The Uprising! November 8, 2019

One thing I’ve learned over time is that the Empire always strikes back. Nothing that good, hard working people accomplish in the realm of social, economic and environmental justice happens without a reaction from the embedded forces of the powerful elite. If you protest a prison, guards will get away with assaulting you. If you win a victory for reproductive

Rhode Island News: The Uprising! November 8, 2019

November 8, 2019, 2:26 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

One thing I’ve learned over time is that the Empire always strikes back. Nothing that good, hard working people accomplish in the realm of social, economic and environmental justice happens without a reaction from the embedded forces of the powerful elite. If you protest a prison, guards will get away with assaulting you. If you win a victory for reproductive rights, the Democratic Party will move to silence you. If you read a report properly chastising National Grid for incompetence, embedded in there will be a giveaway to the company in the form of an expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. You can pass a law attempting to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, but the courts may not enforce it.

The only way to protect our fragile wins is to hold power accountable, and to never trust those in power without verifying.

Welcome to The Uprising!

1a. Invenergy

It’s over. Maybe.

The final order from the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) on Invenergy‘s proposed $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant for Burrillville, Rhode Island was issued Tuesday. There were no big surprises. The order formalizes the unanimous vote taken by EFSB members Margaret Curran, Janet Coit and Meredith Brady on June 20, rejecting Invenergy’s application because the company could not show that their proposed power plant was actually needed to supply power to Rhode Islanders.

Invenergy has until next Friday to appeal the decision to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. A successful appeal is pretty unlikely, since the court has never overturned an EFSB decision. On the other hand, the EFSB has never turned down a power plant before, so…

Interested in the industry response to the EFSB order? Check out Robert Walton at Utility Dive, an energy industry news site.

1b. New pipelines

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo met with General Assembly members representing Aquidneck Island and Newport Mayor Jaimie Bova to discuss the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) report on the week long shut down of gas service to Newport and Middletown on Aquidneck Island following a “low-pressure” event in January.

At a press conference held after the meeting, I asked the Governor why, since the DPUC report concludes that here was enough gas supply and pipeline capacity to get needed natural gas to Aquidneck Island, the report suggests an increase in the natural gas capacity by a factor of five, through the addition of a new 12 inch pipeline to run alongside the existing six inch pipeline.

“Yeah. I don’t know,” said Raimondo. “And, I think Senator DiPalma said it, there’s the immediate issue, how we get through this winter, and then there are the longer term issues of capacity, infrastructure, affordability, resilience, and we have to get to the bottom before that.”

I noted that I know of no pipelines installed anywhere that are not ultimately paid for by ratepayers.

“Yeah, fair enough,” replied Raimondo. “It’s premature for me to answer that, but that is exactly what we need to dig into.”

2a. Wyatt Detention Facility

Thanks to some research by AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance) we now know what investment companies own the Wyatt Bonds. The Wyatt bondholders, through UMB Bank in Missouri, are suing the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC or Wyatt Board), members of the Central Falls City Council and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa for $130M because the Wyatt Board canceled the agreement between the Wyatt and the United States Marshall Service to house Immigration and Customs Detainees (ICE) detainees at the for profit prison.

The bondholders are:

  • Invesco Ltd $49,155,000
  • T Rowe Price Group Inc $17,200,000
  • Eaton Vance Corp $10,825,000
  • Credit Agricole Group $9,320,000
  • BlackRock Inc $8,345,000
  • Legg Mason Inc $980,000

The figure following the name of the bondholders is how much they have invested. These are, obviously, some of the biggest investment companies in the world. If you have retirement funds, chances are that at least on of these companies is in charge. Some people reading this may be utterly opposed to the Wyatt and private prisons in general, but are betting their retirement on the success of this industry.

The State of Rhode Island does business with three of these companies, according to Evan England, Senior Advisor & Director of Communications to State Treasurer Seth Magaziner. Invesco runs Rhode Island’s CollegeBound Saver and CollegeBound 529 plans. The company is credited with turning around the ailing program.

The T Rowe Price and BlackRock funds are investment options in the state’s 457 plans. They don’t maintain the plans. The plans are actually run by Fidelity and Voya. Fidelity and Voya have to bid for that business and the state is required by statute to offer three and only three 457 plans. (The third 457 provider is TIAA.) The state has no money invested in the Wyatt bonds, at least not directly.

Of the companies invested, BlackRock is perhaps the most overtly evil. According to Wikipedia:

[O]ne report shows that BlackRock is the world’s largest investor in coal plant developers, holding shares worth $11 billion among 56 coal plant developers. Another report shows that BlackRock owns more oil, gas, and thermal coal reserves than any other investor with total reserves amounting to 9.5 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions – or 30 percent of total energy-related emissions from 2017.

BlackRock is also “the largest investor in weapon manufacturers through its iShares U.S. Aerospace and Defense ETF,” notes Wikipedia.

CNN writes that BlackRock, along with Vanguard, are the two largest investors in private prisons.

On Monday members of AMOR and allies from delivered letters to Eaton Vance and Invesco in Boston, Credit Agricole and BlackRock in New York, and Invesco HQ in Atlanta. Watch the video of the Boston deliveries here.

2b. James J. Lombardi III

Ed Fitzpatrick at the Boston Globe has a short interview with the newly elected chair of the Wyatt Board, James J Lombardi III.

Lombardi defended his actions at the most recent Wyatt Board meeting, when the four members present approved a forbearance agreement that essentially ceded control of the Wyatt to the bondholders. According to Fitzpatrick:

“Lombardi maintained that if it had rejected the bondholder agreement, the board would have been replaced by a trustee in receivership. Bondholders have filed a lawsuit against Central Falls and the Wyatt board to block the removal of ICE detainees, and mediation is underway in federal court.

“‘We obviously have a fiduciary duty to the corporation, which we will uphold,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, because we are insolvent, we also have a duty to the bondholders. And with that duty comes lack of flexibility.'”

Lombardi’s plan, writes Fitzpatrick, is to issue “a bond to borrow between $40 million to $50 million, with the backing of the state or federal government, and using that money to buy out the bondholders, who are owed about $130 million. Wyatt, a nonprofit prison[note]Though the Wyatt is often said to be a nonprofit, in fact the Wyatt was created to generate money for the City of Central Falls and to be an investment opportunity for the bondholders.[/note] run by a quasipublic corporation, would use its revenue to pay off the bond over time, with government backing.”

Lombardi says this is the best course of action because, “In my opinion, we would never be able to pay off the $130 million, even over a 50-year period.”

As for the sale of the Wyatt to a private for-profit prison company, Lombardi doesn’t rule that out, telling Fitzpatrick, “As chair of the Wyatt board, I do not support the sale to a private prison system. I think there are other avenues to pursue first.”

2c. Ed Achorn

Ed Achorn wrote another stupefying editorial in the Providence Journal Friday morning, defending Attorney General Peter Neronha‘s decision to not bring charges against the Wyatt guards who assaulted peaceful protesters in August. Instead of bringing charges, Neronha turned the case over to a Grand Jury, which failed to bring an indictment.

Achorn agrees with Neronha that a better police presence could have prevented the assaults, writing:

An officer on the scene could have, for example, advised the truck driver to park across the street rather than try to make his way through the crowd. An entirely peaceful protest could have taken place, without subjecting citizens to pepper spray or the threat of being struck by a moving vehicle.

I can imagine this scenario:

“Officer!” asks Thomas Woodworth, “Is it okay for me to run these people down with my truck, and for my fellow prison guards to storm out and pepper spray the crowd?”

“You know,” answers the Central Falls Police Officer, “Maybe it would be better to just park in any one of the many available street spaces for now.”

“You know that never occurred to me?” replies Woodworth with a smile. Then to the protesters, he waves and says, “You go right on exercising your first amendment rights, good people.”

Perhaps the worst part of Achorn’s insulting and foolish editorial is the last line:

We can learn without criminalizing every mistake.”

Achorn is obviously ignorant of the irony of this line. He is writing about an incident outside a federal prison full of people (mostly poor, mostly people of color) who have made “mistakes” that are, always and strongly, criminalized.

3a. Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus

The Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) has released a proposed revision to their bylaws that many women are seeing as a direct attack on the RIDP Women’s Caucus. The Women’s Caucus was revived and newly invigorated after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, and his efforts to repeal hard won reproductive rights. Over the last three years the Women’s Caucus has grown to include over 500 members. The Women’s Caucus is the most active caucus in the RIDP.

The Women’s Caucus has taken a strong position against the new bylaws.

The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus shares the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that, ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.’ The newly revised state party bylaws make it clear that RIDP leadership believe women from our Caucus should only speak when spoken to, show up only when asked, and participate in democracy only when it suits the patriarchy. On behalf of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus executive committee and its membership, we extend this message: we will speak as we want to, we will show up everywhere decisions are being made, and the concerns of the patriarchy will not be attended to by the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.

Others have also spoken out against the newly proposed bylaws. State Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) on Twitter outlined some of the changes to the bylaws, writing, “Sometimes the patriarchy goes ahead and writes out those rules.”

District 40 State Committeewoman Lauren Niedel released a statement saying that she is “absolutely livid” about the proposed bylaws. Niedel writes:

“The bylaws are an affront to any Democrat who believes the party is headed in the wrong direction. It is an egregious stifling of free speech for the independent caucuses. It stops caucuses from being self funded, and to have a real voice in the direction of the party. Most outrageous is caucuses have to divulge all of their members on a yearly basis to the Executive Committee regardless if individuals want their information shared or not. This is an invasion of [the] right to privacy.”

“The draft Bylaws released by the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) on Wednesday are rubbish,” said Melanie DuPont, a Smithfield Democrat who will challenge Senator Stephen Archambault for the District 22 Senate seat once again in 2020. 

“For as long as anyone can remember, Rhode Island Democratic leadership has been telling women – indeed, all Caucuses – to shut up. You can see it in the Bylaws: they want our silence, our obedience, and our free labor. In exchange, they offer scorn, ridicule, and oppression. It’s a bad deal, and every Caucus deserves better.”

The Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a group of progressive Democrats seeking to upend the political system in Rhode Island, writes that:

“We stand in solidarity with the Women’s Caucus, and we see clearly that the current leadership in the Rhode Island Democratic Party is not representative of the will of the people. We value the voices and unique experiences of womxn, and we believe having more womxn involved in shaping policy and decisions makes all of us stronger.”

3b. Joe Paolino and Mayor Pete

In a rapidly developing story, the Providence Democrat Socialists of America (DSA) are demanding that former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr, the Managing Partner of the Paolino Properties, and the campaign of presidential candidate Peter Buttigieg comply with campaign finance law during a private event for campaign donors on Sunday night.

Citing a letter from Paolino to donors, the DSA outlines a series of issues presented by Paolino’s plan, including the ample free parking Paolino plans to supply for the event. “Parking in downtown Providence can be an expensive affair,” writes the DSA, “and parking for multiple people is only more expensive. The value of this free parking is substantial.”

Expect reactions from Paolino Properties and the Buttigieg campaign later this afternoon.

4. Opportunity Zones

he Opportunity Zones introduced as part of President Donald Trump‘s 2017 tax cuts and, despite calling these cuts “an unconscionable handout to millionaires and billionaires,” embraced by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, were sold on the idea that they would “bring capital to the neighborhoods that most need it, but in reality allow wealthy investors to benefit from huge tax breaks while they speculate at the expense of the most vulnerable communities,” says a new report.

Opportunity Zones will accelerate gentrification and result in even more wealth being extracted from the poorest in Rhode Island, and they won’t result in any poitive effects for the average Rhode Islander.

Fighting them won’t be easy, after all millionaires and billionaires have the resources to always game the system in their favor, but there are things local communities can do to fight back. Read more here.

5. Ranked Choice Voting

Greg Brailsford takes a look at ranked-choice voting, overwhelmingly approved by New York City voters on Tuesday, and how such a system might look were Rhode Island to implement it.

6. Guns

Despite the new law prohibiting firearm possession and mandating firearm surrender by all abusers who are subject to final Orders of Protection, Family Court judges still only ordered 34 percent of domestic abusers who were subject to final Orders of Protection to surrender their firearms, says a new report from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

“When survivors of domestic violence turn to the courts for help, they’re putting trust in a system during one of the darkest moments of their lives,” said Giovanna Rodriguez, a volunteer with the Rhode Island chapter of Moms Demand Action and member of the Everytown Survivor Network who was terrorized with a gun by her abuser. “The Rhode Island Family Court should do everything in its power to disarm domestic abusers because lives are on the line.”

7. No Endless War and Excessive Militarism

8. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

9. College Hill Independent

10. ConvergenceRI

11. Picture of the Week:

Security outside Invesco, Boston as AMOR activists leave.

Correction: The information on T Rowe Price and BlackRock has been edited to better describe their involvement in the state’s 457 plans.

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