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On the Big Issues, Bernie Sanders is the Only one who Can Save America

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Generations of orators have told the story that if you put a frog in a pan of steaming water it will immediately jump out, but if you put it in a pan of cold water and gradually heat it, it will be lulled and end up boiled to death. The story is not true of healthy frogs, who will in fact jump out of the pan as the water heats. But it appears to be true of human beings.

Human beings are being gradually boiled, and they aren't bothering to jump out of the pan.

The United States leadership is for the most part blind to the three massive crises that have gripped the country and which (yes) threaten its existence. These are:

1. The Climate Emergency

2. The Crisis of Plutocracy and inequality

3. The Extinction Crisis and Corporate Pollution

1. The United States will suffer badly from the effects of the climate crisis, with rising sea levels devastating Florida and the Gulf Coast, storm surges menacing cities along the Atlantic, falling crop yields in places like Tennessee, and chronic wild fires in California and the Southwest. The climate emergency is produced by people driving gasoline cars, heating buildings with coal and natural gas, and engaging in high-carbon building and agricultural practices. Doing so burns fossil fuels and puts heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. If we put enough up there, the oceans and igneous rocks can't absorb them any more, and they'll just stay up there for 100,000 years, heating the earth and making it all tropical all the time.

This crisis is not in the distant future. It is now. But in the next few decades, it can be bad or worse or Very Bad. If we swing into action now, we can keep it to only Bad (say 3.6 to 5 degrees F. increase in average global surface temperature). That doesn't sound like much, but it is the average, including the poles and the seas and the mountains, so Phoenix, AZ could be looking at a 15 degree F. increase.

There isn't anything more important. Nothing. Most of the issues that American politicians campaign on pale into nothingness in comparison. What good would it do to have Americans have better and universal health care if a boiling earth is going to harm their health anyway? Why spend $1 trillion a year on national defense if the real enemy is our own seas and atmosphere, which is planning for us catastrophes the Soviet Union or Iran never did or could? Terrorism is a piddling little minor problem; you are more likely to fall down and hit your head in your shower than you are ever to be harmed by a terrorist.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate running whose climate action plan is at all equal to the challenge. The issue cannot be addressed by indirect means, as Warren urges. We need a government that will muscle in with big grid, energy and infrastructure changes. Only Sanders is committed to something on that scale. The billionaires running on the Dem side, Steyer, Yang and Bloomberg, all talk good games on climate, but none has laid out a practical plan to move as quickly as is necessary, and all but Steyer are so tied to the corporate sector that they cannot see the need for massive government intervention. Yang is tied to vaporware like thorium nuclear plants, which is wholly impracticable as a solution.

The climate crisis is a much more dire threat than Hitler's Axis was. Hitler was defeated by the US government, not by the private sector. The government brought in 14 million men and spent $14 trillion in 2020 dollars, not to mention funding the invention of the atomic bomb. Nobody that I know of argues that we should have let IBM and the Pinkerton Agency take on the Nazis while strangling the Federal government in the bathtub. You may as well call the US war effort in WW II "socialist" as to call the Green New Deal by that term. But neither is actually socialist, since they do not involve the public ownership of the means of production. They are both a form of managed capitalism.

2. The most extreme threat to American democracy today is the emergence of a permanent plutocratic class. Inequality is skyrocketing.

Brookings observes,

    "The share of wealth in the economy is increasingly owned by families in the top of the income distribution. The top 20 percent held 77 percent of total household wealth in 2016, more than triple what the middle class held, defined as the middle 60 percent of the usual income distribution.

    "In fact, the top one percent alone holds more wealth than the middle class. They owned 29 percent -- or over $25 trillion -- of household wealth in 2016, while the middle class owned just $18 trillion.

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Juan Cole is an American academic and commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia.  He is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, Informed Comment (more...)

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