The IRS is Ignoring Rich Tax Dodgers …

… and Going after the Poor

Republican dreams realized

by Harry Cheadle

https://www.vice.com (December 12 2018)


An anti-tax protester in 2006. Photo by David McNew/Getty

On Tuesday, ProPublica and The Atlantic published an investigation into one of the longest-running and most troubling trends in the United States government: the slow, quiet destruction of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Decades of Republican attacks and budget cuts have left the IRS a shell of its former self, and with a businessman whose family specialized in dodging taxes occupying the White House, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the government will adequately fund audits of the rich people and corporations who hide their wealth. The reduction in the IRS budget has had a huge impact: “ProPublica estimates a toll of at least $18 billion every year, but the true cost could easily run tens of billions of dollars higher”, according to the report.

But even as the agency has struggled to pursue tax cheats, one group hasn’t escaped scrutiny even from a weakened IRS: Poor people. As ProPublica reports:

 

The IRS oversees one of the government’s largest anti-poverty programs, the earned income tax credit (EITC), which provides cash to the working poor. Under continued pressure from Republicans, the IRS has long made a priority of auditing people who receive that money, and as the IRS has shrunk, those audits have consumed even more resources, accounting for 36 percent of audits last year. The credit’s recipients – whose annual income is typically less than $20,000 – are now examined at rates similar to those who make $500,000 to $1 million a year. Only people with incomes above $1 million are examined much more frequently.

 

The EITC gives a couple thousand dollars to recipients on average, which can make a major difference in people’s lives. But as the American Prospect reported earlier this year, claiming that money can be complicated. Sixty percent of EITC returns are completed by commercial tax preparers, an often predatory industry that targets the poor. And when EITC recipients are audited, they are less likely to claim the credit in the future, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. A Republican-led proposal to more carefully verify the incomes of EITC beneficiaries – a punitive measure that would have put an even greater burden on the IRS – didn’t make it into last year’s tax cut package, but those who take advantage of the EITC are already under a heightened amount of scrutiny compared to other taxpayers. This is especially maddening because the IRS produces more revenue when it audits rich people, who in turn are way less likely to undergo anything resembling hardship, even if they owe money.

While Republicans are evidently concerned about making sure poor people don’t receive the incorrect amount of money from an anti-poverty measure, the GOP hasn’t shown the same anxiety when it comes to tossing around benefits for the wealthy and corporations. The tax cut bill hasn’t brought back manufacturing jobs to the US, as Trump said it would, and it has predictably caused government deficits to spike, as Republicans said it wouldn’t.

Splashy, reckless tax cuts are one way conservatives have caused money to flow from the government’s coffers into the pockets of the wealthy. The IRS cuts are a more subtle instrument, but the effect over time is dramatic. “Annual revenue from audits is down by about $10 billion, adjusted for inflation, since 2010, and billions more have been lost by not pursuing nonfilers and other sources of unpaid tax debts”, reports ProPublica. Since 2011, total losses have reached roughly $95 billion, and there is a troubling ripple effect on the horizon, as people who have effectively avoided paying or even filing taxes realize they can get away with it and continue to dodge the feds.

The GOP’s philosophy when it comes to taxes and benefits, as revealed by its actions and policy preferences, is that the poor should be carefully scrutinized any time they receive help in staying alive. That’s how you get audits for EITC beneficiaries as well as things like drug tests and work requirements for food stamps and Medicaid. The rich, on the other hand, should be able to do whatever they want – dodge taxes, engage in insider trading, take advantage of ordinary workers. The IRS is not so much declining as it is succumbing to a relentless, radical, right-wing agenda. Pushing back on it, an effort that will need to include properly funding the IRS again will be a difficult project for Democrats. But it’s one they need to undertake if that swamp we’ve heard so much about is ever going to get drained.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qvqxax/the-irs-is-ignoring-rich-tax-dodgers-and-going-after-the-poor

This Radical Plan to Fund …

… the “Green New Deal” Just Might Work

by Ellen Brown

https://www.truthdig.com (December 16 2018)


Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is part of a group of Congress members pushing for a “Green New Deal” (Charles Krupa / AP)

With what author and activist Naomi Klein calls “galloping momentum”, the “Green New Deal” promoted by Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat, New York) appears to be forging a political pathway for solving all of the ills of society and the planet in one fell swoop. Her plan would give a House select committee “a mandate that connects the dots” between energy, transportation, housing, health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee, and more. But even to critics on the left, it is merely political theater, because “everyone knows” a program of that scope cannot be funded without a massive redistribution of wealth and slashing of other programs (notably the military), which is not politically feasible.

That may be the case, but Ocasio-Cortez and the 22 representatives joining her in calling for a select committee also are proposing a novel way to fund the program, one that could actually work. The resolution says funding will come primarily from the federal government,

 

using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds, and such other vehicles or structures that the select committee deems appropriate, in order to ensure that interest and other investment returns generated from public investments made in connection with the Plan will be returned to the treasury, reduce taxpayer burden, and allow for more investment.

 

A network of public banks could fund the Green New Deal in the same way President Franklin Roosevelt funded the original New Deal. At a time when the banks were bankrupt, he used the publicly owned Reconstruction Finance Corporation as a public infrastructure bank. The Federal Reserve could also fund any program Congress wanted, if mandated to do so. Congress wrote the Federal Reserve Act and can amend it. Or the Treasury itself could do it, without the need to even change any laws. The Constitution authorizes Congress to “coin money” and “regulate the value thereof”, and that power has been delegated to the Treasury. It could mint a few trillion-dollar platinum coins, put them in its bank account and start writing checks against them. What stops legislators from exercising those constitutional powers is simply that “everyone knows” Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation will result. But will it? Compelling historical precedent shows that this need not be the case.

Michael Hudson, professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has studied the hyperinflation question extensively. He writes that disasters such as Zimbabwe’s fiscal troubles were not due to the government printing money to stimulate the economy. Rather,

 

Every hyperinflation in history has been caused by foreign debt service collapsing the exchange rate. The problem almost always has resulted from wartime foreign currency strains, not domestic spending.

 

As long as workers and materials are available and the money is added in a way that reaches consumers, adding money will create the demand necessary to prompt producers to create more supply. Supply and demand will rise together and prices will remain stable. The reverse is also true. If demand (money) is not increased, supply and gross domestic product (GDP) will not go up. New demand needs to precede new supply.

The Public Bank Option: The Precedent of Roosevelt’s New Deal

Infrastructure projects of the sort proposed in the Green New Deal are “self-funding”, generating resources and fees that can repay the loans. For these loans, advancing funds through a network of publicly owned banks would not require taxpayer money and could actually generate a profit for the government. That was how the original New Deal rebuilt the country in the 1930s at a time when the economy was desperately short of money.

The publicly owned Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) was a remarkable publicly-owned credit machine that allowed the government to finance the New Deal and World War Two without turning to Congress or the taxpayers for appropriations. First instituted in 1932 by President Herbert Hoover, the RFC was not called an infrastructure bank and was not even a bank, but it served the same basic functions. It was continually enlarged and modified by Roosevelt to meet the crisis of the times until it became America’s largest corporation and the world’s largest financial organization. Its semi-independent status let it work quickly, allowing New Deal agencies to be financed as the need arose.

The Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act of 1932 provided the financial organization with a capital stock of $500 million and the authority to extend credit up to $1.5 billion (subsequently increased several times). The initial capital came from a stock sale to the US Treasury. With those resources, from 1932 to 1957 the RFC loaned or invested more than $40 billion. A small part of this came from its initial capitalization. The rest was borrowed, chiefly from the government itself. Bonds were sold to the Treasury, some of which were then sold to the public, although most were held by the Treasury. All in all, the RFC ended up borrowing a total of $51.3 billion from the Treasury and $3.1 billion from the public.

In this arrangement, the Treasury was, therefore, the lender, not the borrower. As the self-funding loans were repaid, so were the bonds that were sold to the Treasury, leaving the RFC with a net profit. The financial organization was the lender for thousands of infrastructure and small-business projects that revitalized the economy, and these loans produced a total net income of $690,017,232 on the RFC’s “normal” lending functions (omitting such things as extraordinary grants for wartime). The RFC financed roads, bridges, dams, post offices, universities, electrical power, mortgages, farms, and much more, and it funded all this while generating income for the government.

The Central Bank Option: How Japan is Funding Abenomics with Quantitative Easing

The Federal Reserve (Fed) is another Green New Deal funding option. The Fed showed what it can do with “quantitative easing” when it created the funds to buy $2.46 trillion in federal debt and $1.77 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, all without inflating consumer prices. The Fed could use the same tool to buy bonds earmarked for a Green New Deal, and because it returns its profits to the Treasury after deducting its costs, the bonds would be nearly interest-free. If they were rolled over from year to year, the government, in effect, would be issuing new money.

This is not just theory. Japan is actually doing it, without creating even the modest two percent inflation the government is aiming for. “Abenomics”, the economic agenda of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, combines central bank quantitative easing with fiscal stimulus (large-scale increases in government spending). Since Abe came into power in 2012, Japan has seen steady economic growth, and its unemployment rate has fallen by nearly half, yet inflation remains very low, at 0.7 percent. Social Security-related expenses accounted for 55 percent of general expenditure in Japan’s 2018 federal budget, and a universal health care insurance system is maintained for all citizens. Nominal GDP is up eleven percent since the end of the first quarter of 2013, a much better record than during the prior two decades of Japanese stagnation, and the Nikkei stock market is at levels not seen since the early 1990s, driven by improved company earnings. Growth remains below targeted levels but, according to Financial Times, this is because fiscal stimulus has actually been too small. While spending with the left hand, the government has been taking the money back with the right, increasing the sales tax from five percent to eight percent.

Abenomics has been declared a success even by the once-critical International Monetary Fund. After Abe crushed his opponents in 2017, Noah Smith wrote in Bloomberg, “Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party has figured out a novel and interesting way to stay in power – govern pragmatically, focus on the economy, and give people what they want”. Smith said everyone who wanted a job had one, small and midsize businesses were doing well; and the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented program of monetary easing had provided easy credit for corporate restructuring without generating inflation. Abe had also vowed to make both preschool and college free.

Not that all is idyllic in Japan. Forty percent of Japanese workers lack secure full-time employment and adequate pensions. But the point underscored here is that large-scale digital money-printing by the central bank to buy back the government’s debt, combined with fiscal stimulus by the government (spending on “what the people want”), has not inflated Japanese prices, the alleged concern preventing other countries from doing the same.

Abe’s novel economic program has done more than just stimulate growth. By selling its debt to its own central bank, which returns the interest to the government, the Japanese government has, in effect, been canceling its debt. Until recently, it was doing this at the rate of a whopping $720 billion per year. According to fund manager Eric Lonergan in a February 2017 article:

 

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) is in the process of owning most of the outstanding government debt of Japan (it currently owns around forty percent). BOJ holdings are part of the consolidated government balance sheet. So its holdings are in fact the accounting equivalent of a debt cancellation. If I buy back my own mortgage, I don’t have a mortgage.

 

If the Federal Reserve followed suit and bought forty percent of the US national debt, it would be holding $8 trillion in federal securities, three times its current holdings from its quantitative easing programs. Yet liquidating a full forty percent of Japan’s government debt has not triggered price inflation.

Filling the Gap Between Wages, Debt, and GDP

Rather than stepping up its bond-buying, the Federal Reserve is now bent on “quantitative tightening”, raising interest rates and reducing the money supply by selling its bonds into the market in anticipation of “full employment” driving up prices. “Full employment” is considered to be 4.7 percent unemployment, taking into account the “natural rate of unemployment” of people between jobs or voluntarily out of work. But the economy has now hit that level and prices are not in the danger zone, despite nearly ten years of “accommodative” monetary policy. In fact, the economy is not near true full employment nor full productive capacity, with GDP remaining well below both the long-run trend and the level predicted by forecasters a decade ago. In 2016, real per capita GDP was ten percent below the 2006 forecast of the Congressional Budget Office, and it shows no signs of returning to the predicted level.

In 2017, US GDP was $19.4 trillion. Assuming that sum is ten percent below full productive capacity, the money circulating in the economy needs to be increased by another $2 trillion to create the demand to bring it up to full capacity. That means $2 trillion could be injected into the economy every year without creating price inflation. New supply would just be generated to meet the new demand, bringing GDP to full capacity while keeping prices stable.

This annual injection of new money can not only be done without creating price inflation, it actually needs to be done to reverse the massive debt bubble now threatening to propel the economy into another Great Recession. Moreover, the money can be added in such a way that the net effect will not be to increase the money supply. Virtually our entire money supply is created by banks as loans, and any money used to pay down those loans will be extinguished along with the debt. Other money will be extinguished when it returns to the government in the form of taxes. The mechanics of that process, and what could be done with another $2 trillion injected directly into the economy yearly, will be explored in Part Two of this article.

_____

Ellen Brown is an attorney, chairman of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including Web of Debt (2007, 2012) and The Public Bank Solution (2013).

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/this-radical-plan-to-fund-the-green-new-deal-just-might-work/

Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism

by Medea Benjamin and Alice Slater

https://www.counterpunch.org (December 14 2018)

In the spirit of a new year and a new Congress, 2019 may well be our best and last opportunity to steer our ship of state away from the twin planetary perils of environmental chaos and militarism, charting a course towards an earth-affirming 21st century.

The environmental crisis was laid bare by the sobering December report of the UN Climate panel: If the world fails to mobilize within the next twelve years on the level of a moon shot, and gear up to change our energy usage from toxic fossil, nuclear, and industrial biomass fuels to the already known solutions for employing solar, wind, hydro, geothermal energy and efficiency, we will destroy all life on earth as we know it. The existential question is whether our elected officials, with the reins of power, are going to sit by helplessly as our planet experiences more devastating fires, floods, droughts, and rising seas or will they seize this moment and take monumental action as we did when the United States abolished slavery, gave women the vote, ended the great depression, and eliminated legal segregation.

Some members of Congress are already showing their historic mettle by supporting a Green New Deal. This would not only start to reverse the damage we have inflicted on our collective home, but it would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs that cannot be shipped overseas to low wage countries.

Even those congresspeople who want to seriously address the climate crisis, however, fail to grapple with the simultaneous crisis of militarism. The war on terror unleashed in the wake of the 911 terrorist attack has led to almost two decades of unchecked militarism. We are spending more money on our military than at any time in history. Endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere are still raging, costing us trillions of dollars and creating humanitarian disasters. Old treaties to control nuclear arms are unraveling at the same time that conflicts with the major powers of Russia and China are heating up.

Where is the call for the New Peace Deal that would free up hundreds of billions from the overblown military budget to invest in green infrastructure? Where is the call to close a majority of our nation’s over 800 military bases overseas, bases that are relics of World War Two and are basically useless for military purposes? Where is the call for seriously addressing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons?

With the crumbling phenomenon of outdated nuclear arms control treaties, it is unconscionable not to support the recently negotiated UN treaty, signed by 122 nations, to prohibit and ban nuclear weapons just as the world has done for chemical and biological weapons. The US Congress should not be authorizing the expenditures of one trillion dollars for new nuclear weapons, bowing to corporate paymasters who seek a larger arms race with Russia and other nuclear-armed countries to the detriment of our own people and the rest of the world. Instead, Congress should take the lead in supporting this treaty and promoting it among the other nuclear weapons states.

Environmentalists need to contest the Pentagon’s staggering global footprint. The US military is the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and the largest source of greenhouse gasses, contributing about five percent of global warming emissions. Almost 900 of the EPA’s 1,300 Superfund sites are abandoned military bases, weapons-production facilities, or weapons-testing sites. The former Hanford nuclear weapons facility in Washington state alone will cost over $100 billion to clean up. The US military has also spread toxic chemical contaminants in and around bases worldwide, sickening millions.

If climate change is not addressed rapidly by a Green New Deal, global militarism will ramp up in response to increases in climate refugees and civil destabilization, which will feed climate change and seal a vicious cycle fed by the twin evils militarism and climate disruption. That’s why a New Peace Deal and a Green New Deal should go hand in hand. We cannot afford to waste our time, resources and intellectual capital on weapons and war when climate change is barreling down on all of humankind. If the nuclear weapons don’t destroy us then the pressing urgency of catastrophic climate will.

Moving from an economic system that relies on fossil fuels and violence would enable us to make a just transition to a clean, green, life-supporting energy economy. This would be the quickest and most positive way to deal a death knell to the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about so many years ago.

_____

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK for Peace, is the author of Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran (2018). Her previous books include Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection (2016) and Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (2012). Follow her on Twitter: @medeabenjamin

Alice Slater, author and nuclear disarmament advocate, is a member of the Coordinating Committee of World BEYOND War and UN NGO Representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/12/14/green-new-deal-advocates-should-address-militarism/

Pentagon Considers Illegally Occupied Syrian Areas US Territory

by Stephen Lendman

Information Clearing House (December 13 2018)

Bipartisan hardliners in Washington consider all areas occupied by Pentagon forces virtual US territory, subject to its will under its rules, defying the sovereign rights of nations, fundamental international law, and its own Constitution.

Northern and southern parts of Syrian territory are illegally occupied by US forces, intending to stay indefinitely. More on this below.

Hubris and arrogance, along with contempt for democracy and rule of law principles, define how hegemons operate.

It’s true for the US most of all, the way it’s been since bankers, lawyers, politicians, judges, merchants, planters, and slave owners – a virtual Wall Street crowd – founded the country, installing self-serving leadership.

Throughout its history, US governance has always been of, by, and for the privileged few alone – truer today than ever before.

Rage by Republicans and undemocratic Dems to rule the world unchallenged is humanity’s greatest threat – what Western media never explain, what most people don’t understand.

They’re distracted by sports and other entertainment bread and circuses – what Neil Postman explained in his book, titled Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), saying “Americans are the most entertained and least informed people in the world”.

The curse of television may doom us – explained in a June 1950 commencement address by Boston University President Daniel Marsh, saying:

“If the (television) craze continues … we are destined to have a nation of morons”. Before the age of television, columnist Walter Lippmann called the public “the bewildered herd”, adding:

 

Their function is to be policymaking “spectators (not) participants … The common interests elude public opinion entirely”, claiming that’s the way it should be.

 

Most Americans fail to focus on what’s most important, making it easy for dark forces in Washington to undermine their rights and well-being – notably since the neoliberal 1990s under the Clinton crime family co-presidency.

What’s ongoing today under Republicans and undemocratic Democrats, in cahoots with powerful monied interests, is what America is all about, a fantasy democracy, never the real thing.

The myth of American exceptionalism, the indispensable state, an illusory moral superiority, and military supremacy persist despite hard evidence debunking these notions. Public ignorance and apathy sustain what’s unsustainable longterm. A day of reckoning awaits.

A warrior state disdaining peace – devoting the vast majority of its discretionary spending to militarism, belligerence, and corporate handouts – serving its privileged class exclusively, shows a nation in decline.

Its modus operandi includes pressuring, bullying, bribing, and smashing other countries, trying to maintain global dominance, losing what it aims to sustain by unacceptable, counterproductive policies.

Hypocrisy, not democracy, defines how America is governed – an increasingly totalitarian plutocracy, oligarchy, and kleptocracy, a one-party state with two extremist right wings, a nation hostile to ordinary people everywhere, including at home.

It’s heading toward full-blown tyranny on the phony pretext of protecting national security at a time its only enemies and threats are invented ones.

Ukraine and Syria share the eye of the storm. US armed and trained Kiev forces, mobilized along the border with Donbass, are poised to attack on orders from the Trump regime.

US-installed Ukrainian “president” Petro Poroshenko declared “war” on Russia and his own people. The November 25 Kerch Strait provocation was likely prelude for what’s planned.

Washington controls the puppet regime, using it as a dagger against Russia and the people of Donbass, rejecting illegitimate fascist rule.

Syria is the world’s other key hotspot. The Pentagon declared territory its forces illegally occupy in northern and southern parts of the country off-limits to Damascus.

Throughout the war, the Obama regime, and now Trump hardliners, have and continue to support the scourge of ISIS. US officials pretend to oppose – along with al-Nusra and other jihadists in the country, used as imperial foot soldiers, waging war on sovereign Syria for regime change.

Washington intends permanent occupation of the country. It warned Assad against attempting to liberate territory it controls.

Pentagon spokesman Sean Robertson issued a statement, saying

 

unilateral military action into northeast Syria (southwest occupied territory) by any party, particularly as US personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable.

 

Assad called uninvited US forces in Syria “invaders”, illegally occupying territory where they don’t belong – flagrantly flouting international, constitutional, and US statute laws.

Months earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slammed Washington’s agenda in Syria, saying:

 

The Americans have taken a course of dividing the country. They just gave up their assurances, given to us, that the only goal of their presence in Syria – without an invitation of the legitimate government – was to defeat Islamic State and the terrorists.

 

Vladimir Putin, Lavrov, and other Russian officials know the US supports ISIS and other terrorists in Syria, as well as in other countries. There’s no ambiguity about it.

Months earlier, Russia’s Defense Ministry released satellite video images showing US-supported troops together with terrorists comprising the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), moving freely in ISIS-controlled parts of Deir Ezzor province.

“Without resistance from ISIS militants, (these forces) are moving along the left bank of the Euphrates river towards the town of Deir Ezzor”, Russia’s Defense Ministry said, adding:

 

Despite strongholds of the US armed forces … located where ISIS troops are currently deployed, there are not even signs of organization of a battle outpost.

 

“Russian drones and intelligence have not recorded any confrontation between” US forces and ISIS terrorists Washington pretends to be combatting.

Separately, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov accused US forces in southern Syria of letting ISIS and other terrorists use its illegally established al-Tanf base as a platform for launching attacks on Syrian troops and civilians.

Endless US aggression in Syria continues. Despite years of Geneva, Astana, and Sochi conflict resolution talks, begun in 2012, restoring peace and stability to the country remains unattainable because Washington rejects ending the war it launched for regime change.

Western media fail to explain the cold, hard reality of what war in Syria is all about – part of Washington’s aim to replace all sovereign independent governments with pro-Western puppet rule.

_____

Visit stephenlendman.org. Contact at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Mr Lendman’s newest book as editor and contributor is titled Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War Three (2014).

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http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/50757.htm

Dirty Air

How India became the Most Polluted Country on Earth

With the situation worse than it ever was in neighbouring China, the Modi government is struggling to introduce measures to combat the problem

by Steven Bernard and Amy Kazmin

Financial Times (December 11 2018)

Arvind Kumar, a chest surgeon at New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, has a ringside view of the toll that northern India’s deteriorating air quality is taking on its residents. When he started practising thirty years ago, some eighty to ninety per cent of his lung cancer patients were smokers, mostly men, aged typically in their fifties or sixties.

But in the past six years, half of Dr Kumar’s lung cancer patients have been non-smokers, about forty per cent of them women. Patients are younger too, with eight per cent in their thirties and forties.

To Dr Kumar, the dramatic shift in the profiles of lung cancer patients has a clear cause: air fouled by dirty diesel exhaust fumes, construction dust, rising industrial emissions, and crop burning, which has created heavy loads of harmful pollutants in the air.

Even in teenage lungs, Dr Kumar sees black deposits that would have been almost unthinkable thirty years ago. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – in short, severe lung conditions – is now India’s largest cause of death after heart disease.

“If these guys are having black deposits on their lungs as teens, what’s going to happen to them twenty years later?” asks Dr Kumar, who last week launched Doctors for Clean Air to raise awareness about the impact of air pollution. “It’s a silent crisis. It’s an emergency.”

The problem is most acute in India but it is not alone. The Financial Times collated Nasa satellite data of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – a measure of air quality – and mapped it against population density data from the European Commission to develop a global overview of the number of people affected by this type of dangerous pollution.


Marimekko chart showing population of selected countries affected by PM2.5 pollution. India is worst-affected with 99.3% of its population breathing air over the safe limit set by the World Health Organisation

The results are alarming: not just the number of people breathing in polluted air, but those breathing air contaminated with particulates that are multiple times over the level deemed safe – ten micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre – by the World Health Organisation.


Bubble chart showing population density against average PM2.5 pollution level by country. The circles are sized by population. The pollution level in the majority of Asian countries is multiple times above the safe limit set by the WHO, affecting 4.5 billion people or sixty per cent of the world’s population. The data only takes into account areas where there is at least one person per square kilometer, this avoids skewing the data for those countries that have vast unpopulated regions like China and Russia

The data show that more than 4.2 billion people in Asia are breathing air many times dirtier than the WHO safe limit. It only takes into account areas that are populated to avoid skewing the numbers for countries such as China and Russia that have vast unpopulated regions.

Historically China has grabbed most headlines for poor air quality. But as the time-lapse video of PM2.5 pollution between 1998 and 2016 shows, India is now in a far worse state than its larger neighbour ever was.

The 2016 data, the latest available, show that, although both countries have a similar number of people breathing air above the safe limit, India has far more people living in heavily polluted areas. At least 140 million people in India are breathing air ten times or more over the WHO safe limit.


Map and charts showing India’s air quality is now far worse than China’s ever was. Although both countries have a similar number of people breathing air above the safe limit, India has far more people living in heavily polluted areas. A staggering 140 million people alone breathe air ten times or more over the WHO safe limit. That is more than the population of the UK and France combined

A study published in The Lancet has estimated that in 2017 air pollution killed 1.24 million Indians – half of them younger than seventy, which lowers the country’s average life expectancy by 1.7 years. The ten most polluted cities in the world are all in northern India.

Top officials in prime minister Narendra Modi’s government have suggested New Delhi’s air is little dirtier than that in other major capitals such as London.

Harsh Vardhan, India’s environment minister and a doctor, has played down the health consequences of dirty air, insisting it is mainly a concern for those with pre-existing lung conditions. But that appears to fly in the face of international studies that show that air pollution has a wide-ranging impact, including an elevated risk for heart attacks and strokes, increased risk of asthma, reduced foetal growth, stunted development of children’s lungs, and cognitive impairment.

Dr Vardhan has claimed India needed its own research to determine whether dirty air is really harmful to otherwise healthy people – an argument the government also made in the Supreme Court.

Dr Kumar believes New Delhi’s unwillingness to acknowledge the severity of its pollution crisis stems from its reluctance to take strong measures to tackle large polluters. Such a crackdown would inevitably upset powerful vested interests in the automotive sector, highly polluting small and medium-sized industries, power plants, construction companies, and farmers. And it could hit economic growth ahead of elections next year.

“They are not unaware but, despite being aware, they deny”, says Dr Kumar, “The corrective measures that would be needed are unpleasant, and might make them lose votes rather than gain votes”.

But environmentalist Sunita Narain, director-general of New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment, says official attitudes have shifted since last winter’s catastrophic air emergency when record pollution levels forced schools to close for several days.

“That was a turning point”, says Ms Narain, who has battled India’s air pollution for decades. “There is outrage now against pollution – it is also now much more of a middle-class issue and government is acting because it understands the public health emergency”.

Northern India’s geography means that pollution generated in the region is not easily dispersed because the Himalayas form a barrier to the north, preventing poor air from dissipating. “We are sitting in a region where the wind dies in winter”, says Ms Narain. “Think of it like a big, massive bowl. That is why the ability to deal with the sources of the pollution becomes critical.”


Map and chart showing the ten most polluted cities in the world are all in northern India. Map showing how the Himalayas form a natural barrier to the north of India, making it difficult for the pollution to disperse into southern China

The biggest causes are vehicular pollution, industrial emissions, thermal power plants, construction dust, waste burning, and millions of poor households’ use of cheap and dirty fuels such as wood and cow-dung for cooking. Then every November, this heavy mix is exacerbated by millions of farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana burning rice stubble after their harvests, a cheap way to dispose of otherwise worthless straw.

Yet Ms Narain says New Delhi has taken “very significant steps to combat pollution”, albeit often under Supreme Court pressure in the past two years.

India has advanced the date for stricter fuel and emission norms to 2020, so new vehicles sold after that will be far cleaner. Mr Modi’s government has provided cooking gas cylinders to more than fifty million poor households to try to reduce the use of highly polluting biomass cooking fuels, though high gas refill prices means that biomass burning remains a major pollution source.

The UN climate change talks in Poland will discuss this week whether developing countries such as India should be treated differently and given more time to meet emissions targets.

The Modi administration is making an ambitious push to expand renewable energy capacity, including solar power, to help meet rapidly growing power demand. Increased investment has made renewables India’s second-largest generator of electricity.


Map showing the 246 coal power stations in India with circles sized by capacity. Chart showing India’s coal production going from 200 million tonnes in 1991 to nearly 700 million in 2017. Chart showing India’s electricity generating capacity rising from sixty gigawatts in 1990 to over 300 gigawatts in 2017. Coal still accounts for nearly sixty per cent but renewables now are the second largest generator of electricity

Yet India’s 246 coal-fired power plants – most of them inefficient and highly polluting – account for sixty per cent of India’s total electricity production, with a combined capacity of 188 gigawatts, and coal is likely to dominate the country’s energy mix for decades to come.

While India has imposed tough emissions standards for power plants, state utilities, which own many of India’s ageing coal power plants, have failed to comply, though environmentalists are pushing to hold them to account. “The scale of pollution is so high that we will have to do things much more quickly”, Ms Narain says.

That’s where Dr Kumar hopes to help, generating more public pressure for change. “We have to somersault from a position where the government fears reprisal if it acts”, he says, “to one where it fears reprisal if it doesn’t”.

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https://ig.ft.com/india-pollution/

The Depravity of Climate-Change Denial

Risking civilization for profit, ideology, and ego.

by Paul Krugman, Opinion Columnist

The New York Times (November 26 2018)


A trailer park destroyed by the fire that swept through Paradise, Calif., this month. Credit: John Locher/Associated Press

The Trump administration is, it goes without saying, deeply anti-science. In fact, it’s anti-objective reality. But its control of the government remains limited; it didn’t extend far enough to prevent the release of the latest National Climate Assessment, which details current and expected future impacts of global warming on the United States.

True, the report was released on Black Friday, clearly in the hope that it would get lost in the shuffle. The good news is that the ploy didn’t work.

The assessment basically confirms, with a great deal of additional detail, what anyone following climate science already knew: Climate change poses a major threat to the nation, and some of its adverse effects are already being felt. For example, the report, written before the latest California disaster, highlights the growing risks of wildfire in the Southwest; global warming, not failure to rake the leaves, is why the fires are getting ever bigger and more dangerous.

But the Trump administration and its allies in Congress will, of course, ignore this analysis. Denying climate change, no matter what the evidence, has become a core Republican principle. And it’s worth trying to understand both how that happened and the sheer depravity involved in being a denialist at this point.

Wait, isn’t depravity too strong a term? Aren’t people allowed to disagree with conventional wisdom, even if that wisdom is supported by overwhelming scientific consensus?

Yes, they are – as long as their arguments are made in good faith. But there are almost no good-faith climate-change deniers. And denying science for profit, political advantage, or ego satisfaction is not okay.; when failure to act on the science may have terrible consequences, denial is, as I said, depraved.

The best recent book I’ve read on all this is The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (2018) by Michael E Mann, a leading climate scientist, with cartoons by Tom Toles. As Mann explains, climate denial actually follows in the footsteps of earlier science denial, beginning with the long campaign by tobacco companies to confuse the public about the dangers of smoking.

The shocking truth is that by the 1950s, these companies already knew that smoking caused lung cancer; but they spent large sums propping up the appearance that there was a real controversy about this link. In other words, they were aware that their product was killing people, but they tried to keep the public from understanding this fact so they could keep earning profits. That qualifies as depravity, doesn’t it?

In many ways, climate denialism resembles cancer denialism. Businesses with a financial interest in confusing the public – in this case, fossil-fuel companies – are prime movers. As far as I can tell, every one of the handful of well-known scientists who have expressed climate skepticism has received large sums of money from these companies or from dark money conduits like DonorsTrust – the same conduit, as it happens, that supported Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, before he joined the Trump administration.

But climate denial has sunk deeper political roots than cancer denial ever did. In practice, you can’t be a modern Republican in good standing unless you deny the reality of global warming, assert that it has natural causes, or insist that nothing can be done about it without destroying the economy. You also have to either accept or acquiesce in wild claims that the overwhelming evidence for climate change is a hoax, that it has been fabricated by a vast global conspiracy of scientists.

Why would anyone go along with such things? Money is still the main answer: Almost all prominent climate deniers are on the fossil-fuel take. However, ideology is also a factor: If you take environmental issues seriously, you are led to the need for government regulation of some kind, so rigid free-market ideologues don’t want to believe that environmental concerns are real (although apparently forcing consumers to subsidize coal is fine).

Finally, I have the impression that there’s an element of tough-guy posturing involved – real men don’t use renewable energy or something.

And these motives matter. If important players opposed climate action out of good-faith disagreement with the science, that would be a shame but not a sin, calling for better efforts at persuasion. As it is, however, climate denial is rooted in greed, opportunism, and ego. And opposing action for those reasons is a sin.

Indeed, it’s depravity, on a scale that makes cancer denial seem trivial. Smoking kills people, and tobacco companies that tried to confuse the public about that reality were being evil. But climate change isn’t just killing people; it may well kill civilization. Trying to confuse the public about that is evil on a whole different level. Don’t some of these people have children?

And let’s be clear: While Donald Trump is a prime example of the depravity of climate denial, this is an issue on which his whole party went over to the dark side years ago. Republicans don’t just have bad ideas; at this point, they are, necessarily, bad people.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for fhis work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

A version of this article appears in print on November 27 2018, on Page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: The Depravity of Climate-Change Denial. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

(c) 2018 The New York Times Company

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/opinion/climate-change-denial-republican.html

The Truth about these Climate Change Numbers


A new report shows carbon emissions are moving in the wrong direction, and we’re running out of time

by Jeff Goodell

Rolling Stone (December 06 2018)


Housing estate with the Gersteinwerk power plant at sunset, Hamm, Ruhr Area, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany Stefan Ziese/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

It’s often argued that climate change is not a technological or engineering problem, it is a political problem. And it’s true. We have all the technology we need to power the world with renewables and stave off the worst of climate chaos. What we lack is the political will to take the kind of moonshot-scale action necessary to accomplish it.

But climate change is also a numbers problem. Every ton of carbon that we dump into the atmosphere stays there for hundreds of years, warming the atmosphere and reshaping the future climate. As the recent IPCC report pointed out, to avoid the worst of climate chaos, the world needs to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Accomplishing that would require not just a remaking of our energy system, but profound changes in agriculture, the design of cities, and transportation systems. It is possible to imagine how a revolution like this might happen, but it’s even easier to imagine how it would not.

A new report issued this week by the Global Carbon Project shows that, far from making progress, we’re going in exactly the opposite direction. After several years when global carbon emissions flatlined, giving hope to some that the turning point had come, the new report shows that carbon emissions are projected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018. That may not sound like a lot, but given what’s at stake with our rapidly changing climate, it’s the equivalent of an alcoholic who had sworn to go cold turkey taking a couple of shots of Jack Daniels at lunch.

Take a look at this graphic included in the report that shows the increase in fossil fuel emissions since 1900. Notice the big wedge of the grey line, which are fossil fuel emissions, which just goes up and up and up:


Courtesy of Earth System Science Data

Why is California burning? Why are hurricanes getting more intense? Why are high temperature records being broken around the world? Why are scientists increasingly worried that ice sheets in West Antarctica are going to fall into the Southern Ocean and cause sea levels to rise so high they drown coastal cities?

It’s all right there in the graph in the fat wedge of gray.

“We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change”, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual UN climate conference in Poland, where attendees will once again wrestle with how to convince world leaders to implement policies that will sharply reduce carbon emissions in the coming years.

“It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation”, Guterres said. “Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption”.

In this narrative, it’s easy to cast China as the villain. After all, according to the new report, China produces 27 percent of global emissions. The US accounts for fifteen percent of emissions, the European Union ten percent and India seven percent.

China’s emissions are also projected to rise 4.7 percent in 2018, the report said, which is near twice the rate projected for the US. It’s not hard to see why. Although China has invested heavily in wind and solar, as well as electric cars, the Chinese officials are trying to boost their slowing economy by revving up the manufacturing sector, which is largely made up of factories powered by old coal plants. And despite the cost benefits of renewable energy, China is still hooked on coal, building new coal-fired power plants at home and planning others in new markets such as sub-Saharan Africa.

China has long been cited as an excuse for inaction on climate change. On Tuesday, President Trump wrote on Twitter that the Paris Agreement was “fatally flawed” because its system of voluntary pledges let other countries off the hook, adding that “American taxpayers – and American workers – shouldn’t pay to clean up others countries’ pollution”. In other words, if China isn’t going to clean up its act, why should the US?

But as always, Trump gets it wrong.

As scientist Peter Gleick pointed out in a tweet, China’s national emissions are the biggest, but if you look at emissions per capita, the US is by far the biggest carbon polluter.

This, more than any other reason, is why America’s leadership matters so much on climate change, and why Trump’s abandonment of that leadership, as well as his administration’s deliberate attempts to subvert all action on climate change and promote fossil fuels, amounts to one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of our time. The suffering and loss that will result from Trump’s failure is incalculable.

This week, in a desperate attempt to breathe life into the dying coal industry in America, Trump’s EPA, under the guidance of Administrator (and former coal lobbyist) Andrew Wheeler, went so far as to propose removing limits to CO2 pollution from new coal plants in the US.

The morally and politically correct response to all this is not despair but action. In just the past few weeks, there have been a number of announcements that demonstrate progress on getting to zero carbon. AP Moller-Maersk, the world’s largest shipping container company, announced it would go carbon neutral by 2050. Xcel Energy, a major US utility, announced it is committing to delivering 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. Last month, Google announced it will soon run all its operations on 100 percent clean energy. As Vox‘s David Roberts points out, there are now hundreds of companies (Ikea, Apple, BMW, Coca-Cola, Facebook, et al), more than ninety US cities (Minneapolis, Denver, Saint Louis, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, et al), and two US states (Hawaii and California) committed to reaching 100 percent clean electricity.

The trouble is, when it comes to averting climate chaos, we are in a race against time. Hal Harvey, the CEO of Energy Innovation, points out that every year we delay cutting carbon pollution, every new coal plant that gets built, and every new V-8-powered SUV that rolls off the assembly line makes the goal of limiting climate change much tougher:

Carbon Math: The costs of delay are staggering. If we had started global decarbonization in 2000, we would have had to progress at a rate of three percent per year. If we start today, it is ten percent per year (really tough). If we delay ten more years, it is thirty percent per year! This math is inexorable.

Every ton of carbon that is not emitted into the atmosphere helps to minimize future warming and preserve a stable climate. But we are fast approaching a time when, if you think about climate change as a math problem, the math no longer works. Short of a global economic collapse, it becomes nearly impossible to see how we can cut emissions fast enough to have any chance of staving off climate chaos. And at that point, climate change will become more than just a problem of politics and math. It will become a problem of human survival.

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/climate-change-stats-764163/