Will The Real Issues Be Discussed In 2016?
By John Scales Avery
03 July, 2015
In the United States, campaigns for the presidential election of 2016 have already begun. This might be an occasion for a realistic discussion of the enormously important challenges which we now face, not only in the America, but also throughout the world. But will the central issues be discussed? Or will the campaigns focus on personalities and trivia?
The most important issues
Most thoughtful people agree that the two most important issues facing humanity today are the threat of catastrophic and uncontrollable climate change, and the threat of nuclear war. Each of these threatened disasters has the potential to destroy human civilization and much of the biosphere. But will these vitally important issues be be discussed in an honest way? Or will the campaign spectacle presented to us by the mass media be washed down into the murky depths of stupidity by rivers of money from the fossil fuel giants and the military industrial complex?
The Republican presidential candidates are almost single-voiced in denying the reality of climate change, and they are almost unanimously behind foreign policy options that would push the world to the brink of nuclear war. What about the Democrats and Independents? We will discuss this question in a moment, but first let us look at the the two major issues:
The reality of climate change
Unless rapid action is taken, the world may soon pass a tipping point after which human efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change will be useless because feedback loops will have taken over. However, our present situation is by no means hopeless, because of the extremely rapid rate of growth of renewable energy. What can governments do to help? They can stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry! Without massive fossil fuel subsidies, renewables would be the cheaper option, and economic forces alone would drive the urgently-needed transition to 100% renewable energy.
A report by RNE21, a global renewable energy policy network, states that “Global subsidies for fossil fuels remain high despite reform efforts. Estimates range from USD 550 billion (International Energy Agency) to USD 5.6 trillion per year (International Monetary Fund), depending on how 'subsidy' is defined and calculated.”
“Growth in renewable energy (and energy efficiency improvements) is tempered by subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power, particularly in developing countries. Subsidies keep conventional energy prices artificially low, which makes it more difficult for renewable energy to compete...”
“Creating a level playing field can lead to a more efficient allocation of financial resources, helping to strengthen to advance the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Removing fossil fuel and energy subsidies globally would reflect more accurately the true cost of energy generation.”
An Elephant in the room
There is, so to speak, an elephant in the room; but no one wants to talk about it. Everyone (with a very few exceptions) pretends not to see it. They pretend that it is not there. What is this metaphorical elephant? It is the Pentagon's colossal budget, which is far too sacred a thing to be mentioned in an election campaign.
The size of this budget is almost beyond comprehension: 610 billion dollars per year. This does not include nuclear weapons research, maintenance, cleanup and production, which are paid for by the Department of Energy. Nor does it include payments in pensions to military retirees and widows, nor interest on debt for past wars, nor the State Department's financing foreign arms sales and military-related development assistance, nor special emergency grants for current wars. Nor are the expenses of the Department of Homeland Security included in the Pentagon's budget, nor those of the CIA, nor the huge budget of NSA and other dark branches of the US government. One can only guess at the total figure if everything should be included, but it is probably well over a trillion dollars per year.
The hidden presence in the room is a trillion-dollar elephant. Perhaps we should include subsidies to fossil fuel giants. Then we would have a multi-trillion-dollar elephant. But it is too sacred to be mentioned. Cut Medicare! Cut pensions! Cut Social Security! Abolish food stamps! Sacrifice support for education! We are running out of money! (Meanwhile the elephant stands there, too holy to be seen.)
Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein
I will not say anything about Hillary Clinton, because she is almost indistinguishable from the Republican presidential candidates, both on the issues related to war and on those related to the environment. But let us now have a look at the positions of Senator Bernie Sanders and Dr. Jill Stein.
In May, when he started his campaign for nomination as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, seemed to be an outsider with no chance of winning. But on June 25, the New York Times reported that, in the New Hampshire primaries, Sanders was running in a statistical dead heat with heavily financed Hillary Clinton. On July 1, Bernie Sanders made history by drawing a capacity crowd of 10,000 wildly cheering supporters to a sports stadium in Madison Wisconsin, the largest crowd assembled by any candidate in the current presidential race. Bernie now seems to have a real chance of winning the nomination, and perhaps the 2016 election, because of an avalanche of popular support..
Here is Bernie's statement about income inequality: “What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels. This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans¡K You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.”
Sanders believes that “no single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure would send the world economy into crisis. If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.”
Sanders is opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he has called “a continuation of other disastrous trade agreements, like NAFTA and CAFTA...”
Concerning jobs, Bernie Sanders has said that “America once led the world in building and maintaining a nationwide network of safe and reliable bridges and roads. Today, nearly a quarter of the nation's 600,000 bridges have been designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete...Almost one-third of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition...,” He believes that secure jobs can be created by developing transportation and renewable energy infrastructure. Sanders also supports the development of worker-owned cooperatives.
Sanders has stated that he believes that the Citizens United decision is “one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions ever” and that it has allowed big money to “deflect attention from the real issues” facing voters. He has proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling, and he warns that “We now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates.”
Sanders strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying: “I am opposed to giving the President a blank check to launch a unilateral invasion and occupation of Iraq... As a caring Nation, we should do everything we can to prevent the horrible suffering that a war will cause. War must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first. ...I am deeply concerned about the precedent that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could establish in terms of international law and the role of the United Nations.”
Bernie Sanders voted against the USA Patriot Act and all of its renewals and has characterized the National Security Agency as “out of control.” He has frequently criticized warrentless wiretapping and the collection of the phone, email, library, and Internet browsing records of American citizens without due process.
Bernie says: “In my view, NSA is out of control and operating in an unconstitutional manner. I worry very much about kids growing up in a society where they think 'I'm not going to talk about this issue, read this book, or explore this idea because someone may think I'm a terrorist'. That's not the kind of free society I want for our children.”
You can find more information about Bernie, and other planks in his platform, in the Wikipedia article:
And remember to vote for him!
But who is Jill?
In my opinion, the question of whether the most vitally important issues are properly discussed in the 2016 US election campaigns depends on whether Dr. Jill Stein can obtain reasonable access to the mainstream media. But who is she?
Dr. Jill Stein is a physician from Massachusetts, who ran twice for Governor of that state. She also ran for US President in 2012 as the Green Party's candidate. A week ago she announced that she is running for the Green Party's nomination as its 2016 presidential candidate. I believe that she is one of the few people who is willing to talk about the elephant in the room. Here are a few things that Dr. Stein has said:
“Our Power to the People Plan lays out these solutions in a blueprint to move our economy from the greed and exploitation of corporate capitalism to a human-centered system that puts people, planet and peace over profit. This plan would end unemployment and poverty; avert climate catastrophe; build a sustainable and just economy; and recognize the dignity and human rights of everyone in our society. The plan affirms that we have the power to take back the future.”
“We have the power to create a Green New Deal, providing millions of jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030.”
“We have the power to provide a living-wage job and worker's rights to every American.”
“We have the power to end poverty and guarantee economic human rights.”
“We have the power to make health-care a human right through an improved Medicare for All system.”
“We have the power to provide education as a right and abolish student debt.”
“We have the power to create a just economy.”
“We have the power to protect Mother earth.”
“We have the power to end institutional racism, police brutality and mass incarceration-”
“We have the power to restore our constitutional rights.”
“We have the power to end our wars of aggression, close foreign bases and cut military expenditures 50%.”
“We have the power to empower the people.”
Let us fervently hope that in 2016 the real issues will be discussed with depth and honesty. Much depends on it, not only in the United States, but also throughout the world.
John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments are moderated