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The “Crisis of Democracy” Around the World Is a Crisis of the Working Class

This article is reprinted from Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy, a publication from the Jacobin Foundation. For a footnoted version, see the Catalyst essay. Right now, you can subscribe to the print edition of Catalyst for just $20.

Review of Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (Crown, 2018); Yascha Mounk, The People vs. Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2018); Benjamin Page & Martin Gilens, Democracy in America? (University of Chicago Press, 2018); and Chantal Mouffe, For a Left Populism (Verso, 2019).

Last spring, the world was treated to the ghastly spectacle of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro exchanging soccer jerseys and back-slaps in the White House. Practically speaking, their meeting amounted to little more than lunch and a photo opportunity. But it carried a great deal of symbolic weight. It represented the convergence of reactionary political trends in the Americas and around the world, and it reinforced the perception that democracy is retreating before a cohort of strongmen striding the global stage.

Hand-wringing over the “age of the strongman” has become a staple of mainstream punditry. There is, of course, much to be worried about. In addition to Trump and Bolsonaro, nationalist and authoritarian forces seem to have the upper hand in an alarming number of countries. Xi Jinping has abolished China’s presidential term limits, centralized power, and enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought” in the country’s constitution. Narendra Modi and his aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism won a huge victory in India’s elections earlier this year. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded to the recent coup attempt by cracking down on opposition parties and journalists, and his government has effectively suspended democracy in the country’s Kurdish regions. Viktor Orbán continues to consolidate his ultranationalist regime in Hungary; Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” has killed twenty thousand Filipinos and incited violence against journalists and critics; Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has cleared the way to hold power in Egypt until 2034; Vladimir Putin’s autocratic presidency has no end in sight. While claims of incipient global fascism are overblown, there’s no doubt that this is, as Gramsci’s famous epigram puts it, a time of monsters.

These developments, as well as the broader “populist moment” that spawned them, have made politicians, journalists, and scholars very anxious about the future. They have fueled a cottage industry of think pieces and books dedicated to diagnosing the “democratic recession” that is shaking elite confidence in the durability of Western-style liberal democracy. Indeed, a trip to any bookstore today will greet the visitor with an array of bloodcurdling titles announcing democracy’s impending doom. While anxiety about the durability of democratic government is nothing new, the breadth and depth of pessimism about its prospects marks a sharp contrast with the triumphalism of the post–Cold War years.

The current angst recalls an earlier episode of hand-wringing among the upper echelons of society. In 1975, the Trilateral Commission published a now infamous book called The Crisis of Democracy, a report on the “governability of democracies” from the perspective of the world’s political and economic elites. In his chapter on the United States, Samuel Huntington surveyed the American scene and concluded that the “democratic surge” of the 1960s produced both “a substantial increase in governmental activity and a substantial decrease in government authority.” In every area of American life, groups who had hitherto accepted their marginal and subordinate positions in society had become increasingly assertive, more willing to challenge the holders of power and privilege, more likely to claim their right to participate in the decisions that affected their lives.

For many, this would seem like a positive development, a harbinger of the full extension of democratic rights and freedoms to those who had been previously excluded. For Huntington, however, this was cause for alarm. Demands for a massive expansion of welfare spending put too many burdens on the system while the emergence of “adversarial” media and critical intellectuals repulsed by Vietnam and Watergate undermined the effectiveness of traditional political leadership. Instead of a greater degree of democratic participation, the country needed a “moderation in democracy” that would keep the twin dangers of popular mobilization and ballooning public expenditures in check. Democracy, in other words, had to be saved from itself through a reassertion of elite authority against those who would take it too far if given the chance: striking public employees, militant African Americans, tenured radicals, student protestors.

The financial crash of 2008, like the economic crisis of the early 1970s, marked the beginning of an interregnum in the history of capitalist rule. An interregnum begins when the previously dominant regime, in this case the neoliberal order, suffers a shock of sufficient magnitude to prevent it from keeping potential hegemonic alternatives off the political agenda. The near collapse of the global economy fractured political systems and has fostered an atmosphere of confusion and chaos across the capitalist world. Instead of a relatively stable equilibrium, we find an absence of consensus among elites, the reemergence of competing economic strategies, a decrease in the effectiveness of key institutions, and a realignment of social forces, particularly in the realm of party politics. This last point seems particularly salient today, and constitutes an important difference between the present moment and the 1970s. As Rune Møller Stahl has argued, today’s interregnum not only entails a crisis of the previously dominant economic strategy but a deep crisis of the institutions of representative democracy as well.

This crisis stems above all from the fact that the vast majority of citizens across the advanced capitalist democracies have been systematically prevented from translating their needs, interests, and preferences into effective political representation. Over the last forty years, elites in country after country have followed Huntington’s advice all too well. They have effectively smashed organized labor, rolled back the welfare state and restructured it along neoliberal lines, and shoved the genie of popular mobilization back into the bottle. By any measure, this counterrevolution was a huge success for those who waged it. The “democratic distemper” that so worried Huntington and his co-thinkers was put down, not just in the United States but around the world.

This reassertion of elite dominance generated the defining trends of our time: the massive explosion of inequality, the dismantling of working-class organizations, and stagnant or declining living standards for the vast majority. In the United States, today’s real wage for workers is the same as it was in the 1970s, despite the significant increase in productivity growth that has occurred since then. This gloomy situation is undoubtedly the main cause of the political fractures that are so frightening to the punditocracy. Research has shown that dissatisfaction with the state of democratic politics is strongly related to popular views about the current economic situation as well as assessments of how the average person’s welfare has changed over the last two decades. The list of countries where these assessments are the most negative should not be surprising: Greece, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Italy, and Tunisia, among others. The United States is in the same neighborhood as the United Kingdom and Hungary, which tracks nicely with political developments in all three countries.

What appears as a crisis of democracy is fundamentally a crisis of the world’s working classes. Universal suffrage and substantively representative institutions are, to a significant extent, the product of struggles from below — and the key actor in these struggles has almost everywhere been the organized working class. It is no accident that the global decline of the labor movement has coincided with many of the most troubling developments of our time: extreme inequality, the hollowing of democratic politics, the return of the racist and nationalist right. Unfortunately, much of the recent commentary on the health of democracy overlooks both the class-struggle origins of democratic politics and the dismantling of collective working-class organizations. Often, the result is an overreliance on cultural explanations of democratic backsliding, and prescriptions that reinforce the mistaken notion that the prudence of elites is democracy’s best defense.

Two recent books — How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt and The People vs. Democracy by Yascha Mounk — exemplify this conservative approach to the crisis of contemporary democracy. Like their predecessors in the Trilateral Commission, these authors’ primary concern is strengthening the position of incumbent elites and the institutions they control under the pretense of protecting and consolidating democratic politics. Then as now, the key maneuver is redefining democracy as a system of elite-driven conflict management rather than popular control of government. Whatever measures of social and political reform they recommend seek to restore the status quo that prevailed before the financial crisis, instead of reducing elite domination or enhancing popular capacities for democratic rule.

Not all assessments of democracy’s ailing fortunes look to incumbent elites to save the people from themselves. Democracy in America? by Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens and For a Left Populism by Chantal Mouffe both recognize that the problem with democracy today is not that there is too much of it, but rather far too little. Page and Gilens exhaustively document the ways in which economic elites dominate the US political system, and how the scope of government activity is severely constrained by capitalist class power. For her part, Mouffe’s work is primarily concerned with formulating a political strategy capable of guiding an effective popular challenge to that power. Both these books make important contributions to understanding the contemporary impasse of democratic politics. Unfortunately, however, neither of them offers a satisfying answer to the question of what is to be done about it, and how. Both tend to reduce the defeat of organized labor to just one explanatory factor among many, and both fail to adequately elaborate the constituencies, agencies, and strategies that would allow a movement for democracy to act upon their often valuable insights.

What do we mean by democracy? For our purposes here, democracy is defined by three basic conditions: regular and free election of representatives on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, responsibility of the state bureaucratic and administrative machinery to the popularly elected government, and basic guarantees of freedom of expression and association as well as the protection of individual rights against arbitrary state action. There is widespread agreement that the emergence of political democracy is intimately related to the rise of capitalist social relations, but the nature of that relationship has often been misunderstood. For many scholars, the key development is the emergence of a capitalist class with an interest in breaking apart the fusion of the state with the landowning classes that defined feudalism. Many Marxist accounts of the rise of democracy have also viewed the capitalist class as the main actor in this process, reinforcing the widely held but mistaken notion that basic political rights and freedoms have a bourgeois provenance.

A number of important works, however, have effectively demolished the notion that political democracy is an organic byproduct of capitalist development or the handiwork of the bourgeoisie. Democratic rights and freedoms did not result from the gradual and peaceful spread of wealth, literacy, and urbanization, but rather social upheavals resulting from war and class conflict. It was the emergence of the working class and the labor movement that opened the path to democratization, not the rise to power of the capitalist class. To the extent that they exist, democratic rights and freedoms are the fruit of hard-fought victories won from and defended against the bourgeoisie.

The history of the right to vote shows that the lower classes had to fight their way into the political system by presenting elites with a credible revolutionary threat. The founders of modern representative governments shared the assumption that political participation should be restricted to men of wealth and property. In country after country, elites resisted pressures from below when they could and were forced into concessions when they could not. Political rights were therefore not granted from above, but conquered through mass action by the subordinate and excluded, above all by the organized working classes. The labor movement was not the only social agent that fought for and won the extension of democratic rights and freedoms; in many countries, sections of the middle classes played an important role as well. But the weight of evidence in support of the basic premise is overwhelming. The working class, not the bourgeoisie or other elite actors, has been the most consistent champion of democratic politics around the world. The measure of working-class strength and organization is the measure of democracy itself.

In How Democracies Die, Levitsky and Ziblatt pin much of the blame for democratic backsliding on the actions (or nonactions) of elites. They do not, however, take them to task for busting unions or gutting the welfare state, but rather for aiding and abetting the process of “norm erosion.” For Levitsky and Ziblatt, the establishment and maintenance of democracy ultimately depends on a culture of mutual toleration among elite-level political adversaries. “All successful democracies,” they argue, “rely on informal rules that, though not found in the constitution or any laws, are widely known and respected. In the case of American democracy, this has been vital.” While institutions also play a major role in safeguarding democratic politics, norms are the final bulwark that is supposed to be activated in case of emergency.

False hopes in elite prudence also mar Mounk’s widely discussed work, The People vs. Democracy. Mounk has set himself up as a leading scourge of “populism” in recent years, which in his usage encompasses any political expression he finds to be insufficiently respectful of mainstream political norms. Mounk is not wrong to observe that the relationship between liberalism and democracy seems to be unraveling, and that the underpinnings of liberal democracy are under mounting stress. But his palpable distrust in mass politics prevents him from providing effective answers to the burning questions of our political moment.

For the norm-erosion school, Donald Trump represents the failure of elites to defend a culture of civility and mutual toleration. Figures like Trump always threaten to emerge in periods of turbulence, but it is the job of traditional political leaders, in this view, to prevent them from ever making it onto a ballot in the first place. According to Levitsky and Ziblatt, this was much easier to accomplish in the era of political bosses and smoke-filled rooms. By taking important decisions like presidential nominations out of the hands of elites and giving them to voters, reformers have unintentionally eliminated an important part of the “peer review process” and opened the door to “populist outsiders.” Democracy, in their view, can best be protected by political elites with enough prudence to maintain the guardrails and prevent a slide toward demagoguery and extremism.

By contrast, Mounk’s diagnosis of the causes of democratic malaise is actually fairly incisive. He concedes that political systems in countries like the United States and Britain were founded “not to manifest but to oppose democracy,” and that whatever democratic legitimacy they enjoy today was the product of struggles from below. In recent decades, however, this partial democratization of representative institutions has been significantly eroded. There has been a general shift in power away from parliaments and toward bureaucratic agencies, independent central banks, international treaties, and other institutions that insulate elite decision-makers from popular accountability. Even where decisions haven’t been taken out of the realm of democratic contestation, the views and preferences of the majority are often not translated into public policy. Private interests have captured the political system, elites are socially disconnected from the mass of the population, and many supposed democracies have been reduced to little more than competitive oligarchies. The result is mass disillusionment in democratic politics and the emergence of new forces willing and able to take advantage of the situation.

Despite this greater degree of diagnostic clarity, Mounk fails to carry through the logic of the analysis to its conclusion, which would be a reassertion of the need for mass politics and struggles from below — the forces that brought us democratic politics in the first place. For him, the resurgence of electoral participation and the emergence of new political forces is a source of alarm, not potential democratic renewal. “There is good reason to think,” Mounk argues, “that the recent thawing of the party system is far from benign” because they “do not just provide ideological alternatives within the democratic system — they challenge key rules and norms of the system itself.” This dread of “populism” encompasses a disparate array of political forces, from Marine Le Pen, Fidesz, and Alternative für Deutschland — a far-right party with neo-Nazi roots — to Podemos, Syriza, and Jeremy Corbyn. Such capaciousness renders the concept utterly meaningless and reduces it to a tool of political demonology rather than sober analysis.

This impulse to confine political conflict to a narrow range acceptable to elites leads Levitsky and Ziblatt down some very strange interpretive paths. Take their analysis of the coup in Chile, for example. In their view, “politics without guardrails killed democracy in Chile,” an outcome for which the Allende government and its opponents were equally responsible. In reality, neither domestic elites nor the US government could accept the fact that the Popular Unity coalition was elected to see through a democratic transition to socialism in Chile. This process would have required, of course, an irreversible shift in economic and political power from industrialists and landowners to the working class and its allies. In short, it would have entailed a fundamental clash of interests, not simply “incompatible worldviews” or “partisan rivalries.” Levitsky and Ziblatt give us little sense that rational perceptions of power and interest might necessarily result in political conflicts that cannot be forestalled through mutual toleration or institutional forbearance.

This weakness becomes even more obvious when they attempt to explain the origins of the US Civil War. According to Levitsky and Ziblatt, democratic norms were not strong in the early American republic. Republicans and Federalists considered their opponents to be mortal enemies and sought to destroy them by almost any means necessary. But over time, a fresh crop of career politicians like Martin Van Buren lowered the temperature and instituted a politics of tolerance and forbearance. This new culture of democratic norms began to unravel, however, under the pressure of conflict over slavery. The country’s fragile norms of mutual toleration were destroyed, and previously unthinkable modes of political activity became acceptable on both sides of the slavery question. Before long, a bloody war broke out, during which President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and issued legally questionable executive orders. After the shooting stopped, the triumphant Union imposed military rule on the states of the former Confederacy. “Mutual toleration was established only after the issue of racial equality was removed from the political agenda,” after the abandonment of Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow in the South.

Levitsky and Ziblatt are at pains to stress that they don’t view slavery or segregation as good things. But their relentless advocacy of mutual toleration necessarily leads them to a both sides–ism that elides fundamental problems of the modern state. In their view, there’s no political disagreement that can’t be dealt with in a spirit of courtesy and reciprocity. But history has shown that conflict — whether at the ballot box, in the streets, or on the field of battle — is sometimes necessary and unavoidable. Elite-level cooperation and compromise simply could not defuse the slavery crisis. As William Seward argued in his famous speech on the eve of the Civil War, the failure to apprehend the “irrepressible conflict” between free labor and slavery induced “so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromise … and it is the existence of this great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral.” Conflict is the essence of democratic politics, and there are moments when the fulfillment of democratic justice requires the overthrow of traditional norms, come what may.

The rising generation of young adults has come of age in a period of rampant inequality and blatant political corruption. It is therefore no surprise that this cohort is highly receptive to political appeals from outside the mainstream, including various forms of radical and socialist politics. This flowering of youthful radicalism should be a particular cause for concern, according to Mounk. Unlike the older generations, who lived through the horrors of fascism and actually existing socialism, today’s young adults have little idea of what it would mean for them to live under a different kind of system. Rather than a source of hope, they represent to Mounk a potentially disruptive anti-systemic force that unscrupulous populists won’t hesitate to mobilize if given the chance. Mounk’s condescending alarmism about millennials has been challenged by a number of academics, who accuse him of misrepresenting survey data concerning their views on democracy. But even if his claims concerning young adults’ questionable commitment to democracy were empirically grounded, his explanation for those views would still miss the mark. Youthful discontent with the status quo is driven above all by the fact that young adults cannot expect to do as well or better than their parents did — to say nothing of the looming ecological catastrophe that incumbent elites are doing far too little to address. They want more democracy, not less.

Levitsky and Ziblatt evince a moment of lucidity toward the end of their book, as they search for ways to address the problems of democracy. Something should be done, in their view, to reduce the vast social inequalities that are exacerbating racial and religious resentments in the United States. They’re certainly not wrong about this, but how could a program of redistribution be achieved without a dramatic increase in popular pressure? Levitsky and Ziblatt want a prudently managed reduction of the sources of political conflict. But, as Frederick Douglass memorably put it, you can’t raise crops without plowing up the ground.

To his credit, Mounk recognizes that the current order is in serious need of renovation. But his prescriptions for dealing with the challenges of our time would only pour more fuel on the fire. He wants one, two, many Emmanuel Macrons, an impulse belied by the rebellion of the gilets jaunes. He recognizes the need to raise labor’s bargaining power in a globalized economy, but he emphasizes skill development for individual workers at the expense of collective organization. The same goes for his program to modernize the welfare state, which is premised upon economic flexibility and entrepreneurialism, not the reduction of market dependency or boosting the security and collective strength of the working classes.

In the end, we are once again left to rely on the prudence of elites to deliver us from the current impasse. “Unlikely as it might seem at the moment,” Mounk argues, “the only realistic solution to the crisis of government accountability (and, most likely, the larger crisis of democratic norms) is therefore a negotiated settlement, in which both sides agree to disarm” and political leaders agree to once again observe the unwritten rules of the game. The likes of Mounk, Levitsky, and Ziblatt want nothing more than a return to normalcy. But observance of this very normalcy is what brought us to our dire state of affairs. Macron and Obama are on one side of the coin; Le Pen and Trump are on the other.

Fortunately, not everyone agrees that the ills of democracy can be cured by less democracy. Much of the best recent work on the dysfunctions of the US political system has come out of mainstream Americanist political science, a subfield that has long been criticized for its detachment from issues of public concern. In 2001, the American Political Science Association (APSA) established the Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy, and three years later it issued an incisive report that laid out an ambitious research agenda for the field. Over the last fifteen years, important studies by Jacob Hacker, Suzanne Mettler, Martin Gilens, and others have analyzed the massive growth in inequality in the United States and its negative impact on an already counter-majoritarian political system.

In Democracy in America?, Page and Gilens survey the dire state of American politics and call for a thoroughgoing program of democratic renovation. For them, the fundamental failure of the system is the fact that it does not consistently and effectively translate majority preferences into public policy. The interaction of extreme wealth concentration with the undemocratic features of the US constitutional order has made it nearly impossible for citizens to exercise popular control over the government. A small group of very wealthy donors exerts a huge degree of influence over what kinds of actors can get into the political game, as well as the kinds of issues that make their way onto the agenda in the first place. The result is a political system that “often reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”

On the basis of their research, Page and Gilens reach a remarkable and widely reported finding: ordinary Americans have essentially zero independent influence over politics and policymaking at the national level. Working- and middle-class people get the policies they want when these preferences coincide with the preferences of the rich — if the rich don’t want it, it’s not very likely to get through Congress. Page and Gilens call this regime a “democracy by coincidence,” a description that doesn’t offer much consolation to those of us who equate democracy with popular rule. They also find that even the richest and most influential Americans often fail to translate their preferences into policy. Wealthy people and corporations almost always succeed at blocking policy changes they don’t want, which tend to be the very policy changes the vast majority wants most — particularly higher taxes on the rich and redistributive social programs. But according to Page and Gilens, even policy changes overwhelmingly supported by the rich have only a fifty-fifty chance of being adopted. The deliberately byzantine design of the US constitutional order (separation of powers, federalism, veto points, etc.) can make it difficult to achieve much of anything through political action.

Even so, it’s quite clear that the rich have little reason to complain about this state of affairs. By investing even a relatively small portion of their massive resources into politics, they’ve made Lenin’s dictum that politics is a concentrated expression of economics all too real. And since the systematic bias toward policy drift mostly benefits those who already hold wealth and power, there is little incentive for them to upend the system, no matter how much they might complain about gridlock and red tape.

Unlike Mounk, Page and Gilens follow the logic of their analysis to the end by calling for a “social movement for democracy” to weaken the overwhelming political power of the rich. To this end, they draw inspiration from the familiar highlights of American popular democracy: Populism, the New Deal period, the Civil Rights Movement. Page and Gilens are rare in recognizing the importance of organized labor to political democracy, and the role that strong unions have played in bringing a modicum of popular power into US politics. But they are ultimately analysts, not strategists. They give us little sense of how the movement they call for might be constructed, and their temperamental preference for moderation cuts against the grain of their own proposals. They are critical of the drift toward oligarchy because, in their view, this has moved the country away from a time when US politics was ostensibly more “moderate, bipartisan, and reasonably democratic.” They call on moderate candidates to run for office, and they deplore the outsize influence that the most strongly partisan activists and voters exercise through primary elections. All of this sits uncomfortably against their comprehensive program for political reconstruction, which includes demands for proportional representation in the House of Representatives, abolition of the Electoral College, a constitutional convention to democratize the Senate and other institutions that can’t feasibly be reorganized under the current Constitution, stripping federal courts of jurisdiction over key political issues, and packing the Supreme Court to dilute its power. This is a recipe for disruption on a massive scale, tantamount to the establishment of a new US republic. Instead of a restoration of bipartisan comity, Page and Gilens have given us an agenda for political revolution, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Still, these criticisms do not detract from the valuable contributions that Page and Gilens have made. Their focus on challenging the undemocratic nature of the political regime should be taken up by the resurgent US left, and their call for a wide-ranging movement against the rich is welcome and perhaps unexpected, coming as it does from a pair of rather mainstream political scientists.

Which strategy, then, should guide the movement for democratic renewal? This is the question that Chantal Mouffe has been trying to answer for the last four decades, and her recent book For a Left Populism refines and summarizes many of the key themes of her work. With her late husband, Ernesto Laclau, Mouffe developed the theoretical and strategic vocabulary that informs contemporary movements for “radical democracy” in Europe and the Americas. Anyone who has spent time on the radical left since the 1980s has been directly or indirectly exposed to their ideas, particularly their reformulation of Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemonic politics. In their landmark work Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (hereafter HSS), Laclau and Mouffe praised Gramsci’s approach to political strategy in the advanced capitalist countries. But in their view, he failed to carry through his analysis to its ostensibly logical end: a rejection of Marxism’s “class essentialism” and its insistence on the organized working class as the leading force for radical social transformation. The working-class movement would still play a role in the movement for radical democracy, but as just one link in a “chain of equivalence” in which no single actor or set of demands carried any particular social weight or strategic importance. Here was the theoretical justification for the “movement of movements” perspective that has been the Left’s default position in the post–Cold War era.

Before entering into a critical assessment of Mouffe’s main themes, it is worth taking a moment to register the important strategic questions that she gets right in the book. Mouffe offers an incisive critique of the horizontalist approach to political organization that has dominated the radical left since the end of the Cold War So long as post-2008 protest formations remained within a horizontalist framework, one that refused any meaningful articulation with existing political institutions, their impact and staying power was limited. They had to turn from protest to politics in order to broaden their appeal and institutionalize their demands, and in doing so they have reinvigorated an organizational form that had been repudiated as an outmoded relic of the twentieth century: the political party. The massive growth of the Corbyn-led Labour Party, the unexpected success of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns, and the emergence of new radical political formations in Europe and Latin America show that, as Mouffe argues, political parties are not obsolete and can be reactivated to advance popular goals and aspirations. Relatedly, the return of the party shows that, contrary to the advocates of horizontalist politics, representation itself is not the problem. The problem with political institutions today is that they are insufficiently representative of the needs and interests of the vast majority. In Mouffe’s view, therefore, the “remedy does not lie in abolishing representation but in making our institutions more representative.” Finally, and perhaps most controversially, Mouffe is correct to argue that the nation-state is still the most strategically decisive institutional level in world politics. For decades, the Left has tended to evacuate the arena of national-level politics in two directions: downward toward autonomist localisms, and upward toward often quite blurry conceptions of transnational politics. Whether we like it or not, the nation-state is still the primary framework through which many of our most pressing problems will have to be addressed and resolved.

Despite these strengths, however, Mouffe’s book bears many of the flaws and limitations of the “discursive turn” in radical politics that she and Laclau did so much to inaugurate in the 1980s. According to Mouffe, the traditional parties of the Left are in crisis because their conceptions of politics are still trapped by a supposedly outmoded dependence on economic and sociological categories. If the Left wants to break out of its impasse and take advantage of the opportunities before it, it must adopt a “discursive strategy of construction of the political frontier between ‘the people’ and ‘the oligarchy.’” The people, in this face-off, represent a “collective will that results from the mobilization of common affects in defense of equality and social justice” and against the chauvinistic politics of right-wing populism. The demands of working people, immigrants, queer people, precarious elements of the middle class, and others should be united in a negative opposition to a common adversary, with “democracy” and “citizenship” serving as the signifiers that bind the various elements together.

These arguments will be familiar to anyone who dutifully worked their way through HSS. Indeed, For a Left Populism reiterates and distills many of the key arguments from that foundational book. The crucial moment in the passage highlighted above is the emphasis on common affects in defense of an abstract value called “democracy.” Such a conception drains democracy of its social content; when translated into practice, it is a politics of style, culture, and discourse — not interests, a concept that is rejected along with the “privileged” status the Left has traditionally assigned to the working class and class politics.

Even so, Mouffe cannot help but take into account the fact that the recovery of class politics must be a central aspect of any strategy for democratic renewal in the present moment. “In fact,” she concedes, “it could be argued that the situation today is the opposite of the one we criticized thirty years ago, and that it is ‘working-class’ demands that are now neglected.” This is certainly the case, but the fact that she shows no sense of responsibility for this situation is rather frustrating. What’s more, today’s “populist moment” signals the crisis of “a set of political-economic practices aimed at imposing the rule of the market … and limiting the role of the state to the protection of private property rights, free markets and free trade.” Considering the crucial importance of political economy in the present moment, Mouffe concludes, the effective construction of a people requires “reasserting the importance of the ‘social question.’”

This constitutes a welcome recalibration of the perspective she and Laclau advanced in HSS, which argued for the full autonomization of politics and ideology from any kind of social basis. Mouffe’s belated rediscovery of political economy, however, sits awkwardly next to her emphasis on common affects over common interests. It also cuts against the grain of her own analysis of Thatcherism, which she takes to be the paradigmatic example of a hegemonic project. Following Stuart Hall, she views Thatcherism as primarily a cultural and ideological phenomenon, and its success as definitive proof of the bankruptcy of “essentialist” class politics. While Thatcher was advancing a new understanding of the values of liberty and equality, an ideological reinterpretation made possible by the crisis of the postwar order, the Labour Party and the trade unions remained prisoners of their congenital economism. Trapped in a conceptual framework inherited from a bygone era, they were “thereby unable to resist the assault of forces opposed to the Keynesian model and this opened the way for the cultural and ideological victory of the neoliberal project.”

Thatcherism undoubtedly had a strong cultural, ideological, and mediatic aspect to it. But the core of the project was a ruthless class war against the labor movement, the Left’s social and organizational backbone, backed by the raw force of state power. Indeed, Thatcher herself understood her project as an attempt to remake Britain’s economic order in the service of her larger political and ideological goals. As she put it in a now infamous 1981 interview,

What’s irritated me about the whole direction of politics in the last 30 years is that it’s always been towards the collectivist society. People have forgotten about the personal society. And they say: do I count, do I matter? To which the short answer is, yes. And therefore, it isn’t that I set out on economic policies; it’s that I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.

Mouffe fundamentally misunderstands why Marxists and socialists have traditionally emphasized the political centrality of the organized working class. She summarily dismisses those “sectors of the left who keep reducing politics to the contradiction of capital/labor and attribute an ontological privilege to the working class, presented as the vehicle for the socialist revolution.” The problem with this formulation is that the socialist emphasis on the working class isn’t ontological, nor is it an expression of some sort of abstract preference. It’s a strategic inference drawn from an analysis of the dynamics of capitalism and class relations. If capital constitutes the main center of power in our society and constitutes the main barrier to the establishment of a truly democratic polity, then it follows that the working-class movement must play a leading role in that struggle.

If the Left truly wants to learn from Thatcherism’s success, it must recover its grounding in the material conditions of working people’s lives. This obviously does not entail a rejection of cultural and ideological interventions, as these will be key to recreating a strong and widely held working-class political identity. But it does entail a strong emphasis on rebuilding working-class organization to the level where it can effectively wield power in the workplace and in politics. Such a commitment cannot be carried out in the absence of a program and a politics that is addressed first and foremost to meeting the material needs and interests of the vast majority. In the absence of such class-based power, abstract appeals to democracy and citizenship may redound much more to the benefit of the Right, not the Left. It’s no accident that right-wing appeals to “take back control” in the name of “the people” have succeeded so well in a context of widespread social disorganization and material deprivation.

In this sense, Mouffe’s brand of left populism may be just as much a symptom of the fractures that have produced figures like Trump than a cure for them. This is reflected perhaps most clearly in Mouffe’s argument for the importance of individual leadership figures in the construction of a people. Since her conception of collective will is grounded in affect and not interest, something must provide the glue that binds the people together. In this case, that binding agent is shared support for a charismatic leader. Indeed, almost every radical movement of our time is closely associated with a leadership figure whose name is virtually synonymous with the movement itself. The trend began in South America, where Lula da Silva and Hugo Chávez stood at the head of popular political movements in Brazil and Venezuela, and has since migrated to Europe and North America. Podemos is inconceivable without Pablo Iglesias; France Insoumise without Jean-Luc Mélenchon; the new radicalism in the Labour Party without Jeremy Corbyn; the resurgent US left without Bernie Sanders; Mexican national reformism without AMLO. The sociologist Paolo Gerbaudo describes this dynamic as a form of “distributed centralization,” which combines a mediatic “hyperleader” at the top with an engaged but largely reactive “superbase” at the bottom. Unlike the mass parties that preceded them, these new formations tend to lack the extensive network of physical structures, intermediate party cadres, and local branches and sections that used to play a major role in making decisions and setting policies. Today’s most successful politicians, whether of the Right or the Left, have learned how to use new digital media to bypass intermediaries and appeal directly to a mass audience, particularly among younger people.

This phenomenon poses obvious dangers. The difficulties that popular movements in Venezuela and Brazil have faced in the absence of their leaders may well offer the left populist forces of Europe and North America an image of their own future. Even so, there is probably no way to avoid the need for charismatic leadership to help overcome the deficiency of popular organization, at least in the short term. Forty years of neoliberalism have disorganized the working classes and undermined the mass political parties that gave them shape through much of the twentieth century. In the current period, leadership figures will continue to play a key role in giving voice to discontent and, hopefully, shaping it into a more stable political expression. The big question, of course, is whether these leaders are willing and able to stimulate mass organization beyond their own projects, and whether the new formations they’re associated with can ultimately outgrow their current dependence on them.

In the meantime, the erosion of democracy’s social substratum will continue to present morbid symptoms in the United States and elsewhere. The hollowing out of civil society and class-based organizations has provided fertile ground for the most antisocial tendencies to thrive, including the alarming proliferation of xenophobic, white supremacist killers incubated on the internet. Whereas historical fascisms grew in a context of intensive party-political and civil society organization, today’s radical right is an expression of profound social disintegration. It is, in the words of Marco Revelli, “the formless form that social malaise and impulses to protest take on in societies that have been pulverized and reworked by globalization and total finance,” and which are highly susceptible to the kinds of disinformation and paranoia that digital technology is so effective at spreading. The main locus of far-right radicalization today isn’t the local branch of a fascist mass party, but rather the anonymized world of online discussion forums and group chats. This is the deeply anti-political environment that has given us the twinned phenomena of Donald Trump and the extremely online mass shooter.

The combination of social disorganization and the breakdown of effective interest representation is a dangerous cocktail. Dictatorship is not on the agenda in capitalist democracies, but this situation has allowed the forces of the radical right to advance their agenda quite effectively through the existing political systems — not least because it reinforces popular cynicism about the value of deliberative and representative democracy. The current sociopolitical terrain is, in many respects, much more favorable to the Right than what remains of the Left, and it will continue to be so in many capitalist democracies, barring significant reversals of fortune.

Still, the situation is far from hopeless — particularly in the United States. Bernie Sanders’s first presidential campaign sparked the beginnings of a revival of the long-dormant US left. The stunning growth of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the election of figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib are among the fruits of that campaign. Sanders’s second campaign has the potential to push these developments even further, even if he doesn’t win the Democratic Party primary campaign or the presidency. It represents a significant opportunity to promote social organization on a mass scale, for as Sanders himself constantly reminds his supporters, there is no way he will be able to break the domination of the billionaire class on his own, even with the powers of the US presidency behind him. His campaign slogan is “Not Me, Us.” This isn’t just cheap campaign talk. Sanders’s campaign is demonstrating its commitment to mass organizing and popular mobilization by using his lists to turn supporters out to picket lines, and to encourage the development of organizing skills among his base.

This is where the other major development in US politics, the modest but unmistakable return of the strike, is so important. The US labor movement has been mired in a seemingly endless decline since the 1970s. Structural changes in the economy, combined with an employers’ offensive supported by politicians, has cut the rate of private sector unionization from roughly 25 percent to just 6.5 percent. Public sector unions were much more successful in maintaining their position, but the erosion of unions in the private sector left them very vulnerable to political and judicial attacks. These culminated in a recent Supreme Court decision called Janus v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, in which the conservative majority imposed a so-called “right-to-work” regime on public employment nationwide. This means that union membership in the public sector is now totally voluntary in all fifty states, a significant threat to the to the unions’ organizational and financial security.

All of these pressures, however, seem to have finally aroused a fighting spirit among US workers. Close to 400,000 public education workers went on strike in 2018, bravely led by workers in West Virginia and other Republican-dominated states where public employee strikes are illegal. There were also upsurges in strike activity among health care workers, hotel employees, telecommunications workers, and even in the technology sector, where Google employees walked out in protest of sexual harassment and Big Tech’s collusion with the military-industrial complex. While it may be premature to herald the coming of a strike wave, more American workers went on strike in 2018 than in any other year since the 1980s. Whether this results in a recovery of union organization or the reversal of anti-worker laws still remains to be seen.

The leftward ferment in the electoral arena, combined with the tentative steps toward working-class reorganization, are grounds for hope in democratic renewal. In this context, the most important contribution that Bernie Sanders has made is not his advocacy of Medicare for All or tuition-free public higher education, as welcome and necessary as these demands are. It is his call for a political revolution in the United States. The nascent socialist movement should develop this call into a program for democratic revolution, one that links the democratization of political institutions with support for working-class organizational capacity in politics, the economy, and every arena of social life. This may not be what the ersatz guardians of democracy have in mind, but it is the only genuine cure for democracy’s morbid symptoms.

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U.S. judge stops Texas from curbing abortions during coronavirus crisis

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Monday blocked Texas officials from banning most abortions in the state as part of their order to postpone surgeries and other procedures deemed not medically necessary during the coronavirus crisis.

FILE PHOTO: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (C) holds a news conference to announce Texas and 20 other states have filed a lawsuit against the state of Delaware over millions of dollars in unclaimed official checks Paxton says have wrongly been remitted to Delaware, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin was the first in a series of legal actions aimed at blocking similar steps by various Republican-led states cracking down on abortion during the pandemic.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, last week announced that abortion providers were covered by a state order that required postponement of non-urgent medical procedures to preserve hospital beds and equipment during the pandemic.

Yeakel ruled that Paxton’s action “prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.”

Abortion clinics in Ohio, Iowa, Alabama and Oklahoma on Monday filed similar litigation to block Republican state officials from using coronavirus-related orders aimed at preserving medical equipment and hospital space to limit abortion availability.

The Texas lawsuit was filed last Wednesday after clinics said they were forced to cancel hundreds of appointments for abortions across the state.

“Abortion is essential healthcare, and it’s a time-sensitive service, especially during a public health crisis,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider with three clinics in Texas and a plaintiff in the case.

“To the politicians who used this global pandemic to push their anti-abortion agenda, shame on you,” she added.

Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Paxton, expressed disappointment in the ruling and promised an appeal.

Abortion providers have said the orders by Texas and the other states violate the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The states have said they have broad powers to issue emergency rules to protect the health and safety of their residents. Texas said in a court filing, “Individual rights, including abortion, may be temporarily curtailed in a time of emergency.”

Paxton said on March 23 the state order meant that any abortion that “is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” must cease. Failure to comply could result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

Abortion rights advocates have criticized the state actions as political opportunism during the pandemic.

“It’s not surprising that the states that are now using the COVID crisis to stop people from getting abortion care are the very same states that have history of passing laws to ban abortion or using sham rationales to shut down clinics,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jennifer Dalven.

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The ACLU represents abortion providers in Ohio, Alabama and Iowa.

FILE PHOTO: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court after justices heard arguments in a challenge by 26 states over the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s executive action to defer deportation of certain immigrant children and parents who are in the country illegally in Washington, D.C., U.S. April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

In Ohio, the abortion clinics told U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati that they fear being immediately shut down and prosecuted if they do not stop providing surgical abortions.

“Some of these patients will be forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will and at risk to their health amidst a health system overburdened by responding to COVID-19,” the clinics said in a legal filing.

In Alabama, abortion providers asked a federal court to make sure the state’s March 27 order banning non-emergency surgery is not enforced against them.

Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham

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What is Project Airbridge? – CBS News

As U.S. hospitals are in search of the medical supplies they need to fight COVID-19, the federal government is working with private companies to bring, in the words of President Trump, “massive amounts of medical supplies from other countries to the United States.”

The effort is called “Project Airbridge,” and on Sunday, Mr. Trump announced that the first flight of equipment from Shanghai landed in New York with 80 tons of personal protective equipment. That FEMA-funded flight contained roughly 130,000 N95 masks, roughly 1.8 million face masks and gowns, more than 10.3 million gloves and more than 70,000 thermometers, according to a White House official. 

FEMA and the State Department are coordinating flights to bring the supplies to the U.S. in two to three days, rather than shipping them by sea, which would take 20-40 days.

Governors and hospitals have been sounding the alarm that they need more personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers as they care for the growing number of coronavirus patients. For now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will give the majority of supplies to the hard-hit states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, while the rest of the supplies will go to nursing homes there and other high-risk areas in the U.S. Dozens of those flights are expected to take place over the next 30 days. 

Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who heads the Office of American Innovation, is the White House point person for the project, which is being supported by FEMA’s transportation task force and State Department task forces. Those entities are working alongside health care distributors, including Cardinal Health, McKesson, Henry Schein, Owens & Minor and Medlin.

“At President Trump’s direction we formed an unprecedented historic public-private partnership to ensure that massive amounts of masks, gear and other PPE will be brought to the United States immediately to better equip our health care workers on the front lines and to better serve the American people,” Kushner said in a statement.

The search for much-needed health care equipment from abroad comes as top administration official Peter Navarro, who the president has tasked with coordinating the Defense Production Act, has been crafting an executive order to cut U.S. dependence on medicine and medical supplies manufactured abroad. Navarro wants to bring that manufacturing back to the U.S., a need he sees as exemplified by the ongoing pandemic. 

Mr. Trump has sometimes questioned the scope of hospitals’ need for equipment like ventilators, masks and gloves. Over the weekend, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity he didn’t think states need 30,000 or 40,000 ventilators, after New York requested 30,000 machines.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being in said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Mr. Trump told Hannity. “You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now, all of the sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'”

Then, the next day, the president denied he said that. He also said journalists should look into where the thousands of masks hospitals are receiving are going, seeming to suggest hospitals were hiding them.

“Even though this is different, something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000?” Mr. Trump said Sunday, referencing the increased demand for masks. “And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see, from a practical standpoint, how that’s possible to go from that to that.”

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World Health Organization insists coronavirus not an airborne disease as experts raise possibility

The World Health Organization doubled down on its claim that the COVID-19 virus is not transmittable by air even as some experts suggest it is possible and as Western officials recommend that doctors and nurses take precautions.

“FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne,” WHO declared in a Saturday fact-check tweet. “The #coronavirus is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.”

But a study in the United States suggests otherwise. Carried out by more than a dozen health experts working with the National Institute for Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories, the study released this month found “aerosol … transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is plausible, since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours.”

One of the authors of the study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Jamie Lloyd-Smith, a UCLA professor and infectious disease researcher, told the Los Angeles Times that singing may have spread virus through the air at a church in Washington state, where a choir rehearsal in early March was deemed the cause of a fatal coronavirus outbreak.

Polly Dubbel, a county communicable disease manager, told the Los Angeles Times that airborne transmission at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church was “all we can think of right now.”

She told the Washington Examiner: “It was a group of approximately 60 people just singing in close proximity to each other for over an hour — they weren’t eating, they weren’t shaking hands, they weren’t engaging in any other high-risk activities — and that’s all we know.”

One early March study in Singapore also suggested “that small virus-laden droplets may be displaced by airflows and deposited on equipment such as vents.” A non-peer-reviewed study out of China stated that the intensive care unit, the cardiac/coronary care unit, and general patient rooms in one Wuhan hospital and the patient hall inside another “had undetectable or low airborne SARS-CoV-2 concentration.”

Still, WHO insists there is insufficient evidence to show COVID-19 is transmittable as an airborne pathogen, making its case in a scientific brief published Sunday.

The organization said that “some scientific publications provide initial evidence on whether the COVID-19 virus can be detected in the air” and that “some news outlets have suggested that there has been airborne transmission.” But, WHO stressed, “these initial findings need to be interpreted carefully.”

WHO cast doubt on the U.S. study, stating the experiment used “a high-powered machine that does not reflect normal human cough conditions.” WHO said the finding of COVID-19 virus in aerosol particles for up to three hours “does not reflect a clinical setting in which aerosol-generating procedures are performed.” The organization dismissed it as “an experimentally-induced aerosol-generating procedure.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cited the study earlier this month, telling reporters: “Is it possible that there is aerosol transmission? Yeah, it certainly is. … I’m not ruling out the possibility that it’s aerosol.”

WHO asserted that “airborne transmission may be possible in specific circumstances and settings in which procedures or support treatments that generate aerosols are performed,” including medical procedures such as intubation and disconnecting a patient from a ventilator. But “according to current evidence, COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes,” and “in an analysis of 75,465 COVID-19 cases in China, airborne transmission was not reported,” WHO added.

Reports show China has been misleading about the COVID-19 outbreak in the past.

In one instance, WHO tweeted in mid-January that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.” Chinese doctors knew around late December and early January that human-to-human transmission was almost certainly occurring, but the Chinese government silenced medical professionals who attempted to make evidence public.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “Early reports suggest person-to-person transmission most commonly happens during close exposure to a person infected with COVID-19, primarily via respiratory droplets produced when the infected person coughs or sneezes.” The CDC also noted that “the contribution of small respirable particles, sometimes called aerosols or droplet nuclei, to close proximity transmission is currently uncertain.”

The CDC tells doctors and nurses that “special care should be taken to ensure that respirators are reserved for situations where respiratory protection is most important, such as performance of aerosol-generating procedures on suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients” or caring for patients with other infections like tuberculosis or measles.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control largely concurs with the CDC and notes that “although airborne transmission is not considered the principal transmission route, we recommend a cautious approach because of possible transmission through aerosols.”

Donald Milton, a professor and infectious disease aerobiologist at the University of Maryland, told NPR that “the WHO is being irresponsible in giving out that information” and that “this misinformation is dangerous.”

“I don’t think they know, and I think they are talking out of their hats” about whether COVID-19 could be spread through the air, Milton said.

Milton insisted, “Epidemiologists cannot tell the difference between droplet transmission and short-range aerosol transmission,” so because of the uncertainty about COVID-19, WHO should “employ the precautionary principle to recommend airborne precautions.”

The professor said the CDC “has it exactly right.”

WHO said over the weekend that it “carefully monitors emerging evidence about this critical topic and will update this scientific brief as more information becomes available.”

As of Monday afternoon, there were more than 775,000 confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and over 37,000 deaths tied to the infection, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. In the U.S., there were more than 159,000 cases and at least 2,945 deaths associated with the illness.

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Observations on the Great Hunkering (8)

(Steven Hayward)

You want to know how long the month of March has been? It was still this month that Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Michael Bloomberg were running for president. Remember impeachment? Seems as long ago as Andrew Johnson’s impeachment. How long is April—T.S. Eliot’s “cruelest month”—going to be?

By the way, in retrospect does anyone think the frivolous impeachment whose outcome was foreordained might have distracted the White House from the coronavirus? See Henry Olsen’s article on this question from last week.

In any case, if you should happen to miss the daily deep thoughts of Mayor Pete, well pine no more, because he’s offering his own thoughts in New York magazine on being quarantined at home. And while he doesn’t say whether he has an adequate supply of toilet paper, it is apparent that he has run short of razor blades (see photo). About which he says, “It seems to be popular online. I just relish the fact that I’m no longer expected to shave every day.”

You’re welcome.

John has already noted how suddenly we seem to recognize that maybe we don’t need so much heavy regulation. Here’s my favorite example right now, from The Hill:

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Laws Amid Coronavirus

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Actually, this is the epitome of fake news, as the headline and the lede are wholly misleading (but what else is new?), as the second paragraph makes clear:

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

Translation: You won’t face EPA fines or penalties if you don’t keep your paperwork up to date. It does not mean that water pollution, air emission, or toxic disposal regulations or other quantitative limits are waived. It most emphatically does not mean industrial plants “would not need to meet environmental standards,” or that refineries, coal power plants, chemical plants, etc. can pollute to their heart’s content, or that General Motors can go back to making cars that run on regular gasoline for the next two months. It is simply a real-world recognition that if we’re trying to reduce the number of non-essential personnel going to workplaces, keeping up the logbooks and monitor data is one thing that can go by the wayside for a couple months. Similar waivers were issued for oil refineries after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with no effect on pollution levels. Actually pollution is going to go way down during this period because of depressed economic activity—a point I’ll come back to in a sequel some time in the next few days.

You would think even the dimmest reporter would be able to grasp this point. And it ought to be a vivid example of how it is possible to rack up big environmental fines for paperwork violations, even if you are in full compliance with regulatory limits. (State and local environmental agencies actually feast on fining people for paperwork violations—it’s how many of them make their budgets.)

We’ll be arguing for months/years about the efficacy of the COVID-19 response from all levels of government, but one aspect of the matter ought to be setting off alarm bells. Ever since 9/11 we’ve been told that we need to prepare for potential mass casualty terrorist attacks, including bombings, chemical attacks (Anthrax), and . . . biological weapons. And New York City is obviously Target One for any such attack, along with every other major American city. You’d have thought that our Homeland Security apparatus would have been making plans along with serious preparations and materiel procurement for a significant surge capacity for hospitals, including respirators, masks and other PPE, as well as quarantine facilities, etc. Yet New York seems to have caught desperately short of the necessary facilities to accommodate a biological pandemic, whether from Chinese negligence or a terrorist bioweapon.

You know who does build in significant hospital surge capacity as a matter of routine preparation? Israel. For the obvious reason. There ought to be some serious questions about our unprepared state of affairs after we get past the current moment.

I’m borrowing this meme from the TWiP pile just so I can set up today’s comic relief video immediately below:

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One Big Reason Bernie Sanders Must Stay in the Race

Only if he continues his campaign will the Democratic Party reform movement be able to bring resolutions to the convention floor.

If delegates at this year’s convention fail to make the Democratic Party reforms permanent, we could be back to business as usual—on superdelegates, caucus and primary voting rules, party registration and much more.

Joe Biden supporters would love to hear that Bernie Sanders is dropping out. They ask, what’s the point to continue the campaign in the more than 20 remaining state presidential primaries? Yes, as things now stand, Bernie’s chance of reaching 1,991 delegates are slim. But Bernie should remain in the race for at least one important reason.

All the rules changes that resulted from the 2016 movement to make the Democratic Party more democratic have been written into the rules for the 2020 convention but not for those conventions in 2024 and beyond.

If delegates at this year’s convention fail to make these reforms permanent, we could be back to business as usual—on superdelegates, caucus and primary voting rules, party registration and much more. More than 770 automatic or superdelegates could again be voting on the first ballot for nominating the Presidential candidate, and their early endorsements would be included in news accounts before the first primary. Rules to make any remaining caucus counts transparent and including early voting would be left to the state parties. Rules that require states to welcome the millions of independent voters to join the party would not be mandated.

Without action by the DNC convention rules committee (of which I am a member) the changes we implemented this on the recommendation of the Unity Reform Commission (of which I was vice chair) will, following the convention, be left to the sole discretion of the regular party Rules Committee. That committee is elected by the DNC but without any connection to this year’s primary results. It consists of state party officials and national party operatives. For example, with no mandate from this year’s convention, in 2021, to keep current reforms in place, DNC members would have to vote to strip themselves of their power to vote on the first ballot during the 2024 nominating battle.

This year, superdelegates only have a role in the nomination of the Democratic candidate if no candidate reaches a majority on the first ballot. Without this change, Biden would have had most of the approximately 750 superdelegates before the Iowa Caucus and those numbers would have been flashing on every screen just as they did for Clinton in 2016.

If Sanders stays in the race, he will have enough delegates at the convention to cross the 25% member threshold on both the Rules and Platform Committees. Under current rules, 25% of the committee members can bring a minority resolution to the floor to be voted on by the whole convention. Reaching this threshold is critical. Compromise is most likely when there is reason to do so, so the possibility of introducing a minority resolution is critical to force continuation or expansion of party reforms. If agreement is not reached at the committee level we can proceed to the floor, even if it is a virtual convention.

Sanders now has 890 delegates. Today, 1,750 delegates or nearly half, remain to be elected in the remaining primaries. If 1,200 or more Bernie delegates are elected, his total would be about 30% of the 4,000 elected delegates and about 49 Bernie delegates would then be on Rules and Platform. 164 committee members are added to each committee in exact proportion to the percentage of the elected delegates pledged to a candidate. With those delegates, along with already appointed committee members like me, the Bernie delegates could bring a resolution to the floor.

To achieve this goal, Sanders would need to receive a little more than 15% of the vote in the remaining primaries. He will do far better than that. These additional Bernie delegates are needed to give Sanders leverage with the Biden camp, and his delegates leverage on these committees. This will allow the reform movement to demand that the party continue to become more democratic. It will also allow Sanders’ supporters to insist on the passage of a progressive party platform, rather than acquiesce to the imposition of a false unity that threatens to reverse all we have gained in the past four years. There are critical areas where the platform will matter including a path to single-payer health care, a commitment to end fossil fuel investment and limiting increases in the military budget.

Sanders has other reasons to remain in the race. Biden’s record on trade, healthcare, criminal justice, the fossil fuel industry, Social Security and Medicare are all reasons that unity must be built on real power sharing and nothing less. Power sharing means policy, personnel and party reform. The combination of Sanders’ own political leverage and the support from at least 25% of the convention delegates means that Biden will need to negotiate in these areas and not just listen.

In addition, delegate elections in many states also impact party leadership in the state parties. Most of the reformers now leading state parties began as Bernie delegates in 2016.

Much of the media and many Democratic Party leaders would have us believe that the nominating process is a coronation and the party merely a platform for fundraising. For their part, many pundits view the Democratic Party as a vehicle for individual candidates seeking a political career. In every other democracy, political parties are a place for real debate on the issues and a way to hold candidates and elected officials accountable. So, for those of us who believe that healthy political parties matter and that the deficiencies in the Democratic Party must be remedied, we must continue to move forward with Democratic Party reform. But for that to happen, Bernie must stay in.

Views expressed are the author’s. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, In These Times does not support or oppose any candidate for public office.


Larry Cohen chairs the board of Our Revolution and is a member of the Democratic National Committee, vice-chair of the Unity Reform Commission, and member of the 2020 convention rules committee. He is the past president of the Communications Workers of America.

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Copyright ©2020 by the INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, reader-funded publication, IN THESE TIMES does not oppose or endorse candidates for political office. (EIN: 94-2889692)

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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Rural governors tell Trump they’re struggling to get supplies

Several rural-state governors alerted President Trump on Monday that they are struggling to obtain urgently needed medical supplies and testing equipment, warning that despite the worsening coronavirus situation in New York and other urban areas, more sparsely populated parts of the country need help, too. In response to requests for more testing kits, Mr. Trump said, “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” according to an audio recording of the call between the president and governors obtained by CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe

During the call, Democratic and Republican governors detailed how they are struggling to obtain the protective equipment doctors and nurses will need to treat the sick and the test kits needed to determine whether sick residents are suffering from COVID-19. “We understand the challenges in New York. I have family in New York,” Wyoming Republican Governor Mark Gordon told the president. But, he told Mr. Trump, “I think a little bit of supply going our way could get us better prepared going forward.” Mr. Trump replied, “Good point…Thank you very much, Mark. If you have a problem, call me. I’ll get you what you need.”

Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock noted that delays in testing state residents could soon overwhelm hospitals in rural population centers and griped that his buying power has been repeatedly “trumped” by the federal government, a far larger customer for supplies and equipment. “I could give four or five examples over the last week where we have supply orders and they’ve subsequently been cancelled and they’re cancelled in part because what our suppliers are saying is that federal resources are requesting it and trumping that,” Bullock said. 

Bullock also warned “we’re going to have some real problems” across smaller rural states if they cannot soon obtain the necessary testing equipment. He cited Gallatin County, which encompasses Bozeman, as a population center that is seeing a growing infection rate. “So we’re trying to shift the supplies to really isolate that and do contract tracing, but we don’t even have enough supplies to do the testing,” Bullock said. 

Mr. Trump replied, “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks. We’ve tested more now than any nation in the world. We’ve got these great tests and we’ll come out with another one tomorrow that’s, you know, almost instantaneous testing. But I haven’t heard anything about testing being a problem.”

Navy Admiral Brett Giroir, head of the Public Health Service and overseeing the push to distribute coronavirus test kits, interjected, explaining that the federal government is purchasing for each state at least 15 recently-approved test kits that can confirm a coronavirus diagnosis within four minutes. “We’re going to get that to your state lab as soon as possible,” Giroir said.

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FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Even before last night, when President Trump questioned why hospitals were using so many face masks so quickly, his re-election campaign had been talking about mask shortages, accusing Joe Biden and the Obama administration of not refilling the national stockpile with N95 respirator masks. But Biden recently denied responsibility and said the White House did not follow the guidance the Obama administration left for them. CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson looked into why the U.S. only had 30 million masks ready for use as COVID-19 spread globally. Read his story about how, under the Obama administration and Trump administration, “a combination of differing priorities, underfunding and slow responsiveness all contributed to the shortfall of masks.”

As he tries to push forward with his campaign, Biden today said the “best [he] could do” was to try to balance his criticism for the president’s COVID-19 response against the backdrop of a concerned nation. The former vice president said on MSNBC that it was “absolutely bizarre” for Mr. Trump to insult and “belittle” governors with whom he disagrees, like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and Washington’s Jay Inslee. 

“Step up and do your job. Stop campaigning,” Biden said, asking again for the White House to order additional manufacturing of personal protective equipment under the Defense Production Act. He also took time to say what wouldn’t help the current emergency response: “Medicare for All;” he argued that a single-payer healthcare system would not improve funding or overcrowding of hospitals.

LIFE AFTER 2020

AMY KLOBUCHAR

Senator Amy Klobuchar joined advocates from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Giffords Law Center today to highlight the growing threat to domestic violence victims during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. “Think about what we say to victims when they call and ask for help on the hotline. We say, ‘leave the house, leave the house.’ And the opposite message –for good public health reasons—is being conveyed right now,” Klobuchar told reporters on a conference call. 

What’s also on her mind is the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which expired last year, plagued by stalled legislative negotiations and lack of Senate support. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga says the House bill included a provision preventing individuals with domestic violence convictions from purchasing a firearm. “There’s just no reason to stop this bill right now,” a frustrated Klobuchar said, calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take action. 

“It should be one that goes through unanimously,” she said. 

The historic $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress last week included $2 million in funding for the Domestic Violence hotline and $45 million for programs providing shelter and other services to homeless individuals. Klobuchar also floated attaching the reauthorization to the next legislative package.

“You could attach it somehow to the next legislative package. There’s all kinds of things you can do, but this thing waited way too long,” Klobuchar remarked. “And now we’re going to see more than ever, why we need it in place.”

Julia Weber, Giffords Law Center implementation director, told reporters that while data is still emerging on COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on gun purchases, there has been a 36% increase in background checks nationwide in the month of February, with a substantial portion of the firearm sales going to first-time gun buyers. Experts also stressed that the economic impact of COVID-19 hits survivors particularly hard. “If they lose their jobs and can’t pay their rent, they often have to choose between facing homelessness or returning to an abusive relationship,” said Rachel Graber, Policy Director of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

GOVERNOR’S MANSION

GUBERNATORIAL ORDERS

After a Siena College Poll showed overwhelming approval for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the coronavirus, Mr. Trump said in a Fox News interview that he wouldn’t mind running against Cuomo. “I’ve known Andrew for a long time. I wouldn’t mind that but I’ll be honest, I think he’d be a better candidate than sleepy Joe,” Trump said. 

Biden and Bernie Sanders are the only remaining Democratic presidential candidates, and Cuomo dismissed Trump’s comments in his daily press conference. “I’m not going to rise to the bait of a political challenge. I’m not running for president, I was never running for president,” he said. “My only goal is to engage the president in partnership. This is no time for politics.”

CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster reports that the new Siena College Poll of registered New York voters shows 87% of New Yorkers approve of the job Cuomo has done handling the pandemic, compared to 11% who disapprove. 

Cuomo’s marks are higher than they are for any other individual or group, including President Trump, Vice President Pence, local health departments, the CDC, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Congress. Some 41% of New Yorkers say they approve of the job Trump is doing with coronavirus, compared to 56% who disapprove. New Yorkers’ views on Cuomo and coronavirus has caused the governor’s favorability rating to skyrocket up to 71%, his best since January 2013. 

His net favorability ratings, showing the difference between favorable and unfavorable ratings, jumped from -6 points, a net negative rating meaning his unfavorable rating was higher than favorable, in the February poll to +48 points in the March poll.

New York recently got some tangible help from the federal government on Monday when the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds, arrived on Manhattan’s West side. Another Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, arrived in Los Angeles over the weekend. 

The Comfort will not treat COVID-19 patients, but will be a “relief valve” to overcrowding hospitals, Cuomo said. Nearby, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, chair of the Democratic Governor’s Association, talked about working with the Trump administration to get more medical supplies. 

“I don’t wake up every morning with the choice to say, ‘Okay, who’s going to be my president today?’ The President is Donald Trump, the Vice President is Mike Pence, there’s one federal administration. We need the feds, the feds need us,” Murphy said. “While we still have a big ask out standing on things like PPEs and ventilators, slowly but surely we’re chipping away at that and we won’t relent until we get our fair share,” he said. 

Down the coast, Maryland’s and Virginia’s governors both issued official “stay-at-home” orders on Monday. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro counts at least 29 states that have issued these types of orders so far. “We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home, we are directing them to do so,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said at his press conference, where he also said all non-essential businesses must close or move to telework. Hogan said Sunday that cases in the DMV area have quadrupled, and that by Easter, “we’re going to be looking a lot more like New York.” The respective Departments of Health in the DMV have reported at least 2,470 COVID-19 cases so far. 

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said she has been diagnosed with a presumed case of coronavirus, and will self-isolate in her home. She said she began to feel under the weather Sunday morning, but after speaking to the attending physician, it has not been recommended that she visit a doctor or take a COVID-19 laboratory test. 

“I am carefully monitoring my symptoms, working remotely and in constant contact with my staff. I’ll continue my work on behalf of New Yorkers as together we overcome this virus,” she said in her statement. Velazquez is the fifth U.S. House member reported to have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. 

On the campaigning side, the National Republican Congressional Committee is expected to spend $690,000 in a cable ad buy for veteran Mike Garcia in California’s 25th District. Garcia is facing Democrat and California Assemblywoman Christy Smith in a May special election for Katie Hill’s old seat. The May 12 special election will be an “all-mail ballot election” after Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order. 

In New Mexico, John Blair, a Democratic candidate for the 3rd District’s open seat, started airing his first television ad Monday in which he gives out his phone number. In the ad, Blair is seen on the phone, listing his stances on not taking corporate PAC money and passing an assault weapons ban. “A real strategy of our campaign from very start is being accessible and being able to really communicate with voters about what we’re doing,” Blair told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro in a phone call Sunday. 

“We want to be open and available to all voters and really have that dialogue and do it in a different way now that we can’t be out traveling the district the way we were before.” Blair is part of a crowded Democratic primary for Representative Ben Ray Luján’s seat, as Luján is currently running for the Senate.

DELEGATE MATTERS

PLAYING BY THE RULES

The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC will hold a public meeting that has not yet been scheduled to determine how to allocate the delegates of the three states (Kentucky, Louisiana, and New York) who have postponed their primary past the window outlined in the DNC rules. 

The RBC has jurisdiction over approving state parties’ plans to elect and send delegates to the national convention. According to the rules, all contests must be held by June 9, and all delegates must be elected by June 20. 

Violating these rules could lead to penalties that would include a state losing at least half of its delegates. If they penalize the states holding primaries later, the magic number to clinch the nomination would be less than 1,991. In several states, the elections of the actual people to fill delegate slots won by candidates in the primary take place weeks after the primary. 

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, several state parties are having to rejigger when, where, and how to hold their conventions to elect the actual delegates. CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson has obtained a memo from the RBC chairs and DNC party staff from Friday, March 27, that said the RBC has received proposed amendments to delegate selection plans from 22 states and Democrats Abroad. 

The changes consist of postponing when and where delegates are elected, canceling or combining meetings, modifying the rules, and exploring vote by mail.  The RBC chairs have not issued any formal guidance but are encouraging state parties to conduct delegate conventions virtually, via apps like Zoom, and if there’s a need for a tabulated vote, to use mail-in ballots.   

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CNN cuts away from presser

By the time you read this, Donald Trump will be mostly through his daily “self-isolation” open press conference. This claim is so easily debunked that it’s amazing it appears at all, especially at CNN.

Donald Trump has long favored Fox News when it comes to one-on-one interviews, which perhaps mattered more when the White House dispensed with its daily briefings. Trump often calls in to Fox & Friends, as he did this morning, and with Hannity as well, choosing to focus his strategic messaging delivery on the friendliest platforms. Today’s appearance on Fox’s morning show was the last straw for Brian Stelter, who declared that Trump was “self-isolating at Fox News,” as his way of providing himself political cover:

President Trump’s go-to move in a crisis is always the same: to call Fox News.

On Monday morning, he called into “Fox & Friends,” one of his most reliable sources of support, and praised his own response to the pandemic.

It was Trump’s third interview on Fox in the past week, and it was more of the same: He talked for 54 minutes with hardly a tough question or assertive follow-up.

That’s not entirely true, and it’s a bit unfair to Brian Kilmeade, who actually did push back a bit this morning on China. However, we then get to the root of Stelter’s complaint:

If the ratings-conscious president had wanted to reach a bigger audience, he would have called into the “Today” show or “Good Morning America.” If he had wanted to be heard on the global stage, he would have granted an interview to CNN.

Perhaps it’s because of nonsense accusations like this. Far from “self-isolating,” Trump has made himself more available than ever over the past two weeks. He holds a presser every day to update the media and the nation on the coronavirus outbreak, including on the weekends. And during those pressers, Trump and his team take questions from a wide variety of media outlets, including a number of adversarial interrogatories.

In fact, he’s made himself so available that CNN thinks this kind of broad access should be curtailed. Last week, CNN’s Daniel Dale complained that the pressers had “replace[d] campaign rallies,” and called them “a kind of special spinoff of the familiar Trump Show”. Trump doesn’t usually take reporters’ questions during his campaign rallies, of course, and coming from an outlet that has complained loud and long about the end of daily briefings and the paucity of Trump pressers until recently, it has a distinct ring of hypocrisy.

Not that CNN is alone in this. A few days ago, the Daily Beast reported on complaints within CNN and MSNBC about the amount of live coverage given to Trump’s coronavirus pressers, arguing that they should ignore the high ratings these generate:

On the one hand, their ratings have never been higher, and viewers’ appetites for the live sessions have shown no signs of dwindling. On the other hand, journalists and executives at MSNBC, CNN, and the often Trump-friendly Fox News—which scored an impressive 6.2 million viewers for Sunday’s installment of the Trump show, according to Nielsen—are increasingly facing the likelihood that they are becoming an uncritical and unvetted transmission belt for propaganda and misinformation. …

“These White House sessions—ostensibly meant to give the public critical and truthful information about this frightening crisis—are in fact working against that end,” wrote Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, summarizing such concerns. “Rather, they have become a daily stage for Trump to play his greatest hits to captive audience members. They come in search of life-or-death information, but here’s what they get from him instead: Self-aggrandizement… Media-bashing… Exaggeration and outright lies.”

In an echo of the self-criticism expressed during the 2016 presidential race, when the cable networks repeatedly broadcast Trump’s campaign rallies live and unexpurgated, top MSNBC anchors have already argued publicly that their own network should not air the president’s pandemic musings in full.

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough tweeted during Trump’s briefing on Monday that there was “no public benefit to this briefing,” and the cable news networks should “cut away.” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who anchors the network’s most highly rated program, also repeatedly called for news networks to stop carrying Trump’s statements live, saying that the president’s daily comments contribute to the spread of misinformation.

“If it were up to me, and it’s not, I would stop putting those briefings on live TV,” Maddow said on her show earlier this week. “Not out of spite, but because it’s misinformation. If the president does end up saying anything true, you can run it as tape. But if he keeps lying like he has been every day on stuff this important, we should, all of us should stop broadcasting it. Honestly, it’s going to cost lives.”

So on one hand, CNN and other media outlets complain bitterly about covering presidential pressers despite the ratings they generate and the public’s obvious interest in them. Then they wonder why Trump’s not going out of his way to give them exclusive interviews, and claim that Trump’s hiding … in plain sight, apparently.

The basic argument here appears to be: Who you gonna believe — us, or your own lying eyes? Maybe C-SPAN should get ready for a ratings bonanza.

Update: Maybe it’s CNN that’s self-isolating:

How … predictable.

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Trump Administration Moves to Roll Back Vehicle Emissions Standards

Andreas RentzGetty Images

One of the most obvious consequences of the pandemic is that the general lockdown has produced some remarkable environmental results. The canals of Venice have cleared up, as have the skies over major metropolitan areas. Enjoy it while you can, because the fossil fuel industry does not let the grass grow beneath its feet. From the AP:

The Trump administration is expected to release a final rule Tuesday on mileage standards through 2026, watering down a tough Obama mileage standard that would have encouraged automakers globally to ramp up production of electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles. Trump’s Cabinet heads have continued a push to rollback public health and environment regulations despite the coronavirus outbreak riveting the world’s attention. The administration — like others before it — is facing procedural rules that will make changes adopted before the last six months of Trump’s current term tougher to throw out, even if the White House changes occupants.

Those standards were one of the crown jewels of the Obama administration’s environmental policies. They represented a concrete step in response to the climate crisis—which is still out there, for those of you following humanity at home.

The Trump administration says the looser mileage standards will allow consumers to keep buying the less fuel-efficient SUVs that U.S. drivers have favored for years. Opponents say it will undercut the Obama administration’s legacy effort to cut climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions, and will kill hundreds more Americans a year through dirtier air, compared to the Obama standards.

This paragraph makes two assertions that mean exactly the same thing. Americans indeed will buy more gas-gobbling vehicles, and that indeed will result in more Americans dying from poison in the air. Isn’t it great when everybody gets along?

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Pelosi Comes Out Against Remote Voting, As Five Members Of Congress Are Infected With Coronavirus

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Monday came out against remote voting, despite the fact that at least five members of Congress are infected with coronavirus.

When asked about remote voting, Pelosi reportedly said “let’s not waste time” talking about “something that’s not going to happen.” Adding that it would only be possible in the future, if then, according to PBC Correspondent Lisa Desjardins.

Meanwhile, a number of Senators have come out in favor of voting remotely, including Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Sen. Lindsey Graham. (RELATED: Lindsey Graham Joins Senators Calling For Remote Voting)

Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) delivers a statement at the hallway of the Speaker?s Balcony at the U.S. Capitol March 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This comes as Democratic New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez announced Monday that she has been diagnosed with coronavirus, making her the fifth member of Congress to catch the disease.

Four congressmen have tested positive so far: Reps. Joe Cunningham, Mike Kelly, Mario Diaz Balart, and Ben McAdams. Velázquez is now the fifth. (RELATED: Here Are All The Members Of Congress Who Have Self-Quarantined Due To Coronavirus)

Members of Congress in both the House and the Senate have also announced they are self-quarantining as coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S.

Many members of Congress have received tests for coronavirus. President Donald Trump received a test for the virus, which came back negative. Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham also announced that he tested negative for coronavirus.