Paraphrasing a recent lede in the New York Times, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Monday that come the first of June, the last loose quarter underneath the cushions of the federal couch will likely have been found and spent.
That metaphor is idiotic, but it’s only a slight twist on the absurd “kitchen table/household budget” trope with which the public is constantly bludgeoned.
Shorthand such as this can be quite useful if your goal not to inform, but to switch off your target audience’s gray matter.
Being contrarians, we thought we’d try something completely different: describing the present moment as clearly as we can.
First a brief bit of background. During every Republican administration since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, GOP Members of Congress have voted to cut taxes, raise defense spending, cut social services, and raise the debt ceiling. They have done much the same during Democratic administrations, exception whenever the debt ceiling looms, they balk. The inevitable consequence of this behavior, over the course of forty years, is a national debt of considerable size.
The current national debt is nothing that can’t be handled—but it can be made to seem so. Those who created the debt, and their ideological successors, simply—very simply—turn towards it and say, in feigned astonishment, “Goodness gracious—we must act immediately!”
“Act how?” one might ask, if one were foolish enough to play their stupid game.
Their answer: leave lavish tax cuts for the rich in place, maintain defense spending at astronomic levels, and slash whatever might be left of social benefits.
And by the way—if you don’t cooperate, we’ll torch the joint.
In other words, never mind the legislative process as it has been conducted over the past many years. We have hit the magical, arbitrary figure we established a few years ago, and, according to the rules of this playground, now our side gets another, retroactive bite at the previously-established budget apple.
Those who will not pay their bills are deadbeats. Those who threaten others if they won’t do as they’re told are thugs.
Republicans, right now, are both.
Trust Me, Says Election Denier
Last week the House passed a bill that would raise the debt ceiling, leave defense spending unchanged, and gut the rest of the budget. Spending on veterans would be reduced by 22 percent.
Shortly before the bill passed, Mike Bost [R-Ill.], Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, put out a video in which he accuses Democrats of “lying about the fact that this will cut veterans benefits.”
Despite Bost’s protestations to the contrary, the cuts to veterans spending are in the bill. Bost says that’s just a negotiating tactic.
“We’ve got letters of commitment from the Speaker, we’ve got letters of commitment form the head of the budget, and you’ve got this word from me. My word will stand. No veterans benefits will be reduced at all. At all. Know that.
“What this will do, this will drive it to the negotiation table, I believe, and then, also, the most important thing is, we can try to reduce this long-term debt on our children and grandchildren.”
Army veteran Fred Wellman [@FPWellman] took Bost and his argument apart on Twitter:
“They’re not actually screwing veterans—they’re just using us as political tools. Isn’t that better?”
In case it were not sufficiently clear what he and fellow Republicans were doing—using the Department of Veterans Affairs as a political hammer, and using veterans as pawns in a political game—on Sunday, Bost accused Democrats of doing just that.
“In my nine years as a member of Congress,” Bost said, according to The Hill, “I have never seen the use of an agency that is so vitally important to so many people be used as a political hammer, to deliver a message that is false, so that it would stir people up to cause our veterans to be used as pawns in a political game.”
According to Wikipedia, in December 2020, Bost was one of 126 Republican members of the House of Representatives to sign an amicus brief in support of Texas v. Pennsylvania, a lawsuit filed at the United States Supreme Court contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which Joe Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump.
The budget cuts which passed last week will result, Wellman says, in 30 million fewer outpatient health care visits, cuts to telehealth for rural vets, lengthened wait times for appointments, an end to construction of new clinics, cuts to cemetery staffing, cuts to housing vouchers for homeless veterans, and cuts to food aid for senior vets.
Ocean Warming Study So Distressing, Some Scientists Just Clam Up
by Julia Conley
Scientists are so alarmed by a new study on ocean warming that some declined to speak about it on the record, the BBC reported last week.
“One spoke of being ‘extremely worried and completely stressed,’” the outlet reported regarding a scientist who was approached about research published in the journal Earth System Science Data on April 17th, as the study warned that the ocean is heating up more rapidly than experts previously realized—posing a greater risk for sea-level rise, extreme weather, and the loss of marine ecosystems.
Scientists from institutions including Mercator Ocean International in France, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States, and Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research collaborated to discover that as the planet has accumulated as much heat in the past 15 years as it did in the previous 45 years. The majority of the excess heat has been absorbed by the oceans.
In March, researchers examining the ocean off the east coast of North America found that the water’s surface was 13.8°C, or 24.8°F, hotter than the average temperature between 1981 and 2011.
The study notes that a rapid drop in shipping-related pollution could be behind some of the most recent warming, since fuel regulations introduced in 2020 by the International Maritime Organization reduced the heat-reflecting aerosol particles in the atmosphere and caused the ocean to absorb more energy.
But that doesn’t account for the average global ocean surface temperature rising by 0.9°C from preindustrial levels, with 0.6°C taking place in the last four decades.
The study represents “one of those ‘sit up and read very carefully’ moments,” said former BBC science editor David Shukman.
Lead study author Karina Von Schuckmann of Mercator Ocean International told the BBC that “it’s not yet well established, why such a rapid change, and such a huge change is happening.”
“We have doubled the heat in the climate system the last 15 years, I don’t want to say this is climate change, or natural variability or a mixture of both, we don’t know yet,” she said. “But we do see this change.”
Scientists have consistently warned that the continued burning of fossil fuels by humans is heating the planet, including the oceans. Hotter oceans could lead to further glacial melting—in turn weakening ocean currents that carry warm water across the globe and support the global food chain—as well as intensified hurricanes and tropical storms, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels due to thermal expansion.
A study published earlier this year also found that rising ocean temperatures combined with high levels of salinity lead to the “stratification” of the oceans, and in turn, a loss of oxygen in the water.
“Deoxygenation itself is a nightmare for not only marine life and ecosystems but also for humans and our terrestrial ecosystems,” researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January. “Reducing oceanic diversity and displacing important species can wreak havoc on fishing-dependent communities and their economies, and this can have a ripple effect on the way most people are able to interact with their environment.”
The unusual warming trend over recent years has been detected as a strong El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is expected to form in the coming months—a naturally occurring phenomenon that warms oceans and will reverse the cooling impact of La Niña, which has been in effect for the past three years.
“If a new El Niño comes on top of it, we will probably have additional global warming of 0.2-0.25°C,” Dr. Josef Ludescher of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research told the BBC.
The world’s oceans are a crucial tool in moderating the climate, as they absorb heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases.
Too much warming has led to concerns among scientists that “as more heat goes into the ocean, the waters may be less able to store excess energy,” the BBC reported.
The anxiety of climate experts regarding the new findings, said the global climate action movement Extinction Rebellion, drives home the point that “scientists are just people with lives and families who’ve learnt to understand the implications of data better.”
Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Here’s How the “Jet-Owning Oligarchy” Harms Both Planet and Workers
by Kenny Stancil
Research published Monday details how the working class is paying the price, in more ways than one, for the “jet-owning oligarchy” to hop around the globe in their personal luxury planes.
It’s well-established that private jet travel by the super-rich is worsening the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis. Adding insult to injury, this conspicuously carbon-intensive consumption is being subsidized by ordinary taxpayers, as the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Patriotic Millionaires make clear in their new analysis.
Entitled High Flyers 2023: How Ultra-Rich Private Jet Travel Costs the Rest of Us and Burns Up Our Planet, the report catalogs alarming facts about the private jet industry and makes recommendations about how to rein in this potent symbol and manifestation of escalating inequality.
To begin with, “private jets emit at least 10 times more pollutants than commercial planes per passenger,” the report notes. “Unsurprisingly, approximately one percent of people are believed to be responsible for about half of all aviation carbon emissions.”
Amid a surge in wealth inequality since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, “private jet use has increased by about a fifth, and private jet emissions have increased more than 23 percent,” the report points out. “The private jet sector set industry records with regards to transaction and dollar volume in 2021 and 2022.”
While a coronavirus-era boom is evident, the industry has been growing steadily alongside wealth inequality since the turn of the century. As the report states: “The size of the global fleet has increased 133 percent in the last two decades from 9,895 in 2000 to 23,133 in mid-2022. This bonanza was accompanied by an unprecedented number of business jet operations, 5.3 million in 2022.”
According to the report, “The median net worth of a full and fractional private jet owner is $190 million and $140 million respectively.” A minuscule 0.0008 percent of the global population belongs to the jet-owning class, which consists mostly of financial and real estate tycoons.
Last year, billionaire Elon Musk, “the most active high flyer in the United States,” bought a new jet and took 171 private flights, or about one every other day, the report notes.
In so doing, he single-handedly “contributed to the consumption of 837,934 liters of jet fuel,” states the report, and he “was responsible for 2,112 tons of carbon emissions”—132 times more than the entire carbon footprint of an average person in the United States.
In a statement, report co-author Kalena Thomhave, a researcher with the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at IPS, called private jets “a microcosm of our system of wealth inequality even beyond their image of extravagance.”
“Private flyers pay just two percent of the taxes that primarily fund the Federal Aviation Administration, yet nearly 17 percent of flights handled by the FAA are private,” said Thomhave. “Meanwhile, private jets contribute disproportionately to carbon emissions while often representing significant tax savings for their wealthy owners.”
As the report observes: “Thousands of municipal airports in the U.S. are funded by the public, but many primarily serve private and corporate jets. These airports may not offer scheduled passenger service, but they still offer airport runways subsidized by taxes.”
Such regressive taxation is the product of industry lobbying, the report explains:
“The largest player in the private jet lobby, the National Business Aviation Association, has spent an average $2.4 million each year since 2008 lobbying the federal government, primarily for tax giveaways. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry specifically lobbied for Covid relief, particularly ‘medium to long-term liquidity assistance and relief from air transportation excise taxes,’ even though industry demand was quickly climbing.”
As wealth inequality soars, so too does the value of the private jet market, which grew from $32.3 billion in 2021 to $34.1 billion in 2022, the report notes. With wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and little to no downward redistribution on the horizon, the private jet industry is projected to expand further in the coming years.
Report co-author Omar Ocampo, a researcher with the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at IPS, said that the private jet industry’s expected growth this decade “provides us with a great opportunity to levy a luxury transfer tax on private jet sales.” He added that “the revenue raised from this tax can be invested towards developing a green transportation system.”
According to the report, “A 10 percent and 5 percent transfer fee on pre-owned and new private aircraft would have raised $2.4 billion in 2021 and $2.6 billion in 2022.”
In addition to imposing a transfer tax on all private jet sales, IPS and Patriotic Millionaires recommend the following steps be taken:
• Levy a private jet fuel tax;
• Institute a “short hop” surcharge;
• Resist efforts to increase passenger facility charges until private jet owners pay their fair share;
• Create a sustainable transportation equity trust fund;
• Increase TSA security oversight of private jets; and
• Pass the Aircraft Ownership Transparency Act.
According to the report, Musk would have paid nearly $4 million in additional taxes last year if a transfer fee and jet fuel tax had been in place.
“Private jet travel by billionaires and the ultra-wealthy imposes a tremendous cost on the rest of us,” said Chuck Collins, another co-author of the report.
“Not only do ordinary travelers and taxpayers subsidize the air space for private jets, but the high flyers also contribute considerably more pollution than other passengers,” said Collins. “If we can’t ban private jets, we should at least tax them and require them to pay to offset their environmental damage and subsidies.”
Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.