Tag Archives: Electoral politics

Benicia’s Stephen Golub: The Long Walk Home

A Promised Land – Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country, by Stephen Golub, December 16, 2020

Our Long Walk Home

We started this week.

Rounding the Corner

Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 song, “Long Walk Home,” offered a stark metaphor for George W. Bush’s America. The protagonist returns to a hometown peopled by friends who, having abandoned their ideals, have become strangers to him.

Since 2016, that feeling has rung true for many of us, arguably to an even greater extent.

But the song is also resolute and hopeful about the long walk back to enduring ideals, a better town and a better country. Its most memorable lines are:

You know that flag flying over the courthouse means certain things are set in stone

Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t

That positive message came to mind this week, as the nation stepped back from a president who would do anything he could get away with and as we took key steps toward installing a successor who values the public interest and public health.

More specifically, the Electoral College officially affirmed Joe Biden as President-elect. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans finally recognized Biden’s win, albeit shamefully belatedly.

Moreover, a New York nurse received the first shot in the national coronavirus inoculation campaign. The FDA cleared a second vaccine for imminent approval.

To use a phrase that Donald Trump misused so often, so dishonestly and so ridiculously, we’re finally rounding the corner.

A Rough Road

We still face an awfully long, awfully rough road ahead. In addition to the good news, the week also saw the United States top 300,000 official Covid fatalities (with the true Covid toll, measured in excess deaths, standing at over 350,00).

The worst is yet to come this deadly winter. Total lives lost here could reach half a million or more. Debates and egregious inequities regarding vaccine distribution will roil our country and the world.

We also could see Trump at his worst in his final weeks in office. Both before and after he sails off into his post-presidency sewer, he’ll do his best to poison our democracy. His supporters will try to make a fiasco out of Congress’s normally pro forma tallying of electoral votes on January 6. And if there is one lesson we’ve learned about Trump, there’s no low to which he won’t go, including lows we might not even imagine.

Finally, it’s clear that our problems transcend Trump. Even if he disappears from the scene, he’ll leave behind a Republican Party whose de facto denigration of democracy is only rivaled by its refusal to address climate change and the myriad other problems plaguing the country. What’s worse, a big chunk of the public supports such stands.

Back to Bruce

Which brings us back to Bruce and to some sense of hope. His assertion, “that flag flying over the courthouse means certain things are set in stone,” takes on retrospective resonance. The judiciary, including many Trump appointees, consistently rejected the president’s preposterous attempts to overturn the election. That flag still flies.

Springsteen’s insistence that there are certain things we won’t do originally applied to the Bush administration’s violations of our values, with torture topping the list. The administration shattered standards set in stone (even as it upheld some others, such as the president preaching tolerance toward Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11). It did so at the price of what the flag represents, of ideals we needed to restore.

Trump has committed so many transgressions that it’s hard to know where to begin listing what he’s done that previous American presidents would not do. Costing hundreds of thousands of lives through pandemic denialism and lies? Ripping hundreds of migrant children from their parents, perhaps permanently? Spewing and spreading hate at every opportunity? Seeking to destroy our democracy?

We’ve Been Here Before

But let’s recall the good news: This week saw us set out on the long walk to undo Trump’s legacy, to restore some normalcy and decency to our governance, to launch policies that will help millions of Americans and – after months of incompetence, indifference and disinformation – to conquer Covid.

We’ve trekked on such paths many times before in our history, never completing the journey but often achieving  significant success. Springsteen wrote “Long Road Home” two years before Barack Obama’s election most recently took us back onto a positive course.

Obama’s presidency was far from perfect. However, he led the country out of a very dark phase, rescued it from an economic abyss, enacted health care reforms that helped many millions and otherwise showed us what our better angels can accomplish. The fact that Trump succeeded Obama does not negate such progress.

Begin Again

A “Long Road Home” also says this:

Here everybody has a neighbor, everybody has a friend

Everybody has a reason to begin again

My father said, “Son, we’re lucky in this town, it’s a beautiful place to be born…

We can begin again by grasping how lucky we still are, compared to so many other countries on their own obstruction-strewn roads.

I know that “lucky” is that last word we might want to use, in view of both the last four years and our many troubling long-term trends. I by no means suggest that we should be happy with our situation.

Nonetheless, America’s relative levels of wealth, education, resources, security and institutional independence and competence place us in a better state than numerous less fortunate nations. We should remain aware that reformers and ordinary citizens in those places have prevailed over their own, even more desperate plights or are now striving to do so.

Consider South Africa, for instance. Nelson Mandela aptly named his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom partly because of the decades of sustained struggle he and his anti-apartheid movement undertook. Like his fellow non-white citizens, he endured potentially spirit-crushing racist indignities and abuses for much of his life. He then spent 27 years in prison.

Yet, to paraphrase a line from Trump ally McConnell, Mandela persisted.

And he prevailed, leading the defeat of apartheid and ascending to his country’s presidency in 1994.

And consider Cambodia. As I write this, an old friend and other leaders of the country’s pro-democracy opposition party plan to fly back there from abroad early next month, to face trial and quite possibly jail on trumped-up charges.

Why? In order to shine an international light on the repressive thugocracy ruling the country. And to continue, potentially at great cost, their own long walks to freedom.

We can ignore such other nations’ struggles that should inspire us. We can view the wreckage Trump has wrought as impossible to overcome. We can surrender to the obstacles that he, McConnell and so many others throw in our path. We can understandably wonder what kind of populace accords him so many votes.

Or we can accept that the fight for freedom is never-ending, that the long walk home is grueling and that, while we can never get all the way there, we have reason to begin again.

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If you’re up for a beautiful rendition of “Long Walk Home,” here it is:

If you’re in the mood for something comical about Trump’s rounding-the-corner claims, here you go:

Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

Repost from The Missoulian
[Editor:  Pay attention to Alberta!  Changes there will send ripples all along the rails in the U.S., from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast.  Congratulations to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party!  – RS]

Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

By Rob Chaney, May 09, 2015 5:30 pm
Rachel Notley
Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley speaks on stage Tuesday night in Edmonton after being elected Alberta’s new premier. The NDP won a majority in the provincial Legislative Assembly by toppling the Progressive Conservative colossus that has dominated the province for more than four decades. Photo: NATHAN DENETTE, Canadian Press

Montana’s political seismograph didn’t rattle much last Tuesday when its neighbor to the north underwent a governmental earthquake.

But that could change in the coming weeks, as the citizens of Alberta absorb the magnitude of their replacement of Canada’s longest-standing political party rulers with a left-wing opposition pledged to look hard at its energy economy.

“The Progressive Conservative Party has been in power two years longer than I’ve been alive,” said University of Montana biology professor Mark Hebblewhite, a 42-year-old Alberta native. “I think this is a real response to the ongoing mismanagement of Alberta’s bounty. One thing that hit the nail on the head was how the province went from being overrun with money to crashing in another bust. People get really tired of it.”

The New Democratic Party took 53 seats in the Alberta Parliament in Tuesday’s election. Another traditional minority group, the Wildrose Party, surprisingly found itself in second place with 21 seats. The Progressive Conservatives held onto just 10 seats.

NDP party leader Rachel Notley was credited for a remarkable political ground game that unseated Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice – a man widely considered a future leader of all Canada. Prentice resigned from his post on election night and said he was at least temporarily leaving politics.

Alberta’s entire United States border runs along Montana, from the western edge of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park to the 110th Meridian north of Havre. The province and state share the spine of the Rocky Mountains and the beginnings of the great mid-continental prairies.

They also share a relatively recent surge in energy development. Over the past decade while Montana has exploited its Bakken oil and gas fields along the border with North Dakota, Alberta has been opening massive production in tar sands petroleum near Fort McMurray.

Oil from the tar sands has become both a political and social controversy.

New Democratic Party officials have questioned the need for the Keystone XL pipeline that would run south from Alberta, through a corner of Montana and down to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The Obama administration has stalled permitting of the international border crossing, while Montana’s bipartisan congressional delegation has supported it.

“If the Keystone XL doesn’t happen, the amount of rail traffic leaving Alberta would be impacted significantly from that decision,” said Bentek Energy senior analyst Jenna Delaney. “Currently, taking the Keystone XL out would increase petroleum unit trains by five a day out of Alberta. And Transport Canada officials say residents in Canada are very concerned with rail traveling through their communities.”

Moving petroleum by rail has become an issue in both Canada and the United States, signposted most recently by last week’s explosion of a group of oil tank cars near Heimdal, North Dakota.

Caryn Miske of the Flathead Basin Commission said the prospect of moving more oil trains along the southern border of Glacier National Park is under close scrutiny.

“We’re already seeing impacts from the amount of oil that’s moving around,” Miske said. “The number of trains and cars carrying oil has increased, and that’s really concerning, considering how many near-misses we’ve had.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has a freight line that runs out of Alberta into Montana at Sweet Grass, although there’s not much cross-border oil traffic there yet.

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Delaney said another factor of the government change could be the NDP’s campaign pledge to revamp the province’s tax structure on energy development.

“They’re looking at increasing income taxes and royalty rates to corporations, which the oil companies aren’t happy about,” Delaney said. “The last time I was in Calgary, the atmosphere was already a little bleak. If taxes are raised on corporations, I don’t know how they might respond. Companies with offices in other places might shift people away from Calgary.”

Much of the province’s energy economy has extremely expensive initial start-up costs. Energy analysts have already been forecasting a drop in Albertan oil production as new projects slip below their break-even points with falling oil prices.

Delaney said that could have an impact on Montana’s economy, as the demand for megaloads of oil field equipment transported across the state stalls.

Longtime conservation activist Stephen Legault said the provincial government’s failure to manage its oil wealth led to great voter frustration.

“We’re drilling 20,000 wells a year in Alberta, and we’re $7 billion in the hole economically,” Legault said. “That’s largely because when oil goes below $75 a barrel, provincial coffers take a massive hit.”

The result has been a government unable to fix damage from the floods that ravaged Calgary in 2013, or even to send land management officials to cross-border conferences in Montana.

While the new government has majority control of Alberta’s Parliament, its influence over the provincial agencies could be a murkier matter. Those departments have had decades of one-party control appointing their directors and staffs.

“If I was south of the border looking north, I wouldn’t expect to see anything dramatic right away,” Legault said. “We’ve had five changes of government since 1905. The bureaucracy is so deeply entrenched after 45 years of one-party rule, it’s going to take years for a new government to put in place the people it wants to create change.”

Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector

Repost from Reuters

Alberta’s possible pivot to the left alarms Canadian oil sector

By Scott Haggett and Nia Williams, May 4, 2015 7:07am EDT
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley meets with Mayor Naheed Nenshi in his office in Calgary, Alberta, April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol

(Reuters: CALGARY, Alberta) – Canada’s oil-rich province of Alberta is on the cusp of electing a left-wing government that can make life harder for the energy industry with its plans to raise taxes, end support for key pipeline projects and seek a bigger cut of oil revenues.

Polls suggest Tuesday’s election is set to end the Conservative’s 44-year reign in the province that boasts the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves and now faces recession because of the slide in crude prices.

Surveys have proven wrong in Canadian provincial elections before and voters may end up merely downgrading the Conservatives’ grip on power to a minority government.

Yet the meteoric rise of the New Democratic Party and the way it already challenges the status-quo of close ties between the industry and the ruling establishment has alarmed oil executives. The proposed review of royalties oil and gas companies pay the government for using natural resources and which could lead to higher levies, is a matter of particular concern.

“Now is not the time for a review of oil and natural gas royalties,” Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s top oil lobby, said in a statement.

A 2007 increase in the levy was rolled back when the global financial crisis struck and oil executives say today the time is equally bad to try it again.

Yet the left’s leader Rachel Notley, a former union activist and law school graduate, has shot up in popularity ratings in the past months advocating policies that have been anathema for many conservative administrations.

She says she would not lobby on behalf of TransCanada Corp’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline or support building of Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to link the province’s oil sands with a Pacific port in British Columbia. Citing heavy resistance from aboriginal groups to the Enbridge line, Notley says Alberta should back those that are more realistic such as TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline to the Atlantic ocean.

PACKING UP?

Notley also advocates a 2 percentage point rise in Alberta’s corporate tax rate to 12 percent to shore up its budget that is expected to swing from a surplus to a C$5 billion deficit in 2015/2016 as energy-related royalty payments and tax revenues shrink.

Even with the proposed corporate tax hike Alberta’s overall taxes would remain the lowest nationally. Oil executives warn, however, that any new burdens at a time when the industry is in a downturn, shedding jobs and cutting spending, could prompt firms to move corporate head offices out of the province.

“Business is mobile,” said Adam Legge, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Calgary where most of Canada’s oil industry is based. “Capital, people and companies move.”

Ironically, the challenge the oil industry and the Conservatives face is in part a by-product of Alberta’s rapid growth fueled by the oil-sands boom.

The influx of immigrants from other parts of Canada and overseas has changed the once overwhelmingly white and rural province. Today Alberta is one of the youngest provinces and polls show younger and more diverse population is more likely to support left-wing causes such as environment and education and more critical of big business. The New Democratic Party still only got 10 percent of the votes in the 2012 vote, but an election of a Muslim politician as a mayor of Calgary in 2010 served as an early sign of the changing political landscape.

The Conservatives themselves and their gaffe-prone leader Premier Jim Prentice also share the blame for the reversal of fortunes with one poll showing them trailing the left by 21 percent to 44 percent.

Prentice angered voters when he told Albertans to “look in the mirror” to find reasons for the province’s fiscal woes and then passed a budget in March that raised individual taxes and fees for government services but spared corporations.

Scandals – Prentice’ s predecessor left last year because of a controversy over lavish spending – and blunders added to the party’s woes.

The NDP vaulted to the top of the polls after Notley’s strong performance in an April 23 televised debate, when Prentice, former investment banker, drew fire for suggesting his rival struggled with math.

Then there is voter fatigue with a party seen as too comfortable and scandal-prone after decades in power.

“It’s still the same gang, the same policy, same procedures, the same concept of entitlement,” said one executive at a large oil and gas producer who declined to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media. “I know some extremely neo-conservative guys who have said enough is enough.”

(Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver and Mike De Souza in Ottawa; Editing by Amran Abocar and Tomasz Janowski)

US House approves $279 million renewable energy cut; raises funding for fossil fuel research by $34 million

Press Release from Friends of the Earth
[Editor:  As you might expect, this travesty was passed on a nearly complete party line vote, with 230 Republicans and 10 Dems in favor.  Dems voting FOR the bill included:  A. Dutch Ruppersberger MD, Ami Bera CA, Brad Ashford NE, Collin Peterson MN, Doris Matsui CA, Filemon Vela TX, Gene Green TX, Henry Cuellar TX, Jim Costa CA, and William Keating MA.  Republicans voting AGAINST the bill included: Christopher Gibson NY, James Sensenbrenner Jr. WI, Joseph Heck NV, Justin Amash MI, Mo Brooks AL, Thomas Massie KY, Walter Jones Jr. NC.   Track the bill here.  – RS]

House approves $279 million renewable energy cut

By: Kate Colwell, May. 1, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2028, “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016,” by a vote of 240-177.

The bill sets funding levels for important programs within the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers. While staying within the limits set by the sequester, the bill manages to raise funding for fossil fuel research by $34 million from 2015 levels while cutting renewable energy and efficiency research by $279 million. Simultaneously, it is packed with policy riders that undermine bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to study the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.

Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Campaigner Lukas Ross issued the following statement in response:

Shoveling more of our tax dollars into the pockets of ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers while defunding clean energy is climate denial at its worst. Fossil fuel interests don’t need more money. Solutions to the climate crisis do.

From hobbling the Clean Water Act to limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to even study fracking, House Speaker John Boehner is continuing his assault on the air we breathe and the water we drink.

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Expert contact: Lukas Ross, (202) 222-0724, lross@foe.org
Communications contact: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org