Monday, March 20, 2017


The themes from last weekʻs postings explored the role of the nationʻs newly elected President and his undeclared war on California. Additional media coverage over the past weekend provides more evidence that the Presidentʻs proposed budget is worse than even initial assessments. Especially worrisome are projected impacts on health care costs facing the poor and elderly. Similarly negative assessments appear forthcoming with regard to housing the homeless, feeding the malnourished, educating children in poor neighborhoods, protecting the rights of immigrants, and so on. In this regard, Californiaʻs clashes with both Congress and the Oval Office are not isolated ones; most other states face the same or even worse negative consequences.  

Californiaʻs distinguishing trait is that many of its inhabitants are preparing for a fight with that ill-tempered autocrat seeking a larger army and a bigger balcony from which to rule the nation (inspirational credit to Jimmy Breslin). Beneath the calls for an indivisible campaign, however, are deep divisions. Even as President Trump is uniting his partisan opponents, a familiar fault line remains largely ignored: money in politics. 

One of the clearest manifestations of the money in politics rift operating in California is revealed by what would seem to be an arena of complete unity: protecting the Golden Stateʻs environment. Yet, scratch on this topic and you will discover an intense struggle stretching over decades. More astounding still, the heart of Californiaʻs conflict over the environment surfaces in a most unlikely place: the converging global crises brought about by fossil fuels. Among the most important agents of this destruction are the large and private financial interests, energy companies, affiliated industries, corporate lobbyists, and, of course, compromised politicians, the so-called business-friendly moderates.

This last category, the business-oriented moderates or corporados as I prefer to call them, play a crucial role in the political realm by often negotiating compromises to weaken, if not destroy, the ability of public interest lobbyists to achieve more sweeping changes. The prime example at the center of many stories in this book is Californiaʻs cap-and-trade law, the stateʻs pollution-trading scheme. Despite heroic, and quite long-standing resistance by a coalition of community-based advocates, the legal instrument giving polluters major flexibility in the ultra hazardous converging set of fossil-fueled crises - has undercut the publicʻs ability to expeditiously launch a new economy. With climate scientists issuing ever more alarming warnings against any further slowing of an immediate dismantle of fossil fuels, petroleros and corporados have recently set in motion a law perfectly designed to delay more decisive actions. From the perspective, it is compelling to frame Californiaʻs celebrated solution to this global apocalypse, cap-and-trade, as a clever deception. 

Within the corridors of power, however, there is another vantage on the so-called climate crisis. Intertwined with the destruction of our planet, is a parallel, no less astonishing story: the corporate war on democracy. Having observing pitched battles between public interest groups and the corporate lobby inside one of the worldʻs largest economies, the contours of this conflict are manifest. It is in this lesser recognized war where public interest advocates have often made their most important contributions, bolstering citizens to fight for their democratic rights as well as an economic transition to decent jobs which protects healthy communities. One need look no further than a statement issued by the executive director of the Los Angeles office of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Martha Dina Argüello, to illustrate the contemporary struggle: “The current system is not working. We need to do better. We need climate solutions that build in equity, and the unique needs of impacted communities, from the start. This means regulations that prioritize public health, neighborhood resiliency, and a just transition to a clean economy...and to fully explore alternatives to cap-and-trade.”

These words might as easily have been voiced by Strela Cervas, Jessie Marquez, Angela Johnson Meszaros, Bill Magavern or a multitude of other public interest advocates. Connecting many similar such discussions over the decades, these words outline the initial plans of action for for crafting a new economy that will transform neighborhoods, cities, states and beyond. The spark will be the current disaster unfolding in the nationʻs capitol. With time, in constructive response, the emphasis will turn from yet another critique of the dead-end and dangerous fossil fuel industries to the excitement in pursuit of an entirely different path. What groups have accomplished in San Francisco or San Diego will coalesces with what others are doing in Singapore, Copenhagen or Lagos. Early, outlandish calls to outlaw the internal combustion engine will gain widespread acceptance as a practical idea for moving beyond the obvious dysfunctions of fossil fuels.

The problem we confront is no longer an absence of alternatives. The petrolerosʻ insistence that fossil fuels will surely remain essential for decades to come has yielded to their early replacement by wind, solar and other clean energy sources. Even more exciting than the spread of clean energy is the expanding global resistance to oil and support for alternatives. It is, after all, the collective political muscle flexed by millions, if not billions, of individuals that will create a new future with the construction of an economy and bodies of governance serving a broad public interest, not one privately fashioned.

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