Recognizing a Tyrant

Symptoms by which you may recognize a tyrant:

1. Fears losing their position; actions driven by this fear
2. Attempts to rise above the rule of law
3. Does not accept criticism
4. Cannot be called to account for their actions
5. Does not listen to advice from those who do not curry favor
6. Prevents those who disagree from participating in politics

If any of this sounds familiar, we are in trouble. By definition, a democracy rejects tyranny in all its forms.

[Paraphrasing Paul Woodruff, First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea]

Supporting the Solar Incentive Bill HB2346 in Senate

The Solar Extension bill HB 2346 is alive and is now in the Senate.  It supports the Solar industry in Washington state by helping to make an installation more affordable up front.

The Bill will have a committee (Senate Energy, Environment and solar-panels-on-roof-3Telecommunications Committee)  hearing on Wednesday, February 24.  To get out of this committee and on to Ways and Means then Senate floor, we need to stress the jobs and good for the economy message.  Please contact your state senator and let them know you support the Solar Extension bill as it encourages this industry and will help create new jobs in Washington state.  You can call your senator/reps at  1-800-562-6000 and ask them to support HB2346.  You can also email by looking them up here:  http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/.

This weekend many reps and Senators are having Town Hall Discussions.  This is another great place to ask for support for great legislation such as HB2346.  The jobs and economy message will resonate with Senators more than an environmental message.  The bill passed the house with bipartisan support, so with the right encouragement there is a good chance it will also pass the senate.

Thank you for considering this action.  Please spread the word, constituent voices are very influential!

Activists Confront Keystone XL Threat

May17AuburnWA03I recently joined hundreds of other activists on a video chat hosted by 350.org to discuss recent developments in the saga of the hotly debated and much delayed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. As you probably know by now, TransCanada wants to build the KXL pipeline to transport diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the tar sands of northern Alberta across the US Midwest heartland to the Gulf Coast for sale on the global oil market. TransCanada needs approval from the US State Department and President Obama to construct a pipeline across the US/Canada border. The approval process has been stalled for years due to persistent grassroots opposition and in recent months held up due to a lawsuit brought by landowners in Nebraska who successfully argued in lower courts that the planned route of the pipeline was illegally drawn and granted the builders improper use of eminent domain. While waiting for the Nebraska Supreme Court to decide whether to uphold the lower court’s decision, the permit for the pipeline’s path through South Dakota expired leaving the oil giant facing the dilemma of having no legal route for the pipeline while oil prices on the global market are plummeting cutting into their profit margin for a product that is the most expensive (and filthiest) fossil fuel to extract, transport and refine.

The most recent bit of political drama in this ongoing saga was played out in the lame duck Congress when Mary Landrieu, the embattled Democratic Senator from Louisiana, bet the catfish farm on a Hail Mary attempt to pass a bill that would have approved construction of the Keystone pipeline. The bill was defeated by a razor-thin margin of one vote, and Landrieu lost her seat in a December run-off to Republican challenger Bill Cassidy. 350.org credits this victory to citizen activists who made phone calls to fence-sitting senators as well as Occupy-style sit-ins at the offices of Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Michael Bennet of Colorado at which 350 DC activists were arrested.

KleebOrganizer for 350.org Duncan Meisel introduced Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska. Kleeb informed listeners that the Nebraska Supreme Court decision could come soon, and expressed the belief that whatever the Court decides, the outcome will be bad for TransCanada. If the lower court decision is upheld, there is no legal route for the pipeline through Nebraska, but even if they strike down the lower court, the lawsuit has shone a light on risks to the environment that reveal shortcomings and omissions in the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement which could solidify grassroots opposition and give Obama some political cover for a decision to reject the pipeline. One other possibility is that the Supreme Court could decide that the landowners do not have standing as plaintiffs and that could cause more delays and uncertainly in a legal process that has already held up the pipeline for several months. Kleeb is encouraged that President Obama has recently stated that building the pipeline poses catastrophic environmental risks while offering few jobs or other economic benefit and takes these statements as an indication that the President is poised to reject the pipeline outright if it lands on his desk, as seems likely to happen in the near future.

GoodtoothNext to speak was Dallas Goldtooth, Keystone XL Campaigner at the Indigenous Environmental Network. He described the situation in South Dakota where indigenous Lakota, Dakota and Sioux have strong legal and moral standing in opposing the re-permitting of the pipeline route through their lands. A hearing on January 6, 2015 could see TransCanada’s appeal to extend the permit dismissed on the grounds that the tribes were not properly consulted in the permitting process, a right that is established in federal law and the importance of which was recently cited in a speech by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. If the permit is not extended, a lengthy new feasibility study would be required, giving both native and non-native landowners the opportunity to make their voices and opposition to the tar sands projects heard. Goldtooth and Meisel stressed that tar sands extraction is a vicious process that lays waste to pristine boreal wilderness, endangers wildlife, and is also destructive to human health and society as well. The increase in violence against women near the “man camps” similar projects have already created is a serious problem that bears consideration in the approval process.

Sara Shor, 350.org Keystone XL Campaign Manager, pointed out that Mitch McConnell, who will be Senate Majority Leader in 2015, has pledged to bring up another vote to approve the Keystone XL. We can expect such a bill to be tied to must-pass legislation in the manner seen with partisan give-away riders that were attached to the so-called CRomnibus bill in early December. Any such action, in addition to events unfolding in Nebraska and South Dakota, could trigger calls for activists to participate in anti-KXL actions all across the country and at very short notice. The NoKXL Pledge of Resistance, for instance, is prepared to engage in broadly distributed acts of civil disobedience as soon as the decision lands on the President’s desk. Asked what would happen if, despite all the efforts to oppose the Keystone XL, President Obama does approve the pipeline, Shor replied, “All hell will break loose. This pipeline is not getting built.”

Emboldened by the success of efforts to defeat Mary Landrieu’s last minute legislative maneuvers, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline such as 350.org and their allies are confident that they have the know-how to handle whatever is thrown at them in the next 2 to 3 months, and they are calling on like-minded folks to join them and build their capacity for effective grassroots action. Visit any of the following websites for more information and to offer your support.

350.org – Stop Keystone XL Team: http://350.org/kxlteam

 

Bold Nebraska: http://boldnebraska.org

 

Indigenous Environmental Network: http://nokxldakota.org

 

NoKXL Pledge of Resistance: http://nokxl.org

Al Gore Praises Inslee's Climate Plan

At the Seattle Westin today, Al Gore spoke to a full banquet room at a fundraiser for Jay Inslee. Gore offered praise for the Washington Governor’s much vaunted plan to combat global warming. Inslee has proposed putting a price on carbon, improving public transportation, encouraging energy efficiency, and increasing use of solar power and electric cars. It remains to be seen how much of this agenda can come to fruition with Republicans still in control of the State Senate.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that taking a strong stand on addressing the climate crisis has now become an effective campaign fundraising technique. Not so long ago, such a topic would have earned barely a mention from an elected official with such a high profile as Inslee. Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth, Earth in the Balance, and other books calling for action to address climate change as well as founder of The Climate Reality Project, called Washington’s Governor the best of all U.S. governors on this critically important issue.

While giving a nod to the importance of fully funding education as mandated by the McCleary decision, Inslee spoke at length about his plans to find “market-driven” solutions to the problem of reducing carbon emissions, telling the crowd of likely Democratic donors the importance of seeing the current crisis as not just a danger to be averted but as an opportunity for Washington State to lead the nation and the world in 21st Century green energy technologies, drawing on our State’s history as a leader in the aerospace and software industries. Gore recited a familiar litany of dire predictions of climate chaos, but he also pivoted to a more hopeful message: the cost of clean energy technologies is dropping at rates much faster than predicted just five years ago. When the former Vice President spoke of the lower cost and higher efficiency of solar panels, a couple at my table who had recently installed solar panels on their home gave each other a quiet high-five. (They also told me that homeowners buying solar panels from a Washington State based company can look to having the cost recouped in the form of lower power bills in no more than five years.)

p4pBut while Gore and Inslee were inspirational, the star of the day was 9 year-old Abby Snodgrass, a member of Plant for the Planet, who has taken it upon herself to help in the effort to plant “a thousand billion trees”. She believes children planting one million trees in every country on earth could offset CO2 emissions all on their own, while adults are still talking about doing it. Each tree binds a CO2 intake of 10 kg per year. Abby called on all the adults to follow her example and choose not to be a bystander just because the climate problem seems too big to solve. Abby is right. The message of the day is that we will never solve the problem of global warming by doing nothing. The scope of the problem requires all of us to work together. The plan put forward by Governor Inslee won’t solve the problem by itself, but like Abby planting dozens of trees, it’s a meaningful step in the right direction.

We're All Responsible for Climate Change

Every one of us in the Western world has contributed to climate change. – Bill McKibben, American environmentalist, author, and journalist

Recently, I organized a couple of events with the goal of showing people how their choices and actions can make a real difference in the effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. I hosted a movie about the Koch brothers at the Auburn library. Less than a week later, I went to Les Gove Park with a petition to the CEO of our regional power company urging them to stop using coal and to move us decisively in the direction of clean energy.

Charles and David Koch are heavily invested in fossil fuels. They own 1.1 million acres of land in Alberta, land that could be exploited for the extraction of tar sands bitumen, the dirtiest fossil fuel known. The Koch brothers would profit enormously from the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and through such front groups as Americans for Prosperity, they spread lies and propaganda across the American heartland, promising lower gasoline prices and more jobs from this environmentally destructive project. The truth is, of course, that the jobs created would be few and temporary and the pipeline would pump more foreign oil onto the world market with the possibility of an upward effect on Midwestern gasoline prices where there is already a glut of domestic Bakken crude.

I am involved with the NoKXL Pledge of Resistance, a group dedicated to opposing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline has been delayed again and again over the last 5 years by the concerted efforts of groups like ours employing tactics ranging from email petitions to civil disobedience. Today the KXL pipeline has no legal route through either Nebraska (where the route has been challenged in a lawsuit) or South Dakota (where the permit has expired due to delays). These successful efforts show how regular people working together can oppose and win against extremes of wealth and entrenched political power.

Here in the Northwest, we face increasing train traffic as fossil fuel companies try to get land-locked deposits of coal and oil to markets in Asia. Burning coal anywhere in the world releases carbon into the atmosphere, carbon that was captured and placed into long-term storage millennia ago by natural processes. Rapidly undoing the work that took nature millions of years in just a few decades has resulted in a completely unprecedented and unnatural spike in global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. NOAA_DataCO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps the energy of the sun, warming the oceans, and changing the pattern of our climate so that now sudden and violent storms are becoming the norm. Storms and floods in one part of the world translate to intense heat and drought in others. Both extremes threaten agriculture, putting the global food supply at risk, at the same time human population is growing at an unsustainable rate.

Some of the damage and suffering caused by anthropogenic climate change cannot be prevented. But we can make changes in our daily lives that will make a difference and turn us as a society onto more sustainable paths. It’s that sense of urgency that got me out of my house to host these gatherings. I must have spoken to a couple of hundred people in just the past couple of weeks. Many are not ready for the change, but others are, and I take hope from that willingness to see that up to now, we in the Northwest have been lucky to escape the worst depredations of the climate crisis, but that does not lessen our responsibility to be a part of the solution, and to begin making our voices heard in the global effort to bring about an end to the era of unlimited burning of fossil fuels.

So what can we do? First, stop buying products made by Koch Industries. Vote with your dollars and your feet. If your bank funds mountain-top removal coal mining, take your money to a local credit union. If your investment company sells funds including stocks from companies like Exxon and Monsanto, find another broker who sells a greener, socially responsible fund. If your university or church has investments, urge them to divest from fossil fuels. Buy a more fuel efficient car, insulate and weatherize your home, plant a tree (plant ten trees!) and above all, when you have the opportunity to make a public comment on civic projects to build infrastructure for fossil fuel exports, make your voice heard loud and clear: No Coal Trains and No Exploding Oil Trains should be allowed passage through the Great Northwest.

While at the park on the 4th of July, gathering signatures for the Sierra Club petition, I saw older, uninterested passersby, parents with teens or young adult kids, move past our booth as quickly as possible. But it was the young people with them who hung back, saying, “Sure, I’ll sign” or “Tell me more.” That young people get this, more than anything else, gives me hope for the future. Sometimes the older folks would look at me askance and say, “I don’t buy all this liberal crap. I’m a conservative.” Well, I’d say, “SO AM I. I think we have a really great planet here, and since there aren’t any other nice planets in this general vicinity, I’d really like to keep THIS ONE in good operating order, thank you very much. Now that’s what I call conserving your resources!”

I did meet a smart young man who took issue with our petition to get Puget Sound Energy to stop buying power from coal-fired plants in Montana. He denied that climate change was even happening, much less that it is caused by humans. He claimed that solar and wind are not able to supply our power needs, and that we have to keep using fossil fuels because the industry employs so many people. We showed him evidence that investing money in building solar arrays or wind farms creates more jobs than investing similar amounts of money into extracting fossil fuels. We talked about the fact that companies externalize the costs of cleaning up pollution and treating human illnesses directly caused by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. I explained to him that the US has a policy of underselling coal leases on public lands, creating a hidden subsidy to coal companies, paid for by the American taxpayer, without their knowledge or consent, and that when the cost of coal includes fair prices for leasing public lands AND the cost to repair damage to the environment and public health, coal won’t be economically competitive with renewable forms of energy. On top of that, wind and solar ARE ready and able to supply the planet’s needs. Germany has seen days where as much as 75% of its power comes from solar generation. We can, too.

I don’t think I convinced the young man; but maybe I opened a crack of light into the dark bubble he’s living in. For the sake of his kids, I hope so.

 

–Originally published in the Auburn Reporter, July 25, 2014

I-1329: A Lesson in Failure

I-1329 failed to make it to the ballot. I can’t say that I am surprised or even disappointed.

It is certainly true that we need to undo the damage to democracy inflicted by dozens of Supreme Court decisions over the past hundred years or more, including recent decisions such as Citizens United and McCutcheon. MoveToAmend (MTA) has proposed a Constitutional Amendment that has been introduced in Congress as HJR 29. I wholeheartedly believe that this language is the best of all the proposals currently under consideration. David Cobb of MTA told me personally that he would not support any of the other proposed amendments, because they were all in some way flawed.

That’s why I am surprised that David Cobb and the rest of the folks at MoveToAmend decided to support an initiative in Washington State (I-1329) that purported, yet failed, to fully address the issues of corporate personhood and money as speech.

For example, HJR 29 states: “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.”

I-1329 Section 3 stated: “The rights of people protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.” (Emphasis added.)

The language in I-1329 was flawed in the same way that the 14th Amendment is flawed, because lawyers could argue that corporations are people, so corporations have the rights of natural persons. The language in HJR 29 does not have this “circular logic” flaw which in the case of the 14th Amendment has been exploited by corporate lawyers for generations.

Regarding money as speech, HJR 29 states “The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.”

I-1329 did not contain this language in Section 3; therefore, it failed to address fully the issue of money as speech. The initiative danced around this issue in earlier sections, but just like a resolution, it doesn’t much matter what you say in the “whereas” clauses; it’s the “be it resolved” sentences that really matter, and in the case of I-1329, Section 3 is the “be it resolved” section.

So what, you may ask, did I-1329 resolve to do? It would have called for a Constitutional amendment allowing federal and state governments to place limits on campaign contributions and requiring disclosure thereof. Don’t get me wrong. I think this is a good idea. It would restore the constitutionality of limits on campaign contributions such as those imposed by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) as amended in 1974 and in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, aka McCain-Feingold Act) of 2002. But really all this does is set the clock back a couple of decades. Do any of us really believe that money did not unduly influence politics in 1974, much less 2002?

The real core of the problem lies in the need to reverse a nearly 200 year history of the Supreme Court granting constitutional rights to artificial entities (such as corporations). The amendment suggested in I-1329 would not have addressed this problem any more effectively than current efforts in Congress to pass the similarly limited Udall Amendment (S.J. Res 19) and House companion, the Deutch Amendment (H.J. Res 119). Both of these proposals would allow limits to be imposed on campaign contributions without addressing the elephantine issue of corporate constitutional rights. Worse, such proposals, if passed, would be praised as “overturning Citizens United”, and greeted with banners proclaiming “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”, meanwhile killing any real chance of preventing plutocratic control of our republic, and spelling the end of the American experiment in representative democracy.

Interesting side-bar: MTA has called for S.J. Res 19 and H.J. Res 119 to be amended to state conclusively that corporate entities are not entitled to constitutional rights and to establish that spending money is not a protected form of speech. I find this strange since they did not call for I-1329 to include this essential language.

In conclusion, I would like to add that the efforts to get I-1329 on the ballot in Washington were doomed not because the bar is set too high for the number of signatures required, but because the organization leading the signature gathering efforts, known as WAmend, misunderstood the goals of the movement to end corporate personhood, misrepresented the proposed legislation as being something that it patently was not, and through oppressive behaviors alienated many who would otherwise have supported signature gathering efforts.

The clearest example of this is the wrong-headed missive I received from WAmend announcing that they planned to start using paid signature gatherers and asking for donations to cover the cost–with donations to be matched by an outside, unnamed entity. In the days and weeks that followed, WAmend precipitously backed off from this position and ended the campaign by trumpeting the righteousness of a campaign that relied only on volunteers to collect signatures. Too bad they did not understand the people power aspect of the movement when they started the campaign. Perhaps, if they had, they would have been more successful.

Protest Rep. Dave Reichert's opposition to a minimum wage vote

Last year House Republicans unanimously voted to block an increase in the minimum wage. This year they’re blocking a vote from even being scheduled, despite overwhelming public support and the millions of families it would lift out of poverty. Meanwhile they continue to support tax cuts for the super rich and corporations that ship jobs overseas.

Join us at noon on April 1st as we rally against poverty wages and demand our Representative supports an increase in the minimum wage.

Rep. Dave Reichert’s office

2 1st Street SE, Auburn, WA (map)

Testimony on establishing a state bank for the cannibas industry

I testified today in support of Bob Hasegawa‘s S.B. 5955 which would establish a State Bank to create a financing infrastructure for the cannabis industry. My testimony begins at time mark 29:15 in the linked video. The audience enjoyed my characterization of Wall Street banksters as the real criminals that we should be worried about.

http://www.tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2014011054

 

Free Public Screening of the Film "Inequality for All", Jan 25 in Federal Way

ifaSaturday, January 25, 2014, 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM

Federal Way Regional Library, 34200 1st Way S., Federal Way, WA (map)

A passionate argument on behalf of the middle class, this film features Robert Reich–professor, best-selling author, and former Clinton cabinet member–as he demonstrates how the widening income gap has had a devastating impact on the American economy. The film is an intimate portrait of a man who’s overcome a great deal of personal adversity and whose lifelong goal remains protecting those who are unable to protect themselves. Through his singular perspective, Reich explains how the massive consolidation of wealth by a precious few threatens the viability of the American workforce and the foundation of democracy itself. In this INCONVENIENT TRUTH for the economy, Reich uses humor and a wide array of facts to explain how the issue of economic inequality affects each and every one of us.

From the “Inequality for All” website