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Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, November 24



If Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on that which we are grateful for, perhaps Black Friday should be a day to reflect on the relationship between consumerism and chaos, capitalism and violence.

Welcome to The Uprising, your weekly dose of newsy goodness from UpriseRI.

Let’s plunge right in:

1. Last week Gordon van Welie, CEO of ISO New England, spoke to a crowd of fossil fuel industry insiders in Cranston. ISO is in charge of running the auctions that determine energy prices and sources in New England. UpriseRI was not allowed entry into the event, but we did get some audio.

van Welie talked about the importance of the ISO’s “technical neutrality,” saying that the ISO doesn’t care how the energy they purchase is produced. Some writers, however, have noted van Welie’s tacit and outspoken preference for natural gas.

“Gas probably will live with us a long time,” said van Welie in Cranston. “We’ve built more gas [generation facilities] we’ve committed more gas [to supply contracts and] capacity markets have attracted more than 3000 megawatts of new gas investments in the last several cycles.”

Meanwhile, the technically neutral van Welie has been quietly pushing for the construction of more gas pipelines in New England, establishing a vicious cycle of dependence upon natural gas for our energy.

2. Staying with energy for a couple more beats, Rhode Island’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) is meeting Monday morning to decide on a raft of motions, objections and letters from virtually every party involved in Invenergy’s application to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island. The Narragansett Indian Tribal Council wants intervenor status, the Town of Charlestown wants more time for its experts to go over the science, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) wants discovery, supplemental advisory opinions, additional expert testimony, and the hiring a neutral expert energy market financial analyst and the Town of Burrillville wants the whole docket dismissed with prejudice.

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I have no idea how the EFSB will untie this knot.

3. Meanwhile, the EFSB itself is under review from the Special Legislative Commission to study the Energy Facilities Siting Act, which met Tuesday for the first time. One part of the commission’s objectives is reviewing “similar enactments in Massachusetts and Connecticut for best practices.” For instance, the Massachusetts Energy Facility Siting Board and the Connecticut Siting Council each have nine members to decide issues. The Rhode Island EFSB has only three.

I wrote about how theRhode Island EFSB was established provide “one-stop shopping” for companies that want to build power plants. A lot has changed since 1986, when the EFSB was first established. For instance, today we face a climate change catastrophe that was being actively covered up by the fossil fuel industry in the 1980s.

4. As it has for the last nine years, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted policies that will allow those who are behind on their utility bills to restore service for a deposit of 10 percent of what is owed. Camilo Viveiros, the coordinator at the George Wiley Center who lead the effort to persuade the PUC, wants more. There’s a rate case coming up soon in which the rules governing National Grid are going to be reworked.

“We’re asking them to implement the PIPP (Percentage Income Payment Plan) program as part of [the rate case],” said Viveiros. “For this one [seasonal utility restoration] we have a long standing tradition of [the PUC] listening to us, but for [the rate case] we really need to have four or five times as many people to make sure they know loud and clear that they can’t make some of the other changes in that docket without making sure that low-income people are protected.”

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.

5. One last energy story: The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is meeting again to decide on certain aspects of National Grid’s plan to build a liquefaction facility in the Port of Providence. This plan is opposed by No LNG in PVD, a coalition of groups opposed to the ongoing environmental racism in the Port. The meeting is to be held at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 in the Cafeteria, at the Administrative Building, One Capitol Hill, Providence, RI.

Rhode island State Senator Jeanine Calkin wrote a detailed, information-packed letter to the CRMC urging the Council to reject National Grid’s application. So far the CRMC has shown little willingness to stand up to Grid on this issue.

6. A coalition of progressive groups will hold a “Kill the Trump Tax Bill Rally” at the State House on Saturday, November 26 at 11am to protest the GOP tax bill currently making its way through Congress. The GOP tax bill will raise taxes on the poor and middle class and give huge tax discounts to the rich. The groups behind the rally are IndivisibleRI, Rhode Island Women’s March on Washington, SEIU and The Woman Project.

7. “At least 25 transgender people have been killed in the United States since the beginning of 2017,” says a grim report from the Human Rights Campaign. “84 percent of them were people of color, and 80 percent were women. More than three in four were under the age of 35.”

Monday was the Trans Day of Remembrance, “an annual day of observance to remember the lives lost to anti-trans violence as well as to celebrate past trans and queer leaders that inspire us to resist.”

8. “I am writing these lines from the Bristol County Jail, where I was brought upon my unjust, unwarranted, and uncalled for ambush-style arrest on Tuesday November 7th at the ICE headquarters where I was asked to come in prior to my original check-in date because ‘they now require people to check-in twice a year,’” writes Siham Byah, an undocumented Moroccan immigrant. “I have since been detained under inhumane conditions, and my son’s life has turned upside down. He has been forcibly removed from the comfort of his home with a police escort and taken to some complete stranger’s home, totally disregarding my repeated requests to have him placed with the designated people I had picked to care for him!”

Siham Byah is a 40-year old single mother, her son is eight years old and an American citizen. She is a resident of Nahant, Massachusetts. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has taken her into custody. Her attorney, Matt Cameron, has confirmed that ICE intends to deport Byah to Morocco.

In Connecticut, undocumented Guatemalan immigrant Miriam Martinez-Lemus has been granted a stay on her deportation order. According to Sandra Gomez-Aceves, writing in the Hartford Courant:

“Miriam can not leave her daughters, and her daughter who lives with insulin dependent type I diabetes cannot live in Guatemala– as the Guatemalan medical care is not adequate to meet her chronic need for monitoring and insulin administration, nor her intermittent need for acute care.”

9. Rhode Island’s UHIP disaster is not getting better, and people are suffering as a result.

10. Here’s Dr Michael Fine, the former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, being interviewed by Ariel Lewiton for Guernica:

“Unregulated crony capitalism that creates substantial and growing income inequality, that exists to extract wealth? That has nothing to do with the maintenance or improvement of the public’s health,” said Fine. “That capitalism is not consistent with health; it’s in conflict.

“But I can imagine a capitalism that’s more regulated and restrained. Where healthcare is regarded as essential, along with safe and healthy housing, transportation, decent free education through college and graduate school. Where we fund community development as part of the infrastructure of democracy. That’s a capitalism that we have never seen before in the United States, but it’s one I can imagine, and that does not seem to be inconsistent with health. It’s the environment in which I think our democracy and politics make health happen.”

11. The unstoppable Marcela Betancur, director of the Rhode Island New Leaders Council, vice-president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee and a policy associate with the ACLU of Rhode Island interviewed by Steve Rackett at RI Future. Asked what she’s concerned about for 2018, Betancur answered:

“We are worried about DACA recipients and how their legal status will be in 2018 and it should worry many people. There are several things our state and our municipalities can do to protect our immigrant communities and last Spring the ACLU put out a model ordinance for municipalities to make sure that their law enforcement wouldn’t question or arrest people simply because of their immigrant status. Right now, the only municipality that has adopted it is South Kingston and that was with a community effort.”

12. The Woman Project has an interview with reproductive rights activist Mel DuPont, who formed the Committee to Pass Reproductive Health Care Act in Rhode Island. The Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) is a bill that would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island state law.

“We need every available pro-choice Rhode Islander to come out in person and testify, on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to be determined, sometime between January and July, sometime after 5 PM,” said DuPont. “Twice. (Once for the House Committee, and once for the Senate.)

“If you can’t bear the thought of doing two minutes of public speaking, you can submit your testimony in writing. If you want help with public speaking, I’ll train you. If you have a personal abortion story you can share, we need you. If you’re a doctor, we need you. If you’re a social worker, a case worker, a lawyer, an obstetrician, a gynecologist, a therapist, a psychologist, an economist, a sex-ed teacher, a feminist, a religious leader or practitioner, a humanist, a mother, a father, an activist, we need you. If you’re a human who wants women and girls to have access to safe and legal abortion, the women and girls of Rhode Island need YOU to testify in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act.”

The Rhode Island General Assembly leadership has shown no interest in passing the RHCA, saying that they prefer the option of reacting to Trump’s efforts to undermine abortion rights rather than be proactive. The fact that Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) and Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence, North Providence) are endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life has nothing to do with it, I am sure.

13. Can we improve the world with public ownership?

Here’s an interview with Dr Andrew Cumbers, “a professor in regional political economy at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, and a leading expert in alternative forms of ownership” on “The Transformative Potential of Public Ownership” :

“…for me using a broad definition of public ownership was a deliberate, slightly provocative challenge to that kind of anarchist tradition to say ‘I think we still need the state, but we can have a diverse state,’” said Cumbers. “One of the terms I quite like is the idea that we should be looking at ways of ‘commoning the state.’ So for me, I like the term public ownership because it sets itself up in opposition to private ownership and that’s the key. That’s the key thing we need to think about. But we need to think about the public as not really inseparable from the commons. The public needs to be about creating democratic collective structures. Public is a useful term to use if it encompass all these diverse things.

14. I learned some interesting LGBTQ history at the Trans Day of Remembrance. Did you know that Marsha P Johnson denies that she threw the first brick at the Stonewall Uprising? I didn’t, but Justice Gaines set me right. Admitting this on Facebook, a friend turned me onto the Making Gay History podcast by Eric Marcus. I’m just starting to get into these.

15. A report from the front lines in the War on Christmas:

The fastest growing religious group in the United States are those who are religiously unaffiliated with any church, including Nones, atheists and Humanists. So why is Governor Gina Raimondo still calling the State House holiday tree a Christmas Tree?

Christmas and the entire holiday season is a special time for my family, and I’m excited to share that time with Rhode Islanders from across our state,” said Raimondo in a video. “I’m looking forward to hosting Rhode Islanders of all ages to kick off the holiday season as we light our State House Christmas Tree. Come kick off the holidays with a night of family fun at the State House on November 30.”

We are not a Christian state, right?

My suggestion would be to skip the tree lighting and attend this Conservation Law Foundation event instead. Learn about why Rhode Island doesn’t need to build any more dirty, fossil fuel power plants.

16. A study finds that black men are sentenced to more time for committing the exact same crime as a white person.

17. Picture of the week is from the 21st annual Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange:

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.