Fortune – Politics
Why Mnuchin Doesn’t Want You to See Trump’s Tax Returns
Mnuchin Refuses to Release Trump Tax Returns.
Surprising absolutely no one, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin thumbed his nose at the House of Representatives on Monday evening and decided not to turn over President Donald Trump’s business and personal tax returns after weeks of saying he just needed a little more time to think about it. In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Mnuchin, citing guidance he received from the Justice Department, said the committee’s request for Trump’s returns “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose” and he was “therefore not authorized” to release them. With that, Mnuchin said he was “informing” Neal that Treasury “may not lawfully fulfill the Committee’s request.”
If it wasn’t clear before, then it is now: Trump’s White House has decided to wage war on the principles of transparency and oversight, arguing in a series of recent confrontations with the law enforcement community and Congress that the executive branch has the authority and independence to decide for itself whether it has to respond to – and even recognize – checks on its power.That muscularity surfaced during Attorney General William Barr’s Senate testimony last week, when he fended off hours of questions about how he oversaw the disclosure and interpretation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his Russia-Trump investigation. In response to questions about whether Trump had tried to impede or derail Mueller’s probe, and had therefore obstructed justice, Barr at one point said presidents had the power to upend any federal investigation – and to make up his or her mind whether the underlying reasons for a probe were robust enough for it to continue.
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Perhaps nowhere in today’s South Africa is the country’s inequality on more dramatic display than in the neighboring Johannesburg suburbs of Sandton and Alexandra.
With its gleaming high-rises and lush estates, Sandton is known as Africa’s richest square mile. Alexandra, a onetime home to Nelson Mandela, is a squalid, cramped and crime-infested black township. Many of its residents stream into Sandton every day on a bridge over a highway to work in upscale shops or homes.
Angry protests flared in Alexandra last month, stoked in part by campaigning for Wednesday’s national election but mostly by the frustration that South Africa should look far different than the country of haves and have-nots that it has become. Many voters believe the ruling African National Congress has lost its way since Mandela won the first post-apartheid presidential election in 1994, and that belief threatens the ANC’s absolute majority grip on power.
The ANC has been shaken by widespread allegations of corruption that saw former President Jacob Zuma forced out a year ago, and many South Africans feel the party can no longer coast on its legacy of fighting the brutal system of apartheid.
Unemployment in the country of 56 million people soars past 25%. There are tire-burning protests almost every day over the lack of basic services like working toilets in mostly black neighborhoods. Whites still hold much of the wealth and private levers of power, while blacks trim their lawns and clean their homes.
“We find virtually no whites living below the middle class,” Fazila Farouk and Murray Leibbrandt with the Southern Africa Labor and Development Research Unit wrote last year. “Whites have, in fact, comfortably improved their economic status in post-apartheid South Africa because our economy channels such a big share of national income to the top 10%.”
Half of South Africans are in households with per capita income of 1,149 rand ($90) or less a month, they wrote, with little chance to change their fortunes despite working hard as maids or security guards.
“Put bluntly, they’re stuck,” Farouk and Leibbrandt concluded.
Thembeni Manana, an activist who works with the Greater Alexandra Chamber of Commerce, knows the feeling well, describing the inequality that residents of Alexandra feel when then cross the highway bridge into upscale Sandton.
“The air in Sandton is so fresh, you could swear they have air-cons outside,” Manana said, referring to the air-conditioned high-rises in the wealthy enclave. “When you come back to Alex, yo! A most disgusting smell! A sewer that’s overflowing, rats all over the road.”
The 28-year-old helped coordinate last month’s protests, saying that the challenges in righting the inequality are more than cosmetic, more than huddling through power outages in Alexandra while the Sandton skyline glows, unaffected.
“With us, we decided enough is enough. We want to challenge the system,” she added.
She delivered a rapid-fire list of demands: Schools in Alexandra should have a ratio of 30 children per teacher instead of 70. Street vendors should be allowed to supply grocery store chains, giving them access to the wider economy. Children should be able grow up with both parents in homes that have more than one room, allowing for privacy.
The World Bank says South Africa is the most unequal nation on the planet, a fact that former President F.W. de Klerk, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, called “the deepest national shame.”
It’s cutting criticism by someone who oversaw the end of a system that chilled much of the world by segregating its people by the color of their skin. Current President Cyril Ramaphosa, a Mandela protege, doesn’t shy away from the critique.
“Ours is still a deeply unequal country,” he acknowledged last month in marking 25 years since the end of apartheid .
South Africa’s “disturbing” wealth inequality is even more striking than its income disparity, and it threatens democratic values, according to a committee that explored the idea of a wealth tax. Such a tax might help but likely would not change the social relations that create inequality, said Aroop Chatterjee of the Southern Center for Inequality Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
As Ramaphosa wages war on corruption within an ANC divided into the allies of Zuma, the former president, and those who want reform, public exasperation grows and populist movements simmer .
Grievances like those cited by Manana are not limited to Alexandra but exist in many of South Africa’s black townships, and Wednesday’s election likely will reflect the weariness of asking again and again for change.
While South Africa was famous for its long lines of voters in the first post-apartheid election 25 years ago, the sense of national apathy is an ominous sign for the ANC.
“I think people are just tired of voting,” Manana said.
“They realize the character of the political parties, only out to play during election time,” and then disappear until the next balloting five years later, she said.
Bloomberg – Politics
People have been asking me hard questions. What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?
How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?
How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?
How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?
And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?
What happened to these people?
I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.
I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.
From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.
Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.
Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.
You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.
You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.
And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.
James Comey is the former F.B.I. director and author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”
Robert Mueller is a stickler for the rules. The special counsel team he led was a leakproof box, his spokesman seldom spoke and his only public statements came in the form of indictments and court filings.
But on March 27, three days after Attorney General William Barr cleared President Trump of criminal wrongdoing in a misleading and incomplete summary of Mr. Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation, the special counsel felt compelled to protest. In a letter made public on Wednesday, just as Mr. Barr was preparing to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the American public got its first glimpse of how the special counsel thinks and speaks about his work.
Mr. Mueller’s tone and tenor are remarkable — and a sharp rebuke to Mr. Barr:
“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” Mr. Mueller wrote in a letter addressed to Mr. Barr, whose characterizations of Mr. Mueller’s investigation have also come under fire by members of the special counsel’s team.
The special counsel notes in his letter that just a day after Mr. Barr’s effort to spin the findings of the investigation (which Mr. Trump crowed was a “Complete and Total EXONERATION”), Mr. Mueller raised “concern” about all the confusion and misreporting that the attorney general had caused.
“There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” Mr. Mueller wrote. “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”
(Mr. Barr referred in his testimony to Mr. Mueller’s letter as “a bit snitty,” and suggested it had been written by an underling.)
For an institutionalist like Mr. Mueller, who never once spoke up to defend himself or his work from relentless attacks from the president and his Republican allies, the letter is an unusual (and welcome) breach of protocol. It is rare for a senior Department of Justice official to so sharply criticize the attorney general in a written communication that would soon be made public.
Clearly, Mr. Mueller deemed it necessary. Beginning in early March, he and Mr. Barr were in close contact and seemed to have reached a gentlemen’s agreement about the timely public release of the special counsel’s findings without compromising grand jury material, intelligence sources and methods or current criminal investigations.
Mr. Mueller noted that he had prepared detailed and accurate summaries of the two volumes of the report, one on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, the second on potential obstruction of justice:
At this time. In late March, the special counsel wanted the crux of his findings delivered to the American public immediately, to clear up the misconceptions Mr. Barr had left with his four-page summary letter to Congress. Instead, Mr. Barr took another three weeks to release the summaries and the full report, saying he needed to go through it line by line to redact any privileged material.
In congressional testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Barr justified the delay by saying he didn’t want to release the report “piecemeal,” and said that Mr. Mueller’s summaries were “underinclusive.” He asserted that the report became his responsibility after the special counsel submitted it, which is true in a formalistic sense: The regulations governing Mr. Mueller’s work call for a “confidential” report to the attorney general at the conclusion of the inquiry, which the attorney general may then release if he determined it “would be in the public interest.”
That Mr. Mueller quoted from this regulatory language in his letter to Mr. Barr shows that he cares about rules, perhaps to a fault. But it also shows that Mr. Mueller sensed the urgency of his conclusions — and that he couldn’t sit idly by as the chief legal officer of the United States actively undermined them.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The fear was persistent.
As the Russia investigation heated up and threatened to shadow Donald Trump’s presidency, he became increasingly concerned. But the portrait painted by special counsel Robert Mueller is not of a president who believed he or anyone on his campaign colluded with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election.
Instead, the Trump of the Mueller report is gripped by fear that Americans would question the very legitimacy of his presidency. Would Trump, the man who put his name on skyscrapers and his imprint on television, be perceived as a cheater and a fraud?
To Trump, his victory over Hillary Clinton was both historic and overwhelming, though he won millions of votes less than did the Democratic candidate.
If people thought he’d won with the help of Russia, that glorious victory might be tainted.
Just a month after Election Day, on Dec. 10, 2016, reports surfaced that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded Russia interfered in the election and tried to boost Trump’s presidential bid.
The next day, Trump went on Fox News and called the assessment “ridiculous” and “just another excuse.” The intelligence community actually had “no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody,” he argued.
“It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place,” the Republican president-elect added.
The president’s public narrative quickly shifted. He blamed Democrats and accused his political opponents of putting the story out because they “suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics.”
But the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election to sow discord among American voters and to help get Trump elected was his “Achilles’ heel,” one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, would tell investigators.
In the months that followed, Trump reacted strenuously to investigations into links between the Russians and his campaign and transition teams.
Michael Flynn, who served on the transition team and would go on to be national security adviser, spoke with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Flynn asked that Russia not retaliate against the United States because of sanctions announced by the Obama administration; the ambassador later told Flynn that Russia would hold back.
In the weeks that followed, Trump paid careful attention to what he saw as negative stories about Flynn. He grew increasingly angry when a story broke pointing out that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
By mid-February, Flynn was forced to resign.
A day later, as Trump was set to meet with FBI Director James Comey, the president had lunch with his confidant and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He told Christie he believed the Russia investigation would end because of Flynn’s departure.
“Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over,” Trump said.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The fear — and Trump’s anger — continued for months as the Russia investigation ensnared some of his closest confidants. Over and over, he would tell advisers that he thought the public narrative about Russian election interference was created to undermine his win. It was a personal attack, he insisted.
On May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey. Trump would later admit in an interview that he had considered “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.
Days later, Trump held an Oval Office meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House lawyer Don McGahn and Sessions’ chief of staff Jody Hunt to interview candidates to be the next FBI director.
Sessions walked out of the room to take a call from his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. When he returned, he informed Trump that Rosenstein had appointed a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump feared that his presidency, still in its infancy, could be over. And he was furious his aides hadn’t protected him.
The president slumped back in his chair.
“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f—ed. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
For months, as the Russia investigation grew and more people in Trump’s inner circle appeared to be under intense scrutiny from federal investigators, Trump became completely preoccupied with press coverage of the probe. The message was persistent: It raises questions about the legitimacy of the election.
At rallies and on Twitter, Trump decried what he said was a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
In the end, the redacted version of Mueller’s report cleared the Trump campaign of colluding with Russian efforts to influence the election.
Trump crowed that the report found “No Collusion.” But he ignored Mueller’s finding that Russian meddling was very real and was intended to support Trump’s campaign.
Did Russia’s efforts lead to Trump’s victory? Mueller doesn’t venture an opinion, much as he does not decide whether Trump committed obstruction of justice.
But how could Trump have obstructed justice if there was no collusion to hide?
The lack of an underlying crime doesn’t really matter, Mueller argued. Trump still had a motivation to obstruct the investigation — fear that people would question the legitimacy of his election.
Fast Food Workers Can Be Fired For No Reason. A New Bill Could Change That.
The New York City Council is considering “just cause” legislation to enshrine fairness and dignity for fast food workers. It could become a model for other cities and industries.
Nadra Nittle, Food and Farm Labor April 24, 2019
Francis Gomez vividly remembers the day she was fired from her cashier job at a Taco Bell in Queens, New York. Just before last Christmas, she showed up for her shift when a manager told her, “Don’t clock in; you’re terminated.” The firing stunned Gomez, 27, who had worked on and off for the fast food chain since 2014.
“I was completely surprised. I was accused of disrespecting a customer, but there was no customer complaint,” she said. “When I asked for a letter, I was basically told, ‘You’re already terminated, so it doesn’t matter.’”
Taco Bell hasn’t responded to Civil Eats’ request for comment about its firing practices, but stories like Gomez’s are one of the reasons New York City Council members Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams have introduced “just cause” legislation to give fast food workers more job protection. The bill prohibits fast food companies from firing workers or significantly reducing their hours without a stated reason and would give employees the chance to correct their behavior before termination. With this legislation, New York City could lead the nation in offering job security for fast food workers.
Tsedeye Gebreselassie, president of Fast Food Justice, an organization that fights for workplace improvements for fast food employees, said that staff have been fired for infractions as trivial as not smiling enough. But more often than not, she said, they’re deprived of real reasons for their terminations, making New York City’s just cause bill a potential game changer for workers.
“The legislation the New York City Council is considering the first of its kind in the country for the fast food industry, but it could become a model for other cities and industries that want to enshrine fairness and dignity for workers and ensure they are only fired when there’s a reason that warrants it,” she told Civil Eats.
As the national Fight for $15 campaign highlights the need for living wages for fast food staff, New York City’s just cause legislation stresses the importance of keeping some of the labor market’s most vulnerable workers employed. While more job protection certainly benefits workers, supporters of just cause legislation say it could also help the fast food industry save money by stabilizing its workforce.
Fast Food Industry’s ‘Disposable Culture’
By some estimates, the fast food industry has a 150 percent turnover rate. Each year, most chains lose their entire staffs, plus half of the replacements hired. The frequency with which fast food companies fire and hire workers usually comes at the expense of employees such as Gomez, who have little recourse when they’re terminated, labor advocates say. While nearly all Americans who don’t have union jobs are considered “at-will employees”—meaning they may be fired at any time for any reason—companies typically use progressive discipline for employees rather than terminate them without warning. Fast food workers tend to have the opposite experience.
“For far too long, fast food workers have been the victims of unfair reduction of hours or arbitrary termination,” New York City Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said in a statement to Civil Eats. “By enacting just cause legislation, the city could require that fast food chains demonstrate a legitimate reason for terminating a worker or reducing their hours.”
A recent report entitled, “Fired On a Whim: The Precarious Existence of NYC Fast-Food Workers,” found that 58 percent of 237 fast food employees have had their hours severely cut, and 65 percent have been fired without a reason. The National Employment Law Project (NELP), the Center for Popular Democracy, 32BJ SEIU, and Fast Food Justice collaborated on the analysis.
Paul Sonn, NELP’s state policy program director, said the New York bill would require fast food chains to implement basic fair practices before cutting employees’ hours or terminating them. The restaurants would have to clearly outline job expectations and give workers warnings, chances to improve their behavior, and notice of possible termination. In extreme cases, such as workplace violence, companies would not have to use these practices before firing an employee.
The “disposable culture” of the fast food world has made such guidelines necessary, Sonn said.
“This is an industry that has sort of latched onto a high turnover/low-wage business model,” Sonn argued. “They generally pay as little as they’re legally permitted to pay, and they don’t invest in workers. In some cases, having a high turnover model is a way to avoid workers from starting to organize and assert their rights. There’s also a very high turnover rate among the managers. There’s a lot of instability, and some of the basic good HR practices seem to be shockingly uncommon in a lot of the fast food industry.”
Gig Economy Poses Threats to All Workers, Especially Single Mothers
Stephanie Seguino, a University of Vermont economics professor, said that the legislation will lead fast food chains to reflect on their business practices, particularly the arbitrary dismissal of employees. She places the fast food workforce in the context of the Great Recession, which led to a process called labor market flexibilization, more colloquially known as the gig economy. The 2008 recession and the decline of labor unions means that workers in various fields have fewer protections than they once did, and companies in a number of industries are increasingly firing and hiring people at will, or using third-party contractors to hire workers, to avoid giving employees benefits.
“It shifts the burden of economic insecurity to the worker, and that’s the problem,” Seguino said. “We’re seeing workers involuntarily placed in part-time work or working for temp agencies on a contingency basis. This is a growing trend, and it’s particularly damaging to people with families.”
Seguino says that single mothers are especially at risk in industries such as fast food, where missing a shift or being late for one can result in job termination. These women bear most of the responsibility for childcare and, therefore, have few options other than to miss work if their children fall ill or a daycare crisis occurs. Having to pick up and drop off children at school also increases the odds that mothers will be late and possibly fired, Seguino said.
Terminating workers has dire consequences for fast-food workers. According to the “Fired on a Whim” report, 62 percent of respondents who lost a fast food job or had their hours cut experienced food insecurity, housing instability, and the inability to pay for childcare. Some were evicted or forced to move or quit school.
Gomez, who still has not found full-time work, said that she has struggled financially since losing her Taco Bell job in December. Joblessness during the holiday season is particularly challenging, not only because it makes paying for Christmas gifts tough, she said, but also because it’s too late to apply for the seasonal work already underway. Gomez has depended on her wife to support over the past five months and has used some of the financial aid from her college education to cover expenses.
“Right now, I’m a full-time college student,” she said. “I do odd jobs here and there. It’s hard to pay rent and bills even now.”
More Job Security Could Help the Fast Food Industry
While it’s clear that job security benefits workers, it also offers advantages to the fast food industry. According to the National Restaurant Industry, turnover costs restaurants an average of $150,000 per year. That number is likely higher for fast food restaurants, which have more than double the turnover of the overall restaurant average of 61 percent annually.
“Turnover absolutely costs tons of money,” said Rachel Deutsch, supervising attorney for worker justice at the Center for Popular Democracy. “The recruiting process, the hiring process, training new people, it’s far more productive to keep workers who have been on the job because they’re more invested.”
Seguino agreed, pointing out how in the early days of the auto industry, carmakers such as Ford underpaid their workers, resulting in a high annual turnover rate. Ford eventually realized how much it cost to replace its workers and raised its pay to reduce turnover.
“Firms don’t realize that some of their practices may be undermining their bottom line,” she said. “Job security is a win-win for businesses and workers.”
As labor advocates support New York City’s just cause bill, Gomez said that she encounters far too many people who don’t consider the job “real work.” But Gomez has a very different take on her former position.
“We’re the backbone of this city,” she said. “When everyone goes to lunch, they don’t understand that the workers have sometimes been there since 5 or 6 in the morning or that the late-night workers are there until 2 a.m. cleaning up. There are workers who raise their children off these paychecks. It’s not fair, it’s not humane to fire someone without a proper reason, to know you can get fired at any moment. We’re doing a lot more than you think.”
The New York City Council will likely vote on the bill during the summer, and advocates hope that if it passes, it will have a domino effect nationwide.
“In New York City, we must stand up and address these injustices in an effort to protect workers in this industry,” Councilwoman Adams said. “Just cause legislation is a necessary step to bring accountability to fast food giants and security to their employees.”
the real news network
Canada is Warming at Twice the Rate of the Globe, Says New Report
Greenpeace Canada analyst hopes study serves as a wake-up call for Trudeau government, but says “You can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” on climate change
SPEAKER: It’s the 21st century. We know climate change is real. We know that one of the challenges we have is that pollution has been free, but we need to put a price on it.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada. Earlier this week, officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, presented the results of a study on warming in Canada. Their study concluded that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that northern Canada is warming even more quickly, nearly three times the global rate. The officials also reported that three of the past five years have been the warmest on record in this country. Their study is the first of its kind. Entitled Canada’s Changing Climate Report, the study has been in the works for years and is the first of a series aimed at informing policy decisions and increasing public awareness and understanding of Canada’s changing climate. Now here to discuss this new study with us is Keith Stewart. Keith is a Senior Energy Strategist with Greenpeace Canada and part-time instructor at the University of Toronto. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from York University and has worked as a climate policy researcher and advocate for 19 years. He joins us today from Toronto. Thanks for coming back on The Real News, Keith.
KEITH STEWART: Thanks for having me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So Keith, even with all of the warming that has occurred in this country since the beginning of the fossil fuels era, we Canadians continue to live in what is one of the world’s relatively colder climates. Why should Canadians be concerned about this report? How is the warming of the atmosphere and of the oceans affecting their lives in practical terms and what practical effects should Canadians anticipate as Canada continues to warm?
KEITH STEWART: It’s kind of a standard joke that oh, in Canada it would be nice if it was a little warmer. The problem is the rate of change. We haven’t historically– well, in the geological record climate has changed a lot over time– but we’re trying to pack change that usually take 50,000 to 100,000 years into 50 years. Because we’re burning fossil fuels and sort of increasing the greenhouse effect trapping heat, which it then causes a whole bunch of other changes. You might think oh, a little bit warmer that would be nice, but you’re also changing rainfall patterns. You’re going to have drought in some places. You are going to have more wildfires, the kinds we’ve seen in B.C. and Alberta the last couple of years where people literally couldn’t breathe. Walking outside in Vancouver was like breathing eight packs, smoking eight pack of cigarettes. In urban areas, one of the warnings in the report is we’re going to see even more flooding. In particular, the kind of flash flooding which in one incident here in Toronto back in 2013, we saw $960 million worth of damage in a couple of hours. We saw street cars under water. People had to be rescued from the GO train by boat. These kinds of severe impacts– the heat waves, the droughts, the wildfires, the flooding– these cause enormous damage to our economy, they cause enormous damage to our health, and we’re only seeing the thin edge of the wedge here.
When you look at this report, a big part of the message in the report is: what the future looks like depends a lot on what actions we take today. In their low emissions scenario, if Canada warmed about one point seven degrees, it would warm by another two degrees, that’s bad because it would have a whole bunch of negative impacts. The negative impacts by far outweigh the positives. In the high emissions scenario, the one we’re actually on the path to right now, they’re talking about warming by six degrees in Canada, on average even more than the far north, by the end of the century. That would make agriculture basically impossible in large chunks of the prairies. They say oh, you can just move further north. Well a lot of places in this country you move further north, they don’t have soil to be able to support agriculture. Here in Ontario, we have this thing called the Canadian Shield. It’s all granite. You can’t grow crops there. And similarly, forests which are suited for one climate system, can’t move themselves north 50, 100, 200 kilometers in the space of 20 years.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This study was released on April 1st, Keith, which also happened to be the date on which a federal carbon tax of $20 a ton took effect in provinces that lack provincial pricing plans, including the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The carbon tax, as I’m sure you know, is the centerpiece of the Trudeau government’s strategy for fighting climate change. In your view, is this carbon tax adequate both from the perspective of the amount of the tax and the breadth of its application? And if not, what kind of a carbon tax do you think we need in this country given the urgency of the situation?
KEITH STEWART: I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is action on climate change has been narrowed to carbon tax, no carbon tax. And really we need a whole, vast suite of efforts not just carbon taxes but also massive investments in things like public transit, so people can get to where they need to go without having to drive a car. We need to invest in better sewage/stormwater systems so that we’re not having these floodings. We need to invest in rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. A carbon tax is a key part of that. Raising the price of fossil fuels makes them less attractive relative to cleaner forms of energy. It also brings in some cash that can be done to build things like great public transit systems or, put up windmills and solar panels. So in the U.S. we are talking about this as a Green New Deal, kind of built on the New Deal that Roosevelt, that the Americans brought in to fight the Great Depression. That’s the kind of change we need. This carbon tax is a component of that and I think it’s kind of like the lowest possible measure, $20 dollars a ton kicking in this year. That’s 4.4 cents per liter of gasoline. When you look at the price of oil, the price of gasoline goes up and down. That’s not a huge change. That on its own is by no means enough. They’re also talking about increasing it $10 a year. Greenpeace would support that. We also think the money should be invested back in renewables, but that’s got to be just one piece of a much bigger package.
The big problem we have right now is no one is treating the climate crisis really like a crisis. We treat it more as kind of a messaging problem; we do a few things it will go away. Or, on one side of the political spectrum with the conservatives at the provincial level and federally who are fighting against even the small carbon tax that’s being proposed, they’re proposing we do nothing. That somehow if we ignore the problem, it will go away. One of my friends was asking me, “do you think this new report that just came is a wakeup call?” And was like well, there’s an old proverb that says “you can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” and that’s the problem with a lot of the politicians in this country and around the world. They’re pretending to be asleep on this issue, hoping they can get out of office and it will be someone else’s problem down the road.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now at the same time as the Trudeau government has raised alarms about the extent of warming in this country, federal and provincial governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of about $3 billion a year. Also, as we’ve reported extensively on The Real News, the Trudeau government is spending billions of taxpayer dollars to buy its TransMountain tar sands pipeline. Keith, doesn’t this new study– I mean, what Justin Trudeau did on Monday was he held it up and said to the public and in particularly was addressing the conservatives and those who are opposed to the carbon tax, this shows that we have to impose a carbon tax. But doesn’t it also highlight the recklessness of the Trudeau government’s continued defense of the fossil fuels industry, its massive investments in the fossil fuels industry, this perpetuation of our dependence on fossil fuels?
KEITH STEWART: Absolutely. Subsidies in fossil fuels is basically like a negative carbon tax. You’re making them cheaper in order to get people to use more. Similarly, the federal government yesterday was denying that, in response, were denying that the purchasing the pipeline was a subsidy to fossil fuels. Well it is and I think the Trudeau government is trying to have it both ways. They say we’re going to do a carbon tax and we’re going to promote expansion of the oil industry. If you’re serious about climate change, that means getting off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible by mid-century, at the latest. Building a new tar sands pipeline that has to operate for 50 years to make the money back, makes no sense at this point if you’re seriously committed to achieving the Paris climate goals, to protecting the future of our economy, of our communities, of our ecosystems. So it’s not one step forward, one step back which is kind of what we’re seeing from the federal liberals. It’s got to be leaping forward and I think the big problem in Canada and also similarly in the U.S. and many other places is that entrenched power of the fossil fuel interests in Canada and particularly the oil lobby. In the US it’s also the coal lobby who are basically saying, don’t go too fast. Give us time to get our money out. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has launched an election campaign in Alberta saying, we want to double the rate of growth of oil production in Alberta and here’s all things you have to do to help us do that which is kill regulations, get rid of carbon pricing, build new pipelines. That’s basically asking people to vote for climate destruction.
And I think this is going to be a big issue in the federal election here in the fall as we have the conservatives who are saying do nothing about climate change and give more subsidies to the oil industry. You have the liberals who are saying let’s do stuff on climate change but not touch oil production. So they are doing a coal phase out, they’re doing a bunch of other measures. But basically, oil is sacrosanct and what we really need is a push for this kind of a Green New Deal which actually, we can make our lives better. We can create great green jobs right across the country. We can deal with all sorts of problems in this country by the kind of investments that are necessary, putting people to work, solving the climate crisis.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve been speaking to Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada about an important and alarming new study showing that the rate of warming in Canada is far above the global average. Thank you very much for joining us today, Keith.
KEITH STEWART: Thanks so much for having me on.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network.
Some U.S. states rely on America’s robust gun culture more than others.
Gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson (AOBC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) saw sales boom under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, but firearms sales in the U.S. fell by 6.1% — the second year of decline.
And if the “Trump Slump” persists for gunmakers, Idaho will be the state hardest hit, according to a new report from WalletHub.
The study — which ranked all 50 states based on how the firearms industry contributed to the economic development of the state from jobs to sales, how prevalent guns were, and how far the state supported gun rights — found that Idaho was the state that was the most dependent on the gun industry.
Alaska came in second place, followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arkansas.
“Most states in the top ten have state law immunity to the gun industry, which means that the state provides immunity from bringing lawsuits against certain gun industry defendants,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told Yahoo Finance. “They also have more lenient age restrictions to purchase and possess firearms. Senators from the top ten states voted to either loosen gun restrictions or against a measure adding restrictions.”
Idaho’s dependency stems from its reliance on the firearms industry: Idaho ranked only behind New Hampshire — home to industry giants like Sig Sauer and Sturm Ruger — in terms of the number of people per capita employed by the firearms industry.
In 2018, the firearms industry contributed to nearly $1.2 billion in economic activity to the state, with over 3,600 people employed in companies that “manufacture, distribute and sell firearms, ammunition, and hunting equipment,” a National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) report found.
The state also ranked in the top 5 in terms of gun-friendliness and the prevalence of guns.
Idaho began ramping efforts to attract the firearms industry in 2008 by touting its low wages, gun-friendly culture, and business climate, according to the Idaho Business Review. The plan has since paid off in less than a decade, as employment by the firearms industry grew 40% between 2012 and 2017.
Overall, the NSSF also estimated that the firearms industry contributes to over $52 billion in economic activity to all 50 states, as gun manufacturers employed nearly 150,000 people, generated over $52 billion in economic activity, and its employees paid over $6.82 billion in taxes.
No guns in New Jersey
Gun-shy New Jersey ranked last on the list.
Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware followed.
In March 2018, the National Rifle Association criticized New Jersey — which is known for its exceptionally tough gun laws — after it elected anti-gun advocate Governor Phil Murphy as launching a “historic assault on our Second Amendment rights.”
Speaking in November 2018, after the mass shooting in in Parkland, Florida, Murphy stated: “Mass murder is not the price that we have to pay for the Second Amendment.”
While the number of outstanding registered firearms are roughly the same between both states — 52,527 in Idaho versus 59,000 in New Jersey — the deliberate emphasis on gun control has been effective in keeping the firearms industry’s influence largely out of the state’s economy.
Nevertheless, the NSSF claimed that New Jersey did see a $560 million boost in economic activity because of the industry.
Overall, the bottom five overall had “some of the lowest numbers of firearms and ammunition dealers, importers and manufacturers per capita,” Gonzalez noted. “As a result, the total federal excise taxes paid by the firearms industry are also some of the lowest in the country.”
Another interesting takeaway from the study is that while Texas had the highest number of registered firearms at 637,612 in 2018, it was only ranked no. 22 on the list.
Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance.