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Break Free or Burn in Hell: a Message From Canada

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Paul Street
A Strong Left Voice in Middle America

forest fire, Alberta

Alberta burning. (Cameron Strandberg)

 

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ome time ago, the environmentalist “Break Free” movement planned a number of protest actions around the world during the first two weeks of May. The protests have a simple and basic message: burning fossil fuels is unsafe and those resources must be left in the ground.

“Break Free’s” timing, it turns out, was eerily perfect. In the early evening of Tuesday, May 3rd, an epic wildfire broke out southwest of the Northwest Canadian city Fort McMurray. The giant blaze resulted in the mandatory evacuation of 12 communities in the sub-Arctic city’s area, located in the province of Alberta.

A Horrific Scene

By 7 p.m., Fort McMurray was placed under a mandatory evacuation order. Record breaking temperatures, reaching 91 °F combined with low relative humidity and strong winds to fuel the fire’s rapid growth. By last night (I am writing on Sunday, May 8th), the wildfire covered an area of more than 700 square miles (2,000 square kilometers), including areas still on fire and areas already burnt. The destruction is epic. BBC reported on a Hellish scene two days ago:

“The flames have already caused the evacuation of 80,000 people from the oil city of Fort McMurray, and thousands are still stuck to the north…The wildfire…[is] being propelled by high winds to the north-east towards Saskatchewan and was expected to reach the province by the end of Saturday Smoke from the fire has already spread there, and air quality statements have been issued for both Saskatchewan and North-West Territory. ‘Fire conditions remain extreme,’ said the Alberta Emergency Management Agency late on Saturday.

There is the possibility of rain on Sunday and Monday, but officials say the fire can only be put out by sustained heavy rains.

The blaze has ruined entire neighbourhoods, with residents warned it could be some time before they can return. Officials say the power grid is damaged and the water not drinkable.

Some 1,600 homes and other buildings have been lost …Local DJ Chris Byrne was allowed back into Fort McMurray to check on the damage. He told BBC Newshour what he found. ‘Complete blocks [are] levelled and charred and it looks like a horrific scene.’”

The spectacle in northern Alberta is practically apocalyptic. The giant rolling firestorm has created its own thundercloud, replete with lightning that has helped spread the blaze.

The Fingerprints of Climate Change

What’s it got to do with fossil fuels? Quite a lot. Rachel Cleetus is the lead economist and climate policy manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She told CNN that climate change, which is driven by humanity’s excessive extraction and burning of carbon-rich fossil fuels, is “a significant factor” behind the momentous Canadian inferno. “We know the northern latitudes are warming faster than anywhere else….You definitely see the fingerprints of climate change,” Cleetus said.

According to CNN columnist John Sutter:

“A ridge in the jet stream, associated with rapid warming in the Arctic, also has helped lock in a high pressure zone over northwest Canada. That likely contributed to the fire conditions, experts said….Fires only are expected to get bigger and costlier as humans keep pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, primarily by burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. A 2011 report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, for example, says certain parts of the American West could see up to a 650% increase in the median area burned by wildfires each year if temperatures rise another 1 degree Celsius. Humans already have warmed the climate about 1 degree Celsius compared with temperatures before the industrial revolution.”

“To avoid 2 degrees of warming, which world leaders say is the danger zone for climate change, society basically needs to ditch fossil fuels between 2050 and 2100 — a monumental task but one researchers say is achievable. …Meanwhile, wildfire seasons already are getting longer. In Alberta, the province where Fort McMurray is located, the fire season now officially starts in April, Flannigan said. It used to start in May. ‘In recent years we’ve actually had forest fires in December, which doesn’t have any historical analog,’ he told me….In parts of the western United States, there no longer is a ‘fire season.’ The entire year is now fair game. ‘Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an August 2015 report. ‘The U.S. burns twice as many acres as three decades ago and Forest Service scientists believe the acreage burned may double again by mid-century.’”

“We need to grasp where we come into the picture on fires like the one in Canada and plan accordingly. That means better fire management — including discouraging the growth of towns in fire-prone areas and creating emergency funds to help cash-strapped agencies fight these bigger, badder fires. It also, crucially, means working to eliminate fossil fuel use as quickly as possible” (emphasis added).

That’s a guy at CNN writing that – not Bill McKibben, James Hansen, or Naomi Klein being interviewed on Democracy Now!.

The Gateway to Canada’s Tar Sands Crime

I’ve saved the mostly darkly fitting fact of the Canadian wildfire story for last. If you’ve read this far you probably already know this but it must be noted here anyway: Fort McMurray is a remote boomtown with a rapidly rising population and business activity driven primarily by the extraction of Canadian tar sands oil. The city is smack in the heart of one of Canada’s leading centers of planet-baking oil production, right beneath the Athabasca Oil Sands, whose dirty and exceptionally carbon-rich oil is extracted on a giant scale by great eco-cidal and transnational Big Carbon firms including Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell, and Nexen. Fort McMurray, named after a factor (William McMurray) with the fur-trading, merchant-capitalist Hudson Bay Company in 1870, is “the gateway to Canada’s oil sands region, a hotbed of fossil fuel extraction” (Sutter).

It is also surrounded by vast swaths of primeval northern “tiaga” boreal forest, ready for burning in the hot and crispy climate brought to us by 71 years of extreme global petro-capitalism. The burning and forest destruction becomes a cause as well as a consequence of anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming.

Like Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) and numerous other climate-related. not-so natural disasters, the Canadian Wildfire of 2016 is yet another attempt by Mother Nature (I write on Mother’s Day) to wake humanity up to the deadly costs of the fossil fuel addiction imposed on it by – and this is something you won’t hear on CNN or for that matter from McKibben or Hansen (you can hear it from Klein) – the ruling class masters of capital [1]. We cannot depend on the carbon-caked corporate and financial powers that be or their growth- and accumulation-addicted profits system to help us avert environmental catastrophe, which is unfolding before our very eyes and not just those of “our grandchildren.”

Notes

1. For elaboration on this very critical point, please see Paul Street, “Anthropocene or Capitalocene?” teleSur English, October 27, 2015 and, above all, the brilliant Marxist environmentalist geographer-historian-sociologist Jason Moore’s book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (Verso, 2015).

 


Paul Street
Paul StreetIndependent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of seven books to date, including: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, September 2014). His essays, articles, reviews, interviews, and commentaries have appeared in numerous outlets political, media, and academic. Visit his website,  Paul Street

Source: CounterPunch

 

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Top CIA Objective: Fracture The Eurasian Bloc


pale blue horizWITNESS TO HISTORY
CALEB MAUPIN

EurasianBlocCIA


[dropcap]P[/dropcap]residential Candidate Donald Trump is known for being very crass and rude. However, he also has a way of openly stating what other billionaires are thinking, but are afraid to say out loud.

In one of his earliest interviews, Trump stated a concern that is probably on the mind of many foreign policy analysts.  He said: “You can’t have everybody hating you. The whole world hates us. One of the things that I heard for years and years, never drive Russia and China together, and Obama has done that.”

It’s not only Donald Trump who has this concern. The Council on Foreign Relations, a Wall Street think tank that can otherwise be described as the CIA’s brain, has become obsessed with the issue. The latest issues of the CFR’s publication, Foreign Affairs, speak of the China-Russia alliance at length.

Why Does Wall Street Hate Russia and China?

The Eurasian bloc and its allies have scored key economic victories against the United States and Western Europe on the global market. State-controlled industries in Mainland China, which was considered the impoverished, semi-feudal “sick man of Asia” just 70 years ago, now produces half of all the steel and aluminum on Earth. Russia’s oil and natural gas resources are being sold across Europe, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is starting to move into these markets as well.

Editor’s Note: It should be noted that the U.S. deliberately divested itself of its industrial and manufacturing capacity via first outsourcing (starting as early as the late 1960s), and then formal mechanism of GATT and NAFTA. The argument being that the US. would gain and expand higher paying technical jobs (not); the real reason being profit margins for large corporations. This killed many communities. There was some intimation that the US would remain the premiere and unchallenged financial house, but globalization has challenged that as well.

Questions were raised as early as the 1980s as to whether a society that produced nothing could survive. Yet the pressure for ever increasing profits created the US as the first “post-industrial” society. It is in this context that the conflicts of the twenty-first century are occuring for there is still no corporate draw to tie themselves to national interests or controls and a battle occurs on multiple levels across the planet leaving death and destruction in its wake. However, even the process of destruction has been structured to profit the global .1%.

 

The global economic set-up has long functioned like the Roman Empire, where “all roads lead to Rome,” or in this case, to Wall Street and London. But as Eurasia raises its head, bringing South America and parts of the Middle East along with it, the world no longer has to buy its steel, aluminum, and oil from Western corporations. Markets are slipping out of Western fingers. Developing countries no longer have to take out loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The “New Silk Road” vision from China, the stabilization of Russia and the Islamic Revolution of Iran, and the Bolivarian movement of Latin America, have all created something western capitalists have never tolerated: competitors.

It is maintenance of monopoly on the global market, not some phony concern about “human rights” or “expansionism” that drives the rising hostility against Russia, China, and any country that dares align with them. Regimes that function as obedient Western clients violate human rights and engage in aggression all the time.

The oil vassals of Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia make no pretense honoring human rights.

The leaders of South Korea’s only real electoral opposition, the Unified Progressive Party, all sit in prison simply because of a hypothetical conversation that was audio recorded.

The number of human rights activists and dissidents who have been killed, tortured, or disappeared in US-aligned Latin American countries like Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras is incalculable. The US backed the autocratic PRI regime in Mexico for many years and is currently supporting the corrupt, drug-infested Narco regime that now runs the country.

The US-aligned Turkish state, which has an ugly history of atrocities against the Kurds, is now rounding up college professors and anyone else who dares question or “insult” President Erdogan. 

The US-backed regime in Ukraine has a Nazi division of its armed forces called the Azvo Battalion. Not only does the US openly align with the anti-Russian, Hitler glorifying fanatics in Kiev as they wage brutal war against their Eastern compatriots, but US military personnel actually provides them with training..The concept of “human rights” has been completely politicized by well-funded foundations that promote the geopolitical goals of Wall Street. Voices in US media raise their “concerns” about human rights almost exclusively against countries that dare assert their economic independence or align with Russia and China.

Many leftists and progressive people in Western countries are easily duped by “human rights” propaganda. They often believe they can gain credibility for their critique of Western society by joining in the demonization of the Pentagon’s latest target.

Like the Southern plantation owners who claimed they were “civilizing” and “bringing Christianity” to those they enslaved, the NATO military machine and its Wall Street paymasters always claim they are overthrowing governments because they have a big heart, and are flowing with compassion for those who are suffering. As the attacks on Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria have shown, the “innocent victims”, who become the focus of propaganda campaigns promoting “humanitarian intervention,” usually end up in far-worse circumstances than before.

The Basis of the Eurasian Alliance

The division of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China was a key factor in the outcome of the Cold War. In 1961, the Chinese Communist Party and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had incompatible foreign policy strategies. Mao Zedong’s China had become a symbolic epicenter of anti-colonial struggles in the Third World. Khruschev’s Soviet government was desperately trying to engage in diplomacy in the hopes of preventing atomic war. The Soviet Union cut its ties with the People’s Republic of China in 1961, as China denounced Soviet leaders as “revisionists” and “betrayers” of the cause of global revolution.

The division between the two great powers escalated over the course of the following decade. Border disputes erupted. By the early 1970s, the final years of Mao Zedong’s life, the most populous country on earth was no longer telling its allies to oppose Western capitalism, but rather that “Soviet Social Imperialism” was the “main danger” to humanity.

This shift weakened anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist forces significantly. The Chinese invasion of Vietnam, the civil war between leftist factions in oil rich Angola, the re-alignment of Poland, Romania, Albania, and various other European Marxist governments, were all decisive in the eventual defeat of the Soviet Union.

However, since the end of the Cold War, the geopolitical relationship that was broken apart in 1961 with the “Sino-Soviet Split” has gradually re-emerged. As the Russian Federation became more stable and economically prosperous after the disasters of the 1990s, it grew closer to the People’s Republic of China. The two countries, one led by a Communist Party and the other now led by nationalist forces, have formed an economic and political alliance that is once again challenging the monopoly of Western capitalism.

In Russia, the economy is centered on the export of publicly owned oil and natural gas resources. In China, the state controls banking and most major industries. Both Russia and China long ago abandoned the kind of “really existing socialism” pioneered by Stalin with his “Five Year Plans.” However, neither Russia nor China can truly be described as capitalist. In both countries, the decisions of state central planners, not the anarchy of production, dictate the majority of economic activity. The two countries have many billionaires, yet both governments are not afraid to punish capitalists who stray from the state’s overall economic vision. There is plenty of capitalism in China and Russia, but it is a submissive capitalism, functioning under the boot of much more powerful state economic sector.

The Russian and Chinese states are not like the corporatocracies of the West. Their strength comes from highly organized and deeply politicized populations, both committed to a collective nationalist vision. Western liberalism with its glorification of profits and individualism is collapsing in the face of a collectivist alternative. Over the course of the 20th century, the Eurasian societies learned to restrain and control market forces. This has made them stronger than many Western analysts can even imagine.

The Eurasian Bloc now lays the basis for the primary alternative to Western capitalism on the global stage. Brazil and the Islamic Republic of Iran have economies and states that function in almost the same way as Russia and China. The Bolivarian movement in Latin America has unleashed a more traditionally leftist and Marxist version of this economic model, and both Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are gradually shifting in this direction.

Strategy for Attack: Oil Price Manipulation and Takfirism

Speaking for the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Kaplan gleefully predicts “Coming Anarchy” in Eurasia. The article goes on to lament the Chinese slowdown and describe how low oil prices have hurt the Russian state.

Takfiri” is a derogatory term for Muslims who kill other Muslims over religious differences. It is used by Shia revolutionaries to describe wahhabi jihadists who want to slaughter them.

The drop in oil prices is no accident. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which sells oil almost exclusively to Wall Street and buys weapons almost exclusively from the Pentagon, has engaged in what looks like an episode of self-mutiliation, dropping prices by exporting huge amounts of oil. Saudi Arabia’s economy is in a state of ruin, as the country takes out more loans in order to expand its oil apparatus.

Negotiations among oil exporting countries continue to fail and the price has not recovered from the dramatic decreases of 2014. This is no accident. Saudi Arabia is intentionally dropping the prices as a part of geopolitical strategy developed by its overlords in Washington DC. The hope is to wreck the economies of Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, all of which are centered around the export of publicly owned oil resources.

Interestingly, a recently published article, also from the Council on Foreign Relations, touts “the use of economic instruments to accomplish geopolitical objectives” as an “American Tradition.

The oil price drop has created political problems, not just in Russia, but primarily among its allies in South America. The United Socialist Party suffered its first significant electoral defeat in recent history with the US-funded opposition winning at the polls in December. In Brazil, a political crisis has unfolded surrounding the fiscal problems of Petrobas, the state-owned oil company. The once popular, left-wing President Dilma Rousseff, who is very friendly to Russia and China, now faces impeachment.

The economic attack in the form of low oil prices is being followed up by another gem from the CIA’s toolbox, Wahabbism. Religious extremism of the variety found in Saudi Arabia is getting stronger in the Middle East. Violent extremists such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra front are very powerful in sections of Syria and Iraq. CIA training camps in Jordan, the open Turkish-Syrian borders, and the continued flow of weapons into Syria from US-aligned Gulf States, have made the “Jihadist” current stronger than ever.

The CIA has been friendly with Takfiri extremists for a long time. Osama Bin Laden comes from a wealthy Saudi family with a near monopoly construction within the Kingdom. His career as an extremist began in Afghanistan, where he cooperated with the USA and NATO to fight against the People’s Democratic Party and the Soviet Union during the 1980s. The Muslim Brotherhood cooperated with the CIA to work against Arab Nationalist Abdul Nasser in Egypt. US links with the Takfiri “Jundallah” organization that bombs innocent people in Iran were exposed by the New York Times. 

The scourge of Takfirism now threatens China as a wave of stabbings and other terrorist attacks have been unleashed. Chinese Uyghurs, a historically Muslim minority within the People’s Republic, have been fighting in Syria against the government alongside Wahabbi terrorists and extremists. China is openly concerned about what could happen when these forces return home. The Council on Foreign Relations, an entity that works closely with the CIA, now openly predicts the rise of anti-Chinese and anti-Russian religious extremism in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The strategy employed by the Obama administration to attack the Eurasian Bloc is two-fold. First, create a economic problems by dropping oil prices. Secondly, unleash religious extremists to foment chaos and warfare.

Unlike Bush’s direct military attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, which resulted in high oil prices and widespread contempt for the United States – even among NATO allies – the Obama-CIA strategy is a long-term plan. It is similar to Brzezinski’s strategies during the “détente” of the Carter administration. It is much better for the United States in terms of public relations, and it is much less risky. But the CIA strategy of economic warfare and the use of proxies to attack Eurasia has a key weakness: it’s not very profitable.

Pragmatic Strategy vs. Market Demand

Oil companies are losing money as prices stay low. Furthermore, military spending has become an essential part of the US economy since the end of the Second World War. The stock market is already starting to feel the pain. If the US economy is to continue functioning as usual, oil prices cannot remain low and military adventurism around the world cannot remain off the table.

While it is seems contrary to basic human decency, the economy of the USA needs high prices at the pump and mass slaughter around the world in order to keep functioning. Drone strikes and the militarization of domestic US police departments are not enough. Eventually, the market forces will demand that oil prices and military spending increase.

However, with the Eurasian bloc stronger than ever, the consequences of direct military attack will be much higher than before.

As is reluctantly pointed out by their greatest enemies, Russia and China have not become weaker in the last decade. They have withstood a campaign of economic sabotage and proxy wars against their closest allies. China faces a huge US military build-up all around it with the so-called “Asian pivot” of the US military. Russia has seen its Syrian allies endure half a decade of civil war, as well as the NATO’s enshrinement of the Ultra-Nationalist, Russia hating Kiev regime, right on its border. Despite persistent hostility and provocations, Russia and China continue to get stronger. Xi Jinxing and Vladimir Putin have become more popular, and the political models they have developed are inspiring a wave of independence and anti-liberalism around the world.

Wall Street is determined to break apart the Eurasian bloc, but this is a task that appears to be almost impossible.

With a US presidential election in the near future, the next few months could render some key surprises. The election of Barack Obama was directly precluded by a financial crash. George W. Bush’s presidency was permanently written into the history books by the Sept. 11th attacks, less than year into his administration.

The rise of the Eurasian bloc, made possible by the Marxist-Leninist social revolutions of the 20th century, along with the computer technological revolution which drastically changed global methods of productions, have forced a dramatic shift on the global stage. The world simply cannot function in the old way any longer. The outdated methods of colonizers and profiteers are being terminated. Profits simply cannot stay in absolute command, and a firm hand from society must force economies to function in a rational way.

History rarely unfolds like a fairy tale. The march of social progress can sometimes be slow and dull, while at other times dramatic and terrifying, but it never stops. Human civilization is now enduring a harsh period of radical adjustment, and everyone should be bracing for the ground to shake.

1 “Takfiri” is a derogatory term for Muslims who kill other Muslims over religious differences. It is used by Shia revolutionaries to describe wahhabi jihadists who want to slaughter them. 

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Caleb Maupin
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 9.46.00 AMIs an American journalist and political analyst. Tasnim News Agency described him as "a native of Ohio who has campaigned against war and the U.S. financial system." His political activism began while attending Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. In 2010, he video recorded a confrontation between Collinwood High School students who walked out to protest teacher layoffs and the police. His video footage resulted in one of the students being acquitted in juvenile court. He was a figure within the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City. Maupin writes on American foreign policy and other social issues. Maupin is featured as a Distinguished Collaborator with The Greanville Post.  READ MORE ABOUT CALEB MAUPIN HERE.

 Cross-posted with New Eastern Outlook.


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Oil and the Global Capitalist Crisis

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MaupinCover

By Caleb Maupin

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]aleb Maupin has released an editied version of his talk presented to the Second Congress of the Trade Union Center (CSB) of Brazil.  In it he discusses oil price manipulation, US military intervention around the world, the rise of Russia and China, and the global crisis of capitalism.

You may order the monograph from CreateSpace.

 

.


Caleb Maupin
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 9.46.00 AMIs an American journalist and political analyst. Tasnim News Agency described him as "a native of Ohio who has campaigned against war and the U.S. financial system." His political activism began while attending Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. In 2010, he video recorded a confrontation between Collinwood High School students who walked out to protest teacher layoffs and the police. His video footage resulted in one of the students being acquitted in juvenile court. He was a figure within the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City. Maupin writes on American foreign policy and other social issues. Maupin is featured as a Distinguished Collaborator with The Greanville Post.  READ MORE ABOUT CALEB MAUPIN HERE.


 

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These Corporations Have Pillaged the Land and Robbed the People

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=By= Thom Hartmann

Coal mining operation. Photo by Parolan Harahap. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Coal mining operation. Photo by Parolan Harahap. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nother day, and another coal company is trying to rob its workers of their pensions and health plans.

On Monday, Alpha Natural Resources became the most recent coal company to file a petition with a US bankruptcy court.

They’re asking that court to slash retiree benefits and tear up existing union contracts, worth nearly a billion dollars in payments to workers and retirees.

Alpha was crushed and forced to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last August when the price of coal futures fell to a 12-year low due to a global supply glut and falling global demand.

With May 16 set as the date that Alpha’s assets will go to auction, Monday’s filing is nothing less than a threat to the union workers: Let Alpha walk away from the contract, or else.

Seriously, in Monday’s filing the company’s lawyers explained that “If such cost savings cannot be achieved globally, then the debtors [Alpha] may be forced to liquidate their assets, to the detriment of all stakeholders, including all union employees.”

This filing doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the coal industry recently, because this has become the standard endgame in Big Coal’s playbook.

It’s a big part of how the companies guarantee that they can deliver no-risk profits to shareholders and pay off Wall Street lenders, and still manage to pay out millions to their executives in the middle of declaring bankruptcy.

Last year, Patriot Coal and Walter Energy both tried the exact same trick.

It’s a playbook that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is familiar with. President Cecil E. Roberts wrote back in August that the Chapter 11 filing “appears to follow the same scripts as others we’ve seen this year: pay off the big banks and other Wall Street investors at the expense of workers, retirees and their communities.”

He’s right.

Company lawyers are complaining that they spent nearly $53 million on health care benefits for union employees last year, and they listed around $872 million in accrued retiree health care obligations to union employees.

That’s nearly a billion dollars that Alpha is trying to steal from its workers and retirees.

You see, Wall Street lenders have offered to forgive $500 million of debt in exchange for ownership of certain Alpha mines: But Wall Street just isn’t interested if they have to fulfill Alpha’s legal obligations to workers.

This isn’t a new fight, back in the 1980s, Big Coal and its investors fought hard to get out of their obligations to retirees.

That fight lead to Sen. Jay Rockefeller introducing (and George HW Bush signing) the Coal Act of 1992, requiring coal companies to pay for the lifetime costs of their retirees.

The Coal Act is based on the recommendation of the so-called “Coal Commission,” which said that: “Retired miners have legitimate expectations of health care benefits for life; that was the promise they received during their working lives, and that is how they planned their retirement years. That commitment should be honored.”

That’s the law that coal companies like Alpha, Patriot and Walter have all attempted to completely bypass, with the help of Wall Street lenders to set pro-corporate terms for bailing the companies out.

The Coal Act has been critical over the years to make sure that more than 100,000 retired miners, along with their widows and dependents, get the benefits that they were promised in exchange for a lifetime of backbreaking and dangerous labor in the coalfields.

And it actually anticipated the fact that retirees might outlive the companies that employed them: It sets out a provision for “orphan retirees” to receive their pensions partly from interest generated from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund.

And that makes some sense, because the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund is funded by a miniscule 35 cent-per-ton tax on coal production.

The problem is, the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund was set up as part of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, and it was unsurprisingly set up to ensure that companies are paying the cost of… reclaiming abandoned mine lands.

The whole point is to make sure that the companies pay for at least a little bit of the very expensive environmental costs of coal mining, presently and into the future.

So it really doesn’t make any sense to take federal money that’s dedicated to restoring the land that Big Coal pillaged, to pay off the workers who have been screwed by Big Coal’s broken promises.

But thanks to Big Coal’s friends in Congress, there’s at least one bill in the House right now that aims to take even more money from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund to pay off even more of Big Coal’s broken promises to workers.

The bill has been understandably embraced by the UMWA, because it would at least guarantee that their members actually get the benefits and health care that they deserve.

But it forces a false choice: We can either pay for Big Coal’s broken promises to workers, or we can pay to deal with the roughly half a million dangerous and toxic abandoned mines throughout the country (like the Gold King gold mine that spilled three millions gallons of toxic mine waste water into Colorado’s Animas river last August).

Either way though, federal and state governments are left to foot the bill for Big Coal’s reckless exploitation of the land and the people.

It’s time to put a stop to Big Coal’s playbook of pillaging the land for short term profits and then robbing workers and retirees of their pensions to pay off Wall Street lenders.

And if lawmakers want to be pro-worker, we need legislation that ACTUALLY protects workers’ health care and pensions, without holding the environment for ransom.

The federal government, and, thus, you and me, shouldn’t be left to foot the bill for Big Coal’s reckless pursuit of profits and callous disregard for people, communities and the environment.

If lawmakers really want to protect workers AND their communities, they need to introduce legislation that actually holds these COMPANIES accountable for their contractual and legal obligations to workers.


Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent book, just released, is “Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It.” Other books include: “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” “Unequal Protection,” “We The People,” and “What Would Jefferson Do?

Source: Reprinted from Smirking Chimp.

 

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Yemen’s Forgotten War

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMCaleb Maupin
Witness to History

Yemen war

Aftermath of Saudi bombing in Yemen. [Al Monitor]

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PM[dropcap]C[/dropcap]aleb Maupin is interviewed for RT’s “Watching the Hawks” on the origins of the Yemeni “civil war.” Yemen has been in constant conflict since the Arab Spring action of 2011. Yemeni, and the horrendous disproportional conflict happening there, rarely make U.S. news, and Saudi Arabia has utilized the military toys of the U.S. to indiscriminately bomb both military and civilian targets.

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Caleb Maupin
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 9.46.00 AMCaleb Maupin is an American journalist and political analyst. Tasnim News Agency described him as "a native of Ohio who has campaigned against war and the U.S. financial system." His political activism began while attending Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. In 2010, he video recorded a confrontation between Collinwood High School students who walked out to protest teacher layoffs and the police. His video footage resulted in one of the students being acquitted in juvenile court. He was a figure within the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City. Maupin writes on American foreign policy and other social issues. Maupin is featured as a Distinguished Collaborator with The Greanville Post. 

READ MORE ABOUT CALEB MAUPIN HERE.

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