The Uprising for February 2, 2018

Welcome to The Uprising for February 2, 2018!

Was Donald Trump‘s State of the Union Address the first one in which a President applauded himself, over and over, as if the voluminous applause of his own Party wasn’t enough to satisfy the emptiness of his soul? Asking for a friend.

Whoever comes out on top in the battle between the President and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the people of this country lose. Who needs an FBI when you got ICE, #amiright? [Edit: Just before going live I heard that the Nunes memo was released]

The Ship of State has torpedoed itself, it’s sinking fast, and we’re fighting for control of the wheelhouse! All hands on deck!

On a lighter note: Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter.

1a. Some interesting progressive legislation was introduced this week, including a $15 minimum wage, a tax on Carbon and legislation to combat the repeal of Net Neutrality.

RIJWJ’s Justice Gaines, Michael Araujo and Erica Hammond at the back of the room

The $15 minimum wage bill and a Fair Pay Act were launched side by side by a coalition that includes the Rhode Island Center for Justice, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Economic Progress Institute, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Planned ParenthoodRhode Island NOW, the Rhode Island Food Bank, SEIU 1199, SEIU 32BJ, Teamsters Local 251, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Working Families.

We should all know about the Fight for $15, since Rhode Island Jobs With Justice (RIJWJ) has been championing this idea from the beginning. When the idea was first introduced, even most progressives and liberals scoffed. Now it’s a mainstream lefty issue. The leadership of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice stood at the back of the room during the announcement of this year’s legislation.

The Fair Pay Act “helps to close the wage gap by clarifying and strengthening existing equal pay protections and by eliminating practices that perpetuate the pay gap. The measure: prohibits employers from paying workers differently, including by sex, race, or for other protected classes; makes it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills;  clarifies what is comparable work; bans policies that prevent workers from discussing their pay; removes past salary history as a consideration; and requires disclosure of salary range to applicants and job holders.”

Something to watch [out] for: When minimum wage bills are introduced they almost always have provisions that include tipped workers and increases in the tipped minimum wage, yet these are the provisions that are almost always dropped when the negotiations get serious.

1b. Carbon pricing, the idea that may salvage some kind of habitable future in a post-Trump world, was introduced as legislation again this year. If passed, the Climate Resilience Act will “provide incentives for energy users to reduce their reliance on carbon-emitting fuels and encourage the development of cleaner renewable energy projects that keep Rhode Islanders’ dollars in the state and create jobs locally.”

The idea that the bill would be bad for the economy or business was refuted by Kevin O’Neill, a Rhode Island business owner who runs the Conference Exchange, a software development company.

“You all know there are some very loud voices in the business community talking about why it’s a bad bill,” said O’Neill. “The net impact of this bill on residences and businesses will be very small and would be more often positive than negative.”

O’Neill expects that his company will come out ahead once this bill goes into effect.

Meanwhile, the earth is getting warmer, and Trump, in an act of slow motion super-villainy, is actively thwarting efforts to prevent the most extreme effects of Global Warming.

1c. Rhode Island ACLU Director Steven Brown called Net Neutrality “one of the most important free speech issues of our time.”

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rescinded Net Neutrality, they did so in a way that prevents states from enacting their own Net Neutrality legislation. But Senator Louis DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Little Compton, Middletown) and Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) have introduced legislation, based on a model from the national ACLU, that attacks the problem from a different angle.

The legislation would require that all Internet access purchased or funded by the state is “provided in an unbiased manner, consistent with net neutrality principles.”

The legislation focuses on state purchasing because FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s order blocked states and municipalities from declaring net neutrality within their own borders. But state purchases for internet service are significant, and such a law would force internet service providers (ISPs­) to maintain neutrality if they wish to be eligible for government contracts.

This legislation isn’t the only effort underway at the state level to bring back Net Neutrality. There’s a multi-state lawsuit that Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin plans to join in with.

1d. Senator Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston) reintroduced legislation that would launch a pilot program testing the effectiveness of using Medicaid waiver funds to treat chronic homelessness. I hope to write more on this effort over the weekend.

1e. The Voluntary Extension of Care Act will allow for voluntary extension of foster care services until the age of 21. This bill would help pay for housing, healthcare, tuition and other expenses for young adults ages 18-21 who have been in the state’s care through the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). This is an effort being led by Governor Gina Raimondo, to her credit. Susan Walker has a terrific piece advocating for passage here.

2. Here is the rot at the heart of America’s soul:

On January 15, 2018 while getting her marriage verified to begin the citizenship process, Lilian Calderon was detained by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Johnston, Rhode Island. A mother of two United States citizens (a 21 month old boy and a 4 year old girl) who came to the United States from Guatemala when she was 3 years old, Calderon is currently being held far from her family in the Suffolk Community Corrections Center in Boston.

She is still in prison and there is no justification for this kind of abuse.

UpriseRI reporter Adam Miner covered the vigil here.

There’s a fundraiser to help pay for Calderon’s legal fees here.

AMOR has a petition in support of Lilian Calderon.

3. Representative Justin Price (Republican, District 39, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton) made a great case for passing Representative Kenneth Marshall (Democrat, District 68, Bristol)’s bill to “restrict the use of a victim’s gender or sexual orientation as a defense by any defendant claiming provocation, diminished capacity or self-defense and would prohibit the court from allowing such information into evidence.”

Price made some extremely unfortunate and bigoted comments during Tuesday night’s House Judiciary hearing, prompting Melanie DuPont to script this oped.

4. National Grid and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) held a public hearing regarding a water permit for an LNG project in the Port of Providence at Veterans Memorial Auditorium under heavy security. The site of the meeting is nowhere near the site of the proposed liquefaction facility under consideration or the neighborhoods most affected.

People were denied access if they had computers or backpacks. Water bottles were emptied and snacks prohibited. No childcare was provided. Parking was at a premium.

During the hearing those making public comment were subject to draconian time limits, their mics turned off at the three minute mark without remorse.

This was environmental racism, as speaker after speaker noted.

“The people who have spoken here today have spoken accurately, and from their hearts and from their knowledge of the world we live in,” said Timmons Roberts, a professor at Brown University and an expert on environmental justice. Roberts read part of his testimony from his phone, because he couldn’t bring his computer into the venue.

I attend a lot of these kind of meetings and I can say with confidence that white communities, such as Burrillville, do not endure such treatment.

5a. The Invenergy case moved so fast last week it became difficult to keep up with. Still, it was a weird honor to have two UpriseRI pieces appended to Invenergy lawyer Mark Russo‘s recently filed objection to a Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and Town of Burrillville motion for a Show Cause Hearing.

Invenergy seeks to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the heart of the pristine forests of north west Rhode island.

One of the two pieces cited in Russo’s objection was written by CLF Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer and the other was written by me, relying heavily on comments from Elmer. Russo seems to have objected to the “language and tone” of the pieces, saying they were an attempt to “muddy the waters” in the case.

“Invenergy’s unfortunate and unfounded personal attack on me is of a piece with Invenergy’s recent failure to make its legally required payment to Burrillville under the Tax Agreement: Invenergy is trying to bully opponents of the plant,” said Elmer in response to Russo’s objection. “It won’t work. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when Invenergy goes low, CLF will go high. At the Final Hearing, CLF will focus on the two big issues before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB): that the plant is not needed, and that the plant will exacerbate the climate change emergency. CLF is confident that the EFSB will focus on these crucially important issues, and not be diverted by Invenergy’s personal attacks on one CLF lawyer.”

5b. Raging against the dying of the light: Alex Kuffner interviewed Chicago-based Invenergy lawyer Michael Blazer and learned that the company is still committed to the project.

5c. The Providence Journal editorial board is still behind the Invenergy plant, and went after Attorney General Peter Kilmartin due to his announced opposition, ironically writing that the AG is “no expert on energy.”

“Burning fossil fuels harms our environment,” says the editorial board. “Unfortunately, the experts tell us that for decades to come we will need them. Renewables, though providing a growing share of the region’s energy, are not ready to replace all our power plants, and there is no feasible technology to store power for use when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.” [italics mine]

This would have been a really good point, if it wasn’t for reality:

Tesla built a giant battery in Austrailia, and it’s well on it’s way to not only performing as needed, that, is, storing energy and releasing it for future use, it’s well on its wway to making a profit, in record time.

“Less than a month after Tesla unveiled a new backup power system in South Australia, the world’s largest lithium-ion battery is already being put to the test. And it appears to be far exceeding expectations: In the past three weeks alone, the Hornsdale Power Reserve has smoothed out at least two major energy outages, responding even more quickly than the coal-fired backups that were supposed to provide emergency power.”

The ProJo editorial board has never been that keen on sciencethough.

6. Speaking of bad science, economics has long used Gross Domestic Product as a measure of the economy, but GDP says nothing about economic inequality.

The World Economic Forumproposes a measure of its own, dubbed the ‘inclusive development index.’ While it takes into account growth, as measured using GDP per capita, employment, and productivity, it also incorporates several other metrics, including gauges of poverty, life expectancy, public debt, median income, wealth inequality and carbon intensity. The index also considers investments in human capital, the depletion of natural resources, and damage caused by pollution.”

7. ACLU of Rhode Island Director Steven Brown has an idea for Rhode Island lawmakers: Instead of being “tough on crime” why not try to be smart on crime?

The ACLU has prepared a report entitled “Rhode Island’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline,” which takes “an in-depth look at how overzealous lawmaking has resulted in an unfair, costly, and sometimes absurd criminal justice system in the State.”

The report is based on an examination of “every public law that the General Assembly has enacted since 2000 to examine the creation of, and revision to, criminal conduct and its statutory consequences.”

“Over-criminalization and mass incarceration begin with lawmaking. The current ‘tough-on-crime’ approach is deeply flawed,” said Brown. “It is time for a more reasonable, forward-thinking and systematic approach to the passage of laws creating new crimes and increasing penalties. Hopefully, this report will initiate this much needed discussion.”

8. Last year The Woman Project displayed a gigantic rolled petition at the Rhode Island State House in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act, which would codify the protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State law, preserving legal protections to the right to abortion in the event that such protections disappear under Trump.

“Petition 2.0 is designed as a quilt, where constituents can sign and decorate a square in support of The Reproductive Health Care Act. The Squares will be sewn together to create panels for a quilt, that will grow in size as we acquire more signatures. The Quilt will be displayed in the RI statehouse during the 2018 legislative session.”

9. Women’s issues are not identity politics writes Justine Caldwell in response to an opinion piece by Rhode Island Public Radio‘s Scott McKay. Caldwell is running against Representative Antonio Giarrusso in Rhode Island House District 30 (East Greenwich).

10. Democrat Terri Cortvriend announced she’s running against Republican Kenneth Mendonca‘s House District 72 seat.

11. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse kicked off his re-election bid with a Town Hall style constituent meeting in Woonsocket.

Whitehouse’s first comment/question was from a man who thought that, “shutting down the government over the Dreamers was foolish.”

“I think that the reason the shutdown lasted only one weekend is that so many of us agreed with you,” said Whitehouse.

In a Providence Journal oped Dreamer Rodrigo Pimentel writes, “I proudly met with the Rhode Island congressional delegation to thank them for their support and to urge them to keep fighting for the DREAM Act. They looked me in the eyes and promised they would hold strong to protect Dreamers.

“But their strength, in shutting down the government unless the act was passed, only lasted three days. On day four, some of the delegation’s members broke that promise and now my future is more vulnerable than ever before.”

12. Laurie White, who heads up the Providence Chamber of Commerce, got Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) and House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick) to plug the Chamber’s Political Action Committee (PAC) during the Chamber’s legislative luncheon on Wednesday.

The PAC is encouraging business leaders to contribute up to $1000 via personal check so the Chamber can support pro-business candidates in the coming election.

“If you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,” said Shekarchi, as Mattiello laughed.

“You need to be engaged,” continued Shekarchi, “Because there’s another side of the equation that’s very active and very involved.”

Not sure, but I think Shekarchi’s “other side” is the 86.7 percent of his constituents that don’t own businesses. Shekarchi noted that the Rhode Island Hospitality Association is very responsive to bills that affect restaurants.

Bills like raising the minimum wage, giving sick employees days off, or making it easier to claim stolen wages… You know, bills that help workers.

That’s the “other side of the equation.”

13a. From Facebook: “On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza will be giving the State of the City Address at City Hall at 6pm. We, the disrespected members of the Providence Teachers Union will be there picketing the address.”

13b.Join us at the Senate Lounge at the Rhode Island State House to celebrate the growing power of the reproductive freedom movement in Rhode Island, and sharing our legislative priorities for 2018.”

13c.Come hear about Common Cause Rhode Island‘s legislative priorities for the 2018 session.”

14. 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza “said those under the influence of reason desire nothing for themselves that they do not desire for all humankind,” said Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of 10 books, two of them Pulitzer Prize finalists. “But reason is not a powerful part of human nature. Innately, we favor family over strangers, our tribe over other tribes. It’s only when we’re called upon to justify our beliefs — not consult our gut feelings, but convince others of the right way to act — that we conclude that all lives have equal value.”

15. Picture off the week is by Adam Miner:

Rick Wood in the snow, at a rally to call for the release of Lilian Calderon.

If you’re in Minneapolis on Sunday consider going to an Anti-Racist Anti-Corporate Super Bowl Rally!

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About Steve Ahlquist 816 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.

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