What's Left 2017-01-17 Volume 86

Coming up: Women's March on Washington; Book Review - The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics by Jennifer Welsh; Fighting fake news one lie at a time; It's time to have a rational conversation about the oil sands

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Coming up: Women’s March on Washington

On January 21st, thousands (hopefully hundreds of thousands) will gather for the Women’s March on Washington. Solidarity rallies are being organized across the United States and Canada along a platform that espouses intersectional solidarity and a level of analysis that is often unheard of for this type of broad-based organizing.

The march will highlight the traditional and important Second Wave feminist demands such as equal pay and access to abortion. But, for the first time in a mass setting, additional demands will be proposed that include a demilitarization of the police, immigration reform that acknowledges that no one is illegal, access to clean water, ending racial profiling, and implementing alternatives to incarceration.

It may be that many who march will not be aware of all of the demands articulated by the large and diverse organizing committee. This make it even more important for socialists to recognize the tone of the demands are derived from a modern systemic and intersectional analysis. It is our responsibility to engage with others about the broader movement goals that extend far beyond a traditional feminist analysis dominated by women from white and affluent backgrounds. This is an opportunity to expand the pool of activists the movement can pull from and the communities who can be engaged with.

Long after the march is done, it is hoped that these expanded demands will set a solid foundation for a new movement that will move all women forward.

Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles - Women’s March on Washington

Canadian Women March - Local Marches

The Women’s March on Washington Have Released Their Policy Platform and it’s Radial AF

Book Review - The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics by Jennifer Welsh

The underlying basis of the book is to provide a critique of Francis Fukuyama’s theory of an end point to history. Fukuyama believed that the end of Cold War communism highlighted the continued linear growth of progress through time. Fukuyama’s stated that “history” had ended because there were no longer any threats to liberal democracy.

Welsh, as many others before her, seeks to outline how history has not ended and further, looks at the deterioration of liberal democracy in her book, The Return of History. The global refugee crisis, the rise of Russian aggression, and the continued inequalities of the capitalist economic system are some of the examples she raises. Being a small-l liberal herself, her solution unfortunately rests in the continued preservation and reformation of the liberal democratic system under capitalism.

The book is quick and easy to read. It is an accessible way to get a broader picture of our current historical context within the geopolitical landscape. In that regard, it is a good read for those looking to better understand the formation of ISIS, Russia under Putin, or the negative change in attitude towards refugees. What the book does not provide however, is a thought-out progressive analysis that is based in a systemic critique of liberal democracy and capitalism.

Fighting fake news one lie at a time

The war against fake news is being waged in the trenches of the information superhighway – thanks to a small but mighty class of online soldiers.

While the major news organizations continue to fumble and fail to deliver quality news reporting, some small-scale outfits are promoting a culture of critical thinking and popular education to equip people with solid baloney-detecting skills.

Two professors from the University of Washington in Seattle have developed “Calling Bullshit in the age of big data”, an online syllabus that strongly resembles a self-defense course in critical thinking. They have submitted the course to their institution for offering in an upcoming semester. Meanwhile, they have detailed course readings, case studies and tools to fight back against the propagation of bogus news.

Since the US election, Breitbart news has been exposed as one of the main distributors of fake news with the purpose of distorting and influencing public opinion on current political issues.

In response, the twitter account @Slpng\giants is taking aim at perhaps most vulnerable point of these websites: ad revenues. The account calls out companies who are including Breitbart and other racist websites in their ad buys. So far, they have been successful at getting a number of companies to limit their ad buys and highlight their victories via their twitter feed.

Economics is one of the areas that these fake news sites focus on. Breitbart has even announced the opening of a financial “news” site.

Written well before the 2016 US election, Jim Stanford’s Economics for Everyone is an old one, but a good one. Based on his book of the same title, the website provides tools and resources for anyone seeking to better understand the economy from a workers’ perspective. As he says, “Economics is too important to be left to the economists”. Economic analysis is also too important to be left to fake news outlets.

Even in this world of abundant information and data, education remains a powerful tool – perhaps the only one we’ve got.

Calling Bullshit in the age of big data

Sleeping Giants

Economics for everyone | Jim Stanford

It’s time to have a rational conversation about the oil sands

“We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels. That is going to take time. And, in the meantime, we have to manage that transition.” That was a statement made by Justin Trudeau last week about the Alberta oil sands.

He was immediately assailed by individuals and groups on both sides of the issue. Political leaders in Alberta, including Rachel Notley, saw it as an attack on an industry that is currently a major economic priority for the province and are adamant that “the oilsands will power the global economy for generations to come”. Meanwhile, those who see the oil sands as being a huge ecological disaster condemned Trudeau for not committing to more immediate action.

But, will Trudeau and the Liberals take substantive measures to transition Canada off of fossil fuels and to sustainable and renewable resources? It does not appear the government intends on pushing forward with a meaningfully comprehensive agenda.

The fact remains that the above statement by Trudeau is probably reflective of reality. So, for those interested in having an informed, rational debate about how to move forward as a country, it might not be a bad place to start.

First, fossil fuels are by their very nature limited. There is a finite amount of oil in the oil sands and, even putting aside environmental concerns, it is scientifically impossible to extract it all. It is also limited by economics and technology. At a certain point, it becomes too expensive to extract that there is no financial motivation to do so.

However, if the world is to avert an environmental catastrophe, most of the oil sands need to stay in the ground. It is a pretty straight-forward calculation.

The question then becomes how to transition. When it comes to natural resources, transitioning is hard – because it costs money, takes a conscious decision, and usually replaces profits with fairness, society, and the environment. And, without a commitment to a comprehensive and just transition strategy, the results can be devastating. Just ask anyone who lived in a community dependent on the Atlantic cod fishery, or in an old mining town, auto and steel workers who faced free trade and automation, or even in farming towns during a drought year. When the resources an economy depends on tail off, trouble hits and it hits hard. The damage is devastating and the poverty lasts for decades.

When it comes to just transition, we have plenty of history where society has done it poorly. If the government closed the oil sands tomorrow, we would repeat that terrible history. Even if it waited ten years, without a meaningful transition plan, people and their communities will be left hurting. So, to say that we need to transition and that it will take some time is perhaps the most accurate statement one could make about the oil sands.

The government (federal, provincial and municipal) needs to implement a just transition plan that democratically, actively and carefully moves regional economies, like those of Fort McMurray, away from destructive and non-renewable resources. Even before that happens, it must invest in new opportunities for workers so that they can still have good paying jobs in their communities and take care of their families.

The sense of urgency when it comes to responding to environmental destruction is coming from a real place. And, the best way to make that happen is not to put on the blinders and make broad polemical statements. It is to acknowledge reality and put forward the money to make change.

Canadians need action. We need to implement the strategy for just transition today. A strategy that both protects the environment and creates a healthier and more sustainable work for the future.

Because, the future we seek is one of healthy communities for our families and children, not just the end of our livelihoods.

Notley Claps Back At Trudeau’s Stance That Oilsands Will Be Phased Out