“Code Pink Protesters at Sessions Hearing Could Face Year in Prison” by Christopher Mele (nytimes.com)

Desiree Fairooz, right, an activist affiliated with the group Code Pink, at the confirmation hearing in January on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. CreditAndrew Harnik/Associated Press

May 3, 2017

A jury on Wednesday convicted three Code Pink protesters on charges that they disrupted the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions for attorney general — including a Virginia woman who said all she did was break out in laughter. Each could face up to 12 months in prison.

The Virginia woman, Desiree A. Fairooz, was found guilty of the two charges she faced: disorderly conduct and parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds.

The jury also convicted two other activists in the group she was with, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, who were dressed as Ku Klux Klan members with white hoods and robes and stood up before the Jan. 10 hearing started.

They were acquitted on a count of disorderly conduct but were convicted on two separate charges of parading or demonstrating, Mr. Barry said.

The verdicts were returned shortly after noon Wednesday. A two-day trial in United States Superior Court in Washington ended on Tuesday.

Ms. Fairooz, 61, of Bluemont, Va., said she was “really disappointed.” She said her lawyer, Samuel A. Bogash, would file post-trial motions seeking to set the verdict aside. She said it was too early to discuss an appeal.

“We’ll face that music when we get to that,” Ms. Fairooz said. She added that she was undeterred and would continue to protest.

Photo

Officers leading Ms. Fairooz out of the hearing. CreditAlex Brandon/Associated Press

“I’m so disgusted with so many different aspects of our current government,” she said.

A spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Washington did not immediately return a call and email seeking comment about the case.

It was early in the hearing when Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, said that Mr. Sessions’s record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented,” Ariel Gold, the campaign director of Code Pink, said on Wednesday.

Ms. Fairooz said that, on hearing that, she let out a giggle.

“I just couldn’t hold it,” she said on Wednesday. “It was spontaneous. It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance.”

She said when officers came over, she expected to be warned or told to shush and was surprised to be taken into custody.

Mr. Session’s nomination was contentious, as critics, pointing to past statements he had made, asserted, among other things, that he was a racist.

Ms. Gold, who was at the hearing, described the noise Ms. Fairooz made as a “reflexive gasp” that was no more loud than a cough. “I would barely call it a laugh,” she said.

Ms. Fairooz said the noise was not intended to disrupt the hearing, which had formally been called to order.

“None of us planned to get arrested,” said Ms. Fairooz, who attended the hearing dressed in pink as Lady Liberty and carrying a sign. “We just wanted to be a visible symbol of dissent.”

All three activists pleaded not guilty to the charges, rejecting a plea deal and demanding a trial.

“Time to rename Justin Herman Plaza” … Chelsea Manning Plaza anyone?

By David Talbot May 2, 2017 (sfchronicle.com)

The Vaillancourt Fountain at Justin Herman Plaza. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle.  The Vaillancourt Fountain at Justin Herman Plaza.

Lots going on these summery spring days. (Who turned up the heat?) So today’s column will have to do some multitasking.

Item No. 1: After watching “Citizen Jane” — the excellent new documentary about writer-activist Jane Jacobs and her titanic struggles with New York urban planning czar Robert Moses, who preferred high-rises and highways to human beings — I got to thinking about San Francisco’s own Moses, Justin Herman.

Back in the late 1950s and ’60s, when Herman ruled over the city as executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, he was responsible for razing much of the Fillmore district and disappearing thousands of its black residents in the name of urban renewal — or “Negro removal,” as James Baldwin mordantly put it.

Once known as the Harlem of the West, with its vibrant nightlife and street scene, the Fillmore became a bleak moonscape of vacant lots and dreary street corners after Herman’s wrecking balls began their destructive work. Herman became so loathed in San Francisco’s eviscerated African American community that one irate citizen lunged at him during a heated Redevelopment Agency meeting and nearly throttled him. The powerful bureaucrat died shortly after of a heart attack in summer 1971.

Tom Fleming, editor of the Sun-Reporter, an African American newspaper, summed up Herman’s sorry legacy this way: “Negroes and the other victims of a low income (fate) generally regard him as the arch villain in the black depopulation of the city.”

As cities across America re-evaluate their histories, taking down monuments and renaming streets that celebrate dishonorable men, it’s time for San Francisco to do the same. We need to rename Justin Herman Plaza.

There have been earlier efforts to do this, but they went nowhere. In 2001, Supervisor Chris Daly introduced a resolution to strip Herman’s name from the plaza, but it never even got a board hearing. In 2015, Brett Harris-Anderson, who grew up in the Western Addition, and his wife, Michelle, started a petition to rename the plaza after the late poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who was San Francisco’s first black female streetcar operator and began her performing career here. Unfortunately, their campaign didn’t catch fire, but it’s time to reignite it.

“I would welcome a public conversation about changing the name of Justin Herman Plaza,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin told me. The plaza is located in his district, so he’s the right one to start that conversation. “Herman’s name evokes memories of a dark time in San Francisco history that we’re still grappling with today. It’s a legacy of displacement, of removing people of color and low-income people. That’s not something we should be honoring.”

A Call to Action – Help Us Stop Unconstitutional and Unwarranted Surveillance in Oakland Before It Gets Started! (from Mike Zint)

It’s been a little over three years since we came together to stop the DAC – the surveillance octopus Orwellingly named the Domain Awareness Center.

Out of that effort came the establishment of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission by the Oakland City Council. One of its mandates was to propose an ordinance to regulate all uses of surveillance equipment by the City of Oakland, including and especially by OPD.

The ordinance the Commission has crafted, approved unanimously in January, is now up for consideration by the Oakland City Council. It will first be taken up by the Council’s Public Safety Committee on May 9th, 2017 at 6:00 PM at Oakland City Hall – THIS IS A CRUCIAL HEARING.

We need and would very much like you to send a simple letter of support for the ordinance to City Council members. You can do that easily by using this web tool to send a note:

tinyurl.com/kdjq6qh

Calling is an excellent idea as well. Here are the phone numbers for the four City Council members who sit on the Public Safety Committee:

Noel Gallo, District 5, (510) 238-7005

Abel Guillen, District 2, (510) 238-7002

Larry Reid, District 7, (510) 238-7007

Desley Brooks, District 8, (510) 238-7006

A suggested message:

“I strongly support the Privacy’s Commission’s Surveillance Equipment Regulation Ordinance, coming before you on May 9th at Public Safety. Please vote to approve it!”

Here’s a brief summary of what the ordinance will require:
· Public hearings on every new gadget and computer program that can be used for surveillance or monitoring
· Approval or denial by vote of the Council on such equipment and software acquisition.
· Approval or denial by vote of the Council on any proposed information sharing with Federal agencies (e.g. ICE).
· Evaluation of civil rights concerns, and a cost/benefit analysis, BEFORE approval.
· Putting in place a privacy and use policy before any equipment or software can be deployed, specifying what it may – and may not – be used for, and how long any data it may gather may be kept.
· A public report every year on how and when the equipment or software has been used.
· Penalties for violations of the ordinance or a use policy.

This is a strong regulatory framework that will make sure that no unconstitutional or unwarranted surveillance is taking place in Oakland. We need your help to make sure it becomes law.

Please act now! tinyurl.com/kdjq6qh

This note was sent to you by the folks at Oakland Privacy.

You may also be interested in checking out the Oakland Privacy website,http://oaklandprivacy.org , which has information about our other projects fighting against the surveillance state.

Also here:  http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1734/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=21683

“The student debt crisis is exploding — nothing less than a student debt jubilee will do” by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

April 27, 2017 (Occupy.com)

The level of student loan debt in the United States has risen to $1.5 trillion, and defaults are at more than 40% of debtors and rising. Student loan debt has grown to overwhelm all other categories of non-housing consumer debt in this nation.

Underneath this crisis are rising tuition costs, a predatory student loan industry and an absence of consumer protections for students. Student debt is the only debt that can’t be removed through bankruptcy.

Governor Cuomo recently signed a new law that is supposed to help with the cost of higher education, and Senator Sanders introduced similar legislation at the federal level, but these are not real solutions to the crisis.

Alan Collinge, the founder of Student Loan Justice, says that these efforts will not relieve current students of debt, nor will they protect future students from acquiring debt. He anticipates that this crisis will explode within the next 12 to 18 months. Nothing short of a student debt jubilee will work.

At present, these massive debts are crippling the lives of more than 40 million people. They are trapped in debt until death because in 2005 Congress, led by Joe Biden, a senator at the time, changed the bankruptcy laws so the debt would continue even after bankruptcy. In fact, student debt collectors can garnish wages, seize social security and take assets from estates to repay the debt. More than $1 billion has already been taken from Social Security to pay student debt.

Collinge writes about the human and economic impacts:

“The human cost of this phenomenon cannot be understated. Families and individuals are being financially destabilized and wrecked. Family formation, home and other purchases are being delayed or cancelled, people are actually fleeing the country and even committing suicide as a result of this predatory debt.”

Student loan debt was created by the rapidly rising costs of college and predatory lenders. As schools have lost public sources of funding over the past 50 years, they’ve turned to other methods of acquiring funds such as high tuition, room and board prices and assorted fees. This has been fed by rising amounts of money that students are permitted to borrow. Student loan officers are incentivized to encourage students to borrow large amounts without informing them of the disastrous risks they are taking.

Finance predators have been given a lot of power to collect student debts. In Texas, people who defaulted on student loans have had swat teams break down their doors and have been arrested for not paying. For-profit colleges have a history of targeting people living in desperately poor neighborhoods with student loans, even though they know the students will be unlikely to pay them back or even to graduate with a degree.

The result is that at present 27 million people are unable to pay back their loans and are in default or in arrears in some way. That is nearly 10 percent of the country unable to pay back their student loan debt and unable to declare bankruptcy. And, if a parent or grandparent co-signs the loan, they are in the same situation – with a loan that will follow them to the grave.

HOW STUDENT LOAN DEBT BECOME THE ONLY KIND OF DEBT THAT CANNOT BE RELIEVED IN BANKRUPTCY

Over the past forty years, student loans have become increasingly unprotected and predatory. If you follow former vice president Joe Biden’s senate career, you can map virtually every step of the process. Initially, legislators made it more difficult for students to be relieved of the debt in increments by requiring delays before a graduate could declare bankruptcy and stripping protections from particular types of student loans. By 2005, student loan debtors found themselves without any rights. Biden was the Democrat with a middle-class image who provided cover and political weight to these efforts on behalf of his largest contributor, MBNA, and the finance industry generally.

The Obama administration made the crisis worse. They moved student debt into the Department of Education so that now the government is profiting from it immensely. While Obama promised to reverse the Biden law that eliminated bankruptcy protection from student debt, his administration did nothing. DOE’s program is now run by people brought in from the loan industry and they fight to make sure protection of debtors does not occur because they make more money from defaults.

Despite its impact on tens of millions of people and the anchor it creates on the economy, the DOE makes sure that the various loan forgiveness programs put in place over the last decade, such as debt forgiveness for working for non-profits and income-related provisions, fail. Hundreds of thousands have already failed in these programs. The Obama administration became an enemy of those suffering from student debt.

During the presidential campaign candidate Donald Trump criticized the federal government from profiting from student debt. Trump said in his campaign speeches, “That’s probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off — I think it’s terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans.” He was right, the average student loan debt is $34,000. Interest alone on this amount is about $90 billion per year. Unfortunately, President Trump has been silent on the issue and has done nothing despite the growing crisis. The DOE is making $50 billion in annual profits from student loan debt.

The other big profiteers are colleges and universities. As Collinge writes:

“Not only have administrative salaries and capital improvements exploded at college campuses across the nation, their cash reserves (separate from their endowments) have ballooned over the past decade. Since the financial crisis of ‘08, the colleges have managed to build up reserves — aka slush funds — that could possibly be greater than the combined value of all college endowments.”

What is the student debt movement to do? Of course the Biden bankruptcy protections should be repealed but that is not enough. We need a complete student loan debt forgiveness program. These debts are ill gotten gains and should be forgiven. If the government refuses to forgive these debts, people must rise up together and refuse to pay any student loan debt.

The people have the power to end this injustice and must mobilize to do so. A student loan debt jubilee, whether mandated by law or put in place by the people, will bring economic freedom to tens of millions, end their debt servitude and allow them to participate in the economy. It will be a significant economic stimulus, but more importantly it will end an injustice.

Visit StudentLoanJustice.org and join one of the fifty state chapters. It is critical that we are ready when the crisis implodes to demand nothing less than a student debt jubilee.

Originally published by Popular Resistance

student debt, college debt crisis, Student Loan Justice, student debt jubilee, predatory loans, debt forgiveness

“How the March for Science seized San Francisco, fueling a growing movement” by Ryan Elwood (occupy.com)

April 25, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO – Former Chief of Data Science Dr. Patil hands a fistful of markers to his daughter and motions to a blank poster board, asking her what she’d like to write on her sign. A man to his left dressed as Albert Einstein holds one reading, “Understanding global warming doesn’t require an Einstein – just an open mind.” Flying Spaghetti Monster flags flutter over two men dressed as Smokey the Bear, and as demonstrators stream into Justin Herman Plaza to kick off the March for Science in San Francisco, it is already clear this is not your usual demonstration.

Responding to the Trump administration’s recent budget cuts and the muzzling of entities ranging from the EPA to the National Park Service, the March for Science inspired hundreds of thousands worldwide to take to the streets on Saturday to defend scientific research and its use in informing public policy. The March was hatched by Bay Area-based science educator Kishore Hari immediately following the Women’s March on Washington in January; less than 24 hours after Hari announced the planned march, it had more than 1 million followers.

“The tone of the conversation is that [scientists] fundamentally felt like their work, who they were, was being questioned. You could hear the hurt and frustration in that,” Hari told Occupy.com. On Earth Day, April 22, more than 20,000 people filled the downtown streets of San Francisco while some 600 March for Science satellite events spanned the globe – from New Zealand to India to the event’s epicenter, Washington, DC – as science supporters demanded the administration take a new tack. As Hari said, the international demonstration amounted to “[the] largest science event in the history of humankind.”

Creative protests signs featured prominently here and in marches nationally. So did the roster of high level scientists who were invited to speak. While Bill Nye was perhaps the most prominent figure to address the crowd in DC, San Francisco featured numerous leaders in the field, including Kathy Seitan, former project manager of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“EPA is the eye of the storm,” Seitan told Occupy.com. “We are the number one agency that they want to dismantle. Of course, they want to dismantle anything that has any relevancy to people’s actual lives. The EPA is the center of that because we’re the ones who produce the facts and the solutions to the problems that they deny even exist, so that’s why we’re bearing the brunt of the attack.”

Prior to the march, controversy circulated among scientists about the potentially negative outcomes of politicizing science – making it a partisan issue by attacking primarily Republicans’ position on science issues, ranging from climate change to vaccines to reproductive health. But “everything is political, what isn’t?” said Seitan. “The scientific method itself is not political, it remains objective and it strives to be objective – it means we strive to be unbiased to the facts. However, what is political are the attacks on science and the refusal to apply science to our most pressing policy issues. Scientists [are] standing up for themselves and the work we produce to use it to affect policy.”

Dr. D.J. Patil, former U.S. chief data scientist, spoke to the power of science in helping steer more enlightened, practical policy measures. “When we were in the White House, and you saw whatever crisis came through – Zika, Ebola, or even the question of how do we find the next tailored genomic treatments for somebody who has a rare disease or cancer – that requires scientists,” Patil told Occupy.com. “Not just investment in science but active, aggressive figuring out how science goes into every single type of policy, every single thing we do as a nation. When that comes together, that’s really one of those super powers for us as a country.”

Adam Savage, scientist and co-host of the popular show Mythbusters, also spoke at Saturday’s rally prior to the march. He said he doesn’t see politicization as an issue worth focusing on. “I’m excited about this demonstration,” Savage said. “One of the key ways we exercise democracy is by voting, but even more importantly by gathering together and unifying our voice – voting is one way to do it, this is another. And I think that the last few months have shown that this is a really powerful way for the left to organize and let their voices be heard.”

When the speeches came to an end just after noon, the mass of thousands began walking, singing, chanting and cheering as they made their way down Market Street. Some protesters carried bird puppets, while others rode bicycles with speakers blaring protest songs. Every so often, “science, not silence” shouts emanated from the crowd. The march emptied out into a science fair in front of City Hall, where dozens of educational booths were set up, including the Cal Academy of Science and the 49ers STEAM team.

Now, in the aftermath of Saturday’s success, the inevitable question arises: Where does the March for Science go from here? “I’m hoping that [after this], people will better understand what the attacks on science are, and how critical they are to the life of the entire planet” Seitan added, “and [that people] will continue to put pressure on the whole political spectrum for making sure that science informs our decisions and that we act on these very pressing problems.”

Bryan Dang, a marketing and tech professional who helped organize the March for Science in San Francisco, said he hopes this “becomes a real paradigm shift in terms of mentalities that people have towards scientists and how scientists engage with the public, and how we’re able to come together to promote evidence-based policy and stand for the scientific consensus that we may have at the time. In San Francisco, I hope that this turns into a group that really focuses on outreach in the Bay Area.”

Speaking to the political nature of debates over science, Savage said, “[Even] if there are people who are going to hear me that will disagree with me politically, I hope we can agree that we all have the same first principles: a better world for ourselves, our kids, our loved ones, our community. If we can start a conversation from that, we are in great shape.”

The March for Science is following Saturday’s event with a national and global “week of action”, including tools to reach out to elected officials and other ways to champion science for the common good. The organization is looking to grow its network of chapters and partner organizations, sharing resources as it encourages science and grows other civic outreach efforts.

March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies
March for Science, climate march, climate protests, science demonstrations, science activism, Trump policies

“Nancy Pelosi just got a challenger and he’s a ‘pretty hard-core’ Bernie Sanders supporter” by Christine Mai-Duc

 (Stephen R. Jaffe for Congress campaign)
(Stephen R. Jaffe for Congress campaign)

 

April 26, 2017 (latimes.com)

San Francisco attorney Stephen R. Jaffe is a lifelong Democrat and he intends to do what no Democrat has been able to do so far: make it to a runoff election against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Jaffe, 71, is an employment attorney who became a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign last year.

“I was a pretty hard-core Bernie supporter,” said Jaffe, who gave money to the campaign and volunteered during the Nevada caucuses. He was one of two attorneys who filed for an injunction on behalf of Sanders supporters in the California primary, requesting “re-votes” and an extension of the voter registration deadline. (The request was denied.)

Jaffe said he was “devastated” by Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in the primary season and that Sanders, in part, inspired him to run. He says he supports single-payer healthcare and criticized Pelosi for raising money from corporations and special interests.

Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat in the House, has never faced a serious challenger on the left in her liberal San Francisco district. Preston Picus, another Sanders supporter who ran as a no-party-preference candidate, came the closest when he received 19% of the vote in November, according to the California Target Book.

“I know that Ms. Pelosi’s strategy has been to essentially ignore anyone who has challenged her, but I anticipate she’ll have a more difficult time doing that with my candidacy,” Jaffe said in an interview. He thinks if local, progressive activists can propel him to a runoff with Pelosi, he’ll have a “quite realistic chance” of winning.

“There’s a rumbling, a wave of activism here by people who have really never stepped forward before.”

100,000 and counting for People’s Climate March on Washington on April 29

By Carolyn Fortuna (occupy.com)

On April 29, 2017, advocates for solutions to the climate crisis will gather together in Washington, D.C., and other sites around the nation. The goal is to show national leaders and the world that attacks on U.S. citizens, communities, and the planet cannot continue.

This date will coincide with the 100th day of the Trump administration. The People’s Climate March on Washington will be a full-scale mobilization to defeat Trump’s fossil fueled agenda, push forward a progressive vision of a clean energy economy, and build real political power.

WHY A PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH?

The People’s Climate March is an opportunity for individuals who are concerned with the significant and harmful effects of global warming on our communities, our health, and our climate to come together. Informed citizens know that we cannot wait to take action to address global warming, as, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “the consequences will continue to intensify, grow ever more costly, and increasingly affect the entire planet — including you, your community, and your family.”

By joining the People’s Climate March on April 29, you will help to strengthen the climate change resistance movement. You will have the chance to demonstrate your power and share your voice as the White House looms before you, both literally and metaphorically. You will make visible the problems that affect our nation’s communities, and you will become part of a group that seeks solutions to global threats to peace.

You will speak out and demand action from the leaders in Congress, joining together with thousands of like-minded individuals.

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR REASONS FOR THE PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH?

The People’s Climate Movement is a project of over 50 organizations that are working together to solve the climate crisis and address the growing pollution of our air and water. It is also part of an initiative to assure the creation of good jobs in our communities. These people and organizations invite you to join the People’s Climate Movement on Saturday, April 29th. Together, a climate action community will march to:

  • Advance solutions to the climate crisis rooted in racial, social and economic justice, and commit to protecting front-line communities and workers;
  • Protect our right to clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace;
  • Immediately stop attacks on immigrants, communities of color, indigenous and tribal people and lands and workers;
  • Ensure public funds and investments create good paying jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage and benefits and preserve workers’ rights, including the right to unionize;
  • Fund investments in our communities, people, and environment to transition to a new clean and renewable energy economy that works for all, not an economy that feeds the machinery of war; and,
  • Protect our basic rights to a free press, protest, and free speech.

WHO WILL BE COMING TOGETHER?

One hundred thousand people have already signed up to march, and 250 sister marches are being planned across the country. (If you can’t make it to Washington, click here to find the closest Sister March to you.) Students, workers, faith communities, Indigenous nations, environmental groups, and even a delegation of career fishers who will arrive in Washington, DC, by boat are all joining together to make this day historic.

You can join in, building the resistance to Trump’s climate-denying agenda. Together – and only together – can we chart another path for our country: away from Trump’s agenda for a cruel, polluted, and divided country and towards a clean energy economy that works for everyone. At the end of the first 100 days of Trump’s administration, April 29 is a crucial moment to make it evident that the people who stand for climate action, justice, and jobs are a force too great to ignore.

HOW CAN I GET THERE?

On the 100th day of Trump’s Presidency, tens of thousands of people are surrounding the White House to make it clear that resistance to Trump’s fossil-fueled agenda isn’t going anywhere. 300 buses are already booked, coming from across the country.

You can travel safely and efficiently while saving fuel by taking mass transportation. Find a bus near you: http://www.peoplesclimate.org/find-a-bus

If you’d like to arrive early, there are many other events taking place. Visit the Week of Action page on the People’s Climate Movement website for more details.

HOW CAN I HELP PUBLICIZE THE EVENT?

Click here to RSVP and say you’ll march on April 29th.

The hashtag for the event is #climatemarch. You can follow the movement on Twitter at @peoples_climate.

The organization’s website is www.peoplesclimate.org. And you can share or follow the People’s Climate March through its Facebook page.

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING AS I SPREAD THE WORD?

The Union of Concerned Scientists sums it up best: “The good news is that we have the practical solutions at hand to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions, slow the pace of global warming, and pass on a healthier, safer world to future generations. With your help, we can accomplish it. Even in these difficult times for climate action, we can make a difference. Together, we can tackle global warming.”

Check out their Climate Accountability Scorecard for an in-depth analysis of 8 leading fossil fuel companies and the findings that none of them has made a clean break from disinformation on climate science and policy.

Originally published by Clean Technica

People's Climate March, climate protests, climate movement, climate mobilizations, Union of Concerned Scientists, 350.org, climate activism

“SF looks into forming its own bank” by Emily Green (sfchronicle.com)

Supervisor Malia Cohen speaks ouside of City Hall in San Francisco. Cohen wants to create a task force to assess the feasibility of establishing a San Francisco-owned bank. Photo: Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

Photo: Jeff Chiu, Associated Press.  Supervisor Malia Cohen speaks ouside of City Hall in San Francisco. Cohen wants to create a task force to assess the feasibility of establishing a San Francisco-owned bank.

April 21, 2017

This time San Francisco wants to be second — second in the nation to have a publicly owned bank, that is. There’s only one right now: the Bank of North Dakota.

The reasons? The legalization of marijuana in California, the constant demand that the city divest from one bank or another for one political reason or another, and the fact that undocumented immigrants can’t get bank accounts.

“The time is now to begin addressing this, because people in San Francisco are at a point where they are no longer willing to accept the status quo and they are open to exploring other alternatives,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who wants to create a task force to assess the feasibility of establishing a San Francisco-owned bank.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer agreed: “Now is the time. Especially when we see the big banks are investing in bad actors that are not aligned with San Francisco values. This would give us control over our money.”

And San Francisco has company. The Oakland City Council’s Finance and Management Committee is set to look into setting up a bank where cannabis businesses could park their money.

The nation’s only public bank, the Bank of North Dakota, was created in 1919 in a populist wave when farmers there were unhappy with decisions being made by major banks. Its mission is to promote agriculture, commerce and industry in that state.

The idea of a bank owned by San Francisco has been bandied about for a few years. A 2011 report by the city’s budget and legislative analyst listed the potential benefits of a city-owned bank: creation of a new revenue stream without raising taxes, decreased borrowing costs, and increased support for small businesses and community development programs.

Another potential benefit: It would give San Francisco more control over how its money is spent — an issue in a city that regularly tries to divest from banks, companies, states and countries viewed as unaligned with its progressive values.

In recent years, supervisors have called for divesting from banks that helped finance the Dakota Access Pipeline; Wells Fargo Bank, because it opened 2.1 million unauthorized accounts; and companies producing fossil fuels, firearms and ammunition.

Most banks are incorporated with the federal government as a standard corporation, or C corporation, meaning their primary fiduciary responsibility is to maximize shareholder value. If San Francisco were to open a public bank, it could incorporate as a benefit corporation, or B corporation, meaning it could prioritize other goals.

Cohen said she hoped a city-owned bank could help undocumented immigrants, who are largely left out of the banking system because of federal laws aimed at preventing money laundering. Those laws mean bank customers must produce a driver’s license or other legal form of identification. As a result, unauthorized immigrants rely on check-cashing services, which charge high fees.

Joseph Lynyak III, an expert on regulatory reform who advises banks and financial institutions, said a public bank would run into the same problems of needing to check customer identification. Still, he said, he thought work-arounds could be found. “Theoretically you could do it,” he said.

Lynyak was less optimistic that a city-owned bank could open accounts for cannabis dispensaries, because marijuana is illegal under federal law. The federal government could charge the bank with “aiding and abetting violation of federal drug laws and also engaging in money laundering,” he said.

But Fiona Ma, a member of the California Board of Equalization, said she believed a public bank could do business with dispensaries in limited circumstances. She said dispensaries might be able to hold their money in a city-owned bank, take out cash only in San Francisco and use it to pay local taxes. Still, she acknowledged, there would be some risk.

“The question always is, can the federal government come and take the money if it’s not used for taxes and it’s just sitting there in an account?” Ma said.

Fow now, there are more questions than answers. Among the questions Cohen wants the task force to look into: how much initial capital the city would need to open the bank and where that money would come from, operating costs, scope of operations, how it would be insured, potential revenue streams and risks.

City Treasurer Jose Cisneros said he would consider the idea, but didn’t exactly endorse the concept.

“The treasurer takes his fiduciary responsibility seriously,” his spokesman, Amanda Fried, said in a statement. “The voters have elected him four times to keep the city’s money safe. He is reviewing this resolution carefully, and looks forward to working with the Board of Supervisors to better understand their policy goals regarding the creation of a municipal bank.”

Cohen said opening a bank would be tough, but thought it could be done.

“I think it’s realistic. It will be incredibly difficult, though.”

One thing’s for sure: It wouldn’t be called the Bank of San Francisco — there’s already a private bank with that name.

Emily Green is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: metro@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @emilytgreen

“A BANK EVEN A SOCIALIST COULD LOVE” by DAVID DAYEN (occupy.com)

“Money is a utility that belongs to all of us,” says Walt McRee. McRee is a velvety-voiced former broadcaster now plotting an audacious challenge to the financial system. He’s leading a monthly conference call as chair of the Public Banking Institute (PBI), an educational and advocacy force formed seven years ago to break Wall Street’s stranglehold on state and municipal finance.

“This is one of the biggest eye-openers of my life,” says Rebecca Burke, a New Jersey activist on the call. “Once you see it, you can’t look back.”

This ragtag group—former teachers, small business owners, social workers— wants to charter state and local banks across the country. These banks would leverage tax revenue to make low-interest loans for local public works projects, small businesses, affordable housing and student loans, spurring economic growth while saving people—and the government—money.

At the heart of the public banking concept is a theory about the best way to put America’s abundance of wealth to use. Cities and states typically keep their cash reserves either in Wall Street banks or in low-risk investments. This money tends not to go very far. In California, for example, the Pooled Money Investment Account, an agglomeration of $69.5 billion in state and local revenues, has a modest monthly yield of around three-quarters of a percent.

When state or local governments fund large-scale projects not covered by taxes, they generally either borrow from the bond market at high interest rates or enter into a public-private partnership with investors, who often don’t have community needs at heart.

Wall Street banks have used shady financial instruments to extract billions from unsuspecting localities, helping devastate places likeJefferson County, Alabama. Making the wrong bet with debt, like the Kentucky county that built a jail but couldn’t fill it with prisoners, can cripple communities.

Even under the best conditions, municipal bonds—an enormous, $3.8 trillion market—can cost taxpayers. According to Ellen Brown, the intellectual godmother of the public banking movement, debt-based financing often accounts for around half the total cost of an infrastructure project. For example, the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge cost $6.3 billion to build, but paying off the bonds will bring the price tag closer to $13 billion, according to a 2014 report from the California legislature.

Public banks reduce costs in two ways. First, they can offer lower interest rates and fees because they’re not for-profit businesses trying to maximize returns. Second, because the banks are publicly owned, any profit flows back to the city or state, virtually eliminating financing costs and providing governments with extra revenue at no cost to taxpayers.

“It enables local resources to be applied locally, instead of exporting them to Wall Street,” says Mike Krauss, a PBI member in Philadelphia. “It democratizes our money.”

Legislators, Brown says, commonly object that governments “don’t have the money to lend.” But this misunderstands how banks operate. “We’re not lending the revenues, just putting them in a bank.” That is, the deposits themselves—in this case tax revenues—are not what banks loan out. Instead, banks create new money by extending credit. Deposits simply balance a bank’s books. Public banks, then, expand the local money supply available for economic development. And while PBI has yet to successfully charter a bank, there’s an existing model in the unlikeliest of places: North Dakota.

During the Progressive Era, a political organization of prairie populists known as the Nonpartisan League took control of the state government. In 1919, they established the Bank of North Dakota. It has no branches, no ATMs, and one main depositor: the state, its sole owner. From that deposit base, BND makes loans for economic development, including a student loan program.

BND also partners with local private banks across the state on loans that would normally be too big for them to handle. These loans support infrastructure, agriculture and small businesses. Community banks have thrived in North Dakota as a result; there are more per capita than in any other state, and with higher lending totals. During the financial crisis, not a single North Dakota bank failed.

BND loans are far more affordable than those from private investors. BND’s Infrastructure Loan Fund, for example, finances projects at just two percent interest; municipal bonds can have rates roughly four times as high. And according to its 2015 annual report, the most recent available, BND had earned record profits for 12 straight years (reaching $130 million in 2015), during both the Great Recession and the state’s more recent downturn from the collapse in oil prices. A 2014 Wall Street Journal story described BND as more profitable than Goldman Sachs. Over the last decade, hundreds of millions of dollars in BND earnings have been transferred to the state (although the overall social impact is somewhat complicated by the bank’s role in sustaining the Bakken oil boom).

public banks, public banking, Public Banking Institute, Public Bank of Oakland, money democratization, municipal money control

THE LONG MARCH THROUGH THE LEGISLATURES

Brown founded the Public Banking Institute in 2010, after years of evangelizing in articles and books such as The Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Monetary System and How We Can Break Free. Since then, by Walt McRee’s estimate, around 50 affiliated groups have sprouted up in states, counties and cities from Arizona to New Jersey.

“I’ve been working against the system all my life,” says Susan Harman of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland. “I think public banking is the most radical thing I’ve ever heard.” Harman, a former teacher and a onetime aide to New York City Mayor John Lindsay, helped get the Oakland City Council to pass a resolution last November directing the city to determine the scope and cost of a feasibility study for a public bank—a tiny yet promising first step.

A feasibility study completed by Santa Fe, N.M., in January 2016 found that a public bank could have a $24 million economic impact on the city in its first seven years. A resolution introduced last October would create a task force to help the city prepare to petition the state for a charter. “It’s the smallest municipality investigating public banking,” says Elaine Sullivan of Banking on New Mexico, who hopes the task force could complete its business plan by the end of the year. “We’re interrupting the status quo.”

In February 2016, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted to hold hearings discussing a public bank. Advocates are now working with the city treasurer to find funds to capitalize the bank.

PBI has faced a rougher path in state legislatures. In Washington, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D) has introduced a public banking bill for eight straight years. Despite numerous co-sponsors, the bill can’t get out of committee. Efforts in Arizona and Illinois have also gone nowhere. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a feasibility study bill in 2011, arguing the state banking committees could conduct the study; they never did.

One overwhelming force opposes public banking: Wall Street, which warns that public banks put taxpayer dollars at risk. “The bankers have the public so frightened that [public banking] will destroy the economy,” says David Spring of the Washington Public Bank Coalition. “When I talk to legislators, some are opposed to it because ‘it’s for communists and socialists.’ Like there are a lot of socialists in North Dakota!”

In Vermont the financial industry fought a proposed study of public banking, says Gwen Hallsmith, an activist and former city employee of Montpelier. “We don’t have branches of Bank of America or Wells Fargo in Vermont, but they have lobbyists here.” So Hallsmith got the study done herself, through the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont. It found that a state bank would boost gross domestic product 0.64 percent and create 2,500 jobs.

The state eventually passed a “10 percent” program, using 10 percent of its cash reserves to fund local loans, mostly for energy investments like weatherizing homes. Meanwhile, Hallsmith helped push individual towns to pass resolutions in favor of a state bank— around 20 have now done so. Hallsmith says her advocacy came at the expense of her job; the mayor of Montpelier, in whose office she worked, is a bank lobbyist. Hallsmith now coordinates a citizen’s commission for a Bank of Vermont.

Because of state resistance, PBI has encouraged its supporters to go local. And several issues have emerged to assist. For instance, environmental and indigenous activists have demanded that cities move money from the 17 banks that finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. But therein lies another dilemma: Who else can take the money? Community banks and credit unions lack the capacity to manage a city’s entire funds, and larger banks are better equipped to deal with the legal hurdles involved in handling public money. So divesting from one Wall Street bank could just lead to investing in another.

A public bank could solve this problem, either by accepting cities’ deposits or by extending letters of credit to community banks to bolster their ability to take funds. Lawmakers in Seattle have floated a city- or state-owned bank as the best alternative for reinvestment, and Oakland council member Rebecca Kaplan has connected divestment and public banking as well.

Another opportunity arises with marijuana legalization initiatives. Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, most private banks are wary of working with licensed pot shops, fearing legal repercussions. This means many of these shops subsist as all-cash businesses. “It’s seriously dangerous; people arrive in armored cars to City Hall to pay taxes with huge bags of money,” says Susan Harman. In Oakland and Santa Rosa, Calif., public banking advocates are partnering with cannabis sellers to offer public banks as an alternative, which would make the businesses safer while giving the banks another source of capital.

While Donald Trump hasn’t formally introduced a long-discussed infrastructure bill, his emphasis on fixing the nation’s crippling public works has also bolstered the case for public banking. Ellen Brown maintains the country could save a trillion dollars on infrastructure costs through public-bank financing. That’s preferable to Trump’s idea of giving tax breaks to public-private partnerships that want big returns.

public banks, public banking, Public Banking Institute, Public Bank of Oakland, money democratization, municipal money control

FROM THE GREAT PLAINS TO TRENTON

“All it’ll take is the first domino to fall,” says Shelley Browning, an activist from Santa Rosa. “Towns and cities will turn in this direction because there’s no other way to turn.” And PBI members think they’ve found an avatar in Phil Murphy, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs executive leading the polls in New Jersey’s gubernatorial primary this year.

Murphy has made public banking a key part of his platform. “This money belongs to the people of New Jersey,” he said in an economic address last September. “It’s time to bring that money home, so it can build our future, not somebody else’s.”

Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Murphy, tells In These Times that Bank of America holds more than $1 billion in New Jersey deposits, but only made three small business loans in the entire state in 2015. Troubled state pensions could help capitalize a state-owned bank, and would earn more while paying lower fees.

Murphy’s primary opponent, John Wisniewski, chaired the Bernie Sanders campaign in the state, while Murphy raised money for Hillary Clinton. Some believe Murphy is simply using public banking to cover his Wall Street background—and on many issues, Wisniewski’s policy slate is more progressive. But Brown thinks Murphy’s past primed him to recognize public banking’s power: “It’s always the bankers who get it.”

The first new state-owned bank in a century, chartered in the shadow of Wall Street, could shift the landscape. What’s more, blue-state New Jersey and red-state North Dakota agreeing on the same solution would highlight public banking’s biggest asset: transpartisan populist support. “We have Tea Partiers and Occupiers in the same room liking public banking. What does that tell you?” asks PBI’s Mike Krauss.

“Regardless of declared conservative or progressive affiliations,” says state Sen. Hasegawa, “regular folk … almost unanimously grasp the concept.” He is working with Washington’s Tea Partybacked treasurer, Duane Davidson, to advance public banking. “I go to eastern Washington, … they get the whole issue about independence from Wall Street and corporate control.”

In fact, Krauss is himself a Republican. “The biggest thing going on in America, people decided we don’t have any control anymore,” he says. “Whether it’s Bernie’s people or Trump’s people, they’re articulating the same thing but differently. … They want control of their money—and it is their money.”

Originally published by In These Times

public banks, public banking, Public Banking Institute, Public Bank of Oakland, money democratization, municipal money control

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