Truthout Stories Tue, 05 May 2015 10:17:01 -0400 en-gb Fast Track TPP: The Death of National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers and Democracy

Most of the critical attention given to the Fast Track Trade Agreement legislation and to the associated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Congressional – Executive Agreement on mainstream corporate media and by politicians and establishment interest groups interacting with them in the beltway echo chamber, has focused on the likely or possible economic impacts of these. But relatively little attention has focused on sovereignty, constitutional separation of powers, or democracy impacts, which however are being covered increasingly well in alternative social media. See here, here, here, and here.

In hopes of breaking through this fragmentation by type of media of the debate over the TPP, I'll focus this post only on governance impacts and try to make the case, that this so-called trade agreement, if passed and implemented would create profound governance changes in the United States without benefit of the constitutional amendments that would normally be required to accomplish such changes. I'll also make the case that the governance impacts destroy national sovereignty, state sovereignty, separation of powers, and democracy.

Governance Impacts

The anti-democratic fast track process that gives Representatives and Senators no space to represent the range of people electing them. This process provides no room for debate of the TPP that includes the public and severely restricts Congressional debate.

It also incorporates secrecy of the TPP drafts, hiding them from the public and making it an impossible burden for Congresspeople to evaluate them and to solicit the views of their constituencies about them. It also then provides for keeping the proposed or actual agreement secret so that the American people can't even know what the law is that may result in international levies of many billions of dollars upon them, for four years after the TPP is either passed or defeated.

Of course, Congress can simply take back the policy space that would be taken from them by Fast Track by defeating it, letting the Executive know in no uncertain terms that the sense of Congress is that Fast Track is an improper device for getting around Congress's constitutional role in reviewing and giving its informed consent to Congressional – Executive Agreements, and that Fast Track proposals from the Executive Branch preceding trade deals will from then on be dead on arrival.

The separation of powers demands that Congress play its full constitutional role in such agreements and that includes its ability to amend and reconstruct them in a manner that reflects the will of Congress and the people it represents, and not just the will of the President and the leaders of foreign nations. That means there must be consideration by Congress of a number of alternatives to the proposed agreement and not just a consideration of acceptance or rejection of the President's formulation. So, to restore traditional constitutional governance in the area of negotiating Congressional – Executive Agreements, breached most notably in the case of NAFTA and so-called "free trade" agreements since then, Fast Track must be defeated and forbidden by Congress from future consideration through establishing new Congressional rules prohibiting representatives from introducing such proposals.

Preserving the range of choice the Treasury Department now has to fund Congressional deficit spending appropriations. Right now, Treasury funds deficit spending overwhelmingly by issuing debt subject to the limit. However, it has a range of other options (see the Postscript) for accomplishing this useful in overcoming debt ceiling crises created by an uncooperative House of Congress, or for the purpose of ceasing to issue debt at all in funding deficits.

The TPP could infringe on the authority of Treasury to use these methods because it could, depending on the rulings of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals, potentially prevent the Treasury from replacing the practice of issuing Treasury debt with other funding methods. In combination with a debt ceiling crisis such rulings could prevent the Treasury from spending mandated Congressional appropriations, forcing a constitutional crisis in which the President might have to invoke the 14th amendment and rely on the Supreme Court to rule the debt ceiling legislation unconstitutional. This is just one more way in which the TPP could infringe on the sovereignty of the Federal Government.

Preventing the Federal Reserve from using negative interest rate policies if it chooses to do so. ISDS tribunals could cause this problem in response to an ISDS suit citing expectations of lost profits arising from negative interest rates on Treasury securities. The Fed has never used that tool of monetary policy in the past. But that doesn't mean it won't want to in the future.

If the TPP is passed, however, then its freedom of action is compromised by providing ISDS tribunals with the authority to award lost profits to the corporations that might lose money if the Fed made this policy move. In effect, the Fed would need an implicit by your leave from the corporations and the ISDS panels to pursue such a policy.

In fact, this point may easily be generalized. Every action of the central banks in every nation costs some corporation money and creates gains for other corporations. Of course, the corporations who gain will just accept their good luck, while among the corporations that lose, some will go to the ISDS tribunals because, under the TPP, they can.

Forcing the TPP signator nations to bail out insolvent banks through ISDS settlements. The US and other nations now have the choice of bailing out insolvent banks or allowing them to fail, but there is at least one case where an investor in a bank has been awarded damages from the Czech Republic by an ISDS panel, because it lost its investment in a bank that was failing, was declared insolvent, and then was taken over by a sovereign government signator to a free trade deal.

So, we know that ISDS tribunals can decide that way and restrict the policy space of sovereign governments to do anything but bail out investors in failed banks. How do we suppose the American public including, of course, tea party activists will react to such an infringement on sovereignty, if the next time there's a great financial crisis, the President or the Fed says that they can't refuse to bail out the big banks because multinational investors in them are likely to win a massive court case against the US if they do let those banks fail and then take them over?

Turning over the legislative power of the Federal government to the ISDS panels and the multinational corporations buying their loyalty.

Of course, the legislative power turned over to the ISDS tribunals isn't the positive power to pass laws. But it is the power to paralyze legislative action by future Congresses that might reduce corporate "expectations of profits," and it is also the power to prevent Congress from even considering a whole range of solutions to the many serious problems of the United States that would work, but that Congress sees as ruled out by past or likely ISDS tribunal decisions.

Much of the power to legislate lies in the power to block legislation and to direct legislation away from certain alternatives. It is these powers that the TPP would be able to impose in undermining the sovereignty of national governments signing the TPP including the US government.

Since the TPP provides these negative legislative powers to the ISDS tribunals which would direct and constrain the positive legislative powers of national legislatures, the ISDS tribunals fuse legislative and judicial functions, breaching the separation of powers guaranteed by the US and other constitutions. Also, this fusion is unconstrained because it is legislative authority that could be applied in almost any area a government decides to legislate about, since multinational corporations or multinational corporate investors may be involved in, and may find, that their "expectations of profits" are impacted by any new legislation in any area.

Indeed, one has to ask the important question, of whether, under the TPP and the standard of impacting "expectations of profits" of multinationals, there is, operationally, any area of government activity in which new legislation by a local, state, or national government would not impact the expectations of any number of corporations, some favorably, and others unfavorably? If not, then isn't it true that governments can expect to have to cope with ISDS actions, in connection with any legislation they pass, and any rule change they make? And isn't it also true that the ISDS provisions in the TPP are in fact a grant of exclusive authority to profit making corporations in comparison to all other types of social institutions to review and veto legislation by democratically elected legislative bodies, countering popular sovereignty, with multinational corporate sovereignty?

Destroying US Federalism. Amendment 10 of the US Constitution says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

That is, the power to impose fines on the States, or local governments, formed as sub-divisions within States, due to laws and regulations passed by States in pursuit of the general welfare of their citizens, isn't explicitly granted to the Federal government by the Constitution. So, how can the Federal government delegate a power it does not have under the Constitution to the ISDS tribunals by signing the TPP?

Treaties are the law of the land, and they trump previously passed legislation. But, first, according to the Constitution a Congressional – Executive Agreement is not a treaty. And second, even if it were, it would not trump the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. So, Federalism, as expressed in Amendment 10, means that the states of the union have a limited sphere of state sovereignty that cannot be breached by either the Federal government, or by treaties or international agreements concluded by it.

And that sphere of state sovereignty is precisely in the area of providing for the general welfare of its citizens. If a state in the US decides, for example, that the Federal minimum wage isn't high enough for the general welfare of its citizens, it is free, right now, to pass a minimum wage at any level exceeding the Federal minimum that it thinks is desirable. Multinational corporations have nothing to say about this in any tribunal, but under the TPP they could sue the State for lost profits and collect damages.

So, if enacted, the TPP would violate Federalism, state sovereignty, and therefore the Constitution of the United States, in a way that the Federal Government cannot now do. It is clearly an unconstitutional treaty, which the United States has no right to conclude.

Defeating the requirement, fundamental to democracy and popular sovereignty, of having the consent of the governed. Within the TPP, "investment" is defined so broadly that it applies to any asset that is either owned or controlled and therefore to any new regulation that may be passed by any democratic government to achieve normative standards such as "the general welfare," "public interest," or "the public purpose," placing chains on all democratic governments and defeating the requirement of needing to get the consent of the governed.

Under the TPP, governments will need only to pass legislation that can pass the scrutiny of multinational corporations looking to whether their "expectations of profits" from their assets are lessened, along with the ISDS tribunals that will serve them and compensate them for any expectations of losses due to legislation. The consent of the governed and their democratically elected governments will be irrelevant.

Subordinating national sovereignty to ISDS bodies external to the United States and other proposed signators by failing to provide a clear legal provision allowing nations to regulate multinational corporations and their investments at all levels of government for the general welfare, or the public purpose, that would not be subject to the interpretations of ISDS tribunals not accountable to the nations signing the treaties or to their citizens.

The Preamble of the Constitution of the United States states the purposes sought and says:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

and in Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes . . .

So, it is for the purposes in the Preamble that the power to regulate commerce by treaty is granted to the Congress. Note that this enumerated legislative power is explicitly granted for fulfilling the purposes stated in the Preamble. There is no purpose there that provides for "expectations of profits" of multinational corporations to function as a higher purpose than the general welfare of the citizens of the United States or the States of the Union. Nor is their any such purpose stated in any other part of the Constitution granting powers to Congress.

Nor is it obvious that the dominance of that purpose is part of the "general welfare," or if part, is more important than other components of the general welfare and has priority over all of them. Nor is there anything in the Constitution suggesting that whether a US or State law is consistent with pursuit of the general welfare should be determined by quasi-judicial tribunals external to the United States and unaccountable to its people or its legislatures, or to any other tribunals external to nations and not subject to the consent of the governed.

In fact, Article 1, Section 8, also provides Congress with the power ". . . to constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court," but it does not provide the power to establish tribunals super-ordinate to the Supreme Court whose decisions would bind the nation and its citizens to paying fines to compensate multinational entities for the consequences of legislation passed by our governments. But the TPP and its ISDS mechanism would do that. So, this "free trade" treaty violates both the Constitution of the United States and also its national sovereignty.


The likely impact of the TPP on the economy, working people, wages, economic inequality, US manufacturing, and unemployment is likely to be severe and to exacerbate the trends toward inquality we see all around us. Anyone who thinks that the TPP will create jobs here in the face of all previous experience with much more limited "trade" deals is highly credulous or blinded by the money flowing from those interests who are licking their chops over the opportunities for excessive profits they believe the deal will bring them.

Signing the TPP would be terrible if these awful impacts were the only ones. However, the governance impacts I've described in these posts will create more fundamental damages than these for signators, including the United States.

Ellen Brown has called the TPP "the death of the Republic." It certainly is that. But, I think I've shown that it is the death of National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy, as well. These impacts on governance and politics are even more important, I believe, than its economic ones, since it from these that our benefits, both economic and non-economic flow.

The elevation of the principle of "expectation of profits" above all other principles including the principles of "public purpose," "consent of the governed," "the general welfare," and "separation of powers," is tantamount to the overthrow of democracy, preserving its form in national level elections, but emptying its elections of meaningful content in mandating change and in conferring legitimacy on national authorities. I've said previously that the rule of the TPP, even if passed over the mushrooming opposition from all segments of American society except the uncritical globalists, will never be viewed as legitimate in the United States and will also always be viewed as tyranny for as long as we live under it. This problem will become increasingly severe the larger, more frequent, and more outrageous ISDS awards defending the "expectations of profits" of multinational become.

That makes those who want to pass the TPP guilty of conspiracy to create tyrannical rule of the international few over the people of the United States and other TPP member nations. Eventually, I believe that a vote for the TPP will be viewed as vote to betray the Constitution and a violation of the oath of office of any who vote that way.

How can there be any other outcome when an action taken in office destroys National Sovereignty, State Sovereignty, Separation of Powers, and Democracy with a single vote?

Opinion Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Drive to Drill: Energy Lobbyists Behind Governors' Crusade for Atlantic Oil

After the BP oil disaster in April 2010, energy interests began covertly working with coastal state governors to expand offshore drilling in new areas, including the Atlantic Ocean. Earlier this year, the U.S. Interior Department announced a proposal to offer a drilling lease in the Atlantic as soon as 2017. (Photo: U.S. Chemical Safety Board.)After the BP oil disaster in April 2010, energy interests began covertly working with coastal state governors to expand offshore drilling in new areas, including the Atlantic Ocean. Earlier this year, the U.S. Interior Department announced a proposal to offer a drilling lease in the Atlantic as soon as 2017. (Photo: U.S. Chemical Safety Board.)

When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in flames off the Louisiana coast five years ago this month, the disaster killed 11 workers, injured 17 others and unleashed an undersea geyser that spewed more than 160 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The BP disaster would go on to pollute 1,100 miles of coastline and has been blamed for long-term damage to marine life and the health of cleanup workers and coastal residents, as well as costing the tourism and fishing industries an estimated $30 billion through 2020.

The scale of the calamity — the biggest oil spill in history — led many lawmakers and Gulf Coast advocates to not only call for safer approaches to offshore drilling, but to rethink the nation's reliance on offshore oil. After a halting response that drew criticism, President Obama declared two months after the spill began that "no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. … The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now."

Five years later, however, little has changed. Oil and gas production in the Gulf is expected to reach pre-spill levels this year. Congress has not passed any far-reaching new safety legislation for offshore oil and gas drilling, and the U.S. Interior Department has implemented only piecemeal reforms, on well casings in 2010 and cementing of wells in 2012. Earlier this month, it announced new safety requirements for blowout preventers for oil and gas wells — a reform the industry had already adopted voluntarily.

2015 0505bp 2Indeed, instead of moving away from risky offshore oil, the U.S. is now poised to expand exploration and drilling in vast new areas of the ocean. Earlier this year, energy interests scored a major victory when the Obama administration announced it would include waters off the coasts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing beginning in 2017 — the first time a federal lease has been proposed for the Atlantic since the early 1980s.

The oil and gas industry's success in getting Atlantic drilling back on the agenda can be traced in large part to the full-throttle lobbying efforts of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition — a secretive group founded in 2011 to revive and expand offshore drilling in the wake of the BP disaster.

Based in the offices of its chairman, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, the Governors Coalition now includes member governors from nine coastal states. The group describes itself as the voice of these state leaders in their efforts to "foster a productive dialogue" with the federal government over the future of offshore oil policy.

However, an 18-month investigation by Facing South finds that despite its image of being a group of publicly-elected state officials, the Governors Coalition is largely run and managed by two groups tied to the oil and gas industry.

Drawing on thousands of pages of documents obtained through public records requests to the offices of Gov. McCrory and other officials, Facing South has uncovered new details about the Governors Coalition and its close but largely concealed ties to HBW Resources, a corporate lobbying and public relations firm representing some of the nation's biggest energy interests, and the company's sister group the Consumer Energy Alliance, a "dark money" nonprofit organization that doesn't have to disclose its backers. Our findings add to previous details about the groups' connections reported last year by the Center for Public Integrity.

For government ethics watchdogs, the unusual relationship between the Governors Coalition and oil and gas industry representatives raises troubling questions about transparency, the blurring of lines between public and private interests, and who is driving the national debate about offshore drilling.

"The until-now hidden connection between energy interests and the Governors Coalition illustrates how big money all too often calls the tune in today's public policy debates," says Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. "Unfortunately, it appears these governors have surrendered their independence and are providing a front for the energy industry's drive to expand drilling for offshore oil and natural gas."

Capitol Crusade: Big Oil joins forces with key governors

Soon after the BP disaster, oil and gas interests sprung into action to refurbish the industry's image and ensure their long-term plans for expanding offshore drilling weren't derailed.

In the face of skepticism about offshore drilling and calls to shift towards clean energy, the oil and gas industry spent unprecedented sums of money on political influence. According to, the industry more than doubled its campaign contributions to federal candidates from the 2010 to the 2012 election cycle to more than $70 million. Oil and gas companies also dramatically expanded their independent or "outside" political spending following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, from about $2.5 million in 2010 to almost $18.9 million in 2014. The industry's spending on electing sympathetic lawmakers was complemented by more than $141 million spent on federal lobbying in 2014 alone.

Then in 2011, just over a year after the BP disaster, a new lobbying force appeared: the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of coastal state governors who, according to the group's website, "support policies that encourage an expansion of American energy, particularly U.S. offshore energy resources."

The Governors Coalition, launched by Republican governors of Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, now includes, in addition to chairman Gov. McCrory, Republicans Greg Abbott of Texas, Robert Bentley of Alabama, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Paul LePage of Maine. Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia joined shortly after his election in 2013, and Independent Bill Walker of Alaska came on board after his victory last year. Each governor's office pays $1,000 a year, presumably taxpayer money, for membership in the Coalition.

From the beginning, the Governors Coalition has been open about its agenda: to expand offshore oil and gas drilling, both in areas where it is currently allowed in the Gulf Coast and Arctic Ocean, as well as opening up the untapped waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The position of governors is especially critical in deciding the fate of Atlantic drilling, since the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that guides the federal offshore leasing process gives significant weight to governors' recommendations.

The Governors Coalition has been less open, however, about its close relationship to the oil and gas industry, which stands to reap immense profits if the elected officials are successful in promoting their pro-drilling agenda.

2015 0505bp 3Click here to expand chart in new window.

According to documents obtained by Facing South, the Governors Coalition — despite being ostensibly led by elected state officials and based in McCrory's office — is largely managed and operated by two interrelated private outfits directly tied to the energy industry: the Consumer Energy Alliance, a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit that under law is not required to disclose its donors, and HBW Resources, a corporate lobbying and public relations firm.

The Consumer Energy Alliance bills itself as the "voice of the energy consumer." The dark-money group counts more than 90 energy companies and industry associations among its members, including the five so-called "oil supermajors": BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell. The Alliance has been a vocal advocate of fracking, the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and expanded offshore oil drilling. The watchdog Center for Media and Democracy calls the Alliance a "front group for the energy industry."

Documents obtained by Facing South show the Consumer Energy Alliance has an especially close relationship with one leading figure in the oil and gas industry's political network: HBW Resources, a lobbying and public relations firm founded in 2005 that specializes in energy development. HBW Resources' current lobbying clients include Noble Energy, a major oil and gas exploration and production company based in Houston and a member of the Alliance; its previous clients include the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's leading advocacy group.

The Consumer Energy Alliance and HBW Resources are so closely intertwined that it's difficult to tell where one group ends and the other begins:

* All of the staff listed on CEA's website are also employees of HBW Resources.

* CEA was officially registered as a tax-exempt organization by David Holt, the "H" in HBW Resources and the firm's managing partner, in 2008, according to an IRS letter confirming the group's nonprofit status. Holt currently serves as CEA's president.

* CEA's mailing address is 2211 Norfolk St., Suite 614 in Houston — the same address as one of HBW Resources' main offices.

* Websites for HBW Resources and CEA are hosted at the same IP address as and several other pro-drilling sites.

* CEA has also paid HBW Resources a substantial amount of money in contracting fees. According to CEA's latest tax filing for 2013, of the group's $3 million in income, $1.3 million was paid to HBW Resources for "management & professional services."

Blurred Lines: Public vs. Private

After the BP spill, the energy lobbyists at HBW Resources and the Consumer Energy Alliance sought new messengers to promote the offshore drilling agenda. They found the allies they needed in four Republican leaders from coastal states who would launch the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition — a group in which the lobby firm and the dark-money nonprofit have played a central and often secretive role.

The Governors Coalition made its public debut on May 2, 2011 at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, one of the oil and gas industry's largest trade shows.

The group's original members — Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Rick Perry of Texas, Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Sean Parnell of Alaska, all Republicans — wrote a letter to their fellow governors inviting them to join the group:

[W]e are forming the OCS Governors Coalition as a mechanism to foster an appropriate dialogue between the coastal states and the Administration and ensure that future actions are done with adequate state input.

Though the governors' announcement letter did not mention any involvement by the Consumer Energy Alliance, the group was quick to celebrate the Coalition's formation. Alliance President and HBW partner David Holt issued a statement that "CEA applauds the collaboration of these governors in promoting an open dialogue about the need to and realities of producing American energy offshore, not only for their individual states, but for the entire nation."

The Consumer Energy Alliance began working with the Governors Coalition, then chaired by Alaska Gov. Parnell, the following year. According to emails obtained by Facing South, on April 23, 2012, Frank Collins — a former spokesperson for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal who was then serving as policy coordinator for the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and who now serves as deputy chief of staff for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) — wrote an email to the Coalition membership, which by then had expanded to include Govs. Bentley of Alabama, Haley of South Carolina and McDonnell of Virginia.

Collins proposed "a handful of initiatives" to help the group "coordinate and communicate more effectively." Among them:

David Holt and his volunteer team have offered to assist the Coalition to organize monthly status calls, bimonthly bulletin alerts, face-to-face meetings, and messaging opportunities, among other items. In order to start moving the ball forward, David and Natalie Joubert will be reaching out to each member state in the next few weeks to hold a status call.

Like David Holt, Joubert symbolized the blurred relationship between HBW Resources, the Consumer Energy Alliance and the Governors Coalition. At the time, Joubert was both the policy director for the Alliance and vice president for policy at HBW Resources. (She left both organizations earlier this year.) The signature line in her emails to the governors' group identified her as being affiliated with the Alliance, but she often used an HBW Resources email address (for an example click here). According to her (now-deleted) HBW Resources bio, Joubert is a former associate at the Clinton Foundation and in 2012 served as an adviser for the Obama for America Energy and Environmental Team.

It wouldn't be until August 2013 that the OCSGC would adopt a memorandum of understanding to formalize its relationship with the Consumer Energy Alliance, an agreement that underscored the Alliance's central role in running the governors' group. The document characterizes the Alliance's role as "volunteer staff" for the Governors Coalition, which includes "[e]xecuting all day-to-day administrative, writing and research needs of the Coalition" and "[a]ssisting in the conceptualization and execution of all internal and external communication and media engagement of the Coalition."

Yet the overlapping relationship between the three groups was largely concealed from the public. When Facing South first began looking into the Governors Coalition in 2013, its website did not mention the connection to the Consumer Energy Alliance at all; for example, see this version of the Governors Coalition's "About" page from November 2013. In August 2014, however, the page had been edited to acknowledge that the Alliance provides the Governors Coalition with "information and administrative support." The edit came after investigative reporter Lee Fang of The Republic Report used metadata from a letter sent by the Coalition to former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) to reveal that the letter originated from HBW Resources.

Today, the website of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition — which is hosted at the same IP address as the Consumer Energy Alliance and HBW Resources — still does not disclose the Consumer Energy Alliance's close relationship with HBW Resources. Nor does the Alliance's "About" page disclose its relationship with the energy lobbying firm.

However, emails and other documents obtained by Facing South reveal the full extent to which the Governors Coalition has been largely run and driven by the oil and gas industry representatives at the Consumer Energy Alliance and HBW Resources. Among the initiatives the two outfits have spearheaded for the Governors Coalition:

* Drafting newspaper op-eds. Collins' April 23, 2012 email to the Governors Coalition noted that "volunteer staff" — that is, the Alliance/HBW Resources — was "drafting op-ed for OCSGC use." A week later, an op-ed titled "Virginia Could Be an Energy Power — If Washington Would Let It" ran in the Wall Street Journal under Gov. McDonnell's signature, calling for Atlantic drilling as the Obama administration was in the process of finalizing its offshore leasing plan for the 2012-2017 period.

* Drafting lobbying letters. In July 2012, Joubert sent Governors Coalition members a draft of a letter urging President Obama to "advance the dialogue between federal and state officials," asking them to review it and send edits "our way." And as previously noted, The Republic Report used metadata from another letter sent by the Coalition to former U.S. Sen. Landrieu of Louisiana promoting expanded drilling to show the letter's original author was "NJoubert" of HBW Resources.

* Connecting the governors to oil and gas industry insiders. For example, the Alliance/HBW Resources organized what it called a "closed-door session" for the governors with "industry leaders" at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston in May 2013. When the Governors Coalition convened again that October in Biloxi, Mississippi at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, the Alliance/HBW Resources organized an "Industry Roundtable Luncheon" that was also closed to the press; among those who attended were representatives of Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Prior to the October meeting, Joubert sent Coalition members what she called "Industry Briefing Read-Aheads" from Shell and ExxonMobil making the case for expanded drilling. In the documents obtained by Facing South, there is no evidence that the Governors Coalition solicited or received information for their meetings from environmentalists or scientists concerned about the impacts of offshore drilling.

* Connecting governors with energy industry donors. Following the "closed-door session" with "industry leaders" at the May 2013 conference in Houston, Governors Coalition members headed to a fundraiser for Gov. Haley at the upscale Hotel ZaZa in the city's Museum District. That same day, Haley's campaign reported receiving a contribution of $2,319.22 from HBW Resources, listed as a "fundraising expense."

The following day Haley's campaign registered contributions of $2,500 each from HBW Resources partners Holt and Michael Whatley and $1,000 from Paul Looney, HBW vice president for strategic development who specializes in working with state regulators on permitting and exporting of petroleum products.

Haley also reported a contribution of $2,500 from Richmond "Richie" Miller, president of Spectrum Geo, a Houston-based company that conducts seismic testing for oil and gas reserves. He was among those who attended the industry roundtable earlier that day. Spectrum Geo later filed applications with both the state of South Carolina and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to move ahead with seismic testing for oil and gas reserves in federal waters off the South Carolina coast. Scientists have expressed concerns that the practice, which involves using underwater air blasts nearly as loud as conventional explosives, is harmful to marine life.

Earlier this month, Spectrum Geo and another seismic testing company, GX Technology, received approval from the McCrory administration to conduct testing off North Carolina's coast.

Facing South contacted McCrory's office to discuss the relationship between the Governors Coalition, the Consumer Energy Alliance and HBW Resources, but Communications Director Josh Ellis declined to comment on that specifically.

"Gov. McCrory is proud to chair this bipartisan group of governors working to find environmentally sound solutions for energy exploration," Ellis said in an email.

'Speaking for the oil industry'

In its push to open Atlantic waters for oil and gas drilling, the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, along with the Consumer Energy Alliance and HBW Resources, have focused their lobbying efforts on the U.S. Interior Department, which houses the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that oversees offshore leasing.

In early 2013, when President Obama initially nominated Sally Jewell to replace Ken Salazar as Interior secretary, coalition members Haley of South Carolina, McCrory of North Carolina and McDonnell of Virginia wrote to Jewell congratulating her on the nomination and asking her to support Atlantic drilling. The following month, Jewell — a former CEO and president of outdoor retailer REI and a former Mobil Oil engineer — responded on personal letterhead that she appreciated hearing their concerns but as a nominee was "not yet in a position to be involved in policy matters before the agency."

But the Governors Coalition didn't give up. Instead, it sent a list of questions to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), then the chair and ranking member respectively of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, to ask Jewell at her nomination hearings. "Fortunately, Senator Murkowski did include all of the proposed questions," Natalie Joubert enthused in an email to Governors Coalition members.

After Jewell was confirmed, three members of the Governors Coalition — Bentley of Alabama, Bryant of Mississippi, and McCrory, who had become the group's chair following Alaska Gov. Parnell's defeat — traveled to Washington in February 2014 to meet with her in person to further press the case for Atlantic drilling. "As chair of the OCS Governors Coalition, I am encouraged with the opportunity to meet with Secretary Jewell and better advance the Coalition's common mission of greater federal-state communication," McCrory said at the time.

Five months later, the Interior Department announced plans to open the Atlantic to seismic testing for oil and gas reserves, the first step toward offshore drilling. Six months after that, in January 2015, it released a drilling lease plan for 2017-2022 that included the Atlantic outside of a 50-mile protective coastal buffer zone. The plan excluded parts of the Arctic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida, where Gov. Scott and other elected leaders have long opposed offshore drilling as a threat to the Sunshine State's $67 billion annual tourism industry.

In a statement on behalf of the Governors Coalition, McCrory thanked Jewell "for taking a step in the right direction" by considering Atlantic drilling — but he criticized the proposal for allowing "many other resource-rich areas [to] remain under lock and key by the Obama administration." McCrory continued that line of attack in testimony he gave earlier this month before a U.S. House subcommittee (in photo), where he criticized the 50-mile buffer zone for "unnecessarily put[ting] much of North Carolina's most accessible and undiscovered resources, frankly, under lock and key." He also called on BOEM to offer more than one drilling lease in the Atlantic, as it proposed.

In his statements, McCrory did not mention the considerable public opposition to Atlantic drilling in his own state — including unprecedented crowds that turned out for BOEM hearings earlier this year in Wilmington and Kill Devil Hills, or the resolutions opposing seismic testing and/or offshore drilling passed by more than a dozen North Carolina coastal communities as well as local chambers of commerce, tourism boards, and fishing industry associations.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit law firm opposed to Atlantic drilling, pointed to the disconnect between the governor's statements and the outpouring of public opposition, issuing a statement blasting McCrory for "speaking for the oil industry."

(Additional research and reporting by Chris Kromm. Map from BOEM. Image of McCrory is a still from a webcast of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources' April 15 hearing. This story was produced in part with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.)

News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Driver's License Suspensions Perpetuate the Challenges of Criminal Justice Debt

Protests in Ferguson, Mo. led to investigations that uncovered a deeply problematic justice system that pulled thousands of people into a web of criminal justice debt and aggressive debt collection practices. Among those harsh enforcement practices: Driver's license suspension for failure to pay court-imposed debts. Using driver's license suspension to enforce debt payment is not unique to Ferguson. Today, driver's license suspensions are a frequently used tool to enforce collection of criminal justice debt.

"Criminal justice debt" refers to the accumulation of fees and fines that a defendant acquires while being processed through the justice system. Fees and fines may be imposed for anything from restitution to make the victim whole to punitive fines designed to deter future wrongdoings. Most commonly, courts impose user fees to recover operating costs. These fees are imposed at various stages throughout the process; including charges for bookings, jail stays, prosecution, public defense and probation services.

Fees and fines do not disappear once a person has been convicted and incarcerated. Rather, those costs linger. When combined with other debts most people face – credit card debt, child support and insurance payments, for example – the additional costs of criminal justice debt can be difficult or impossible to pay. In California alone, there is more than $10 billion in uncollected, court-ordered debt.

Enter collection enforcement, such as suspension of a driver's license. It is growing in popularity. In 2010, the Brennan Center reported that at least eight of the 15 states with the largest prison populations suspended licenses based on missed debt payments: California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. At least four states suspended licenses for failure to appear in court for an arrest warrant, the underlying cause being failure to pay debts. In the Lone Star state, individuals convicted of a drug offense have their licenses suspended for 180 days. In Florida, a drug conviction leads to license suspension for one year. Nationally, 40 percent of license suspensions are for unpaid traffic tickets, unpaid child support and drug offenses.

Driver's license suspension for failure to pay child support is particularly troubling. All 50 states have statutory or administrative provisions to suspend licenses for not complying with child support orders. In Virginia, for example, a 2011 bill authorized the Department of Social Services to suspend a license for delinquent child support payments and prohibited reinstatement until delinquency is paid in full. Michigan, too, has a bill to suspend a driver's license if a parent is behind in payments.

Suspensions are counterintuitive, as the enforcement mechanism actually inhibits future repayment of debt. Suspending a person's license impedes one's ability to maintain employment and earn money to satisfy the debt.  It can also complicate attending court appearances. The Justice Department's recent report on Ferguson profiled a woman facing a driver's license suspension. She explained, "I am a hard working mother of two children and I cannot by any means take care of my family or work with my license being suspended and unable to drive." This woman is not alone. In one of Milwaukee's poor neighborhoods, two out of three African American men of working age does not have a license, reported NPR in 2015. In California, more than 17 percent of adults have suspended licenses that "make it harder for people to get and keep jobs, harm credit ratings and raise public safety concerns."

Driver's license suspension can lead to unnecessary incarceration, too. It is unconstitutional to incarcerate a person for failure to pay court-debts because he or she cannot pay; nevertheless, people are often incarcerated for failure to adhere to debt collection enforcement practices. Driving with a suspended license leads to substantial fees, possible jail time, additional suspension time or license revocation – all of which can prolong a person's entanglement with the justice system and increase someone's chances of being incarcerated for other offenses stemming from nonpayment, like contempt of court.  

License suspension can be a valuable enforcement tool, particularly for those who commit offenses related to unsafe driving practices. Someone driving under the influence of alcohol or with repeated, serious moving violations should face suspension of their license to ensure public safety. But using driver's license suspension to enforce debt collection – with no other relation to the offense – creates more challenges to the offender than it's worth.

Some lawmakers are taking steps to reduce counterproductive reliance on driver's license suspensions. Here are some examples:

  • In St. Paul,  Minn., Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi  piloted the Driving Diversion Program in 2009 to assist individuals charged with driving after suspension earn back their license while keeping a temporary license.  

  • In Wisconsin, Milwaukee officials created the Center for Driver's License Recovery and Employability in 2007 to connect people with services and help regain licenses.

  • In 2012, Washington stopped suspending licenses for failure to pay nonmoving traffic violations. Suspensions have fallen by half, according to a recent New York Times article.  

  • In California, new legislation – Senate Bill 405 – would require counties to create amnesty programs for people with outstanding criminal justice debts. It would also require the DMV to restore driving privileges to those in the program.  

These reforms are great steps toward reducing the challenges of criminal justice debt. Here's another: Impose fees and fines in line with what an offender can actually pay. Rather than creating diversion and debt forgiveness programs, measure an individual's ability to pay the debts before providing alternatives to cope with non-willful nonpayment. As courts increasingly struggle to address criminal justice debt, this analysis will prove even more potent.  

News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
For US Women, Inequality Takes Many Forms

Work crowd(Image: Work crowd via Shutterstock)

Although we are only a few months into 2015, it has already proven to be a watershed year for women’s rights around the world. On the heels of the International Women’s Day March for Gender Equality, the He for She and Planet 50-50 by 2030 Campaigns, and the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, international advocates and officials alike are coming together to evaluate the progress that has been made over the past several years. This raises the question: what is the current status of women in the United States?

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)—in partnership with a multitude of organizations including the Ford Foundation, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, and the Center for American Progress—just released the 2015 edition of its project on the Status of Women in the States, with newly updated data and trend analyses on women’s economic, social, and political progress in the United States. The findings? Although we have indeed experienced progress toward gender equity, it’s likely that we won’t see equal pay for American women within our lifetime. (For more on this topic, see this post by Roosevelt Fellow Andrea Flynn.)

The road to achieving gender equality in the U.S. is quite clearly checkered with significant potholes.

Over the next several weeks, IWPR will be releasing a series of reports that include data on U.S. women’s employment and earnings, poverty and opportunity, work and family, violence and safety, reproductive rights, health and well-being, and political participation. The data and trend analyses found in these reports can be explored by topic and differing demographics (women of color, older women, immigrant women, and Millennials, to name a few), as well as on a national or state level. The first two chapters on employment and earnings and poverty and opportunity have already been released, revealing a number of insights on the state of women within this country. Some highlights:

  • In just about every state in the country, Millennial women are more likely than Millennial men to have a college degree, yet Millennial women also have higher poverty rates and lower earnings than Millennial men.
  • Although more women are receiving high school diplomas and completing college than ever before, a considerable proportion of women either do not graduate high school or finish their education with only a high school diploma.
  • By the time a college-educated woman turns 59, she will have lost almost $800,000 throughout her life due to the gender wage gap.

There are incredibly large disparities throughout different regions of the United States; southern women are the worst off with regard to employment and earnings. Furthermore, the status of women differs notably by race and ethnicity, with Hispanic women having the lowest median annual earnings compared to other women.

In general, women’s economic security is directly linked to their family income, which includes earnings from jobs, but women tend to be concentrated in fields that lead to jobs with relatively low wages. Even women who do go into higher-paying fields still earn less than their male peers. This helps explain why, in 2013, about 14.5 percent of women ages 18 and older had family incomes that placed them below the federal poverty line, compared with 11 percent of men. However, even this estimate does not fully capture the extent of the hardship that women continue to face in the U.S.

2015 0505w ch

What can we conclude from this data? As a recent article in The Washington Post puts it: “When it comes to equal pay, the American woman is stuck in a proverbial waiting room. But the number on her ticket, the length of her stay, largely depends on where she lives and to whom she was born.” In other words, the status of women in this country is incredibly complex, and as a result, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to achieving gender equality.

Gender equality is an intricate mosaic, a picture that cannot be complete without understanding and exploring the dynamic regional, national, and demographic factors at play. As a result, we cannot approach these issues without thoroughly peeling back and exploring each layer. It is necessary for all of us to reassess how we measure, monitor, and evaluate the status of women so that we can effectively determine both the progress that has already been made toward achieving full gender equality and the challenges and obstacles that lie ahead. 

News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How to Run for President for Fun and Profit: 2016 Edition

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signs copies of his book and meet with patrons after speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit at the Hoyt Sherman Place theater in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times) Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signs copies of his book and meet with patrons after speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit at the Hoyt Sherman Place theater in Des Moines, Iowa, January 24, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

Greasy little snake-oil salesmen like Mike Huckabee realized that if you run for president on a platform of fetuses and Jesus, you can make so much money that you'll have to buy wheelbarrows to carry it all away.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signs copies of his book and meet with patrons after speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit at the Hoyt Sherman Place theater in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times) Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signs copies of his book and meet with patrons after speaking at the Iowa Freedom Summit at the Hoyt Sherman Place theater in Des Moines, Iowa, January 24, 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

The first presidential campaign I remember actually paying attention to was Carter vs. Ford in 1976. My addiction to politics began in true when I heard someone say "That Reagan guy is going to get us all killed" during the I-paid-for-this-microphone election of 1980. Then came the landslide of 1984, followed by Dukakis in the tank in 1988, followed by the one-termer scion getting stomped by Arkansas in 1992, followed by Dole literally falling off the podium in 1996, followed by lockboxes, theft and doom in 2000, followed by "Run on the war" in 2004.

Then, in 2008, something truly remarkable happened. Greasy little snake-oil salesmen like Mike Huckabee realized that if you run for president on a platform of fetuses and Jesus, you can make so much money that you'll have to buy wheelbarrows to carry it all away. It doesn't matter if you're facing certain defeat; quack the proper crap, and the segment of the population who thinks dinosaurs never existed because they aren't mentioned in the Bible will vacuum up quarters from between the couch cushions and send them to you. It's better than winning the lottery.

In 2008, the Republicans had some fairly heavyweight contenders. Romney, Giuliani ... but Mike Huckabee stayed in the race, and stayed in the race, and stayed in the race even though he knew the exercise was a fool's errand. In primary after primary, he pulled 25 percent of the vote, slicing the hamstrings of the major candidates by sucking up the votes from the no-dinosaurs-because-Jesus people, until he eventually ran the other contenders off the road, and John McCain won the nomination by default ... and then picked Sarah Palin as a running mate, and the rest is sadly hilarious history.

Huck ain't care. He got paid deep, and is a trend-setter in his own fashion. The phenomenon took root in 2012, and has quite simply exploded on the eve of the 2016 race.

Make no mistake: The Democratic field is no prize. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a man I would personally walk through fire for, is going to get beaten by the "news" media with the "socialist" stick because he has the audacity to think we should fill potholes and have fire departments, and pay for it all with public money. Martin O'Malley, who isn't actually in the race yet but has been thinking long and hard about it, has to contend with the sudden eruption of Baltimore police violence, and politically speaking, it's like someone stapled a wooly mammoth to his back.

And then there is Hillary Clinton, the Anointed One ... who voted for the PATRIOT Act, who voted for the war in Iraq, who champions fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline, and despite her recent eruption of populist rhetoric is chummed up and cashed in with the worst breeds of cat Wall Street has to offer. Wrong on personal freedom, unjust war, protecting the environment and economic equality ... hm ... those are only the four of the most important issues facing the nation today. Yeah, I'm just lathered in trust.

All that being said, gadzooks. Mike Huckabee? Carly Fiorina? Ben Carson? Marco Rubio? Rand Paul? Ted fa-chrissakes Cruz? Have we plummeted so far that these people are actually worthy of consideration to sit the chair of the President of the United States of America?

Mike Huckabee believes women use birth control because they "cannot control their libidos." Carly Fiorina ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground, which maybe means we've had enough of failed business owners (cough George W. Bush cough) sitting the big chair.

Ben Carson said this: "My thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society, and no group - be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality - it doesn't matter what they are - they don't get to change the definition."

Huckabee, Fiorina, Carson, the three latest entrants to the Republican presidential field for 2016. You can chew on the inside of your cheeks until you spit blood trying to figure out what this eruption of nonsense really means - Is the country really this bent? Are we doomed? Who would vote for these people? Why do I have to listen to these barmy fools for the next 18 months? What have I done wrong? - but you'll be missing the point.

The point: It's a fundraiser, writ large. Ted Cruz didn't want to shut down the government back when he pulled his little wingding. He wanted to bank some cash, and he surely did. These people are the 21st century version of the carnival barkers and tent revivalists who have been fleecing the same section of the populace since God wore short pants.

Enjoy the show.

Opinion Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Irish Are Fighting Back

The austerity program imposed by the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund starting in 2010 stipulated that charges for households' water consumption should be introduced - a plan that the right-wing government now in power is implementing. Notwithstanding public pronouncements to the contrary, the plan is most likely to eventually privatize Irish Water, the public utility set up to charge citizens for water. This has provoked a strong popular movement against water charges.

Protesters march to the center of Dublin in anger of the government introducing a second charge for household water on November 1, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.Protesters march to the center of Dublin in anger of the government introducing a second charge for household water on November 1, 2014, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo: Simon McLoughlin /

Syriza has taken power in Greece and Podemos is rising in Spain. And now, Irish people are fighting back as well, notwithstanding the "model pupil" label ascribed to the country by European elites.

The austerity program imposed by the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund starting in 2010 stipulated that charges for households' water consumption should be introduced - a plan that the right-wing government now in power is implementing. Notwithstanding public pronouncements to the contrary, the plan is most likely to eventually privatize Irish Water, the public utility set up to charge citizens for water.

This has provoked a strong popular movement against water charges. Its importance cannot be overstated; it is simply "the largest and broadest, and most sustained, social movement in Ireland since independence in 1921," as an important new report concludes. Communities have been attempting to block the installation of water meters in neighborhoods throughout the country. Nationally, five demonstrations have gathered between 20,000 and 150,000 people. Relative to population, a protest of 100,000 in Ireland is equivalent to 1 million in Spain. Indeed, we are witnessing the "birth of a new civil society."

The movement has made important gains already. It has forced the government to reduce the average annual charges from 278 to 160 euros per household. But protesters want to abolish Irish Water entirely and keep water - which after all, is not in short supply on the Emerald Isle - free. Fully one-third of households liable to pay the charge, or about 500,000, have refused to register to pay. Protest groups hope that this boycott will force the government to cancel its plans, being unable to process such a high number of payment refusals.

The opposition movement is important because it started from the bottom-up in communities around the country. In November, more than 100 local protests linked to Right2Water took place, gathering more than 150,000 people.

The protests erupted in such a way because water charges are the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back in the seemingly never-ending austerity measures that have affected so many aspects of community life. For example:

- According to official statistics, 30.5 percent of the population is now suffering from deprivation - up from 12 percent in 2007.

- Health spending was cut by 27 percent between 2009 and 2014.

- Communities have faced a series of cuts between 2008 and 2014, including cuts to:

- a violence against women program: -38.2 percent
- women's organizations: -48.7 percent
- projects for youth: -44.1 percent
- community development: -43.6 percent
- voluntary social housing: -50.0 percent
- drug programs: -37.0 percent
- family support agency: -32.5 percent

Another reason why the protests have emerged at the grassroots level: Normal institutional channels on the left to voice discontent and popular aspirations have been closed off in Ireland due to the conservative nature of such groups and their co-optation by the government. For example, the traditional left political parties (Labor and the Greens) have supported water charges, while many key trade unions and civil society organizations and charities have chosen simply not to oppose them.

A few more progressive unions and political parties, together with community groups, have thus joined together to lead the opposition to water charges. The networks formed promise to survive beyond the current struggle and have positive consequences on popular organizing and action for years to come.

A report surveyed 2,500 people involved in the protests and found that 54 percent of respondents had never protested before joining the water charge opposition movement. This indicates that people are becoming politicized and are aware that many others around the country are also opposed to Irish Water.

Also, 92 percent said they wouldn't pay their water charges and 83 percent mentioned they would vote for broadly left parties in the next election, including the Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, independents and Sinn Fein. A clear majority said they had voted for government parties in 2011, but would not repeat that mistake again. Seventy-eight percent said the most effective way of changing things in Ireland is through protesting, against only 28 percent who said it is by contacting a political representative, pointing to the high level of disillusion toward mainstream institutions.

In short, if there is one thing that unites Ireland, it is lack of trust in the political class. The campaign against water charges is now attempting to build on this resentment and channel it effectively to influence policy.

Opinion Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Right-Wingers Get Tip From Waitress

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who is running for re-election, tours McGinty Machine in Wichita, Kan., Sept. 12, 2014. Brownback’s proudly conservative politics have turned out to be so divisive and his tax cuts have generated such a drop in state revenue that they have caused even many Republicans to revolt. (Craig Hacker/The New York Times)Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's proudly conservative politics have turned out to be so divisive and his tax cuts have generated such a drop in state revenue that they have caused even many Republicans to revolt. (Photo: Craig Hacker / The New York Times)

Tip the schools instead.

That's the message waitress Chloe Hough gave Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback this weekend when he stopped in for a bite to eat at Boss Hawg's Barbeque in Topeka.

Hough was actually on her last shift as a waitress there, so when the governor asked for his check, she saw an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

After crossing out the tip line on the bill, she wrote a note next to it that said, "Tip the schools." Hough then posted a picture of the edited bill on Facebook, where it's since gone viral.

Don't get the wrong idea, though. This wasn't some sort of publicity stunt.

For Chloe Hough, this was personal.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Like millions of other Jayhawk State residents, she and her family have felt the sting of Gov. Sam Brownback's failed experiment in Reaganomics.

Chloe Hough is right. Education is the foundation for a better country and a more forward-thinking society.

But that, of course, is not how Governor Brownback and the rest of the Republican Party see it.

To them, education funding is just another thing to cut to make way for massive tax cuts - tax cuts that in Kansas have been an absolute and unmitigated disaster.

After he was elected governor in 2011, Sam Brownback promised to make his state "a real live experiment" in right-wing Reaganist economic theories. So he went ahead and slashed the top income tax rate for the rich, opened a loophole that allowed businesses to pay taxes as individuals, and eliminated a bunch of other smaller taxes.

The governor said that these tax cuts for rich people would boost Kansas' economy and jump start job growth, but nothing has really panned out the way he said it would.

Since 2012 when Brownback's tax cuts began, Kansas has consistently lagged behind the national average in job growth, and while it did do better on that count in 2014, it didn't do nearly as well as neighboring states like Missouri, which didn't cut taxes for the rich.

Thanks to Brownback's tax cuts, the Jayhawk State now faces a budget shortfall of $422 million.

And who's had to pay the price for the fiscal mess created by Brownback and the ideologues in the Republican Party?

Well, among other things, the school system.

That's right, the school system!

Instead of repealing his disastrous tax cuts, Governor Brownback has instead slashed funding for Kansas' already cash-strapped public schools by $51 million.

The situation has gotten so bad that some schools are now closing early for the summer just to save money, and, as Chloe Hough's family learned, many of the most vulnerable students are losing access to the programs they need to succeed.

What's happening in Kansas is shocking, but it shouldn't be surprising.

The myth pushed by people on the right that cutting taxes for rich people and corporations will make wealth "trickle-down" to everyone else is just that - a myth.

No nation, state or political entity in the history of the world has ever cut its way to prosperity.

This was true of the Weimar Republic, it's true of Greece and Kansas right now, and it will be true of whatever Republican-controlled state next cooks up a tax cut scheme.

That's because rich people use their money differently than working people do.

Instead of going out and spending the extra money they get back from tax cuts, rich people stash it in their Swiss bank accounts or wherever it is they keep their millions.

This means that that rich people's money only minimally recirculates back into the real economy, and rarely finds its way back into the government's hands as tax revenue.

So in effect, it's lost money. Once the government cuts taxes for the rich, it's never getting that money back.

Republicans, of course, don't see it that way.

The smart ones know that the "trickle-down" economics is just a scam to make the super-rich even richer, but most of them, the suckers, are still drinking the Reaganomics Kool-Aid.

They're members of the economic equivalent of a death cult, these so-called free-market fundamentalists, and most can't be reasoned with because they don't believe in facts, just ideology.

Let's just hope that Chloe Hough's special message to Sam Brownback tips some of them, and the country, in the right direction.

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bernie Sanders' Run Can Help the "Less War" Movement in the US

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), right, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, lead a budget mark-up meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 19, 2015. Republican leaders were trying to quell a war between budget hawks and defense hawks that ground the House Budget Committee to a halt late Wednesday night. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), right, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, lead a budget mark-up meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 19, 2015. Republican leaders were trying to quell a war between budget hawks and defense hawks that ground the House Budget Committee to a halt. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

A key problem confronting Americans who would like to see the US involved in less war is that as Peter Beinart recently noted in The Atlantic:

It's also notoriously hard to mobilize Americans against wars until those wars begin. The anti-Vietnam movement didn't become a force inside the national Democratic Party until 1968, when more than 20,000 Americans had already died. And liberal activists only began putting real pressure on Democratic politicians over Iraq after the war began, when they powered Howard Dean's insurgent campaign. Since World War II, the general pattern has been that elites drive foreign policy--generally in an interventionist direction--until they make a mess big enough to make the public cry stop.

The pattern Beinart described is a recipe for a lot of war. It's as if the dial is automatically set to "more war" by default and we have to make a huge effort each time, for each war, to try to change the setting to less war. Each new war is treated in public discourse as "innocent until proven guilty": the initial burden of proof is on war critics to show that this war is a bad one, rather than the initial burden of proof being on war supporters to show that this war is a good one.

One way to address this problem would be to make advocacy for less war a regular feature of electoral politics, so that it becomes a standard question that people (especially media) ask automatically: where does the candidate stand on less war? Of course, over time the marquee "less war" issues change, as happens with other concerns. Right now the marquee less war issue is supporting realistic diplomacy with Iran. Other current less war issues include: insisting that new wars have to be authorized by Congress; reducing the Pentagon budget to be more like that of a normal industrialized democracy; reducing US support for civil wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine; making US drone strike policy transparently comply with the rule of law; and reducing US support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The race for president is to electoral politics what the award for Best Picture is to the Academy Awards: it's the thing at the top of the marquee, the thing that the most people will pay the most attention to. So if we're serious about the project of making less war a permanent electoral issue, then we have to be serious about making less war a permanent issue in presidential politics.

This means that less war activists have a huge stake in what Bernie Sanders says about less war issues right now and in the months ahead, when he will have a platform in the media to talk about less war issues that no other progressive political figure is likely to have.

Of course, Sanders is not going to be a less war candidate in the sense that less war is going to be at the top of his marquee. The top of his marquee is already taken with other issues: "Tad Devine, an informal adviser and longtime friend to the senator, has said that a Sanders campaign would focus heavily on three major issues -- campaign finance reform, climate change and income inequality."

But that makes him potentially an ideal less war candidate from the point of view of maximum impact on the less war issues. The thing that we need most in the United States is not more people for whom less war is their top issue; the thing that we need most is to reduce the general phobia among liberals and progressives towards making advocacy for less war a standard feature of the liberal-progressive package presented to the public. If Sanders makes advocacy for less war a feature of the liberal-progressive package he is presenting to the public, then Sanders will be modeling on a very prominent stage exactly the behavior among liberals and progressives that we most need to encourage.

We're not starting from zero. Juan Cole notes:

Bernie Sanders opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of that country.

Sanders wanted to get out of Afghanistan from 2011 much faster than the timetable announced by President Obama. Obama has now more or less extended a US military presence in Afghanistan, advertised as a training mission, indefinitely. My reading of Sanders is that he would get out of that country entirely.

A President Bernie Sanders would endorse the Iran negotiations of the Obama administration.

Sanders was the first US Senator to announce that he would skip Netanyahu's anti-diplomacy speech to Congress.

This makes Sanders an ideal candidate to help move pragmatic less war positions on Israel-Palestine deeper into mainstream American political discourse.

We have an ideal test case right now. Supporters of the Netanyahu lobby are trying to make it official US policy to endorse Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, by attaching a provision requiring the US to oppose European sanctions against Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the "Fast Track" trade package moving (or not moving) through Congress. This pro-settlements provision is opposed by J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Sanders, of course, is opposed to the Fast Track/TPP/TTIP trade package. But that doesn't mean he can't also oppose this specific provision - other Democrats opposed to the package have done so.

You can urge Sanders to stand with J Street, APN, and JVP against the pro-settlement provision here.

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Xenophobia, Poverty and the Lies That Link Them: Dissecting the UKIP Support Base

Running up to Thursday's election, support of the UK Independence Party is highest in the poorest regions of England where misunderstanding about the causes of poverty and unemployment permits anti-immigrant rhetoric to disguise unrelated economic mismanagement. It makes fools of the UK's lowest in income, who are unable to focus their efforts on the real levers of change.

A viewer watches UKIP leader Nigel Farage on an election TV debate on Apr 4, 2015 in London, UK.A viewer watches UKIP leader Nigel Farage on an election TV debate on April 4, 2015, in London, UK. (Photo: 1000 Words /

Looking to Thursday's elections, last month's newspapers in England mapped the inverse correlation between regional support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and numbers of resident immigrants. It turns out that where there are lower immigrant populations, there is more support for a political party that is existentially predicated on fear of immigration. This inverse correlation ought not to surprise us: Racism relies on ignorance, i.e., on not knowing.

Those who have never, or rarely, lived alongside people born outside of the UK are apt to be those who are most opposed to that possibility. Given that many of the rest of us, who either are immigrants, the children of immigrants, or the friends and neighbors of immigrants, know from experience that such views are hateful and indefensible, it stands to reason that to maintain such a stance, one must be short of information or in possession of bad information. Both of these are true in this case. UKIP supporters, for the most part, come from homogeneous white-British regions, and, like the rest of us, are subject to biased, incomplete information.

What is surprising is the consistent failure of politicians and the mainstream media to attempt to dig any deeper into the reasons behind UKIP's success, and the right ways to respond to that. This map, devised by, makes for a more interesting comparison. It shows the distribution of the poorest households across the UK. Compare this with the original map: You'll see at a glance that the correlation of poverty with UKIP support is striking. (Unsurprisingly, distance from London is also a feature that many of these regions share.) So not only are UKIP supporters unlikely to have had much direct experience of immigrants, they are also likely to belong to some of the UK's poorest communities. A recent YouGov survey showed that UKIP voters are less likely, on average, to be higher earners than Conservative or Labour supporters.

UKIP's leader, Nigel Farage, is a clownish caricature. He belongs to the same school of disingenuous character construction as George W. Bush and Boris Johnson, all of whom have garnered public support through a deceptive boorishness designed to break with the wooden, over-polished fronts of their fellow politicians, and appeal to our love of the underdog. Farage trades on his clumsy offensiveness as a way of appearing more approachable and sincere than the standard Westminster politician. Of course, his personal story (public schoolboy turned city trader turned politician) is a run-of-the-mill tale of an ambitious, wealthy white man done good. He is enormously privileged, but his public image, like his political front, is spun to fool the disenfranchised into a sense of identification.

Among those of us who don't identify, a lot of time and energy is spent in mocking UKIP supporters for their ignorance. Meanwhile, year on year, their numbers grow, and if poverty inculcates a disposition for supporting UKIP, we can expect a surge in the party's popularity as the numbers of people living in absolute poverty increases, which seems to be where the continued austerity measures of the major parties are likely to lead us.

A schoolteacher's corrections of a UKIP flyer went viral last month, inviting us to have a good laugh at the stupid party and the stupid people who sympathize with them. It's a panicked sort of laugh; a laugh to drown out a very worrying reality. 

The flyer represents a party whose ideology trades on hate and vitriol, but look at that sentence structure! It's not at all clear that spelling and grammar are the things we should be mocking, and it's not obvious that laughter is the right response anyway. All this mocking of Nigel Farage, his cronies, and their endless gaffes is distracting and counter-productive. 

To the extent that UKIP's support stems from a sense of alienation at Westminister's priorities, all this laughing can only harden those on the margins. In some moments, and some spaces, it undoubtedly seems meaningful to satirize xenophobia, and it is no doubt cathartic when the alternative is hurt. But trivializing UKIP and its followers means trivializing the issues that their voters want to talk about, and those issues are very far from trivial. They are some of the most pressing political questions of our time, and they deserve our serious attention.

Because despite arguments that UKIP is a viable party based on a shrewd economic strategy, it is an open secret that many of its supporters feel a sense of identification because they have views that are patently racist. A recent incident brought this home rather embarrassingly. 

primary school student, when asked who he is supporting in the coming election, replied that his choice was UKIP, because he wants to "get all the foreigners out the country." In a line, and with the honesty only a child can muster, he distills the central tenet of UKIP's support among Britain's white working classes. Forget the other policies: UKIP's hook is that its rhetoric gels with people's pent-up racism. The protestations of UKIP politicians that they are being misrepresented is neither here nor there: Ask a UKIP supporter why she supports them and expect an answer that barely disguises a deeply-held racism.

If this point seems unconvincing, consider that subgroups within the English Defence League have announced their support for UKIP. It takes a racist to spot a racist, and the EDL is certainly not one to extend the hand of friendship to just about anyone. UKIP can describe itself in whatever terms it wishes, but a party's legitimacy derives from its supporters, and after all, real democracy means delivering on the preferences of those supporters. In other words, if UKIP followers are racist, UKIP is racist. If UKIP was a leading player in a coalition, its voters would be disappointed if their racist preferences were not acted upon. After all, a good deal of a party's following derives from the ideology that is implied by, say, the way its representatives comport themselves. UKIP's "gaffes" are very unlikely to be accidental, but if so, they are serendipitous in the extreme: They cleverly garner support without the need to write an explicitly racist manifesto. 

It pays to ask why so many people feel this way. Why do people want to "get rid of all the foreigners"? Why does that repeatedly top lists of priorities when elections roll around? The obvious answer is that immigrants have been scapegoated, but for scapegoats to be wanted, there must be an urgent set of problems for which there are no satisfactory answers. Those questions revolve around poverty and unemployment. And the UK, in its eagerness to see economic health of any kind in its core (London), and in its determination that this wealth trickle down from bloated corporations, is struggling and failing to get much-needed resources to its peripheries: the very places where poverty and UKIP support have their concomitant hotspots.

Joblessness, low-quality education and non-existent training opportunities are the order of the day outside of Britain's major cities. Interestingly, when one considers the positive impact of migrant workers on local communities and the national economy, it is obvious that Britain's extremities are losing out partly because they have so few immigrants. It is a further irony that, were British people raised to speak another language (instead of being the nation of haughty monoglots that we are), those who now feel compelled to support UKIP would likely have gone abroad in search of employment opportunities. And nobody would blame them: There's little for them here. 

All of the data suggests that immigration strengthens the economy, does not cause unemployment, does not push down wages, does not drain (but rather, bolsters) public services, and is not motivated by seeking welfare payments. Yet working-class, British-born people, like everyone else, are poorer than they were at the last election.

The culprits are not immigrants, they are the politicians who have initiated draconian austerity measures that ideologically target the poorest and most vulnerable, while decimating the public services that make cash-poverty more livable. The current government has meticulously and relentlessly personified the "deficit" until it seems reasonable to prioritize it above attending to the needs of people who are struggling to eat, and in so doing, they have undermined their own legitimacy, which derives solely from their responsibility to care for the people.

Permitting anti-immigrant rhetoric to disguise unrelated economic mismanagement is not only deeply unethical because it is a lie and because it hurts racialized people, it is unethical because it commits an injustice against the UK's working people, who become the brunt of a bigger political joke as they bang their heads against the wrong brick wall, believing that their lives would be better if only they could just get rid of all the foreigners. Anti-immigrant ideology is a ruse, designed to divide working people on the basis of race and nationality, while class divisions are the real levers of injustice. 

And the saddest part of all is that UKIP itself has a very unconvincing set of policies when it comes to tackling poverty, which means their support base is less likely to benefit from voting UKIP than almost any other political party. Their proposed ban on unskilled migration would adversely affect local economies, their cap on benefits would target struggling families, and their failure to adequately protect the NHS and other public services would create additional burdens and vulnerabilities for the UK's poorest communities. 

So have politicians simply given in to the racism of the masses, and decided to adjust their rhetoric and policies to try to win them over? The masses have never had such power over the elite; we can only dream of such exercises of democracy, no matter how bitter their outcomes. Racism is a core component of the ideology of the elite. If they cannot maintain popular support for the fierce control of borders, and maintain the fragmentation of working-class people, they cannot guarantee the protection and obfuscation of their own financial interests.

Immigrants and racialized groups within the UK suffer from the stigma that this rhetoric induces. But much more worrying at this moment in time is the effects of anti-immigrant rhetoric on those who are embarking on the long and dangerous journey to Europe, leaving behind countries torn apart by war and poverty. Well over 1,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean in the last few weeks. Many of these lives could have been saved if European countries could jointly provide adequate search-and-rescue missions. They are prevented from doing so because they have expediently whipped up anti-immigrant discourse to fever pitch, and can no longer summon the popular support for even the most basic gestures of humanity. 

Poverty and (legitimate) fear is what drives these migrants to seek uncertain futures in the European countries who are implicated in the degradation of their own home countries' stability through colonialism, war-mongering, and brutal debt repayment schemes. Poverty and (illegitimate) fear is what drives poor Europeans to make xenophobia the outlet for their misery and humiliation. The UK government's prioritization of the interests of the wealthy and corporate has necessitated a diversionary and divisive hatred within the working classes, and UKIP has benefited from the racial hatred that increasing poverty has fed.

Why are we not talking about UKIP supporters? Because that would mean talking about class, after which we see that UK politics is cowardly, dishonest, and undemocratic to the core.

News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: It's Effectively a Crime to Be Poor in the US, and More

In today's On the News segment: Debtors prisons have been outlawed for more than a century, yet it's still effectively a crime to be poor in our country; the rich love to whine about entitlements, but that doesn't stop them from collecting their own government handouts; protesters held a 15-day fast outside Los Angeles City Hall to demand an increase to the city's minimum wage; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. Despite the fact that debtors prisons have been outlawed for more than a century, it's still effectively a crime to be poor in our country. According to a stunning new report called "The Poor Get Prison," the "justice system" is being used as a weapon against the poor in cities all over our nation. That study was co-authored by Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr on behalf of the Institute for Policy Studies, and it breaks down the various ways that Americans are being punished for being poor. In addition to the obvious criminalization of poverty, like fining the homeless for being homeless, cities and counties throughout our country have set up a vicious cycle of charging exorbitant fees for small infractions and then jailing people who can't afford those fines. By turning many petty crimes, like drinking from an open alcohol container, into civil infractions, cities and towns set up the poor to fail and end up behind bars. A $100 ticket can easily turn into probation for failure to pay fines, which snowball when probationers then fail to pay so-called "supervision fees." Suddenly, someone ends up in a modern-day debtors prison. Not only is this whole process unconstitutional, it doesn't make a lick of sense. Throwing someone in jail over unpaid fines means that they can't work, and they can't make any money. It also means that instead of a $100 fine being lost to the city or county, taxpayers are now on the hook for the cost of putting someone behind bars. In the introduction to "The Poor Get Prison" report, one of the authors wrote, "In the last ten years, it has become apparent that being poor is in itself a crime in many cities and counties, and that it is a crime punished by further impoverishment." Debtors prisons were outlawed long ago because they are inhumane and ineffective, and it's time to end the criminalization of poverty once and for all.

It's official. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he's running for president. In an email about his announcement, he wrote, "After a year of travel, discussion and dialogue, I have decided to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president." Although Senator Sanders is officially an independent, he is seeking the Democratic nomination to ensure that he doesn't split the vote. Various news outlets and pundits ignored or dismissed the announcement, but Sanders said, "People should not underestimate me." With a strong background of fighting for veterans, protecting the middle class, and standing up to the big banks and Wall Street, Senator Sanders gets support from people all over the political spectrum. In an interview with the Associated Press, Senator Sanders said, "I've run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country." Regardless of where you stand on 2016, it's great to have another voice in the race who will fight for working Americans.

Rich people love to whine about entitlements, but that doesn't stop them from collecting their own government handouts. In a recent article over at Common Dreams, Paul Buchheit explains how the actual cost of the social safety net pails in comparison to the cost of tax avoidance, loopholes and corporate welfare. In 2014, the total cost of the non-medical safety net was $370 billion. That means that programs like SNAP, WIC, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit and others cost less than one quarter of the $2.2 trillion that is lost to tax avoidance. While those at the top blame food stamp recipients and hungry kids for bankrupting our nation, they continue to stash money in overseas tax havens and call for even lower tax rates on the rich. The poor people in this country are not the problem, and it's time to call out the real welfare kings and queens for the massive benefits they take from our government.

The Fight for Fifteen has helped raise wages in cities like Seattle and San Francisco, but workers aren't stopping there. Last week, protesters wrapped up a 15-day fast outside Los Angeles City Hall, which was being held to demand an increase to that city's minimum wage. The group of protesters is made up of fast-food workers who say that they can't survive on poverty wages. In an interview with the ThinkProgress Blog, one of the protesters said that fasting was just a reminder of the way that she grew up. While many would applaud the difficult form of protest, Martha Sanchez said, "It's not difficult because I grew up hungry. I'm not doing anything radical, I'm doing exactly the same thing that thousands of moms are doing in silence in their homes." In the richest nation on Earth, no one should be suffering with hunger, and every worker should earn a wage that ensures they have enough to eat. Hopefully, this brave protest will push lawmakers to do right by the low-wage workers of Los Angeles.

And finally ... Corporate profits are at record highs, but wages are growing at the slowest pace since 1960. While workers and activists fight for higher wages, one senator is fighting this inequity from a different angle. Earlier this month, Democrat Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to the head of the SEC about the use of stock buybacks and dividends to manipulate stock prices and deny wage increases. In her letter, Senator Baldwin wrote, "There is mounting evidence to suggest that buybacks have a negative effect on jobs, wages, and investment, which in turn have negative impacts on innovation and long-term national economic growth, competitiveness, and security." In earlier decades, corporations used this money to invest in their companies, their workers, and their nation. Now they're just using it to make those at the top even richer. Good on Senator Tammy Baldwin for shining a light on this corporate manipulation, now let's help put pressure on the SEC to make stock buybacks a thing of the past.

And that's the way it is - for the week of May 4, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400