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Jerry Brown, climate leader or climate charlatan?

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, July 8, 2017

Brown made the announcement at a time when increasing numbers of Californians are challenging his  environmental credentials as he teams up with the Donald Trump administration to build the controversial Delta Tunnels and to exempt three major California oilfields from protection under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act.

“It’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change,” said Governor Brown in his remarks on the eve of the G20 Summit. “That is why we’re having the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, September 2018.”

“President Trump is trying to get out of the Paris Agreement, but he doesn’t speak for the rest of America. We in California and in states all across America believe it’s time to act, it’s time to join together and that’s why at this Climate Action Summit we’re going to get it done,” he claimed.

The Greek Government Is Sabotaging Its People With a Water Privatization Scheme

By Maria Paradia - Occupy.com, June 25, 2017

The "fire sale" privatization of Greece started in 2015, following the infamous Syriza referendum in which more than three-fifths of the Greek people voted to reject Troika-imposed bailout conditions -- and yet their government, led by Alexis Tsipras, chose to accept the deal anyway.

The privatization process reached its peak the next year, when the Greek government sold the public transport giant TrainOSE to the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane S.p.A for 45 million euros. This happened after a very brief bidding period and despite considerable employee pushback, including a 24-hour strike that paralyzed the country.

Now, a second round of fire sales is taking place ahead of the upcoming third bailout negotiations for Greece, whose current bailout package will expire in August 2018. Since last year, the sale of the country's roads, rights to the use of its ports, and other public sector resources have only yielded around 4 billion euros -- a far cry from the projected 50 billion euros that were promised when the privatization plan was put in motion. At best, it will result in a 6 billion euro profit, nowhere near enough to cover the ailing Greek economy's massive overhead spending.

Extinction 2017: California Edition

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, February 28, 2017

One of the least discussed issues in California environmental politics – and one of the most crucial to understanding Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels Plan – is the clear connection between the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and the California WaterFix, formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP).

At a time when local, national and international mainstream media are focusing on the Oroville Dam crisis, it’s important for reporters to dig deeper and understand the context that the emergency, which spurred the evacuation of over 188,000 people in Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties, occurs within.

It’s crucial to understand that these two neo-liberal processes, the MLPA Initiative and the California Water Fix, are the environmental “legacy” that two Governors, Arnold Schwarznegger and Jerry Brown, have devoted their energy, staff and money to, rather than doing the mundane but necessary process of maintaining and repairing the state’s water infrastructure, including Oroville Dam.

The privately-funded MLPA Initiative and the California WaterFix at first may appear to be entirely different processes.

The MLPA Initiative, a process begun in 2004 under the Schwarzenegger administration, purported to create a network of “marine protected areas” along the California coast. The network was supposedly completed on December 19, 2012 with the imposition of contested “marine protected areas” along the North Coast under the Jerry Brown administration.

On the other hand, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process began under the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations to achieve the so-called “co-equal goals” of water supply reliability and Delta ecosystem restoration. In 2015, the state and federal governments divided the BDCP into two projects, the California WaterFix, the conveyance component and the California EcoRestore, the habitat “restoration” component.

But in spite of some superficial differences, the two processes are united by their leadership, funding, greenwashing goals, racism and denial of tribal rights, junk science and numerous conflicts of interest. When people educate themselves on the links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the Delta Tunnels and to restore our imperiled salmon and San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries.

The Irish water insurgency: no more blood from these stones

By Andrea Muehlebach - ROARmag, February 6, 2017

Cobh, the “Great Island” located just off Ireland’s Southern Coast, can be reached only via Belvelly Bridge, which was of strategic importance in 2014 when it became central to some of the most coordinated mass mobilizations that the island had seen in a long time.

When it became clear that the semi-state water company Irish Water was going to install household water meters in Cobh as it had done elsewhere already — meaning that Irish Water would come in with trucks, dig up sidewalks, hook up individual households with water meters and begin charging people for water — people revolted.

Standing guard on the mainland side of Belvelly Bridge, activists would text others standing guard at the other end of the bridge, alerting them to the approaching trucks and tracking the direction the trucks were taking. Many of the organizers were women, the elderly, and the unemployed — those who were at home during the day.

By the time the trucks arrived at their locations, people were often already waiting for them in groups, blocking the trucks’ entry into the estates, or crowding around them and imprisoning the workers. People simply would not budge. Women, men and children locked arms and sang. Blockages lasted for hours, sometimes even days, which meant getting organized into shifts and holding nightly meetings about everything from what to wear to who would collect the children from school and make food.

People set up tents and the estates started to compete with each other about who could make the best stews and sandwiches to feed the protesters. Striking red and white posters were stuck in windows that said “No Consent. No Contract. No to Water Privatization. No Water Meters Here.” As one water activist put it to me:

People had each others’ backs. Many of the working-class estates, not just in Cobh but all over the country, were in complete lockdown. We simply wouldn’t let Irish Water in. Communities, so alienated from each other and broken by poverty, evictions, unemployment, came together. It was magic.

Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, January 16, 2017

Rejecting the call by fishermen, Tribes, conservationists, family farmers and environmental justice advocates to terminate the Delta Tunnels plan, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on January 4 issued a Secretarial Order that will mandate the completion of Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial California WaterFix process “in a timely manner.”

The final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017 — and the decision to sign a Record of Decision will be made by the next Secretary under the Trump administration, according to the order.

The Obama administration order directs the Department of Interior and its agencies to “take timely actions to help address the effects of drought and climate change on California’s water supply and imperiled wildlife.”

Regarding the Delta Tunnels project, the order directs Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “to allocate available resources, as necessary, to complete in a timely manner the Biological Opinions under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and a Record of Decision on the environmental documents for California WaterFix.”

The Secretarial Order directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to “take all necessary actions” to issue an initial Draft Biological Opinion in January 2017 and a final Draft Biological Opinion by March 2017 after incorporating the results of “independent scientific peer reviews.” Following these reviews, a final Biological Opinion will be issued by April 2017.

The order also specifies that the Department, working with the State and others, “will promptly review and consider any information received after publication of the Final EIR/EIS and issuance of the Biological Opinions, and will then be prepared to sign a Record of Decision. This decision will be made by the next Secretary.”

In a press release, Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor claimed, “This Secretarial Order is a practical and broad-based strategy to help protect California’s water lifeline for present and future generations. This order will ensure the integration of the Department’s actions with those of the State of California to provide a reliable drinking water supply for the public, sustain California’s agriculture, and continue to protect the Bay Delta ecosystem and enhance the conservation of species.”

Governor Jerry Brown lauded the Interior Secretary’s order, referring to the WaterFix’s so-called coequal goals of water reliability and ecosystem restoration.

“Today’s action tracks closely with the state’s multi-pronged Water Action Plan and commits the federal government to a timely review of the California WaterFix project,” said Brown. “This state-federal partnership is what’s needed to improve water reliability for residents and farmers and protect vulnerable ecosystems.”

In addition to the section of the order directing the the speedy completion of the California WaterFix, the agency ordered other related actions, including: a collaborative Delta science engagement process; a Delta smelt “resiliency” strategy; reinitiation of consultation under the Endangered Species Act on coordinated long term operations on the Central Valley Project and State Water project; active engagement in the development for flow requirements and coordination on flows with ESA requirements; and a winter-run Chinook “Species in the Spotlight” Action Plan.

As Flint Water Crisis "Emergency" Ends, Bigger Heads Need to Roll

By Michele Oberholtzer - Occupy.Com, August 18, 2016

This week, the emergency is officially over following the Flint Water Crisis. One year ago, the city of Flint, Mich., joined the ranks of Sandy Hook, Ferguson and other previously obscure cities that became a metaphor for man-made tragedy. In Flint the trauma came not at the barrel of a gun but through the faucet of a sink, as the infrastructure that was meant to provide life-sustaining water was made toxic through a negligent cost-cutting measure that altered water sources and treatment procedures. Flint entered a Federal State of Emergency to respond to the crisis, and that emergency expired this week.

First, the good news. Reports have showed significant improvements to water quality in a large number of Flint homes. State money amounting to $25 million and additional federal money is under consideration to address the temporary and long-term needs of residents, while charges have been brought against nine past and current state employees for their involvement in the crisis.

However satisfying one's reaction to this might be, the reality is that the water emergency in Flint continues. The ending of the state of emergency and the felony charges have a mollifying effect on the accumulated outrage, but no amount of federal appropriations or scape-goated employees can begin to address the root of the crimes that transgressed human rights in Flint.

Before considering the charges now being brought again Michigan employees, consider the true crimes of the Flint Water Crisis. First, there was the poisoning of the water itself, which involved switching from treated Detroit water to improperly treated water taken out of the industrial and highly polluted Flint River. Second, there was the failure of local and state governments to identify the problem or heed the immediate vocal outcries coming from residents and local businesses for over a year. Third, there was the capitalization of government that started with “emergency management” and ended with single-bottom-line decisions like the water conversion.

The charges brought against these individuals address a small aspect of issue number two: specifically, that government officials destroyed emails with incriminating evidence of lead level tests. Those emails revealed that the information about the low water quality was known and not acted on. According to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, “Each of these individuals attempted to bury … information that contradicted their own narrative… and their narrative was ‘there’s nothing wrong with Flint water.'”

There appears to be convincing evidence of a coordinated effort between Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) employees (those who received the lead reports) and Department of Environmental Quality employees (those who issued the lead reports) to delete emails that contained alarming and actionable data showing high levels of lead in the blood of Flint residents.

What reason could these people have for deleting emails that contained such alarming information? A person is not guilty of neglect unless s/he fails to act, yet these emails contained new and vital information that the recipients could have conceivably acted on and avoided any need for burying information. The destruction of the emails suggests that either the employees already considered that they had previously ignored information, or knew that they would be unable to correct the problem (since that would involve acknowledging the city's failed water system). Righting this kind of wrong would be terribly expensive, and the whole premise of Flint’s new water system was to cut costs. Delete.

As offensive as the willful neglect of these individuals has been, the fact is that the charges against those people refer to events that took place in July 2015, when the water crisis had already been ongoing for more than a year.

Conspicuously absent are charges against the engineers of the water switchover plan – including Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, the architect of Flint's subverted democracy, and Gov. Rick Snyder – not to mention the premise that these individuals represent government-as-business and profit-over-people. Those pillars will go unshaken regardless of whether a few middlemen take the heat. A recent report by the Water Advisory Task Force placed the responsibility for the crisis on the state (specifically the DHHS). Note: This task force was appointed by Gov. Snyder.

Michigan can lock up the guys who buried the dirt, but people should not be distracted from the individuals who created the mess in the first place. The cognitive leap here, for the Attorney General’s investigation, is not to necessarily uncover hidden actions but to consider the crimes that took place in broad daylight. The decision of Flint leadership to switch from Detroit to Flint water sources was a financial one, made under the guardianship of emergency management. (“Emergency” in this case refers to a financial emergency, not a human one, which only came later). In this crisis, it is clear that decisions to prioritize money over people were not incidental, but rather inherent in the emergency management process.

Much has been said about the destruction to the physical infrastructure of Flint in recent years. But just as important was the destruction to the political infrastructure that began deteriorating not when the water sources were switched, but when emergency management was declared. The checks and balances between government and constituents were dismantled across cities in Michigan, with a direct hierarchy that led all the way to the governor. While a total of nine former state employees spend time awaiting trial, the architects of democratic deconstruction rest easy. Meanwhile, the rest of Michigan dreams of a world where “emergency management” is only used for human crises, not financial ones – in which case it may be about time find an Emergency Governor.

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What Solidarity Looks Like: Nearly 100 Unions Pitch In to Help Flint

By Brandon Weber - The Progressive, March 16, 2016

Unions from all over the midwest have donated time, water, dollars, and more to help the residents of Flint, Michigan get through the water crisis that still rages on there.

Firefighters, electricians, nurses, teachers, teamsters, auto workers, plumbers, and government workers have been working to provide help and a sense of humanity in a situation that, frankly, lacks a lot of both. Many have come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, as well as across the state of Michigan to help lend a hand where necessary, including installing water filters—all with volunteer labor.

“A lot of our members live here in the community,” said Jeff Peake, organizer at Local 370. “We have a responsibility to pay back.”

It’s a community that has been on hard times for decades. The one-two punch of auto plants moving to places like Mexico resulting in a loss of union jobs, combined with the further economic damage of the Great Recession, means this city, once boasting 200,000 people, has about half that these days, and just over 40 percent of them live at or below the poverty level. 

In an article from The Grio, one Flint resident talked about watching it change. “It was a wonderful place to grow up,” said Lynntoia Webster, thirty-two. “But I saw a lot of changes by the time I was in the ninth and tenth grade. I could see our economy was changing. People in my family were getting laid off from the auto industry, and that’s when it became not such a great place to live.”

Recently, Flint residents learned that General Motors switched back to the Detroit River for its water after just four months because the Flint River water was rusting the engines at one of its auto plants. The troubling story continues to unfold. It’s clear that the people of Flint took the hit, while business leaders and the state officials responsible for the crisis looked the other way.

There are still many things that need to happen for Flint to be safe again, like replacing corroding water pipes to houses in many neighborhoods, but things are finally progressing — thanks in large part to the help of organizations like Flint Rising, which is leading a grassroots effort to push for change.

Viewpoint: The Flint Water Crisis from the Ground Up

By Sean Crawford - Labor Notes, January 22, 2016

Photo: Over a thousand people joined a protest at Gov. Snyder's State of the State address, calling for the arrest of those responsible for this debacle. UAW Local 598

What has come to light in Flint, Michigan, over the last few months is scarcely believable. My entire city has been poisoned with lead by the criminal negligence of its very own government!

As if in some sort of dystopian novel, I leave my house to see the Red Cross providing disaster relief on my street. Down the block, a half-dozen National Guard Troops hand out rations of that oh-so-important, scarce commodity: clean drinking water.

My hometown of Flint has been known for many things through its history. First as the birthplace of General Motors, and subsequently as the battleground of the Flint Sit-Down Strike that formed the United Auto Workers.

That gave rise to a wave of union organizing across the country, and to the middle class. The quality of life that Flint residents struggled for and enjoyed was once the envy of the world.

More recently, Flint became famous as ground zero for the disastrous consequences of corporate globalization―chronic unemployment and underemployment, increasing wealth inequality, and the violence and destabilization that can happen in a community when companies are allowed to destroy people’s livelihoods.

These problems aren’t unique to Flint. But our city is a prime example of how the poor and working class are treated as disposable commodities―setting the stage for the current water crisis.

Reversing the Tide: Cities and Countries Are Rebelling Against Water Privatization, and Winning

By Tom Lawson - Occupy.Com, September 22, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Private companies have been working to make a profit from water since the 1600s, when the first water companies were established in England and Wales. The first wave of water privatization occurred in the 1800s, and by the mid- to late-19th century, privately owned water utilities were common in Europe, the United States and Latin America, and began to appear in Africa and Asia.

But the privatization flurry faded, and throughout much of the 20th century water was largely a publicly controlled resource. In the U.S., for example, just 30% of piped water systems were privately owned in 1924, dropping from 60% in 1850.

It wasn't until the late 1980s that the idea of private companies managing water re-emerged on a large scale. Under Margaret Thatcher, the U.K. government privatized all water companies in England and Wales in 1989 – making it the first country to do so. Coupled with the global emphasis on free market capitalism after the fall of communism, it began the second wave of water privatization that continues today.

Privatizing water was, and still is, encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which make public-to-private takeovers a condition of lending. As a result, the early 1990s saw a rush of cities and countries around the world signing over their nations' water resources to private companies.

It is argued by industry and investors that putting water in private hands translates into improvements in efficiency and service quality, and that services will be better managed. Privatizing also provides governments an opportunity to gain revenue by selling off water services, and for companies to generate profit. But with profit the main objective, the idea of water as a human right arguably becomes a secondary concern.

Problems with water privatization often begin to occur soon after the initial wave of enthusiasm – from lack of infrastructure investment to environmental neglect. A 2005 study by the World Bank said that overall evidence suggests "there is no statistically significant difference between the efficiency performance of public and private operators in this sector." The most common complaint about water privatization concerned tariff increases, which occur in the vast majority of cases, making safe water inaccessible for many.

Despite these issues, aid agencies, water companies and many governments around the world continue to pursue privatization of water in the name of profit. In 2011, economist Willem Buiter described water as "an asset class that will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity-based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals."

But opposition to this ideology is mounting. Known as remunicipalisation, more and more communities and governments are choosing to resist and reverse private water contracts. According to a 2014 report by the Transnational Institute, around 180 cities in 35 countries have returned control of their water supply to municipalities in the past 15 years.

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