“People are not seeing what’s going on. We’re talking thousands of civilian dead.”
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In May, FRONTLINE filmmaker Martin Smith and his team were the only foreign journalists given permission to enter Yemen, the country that’s home to what the United Nations recently called the “largest humanitarian crisis” in the world.
What they saw unfolds in “Inside Yemen.” From children describing the sounds bombs make as they fall, to doctors and nurses caring for cholera patients and malnourished infants for months without pay, this short documentary is a rare, up-close look at the consequences of two-plus years of airstrikes on the country by a Saudi-Arabia led coalition that has received weapons and tactical assistance from the United States.
Smith’s trip to Yemen was part of his reporting for an upcoming FRONTLINE special on the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Airing in 2018, the documentary will trace the roots of the Sunni-Shia divide, and explore how a proxy war between the two countries is devastating the Middle East.
To be delivered to Berkeley City Council, Jesse Arreguin, Mayor, Linda Maio, Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett and 4 other targets (click here to see more)
We demand that the city of Berkeley take action and stop prohibiting porta potties at homeless encampments.
There are currently 160 signatures. NEW goal – We need 200 signatures!
Supporters of the First They Came for the Homeless encampment in South Berkeley (at the Here/There sculpture on MLK) have offered to pay the costs of a porta potty, but the city has refused to grant a permit, and threatened fines to the company that provides them. Earlier this year, the city promised to provide portable toilets at the encampment, but they have delayed action for months claiming they are studying how to provide toilets for all 15 homeless encampments around the city.
Every day that goes by without these toilets adds stress to people in the encampment and to the local businesses that provide their restrooms. We thank businesses such as Sweet Adeline’s for their support, and demand that the city stop burdening our local businesses and allow porta potties at this and all homeless encampments.
For more information, read about the recent town hall organized by Councilmember Ben Bartlett on the homeless: https://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/07/18/homeless-camp-city-berkeley-want-bathroom/
Note from Mike Zint and/or Jeffrey Shurtleff;
How serious is this? Women are forced to pee in bottles, or hold it. We have been told that tomorrow night, we may be getting our first family.
KIDS, FORCED TO PEE IN BOTTLES! I want everyone to think about that. In Berkeley, the mayor, city council, and the city manager don’t care if women and children pee in bottles.
Berkeley talks about helping the homeless but it seems beyond the city’s ability to provide a modicum of dignity to its residents who have the least.
July 18, 2017, (berkeleyside.com)
By JP Massar and Debbie Notkin
JP Massar is a housed Berkeley activist working to eliminate homelessness, the surveillance state and unjust debt. Debbie Notkin is a housed resident of Oakland who supplements her full-time job with organizing for public banking and economic justice.
“It’s a failure of our society that the humanitarian crisis of homelessness has been allowed to get so bad. Addressing homelessness is my administration’s top priority.” — Mayor Jesse Arreguín, State of the City address, July 10, 2017.
Homeless or not, people eat, they need to go to the bathroom, they create trash. Berkeley’s government knows this. Nonetheless, Berkeley’s housed officials consistently refuse to spend a dime to locate Porta Potties or schedule trash pickup in areas where homeless Berkeley residents congregate and live under constant threat of eviction — largely because of the self-fulfilling, persistent belief that the homeless are not sanitary.
The city of Berkeley and the state of California require that every house have a bathroom, for excellent health-and-safety reasons. Yet the city refuses to provide the homeless, who by definition do not have a house to have a bathroom in, with somewhere to go, OR EVEN THE RIGHT TO CONTRACT WITH A PORTA POTTY PROVIDER ON THEIR OWN AND PAY FOR IT.
The city of Berkeley provides trash pickup, again for excellent health-and-safety reasons. Yet the city refuses to provide the homeless with trash containers or trash pickup services — OR EVEN ALLOW THEM TO PAY FOR THE SERVICES ON THEIR OWN.
The city then turns around and claims the homeless pose health-and-safety concerns. Ergo, a self-fulfilling or, if you prefer, Catch-22. In a city that professes to be willing to lose millions to say we stand with some of our residents against Trump’s insane policies, this continued failure to provide our current homeless residents with the most basic of human needs — a place to go to the bathroom — is an inexplicable and inexcusable failure of progressivism.
We are a city seeing the forest but not the trees. Berkeley can conceptualize homelessness as a theoretical humanitarian crisis, yet treats each individual homeless person’s basic human needs as unworthy of consideration.
Let’s be clear: the Pathway Project’s intent — creating a respite for some of Berkeley’s homeless and a better chance of escaping homelessness for a few — is a reasonable, if costly, endeavor (although some aspects of its proposed implementation are questionable). And the massive proposal for housing and services on the site of the Berkeley Way parking lot, designed for the homeless and those on very low incomes, is to be applauded. This is not an either/or situation. These projects are off in the future and, while impressive in scope, can only make a dent to homelessness in Berkeley.
Since Dec. 1, 2016, when Mayor Arreguín took office, activists, homeless and housed, including the author, have been asking, nay begging, the city in every way they can to provide the most basic of services to homeless encampments. On Saturday, July 15, in a town hall called by Ben Bartlett, Councilman for District 3, the community (including many business owners) overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, demanded that the city reverse the inhumane, absurd and self-defeating policies that have prevented this from happening.
With no prospect that Berkeley’s homeless will be housed in the short or medium term, isn’t the least Berkeley – which claims to care – can do is provide humanitarian services at low cost while promoting health and safety for all. What’s not to like?
And yet all we get is bureaucratic runaround. We get one excuse after another. There are referrals and re-referrals to committees and staff, but the city seems to think doing the right thing is as impossible a task as bringing peace to the Middle East. In fact, it is not beyond the city’s ability to immediately provide – or allow to be provided — a modicum of dignity to its residents who have the least. The city could act, and the City Council could demand action through legislation and direction to staff. Nothing happens.
Would you want to live without a bathroom within tens of yards of where you are staying? Without permission to have one? Would you want to have to haul your trash for blocks, have nowhere to legally dispose of it, or live with it around you? Homeless people are forced to live that way.
It’s one thing — a very good thing — to acknowledge that homelessness is a problem and try to do something about it. It’s another thing — a very bad thing — to refuse to see the homeless as human beings, constituents, residents, and neighbors with basic needs. This anti-humanitarian inaction is not worthy of Berkeley. It needs to end. Now.
Oakland gives $57 million in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street banks every year in interest and fees, while many people in Oakland cannot afford water, food, or housing. Oakland can create it’s own Public Bank to hold taxpayer money, and INVEST in what the community needs.
Monday, July 24th, 2017 from 6 – 9 pm at the Black and Brown Social Club
474 Valencia between 15th and 16th Street near 16th Street BART
Information, discussion & community! Monday Night Forum!!
OccupyForum is an opportunity for open and respectful dialogue
on all sides of these critically important issues!
Film: Our National Bird
Directed by Sonia Kennebeck
Three whistleblowers, (who all worked on the drones program, gathering intelligence and tracking targets to be killed), break the silence around the US drone war. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, the whistleblowers speak out publicly, despite the possible consequences. National Bird offers an unparalleled glimpse into the surreal landscape of automated murder. Who are these people, who sit in windowless rooms and make life-and-death decisions based on blurry images flickering on computer screens?
Directed by Sonia Kennebeck and executive-produced by Wim Wenders, National Bird takes us to Afghanistan, where the maimed survivors of a mistaken drone strike on unarmed civilians in February 2010, which killed 23 people, describe what happened when they were attacked. The gung-ho attitude of the drone operatives is juxtaposed with raw footage of the dead bodies (some children) returning to their anguished friends and family. Kennebeck also juxtaposes Obama’s speeches about drones — in which he claims that they are able to “take out” insurgents without harming those around them — with the testimonies of those who know that this is false.
In her book, “Drone Warfare”, CODEPINK’S Medea Benjamin documents the growing menace of drone warfare, with an extensive analysis of who is producing the drones, where they are being used, who are “piloting” these unmanned planes, who are the victims and what are the legal and moral implications. Benjamin documents how the U.S. government’s use of drones to murder hundreds of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen has increased the danger to our national security, and reveals the vocal international citizen opposition that challenges the legality and morality of America’s extrajudicial execution drones before they kill here at home.
National Bird reminds us that we’re living in an electronic haze, where life and death are decided on the basis of, as often as not, caprice. Detachment and a lack of accountability are rewarded where responsibility and compassion are shunned. For many servicemen and women, time in service may be little different than a video game gone mad.
Denver’s massive Blue Bear will be peering in the windows as US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos headlines the 44th American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Annual Meeting being held at the Colorado Convention Center’s Hyatt Regency Hotel July 19-21.
Other big names speaking at the event include Trump defender-in-chief Newt Gingrich, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Republican pollster Frank Luntz and local megadonor and light beer magnate Peter Coors, who chairs the right-wing Coors Foundation.
The Center for Media and Democracy reported that there will be a debate on the ALEC draft model bill to repeal the 17th Amendment, but many other controversial issues will be on the ALEC agenda as the meeting gets underway tomorrow. ALEC will be debating bills related to sexual assault on college campuses, campus protest, taxpayer vouchers for private schools and well-off families, the rollback of popular renewable energy programs, the dismantling the Affordable Care Act and more.
College Sexual Assault Takes Center Stage
Sexual harassment and sexual assault have been a crisis on US college campuses for decades. National and campus surveys have repeatedly shown sexual assault to be at epidemic levels affecting 20-25 percent of college women. A recent survey of 23,000 undergrads released by the US Department of Justice in 2016 determined that 1 in 5 female undergraduates experience some kind of sexual assault while in college. Only 12.5 percent of victims reported the assault to colleges or law enforcement and an even smaller percentage achieved some form of justice.
In 2011, President Obama’s Department of Education issued guidance to college campuses receiving federal Title IX money urging them to improve the investigation and adjudication of assault. The department has investigated and found colleges and universities that do not follow the guidance to be in violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. This more aggressive prosecutorial stance and a few high-profile cases of sexual assault allegations that were later called into question appear to have made assault on college campuses a partisan issue.
Last week [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos held a listening session on the issue giving defendants equal representation as victims, and took a stand — for the accused.
Now the Trump administration is weighing in. Last week DeVos held a listening session on the issue giving defendants equal representation as victims, and took a stand — for the accused. DeVos said the stories of those claiming to be wrongly accused of campus sexual assault “are not often told.” Earlier, Candice E. Jackson, the top civil rights official at the Department of Education under DeVos, told The New York Times that “the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.” She later apologized for this attack on victims, but she and DeVos made it clear that they were ready to roll back the progress made under the Obama administration in addressing the epidemic of college rape.
After decades of pushing extreme, punitive measures, like Mandatory Minimums, ALEC is poised to go pro-defendant. ALEC wants to make sure that alleged perpetrators are permitted to lawyer up when expulsion is being contemplated.
ALEC corporate and legislative members will be debating a new draft bill that gives college student defendants and victims the right to have an attorney represent them in non-academic disciplinary hearings.
ALEC is also discussing another measure, which establishes the right for victims to have a counselor and an attorney throughout the legal process. The bill also calls for the prompt analysis of and the long term retention of rape evidence kits. Victims have the right to sue governments to enforce these rights. A similar bill was promoted by RISE, a national civil rights nonprofit, with zero opposition in Congress. It was signed into law by President Obama last year.
Federal Role in Vouchers on the Agenda at Education and Workforce Development Task Force
Task force agendas indicate that ALEC will be revisiting their cookie-cutter template for universal school vouchers and the Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act, the bill that is the inspiration behind the DeVos-Trump push to install a $20 billion federal tax credit scholarship program for private schools at the federal level. Few details of the plan have been made publicly available, but ALEC legislators will likely get the lowdown.
With this bill, ALEC abandons any pretense that vouchers are a civil rights ticket for poor or minority children and demonstrates that it wants vouchers for all, including public money for wealthy individuals to send their kids to private and religious institutions.
The DeVos group American Federation for Children (AFC), along with K12 Inc., have long been the drivers of ALEC’s school privatization agenda. This year, AFC’s Scott Jensen, the former speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly who was caught up in a corruption scandal, will update ALEC on plans for using the federal government to promote school vouchers.
DeVos recently slammed Denver in a speech because its voucher system doesn’t allow parents to take public money to pay for private schools. The DeVos/ALEC vision of universal vouchers, including for wealthy families and religious schools, would fundamentally undermine the nation’s public education system. The Colorado Supreme Court has twice ruled taxpayer vouchers for private schools unconstitutional.
According to an ALEC task force agenda, two older bills will be revisited for discussion.
This is a “universal” school vouchers bill designed to funnel public funds to private and religious schools and prevent the state from regulating private schools. With this bill, ALEC abandons any pretense that vouchers are a civil rights ticket for poor or minority children and demonstrates that it wants vouchers for all, including public money for wealthy individuals to send their kids to private and religious institutions. As CMD has reported, vouchers were originally promoted by states in the South as a way to avoid federally mandated desegregation. Nevada passed education savings accounts in 2015, but that programs has been stalled by the state Supreme Court. Seventeen other states introduced similar bills this year, according to Education Week, none passed except in Arizona.
In contrast with classic vouchers, where the state directly reimburses a private or religious school for tuition costs, these “tuition tax credit” proposals offer tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to a nonprofit “school tuition organization.” The nonprofit then pays for a student’s tuition. The measure siphons money from the state treasury to fund the right-wing ideological crusade to privatize the American educational system. Trump and DeVos have proposed something similar at the federal level.
Rolling Back Renewables on the Agenda in Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force
This ALEC draft resolution held over from the spring task force meeting opposes state funding for green energy projects on private buildings. In particular, this resolution opposes “government involvement in financing renewable and efficiency projects for private property owners.” It appears that conflicting industry interests are holding up this ALEC bill which attacks a wildly popular government program.
The Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program helps promote green energy and energy efficiency projects on private property. It pays for improvements to buildings, and the financing is repaid by an assessment on the building’s property taxes over a period of up to 20 years.
This attack on green energy is one in a long line of bills attempting to rollback renewables. Fossil fuel companies Koch Industries and ExxonMobil serve on the ALEC private sector board and major utilities such as Devon Energy, Peabody Energy are ALEC funders and participants. Measures like this one prompted dozens of major corporations such as Google, Facebook and AOL to drop ALEC in 2015. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt accused ALEC of “literally lying” about climate change on NPR.
ALEC “Center to Protect Free Speech” Cracks Down on Campus Protest
ALEC’s Center to Protect Free Speech was launched in February 2017. One of only four ALEC policy centers, this one appears primarily interested in shutting down student protest in the name of the First Amendment and shielding the identities of wealthy campaign finance givers, like the billionaire Koch brothers. Koch Industries has served on the ALEC private sector board for decades.
Watch: The United States of ALEC
Darcy Olsen, head of the Goldwater Institute, a Bradley and Koch-funded advocacy and litigation operation in Arizona, is scheduled to attend the ALEC meeting in Denver. Goldwater drafted a model bill that has been the impetus for the misnamed “Campus Free Speech” legislation moving throughout the states that seeks to crack down on students protesting right-wing speakers on campus.
At its 2017 Spring Task Force Summit, ALEC joined the effort to muzzle protesters on college campuses approving the “Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act,” a model bill that among other things requires campus speech “education,” eliminates “free speech zones” on campus, requires universities to report on campus dissent prior to the legislature’s appropriations process and allows “alleged victims to bring a cause of action for violation of their free speech rights.” The Goldwater Institute has a tougher bill that suspends or even expels students who protest speakers. Former ALEC National Chair Leah Vukmir authored a similar bill in the state of Wisconsin. There will likely be some discussion and debate regarding these competing models at the Denver meeting.
At the December 2016 States and Nation Policy Summit, ALEC passed a “Resolution in Support of Nonprofit Donor Privacy,” which ALEC says protects “charities” from being forced to disclose their donors, but which is really geared toward shielding the identities of the millionaires, billionaires and industry groups secretly bankrolling campaigns and elections. Simple disclosure in campaigns and elections used to be an area of agreement between Republicans and Democrats at the national and state level. Since the 2010 Citizens United decision unleashing unlimited dark money, the Kochs and their allies have tried hard to chip away at that consensus and roll back disclosure in states.
Members of ALEC has recommended that a focus of the center should be to combat campaign finance laws like SB96 proposed in New Mexico, which would have required independent groups that spend big money on elections to disclose to the public and voters where they are getting their money and what they are spending it on. The bill would also have barred coordination between candidates and these “independent” groups. The bill passed both houses but was vetoed by the Republican Governor after the national leader of AFP and the national Koch-funded apparatus weighed in.
Support for NAFTA in Federalism and International Relations Task Force
ALEC will debate a resolution that doubles down on its decades long support for job-killing free trade legislation. “ALEC supports international free trade and the continuation and strengthening of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)… ALEC urges the president of the United States and the Congress of the United States to first and foremost do no harm in the upcoming negotiations with Mexico and Canada as they seek to modernize NAFTA and to update and improve the agreement while not compromising existing commercial ties and activities between the United States, Mexico and Canada.”
ALEC Preps States for ACA Battle in Health and Human Services Task Force
The Koch brothers have led a war against the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which expanded health care coverage to over 20 million Americans. As CMD has documented, the Kochs have funded every major group protesting the ACA including ALEC, “grass-roots” tea party groups, the Center to Protect Patient Rights (now American Encore), Heritage Action and more. ALEC has authored a dozen bills designed to undermine state exchanges, Medicaid expansion and other aspects of the ACA.
Now, ALEC will debate a new “statement of principles” that instructs Congress to pass a health care law that “grants maximum authority to states in how they regulate their insurance markets,” and “Repeal(s) all taxes, fees and mandates in the Affordable Care Act.” Also, that “ensure(s) states have the authority to opt-out of harmful provisions of the law, such as the mandatory essential health benefits, guaranteed issue; mandated preventive health services and age rating bands…”
ALEC’s language here is extreme. Mandatory essential benefits, such as in-hospital care, pregnancy care, preventive care and coverage for pre-existing conditions are guarantees that are wildly popular with the public. Speaker Ryan and the Republican Congress want to grant states waivers for these essential benefits, which helps explain why 67 percent of votersoppose the House bill.
This new bill would impose a “work requirement for able-bodied adults receiving services and benefits from the Medicaid program.” Medicaid is a health care program for the neediest Americans including children, elderly in nursing homes, the blind and disabled and low income families. Speaker Paul Ryan’s health care overhaul would slash a stunning $800 million out of this vital program. While many believe that health care is a right and should be provided by the government as it is in most developed nations, ALEC likes to shame middle income and low income Americans who need government support.
A number of states are gearing up to ask to impose a work requirement on Medicaid. Kentucky and Maine have asked the Trump administration for approval to establish a work requirement on Medicaid beneficiaries. Arizona announced that it will do so as well and Ohio and Florida are preparing to do the same.
This is a new draft bill authorizing states to set up an insurance “high risk pool,” after obtaining a waiver from the ACA. High risk pools are a cynical effort to pretend that there will be affordable options for Americans with preexisting conditions. The reality is that high risk pools have been tried and failed in states across the country, when predictably high costs became too prohibitively expensive both for consumers and states.
Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Draft Legislation
The Kochs oppose taxpayer money for sports stadiums and if passed so will ALEC. This draft resolution opposes any “government ownership, financing or spending of and for professional sports stadiums.” The resolution would also sign the state into an interstate compact, which would take effect upon ratification by 24 other states.
Criminal Justice Task Force
Punitive ALEC model bills like “Truth in Sentencing” and “Minimum-Mandatory Sentencing” have incarcerated hundreds of thousands of individuals, particularly young African American men. Now, in a PR effort to burnish its image, ALEC is fielding a number of model bills that are less punitive.
This bill limits the ability of states to deny occupational licensing and certification to individuals with criminal records. The bill also includes language that could apply additional restrictions on the right of a state to limit licensing and certification: “The right of an individual to pursue an occupation is a fundamental right.”
The bill stands as a very odd contrast to the Koch/ALEC crusade against what they consider to be unnecessary state licensure and credentialing of professions. After the Koch’s top lawyer Mark Holden wrote about this issue in op-eds in major papers in 2015, ALEC fielded bills, such as this one on “natural hair braiding,” in an attempt to show that all occupational licensing is silly.
A diversity of democracy activists, teachers, students and more will be marching from the State Capitol in Denver 101 E. 14thStreet to the ALEC hotel tomorrow July 19, from 10 a.m. to noon. Find out the details on the Facebook page “Denver RESISTS DeVos.” #ALECinDenver is being used by protesters #ALECinCO is being used by the ALEC visitors.
Evan James, David Armiak and David Johnson contributed to this report.
During this political season, we have heard a lot about too-big-to-fail banks, corporate greed, politicians on the take, bad trade deals, inequality and … starting a revolution to save the middle class.
Just over 100 years ago, at the dawn of the first American Progressive Era, the same conditions sparked a revolution which spread from North Dakota throughout the prairie states.
In the early 1900s, family farms were under attack. Railroad robber barons charged farmers exorbitant prices to ship their grain, and if the farmers fell behind on loan payments, Wall Street banks stepped in—not to save the farmers but to foreclose on them.
As one farm family after another lost its land, politicians, who were in the pocket of big money interests, accepted the lobbyists’ cash and stood idly by.
Discontent grew among the farmers. In 1915, failed flax farmer A.C. Townley and his friend Fred Wood sat down at Fred’s kitchen table and drew up a progressive agenda to help the people of North Dakota. This blueprint for reform included regulating railroads and controlling fees, organizing farming cooperatives, and creating a state bank, which would make investments for the common good, instead of foreclosing on family farms. This was the birth of the Nonpartisan League (NPL).
Townley attached a Nonpartisan League sign to his Model T and began traveling around North Dakota to recruit citizens to join the Nonpartisan League and fight for change. Charging $6 for dues, Townley organized farmers, intellectuals, writers and women to stand up against the banks and the railroads. Knowing that they were the underdogs in this fight against the power brokers of the Gilded Age, the members of the Nonpartisan League called themselves the “six buck suckers.” Their slogan was, “We’re too dumb to quit.” The NPL published regular newspaper and used poignant political cartoons to educate North Dakotans. They knew they were in a David and Goliath match. Farm families were losing their land, their homes, and their livelihoods. What more did they have to lose?
One weapon that the Nonpartisan League had on their side was the right to vote, which North Dakota extended to women before the rest of the country did. The League sponsored meetings, not just for the farmers but also for the farm wives. Farm wives led lives of drudgery and isolation. Ladies luncheons—with political discussion—were a welcome change from everyday farm life for these women. Regardless of party, the NPL backed candidates who pledged to work toward these common goals. Their pitch—particularly to the farm wives—was “vote for the family, not for the party.” The NPL encouraged people to vote for politicians who shared their values and who would work for the people, instead of working for corporations.
In 1916, the NPL ran a slate of candidates as Republicans. (This is when progressive reformers like Teddy Roosevelt were Republicans.) The NPL took the governorship and seats in the Legislature. After the 1918 election, the Nonpartisan League controlled the entire Legislature, one Congressional seat, and the Governorship. With organization, true grit, and the right to vote, the Nonpartisan League staged a revolution in North Dakota. As a result, the NPL-led Legislature passed multiple progressive reforms to help the people of North Dakota. Most notably, these progressives created the Bank of North Dakota, which got North Dakota out from under Wall Street’s thumb and built a robust economy that is a model today.
Is It Time to Bring Back the NPL?
Since the Wall Street crash of 2008-09, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their homes. Many who have found work again are working multiple low-paying jobs with no benefits. By manipulating Congress and state legislatures, corporate America and wealthy dark money donors have stacked the deck against us. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations are people and money is speech. As a result, elections at all levels are awash with dark money trying to manipulate government.
In states like Arizona, this scenario translates into millions of dollars stolen from k-12 education and the university system and transferred to big corporations in the form of tax cuts. Sweetheart deals for pet industries like for-profit schools and prisons trump investment in infrastructure and education. Citizens and small local businesses alike are strapped for cash or saddled with too much debt. There have been studies that show small businesses often turn to credit cards for expansion. If you withdraw $10,000 from your credit card to expand your business and miss a credit card payment, the interest rate jumps to 30%. That’s not sustainable and often leads to bankruptcy. Workers, students and small local businesses are all starved for cash due to stagnant low wages and mounting debt.
It’s depressing. It’s austerity. It’s government against the people.
This cycle of austerity for the 99% and largesse for the 1% is unsustainable. Thanks to decades of trickledown economics, the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us has never been greater. How can we fix this?
I find hope and inspiration in the story of the Nonpartisan League and in the promise of public banking to rebuild our economy, make it more just, and to save the middle class.
The Public Banking Solution
What is public banking? Public banking is “banking in the public interest.” Wall Street banks make deals for the good of their wealthy shareholders. Public banks make deals for the good of their shareholder—us, the citizens. Public banking is using all or part of the state’s rainy day funds to partner with community banks to invest in the future by investing in education, infrastructure, entrepreneurship and small business development, and debt relief.
How do we do this? In a nutshell, the state bank self-funds interest-free infrastructure projects and (through community banks) offers affordable credit to local businesses, entrepreneurs, and college students.
Currently every city, county, and state in the US (except for North Dakota) holds its rainy day funds in a too-big-to-fail bank, and those funds are invested on Wall Street for the good of the bank’s shareholders—not for the good of the taxpayers. If a state or local government wants to build a road or fix the potholes, they borrow the money from Wall Street and pay interest and fees on that loan. Yes, we pay fees to Wall Street to hold our money, and we pay interest and fees when we want to use our money. Local and state governments are paying billions of dollars in financial fees each year. THIS IS A WASTE OF TAXPAYER FUNDS.
If the state took all or part of its rainy day funds and established a public bank, it could self-fund highways, bridges, education, economic development—without going into debt to Wall Street. If the state had a public bank, it could also help local governments by lending them money for improvements at a reasonable rate. The local governments would save money, the state would make a modest income on these loans, and all levels of government would be free of Wall Street debt. This is a sustainable economic loop. Giving away tax incentives is not sustainable. Giving affordable credit is sustainable. The City of Santa Fe recently did a public banking feasibility study. They found that they could buy back their bond debt and they could save $25 million over 10 years.
When I say that public banking can help build local businesses and help entrepreneurs, I’m not talking about economic development “incentives” or tax-deferred districts. I’m talking about affordable credit. The state of North Dakota offers North Dakota entrepreneurs $250,000 start-up loans that are interest free for the first two years. Thanks primarily to research at the University of Arizona, Tucson has one the highest per capita rates of patents in the US. Offering entrepreneurs start-up funds is the no-brainer route to economic diversification.
With its rich tradition of science, art, music and great food, Tucson could be the Athens of the West—instead of the Dusty Pueblo—if we invested in our strengths instead of chasing rainbows and call centers. And Tucson is not unique in this. Far too many cities compete against each other in a race to the bottom to lure corporations and sports teams—rather than investing in their local businesses. In December 2015, my husband Jim and I met with the University of Arizona Tech Park vice president to discuss using public banking to grow Tech Park-incubated small businesses. VP Bruce Wright told us that Tucson lost two start-up companies in 2015 because they couldn’t get sufficient start-up capital. All of the City of Tucson’s funds are held by Wells Fargo. All of the University of Arizona’s funds are held by Wells Fargo. All of the Tech Park’s funds are held by Wells Fargo. When the Vice President of the Tech Park went to Wells Fargo and asked for help with start-up funds for entrepreneurs. They said, “No, we don’t do that.” Why not? The community Wells Fargo serves needs economic diversification, but lending to local small business is not what Wall Street does.
In addition to the tech industry, Tucson has a budding fashion and design industry and a burgeoning reputation as a food destination. Instead of spending millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to build roads and buildings for multinational corporations, a Tucson or Southern Arizona public bank could work with local community banks to invest in theselocalentrepreneurs by offering low-cost loans, with two years interest-free. Helping localsmall businesses and entrepreneurs thrive will diversify our local economy, improve our job market, and strengthen local banks. Why aren’t we doing this?
What Wall Street Costs America
Public banking and debt-free infrastructure projects are not a new idea. Forty percent of the world’s banks are public banks, but there’s only one in the US—the Bank of North Dakota. For more than 100 years, the Bank of North Dakota has been a key partner in building that state’s economy and keeping it stable. When Wall Street crashed the world economy and all of the state budgets, the only state that didn’t crash was North Dakota because their money was invested on Main Street, not on Wall Street. The Bank of North Dakota invests its money in infrastructure projects, entrepreneurs, family farms, and college students. That’s what investing in the future looks like.
One of the big benefits of the Bank of North Dakota is that state is not in debt to Wall Street. The cost of governmental indebtedness is staggering. The Public Banking Institute recently started a project called “What Wall Street Costs America” in order to shed light on this enormous waste of taxpayer funds. For example, the state of Arizona pays $312 million a year in interest on its debt. The City of Tucson pays $25 million, and Pima County $26 million. Add in all of the debt owed by the other cities and counties in Arizona, and the state’s cumulative interest payment to Wall Street banks easily tops $1 billion per year. No wonder we can’t fix our streets or fully fund public education. States and local governments are throwing taxpayer money away.
A few weeks ago when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was asked by the New York Daily News how we would bust up the big banks—his signature issue—he didn’t have many details. When I heard this, I leaned over to the radio and said, “Bernie! Public banking! Say it!” Busting up the banks is a great slogan, but getting legislation through Congress to do this would be a huge, lengthy battle.
There are roughly 50 public banking advocacy groups in the US and around the world. If even half of these projects successfully established public banks and moved their money out of a Wall Street, the power and size of the too-big-to-fail banks would be greatly reduced.
The Nonparitisan League sparked a revolution in North Dakota in 1919. It’s time that American voters took a cue from the Nonpartisan League and voted politicians who will work for the people—and not for big money donors.
It’s time to band together to take back our money and invest it on Main Street for the public good. It’s time to break the chains of debt. It’s time to truly invest in ourselves. It’s time for a financial revolution. It’s time to vote for reform–not business as usual.
If you want to help the public banking movement, go to PublicBankingInstitute.org, join the mailing list to learn about what’s going on, and find local efforts.
This is a transcript of a speech delivered to Unitarian Universalists in Santa Barbara by Pamela Powers Hannley, co-director of Arizonans for a New Economy, vice chair of the Public Banking Institute , and progressive Democratic candidate for the Arizona House, representing LD9. Pamela Powers Hannley is a volunteer for Arizonans for a new economy and the Public Banking Institute. She receives no salary from either non-profit group.
As the Republican healthcare bill collapses, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll now try to push through legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and wait until after the 2018 midterm elections to propose a replacement. Meanwhile, proponents of a single-payer healthcare plan are organizing to urge Congress not only to stop the effort to repeal Obamacare, but to pass a bill that would guarantee Medicare for all. We speak with Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program. She was arrested Monday during a protest against the Republican healthcare bill.
On Saturday, about 100 people showed up to an “emergency town hall” called by Berkeley Councilman Ben Bartlett to discuss an encampment of homeless activists that has been allowed to remain at its Berkeley-Oakland border site for several months. A few neighbors raised concerns about the camp, which is located under the “Here There” sculpture on Adeline Street, but most made emphatic arguments in support of the city providing a portable toilet at the site, or at least signing off on the group’s plan to fundraise for and buy one itself.
Members of First They Came for the Homeless, the group of about 25 homeless people protesting the city’s treatment of homeless residents, have been petitioning Berkeley for a portable bathroom and garbage collection at the encampment for some time. The effort has earned support from dozens of neighbors and local business owners, some of whom view an onsite sanitation facility as a humanitarian obligation. Others say it would take the burden off of the neighbors who currently help collect the group’s trash and offer up their bathrooms.
“There is no benefit to anybody to deny them Porta-Potties,” said Carole Marasovic, chair of Berkeley’s homeless commission, at the town hall.
A number of neighbors said on Saturday that they would help the group buy a bathroom. First They Came for the Homeless also held a “Party for a Potty” earlier in July, where they raised several hundred dollars. At the town hall, Aaron Nassberg, the owner of neighboring gallery and tattoo parlor Modern Electric Studio, said he would donate one day of revenue to the cause.
“I don’t know how anyone can deny hygiene to someone else. We’re in a triage situation,” he said.
Currently, many encampment residents use the bathroom at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop. Representatives from the Lorin Business Association said they had voted to support a portable bathroom at the encampment, but under a permit specifying that the situation was temporary to quell concerns about it setting a precedent.
Bartlett, however, said his concern is not about the bathroom creating a slippery slope, whereby other encampments might be prompted to demand the same treatment — but rather that he thinks all encampments deserve a bathroom, and it would be unfair for the city to only provide one to the most vocal camp.
The councilman told town hall attendees he would work to meet their requests, but said they would be more successful putting a portable toilet on private property in the area rather than going through the city bureaucracy.
“It’s a planning mechanism that takes time. The bathroom is going to happen, but it’s not going to happen quickly,” said Bartlett, who told the group he is empathetic to their plight in part because his family lived in a homeless shelter for a few months when he was a teenager.
Bartlett’s aide, Talia Stender, told Berkeleyside that the councilman has identified Vault Café (at 3250 Adeline St.) and Phillips Temple CME Church (3332 Adeline) as private lots where a portable bathroom could be placed.
At the meeting, homeless advocate JP Massar told Berkeleyside he considers it “complete ridiculousness…that the city can’t do anything even though everyone in this room is in complete agreement.”
Some neighbors did raise concerns about the encampment, saying they worry it could grow and attract people who are unstable or dangerous, and that they fear the city will not be accountable if any problems do arise. In January, a convicted sex offender who had escaped from custody in Washington state and made his way to Berkeley was arrested at the camp, a neighbor noted.
“There’s been a big problem with garbage being dumped on the other side,” said a woman who lives near the camp. “I’m sort of the neighbor that goes on the city website and reports illegal dumping.” She said she supports a bathroom at the site as long as the city oversees it: “It can’t just be a freeform thing.”
For most of the meeting, attendees engaged in a cordial discussion and brainstorming session, but tensions rose a little towards the end, as those who stuck around challenged Bartlett’s insistence that the city could not act quickly to provide a bathroom, and the councilman grew frustrated with the demands.
“Why does the white camp deserve a bathroom first?”
Leah Simon-Weisberg, a South Berkeley resident and member of the Rent Board, asked Bartlett to bring to the City Council a proposal to allow bathrooms at homeless camps if enough signatures are gathered, an idea that previously failed to get sufficient support from the council. (Simon-Weisberg rented portable bathrooms for First They Came for the Homeless in late 2016 when the group was located on the Adeline median near Berkeley Bowl, but they were removed by the city.)
Bartlett agreed to bring the idea back the the council, but said he is frustrated that his district is the one that has to deal with these concerns.
“It’s racism,” he said. “South Berkeley is always expected to bear the burden of poverty.” He also questioned why First They Came for the Homeless should get support while other encampments are ignored.
“Why does the white camp deserve a bathroom first?” he asked. (The majority, but not all, of the group’s members are white.)
A handful of the homeless campers came to the meeting and expressed pleasure with the outcome.
“My concern was we’d come here and occupants of First They Came for the Homeless would be bashed,” said Mike Zint, one of the group’s founders, after the meeting. “That’s not what happened. The community overwhelmingly supports us.”
Zint and others helped launch the “protest camp” in 2014 to call attention to the growing homeless population and to criticize the city’s treatment of homeless residents. They say they run a tight ship, outlawing “tweakers” (drug users), theft and un-neighborly behavior. Many former residents, including Zint himself, have gotten permanent housing or jobs, according to the group.
First They Came for the Homeless has asked the city to sanction an encampment on a site away from residential neighborhoods. The city initially considered the idea but is no longer pursuing it.
Before the camp settled into current site in early 2017, the group was kicked out of more than a dozen other public places. In each case, the city ordered the group to leave due to health and safety concerns, and rousted the campers after they declined to comply. In December, the city cleared out the camp after finding feces spread around its post north of City Hall.
In June, a Berkeley spokesman said the city had left the group alone this time because there had not been any safety complaints about the current set-up. Publicly available data from Berkeley’s 311 line shows some complaints of “homeless activity” and “illegal dumping” in the immediate area, but it is not clear whether they pertain to the encampment specifically.
At the town hall, members of the neighborhood advocacy group Friends of Adeline said they have been providing the group with access to bathrooms and showers, and otherwise monitoring safety and cleanliness at the site.
Note from Mike Zint:
I’m sick of your playing the race card Ben. Yes, I’m white. So what. My shit stinks just like yours. Cut your race baiting bullshit. Every time you pull that, you lose support and votes.
Poverty is color blind. The encampment contains more native Americans then any other ethnicity. Yet they are too white for Ben?
That is extremely insulting. The greatest genocide in history occurred against them. They are kept in perpetual poverty. They were forced to mix with whites, for a lighter skin color. So now, they are too white for this obviously racist black politician.
I have no problem saying your racist Ben. Change how you describe us, or I will continue targeting your racism publicly.
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Gene Anthony, SF Mime Troupe, 1966 May 12, 2017 – September 10, 2017 On the Road to the Summer of Love CHS’s ambitious exhibition in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love tells the story of the countercultural movement in San Francisco through photographs. In the summer … Continue reading →
with Ed Kashi June 29 – August 20, 2017 Berkeley Arts Center Berkeley, California Revolutionaries, protestors, and now resistors. The Bay Area has been home to a long and proud tradition of citizen activism, which has often been in the vanguard and the cause of increased human and ecological rights … Continue reading →
Alemany Farmers’ Market Outreach Saturday July 22, 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM 100 Alemany Blvd, SF 94110 Jeanne is organizing flyering and postcard signatures at the Alemany farmers’ market! If we get enough volunteers, we can cover both entrances and walk with clipboards. Note Mario Woods Remembrance Day (link) starts … Continue reading →
2nd Annual Mario Woods Remembrance Day Saturday, July 22 at 11 AM – 5 PM 5701 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94124 To honor Mario’s life and to raise awareness and support for our fight for Justice for Mario and his family, particularly his mother, Gwen Woods. Please help us … Continue reading →
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Healthcare Town Hall: Creating the Future of Health Care in CA. Posted by LaborSolidarityCommittee WHEN: July 22, 2017 @ 11:00 am – 1:00 pm WHERE: Rockridge Library 5366 College Ave Oakland, CA 94618 USA EVENT
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Inner Richmond Farmers’ Market Outreach Sunday July 23, 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 200 Clement St, SF 94118 We’ll be doing outreach and signature collection in Phil Ting’s district, this time in the Inner Richmond neighborhood. Main contact: Laksh at (626) 200-9836. Inner Richmond Farmers’ Market Outreach Sunday July 23, 10:00 AM … Continue reading →
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Occupy Oakland General Assembly Posted by GNUWorldOrder WHEN: November 20, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm Repeats WHERE: Oscar Grant Plaza Oakland City Hall 1 Frank H Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612 USA COST: Free CONTACT: Occupy Oakland List Email MEETING The Occupy Oakland General Assembly meets every Sunday at … Continue reading →