Puerto Rico is our Future

By Richard Heinberg - Post Carbon Institute, September 28, 2017

News reports tell of the devastation left by a direct hit from Category 4 Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans already coping with damage from Hurricane Irma, which grazed the island just days before, were slammed with an even stronger storm on September 20, bringing more than a foot of rain and maximum sustained winds of at least 140 miles per hour. There is still no electricity—and likely won’t be for weeks or months—in this U.S. territory of 3.4 million people, many of whom also lack running water. Phone and internet service is likewise gone. Nearly all of Puerto Rico’s greenery has been blown away, including trees and food crops. A major dam is leaking and threatening to give way, endangering the lives of tens of thousands. This is a huge unfolding tragedy. But it’s also an opportunity to learn lessons, and to rebuild very differently.

Climate change no doubt played a role in the disaster, as warmer water generally feeds stronger storms. This season has seen a greater number of powerful, land-falling storms than the past few years combined. Four were Category 4 or 5, and three of them made landfall in the U.S.—a unique event in modern records. Puerto Rico is also vulnerable to rising seas: since 2010, average sea levels have increased at a rate of about 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) per year. And the process is accelerating, leading to erosion that’s devastating coastal communities.

Even before the storms, Puerto Rico’s economy was in a tailspin. It depends largely on manufacturing and the service industry, notably tourism, but the prospects for both are dismal. The island’s population is shrinking as more and more people seek opportunities in the continental U.S.. Puerto Rico depends entirely on imported energy sources—including bunker oil for some of its electricity production, plus natural gas and coal. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is a law unto itself, a monopoly that appears mismanaged (long close to bankruptcy), autocratic, and opaque. Over 80 percent of food is imported and the rate of car ownership is among the highest in the world (almost a car for each islander!).

To top it off, Puerto Rico is also in the throes of a debt crisis. The Commonwealth owes more than $70 billion to creditors, with an additional $50 billion in pension obligations. Puerto Rico’s government has been forced to dramatically cut spending and increase taxes; yet, despite these drastic measures, the situation remains bleak. In June 2015, Governor Padilla announced the Commonwealth was in a “death spiral” and that “the debt is not payable.” On August 3 of the same year, Puerto Rico defaulted on a $58 million bond payment. The Commonwealth filed for bankruptcy in May of this year after failing to raise money in capital markets.

A shrinking economy, a government unable to make debt payments, and a land vulnerable to rising seas and extreme weather: for those who are paying attention, this sounds like a premonition of global events in coming years. World debt levels have soared over the past decade as central banks have struggled to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis. Climate change is quickly moving from abstract scenarios to grim reality. World economic growth is slowing (economists obtusely call this “secular stagnation”), and is likely set to go into reverse as we hit the limits to growth that were first discussed almost a half-century ago. Could Puerto Rico’s present presage our own future?

Looking for answers to capitalism's disasters

Naomi Klein interviewed by Alan Maass - Socialist Worker, September 29, 2017

SO READING the newspaper for you these days must be like seeing the subjects of your books running through the headlines: disaster capitalism, the shock doctrine, climate change, corporate brands...

I WAS actually just looking at the crawl on CNN, and there was something about Trump's UN speech where he plugged one of his buildings. I think his first sentence when he spoke at the UN was about one of the Trump Towers.

UNBELIEVABLE. BUT let me ask you about that--can you talk about the connecting threads of what you've been writing about over these years?

I THINK that the strongest connecting thread is really the rise of corporate power and the increasing role of corporations in every aspect of life.

That's really the story of the rise of branded people that Trump embodies--these lifestyle brands and companies that are building identity around a corporation, as opposed to selling a product and marketing it.

Another one of the things I look at is clear from how Trump has already used shocks and crisis to further advance an extreme pro-corporate agenda that is about eliminating the last vestiges of the public sphere. We're seeing some examples of that now in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

And to even say "aftermath" raises another question, because there's a new storm bearing down on Puerto Rico. But already, you can see how Irma knocked out the electricity, and that then becomes the pretext for a further push for privatization.

Then there's the centrality of climate change denial within the Trump administration, which has been such a defining feature of what this administration has prioritized.

I don't think this has anything to do with denying the science of climate change. It has everything to do with them understanding that if humanity is, indeed, confronted with an existential threat--which is what climate change represents--then the entire corporate project they stand for falls to pieces, and we need a very different way to organize society and make public policy decisions.

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 27, 2017

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

Aftershocks of solidarity and opportunism

By a member of the Action and Resistance Collective of Mexico - Socialist Worker, September 28, 2017

THREE MAJOR earthquakes affected central and southern Mexico in September. In southern regions such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Morelos, it has been difficult to account for collapsed buildings and people affected, but in Mexico City alone at least 38 buildings fell, leaving more than 325 people dead and thousands wounded.

The immediate response to the earthquakes, in all three cases, has been tremendous solidarity from workers and ordinary people. Immediately after the earthquake in the south, the Oaxaca teachers' union called for mobilization to support the affected people with supplies and reconstruction work.

What surprised everyone, however, was the great show of solidarity that emerged in Mexico City. Hundreds of thousands of people moved around the city to rescue their neighbors, collect food and help in any task in which they had opportunity. Workers of all kinds, from the most humble masons to the most experienced professionals--and even brigades of undocumented immigrants from Central America--showed their desire to support all those affected by earthquakes.

The fact that the transportation system stopped for the whole day did not prevent people from leaving their homes to provide support to those who needed it. As a result, it's estimated that around 70 people were rescued alive from the collapsed buildings.

But the rescue efforts have not been simple, and they've been complicated even more when the army has gotten in the way.

On the second day after the earthquake, the military attempted to take control of all affected areas in Mexico City, determined to prevent the inhabitants from organizing themselves. In some places they succeeded, but in others they were challenged by the popular organization.

Puerto Rico, Trump and the Jones Act

By Joel Schor - Facts for Working People, September 27, 2017

The recent extreme weather events effecting the Carribbean have made clear the humanitarian situation in Puerto Rico is dire and in stark contrast to Trump’s drab belittling comments about the National Football League opposing him on the conduct of the players during the national anthem.

As a merchant seaman for over 15 years I am very familiar with the law which protects both the rights of seaman while signed on American flagged Vessels and at the same time grants further monopoly powers to shipping companies that register and flag their vessels in the United States.

The Jones Act enacted shortly after WWI to resurrect what was thought of as a dying Merchant Fleet in the United States at the time, went along with a massive subsidy program whereby the overproduction of Navy bottoms were sold at fire sale prices to private shipping companies who had previously established themselves mostly in the highly monopolized and unregulated coastal trade.

As the era of anti-trust legislation was coming about, the big shipping lines needed a way to secure the lucrative coastal trade as foreign operators came in. The Jones Act basically provides that 1) A seaman is entitled to a certain portion of wages earned during a voyage (foreign or domestic ) whenever a vessel arrives at a U.S. port as well as the right to leave the ship, and also sue a shipping company for any injuries the seaman has incurred.

This first part of the Jones Act law pertaining to seaman's rights came about after a series of legislative efforts were made over two decades by the head of the West Coast section of the Seamans’ Union, a man by the name of Andrew Furuseth, who's cause was to take the seaman "out of slavery" or the conditions which were more akin to indentured servitude at one time.

Full Report from an “International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons” – Buenos Aires, Argentina (English)

By admin - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, September 27, 2017; English translation provided by Daniel Chavez of this original report.

The Energy Mix and the Commons

On 4-5 September 2017, an International Meeting on the Energy Mix and the Commons was held at the ATE National trade union’s main office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The meeting was framed within a broader process of exchange of knowledge and experiences on climate and energy policies in Argentina, Latin America and the world. The Argentinian State Workers’ Association (Spanish acronym ATE; acronyms will be for Spanish names where applicable) and the Autonomous Argentinean Workers’ Congress (CTA-A) are engaged in international processes towards the construction of regional and global alternatives, in particular the Development Platform of the Americas (PLADA) and the Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) initiative. The PLADA platform was conceived within the framework of the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA; CSA in Spanish) as a strategic political proposal centred around four dimensions—political, economic, social and environmental—aiming to contribute to the design and implementation of a regional model for sustainable development. PLADA proposes a gradual reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the universalisation of access to energy services, and the rationalization of those sectors of the economy that pollute the most. TUED, a global network composed of workers’ confederations and trade unions, focuses on democratizing generation, distribution and consumption of energy around the world.

The meeting was organised by ATE and CTA-A, with the support of the Transnational Institute (TNI, a worldwide network of scholar-activists based in the Netherlands) and the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of State Workers (CLATE).

Climate Change Brings Socialism and Science Together

By Eve Ottenberg - Truthout, September 26, 2017

Thanks to climate change, science and socialism have become entwined in ways previously unimaginable. Science brings the news that, unless we act swiftly to control climate change, we will inhabit a dying planet. Socialism traces the causes of this catastrophe to the destructive and chaotic growth model of capitalism and advocates for a different system. Meanwhile, sensing the source of danger to their profits, corporate and government reactionaries fuel disinformation campaigns to discredit science and confuse the public. This has been going on for years, with disastrous results.

Ian Angus' new book, A Redder Shade of Green, (red for socialist revolution, green for ecological revolution) is about the prospect of ecosocialism in the face of capitalist ecocide. Angus has written previously about the "Anthropocene," a name for our era that emphasizes the centrality of human-influenced climate change. He does not accuse humanity as a whole of environmental destruction, but only a small sliver of humanity -- the capitalist class, which has left a gigantic, planet-sized carbon footprint. Angus repeatedly stresses that billions of people have a negligible impact on climate change and that the overpopulation argument -- which blames humanity as a whole for climate change -- has been used to distract and undermine an effective, ecosocialist movement. The US military has a hugely destructive impact on the environment. So does ExxonMobil. The many citizens of Bangladesh, reeling from climate-change-exacerbated flooding, do not.

So, what about the many environmentalists who believe a primary cause of climate change is that there are too many people on earth? Angus tries to persuade them otherwise. He observes that in the 1960s and 1970s, overpopulation was used to explain environmental degradation as well as poverty in the global south, thus providing a solution to two problems at once in a way that does not question capitalism. It took the likes of Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin and Barry Commoner to initiate an environmentalism rooted in radical social critique, he writes, adding, "Their analysis was rejected by the traditional conservationists, the wealthy organizations and individuals whose primary concern was protecting the wilderness areas for rich tourists and hunters." Indeed, it was the Sierra Club that financed Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, a book heavily promoted by "liberal Democrats who correctly saw it as an alternative to the radical views of Carson, Commoner and Bookchin." Angus adds that Ehrlich's book "became a huge best-seller, and it played a central role in derailing radical environmentalism." The population bombers faded away, but now they are back, shifting the environmental threat focus from corporations to people.

"The populationists' error," Angus writes, "is that they assume there is no alternative" to capitalism. They assume more people means more food means more modern agriculture, which is hugely ecologically destructive. But, Angus argues, there are other agricultural models; moreover, working with the food supply we already have, there are other ways to do things. "Existing food production is in fact more than enough to feed many more people." Without current waste, it could feed billions more.

Angus observes that "too many people" is in fact "code for too many poor people, too many foreigners, and too many people of color." According to Commoner: "pollution begins in corporate boardrooms, not family bedrooms."

Socialism has not always been ecologically conscious, and for much of the 20th century it wasn't, with disastrous results. "The socialism practiced by the countries of the Socialist Camp replicated the development model of capitalism," said Cuban official Oswaldo Martinez in 2009, who, Angus reports, considered this competition, a la USSR, China and East European socialist countries, a mistake. A Redder Shade of Green is a very serious attempt to bury that past once and for all, and to ground socialism in scientific environmentalism. This, fortunately, has been socialism's direction for several decades. Not so for capitalism. "Pouring crap into the environment is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and it isn't going to stop so long as capitalism survives," Angus writes.

Fenceline Communities on Gulf Coast Face Mass Displacement & Toxic Pollution One Month After Harvey

Hilton Kelley interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now, September 26, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As many parts of the continental United States and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico recover from a devastating series of hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, Maria—we end today’s show with an update from one of the hardest-hit communities along the Gulf Coast: Port Arthur, Texas, a fenceline community with several massive oil refineries that flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Just last week, a fire at the Valero oil refinery in Port Arthur released nearly 1 million pounds of emissions into the air, prompting residents to stay in their homes for hours. Meanwhile, the 3,600-acre Motiva oil refinery in Port Arthur, that is run by Saudi Arabia, says it plans to continue a multibillion-dollar expansion of its facility, which is already the largest in the United States. This comes as hundreds of displaced Port Arthur residents, whose homes were flooded during the storm, continue to live in tents. And a number of Port Arthur residents who were renting and had to evacuate have been evicted.

For more, we’re joined by environmental justice activist Hilton Kelley, up from Port Arthur. He made history in 2011 when he became the first African-American man to win the "Green Nobel Prize," the Goldman Environmental Prize. Kelley is the executive director and founder of the Community In-Power and Development Association. His restaurant and home were both flooded during the hurricane. We last spoke with him on the phone just after the storm as he was helping save people. He joins us now in studio after attending a climate summit here in New York run by the Hip Hop Caucus.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to meet you in person, Hilton Kelley.

HILTON KELLEY: Thank you for having me, Amy. I appreciate being here.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you facing in Port Arthur?

HILTON KELLEY: Well, what we’re facing in Port Arthur, Texas, number one, is mass evacuations of our renters. We’re also facing Superfund sites. We’re also facing—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what Superfund sites are.

HILTON KELLEY: Well, a Superfund site is an area that’s been deemed uninhabitable due to contamination of some type of toxin. And most of the time in our area, it’s petroleum waste or petroleum material that has been discarded in some shape, form or fashion, and it has rendered the land uninhabitable.

AMY GOODMAN: Keep going. What else?

HILTON KELLEY: And so, with that being said, many of our people are being displaced. I mean, there’s a lot of danger when you live in a situation like this. And also, we’re dealing with a situation with our elderly, in our community and in other communities around Port Arthur, Texas, where many people’s homes that were flooded, these folks were right at their 30-year mortgage payment, where they was about to be done with that. And now they’re having to start over because FEMA is offering them a loan instead of some kind of grant opportunity. And basically, most of the people in Port Arthur has been abandoned by FEMA. The Red Cross has reached its limit. And many people were in lines trying to get their $400 check, and now that’s gone. I mean, I’ve gotten thousands of phone calls and emails saying that "We need help now," to this day. And the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is just starting to show its ugly head.

Mexico’s Earthquake: Government Represses Grassroots Rescue Work and May be Burying Survivors Alive

By Johnny Hazard - CounterPunch, September 26, 2017

The best and worst of Mexico have been on view since the earthquake of Tuesday, September 19 that rocked Mexico City and surrounding states. This was the second major quake in Mexico in 12 days; the first affected principally the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. As the officially-acknowledged death toll from the most recent tremor surpasses 400, it is important to recognize the work of students and other citizens who, with or without experience or expertise, have collected massive amounts of food, water, personal hygiene items, and blankets and distributed them to displaced persons and have cleaned rubble—manually, which is the only way to find survivors. Within minutes, people came up with ways to help: offer rides or glasses of water, find and go to buildings that had caved in or were at risk of doing so, collect provisions and move them immediately toward affected neighborhoods and towns, and go with groups of engineers, doctors, paramedics, psychologists, lawyers, veterinarians, and other specialists to affected locales. All of this apparently non-controversial human and humane activity is seen as a threat by the federal government, which knows that during Mexico City’s last massive earthquake, exactly 32 years earlier, citizen response to government neglect and to the earthquake itself was a key event in the building of resistance to one-party rule. And more recently, the 11-year-old war on drugs has led to an increasing militarization of the country, augmented by a fear of losing control in the wake of protests against atrocities like the forced disappearance of 43 education students three years ago (September 26, 2014). Authorities hoped that suppressing civilian participation in relief efforts would help in the pre-existing U.S.-style public relations strategy of glorifying police and military personnel as heroes.

In recent days, it has become increasingly evident that some of the most horrific accusations against state, local, and federal government officials and compliant mainstream media and personnel are true, ranging from inventing a little girl (“Frida Sofía”) who supposedly was communicating from under the rubble of a collapsed private school, Colegio Rebsamen in Mexico City, to government officials and military personnel actively blocking civilian efforts and confiscating relief supplies or forcing them to be surrendered to government warehouses. Volunteers and activists have asked donors and transporters of supplies to cross out barcodes on all products and write messages like “Not for resale—earthquake relief” or “No use of this material by governments or political parties is permitted”.

Chemicals used in Deepwater Horizon spill are harmful to people, study proves; finally

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 25, 2017

Last week, the National Institutes of Health in the United States released a report that confirmed people living along the Gulf of Mexico who were very ill, but who for seven years have been told to keep quiet up about it, weren’t crazy after all.

Thousands of them had broken out in rashes. They had been coughing up blood, wheezing, experiencing migraines, and were tormented by burning eyes and memory loss. Others were surprised by heart aliments, kidney problems, liver damage, blood in their urine and discharge from their ears. Still others muddled through cognitive decline and anxiety attacks. Many went on to die.

Yet barely anyone in a position of authority was willing to believe they were sick at all. Often, even their own doctors told them that it was all in their heads.

What these people had in common was that they had been cleanup workers on the BP’s Macondo well disaster, which for 87 days in 2010 poured 4.9 million barrels oil into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded that April 20 off the coast of Louisiana. It was the worst oil spill in US history.

Some 47,000 people responded to the blow out. Fishermen rushed their boats into the fray to coral the oil at sea. Others worked to siphon it off beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In other cases they burned it off the surface of the ocean in flames visible from space.

All of these workers toiled under a haze of chemicals dumped from the skies to bombard the ballooning slick and sink it to the bottom of the Gulf. In most cases, they didn’t have protective gear – BP and its contractors told them they didn’t need it.

The US Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency backed that up – they, too, had been assured by BP and Corexit’s manufacturer, Nalco Environmental Solutions, that it was safe.

Last week, the National Institutes of Health finally told them, after a seven-year wait, that it wasn’t.

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