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Updated: 2 hours 48 min ago

At Lincoln Memorial Rally, Progressives Vow to Fight Rigged Elections

Wed, 10/26/2016 - 14:36

Political groups Unity for Democracy and the New Progressives held a day-long rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday to draw attention to what they are calling is a rigged election system centered on moneyed interests and deaf to voters’ concerns. Several hundred joined in a “Take Back Democracy March” which kicked off the event. After walking to the White House, they returned to the Lincoln Memorial, where a dozen speakers spoke from its marble steps, highlighting serious problems with U.S. election process.

They included high-profile campaign people, activists and independent media personalities from a nonpartisan base, expressing deep frustration and dissatisfaction with the election system, balloting processes, voter disenfranchisement and corruption, along every step on the road to the presidency. There were many Bernie Sanders supporters as well as Green party speakers. A Trump supporter also spoke.

At the end of speeches, ten activists participated in an act of civil disobedience when they walked into the Reflecting Pool. But no U.S. Park Police showed up and there were no arrests. Walking in the Reflecting Pool is a misdemeanor, and act of civil disobedience which was a common tactic in the 1960s during the Vietnam War protests, and has often been borrowed by modern movements.

Reclaim Democracy rally at the Lincoln Memorial./Photo by John Zangas

Delegate Jeff Day who worked on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, encouraged organizers and activists to talk to their neighbors about issues important to them that are not being discussed by candidates. He urged making effort to reach out to others. “Talk to your neighbors and take time to make sure they’re voting,” he said.

He asked of those present to reflect on their involvement over the last year. “What are we doing for us?” he asked. He suggested letting go of the “let’s go shopping mentality” and adopting an attitude of “sacrifice for the common good mentality.”

Day decried the excess of the consumer based economic system as a key stumbling block for many which focuses on consumption as opposed to focusing on individual needs, such as single payer healthcare, public education and community involvement. “The corrupt corporations and bankers that have paid and bought off all the politicians are taking this country in the wrong direction,” he said.

“We’ve got to speak up, step out and start being active,” he said.

Independent media streamer, Claudia Stauber from Cabin Talk, gave an unscripted talk about voter’s concerns with delegates, votes, and access to the Democratic National Convention, concerns which resonated throughout the Sanders campaign. She began her discussion by saying “Cabin Talk!” to draw attention to the simplicity of what she had to say as she does in her live streams. “We can disagree, and that’s what democracy is all about, but what we do need to have is that every voice actually gets heard but in this election cycle that hasn’t been the case,” she said.

“Even though we’re in DC, there should be log cabins right here,” she joked, in a reference to Lincoln. Stauber drew a comparison between U.S. elections of the 1860s and the modern elections in other parts of the world, where paper ballots ensured that all votes were counted. “We need unrigged elections with paper ballots with citizen oversight while they are counted,” she said.

Claudia Stauber addresses the Reclaim Democracy audience on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial./Photo by John Zangas

Stauber believes a paradigm shift is needed in the way success is defined. “How we define success, especially in the Western world, we define it only monetarily at this point. The way we need to define it is how many smiles we have and how happy we are,” She said.

Stauber said she wants to convey that there is a big change in direction happening as a result of new ideas and a positive message from the Sanders campaign. “Bernie did bring that out, and we need to continue it,” she said. “We need to be kinder to our planet, to each other, and to animals,” she said.

Law professor Tim Canova, who ran an unsuccessful insurgent Senate campaign against Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in South Florida, invoked the words of Lincoln, asking, “What is democracy? Lincoln talks about ‘of the people, by the people and for the people. Democracy requires human rights for everyone and not just here in this country but everyone in the world.”

Canova cited revelations from the Wikileaks site which has been releasing emails of the Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, as evidence the election has been operated under a rigged system, influencing the media and the voters and tilting the nomination of the Democratic party in the favor of Clinton. “We’ve got to be vigilant, we’ve got to be loud, we’ve got to keep speaking truth to power and to the powerless,” he said.

Addressing the loss of trust in the election system, Canova offered, “There is a reason that every European democracy has banned the voting machine. Paper ballots, counted by hand in public [is a] true democracy.”

Canova said that people were waking up to issues such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement presently before Congress, climate change, high incarceration rates for non-violent drug arrests, and the overturn of Citizens United.

Though the election cycle seemed to beset with losses of key candidates progressives had been behind, Canova said that people are waking up and getting involved. “This year has been an historic election year and it’s going to seem a lot of us that we’ve fallen short, but this is only the beginning, we’ve just started to fight,” he said.

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Local Police Set Up Alcohol, Drug Checkpoint for Cove Point LNG Construction Workers

Wed, 10/26/2016 - 07:58

A tanker and dump truck enter the Dominion Cove Point facility in January 2016./Photo by Jeff Dixon

Local police conducted a sobriety checkpoint in southern Calvert County, Md., to ensure construction workers at the Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project, owned by Dominion Resources Inc., were not drunk or using drugs as they headed to work. The early morning checkpoint occurred on the same day that Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) employees traveled to Calvert County for a routine inspection of the Cove Point construction project.

The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office set up the checkpoint on Sept. 23 on a county-owned road that construction workers drive on as they head to a privately owned parking and project staging area, named Offsite Area A. Each day, after parking their vehicles, the workers are then transported in buses to the Cove Point construction site in Lusby, Md.

That morning, sheriff’s deputies randomly stopped vehicles on the public road to screen the occupants for alcohol and drugs. No workers were arrested as part of the Sept. 23 checkpoint, said Captain Steven Jones with the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office. Two cars were searched for drugs, but no drugs were found, he said. The sheriff’s office also stopped cars on Dominion property due to violations that occurred on county roads unrelated to the sobriety checkpoint. After the completion of the checkpoint, Jones said the sheriff’s office called Dominion to commend the employees for their cooperation and professionalism.

Dominion requires its workplaces and facilities to remain drug and alcohol-free, including construction projects like the Cove Point liquefaction and export facilities, according to Dominion Cove Point spokesman Karl Neddenien. “All employees and others working at Dominion Cove Point are subject to random screenings when they arrive at the work site, while they are on our property and when they leave the work site,” he said.

The Sept. 23 sobriety checkpoint “was a cooperative effort of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, Dominion Cove Point, and IHI-Kiewit to ensure compliance with this requirement,” Neddenien said in an email. In 2013, Dominion awarded Kiewit, a leading global LNG engineering firm, and joint venture partner IHI an engineering and construction contract for the Cove Point LNG export project.

Calvert Co. law enforcement pulls over a truck at Offsite A on Oct. 19, 2016 in a stop unrelated to the sobriety check./Photo by Jeff Dixon

In 2007, Calvert County reached a “security services agreement” with Dominion under which the sheriff’s office provides protection to the Cove Point facility. The Calvert County Sheriff’s Office used the $1.5 million paid by Dominion in fiscal year 2016 to fully fund eleven sheriff deputy positions that are part of a special operations team assigned to protect the Cove Point terminal.

Donny Williams, a resident of Calvert County and an organizer with the anti-LNG export terminal group We Are Cove Point, expressed alarm that anybody would feel the need to set up a sobriety checkpoint to specifically target workers coming to build the export terminal in his neighborhood. “It’s horrifying to think that there is enough concern of workers being drunk or on drugs on the job to lead Dominion and the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office to set up a sobriety checkpoint not for drivers going up and down Rt. 4, but specifically for workers on this site,” Williams said.

Construction on the Cove Point LNG export facility began in October 2014. The new facilities will be in the 131-acre footprint of the existing LNG terminal site. The liquefaction and export terminal project remains on schedule for a late-2017 completion date, according to Dominion.

At least one construction worker has been seriously injured during the construction of the export facilities at Cove Point. In March 2015, a Kiewit employee was reportedly transported by helicopter to Prince George’s Hospital Center in Maryland after suffering injuries at the construction site. The employee was injured during unloading operations for two rebar cages for the liquefaction facility.

In October 2015, about 5,000 gallons of a 50% solution of automotive antifreeze reportedly spilled from a pressure relief valve on an industrial heating system at the LNG terminal. The antifreeze is used in a system that processes LNG into natural gas by heating it. Dominion reported no injuries from the incident and no antifreeze was released from the Cove Point LNG site.

Zero Tolerance Policy Common at Energy Facilities

Other energy companies also have strict anti-drug policies for their employees who work on site at plants or other major energy infrastructure facilities. As a condition to gain access to work at Southern Nuclear-operated sites, all employees must agree to submit to a “fitness-for-duty” program, which allows the company to conduct pre-access alcohol and drug testing, random testing, follow-up testing and for-cause testing, the company said in an email. All personnel also are prohibited from reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drug, the company said.

Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., serves as the operator of three nuclear power plants and is the licensee of two new nuclear units currently under construction at the existing Plant Vogtle in Georgia. When completed, the two units, along with a pair of units under construction in South Carolina, will be the first new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in 30 years.

“Everyone found in violation of this policy,” a Southern Nuclear spokeswoman said, “will be disciplined, up to and including termination, and denied access to all of our nuclear energy facilities.” Construction on the two new Vogtle units began in March 2013. Since the start of construction, the spokeswoman said she is unaware of local police setting up alcohol and drug checkpoints near the Plant Vogtle construction site similar to the checkpoint in Calvert County.

Preventing drinking on the job can be a struggle for some companies, including construction firms. In 2012, hidden cameras discovered workers drinking on the largest construction job in Washington State, a project on which Kiewit was a joint-venture partner.

On Sept. 23, the same day as the sobriety checkpoint near the Cove Point facility, FERC staff members performed an inspection of the construction site. In its inspection report, filed on Oct. 13, FERC staff concluded that construction activities at the LNG terminal “comply with the designs and plans filed with and approved by FERC.” The staff did not find any instances of noncompliance nor were any problem areas identified, according to the report.

Storage tanks at the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal in Calvert County, Md./Photo by Mark Hand.

For example, FERC staff found that a temporary construction entrance on Cove Point Road (Route 497) was acceptable. The entrance provides access for construction workers, materials, equipment and vehicles. Dominion Cove Point routinely maintains the roadway with street sweepers to remove sediment and debris, FERC staff said. FERC’s next construction inspection of the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal facilities is tentatively scheduled for the week of Nov. 14.

The sheriff’s office will occasionally set up sobriety checkpoints throughout the county. The Sept. 23 checkpoint was the first time the sheriff’s office had screened drivers in the vicinity of the Dominion Cove Point staging area, Jones said.

“We’re scanning for drugs and alcohol, just like we would for a DWI checkpoint or a drug checkpoint,” Jones said. “We have a national drug problem. We have a drinking and driving problem. We used to do it on Friday nights. Now, we find when we do it in the mornings or on Monday nights, we find the same results.”

The sheriff’s office told Dominion that it was planning to set up the checkpoint on Sept. 23. “We let them know we were going to do it because it was going to affect their operations. We don’t need their permission to do it because it’s a county road. But we did let them know out of respect,” he said.

The sobriety checkpoint is one more reason why Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan should order a full and transparent quantitative risk assessment for the Cove Point LNG export project, Williams contended. “We know it was unsafe as an import terminal. We have no idea how unsafe it would be as an export terminal, and the fact that workers are suspected of not being sober on the job certainly skyrockets our concerns about the safety of this facility,” he said.

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Columbia Gas Pipeline’s Potomac Crossing Draws Protest

Mon, 10/24/2016 - 18:19

Protesters fear that a pipeline leak in the Potomac River could poison the drinking water supply of millions of people./Photo by Anne Meador

A fracked gas pipeline proposed by Columbia Gas was the motivation for a protest and march on Saturday at the C&O Canal National Park near the point where the pipeline may cross the Potomac River. While details are scarce about the pipeline so far, it will likely originate in Pennsylvania, traverse Maryland and connect with a distribution line in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

On this glorious autumn day, a crowd of about fifty people cheered the arrival of two hikers on the C&O Canal towpath at the tiny town of Hancock, Md. The pair of young women–dressed colorfully in teal t-shirts and carrying a several yards of black piping–swept into their welcoming, even though they had already walked more than 100 miles since October 15. Kim Alexander and Aeryn Boyd are walking 313 miles along Maryland waterways.

“We’re walking across the state of Maryland to celebrate water and protect life,” Boyd said. She and Alexander support state legislation to ban fracking. “Fracking is a very big risk, and it’s not worth it when we have other types of energy.” They believe a fracking ban would not only protect people and the environment from harms created by wells, but also from their associated infrastructure, such as the pipeline proposed near Hancock.

Kim Alexander holds aloft a faux pipeline after arriving in Hancock, Md.

Russell Mokhiber of Morgan County, W.Va., addressed the gathering and described how another company in West Virginia, Mountaineer Gas, is depending on Columbia’s pipeline to supply its planned expansion. He speculates that it could even be one piece in a transmission system transporting gas from Pennsylvania’s shalefields to a terminal on the Chesapeake Bay for export. We have “a flood of gas” which leads to redundancies, he said.

“Many people here are from Morgan County. They don’t want this pipeline because, one, of the way this company [Mountaineer Gas] is bullying landowners, going to older people, saying: ‘If you don’t take this offer, we’re going to come and get it with eminent domain,’” he said. “But two, because we don’t need this gas. We don’t need it, and it’s very risky. There are leaks, there are explosions.”

Several protesters also carried “Ban Fracking in Maryland” signs. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan just released regulations on fracking as the first step toward lifting the moratorium against the extraction method in the state.

“The gas is from fracking,” Carolyn Reece of Morgan County said about the pipelines. “There are too many pipelines. Now there’s one in my backyard. It has to stop, this greed for gas.”

Following a march through the main thoroughfare of Hancock, the group gathered for a prayer circle on the Potomac. Amanda Kimimilla sang a “protection song” she said her Lakota grandmother taught her. Kimimilla of Hedgesville, W.Va., had recently returned from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, where thousands of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples—also known as Sioux—are trying to protect the Missouri River from contamination by the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Prayer circle on the Potomac River.

“All pipelines leak. Over time, they corrode,” she said. She noted that fifty pipelines have leaked this year, but news reports rarely cover them. Heat expansion and cold weather shrinkage cause “structural anomalies” which can lead to accidents. She also described the tendency for companies to abandon pipelines.

Columbia Gas must apply to the National Park Service to drill under the Potomac River to lay its pipeline. A pipeline leak or accident poses risks of fouling the drinking water supply of millions of people who live in Washington, DC and surrounding areas.

Those opposing the pipelines may clash with localities anxious to capitalize on gas-powered industries. Procter & Gamble, for example, is constructing a new manufacturing plant in Berkeley County, which some are hyping as an economic bonanza likely to transform the area. Part of the $8.5 million in infrastructure improvements provided by the county will include additional gas lines. The Mountaineer Gas pipeline expansion would likely provide gas to power the plant.

The executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority told the Shepherdstown Observer that the county missed out on the Procter & Gamble gravy train in part because lack of gas distribution lines put it at a competitive disadvantage. He welcomes the Mountaineer Gas expansion.

Columbia Pipeline Group was acquired by TransCanada Corp. last March for $13 billion. TransCanada is probably most well-known for the Keystone Pipeline, which transports dilbit from tar sands mines in Canada to the Gulf Coast. TransCanada’s attempt to build the Keystone XL, the northern leg of the pipeline, were blocked last year when the U.S. State Department denied the pipeline’s permit.

The post Columbia Gas Pipeline’s Potomac Crossing Draws Protest appeared first on DCMediaGroup.

Indigenous Women Walk Length of Potomac River to “Give It a Taste of How It Began”

Sun, 10/16/2016 - 19:49

It wasn’t easy to catch up with Barbara Baker-larush as she walked briskly along the C&O Canal through Georgetown. Even on this magnificent autumn day, she wouldn’t be diverted from her important mission. Walkers, joggers, and bikes cleared a path for her. Cars halted at street crossings.

She couldn’t stop for me either, she said, only slow down a little. A copper pail covered with a red cloth swung lightly at her side in rhythm with the long grey pony tail down her back. She attended the pail with special care, I noticed, like a courier with an urgent delivery. She pulled back the red cloth to reveal the contents: clear, clean water taken from the source of the Potomac River.

Baker-larush is an Ojibwe woman from the Chippewa Indian Reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin. On Saturday, she walked one leg of the Potomac River Nibi Walk, which started on October 7 in Fairfax Stone, W.Va. and will conclude at Point Lookout, Md. on October 19.

Carrying a golden eagle feather for protection, the copper vessel with Potomac River water and a GPS tracker, is one of several Nibi Water Walkers. They say they are journeying along this river and others to draw attention to the pollution in the water, to “heal” it and change people’s current damaging relationship to waterways. The walks are “extended ceremonies to pray for the water,” according to the Nibi Walks website. “Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life giving force,” it says.

Baker-larush’s tribal name is Spirit Bird Woman. She has participated in several Nibi Walks before, including the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. An experienced walker, on Saturday she had hiked several miles at a brisk clip southeast on the C&O Canal towpath, which runs parallel to the Potomac River, toward Washington, DC.

“Seventy-five percent of the earth is water, but only two percent is drinkable,” she said. “I do these walks to make sure that my children’s children, and seven generations down the line, have fresh water to drink. Because without water, there is no life.”

In crowded Georgetown, Sharon Day, executive director of the Indigenous People’s Task Force, waited for Baker-Larush in a well-traveled RV. She has helped organize many of the waterwalks. “Our waterways are severely impaired,” she said. “Water is life, and there can be no life without water.”

The water is usually fairly clean at the “headwaters” and gets more polluted as it goes downstream from human activity, she said. They carry some of the source water to the “confluence”—the Chesapeake Bay, in the case of the Potomac River.

A copper vessel contains headwaters of the Potomac River./Photo by Anne Meador

“We want to give river a taste of how she began, and that’s how we wish for her to be again,” she said. “All the while that we’re carrying the water, we’re telling it, ‘We love you, we thank you, we respect you.’”

In her tribe, she said, water is women’s responsibility, while fire is men’s.

Day believes that water is playing a special role for Native Americans right now. Over 300 tribes have united to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline and protect the Missouri River, in particular, the water supply for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe at Cannonball, North Dakota. Day lent her support to the water protectors at Standing Rock at the end of August, bringing tents, blankets, and money, and performed a water ceremony at the launching of boats into the Missouri River.

She thinks that people need to change practices like putting chemicals on their lawns, and it is also important to stop extractive industries which pollute water. “One of the things that seems to be missing is this relationship with water, not just as a commodity, but as a living entity that has a spirit,” she said.

The Potomac River, Stressed and Suffering

The Potomac River is the source of drinking water for millions of people, especially in the metropolitan Washington, DC area. The water quality is threatened by major polluters, stormwater runoff, extractive industries such as hydraulic fracking and mining, and sewage.

An Environmental Working Group study released in September found that levels of hexavalent chromium in drinking water supplying the metropolitan Washington, DC region far exceeded a public health goal. The DC Water and Sewer Authority, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and the Fairfax County Water Authority all obtain water from the Potomac River. Hexavalent chromium, a likely carcinogen made famous by the movie “Erin Brokovich,” often enters underground and surface waters from leaching hazardous waste sites.

Submerged aquatic vegetation chokes Oronoco Bay on the Alexandria waterfront./Photo by Anne Meador

Industrial neglect and malfeasance are sometimes responsible for toxic releases into the river. Last December, it was revealed that for decades, toxic chemicals from a coal ash pond have been leaking into Quantico Creek from Dominion Virginia Power’s Possum Point power station. Quantico Creek runs into the Potomac River.

Dominion Virginia Power also admitted that it was responsible for a 13,500-gallon spill of mineral oil into a waterfowl sanctuary near Reagan National Airport last February.

Huge swaths of submerged aquatic vegetation and algae have appeared in several spots in the Potomac around Washington, DC. Massive amounts of stormwater runoff mixed with raw sewage from Old Town Alexandria during heavy rains may account for the thick growth at Oronoco Bay.

Barbara Baker-larush hands over sacred water and an eagle feather to the next Nibi Walker./Photo by Anne Meador

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At National Level, Voters Can’t Win. So Look for Local Solutions Instead

Fri, 10/14/2016 - 10:54

Democracy Spring protest at Capitol building, April 2016/Photo by John Zangas

Nothing lasts forever and this presidential election, it too will end. November 9 will be the end of a Caligula-esque presidential election. Its end can’t come too soon.

None of the last 18 months have resulted in any forward progress, no substantive discussion of solutions moving civilization forward. Nothing wise or learned has come from these would-be leaders.

The world does look toward the U.S. presidential election in a big way because it is a barometer of policies affecting billions. The world has been shortchanged this time.

We did stumble on one thing: how cunning and treacherous people feigning the narcotic of power become when there’s a threat of its being taken.

From the town halls, to the state caucuses, to the conventions, to the debates, this election has been a massive ripoff of the voters and those who donated time and money and trusted a system proved by ego and garnished by selfish greed and treachery.

Voters have been played at every act, scene and role. Nothing about what happened in this election this year has really counted. Many are now disillusioned.

One really can’t tell who Clinton is. Whether her statements are a public perspective or a private policy, or her public intent matches her private action, is a big mystery. Who is she? One cannot not find that out in mainstream media, less than 25 days from the voting booth.

Trump is a relic, so painfully, flagrantly and awfully out of step with the times. No hope there either.

Even presidential candidate Vermin Supreme has far more credibility with his promise of a pony for everyone.

When this election is over the same issues will still be there waiting to be fixed. Ironically, none of the elected will be up to the task. Maybe it’s not because they lack the will, or courage to try to fix them. Maybe our would be elected are trying to tell something they cannot come to admit: they simply don’t want to fix the national level issues.

What are those national level (big) issues?

The other day I thought large scale issues were important: national debt, wealth inequality, public education, unending wars, military spending (more than 53% of the discretionary budget), economy, bank fraud, corporate welfare, a tax on Wall Street, etc.

But now I realize the big issues affecting us are really not the big issues but the smaller local issues where organizing for change is not only realistically possible, it’s in our interest because it affects us directly.

Therefore the issues we need to be worried about are the ones we can reasonably change: the local bike trail that needs widening, local housing availability, local spending on public schools, a local board for police oversight, good community centers, moving money to a local credit union, viable public parks and spaces, etc.

So what options do we have?

Sides can keep beating up each other over how bad things have gotten at the national level. It hasn’t worked up to now. Leadership really doesn’t care to fix national problems or they would. Congress won’t even confirm a Supreme Court Justice!

Since it’s obvious we can’t rely on national leaders, anything we do is going to have to be done by local leaders at local community levels.

Communities with self-empowerment for common good are incredible vestiges of power. It doesn’t take as much to organize, and there’s more chance to speak truth to power at local levels.

Locals can’t control huge runaway issues like debt, banks, and Wall Street and wars that influential elites seem to have a grasp over. But maybe locals don’t need to have such concerns.

Maybe the elections we need to worry about are the ones close to home.

I still hope to get a pony someday.

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Black Community in DC Demands Answers About Police Killing of Terrence Sterling

Wed, 10/05/2016 - 14:11

Washington, DC — A dozen groups rallied and marched Monday night in memory of Terrence Sterling, 31, an unarmed Black man shot by DC police officer Brian Trainer. About 250 took part in the demonstration at the 200 block of M Street NW, the busy intersection where he was killed.

Just paces behind them was a small memorial of teddy bears tied to a street lamp in Sterling’s memory. Above were signs reading “We have Questions, We Need Answers,” with the hashtag #TerrenceSterling. Motorists blew horns in support of the action.

Officer Trainer fired at Sterling from inside his vehicle while Sterling was riding his motorcycle in the early morning hours on Sept. 11, according an attorney for Sterling’s family.

Hundreds marched Monday night expressing their emotions about the incident and demanding more transparency and accountability from police and District government. After many organizers spoke, protesters shut down nearby New York Avenue until police ordered protesters stop blocking traffic. They reacted angrily to the police warning but after a short time began walking to allow traffic to pass. The demonstration continued with no incident, and no arrests were reported.

Terrence Sterling was killed by a police office in the District on Photo by John Zangas

Several mothers who had lost children to police and community violence joined in the action along with a number of friends of Terrence Sterling. They included Jerry Formey, a friend childhood friend of Sterling for over twenty years.

Formey spoke fondly and emotionally of Sterling as he told of a friend who was “easy to talk to, nonviolent and very loyal.” He said they watched many football games together, and he would miss sharing good times.

Formey said his friends affectionately nicknamed Sterling “Chicken” because his first job was at a fast food restaurant. “He had a smile that would light up the cold corner when he came through,” said Formey.

Activists expressed frustration with the reluctance of Mayor Bowser to hold police accountable. They also feel the police are too protected from oversight and unwilling to hold themselves accountable. “They want to sweep the murder of Terrence Sterling under the rug,” said Eugene Puryear, organizer with Stop Police Terror Project DC.

Puryear, who has been actively working on DC police accountability for over a decade, called police conduct in DC a national disgrace, undermining the world view of democracy here. He spoke of a United Nations report from last week highly critical of U.S. police conduct in handling cases like Terrence Sterling’s.

“The UN just came out and said that the killings of Black men in America is reminiscent of lynchings,” Puryear said. He admonished the falseness of democratic principles in the present day of policing standards. “More people have died at the hands of police than have been lynched in just the last ten years,” he said.

Carlan Martin, co-founder of Truth Seekers for India Kager, also had harsh words when she chastised Mayor Bowser and the City Council for not holding police responsible. “The elected officials of the city don’t have the balls to take on the Fraternal Order of Police,” said Martin. “We’re going to keep applying pressure to the FOP and stand up for people who can no longer speak for themselves.”

Cynthia DeShola Dawkins of Timothy Dawkins El Project and the Coalition of Concerned Mothers (COCM) speaks to protesters./Photo by John Zangas

Activists posed key questions for the Mayor and City Council, including why police used deadly force when Sterling was unarmed, why police fired upon him while he was riding his motorcycle, and why he was being pursued when there was already a standing order in the District for police not to pursue any vehicle. They demanded that the Mayor make the police answer questions about the actions of the officers involved leading up to Sterling’s death, and make sure they are prosecuted. They are also demanding the Department of Justice investigate the matter.

Black Lives Matter DC organizer April Goggins railed against police, saying, “His life and the way in which MPD and Mayor Bowser and the DC Police Union have treated its aftermath its dispicable, it’s disgusting.”

Goggins urged those present to become active in organizing for change.

The DC coroner’s office ruled Terrence Sterling’s death a homicide. It was the 764th police killing in the U.S. in 2016, according to a database project undertaken by the Guardian website called “The Counted.”

Since Sterling was killed on September 11, another 54 names have been added. It now stands at 818.

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‘Black Lives Matter’ Spraypainted on Trump’s New DC Hotel

Sun, 10/02/2016 - 16:12

@AngryBlkManDC tweeted a photo and video of the tagging in process.

Washington, DC — A man tagged the side entrance of Trump International Hotel with red and black spray paint on Saturday afternoon with slogans “No Justice [No] Peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” The graffiti defaced the side entrance to the ultra-luxury hotel named after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is infamous for his racist remarks against blacks, Muslims and Latinos. The hotel just celebrated its grand opening in September.

On Twitter, @AngryBlkManDC tweeted a photo of the graffiti and a video of the tagging in process.

Several pieces of plywood covered the tags while a security guard dressed in a business suit stood by to keep it from being removed.

The guard said that “a special process” would have to be used to remove the paint, but it could not be done right away because the 117-year-old edifice was made of marble, which could deteriorate if sandblasting techniques were used.

The guard also said Trump Hotel did not discuss “security methods” when asked if those responsible had been caught on camera. He referenced a post on Facebook purportedly showing those in action who had tagged the entrance.

Trump International Hotel leases the building from the General Accounting Office, who must must be consulted before removing the paint. In 2012, the company headed by presidential candidate Donald Trump leased the building for 60 years. It partnered with Colony Capital in a $200 million cash bid to renovate the Old Post Office Pavilion. The building houses the Old Bell Tower, the third tallest structure in Washington, DC.

“Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice” and “Peace” circled with a line through it were later covered with plywood at the side entrance of Trump International Hotel./Photo by Anne Meador

Trump Hotels won the bid with a relatively modest rent of $3.5 million a year and a commitment to $200 million in renovations, almost double the next highest bidder. The rent costs will likely be a tax write-off because the 117-year-old building is listed as a federally protected landmark.

The “Old Bell Tower” which was built in 1899, may have drawn Trump to it with its history of controversy. It was almost torn down in the 1920s, 1930s, and again in the 1970s. But its iconic tower, the third tallest structure in the District, staved off the wrecking ball as people warmed to its permanence.

Controversy has also swirled around Trump’s new hotel since opening day when local groups picketed the entire day, lambasting the presidential candidate for bigoted comments about minorities, Muslims, and women.

Trump has reportedly set the price of suites for the presidential inaugural weekend at a half million a night.

Protesters outside Trump International Hotel on September 12, 2016./Photo by John Zangas

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Trump Loses Prize for Most Bizarre Statement at Industry Conference

Fri, 09/23/2016 - 12:44

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump./Photo by Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump showed up at an energy industry conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Sept. 22 to give a speech but remarkably left the venue without winning the award for making the most bizarre statement of the day.

That prize went to Bill Cole, president of the West Virginia Senate and Republican candidate for governor of the state, who stated that businesses in the state “need to be in control of the government, not the other way around.”

Let that sink in for a moment. A major party candidate for the top political job in West Virginia, a government official himself, believes business owners should control the matters of the state and government policies should fall in line with their dictates. Cole and his supporters appear to believe democracy is government by the corporations, for the corporations, not by and for the people. “We often talk about the speed of government versus the speed of business,” Cole said, adding that government needs to begin operating at the speed of business.

Politicians routinely fail to pass the hypocrisy test. Cole, who claims to champion less regulation, is no exception. The Republican lawmaker owns several auto dealerships in West Virginia and Kentucky. In 2015, Cole pushed for the passage of S.B. 453, which restricts (i.e., heavily regulates) car manufacturers from selling vehicles directly to consumers, instead requiring they sell vehicles through franchisees. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill into law in 2015, which essentially prevented Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors from selling its cars in the state.

Cole, who hails from a state whose economy has long depended on the coal industry, also appears confused about how natural gas markets will fare under certain regulatory regimes. Even though the natural gas industry is positioned to see tremendous growth under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, proposed under a Democratic president, Cole contends “natural gas will be the next one in the gun sights” of a Hillary Clinton administration. This statement ignores the fact that Clinton has been a strong supporter of the shale gas revolution and exporting natural gas from liquefied natural gas export terminals along the nation’s coasts.

‘Hijacking the Discussion’

Trump, surprisingly, wasn’t the winner of the runner-up prize for most bizarre statement on the final day of the Shale Insight conference either. At the conference, sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, that featured what many would consider extremist anti-regulatory statements, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai called on industry officials “not to allow the extremists, particularly on the Left, to hijack the discussion” on shale gas drilling and infrastructure construction in the state. Turzai ignored how the shale gas industry has dominated the energy debates among policymakers in Pennsylvania and how state lawmakers have strongly supported the shale gas industry from its very beginning in the mid-2000s.

To his credit, the Republican lawmaker partly redeemed himself by posing the idea of building new pipelines in existing rights of way to avoid conflict with local communities. “To the extent that we can make use of putting pipelines near rail lines or locations that already have industrial or transportation purposes, the less you can put yourself in a position where you’re dealing with communities,” Turzai said. “The better off we are if we can find those locations on a map as starting points, that’s always very helpful.”

Trump in Third Place

Following the panel of state lawmakers, Trump took the stage. Attendees were expecting fireworks from the Republican presidential candidate but instead heard a relatively subdued speech. Because throngs of national news reporters were covering the event, Trump did not solely address energy issues. He spoke about how he would fight crime in big cities and how any wrongdoing by the police would be “vigorously addressed” under a Trump administration.

The Republican presidential candidate made an eyebrow-raising comment about the influx of drugs into the United States and suggested that cities adopt Rudy Giuliani’s stop-and-frisk style of fighting crime in cities.

Trump condemned the protests in Charlotte, N.C., to the industry conference crowd composed almost exclusively of white men. He also failed to acknowledge the pattern of violence against African Americans at the hands of police, the reason why so many protesters have taken to the streets.

Once he turned to energy issues, the Pittsburgh crowd livened up. But his statements weren’t fully in line with the messaging of other conference speakers. “Our energy policy will make full use of our domestic energy sources, including traditional and renewable sources. We want everything,” Trump insisted. A day earlier at the conference, Marathon Petroleum CEO Gary Heminger blasted the nation’s growing focus on renewable energy. “What activists often call green energy is inconsistent, unreliable and very expensive,” Heminger said.

Earlier in his campaign, Trump advocated for abolishing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As with many other policy matters, Trump has flip-flopped on this issue and no longer supports eliminating the EPA. In his Pittsburgh speech, he emphasized the importance of protecting the environment. “I will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air and clean safe drinking water for all Americans,” he said. “I believe firmly in conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats.”

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Industry Blames ‘Mob Politics’ for Roadblocks to Pipeline Success

Thu, 09/22/2016 - 12:48

A family maple syrup business in Pennsylvania was destroyed to make way for the Constitution Pipeline./Photo by Vera Scroggins

Former Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon may no longer be with us, but his old message about anti-fracking activists continues to echo in the meeting rooms of industry conferences.

Five years ago, McClendon, who died in a car crash in March, told the audience at the Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia that life would be cold, dark and hungry if the protesters outside the Philadelphia Convention Center succeeded in stopping shale gas drilling.

Time has moved on, but the thinking of some executives in the industry remains the same. This year, at the Shale Insight conference across the state in Pittsburgh, Pa., Marathon Petroleum Corp. CEO Gary Heminger assumed McClendon’s role by chastising activists and regulators for failing to acknowledge the significant improvements in environmental quality the oil and gas industry has made over the past several decades.

“Despite the enormous benefits we have brought to our nation and its citizens, we face activists who tell us we should keep oil and natural gas in the ground,” Heminger said in a Sept. 21 keynote speech. “But we know that there are no energy sources capable of replacing what we produce every day. Without doing what we do, much of the world would simply go without energy.”

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes outside a Washington, DC courthouse hearing on the Dakota Access Pipeline./Photo by Anne Meador

Activists try to paint the industry as villains, Heminger said, noting that regulators at both the state and federal level are “making common cause” with these activists. Some regulators have become “almost militant” to the industry, he said, listing the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which Marathon Petroleum last month agreed to pay $2 billion to acquire a minority stake, as an example of how regulators are standing in the way of getting crude oil to market. Spun off as its own company by Marathon Oil in 2011, Marathon Petroleum is one of the largest petroleum product refiners, marketers and transporters in the United States.

In his rebuke to regulators, Heminger referred to the Department of Justice’s decision on Sept. 9 to request a “voluntary pause on all construction” of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The request was released jointly with the Department of Interior and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and came immediately after U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ruled against a Standing Rock Sioux motion to stop construction of the pipeline near their reservation.

Beyond ‘Crazy Environmentalists’

Some industry supporters, however, are trying to get their colleagues to change with the times. Thomas Ahern, CEO of Five Corners Strategies, an industry public affairs firm, emphasized that the “crazy environmentalists” of Earth First! “chaining themselves to something” are no longer the normal opposition to the oil and gas industry.

The typical opposition the industry will encounter today are “normal people, actual regular people,” Ahern said. “Your neighbors, the people that you went to school with. Your barber. The person who sells you a bagel in the morning. They’re regular moms and dads. They’re police officers. They’re nurses. They are Democrats, but they are also Republicans.” If the energy industry is going to succeed in getting a pipeline built, officials must stop thinking “it’s just crazy environmentalists. That’s not the way it works any longer,” he said.

Spending time with impacted residents is a requirement when building a new pipeline because the project will be one of the biggest topics of conversation in each community, according to EQT Corp. Executive Vice President Blue Jenkins. “If you pick up any newspaper in the region, you will find headlines” critical of the pipeline project, Jenkins said. “It’s the new reality for what we deal with as pipeline developers.”

A sign reflecting the sentiments of Virginians against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

EQT is the lead developer of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is designed to transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays into Virginia. “The opponents are very organized, they are very aggressive and they are very vocal. Some might call them the vocal minority,” Jenkins said.

If pipeline developers are to be successful in this “new world,” they must stay engaged and remain positive, he explained. “You must respect the public concern, but you also have to promote the facts. You must maintain a constant drumbeat of consistent messaging,” said Jenkins, who expects the Mountain Valley Pipeline to enter service by late 2018.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline project is one of several pending pipeline proposals that would carry natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays to various demand centers. “Every one of those projects is being hotly contested at FERC and in the communities along the proposed routes,” said Owen Kean, senior director of energy at the American Chemistry Council. “Without those pipelines, the Marcellus and Utica formations will not meet their full potential.”

Michael Krancer, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and a partner with the law firm Blank Rome LLP, said his primary goal today is making sure the industry reaches its full potential. “I am an advocate for this business,” Krancer told the conference audience. “There is a moral case for hydrocarbons. … I’m thankful for what you do. The public should be thankful for what you do. Environmentally, it’s beneficial. At the end of the day, we need to be proud of what this industry does and we need to stop spending our time being on the defensive.”

The industry has mastered building pipelines and operating them safely, Krancer contended. “What we haven’t mastered and what we face is this political process that is turning against us. Yet we’re relying on these old comfortable strategies and paradigms on how to approach what we do. It’s not working anymore.”

A Decade of Resistance

“The landscape today from the political risk front is so much different than it was 10 years ago where projects just got approved,” Krancer said. “Nowadays, things are different. Some are dedicated, ideologically, politically, for whatever passionate reason, to eliminate the use of hydrocarbon fuels,” he said. Krancer refuses to use the term “fossil fuel.” He believes the people who are “dedicated to eliminating the use of them” like to call them fossil fuels “because it makes them sound old, something that should be extinct.”

Like most speakers at the conference, Krancer said it is a vocal minority that is driving opposition to pipeline projects. He pointed to North Dakota where he believes a majority of the residents support the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “What we have seen there is nothing short of mob politics,” citing the Native American resistance to the pipeline.

Photo by Anne Meador

Krancer stressed that the industry needs to stay engaged with the people to avoid future political risk. “We know what the majority of people want,” he said. “We have to be careful that what happened in New York doesn’t happen elsewhere.” After more than seven years of study, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in June 2015 issued a final document that was needed to ban fracking in the state.

Borrowing a term popularized by former President Richard Nixon during the height of public opposition to the Vietnam War, Krancer established a grassroots lobbying and advocacy firm called Silent Majority Strategies. The firm focuses on communicating to the public and shaping public opinion for the energy industry. “We have to harness the silent majority. That’s why we call our business the Silent Majority Strategies,” he said.

Engaging concerned residents one-on-one by knocking on their doors or speaking with them at pipeline “open houses” is crucial to gaining their support for a project, Ahern said. “Ten years ago, you could come in and say, ‘We’ll give you a new fire truck. How about a new police car? That’s not going to cut it any longer. It doesn’t work. You’re not buying fire trucks to get an approval any longer, even if FERC says, ‘Hey, that’s great.’ Because it’s not about that any longer. Ask anybody who has done work in New York if you can count on that.”

Ahern also stressed that state and local politicians likely support energy infrastructure projects in their communities, but often the public outcry forces them to come out against a project. “Give state and local politicians a reason to support you,” Ahern said. The industry needs to be in constant contact with local politicians and organize letter-writing campaigns to their offices, he said. “You need to give them ‘cover.’… That’s what they’re looking for. Elected officials want a reason to support you,” Ahern said.

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Trump Energy Adviser Blasts ‘Enviros’ for Turning Fracking into Dirty Word

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 19:03

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The U.S. oil and gas industry started a big comeback a decade ago at a time when environmentalists were predicting the industry would never recover, according to Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources and energy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Speaking at the Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Sept. 21, Hamm said the U.S. shale gas sector has “changed the world” in a way that will provide energy security to the U.S. for the next 50 years. The industry’s great success, however, has spawned great opposition, he noted.

“And that opposition is what you’re seeing out there today,” Hamm said. “The enviros … thought we were done. They thought it was over for energy in America. They were clapping their hands. They believed we were going to ride off into the sunset and be gone forever.” But the industry came “booming back” across the U.S., he emphasized.

Hamm’s remarks were part stump speech for the Trump campaign and part pep talk for the oil and gas industry. As part of the stump speech, he brought up the attack in Benghazi, Libya, a popular Republican talking point, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email controversy and lamented a liberal tilt to the Supreme Court if Clinton wins the presidency in November. Trump was scheduled to address the Shale Insight conference on Sept. 22.

The oil and gas industry is getting attacked on numerous fronts, from renewable energy advocates to Hollywood actors to billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, Hamm complained. Opponents of the fossil fuel industry are resorting to using disparaging tactics, including adding a “k” to the word “frac,” an abbreviation of hydraulic fracturing, to make it sound like a dirty word, Hamm said. “If I’m introduced as a fracker, I’m going home. Nobody wants to be called the ‘f’ word. It’s undignified and I’m not putting up with it,” the 70-year-old vowed.

In July, Trump told a Denver television station that he supports fracking but said towns and states should be allowed to ban the drilling practice. That position was at odds with industry groups and congressional Republicans, who say localities should not have control over the practice.

Honoring the Law

During his keynote address, Hamm criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Not a foot of [the Dakota Access Pipeline] goes under tribal land,” Hamm said. “They come in again and shut it down.”

The pipeline, proposed by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, is designed to move large amounts of crude oil extracted from the Bakken Formation in northwestern North Dakota and eastern Montana, including volumes produced by Hamm’s own Continental Resources.

The Department of Justice on Sept. 9 issued a non-binding statement requesting a “voluntary pause on all construction” of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The request was released jointly with the Department of Interior and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and came immediately after U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ruled against a Standing Rock Sioux motion to stop construction of the pipeline near their reservation.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers for permitting the Dakota Access Pipeline./Photo by Doug Grandt

“Nobody expected that this could happen. This was after a federal court judge ruled that they had no standing,” he said. “What we’re seeing a complete and total disregard for what made America great, the one thing we always had working for our country — and that is a very strong rule of law.”

As the Dakota Access Pipeline battle heated up, the “rule-of-law” argument has became a rallying cry among both industry supporters and Native Americans. “The administration’s attempts to shut down construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline show that it is putting politics ahead of the rule of law,” North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey said in a news release issued by the American Petroleum Institute.

In July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the primary federal agency that granted permits needed for the pipeline to be constructed. The tribe is seeking injunctive relief to halt construction of the pipeline. The lawsuit alleged that the Army Corps violated multiple federal laws, including the Clean Water Act, National Historic Protection Act and National Environmental Policy Act, when it issued the permits.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Sept. 16 ordered Energy Transfer Partners to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline for 20 miles on both sides of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, while the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s appeal of its denied motion to do so is considered.

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Dakota Access Foes Call on AFL-CIO to Retract Support of Pipeline

Tue, 09/20/2016 - 07:04

Vasu Abhiraman protests the AFL-CIO’s endorsement of the Dakota Access Pipeline in front of the labor union’s headquarters./Photo by Brendan Orsinger

The AFL-CIO is coming under attack from labor groups and their supporters angry about the organization’s support of the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native American land in North Dakota.

Demonstrators stood outside the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington, DC, on Sept. 19 calling on the union federation to renounce its support for the oil pipeline project. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a Sept. 15 statement, called on Native Americans and the federal government not to “hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay” and asked the Obama administration to let construction on the pipeline continue.

“This is unacceptable behavior for the AFL-CIO, which has a rich history of supporting the right causes — civil rights, voting rights,” Brendan Orsinger, an activist and organizer, said in an interview at the demonstration. “My grandmother worked with unions to harness that people power and put pressure on Congress to help pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. My great-grandmother worked on the picket lines.”

The president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) came out with an even stronger statement against Native Americans opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “LIUNA is a champion of the right to peacefully demonstrate, however, extremists have escalated the demonstrations well beyond lawful civil disobedience,” Terry O’Sullivan, general president of LIUNA, said in a statement. O’Sullivan said he found it frustrating that Native Americans “have disregarded the evidence and the review process to vilify a project.”

Other labor unions have expressed solidarity with Native Americans in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, proposed by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The Amalgamated Transit Union condemned “the ongoing violent attacks on the Standing Rock Sioux and others who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline” and noted “these attacks by a private security company bring back horrific memories of the notorious Pinkertons, who used clubs, dogs and bullets to break up peaceful worker protests.” The Communications Workers of America issued a statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe ” as they fight to protect their community, their land and their water supply.”

AFL-CIO emblem on the front of its headquarters building in Washington, DC./Photo by Mark Hand

“The AFL-CIO has a proud history of working with oppressed people to gain their rights and worker rights and they need to stake a strong stand on indigenous rights,” Orsinger said. “They have a seal on their headquarters of a black hand and a white hand shaking. It bothers me that they are betraying their history and their moral high ground.”

Activists are hoping to apply enough pressure on the AFL-CIO so the federation finds it politically infeasible to support projects such as Dakota Access. “As many jobs as they may get from this pipeline construction, it is dwarfed by the amount of jobs they will lose elsewhere from the public turning against them,” Orsinger said.

The Dakota Access Pipeline project is a proposed 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline designed to connect the Bakken production area in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day or more, which could represent approximately half of Bakken current daily crude oil production.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Sept. 16 ordered Energy Transfer Partners to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline for 20 miles on both sides of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River near the tribe’s reservation, while the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s appeal of its denied motion to do so is considered.

Pipeline Stance Spurs Dissent

Dissent exists inside the AFL-CIO and within affiliated organizations on where the federation should stand on issues related to Native Americans and environmental justice. The Labor Coalition for Community Action, which represents the AFL-CIO’s bridge to diverse communities, on Sept. 19 announced its support for Native Americans in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Labor Coalition for Community Action’s six AFL-CIO constituency groups are the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride at Work.

“Though cited to bring 4,500 jobs, the Dakota Access Pipeline seriously threatens tribal sovereignty, sacred burial grounds, and the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux,” the Labor Coalition for Community Action said in a news release.

“This was about pushing back on corporate greed. This was about standing up for environmental, racial and economic justice,” Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) Executive Director Gregory Cendana said in an interview. He noted that APALA also publicly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, while the AFL-CIO supported it.

Brendan Orsinger, Aqeela Mehar and Lee Stewart demonstrate against the AFL-CIO’s support of the Dakota Access Pipeline./Photo by Mark Hand

“While this is not in line with the AFL-CIO stance, we want to send a message out to the labor movement and the broader community that there are differing views on this and that the Labor Coalition for Community Action and APALA stand in solidarity with the Native American community and will do what we can to continue pushing back on the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” Cendana said.

The AFL-CIO’s support for the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrates Trumka’s willingness to assent to powerful unions like LIUNA while sacrificing its standing among related social movements, according to an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer who attended the demonstration.

Trumka came to the AFL-CIO from the once-militant United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The UMWA, as its membership dwindled in recent decades, has found itself on the defensive, fighting to preserve its members’ pensions and turning itself into a political organizing tool serving mostly Republican lawmakers who promote policies aimed at keeping coal companies afloat.

“From a historical standpoint, the labor movement is always weakest when it prioritizes immediate material interests over a larger vision for society,” the IWW organizer said.”And the AFL-CIO and the larger labor movement have been in a backward slide since the 1970s. This is a manifestation of that because it’s becoming a huge issue for so many groups to support the indigenous struggle, but the labor movement is lagging behind.”

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‘A Tourist in My Own Land’: The Bulldozing of Indigenous Society

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 10:10

Hundreds rally at the White House in support of the Standing Rock Sioux on Sept. 13/Photo by John Zangas

Native Americans are traveling the nation once again to raise awareness of their exploitation. This time, indigenous activists are spreading the word about an energy infrastructure company, with the backing of police agencies, politicians and union leaders, running roughshod over them.

Among their recent stops was Washington, DC, where Native Americans pleaded for President Barack Obama and members of Congress to help them stop Energy Transfer Partners’ proposed Dakota Access Pipeline from snaking through their land. “They need to know that Native Americans are no longer expendable,” Lauren Howland from the International Indigenous Youth Council told a crowd of activists protesting the banks investing in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Howland, who traveled with her friends from the Camp of the Sacred Stone to Washington, reminded the activists that it wasn’t tribal leaders who began the campaign last spring against Dakota Access. It was a youth-led movement. It was a group of young Native Americans who learned from their parents and grandparents how Europeans sought to wipe them off the map.

Jasilyn Charger, a Native American youth activist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has been resisting construction of Dakota Access Pipeline since April./Photo courtesy 350.org

“I am living proof that colonization has failed. I am decolonizing my people,” Howland said. She remembered the millions of Native Americans killed by white settlers. “It was the biggest genocide on this Earth and no one talks about it,” she said, before tears prevented her from continuing her speech.

A day earlier, Jasilyn Charger, a Native American youth activist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a friend of Howland’s, told an anti-Dakota Access Pipeline rally how Obama once told Native Americans he would stand on their side in times of need. “You’re standing in silence as we’re asking for your help. You told the people if they wanted help to ask for it. Now we’re screaming it, we’re shouting it,” Charger said in Lafayette Square across from the White House.

But Charger understands it will be Native Americans and their allies, not the U.S. government, who will need to do the heavy lifting against the Dakota Access Pipeline and every other form of exploitation that comes later. “We have been here before this government has come here and we will be here long after, and that is a promise,” Charger said. “We are tired of people making decisions for us. So we are taking it into our own hands. We’re standing up. We’re organizing.”

Living in Unity with the Land

After centuries of colonization, Howland sometimes feels a sense of isolation in a country where her ancestors lived and died long before European settlers arrived. Upon her arrival in Washington the night before she spoke to the anti-pipeline activists, Howland said she stood outside the White House.

Lauren Howland of the International Indigenous Youth Council speaks at anti-Dakota Access Pipeline rally on Sept. 14 in Washington, D.C./Photo courtesy Beyond Extreme Energy

“I came here last night and I was walking around and I was getting stared at by everybody I passed. Every single person that passed me looked at me like I was foreign, like I wasn’t from here, which is crazy. My people have been here for thousands of years,” Howland said. “It’s funny how I felt like a tourist in my own land. My ancestors died here. Everywhere in America is built on my ancestors’ burial ground. That is desecration.”

Back in North Dakota, Native Americans and their allies have been met by riot cops with semi-automatic weapons, private security guards with dogs and mace, and political leaders with a reverence for corporate shareholders over the protection of Native American land and water. They’ve witnessed union workers with the Dakota Access Pipeline project demolish dozens of Native American burial sites.

Despite the heavy-handed police tactics, the Native people gathering near the Standing Rock reservation promise to remain there in protest of these types of practices. “My people lived in unity. We still do,” Howland said. At the protest camp near Standing Rock, money doesn’t exist, she explained, but the people at the camp are making daily life work well. By witnessing the juxtaposition of land desecration in the name of economic growth and a peaceful gathering of Native Americans, one sees a perfect “example of how capitalism has taken over America,” she said.

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Native Americans Target Banks in Multi-Pronged Attack on Dakota Access

Fri, 09/16/2016 - 10:13

Lee Stewart applies crime scene tape to TD Bank branch door./Photo by Elisabeth Hoffman

Native Americans and environmentalists are targeting the financial institutions providing Energy Transfer Partners with loans to build its proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil transportation system designed to carry Bakken crude near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

The odds are slim the banks will choose to back out of their financial agreements with Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners. But the activists are preparing to settle in for the long haul and are planning to make the protests against the financial institutions part of a multipronged attack on the pipeline project.

“People think that everybody is going to leave when winter comes. I have a secret to tell you. We’re not leaving,” Jasilyn Charger, a 20-year-old activist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said at a Sept. 13 rally across the street from the White House in Washington, D.C. A camp outside the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation has become the focal point of resistance to the pipeline project.

Construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline would not be possible without major financial institutions, such as Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and TD Securities, providing project loans to the company. “We are up against the usual suspects. I’m talking Citibank. I’m talking Wells Fargo. I’m talking JPMorgan Chase,” Chase Iron Eyes, an American Indian activist and attorney from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said at the rally.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is worried the pipeline will negatively impact water quality on its reservation and imperil cultural heritage sites. The Dakota Access Pipeline would cross under the Missouri River, the source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The pipeline also would cross some of the tribe’s burial grounds. On Sept. 3, pipeline company security dogs with dogs and mace attacked people trying to protect the burial grounds from pipeline construction.

“It’s also good business to protect our water resources because we don’t have energy security unless we have water security. We don’t have food security unless we have water security. We don’t have national security unless we have water security. I say that with the truest of intentions,” Iron Eyes said at the rally. “We have been here since time immemorial and we have been telling you that you can get by love what you have taken by force.”

Protesters March on TD Bank

According to a new Food & Water Watch report, 17 financial institutions have loaned ETP subsidiary Dakota Access LLC $2.5 billion to construct the pipeline. Native Americans and other activists on Sept. 14 marched from Lafayette Square across from the White House to a nearby TD Bank branch. TD Securities, part of the Canada-based TD Bank Group, is contributing $365 million to the pipeline project, according to the Food & Water Watch report.

The activists drafted a letter to deliver to the bank’s branch manager. “Your bank may be one of the ‘most convenient’ for customers in Washington, D.C., but TD Securities’ funding of the Dakota Access pipeline is not ‘convenient’ for the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe through whose land it passes, and whose water source — the Missouri River — is threatened,” the letter, dated Sept. 14, said.

Sign depicts dogs deployed by Dakota Access security attacking Native Americans near a pipeline construction site./Photo by Elisabeth Hoffman

In an emailed statement, TD Bank said it supports “responsible energy development” and that it employs “due diligence in our leading and investing activities relating to energy production.”

“We work with our customers, community and environment groups, and energy clients to better understand key issues of concern, and to promote informed dialogue,” TD Bank said in the Sept. 14 statement. “We also respect the rights of people to voice their opinions and protest in a peaceful way. Our oil and gas sector lending represents less than 1% of our total lending portfolio.”

The Dakota Access Pipeline project is a proposed 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline designed to connect the Bakken production area in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would transport approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day with a capacity as high as 570,000 barrels per day or more, which could represent approximately half of Bakken current daily crude oil production.

At the Aug. 13 rally at the White House, May Boeve, executive director of environmental group 350.org, compared the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline to the years-long anti-Keystone XL battle. During the fight against Keystone XL, “People said, ‘You may as well give up. They may as well go home. Pick another fight. You’re too late. You’re too weak as a movement,’” Boeve recalled. “Well, guess what. We didn’t take no for an answer. We organized. We rallied, we went to jail. And last November, President Obama stood at a podium at the White House and cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.”

In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved many of the final permits necessary to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Sept. 9, the U.S. government issued a statement stating it would temporarily not allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath a section of the Missouri River that has become the main battleground of dispute over the project. The statement came on the same day that a federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to halt construction of the pipeline in North Dakota.

Earlier this week, ETP CEO Kelcy Warren issued a letter defending the safety of the pipeline and insisting the company is committed to finishing the job over the objections of Native Americans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told the hundreds of people gathered at the Sept. 13 rally that “it’s vitally important that we show our solidarity with the Native American people.” Sanders criticized ETP for its refusal to hold off on construction of the pipeline. “In absence of the pipeline company’s compliance, further administration action is needed. That is why I am calling on President Obama today to ensure that this pipeline gets a full environmental and cultural impact analysis,” Sanders said. “When that analysis takes place, this pipeline will not continue.”

This article was originally published in Counterpunch.

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‘The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan’: Prison Liberated Voice of Occupy Wall Street Activist

Thu, 09/15/2016 - 14:20

Home was not a sanctuary for Cecily McMillan. It was a conflict zone. Her parents were constantly at war, with an end to hostilities only coming when they finally divorced.

Following the breakup, McMillan and her little brother James went to live with their mother, who moved from one low-paying job to the next, and from one hapless boyfriend to the next. Every new man who McMillan’s mother brought home eventually would seek to exert his power over the family through the use of violence.

One of her mother’s failed relationships was a marriage to a much older man named Jesse who slapped McMillan with the back of his hand for “getting mouthy” and grabbed her arm hard enough to bruise it. McMillan’s father was the same way. She endured beatings from him, including one time when he pinned the 17-year-old McMillan to the wall by the neck, with her feet dangling midair, and told her “how things are going to be.”

“It wasn’t the first time he or the many men I’d called ‘father’ had gotten physical, but it had to be the last time,” McMillan writes in her new autobiography, The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan: An American Memoir, published by Nation Books. “I couldn’t take it anymore — I thought I really might kill the next man that laid a hand on me.”

Unfortunately, the violence continued into McMillan’s young adulthood. In March 2012, at the age of 23, a man accosted her in a park in New York City. This time the man wasn’t someone she called “father.”

In a just world, McMillan would have been given a medal of courage for attempting to protect herself against an attacker and surviving to tell a story about it. But the man happened to be a police officer with the New York City Police Department (NYPD). He was part of a larger NYPD gang tasked with shutting down a peaceful gathering in Zuccotti Park, a paved-over piece of land near the southern tip of Manhattan made famous by the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

New York City officials chose to prosecute McMillan, who was arrested for throwing an elbow at the police officer. Two years later, after a four-week trial, McMillan was convicted of felony second-degree assault and sent to Rikers Island to serve her sentence.

Separate and Unequal

McMillan describes her time at Rikers Island and the bonds she built with her fellow prisoners. Upon her release, McMillan gave a speech in which she listed demands that her fellow prisoners had drawn up, including adequate, safe and timely health care at all times. “I have learned that the only difference between the people we call ‘citizens’ and those we call ‘criminals’ is vastly unequal access to resources,” McMillan said in her speech.

In the book’s introduction, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot, focus on McMillan’s transformation in jail and how she left captivity wanting to work for the emancipation of the other women incarcerated on Rikers Island. “While those in power want to silence undesirable voices, it is Cecily’s goal to return those voices to the people who have been deprived of them,” wrote Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, who visited McMillan at Rikers Island.

The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan is a gripping story of years of rebellion and discovery that preceded the well-chronicled confrontation in Zuccotti Park. The story is organized chronologically, with the early years of her life — before she became one of the best-known OWS activists — proving more compelling at times than her brief period as an adult, much of which she has spent in the spotlight after her arrest. The reader gets a strong hint of her wild childhood in the first chapter when McMillan states she and her mother were perfect for each because her mother never wanted to be a parent and McMillan never wanted to be a child.

Cecily McMillan/Photo courtesy of Nation Books

McMillan demonstrates a gift for storytelling throughout the book. She always had a knack for public speaking, although her parents and teachers often gritted their teeth when she vocalized her thoughts in the form of diatribes and tantrums. She also relished the spotlight when working in theater groups as a teenager. However, not every successful orator or actor can write a compelling story, and vice versa. But McMillan proves in the book she is adept at both forms of self-expression. Growing up, McMillan traveled between Texas and Atlanta, Georgia, depending on whether she was living with her Mexican-American mother, her Irish-American father or her grandparents. McMillan was fortunate that other people stepped up to offer support and guidance.

Facing homelessness as a teenager, McMillan contacted her theater instructor in Atlanta, a woman named Nyrobi who welcomed McMillan into her home and treated her like a member of the family. It was one of the first times that McMillan sensed she was at home, a feeling that helped her stay out of a trouble and start enjoying school.

Bullies on Parade

Prior to finding a taste of peace with Nyrobi, McMillan encountered a system that embraced conformity and sought to quash dissent. In the town of Lumberton, Texas, she chose not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at school because she objected, on religious freedom grounds, to the “under God” portion of the pledge. The school principal warned McMillan she would get a “taste of hell” if she ever again refused to stand. McMillan stuck to her principles, and the next day, the school’s softball coach was selected to mete out justice, assaulting her with a paddle. McMillan remembers how she “choked back a cry” each time the paddle hit her backside.

McMillan always championed the underdog and wasn’t afraid to confront bullies in school, whether they were fellow students or school administrators. She hoped her political evolution would gain momentum while attending college at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, and yet her first impressions were not promising: a virtually all-white, apolitical student body. But during her college years, McMillan’s politics ultimately did take a turn when she finally learned about the political leanings of her step-grandfather, Harlon Joye, who had been involved in left-wing politics for decades.

Joye, who was her father’s step-dad, invited McMillan to attend the 2010 United States Social Forum in Detroit, where she became acquainted with the Democratic Socialists of America. Joye had been active in groups that were precursors to the Students for a Democratic Society, working closely in the 1960s with high-profile activists like Tom Hayden and John Lewis.

“Whether it was as a Democrat in Texas or a Socialist in college, I’d always been the most radical person wherever I was — that is, until I moved to New York City and joined Occupy Wall Street,” McMillan, who is 27-years-old today, writes in the book. “Most of my fellow ‘Occupiers’ shrugged me off as some sort of moderate.”

Despite the less-than-warm reception, McMillan became a committed OWS activist — an “Occupy diehard,” as she called herself — from the start of the movement in August 2011. She continued to attend meetings and actions in the months after the police evicted the encampment from Zuccotti Park in November 2011. At OWS planning meetings and general assemblies, McMillan pushed the other activists to adopt a pledge of nonviolence. Other activists preferred to keep the “diversity-of-tactics” door open. They agreed to disagree.

On the six-month anniversary of OWS, McMillan wasn’t planning to attend the protest gathering in Zuccotti Park. She entered the park simply to retrieve her friend Jake so they could go to nearby Irish bars to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, she was caught in a police vortex after the NYPD unilaterally declared the park closed. “I’m snatched from behind, pulled up by the breast, and flung backward then face forward into the ground,” she recalls.

Government prosecutors accused McMillan of intentionally elbowing a police officer. McMillan claimed she was defending herself against someone who had grabbed her breast. A video of the incident shows someone, purportedly McMillan, using her right elbow to strike someone, purportedly New York City police officer named Grantley Bovell.

After police tackled her, McMillan suffered seizures, but wasn’t given medical attention until hours later when she was taken to Beekman Hospital and then to Bellevue Hospital. At Bellevue, she was handcuffed to a hospital bed and wheeled into small, windowless room.

“It was starting to feel like a horror flick, especially when I realized that that same tiny room doubled as the cellphone charging station for all the cops forced to work the nightshift with sick criminals,” she remembers. The police officers apparently knew who she was. One of the police officers said “fuckin’ Occupy cunt” as he looked between McMillan’s opened legs on the hospital bed. Another police officer came into the room and joked to his buddies about McMillan’s “Occu-pussy.”

McMillan was eventually driven to a Manhattan County courthouse at 100 Centre Street, where she was allowed to meet with a lawyer for the first time — 40 hours after her arrest. She was then brought before a judge who announced McMillan was facing a charge of felony assault in the second degree. She was then released without bail.

An Emancipation Proclamation

More than two years later, in April 2014, McMillan’s trial finally began. Martin Stolar, McMillan’s attorney, “discovered a laundry list of alleged abuse and corruption” by the police officer who McMillan allegedly assaulted. McMillan writes that, “in our view Bovel had a habit of losing his temper then blaming the victim and lying to justify his actions.” But Judge Ronald Zweibel ruled against Stolar’s motion and refused to allow any of Bovell’s record into the trial.

McMillan doesn’t pull any punches in the book, a promise she had to make when she decided to write her memoirs about the trauma-filled life of a 27-year-old. Revealing the truth, though, would mean potentially alienating her father with stories about how he treated her and letting the world know her little brother had turned to a life of drugs. A commitment to honesty also meant reliving the frightening night in Zuccotti Park.

Readers who think they know everything about McMillan’s post-Zuccotti Park life will still be riveted by her detailed look back at trial preparation and the trial itself, which was filled with surprises, including a witness who may have wanted to redeem himself by testifying on behalf of McMillan. In the end, the jury issued a guilty verdict. On May 19, 2014, McMillan was sentenced to three months in jail with five years of probation and 500 hours of community service to follow, plus a $5,000 fine and mandatory anger management therapy. McMillan served 58 days of her jail sentence at Rikers Island.

Two years after the jail doors opened, McMillan claims in Emancipation that her experience at Rikers helped her escape from the constraints she had placed upon herself about who she should be and what she should do. She credits her fellow prisoners with forcing her to face, live and test the person she already was. By letting her voice their demands, the women at Rikers, according to McMillan, gave her the voice that she had been searching for, one that understood both the language of power and the ability to share it equally. It was a dynamic that was missing from her life from childhood into early adulthood.

“The guards didn’t free me that day, the women did,” she writes.

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Silver Spring Residents Prepare for Legal Fight as Natural Gas Odors Linger

Sun, 09/11/2016 - 18:00

Civil rights group CASA and residents of Flower Branch apartment complex announce plans on Sept. 7  to file lawsuit. (Source: CASA)

Residents at a Silver Spring, Md., apartment complex are still complaining about strong natural gas odors one month after a devastating explosion and fire killed seven of their neighbors and injured dozens more.

Since the Aug. 10 disaster, the Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue has been called to the Flower Branch apartment complex, located on Piney Branch Road, numerous times in response to unusually strong natural gas odors.

The latest visit by the fire department to the apartment complex reportedly occurred later on the same day that CASA, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income workers and tenants, held a press conference announcing that it is partnering with two law firms — Bailey & Glasser LLP and Gupta Wessler PLLC — to conduct an independent investigation of the natural gas-fueled explosion and fire at the apartment complex.

After completion of the investigation, the group is likely to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of more than 80 residents of the apartment complex, including about a dozen tenants who were directly impacted by the explosion and fire. Along with the deaths and injuries, 84 families were displaced from their homes at Flower Branch. Given the persistent smell of natural gas and the memories of the disaster, CASA officials said many residents are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Especially for kids, they are having nightmares. They are thinking there’s going to be another explosion. Some tenants are still afraid to cook,” CASA spokeswoman Fernanda Durand said.

Based on preliminary findings, investigators and building management are blaming a natural gas leak in a basement utility room. The National Transportation Safety Board has taken over the investigation into the causes of the disaster and is expected to issue a final report within 12 months.

CASA does not believe the residents should have to wait as long as a year to find out if their apartment complex is safe. “We’re conducting an independent investigation. Out of the results of that is how we’re going to decide to hold them responsible for this,” Durand said of the planned lawsuit. “We should complete the investigation within two or three weeks.”

‘A Pattern of Intimidation’

After the Sept. 7 press conference announcing the lawsuit plans, a group of Flower Branch tenants and organizers walked to the apartment complex offices and delivered a petition signed by about 130 people. The group, known as the Flower Apartment Committee for Justice, Safety and Dignity, requested a meeting between the owners of the complex and all tenants of the Flower Branch complex. The tenants want to address a wide range of issues, including ending alleged mistreatment and harassment from apartment managers and security personnel and addressing the “deplorable conditions” at the apartment complex.

Residents march on management office at Flower Branch apartment complex on Sept. 7 to deliver petition seeking major improvements at complex. (Source: CASA)

“There’s been a pattern of intimidation from management, which goes back a long time, not just now. Security guards are using all types of intimation tactics. It takes people with a lot of courage to come forward,” Durand said.

In a Sept. 7 statement, Kay Apartment Communities, the managers of the complex, said it will reach out to the residents who signed the petition “so they know we are ready and willing to meet with them.” The management company also said it will continue to ask residents to report any safety concerns to its office and that the complaints will be immediately followed up on.

According to the petition, apartments that were evacuated during the fire and are now occupied have not been properly repaired, and other apartments have broken balcony railings and rotten floorboards. Evacuations due to natural gas leaks have continued to happen since the explosion, the petition reads.

“The smell of gas is around the buildings and management does nothing about. So the same problems that led to the explosion continue to happen,” Durand said. “The residents believe it wasn’t a one-off thing; there’s something wrong in the whole apartment complex.”

Kay Apartment Communities said it has met with the affected leaseholders and has been working to help them find new homes. “In less than 24 hours after the explosion, we began working collaboratively with CASA de Maryland and IMPACT Silver Spring to assist the residents, and on the night of Aug. 16, 2016 our management team met with the group for more than 2.5 hours at Clifton Park Baptist Church to answer resident questions directly, and to begin to distribute our relocation packages,” Kay Apartment Communities said in its statement.

Of the 24 apartments that are no longer habitable, all leaseholders and their authorized occupants have been contacted in an effort to secure other housing for them and provide financial assistance, Kay Apartment Communities said. Nineteen, or 79%, of those apartments’ leaseholders and authorized occupants have accepted other homes with Kay Apartment Communities, the company said.

Legal Battle Heats Up

Bailey & Glasser LLP attorney Cary Joshi speaks at Sept. 7 press conference announcing plans to conduct investigation and file lawsuit on behalf of Flower Branch tenants. (Source: CASA)

At the press conference, Bailey & Glasser attorney Cary Joshi said her law firm will “support the efforts of the community to bring about lasting, systemic changes that will ensure that what happened in Flower Branch never happens again.”

Bailey & Glasser plans to interview survivors, Kay Management and Washington Gas personnel as well as first responders. “As more people are interviewed, more leads will be developed, so this process does not have bookends,” the law firm said in an email.

While Bailey & Glasser will be leading the independent investigation, co-counsel Gupta Wessler will focus on the legal issues in the case and possible appeals. “This is the first time CASA has had a case of this kind,” Gupta Wessler founding principal Deepak Gupta said in an interview. “They don’t seek out cases like this. This case came to their doorstep.”

The lawsuit, once it is filed, will not depend on the official findings by the NTSB, which are not usually admitted as evidence in civil suits anyway, Bailey & Glasser said.

Charleston, W.Va.-headquartered Bailey & Glasser has represented other communities impacted by disasters, including serving as co-counsel in a jury trial that alleged a Massey Coal subsidiary had damaged or destroyed the wells and water supplies of residents of Mingo County, W.Va. The plaintiffs and their attorneys won a total cash recovery of $3.2 million, plus injunctive relief.

The firm also won a 2011 jury trial for 40 Huntington, W.Va., residents whose homes and properties were flooded by a municipal storm-water control system. The total recovery for the residents exceeded $1 million. When Huntington’s system again caused flood damages, Bailey & Glasser sued again in 2012, and, after another jury trial, obtained a second million-dollar judgment. In 2014, the firm won an appeal at the West Virginia Supreme Court when the court ruled that monetary damages awarded to homeowners but cut by the judge be restored.

This article was originally published on Energy Action News.

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Standing Rock Sioux Celebrate as Pipeline Halted Near Reservation

Sat, 09/10/2016 - 16:23

Standing Rock Sioux block pipeline construction vehicles during an action near their reservation. Photo: Doug Grandt

The Department of Justice on Friday issued a non-binding statement requesting a “voluntary pause on all construction” of the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The request was released jointly with the Department of Interior and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and came immediately after U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg ruled against a Standing Rock Sioux motion to stop construction of the pipeline near their reservation.

The joint statement was seen as a strong intervention in an intensifying standoff between Dakota Access, LLC and over 150 tribes encamped at three sites near Lake Oahe, and Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The Standing Rock Sioux have been locked in a battle with the Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access, LLC over the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline with the future of the Standing Rock Sioux water rights and preservation of their ancient burial sites in the balance.

The three-agency request came a day after North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple activated the National Guard to support police and private security already deployed near the Sacred Stone and Sicangu Rosebud Camps in response to a massive influx of Standing Rock Sioux allies and supporters.

These developments are significant in showing that organized resistance can influence political forces to stop industry machinations dead in their tracks. In this case the rallying call of the Sioux drew thousands to its front lines in support of the water and land protectors, and challenged authority until it blinked.

By continuing steadfast and unpredictable actions, the Sioux have raised national and international awareness of indigenous strife, forcing the Obama administration to react against the energy industry standard of land grabs and pipeline permits which are almost never rejected.

Sacred Stone Camp Reacts to Statement with Jubilation

As copies of the DOJ joint statement were circulated, there were cheers of jubilation from end to end of the Sacred Stone camp. After a month of escalating conflict, there was a sudden outporing of celebration. Tribes held dance circles by fire sides and prayer groups at the banks of Lake Oahe and the Missouri River on Friday and Saturday morning.

Rose from Washington State messaged unity. Photo: Doug Grandt

As evening fell, the 7 Council of Fires, including the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, dressed in traditional attire and held a massive ceremony of thousands, welcoming everyone who came. “This was a hiatus to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe,” said Doug Grandt, an environmentalist who has been staying at the Sacred Stone camp for the last week.

“It’s not just about oil anymore,” said Grandt. “It’s the first time in 140 years the 7 Council Fires have come together with unity of the entire Sioux Nation.” The 7 Council Fires represent the seven divisions among the Dakota and has been traditionally referred to as the Great Sioux Nation. Grandt confirmed the spirit and camaraderie in the camps was strong as ever and growing in a common cause as the Sioux Nation came together not just to talk about land and water rights but to work through long standing disputes and discuss their future.

The Camp will not be disbanded as thousands of land and water protectors have gathered and many plan to remain there to “monitor the situation” until at least January 1, according to Grandt. They are ready with their next steps of actions against builders of the 1,172-mile pipeline in the event Dakota Access continues building, encroaches on traditional indigenous peoples land or further damages sacred burial sites which pipeline work crews bulldozed last week.

Grandt also said that National Guard troops deployed along the highway leading to the camps made it difficult getting through a road security check point where about a dozen guards were stationed. The Guard checkpoint outside Cannon Ball, was set up as an “information” point but a press release by Standing Rock Sioux reported that vehicles were being subjected to searches.

The physical conditions at the camp were becoming more difficult with Autumn. Rain over the past few days had muddied the main roads in the Sacred Stone Camp, challenging efforts to organize actions. It also stymied heavy earth moving equipment used by pipeline construction crews which had been idle anyway due to the temporary Court injunction.

Direct Actions Proved Effective

A series of protectors’ direct actions have already resulted in dozens of arrests. A brutal dog attack on peaceful protectors by a security firm near the reservation resulted in a cascade of overwhelming public support. As word spread of heavy police deployment, and the activation of the National Guard, even more joined in the days after the dog attack. The camps mushroomed in size from a few hundred to many thousands, requiring three separate camps to house and feed the massive influx.

A tipi which was signed by hundreds of land and water protectors. Photo: Doug Grandt

Protectors organized under night cover and moved by early daylight, confounding construction crews. They used lock boxes to fasten their arms to bulldozers, stopping excavation for hours and preventing pipeline workers from progress on the project. Police came to cut their chains and dozens were arrested for trespassing.

In another action protectors spray painted graffiti on equipment. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein also spray painted equipment, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Protectors were constantly challenging private security officers, rallying supporters to join the camps and were not afraid to push the envelope in how they could challenge authority.

Supporters arrived at the camps by car, canoe and kayak. Some even traveled along the Missouri River from Bismark in a large flotilla of canoes, a traditional means of travel, which effectively circumvented the National Guard check point.

Uncertainty Remains Despite Victory

There was, however, some amount of uncertainty over what would happen next.

“They understand this is not the end-all solution,” said Grandt. “The Tribes realize that although there is a moment of victory here, they have to reamain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation and be ready to respond.”

The standoff is not likely to escalate in the immediate future but legal maneuvering is still far from over, so the pipeline may still be built. The question remains: will the pipeline be stopped and if not, where will the new route be?

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Did Obama Just Avoid War with Great Sioux Nation?

Sat, 09/10/2016 - 14:27

Replica of flag taken from General Custer, held by Sacred Stone Camp defenders/Photo by Rob Wilson for Bold Alliance

The Obama administration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today made a stunning announcement which nullified a much-anticipated federal court ruling regarding a pipeline opposed by Dakota Native American tribes.

A U.S. District Court decision removed a major barrier to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would deliver Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to Illinois. But in a joint statement shortly following the court’s ruling, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement saying that the Army Corps would not grant Dakota Access, LLC a crucial permit needed to complete the pipeline and might even reconsider previous decisions.

In addition, the government called for a discussion on a major sticking point in the case just considered in federal court: how much tribes are consulted during the permitting of major infrastructure projects.

This fall, according to the statement, they “will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations” on two points: how the federal government can better ensure tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews, and whether new legislation should be proposed to Congress to adjust the “statutory framework” governing the permitting of infrastructure projects.

The Army Corps was expected to grant an easement for Dakota Access to bore under Lake Oahe, but now says, in the statement just released, it will refrain from granting the permit until it conducts a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. The Environmental Protection Agency, in disagreement with the Corps’ previous position, had pushed for such a review.

The statement also calls on Dakota Access to voluntarily refrain from construction activity within 20 miles of the lake. So far, Dakota Access has declined to comment on the ruling and the government’s announcement.

Thousands have flocked to North Dakota to block construction of access roads and clearing and grading for a section of the 1,172-mile pipeline which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says will pollute their drinking water supply just north of its reservation. Two encampments, in addition to the original Sacred Stone Camp, were established to accommodate members of numerous Sioux tribes and their supporters from all over the country, who call themselves protectors rather than protesters.

Court Sides with Government Against Tribe

The government’s announcement immediately followed U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg’s denial of a motion of preliminary injunction on the Army Corp’s permitting of Dakota Access construction around Lake Oahe. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe had sought the injunction on the basis of irreparable harm to sites of cultural and historical importance under the National Historical Preservation Act.

Judge Boasberg agreed with the Army Corps that it had adequately reached out to the Standing Rock tribe, yet the tribe had largely refused to engage in the process. He contended that he lacked jurisdiction on areas west of Lake Oahe because they are private property and not subject to Army Corps permitting, which applies only to waterways on federal land. Furthermore, the judge noted that the purpose of an injunction is preventive. Since 48% of the pipeline has already been completed, he wrote, “the risk that construction may damage or destroy cultural resources is now moot.”

Heightened Conflict

Dakota Access, with the support of local law enforcement, has seemed determined to flatten any resistance which would delay getting the $3.8 million project completed. The governor of North Dakota has firmly backed the company by declaring a state of emergency and deploying the National Guard. Dakota Access and law enforcement allege that protectors have engaged in violent conduct and vandalism, at times wielding “hatchets” and sticks, while the Sacred Stone Camp maintains that its tactics are nonviolent.

About 50 people gathered outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington, DC on Sept. 9 when the court was about to release a crucial ruling./Photo by Alex Lotorto

After the Army Corps gave Dakota Access permission to proceed with clearing and grading in late July, water protectors have conducted blockades and chained themselves to construction equipment. Conflict climaxed last weekend when a private security company hired by Dakota Access sicced dogs on tribe members, who were incensed that the company was bulldozing an area just identified as a burial site and possible archeological goldmine.

The optics of Natives bitten and wounded by vicious dogs egged on by hired white guards dressed like military were devastating. The Army Corps did not oppose an emergency motion to halt construction until Friday’s court decision. Rallies in sympathy with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been held around the country.

The Great Sioux Nation Rises

Jim Gray, former chief of the Osage tribe, calls the Sacred Stone Camp “the biggest story no one is covering.” In particular, the confluence of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota tribes, often called the Sioux, is unprecedented when there have habitually been inter-tribal conflicts.

In the last year, thousands of Native people have traveled to Standing Rock’s reservation to join their brothers and sisters in what could be a long sustained presence to resist the construction of this pipeline project. In recent months, over 150 tribal governments across the U.S. have passed letters of support, resolutions and have sent tribal delegations with provisions to the reservation to assist the “Protectors”. This kind of commitment is unprecedented in the modern era. Even during the height of the 70’s, there never was this level of support both politically and in resources to help another tribe in their time of need.

Following the U.S. District Court’s denial of a motion for a temporary restraining order on construction west of Lake Oahe on Sept. 6, people are reported to be arriving at the camps at an even greater rate and preparing for a long stay. The Great Sioux Nation is united and determined.

Long History of Betrayal

In his ruling, Judge Boasberg referred to the long history of “indignities visited upon the Tribe over the last centuries” by the U.S. government. The U.S. Army has of course historically played an outsized role in persecuting the Sioux, among them the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also inflicted harm on Native American tribes. The Standing Rock Sioux and surrounding tribes have reason to bear a grudge after the Corps dammed the Missouri River in 1958, flooding an area where tribes for many long years had met for trade and ceremony, land they considered sacred. The result was Lake Oahe, under which the Dakota Access now wants to drill to place a pipeline transporting shale oil from North Dakota.

The Obama administration may have wanted to avert an inevitable and possibly violent crackdown after the U.S. District Court unequivocally denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s motion. It’s also likely that Obama doesn’t want to leave office with the legacy of having started another “war” with the “Indians.”

Whether the U.S. government, with its history of breaking every single treaty it has ever made with Native American tribes, is dealing in good faith with the Sioux Nations remains to be seen. It hasn’t actually stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline, only requested a “pause” for further review, perhaps in the hopes that delay will allow time to disband the encampments or exhaust them by winter.

“We have a long history of working with Army Corps of Engineers, a long history of them not being truthful, and a long history of them destroying land,” Sacred Stone Camp Director LaDonna Bravebull Allard said after the government’s announcement. “The Army Corps has never been truthful with the tribes, so we must always be cautious of whatever they say.”

UPDATE: Sacred Stone Camp posted the following on its Facebook page:

Let’s be cautious about celebrating this. On one hand it seems clear that our pressure is having an effect. Let’s keep it up.

But we have seen time and time again a consistent strategy from the State in these situations: string out the process, break it to us gradually to avoid a big confrontation, present the illusion of careful thoughtful review of the case, tempt us with promises of modest reforms…but then in the end make the same decision that serves money not people. So far this is just talk, not actions, and actions are all we should care about.

Stop the pipeline, and then we’ll celebrate.

We are not leaving until this is over.

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