Libertarian Municipalism: Networked Cities as Resilient Platforms for Post-Capitalist Transition

By - C4SS, January 20, 2018

We live in a time of terminal crisis for centralized institutions of all kinds, including the two most notable members of the genus: states and large corporations. Both a major cause and major symptom of this transition is the steady reduction in the amount of labor needed to produce a given level of output, and consequently in total aggregate demand for wage labor. This shows up in shrinking rates of workforce participation, and a shift of a growing part of the remaining workforce from full-time work to part-time and precarious employment (the latter including temporary and contract work). Another symptom is the retrenchment of the state in the face of fiscal crisis and a trend towards social austerity in most Western countries; this is paralleled by a disintegration of traditional employer-based safety nets, as part of the decline in full-time employment.

Peak Oil (and other fossil fuels) is creating pressure to shorten global supply and distribution chains. At the same time, the shift in advantage from military technologies for power projection to technologies for area denial means that the imperial costs of enforcing a globalized economic system of outsourced production under the legal control of Western capital are becoming prohibitive.

The same technological trends that are reducing the total need for labor also, in many cases, make direct production for use in the informal, social and household economies much more economically feasible. Cheap open-source CNC machine tools, networked information and digital platforms, Permaculture and community gardens, alternative currencies and mutual credit systems, all reduce the scale of feasible production for many goods to the household, multiple household and neighborhood levels, and similarly reduce the capital outlays required for directly producing consumption needs to a scale within the means of such groupings

Put all these trends together, and we see the old model of secure livelihood through wages collapsing at the same time new technology is destroying the material basis for dependence on corporations and the state.

But like all transitions, this is a transition not only from something, but to something. That something bears a more than passing resemblance to the libertarian communist future Pyotr Kropotkin described in The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops: the relocalization of most economic functions into mixed agricultural/industrial villages, the control of production by those directly engaged in it, and a fading of the differences between town and country, work and leisure, and brain-work and muscle-work.

Rail Workers Acquitted in Trial on Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, January 23, 2018

The train engineer and two additional rail workers who faced charges for the deadly July 2013 oil train accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, were acquitted on Friday after the jury deliberated for nine days. If convicted of all charges, they potentially faced life in prison. 

The end of the trial of these three employees for their role in the Canadian oil train disaster that resulted in 47 deaths and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic appears to have brought some closure to residents of the still-recovering town — although most are still waiting for justice.

As the trial began, the BBC reported the sentiments of Lac-Mégantic resident Jean Paradis, who lost three friends in the accident and thought the wrong people were on trial.

It's clear to me the main shareholder, MMA, are not here. Transport Canada is not here. Transport Canada have let cheap companies run railroads in Canada with less money for more profit…” Paridis told the BBC. Transport Canada is the Canadian regulatory agency with rail oversight.

Another resident, Jean Clusiault, who lost his daughter in the disaster, told the CBC that after the decision, “I felt relieved because these are not the right people who should be there.”

The sentiment that these three men should not have been found guilty was even expressed by the former CEO of the rail company that operated the train that caused the disaster.

“I was happy when I heard the verdict. I think the jury made the right decision,” Edward Burkhardt, former chairman of rail company Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA), told Radio-Canada.

No rail executives, politicians, or regulators were ever charged with any crimes relating to the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

Based on the past four years of reporting on the literal and figurative boom in Bakken oil trains, I have written a book about the story of the bomb trains — from Lac-Mégantic to Trump — which addresses the question of who was to blame for the lethal accident in this small Quebec town and for the many oil train accidents across North America that followed.

The following is the first chapter of that book, detailing what happened in Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013.

Native rights and resistance after Standing Rock

Nick Estes and Ragina Johnson interviewed by Khury Petersen-Smith - Socialist Worker, January 24, 2018

One of Donald Trump's first acts as president was to sign executive orders to push through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Keystone XL Pipeline. Both projects were flashpoints of Indigenous resistance, especially DAPL, which sparked a rebellion at Standing Rock that galvanized months of protest and political action around the country.

The executive orders signaled Trump's hard line against Indigenous protest, as part of his broader attack on oppressed people, the working class and the environment. More recently, Trump announced the reduction of protected lands at Bears Ears National Monument, amid a series of insults toward Native Americans, such as his disrespect of Navajo veterans when they visited the White House.

Nick Estes is a co-founder of the Red Nation website, and Ragina Johnson is an activist and member of the International Socialist Organization. Both participated in the Standing Rock resistance and other struggles, and have written prolifically on Indigenous politics. They talked with Khury Petersen-Smith about the state of the struggle after Standing Rock and the questions of Indigenous oppression and self-determination that lie before us.

Puerto Rico’s Decision to Privatize Power Coupled with Trump’s Alarming Infrastructure Plan Spells Out Devastation for Vulnerable Communities

By Wenonah Hauter - Common Dreams, January 23, 2018

“In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people are still reeling from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. In a time of such dire need, the Trump administration has failed to provide the support needed to restore water to 7 percent of Puerto Rican residents and power to the nearly one in three residents going without, paving the way for today’s catastrophic announcement. The decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company follows the same dangerous path mapped out in the Trump administration’s draft infrastructure plan.

“Whether it’s water or energy, privatization helps Wall Street at the expense of the wellbeing and health of communities, particularly low-income families and people of color. The leaked infrastructure plan from the Trump administration similarly provides a blueprint for handing over our public land and public water to Wall Street. It seeks to privatize our local water systems and other critical public services, prioritizing limited federal dollars to Wall Street and corporate investors. This scheme would also sell off federal assets and create a new infrastructure fund by opening up federal lands and waters to mineral and energy development benefiting the oil and gas industry.

“A just and equitable infrastructure plan would dedicate funding for water systems, have a progressive revenue stream, and prioritize vulnerable communities with the greatest affordability and public health needs like Puerto Rico. This plan does none of this.

“Federal funding for water infrastructure is at its lowest point in decades. Instead of reversing the decline, Trump’s plan provides zero dollars to the highly successful State Revolving Fund programs, which are the main source of federal support for our local water and sewer systems. Meanwhile, it seeks to open up the clean water fund to private entities. This amounts to taking away existing federal money from our local governments to give to big water corporations.

“From Flint to Puerto Rico, our communities deserve better from our leaders. Our public water systems need dedicated, annual federal support to make sure that every person in our country has safe and affordable water.”

“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.

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