Starting a Public Bank: Groundbreaking legal memos describe paths forward

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Photo by Thomas Hawk

Starting a Public Bank — even when fully convinced of its ultimate value — can seem an overwhelming task when faced with the legal and legislative issues that present themselves.

Two legal memorandums — one for the City of San Francisco and one for the City of Santa Fe — have been completed recently that will be very helpful all across the country to those who are working to establish Public Banks. While PBI cannot take credit for these memos, we’re fortunate to be in the loop when they come out and are pleased to pass them on. Links are provided below.

The first is a groundbreaking legal memorandum written by Davis Polk and Wardwell Law Firm, one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. Their work came about after Susan Harman (Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland and Commonomics) reached out to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area who arranged for the law firm’s involvement: Link: Bank Regulatory Considerations Related to Establishing a Public Bank in the State of California

The memo suggests writing legislation in California to establish a new kind of bank charter, or “license,” that can serve to standardize the establishment of Public Banks in municipalities across the state.

The second was completed by Virtue & Najjar Law Firm for the City of Santa Fe: Link: Establishment and Operation of a Chartered Public Bank by the City of Santa Fe 

Both memos discuss how a Public Bank might fit within the laws and regulatory requirements of State and Federal law, and the bank chartering system. Both point toward possible paths forward in establishing a public bank. 

More in-depth discussion of these documents will take place in our newsletter in the coming weeks. 

There’s a Strategic and Deadly Attack Aimed at the US Republic, But It’s Not the Russians

The nation’s powerful anti-democratic forces have had a plan for decades—a diabolic and wildly successful plan.

by John Atcheson (commondreams.org)

“As we watch Trump’s antics, follow his tweets, and fret over the Russians,” writes Atcheson, “the real danger is taking place beneath our national nose, as the oligarchy tightens its control over the press.” (Image: Pixabay/CC0)

An all-out assault on our freedom began in earnest 46 years ago, when Lewis Powell issued a 34-page memo on August 23, 1971 in response to a request from the Chamber of Commerce.  Their campaign was strategic, patient, inexorable, and fueled by billions of dollars.

As Powell put it:

Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.

A collection of wealthy conservatives funded what was a de facto coup, setting up foundations and think tanks designed to discredit government while portraying free markets as the source of salvation. To accomplish it they established a conservative presence in the press, educational institutions, and civil society – indeed, their coup aimed to completely change the cultural and philosophical assumptions underpinning the nature of our Republic, the principles it was founded upon, and the role of corporations in society.

“Make no mistake, this takeover was intentional and it is the last step a decades long strategy to take over a free and independent press.”

And it has been spectacularly successful.

Today, the remnants of the last impediment to their takeover are being swept away – specifically, the remains of rules designed to assure an informed citizenry.  Thomas Jefferson said he would prefer newspapers without government over government without newspapers. Today, we are losing the press, and as a result, losing the informed citizenry that has been the foundation of our freedoms since our nation was formed.

The Death of Independent Media

This trust in an informed public has been a cornerstone to our freedoms for more than two centuries, but now, the oligarch’s offensive is nearing fruition, giving them near total victory.

As we watch Trump’s antics, follow his tweets, and fret over the Russians, the real danger is taking place beneath our national nose, as the oligarchy tightens its control over the press.  Three trends—the death of net neutrality, scuttling FCC rules limiting cross media ownership in local markets, and the culmination of two decades of mergers will leave citizens a press of, by, and for the corporations.

Make no mistake, this takeover was intentional and it is the last step a decades long strategy to take over a free and independent press.

Democracy’s Last Act – Three Strikes and We’re Out

Net Neutrality: With the end of net neutrality, a few giant corporations will control the ease of your access to the Internet, and the costs of and to the sites you visit. Outlets which don’t toe the neoliberal, corporatist line will be buried in virtual static, they may be frozen out of the system by fees, and they will almost certainly get less bandwidth.

FCC Rules: The changes watering down the FCC rules designed to assure a diversity of views have been going on since Reagan, and Bill Clinton doubled down on Reagan’s assault, but what’s happening right now is the death knell for an independent media.  Trump and his minion, FCC chair Ajit Pai, have rolled back what’s left of the FCC’s power by rolling back rules governing “cross ownership” of newspapers, radio and TV stations in the same market.  This makes the proposed acquisition of Tribune Media by the Sinclair Broadcast Group an easy sell.  Sinclair—the Hobby Lobby of broadcasting—has close ties to the Trump Administration, and further deregulation would give it coverage of some 72% of American households. Sinclair regularly requires their local broadcasters to repeat counter-factual right-wing jihads handed down from corporate headquarters on the nightly news.

“It is up to us—the citizenry—to fight a pitched battle against the political charlatans who pretend to represent us while serving the interests of the rich and corporations.”

Mergers and Monopolies: The Sinclair buy out is only the latest in a two-decade long consolidation of the media.  A twenty-year frenzy of mergers has put about 90 percent of the country’s major media outlets under the control of just six corporations.  Limits on cross media ownership made local media the last bastion of an independent and diverse press.

If these rules are scuttled and the Sinclair buy-out happens, it will be the equivalent of the Foxification of local news.  Study after study shows that Fox News viewers are among the least informed Americans—in fact, one study revealed Fox viewers were less informed than those who watched no news at all.  With this merger, Jefferson’s fears will be realized—our democracy, already firmly in the hands of the oligarchy, will take its last gasp.

Trump may be a buffoon, but he is the perfect useful idiot, distracting us—probably unwittingly—from the carefully crafted script written by experts. These three initiatives are their last act.  When the curtain drops, our more than 230-year experiment with a Democratic Republic fashioned on Enlightenment principles will be over.

Don’t look to the Democrats to prevent it.  As they demonstrated at the Democracy Alliance’s recent meeting in La Costa California, they are firmly committed to the same old game of chasing corporations and fat cats for their money and, inevitably, serving their interests not the people’s.

Which means it is up to us—the citizenry—to fight a pitched battle against the political charlatans who pretend to represent us while serving the interests of the rich and corporations. It’s up to us to demand representatives who actually represent us. And it has to start with reversing fighting the attacks on net neutrality and the FCC.

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

(Submitted by Bob of Occupy)

New Drone Strikes Underscore, Again, How Much Power We Give Trump

Americans rolled over for decades while we gave the executive branch unreviewable authority to kill – now that power is in the hands of an idiot

Yemeni men walk past a mural depicting a U.S. drone and reading “Why did you kill my family,” in Sanaa, 2013. MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

What If? An Alternative Strategy for Sept. 12, 2001

A generation born after 9/11 will vote in the next presidential election.  They’ve never known peace.  Will they even bother to demand it?

by 
The attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001.

The attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001. “Just about every Bush-era policy that followed 9/11 was an unqualified disaster,” writes Sjursen. What should we have done instead? (Photo: Getty)

“Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.”

— Thucydides

You’ve heard the platitude that hindsight is 20/20. It’s true enough and, though I’ve been a regular skeptic about what policymakers used to call the Global War on Terror, it’s always easier to poke holes in the past than to say what you would have done. My conservative father was the first to ask me what exactly I would have suggested on September 12, 2001, and he’s pressed me to write this article for years. The supposed rub is this: under the pressure of that attack and the burden of presidential responsibility, even “liberals” — like me, I guess — would have made much the same decisions as George W. Bush and company.

Many readers may cringe at the thought, but former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has to be taken seriously when she suggests that anyone in the White House on 9/11 would inevitably have seen the world through the lens of the Bush administration.  I’ve long argued that just about every Bush-era policy that followed 9/11 was an unqualified disaster.  Nevertheless, it remains important to ponder the weight piled upon a president in the wake of unprecedented terror attacks.  What would you have done?  What follows is my best crack at that thorny question, 16 years after the fact, and with the accumulated experiences of combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Taking It Personally

9/11 was an intimate affront to me.  It hit home hard.  I watched those towers in my hometown burn on televisions I could glimpse from my plebe (freshman) boxing class at West Point.  My father worked across Church Street from Manhattan’s World Trade Center.  Only hours later did I learn that he’d safely escaped on the last ferryboat to Staten Island.  Two uncles — both New York City firemen — hopelessly dug for comrades in the rubble for weeks.  Stephen, the elder of the two, identified the body of his best friend, Captain Marty Egan, just days after the attacks.

In blue-collar Staten Island neighborhoods like mine, everyone seemed to work for the city: cops, firemen, corrections officers, garbage men, transit workers.  I knew several of each.  My mother spent months attending wakes and funerals.  Suddenly, tons of streets on the Island were being renamed for dead police and firefighters, some of whom I knew personally.  Me, I continued to plod along through the typically trying life of a new cadet at West Point.

It’s embarrassing now to look back at my own immaturity.  I listened in as senior cadets broke the news of war to girlfriends and fiancées, enviously hanging on every word.  If only I, too, could live out the war drama I’d always longed for.  Less than two years later, I found myself drunk with another uncle — and firefighter — in a New York pub on St. Patrick’s Day.  This was back when an Army T-shirt or a fireman’s uniform meant a night of free drinks in that post-9/11 city.  I watched the television screen covetously as President Bush delivered a final, 48-hour ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.  I inhaled, wished for a long war, and gazed at the young, attractive lead singer of the band performing in that pub.  She was wearing a patron’s tied-up New York Fire Department uniform blouse with a matching cap cocked to the side.  It was meant to be sexy and oh-so-paramilitary.  It might seem unbelievable now, but that was still my — and largely our — world on March 17, 2003.

By the time I got my “chance” to join America’s war on terror, in October 2006, Baghdad was collapsing into chaos as civil war raged and U.S. deaths were topping 100 per month.  This second lieutenant still hoped for glory, even as the war’s purpose was already slipping ever further away.  I never found it (glory, that is).  Not in Iraq or, years later, in Afghanistan.  Sixteen years and two months on from 9/11, I’m a changed man, inhabiting a forever altered reality.  Two wars, two marriages, and so many experiences later, the tragedy and the mistakes seem so obvious.  Perhaps we should have known all along.  But most didn’t.

How to Lose A War (Hint: Fight It!)

From the beginning, the rhetoric, at least, was over the top.  Three days after those towers tumbled, President George W. Bush framed the incredible scope of what he’d instantly taken to calling a “war.”  As he told the crowd at a Washington national prayer service, “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”  From the first, it seemed evident to the president: America’s target wasn’t anything as modest as the al-Qaeda terrorist network, but rather evil itself.  Looking back, this was undoubtedly the original sin.  Call something — in this case, the response to the acts of a small jihadist group — a “war” and sooner or later everyone begins acting like warriors.

Within 24 hours of the attacks, the potential target list was already expanding beyond Osama bin Laden and his modest set of followers.  On September 12th, President Bush commanded his national counterterror coordinator, Richard Clarke, to “see if Saddam did this… look into Iraq, Saddam.”  That night, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the president and the entire cabinet, “You know, we’ve got to do Iraq… There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan… We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong…”

Nonetheless, Afghanistan — and its Taliban rulers — became the first military target.  Bombs were dropped and commandos infiltrated. CIA spooks distributed briefcases of cash to allied warlords and eventually city after city fell.  Sure, Osama bin Laden escaped and many of the Taliban’s foot soldiers simply faded away, but it was still one hell of a lightning campaign.  Expected to be brief, it was given the bold name Operation Enduring Freedom and, to listen to the rhetoric of the day, it revolutionized warfare.  Only it didn’t, of course.  Instead, the focus was soon lost, other priorities (Iraq!) sucked the resources away, venal warlords reigned, an insurgency developed, and… and 16 years later, American troop levels are once again increasing there.

Over the days, the months, and then the years that followed, the boundaries of the Global War on Terror both hardened and expanded.  In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush ominously included Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea (though he left out “liberated” Afghanistan), in what he called “an axis of evil.”  Who cared, by then, that none of those countries had had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks?  In a flash the president conflated all three in the public mind, ultimately constructing a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Saddam would be toppled and Iraq occupied 15 months later and, had it not been for the ensuing chaos, Iran and North Korea might have been next.  Unsurprisingly, both countries intensified their bellicosity and grew all the more interested in nuclear weapons programs.

So much followed the 9/11 attacks that it’s no small thing to sum up: the Patriot Act, warrantless domestic wiretapping, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, a Taliban resurgence, an Iraqi civil war, drones as global assassins, the Arab Spring, the overthrow of Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi and the collapse of his country, the Syrian bloodbath, the worst refugee crisis since World War II, and that’s just to begin a list.

In short, U.S. policies have left the Middle East in chaos: perhaps a million dead, Iran empowered, and radical Islamists resurgent.  Meanwhile, this country has become a garrison state, forever at war, its military budget doubled, its populace seemingly indifferent, and its warrior caste shattered — physically and mentally.  Sixteen years have passed and Washington is no closer to its goal (whatever that was).  Retired general David Petraeus, our nation’s prodigal “hero,” has now ominously labeled the Afghan War (and by implication the rest of the war on terror) a “generational struggle.”

Few, to be honest, even remember the purpose of it all.  Keep in mind that Army recruits today were perhaps two years old on 9/11.  And so it goes.

Lost Opportunities

It didn’t have to be this way.  Nothing about it was predetermined.  Much of the necessary information — certainly the warning signs of what was going to happen that September 11th — were already there.  If, that is, one cared to look.  History is contingent, human beings have agency, and events result from innumerable individual decisions.  The CIA, the FBI, and even the Bush administration knew (or should have known, anyway) that an attack of some sort was coming.

As the 9/11 commission report painfully detailed, none of those agencies collaborated in a meaningful way when it came to preventing that day’s attacks.  Still, there were warnings ignored and voices in the dark.  When Richard Clarke, counterterror czar and a Clinton administration holdover, requested through official channels to deliver an emergency briefing for Bush’s key foreign policy officials, it took four months just to arrange an audience with their deputies.  Four more months elapsed before President Bush received a briefing titled, “Bin Laden determined to strike the U.S.”  Unimpressed, Bush quickly responded to the briefer: “All right… you’ve covered your ass now.”

Barely more than a month later, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were burning.

Whatever else it did, 9/11 presented the United States with an opportunity, a Robert Frost-like fork in a divergent path.  And we Americans promptly took the road most traveled: militarism, war, vengeance — the easy wrong path.  A broad war, waged against a noun, “terror,” a “global” conflict that, from its first moments, looked suspiciously binary: Western versus Islamic (despite Bush’s pleas to the contrary).  In the process, al-Qaeda’s (and then ISIS’s) narratives were bolstered.

There was — there always is — another path. Imagine if President Bush and his foreign policy team had paused, taken a breath, and demonstrated some humility and restraint before plunging the country into what would indeed become a war or set of wars.  There were certainly questions begging to be asked and answered that never received a proper hearing.  Why did al-Qaeda attack us? Was there any merit in their grievances?  How did bin Laden want us to respond and how could we have avoided just such a path?  Finally, which were the best tools and tactics to respond with?  Let’s consider these questions and imagine an alternative response.

Why They (Really) Hated Us

Americans and their government were inclined to accept the most simplistic explanation for the terror attacks of 9/11.  As George W. Bush would assure us all, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda just “hate us for our freedoms.”  The end.

Something about the guilelessness of that explanation, which was the commonplace one of that moment, never quite seemed right.  Human motivations and actions are almost always more complex, more multifaceted, less simpleminded than that.  While Bush boiled it all down to “Islamic” fundamentalism, even a cursory look at bin Laden’s written declarationof “war” — or as he called it, jihad — demonstrates that his actual focus was far more secular and less explicitly religious than was suggested at the time.  Couched between Koranic verses, bin Laden listed three all-too-worldly grievances with America:

* The U.S. military had occupied bases in the vicinity of Saudi Arabia’s holy sites of Mecca and Medina.  (Well… that had indeed been the case, at least since1990, if not earlier.)

* U.S.-imposed sanctions on Iraq had caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.  (This was, in fact, a reality that even Secretary of State Madeleine Albright awkwardly acknowledged.)

* America’s leaders had long favored Israeli interests to the detriment of Palestinian wellbeing or national aspirations.  (A bit simplistic, but true enough.  One could, in fact, stock several bookshelves with respected works substantiating bin Laden’s claim on this point.)

To state the obvious, none of this faintly justified the mass murder of civilians in New York and Washington.  Nonetheless, at that moment, an honest analysis of an adversary’s motives would have been prudent.  It might have warned us of the political landscape that bin Laden was beckoning us — in his own bloody, apocalyptic fashion — to enter.  In addition, as journalist Stephen Glain astutely observed, “By obscuring the real motives behind the attacks, Bush relieved the U.S. government of any responsibility for them.”  This was a fatal error.  While the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims worldwide did not approve of bin Laden’s methods or his theology, much of his critique of Washington’s Middle Eastern policies was widely shared in the region.

Avoiding the Al-Qaeda Script

Al-Qaeda’s leadership knew this perfectly well and they dangled it (and their suicidal acts) as a kind of bait, yearning for the sort of conventional U.S. military response that they knew would further inflame the Greater Middle East.  Even in 1996, when journalist Abdul Bari Atwan interviewed bin Laden, the Saudi militant had expressed the desire to “bring the Americans into a fight on Muslim soil.”  Only then, bin Laden surmised, could al-Qaeda buttress its argument, win converts from the apathetic Muslim masses, and — hopefully — bankrupt the United States in the bargain.

Suppose, for a moment, that President Bush had taken the high road, a path of restraint focused on twin tracks.  First, he might have addressed broadly-shared Arab grievances, pledging a more balanced approach to the question of Israel and Palestine in his still-fresh administration, tailoring Iraq’s sanctions to target Saddam and his cronies rather than innocent citizens, and vowing to review the necessity of military bases so close to Mecca and Medina (or even the necessity of so many of the American bases that littered the region).  He could have followed that with lethal, precise, targeted action by America’s intelligence, law enforcement, and Special Operations forces to hunt down and kill or capture the men actually responsible for 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership.

This manhunt needed to be ferocious yet measured in order to avoid the very quagmires that, 16 years later, we all know so well.  Allies and adversaries would have had to be consulted and cautioned.  Remember that, although al-Qaeda was disciplined and effective, on September 12, 2001, it remained diminutive in size and utterly marginal in its regional support.  Dismantling its networks and bringing the true criminals of that day to justice never required remaking distant societies or occupying fragile nation-states with conventional military forces.

And keep in mind that such thinking about the situation isn’t purely retrospective.  Take the Nation magazine’s Jonathan Schell.  That October, after the invasion of Afghanistan had begun, appearing on the Charlie Rose show he called for “police work” and “commando raids,” but not war.  He then prophetically observed:

“I think the question doesn’t revolve so much around the justification for war but about its wisdom, and I know that’s the question for me.  I know that, from my point of view, terrorism is chiefly a political issue and secondarily a police issue and then, only in a very minor way, can it be addressed by military means and I think that, on the contrary, the war we’re fighting now will tend to worsen our problems.  The question I ask myself is, at the end of the day, do you have more terrorists or do you have fewer and I think… today, right now, it looks like there are going to be more.”

Of course, at the time, just about no one in this country was listening to such voices.

A prudent president might also have learned from his father.  Just as George H.W. Bush had meticulously constructed a broad international coalition, including all-important Arab states, to dislodge Saddam Hussein’s military from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War, George W. Bush could have harnessed widespread international sympathy after the 9/11 attacks to blaze a judicious path.  A new, broad, U.N.-backed coalition, which ought to have included several Muslim-majority nations, could have shared intelligence, rooted out jihadis (who represented a serious threat to most secular Arab regimes), and ultimately discredited al-Qaeda, dismantling its networks and bringing bin Laden himself to justice.

The Right Tools

Global sympathy — Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first world leader to callGeorge Bush after the attacks — is as rare as it is fleeting.  So that moment represented a singular and singularly squandered opportunity.  The United States could have led a massive international effort, emphasizing law enforcement, not warfare, and including increased humanitarian aid, U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping operations, and a commitment to live America’s purported values by scrupulously avoiding crimes liketorture and civilian casualties.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been perfect — complex operations seldom are — but sober strategy demanded a rigorous effort.

One more imperative for the new campaign against al-Qaeda would have been garnering broad support and a legal sanction from Congress and the American people.  Two weeks after 9/11, President Bush vapidly suggestedinstead that this country’s citizens should respond by getting in airplanes again and “enjoy[ing] America’s great destination spots.  Get down to Disney World in Florida.”  Instead, he might have steeled the population for a tough fight and inspired a new era of public service.  Think: John F. Kennedy.  Think: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Bush might have requested from Congress a narrow, targeted authorization for the use of military force rather than the rushed, expansive, open-ended sanction he actually demanded and received and that is still being used two administrations later to justify any acts against any group or country across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

He could have followed this with the presentation of a new National Service Act, rallying the young and incentivizing military or Peace Corps enlistment, infrastructure improvement, inner-city teaching, and various other kinds of public service. Imagine a new “Greatest Generation,” pulling together in a time of crisis.  This, in retrospect, was a real opportunity.  What a pity that it never came to pass.

It’s hard to know, of course, how such an alternate path might have played out, but honestly it would have been difficult to do worse.  The U.S. remains stuck, spinning its wheels in regional conflicts and feeling no safer.  The number of worldwide terrorist incidents has exploded since 2001.  New Islamist groups were formed in response to U.S. actions and counteractions and they continue to spread without an end in sight.

I don’t know if there will be a next time, a chance to do it right.  But should new threats emerge, more devastating attacks be endured, there simply has to be a better way, though the odds that President Donald Trump and his generals will find it are, honestly, next to nil.

Complex ideological threats sometimes demand counterintuitive responses.  In such moments, hard as it may be to imagine, rational calculations should rise above the kneejerk emotional responses.  True leaders step up and weather criticism in times of crisis. So next time, Americans would do well to set aside comforting illusions and take the world as it is, not as we imagine or wish it to be.  The future may depend on it.

That future may well include new “terror” attacks on (or at least in) America’s cities.  Expect this president to use those inevitable tragedies to stifle domestic dissent, escalate the ongoing wars, and — just maybe — fan the flames of nativism and white nationalism for petty political gain.  The question is which institutions, which groups, will be prepared to fight back? I fear there’ll be few left willing to defy the tide of war.  A generation born after 9/11 will vote in the next presidential election.  They’ve never known peace.  Will they even bother to demand it?

Danny Sjursen

Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.  He lives with his wife and four sons near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

How internet co-ops can protect us from net neutrality rollbacks

Smaller internet service providers offer alternatives and could disrupt the monopolies.

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In 2011, brand new fiber optic cables lit up for the first time across the forested terrain of the Ozarks and up and down the farmlands of central Missouri.

Here among the hickory and red oaks, you might expect to be in the land that the internet forgot. That’s what it could have been, had residents not decided to stop waiting on large for-profit telecommunications companies. They built their own internet instead.

They turned to their electric utility for a solution, and Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, established in 1939 to bring power to the region’s farms, answered the call.

“What got the project off the ground was the membership demand,” said Randy Klindt, who at the time was the general manager of Co-Mo Connect, the co-op’s internet branch. “The members all drove it from the grassroots. They went door to door. They paid their neighbors’ $100 deposit.”

Later at a community meeting, a local bank surprised the room by paying the deposit of everyone present. They quickly crowdfunded enough money to begin construction, and in 2011, just before Christmas, its first members came online.

Co-Mo’s members aren’t the only people who can say they own their own internet utility. In cities and rural swaths across the country, there are hundreds of small internet service providers owned by member cooperatives, local municipalities, or tribal governments. Over the past two decades, these small ISPs have been spreading and gaining notice. As success stories travel and inspire other communities to ask how they can do the same thing, they’re multiplying faster than ever.

These locally owned networks are poised to do what federal and state governments and the marketplace couldn’t. One, they can bring affordable access to fast internet to anyone, narrowing the digital divide that deepens individual and regional socioeconomic disparities.

Two, these small operators can protect open internet access from the handful of large ISPs that stand to pocket the profits from net neutrality rollbacks that the Trump administration announced Nov. 21. That’s according to Christopher Mitchell, who is the director of Community Broadband Projects, a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell, who has been tracking and advocating community-owned broadband networks for a decade, hopes that this will be the moment when people rebel against the administration’s attack on net neutrality and expand rural cooperative and municipal ISPs.

“The FCC is basically taking the regulations off of big companies, but local companies can still offer high-quality internet access at good prices,” Mitchell says.

Without net neutrality, broadband providers will be able to charge more for better access and faster speeds, or be able to restrict traffic to preferred business partners over competitors. More independent ISPs can offer consumers a wider variety of choices.

“No one will have to offer prioritized content in the ways that we fear AT&T and Comcast will. So local investments can preserve access to the open internet,” Mitchell says.

But, for many, before the question of open internet and net neutrality comes the question of whether people can have access to and afford the internet at all.

Remote, sparsely populated areas like the rural Ozarks are often synonymous with the digital divide. Large carriers don’t have a financial incentive to enter those markets where getting high returns on their investment are unlikely if not impossible. According to the FCC, 39 percent of rural Americans – 23 million people – don’t have access to broadband speeds.

Before Co-Mo Connect got off the ground, Klindt says, only 1 out of 5 members had access to broadband. Many still crawled along on obsolete dial-up connections. By 2014, however, nearby Tipton (population 3,351) enjoyed connection speeds in the top 20 percent of the U.S., and the fastest in Missouri. By 2016, Co-Mo’s entire service area was on the digital grid.

ILSR estimates that there are more than 300 telephone and electric co-ops that provide rural fiber-optic internet service. Since the late 1990s, these co-ops have been installing more cable and leveraging existing infrastructure to provide faster service to their communities. A few have even built networks from scratch, such as RS Fiber in Minnesota and Allband in Michigan.

Matthew Rantanen, the director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, tells another story of access and adoption from reservation lands, where the FCC estimates that 68 percent of residents – 1.3 million people – lack access. Rantanen directed the Tribal Digital Village initiative, which introduced wireless internet to 17 tribal reservation communities in San Diego County.

The initiative, Rantanen says, inspired Valerie Fast Horse, the IT director of the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho, to build a fully fiber tribal network. “Networking is in its very early stages, and I can’t wait to see some of this blossom,” Rantanen says. He estimates that just 30 of more than 300 tribal reservations in the U.S. have broadband access.

Internet connectivity is a crucial economic leveler, he says, without which people fall behind in schools, health, and the job market. “Without that resource,” Rantanen says, “you’re a different class. You’re [on] a different level of participation in the U.S. and the world.”

Though unequal access is primarily thought of as a rural problem, it affects urban centers, as well. ILSR estimates 90 cities are connected with high-quality municipal networks, while more than 200 are connected with more basic networks.

“Customers want reliable, fast, and inexpensive service. The market is not solving this problem,” says Deb Socia, the executive director of Next Century Cities, which works with 183 mayors across the country in hatching plans to fund locally based solutions in 19 states.

“The biggest dilemma for cities is that there has been an erosion of the capacity for communities to solve their own problems, and that has happened primarily at the state and federal level,” Socia says. Some networks, like the one in Ammon, Idaho, lease their networks to other providers. Others, like the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, sell services like a conventional ISP.

“There are a lot of workable models,” says Mitchell, “and whatever is right for the local culture and the local government capacity is probably the best way forward.”

Cobbling together local solutions is the common challenge across all of these community projects, says Mitchell, whether it’s cracking the funding code, slashing through governmental red tape, or cultivating enthusiastic leadership to convince communities that, in order to have their own internet service provider, it’s worth it to try something new.

Looking down the road, Mitchell believes that a strong network of small, competitive community-owned ISPs is possible. By siphoning revenue away from the monopoly ISPs, they could disrupt their ability to dominate their markets. And also, if net neutrality does indeed get rolled back, competition could make it less appealing for large ISPs to restrict content.

“I would say that if we had a flourishing of these local networks, it would still significantly hurt the ability of Comcast and AT&T to create tollbooths” to prioritize content, Mitchell says. “It’s going to be fascinating to see what’s going to happen in coming years.”

Sammi-Jo Lee wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Sammi-Jo is a solutionsreporting intern for YES! Magazine. She is based in Seattle and is passionate about storytelling that uplifts the voices of marginalized people. Follow her on Twitter @_samjolee. She/her/hers.

Navy cleanup of Treasure Island to last five more years

An abandoned pier stretches out toward the city skyline along the shore of Treasure Island. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

By  on November 24, 2017 (SFExaminer.com)

One of four remaining Treasure Island areas from which the U.S. Navy is removing toxic material is expected to soon receive a clean bill of health.

By the end of January, the Navy, as part of its required ongoing radioactive and chemical cleanup of the man-made island, is expected to transfer ownership of this area’s batch of parcels to San Francisco, which plans to build thousands of new homes and commercial space there.

The remaining three areas are scheduled to be transferred in the coming years — the last is scheduled for Dec. 31, 2021 — but the results of a radioactive feasibility study next year could shorten that time line.

The Navy used the island as a base from 1941 to 1997, and its activities there — largely during World War II — contaminated the island with radiological materials and other toxins. The agency is required under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act to clean it up, and that work is being overseen by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and state agencies like the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The Navy has already cleaned up about half the island and transferred it to The City in 2015, a milestone celebrated by Mayor Ed Lee.

“It’s taken almost two decades to get to this point, and we’re eager to transform this former naval base into a vibrant community,” Lee said at the time.

The Treasure Island Development Authority’s Board of Directors praised the progress of the Navy cleanup during a Nov. 15 hearing when it received an update on the cleanup effort by Dave Clark, lead environmental project manager for the Navy working on Treasure Island.

“Even that, the 2021 [time line], is still very impressive that we have done all this work, just now getting to that tail end,” said TIDA board member Linda Richardson. “Overall, I think this is great news.”

The first of the remaining four areas expected to be transferred to The City are referred to as Parcels 30, 30 north, 30 south and 31.

“Site 30 was the day care center, and the building itself acts as a cap,” Clark said. “If the building were ever to be removed, The City would remove the debris underneath the building. Site 31, there was no building. The debris has been removed from Site 31.”

Clark said the Navy is waiting to “receive a clean bill of health from the California Department of Public Health” for those sites this month and then would transfer them to The City.

“We are well underway to make that happen by the end of January,” Clark said.

As for Site 24, a former dry-cleaning facility and one of the four remaining areas, the Navy will continue monitoring the remediation work there for two more years before the transfer.

“We got about 80 percent of the contamination removed,” Clark said. “We were effectively using bioremediation to naturally break down the chlorinated solvents used in the dry-cleaning process.”

The scheduled date of this site’s transfer to The City is Jan. 30, 2019.

“I think we will be able to get full cleanup of the site and, ultimately, when we transfer the property, there will be no land use controls to monitor,” Clark said. “That’s why the date of 2019 gives us time to collect more data to represent statistically decreasing trends in both soil and soil gas.”

A third area being cleaned up is grouped together as Site 6, the historical fire-fighter training facility; Site 32, a training and storage area; and Parcel 2, the wastewater treatment plant, are slated for transfer by Dec. 31, 2020.

“Site 32 was a storage facility, and in 2010, we did a large PCB [Polychlorinated Biphenyls] cleanup,” Clark said. “The reason why we haven’t transferred it is we use it as a lay down area, mainly for soil from Site 12.”

Clark said the former storage facility is used for testing and scanning soil from Site 12 to determine whether it contains radioactive material, which would be hauled away for disposal.

Site 12, which includes residential housing, will have the most activity moving forward and comprise both chemical and radioactive material cleanup.

The solid waste disposal areas, where materials with radioactive Radium-226 were buried, is the source of “99 percent of all the radiological contamination” on the island. The Navy used radioactive Radium-226 glow-in-the-dark paint for dials and gauges and deck markers.

“Less than 1 percent of anything on Treasure Island from the solid waste disposal areas has been found outside of the solid waste disposal areas,” Clark said. “But this presents a unique challenge to figure out what is the ultimate remedy going to be for Site 12.”

There are four solid waste disposal areas: Westside Drive, Bayside, Bigelow and Northpoint. Clark said that work at Bigelow and Bayside is complete.

“We have to go back to Northpoint in 2018 for another additional dig. But after that, we should be out of there,” he said.

Next year, the Navy will complete a radiological feasibility study for Site 12.

“The feasibility study is key, really, to the open spaces because that is really the most challenging technical question that we have, ‘What is the final remedy to ultimately support property transfer?’” Clark said.

On the chemical remediation front, Clark said, “We are going to go to the northern area of Site 12 for a lot of those small chemical digs. After this is done, we basically should not be going back into the neighborhoods for any remedial action outside of the solid waste disposal area.”

Even as the remediation work draws to a close and state and local health agencies have said that the radiological material and other toxins don’t pose a health risk to the nearly 2,000 residents currently living there, the island’s reputation may forever remain clouded.

“I came to this area from New York about 30 or so years ago, and when I came, word on the street was, ‘No, don’t ever go over to those islands. They are radioactive.’ So I haven’t spent much time here,” said Ruthie Sakheim, who attended the on-island TIDA meeting.

“And I know a whole community has developed here, and I worry about the health of the people here.”

Seven Things You Can Do Right Now to Save the Internet

It’s time to get loud and tell everyone that our digital civil rights are on the verge of being destroyed.

While Chairman FCC Aijit Pai has been busy meeting with greedy industry lobbyists and executives, people in almost every state across the country have been meeting with hundreds of lawmakers and their staffers, mobilizing people in their communities and speaking out on behalf of the open internet. (Photo: Free Press)

According to reports, the FCC will vote on Dec. 14 to destroy Net Neutrality and allow for online discrimination.

Time to hit play on Wake Up Everybody, a song covered by John Legend and the Roots, and sing along:

“Wake up everybody no more sleepin’ in bed … the world won’t get no better if we just let it be.

The world won’t get no better.

We gotta change it yeah, just you and me.”

After you’re finished singing, hit the phones and prepare to get in the streets. It’s time to get loud and tell everyone that our digital civil rights are on the verge of being destroyed.

Here are seven steps you can take right now to save the internet:

1. Sign up to volunteer with Team Internet, a grassroots group of connected Net Neutrality supporters run by Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press Action Fund. It takes five minutes to sign up for a special volunteer text-team shift to message other open-internet supporters about the news and invite them to take action. Get texting from the comfort of your own home!

2. Call Congress and tell your lawmakers to save Net Neutrality. We need to do all we can to get as many members of Congress as possible to speak out against FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to gut the open internet. But we’re hearing from lawmakers who are on the fence that they need to hear from more constituents in order to act on this. Make their phones ring off the hook.

3. Attend a protest at a Verizon store near you on Dec 7. On that day — exactly a week before the FCC votes on Pai’s terrible plan — internet users will gather to highlight Verizon’s role in locking down and controlling our internet. (Did we mention Pai used to work for Verizon?)

4. Don’t see a protest near you? Set one up! It’s easy, fun and we’ll support you every step of the way by providing you with training, tools, recruitment … even signs!

5. If you’re on the East Coast, save the date and join us for a big Net Neutrality rally in Washington, D.C., on Dec 14, the day the FCC will vote on Pai’s plan. This event is organized by the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition — 18 Million Rising, the Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, Free Press Action Fund and the National Hispanic Media Coalition — which fights to protect the digital rights of communities of color.

6. Tell your friends! Send them to organizations like Free Press Action Fund, Center for Media Justice, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Color Of Change, which will give them everything they need to take action right now. Find all of these organizations on social and post using #NetNeutrality and #TeamInternet.

7. Don’t have time for any of that but still want to help? Donate! Every little bit helps, and at Free Press Action Fund, a generous donor will match every dollar you give by Dec. 31.

While Chairman Pai has been busy meeting with greedy industry lobbyists and executives, he shouldn’t ignore the tens of millions of people who are joining together to reject his Net Neutrality-killing plan.

People in almost every state across the country have been meeting with hundreds of lawmakers and their staffers, mobilizing people in their communities and speaking out on behalf of the open internet.

We know that Net Neutrality is essential to sharing and accessing information on absolutely everything, and it can even provide a crucial connection to life-saving conversations.

“As someone with social-anxiety disorder and depression, I rely on the internet for socialization and support,” wrote Heather from West Lafayette, Indiana, in a comment to the FCC. “I need a place to find people who share my struggles. I need a place to build a support network. I need a place to share my writing. Don’t ruin my freedom of speech (and my life) by getting rid of Net Neutrality.”

“As a small-business owner who does virtually all my business online,” wrote Tracy from Indianapolis, “ending Net Neutrality would kill my business.”

Check out what thousands of people have to say on why the open internet is essential to their everyday lives, work, businesses, family connections and activism.

For vulnerable communities, this moment is especially urgent. Net Neutrality makes the internet a place where people of color and religious minorities can organize for liberation while countering false narratives and harmful stereotypes.

Our message to Pai and companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon is clear: People everywhere will not sit idly by as you destroy the free and open internet.

Mary Alice Crim

Mary Alice Crim is the engagement and events director for the media reform group Free Press.

Steve Kerr calls out Donald Trump for attacks on NFL players


George L. Cook III
Published on Nov 24, 2017

During an interview with David Axelrod on Axelrod’s podcast The Axe Files Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors discussed his unhappiness with the way Trump talks about NFL players who protest.

November 25, 2017 (CNN.com)

Ahead of the Golden State Warriors’ trip to Washington, coach Steve Kerr told CNN’s David Axelrod that a “human respect issue” was part of the reason he and his team won’t be making the traditional White House visit to celebrate their NBA championship win.

The team will be in Washington in February to play the Washington Wizards.

“First, we weren’t invited,” Kerr reminded Axelrod during an interview on “The Axe Files,” that will air Saturday at 7pm ET, recalling Donald Trump’s September tweet in which he rescinded Warriors’ captain Stephen Curry’s White House invitation after Curry publicly said he didn’t want to take part in the visit.

And besides, he said, “Our guys felt pretty strongly even before we knew that we didn’t have an invitation that it was going to be a tough visit. A lot of us, myself included, have been pretty critical of President Trump.”
close dialog

It would have been, Kerr said, “a very nontraditional visit.”

“You think about the White House visit with the championship teams, it’s a photo op, it’s a thrill, it’s everybody’s. You know, making jokes and having fun, you give the President the jersey, and that’s it. And it’s kind of a fun day,” he added.

But now, he said, the “times have changed,” and “the whole dynamic” of the traditional White House visit has “shifted entirely.”

Challenged by Axelrod as to why players felt the visit needed to become a “political event,” Kerr said that “it goes way beyond politics.”

“I’ve been lucky to visit the White House with, I think, four different presidents, President Reagan, President Clinton, both President Bushes,” he said.

“I didn’t always agree with their policy, but I never once thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not going to go because I disagree with, you know, immigration or some foreign policy or tax reform’,” he added.

But as far as he is concerned, things are different now, Kerr said. It has become a “human respect issue.”

“With all of those presidents that I mentioned, they were all above reproach in terms of their respect for their fellow man, and their respect for the office. And I don’t think any of us see that right now,” he added.

President Trump’s words and actions have been unacceptable, he said.

“It’s difficult to reconcile that and just say we’ll put all that aside. You know, he can make fun of handicapped people, he can, you know, he can say a lot of, you know, nasty things, ugly things, whether it’s about women or whomever,” he said.

That’s why Curry’s decision to publicly speak out against the White House was something that Kerr said he had “totally supported.”

“There can be a lot of things that happen that are just really difficult to just say all right, we’ll put that aside and go visit and shake his hand. It doesn’t feel right,” he said.

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