Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, February 23, 2018

‘We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that, reverse it.’ –William Wonka, industrialist The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School dominate the news and have single-handedly changed the tenor of the gun debate in the United States. The shrill reactions of the gun lobby can be taken as a strong indication that these kids are
Photo for The Uprising, February 23, 2018

Published on February 23, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

‘We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that, reverse it.’
William Wonka, industrialist

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School dominate the news and have single-handedly changed the tenor of the gun debate in the United States. The shrill reactions of the gun lobby can be taken as a strong indication that these kids are seen as dangerous to the extreme positions of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Trump administration.

Welcome to the Uprising! Let’s see where this goes…

1a. Reactions to the Parkland shooting and the explosion of student activism have been slightly muted in Rhode Island because the General Assembly has been on vacation all week. This means that legislation, like the assault weapon ban proposed by Senator Joshua Miller (Democrat, District 28, Cranston) and Representative Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Warren) won’t be introduced until next week. (Tuesday, 3:30pm in the rotunda)

Other bills that have been introduced or soon will be:

  • Safe Schools Acts of 2018 (H7591) Introduced by Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence).
    “This act would provide that only peace officers and persons approved by the school authorities for the purposes of educational instruction may carry firearms or other weapons on school grounds.”
  • High Capacity Magazine Ban of 2018 (S2319) This bill was introduced by Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 3, Providence).
    “This act would criminalize the manufacture, import, possession, purchase, sale or transfer of any ammunition feeding device capable of accepting more than ten (10) rounds known as high capacity magazines.” This bill was introduced by Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence).
  • Bump stock ban (S2271, H7075)
    Introduced by Senator James Sheehan (Democrat, District 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) and Representative Robert Craven (Democrat, District 32, North Kingstown), the bill would make possession or use of semi-automatic weapon rapid fire devices including bump stocks, binary triggers or trigger cranks punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine.
  • Everytown for Gun Safety is pushing for a Red Flag Law in Rhode Island that would allow family members or law enforcement officers to request an Extreme Risk Protection Order. Representative Dennis Canario and Speaker Nicholas Mattiello introduced that legislation shortly after this was posted.

Of course, all of this might well be meaningless since General Assembly leadership, all supposed Democrats, is financially supported by the gun lobby and will do all they can to prevent any of these bills from passing. In response, some constituents are sending checks for thoughts and prayers to our elected leaders.

[Note: the above info has been corrected and expanded.]

1b. The Rhode Island State Police might be encouraging their personnel to bring guns to church or synagogue, but the Rhode Island State Council of Churches “does NOT endorse a policy of anyone bringing a concealed weapon into a worship service,” according to the Reverend Doctor Donald Anderson.

“Worship space is ‘safe space’ and when a weapon is present that space is not ‘safe,’” wrote Anderson. “For many congregants the presence of a weapon is emotionally and theologically upsetting and is counter to an atmosphere of worship.”

1c. Governors Gina Raimondo (RI), Andrew Cuomo (NY), Dan Malloy (CT) and Phil Murphy (NJ) announced the States for Gun Safety Coalition, formed to combat gun violence. In the absence of Federal action on guns, these four states are pooling resources to track guns and prevent certain people from accessing weapons. Most interesting for people who trust in science and reason:

“The four states will also designate institutions of higher education to partner and create the nation’s first Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium. The consortium will be comprised of dedicated public health, social welfare, public policy, and criminal justice experts who will share and examine data to better inform policymakers nationwide. This groundbreaking consortium will fill the void left by the federal government’s 1996 ban on the use of federal funds to study gun violence which has obstructed research efforts across the nation, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.”

2a. Patricia Morgan, Rhode Island House Minority Leader and Republican candidate for Governor of Rhode Island made the journey to Burrillville Wednesday to announce her opposition to Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant. But Morgan also showed that she has a lot to learn about both the environment and energy policy. She three times refereed to LNG as Liquid Nitrogen Gas, and admitted that her understanding of the issues is based on conversations with National Grid and ISO New England representatives, both of whom have pro-industry, pro-gas pipeline agendas.

Two small points in Morgan’s favor: She says she came to Burrillville to learn and she agreed that climate change is real and is a threat.

2b. National Grid, meanwhile, has a rate case before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC). They are asking for gas and electric rate increases and they are asking for permission to increase their profits as well. This British company already extracts billions from Rhode Island, but shareholders and CEOs are never satisfied.

At a public comment meeting in Pawtucket, the George Wiley Center and the Providence Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America made the case for PIPP (Percentage Income Payment Plan). Under PIPP, a plan Rhode Island had in place from 1986 to the mid-90’s, people pay a percentage of their income for their utility bills instead of a fixed rate. PIPP is strongly opposed by National Grid, even though it would allow Rhode Islanders in poverty or on fixed incomes to avoid falling behind on their utility payments.

Here’s Will Speck member of the Providence Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, presenting the case against a rate increase for National Grid:

The next public hearing is 6pm, March 1, 2018 in the Hope High School cafeteria, 324 Hope Street, Providence.

Show up and demand the energy systems Rhode Island needs for the 21st Century.

2c. Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) has introduced two bills that would create greater accountability in our electric utility system.

The first bill (H7661) would begin the process of establishing a public not-for-profit utility model in the state. The second (H7674) would create transparency in private utilities companies’ advertising and public relations budgets. It would allow customers to see how much of their dollar is actually going to the services they receive.

2d. ISO New England, which oversees and regulates electrical power in our region, released a draft of its Operational Fuel Security Analysis. This study looks to the winter of 2024/2025 and assesses the needs of the electrical grid. If ever you need proof that ISO is under the spell of the fossil fuel lobby, this is it.

People’s Power and Light examined ISO’s report and found it lacking. Among the findings:

  • ISO overestimates demand growth for electricity in all scenarios. Its assumption of electricity demand during the winter peak undervalues energy efficiency measures that are in place today. Their demand estimates are superseded by ISO’s own updated 2018 forecast for demand, which was not used in this analysis.
  • ISO overestimates demand growth for gas in all scenarios. Its assumption for increases in gas use is more than double the rate of recent historical trends.

2e. The College Hill Independent has a great piece by Cecelia Tamburro profiling No LNG in PVD and executive director Monica Huertas. No LNG in PVD is battling a National Grid liquefaction project aimed at the Port of Providence, and area surrounded by poisonous industries. This is a prime example of systemic, environmental racism.

3. Rhode Island State Senator Nicholas Kettle (Republican, District 21, Coventry, Foster Scituate, West Greenwich) has resigned ahead of being expelled under Article 6, Section 7 of the Rhode Island Constitution, which requires a 2/3rds Senate vote. Both Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (Republican, District 38, Westerly, Charlestown) had issued statements supporting expulsion and planned to begin the procedure on Tuesday.

Kettle has been charged with two counts of video voyeurism and two counts of extorting sex from a Senate page.

Still, as the ACLU of Rhode Island and Kettle himself have pointed out, in the United States we are all innocent until proven guilty in the court of law.

“I am grateful for the many individuals who have continued to support me during these difficult times as it is clear that they understand that I am innocent until proven guilty,” wrote Kettle in his resignation statement. “However, I am extremely disappointed in Senate Leadership on both sides of the aisle because Mr Algiere and Mr Ruggerio do not appear to understand the importance of due process as a cornerstone of our legal system.”

Bob Plain at RI Future has a piece on why Kettle should resign, written before the resignation was announced. And RIPR‘s Ian Donnis has a great piece on Kettle, also penned before his resignation.

Sadly, Kettle put off resigning until it was too late to schedule a special election, leaving his constituents with no representation in the Senate for the remainder of the session.

4. Fascists on the University of Rhode Island campus?

“On February 14th, 2018 at the University of Rhode Island Kingston campus, outside the Memorial Union, two members of Turning Point USA were displaying a “free speech ball” with which students passing by could express any of their thoughts in celebration of the presumed rights all Americans hold,” writes the Rhode Island Student Union Project (RISUP). “The two men were trying to recruit passersby into Turning Point USA, a youth non-profit that seeks to promote the benefits of capitalism by supporting conservative politicians, organizing speaking events, and building a base of student activists to promote the free market.”

Turns out that Turning Point USA, “is known for organizing events where the likes of alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos spout their racist, xenophobic rhetoric. In addition, TPUSA is responsible for the Professor Watchlist, which targets and harasses academics (such as the University of Rhode Island’s own Erik Loomis) for supposedly leftist or anti-American sentiment, hearkening back to McCarthy Era tactics. The TPUSA president, Charlie Kirk, is merely a lackey for the captains of industry in the higher echelons of the American capitalist class and far-right movement, all the way up to the Koch brothers and Donald Trump himself.”

5. Billy Graham is dead.

Graham was an anti-Semitic warmonger who used religion to push an ugly anti human agenda.

He lived a long life as a very rich man. Whatever counts as justice never found him in this life.

I am not a Christian, but I find it hard to imagine a version of Jesus who would reward Billy Graham in the afterlife.

His death has changed little in the world, since his son, Franklin, has followed in his father’s footsteps and is his slightly lesser clone.

I simply mark the event of Billy Graham’s death, knowing there is still so much to be done.

6. From Samuel Gifford Howard: The Providence Journal: Rhode Island’s Specialest Interest

It might surprise The Journal that of the 411 registered entities that lobby at the State House, a great many of them are, in fact, businesses. From national businesses like Major League Baseball to 3M to General Motors, to the more local business interests like the state’s dentists, subcontractors, and even our daily newspapers (paying a handsome $30,000 a year for their lobbyist), businesses and their advocates make up a healthy proportion of the voices at the State House.

In fact, few (if any) groups come close to the $100,000 annual price tag of the lobbyist for the Providence Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, perhaps most effective is the over $70,000 paid by Advance America, the notorious payday loan company that has routinely stymied efforts to reduce its beloved loophole in Rhode Island’s usury laws; in fact, last year, it very nearly got the Assembly to remove any limit at all. Another $30,000 is paid out by Rover.com, a site which bills itself as a place to connect with local dog walkers. Since small businesses especially are singled out by The Journal, what is smaller business than dog walkers?

7. Bridget Valverde, Vice Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, has announced that she will run as a Democrat for State Senate in the 2018 election to represent District 35, currently represented by Republican Mark Gee. State Senate District 35 includes portions of East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett.

8. If your state senator or representative isn’t featured in one of these graphics from The Woman Project, ask them why.

9. , who lives in Senate District 5, is the second person to raise doubts about Democratic candidate Nick Autiello‘s right-wing Republican past, this time regarding comments Autiello made about the Trayvon Martin killing.

“I really don’t care what any of the peripheral facts are…“ wrote Autiello on Facebook, “…and the racial implications have been blown out of proportion…”

“…as a young Black man living in this city,” writes , “I… worry deeply about how [Autiello] talked about one of the most prominent cases of racist violence against young Black men, the slaughter of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman…”

“Like anyone who makes the evolution from one set of political beliefs to another, mine was a process,” wrote Autiello the first time his past as a Republican was brought up in an oped on UpriseRI.

10. The Providence City Council is considering a tariff on single use plastic shopping bags. The ordinance is modeled on successful plastic bag bills from around the country. Still, some city councilors, such as Mary Kay Harris Ward 11) and Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), are worried about the effects a ten cents per bag price tag on low-income city residents.

11. It remains to be seen how well progressives will do in the 2018 elections, after all, the conservative counter attack is only just beginning. Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the “nonpartisan” Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity is playing the part of Cassandra in a conservative tragedy, writes in the Valley Breeze that,

“Most Rhode Islanders are unified by love of country, belief in God, and adherence to Constitutional rights. Yet, progressives belittle these long-held tenets; instead promoting a divisive secular, social-equity agenda that crushes economic growth and invades individual liberties. There should be no place for anti-American socialists in the Democrat party. And, as did Bernie Sanders nationally, radical-left progressives are hijacking Rhode Island’s Democrat party; yet party leaders remain silent. These elitist “Sanders” Democrats, who know better than we do, want to legislate their extreme values upon the rest of us. Where are the champions of the real Democrat party?”

Stenhouse’s Galtian whine ends with a direct appeal to oligarchy:

“The business sector is the only potential source of electoral and financial strength that, if unified, can effectively fight back against the out-of-state funded, special interest agenda of radical progressives. There is, however, a winning strategy; one that has been effective in other states. Yet, the business community remains paralyzed – unorganized, leaderless, and feckless.

“Is there any champion out there?”

In his Valley Breeze piece he cites only one example of progressive overreach, the success of earned paid sick days legislation, passed by the General Assembly last year. Other wise his entire screed blasts an ill-defined progressive agenda. I suspect Stenhouse knows that if he mentioned specifics, the majority of readers would have found themselves agreeing with one or more progressive ideas he seeks to squash.

Stenhouse was also interviewed on RIPR on Friday. You can listen here and here.

12. Opposition to Trump’s planned offshore drilling plan ramps up in Rhode Island next week, starting at 3:15pm in the State House and then marching to the Providence Marriott on Orms Street to confront the United States Department of the Interior‘s offshore drilling sales pitch.

The organizers of the Providence Marriott protest write:

On Wednesday, February 28, the Trump Administration is holding a SHAM hearing in Providence on their plan for offshore oil drilling in New England.

Instead of allowing the public to speak and be heard, they are setting up kiosks with biased info on how wonderful oil and drilling are, and asking people to speak “one on one” with Interior Department sales reps for the plan.

That is NOT what democracy looks like. That is a format designed to suppress and dissipate dissent.

To counter their sham hearing, we will hold a REAL hearing, at the same time and in the same room. This will be a peaceful and bold event designed to showcase our opposition to both Trump’s drilling plans and their phony public comment mechanism.

Let’s show them how we do things in Rhode Island.

13. I’ll be at DARE’s Annual Brunch this Saturday February 24th from 10am-2pm at DARE, and I’m receiving a reward from the organization for my journalism. I am beyond honored.

14. Picture of the week: Who is this guy?

Pat Morgan says he shows up at a lot of her public appearances, taking video and monitoring her. She said he works for the Raimondo campaign, but when I asked him who he was and who he works for, he said his name is “Joe” and that he doesn’t work for the Raimondo campaign. I’d love to know if he’s being paid and by who.

And that is it for this week, though I’m sure I missed many more important stories than what I covered, I’m only one guy. Don’t forget that I do what I do with the financial assistance of those who think what I’m doing is important.

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