The Case for Nationalizing Elon Musk

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, February 8, 2018

On Tuesday, Elon Musk launched some stuff into space. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket was shot into the Solar System, tailed by a Tesla Roadster blasting David Bowie songs, reportedly the fastest car ever to be released into orbit. Each Falcon launch is only expected to cost around $90 million—a bargain in the world of extraterrestrial exploration. 

Scientific American gawked, “Elon Musk Does It Again,” praising the “bold technological innovations and newfound operational efficiencies that allow SpaceX to not only build its rockets for less money, but also reuse them.” That view—shared by several other outlets—fits comfortably with the Tony Stark-like image Musk has crafted for himself over the years: a quirky and slightly off-kilter playboy genius inventor capable of conquering everything from outer space to the climate crisis with the sheer force of his imagination.

One of Musk’s long-term goals is to create a self-sustaining colony on Mars, and make humanity an interplanetary species. He hopes to shoot two very wealthy people around the moon at some point this year. Musk has invested an awful lot of public money into making those dreams a reality. But why should Americans keep footing the bill for projects where only Musk and his wealthy friends can reap the rewards? Enter: the case for nationalizing Elon Musk, and making the U.S. government a major stakeholder in his companies.

The common logic now holds that the private sector—and prodigies like Musk, in particular—are better at coming up with world-changing ideas than the public sector, which is allegedly bloated and allergic to new, outside-the-box thinking. Corporations’ hunt for profits and lack of bureaucratic constraints, it’s said, compel cutting-edge research and development in a way that the government is simply incapable of. With any hope, more of these billionaires’ breakthroughs than not will be in the public interest.

The reality, as economist Mariana Mazzucato argues in her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, is very different. Many of the companies that are today considered to be headed by brilliant savants—people like Steve Jobs and, yes, Elon Musk—owe much of their success to decades of public sector innovation, through repackaging technologies developed over the course of several decades into new products. Take the iPhone, essentially a collection of Defense Department research and National Science Foundation-grant projects packed into one shiny machine.

“The prospect of the State owning a stake in a private corporation may be anathema to many parts of the capitalist world,” Mazzucato writes, “but given that governments are already investing in the private sector, they may as well earn a return on those investments.”

More to ‘pumped storage’ than meets the eye

By Lydia Graves - Appalachian Voices, February 7, 2018

Dominion Energy has been eyeing far Southwest Virginia for its latest project — a giant, hydroelectric battery, also called pumped storage. The facility would use cheap or excess power to pump water into an elevated reservoir during off-peak hours. By holding the water until peak demand hours and releasing it to run turbines when energy is needed the most, electricity is effectively captured and stored.

Although using energy to pump water uphill may sound counterintuitive, this project could be a way to make our power usage more efficient. Often, pumped storage facilities reduce energy waste by using excess energy from coal or nuclear facilities, so-called baseload plants that generate the same amount of power around the clock. The world’s largest pumped storage facility is in Bath County, Virginia, and is owned by Dominion.

Local solar is best

It is critical that any project Dominion constructs in Southwest Virginia benefits local people directly by generating the power onsite using cost-effective solar, drawing from the existing workforce and maximizing local economic impacts. The two potential projects Dominion is considering in the coalfield counties are forecasted to be roughly ten times smaller than the 3,003-megawatt Bath County site, so using small, onsite solar installations would be appropriate.

Solar is now the cheapest form energy generation worldwide and employs more people in the U.S. than coal, gas and oil electrical generation combined. Solar panels at the proposed pumped storage facility would capture and store the sun’s energy until the power is needed most by customers.

NUMSA repeats the call for Sibanye to shut down for the sake of worker safety

By Phakamile Hlubi-Majola - NUMSA, February 8, 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is deeply saddened by news that two workers have died at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Kloof operation in Gauteng. According to the mining house a ‘fall of ground’ incident which the company claims may have been the result of a seismic incident caused the accident. The accident occurred at Sibanye’s Ikamva 4 Shaft‚ Kloof Operations in Glenharvie in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

This is the second incident affecting workers safety this month at Sibanye mine. Last week‚ more than 950 employees were left stranded underground at one of its mines in the Free State when a severe storm resulted in electricity supply being cut, trapping the workers underground. To date Sibanye has not properly explained why its generators failed to kick in. This delay meant that the miners were trapped underground for more than12 hours while attempts were made to rescue them.

It is important to note that these deaths are happening as the global elites in the mining industry are gathered at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, to discuss more ways to exploit workers and pillage the country of its natural resources. The death toll in the South African mining industry remains shockingly high, with at least 81 people killed in 2017 alone. It is a reflection of the industry’s attitude towards the life of an African worker. They continue to shamelessly pursue profits before the well-being of workers. But the Department of Mineral Resources has allowed mining companies to act with impunity when it comes to mining safety.

NUMSA sends its deepest condolences to the families of the workers who lost their lives in this horrific incident. Last week we called for a shut-down of operations at Sibanye in the Free State until workers safety could be guaranteed, but we were ignored by the DMR. We repeat the call that Sibanye-Stillwater should not be allowed to operate until the safety of workers can be guaranteed. We demand a full and detailed investigation into the cause of the accident. It seems evident to us that Sibanye is not taking enough care to guarantee the safety of workers underground.

First U.S. City to Ban Fossil Fuel Expansion Offers Roadmap for Others

By Kevon Paynter - Yes! Magazine, February 5, 2018

On a clear July morning three years ago, dozens of environmental activists pushed their kayaks into the Willamette River in Portland while others rappelled 400 feet from the top of St. Johns Bridge in an attempt to block a Shell Oil ship and its drilling equipment from leaving the port and entering Alaskan waters.

A key piece of Shell’s arctic drilling fleet, the vessel had arrived in Portland for repairs but its departure was delayed by protesters chanting “coal, oil, gas, none shall pass!” during two days of civil disobedience that became known as Summer Heat.

By the time the vessel finally sailed, the stage had been set for what would be a yearlong battle, culminating in an ordinance that banned construction and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the city.

Last month, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld Portland’s ban as constitutional, affirming the city’s power to regulate the safety and welfare of its residents and sending a powerful signal to cities that they too can take the lead to limit fossil fuel use.

nd while the court ruling could set precedent for similar climate action elsewhere, how Portland passed the nation’s first fossil fuel infrastructure ban holds important lessons for how other communities can use grassroots activism to implement the renewable energy transition in their cities.

What in the World is going on at CSX and Amtrak?

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United, February 7, 2018

The latest round of tragic incidents at CSX and AMTRAK is causing a number of news outlets to reach out to Railroad Workers United to gain a rank & file worker perspective. In the past few months, RWU has been contacted by The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and several other news outlets, including a business journal that is based in none other than CSX’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL.

The Voice of the Working Railroader is what is Needed

The questions are wide ranging, understandably well intentioned, and urgent. The common complaint from the journalists that we have talked to is that they lack the perspective from union officials and working railroaders. Many of the journalists report that the company press agents as well as the unions are only willing to release broad generalized statements that offer no real content that would help them with their investigative reporting. RWU hopes to engage rank and file workers in the discussion, providing the media and the general public with the invaluable “inside” perspective that only working railroaders can provide.

CSX Background to Disaster

Before Mantle Ridge and their CEO, superstar Hunter Harrison hedged their way into CSX, employees had already been through several recent rounds of harsh top down management changes, decreed under Cindy Sanborn’s leadership. Union safety programs that were working with management were abolished. Company safety councils were implemented with no input from or involvement with union safety coordinators. Rules violations that were historically not a disciplined offense were now considered major rules infractions.

Very strict rules were put into place that were designed to address safety, especially rules pertaining to switching operations. Draconian attendance policies were put into place. Employees needing to mark off to visit the doctor were being disciplined due to the inhumane nature of these new policies. Seniority rosters were being dovetailed, causing workers to qualify at locations far from their home terminals, being forced to qualify upwards for thirty days or more on their own time (i.e., no paycheck) with no reimbursement for lodging.

Grassroots Movement Wins Millions In Fare Reductions For Portlanders

By Shawn Fleek - Inequality.Org, February 7, 2018

An Oregon environmental group secured its new discount program for low-income riders by organizing in the communities most likely to face barriers to civic participation.

Policymakers often overlook the people they’re meant to serve. When people aren’t fairly treated or meaningfully involved in the decisions which impact them, it leads to environmental injustice.

We see environmental injustice frequently in Portland, Oregon. The city is in a housing crisis of rapid gentrification, skyrocketing rents, and a record numbers of evictions. Portland’s transportation system is in critical condition, as a booming population chokes streets with traffic while transit ridership declines. We have some of the worst air quality in the country, and regulators seem less interested in cleaning it up than making polluters happy.

Yet OPAL, our small grassroots group in Portland, has spent the last ten years winning millions of dollars for low-income people and people of color, changing federal, state and local policy, and directly confronting environmental injustice. In January, we saw our biggest win to date: a fare reduction program that will save $10 million for low-income bus riders in the city. The program will serve individuals who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, providing a discount of more than 75 percent on the cost of a monthly bus pass, and 50 percent off an individual ride.

How do we do it? Grassroots organizing in the communities most likely to face discrimination and barriers to participation in civic life. Since 2010, OPAL has organized Portland’s transit riders under the banner Bus Riders Unite (BRU). At OPAL, organizing means bringing together the people and resources to win campaigns.

“At OPAL, low-income people and people of color make the rules,” says Executive Director Huy Ong, who leads OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. “Our staff are all people of color from low-income backgrounds. We organize our communities to achieve a safe and healthy environment in the places where we live, work, learn, pray, and play.”

“We get on the buses and ask people about their experiences, not to meet a quota of signatures but because we genuinely care about these stories. We help people see that telling their stories to decision makers can change the decisions.”

BRU’s most recent victory became official on January 24th, 2018. BRU launched a campaign in late 2016 demanding a fare reduction for low-income people. TriMet, the regional transit agency, recently installed $22 million worth of new electronic fare equipment. BRU found out about the plan — which added costs to bus rides, limited ticket options in certain areas, and proposed to eliminate cash transfers — and fought back, hard.

TriMet quickly agreed to preserve the use of cash, and to hand out hundreds of thousands of free electronic fare cards to make the transition smoother. BRU then launched a campaign demanding a fare reduction for low-income people, based off of similar programs in Seattle and San Francisco.

How Canadian universities can confront climate change: moving from greenwashing to action

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 6, 2018

Confronting Climate Change on Campus  is a newly-released guide by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT/ACPPU), in response to growing awareness and concern amongst the professors and researchers who are members. It presents a three-step plan of practical action to be followed by academic staff associations and researchers across Canada:  To reduce the carbon footprint of campuses by improving building energy conservation and promoting low-carbon transportation;  to expand course offerings dedicated to climate change, and to encourage climate change research through grants and awards; and to advocate for the creation of association or institutional environment committees, or work with established committees, such as collective bargaining or workplace joint health and safety committees, to push climate change concerns.  The French version of the guide is here .

The growing awareness and concern amongst academics can be partly explained by the research efforts of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) at the University of Saskatchewan, which CAUT has highlighted, most recently  in  “The Politics of Climate Change” in the CAUT  Bulletin (June 2017).  The article summarizes results of a survey of Canadian colleges and universities by researchers at SEPN, and calls for exactly the kinds of actions addressed in the new CAUT guide.  The scholarly article on which the CAUT Bulletin article is based is “Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis” , which  appeared in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education in June  2017.  The key findings are: “less than half (44 per cent) have climate change-specific policies in place; those policies focus most often upon the built-campus environment with “underdeveloped secondary responses” to research, curriculum, community outreach and governance policies; and the “overwhelming” response of modifying infrastructure and curbing energy consumption and pollution, while important, risks masking deeper social and cultural dynamics which require addressing.”   A 2-page summary is here ; an infographic is here.

Other relevant SEPN publications include “The State of Fossil Fuel Divestment in Canadian Post-secondary Institutions” (2016) ; “50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses” (2015) , and the related Research Brief Greenwashing in Education: How Neoliberalism and Policy Mobility May Undermine Environmental Sustainability  (2014),  and “Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-secondary Education” , which appeared in the journal  Sustainability in 2013.

And elsewhere in the world:  According to The Guardian, on February 5, the University of Edinburgh , which divested from coal and tar sands investments in 2015, announced that it will sell its final £6.3m of fossil fuel holdings.  Edinburgh has a  £1bn endowment fund,  (exceeded in the U.K. only by Cambridge and Oxford). Signalling the change to a more climate-friendly investment strategy, Edinburgh has invested £150m in low carbon technology, climate-related research,  and businesses that directly benefit the environment.

UNISON launches a campaign for pension fund divestment with a Guide for Local Unions

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 6, 2018

On January 10, 2018,  the U.K. union UNISON launched a campaign to encourage members of local government pension schemes to push for changes in the investment of their funds – specifically, to “explore alternative investment opportunities, allowing schemes to sell their shares and bonds in fossil fuels and to go carbon-free.”  A key tool in this campaign: Local Government Pension Funds – Divest From Carbon Campaign: A UNISON Guide, which states:  “Across the UK there are nearly 50 divestment campaigns targeting local government pension funds ….. In September this year, it was revealed that a total of £16 billion is invested in the fossil fuel industry by Local Government Pension funds.”  The new Guide explains how the U.K. pension system works for local government employees, and provides case studies of existing divestment campaigns.  In addition, it provides “Campaign Resources”, including a model campaign letter, a glossary of pension and investment terms,  and it reproduces the Pensions and Climate Motion passed at the 2017 UNISON Delegates conference.  The Guide was written by UNISON, in collaboration with ShareAction – a registered U.K. charity that promotes responsible investment practices by pension providers and fund managers.

Information about the divestment campaign, as well as information about the National Auditor’s Report re the U.K. Green Investment Bank,  is included in the January-February issue of the newsletter of the  Greener Jobs Alliance , a U.K.  partnership of “trade unions, student organisations, campaigning groups and a policy think tank.” The Greener Jobs Alliance is part of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, which is organizing an event on March 10 in London: Jobs & Climate: Planning for a Future that Doesn’t Cost the Earth

"Without a Popular Movement We Don’t Stand a Chance”: Andreas Malm on Climate Change

By Rasmus Landström - Verso Books, February 5, 2018

First published at ETC. Translated by Sam Carlshamre.

Andreas Malm sits in his office in his apartment in Malmö. He is looking uncomfortable. The question I asked — if he is active in any political organisation — seems to have opened the floodgates of his bad conscience. Well, of course, he is a member of Socialistiska Partiet (“The Socialist Party” — a Swedish left-wing organisation with its roots in the Trotskyist tradition) and Klimataktion (“Climate Action”), but the days when he went blocking airport runways seems to be over. Last year he missed the major actions against the coal plants in Germany due to a foot injury.

"Since I became a researcher I have turned into a kind of 'Armchair Activist,' and it’s something that I makes me feel incredibly embarrassed."

He scratches his head.

"But I do try to participate in as many demonstrations and manifestations as I can; and why not a riot every now and then? I guess you shouldn’t write that last bit though."

An internationally renowned researcher and authority in the field of Human ecology who participates in riots? For those of us who have followed Andreas Malm’s trajectory over the last decades that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. For many years he was a well-known character of the non-parliamentarian, far-left Sweden. He started out with Palestine activism in the 1990s, which led to the book Bulldozers Against a People — in which he chronicled his own work with activists in some of the most dangerous parts of Palestine’s. Later he wrote two books on the workers’ struggle in Iran together with his partner Shora Esmailian — which led to them both being banned from returning to the country. He has also been an activist in the struggle against Islamophobia and American imperialism, and has written books on these topics as well.

"Since I became a researcher I’ve been drawn into this academic bubble. I could say that that’s because I have a small child to take care of, but it still gives me a very bad conscience."

Malm sighs and looks quite unhappy. I figure its time to change the subject. After all, the reason I’m doing this interview isn’t his personal track record as an activist, but his contributions as a researcher and political commentator. I start by asking how he got engaged in the struggle against climate change.

"In the early 2000s I considered the whole issue of climate change a bit "petty bourgeois," as did most of us on the radical, non-parliamentarian left. Why should we care about polar bears or melting ice caps when there were more important issues, such as the workers’ struggle, right here? But then I came across Mark Lynas’ book High Tide; I read it and it got me thinking. At that time, I was active in issues concerning the Middle East, and suddenly it struck me that a democratic Iran would never come about if there was no potable water around. That made me write the book Det är vår bestämda uppfattning att om ingenting görs nu kommer det att vara för sent (“It is our Firm View that if Nothing is Done Now it will be too Late”). Since then I have kept working on these issues within the academy."

To really take back control, we need to democratise our trade deals

By Marienna Pope-Weidemann - Red Pepper, February 6, 2018

The government has certainly learned from the defeat of Transatlanic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the last attempt at a secret trade deal with the USA. They see any public debate on trade as a threat. That’s why Liam Fox is consulting big business while leaving parliament and the public in the dark. They’re betting that if we knew the truth, we wouldn’t stand for it.

This week, people from across the country are coming to demand trade democracy. If this government’s track record on trade deals is anything to go by, left to its own devices, it will sign away our public services. It will sign away the right to regulate, keeping the big banks in check and preventing another financial crash. And it will sign away our right to have our elected representatives writing the policies that shape our lives.

Last year’s Queen’s Speech promised an ‘independent trade policy’ after Brexit. But with elite interests crowding round the Trade Bill behind closed doors, it’s starting to look like the only people these negotiations will be independent of are the British people and our elected representatives.

Secret talks with the USA on a new deal are already under way, with parliament unceremoniously elbowed out of the way and unable to know, let alone set limits on what those talks might cover – not even to protect the NHS. Hundreds of thousands of people have already lobbied their MPs to demand trade democracy. Thanks to them, over 150 MPs have signed Early Day Motions calling for parliament to have scrutiny over trade deals but so far the government has sidestepped parliamentary scrutiny every single step of the way.

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