Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Mon, 25 Jul 2016 09:57:43 -0400 en-gb Planned Gas Pipeline Construction on East Coast Puts Climate at Risk: Report http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36957-planned-gas-pipeline-construction-on-east-coast-puts-climate-at-risk-report http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36957-planned-gas-pipeline-construction-on-east-coast-puts-climate-at-risk-report

Nineteen now-pending pipeline projects, if constructed, would let enough natural gas flow out of the Appalachian basin to cause the entire US to blow through its climate pledges, ushering the world into more than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, a newly released report by Oil Change International concludes.

Even if the Environmental Protection Agency's recently-announced methane rules manage to slash leaks from new natural gas infrastructure as planned, building those pipelines would be catastrophic for the climate, the researchers warn.

"All together, these 19 pending pipeline projects would enable 116 trillion cubic feet of additional gas production by 2050," the report, entitled A Bridge Too Far: How Appalachian Basin Gas Pipeline Expansion Will Undermine US Climate Goals, says. "The currently planned gas production expansion in Appalachia would make meeting US climate goals impossible, even if the [Obama] Administration's newly proposed methane rules are successful in reducing methane leakage by 45 percent."

Why do these pipelines matter so much?

In part, it's because right now there's a pipeline bottleneck that's keeping some of the gas from the East Coast -- states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia where the Marcellus shale has sparked a drilling rush -- from being tapped. But building these proposed lines would let drillers pump much more gas out over the next several decades. "All together, these 19 pending pipeline projects would enable 116 trillion cubic feet of additional gas production by 2050," the report concludes.

And in part, those 19 pipeline projects matter so much because building pipelines sets in motion changes that will last for decades. "New gas power plants and pipelines are designed to last at least 40 years," the report notes. "Once the initial capital has been spent on them, they will likely operate even at a loss to the detriment of cleaner sources."

"Expanded natural gas production is a bridge to climate disaster," said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. "Our report shows that even if we entirely eliminated emissions from coal and oil, the emissions from the natural gas boom alone would still blow our climate budget."

Building out gas infrastructure is risky for consumers as well as the climate. While natural gas is historically cheap at the moment, there's always the potential for things to change dramatically over the next several decades, since the natural gas market is infamous for its sharp swings, dramatic price collapses followed by sudden spikes.

The natural gas industry often argues that gas can help with the transition to renewables because wind and solar are intermittent sources of power -- the wind's not always blowing and the sun's not always shining. So if electrical power plants can switch over to natural gas fired plants when wind and solar ebb (possible because natural gas plants can be fired up or switched off faster than coal-fired plants), then the power grid can be kept stable, gas advocates argue.

The new report tackles that issue head-on, arguing that renewables are ready to stand on their own. "In many parts of the US, renewable energy is today the lowest-cost and lowest-impact means to add generation capacity to our electricity system," the authors write. "Battery storage and grid management technology are ready to even out the intermittency of wind and solar. Widely held assumptions about the need for fossil fuel baseload power and limits to renewable energy penetration are unravelling fast."

Failing to switch away from natural gas will carry serious climate consequences. If current US policies are kept in place, the Energy Information Administration predicts that gas production will rise 55 percent by 2040 -- and carbon emissions from energy production will drop just 4 percent, according to the Annual Energy Outlook 2016. But, the Oil Change report notes, staying below 2 degrees requires the US to slash emissions 83 percent from 2005 levels by 2050.

"In other words," it adds, "even if gas were the only source of greenhouse gases in 2040, it would still blow the US carbon budget."

And that's taking the EPA's new methane rules, announced in May, into account and using conservative estimates for how much natural gas well leak from newly built pipelines. The researchers used methane leakage rates of 3.8 percent -- even though they acknowledge that peer-reviewed research concludes that leaks may in reality be as high as 12 percent.

Meanwhile, crucial decisions for the climate are being made right now, at a time when a shale drilling rush powered by fracking has helped drive natural gas prices to historic lows and when coal-fired plants are increasingly being retired.

But right now, the US is building infrastructure that will make the country increasingly reliant on natural gas. "In 2010, there were only 493 natural gas-powered electric plants in the United States," the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported this week. "By 2015, the number of plants more than tripled to 1,740, and nearly all of the new plants are combined-cycle ones," or natural gas plants that are designed provide power 24 hours a day -- not as backup for renewable energy sources.

Globally, there is a rapidly closing window to make key infrastructure decisions -- a window that could close as soon as next year. "Most recently, a study out of Oxford University examined the '2°C Capital Stock' to see how close the world is to building the electricity generation infrastructure that, if utilized to the end of its economic life, would take the world past the 2°C goal," the Oil Change report, which was also endorsed by roughly a dozen national and local environmental organizations including 350.org, Earthworks, and the Sierra Club, notes. "The disturbing conclusion they came to is that we will be there in 2017."

The federal government has taken some steps to reduce methane leaks writ large. Earlier this month, the EPA announced rules that it said would reduce methane from landfills by roughly a third -- adding up to the equivalent of 8.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Unlike the agency's new rules for the oil and gas industry, the landfill rules apply to both new and existing locations.

Environmentalists have called on the Obama administration to expand its recently announced methane controls to cover existing pipelines, wells, and other oil and gas infrastructure as well. And in a new report the Government Accountability Office focused on methane leaks from federal lands, faulting the Bureau of Land Management for poor record-keeping on flaring, venting and leaks on government-owned land.

But the federal government isn't the only regulator involved, since states shoulder most of the responsibility for oil and gas controls due to exceptions and exemptions for the drilling industry from many federal environmental statutes.

Yesterday, California moved forward with proposed rules that would drive methane emissions from new and existing sites down by as much as 45 percent. Those rules would make California the second state after Colorado to issue its own methane rules.

"California's new methane protections are an important step forward and will rein in pollution from one of the dirtiest industries in the state," said Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action in a statement yesterday responding to that announcement. "EPA should follow California's lead and enact national methane standards for existing oil and gas infrastructure."

Meanwhile along the East Coast, whistleblowers have warned that another major new pipeline project, the "Algonquin Incremental Market" pipeline -- not among the 19 projects covered by the new report -- is being constructed without proper inspection, increasing the risk of leaks and explosions, as DeSmog reported earlier this week.

"There's a strong and vital movement of people throughout Appalachia who are standing up to protect their communities and their land from pipelines and the increase in fracking they will bring," Mr. Kretzmann added. "This report makes it clear that all of these people are fighting for our climate too."

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News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
One Woman's 10-Year Fight to Save Her Family From Foreclosure http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36956-one-woman-s-10-year-fight-to-save-her-family-from-foreclosure http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36956-one-woman-s-10-year-fight-to-save-her-family-from-foreclosure

Many people are responsible for the financial disaster of 2008, and the economic hardship that has continued to unravel since. We still have not seen one criminal prosecution among the CEOs who were -- and many still are -- at the frontlines where everything started to crumble. Those people are hiding behind corporate protection, always blaming the next in line behind them, never accepting responsibility, and very often putting the blame on the very people they have ruined with their fraudulent dealings.

One of those people is a remarkable woman named Sherry Hernandez. She is the type of fighter you always encounter when society faces a crisis: the type who refuses to back down in the face of hardship. Hernandez decided to scratch beneath the surface of the mortgage-lending fraud that threatened to destroy her life savings, steal her home and ruin her family. She stood up, faced it, and denied the self-proclaimed "experts" on Wall Street from foreclosing on her California home. I first profiled Hernandez back in 2014. Here is a follow-up to her inspiring story, where the lesson is: never give up when you're fighting for justice.

Senka Huskic: Your casw is a perfect example of how so many people endedn up in a foreclosure maze, could you please tell us when and how your battle to save your home started?

Sherry Hernandez: Our battle with these lenders started almost immediately after we signed our first loan in 2006. It was an option ARM loan we had been talked into by the Countrywide sales manager. We were aware of the pitfalls, but we planned on paying the fully amortized payment. What we didn't know was that they could arbitrarily raise the interest rate. In four months time our fully amortized payment had increased by $800 per month. We also did not know that all loans at that time bordered on being predatory. Our lawsuit with Countrywide went on for over five years, from 2007 to 2013. In 2013 we settled in part and won in part.

We refinanced to be free of the predatory Countrywide loan in 2008 because we were suing them. Then, our servicer at that time, CitiMortgage, gave us a "trial modification" which they did not honor; rather they transferred our loan to a company we have never heard of, PennyMac. That company put us into forced-place default by not honoring the trial modification [that] CitiMortgage initiated, and attaching exorbitant fees and arrearages. From the very onset they made it known they had no intention of dealing with us fairly. After an extended period of time, we found out that PennyMac was indeed the illegitimate offspring of Countrywide.

We filed our case against PennyMac in March 2013. Our jury trial with Countrywide/Bank of America was scheduled for Jan. 16, 2013. However, on Jan. 13, 2016, PennyMac moved to get a release from stay in the Bankruptcy court. We felt forced to settle with Countrywide in order to save our home from PennyMac. It was over five years with Countrywide and now over three years with PennyMac. If we had known from the beginning how corrupt the system was, we probably never would have started, but we always had a deep-seated belief that justice would prevail.

Tell us about the recent California Superior Court decision on your case. How long did it take you to get here?

On June 27, 2016, our case was "remanded" back to the trial court, but the court let Trustee Corps off the hook. We now have another opportunity to prove we have enough cause to go to trial, with an Appeals Court ruling and Supreme Court review, which means the judge has to review our allegations in terms of what the Appeals Court has outlined. Once our charges are correctly pled, we will go to trial. We have demanded a jury trial. The new ruling in the Yvanova v. New Century Mortgage Corporation case allows a homeowner to challenge who owns the loan. The new ruling states that the challenge should have been legally allowed all along.

The thinking with regard to letting Trustee Corps off the hook is that since they are a third party, they have no monetary gain or loss from being the Trustee. I disagree, but it is not up to me, and I have not yet had the opportunity to present the evidence of their complicity.

Often at this point, the opposing side offers a settlement to keep from going to trial. That is the reason why there are so few wins for homeowners. Homeowners like Yvanova have to endure a great deal of pressure to make it this far, but their persistence makes changes for others. A settlement entails a confidentiality clause. Homeowners often operate from a place of fear. Most of us were not prepared for this hubris onslaught of apathetic servicers and their employees. We settle because we fear what going forward will entail.

Here is a paragraph from your 2014 interview: "Last Christmas our family had a tiny Christmas tree set up in an obscure corner of our home. We minimized the gift giving and didn't have any extended family over. We didn't want anyone embarrassed if the police came to serve us the five-day notice to leave. That was 2013. There has been nothing in our lives thus far to prepare us for this moment. Nothing prepares you for the fear, the tension, constantly studying the law, looking over our shoulder. Nothing prepares you for the fear that these circumstances will rob your grandchildren of their childhood and their innocence. I often wonder if anyone understands how deep that pain goes into a parent's heart. Words cannot describe the horror I felt when my granddaughter was the one to find the five-day notice on our front door." How do you feel now reading these words?

Those words instill in me the white hot fury of a thousand suns! I am not alone. These companies continue to steal with impunity. Recently in the San Francisco Appeals Court there was another win, Walker v. PennyMAC Loan Services, LLC [which stated]: "The nub of his allegations is that the bank foreclosed even though he made all of his loan payments on time and prevented him from reinstating the loan before the sale by refusing to provide him an accurate reinstatement figure. The complaint sufficiently alleges causes of action for breach of contract and wrongful foreclosure, so we reverse as to those causes of action."

How does that happen? How does a borrower make all of his loan payments and still get foreclosed on? How is it that a borrower that made his loan payments has to fight his way through the lower courts and not be heard? Why wouldn't it be better for customer relations to save a homeowner and his home? What kind of sociopath does that to a fellow human being? There was a time that having customers was something you cultivated, worked for, and struggled to give good service to. When did we become nothing more than a mark?

How many times did you change lawyers since you first started to fight this battle for your house?

My first lawyer was with us from 2007 to 2010, then he ran out on us and left us believing our case was waiting for a trial date, when in actuality he had settled it out behind our back, without a signature. It remained under the jurisdiction of the court until we found out. John Wright of piggybankblog.com helped us to find the second lawyer. That lawyer was good and thorough, but after our settlement and problems with the firm he worked for, he got out of the business of helping homeowners.

Our third lawyer was skilled, likable and still learning the field himself. I admired him, he answered all calls, but like many attorneys in this battle his objective was to help us get a modification, and PennyMac was unrelenting in order to hide their own fraud. Following him, we were forced to go to appeal. The appeal lawyer -- number four -- for the Unlawful Detainer (UD) trial, deserted us two weeks before the appeal was due. I still suspect she was bribed. I was forced to get a consultant to help me file pro per, and we lost for lack of form and procedure -- procedures that I did not know because I am a fashion designer, not a lawyer.

The court dismissed our civil case with no leave to amend and once again we were forced to go into the appeal court pro per. My current lawyer, number five, rescued us from my pro per status and brought it in to the ruling we have now.

We know from your previous interview the impact that this foreclosure had on your family and your life. Can you tell us your reaction when they got the news from the superior court?

Did you ever see a 62-year-old woman do a victory dance? I remember finding the "slingshot" in my backyard, and what it meant to me… I had lost that vision for a moment, but I've got it back now along with the scripture that summarizes the current state of affairs in our country:

Ezekiel 22:12-1412. In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take usury and increase; you have made profit from your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten Me," says the Lord God. 13 "Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst. 14 Can your heart endure, or can your hands remain strong, in the days when I shall deal with you? I, the Lord, have spoken, and will do it."

Some call it Karma, some call it reaping what you sow. At the end of the day, I often wonder if those who are responsible for this theft from their fellow citizens find it worth what they sold their souls for?

Do you feel that there is a turning point in California, and all around the country, in regards to foreclosure fraud litigation in recent years? What has to be done to get more lawyers available to people whose houses were stolen or who are about to be foreclosed on?

I sincerely hope we have reached a turning point. I sincerely hope that we are still civilized enough to recognize we do not want a mafia nation. I have definite ideas how to get more help for the homeowners, but most of the ideas have to do with taking them seriously when they say there is a problem. The sad thing is that with the amount of money spent on litigation by the servicers and lenders, they could have modified the loans, reducing the principles, and kept people in their homes and our economy moving, but they chose not to. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or SIGTARP, recently wrote a report outlining the modification illusion and how it has been used as a prerequisite to foreclosure. How is it that we have so many government agencies and financial experts that seem to know this, and homeowners are still losing in court? Below is a quote from that report:

"In the last year, Treasury found in its on-site compliance testing that 6 of the 7 largest HAMP servicers wrongfully terminated homeowners out of HAMP. At each large servicer, each quarter Treasury selected samples of 100 homeowners who had been in HAMP but redefaulted, and reviewed the servicers' loan files.vi According to Treasury, within those sampled files, Treasury identified homeowners who had not defaulted in HAMP but who were nevertheless improperly terminated by their servicer."

What are the next steps now for your case? How ready you are to present the facts to a judge or possible jury? You have been waiting for that for a long time, but didn't get a chance to do it.

I have not been waiting silently. I have spent my time following the money, getting certified and authenticated evidence of the fraud in our case. Not one document filed at the recorder's office in our case is clean. Not one. I want a jury trial. I want to know if the American people will look the other way when they get a full view of the kind of injustice and fraud homeowners have been subjected to.

Nobody can comprehend what those who have decided to stand up and fight fraudulent foreclose are subjected too, what kind of nightmares you have to face each day while you did nothing wrong.

We have not just lost our home: we have lost our credit-worthiness and our good reputations, our retirement savings and our dignity while the purveyors of this fraud have gone on to make million dollar salaries. During the pendency of our case, PennyMac sold our home.

We had a Lis Pendens on our home while our lawsuit was alive and active. I did not know it had been sold when I went to collect our mail. The house was empty and neglected, although it looked like some gardening had been taking place. I picked up my mail when some erratic man began yelling at me, "Hey, what do you think you're doing!" He accused me of stealing his mail, told me it was his house. I told him I did not know, we were actively involved in a lawsuit, was he aware? He didn't answer. He took the mail from me to check it and began to call someone. "She's here, what do I do? Yeah, she's taking some mail…."  He had been "warned" about me. Me, who had done nothing wrong, and had wronged no one. He called the police and insisted I stay. The same police I tried to file a theft report with, as outlined by the Department of Real Estate when we suspected fraudulent documents have been filed, the same police came and found no wrongdoing, of course. But I left wondering, what have we become when we become so heartless and unfeeling toward our fellow man? Who ever thought this would happen in my country?

Your family is a poster case for millions of others who lost their homes, and who are losing their homes every day due to mortgage fraud. While our country is trying to decide the next president, only one candidate wasn't shy of speaking the truth as it is: that in order to move forward, in order to get the trust back to people about their government, we must prosecute those who were responsible for these crimes which left many family homeless and destroyed. You are still fighting, now more than ever.

We are going to fight to get our home back. It was stolen. I can prove it, and for PennyMac to disprove it they will have to produce more fraud upon the court. Funny, we still have hope.

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News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Far Right Proposals in the 2016 Republican Party Platform http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36954-the-conservative-proposals-in-the-2016-republican-party-platform http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36954-the-conservative-proposals-in-the-2016-republican-party-platform

The Republican Party platform is a wish list for what Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump would like to impose on America. What's surprising is that it goes further to the right than what's even been heard on the campaign trail from Trump as he has promised to build a wall along the Mexican border and embrace the religious right's long-held tenets opposing abortion, LGBT rights and more.

The GOP 2016 platform would make Christianity the official American religion, English the official American language, replace sex education with abstinence-only advice for teenagers, privatize almost all areas of federal services, cut taxes and regulations for the rich and titans of industry, and impose a belligerent foreign policy and military build-up.

Here are 50 excerpts from the 2016 GOP platform.

1. Tax cuts for the rich: "Wherever tax rates penalize thrift or discourage investment, they must  be  lowered.  Wherever  current  provisions  of  the  code  are  disincentives  for  economic growth,  they  must  be  changed… We propose to level the international playing field by lowering the corporate  tax  rate  to  be  on  a  par  with,  or  below,  the  rates  of  other  industrial  nations."

2. Deregulate the banks: "The  Republican  vision  for  American  banking calls for establishing transparent, efficient markets where consumers can obtain loans they need at reasonable rates based on market conditions. Unfortunately, in response to the financial institutions crisis of 2008-2009, the Democratic-controlled Congress enacted the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, otherwise known as Dodd-Frank."

3. Stop consumer protection: "The  worst  of  Dodd-Frank  is  the  Consumer  Financial Protection Bureau, deliberately designed to be a rogue agency. It answers to neither Congress nor the executive, has its own guaranteed funding outside  the  appropriations  process… If the Bureau is not abolished, it should be subjected to congressional appropriation."

4. Start repealing environmental laws: "We call for a comprehensive review of federal regulations, especially those dealing with the environment, that make it harder  and  more costly for Americans to rent, buy, or sell homes."

5. Start shrinking unions and union labor: "We renew our call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon law, which limits employment and drives up construction and maintenance costs for the benefit of unions… Although  unionization  has  never  been  permitted in any government agency concerned with national  security,  the  current  Administration  has  reversed  that  policy  for  the  Transportation  Security  Administration.  We  will  correct  that  mistake… We  support  the  right  of  states  to  enact  Right-to-Work  laws  and  call  for  a  national law to protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce."

6. Privatize federal railway service: "Amtrak  is  an  extremely  expensive   railroad   for   the   American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket. The federal  government  should  allow  private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor.  The  same  holds  true  with  regard  to  high-speed  and  intercity rail across the country.  We reaffirm our intention to end federal  support  for  boondoggles  like  California's  high-speed train to nowhere."  

7. No change in federal minimum wage: "Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level."

8. Cut government salaries and benefits: "The taxpayers spend an average of $35,000 a year per employee on non-cash benefits, triple  the  average  non-cash  compensation  of  the  average  worker  in  the  private  sector.  Federal  employees receive extraordinary pension benefits and vacation  time  wildly  out  of  line  with  those  of  the  private sector."

9. Appoint anti-choice Supreme Court justices: "Only  a  Republican  president  will  appoint  judges  who  respect  the  rule  of  law  expressed within the Constitution and Declaration of  Independence,  including  the  inalienable  right  to life and the laws of nature and nature's God, as did the late Justice Antonin Scalia."

10. Appoint anti-LGBT and anti-Obamacare justices: "Only such appointments will enable courts to begin to reverse the  long  line  of  activist  decisions  —  including  Roe, Obergefell, and the Obamacare cases — that have  usurped  Congress's  and  states'  lawmaking  authority."

11. Legalize anti-LGBT discrimination: "We endorse the First Amendment Defense Act, Republican legislation in the House and Senate which  will  bar  government  discrimination  against  individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that  marriage  is  the  union  of  one  man  and  one  woman."

12. Make Christianity a national religion: "We  support  the  public  display  of  the  Ten  Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country's Judeo-Christian heritage and further affirm the rights of religious students to engage in voluntary prayer at public school events and to have equal access to school facilities."

13. Loosen campaign finance loopholes and dark money: "Freedom of speech includes the right to devote resources  to  whatever  cause  or  candidate  one  supports. We oppose any restrictions or conditions that would discourage citizens from participating in the  public  square  or  limit  their  ability  to  promote  their ideas, such as requiring private organizations to publicly disclose their donors to the government."

14. Loosen gun controls nationwide: "We  support  firearm  reciprocity  legislation  to  recognize  the  right  of  law-abiding  Americans to carry firearms to protect themselves and  their  families  in  all  50  states.  We  support  constitutional  carry  statutes  and  salute  the  states  that  have  passed  them.  We  oppose  ill-conceived  laws  that  would  restrict  magazine  capacity  or  ban  the  sale  of  the  most  popular  and  common  modern rifle."

15. Pass an anti-choice constitutional amendment: "We  assert  the  sanctity  of  human  life  and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a  human  life  amendment  to  the  Constitution  and  legislation  to  make  clear  that  the  Fourteenth  Amendment's protections apply to children before birth."

16. End federal funding for Planned Parenthood: "We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned  Parenthood,  so  long  as  they  provide  or  refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare."

17. Allow states to shut down abortion Clinics: "We  condemn the Supreme Court's  activist  decision  in  Whole  Woman's  Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion  clinics."

18. Oppose stem cell scientific research: "We  oppose  embryonic  stem  cell  research.  We  oppose  federal  funding  of  embryonic  stem cell research.  We support adult stem cell research and urge the  restoration  of  the  national  placental stem cell bank created by President George H.W. Bush but  abolished  by  his  Democrat  successor, President Bill Clinton. We  oppose  federal  funding  for  harvesting embryos and call for a ban on human cloning."

19. Oppose executive branch policy making: "We condemn the current Administration's unconstitutional  expansion  into  areas  beyond  those  specifically  enumerated,  including  bullying  of state and local governments in matters ranging from voter identification (ID) laws to immigration, from  healthcare  programs  to  land  use  decisions,  and  from  forced  education  curricula  to  school  restroom policies."

20. Oppose efforts to end the electoral college: "We oppose the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact  and  any  other  scheme  to  abolish  or distort the procedures of the Electoral College."

21. Require citizenship documents to register to vote: "We  support  legislation  to  require  proof  of  citizenship  when  registering  to  vote  and  secure  photo  ID  when  voting. We strongly oppose litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact such laws."

22. Ignore undocumented immigrants when drawing congressional districts: "In  order  to  preserve  the principle of one person, one vote, we urge our elected representatives to ensure that citizenship, rather than mere residency, be made the basis for the  apportionment  of  representatives  among  the  states."

23. No labeling of GMO ingredients in food products: "The  intrusive  and  expensive  federal mandates on food options and menu labeling should be  ended  as  soon  as  possible  by  a  Republican  Congress.  We  oppose  the  mandatory  labeling  of  genetically modified food, which has proven to be safe, healthy, and a literal life-saver for millions in the developing world."

24. Add work requirements to welfare and cut food stamps: Nearly all the work requirements for able-bodied adults, instituted by our  landmark  welfare  reform  of  1996,  have  been  removed.  We  will  restore  those  provisions  and,  to correct a mistake made when the Food Stamp program  was  first  created  in  1964,  separate  the  administration  of  SNAP  [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program] from  the  Department  of  Agriculture.

25. Open America's shores to more oil and gas drilling: "We support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production, even if these resources will not be immediately developed."

26. Build the Keystone XL Pipeline: "The  Keystone  Pipeline  has  become  a  symbol  of  everything  wrong  with  the  current  Administration's  ideological  approach.  After years of delay, the President killed it to satisfy environmental extremists. We intend to finish that pipeline and others as part of our commitment to North American energy security."

27. Expand fracking and burying nuclear waste: "A  federal  judge  has  struck  down  the  BLM's rule on hydraulic fracturing and we support upholding  this  decision.  We  respect  the  states'  proven  ability  to  regulate  the  use  of  hydraulic  fracturing,  methane  emissions,  and  horizontal  drilling,  and  we  will  end  the  Administration's  disregard  of  the  Nuclear  Waste  Policy  Act  with  respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste."

28. No tax on carbon products: "We oppose any carbon tax… We  urge the private sector to focus its resources on the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology still in its early stages here and overseas. "

29. Ignore global climate change agreements: "The  United  Nations'  Intergovernmental  Panel  on  Climate  Change  is  a  political  mechanism,  not  an  unbiased  scientific  institution.  Its  unreliability  is  reflected  in  its  intolerance  toward  scientists  and  others  who  dissent  from  its  orthodoxy.  We  will  evaluate  its  recommendations  accordingly.  We  reject  the  agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement,  which  represent  only  the  personal  commitments   of   their   signatories;   no   such   agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate."

30. Privatize Medicare, the health plan for seniors: "Impose no changes  for  persons  55  or  older.  Give  others  the  option  of  traditional  Medicare  or  transition  to  a  premium-support  model  designed  to  strengthen  patient  choice,  promote  cost-saving  competition  among  providers."

31. Turn Medicaid, the poor's health plan, over to states: "Moving to a block grant approach would allow for state  and  local  governments  to  create  solutions  for  individuals  and  families  in  desperate  need  of  help  in  addressing  mental  illness.  We  respect  the  states' authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so  long  as  they  continue  to  perform  or  refer  for  elective abortions."

32. No increasing Social Security benefits by taxing the rich: "As  Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in  the  power  of  markets to create  wealth  and  to  help secure the future of our Social Security system."

33. Repeal Obamacare: "Any  honest  agenda  for  improving  healthcare  must  start  with  repeal  of  the  dishonestly  named  Affordable Care Act of 2010: Obamacare."

34. Give internet service providers monopoly control: "The President ordered  the  chair  of  the  supposedly  independent  Federal  Communications  Commission  to  impose  upon the internet rules devised in the 1930s for the telephone monopoly… The  internet's  free  market needs to be free and open to all ideas and competition  without  the  government  or  service  providers picking winners and losers." 

35. Make English the official U.S. language: "We both encourage the preservation of heritage tongues and support English as the nation's official language, a unifying force  essential  for  the  advancement  of  immigrant  communities and our nation as a whole."

36. No amnesty for undocumented immigrants: "Illegal immigration endangers everyone,  exploits  the  taxpayers,  and  insults  all  who  aspire  to  enter  America  legally.  We  oppose  any form of amnesty for those who, by breaking the law,  have  disadvantaged  those  who  have  obeyed it."

37. Build a border wall to keep immigrants out: "Our  highest  priority,  therefore,  must  be  to  secure  our  borders  and  all  ports  of  entry  and  to  enforce our immigration laws. That  is  why  we  support  building  a  wall  along  our  southern  border  and  protecting  all  ports  of  entry.  The  border  wall  must  cover  the  entirety  of  the  southern  border  and  must  be  sufficient  to  stop  both  vehicular  and  pedestrian  traffic."

38. Require government verification of citizenship of all workers: "Use  of  the  E-verify  program  —  an  internet-based system that verifies the employment authorization  and  identity  of  employees  —  must  be  made  mandatory  nationwide.  We  reaffirm  our  endorsement  of  the  SAVE  program  —  Systematic  Alien Verification for Entitlements — to ensure that public  funds  are  not  given  to  persons  not  legally  present in this country."

39. Penalize cities that give sanctuary to migrants: "Because 'sanctuary cities' violate federal law and endanger their own citizens, they should not be eligible for federal funding. Using state licenses to reward people in the country illegally is an affront to the rule of law and must be halted."

40. Puerto Rico should be a state but not Washington DC: "We  support  the  right  of  the  United  States  citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state… A [D.C.} statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived."

41. Support traditional marriage but no other families: "Children  raised  in  a  two-parent  household  tend  to  be  physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage  in  crime  or  become  pregnant  outside  of  marriage. We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation."

42. Privatize government services in the name of fighting poverty: "We call for removal of structural impediments which progressives throw in the path of poor people: Over-regulation  of  start-up  enterprises,  excessive  licensing  requirements,  needless  restrictions  on  formation of schools and day-care centers serving neighborhood families, and restrictions on providing public services in fields like transport and sanitation."

43. Require bible study in public schools: "A  good  understanding   of   the   Bible   being  indispensable  for  the  development  of  an  educated  citizenry,  we  encourage  state  legislatures  to  offer  the  Bible  in  a  literature  curriculum  as  an  elective  in  America's  high  schools."

44. Replace traditional public schools with privatized options: "We  support  options  for  learning,  including  home-schooling,  career  and  technical  education,  private  or  parochial  schools,  magnet  schools,  charter  schools,  online  learning,  and  early-college  high schools."

45. Replace sex education with abstinence-only approaches: "We renew our call for replacing “family  planning”  programs  for  teens  with  sexual  risk  avoidance  education  that  sets  abstinence  until  marriage  as  the  responsible  and  respected  standard  of  behavior.  That  approach  —  the  only  one always effective against premarital pregnancy and  sexually-transmitted  disease  —  empowers  teens  to  achieve  optimal  health  outcomes.  We oppose  school-based  clinics  that  provide  referral  or  counseling  for  abortion  and  contraception  and  believe  that  federal  funds  should  not  be  used  in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs."

46. Privatize student loans instead of lowering interest rates: "The  federal  government  should  not  be  in  the  business  of  originating  student  loans.  In  order  to  bring  down  college  costs  and  give  students  access to a multitude of financing options, private sector participation in student financing should be restored."

47. Restore the death penalty: "The  constitutionality  of  the  death  penalty  is  firmly  settled  by  its  explicit  mention  in  the  Fifth  Amendment.  With  the  murder  rate  soaring  in  our  great  cities,  we  condemn  the  Supreme  Court's  erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states."

48. Dramatically increase Pentagon budget: "Quite simply, the Republican Party is committed to rebuilding the U.S. military into the strongest on earth, with vast superiority over any other nation or group of nations in the world."

49. Cancel Iran nuclear treaty and expand nuclear arsenal: "We  should  abandon  arms  control  treaties  that  benefit  our  adversaries  without  improving our national security. We must fund, develop, and deploy a multi-layered missile defense system. We must modernize nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms."

50. Reaffirm support for Israel and slam sanctions movement: "We reaffirm   America's   commitment to Israel's security and will ensure that Israel maintains a qualitative military edge over any and all adversaries… We  reject  the false notion that Israel is an occupier and specifically recognize  that  the  Boycott,  Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel. Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner."

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News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How Utah Coal Interests Helped Push a Secret Plan to Export Coal From California http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36953-how-utah-coal-interests-helped-push-a-secret-plan-to-export-coal-from-california http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36953-how-utah-coal-interests-helped-push-a-secret-plan-to-export-coal-from-california

This story was originally published on July 21, 2016 at High Country News (hcn.org).

On June 27, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Council meeting where a proposal to ban the transport of coal through the California city was up for a vote. Speakers on both sides of the issue delivered passionate arguments, pitting the promise of good jobs in a depressed area against concern about environmental impacts. The meeting quickly became rowdy. "There was a lot of tension," says Rev. Ken Chambers, pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, who spoke in support of the ban. Pro-coal supporters stationed in the audience heckled him throughout his address, and at times, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the council president, struggled to maintain order.

"Officers," she requested, "please escort those persons who continue to have disrespectful outbursts outside of the chamber."

The vote came after more than a year of heated debate over plans to build a marine terminal, from which coal mined in Utah could be shipped to Asia. The proposed terminal was part of a larger redevelopment project slated for the old Oakland Army Base, located in West Oakland, a predominantly black neighborhood that's among the region's poorest and most polluted.

One by one, the seven council members present voted to uphold the ban on transporting coal. The decision was finalized by a second vote on July 19, leaving the proposed $250 million project in limbo.  Without coal as one of the terminal's possible bulk commodities, proponents warned, it would be at risk of losing critical funding -- depriving an economically struggling neighborhood of job opportunities. Critics of the plan, however, worried that transporting millions of tons of coal by rail  -- even in covered cars -- through West Oakland poses a public health and safety risk to local residents, who already experience high levels of air pollution.

The decision -- and the wider controversy around it -- places Oakland at the center of a growing battle over coal exports on the West Coast. From British Columbia all the way to California, plans for new export terminals are faltering, thanks to opposition from local communities concerned about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel development.

Working against that movement, however, is a network of powerful financial interests that have invested heavily in coal and are now desperate to find a way to recoup their investments and somehow still profit. The Oakland terminal was an important part of a larger plan to sell landlocked Utah coal overseas.  And it was hatched in a web of money and politics that entangled struggling communities in two vastly different regions: West Oakland and rural Utah.

Carbon County, Utah, got its name from the vast amounts of coal found in the rugged country southeast of Salt Lake City. Coal mining took off in the late 1880s, bringing jobs along with the occasional violent upheaval. In 1897, legendary bank robber Butch Cassidy and his partner, William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay, stole the $8,000 payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, which operated mines in the county. And later, two mine explosions, one in 1900 and the other in 1924, killed nearly 400 people.

Despite the early tumult, Carbon County grew to depend on coal economically. For most of the last century, it looked like a good bet, with coal supplying the vast majority of Utah's energy needs. Other states wanted Utah's coal as well. In the early 1980s, an electrical utility cooperative in Southern California helped persuade the state to build a massive power plant, the Intermountain Power Project (IPP), in Delta, Utah, promising to buy its coal-generated electricity.

But Carbon County's fortune changed as utilities increasingly moved to replace coal with cheaper natural gas and renewables like solar and wind energy. In 2013, the city of Los Angeles, which had a contract with IPP, voted to end its reliance on coal-fired electricity by 2025, in favor of natural gas. The decision hit Carbon County hard, says County Commissioner Jae Potter. Between 75 and 80 percent of the county's jobs rely on coal mining and power generation. Over the last several years, hundreds of locals have lost their jobs as coal-fired power plants have closed and mines have shuttered.

"It put us into a tailspin," says Potter. "What do you do?"

But the collapsing coal market still looked profitable to one private equity firm -- Galena Private Equity Resources, registered in the Cayman Islands. (Private equity firms buy up troubled or undervalued businesses and other assets, then re-structure and sell them.)

In 2013, Galena invested over $104 million in Bowie Resources, a Kentucky-based coal firm, acquiring a significant minority stake in a new joint venture company called Bowie Resource Partners. Backed by money from Galena's private investors, Bowie began buying the assets of other coal companies on the verge of bankruptcy. In Utah, Bowie bought three mines from Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy in January.

"Galena has built an impressive record of prudently selecting high performing investments," said Jeremy Weir, CEO of Galena Asset Management, in a press release. "We believe that Bowie Resource Partners has a unique opportunity to reshape the Western US coal paradigm."

But for the investment to pay off, Bowie needed to get that coal out of Utah and overseas to Asia, where, in contrast to the U.S. market, demand still seemed insatiable. To do that, however, it needed access to West Coast ports.

Galena was not the only private equity firm to bet on coal. Lighthouse Resources, a Salt Lake City-based firm, owns two mines -- one in Montana and the other in Wyoming -- and is the main driver behind the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal in Washington and the Morrow Pacific coal export project in Oregon.

"For Galena, the hope was that they would help transform Bowie into a thriving export-oriented coal business so they could then sell their stake to another private equity fund or run it as a public company on the stock market," says Clark Williams-Derry, the director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank.

In its financial documents, Bowie outlined its plans to export through West Coast ports. But it glossed over a major problem: Few of the existing marine terminals in California and other West Coast states are capable of exporting the millions of tons of coal that Bowie's Utah mines could produce. A new terminal project in West Oakland, however, one equipped to handle coal, could provide the opportunity Bowie needed.

West Oakland, where the terminal would be located, hugs the eastern side of San Francisco Bay. Once, it relied on the 7,000 blue-collar jobs supported by the Oakland Army Base. But the base closed in 1999, and ever since, the neighborhood has struggled.

In an effort to rebuild the neighborhood's economy, the city of Oakland contracted with a private company, California Capital & Investment Group, to redevelop the old base. The Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center would include a rail terminal, truck parking, warehouse space, a recycling center, and a bulk marine terminal. When the project was announced in 2013, the developer promised that coal was not part of the plan. Instead, the terminal would ship bulk goods like iron ore, corn, wind turbines and auto parts.

But last April, a small Utah paper broke a story that the developer had tried to keep under wraps: Four counties in Utah, where Bowie's coal mines were located, intended to invest in the proposed Oakland terminal, with the intent of shipping their coal out of it.

Opposition from environmental groups and West Oakland residents quickly mounted. In 2014, the nearby Port of Oakland had rejected a separate proposal from Bowie to build and operate a coal export terminal. This new proposal was equally unpopular. Surrounded by three major highways, an active railroad, and the fifth-busiest port in the U.S., West Oakland already suffers disproportionately from air pollution. According to the latest statistics, local asthma rates are 2.5 to 3 times higher than those of other Oakland neighborhoods, and many residents worried that coal dust could escape from the coal trains and make the problem worse. 

Still, not everyone was opposed. Last December, Rev. Chambers attended ameeting at another church on Oakland's East Side, where a representative from the terminal developer promised that bringing coal through the area would create jobs without bringing new health and safety problems. Some people in the audience perked up.

Unemployment is high here, and thanks to Silicon Valley's booming tech industry, the neighborhood is undergoing a housing crisis. Rental prices in San Francisco have risen so much so that people are now snapping up property in West Oakland, driving up rents for the mostly poor working-class families who live there. To many of those gathered at the meeting in the church, the coal export facility sounded good, recalls Chambers, "a way to contradict all the hardships."

Kevin Barnes, one of the other pastors at the meeting, said the facility offered hope to unemployed people. "I'm not an environmentalist," he later said. "But I support this project because I believe some jobs can come in -- all they're asking for is a chance."

It wasn't the first time Utah counties had tried to fund transport for their land-locked coal; as early as 2001, several counties sought to build a 43-mile railroad connecting a coal transfer terminal near Salina, Utah, with the Union Pacific Railroad south of Nephi, Utah. The purpose of the line, known as the Central Utah Rail Project, was "to provide rail access to local industries, primarily the Southern Utah Fuel Company (SUFCO) coal mine owned by Bowie Resources," in order to move bulk cargo to other parts of the country. But the railroad plan would only work if it included a port from which to export the coal. By late 2014, the counties' efforts -- backed by Bowie -- were focused on securing access to the proposed Oakland bulk terminal, enabling them to ship goods such as salt, grain and hay -- and especially coal -- to overseas markets.

Soon after, Jeffrey Holt, an advisor to the counties who served simultaneously as chairman of the Utah Transportation Commission and as an investment banker with BMO Capital, organized visits to the proposed Oakland terminal site for Sevier and Carbon County officials.

For both Bowie and Holt, there were huge financial incentives: The terminal offered a way to sell millions of tons of Utah coal abroad and could earn millions of dollars for Holt's investment firm, BMO Capital. (The terms of the loan include a $3 million "strategic advisory" fee.) At a meeting in early April 2015, four of the counties involved in the rail line proposal -- Carbon, Sevier, Emery and Sanpete -- asked Utah's Community Impact Board for a  $53 million loan in federal Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) payments to help finance the terminal, with the remaining $200 million to be raised by private investors. The loan money would come from Utah's MLA proceeds, which, under federal law, are intended to fund public works projects in communities impacted by mining.

The loan was approved, but at least one Community Impact Board member, Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee, expressed concern about the legality of funding a private out-of-state development with MLA money. "The mineral lease law itself says the priority of funding is for infrastructure, planning and community services, with priority of those funds going back to the area of impact," he told the Moab Times-Independent. "One of the concerns that I had is I don't think that Oakland, California, is really returning (funding) to the area of impact."

As criticism mounted over the loan, county officials urged the Utah Legislature to enact a new funding scheme designed to evade the MLA's funding limitations. The result was Senate Bill 246, which swapped $53 million in federal MLA funds with $53 million in state transportation funds to provide money to finance the export terminal.

Many of the bill's supporters, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed it, had received campaign contributions from Bowie.  The company declined to comment on its involvement in the Oakland terminal for this article.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, environmental and government watchdog groups raised doubts about the exchange's legality and the potential ethical violations involved in the campaign contributions, calling for a formal investigation.

Potter, however, believes the legal and ethical concerns are unfounded; he focuses instead on how the ability to sell Utah's coal overseas would help revitalize Carbon County's economy. The return on investment, he estimates, could bring in millions per year for the four counties, boosting local budgets.

Given the coal industry's precipitous decline, however, that optimism can appear tenuous. Nationwide, coal consumption has declined by nearly a third since its peak in 2007, when it was the dominant source of U.S. power. Over the past five years, the international benchmark prices for coal have fallen by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, the prospect of booming markets abroad has begun to fade. China has started burning less coal, and imports have shrunk accordingly. Other Asian countries, especially India, have developed new coal supplies, driving prices down even further. Many of the private equity firms that invested on the promise of overseas markets have had trouble finding new investors and buyers for their coal assets.

Even Bob Murray, the CEO of coal giant Murray Energy, who has filed more than a dozen lawsuits over federal climate change policies, admitted that politicians should stop setting unrealistic expectations for coal's big comeback. "I don't think it will be a thriving industry ever again," Murray said. "We'll hold our own. It will be an extremely competitive industry and it will be half-size. … The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it."

It's still unclear what Oakland's decision to ban coal exports will mean for the terminal -- whether the developer will raise enough money to build it for other products or decide to challenge the city's decision in court, like the proponents of the proposed Morrow Pacific terminal did in Oregon after state regulators deniedthe project a key permit. 

"It's very hard to actually kill a project until proponents give up," says Williams-Derry. And the coal market is likely to continue to fluctuate, even as its future dims. Small rebounds like one this May, where China's coal imports increased slightly for the first time in 22 months, may be enough "to keep proponents' dreams alive until something bigger changes," he says.

For Oakland, though, last month's vote to ban coal exports signaled a new approach. Air-quality conditions in the polluted port neighborhood have improved, thanks to new laws regulating emissions. During the Paris climate negotiations last year, Oakland was recognized for its efforts at reducing greenhouse gases and black carbon emissions from trucks diesel ships. After struggling so long to improve his community's air, Rev. Chambers, like many of his neighbors, feels allowing coal exports would be a step back.

Still, he feels badly for places like Carbon County that have hitched themselves to a single commodity. "They're struggling, too," he says, and West Oakland can empathize.

Like Carbon County, Chambers' community needs jobs, but not, he believes, at the expense of human health. All four of Chambers' children developed asthma, and the family spent a lot of time when they were growing up at the hospital.

Keeping coal out of Oakland is about more than protecting his neighborhood. For Chambers, this is why the fight matters: the stuff we put in the air isn't just local, it's global.  "When we keep it [coal] in the ground, it helps people in Utah, and it helps people in China, too."

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News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Northwest Tribes Band Together to Stop Oil-by-Rail http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36952-northwest-tribes-band-together-to-stop-oil-by-rail http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36952-northwest-tribes-band-together-to-stop-oil-by-rail

There's no such thing as a good place for an oil-train derailment, but this year's June 3 spill outside Mosier, Oregon, could have been worse if the 16 oil cars had derailed and caught fire even a few hundred feet in either direction. The derailment was just far enough away from populated areas, including a nearby school and mobile home park, that no injuries resulted, and the amount of oil that spilled into the river was limited. If it had happened another mile-and-a-half down the tracks, the damaged tank cars would have tumbled directly into the Columbia river during the peak of the spring Chinook salmon run.

"This derailment right along the Columbia River is ... a reminder that oil trains mean an ever-present risk of an oil spill into our waterways, threatening fisheries and livelihoods for Quinault Indian Nation members and our neighbors in Grays Harbor," Quinault Vice President Tyson Johnston said.

There are massive oil train ports planned for Anacortes, Grays Harbor, and Vancouver in Washington state. They have not yet broken ground, but if they ever do get built, the indigenous tribes that need healthy salmon to sustain their communities got a preview of what could go wrong.

The communities that live and fish along the Northwest's most important waterways have been working to bring these proposals to a screeching halt. "Proposed crude oil terminals in Grays Harbor are a threat to our treaty rights to fish in our usual and accustomed places," Johnston said. "Our safety, way of life, and economic future is on the line."

The 96-car train that derailed in Mosier was headed to Tacoma from the Bakken oil fields. Bakken oil train traffic to the West Coast spiked from practically nothing in 2012 to almost 200,000 barrels a day at the start of 2015, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

While production in the Bakken fields is off its late-2014 peak, terminal developers are betting on the long-term prospects of oil pumped from the Bakken region and from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. If the proposed facilities for Anacortes, Grays Harbor, and Vancouver ever operate at full capacity, that 2014 peak for crude oil by rail will look like a drop in the bucket:

  • In Grays Harbor, Westway Terminal's proposed expansion would outfit the company's port to move crude oil from trains onto ships. The crude oil terminal could bring in nearly five trains per week to the harbor.
  • In Vancouver, the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal would be the largest rail-to-vessel shipping facility in North America. It would bring in another 36 loaded trains per week, or about 360,000 barrels of oil.
  • In Anacortes, the Shell Refinery aims to build out a rail loop and additional unloading equipment in order to facilitate six more oil trains weekly than it already handles.

Significantly, weeks before the Mosier derailment, the Lummi Nation in the coastal northwest corner of Washington won a years-long battle against a massive coal export terminal proposed for the tribe's shores.

Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), a project of marine shipping corporation SSA Marine, would have been the largest coal export facility anywhere in North America, large enough to handle 48 million metric tons of coal annually. It had the backing of two major players in the Powder River Basin coal industry, Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak Energy, to build a 3,000-foot-long wharf extending into waters fished by generations of Lummis.

Burning the coal proposed to ship through GPT would have produced 96 million metric tons per year of carbon pollution. Even the unburned coal at the terminal would have posed spill risks to the local aquatic ecosystem, an important economic, cultural, and spiritual resource for the Lummi Nation. An environmental impact analysis, begun in February 2014, had been slow-moving and its outcome uncertain.

How did the Lummi stop Gateway Pacific? They took a bold and unusual stand in January 2015, when they asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect their right to fish their "usual and accustomed grounds and stations," as written in the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott. Treaties are powerful legal instruments with the force of federal law and the potential to preempt inconsistent state laws. If successful, they would win a decisive, precedent-setting victory. A failure would open the door to weakening treaty protections.

After 16 months of increasingly well-organized and visible public opposition to the project, the Corps decided the tribe was right: The coal port would impede tribal fishing practices. The Corps rejected SSA Marine's application to build the pier.

The victory resounded throughout the region, increasing support and bolstering the resolve of other tribes embroiled in their own energy development battles.

"Today was a victory not only for tribes but for everyone in the Salish Sea. I hope we are reversing a 100-year trend of a pollution-based economy, one victory at a time," Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and president of the National Congress of American Indians, told the Seattle Times.

"The Corps' decision is a victory for the Yakama Nation and all other treaty tribes," JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, said in a written statement. "The fight, however, is not over. The threat of the coal movement remains, and the Yakama Nation will not abide these threats."

Sure enough, the Yakama have joined with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and others to protest the massive Tesoro-Savage oil-by-rail terminal proposed for the banks of the Columbia River in Vancouver. In contrast to the Lummi, the Umatilla and Yakama are willing to let the environmental review process play out before taking overt action to protect their treaty rights.

In 2014, both tribes asked that the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Tesoro-Savage project consider impacts to treaty rights. However, as the Lummi fight illustrated, treaty rights may be considered separately from the EIS, which remains the centerpiece of any major environmental review and is intended to outline all the potential environmental problems and ways to handle them.

Still, Yakama officials clearly rejected the notion that impacts to their land and treaty rights could be mitigated. "To be clear," wrote Chairman of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council Harry Smiskin in a 2014 comment to the Corps, "Yakama Nation will not negotiate nor agree to so-called mitigation for any violations or actions resulting in the diminishment or destruction of its treaty-reserved rights."

Cladoosby, the Swinomish chairman, struck the same note in a statement to the media earlier this year about the GPT: "There is no mitigation. We have to make a stand before this very destructive poison they want to introduce into our backyards. We say no."

In another tactic, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community sued BNSF Railways in April last year for violating a contract between the tribe and the railroad that limited the length of trains that passed through the Swinomish reservation to 25 cars each and required the tribe be informed of changes in cargo. The Swinomish had learned from the media that BNSF was delivering crude oil on trains with 100 cars or more to the Shell and Tesoro refineries in Anacortes.

The tribe won an early decision in the lawsuit when a federal judge denied a BNSF motion to bring the issue before the Surface Transportation Board. The case is properly heard in federal court, the tribe said in a September 2015 statement, "The STB has no jurisdiction over tribal rights."

It's worth noting the basis for the Corps' decision in the Lummi case. While the Lummi Nation was prompted to make its request to the Corps by a vessel traffic study that concluded the coal port would bring 487 more vessels through the tribe's fishing grounds, the Corps did not rely on busier vessel-traffic lanes through Lummi fishing territory to make its decision. Instead, it referred only to the disruption of fishing that would occur at the dock site itself -- about 122 acres total.

While the main area of concern for the Yakama and Umatilla is away from the proposed Vancouver oil terminal site -- their main fishing grounds are the 150 miles of the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam -- the Quinault Indian Nation fishes out of Grays Harbor, where it has notable success fishing where ships would dock at the Westway expansion.

That fishing spot would be disrupted. The completed draft EIS for Westway describes how tribal fishers would need to either work around the increased number of vessels or fish elsewhere. But here's an important legal point: In the Lummi Nation's case, the Corps' Colonel Buck found that just going somewhere else to fish, as long as the tribe could hit its catch quota, was not an adequate protection of treaty rights.

Tribes are not confronting fossil-fuel projects alone and in a vacuum. They have been sharing resources and lobbying together in Washington, D.C., to oppose the many fossil-fuel projects proposed for the Pacific Northwest. "Working with the Lummis and seeing what they've gone through with the Army Corps of Engineers was definitely helpful, because it sets a precedent," said Johnston, the Quinault Indian Nation vice president.

Unlike the Lummi, the Quinault approach has been to focus the fight at the state rather than the federal level. Even with the different approach, the Quinault tribe believes the Lummi decision "bolsters and strengthens the position we have," Johnston said.

Could the Lummi Nation's assertion of treaty rights be a magic bullet other tribes could use to stop fossil-fuel projects?

"There's no direct answer to the question, except -- maybe," said Robert Anderson, director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington School of Law. "The Cherry Point decision rested on evidence of direct interference with Lummi fishing by increased shipping traffic (at the terminal). The less direct the connection between such interference and environmental harm, the more difficult any case will be."

For the Lummi, fishing is such an integral part of their identity that they decided to sidestep the long, drawn-out EIS process and pull out all the stops to save their way of life. The Quinault, Umatilla, and Yakama appear willing to see the environmental reviews for Tesoro-Savage and Westway through to the end.

If this approach seems more conservative, keep in mind the Lummi strategy was risky. If the decision had been appealed in federal court, a judge somewhere down the line could reverse the Corps' ruling and, by doing so, unravel some of the treaty protections the Lummi Nation and other tribes rely on for their survival.

"I definitely think there should be concern from all tribal leadership because we don't know what the results would be if it went to a higher court," reflected Lummi council member Jeremiah "Jay" Julius a few days before the Corps released its decision.

But even a setback for treaty rights through a decision by, say, a conservative U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't be daunting for the Lummi Nation, said Darrell Hillaire, a former tribal chairman. "You think that this one issue is going to extinguish that belief? No, it's going to strengthen us."

Like other tribal members interviewed for this article, Hillaire takes a long view, both when looking forward and looking back. He pointed out that White settlers thought they might eradicate Lummi members after the introduction of alcohol and smallpox, or force them to assimilate after sending Lummi children to boarding schools where they couldn't learn their own language. Hillaire said Lummi believe they are survivors.

The Lummi Nation showed remarkable unity in its opposition to the terminal, which helped members get through the long fight. Likewise, other tribes are united in opposition to fossil fuel projects across the region. Whatever the end game might be for tribes such as the Yakama and Swinomish, there's a sense that the tide is turning in their favor. Hillaire sees the current times as empowering for tribes.

"What we have now is an emergence," he said. "Not just Lummi, but there are a lot of First Nations people -- their culture and their social structures, their government itself ... they're all emerging. I think they see that as a continuation of their sacred responsibility."

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News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Republicans Just Passed a Platform That Would Eviscerate Workers' Rights http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36951-the-republicans-just-passed-a-platform-that-would-eviscerate-workers-rights http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36951-the-republicans-just-passed-a-platform-that-would-eviscerate-workers-rights

Ripped signs and confetti litters the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, in Cleveland, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Ripped signs and confetti litters the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention, where Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, in Cleveland, July 21, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

The Republican Party's official 2016 platform, released this week, proudly states "the greatest asset of the American economy is the hard working American."

The writers must have a twisted sense of humor.

In a not particularly unexpected move, the party platform eviscerates the "hard working American," denying workers of their right to unionize while targeting their most vulnerable communities. 

Grand Old Union Busters

Perhaps the strongest anti-union feature of the Republican Party's platform is the call for national right-to-work (RTW) legislation. RTW laws, the bane of unions nationwide, prevent unions from collecting fees from non-members, who nevertheless benefit from unions' grievance and bargaining services.

The platform claims that these laws will "protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce," but in fact, they do just the opposite. According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, workers in RTW states make $5,791 (12 percent) less per year than workers without RTW, and are far less likely to be insured.

More importantly, RTW weakens unions by forcing them to serve those who don't pay for their services. When Michigan approved a right-to-work law in 2012, its union membership dropped by 48,000, despite the addition of 44,000 new jobs.

The platform also targets both unionized Transportation Security Administration employees and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)'s presence in Native American communities, with Republicans pledging to "correct (the) mistake" of permitting TSA employees to organize, and claiming to defend tribal governments from the Democrats' "egregious" pro-union influence. 

A Government for the People

"We pledge to make the government work for the people," reads the platform, "not the other way around." Yet for the country's most financially vulnerable -- the 3.9 percent working for minimum wage -- the Republicans offer neither support nor protection.

The platform dismisses the widespread call for a nationwide minimum wage, asserting that the matter "should be handled on a state and local level," and pledges to repeal Davis-Bacon, a 1931 act mandating that federal construction projects pay union-level (read: living) wages.

It has even less mercy for the undocumented. The platform echoes Donald Trump's racist rhetoric with its total rejection of amnesty for undocumented workers. It also supports his proposal for building a wall between the U.S.-Mexico border, with the intent of "keep(ing) dangerous aliens off our streets."

In the preamble to the platform, Republicans claim their plan "lays out -- in clear language -- the path to making America great and united again." Yet if the Republicans' path to greatness is to be built on the backs of American workers, it is a greatness of which we should all be wary. 

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News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Koch Brothers' Fingerprints Can Be Found All Over GOP Convention http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36950-koch-brothers-fingerprints-can-be-found-all-over-gop-convention http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36950-koch-brothers-fingerprints-can-be-found-all-over-gop-convention

Koch brothers(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

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Though the Kochs have indicated they are staying out of the presidential election and Charles Koch has even had kind words for the Clintons, their fingerprints are all over the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week in the form of candidates and the extreme RNC platform.

Koch Candidates Take Center Stage at Quicken Arena

The Kochs have had their doubts about Donald Trump, early on refusing to share their voter data base with him and spending their money down-ballot after it appeared he would win the nomination. As CMD has reported, the Kochs have been busy investing millions in a faux "grassroots" ground game in key states. They are hoping to rival labor's mastery in turning out committed volunteer door knockers, by paying an army of teenagers to hit the doors.

The Kochs are not the only people who have their doubts. A sharply divided GOP was on full display Thursday night on the floor of the Quicken Arena in Cleveland. The Texas delegation, relegated to the back of the room, was hooting and hollering for their man Ted Cruz, but the New York delegation turned their backs, and boos broke out across the arena when it became apparent that Cruz was not going to throw his support behind Trump.

Watching the drama from the wings, Trump came out onto the floor unexpectedly, throwing the Secret Service into a tizzy and stealing all the cameras from Cruz. When Cruz finally left the floor to find his wife, who herself was chased to the wings with cries of "Goldman Sachs!," no cameras were on him.

Knowing he would have challenges to unite the party, Trump picked a standard-bearer who he hoped would appeal to all: Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who Trump said "looks good," and that "to be honest," part of the reason for his selection was to unify the party.

Pence took to the stage last night to introduce himself as "a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order," to a welcoming crowd. Delegates appeared to appreciate his amusing remarks and humble talk, which introduced his family and reprised his struggle for conservative causes.

But Pence failed to mention his biggest billionaire backers, David and Charles Koch and the institutions they bankroll.

Koch Operatives "Love" Mike Pence

In an interview with Lauren Windsor of The Undercurrent outside the convention, Tim Phillips, President of the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, said he loved Mike Pence: "he had a great record in the House." But Phillips was being too modest.

Over the years, the Koch network has contributed large amounts of money to Governor Pence, who has pursued a legislative agenda straight out of the Koch-ALEC playbook. In terms of individual donations, David Koch's $300,000 makes him the third largest donor, and Senior Vice President of AFP and General Counsel of Koch Industries Mark Holden's $202,500 makes him the sixth.

And Pence is scheduled to be a "featured guest" at the Koch network's semiannual donor retreat to be held at a resort in Colorado July 30-August 1, 2016 (for more on Pence's bio see CMD's SourceWatch).

When Marco Rubio failed to win the Presidential primary, top Koch operative Marc Short started advising Pence. Short joins the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign as Pence's communication advisor. "Marc is a friend and we had the opportunity to work together when I was serving in the Congress of the United States, and I have immense respect for his integrity and his judgment," said Pence at a Koch event in 2014.

Koch Candidates Headline Trump Convention

But Pence is not the only Koch candidate to address the convention.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took to the floor in a prime time slot Wednesday night. Walker has been backed by the Kochs and AFP's Tim Phillips throughout his career.

It is no secret that the Kochs would have preferred Walker as the presidential nominee; David Koch threw his support behind Walker early in 2015. And AFP's Phillips told the media he had spent $10 million in Wisconsin in during the tumultuous recall period, when Walker's attack on unionized public workers sparked an unprecedented series of recall elections.

Walker's appearance in the main stage was a bit of a surprise. He was a leader of the #NeverTrump movement, throwing his support behind Cruz and helping the Senator from Texas score an unexpected primary win in Wisconsin. As late as Tuesday this week, Walker said floor delegates should "vote their conscience," a phrase that sparked an uproar last night when spoken by Ted Cruz.

Now Walker has changed his tune, abandoning "Wisconsin Nice" to endorse Trump and bash Clinton as "the ultimate" liberal Washington insider, claiming: "if she were any more on the 'inside,' she'd be in prison."

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), who was reportedly being considered for VP, was also on the main stage this week. Her election in 2014 was greatly aided by $400,000 that went from the Kochs' Freedom Partners to a dark money group called "Trees of Liberty," which then attacked Mark Jacobs, Ernst's competitor. CMD filed a complaint against Trees of Liberty earlier this year.

And Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) spoke to the RNC Tuesday night. Americans for Prosperity rolled out a $1.1 million campaign in support of Johnson, and the Kochs' Freedom Partners Action Fund spent $2,025,048 attacking his opponent Russ Feingold. Feingold had accused Johnson of "outsourcing his campaign" to the Kochs. Yet the Kochs may have been underwhelmed, because the very next day they pulled down their ads in Wisconsin, abandoning Johnson to focus on more competitive Senate races.

It wasn't just the politicians. "Kochsperts" spoke at multiple panels and events surrounding the RNC. Jason Beardsley, a Special Advisor to the Koch's Concerned Veterans for America, took to the main stage to advance the privatization of the Veterans Administration. Rachel Campos-Duffy, wife of U.S. Representative Sean Duffy, also took to the stage as the national spokesperson for the Kochs' Latino front group called the Libre Initiative. Penny Nance, President of the Koch-funded Concerned Women for America, was also scheduled to be in attendance.

GOP Platform Riddled With Koch/ALEC Policies

The Kochsperts must have had a hand in the creation of the RNC Platform, because the list of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-approved policies in the platform is stunning. The Kochs have been among the biggest backers of ALEC and the member organizations, think tanks, and advocacy groups that aid ALEC for decades. Here are some of the Koch-ALEC policies and priorities reflected in the platform.

Elections

  • Curtailing IRS oversight of dark money nonprofits active in elections, and repeal the prohibition on nonprofits engaging in political speech
  • Dismantling the last remaining campaign finance rules limiting corruption of elections
  • Limiting access to voting with Voter ID

Jobs and Finance

  • Slashing corporate taxes, including on profits stashed overseas
  • Prioritizing corporate profits and the policing of patents and IP in trade agreements
  • Loosening Dodd-Frank rules on banks and financial markets
  • Eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other policies that protect consumers from predatory lending and banking
  • Attacking occupational licensing, unions, and prevailing wage

Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Making it harder to fund mass transit and blocking efforts to create high-speed rail
  • A protected funding stream for highway transportation benefiting highway construction companies and fossil fuel
  • Attacking labor unions and workers' rights on all fronts, from calling for a national anti-union "right-to-work" law, to demonizing the earned pension benefits of public employees, to allowing massive corporations like McDonald's to evade taking responsibility for labor standards in their franchise stores
  • Turning much-needed public infrastructure projects—from road construction to broadband access expansion—into privatized profit centers through public-private partnerships.

Courts and Criminal Justice Reform

  • Continue using the courts to attack the Affordable Care Act
  • Demand judges ignore international law
  • Protecting corporate wrongdoers through changes to tort laws, and making it harder to prosecute with stringent intent requirements
  • Maintaining mandatory minimum sentencing for many offenses

Environment

  • Continuing to fight President Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution and campaigning to eliminate the EPA
  • Limiting consumers' right to know by blocking menu labeling and GMO labeling
  • Turning federal public lands over to the states for logging, drilling, and mining by private companies
  • Continuing the fight to build the Keystone XL Pipeline

Federal Budget and Constitution

  • Hamstringing Congress in future recessions and crises by adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution
  • Cutting social safety net programs like Medicare and Medicaid by turning them into block grant programs
  • Establish federal term limits by amending the U.S. Constitution
  • Privatize the VA medical system

Education

  • Reducing oversight of homeschooling
  • Privatizing schools through voucher and charter school programs
  • Replace federal student aid for college with private "investment"

The Kochs' may not be too fond of @therealDonald, but they have captured much of the GOP policy agenda. 

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News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Donald Trump's Dark and Scary Night http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36949-donald-trump-s-dark-and-scary-night http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36949-donald-trump-s-dark-and-scary-night

The GOP's new big dog blew the whistle Thursday night for nearly an hour and a half and it was loud and shrill enough to reach the ears of every angry, resentful, disaffected white American. The tone was divisive, dark, dystopian and grim.

Here was the alpha dog of the von Trump family, baying at a blood-red moon that the hills are alive with the sounds of menace.

According to Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, this land is rapidly becoming as bleak and dangerous as one of those twisted, vicious kingdoms in Game of Thrones, a place filled with violent crime and despair, a smoldering ruin overrun with foreigners out to take our jobs and terrorists bent on destroying our villages.

It's mourning in America.

And only he can save us.

This has been his message all year: I alone can fix it. Remember his tweet on Easter morning?

He alone has the potion. He alone can call out the incantation. He alone can cast out the demons. It's a little bit Mussolini. A little bit Berlusconi. A little bit George Wallace. And a lot of Napoleon in a trucker's hat. "I am not an ordinary man," Bonaparte once said." I am an extraordinary man and ordinary rules do not apply to me."

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

So he will do it all alone, this Trump. Until he has the US military to carpet-bomb on his orders, and the nuclear codes at the ready beside his bed at 3 a.m., and the 101st Airborne at the southern border, ready to act -- as long as Mexico pays for it.

This was a convention pledged to serve and protect the little guy, but as Rachel Maddow pointed out on MSNBC, it was officially addressed by five -- count 'em, five -- billionaires, including Trump and one, Silicon Valley's Peter Thiel, who has said that woman's suffrage was a bad idea and wrote in 2009 that "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." Boy, was he in the right place.

Thiel was one of the Thursday night speakers leading up to the official coronation of King Donald as the Republican Party's standard-bearer. Introduced by daughter Ivanka, who without a trace of irony lauded her dad's "kindness and compassion" (except of course for all those women he has verbally abused and minorities he has slandered and even the fellow candidates he mocked), Trump announced, "Here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else… I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper."

But as Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee noted:

"The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched… is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.

"When facts are inconveniently positive -- such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent -- Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991."

He said 58 percent of young African-Americans are unemployed -- and the dog whistle signals, you know what that means -- but the number's actually about half that. He insists we're one of the highest taxed nations in the world -- we're nowhere near -- and that we have "no way to screen" refugees, which is just not true.

The speech went on and on like that and the crowd inside the convention hall ate it up, their bitterness and frustration spurred on by Trump's own sputtering, red-faced outrage. The legacy of Hillary Clinton, he said, is "death, destruction and weakness." She proposes "mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness." As for Barack Obama, "The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone."

By the way, of the 2,472 delegates at the convention, only 18 of them were black, the lowest percentage in over a century, according to History News Network and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. With Trump at the helm, Republicans will soon have purged their party of any memory of its own past. "Lincoln" simply will have been the name of a town car.

As columnist Eugene Robinson said about Thursday's speech, "Frankly, this was a message, at least to my ears, to white America: Be afraid. I will protect you." It's not for nothing that as convention officials projected tweets from Trump supporters on the hall's video screens during his speech, one of them turned out to be from a notorious white supremacist account.

Can anyone imagine Donald Trump breaking into "Amazing Grace" at the service for black worshippers in Charleston, SC, gunned down in their church by a white supremacist? There certainly was not a grace note in his speech. And -- sorry, Ivanka -- not a single note of "kindness and compassion." No touch of humility.

Watching, we could only think of Augustus, during the first century B.C., in a time roiled by corruption and the wealth of empire, who terminated the government and installed himself as emperor, careful to preserve all the forms of the republic while dispensing with their meaning.

Or, as the less august, but funnier folks at The Onion tweeted while the smoke from Trump's cannonade lingered into the night, "Thanks for joining our live coverage of the RNC. This concludes democracy."

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News Sat, 23 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
When Play Is Criminalized: Racial Disparities in Childhood http://www.truth-out.org/articles/item/36947-when-play-is-criminalized-racial-disparities-in-childhood http://www.truth-out.org/articles/item/36947-when-play-is-criminalized-racial-disparities-in-childhood

2016.7.25.Playground.mainRacial disparities in the way children are allowed to play denies many Black kids an important childhood right. (Photo: Stefano Brivio / Flickr)

Institutionalized racism in schools and implicit bias in public parks and playgrounds deny Black and Brown children the fundamental right to engage in free play, which can lead to lifelong inequities in health and human development, the literature shows.

2016.7.25.Playground.mainRacial disparities in the way children are allowed to play denies many Black kids an important childhood right. (Photo: Stefano Brivio / Flickr)

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A significant segment of the child-age population in the United States is effectively denied one of the most important rights of childhood: free play. The trend away from unstructured play can have deleterious effects on the cognitive, social and emotional development of affected children. Because of disparities in opportunities for physical activity at school, the semi-privatization of public space, and the criminalization of Black and Brown bodies in motion, children of color, especially those of low socio-economic status, too often miss this essential requirement for healthy childhood development.

According to Diane Barnes, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in private practice in New York City, "both children and adolescents require at least 60 minutes or more per day" of physical activity. "Their activities," Barnes says, "are obviously different. While young children are running around the playground, older kids are more likely to be engaged in exercise that is related to a sport such as football or soccer."

It is the "running around" -- the uninhibited activity -- that is so crucial to cognitive, social and emotional childhood development. "Free play should be imaginative and self-directed," says Barnes. "The ideas should come from within. Dance classes and soccer classes do not count as free play." Indeed, even school physical education classes, while important to overall wellness and an essential component of a balanced, healthy education, don't count as free play. "While it would be wonderful to increase PE," Barnes says, "PE should not be mistaken as free play because it is not. It is not only necessary for children to have the room to play, but this play needs to be free play and not under the microscope of teachers or other professionals."

The Importance of Free Play

Indeed, a growing body of research proves the influence of play on children is overwhelmingly positive, as it leads to greater academic achievement and better executive function . Free play looks less like PE and more like recess -- or at least like recess time as memorialized in the well of the American imagination. Images of children goofing off, climbing, leaping, falling and even bruising with wild abandon populate the collective consciousness of our past.

However, despite the efforts of movements like Free-Range Kids , American children rarely move independently, without the watchful gaze of adults who monitor their every movement. This hypervigilant eye is watchful even when older school-aged children play in their own neighborhoods. For children who are Black and Brown, this adult gaze -- in the form of surveillance by both police and school authorities -- often criminalizes their young bodies. Sufficient research reveals the tremendous racial disparities in disciplinary responses to children's behavior in schools and in communities.

An issue brief published by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity found that,

African American students, and especially African American boys, are disciplined more often and receive more out-of-school suspensions and expulsions than White students. Perhaps more alarming is the 2010 finding that over 70% of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or Black. A 2009-2010 survey of 72,000 schools (kindergarten through high school) shows that while Black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions. Over all, Black students were three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers.

These disparities seem to suggest an inherent deviance present in Black children, a deviance that requires punitive responses to maintain order. However, Black children are more likely to be suspended from school than their white peers even when the "offense" in question is the same. Indeed, a survey of the literature published by The Equity Project at Indiana University determined that, "Research has failed to support the common perception that racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline stem from issues of poverty and increased misbehavior among students of color." Disproportionate surveillance and punishment of Black children, regardless of socioeconomic class, also manifest outside of school buildings.

People of color are more likely to be stopped by police while driving, are more likely to be detained by police when charged with felonies than "comparably situated" whites, and are more likely to go to prison. These stark realities endure in the public perception of Black and Brown bodies, even when those bodies belong to children. Black and Latino teens are more likely to be stopped and frisked by police than their white counterparts. This mistreatment is at least partially rooted in an implicit bias that strips Black children of their innocence. The American Psychological Association has found that "Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime." Black parents know these facts, even when they are unaware of the research and statistics behind them. And of course, these realities mean that Black and Brown children's right to free play is significantly infringed.

Reilly Bergin Wilson is well-versed in the facts behind this infringement. Wilson is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow in the Environmental Psychology Doctoral Program at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY), and a former Fulbright Fellow. She is also a research associate for the Children's Environments Research Group at The Center for Human Environments and a board chair at play:groundNYC .

"At several of our events, I have spoken with African American parents and grandparents who specifically talked about frustrations with the harsh discipline that their children face in schools," Wilson says. "Indeed, one mother that I had a lengthy conversation with last year at our Governors Island event had become so distraught with school disciplinary procedures that she had chosen to homeschool her son. While I was not surprised by this, having followed this trend in critical urban education literature and in the news, it is still heartbreaking to watch a young child play intently, building a world I could never have imagined out of cardboard and duct tape and string, while his mother tells you that he was repeatedly suspended for 'talking back' to a teacher. That mother made an extremely difficult life decision to protect her son, but one that is not an option for many families. I can't imagine what it feels like to be a parent and have to send your child every day to a place where he or she is chastised and degraded."

The Relevance of Adventure Playgrounds to Children of Color

Black and Brown children's bodies are so heavily policed that the state of being a child of color in America can feel like a kind of occupation. This occupation of the child inhibits free play. According to Wilson, the war-time conditions that inspired the adventure playground movement when it originated in Denmark, approximate the conditions Black caregivers face today. While most American playgrounds contain permanent structures, like swings and slides, which were built according to very strict, very adult guidelines, in adventure playgrounds, or "junk playgrounds," children use wood, old tires, tape and other materials to build play environments they can tear down and build again according to their own imaginative visions.

The first adventure playground was produced by a Workers Cooperative Housing Association in Emdrupvej, Denmark, during the 1940s German occupation of that country. Parents needed solutions to shield young people from the occupying forces as they engaged in everyday play activities. Parents feared that "their children's play might be mistaken for acts of sabotage by soldiers," Wilson explains. Rather than roam and play as children have done through time everywhere in the world, in Denmark and later, in blitzed neighborhoods throughout England, war-weary children turned to adventure playgrounds, which offered safe spaces to engage in the exuberant bursts of activity and noise-making associated with truly free play.

"Parents of young people of color in the United States often face very similar concerns," Wilson says, "as their sons and daughters are likely to encounter disproportionate rates of discipline and policing, both in public spaces and inside of school buildings. Black male children in particular are often not afforded the benefit of being perceived as innocent, and behavior that is forgiven of white children is more often interpreted as deviant when exhibited by children of color."

With Black children facing suspension for wearing their hair in a natural style , handcuffed for showing their friends a science experiment , and physically disciplined for minor infractions, Black parents often fear that free play, and the exuberant expression of freedom uninhibited play engenders, puts their children at risk.

Punitive discipline and the policing of Black children in schools is just one impediment to free play in communities of color. When families wish to encourage free play for their children in schools that don't suffer from predatory officers and officials, those of low socio-economic status often lack safe spaces in which to do so. Studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and the American Journal of Health Promotion concluded that Black and Brown children and children of a low socio-economic status aren't even getting access to basic PE, much less the richer experience of free play that Barnes described or the adventure playground model that Wilson works to support.

Defending the Right to Play

In addition to insufficient resources to devote to movement time in schools, emphasis on test scores and other quantitative means of evaluating performance have created what Wilson calls "play-averse schooling regimes." Even middle-income white families find themselves in the surreal position of having to schedule in free play for their children. For families of low socio-economic status and families of color, inequities in school funding exacerbate the problem of children's access to free play. Wilson believes that "for play equity to become a reality, schools will need to stop being funded by local property taxes; standardized testing should not determine school budgets; and playworkers [adults who work in adventure playgrounds] should be hired and trained to facilitate recess by providing loose parts and producing material opportunities rather than behavioral directives."

This call for a fundamental shift in the organization and funding of public schools is not unlike Wilson's vision of public parks, which she believes are compromised by the fundraising capacities of conservancies and "Friends of" groups in high socio-economic status communities, and "the semi-privatization of public space that helps cement disparities in funding."

"I think we all need to challenge the revanchist parks funding systems in cities," Wilson says, using a term rooted in nineteenth-century France, where "revanchists" sought to reinstate the bourgeois order in opposition to the socialist uprising of the Paris Commune.

In the current day, revanchist systems are understood as those that enable more powerful groups in society (such as affluent residents) to regain their territorial domination over less powerful groups (such as homeless people and communities of low socio-economic status) through policies of spatial containment and displacement. Though revanchist groups in high socio-economic status communities are engaged in well-intentioned efforts to reverse the losses parks experience because of city funding, they create a stark imbalance that people not only see but also feel as they move from parks in low-income neighborhoods to parks in high-income neighborhoods.

Wilson envisions greater equity in the disbursement of funds for public spaces and greater local control over the use of those funds received. "We need to demand that parks funding is allocated for labor rather than construction, so that instead of heralding one-million-dollar built-permanent playgrounds, we celebrate grassy lots with lots of material fluidity, where local residents are not only given true control over the projects but also paid a living wage to maintain the space." Wilson cites California Bay Area's Pogo Park project as an example of community transformation developed through thoughtful intentionality with regard to where children play.

Money often presents the biggest barrier to providing well-trained playworkers on adventure playgrounds because, as Wilson says, "it is much easier to get money for capital projects, such as building a playground, than for ongoing labor costs." Wilson says advocates for adventure play opportunities, such as Providence PlayCorps, which "hires and trains local residents to be playworkers in existing public parks, are already addressing these issues in their on-the-ground work." But regardless, she says, "the reality remains that the production of adventure play opportunities is labor intensive, and the largest impediment to providing them in a sustained program is funding for playworker salaries."

While Wilson recognizes money as an impediment to free play opportunities for children of color and low socio-economic status, she also advocates for greater intentionality with regard to the human interactions that occur in public parks. "I would really like to entreat white adults to force themselves to be aware of how they might be unconsciously biased against children of color, particularly black children, in terms of how they interpret their play behaviors and motivations, whether they smile at them as readily as they smile at white children, and whether they proscribe to them all of the sympathies that they lend to children that might look more like themselves," she says.

The othering white gaze gives cultural permission to law enforcement officers to police children of color. But a shift in the way white adults see Black and Brown children can reduce opportunities for their objectification and criminalization.

It is the human element in the free play movement that presents the biggest area of concern for anyone interested in fairness and equality in the development of young people's bodies and minds. Too many American children are denied what the UN has identified as a fundamental right of all children everywhere: play. Barnes, who earned her MSW at the University of Connecticut and has two young children of her own, lists isolation, anxiety, lack of appetite or overeating, nervousness, the development of headaches and stomach aches, and depression as the range of possible outcomes when children aren't given opportunities for free play.

Is it fair to link children's emotional health, mental health and academic outcomes to access to free play? "All the literature," Barnes insists, "points in this direction." She says that children who engage in regular free play "have a better awareness of others' feelings because they interact with others and problem-solve in an organic way. Because it is fun, they tend to be less anxious. It gets them moving, so they tend to be more active and hence healthier adults. Studies show that even 10-minute breaks throughout the day significantly improve learning."

Childhood is not more precious when it presents in a white body, yet racial disparities in the availability of free play -- and permission to engage in it -- reinforce the notion that white children are more valuable than Black and Brown children. One way to think about these racial disparities is that denied access to free play among children of color helps concretize the inequities in health and human development that persist across lifetimes. Institutionalized racism in schools, the police state, and even implicit bias in public parks and playgrounds deny Black, Brown and low socio-economic status children the fundamental right to blow dandelions, twirl, laugh out loud, race downhill and, yes, yell and bump and push and struggle -- and grow into adulthood secure in the memory of a childhood where they ran free and did play.

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article Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Fighting for Seats at the Table: A Poor People's Movement in a Rustbelt Town http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36945-fighting-for-seats-at-the-table-a-poor-people-s-movement-in-a-rustbelt-town http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36945-fighting-for-seats-at-the-table-a-poor-people-s-movement-in-a-rustbelt-town

In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)

The Newark Think Tank on Poverty -- a group of working class and self-identified poor people in Ohio -- goes directly to those in power through lobbying efforts and one-on-one meetings, a model for organizing that has empowered members and already created change.

In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)In this painting by community organizer Allen Schwartz, people line up to get school supplies for their children in Newark. (Artwork: Allen Schwartz)

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When Chris Wills got out of prison, he could not find a job. He applied, but no one would hire him because of his record.

And then he started using drugs again.

In a moment of desperation, he went to talk with a friend who ran programs in the local jail. His friend didn't tell him to just get clean. He didn't tell him to just get a job. He gave him some advice that, in the moment, Wills thought was just weird. His friend told him to go meet with some community organizers from a group called the Newark Think Tank on Poverty.

The Think Tank is an organization started in 2014 that is modelling a new approach for addressing poverty. Based in Newark, Ohio, the town where Wills lives, the group is made up of people currently struggling with poverty, or who have struggled in the past. The group's goal is to have their voices heard by people who make decisions.

Wills told me in a recent interview that he has three families now. His piercing blue eyes lit up as he named them: "My friends in recovery, my church, and the Think Tank."

After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty gives me a reason not to go back. (Photo: Jack Shuler)After years in and out of jail, Chris Wills says his work as an organizer with the Newark Think Tank on Poverty "gives me a reason not to go back." (Photo: Jack Shuler)As the Republicans gathered in Cleveland to discuss supporting that guy who wants to build a wall, Wills woke up every morning at the men's shelter where he lives, two-and-a-half hours away in Newark. He went to work, focused on recovery and built his new life. He was also organizing for change in this Rust Belt town.

This is no small task.

Newark, population 48,000 plus, is a red city in a red county. It's about 45 minutes from Columbus and on the outskirts of Appalachian Ohio. One of its claims to fame is an enormous building in the shape of a basket, just off Highway 16. Since 1997, the basket has served as an office space for the Longaberger basket-making company. Layoffs have led the company to move staff out of the building to another site. About a week ago, the last remaining employees left.

Fadhel Kaboub, an economist at Denison University and president of the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, says that Newark is a microcosm of the American economy -- a once prosperous industrial city that has felt the effects of neoliberal free-trade policies. As industry moved away in the 1970s and 80s, nothing replaced it. In a sense, it's a mini Detroit.

Kaboub says it took some time for people to recognize that this change was permanent. He says, "There wasn't a recalibration of the skills expectations, the education expectations." It has taken time for people to realize the need for a different economy, a different set of skills -- not just in Newark, of course, but globally.

Part of this "recalibration" is the people in a community figuring out how to address the damage done by the economic system and trying to fill the gaps. Citing economist Karl Polanyi, Kaboub says the creation of free markets is not natural. In the wake of the damage produced by neoliberal policies, resistance is inevitable. Sometimes, he says, it comes from NGOs. Sometimes it comes in the form of labor activism. And sometimes what happens is a political movement.

A People's Movement

Lesha Farias and Allen Schwartz are sitting in a booth at the Sparta Restaurant, a downtown Newark diner that hires formerly incarcerated people, as well as people in recovery from addiction. It's one of the places trying to fill the gaps in this community.

Community organizer Allen Schwartz helped to convene the Newark Think Tank on Poverty to enable people struggling with poverty to have seats at the table and make decisions about how poverty is addressed in their town. (Photo: Jack Shuler)Community organizer Allen Schwartz helped to convene the Newark Think Tank on Poverty to enable people struggling with poverty to have "seats at the table" and make decisions about how poverty is addressed in their town. (Photo: Jack Shuler)Both Farias and Schwartz are seasoned community organizers who, a few years ago, grew frustrated with how poverty was being addressed in Newark. There were many charity organizations doing important work offering immediate and much-needed assistance. But charity only stanches wounds, they say. It doesn't fundamentally change the system or promote justice.

Farias and Schwartz felt that in order for systemic change to begin to happen, people who were struggling should actually become the decision makers -- they should have "seats at the table," when it came to how poverty would be addressed in their town.

Schwartz has a salt-and-pepper beard, a goofy grin, and a ball cap that never comes off. Chris Wills affectionately calls him "Pa." Like Farias, he speaks with determination and intention.

"Poverty is the big invisible in the US," Schwartz says, "the thing we want to make invisible. We try to ignore it by saying things like, 'This is the land of promise; or, if you really want to work, there's no reason you shouldn't; or, if you're poor, it's your own damn fault.'"

Farias and Schwartz want to change that narrative.

Farias says that the first meeting of the Think Tank was empowering. "For people to come together who share the same struggles, the same stories -- there was a sense of belonging." The group received a grant from the St. Vincent de Paul Society and used it to pay attendees for their time as consultants.

The Think Tank moved quickly to address an issue that affects many members -- how to get a job when you have a criminal record. One in six Ohioans, over 16 percent of the state's workforce, has one. The Ban the Box movement was gaining traction in Ohio and the group made it their issue. With the help of Columbus-based organizer Wendy Tarr, they lobbied state representatives to pass a bill banning the box for public employment and then encouraged their local council members to ban the box in Newark. Ultimately, both efforts succeeded.

These were concrete victories, but now the Think Tank is trying to build a platform for addressing systemic concerns. Rather than being an issue-specific movement, the group aims to become an integral part of community decision-making.

The Real Job Numbers

The street in front of the Sparta Restaurant is being ripped up as part of a multimillion-dollar renewal project. A block away, the county courthouse is under renovation and new restaurants, yoga studios and loft apartments are popping up around the courthouse square. Couple this development with the most recent unemployment numbers (Licking County: 4 percent; Ohio: 5 percent) and it feels like good things are happening here.

"If you look out the window from where we are," Farias says, "it's all glorious." But the reality for most working-class people is more complicated. She notes that the businesses coming to downtown Newark are mostly providing services that the working class, or the 22.1 percent of the community living in poverty, can't utilize.

Schwartz chimes in, "It's the Republican vision. You support the middle class that can still pay. Create a market that way. They'll say that either we build for that sector, or nothing will happen. Maybe so. Within their market-defined world, it works."

Besides, he says, the working class and the middle class live in two different worlds -- even in a small town like Newark. Most middle-class people are sealed off from working-class poverty and avoid seeing it firsthand.

Wills says he's never seen homelessness so bad in Newark. He has one friend living in a tent, and he hears of folks sleeping "in the weeds" by the railroad tracks and others sleeping in cars, on couches, or in budget motels.

Official employment numbers may be up, but the industrial or distribution center jobs that do exist, Schwartz says, are unstable and have poor working conditions.

"The norm is people working with unstable schedules," Schwartz says. "People are treated as expendable, and then they begin to feel expendable."  

Responses to a recent article about a new Amazon distribution facility in the Newark Advocate underscore Schwartz's assertions, as well as the trouble with employment in the community. Facebook comments from previous employees mention the sporadic hours and the fact that while some people would love to work with the company, they lack transportation. Indeed, there are no fixed public transportation routes in the area.

According to Kaboub, in Rustbelt towns like Newark there are many people who have looked for work for a very long time but aren't technically counted as unemployed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calls these people "discouraged workers." If you add in those numbers, and the number of involuntary part-time workers, the unemployment number in Ohio doubles to almost 10 percent. That number, he says, doesn't include people who aren't working because of long-term illnesses, a lack of adequate child or elder care, or a lack of transportation. "So you can imagine the extent of the true cost to society," Kaboub says.

Addressing all these issues has been made even more difficult for Newark because of budget cuts and tax changes by the administration of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. On the campaign trail, the former presidential candidate claimed that he had solved Ohio's budget issues even as municipalities around the state, including Newark, struggled to pave streets and pay for public safety. The Plain Dealer estimates that Newark lost almost $1.7 million in state funding since 2011. Over 70 cities across Ohio have lost more than $1 million.

Recreating Democracy, Ground Up

It's a gorgeous July day, yet there's a big crowd gathered for a Think Tank open meeting at the Newark Public Library. There are several dozen Think Tank members, as well as a handful of people from local nonprofits who are starting to pay attention to what the Think Tank is doing.

Farias calls the meeting to order, then Think Tank member David Lee stands up to talk about what happened on this day in history. He explains that on July 9, 1917, federal authorities raided the IWW Hall in Yakima, Washington, arresting 24 Wobblies and confiscating pamphlets after local leaders tipped them off. Those in power, Lee says, were terrified of working class organizing efforts.

The Think Tank needs to share narratives of resistance, Lee tells me. As a Saponi, he takes his strength from his own cultural and historical narratives of resistance, he says, especially "both Wounded Knees, the second in particular."

"People who are in the struggle have to come together to tell these stories and to re-energize spiritually and to get ready to go back out there," Lee adds. "Otherwise, it's so lonely. We have to acknowledge the current hopelessness and then organize for a better fight." 

Jill Beeler Andrews, deputy director of Appellate Services at the Ohio Public Defender Office, tells the group that there are over 51,000 people in Ohio prisons, just shy of record numbers. She also talks about having criminal records sealed or expunged -- valuable information, because employers and landlords can't see sealed records.

Next come reports from the local farmer's market, a group addressing predatory lending, and an organization dealing with addiction issues -- in particular, the opioid crisis.

At the end of the meeting, there's a request from a local transportation advocate for the Think Tank to consider advocating for fixed route transit, such as regular bus routes.

The power of the Think Tank is that its members have experience with poverty, and so their recommendations come with an understanding that many policy-makers lack. Some people in powerful positions are starting to recognize this fact -- though not always.

When Andrews tells about a forthcoming report from a state legislative committee on recommendations for streamlining criminal justice statutes that would bring about some major changes to the state's criminal justice code, Schwartz immediately asks: "Are there any returning citizens on that committee?"

Everyone in the room knows the answer.

To some, Schwartz might come off as that overenthusiastic kid in the classroom -- persistent to a fault. But to others, he's spot on. He's asking for seats at that table.

Economist Kaboub says, "What the Newark Think Tank is doing is recreating democracy. In the United States, participation has come to mean voting for the elites every two or four years." The Think Tank offers a different model because it assesses the methods used to address problems, and then actively participates in transforming those methods.

"We see this model in other countries," Kaboub says. "In Brazil, for example, there's participatory auditing, participatory budgeting. And it's done in almost an Occupy Wall Street kind of way. There's no leadership, but citizens are plugged into government agencies and they say, 'You have to hear our voice. You work for us.'" 

Think Tank member Mary Sutton is one of the people making this model happen in Newark. She says she's still inspired by the group's first work on banning the box because it impacted her directly, but she wants to do more. Sutton works as a janitor at a local university and has been with the Think Tank since its inception. She appreciates the organization's participatory model.

"We've had discussions about having a president and so on," she says, "but that's not us."

The Think Tank's organizational structure is simple -- there are monthly open meetings and smaller working committees focusing on food, reentry and housing. Sutton chairs the food committee and one of her goals has been to gain a seat on the board of directors for a county-wide food network. She was recently told that that was impossible.

So she's creating a citizen's committee -- a group of community members who use pantries -- that will report their collective concerns to local pantries and to the board. Sutton knows the pantries well because she uses them. "I work, but I can't afford certain things," she says. "I'm not lazy. I work, but sometimes I just can't."

Sutton's the expert that people in power need to hear from. As also Eric Lee, a formerly incarcerated man who now has a seat at the table with the county's re-entry program. And Linda Mossholder, a retired educator and child and family counselor who is helping the Think Tank's housing committee mobilize to ban the box on housing applications and challenge exorbitant housing application fees.

Having Hope, Making Connections 

Born in 1977, Wills' childhood coincided with the worst economic times in recent memory for Newark and the Midwest. His father was absent, and he was raised by a single mom. In his teens, he got involved with drugs and gangs and dropped out of school.  

"I used to always wake up and feel like I had nothing to live for and I had to have some drug to make me feel motivated," Wills says. "I wake up today and don't feel that. After so many years of going in and out of jail. Losing everything. Getting it back. Losing. Getting it back. I was tired of that constant cycle and I just didn't know how to get out of it. That's where the Think Tank helps; it gives me a reason not to go back and to do something positive."

The true center of his motivation, though, is a deep and abiding love for his son, whose name is tattooed on the top of his hand. He wants to be with his son, to rebuild that relationship. So he's channeling his frustrations into productive actions. He's holding down a construction job, attending recovery meetings and staying committed to the Think Tank. 

"There's never been another time in my life when I felt and knew that my voice mattered like this," he says. "It's always been, 'Just lock him up and throw him away.'"  

Wills says he's active in the Think Tank not in spite of, but because of the fact that he's still struggling. Despite being out of prison for over a year, he's only just now able to pay his full child support obligation. "I wanted to pay," he says, "I think people should support their kids." But he couldn't because he could not get a job and was dealing with addiction issues.

One popular American narrative is that poor people are lazy, that they're not trying hard enough. But Wills is full of "try hard" and then some. He wishes he could tell his story to people running for office. He'd tell them "straight up" that when he got out of prison, he couldn't get a job. That's when he went back to using. It's that simple. "If you don't have hope, you lose all will," he says.

A month ago, Wills went to a local festival and to sign people up for the Think Tank. He talked to everyone that walked by. "I let them know that I was a felon, recently back in the community, and that I struggle with addiction. People were responsive. Now we just need to get them to meetings so their voices can be heard." 

Wills' friends in the Think Tank say that he's a born organizer. He wasn't afraid to speak to anyone -- he just walked right up to passersby and shared his story, started building connections.

Schwartz told me that the Think Tank is about helping people like Chris Wills find a community and a place where they won't be judged. "If that's all we do," he said, "then we will have done something."

They already have done something.

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Opinion Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400