Progressive Caucus Yields to Obama concessions to Tea Party GOP;
Keystone XL Pipeline Protests Part of Anti-Extractive Movement Solidarity Anti-Extractive Fossil Fuel;
Recovering from Cancer Surgery, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Unable to Attend his Inauguration
Some of the feared consequences of going over the “fiscal cliff” were averted in the early hours of 2013, when the House and Senate agreed on legislation that increased taxes on families making more than $450,000 annually, while extending unemployment benefits, earned income tax credits, child tax credits and tuition tax refunds. The deal, however, came without addressing future sequester budget cuts, raising the debt ceiling or funding the government beyond March 27.
And while many progressive legislators complained about elements of the deal, such as limiting tax hikes on the wealthy while permanently taking $3.9 trillion in future revenue off the table, all but seven members of the 75-member House Progressive Caucus voted for the fiscal cliff tax bill. According to author and activist Norman Solomon, this is part of a pattern of behavior by Progressive Caucus leaders and members who routinely support concessions President Obama has made to the Tea Party-controlled Republican Party.
Now with uncertainty over whether the GOP-controlled House will raise the nation’s debt ceiling, President Obama has vowed not to negotiate with what he describes as Republican hostage-takers in this fight. But given the president’s record of surrender to past Republican demands, Obama has little credibility when it comes to standing by his pledges. The same holds true for the Progressive Caucus, which could, if it doesn’t back down, be in a position to block any future Obama concessions on benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Norman Solomon, a primary candidate who fell less than 200 votes short of competing for California’s 2nd District congressional seat in November’s general election. Here, Solomon examines why the House Progressive Caucus repeatedly yields to Obama administration concessions made to the GOP, and how public pressure could reverse that pattern.
Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy, How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning us to Death.” Find Solomon’s articles at NormanSolomon.com.
Activists fighting a plethora of fossil fuel projects and processes are increasingly coming together to present a united front against extractive industries that are destroying the land, water and air quality – and the health and very lives – of Americans around the country. From mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia to the tar sands pipelines in Texas and New England, to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for natural gas, those concerned about climate change, public health and property rights are supporting each others’ struggles.
Twenty-five-year-old activist Glen Collins was arrested in December with two others during a non-violent direct action protest in Texas, part of the Tar Sands Blockade campaign to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. When completed, the pipeline will bring highly polluting tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, most of it destined for export.
Since 2005, Collins has been involved in the effort to stop mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. He is part of the group Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival, or RAMPS, and has been working in West Virginia as a trainer and participant in direct action protests to close down mountaintop mining sites. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Collins, who explains why he got involved in the Tar Sands Blockade action and his efforts to build solidarity across the various parts of the anti-extraction movement.
GLEN COLLINS: I went down to Texas firstly, to help build solidarity among extraction-based communities and anti-extraction movements. I see a lot of parallels between what TransCanada – the company building the pipeline – is doing and the oil companies like Valero, that own the oil that’s going to be going through the pipeline. I see a lot of parallels between them and the coal industry and the intimidation tactics they use and the abuse of the government and the regulatory system that is done to kind of push their profit as a priority over the normal average people who live along the places where they extract or build their conveyances for their petrol fuels. So I went down mostly to build solidarity and help organize against the pipeline. I ended up undertaking some direct action myself when me and some comrades of mine ended up going inside the Keystone XL and barricading ourselves inside to hopefully stop work for quite a bit of time as well as draw more attention to the cause and get more people involved in resisting the Keystone XL and resisting extraction-based industry everywhere.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Did you go inside the pipe itself?
GLEN COLLINS: Yeah, basically we blockaded ourselves inside the Keystone XL pipeline to prevent it from being laid and to prevent work from continuing.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Wow, that must have been an interesting experience!
GLEN COLLINS: Yeah, no, it was definitely some cramped quarters, that’s for sure. There were three of us who were barricaded inside the pipe. We had a couple of lock boxes in there with us that were basically cement barrels that had concrete and pipes in them that we could lock to.
BETWEEN THE LINES: How were you treated by law enforcement, or by employees from TransCanada after you “occupied” the pipeline?
GLEN COLLINS: Well, TC workers pretty much completely ignored us, aside from a couple that filmed us. The police pretty much had no regard for our safety … basically they ended up getting us out by pulling on the boxes we were locked to until the chain I had around my wrist that was keeping in the pipe had broken. Luckily, it didn’t injure me too severely, and then when we were taken into custody the bail that was set for all of us was set at $65,000 each. It prevented me from getting out for three weeks, and the other two spent nearly a month inside.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us a little about what the jail experience was like.
GLEN COLLINS: I was in the county jail. All the prisoners I was in there with were pretty amenable. There’s generally not a lot of knowledge about the pipeline going around, but I had a lot of really good conversations, and most of the people in the jail were very nice. The jail definitely lacked for basic supplies, like blankets and towels. I basically spent my entire time in a 60- by 25-foot area with 25 other people.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Glen Collins, you describe the action very matter-of-factly, but it was pretty risky and you could have been injured more seriously or been treated even worse by the authorities. What motivates you to do it?
GLEN COLLINS: Well, the reason why I took action against the Keystone XL pipeline and the reason I take action against coal removal surface mines, and why I take action against all extractive industry is for a few reasons. One is definitely climate change, and the almost unavoidable catastrophic events that are going to occur because of our effect on the planet. Also because of the effect that these industries have on these local communities and the less privileged populations around our country. This kind of “profit over people” corporate greed is a huge problem in our country, and I believe personally that it is a huge problem with the kind of extraction mindset that our entire country has in relation to the earth, and in relation to each other. A lot of us learn in nursery rhymes and when we’re young that to take without giving is wrong and irresponsible, and to plow ahead without looking at your affect on your environment is innately wrong. So yeah, the reason I take these actions is to try to take the strongest action I can with my body and try to encourage as many communities that have problems with the extraction industry to not take action but to start to take actions in unity with each other, because I personally believe the only way we’re going to have any sort of final victory against this type of industry or any industry at all that has these kinds of effects on the community and the environment is for us all to work together and to bring an end to the extraction mentality that really makes our country a really bad place to live for quite a lot of people.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The tar sands are one thing, and MTR is another. Then there’s the behemoth of fracking for natural gas. Are you also building alliances with people who are working against fracking?
GLEN COLLINS: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Earlier this year, I was in Pennsylvania helping with actions against fracking, as well as people from RAMPS, including myself, have been to Ohio as well, doing action trainings and sharing information and networking to hopefully build a stronger anti-extraction movement.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you see as the role of government in preventing or enabling clean energy instead of fossil fuels?
GLEN COLLINS: Well, one of the biggest things the government can do is stop supporting these extraction-based industries and their destruction of the environment and the destruction of impoverished communities. Stop giving tax breaks to these oil and coal and uranium mining companies. I think we haven’t put nearly enough energy and nearly enough time and thought into what local sustainable energy can look like for America.
Find more information about Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival at RampsCampaign.org.
After winning a hard-fought re-election campaign in October, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – recovering from his most recent cancer surgery in Cuba – was forced to miss his inauguration in Caracas on Jan. 10. Since being diagnosed with cancer in 2011, Chavez has undergone four surgeries. Although many details about the nature of Chavez’s disease and condition aren’t known, the latest cancer surgery in Havana left the populist president with a serious respiratory infection and other complications.
Opposition parties in Venezuela charge that the current government, absent a sworn-in president is operating outside the nation’s Constitution, and have called for a new presidential election. However, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that the swearing-in ceremony could legally take place at a later date.
Uncertainty about President Chavez’s prognosis and ability to return to power has many observers inside and outside Venezuela speculating about who could fill the vacuum left by Chavez’s absence. Before he left for Cuba in December, Chávez designated his Vice President Nicolás Maduro to run as his party’s candidate should a new election become necessary. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American attorney, author of the best-selling book, “The Chavez Code,” and editor-in-chief of Correo del Orinoco International. Here she discusses the reaction of opposition party leaders to Chavez’s illness and the likelihood that Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party and his Bolivarian revolution can survive without him.
For more information and commentary on Hugo Chavez and Venezuelan politics, visit Golinger’s blog at Chavezcode.com. Additional links forthcoming below.
Norman Solomon; Glen Collins; Eva Golinger