“There’s No Trick”

By Jamie McCallum - Jacobin, January 22, 2018

“We are worried, but we are ready to fight,” says Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). “We are more ready than ever, actually.”

With 110,000 members, the MTA is the largest union in the state, a status that could soon change once the Supreme Court hands down its anticipated ruling against unions in Janus v. AFSCME [the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees]. That decision would allow public-sector workers — some of whom are currently mandated to pay “fair share” fees if they opt out of full-fledged union membership — to receive union representation and benefits without paying anything. This would expand right-to-work conditions to the entire public sector in the United States, a crisis even for a movement that is accustomed to crises. Say the word “Janus” to union organizers and they say things like “devastating,” “catastrophic,” “cataclysmic,” and “fucked.” And “organize.”

Two years ago, unions escaped with a victory in a similar case, Friederichs v. California Teachers Association, only because the timely death of Justice Antonin Scalia resulted in a 4-4 decision. But no one is counting on a favorable court ruling this time around; hence, a call to arms.

How to get new activists to stay engaged for the long haul

By Eileen Flanagan - Waging Nonviolence, January 15, 2018

After a year of working with people newly mobilized by the 2016 election, one organizing lesson feels particularly clear: People need to feel part of a community that is making change in order to stay engaged for the long haul. This realization may not be surprising, but it has practical implications for organizations and movements that want to grow — especially when outrage at the Trump presidency is still high, but the initial wave of protest has subsided.

The heightened need for community became immediately clear after Trump’s election. To help focus the many people desperate to do something useful, I decided to offer a month-long course through the online platform Zoom. Independent of any organization, and not knowing who would show up, I posted the idea on Facebook and soon had 180 people in the first round. I offered some basic social change theory, inspiring stories from the past, and a chance for participants to discuss their own concerns through the magic of Zoom’s small group function.

The first participants expressed huge relief at being part of a group, particularly one that included like-minded people from every region of the United States. Several asked how to find a group in their own area, and — in hindsight — I should have given more attention to this issue, which I had assumed would be easy to solve with a Google search. For many, it wasn’t that easy. After teaching six online courses (the next one on How to Build a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign starts January 15) I’m convinced that finding a group where they felt both included and effective has been a key difference between the students who have engaged in meaningful, ongoing activist work and those who haven’t.

Why the Resistance can’t win without vision

By Jeremy Deaton - Waging Nonviolence, January 19, 2018

We’ve had our first year of tweets and leaks from the White House, complete with reactions and outrage in the United States and abroad. The tsunami of words and feelings about Trump has dominated the media and is likely to continue. The question is: Will reactivity to Trump continue among activists, or are we ready to channel our passion into more focused movement-building for change?

Not long ago organizers and activists were telling each other that “another world is possible.” It still is. Based on history, however, that other world can’t be reached through protesting what we don’t like. I can’t think of any countries that transformed simply because movements reacted against injustice.

Movements are successful when they fight for something. Like athletes who improve when they visualize a higher jump or more graceful dive, movements also improve their game by imagining a better world, one with alternatives to the current systems of injustice.

In 2015, 60 Canadian indigenous, labor, environmentalist and social justice leaders came to this realization. They spent two days outlining the major features of an alternative Canada that would put justice first. After a period of additional clarification, a subgroup jelled the agreements into “The Leap Manifesto.”

They called it a “leap” because Canadian political discourse had fallen into the death of creativity known as “next steps,” an incrementalism that rules the Democratic Party in the United States. The Canadian leaders knew that only an evolutionary leap would enable their country to face its gathering crisis and turn it into an opportunity for justice and environmental sanity.

By acknowledging the rightward drift of Canadian political parties and choosing to create an independent platform, the Leap Manifesto injected new energy and possibility into Canadian political life. The New Democratic Party, or NDP, a disappointment to Canadian progressives in recent years, was itself inspired to reconsider its retreat from its legacy.

Coal Country Knows Trump Can’t Save It

By Jeremy Deaton - Nexus Media, January 18, 2018

Since taking office, President Trump has been checking items off of a coal-industry wish list—ditching the Paris Agreement, stripping environmental safeguards, undermining workplace protections for miners. While the president’s rhetoric has raised hopes for renaissance of American coal, Trump’s policies have done little to revive the ailing industry.

Experts warn that the administration’s repeated promises to resurrect mining jobs distract from the hard work of rebuilding coal country. Appalachians understand that industry isn’t coming back, but Trump is making it hard for them to move on.

“Promising to bring coal jobs back and repealing environmental regulations at the national level is only harmful to these communities, because it gives them a sense of false hope and it would set them back,” said Sanya Carley, a professor of energy policy at Indiana University and lead author of a new study that examines how Appalachians are coping with coal’s decline.

Over the last three decades, the coal miners have suffered a series of blows, losing more than 100,000 jobs. The biggest hit came during the Reagan years when coal companies started replacing men with machines, allowing them to mine more with fewer workers. Then, hydraulic fracturing drove down the price of natural gas, making it cheaper than coal. More recently, the price of wind and solar power has plummeted, dealing another blow to the industry. Today, coal-fired power plants are shutting down right and left, and there is virtually nowhere in America where it makes sense to build a new coal generator.

Trump can nix every environmental protection on the books. It would do almost nothing to revive jobs. Miners’ biggest foe is, and has always been, the steady march of technological progress. There is perhaps no better symbol of the industry’s decline than the Kentucky Coal Museum, powered, as it is, by a set of rooftop solar panels.

The death of coal, inevitable though it may be, is a tough pill to swallow in parts of Appalachia, where coal permeates every facet of local life. “The coal industry sponsors local elementary schools. There are signs all over the place about different coal companies. They pay for sports, and the students wear their logos on their t-shirts,” said Carley. “We’re told the coal industry goes to high schools and essentially recruits people out of high school and sometimes encourages them to get their GEDs, but other times doesn’t. So, these students leave high school making $60,000 to $80,000 to $120,000 dollars a year immediately without even needing a college degree.” Today, those jobs are increasingly hard to come by.

The Clean Power Plan Is Not Worth Saving. Here Are Some Steps to Take Instead

By Dennis Higgins - Truthout, January 19, 2018

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was proposed by President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 to mitigate human-caused factors in climate change. It focused principally on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The plan was much heralded by environmental groups. Not surprisingly, in October 2017, Trump's appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, signed a measure meant to repeal this plan. 

Several states attorneys general and many national environmental groups are pushing back. However, in censuring Trump's attack on the CPP, valid criticisms of the plan itself have been ignored. No one remembers to mention that promoting gas was always at the heart of the CPP.

The current US gas boom is due to hydraulic fracturing of shale beds. This extreme extraction mechanism jeopardizes human aquifers, uses millions of gallons of water per well, and produces toxic flowback whose disposal is linked to water contamination and earthquakes. The product of fracturing is often referred to as "fracked gas." In short, the CPP supports the use of "natural" (fracked) gas.

Under Obama, the EPA, aided by the gas industry, declared "natural gas" to be "clean." Gas is mostly methane, and "fugitive methane" -- the gas that leaks by accident or through intentional venting, from well-head to delivery -- was discounted in the CPP. Noting the only factor in methane's favor (it generates less carbon dioxide on combustion than coal or oil), the field is tilted in favor of gas-burning power plants. In an article entitled, "Did the 'Clean Natural Gas' lobby help write EPA's Clean Power Plan?" Cornell scientist Robert Howarth points out a fundamental flaw in the CPP. The plan, "addresses only carbon dioxide emissions, and not emissions of methane... This failure to consider methane causes the Plan to promote a very poor policy -- replacing coal-burning power plants with plants run on natural gas ... "

Only at leakage rates lower than 1 to 3 percent (depending on usage) is gas cleaner than coal. But methane leaks at rates between 2 and 12 percent, and its climate impact -- or global warming potential (GWP) -- is 86 times that of CO2 over 20 years. (The GWP means a pound of methane in the atmosphere has the warming equivalent of 86 pounds of CO2 over 20 years. Of course, we're not talking about pounds here, but about millions of tons per year.) In a review of the CPP, Howarth said, "Converting to natural gas plants, which is what this latest rule is likely to do, will actually aggravate climate change, not make things better. It's well enough established to suggest the EPA is on the wrong side of the science."

It should be noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Paris accord and New York State all use the year 1990 as a baseline from which to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. But, perhaps disingenuously, Obama's EPA chose to use 2005, at which time recession had already achieved significant carbon reduction, rendering the plan's proposed cuts to CO2 even less significant.

In August 2015, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for three decades and one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming, described the CPP as "almost worthless" in that it failed "to attack the fundamental problem." Hansen stated bluntly: "As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy, someone will burn them." Of the steps the CPP claimed to be taking to address global warming, Hansen said, "It is not so much a matter of how far you go. It is a matter of whether you are going in the right direction." That same year, the US Energy Information Administration came to the same conclusion that others had: Under the CPP, the natural gas industry would benefit before renewables did.

Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University also examined the efficacy of the CPP. He told Truthout that instead of using the IPCC's global warming potential for methane of 86 pounds over 20 years, the CPP assessed methane's impact (GWP) at 25 pounds over 100 years. This factor, its failure to fully assess fugitive methane, as well as its curious 2005 baseline, mean that the projected 32 percent reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030 would have the net effect of reducing those greenhouse gas emissions by only 11 percent. The CPP "more than compensates for the elimination of coal CO2 with additional CO2 and methane," according to Ingraffea. "If this is all we manage in the power sector in the next 13 years, we are screwed," he said.

Appalachian solar jobs on the line in Trump’s Suniva decision

By Kyle Pennell - Appalachian Voices, January 19, 2018

Solar panel manufacturer Suniva was once one of the biggest players in the U.S. market. But back in April, the company declared bankruptcy. Foreign panel makers, Suniva argued, enjoyed government subsidies at a level that made it impossible for solar panel makers in the U.S. to compete. The company filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) calling for strong tariffs against foreign manufacturers. Another panel manufacturer, SolarWorld, joined the petition shortly thereafter.

In August, the companies presented their case to the ITC. They charged that foreign competition has cost the U.S. solar panel manufacturing industry 1,200 jobs and led to a 27 percent decline in wages since 2012.

But cheap, imported solar panels-along with reductions in installation costs and technological advances-have made possible the solar energy boom that has unfolded in recent decades. Back in 2006, only about 30,000 homes in the U.S. had solar panels; today, over 1.3 million American households have gone solar. Utility-scale solar electricity generation has increased by a factor of about 50 over the same period. Without access to cheap solar panels, efforts aimed at moving America toward energy sustainability would be undermined.

Moreover, many of the major players in the American solar industry have spoken out against tariffs. They argue that SolarWorld and Suniva’s petition figures are inflated, and that tariffs would significantly raise costs for solar installers, which employ far more people than panel manufacturers do. In a letter filed with the ITC, solar installer Sunnova suggested that “the imposition of tariffs on solar cells and panels will significantly harm the U.S. economy by destroying jobs.” The Solar Energy Industries Association agrees: in a recent analysis, it found that the industry would shed 88,000 jobs if tariffs are approved.

In early September, the ITC ruled in favor of Suniva and SolarWorld, agreeing that foreign solar panel imports have indeed hurt U.S. manufacturers. The ITC offered the Trump administration three recommendations: a 35 percent tariff on all imported solar panels, an 8.9-gigawatt import cap for 2018, and a tariff of about 30 percent on solar cells and panels. Under all three plans, the tariffs would mostly be phased out after four years.

But the plaintiffs criticized the ruling as insufficient, and have pushed for even harsher tariffs, including a minimum solar panel price of $0.74 per watt on all imported panels and an import cap of 5.7 gigawatts per year.

The decision as to which tariff scheme to adopt is now up to President Donald Trump. Adopting a high-tariff scheme could allow him to claim that he has encouraged domestic manufacturing and land a blow against China, both of which were major tenets of his campaign platform during last year’s presidential election.

San Francisco Prepares for Historic Vote on Fossil Fuel Divestment

By Thanu Yakupitiyage and Dani Heffernan - Common Dreams, January 18, 2018

San Francisco - On January 24, the San Francisco Retirement Board will vote on a long-awaited resolution to divest San Francisco’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies.

The decision will be seen as an early indication of whether or not the fossil fuel divestment movement can build on the momentum from last week’s historic announcement that New York City would be divesting its pension funds and suing Big Oil for damages caused by climate change.

"This is a definitive moment for San Francisco in the fight for a fossil free world. As the city prepares to host a climate convening of the world's local leaders later this year, it's time to put their money where their mouth is,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org. “Tackling the climate crisis means that cities everywhere will need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, specially when federal leaders are slow to act. By divesting their more than $20 billion pension fund from fossil fuels, the City by the Bay will show Big Oil billionaires and communities around the globe that they're serious about real climate action."

Since the campaign launch six years ago, the fossil fuel divestment movement has succeeded in securing commitments from over 800 institutions in over 77 countries representing more than $6 trillion in assets.

In San Francisco, it’s been a long path to next week’s vote. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to endorse fossil fuel divestment in April 2013. Last December, hours before he passed away, Mayor Ed Lee published a piece in Medium endorsing divestment, writing, “By taking the bold step to divest from fossil fuel assets, we are once again taking a strong stand on the essential issue of the environment.”

Meanwhile, many Bay Area institutions have been at the forefront of the divestment campaign. San Francisco State University became the first community college district in the nation to divest from fossil fuels. In the South Bay, the Santa Clara Valley Water District became the first such entity to make a commitment, while Stanford University made an early commitment to divest from coal in 2014.

Divestment has proved an effective tool to help stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and increase investor worries that as the world moves towards renewable energy, coal, oil and gas reserves could become “stranded assets” and drive down the share price of fossil fuel companies. A report from the University of Michigan concluded that the divestment campaign has successfully shifted the conversation around fossil fuels and institutional responsibility to act on climate.

According to many investment advisors and financial experts divesting from fossil fuels poses no significant risk to the portfolio performance. In fact, many are now arguing that as fossil fuel companies become an increasingly risky bet, divestment may be safer than holding onto coal, oil and gas stocks.

"The time to divest from all fossil fuels is now. Our pension board needs to listen to city workers and union members who have testified, written letters, and, presented the facts on the fossil fuel industry for years. SEIU 1021, that counts over 54,000 members in Northern California, publicly supports total divestment,” said Martha Hawthorne, retired RN from the Department of Public Health. “Our hard work built this pension system and we want an end to investments in a system of life killing extraction that endangers our future. We know climate crisis is upon us. This is evident by the drought, record pollution, extreme heat, catastrophic fires and deadly mudslides in just the last few months. We are in a race against time. Divestment is a clear way for San Francisco's pension board to make a difference now."

The nation’s largest environmental groups, notable figures such as Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, have all endorsed fossil fuel divestment as a key strategy in fighting climate change.

On January 24, San Francisco has the opportunity to take a bold step forward by announcing that it will join New York City and institutions around the world by divesting from fossil fuels.

Government prepares to legitimize Dole Lanka’s illegitimate endeavors company allowed to retain forest land illegally encroached?

By Sajeewa Chamikara - La Via Campesina, January 19, 2018

Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (Monlar)

The current United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) administration seems to be continuing the support given to Dole Lanka Private Limited, which has illegally cleared protected forests, which acted as catchment areas and destroyed farm lands owned by small holders, given by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. The Department of Forest Conservation has obtained court orders to remove farm lands operated by Dole Lanka Private Limited, scattered in various lands owned by the department in the Sri Lankan dry zone. However the government has halted the implementation of these court orders and is attempting to hand over the land to the controversial company.

The first step of this legitimization of Dole was the cabinet paper (CP 16/1934/752/023) regularizing the land used for banana cultivation by Dole Lanka Private Limited in Kuda Oya and Demodara in Moneragala district’ on September 15, 2016 by Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade. President Maithripala Sirisena, as the minister of Mahaweli and Environment as well as the ministers of Lands and Finance has also noted their observations to the cabinet paper. The note to the cabinet by President Maithripala Sirisena clearly states that Dole Lanka Private Limited has not obtained the permission of the Department of Forest Conservation to establish these banana plantations. The note also states that the Dole Lanka Private Limited has admitted before court that it is using the lands in Kuda Oya and Demodara without permission or approval. However the cabinet memorandum has recommended to seek the advice of the Attorney General to come into an agreement with Dole Lanka Private Limited, so that the company can continue to use the lands. Thus the Attorney General is studying how Dole Lanka Private Limited can keep on using these lands.

However according to the laws of the land, it is not possible to transfer the ownership of land that belong to the Department of Forest Conservation to Dole Lanka Private Limited, or any other private entity. The Commissioner of Lands can release lands for any investment, only if approval is granted by relevant agencies after conducting the necessary feasibility studies. The government can release the land, on long term lease, to a private entity, according to the Section 199 (G) of the land Ordinance, only after that requirement has been completed. For this the approval of the Minister of lands is needed and the land can be released after recommendations by the President.

Although this is the standard procedure when it comes to releasing land for an investment, a number of factors prevent Dole Lanka Private Limited from accessing state owned land. Chief among them is the fact that Dole Lanka Private Limited has encroached the land that belongs to the Department of Forest Conservation and has used these lands for several years illegally and the fact that they have used the land without any feasibility studies prior to the commencement of the project. Moreover the Forest Conservation Department has taken legal action against Dole Lanka Private Limited, for illegally maintaining farm lands in Kuda Oya and Demodara at the Wellawaya Magistrates’ Court (case numbers MC 215 and 216.) Given this context the attempts by the Cabinet to handover these illegally encroached lands to Dole Lanka Private Limited is a bad example.

Update on #OperationPUSH in Florida Prisons

By IWOC - It's Going Down, January 19, 2018

Photo from @IWW_IWOC, features banner that was put up at solidarity demonstration at facility where two ex-prison Florida guards who were found guilty of belonging to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and were plotting to kill a black inmate after his release. 

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler, Liberty, Lowell, Columbia, Florida State Prison, Suwannee, Calhoun, and Martin. (The list is growing by the day.)

Strike Repression

A common theme among report backs is the attempt by the DOC to sever communication in order to create the perception of inactivity and break the spirits of those participating in the strike. Key contacts inside have reported being threatened by administration with harsher retaliation if correspondence with advocacy groups such as Fight Toxic Prisons and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee continues.

According to prisoner reports, some facilities have shut off state phone service as of Tuesday, January 16. A Security Threat Group (STG) investigator employed at a prison in the panhandle confirmed that multiple prisons across the state were placed on lockdown in preparation for the strike. Shakedowns have occurred where independent means of communication were confiscated and their alleged owners/users were thrown in solitary confinement.

We’ve heard reports that widespread investigations are occurring for anyone who has received or sent mail to organizations offering support on the outside and certain individuals are being labelled a “security threat” for doing so which can result in heightened custody levels, which means a loss of privileges, and continued harassment by the STG unit. One prisoner was told, “As long as you communicate with these people you’re always going to be labelled a security threat and you’re always going to be put under investigation.”

Given the past two years of prisoner organizing in Florida, it’s understandable that there is an expectation to hear of something distinct on the inside marking the start of the strike.

RWU Statement Upon the Acquittal of Canadian Railroad Workers

By Ron Kaminkow - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 19, 2018

Railroad workers – together with all citizens concerned with worker justice – across the continent are celebrating the acquittal of Canadian railroaders who were wrongly accused by the Crown for the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic in which 47 people were killed when a long and heavy oil train crashed and exploded in the middle of that small town in July of 2013.

At the time of the wreck, Railroad Workers United (RWU) had spoken out quickly, releasing a statement within a week condemning the reckless practices on the rail carrier – the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MM&A) – and its renegade CEO Ed Burkhart. Since then, RWU has defended the railroad workers, denying that they in any way should be charged with a criminal offense, demanding that the charges be dropped, and that the Crown charge the real criminals – the MM&A bosses and the government regulators who had turned a blind eye to their irresponsible actions regarding safety.

Once the workers were arrested, RWU took part in protest actions, assisted with organizing a defense committee, began raising funds for the defense, and attempted to raise awareness of the issue on both sides of the border. Despite the overwhelming evidence of company recklessness and irresponsibility, the Crown refused to drop the charges, and proceeded onward to the trial which finally commenced – more than four years after the event – in September 2017.

While the prosecution focused largely on a single event – the alleged failure of the locomotive engineer to tie enough handbrakes, they were tripped up at every turn by their own witnesses – government, company, “expert” and otherwise – who, by their testimony, incriminated the company and the government regulators rather than the defendants.

Some of the highlights that were revealed at the trial include:

1 – The implementation of single employee train crews just months earlier, had played a key role in the wreck. One other railroad that had been operating trains in this fashion for years (QNSL) had provided 10 days of training and made 69 safety accommodations prior to the implementation of such operations. The MM&A did none of these, while the government stood idly by. After the wreck however, Transport Canada outlawed the further implementation of the practice.

2 – The MM&A had allocated practically no funding for safety or emergency training, nor standardization of rules compliance, and had a terrible safety record compared to most rail carriers.

3 – The train in question was thousands of tons over limit. Significantly, the company had no set policy for the number of handbrakes that were necessary to secure such trains. That number remains in question, but experts now agree that the number for such a train on such a grade is well more than had been considered at the time.

4 – The train – by company policy – was left unattended on the mainline on a steep grade with no derail or other means of protection against runaway.

5 – The train’s lead locomotive was defective, and ultimately this fact would catalyze the runaway. Despite awareness of this fact, the company had failed to make necessary repairs to it, nor utilize it as a trailing unit in the consist. In addition, the mainline trackage was in a dilapidated state because of deferred maintenance by the carrier.

6 – Company policy was to leave the train’s automatic brake in the release position, even though the generally accepted practice by railroad policy and law is to leave unattended trains with the automatic brake in the “full-service” (fully applied) position. Every car of the train could have had its air brakes fully applied, but the company – against general rule and wisdom of a hundred years – insisted that engineers not set the air brakes on the train when leaving the train alone. Had this reckless and bizarre policy not been insisted upon by MM&A, the train almost certainly could not have rolled away.

All told over the course of four months, the jury gained a picture of a railroad company that was oblivious to safety concerns, one far more interested in making money than in the safety of its workers or trackside communities. While RWU applauds the jury’s verdict and sees the acquittal as a victory – not just for the MM&A railroad workers but for all railroad workers – we must remain vigilant. Railroad carriers in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are intent on criminalizing employees, pointing the finger at them when something goes wrong, as a means of deflecting attention away from their own failures, whether it be inadequate training, lack of qualifying time, chronic crew fatigue, deferred maintenance, dangerously long and heavy trains, inadequate staffing and more. Railroad workers must be ready, willing and able to come to one another’s defense to prevent the rail carriers and the state from criminalizing our behavior while they – the real criminals – get off Scott free.

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