Opinion
Climate
Economy
Politics
Rights & Justice
War & Peace
Republicans laugh with or at Tim Scott in 2017 after giving tax cuts to the rich
Further

By Their Fruits and Imaginary Black Friends Ye Shall Know Them

This Juneteenth, there's gotta be no better totem of the grotesque lies of MAGA's revamped Lost Cause - just swap out white "Christian" men for slaveholders - than the spectacle of their felonious, "very fine people" leader hustling African-American votes at a "Black" church in Detroit that drew "the 15 Black people who support him" and a crowd of white MAGA-ites, some in WTF "Blacks For Trump" t-shirts. Consummate for a guy who's been vilely "wrong and loud" over a lifetime of racism.

At midnight on Freedom's Eve, Jan.1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln's historic Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, declaring millions of enslaved people legally free. But in Confederate-controlled Texas, the last bastion of slavery, it took until June 19, 1865, for Union soldiers to ride into Galveston on "America's second independence Day" and free over 250,000 black slaves - “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news" - offering the (still-unfulfilled) promise of "absolute equality," not for some but for all. In 2021, in "the house built by enslaved people," Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a new federal holiday; 14 House Republicans denounced the bill as "identify politics" and voted against it. Calling the event one of his greatest honors and "a day of profound weight" in which to remember slavery's "moral stain (and) terrible toll," Biden knelt to embrace 94-year-old Texas activist Opal Lee, the driving force behind the new holiday. On Wednesday, he posted, "Today, we honor the tireless work of abolitionists who made it their mission to deliver the promise of America for all."

Then there's the other guy. The one who got sued 50 years ago for housing discrimination against Black families. Who demanded the Central Park Five's young brown and black men be executed, and declined to apologize after they were exonerated. Who for years dog-whistled racist tropes and demonized migrants. Who gave rise to vicious Birtherism attacks against Barack Obama, spewed the n-word on his stupid show, claimed he "knew" Black people 'cause they worked on his tacky buildings, boasted about "the Blacks" liking him more now that he's a criminal and discriminated against just like them. Who befriended and defended white supremacists, Nazi thugs and Proud Boys, decried the removal of Confederate statues, went fake gangsta to peddle sneakers and mugshot t-shirts. Who gave tax cuts to rich white men, cut funds to HBCUs and safety nets and lied about it, said African people lived in "shithole countries" and Americans in majority-black cities - Baltimore, Atlanta, Philly, Detroit - are "living in hell." DNC chair Jaime Harrison: "He’s telling us exactly what he thinks of Black Americans, and we’re listening."

He's also the guy who, having never heard of either Juneteenth or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre - when a mob of white Oklahomans attacked a thriving Black community, burning homes and businesses and killing up to 300 Black residents - planned a Tulsa rally on Juneteenth as both the pandemic and protests against the murder of George Floyd raged. Faced with fury at his ignorance about "the history of that hallowed ground" as well asJuneteenth, he backed down and pushed the rally up a day to June 20. Then, ever the moronic, juvenile narcissist, he proceeded to brag to the Wall Street Journal, " I did something good. I made Juneteenth very famous." “It’s actually an important event," he explained. "But nobody had ever heard of it" (except generations of Black Americans). It seems a Black Secret Service guy told him about it; when he asked an aide if she'd heard of Juneteenth, she mentioned a White House statement on it he likewise knew nothing about - for Black Americans, "another reminder that our communities and our history are an afterthought, or worse, a target. At every turn, Trump is loud and wrong."

Lift Every Voice and Sing - A Cappella (Berklee We Will Rise Summit)www.youtube.com

And so, to Detroit - or as the right-wing New York Post blared, "Team Trump is bravely going where Republicans have never gone before - into the black community." Also, into a city - oops, cue "horrible" Milwaukee - he earlier called "a living hell," in a state now deemed vital in an alarmingly close election. Detroit is one of the country's largest majority-Black cities, and in 2020 Biden won almost 95% of the vote. To sweeten the pot, the campaign chose the occasion to launch a "Black Americans for Trump Coalition" endorsed by a handful of Black celebs and pols; they include former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who served only a bit of his 28 years in prison for felony fraud and racketeering convictions - "the best people" - before Trump commuted his sentence in 2021. Trump was scheduled to attend a roundtable at the evangelical 180 Church on the hardscrabble west side of the city; the event was moderated by Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, a Trump sycophant and vice-presidential wannabe who's been busy trying to clean up an earlier, untoward claim that Blacks were better off in the deeply racist "Jim Crow" South.

Pastor Lorenzo Sewell, in a "Make Black America Great Again" shirt, hosted Trump; it's unclear how many of the city's bounteous churches with black pastors declined the honor. In a grinning interview, Sewell described congregants laughing when he invited them; at least one asked, "Why are you letting the devil into our church?" But he remained upbeat even as Trump, sitting two seats away, failed to recognize him: "Where's Lorenzo?" For many, the vital issue of the day was: Does it still count as a "Black" church if it's filled with white people? Despite a smattering of Blackpeople - they woke Ben Carson for the day, local rappers Peezy and Icewear Vezzo showed, as did some Black congregants, none from that church - most of the those who, per Jimmy Kimmel, "came to see Mr. Martin Luther Burger King in person" were white, stout, red-cap-wearing MAGA fans, raising the tricky question as to whether you can win the black vote with white folks. There was also a heckler yelling, "Drink some bleach!" and a skeptic noting, "I saw more Black people at my house today and I'm the only Black person who lives here."

As usual, the guy who's done more for Black people than Abe Lincoln, along with his lackeys, lied and ranted: Migrants are "coming into your community, they’re taking your jobs," crime is rampant, a crowd like you've never seen, more money for HBCUs, the American dream for all people," “I have so many Black friends that if I were a racist, they wouldn’t be friends, so I'm not racist." Pastor James Perkins: "Every time Trump opens his mouth to talk to Black folks, he demonizes us, insults us, and makes empty promises he’ll never keep." Pastor and head of Detroit NAACP Dr. Wendell Anthony panned Trump's "use of the sacred institution of the black church to peddle his pernicious, perilous lies." "He did not articulate any policy" - education, infrastructure, jobs, the John Lewis voting rights bill, the George Floyd policing act. "He articulated the fact that he wanted to come get some Black votes." "Some people may go for the okey-dokey," he said. "The fact is, he comes in and talks about what he's done for Black people. Look at the record. By their fruits, ye shall know them."

After the church event, Trump gave the keynote address to his real base of racists at Turning Point’s confab alongside Charlie Kirk, who argues the Civil Rights Act was “a mistake” and "Whiteness is great." From such dark places - see the rise of right-wing extremism, the dwindling of hopes of police reform or economic equity, the GOP's war on history, the persistence of holidays honoring the Confederacy in 10 southern states - does Juneteenth's promise of "absolute equality" become a mere "gilded token." MAGA is essentially a refurbished Confederacy, argues Thom Hartmann of a "post-political" GOP done with the niceties of democracy: "They’re using our political system (to) seize enough power to destroy our political system." On Jan. 6, more than one Confederate flag was seen waving in the Capitol. And on Newsmax Trump, representing all "oppressed people,” just became as big a victim as Emmett Till himself. Hint: It's the jury's fault, and "we've seen this before." Juneteenth represents how far we've come, but clearly, scarily, urgently how far we still have to go.

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without plowing the ground.They want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters.” - Frederick Douglas, 1857


SEE ALL
methane flare
News

New Report Debunks Industry-Backed Greenwashing Scam of 'Certified Gas'

Methane emissions monitors operated by third-party gas certification companies only picked up one of the 23 pollution events detected by anti-extraction group Earthworks.

That's one of the findings in Certified Gaslighting, a report published by Earthworks and Oil Change International on Tuesday that reveals how fossil fuel companies are increasingly turning to private gas certification companies to prove that they are reducing their methane emissions.

The evidence indicates that the "certified gas" label is just another industry smokescreen thrown up by climate arsonists to shield themselves from public pressure.

"'Certified' gas is the industry's latest effort at greenwashing, not an earnest effort at halting the accelerating climate crisis," Dakota Raynes, report author and Earthworks research and policy manager, said in a statement. "Hundreds of hours of on-the-ground research has made it more clear than ever that certifiers are not living up to their claims."

"If we want to stop rising methane emissions, then we must stop the gas certification farce."

For the report, Earthworks carried out 81 surveys at 38 oil and gas sites in Colorado over the course of 10 months in 2023, reviewing both pollution levels and the continuous emissions monitors (CEMS) designed to detect it. While Earthworks detected pollution events during a quarter of its site visits, the CEMs only caught one.

What's more, Earthworks looked at the monitors operated by Project Canary, one of the leading gas-certification companies. The environmental group found that the company's monitors, advertised as "continuous," were actually offline more than 25% of the time.

"Fossil fuel companies are scrambling to maintain relevance amid mounting pressure from communities and climate advocates, so they resort to third-party 'certification' schemes as a last-ditch effort to portray their operations as 'clean,'" Oil Change International research director Lorne Stockman said in a statement. "Our research reveals these certification scams are deceptive, enabling gas companies to expand under the false pretense of emission reductions. This greenwashing scam must end so we can focus on what's urgently needed—phasing out oil and gas."

Tuesday's report builds on a growing body of evidence that "gas certification" is another trick from what Raynes described as the "industry's grab bag of dangerous distractions." While private companies certify almost 40% of U.S. gas, the nation's oil and gas sector emits more methane than any other country's. In 2023, it released 13.8 million metric tons, translating to almost 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent or the emissions of 301 coal plants, according to International Energy Agency figures. Globally, the oil and gas industry spewed more than 79.5 million metric tons of methane last year.

The report also follows previous research from Earthworks and Oil Change, which found that Project Canary monitors failed to detect every pollution event picked up by Earthworks' Optical Gas Imaging cameras.

The fact that the monitors only picked up one Earthworks-detected event a year later "suggests that operators have made minimal changes to monitoring efforts to account for the findings in our report," the authors of Tuesday's report wrote.

The latest report also points out what it terms a "dangerous loophole": The companies are not required by Colorado law or by certification standards to address pollution events that occur due to normal operations as opposed to malfunctions. Yet most of the events detected by Earthworks were part of normal operations.

"These emissions are no less harmful to communities exposed to the pollution nor less impactful with respect to the climate crisis," the authors wrote.

Despite the many problems with the gas-certification process, the industry is rushing to adopt it as the U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Treasury Department are considering incorporating it into regulations. Some public utilities are also buying certified gas and then charging customers more to deliver it as they claim to make progress on climate goals.

"As they have for decades, the fossil fuel industry is deliberately lying, manipulating, and gaslighting the public," Leah Qusba, executive director for Action for the Climate Emergency, said in a statement. "Before 'certified gas' there was 'next-gen gas,' before that there was 'natural gas,' and before that there was the myth of 'clean coal.' All these fancy terms to hide the truth: Fossil fuels are deadly, and they're stealing our future."

In response to their findings, the report authors recommended that methane-reduction efforts should be carried out under government overview and within a regulatory framework that prioritizes the well-being of communities and consumers. Further, they advised that regulators should not include certification schemes as part of their efforts and that CEMs should be used transparently and in accordance with peer-reviewed best practices and with all of their data made publicly available.

"It's no surprise that the same industry that has spent decades marketing gas as 'safe,' 'clean,' and 'natural' is now looking for new ways to greenwash its product," said Gas Leaks Project executive director James Hadgis. "Third-party gas certification schemes are unable, or unwilling, to capture emissions events that intensify the climate crisis while poisoning nearby communities. If we want to stop rising methane emissions, then we must stop the gas certification farce."

Moreover, the report emphasizes that, while important, simply reducing oil-and-gas methane emissions is not enough. The government must encourage and facilitate a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels.

This includes resisting the industry push to increase the production and export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG has emerged as a major front in the battle to combat the climate emergency, as the Biden administration has announced a pause on export approvals to assess their impact on the climate and consumers, even as fossil fuel companies and allied politicians protest.

"LNG exports are a certified disaster. No amount of greenwashing changes the fact that continuing to expand fossil fuels will perpetuate harms to our climate and the communities in the path of the fracking industry's drilling pads, pipelines, and export facilities," Jim Walsh, the policy director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action, said in a statement.

"We continue to see major fossil fuel companies move forward plans to increase exports of fracked gas, despite the limited pause on new export approvals," Walsh continued. "The health of our communities and the planet depends on President Biden rejecting these misleading industry certification schemes and starting a real and robust effort to phase out fossil fuels."

SEE ALL
Donald Trump
News

Trump's $48 Billion Tax Cut for Big Corporations Would Exceed Size of K-12 Budget

As former President Donald Trump prepared to meet with top corporate CEOs on Thursday, an analysis estimates that the GOP frontrunner's proposed giveaway to the nation's most profitable corporations would exceed the size of the federal K-12 budget for the current fiscal year.

Conducted by Brendan Duke and Will Ragland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), the analysis shows that cutting the corporate tax rate from 21% to 15%—as Trump and his advisers have proposed—would give the largest 100 U.S. companies an annual tax cut of $48 billion.

Those companies—including tech behemoths such as Microsoft, Apple, and Alphabet—collectively reported $1.1 trillion in profits in their most recent annual reports.

For 10 of the largest U.S. corporations—including JPMorgan Chase, whose CEO will be in attendance at a private meeting with the former president on Thursday—Trump's tax plan would deliver a $23.3 billion handout, according to the new analysis.

"This nearly $25 billion in annual tax cuts for just 10 corporations is more than double what the federal government spends on cancer and Alzheimer's research combined," Duke and Ragland noted.

During his first year in office in 2017, Trump signed into law a tax measure that slashed the corporate rate from 35% to 21% and delivered huge gains to wealthy individuals while doing little for workers. Major companies spent their windfalls from the law on stock buybacks, increased dividends for investors, and executive bonuses rather than worker wages or other business-related investments.

Earlier this year, The Washington Postreported that "Trump has told allies that he is keenly interested in cutting corporate tax rates again," and congressional Republicans are eager to pursue another round of tax giveaways should they win control of the Senate and the White House in November.

Several CEOs whose companies would benefit substantially from another corporate tax cut are expected to join Trump at a closed-door Business Roundtable meeting in Washington, D.C.

Duke noted on social media Thursday that Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins is the current chair of the Business Roundtable. Cisco would receive an estimated $1.1 billion in tax cuts if Trump and his Republican allies in Congress succeeded in lowering the corporate tax rate to 15%.

Proctor & Gamble, whose CEO chairs the Business Roundtable's Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, would get a $660 million tax cut, according to CAPAF's analysis.

"Cutting the corporate tax rate from 21% to 15% would cost roughly $1 trillion over 10 years based on Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) and U.S. Treasury estimates," Duke and Ragland observed. "The benefits of this tax cut will accrue to a handful of large corporations: Even though roughly 500,000 companies pay corporate taxes, just 350 paid 70% of the entire corporate tax collected in 2019."

SEE ALL
Elizabeth Warren
News

'Time to Stiffen Our Spines,' Says Elizabeth Warren of 2025 Tax Fight With GOP

As congressional Republicans prepare for Donald Trump's possible White House return by plotting to expand tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that were the cornerstone of his first term in office, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday said Democrats must be ferocious opponents of another "GOP tax scam," while also providing an alternative vision.

"It's time to stiffen our spines," said Warren in social media post. "President [Joe] Biden is right: If the 2025 tax bill doesn't call on the wealthy and giant corporations to shoulder a bigger share of what it costs to run this country. Democrats should reject it outright. No more Trump tax breaks for billionaires."

As Common Dreamsreported earlier this month, Republican lawmakers are ready and eager to ram through an expanded version of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Falsely touted by Trump as a boon to working-class families, the law was a massive windfall for corporations and the rich and added trillions of dollars to the national debt.

"Democrats have good, popular ideas about taxes. All we need is courage."

"The 2025 tax fight will create a huge opportunity to break with decades of tax-cutting political orthodoxy and reshape the tax code to reflect our nation's values by raising taxes on the wealthy," Warren (D-Mass.) said during a Monday speech at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a think tank focused on economic issues.

"But let's be crystal clear: If Democrats take the coward's way out and sign our names to a half-baked deal that lets the wealthy off the hook, it will be a huge failure—and one the American people cannot afford," added Warren, who earlier this year was a lead sponsor of the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act, a bill to strengthen anti-tax evasion rules.

Watch Warren's speech:


Last month, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that extending the 2017 tax cuts would add $4.6 trillion to the national debt.

An analysis published earlier this month by Brendan Duke and Will Ragland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund concluded that the GOP's proposed tax cut expansion would exceed the size of the federal K-12 budget for the current fiscal year.

Adding insult to injury, major corporations have funneled their tax cut windfalls into share buybacks, further enriching corporate executives and wealthy shareholders even as worker pay stagnates or even decreases and layoffs accelerate, as Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, noted during a Senate Budget Committee hearing last week.

Polls show Americans across the political spectrum favor raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

"The American people are telling us that they are ready for a tax code that promotes their values, and Democrats must be ready to deliver," Warren asserted during Monday's speech.

"Democrats have good, popular ideas about taxes. All we need is courage," she added. "Courage to shake off a century of running for the hills every time the subject of taxes comes up. Courage to stand up to billionaires and corporate donors. Courage to say to the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country: Pay up."

SEE ALL
Jane O'Meara Sanders (right) speaks with attendees of the Sanders Institute Gathering
News

A 'Focus on Solidarity' and Progressive Solutions at Latest Sanders Institute Gathering

In preparing for The Sanders Institute Gathering this year, Jane O'Meara Sanders and Dave Driscoll knew they would have to pry some of the nation's leading advocates for climate action, labor rights, and economic justice away from their crucial work for a few days.

But doing so meant that progressive leaders including Third Act founder Bill McKibben, One Fair Wage president Saru Jayaraman, economist Stephanie Kelton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would be able to spend three days collaborating on solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing communities across the United States and the globe.

"We are all working so hard in our own areas," O'Meara Sanders told Common Dreams after the event wrapped up on June 2. "It allowed people to get out of the silos that too often separate the policymakers. So to have elected officials and advocates in so many different areas, having them be able to come together and discuss different things... it bodes well for the future."

Over three days filled with more than 15 livestreamed panel discussions, film screenings, and other events, participants in the Gathering learned about how advocates in California are working to implement social housing, taking inspiration from countries like Austria and Spain; the labor rights movement's "25x2" strategy of pushing living wage legislation and ballot measures in dozens of states; and a number of reasons to be optimistic about fighting the climate crisis—even as scientists warn the continued burning of fossil fuels will push global temperatures past 1.5°C of heating in at least one of the next five years.

Climate

Despite experts' bleak projections, McKibben and Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous welcomed guests on the first night of the conference by offering evidence that electric vehicles and solar panels are rapidly becoming more powerful and more accessible to more U.S. households, providing hope that the world's largest historic emitter of carbon dioxide is making strides to cut down on planet-heating pollution from transportation and electricity.

"Right now, the sea surface temperature in the Atlantic is two to three degrees higher than we've ever seen it before," said McKibben. "And at the exact same moment that the planet is physically starting to disintegrate precisely the way the scientists 30 years ago told us it would—as if scripted by Hollywood—you'll also see finally the sudden spike in... the only antidote we have at scale to deal with this: the application of renewable energy around the world."

"Last summer, just as scientists were telling us that it was the hottest week in the last 125,000 years, that same week was the week that the engineers told us that for the first time, human beings were now installing more than a gigawatt's worth of solar panels every single day on this planet," he added. "That's a nuclear power plant's worth of solar panels. So we are right at the moment when one or the other of these trends is going to cancel out... the other one. Our job, I think, is to make sure that we figure out how to dramatically accelerate that second trend so that we have some hope of catching up with the physics of climate change before it does in everything that we care about on this planet. So for me, that's the context of the moment that we're in."

That theme—giving guests at the Gathering an unvarnished accounting of the very real crises that face communities while providing a glimpse into campaigners' ongoing efforts and positive results of their tireless advocacy work, with the crucial help of progressive lawmakers like Sen. Sanders—continued throughout the weekend.

Joseph Geevarghese of Our Revolution, The Hip Hop Caucus' Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jamie Minden of Zero Hour, and Friends of the Earth U.S. president Erich Pica. (Photo: Will Allen / via The Sanders Institute)

On the climate front, advocates shared their hopes to seize on the opportunity of Republican plans to extend Trump-era tax cuts if they regain power in the November elections.

Participants on a Saturday panel at the Gathering—including Joseph Geevarghese of Our Revolution, the Hip Hop Caucus' Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jamie Minden of Zero Hour, and Friends of the Earth U.S. president Erich Pica—argued that ending federal handouts to Big Oil is part of the broader effort to ultimately "kill the fossil fuel industry" that's cooking the planet while blocking the worker-led demand for a green energy transition.

Too often when covering advocacy work, the corporate media focuses on "the controversy," O'Meara Sanders told Common Dreams. "What's the controversy as opposed to what's the plan?"

The Gathering set out to offer an antidote to that dynamic and many participants—including Dr. Deborah Richter, board president of Vermont Health Care for All—said the effort was a success.

"Sometimes when you're trying to get some sort of major social change, it can get really, really strenuous and make you sad," Richter told Common Dreams. "I felt incredibly rejuvenated after this weekend."

"You tend to get single-focused when you're working on one issue," she added. "And I actually really appreciated the updates, the good and the bad on climate change... I came away thinking, I have to learn more about climate change. I'm going to learn more about this. I'm going to learn more about that."

Healthcare

Richter spoke to attendees about her group's efforts to bring government-funded healthcare to Vermont, noting that she has spent years advocating to expand Medicare to the entire population while also witnessing her own patients' struggles with the for-profit system as a primary care doctor and addiction medicine specialist.

Joining Richter for the panel discussion was Dr. Jehan "Gigi" El-Bayoumi, a Georgetown University School of Medicine professor who founded the Rodham Institute, which works to achieve health equity in communities across Washington, D.C.

"Many people think that what determines how long you live and how healthy you are is access to healthcare," El-Bayoumi told Common Dreams. While crucial, "that only accounts for 20%." The remaining 80% is other "social determinants of health," such as whether people live in a neighborhood with access to affordable, nutritious food and clean air or a fenceline community next to a chemical plant or oil refinery, raising their chance of developing respiratory problems or other health issues.

"Health is the air that we breathe. Health is what we eat and where we live," El-Bayoumi said, noting that the same factors are also "the social determinants of education and the social determinants of employment."

"If you don't have those things in place," the physician continued, "then how are you going to have better health?"

In Burlington, El-Bayoumi spoke about efforts to ensure people of color in Washington, D.C. had access to Covid-19 vaccines when they were first introduced. Working with the Black Coalition Against Covid, she partnered with medical schools at historically Black universities, Black fraternities and sororities, the hip-hop community, and others to hold a mass vaccination event in Ward 8.

"Community needs to be at the table," she told the audience. "The people that are closest to the problem know the solutions."

El-Bayoumi stressed to Common Dreams the importance of not only engaging with impacted community members but also following the lead of success stories around the world. While progressives often cite European examples, she pointed to models such as the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease's Project Axshya, which set up nearly 100 tuberculosis treatment and information kiosks in 40 cities across India.

She also cited models from Egypt, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, where the Friendship Bench project trained elder volunteers without any formal medical credentials to discreetly counsel patients on wooden benches on the grounds of clinics, aiming to address "kufungisisa," the local word closest to depression.

When it comes to providing healthcare, "we're all spokes on a wheel," El-Bayoumi said. "The nurses and the physicians and the custodians... we're all spokes. We could not function without each other."

"But then similarly, health, environment, food, political, education—all spokes on a wheel," she added. "There is not one thing that's more important."

Housing

The latest Gathering built on the institute's April conference on housing justice—an event that brought together leaders in Los Angeles, including the city's Mayor Karen Bass, California Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-25), and U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

Lee also attended the Burlington conference, where he spoke on a panel with Michael Monte of Vermont's Champlain Housing Trust and AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein, who argued that "housing is not high enough on the progressive agenda."

"Our job as progressives is to do everything we can every day to make people's lives materially better, and this is an area that we have to focus on," Weinstein said, echoing his remarks during the 2018 Gathering, the very first such event hosted by the institute.

In terms of actually getting people into affordable homes, "we could do a lot to make it less bureaucratic," he said—touching on a topic that dominated a second housing crisis panel.

For that discussion, O'Meara Sanders was joined by Brian McCabe, deputy assistant secretary for policy development at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Nika Soon-Shiong of the Fund for Guaranteed Income (F4GI), which provides "cash transfers that support those who have been locked out of welfare programs and economic systems."

F4GI is also working on a pilot program to provide a "cash on-ramp" to help people who are participating in the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly called Section 8, while they search for rental units, Soon-Shiong explained.

She stressed the importance of including community members in the development and implementation of the programs designed to help them, and pushed back against common messages about financial and logical hurdles.

"Part of addressing the root cause of the housing crisis is actually removing that false frame," she said, "and demonstrating that it's possible to collaborate, to move quickly, and to design things that are new and actually relatively inexpensive."

Workers' Rights

During one of the labor panels, Jayaraman of One Fair Wage spoke about the nationwide fight for better pay and working conditions—and how the movement's wins had provoked threats to her and her family.

El-Bayoumi said that before Jayaraman's remarks, she knew a bit about restaurant workers' fight for higher pay due to experiences living and working in Washington, D.C.—where residents passed ballot measures to raise the minimum wage for tipped employees in 2018 and 2022.

"What did I not know? Always scale," the physician continued. She was struck by the specifics that the labor leader shared, as well as her perseverance while being attacked for being successful.

"She was so inspiring and invigorating… She was raw. She was real. I'm just a great admirer now, and I learned a lot from her," El-Bayoumi said. "Her energy was amazing... It was the information, but also her commitment."

One Fair Wage co-founder and president Saru Jayaraman during a speech at The Gathering. (Photo: Will Allen / via The Sanders Institute)

During her speech at the Gathering, Jayaraman said the fight being fought by the millions of low-wage workers her group represents, many of whom work two or even three jobs just to stay afloat, are crucial if the progressive movement more broadly wants to win the battles on climate, healthcare justice, and housing.

"It's not a competition with all of our issues," Jayaraman said, "because if these folks could work one job instead of two or three, they would have the capacity to work on healthcare and climate change and everything else. I asked them, 'What would you work on if you could only work one job?' They've said climate. They've said public education. They've said, 'I would do so much, but I have time to survive right now. I just have to get from job to job.'"

So if the question is what's the problem and what's the opportunity, Jayaraman said, "The opportunity is this November—we have 3.5 million workers get a raise and then turn around and work on all of the issues everybody else cares about in this room."

Media & Technology

At a panel on progressive news media, The Nation national affairs correspondent John Nichols spotlighted another labor struggle that has national and global implications, as U.S. newsrooms lose thousands of working journalists to layoffs and budget cuts—frequently stemming from private equity firms purchasing newspapers and then looking to raise revenues at the expense of the reporters whose work the outlets rely on to operate.

"Since 2005, we have lost 45,000 working journalists in this country," said Nichols. "So we have a collapse of journalism. We have no filling of the void, and the institutions themselves are collapsing. Since 2005, roughly 20 years, we have lost a third of all print and online publications that existed at that time."

Nichols, who edited Sanders' book, It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, and spoke on the senator's podcast in April about the current crisis in media, was joined by The Lever founder David Sirota and Common Dreams managing editor Jon Queally.

"We are in a period where our media in this country is in such crisis and such collapse and such dysfunction that it is no longer sufficient to sustain democracy itself," Nichols told the audience.

As traditional newsrooms across the country struggle to survive in an industry increasingly dominated by private equity firms and hedge funds, Sirota spoke about starting an online investigative news outlet with the aim of breaking news stories that might otherwise go uncovered by large publications—or that might be reported on briefly, with the stories of the people affected forgotten within a few days.

After a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in the town of East Palestine, Ohio, Sirota said, The Lever "broke open a story that looked back at what were the decisions on specific policies that were made to create an environment for a disaster like that to happen, and which politicians took money at the time while they were making those decisions."

The Leverreported on how Norfolk Southern lobbied lawmakers to repeal a rule requiring widespread use of electronic braking systems, which were meant to help avoid accidents, and how the Trump administration rescinded the rule in 2017 after the rail industry donated more than $6 million to GOP candidates.

"Ultimately, our reporting ended up playing a big role in getting the Senate and the House to introduce major rail safety legislation that had specific provisions in it that dealt with exactly what we were reporting on," said Sirota. "The New York Times asked us to do a full page op-ed about our reporting... That's how elevated it became."

"The reason to do that is not for our own glory," he added. "It's ultimately to shape what actually happens moving forward. So our goal is to hold accountable those who are making these decisions with the hope that if they are held accountable, they will be deterred from making such bad decisions in the future."

In addition to the media, the Gathering featured panels on civil discourse and technology. During the latter discussion, which addressed topics including artificial intelligence and data collection, journalist Sue Halpern pointed out that in Congress, "there's a tension between... wanting to protect us—theoretically—and commerce."

She suggested that corporate pressure is blocking bipartisan efforts to pass federal privacy legislation, explaining that "the lobbyists for the Big Tech companies are constantly saying to lawmakers... if you regulate this, if you pull back on this, you will harm the American economy and you will limit innovation. And I have to say that most congresspeople are terrified of being accused of limiting innovation."

"Congress can't get it together to make national legislation. And so we see kind of a piecemeal thing going on, at least with privacy," Halpern said, highlighting laws passed by California, Illinois, and recently, Vermont, that serve as models for other states, in the absence of federal action.

Screenings

Along with panel discussions, the Sanders Institute incorporated film screenings and music into the Gathering to offer attendees another avenue into some of the issues discussed.

Kelton, an economist at Stony Brook University, presented a film spotlighting efforts by her and several colleagues to prompt a "paradigm shift" in Americans' understanding of the national deficit by introducing the public to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

Directed by Maren Poitras, Finding the Moneyfollows Kelton and economists including Randall Wray as they explain their vision for how the national debt could be viewed not as a burden that American taxpayers must pay back through cuts to government programs, but "as simply a historical record of the number of dollars created by the U.S. federal government currently being held in pockets, as assets, by the rest of us."

Kelton questioned how the Republican Party can, year after year, name reducing the federal deficit as one of their top priorities when the tax cuts introduced by the GOP under the George W. Bush and Trump administrations have been the primary drivers of the increasing debt ratio in recent years.

"They don't care about the fiscal or budgetary impacts. They want to pass their agenda. So we get sweeping tax cuts," Kelton said. "[The Congressional Budget Office] says the tax cuts will add $1.9 trillion to the deficit. Republicans shrug and say, who cares? On the other side of the government deficit lies a financial windfall for somebody else. Every deficit is good for someone. The question is for whom and for what."

In the film, Kelton argues that as the issuer of U.S. currency, the federal government does not need to "find the money" to spend on public programs, but instead needs only to ensure that real resources like workers and construction supplies are available when it comes to spending. The government can avoid a surge in inflation through policy decisions, the economists in the film argue, but greater deficits in a large country like the U.S. are far more sustainable than Americans have been led to believe.

Along with the Bush and Trump tax cuts, Kelton used the relief packages passed by Congress when the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020. A total of $5 trillion in relief was passed through several laws, raising people's unemployment benefits and helping small businesses to stay afloat.

"We cut child poverty by roughly 40%, and you can talk on and on about the benefits, because every deficit is good for someone," Kelton said. "The question is for whom and where does the windfall on the other side of the government deficit go? In March of 2021, it went to the bottom... That's who it helped. The Republicans did $1.9 trillion with their tax cuts. Where did it go? Eighty-three percent of the benefits went to people in top 1% of the income distribution."

Now, said Kelton, the deficit should be seen as a way for the government to pass more far-reaching legislation to fight the climate emergency.

The weekend also featured screenings of trailers for filmmaker Josh Fox's The Welcome Table—which is about the climate emergency causing displacement and is set to be released on HBO—and The Edge of Nature, an evolving documentary project that connects the crises of Covid, climate, and healthcare.

Fox, known for the award-winning anti-fracking film Gasland, brought his banjo—signed by Sen. Sanders—to Burlington to preview a musical performance that accompanies The Edge of Nature, which he is bringing to New York City with a 12-person ensemble from June 14-30.

"I thought that his telling of his own experience with Covid and the healing power of nature is just so true," El-Bayoumi said of the performance. "I have patients who are just struggling with life, with mental health issues. I will tell them, go outside, take off your shoes, feel the ground under your feet, because nature is healing."

The Edge of Nature "actually gave me hope... which I think is one of the things that was brought up over and over again at the Sanders Institute Gathering," she added. "How do you present that, the issues and solutions, if you will. And I thought that he did that very well."

There was also a screening of a video produced by the Power to the Patients campaign, which has worked to educate the public about healthcare transparency requirements through murals painted in cities across the United States. While the auditorium was waiting for that video to start amid technical difficulties, the audience broke out in song, singing "Solidarity Forever."

"It was so beautiful. And that was an amazing moment to me," Fox told Common Dreams. "And it said to me, go ahead and sing your song in your presentation, because this is a room where you can sing."

"My takeaway was, we have our differences, and we definitely have our identities, and we have our priorities, and we have... teachable moments where we have to instruct each other as to how we're messing up," he said. "But also, we really need to focus on solidarity."

Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous, filmmaker Josh Fox, and The Sanders Institute's Dave Driscoll listen to a presentation during the Gathering in Burlington, Vermont on Saturday, June 1, 2024. (Photo: Will Allen / via The Sanders Institute)

Fox noted that when he used to introduce Sen. Sanders during his 2016 presidential campaign, the filmmaker would say, "All the movements are in this room."

As he prepared for the NYC performances, Fox said that in the current "moment of division… the more we can come together in physical space—and that's what we're offering here with this show, a chance to be in an audience, a chance to be together, a chance to be in reality with each other—the better we can break those boundaries down."

"My takeaway from the Gathering is, I wish this was happening all the time and at the White House," he added, "but if it's not, we can recreate this in our small ways throughout this [election] cycle."

What's Next

O'Meara Sanders said the Sanders Institute intends to have one large Gathering each year and will continue to hold smaller events focused on specific issues, as it did in April with housing.

International Gatherings are one possibility, said O'Meara Sanders, expressing hope that some of the policymakers and advocates who shared their aspirations and plans for the United States in Burlington could convene with lawmakers in other countries who have been successful at implementing social housing, far-reaching climate action, and government-funded healthcare.

The institute aims to bring "members of Parliament together with members of Congress, to bring together diplomats from different countries," said O'Meara Sanders, "to talk about specific issues. Who's doing it best? How can we learn from them?"

"We're going to be bringing people together from all the different countries to explore what they're doing best and how we can do it better together," she added. "And then what's the political will necessary to accomplish these things?"

SEE ALL
Missiles
News

'The Abyss Is Beckoning': Global Nuke Spending Surged to $2,898 a Second in 2023

A pair of reports published Monday show that global spending on nuclear arms surged to nearly $3,000 a second last year as nations expanded and modernized their potentially civilization-destroying arsenals of atomic weaponry.

The United States, the first and only country to ever use an atomic weapon in war, spent $51.5 billion on its vast nuclear arsenal in 2023—more than every other nuclear-armed country combined, according to an analysis by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The U.S. also accounted for 80% of the $10.7 billion global increase in spending last year compared to 2022.

ICAN found that total spending on nuclear weapons globally rose to a record $91.4 billion last year—$173,884 per minute—as countries worked to modernize their arsenals and flaunt new nuclear capabilities.

"By comparison, the World Food Program executive director stated in 2021 that to end world hunger, countries could spend $40 billion per year through 2030, which is a total of $360 billion over nine years," ICAN's new report reads. "That is $27 billion less than what these nine countries spent on their nuclear arsenals in just five years."

Growing nuclear weapons spending has been a major boon for military contractors such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin. According to ICAN, "nuclear-armed countries have ongoing contracts with companies to produce nuclear weapons worth a total of at least $387 billion, continuing in some cases through 2040."

A separate report published Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated that 3,904 nuclear warheads were deployed across the globe as of January 2024—60 more than were deployed at the start of last year.

SIPRI said that the world's nine nuclear-armed countries—the U.S., Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel—"continued to modernize their nuclear arsenals and several deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems in 2023."

"While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as Cold War-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads," SIPRI director Dan Smith said in a statement. "This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning."

"We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history," Smith added. "There are numerous sources of instability—political rivalries, economic inequalities, ecological disruption, an accelerating arms race. The abyss is beckoning and it is time for the great powers to step back and reflect. Preferably together."

The alarming new reports were published hours after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg toldThe Telegraph that the Western military alliance is considering mobilizing more nuclear weapons in an effort to counter China and Russia, respectively the second- and third-largest nuclear spenders last year behind the U.S., according to ICAN.

"I won't go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues," said Stoltenberg. "That's exactly what we're doing."

The Kremlin, which has faced condemnation from ICAN and other groups over its recent nuclear threats amid the war in Ukraine, swiftly denounced Stoltenberg's comments as "nothing else but an escalation."

ICAN said Monday that while its findings and ongoing nuclear threats "paint a bleak picture," progress toward a world without atomic weapons remains possible and worth fighting for.

"While the nine nuclear-armed governments have steadily increased their investments in nuclear weapons, in 2023, 101 cities and municipalities joined the ICAN cities appeal, including Durham and Leicester from the United Kingdom and Lyon and Montpellier from France, calling on their government to join the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of nuclear weapons," the group's report notes. "These cities join international capitals like Washington, Paris, and Berlin which have already adopted the appeal."

"While they continue to make massive profits from contracts to produce and maintain weapons of mass destruction, the number of companies that recognize that nuclear weapons are problematic and that their increasing obligations under human rights reviews and investor scrutiny require them to step away from the industry is growing," the report adds. "It is clear that pressure from the public, investors, and governments is having an effect."

SEE ALL