Monthly Archives: December, 2017

The Tax Cut Bill –Part 2 of a 2 Part Punch.

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Mark Twain once famously quipped, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

But let us, for the sake of argument, take the opposite view. Suppose you were not an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress? Than would you still vote for this monstrosity of a tax bill even if you were in a vulnerable GOP seat? Why? According to Dr. Nancy Maclean, author of Democracy in Chains, you might still vote in favor of the cut because you would be taking the long view, and, in her words, you could be “sealing the case for a constitutional convention.”

In a recent article in The Hill, (http://thehill.com/opinion/finance/366488-the-gop-tax-bill-could-kill-two-birds-with-one-stone), Dr. Maclean postulates that the huge fiscal deficit created by the GOP tax cut will kill two birds with one stone. The first bird is our social safety net –Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These will all go on the chopping block as congress tries to contend with a potential 1.2 trillion dollar deficit. The second bird is a constitutional convention that could permanently alter the government of the United States.

Maclean writes that “many state legislatures were persuaded [to participate in a constitutional convention] in part by the lure of a Balanced Budget Amendment. A ballooning deficit could help get the remaining six on board.”

“By inflating the debt, the tax bill helps convince the American people that you cannot trust either party when it comes to spending. That in turn strengthens the case for a Balanced Budget Amendment, which has long polled well (until people learn that it will destroy programs they like and depend upon, like Social Security and Medicare). A ballooning deficit could help get the remaining six on board.”

Maclean points to Article V of the U.S. Constitution which provides two routes to amendment: through Congress or two-thirds of the states.

Our constitution has been amended 33 times, but always through congress. Maclean notes that Representative George Mason of Virginia introduced the inclusion of the state option in 1787 and won assent. Mason was a states right advocate, and ironically, it was at the university bearing his name, George Mason University, that a little known economist named James Buchanan first argued for a state based constitutional convention to alter the U.S. government. Most folks have never heard of James Buchanan, but the people who have heard of him — and take him quite seriously — are some of the most powerful players in conservative politics today: David and Charles Koch.

“George Mason University is today the core academic base camp of the Koch political operation… it was a GMU faculty member and Nobel Laureate in economics, James McGill Buchanan, who taught Koch and his grantees that what Buchanan called a “genuine revolution in constitutional structure,” would be needed to control citizens’ appetites for government spending.

“Why a revolutionary change? Because libertarian radicals like Buchanan and Koch believe property rights are the core human right and that government should have the right to tax — and therefore to spend — to ensure only one of three national objectives: the rule of law, social order, and the nation’s defense.”

Note that nowhere in that list is the notion of community, or social good or even what used to be referred to as the ‘commons.’ A social safety net wouldn’t just be destroyed, but with a constitutional convention, it might be written out of the governmental process entirely.

Maclean continues, “Buchanan argued that the only way to secure the liberty and property rights of the wealthy minority was to permanently change the nation’s governing rules. He referred to this as enchaining the Leviathan, a government that, he said, would otherwise only grow. He urged the leveraging of state power to achieve this. And it’s working.”

“In 2009, the GOP had full control of the legislatures of 14 states. Since the 2010 midterms, a radicalized Republican Party has gained total control of 26 states (the legislatures and the governorships), compared to the Democrats’ seven. The party has control of the legislatures of another six. In short, the shrewd Koch-GOP strategy of achieving domination at the state level puts a partisan constitutional convention within view.”

“Here’s the really scary thing.” Maclean notes, “There are six states in which the GOP controls both houses of the legislature that have not yet authorized a convention: Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, and Virginia. Six could line up in short order.”

Please note that Virginia is in that list.

This puts Shelly Simonds’ battle over that single vote that gives Democrats a single seat in the House of Delegates, which flips the House of Delegates out of GOP control, a whole new sense of urgency. God speed Shelly Simonds! The fate of the nation may hang on your efforts to secure the seat you have justly won.

In the meantime, the coming year is shaping up as a classic Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times. Happy New Years, everyone!

You can purchase Dr. Maclean’s excellent book on James Buchanan, Democracy in Chains, the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America, here:

 

 

 

 

 

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In Defense of Christmas

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The recurring theme of a “War on Christmas” is now a tradition. Annually, stalwart intellectuals like Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Bachman and (gasp) Donald Trump will take to the air waves and announce that our Christmas spirit is somehow less than Christian because we say ‘Holiday’ rather than ‘Christmas.’ Fox has been especially energized this year, issuing a ‘thought’ piece that suggest the ‘War on Christmas’ may yet be won, but wondering if Donald Trump has gone far enough. Indeed!

But there is something of value to it, aside from the unintended humor it invokes: a great ‘teachable’ moment, as they say. After all, the history of Christmas is the story of one makeover after another. In truth, it begins before Jesus was even a twinkle in Joseph’s eye. In those heady pagan days, when the unconquerable sun was worshipped in all its pagan glory and the winter solstice rejoiced at the coming gift of the sun (or ‘son of God’ if you want to be playful) there was an honored period of about 7days – running approximately from just before the Solstice (Dec 17,18th) through to Dec 25th that became one long party ride, a kind of burning man for the pagan era.

The premise from today’s principle talking heads is that Christmas has always been about Christ, and any sense of holiday or festivity outside ‘Christ’ is somehow an interloper watering down the spirituality of the time. This, of course, is exactly backwards. Most of our cherished Christmas traditions have nothing to do with Christianity—and everything to do with the underlying pagan traditions that celebrated the winter solstice and the return of the so called ‘unconquerable sun.’

The infamous Roman holiday of Saturnalia is really at the center of all this. It was a huge party, a gigantic fair and festival of the home. The ancient Greek writer, poet and historian Lucian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes a time of widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; where, as he said, “sexual license” was taken; and even incidents of human sacrifice were recorded. These incidents were given a culinary representation in human-shaped biscuits, something we still see in traditional Christmas cookies. Remember those ginger bread men?

According to Janet Shotwell, lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. ” Riotous merry-making” took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees that were brought in by the citizenry in the hopes that they would guard the life essences of the plants until spring. As one comic put it, our Christmas tradition is based on an act of sympathetic magic. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, and incense. Processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets. The custom of mummers, visiting their neighbors in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland, is descended from these masked processions.

But one of the most equalitarian aspects of Saturnalia was a sit down feast shared by masters and slaves. In fact, during the festivities slaves were given the freedom to do and say whatever they liked. A Mock King was even appointed to take charge of the revels, and from this fantastic class reversal, developed the so called “Lord of Misrule’ of medieval Christmas festivities.

About 354 AD, Christianity came along and tried to co-opt solstice festivities, but couldn’t really suppress the whole merry making, drinking, gift giving thing. They did manage to make the climax of the winter festivities the official day to commemorate the birth of Christ, however, and, of course, gave it the name we know and love. Christmas.
Since the hero of the New Testament was born in the Middle East, forcing native pagan activities to mesh with the birth of Jesus creates a weird iconography for the season. Do we actually ever look at the classic manger scene, laid in a bed of snow like cotton, ringed in red and green, under a evergreen spruce and begin to wonder? The iconography of Christmas is ridiculously mixed in with reindeer, holly, snow scenes and other phenomena peculiar to northern European myth. There’s an urban legend of a Japanese department store that tried too hard to symbolize the Christmas spirit by mounting a display of a Santa Claus figure nailed to a cross. Crucified Santa would be just as surreal as a chocolate Jesus. The iconography which presumably represents the ‘spirit’ of the Holidays is nothing more than a co-opted pagan winter Saturnalia that Christians for the last two thousand years or so have been trying hard to forget.

In fact, if you want to find the first real Grinch in history, you need only travel back to the time of real conservatives: the Puritans of England. Under Oliver Cromwell’s reign, Christmas was officially cancelled. During the English Interregnum, when England was ruled by a Puritan Parliament, Puritans sought to remove elements they viewed as pagan from Christianity—this effectively meant the entire holiday. We will bomb the holiday in order to save it!

Under Cromwell, in 1647, Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting. They considered the festivities “a popish festival with no biblical justification.” Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in several cities and for weeks Canterbury was controlled by the rioters, who decorated doorways with holly and shouted royalist slogans. Now that’s a true defense of the Christmas spirit!
Taking Cromwell’s lead, in Colonial America, the Puritans of New England outlawed Christmas celebrations in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban was eventually revoked, but by the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Christmas was not widely celebrated in the US. And it wasn’t until the flux of immigrants in the next century (especially the good Irish and Italian ‘papists’) when the Christmas spirit would really take hold again.

So sadly, there have been moments when Christians themselves almost succeeded in destroying the Christmas holidays. But this isn’t one of them. In fact, one suspects that the only thing which can kill Christmas are the religiously intolerant set on defending their ahistorical sense of the season’s ‘spirit’ or the concomitant commercialism that seems to accompany the season every year.

I can’t wait for the right wing talking heads to start harping on that.

The Tax Cut Bill — Part 1 of a 2-Part Punch

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If Trump’s presidency signaled the end of a reasonable Democratic process in terms of legislative responsibility to the will of the people, the Republican’s Tax Bill signals the end of the economic compromise that was formed with our ruling class under Franklin Delano Roosevelt 75 years ago.

The broad outlines of that compromise are still in place in Europe and many other industrialized nations. It goes something like this: capitalism is allowed to drive primary parts of the nation’s economy with the understanding that a certain level of social order and cohesion is necessary for the benefit of all. To ensure that social order and cohesion, a social safety net is provided to those who may be the losers in the capitalist marketplace. In Europe, this broadly takes the form of unemployment insurance (the dole), nationalized healthcare, and sometimes nationalized pensions and education. In the United States this took the form of a patchwork of social safety net programs: Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, various grants for higher education and so forth.

The US was never as monolithic in its implementation of the social safety net, and never as generous. Reasons for that vary, but on the healthcare front, one large part of that was a tendency among Southern Democrats to be unwilling to have healthcare provided for blacks on an equal footing with whites. So any form of nationalized healthcare was voted down. There was also the Red scare, which effectively made both major parties ‘pro capitalist’ to a fault. This really hasn’t changed in the last 50+ years. As recently as last year, during a CNN town hall, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked if the Democratic party could move more left on economics, she replied, bluntly, “We’re capitalist,” or, in other words, no, we cannot move further left. She tried to nuance that blunt assertion with a few feel good statements about the need to look out for those less fortunate, but the bottom line is a disavowal of the initial compromise made 75 years earlier. This should probably be expected from the party which– back in 1992– made a deal with the devil and ushered in the era of ‘triangulation.’ –or third way politics, essentially arguing against– and then legislating against– the compromise Franklin Delano Roosevelt had made with the ruling class to provide for a social safety net. Instead, the Democratic party, under the Clinton administration worked through the legislative nuts and bolts of a transition to a purer form of capitalism that we now know as neoliberalism.

How did this happen? Since its inception, the social safety net in the United States had been fiercely attacked by Republicans. If you go back to the initial legislative battles over simple concepts like Social Security Insurance, Republicans at that time warned that the program would “impose a crushing burden on industry and labor” and “establish a bureaucracy in the field of insurance in competition with private business.”

“Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people,” Rep. John Taber (R-NY) said, arguing against the program.

This was nonsense, of course.

One of my favorite quotes from that era belongs to Republican Daniel Hastings of Delaware who worried feverishly that Social Security would “end the progress of a great country and bring its people to the level of the average European.”

Yes, irony abounds. One wishes sorely now that our people could be brought to the level of the average European.

Being Republicans, the fact that their arguments were floating free of any tangible mooring with reality didn’t bother them at the time, and hasn’t to this day.

Throughout the Reagan and Bush eras, there were Republican efforts at privatizing social security that failed, but that didn’t stop them from using scare tactics, suggesting that Social Security was insolvent, which is gibberish since social security is a trust fund. People pay into it, “contribute” throughout their working lives. The only way it can be ‘insolvent’ is if another entity (like Congress) decides to spend the money in the trust fund on something other than social security contributors. In other words, if congress steals the money in the fund, and then lies about it. Keep this note in mind.

Republicans also attacked other elements of the social safety net. At a campaign rally in 1976, Ronald Reagan introduced the so-called “welfare queen”:

“She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Based loosely on the account of one individual, Linda Taylor, this ‘welfare queen’ myth misstates her criminal activity by failing to note that Taylor didn’t just rip off welfare agencies. She stole money from a host of other businesses, and defrauded private individuals, and was involved in a kidnapping and possible murder attempt. In short, she was a career criminal who was ultimately arrested and taken to jail. She was in no way an indicator of ‘welfare’ abuse, any more than an individual burglar is responsible for wide-spread home insurance fraud.

Individuals committing welfare fraud are, in reality, very rare and an incredibly small percentage of those legitimately receiving welfare. But Reagan managed to tap into the underlying racial resentment and fear surrounding any kind of mandated government assistance. “Welfare queen’ became a racialized symbol of all that was wrong with liberal programs to help the poor. And it didn’t stop there. Hopping on the bandwagon, Newt Gingrich infamously lamented a food-stamp recipient who used her benefits to fly to Hawaii at taxpayers’ expense. This, too, was gibberish. As anyone who has actually enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would know, benefits are tightly restricted to food products off of the shelf and can’t even be used to buy other necessities, such as diapers, much less a plane ticket.

Thanks to Reagan’s “welfare queen” and other propaganda efforts by Republicans and their allies, by 1989, 64 percent of Americans felt that “welfare benefits make poor people dependent and encourage them to stay poor,” This was all nonsense, but it set the stage for President Bill Clinton’s infamous ‘triangulation.’ Just as only a Republican could go to China, only a Democrat could take on welfare. And Clinton used the national mood as a political opportunity, declaring an end to “welfare as we know it” in 1996. Under his leadership, AFDC was eliminated and in its place was something called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF…
Temporary was the operative word.

No longer would poor families be able to draw on the government for material support. Now there was a five-year time limit on benefits AND a requirement that the applicant for aid would have to constantly be looking for a job. Worse, for the first time, the federal government gave states wide leeway with welfare funds, allowing them to be diverted to non-cash-payment programs. The intent was to allow states to fund workforce training, higher education, affordable child care, and other supports that would help women find employment. But in reality, there were almost no standards regarding what states could do—for example, some states allowed these funds to be used for classes that urged women to get married. Most significant, though, the dollar amount given to the states by the federal government, and the amount states were required to contribute themselves, was set at 1996 funding levels, with no mechanism for increasing it.

That meant states could run out of money and refuse aid to qualifying families simply because they no longer had the funds. It also meant the cash amounts given to each individual family were eroded by inflation. In July 2015, the highest average cash payment for a single parent with three children was only about $704 a month in California. In two states, Mississippi and Tennessee, benefits are less than $2 per person per day, and in 27 more states the program provides less than $5 per person per day.

Two years ago, Clinton finally acknowledged: “The poorest welfare families…are worse off, and we should do something for them. And all of us who supported it should admit that.”

If you ever wonder why there are so many people on your street corner with signs, you can thank neoliberals from either party. What Republicans started at the dawn of the welfare state, and neoliberalism and triangulation under Clinton continued – the refusal to acknowledge the implicit compromise between society’s needs and laissez-faire capitalism—the Republican majority in all three branches of government have pretty much finished this week.

Most of you know the basics of the current Tax Bill, but here they are again, just as a reminder.

According to the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final bill, in the first year, the top 1 percent of the wealthiest taxpayers get 20.5 percent of the benefits, but by 2027, they’ll get an amazing 82.8 percent.

And while regular folks will get a break of a few hundred dollars at first, not only do their breaks come with expiration dates, by 2027 every group earning less than $93,200 a year will on average see their taxes go up. More than half of American households will see a tax increase. What’s worse, of course, are the seemingly endless loopholes still packed into the 1000 plus page document, that are tilted heavily toward the already wealthy and well-connected. Add to that, the malicious elimination of the ACA individual mandate, which will likely force millions of Americans off of health insurance (estimates are up to 13 million), and you have the perfect storm for what remains of our 75-year-old compromise with capital.

One of the most telling contributions to the Senate debate over the Tax Bill came from Tom Carper, a moderate, business-oriented Democrat from Delaware. He pointed out that it wasn’t Barack Obama, or any other Democrat, who invented the individual mandate. It originated in a 1993 health-care-reform bill that John Chafee, a Republican senator from Rhode Island, put forward. It was subsequently picked up by another Republican, Mitt Romney, when Romney led the passage of a sweeping health-care law as the governor of Massachusetts. “It’s a Republican idea. It’s a market-based idea,” Carper said calmly.

But, of course, today’s Republican Party isn’t the Republican Party of Chafee or Romney. It’s the party of the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, ALEC, and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In many ways, this tax bill, with its huge breaks for major corporations and very wealthy individuals, is the logical corollary of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which legitimized the wholesale corporate purchase of political parties and elected politicians. As our democratic integrity got flushed away with the election of Trump and his acolytes, our economic integrity has been flushed away as well. We are left with whatever didn’t go down the bowl.

The wealthy interests that bankroll the Republican Party have now achieved a major item on their agenda. What remains to be determined is whether this victory will help bring down the G.O.P. in next year’s midterm elections before they can implement the second part of their strategy to destroy the social safety net in America completely– by slashing Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Paul Ryan has promised us this outcome; and it makes sense, as it’s the natural consequence of this tax cut. “You see,” the argument will go, “cutting these ‘entitlement’ programs are necessary to offset the dreadful deficits we now have.” What Paul Ryan and the Republican majority may or may not mention is that any mounting deficit will have been caused precisely by the unnecessary and wholly gratuitous tax cuts they just gave to some of the richest families on Earth.

See you at the polls. Or on the street.

by Jack Johnson

 

Fighting Giants, Part 2: David Meets Goliath

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To get a sense of the stakes for what should have been a boring meeting of the Virginia state water control board (SWCB), just count the state police cars in the parking lot. That would be thirty-seven (37) shiny gray Virginia state police cars on a cold Monday evening. Then take a little tour around the parking lot for the meeting place; a community center in Henrico County with the heart-warming slogan, “strengthening families, uplifting communities.” In addition to thirty-seven state police cars, there was a Henrico Special Events Vehicle, a Henrico Multiple Casualty Events Vehicle, multiple ambulances, a fire truck, a State Police Mobile Command Center Vehicle, two Hazardous Material Vehicles, and a Henrico Police Van. Plus, just to be on the safe side, private plain clothes security provided by Dominion Power.

This is not your daddy’s state water control board meeting. This is Dominion Power’s DEQ’s hand-picked state water control board meeting—and things aren’t going the way they planned.

For starters, approximately 80% of the audience is hostile to the idea of approving the 401 water certifications for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—the nominal purpose of this meeting. Not just against, but positively hostile. Many have traveled from faraway Nelson, Buckingham or Floyd Counties or even out of state. Nearly two years ago, when the pipeline was first being surveyed, these individuals organized to fight it, and have since formed advocacy groups, and rapid reaction teams, like Friends of Nelson County, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Wild Virginia, to name a few. There are also larger environmental organizations like Southern Environmental Law Center, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club, plus progressive umbrella organizations like Alliance for Progressive Virginia coming together to form a potent grassroots, activist force. They have lawyers and individuals dedicated enough to sit through long winded meetings and public comment periods. Despite Dominion seeding many of the comments with individuals on their payroll (or individuals who had been on their payroll); despite the phalanx of state police officers and Henrico County officers, the room was decidedly anti-pipeline.

As the public comment period progressed, because they were frequently admonished to remain quiet, the activists showed approval of speakers by snapping fingers or waving hands. They uniformly turned their backs on speakers with whom they disagreed, or hissed loudly. They were disruptive, effective and sometimes entertaining.

One activist decided to sing her opposition to the pipeline. Another, after stating her credentials as an environmental engineer and planner, said bluntly, “This proposed pipeline is the poorest plan I have ever seen.” Said another activist, “This plan is a disaster.”

A young man with beard and colorful head wrap was even more direct: “I see through all of this. I see through your suits.” [addressing the board] “You are bored. You are so afraid. You are so scared of a single moment of truth. … This world is dying, you must know that. Our rivers, our land, our people, our climate — it’s all dying. If you can’t face that, perhaps something is dying in you.”

Mara Robins from Floyd County and a member of Preserve Floyd stood and delivered a bold declaration, stating in part:

“If you will not protect our water, we the people will. If you will not safeguard our water resources, we the people will, if you will not stop the pipelines, we the people will.”

All the activists, most of the room, in fact, stood with her. She ended on a poetic note:

“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.”

When I caught up with her outside, she was breathless and excited. She showed me her transcript and then whispered, “I thought for sure they were going to kick me out of there.”

She laughed and smiled broadly—she didn’t know yet that her words would prove prophetic.

**

There were supporters of the pipeline, too, of course. Some who had worked for Dominion or other energy companies in the past, some who currently worked for energy companies or similar ventures. They spoke of their years of experience, of being convinced of the safety of the pipeline passageway.

Occasionally, they went into philosophical detours that did not end well.

One made the obvious point that everyone needed power, that the room in which he spoke was being heated and lit by power provided by burning fossil fuels and civilization would be handily lost without it. The diatribe was rather quickly countered by a rousing street chant from the activists:

“Ain’t no power like the power of the people and the power of the people don’t stop!”

Another less sanguine moment occurred when an apparent Ayn Rand fan announced that all those in opposition to the pipeline were anti-capitalist frauds.
He shouted, loudly, “I stand against denigrating the virtue of profit!”
Which was greeted by a stunned silence as the crowd tried to determine if he was actually serious, and then there was the combined hissing of all the activists voicing their disapproval like the sound of an enormous snake.

Perhaps the worst moment came near the end when an amendment was in the works and the water board chairman, Robert Dunn, decided to chide the activists, saying, “Maybe when you get older some of you will begin to understand how these things work.” That did not go over well with at least one activist shouting back, “I’m 67!”

And this was when Mara Robbins, who was amazed that she had not been ejected as she spoke through her declaration the previous day, finally was ejected. Wearing a bright blue bandanna, she and another activist were led from the meeting by state police officers because of their loud protests against the chairman’s words. Outside the meeting, she said simply, “We will not allow this pipeline to be built…. If they exhaust us of legitimate means, then we take it into our own hands.”

 

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 This image is from Richmond.com–it’s a photo of Mara being escorted out after her outburst at the chairman’s comment.

 

It might come to that, but for that Tuesday, December 12, there was a compromise, of sorts. It was likely the legal arguments and the incompetence of DEQ’s process itself which forced an amendment, and thus a delay in the pipeline construction.

What was the DEQ process? They had recommended approving construction permits and then, later, reviewing plans along the way for several specific factors that impact water quality, including storm-water management, erosion control and efforts to monitor a complex limestone geography called karst. Because of this process, uncompleted reports from the DEQ that should have provided information to the SWCB about everything from sediment build up to slope erosion and karst geography were never provided.
“The DEQ’s erosion and sediment control plans and stormwater control plans are incomplete and have not been presented to the Board,” said David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director. “Karst analyses are incomplete. Data related to specific water body crossings is non-existent. The Nationwide 12 permit has not yet been authorized and determined to be applicable. The procedure is not based on sound science and is legally flawed. We cannot accept this betrayal of our trust and our rights without challenge,” Sligh stated.

Those and similar words likely helped to push the state water control board to reconsider rubber stamping the ACP pipeline in the same way they rubber stamped the MVP pipeline.

Tuesday afternoon, just as the board was preparing to take a vote (that all the opponents thought was a mere formality), board member Timothy G. Hayes moved that the certification be amended so that it would not go into effect until all those reports were completed.

He said the move was intended so the board could “at least have the opportunity to have one more swing at it if we have to.”

“The board today acknowledged what we’ve been saying all along, that this process is flawed,” said David Sligh, afterwards, “This is an advance over what we thought we might get today.”

Although the victory is mixed, the certification was approved but it won’t go into effect until the reports are completed and accepted—through a process which has yet to be determined—the activists I spoke with were genuinely pleased.

“It could have been worse, much worse,” said one activists, noting a straight up certification like the MVP pipeline was what many thought would be the outcome.
Said another, even more simply, “I’m not grieving today.” A sense of collective relief. The activists had managed to buy themselves, and their cause, some time.

Outside the meeting, David Slight explained, “Everybody from the landowners to the activist groups, to the students mattered today–the collective effort is what mattered. We have never seen this kind of uprising of people in this state on an environmental issue. I’ve been working on these issues for over 35 years and I’ve never seen this kind of effort. I’ve never seen this kind of unity.”

Perhaps it was that collective action and unity which explains the incredible number of police officers for a wholly peaceful meeting between anti-pipeline activists and brokers for the state and Dominion Power. That had the mark of fear in it; fear of the people and their organizing.

As the board shut down the meeting and multiple lines of state troopers—between twenty to twenty-five again– began herding the audience out, Sharon Ponton of Nelson County sang out: “People gonna rise like the water,”

Others joined in, as they trailed out of the community center, singing, “Shut this pipeline down.”

By Jack Johnson

Fighting Giants

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People unite from across the state to protest the Atlantic Coasts Pipeline

There’s a monstrous quality to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. It’s not just that the pipelines promise to permanently scar the natural forests, valleys and mountains through which they will plow to bring gas to foreign markets. Nor is it the damage to local water resources that will occur. Nor is it the use of eminent domain to override the protests of local homeowners and landowners, or the damage to their property, or the very real possibility of fractures and leaks along the lines. It’s not even the obvious problem of increasing our carbon footprint by burning natural gas and leeching methane– a by-product of the fracking process– into the atmosphere at a time when scientists are warning that their previous predictions of climate change were too mild and that the worst case scenarios they had envisioned are likely the most accurate (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/global-warming-temperature-rise-climate-change-end-century-science-a8095591.html). No, it’s the perfect, domino-like quality as each of these arguments, and more, fall to the economic and political collusion of the energy companies and our state government.

Last Thursday, December 7th, despite public comments in opposition to the water-quality certification approval at a ratio of about 90 to 1, a 7 member Virginia State Water Control Board (SWCB) –ostensibly the citizen’s representation — rubber stamped its approval. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, after the Virginia State Water Control Board approved the certification, 5-2, At least one member of the audience screamed profanities at the board members and vowed to visit them where they live.

The next day, Friday December 8, 2017, Appalachian Mountain Advocates filed a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to overturn Virginia’s unlawful approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The litigation was filed on behalf of the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Wild Virginia. One can only hope that this action does better than previous attempts to forestall a monstrosity that will not benefit Virginians, except those who have stock in Dominion Power and Duke Energy. Or those who depend on those power companies for political clout and funding come campaign time, including, of course, Governor-Elect Ralph Northam and Governor Terry McAuliffe, the last of whom was probably responsible for pressuring the DEQ and the SWCB in its approval vote.

According to Greg Buppert, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center: “After hearing from numerous citizens and officials that the Water Board did not have the information it needed to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Board failed to insist on a thorough, science-based review of this project. Their decision to move this pipeline project forward reflects the political pressure that Governor McAuliffe has put on his agencies to approve gas pipelines before he leaves office. But the Board still has the chance to acknowledge and remedy this broken process by sending plans back to Dominion next week at the Atlantic Coast Pipeline hearings and reversing today’s decision on the Mountain Valley Pipeline. As Virginia’s watchdog for water quality, the Board must ensure that Dominion doesn’t abuse its political power to push through a risky and unnecessary project like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

According to Wild Virginia, the filing “asserts that the Board has failed to base its decision on adequate and complete information and, therefore, lacks a rational basis for its action. All parties admit that vital information and analyses were missing at this time yet the Board endorsed DEQ’s recommendation to approve the rushed permit decision.”

The press release also highlights the fact that the Board issued the permit regardless of seriously incomplete information from MVP. “‘The DEQ’s erosion and sediment control plans and stormwater control plans are incomplete and have not been presented to the Board,’ said David Sligh, Wild Virginia’s Conservation Director. ‘Karst analyses are incomplete. Data related to specific waterbody crossings is non-existent. The Nationwide 12 permit has not yet been authorized and determined to be applicable. The procedure is not based on sound science and is legally flawed. We cannot accept this betrayal of our trust and our rights without challenge,’ Sligh stated.

This Monday,  December 11, 2017, the Virginia State Water Control Board will have another round of open hearings for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline at 9:30 a.m. at the Trinity Family Life Center, 3601 Dill Road, Richmond, VA.

There will be a follow up meeting, Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at the same location. Likely there will be a heavy police presence, but if you can make it to either meeting, please attend. When fighting giants, you need as many boots on the ground as possible.

How Revolutions Begin

bastille

So are disasters born, and revolutions made. The GOP Tax bill, just passed by the Senate now to be reconciled with the House version, makes a mendacious mockery of governance. It is a put up,  a fake out, a three-card monte for policy, and in the end, if we let them, a set of plutocratic cry-babies will walk away with the scalp of our social safety net.

Most of us know the broad outline. Huge tax cuts for the 1 percent and corporate entities that rule our nation, all of which will be paid for (or so the happy story goes) by jacking up taxes on graduate students by up to 400 percent, limiting middle class homeownership tax benefits, repealing the ObamaCare individual mandate, changing inflation calculations, and by cutting the deduction for state and local taxes.

As more than one pundit has noted, it is a bill written by the landed aristocracy, for the landed aristocracy.

So it’s bad in its inception, as economics and as policy. As an ancillary benefit, this bill will also explode the deficit. When it does, I bet what remains of my 401-K that Republicans are going to immediately start demanding cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Bam, bam. Bam. They’ve already started on Medicare, which, under congressional rules is due for a $25 billion cut in 2018. That’s just the beginning.

The poor are going to get clobbered. If the repeal of the individual mandate is maintained in the House version, some 13 million Americans will have to drop health insurance coverage in the next decade.

At certain points, words fail to convey the enormous moral, economic and cultural rot that coalesced in our legislative chambers to produce this bill. It is a monstrosity of inequality, a policy lie, an economic stupidity, placing an abusive and crushing burden on the most vulnerable of us, for the benefit of the most powerful and wealthy.

If I was a Republican right now, I would be careful about mentioning my party allegiance in mixed company.  Not mixed as in interracial or gender differenced, but mixed as in Republican and the rest of the world. They have shown themselves to be a hateful class now, and it’s likely –and appropriate – that they be treated accordingly.