The controversial Keystone XL pipeline is not dead yet.
On March 15 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court injunction that blocks construction of the proposed pipeline. This important decision, which has received little media coverage, is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Our podcast guest today is Stephan Volker, the veteran environmental lawyer who represents the lead plaintiffs in the case: the North Coast Rivers Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network. The injunction was issued by a federal judge in Montana last November, and the appeals court found that TransCanada is “not likely to prevail on the merits.”
At this stage, construction of the pipeline is completely halted. Volker expects TransCanada, in its appeal to the Supreme Court, to argue that the “presidential permit” issued by Donald Trump is not reviewable by the courts, effectively placing an act of the president above the law.
Volker, based in Berkeley, CA, served for many years at the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and EarthJustice. He’s litigated over 300 environmental cases in his career.
The FAA’s decision allowing Boeing to do its own safety assessments — while the company president told President Trump that all was fine with the 737 Max — raises serious questions about the effectiveness of regulatory agencies charged with protecting our health and safety.
In another critical public health area, the government has virtually partnered with the pharmaceutical industry to deal with the opioid crisis. It’s a lot like asking the arsonist to help put out the fire he started.
According to Jonathan Marks, a bioethicist at the Penn State University, and our guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, this is a troubling and dangerous trend that’s become more pronounced in recent years.
He reminds us of how and why the government was so slow to respond to the faulty ignition switches in many GM cars, why exploding gas tanks went unrepaired, why tobacco deaths went unchecked for so long, and why government fails to take climate change seriously.
The reason in each case: The government’s regulatory agencies felt the need to work with business in public-private partnerships. This has cost the lives of thousands.
Marks says much of this was based on the misguided idea that we needed less conflict between the public and private sectors, and that by working together, more could be accomplished. Marks contends nothing could be further from the truth.
He argues that, even in the face of campaign donations and lobbying efforts, conflict between government and corporations needs to be maximized, and that only when companies are profoundly unhappy with the regulators, is it clear that regulators are doing their job. It’s something to think about before getting on a plane, or taking that next prescription.
Victor Wallis is a professor at the Berklee College of Music and was for 20 years the managing editor of Socialism and Democracy. Several months ago he joined us to talk about the radical intervention he saw as necessary to deal with the threat from climate change. He outlined this in his book Red-Green Revolution.
Now Victor Wallis returns to WhoWhatWhy to talk about his broad alternative framework of America, which he lays out in his new work, Democracy Denied.
This project began as a series of lectures he was to give in China, to an audience that didn’t understand America. As he worked on it, he realized that many of the ideas he was presenting were also not known by most Americans.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, he talks first about what he sees as the flawed notion of “American exceptionalism:” the supposed moral authority by which we proselytize for freedom while having the highest incarceration rate in the world and increasing levels of inequality.
He explains how our moralizing leads to and perpetuates the kind of police state necessary to take on a war on drugs, encourage law and order, and plan for potential rebellion.
Wallis talks about US imperialism— 800 bases around the world, the projection of American power directly on to the regimes of other countries, and our constant need to pass judgment on those regimes. This is one of the hallmarks of imperialism, as he sees it.
He combines all of this with a sharp critique of the long history of racism in America and shows how it has, from our very beginnings, defined how we see, judge, and sometimes look down upon, people around the world who are not just like us.
Wallis provides us with his alternative view of the world in a kind of economic and geopolitical tour de force.
Some have decried the Green New Deal because it touches on numerous areas outside of climate change, including universal health care, a universal basic income, job guarantees and worker rights. The assumption has been that climate change exists in some kind of a vacuum.
Mike Berners-Lee, an English researcher, writer on greenhouse gases, professor at Lancaster University, and our guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, argues that the critics have it all wrong — because everything is connected.
We cannot even begin to address climate change without also looking at food, biodiversity, income inequality, population, plastics, and more.
Berners-Lee says that the challenges facing humanity today are inescapably global and interconnected. It no longer works, he tells Jeff Schechtman, to tackle environmental issues one at a time or to keep science, economics, sociology, politics, and psychology separate from one another. All parts of our complex global system must be addressed simultaneously if we are to have any positive impact.
Despite all our individual and collective efforts with alternative energy and conservation, we have not made even the slightest improvement in the global “carbon curve,” Berners-Lee says. Moreover, in a kind of environmental Catch-22, it turns out that greater energy efficiency can sometimes increase carbon output.
Nevertheless, Berners-Lee is slightly optimistic that we can solve some of these problems and improve our global quality of life.
After all, he reminds us, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos notwithstanding, it’s very unlikely that we’re going to find another planet to move to anytime soon. As Berners-Lee says, “there is no planet B.”
A headline in the Economist shouted recently that “socialism is storming back.” Certainly, with the wealth gap, declining social mobility, and climate change, it’s easy to see why some are losing faith in a capitalist society.
But should the debate really be about capitalism vs. socialism — or is it a question of too much of a good thing that needs rebalancing?. After all, we once couldn’t get enough of the cars, antibiotics, and entertainment technology that capitalism produced in abundance. Today, that very abundance threatens to overwhelm us.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, journalist and Fast Company founder Bill Taylor talks to Jeff Schechtman about the language of our current political debate, and why rebuilding the public square is so essential to the survival of capitalism.
Taylor talks about the commodification of just about everything these days, arguing that we have “drifted from a “market economy” to a “market society.” The resulting lack of a common civic life, he says, works against the common good.
Schechtman and Taylor examine why it’s so essential for business, and leaders in the “commanding heights” of the economy, to take heed before the social, political, and economic consequences become dire.
Rather than getting caught up in the polarized debate of the moment, this is a conversation that looks at the things we can actually do to make a change for the better.