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Trump’s shutdown is a historic opportunity for real change | Trump

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This week, the White House Council of Economic Advisers doubled its estimate of how much the shutdown – the longest in US history – will cost the economy. Others are warning that it could push the US towards a recession. Families across the country are scrambling to feed their children, keep their homes, and pay for expensive medications. As hundreds of thousands of federal and contract workers continue without pay, Trump has demanded that workers return to their jobs, stating that the shutdown will continue indefinitely – for months or even years – until his racist, multibillion-dollar border wall is approved. 

Despite Trump’s claims that what he is doing is for the safety of everyday Americans, this moment could not make it plainer that he does not care about any of us – not even the working class white people he claims to represent. The wall’s aim is not to protect ordinary Americans, but to rile up Trump’s base using racism.

This is a classic divide-and-conquer tactic, aiming to get poor white people to blame people of colour and not the political and corporate elite, for poverty. The wall will also make loads of money for an ever-growing corporate defence industry, who are deep in Trump’s pockets, and see militarised borders, surveillance, deportation, war and incarceration as opportunities to make cash.

But polling shows that Trump’s plan is backfiring. By refusing to back down, Trump is actually losing support among his base. This carves out a path for leftists to present a new vision for this country, one that sees the fate of everyday people – both within and outside the US border – as deeply connected. We have an opportunity to present a political pathway where there is enough for all of us. We have an opportunity to actually win more people towards our side, and away from Trump, the fascist far right, and the political and corporate elite. 

A hard-lined shutdown for the poor, negotiations for the rich

A shutdown happens when Congress cannot agree on the budget. In recent years, we’ve become used to the threat of shutdown but no president has openly called for one. In May, Trump tweeted that “our country needs a good ‘shutdown.'” Months later, he announced that he would not sign any spending bill that does not include $5.6b for a border wall – a demand that Democrats refuse to meet.

As a result, working-class people across the country – already struggling – have been pushed into an even more vulnerable position. Over 800,000 workers are being forced to work without pay – some will be reimbursed after the shutdown ends, others won’t. Families are preparing to go without food stamps – and potentially, without their tax refunds – next month.

In New York City, imprisoned people at a local jail launched a hunger strike to protest the cancellation of family visits due to staffing shortages caused by the shutdown. Others have reported that they aren’t receiving their medication.

For Native American sovereign nations, the US has failed to maintain treaty agreements due to the shutdown. As a result, guaranteed funding for programs like healthcare, education and safety are all on the brink of collapse. On the Navajo Nation, many are stuck in their homes – unable to get to the grocery store or take care of vital needs, like getting to a pharmacy – because ploughs aren’t operating in the midst of heavy snowfall.

43,000 immigration hearings have been cancelled – the number set to grow by 20,000 weekly. People have been waiting years for these hearings and are now being told they might have to wait years more.

Small farmers aren’t receiving millions in payouts they were promised due to falling crop prices at the hands of Trump’s trade wars.

All across the country, working-class families are struggling and, in a sign of how out of touch our politicians are, the Trump administration has told the country to treat the shutdown like a vacation or to do chores for their landlords in lieu of paying rent.

But the state of things – with people working for free and services to everyday Americans being cut – is not an inevitable byproduct of the shutdown. In fact, in the midst of the shutdown, the Trump administration has made changes to policy in order to serve the interests of the uber-wealthy and corporate class. As a result of the lobbying efforts of the credit-reporting companies and mortgage industry, IRS workers were called back to work (and are being paid) to carry out income verifications for lenders. This process earns the mortgage banking industry millions of dollars in fees each year. 

While rules are being bent so big corporations can make even more money, a judge struck down a union lawsuit demanding workers be paid for their time immediately.

The shutdown is hard-lined for working class people and negotiable for the rich.

It is clear what this country’s priorities are

Long before Trump’s demand for expanding the wall at the US-Mexico border, this country’s priorities were out of whack. Every year, US taxpayer dollars are used to cultivate a world of war, violence, incarceration and deportation – not one of safety and of meeting basic human needs.

Of our discretionary budget, the US spends nearly 10 times more on defence than health and human services, 9 times more than education and 9 times more than housing. Under Trump’s proposed discretionary spending for 2019, these margins have increased. 






US: Local residents oppose Trump’s border wall (2:07)

Much of this money is going to private companies, who in the age of Trump see dollar signs in his tough on crime, hard-lined immigration, warmongering approach to governance. The fact that the shutdown is happening over a wall is a scary symbol of where society is and where it is headed. 

We are living in an era where not social services and jobs for working class people but police, wars, border walls and prisons are the priorities of the government.

And this is not a purely American trend. All over the world, as communities are battling the devastating effects of climate change and poverty, governments are building walls, closing borders and abandoning green initiatives. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, at least 55 new border walls have been built all around the world. During this same period, poverty has been wrecking our society with at least 80 percent of humanity living on less than $10/day.

The answer is a clear political vision rooted in the idea that there is enough for all of us.

The need for a big-picture agenda

While the Democrats could use this moment to talk about comprehensive, human-rights based immigration policy or the ways shutdown policies have been shifted to serve the rich, they aren’t doing much other than condemning Trump for shutting down the government, while countering his proposal for a wall with negotiations focused on other forms of border security.

We should applaud the Democrats for not caving to Trump’s wall demand, but we should also acknowledge that they have failed to raise the bar. A party that is trying to present itself as the only progressive alternative to Trump and his allies should have done a lot more. By reinforcing myths about the “threats” on our border, Democrats like Pelosi are not conducting political diplomacy, but instead casting long term damage to everyday people’s understanding of what our problems are and what solutions should be put forth. 

The majority of Americans don’t support the border wall or Trump’s family separation policy. Seventy-five percent of Americans say immigration is good for our country. So why aren’t Democrats using this moment to be visionary, pushing demands rooted in the basic idea that everyone has the right to move across borders as freely as money does in this society? Why aren’t they calling out Trump’s IRS policy shift for the rich, while food stamps are being cut?

We need to use this moment to not only end the shutdown but to push out big ideas like the green new deal, wealth redistribution, medicare for all, abolishment of ICE and repeal of the 1994 crime bill. Policies like the conservative-austerity paygo measure that House Democrats approved in their rules package, which requires new spending to be offset with equivalent savings, should be abandoned. This policy will make it virtually impossible to pass any of the reforms mentioned above but only three Democrats voted no  – Ro Khanna of California, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. This is unacceptable.

We must reject the small, limited point of view shared by many prominent Democrats that sees unfettered capitalism and austerity measures as natural law. We need a clear, big-picture agenda that creates opportunities for working class people to organise and build bridges between our communities so we can expand the political imagination of the public to get behind big demands.

We can’t wait for someone else to organise people during the shut down – the likely result of inaction would be more division and fascism. Without political clarity, we run the risk of people getting so tired and fed up that they give in and move to the right. “Fine, build the wall” is the other potential pathway we walk down.

Trump is making very intentional plays to pit working class people against one another. However, the experiences and grievances of poor people, whether they are immigrants or not, are not opposing, but shared. After 40 years of neoliberal economic policy, which has devastated communities all across the country and around the world, people are desperate and turning to xenophobia, white nationalism and fascism as a result. At this moment, when Trump’s support is waning – and people are falling into an even more vulnerable state – we must present an alternative. We cannot rely on mainstream Democrats’ play-it-safe approach.

The path we are headed down will only get darker if we do not fight for a drastic reorganisation of our communities rooted in a new political vision that values the freedom of people over the profits of a few. We can live in a society where everyone has enough food to eat, a safe place to live and where parents and children have what they need to take care of each other. But this won’t happen while our political system is drowning in dark, dirty corporate money and when politicians refuse to take a stand.

From the Right of Return protests in Gaza, to the immigrant caravan at the US-Mexico border, to the LA teachers strike and calls for TSA worker strikes – we have a real a opportunity to help people see the connections across our experiences and to rally behind a vision of solidarity rooted in the idea that our fates are tied, that we are in a shared battle against the corporate class and that if we come together to take them down, we can live in a society where there is enough for all of us.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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