Truthout Stories Mon, 25 Jul 2016 11:41:23 -0400 en-gb The World After Me: Eternal "Wartime" in the US

2016.7.25.TD.mainWe are beginning to see the "strains of the global destabilization now evidently underway and, unnerved, we are undoubtedly continuing to damage the future in ways still hard to assess," writes Tom Engelhardt. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: orangeacid, Reto Stöckli / NASA)I recently dug my mother's childhood photo album out of the depths of my bedroom closet. When I opened it, I found that the glue she had used as a girl to paste her life in place had given way, and on many pages the photos were now in a jumble.

My mother was born early in the last century. Today, for most of that ancient collection of photos and memorabilia -- drawings (undoubtedly hers), a Caruthers School of Piano program, a Camp Weewan-Eeta brochure, a Hyde Park High School junior prom "senior ticket," and photos of unknown boys, girls, and adults -- there's no one left to tell me who was who or what was what.

In some of them, I can still recognize my mother's youthful face, and that of her brother who died so long ago but remains quite recognizable (even so many decades before I knew him). As for the rest -- the girl in what looks like a gym outfit doing a headstand, all those young women lined up on a beach in what must then have been risqué bathing suits, the boy kneeling with his arms outstretched toward my perhaps nine-year-old mother -- they've all been swept away by the tides of time.

And so it goes, of course. For all of us, sooner or later.

My mother was never much for talking about the past. Intent on becoming a professional caricaturist, she lit out from her hometown, Chicago, for the city of her dreams, New York, and essentially never looked back. For whatever reason, looking back frightened her.

And in all those years when I might have pressed her for so much more about herself, her family, her youthful years, I was too young to give a damn. Now, I can't tell you what I'd give to ask those questions and find out what I can never know. Her mother and father, my grandparents who died before I was born, her sister whom I met once at perhaps age six, her friends and neighbors, swains and sidekicks, they're all now the dust of history in an album that is disintegrating into a pile of black flakes at the slightest touch. Even for me, most of the photos in it are as meaningless (if strangely moving) as ones you'd pick up in an antique store or at a garage sale.

Lost Children on a Destabilizing Planet

I just had -- I won't say celebrated -- my 72nd birthday. It was a natural moment to think about both the past that stretches behind me and the truncated future ahead. Recently, in fact, I've had the dead on my mind. I'm about to recopy my ancient address book for what undoubtedly will be the last time. (Yes, I'm old enough to prefer all that information on paper, not in the ether.) And of course when I flip through those fading pages, I see, as befits my age, something like a book of the dead and realize that the next iteration will be so much shorter.

It's sometimes said of the dead that they've "crossed over." In the context of our present world, I've started thinking of them as refugees of a sort -- every one of them uprooted from their lives (as we all will be one day) and sent across some unknown frontier into a truly foreign land. But if our fate is, in the end, to be the ultimate refugees, heading into a place where there will be no resettlement camps, assumedly nothing at all, I wonder, too, about the world after me, the one I'll leave behind when I finally cross that border.

I wonder, too -- how could I not with my future life as a "refugee" in mind? -- about the 65 million human beings uprooted from their homes in 2015 alone, largely in places where we Americans have been fighting our wars for this last decade and a half. And it's hard not to notice how many more have followed in their path this year, including at least 80,000 of the Sunni inhabitants of Iraq's recently "liberated" and partially destroyed city of Fallujah. In the process, tens of millions of them have remained internal exiles in their own country (or what is left of it), while tens of millions have officially become refugees by crossing borders into Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan, by taking to the seas in flimsy, overcrowded craft heading for Greece (from Turkey) or Italy (from Libya) moving onward in waves of desperation, hope, and despair, and drowning in alarming numbers. At the end of their journeys, they have sometimes found help and succor, but often enough only hostility and loathing, as if they were the ones who had committed a crime, done something wrong.

I think as well about the nearly 10% of Iraqi children, 1.5 million of them in a country gripped by chaos, war, ethnic conflict, insurgency, and terror who, according to a recent UNICEF report, have had to flee their homes since 2014, or the 20% of Iraqi kids (kids!) who are "at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, and recruitment into armed groups." I think about the 51% of all those refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere who were children, many separated from their parents and alone on Planet Earth.

No child deserves such a fate. Ever. Each uprooted child who has lost his or her parents, and perhaps access to education or any childhood at all, represents a crime against the future.

And I think often enough about our response to all this, the one we've practiced for the last 15 years: more bombs, more missiles, more drone strikes, more advisers, more special ops raids, more weapons deals, and with it all not success or victory by any imaginable standard, but only the further destabilization of increasing regions of the planet, the further spread of terror movements, and the generation of yet more uprooted human beings, lost children, refugees -- ever more, that is, of the terrorized and the terrorists. If this represents the formula from hell, it's also been a proven one over this last decade and a half. It works, as long as what you mean to do is bring chaos to significant swathes of the planet and force yet more children in ever more unimaginable situations.

If you live in the United States, it's easy enough to be shocked (unless, of course, you're a supporter) when Donald Trump calls for the banning of Muslims from this country, or Newt Gingrich advocates the testing of "every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported," or various Republican governors fight to keep a pitiful few Syrian refugees out of their states. It's easy enough to cite a long tradition of American xenophobia and racism without acknowledging the acute "xenophobic" action that has taken place in distant lands.

The Muslims that Donald Trump wants to ban are, after all, the very ones his country has played such a part in uprooting and setting in motion. And how can the few who might ever make it to this country compare to the millions who have flooded Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, among other places, further destabilizing the Middle East (which, in case you forgot, remains the oil heartland of the planet)? Where is the Marshall Plan for them or for the rest of a region that the US and its allies are now in the process of dismantling (with the eager assistance of the Islamic State, various extremist outfits, Bashar al-Assad, and quite a crew of others)?

What Bombs Can't Build

We Americans think well of ourselves. From our presidents on down, we seldom hesitate to imagine our country as a singularly "exceptional" nation -- and also as an exceptionally generous one. In recent years, however, that generosity has been little in evidence at home or abroad (except where the US military is concerned). Domestically, the country has split between a rising 1% (and their handlers and enablers) and parts of the other 99% who feel themselves on the path to hell. Helped along by Donald Trump's political circus, this has given the US the look of a land spinning into something like Third World-ism, even though it remains the globe's "sole superpower" and wealthiest country.

Meanwhile, our professed streak of generosity hasn't extended to our own infrastructure, which -- speaking of worlds swept away by the tides of time -- would have boggled the minds of my parents and other Americans of their era. The idea that the country's highways, byways, bridges, levees, pipelines, and so on could be decaying in significant ways and starved for dollars without a response from the political class would have been inconceivable to them. And it does represent a strikingly ungenerous message sent from that class to the children of some future America: you and the world you'll inhabit aren't worth our investment.

In these years -- thank you, Osama bin Laden, ISIS, and endless American politicians, officials, military figures, and terror "experts" -- fear has gripped the body politic over a phenomenon, terrorism, that, while dangerous, represents one of the lesser perils of American life. No matter. There's a constant drumbeat of discussion about how to keep ourselves "safe" from terrorism in a world in which freelance attackers with an assault rifle or a truck can indeed kill startling numbers of people in suicidal acts. The problem is that, in this era, preserving our "safety" always turns out to involve yet more bombs and missiles dropped in distant lands, more troops and special operators sent into action, greater surveillance of ourselves and everyone else. In other words, we're talking about everything that further militarizes American foreign policy, puts the national security state in command, and assures the continued demobilization of a scared and rattled citizenry, even as, elsewhere, it creates yet more uprooted souls, more children without childhoods, more refugees.

Our leaders -- and we, too -- have grown accustomed to our particular version of eternal "wartime," and to wars without end, wars guaranteed to go on and on as more parts of the planet plunge into hell. In all of this, any sense of American generosity, either of the spirit or of funds, seems to be missing in action. There isn't the faintest understanding here that if you really don't want to create generations of terrorists amid a growing population loosed from all the boundaries of normal life, you'd better have a Marshall Plan for the Greater Middle East.

It should be obvious (but isn't in our American world) that bombs, whatever they may do, can never build anything. You'd better be ready instead to lend a genuine hand, a major one, in making half-decent lives possible for millions and millions of people now in turmoil. You'd better know that war isn't actually the answer to any of this, that if ISIS is destroyed in a region reduced to rubble and without hope of better, a few years from now that brutal organization could look good in comparison to whatever comes down the pike. You'd better know that peaceful acts -- peace being a word that, even rhetorically, has gone out of style in "wartime" Washington -- are still possible in this world.

Lost to the Future

Before those tides wash us away, there's always the urge to ensure that you'll leave something behind. I fear that I'm already catching glimpses of what that might be, of the world after me, an American world that I would never have wanted to turn over to my own children or grandchildren, or anyone else's. My country, the United States, is hardly the only one involved in what looks like a growing global debacle of destabilization: a tip of the hat is necessary to the Pakistanis, the Saudis, our European allies, the Brexit British, the Russians, and so many others.

I have to admit, however, that my own focus -- my sense of duty, you might say -- is to this country. I've never liked the all-American words "patriot" and "super-patriot," which we only apply to ourselves -- or those alternatives, "nationalist" and "ultranationalist," which we reserve pejoratively for gung-ho foreigners. But if I can't quite call myself either an American patriot or an American nationalist, I do care, above all, about what this country chooses to be, what it wants to become. I feel some responsibility for that and it pains me to see what's happening to us, to the country and the people we seem to be preparing to be. We, too, are perhaps beginning to show the strains of the global destabilization now evidently underway and, unnerved, we are undoubtedly continuing to damage the future in ways still hard to assess.

Perhaps someday, someone will have one of my own childhood photo albums in their hands. The glue will have worn off, the photos will be heading toward the central crease, the pages will be flaking away, and the cast of characters, myself included, will be lost to the past, as so many of those children we had such a hand in uprooting and making into refugees will be lost to the future. At that moment, my fate will be the norm and there will be nothing to mourn about it. The fate of those lost children, if they become the norm, will however be the scandal of the century, and will represent genuine crimes against the future.

Opinion Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Hillary-Kaine: Back to the Center

By picking Sen. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton has revealed her true preferences and shown that her move to the left on policy issues during the primaries was simply a tactical move to defeat Bernie Sanders. It's not what you say, it's what you do. Clinton can talk about caring about the US public, but this choice cuts through the rhetoric.

The two politicians to whom she gave serious consideration to choosing as her running mates were Kaine and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. What both men share in common is, like the Clintons, being leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The DLC was, on economic and foreign policy issues, a servile creature of Wall Street -- funded by Wall Street.

As Tom Frank's new book Listen, Liberal documents, the DLC vilified the New Deal, financial and safety regulation, organized labor, the working class, opponents of militarism, opponents of the disastrous trade deals that were actually backdoor assaults on effective health, safety and financial regulation, and the progressive base of the Democratic Party.

The DLC leadership, which included President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, entered into a series of cynical bipartisan deals with the worst elements of the Republican Party, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Wall Street elites that:

  • Created a massive regulatory "black hole" in financial derivatives that Enron and later the world's largest banks exploited to run their fraud schemes that led to the Enron-era scandals and the Great Recession

  • Destroyed Glass-Steagall (the New Deal reform that separated commercial and investment banks)

  • Drove Brooksley Born from government because she warned about these derivatives and sought to protect us from the coming disaster

  • Cut the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's (FDIC) staff by over three-quarters, destroying effective supervision of banks

  • Cut the Office of Thrift Supervision's (OTS) staff by over half, destroying effective supervision of savings and loans such as Countrywide, Washington Mutual (known as WaMu, the largest "bank" failure in US history), and IndyMac. OTS was also supposed to regulate aspects of AIG and Lehman, but had no capacity to do so given the massive staff cuts and its deliberately useless regulatory leaders chosen by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

Where Was Kaine?

Kaine, like Hillary Clinton, has embraced for decades the DLC/'New Democrats' agenda -- meaning they are allies of Wall Street. They embrace a neo-liberal, pro-corporate outlook that has done incredible damage to the vast majority of Americans.

Kaine is actively pushing to weaken already grossly inadequate financial regulation and pushing to adopt the indefensible "Trans-Pacific Partnership" (TPP).

By choosing Kaine, Hillary Clinton is signaling that her new-found support for financial regulation and opposition to TPP is a tactical ploy to win the nomination before she "pivots" back to the disastrous policies that she, Kaine and Vilsack have helped inflict on the world for decades. She is playing into Trump's claims that she is not honest.

What's especially noteworthy is that Hillary Clinton and Kaine are carrying Wall Street's water while the Republican Party is repudiating some of these policies. The Republican Party platform (cynically) calls for reinstating Glass-Steagall, and Donald Trump has called for the defeat of TPP in an equally cynical fashion.

The self-described liberals -- the Clintons, Kaine and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman -- are against reinstating Glass-Steagall.  This shows Hillary Clinton hasn't learned a thing from the failed pro-Wall Street policies that have wrecked the economy. It's bad politics and it's bad policy.

Actually, that's not quite right. These policies have worked brilliantly for the top 1/1000th of one percent. The policies have been disastrous for nearly everyone else in the US -- and around the world. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren says, "the financial system is rigged."

As an attorney, professor of economics, serial whistleblower, former financial regulator and white-collar criminologist, I can explain exactly how the DLC and their Republican allies, both of which were traditionally funded by and servants of Wall Street, rigged the system.

You can be sure that people like me who have demonstrated their ability and willingness to destroy the rigged system in order to regulate and prosecute financial elites and their political cronies will never be appointed by a Clinton/Kaine administration.

The Love of Austerity   

And that's just on the finance. On the economics, the choice of Kaine signals that Hillary Clinton is openly returning to her life-long embrace of the economic malpractice of austerity. Recall that Bill Clinton tried, in league with Newt Gingrich, to largely privatize Social Security. That is Wall Street's greatest dream.

The only reason it didn't happen is that the Republican rebels asked for too much and that scuttled the deal that Bill Clinton was making with the Republican-controlled Congress. The same thing happened when the Tea Party sank President Barack Obama's efforts to reach a "Grand Bargain" with the Republicans to adopt austerity and make cuts to the safety net.

The leadership of the now defunct DLC continues to applaud the cuts they made to Social Security and the oxymoron they called "welfare reform" that has brought so much misery to poor mothers. The preposterous lie that, working with President Ronald Reagan, they "saved Social Security" is repeated daily on the intro to an MSNBC program.

Even though it would be good politics as well as policy for Hillary Clinton to break with the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party and choose a VP from the Democratic-wing of the Party, she refuses to even pretend that she gave serious consideration to choosing a progressive as her running point.

Democrats should take a lesson from economics and focus on this clear case of "revealed preferences." She is telling us that she intends to ensure that should she be elected and unable to complete her term of office she can be confident that her successor will continue the DLC's disastrous agenda.

Opinion Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Sanders Delegates Push DNC to Reform Anti-Democratic Superdelegates

2016.7.25.Sanders.mainOn Saturday, July 23, the Democratic National Convention's Rules Committee repeatedly rejected a series of reforms to its "superdelegate" system, despite the pleas of Sanders delegates who urged the 165-member body to accommodate millions of voters who want a more open and less rigged presidential nominating process. (Photo: Randy Bayne / Flickr)

After a contentious afternoon in which the Democratic National Convention's Rules Committee voted down a series of proposals from the Sanders delegation to reform the most glaring anti-democratic features of the party's primary and caucus process, negotiators met in secret for several hours and forged an agreement to create a reform commission to change those rules for future elections.

"Let me call us America's party," said Texas Congresswomen Sheila Jackson, who rose to support the proposal after opposing the Sanders camp's amendments only hours before. "And America's party, the Democratic Party, links arms with our brothers and sisters from Senator Sanders, and the journey that they made and their supporters, and the journey that was made by Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters.

"But most of all what I want to say is that divide is no more," she continued. "That we will climb this journey of victory together. That our arms will be linked and we will go to the floor of this great convention. And I am here to say thank you for being who you are. For I see that mountain that we have been challenged to cover, and I am going to say, we shall overcome and elect the next president of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, together... together... together."

The reform commission, which was then approved with 158 yeses, 6 nos and 1 abstention, will look at the main grievances raised by Sanders during the 2016 nominating season: that state party-run caucuses were non-democratic in their counting and allocation of delegates to the next stages in the process, and will, according to Sanders delegates who negotiated, shrink by two-thirds the number of so-called superdelegates, or the party insiders who comprise one-sixth of the 2016 national convention delegates.

"I rise in support of this measure because this is the result of reasoned discussions by many leaders within both campaigns, but it is truly driven by an activism, an activism within the Democratic Party that has been embraced, that has been engaged, and that we should continue to promote," said Paul Feeney, a Sanders delegate who headed his campaign in Massachusetts and Connecticut. "It's no coincidence that so many amendments have been filed today about superdelegates. The supporters of Bernie Sanders have risen up across this country. Acted up. Not to demand a new party, but to make the Democratic Party even better. That's what we're doing with this amendment. That's what we are doing with this revolution that is also an evolution."

The turnaround came after a frustrating afternoon for Sanders delegates, when it seemed the convention's rules committee was parting ways from the party's platform committee by thwarting their call for democratic reforms. The Sanders campaign won 13 million votes, 1,900 delegates and broke the party's fundraising records for the number of small donors, the delegates told the room, in part to push for concessions on the reforms they sought.

But before panel chair Barney Frank called a recess after 4pm, the convention Rules Committee repeatedly rejected a series of reforms to their "superdelegate" system, despite the pleas of Sanders delegates who urged the 165-member body to accommodate millions of voters who want a more open and less rigged presidential nominating process.

Superdelegates are top elected federal and state officials, state party leaders and key allies like labor union executives who can cast a vote for the presidential nominee and also sit on a range of convention committees, from drafting the platform to rules. For months, Sanders and his supporters have complained that the system gave Clinton an unfair lead as hundreds of party officials sided with her before states even started voting, which tilted the media coverage despite Sanders rallies drawing many thousands.

His delegates were hoping to convince the party to change that system, as well as reform the caucus process and adopt more open primaries, in which any voter, not just registered Democrats could participate. But several hours into hearings on Saturday seemed to signal that a majority of the rules panel were not willing to shake up the party's status quo.

Before they broke to negotiate and propose the commission, the panel heard short debate and then voted down a handful of reforms, from eliminating the system of superdelegates in its entirety to reducing their numbers and limiting their voting.     

"I am asking those of you from the Clinton camp to take heed," said Julie Hurwitz, a Sanders delegate from Detroit, speaking in favor of a compromise that would have let superdelegates vote if there was no clear nominee on the first convention ballot. "I would ask you to not just blindly vote no, no, no… The stakes are so high that I plead for you to take this issue seriously."

"We have had these rules in place for 30 or 40 years," said George Albro, a Sanders delegate from New York, responding to those who said now was not the time to act. "We've had a lot of time to study it. We don't have a lot of time to change it. If we walk out of this room with our heads hanging low… The only standard that we are holding the DNC to is the standard of democracy."

But a series of amendments were repeatedly rejected by two-to-one margins, especially after longtime officeholders said the superdelegate system never swayed a presidential nomination by ignoring the popular vote.

"This is more non-democratic," said Jackson Lee in response to a proposal cutting the number of superdelegates. "The [origin of] superdelegates was a healing process, when the party was fractured… It was not to divide us, it was not to be an elite process."

She argued that superdelegates allowed the party to elevate many people of color and those from rural areas. However, that explanation, while swaying a majority of Rules Committee members, was not persuasive to Sanders delegates. They told the room the party must send a signal to the millions drawn to their campaign that their call for a more open process was heard.

"This is the correct forum to have this discussion," said North Carolina's Chris O'Hara. "With all due respect… if superdelegates were put in place to heal a divided party, we are a divided party… I beseech you to actually listen."

"The Republicans have basically nominated a fascist. It's close. Please take a critical look at this," said Delaware's Rebecca Powers.

"I think this is the time for this," said Miami's Bruce Jacobs. "You are sending a message to all the people coming into the party."
The Rules Committee compromise came after heavy pressure from Democratic-leaning organizations, which gathered more than 750,000 signatures calling for change, flew a plane over Philadelphia Friday calling for an end to superdelegates, and sent thousands of tweets to rules committee members. There was high interest in the votes, and shouts of "shame, shame, shame" from outside the committee room could be heard on a live Youtube stream of the meeting.

The groups that urged the DNC to end superdelegates include Courage Campaign, Credo, Daily Kos, Demand Progress/Rootstrikers, Democracy for America, Center for Popular, Democracy, MoveOn, National Nurses United, New Democrat Network, the Other 98%, Presente, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Progressive Democrats of America, Progressive Kick, Reform the DNC, and Social Security Works.

Editor's note from AlterNet: Another reform proposal, to push the party to open its primaries to all registered voters, not just Democrats, was rejected on Saturday evening. Today Open Primaries, a non-profit electoral reform organization, brought 40,000 signed petitions to the meeting, a release noted. "It was an honor to stand up for the 26.3 million registered voters who couldn't vote in this presidential election," Maggie Wunderly, a Rules Committee member from Illinois said in the release.

News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Federal "Blue Lives Matter" Legislation Picks Up Steam, Advances Myth That Cops Are Under Threat

If Donald Trump's "Law and Order" convention is any indication, Republicans in Congress could soon try to amend federal law to equate violence against police officers to assaults fueled by bigotry.

The Blue Lives Matter Act of 2016, which was introduced to the House in April, gained two co-sponsors in the two weeks prior to the Republican Convention. The bill would amend Chapter 13 of Title 10 of the US Code to "make an attack on a police officer a hate crime."

Trump's convention focused heavily on the idea that crime is out of control, in part, because police are on the receiving end of unfair criticism.

"I have a message to every last person threatening the peace on our streets and the safety of our police," Trump said during his speech on Thursday. "When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order our country."

The "Blue Lives Matter" bill is named after a retort to protesters decrying violent police attacks on the black community, which often go unpunished. It was first coined in November 2014 by a radio personality defending Darren Wilson -- the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager and resident of Ferguson, Mo.

While those who attack police officers already face the heavy brunt of the law, cops who kill civilians, regardless of their skin color, rarely do. The Wall Street Journal noted that 12 police were charged for crimes in the US, despite killing 1,200 people on-duty. None were convicted, including three of the five officers who have been acquitted after taking part in Freddie Gray's homicide.

Gray, a Baltimore resident, was killed by local police after being placed on his stomach, unsecured, in the back of a police van -- after being illegally arrested. Parts of the city erupted in protests after Gray was killed.

After the killing last week of three police officers in Baton Rouge, La., there had been 31 cops killed this year in the line of duty. According to The Guardian, 148 of the 599 people killed by police in the US this year have been black.

The federal effort to make cop-killing a hate crime comes alongside pushes on the state level. Next month, Louisiana's "Blue Lives Matter" law goes into effect. Legislators in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Florida have introduced similar initiatives.

The House bill's sponsor is Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), a deeply conservative lawmaker who supports banning Syrian refugees, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and shredding the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. The Blue Lives Matter Act's sixteen co-sponsors are all also Republicans.

A similar bill was introduced in the US Senate in 2007. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and now-former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) were the sponsors of that legislation, which would have added mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes against police officers.

The legislation was named The Daniel Faulkner Law Enforcement Officers and Judges Protection Act, after the Philadelphia police officer for whose 1983 murder Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to be executed.

Critics have said Abu-Jamal's due process was systematically violated throughout courtroom proceedings. Amnesty International called his trial "manifestly unfair." In 2011, Jamal's death sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole. A former Black Panther, Abu-Jamal is widely reviled by conservatives as a poster-boy cop-killer.

Hate crime legislation is not just meant to protect people who are especially likely to be victims of crime, but victims who have less access to justice without intervention by constitutional powers. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was enacted in 2009 in part to provide a federal remedy when local jurisdictions were unwilling or unable to prosecute violent crimes motivated by prejudice. The act is named for two murder victims: Shepard, tortured and crucified because he was gay, and Byrd, a black man lynched by a gang of white supremacists who dragged him over a mile behind a speeding pickup truck.

A federal hate crime prosecution means harsher mandatory penalties for crimes against police, already an aggravated offense in most jurisdictions, and creates an opening for what is arguably a double jeopardy. Federal prosecutors would be able to bring hate crime cases against defendants acquitted in state court. They would also better be able to coerce defendants into pleading under threat of long prison sentences.

Legal commentary site Mimesis Law called the proposed "Blue Lives Matter" bill "a slap in the face for hate crimes," saying Buck had "aped" earnest existing hate crime legislation.

Included among the organizations lobbying for the legislation are the National Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations. The former has been the target of Black Lives Matters protests this week. Demonstrators say the institution is routinely "defending officers accused of brutality," according to "Democracy Now."

Police departments are also natural allies for the National Rifle Association (NRA), despite the fact that cops are often worried about the spread of high-powered guns throughout US streets. Some large police associations have split from the NRA politically in recent years, but it still enjoys a cozy relationship with departments and personnel thanks to fundraising ties and firearms certifications.

Prominent NRA spokesperson Wayne LaPierre has spoken in support of Buck's bill and has even given an address titled "Blue Lives Matter" at a police association annual banquet. Two months ago the NRA released a video called The Brave Who Wear the Badge, labeling protesters as "ungrateful," and calling their criticism of police "unjust" and "shallow." Many of the corporations for whom the organization lobbies market products to law enforcement, like TASER, Remington, Winchester, and Lenco.

Many of these companies have seen a threat to their bottom lines in widespread criticism of militarized police ordinance (though as with Executive limitations on civil forfeiture, there are ample loopholes). The Blue Lives Matter Act and its local sister statutes strengthen public perception, which is contrary to statistical evidence, that police officers are under heightened threat and that expansion in the scope and deployment of law enforcement arsenals is justified.

News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership President Obama's Vietnam?

2016.7.25.TPP.mainPresident Obama, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and business leaders discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, October 6, 2015. (Photo: US Department of Agriculture / Flickr)

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The prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are not looking very good right now. Both parties' presidential candidates have come out against the deal. Donald Trump has placed it at the top of his list of bad trade deals that he wants to stop or reverse. Hillary Clinton had been a supporter as secretary of state, but has since joined the opposition in response to overwhelming pressure from the Democratic base.

As a concession to President Obama, the Democratic platform does not explicitly oppose the TPP. However it does include unambiguous language opposing investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms -- the extra-judicial tribunals that are an integral part of the TPP.

If the political prospects look bleak there also is not much that can be said for the economic merits of the pact. The classic story of gaining from free trade by removing trade barriers doesn't really apply to the TPP primarily because we have already removed most of the barriers between the countries in the pact.

The United States has trade deals in place with six of the 11 countries in the TPP, so tariffs with these countries are already at or very near zero. Even with the other five countries, in most cases the formal trade barriers are already low, so pushing them to zero will not have much economic impact.

In its analysis of the TPP, the non-partisan United States International Trade Commission (ITC) projected that the gains from the deal in 2032, when its effects will be mostly realized, will be 0.23 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). This is a bit more than a typical month's growth. In other words, the ITC report implies that as a result of the TPP we can expect to be as wealthy on January 1, 2032 as we would be on February 10, 2032 without the TPP. That's not the sort of thing that would ordinarily be a cause for big celebration.

And the ITC model is explicitly a full employment model. It rules out the possibility that the TPP could lead to a higher unemployment rate as a result of increased imports displacing US workers. The ITC analysis also failed to include the negative growth effects of stronger and longer copyright and patent protection.

Both of these are forms of protection which translate into higher prices for drugs, software and other protected products. The losses from this increased protectionism can easily exceed the projected gains from the tariff reductions in the TPP.

The stronger patent and copyright protection are really at the core of the TPP. This is a deal that was crafted by and for the pharmaceutical industry, the software industry, the finance industry, the telecommunications industry and other major industry groups. We essentially asked the major firms in these sectors to tell us what they wanted in a trade deal and then the Obama administration tried to get it for them.

That doesn't make the TPP look like a good trade pact to most people, which is why it faces such bleak political prospects. But there is a lot of money riding on the TPP, so the Obama administration is not about to let it die a quiet death.

On the one hand President Obama has made numerous appeals to Democrats in Congress not to embarrass him by blocking his deal. As a president who is enormously popular among Democrats, this appeal carries some weight.

The president is also pulling out the China card, arguing that the TPP is necessary to create a trading block as a counterweight to Chinese power. Furthermore, Obama is arguing that not approving the TPP will damage our credibility with countries in the region.

It is difficult to hear this argument and not think back to the Vietnam War. The original argument for the war was to protect the right of the people of South Vietnam to determine their own destiny. At some point it became apparent to everyone that the South Vietnamese government was hopelessly corrupt and had almost no support from the population.

When it was no longer possible to argue based on democracy and self-determination, the Johnson administration argued based on credibility. They tried to make the case that if we allowed the South Vietnamese government to collapse, it would be devastating to our credibility in the region and the world. This argument was used to justify a war that cost the lives of tens of thousands of US soldiers and millions of people in Vietnam and neighboring countries. In the end of course, we left and the South Vietnamese government collapsed.

The Obama administration is now making its own credibility case about the TPP. If President Obama can't sell the TPP based on its economic merits, then it would be best to let it quietly die. "Credibility" is an ill-defined goal, and the quest for it can have very bad outcomes, as we saw in Vietnam. It's hard to see how we gain credibility by pushing a bad trade deal that was designed to serve the interests of our largest corporations. If we want a new trade deal with these and other countries, it would be better to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.  

Opinion Mon, 25 Jul 2016 10:18:12 -0400
Planned Gas Pipeline Construction on East Coast Puts Climate at Risk

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

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

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

Why do these pipelines matter so much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
One Woman's 10-Year Fight to Save Her Family From Foreclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Florida Town Proposes a Ban on Super PACs -- What Could Happen?

It could have seemed like a singular act of defiance to abolish super PACs in one Florida town. Members of the City Council in St. Petersburg approved 6-1 a motion to consider an ordinance that would limit the amount donors can give to groups that support or oppose candidates in local elections.

2016.7.25.superPAC.mainNot only would the ordinance get big money out of St. Petersburg elections, but it could lead to a legal clash ending super PACs across the country. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

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It could have seemed like a singular act of defiance to abolish super PACs in one Florida town.

Members of the City Council in St. Petersburg approved 6-1 a motion to consider an ordinance that would limit the amount donors can give to groups that support or oppose candidates in local elections.

The ordinance, if passed later this year, would directly affect only elections in St. Petersburg. But it's part of a far-reaching legal strategy to reduce the influence of money in politics by abolishing super PACs -- groups that can take unlimited amounts of money from donors to spend in political campaigns -- at the national level.

"This is a serious issue in our country and it has a corrosive effect on our elections and in our democratic process," said Darden Rice, vice chair of the City Council. "But we are going to have to tackle it on all levels -- from our city halls all the way up to the Supreme Court." 

The ordinance challenges super PACs' legal foundation, which includes the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. There, the court ruled that corporations and unions have a right to free speech, just like individual people, and that campaign donations are a form of protected speech. That decision set the stage for a flood of corporate money into US elections.

Rice's ordinance doesn't directly challenge Citizens United. But it does defy v. Federal Elections Commission, in which a Washington, D.C., court of appeals interpreted Citizens United to mean that there should be no limits on political contributions to independent groups that support or oppose political candidates. That's how we ended up with the super PACs that are spending tens of millions of dollars in the 2016 election season.

Rice's ordinance challenges that decision by limiting the amount a contributor can give to an independent group to $5,000 -- the same limit that existed before the ruling.

"Our votes mean nothing now because the only day [elected officials] need us is the day we vote," said Rae Claire Johnson, leader of the Tampa Bay branch of the nonprofit group American Promise. "The very next day they are beholden to the big-money interests that got them in office, so our interests and desires are not being supported."

American Promise is just one of the groups that collaborated with Rice on the proposed ordinance. Others include Free Speech for People, a nonprofit that works to improve American democracy, and the League of Women Voters. Legal advisers at these groups spent about six months hammering out the proposal's language.

"It very well could be a game changer," said Rice, a councilwoman for St. Petersburg since 2013 and a resident of the city for nearly 20 years.

The Big Strategy

Political action committees existed before the decision, but it provided the opportunity to create new and bigger PACs. These are the ones that have been criticized by campaign reformers across the nation in the past six years, since the Citizens United decision.

"What these super PACs can do is gather in money from any source -- unions, corporations, rich individuals -- and there is no limit to the money they can gather in," said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida.

Scott Greytak, a lawyer with the group Free Speech for People, says that decision has damaged American democracy -- including at the local level.

"The folks in St. Petersburg are aware this is not just something that happens in presidential and congressional elections," said Greytak, who helped develop the ordinance. "This is something that more and more is coming to local elections, and you see a lot of super PAC activity all around the state of Florida."

Although the legal experts who worked on the ordinance believe it will stand up in court if challenged, they also expect lawsuits if the City Council passes it. Greytak anticipates that those who benefit from unlimited super PAC spending will be the ones to challenge the ordinance.

"If this law is challenged, St. Petersburg could provide a test case that, in time, could make its way to the US Supreme Court," he said. "It could have national resonance for communities all across the country who are struggling to keep big money from poisoning their elections." And, although Rice's ordinance could be upheld without changing Citizens United, Greytak says the court could take the opportunity to revisit that case and reach a different conclusion.

Because of the vacancy in the Supreme Court, some scholars believe the timing might be just right for that approach.

"If we have a replacement justice who takes that seat and has a different view of campaign finance, that is a whole different world because then the majority is 5-4 the other way," said Torres-Spelliscy. "A lot depends on who takes that seat and when."

The plan to change campaign finance rules by bringing a fresh case to the Supreme Court joins other strategies to limit the power of money in elections. So far, 17 states have called for an amendment to the US Constitution on the issue, which would then provide a foundation for the overturn of Citizens United. Meanwhile, groups like Represent.Us have focused on passing local and state laws, tallying wins in New Jersey, Florida, and Oregon.

Will Other Cities Follow?

A Supreme Court fight isn't the only potential impact of St. Petersburg's proposed rule change.

"Personally, one of the reasons why I think this ordinance is important is because if St. Petersburg does it, hopefully other cities would do it, too," said Johnson from American Promise, who's been involved in getting the word out about the ordinance.

And of course, this is happening while St. Petersburg City Council is debating the city's everyday business.

"We don't know yet how exactly we are going to work out our local rules on ride-sharing or Airbnb, or whether or not we are going to put money into a new baseball stadium," said Rice. "But we know that for sure we want to have robust, sincere, and real conversations with the community and … what we don't want is having those conversations corrupted by the influence of big money."

The ordinance will now move on to the Committee of the Whole to be debated further in September.

News Mon, 25 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Far Right Proposals in the 2016 Republican Party Platform

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

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

Here are 50 excerpts from the 2016 GOP platform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Sun, 24 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How Utah Coal Interests Helped Push a Secret Plan to Export Coal From California

This story was originally published on July 21, 2016 at High Country News (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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