Huge, angry protests have broken out in Brazil over public transport fare rises and poor services. The largest protests in years in Brazil come as large amounts of money is spent in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which is helping drive up prices and causing wide spread anger
The huge protests come against a backdrop of gtrowing state repression targetting Brazil’s poor. As host of the World Cup and the Olympics, the Brazilian government is trying to “pacify” gangs in Rio’s favelas (shanty towns). But the needs of those who live there is taking a back seat. In a piece pubished at Red Pepper, Mike Davis provides background to the outbreak of mass protests.
February 19, 2013
Loggers in Brazil captured an eight-year-old girl from one of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes and burned her alive as part of a campaign to force the indigenous population from its land, reports claimed on Tuesday night.
The child was said to have wandered away from…
June 17 2013
In a document released at the end of May, the American banking and investment giant JP Morgan Chase calls for the overturning of the bourgeois democratic constitutions established in a series of European countries after the Second World War and the installation of authoritarian regimes.
The 16-page document was produced by the Europe Economic Research group of JP Morgan and titled “The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There.” The document begins by noting that the crisis in the euro zone has two dimensions.
First, the paper argues, financial measures are necessary to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe. Second, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose “political reforms” aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being carried out at the behest of the banks.
The report expresses satisfaction with the implementation of a number of financial mechanisms by the European Union to secure banking interests. In this respect, the study maintains, reform of the euro area is about halfway there. The report does, however, call for more action by the European Central Bank (ECB).
Since the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008, the ECB has made trillions of euros available to the banks to enable them to wipe out their bad debts and commence a new round of speculation. In the face of mounting pressure from the financial markets, ECB chief Mario Draghi declared last summer that he would do whatever was necessary to shore up the banks.
This, however, is not sufficient as far as the analysts at JPMorgan are concerned. They demand a “more dramatic response” to the crisis from the ECB.
The harshest criticisms in the document, however, are reserved for national governments that have been much too tardy in implementing the type of authoritarian measures necessary to impose austerity. The process of such “political reform,” the study notes, has “hardly even begun.”
Towards the end of the document, the authors explain what they mean by “political reform.” They write: “In the early days of the crisis it was thought that these national legacy problems were largely economic,” but “it has become apparent that there are deep-seated political problems in the periphery, which, in our view, need to change if EMU (the European Monetary Union) is to function in the long run.”
The paper then details problems in the political systems of the peripheral countries of the European Union—Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy—that have been at the center of the European debt crisis.
The authors write: “The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism.
“Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labour rights; consensus-building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis. “ Whatever the historical inaccuracies in their analysis, there can not be the slightest doubt that the authors of the JPMorgan report are arguing for governments to adopt dictatorial-type powers to complete the process of social counterrevolution that is already well underway across Europe.
In reality, there was nothing genuinely socialist about the constitutions established across Europe in the postwar period. Such constitutions were aimed at securing bourgeois rule under conditions where the capitalist system and its political agents had been thoroughly compromised by the crimes of Fascist and dictatorial regimes.
The constitutions of European states, including those of Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal, were elaborated and implemented in collaboration with the country’s respective Socialist and Communist parties, which played the key role in demobilising the working class and permitting the bourgeoisie to maintain its rule.
At the same time, however, Europe’s discredited ruling classes were well aware that the Russian Revolution remained a political beacon for many workers. They felt compelled to make a series of concessions to the working class to prevent revolution—in the form of precisely the social and constitutional protections, including the right to protest, that JPMorgan would now like to see abolished.
To some extent, the bank’s criticism of European governments for their lack of authoritarianism rings hollow. Across Europe, governments have repeatedly resorted in recent years to police state measures to suppress opposition to their policies.
In France, Spain and Greece, emergency decrees and the military have been used to break strikes. The constitution adopted in Greece in 1975, following the fall of the colonels’ dictatorship, has not prevented the Greek government from sacking public workers en masse. And in a number of European countries, ruling parties are encouraging the growth of neofascist parties such as the Golden Dawn movement in Greece.
For JPMorgan, however, this is not enough. In order to avoid social revolution in the coming period, its analysts warn, it is necessary for capitalist governments across Europe to move as quickly as possible to set up dictatorial forms of rule.
At the end of the document, the authors put forward a series of scenarios that they claim could result from the failure of European governments to erect authoritarian systems. These variants include: “1) the collapse of several reform-minded governments in the European south, 2) a collapse in support for the euro or the EU, 3) an outright electoral victory for radical anti-European parties somewhere in the region, or 4) the effective ungovernability of some Member States once social costs (particularly unemployment) pass a particular level.”
This is the unadulterated voice of finance capital speaking. It should be recalled that JPMorgan is deeply implicated in the speculative operations that have devastated the lives of hundreds of millions of workers around the world. In March of this year, a US Senate committee released a 300-page report documenting the criminal practices and fraud carried out by JPMorgan, the largest bank in the US and the world’s biggest dealer in derivatives. Despite the detailed revelations in the report, no action will be taken against the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, who enjoys the personal confidence of the US president.
The same bank now presumes to lecture governments. Seventy years after the assumption of power by Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, with catastrophic consequences for Europe and the world, JPMorgan is leading the call for authoritarian measures to suppress the working class and wipe out its social gains.
It’s a Morgan family tradition to support fascism.
President Barack Obama has proclaimed that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stayed in his post longer than he should have, which has raised speculation that the bank chief may soon be on his way out.
Cooperatives began to spread across rural America after President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. The public-private partnerships brought electric power to any community willing to organize cooperatively. Many of those co-ops still exist today.
At right, Berea, Ky., homeowner Charles Cotton (center) was able to make energy efficiency improvements with the help of his electric cooperative, Jackson Energy, which has been around since the 1930s. Left is MACED Executive Director Justin Maxson and right is Program Coordinator Bill Blair.
Photo by Adam Padgett. Photo at left, Library of Congress.
Empowered by the Past: Red State Co-ops Go GreenA century ago, cooperatives electrified the poorest counties in the nation. Today, can they lead the way to a smarter, cleaner grid?
Charles Cotton never gave much thought to the fact that he owns a piece of Jackson Energy Cooperative, the utility that delivers power to his home in Berea, Ky. His grandparents used to go every year to the co-op’s annual meeting and cook-out, where member-owners elect representatives and vote on cooperative business, but Cotton himself has never gone. He uses Jackson Energy simply because it’s the only utility serving his region.
But last November, Cotton’s membership paid off in a way he hadn’t expected: The cooperative gave him an energy upgrade, installing a plastic moisture barrier underneath his house and replacing his old furnace with an efficient heat pump. Cotton’s home now feels warmer and his electric bills have dropped significantly, but he never paid a dime up front.
Jackson Energy’s status as a cooperative led directly to Cotton’s retrofit. It is one of four rural electric cooperatives participating in a pilot program called How$martKY, run by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). The program will let Cotton slowly pay back the cost of the retrofit: His bill is smaller than before, but he’s actually paying a bit more than the cost of the electricity he uses. The extra charge is how he repays the cost of the retrofit. It’s a scheme called on-bill financing—a way for people of all financial backgrounds to reap the benefits of energy efficiency without a big up-front cost.
Since on-bill programs like How$martKY are still experimental, MACED made a point of kicking off its pilot program by working with cooperatives. Investor-owned utilities are legally required to prioritize shareholder profits, and often can’t take on risky or unproven ventures. But electric cooperatives are required to maximize value for their members. That makes a cooperative potentially more willing to try out a program with an as-yet-unproven effect on the utility’s bottom line, but with the immediate potential to help member-owners and wean the region off fossil fuels. “Because they’re customer-owned, because they’re intent on customer satisfaction, it made sense to start with them,” says Justin Maxson, president of MACED.
The program is a small step forward in a region of the country underserved by renewables, but one with the potential to grow. “What we love is that it has a shot to make energy efficiency much more scalable,” says Maxson. “That’s especially important in Appalachia, where we’re so over-dependent on coal as our primary source of energy.”
Most of the nation’s electric cooperatives were founded on the idea that small steps can beget big change. Many such cooperatives date back to the 1930s (Jackson Energy started in 1938), when the electricity divide in the United States was stark: Approximately 90 percent of urban homes had power, and 90 percent of rural homes did not. For-profit utilities had little interest in building transmission lines in sparsely populated areas, so the federal government offered loans and encouraged farmers and ranchers to set up their own electric cooperatives. By the mid- ’40s, some 50 percent of rural Americans had electricity; by the mid-’50s, the vast majority did.
Now cooperatives form the largest electric utility network in the nation, serve some 42 million people in 47 states, generate $45 billion in annual revenue, and employ nearly 130,000 people. Approximately 78 percent of U.S. counties are served by electric cooperatives. Clean-energy advocates hope that network can be harnessed to bring big changes once again to America’s energy landscape.
A transformative influence?
The Rural Electrification Administration brought electric power to rural communities, many of whom built community refrigerators for meats and farm produce. Photo from early 1940s.
Co-op electricity, like that of the nation as a whole, comes from a mix of sources that varies by region—and because of cooperatives’ strong presence in coal-producing regions, their reliance on coal-fired power is higher than the national average. Still, 90 percent of electric cooperatives have at least some renewable power in their portfolios, and 96 percent offer some sort of energy efficiency program. As of 2007, co-ops got 3 percent more of their energy from renewable sources than did the nation’s utility sector as a whole.
Cooperatives around the country are pushing to do better. In 2008, a number of them banded together to form the National Renewables Cooperative Organization, an umbrella group that supports local co-ops in making the switch to renewable energy. The organization found that renewables make sense for cooperatives for more than environmental reasons. Diverse power sources can insulate members from volatile prices, and renewable energy projects can create jobs in the communities where members live.
In Tennessee, a cooperative is offering members direct stakes in a new solar farm. A Montana cooperative helped a city in its coverage area rebuild a failing hydroelectric plant. In Minnesota, an electric co-op is researching ways to combine hydro and wind power to achieve a more stable power supply. An Indiana co-op is operating 14 landfill gas-to-energy plants. A cooperative in Hawai‘i, which was set up 11 years ago when the petroleum-powered, for-profit utility went up for sale, is planning to provide 50 percent of its power from renewable sources within the next 10 years.
Co-ops find many reasons to pursue energy efficiency—as in South Carolina, where the energy demands of a quickly growing population threatened to overload the grid. Reluctant to take on the cost of building new nuclear or natural gas plants, a group of cooperatives created an on-bill financing pilot program similar to How$martKY. Since South Carolina has the nation’s highest percentage of manufactured homes (which, on average, use far more energy per square foot than traditional homes), efficiency is an easy target. Eventually, the co-ops hope to retrofit more than 200,000 homes, saving customers $280 million a year.
Photo from Library of Congress.
Electric co-ops are also pushing forward with “smart grid” upgrades—advanced technologies that increase efficiency, reliability, and the integration of new power sources. A consortium of cooperatives won a $68 million stimulus grant to test how in-home displays of energy consumption change consumer behavior and improve efficiency. Other co-ops have pursued similar projects on their own. In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that cooperatives lead the industry when it comes to the adoption of advanced metering systems. These let customers know how much energy they’re using, so they can scale back, and how strained the grid is, so they can save money by waiting until off-peak hours to use energy-intensive appliances.
Innovations adopted by cooperatives can quickly ripple out into the broader industry. Unlike for-profit utilities, which tend to be proprietary with their information, cooperatives make a point of collaborating. “While the co-ops are very much independent of each other in terms of the ultimate decision that gets made in the boardroom, there’s a lot of collaborative work that goes on,” says Martin Lowery, a vice president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which provides support services to about 1,000 electric cooperatives across the nation.
It’s a potentially powerful mix of local accountability and national connectivity. For example, Alaska’s Kotzebue Electric Association, located north of the Arctic Circle, is developing both wind and solar thermal generation projects in an effort to move away from expensive diesel fuel. As a result, cooperatives around the nation can learn from Kotzebue’s findings on battery storage in extreme conditions.
Some cooperatives have green energy written into their missions. Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative, for example, describes itself as “committed to reinventing how Kaua‘i is powered.” But many other co-ops would not go so far. Their goal is to provide reliable, low-cost energy to their members—whatever the source. Just like their investor-owned counterparts, many electric cooperatives have opposed environmental regulations, including the EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. The choices of electric co-ops depend on their members: Renewables and energy efficiency are only a priority if members want them.
Still, the fact that so much of the nation runs on electricity that’s cooperatively managed represents a significant opportunity—particularly since many rural areas have lagged behind in efficiency and renewable power. Cooperatives have “a diverse infrastructure that’s hard to paint with one brush,” says Maxson. “But [they have] the potential to be a powerful point of leverage in supporting energy efficiency and economic opportunity in rural communities.”
Under New Ownership
How cooperatives are leading the way to empowered workers and healthy communities.
Lowery also believes cooperatives can spur deeper conversations among members about their values and their communities. That, after all, is the real difference between cooperative utilities and those owned by stockholders. Value to stockholders is narrowly defined: It means “profit.” But the members of electric cooperatives have the possibility of defining value in their own terms.
As members learn to recognize and utilize that power, Lowery envisions a much stronger push toward more sustainable energy. But he doesn’t stop there. His long-term goal is for members to use their cooperatives to solve problems that go beyond energy.
“It’s about being a facilitator, a catalyst for a dialogue about what’s going to be needed for a healthy and sustainable community in the future. That could mean responding to the needs of aging populations in rural America, the need for healthcare and broadband services, water quality and availability, educational opportunities for kids,” said Lowery.
“Electricity is a means to an end. We’re not utilities. We never were utilities. We’re there to meet the needs of communities and thereby improve their quality of life.”
Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Brooke is a contributing editor of YES! and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, Aeon, among others. She lives on Puget Sound.
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