Ten Reasons Why Transit Privatization is Bad for the District:

By staff - ATU Local 689, May 30, 2017

1. Privatization does not guarantee savings.  Proponents of privatizing transit often make lofty claims about savings through private sector efficiencies. But frequently these claims couldn’t be farther from the truth. Public agencies are often more efficient because no profit margin gets siphoned off to shareholders.

• In Phoenix, Veolia demanded an additional $27.5 million on top of its existing $386 million contract. Veolia threatened to leave on short notice during contract negotiations if the city did not meet its demands. 1

• Officials canceled a management contract with First Transit in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The public agency experienced a cost savings by managing the system in-house.

• Veolia was dropped after 3 years by Chatham Area Transit (CAT) in Savannah, GA after the CAT chairman concluded that the private operator “was becoming too expensive.”

2. Service issues may rise: any savings often come from cutbacks.

Contractor claims about service should be taken with a grain of salt. Up-front savings are often coupled with cutbacks, hurting the most vulnerable users like the disabled and children.

• In San Diego, First Transit promised $10 million in annual savings by taking over the North County Transit District. Modest cost declines were primarily due to service cutbacks. First Transit operated 14,000 fewer service hours while other costs shot up by $1.4 million primarily due to administrative fees. 

• Between 2008 and 2010, MV Transportation was fined 295 times for bad service in the city of Fairfield, CA, which had turned to the private operator as a solution to budget shortfalls. Officials concluded that the private operator “exhibited mostly negative trends in all areas” related to performance and efficiency.

• In Nassau County, NY Veolia slashed service to close a $7.3 million budget gap. More than 30 routes saw cutbacks, in all 60% of the system experienced service declines. 

• After 19 years of privatized service in the Toledo, OH area, paratransit riders complaints

were so numerous that the agency fired First Transit. 

Leaks and Militarized Policing: Water Protectors are Proven Right

By Michael J. Sainato - CounterPunch, May 30, 2017

The water protectors’ efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline were a historic mobilization of Native American tribes from all across the country coming together in solidarity for the Standing Rock Sioux. The original route of the pipeline was moved from Bismarck, North Dakota, onto Standing Rock Sioux reservation land and sacred tribal grounds.

Despite the overt violation of treaties between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux, the pipeline’s construction persisted while mainstream media outlets and Democratic Party leaders all virtually remained silent on the issue.

The void in media coverage was filled by alternative media outlets and citizen journalists. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) were two of the small handful of elected officials willing to speak out on behalf of the NoDAPL fight.Throughout months of living at the Standing Rock camps, water protectors endured constant abuse, violence, and a propaganda campaign from the Morton County Sheriff’s Office and hired security contractors.

On May 27, the Intercept reported, “a SHADOWY INTERNATIONAL mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept.”

Fight Back for Energy Independence Over Corporate Profits

By Lois Marie Gibbs - Common Dreams, May 27, 2017

‘Homeland Security – No more wars over oil!’ That’s what families in communities across Pennsylvania were promised a decade ago.

‘We’ll extract natural gas from the ground, using an unconventional process called hydrofracturing, to acquire enough natural gas that the U.S. will no longer be dependent on foreign oil!’

At least that’s what we were told. No longer would we need to send our young men and women overseas to fight oil wars.

Today America is there, with over 100 years of natural gas reserves. Moreover, if our country was to also invest in energy conservation and renewables, our nation could have 200 years of reserves today.

So what happened to that promise of ‘Homeland Security’ and ‘Energy Independence’? And why aren’t we celebrating?

How the Light Gets In

By H. Patricia Hynes - Portside, May 25, 2017

Every now and then I re-visit these lines of the Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that cannot ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

In these times of climate change denial, macho military chest-beating, stagnant wages, and soulless extremes of wealth and poverty, light-bearing cracks are all that we have.  They surface in unexpected places.

Take North American Windpower magazine, a monthly shaft of light.  It was first sent to me by a friend who never subscribed to it. When I told her how informative - and realistically hopeful - it was, she turned her non-subscription over to me.

The March 2017 issue carried the story of an oil sands worker in Alberta, Canada, Lliam Hildebrand, who created a national initiative, Iron and Earth, to retrain out-of-work oil sands tradespeople - among them pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers, drillers, and construction laborers - to enter the Canadian renewable technologies workforce, including solar, wind and hydro.  A survey of 1,000 oil sands sector workers revealed that 63% responded that they could transition directly to the renewable energy sector with some training; and 59% reported that they were willing to take a paycut to transition into the renewable sector.  The Canadian wind company, Beothuk Energy Inc., has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Iron and Earth to retrain oil and gas workers for the company's proposed offshore wind farm project, which has the potential to create 40,000 jobs.

Why not a similar US program for unemployed coal industry workers, given that everyone knows - except the President - that the cost of coal generated electricity cannot compete with renewables, and that solar and wind are the biggest job creators in electric power generation.  A team of developers recently proposed to install a large solar farm atop two mountaintop removal sites in the heart of coal country, Pikeville, Kentucky.  Further, they have pledged to hire as many unemployed coal miners as they can.  What more prescient sign of the times than this: in April 2017, the Kentucky Coal Museum installed solar panels on its roof!

In nearby West Virginia, the Coal River Mountain Watch is fighting to save 6,600 acres of their mountain from being blown up for strip mining of coal with a proposal for a 440 Megawatt wind farm.  The windpower would generate electricity for 150,000 homes, remove only 200 acres of hardwood forest, create 200 jobs with 40-50 being permanent and longer lasting than coal jobs, and provide sustainable income for the local economy.

New NAFTA Must Put People and Planet First

By Tobita Chow - Common Dreams, May 28, 2017

The White House has sent formal notice to Congress that it is initiating the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). All evidence suggests that despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, this puts us on track to yet another corporate trade deal that will protect the profits of multinational corporations at the expense of workers and the environment around the world.

Even so, progressives now have a historic opportunity to rewrite the rules of global trade to put people and the planet first. Above all, we must end the corporate court system “free trade” relies on, which tilts the playing field in favor of multinational capital, and replace it will strong standards that protect workers and the environment, backed by enforcement mechanisms with real teeth.

Celebrating Barry Commoner, Father of the Modern Environmental Movement

By Peter Dreier; image by Oliver Morris - Common Dreams, May 29, 2017

Described in 1970 by Time magazine as the “Paul Revere of ecology,” Commoner followed Rachel Carson as America’s most prominent modern environmentalist. But unlike Carson, Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology accounted for the undermining of “the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings.” Today’s environmental activists and thinkers — including radicals like Van Jones, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Bullard, and Beverly Wright — stand on Commoner’s shoulders.

Commoner — who was born 100 years ago, on May 28, 1917, and died in 2012 — insisted that scientists had an obligation to make scientific information accessible to the general public, so that citizens could participate in public debates that involved scientific questions. Citizens, he said, have a right to know the health hazards of the consumer products and technologies used in everyday life. Those were radical ideas in the 1950s and ’60s, when most Americans were still mesmerized by the cult of scientific expertise and such new technologies as cars, plastics, chemical sprays and atomic energy.

Commoner linked environmental issues to a broader vision of social and economic justice. He called attention to the parallels among the environmental, civil rights, labor and peace movements. He connected the environmental crisis to the problems of poverty, injustice, racism, public health, national security and war.

Commoner first came to public attention in the late 1950s when he warned about the hazards of fallout caused by the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. He later used his scientific platform to raise awareness about the dangers posed by the petrochemical industry, nuclear power and toxic substances such as dioxins. He was one of the first scientists to point out that although environmental hazards hurt everyone, they disproportionately hurt the poor and racial minorities because of the location of dangerous chemicals and because of the hazardous conditions in blue-collar workplaces. Commoner thus laid the groundwork for what later become known as the environmental justice movement.

Commoner grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the child of Russian Jewish immigrants. He studied zoology at Columbia University and received a doctorate in biology from Harvard University in 1941. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Commoner was an associate editor for Science Illustrated and then became a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, a position he held for thirty-four years. There he founded, in 1966, the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to promote research on ecological systems. He later moved the center to Queens College in New York.

While serving in the Navy, Commoner discovered a disturbing unintended consequences of technology. He was put in charge of a project to devise an apparatus to allow bombers to spray DDT on beachheads to kill insects that caused disease among soldiers. The military wanted to remove the insects before troops landed. Commoner’s crew discovered that the DDT sprayed from bombers effectively eliminated hordes of flies on the beach, but also that more flies soon came to feast on the tons of fish that the DDT had also killed. This lesson became a central theme for Commoner throughout his career: humans cannot take action on one part of the ecosystem without triggering a reaction elsewhere.

After the war, many scientists, including Albert Einstein, alarmed by America’s use of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, began to rethink their role in society. They questioned whether dropping the bomb had been necessary for the United States to win the war. They were shocked by the scale of the damage in terms of both immediate deaths and long-term human suffering. And they worried about the potential for a prolonged arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which, they feared, could end in a nuclear war in which all humanity would be the losers.

The Case for Phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands

By Gordon Laxer - Resillience, May 23, 2017

Proponents call them oil sands while opponents call them tar sands. Whatever they’re called, Alberta’s bitumen reserves are so massive, James Hansen warns that it could be game over for the world’s climate if all are extracted and burned.[i] We can’t do that and possibly keep the world below the Paris target of a two degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels.

What to do about Alberta Sands oil is an issue for Americans as well as Canadians. The US imports over 3 million barrels of oil a day from Canada, accounting for 38% of US oil imports, outpacing the combined imports from the four next largest sources – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico and Columbia. Sands oil comprise the majority of US oil imports from Canada.

The future of Sands oil imports became an American issue after more than 1,200 people were arrested in 2011 in front of the White House protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Shortly after, President Obama blocked and then banned the XL line to take mainly Sands oil to the Gulf coast. President Trump overturned that decision in March, allowing the Keystone XL line to be built, a move applauded by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Big Oil faces huge obstacles getting Sands oil to major markets. In the context of today’s low international oil price, the Sands are among the costliest to produce on the planet. They emit massive amounts of extra greenhouse gases because they are heated by huge amounts of natural gas to separate oil from sand. To get from remote, landlocked northern Alberta to tidewater, Sands oil must cross political barriers – through one or more Canadian provinces or cross the border to the US. That means they need a social license – public and government support – to get to market. The future viability of the Sands then greatly depends on politics.

How green is California? Agencies are deep in the pockets of Big Ag and Big Oil

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green & Blue, May 22, 2017

When I was at the March for Science in Sacramento a month ago, a friend asked to get me on video and talk about what is the crux of water issues in California, what is the overriding, central issue behind the different water battles. That’s one that includes the Delta Tunnels, the failure of the state and federal agencies to address environmentalists’ concerns with the safety of the Oroville Dam and spillways, the salmon and other fish collapses and the pollution of our drinking water by agribusiness, municipal and oil waste.

This is a presentation that I recently developed from my conversation with her.

The dire situation: Salmon and other species are collapsing

The Delta smelt, maligned as a “small minnow” by corporate agribusiness interests, is an indicator species that shows the health of the San Francisco-Bay Delta Estuary. Once the most abundant fish in Delta estuary, the Delta smelt population is so small that you can almost name them now. The most recent California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)  fall midwater survey shows that the Delta smelt is the second lowest in CA history, while the related longfin smelt population is the also second lowest.

The Delta smelt collapse is part of an overall ecosystem decline, including dramatic reductions in winter, spring and fall-run Chinook salmon and steelhead populations, driven by water diversions by the federal and state water projects. From 1967 through 2015, populations of striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad declined by 93.7 percent to 99.7 percent (99.7, 98.3, 99.9, 97.7, 98.5 and 93.7 percent) respectively, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Then on Tuesday, May 16, some alarming news was unveiled by California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences in a press teleconference discussing a new report that indicates if present trends continue, the majority of California’s imperiled native salmon, steelhead and trout are likely to be extinct within 100 years.

The report forecasts that 74 percent of the state’s native salmon, steelhead and trout are likely be extinct in the next 100 years  — and 45 percent of these fish in 50 years — if the current trends continue. (See: California’s salmon and trout facing EXTINCTION.)

It details the status of 32 salmonid populations in California and identifies opportunities for stabilizing and even recovering these species.

The causes outlined for the dire forecast include  drought, climate change human-induced threats, including residential development, major dams, agriculture, fire, alien species, transport, logging, fish harvest, estuary alteration, hatcheries, mining, in stream mining, grazing, urbanization and recreation.

I would add record water exports in recent years –  and poor state and federal management of dams. Inexplicably, the report failed to list the biggest threat to Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Trinity-Klamath River salmon, steelhead and other species — Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels.

R&C02-Is renewable energy a commons?

By Cécile L. Blanchet - Energy, commons and the rest, August 24, 2016

How relocating energy in the commons helps scaling-up renewables & saving energy
Is energy a mere commodity, or is it a common good? Why is this relevant in the first place? Here we look at why energy is part of our commons, from the sources to the product itself. In a second time, we will see that relocating energy in the commons has very important implications: it helps solve the energy efficiency dilemma (i.e., we need to reduce our energy consumption but who’s going to pay for that?) and scale-up renewables.

Article also published on the Commons Network.

What is a commons?

Once upon a time… there was an alpine pasture, where cattle from the village came to graze. The air was fresh and brisk, there was enough grass for the animals. But it was also a delicate, sensitive environment: put too much pressure on it (too much cattle) and it would be ruined in no-time… In other words, the pasture was a finite resource, which could support a finite number of cattle.

A (finite) natural resource, that is necessary to all: that’s a natural commons.

There are three way of dealing with natural commons:

  1. The commons (e.g., the pasture) is claimed by someone, who controls its access and monetize it: it becomes a commodity and the usage profits mainly to a few. 
  2. There is no communication in the community and no rules are set to use the commons. Individuals tend to exploit the commons as much as possible in order to maximise their own profit and compete for accessing to it. Eventually, the commons is destroyed. This is how Garrett Hardin described modern humans’ behaviour in the “Tragedy of the Commons” in 1968, which led him to argue that only privatization (as in 1.) or state regulation are successful mode of governance for the commons.
  3. People actually talk to each other and are conscious of the problem of over-using their commons. Therefore, communities organise themselves and set some rules, compensation mechanisms and sanctions against free-riders. Benefits are shared and sustained. This is what Elinor Ostrom (and her colleagues) reported upon throughout her career: communities are able to (and do) manage their common goods by themselves.

Next to the finite or physical resources defining the classical commons framework, we can think of other non-finite and more abstract resources that can be treated as commons and referred to as social commons: digital commons, knowledge commons, health commons, urban commons… Shifting the paradigm from commodity to commons helps to reduce the (artificial) scarcity of these resources (created and sustained by privatisation and monetisation) by having a common-ownership or no-ownership. This is best illustrated by the creative common licences, which allow (for some of them) companies to sell a product but not to claim its ownership (which means that other companies can sell the same product, modify it, etc…).

And finally, there’s the act of commoning: doing together, sharing, benefiting from each other. As we saw in the previous episode, this is one of the recurrent arguments given by members of energy cooperatives as a ground and as a co-benefit from their project.

The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of peasants' rights

By staff, La Via Campesina - May 22, 2017

Joint Statement from La Via Campesina and other social movements and civil society organisations for the conclusion of  the 4th OEIWG session on a UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

To the fourth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX 

15-19 May 2017 

We peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fisher folk and rural workers, including rural women from around the globe, from La Via Campesina, IUF, WFFP, WAMIP, FIMARC, IITC along with CETIM, FIAN International and other organizations, represent all together billions of rural people. We have been constructively engaging this process of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, from the fields of pasture, our workplaces around the world and here in Geneva for many years. We strongly welcome the level of constructive support from cross-regions, from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe. We especially welcome the warm and effective leadership of the Chair-rapporteur. It is worth taking note that delegates of UN member states have extended their very strong contribution to the process. 

As we have been saying from the very beginning, we, as representatives of peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fishers and rural workers, including rural women, shall be recognized as legitimate parties in international cooperation in relation to food and rural development, since we constitute the sector of the population mostly affected by hunger and malnutrition despite strongly contributing to feeding the world. The 2 billion peasants and other people working in rural areas have great knowledge and experience, as well as our own perspectives. We understand the current challenges facing the world’s food systems and have ideas for solutions. We are able to contribute to the development process in a valuable manner. 

This process has made our movement stronger than ever.  After sixteen years of effort and dedication, throughout the world, our communities’ expectations keep rising, expecting our demands to be recognized in the intergovernmental negotiations. 

This is our declaration, we have been and we will keep defending it constructively before our national governments until its conclusion. All peasants and people working in rural areas around the world strongly identify themselves with the content of this Declaration, which will be an instrument to restore and dignify our status in society and to recognize our rights. 

We are confident to see the willingness of States to recognize crucial rights for us, such as the right to land and the right to seeds.  We are mildly concerned with the reserves that have been expressed by only some States towards major parts of the text regarding collective rights and extraterritorial obligations. However, as we navigate through this process, and witness its evolutions, we believe that common ground on the recognition of the right to Food Sovereignty can be reached. 

What were perceived as new rights by certain countries, are now favorably reconsidered. Thanks to the legal grounds put forward by the experts, the right to seeds and the right to land are gaining an incontestable legitimacy in the declaration, as they are specifically referred to in international agreements and a growing number of national legislations. Our grassroots testimonies reinforce the state of emergency for recognizing these rights in the Declaration without any further delay. 

As we all stand here, in full knowledge that human rights prevail economic interests, we call on States to unite in order to recognize and further guarantee the realization of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. 

As organizations representing peasants and other people working in rural areas, we stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We are ready to put our best effort to contribute to this historical process. States can no longer postpone the declaration. The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of our rights. Let us work together for the adoption of the declaration at the earliest. 

For peasants and other people working in rural areas, the relationship with Mother Earth, her territories and waters is the physical, cultural, and spiritual basis for our existence. We are obliged to maintain this relationship with Mother Earth for the survival of our future generations. We gladly assume our role as her guardians. 

Long live peasants and other people working in rural areas! 

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