The challenges we face from climate change, extreme weather, biodiversity loss, and all the other symptoms of “Earth overshoot” are, in part, civic challenges. Our ability to respond effectively is complicated by rampant misinformation and the absence of safe spaces for informed, participatory planning. Older forms of public engagement—attending conventional “three minutes at the microphone” public meetings, signing petitions, writing letters to the editor—are insufficient for meeting these challenges and out of step with how Americans live today. If we want to achieve better environmental resilience, we need to upgrade our civic infrastructure. What do I mean by that? In Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy, Tina Nabatchi and I defined civic infrastructure as “the laws, processes, institutions, and associations that support regular opportunities for people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions, and celebrate community.”
I’m writing from Ethiopia, where the war that began in November 2020 continues, with the US backing their former puppet, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist from 1991 to 2018, when they were finally overthrown by a popular uprising. The TPLF started the war by attacking the national army's five Northern Command bases in Tigray on November 3rd and 4th, 2020, but the West’s dominant state and corporate press narrative quickly became that Prime Minister Abiy had started the war by sending troops into Tigray, alleging the attack as his excuse. This was one of many early indicators that the US, the NATO nations, and their press were backing the TPLF. I’ve been here for eleven days.
If the United States is to make a transition to clean energy, it will need to build many more transmission lines—the thick wires that deliver power from rural areas, where there’s enough open space for wind and solar, to cities where the most power is consumed. But the process of building those lines is likely to be fraught with conflict and delays, because people in rural and suburban communities often don’t want to see wires and tall metal towers in their backyards. Clean energy advocates say that power companies need to do more to understand what fuels public opposition and how best to engage with power line opponents. And one way to start, they say, might be to examine one of the most intense battles over an interstate power line in U.S. history, which unfolded across rural Minnesota for much of the 1970s.
Panther Valley is a poor, rural district with more than 1,600 students from Carbon and Schuylkill Counties. Its elementary, intermediate, and junior/senior high schools serve four Pennsylvania towns: Summit Hill, Coaldale, Lansford, and Nesquehoning. “It’s in the heart of what we used to refer to as the coal region of Pennsylvania,” said the district’s superintendent, David McAndrew. As the country moved away from coal mining, residents lost work. Now, jobs are hard to come by. Fifty-six percent of children in the district are classified as economically disadvantaged, though McAndrew believes the figure is closer to 70%. “We have very few businesses,” McAndrew said. “The businesses we have, unfortunately, seem to be leaving us.”
As Senator Sinema gets Biden to drop his proposed tax increases on corporations and wealthy investors earning more than $400K income a year, no consideration is being given at all within Democrat party circles about introducing a financial transactions tax to pay for the Infrastructure bill ($.55T) or the Build Back Better Bill ($1.9T). 5 years ago I wrote and proposed a minimal financial transaction tax that would generate $2.4T in revenue. That would pay for both the new spending proposals in the Infrastructure bill ($.55T) as well as the Build Back Better bill proposal still on the negotiating table ($1.9T)–the latter which, by the way, is about to be reduced further by Democrat Senator Krysten Sinema’s ‘no taxes on corporations or the rich’.
“That’s unbelievable,” my father-in-law wrote me from Ireland after watching me give a statistic-heavy webinar on the advances for the poor in Nicaragua since 2007. “I know, right?” I replied. “No, I mean it’s actually unbelievable,” he wrote back. “For cynical people like me, our faith in humanity has been undermined. The story of a government really looking after ordinary people is too good to be true.” I understand what he means. If I hadn’t been living in Nicaragua for the last 20 years and hadn’t seen with my own eyes the changes since the Sandinista government came back in to power with a pro poor strategy 14 years ago, I know that I would also dismiss the statistics as nothing but propaganda.
This past week maneuvers within the Democratic party intensified over the content and magnitude of the two pending fiscal stimulus bills–the Infrastructure Bill (with $550B of net new spending) and the Reconciliation Bill ( with initial $3.5T ‘human infrastructure & climate change’ spending). While the maneuvering appears as a deep difference of views between progressives in the US House and Senate demanding both bills pass simultaneously and Democrat Senators, Manchin and Sinema in that body blocking both bills in current form, the actual conflict is really between the corporate wing of the Democratic party (in both the Senate and House) vs. the wing that sees passage of both bills in current form as necessary to ensure a sustained economic recovery in 2022–and thus the Democrats retaining majorities in the House and Senate in the November 2022 midterm elections.
This summer, the climate crisis has roared into basement apartments in Brooklyn, leaped across the dry tops of the Sierra Nevadas and kicked over the towers that held up the power and communication networks of Louisiana. It has shredded homes in New Jersey and poured into the underpasses of Philadelphia, turning a cross-town expressway into a murky, swirling river.
The City of Highland Park, a predominantly Black city surrounded by Detroit, Michigan, has had most of its residential streets in the dark for the last 10 years. In 2011, the city owed $4 million to utility company DTE Energy. An agreement was made between DTE and city officials to remove roughly 1,200 streetlights to settle the debt. Reports suggest the repossessed lights were sold for scrap. Since then, Highland Park remained in the dark figuratively and literally. Residents had no clue what happened. “And it was just really a sad day actually seeing the poles, the trucks came to take the poles out, and it just left these stumps,” says Shamayin Harris, a lifelong Highland Park resident. “So they’re basically all around our city right now. It just looks like a graveyard of cement stubs where lights used to be on the residential street.
On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses with the economist Richard Wolff the nearly $5 trillion being allocated by the Biden administration for Covid-19 relief and infrastructure projects.
The spending plans that the Biden administration released this week laid out substantial investments into our nation's housing system, including $213 billion for building and retrofitting affordable housing units, $40 billion for public housing capital repairs, and grant funding to address zoning laws rooted in racial and economic exclusion. These proposals are a welcome first step to ensuring safe, affordable, sustainable shelter — and Congress should move swiftly to enact them — but they do not come close to meeting the scale of the housing crisis that has been underway in the United States for decades. The reality is that although the failures in our housing system were exacerbated by the pandemic — to the tune of 10 million people at risk of eviction and more than $57 billion owed in back rent — the pandemic didn't cause them.
During the Trump years, the phrase “Infrastructure Week” rang out as a sort of Groundhog Day-style punchline. What began in June 2017 as a failed effort by The Donald’s White House and a Republican Senate to focus on the desperately needed rebuilding of American infrastructure morphed into a meme and a running joke in Washington. Despite the focus in recent years on President Trump’s failure to do anything for the country’s crumbling infrastructure, here’s a sad reality: considered over a longer period of time, Washington’s political failure to fund the repairing, modernizing, or in some cases simply the building of that national infrastructure has proven a remarkably bipartisan “effort.”
"This is the first time that we've ever had record-breaking, five to six straight days of below-freezing temperatures," Ronnie Crudup Jr., Member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and Executive Director of New Horizon Ministries told WURD radio in an interview on Wednesday. "Our infrastructure just could not handle that." The ice on the ground didn't help the speed of government aid either once Jackson's water treatment plant went down. "The local guys are doing the best they can," Crudup said. State leaders have done little to help with on-the-ground needs or longer-term efforts to replace the sewer and water treatment system, estimated to cost $2 billion—six times the city's annual budget. "We haven't seen the federal government at all." "Just that 'landmass' in between, right? It's just like that. We're always last.
China, we are told, inveigles poorer countries into taking out loan after loan to build expensive infrastructure that they can’t afford and that will yield few benefits, all with the end goal of Beijing eventually taking control of these assets from its struggling borrowers. As states around the world pile on debt to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bolster flagging economies, fears of such possible seizures have only amplified. Seen this way, China’s internationalization—as laid out in programs such as the Belt and Road Initiative—is not simply a pursuit of geopolitical influence but also, in some tellings, a weapon.
During the neoliberal governments from 1990 to 2007, the Nicaraguan population suffered lack of electricity an average of five to twelve hours a day. Electricity was needed to pump water so Nicaraguans had even more hours without the precious liquid. In my Managua neighborhood, Ciudad Jardin, we prepared for the outages with candles, kerosene and stored water. We sat outside together in the dark in the early evenings – one good thing – and the kids played. But the frequent electricity cuts ruined refrigerators, televisions, etc. because, when the electricity returned, it would often spike. I recently talked with some Hondurans who confirm that this is part of their suffering even today.