag alleged, the left does know less about human rights abuses under “Communism” than Reader’s Digest subscribers. But communism was meant to answer centuries of imperial European atrocities: where was Sontag, intellectually, when she wrote about the cancerous white race? Why did she leave that place? She was never without her white, middle-class privilege; she could come and go as she pleased. Her journey leaves many questions…
Why, after the 9/11 attacks, did Sontag seem to return, at least for a moment, to that empire-questioning place? She was one of very few public voices to criticize U.S. policy – and was thoroughly excoriated for it. Not even her son liked: “Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened and what may continue to happen.”
Susan Sontag’s mysteries and metaphor are one reason you’d want to read her biography. I just wish Moser – and Sontag herself, for all her seriousness – could have taken radicalism more seriously.
Susie Day is an NYC freelance writer, Monthly Review Press editor, and author of the recent Haymarket book, The Brother You Choose.
The problem is not overpolicing, it is policing itself
Recent years have seen an explosion of protest against police brutality and repression. Among activists, journalists and politicians, the conversation about how to respond and improve policing has focused on accountability, diversity, training, and community relations. Unfortunately, these reforms will not produce results, either alone or in combination. The core of the problem must be addressed: the nature of modern policing itself.
This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice—even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.
In contrast, there are places where the robust implementation of policing alternatives—such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction—has led to a decrease in crime, spending, and injustice. The best solution to bad policing may be an end to policing.
“Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.”
As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them.
In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community–and all of us–to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
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June 16 — Public Bank East Bay hosts Sylvia Chi, co-author of the California Public Banking Act (AB 857), at a Public Banking 101 session On June 16th, 7:00-8:30 pm PT, Public Bank East Bay invites public banking allies to their next Public Banking 101 session, an educational series exploring public banking in the context of ongoing efforts to create a public bank in the East Bay. The guest speaker will be Sylvia Chi, co-author of the landmark 2019 California Public Banking Act (AB 857) and former policy director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). Sylvia will give an overview of AB857… Continue reading →
Join us Thursday for another engaging conversation on our national organizing call at 6PM EST. We’ll be discussing the Supreme court and Birddog strategies with Center for Popular Democracy’s very own Julia Peters from CPD’s Innovation Team! We’ll also be discussing Medicare-for-all and Senate filibuster updates happening in our progressive fight. Hope to see you all Thursday at 6PM. Register here to join! Thank you, Innovations, Center for Popular Democracy CPD Action 449 Troutman Street, Suite A Brooklyn, NY 11237 United States
*** Please forward widely *** City to Retirees: Private health care ─ Take it or leave it NYC government retirees to be forced to switch from public Medicare to a private Medicare Advantage Plan Thursday, June 17 – 7:00 PM EST You can join this Zoom event by phone or computer. Closed captions will be available. Event will be recorded, with video link sent to all registrants. Speakers: Peter Arno, PhD, Director of Health Policy Research, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst Naomi Zewde, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management, Graduate School of Public Health and Health… Continue reading →
Here’s a quick history lesson for you, Democrats:On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Texas finally got the news that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom from enslavement and embraces a moment in history when the scales were tipped towards justice. The California Democratic Party invites you to a virtual celebration of Juneteenth this Thursday, June 17 at 6 PM. Join us for a conversation focused on how the Black Lives Matter movement has shifted the Democratic Party and what the party can do to advance justice going forward. We need your… Continue reading →
My apologies for getting this out so late. Our film(s) this month will be a series of short of 5 short videos that cover various aspects of the Palestinian situation, which is our subject for the month. The films vary in length from 8 to 12 mins (less than an hour in total). Here’s the writeup and the official flyer is attached: Here’s the Zoom link information: Sensible Cinema Zoom meeting at 6:30pm on Friday, June 18, 2021. The virtual door opens at 6:00pm if you care to drop in early. Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89812236935?pwd=dnpDbWpkeUg3cndudXE2TDhPV1JZUT09 Meeting ID: 898 1223 6935 Passcode: 254041… Continue reading →
ISF State and Local Working Group meeting: Friday, June 18, 7:30–8:30 PM. Register here to help us plan to propose legislation to our state legislators and support progressive initiatives on the state and local level.
The Institute for the Critical Study of Society at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library Sunday Morning at the Marxist Library OUR CURRENT SCHEDULE (NOTE: These are all tentative and may be changed. Please check back the week before, or sign up for our weekly reminders/updates at email@example.com) Sun, Dec 27, 2020: 10:30 am to 12:30 pm CONFIRMED: The Three Concepts of Freedom Synopsis: In this session we will compare and contrast the Liberal, Democratic, and the communist concepts of freedom. We will discuss that the Liberal freedom consists of the legal guarantees against outside intrusions. Democratic freedom emphasizes the right to participate in the… Continue reading →