Originally published in TruthOut on November 9, 2014.
There have been endless post-mortems on the 2014 midterm elections, complete with explanations proffered as to why Democrats and their allies failed so spectacularly, and projections of doom and gloom lasting until the next election cycle. However, in a profound sense this election changes very little. The dominant reality we face is one of substantial ongoing political stalemate and decay, and this sets the terms of reference for those serious about long term, more fundamental change.
First things first: There is little indication that, even when elected, Democrats employing traditional liberal strategies will have the capacity to change most of the deteriorating or stagnating economic, social, and environmental trends – including, among others: rising inequality, high levels of poverty and child poverty, continued discrimination against women and minorities, declining corporate taxation, staggering levels of incarceration, increasing corruption of the political system and a rapidly changing climate.
Originally published in Al Jazeera America on November 10, 2014.
“Even if the United States deals with its carbon emission problem, the Chinese won’t. So what’s the point?”
“You can’t condemn the entire global South to abandon energy development, and you can’t provide enough with solar and wind. So what’s the point?”
“Besides, the whole enterprise of trying to achieve a future sufficiently carbon-free to deal with the most important problems is politically hopeless.”
These challenges are sometimes spoken, sometimes not, but they commonly and powerfully weaken efforts to deal with the climate crisis. Despite the well-funded bluster of disingenuous or, at best, delusional skeptics and deniers, a majority of Americans believe the climate is changing in worrying ways, and many (PDF) also believe that these changes pose a threat to current and future generations. But this belief has not yet translated into action at a scale adequate to the problem we face.
Originally published in Shelterforce on FALL/WINTER 2013/14.
Despite its great wealth, the United States today faces enormous difficulties, with no easily discernible answers in sight. Elections occur and debates ensue, but many of the most pressing problems facing ordinary citizens are only marginally affected. For the average American, the trends have been bad for a very long time. Real wages for 80 percent of American workers have been stagnant for decades. At the same time, income for the top 1 percent has jumped from roughly 10 percent of all income to roughly 20 percent. Put another way, virtually all the gains of the entire economic system have gone to a tiny, tiny group at the top for at least three decades.
At the most superficial level, Washington—as the saying goes—is broken. The political system is simply incapable of dealing with the challenges. It focuses on deficits, not assets or answers. Long-term, unchanging trends are a clear signal that it’s not simply partisan bickering and congressional stalemate that are causing the problems. We all know that something different is going on—both with the economy and, more fundamentally, with democracy itself.
While there are growing difficulties in our nation’s suburban and rural areas, nowhere are the problems more evident than in far too many of our nation’s cities. The National League of Cities (NLC), which annually publishes a research brief on city fiscal conditions, has documented the rapid deterioration of municipal finance. The NLC’s most recent brief, published last year, found general revenue declines for six consecutive years, an unprecedented average annual decrease of more than 2.5 percent per year, and a cumulative decline in excess of 15 percent.