Sunday, November 19, 2017

PNN - Lets Not Talk OIL SPILLS or TAX BILLS!  Lets Talk Battle of the SEXES!!




PNN - Lets Not Talk OIL SPILLS or TAX BILLS!
Lets Talk Battle of the SEXES!!


PNN - 11/19/17
Lets Not Pay Attention to TAX PLANS and OIL Spills


1.Dakota Access Pipeline Company Paid Mercenaries to Build Conspiracy Lawsuit Against Environmentalists

The private security firm TigerSwan worked to build a RICO suit accusing Greenpeace, Earth First, and BankTrack of inciting protests to increase donations.

The private security firm TigerSwan, hired by Energy Transfer Partners to protect the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, was paid to gather information for what would become a sprawling conspiracy lawsuit accusing environmentalist groups of inciting the anti-pipeline protests in an effort to increase donations, three former TigerSwan contractors told The Intercept. For months, a conference room wall at TigerSwan’s Apex, North Carolina, headquarters was covered with a web-like map of funding nodes the firm believed it had uncovered — linking billionaire backers to nonprofit organizations to pipeline opponents protesting at Standing Rock. It was a “showpiece” for board members and ETP executives, according to a former TigerSwan contractor — part of a project that had little to do with the pipeline’s physical security.



In August, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, Donald Trump’s personal attorney for more than a decade, filed a 187-page racketeering complaint against Greenpeace, Earth First, and the divestment group BankTrack in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota, seeking $300 million in damages on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners. The NoDAPL movement, the suit claims, was driven by “a network of putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims.”

It was as if the entire campaign came in a box. And of course it did,” the suit alleges. “Its objective was not to protect the environment or Native Americans but to produce as sensational and public a dispute as possible, and to use that publicity and emotion to drive fundraising.”

Among the nonprofit network’s alleged crimes: “perpetrating acts of terrorism under the U.S. Patriot Act, including destruction of an energy facility, destruction of hazardous liquid pipeline facility, arson and bombing of government property risking or causing injury or death.”

We felt compelled to file the lawsuit against Greenpeace and others because we want the truth to come out about the illegal actions that took place in North Dakota and the funding of these actions,” ETP spokesperson Vicki Granado told The Intercept. “In many cases, the only way the truth comes out is through the legal process.”

The case was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, passed in 1970 to prosecute organized crime — primarily the mob. Greenpeace says it amounts to a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, designed to curtail free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation.

It grossly distorts the law and facts at Standing Rock,” said Greenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer. “We’ll win the lawsuit, but it’s not really what this is about for ETP. What they’re really trying to do is silence future protests and advocacy work against the company and other corporations.”

[The lawsuit] had some major racist overtones. They were basically saying that we were not intelligent enough to know for ourselves what the possibilities were in case the pipeline were to leak. They were basically saying we were manipulated,” said Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation who lives on the Standing Rock reservation and organized against the pipeline months before the protests began. “I think the whole purpose of it is to scare tribes from further activism when it comes to the fossil fuel industries and to scare these green groups to keep them from supporting us in those future fights.”

Short-Lived Line of Work

TigerSwan, which got its start working U.S. government contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, was hired by Energy Transfer Partners to coordinate the DAPL operation in September 2016, after dogs handled by private security officers were caught on film biting pipeline opponents. The firm began collecting information on the movement’s funding streams soon afterward, submitting intelligence to ETP via daily situation reports, more than 100 of which were leaked to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor.

But the effort to build a lawsuit began in earnest in January. TigerSwan personnel were tasked directly by lawyers working for ETP with fulfilling information requests, according to two former contractors. Situation reports from the beginning of February note that the company planned to “continue to proceed with the ETP legal team’s requests.”

In response to the requests, TigerSwan personnel sent reports on trespassing incidents and pipeline sabotage, including information about who was suspected to be involved and monetary damages caused by the work stoppages. The firm also compiled descriptions of movement leaders and individuals arrested by law enforcement, and tracked donations to DAPL-related GoFundMe accounts. Much of the intelligence collection was carried out via fake social media accounts and infiltration of protest camps by TigerSwan operatives.

According to the former contractors, the company intended to sell its legal investigative services to future clients. A PowerPoint presentation obtained by The Intercept, which a former contractor described as marketing material to attract a new contract, shows TigerSwan applying its follow-the-money tactics to a new pipeline fight against Pennsylvania’s Mariner East 2 project. The presentation traces nonprofit funds to various “action arms,” which include activist groups — Lancaster Against Pipelines and Marcellus Shale Earth First — as well as a member of the press, StateImpact, a regionally focused public radio project.

As concerns StateImpact, the TigerSwan graphic is incorrect,” editor Scott Blanchard told The Intercept. “StateImpact, which covers Pennsylvania’s energy economy, is independent of outside influence and is not aligned with any stakeholders.”

While TigerSwan eventually landed security work on the Pennsylvania pipeline, its RICO work for Energy Transfer Partners was short-lived. By early March, the legal team working for ETP had pulled the security firm off the lawsuit. Former TigerSwan contractors speculated the firm’s lack of experience building legal cases made it ill-equipped for the project.

Michael Bowe, the Kasowitz attorney representing ETP in the RICO case, told The Intercept, “We did not retain or work with TigerSwan.” Former TigerSwan personnel agreed that the ETP lawyers working most closely with TigerSwan were not with Kasowitz.

ETP declined to comment on TigerSwan’s work, stating, “We do not comment on any specifics related to our security programs.” A TigerSwan spokesperson stated, “We do not discuss the details of our efforts for any client. We are proud of our work to provide the very best in consultative risk management services to our clients around the world.”

Hunting Paid Protesters

Internal documents and interviews with the former TigerSwan contractors display some of the fruits of the firm’s investigation, which include claims that echo prominent right-wing conspiracy theories.

A PowerPoint presentation created in the fall of 2016 describes what TigerSwan dubbed the Billionaire’s Club: “an exclusive group of wealthy individuals, [which] directs the far-left environmental movement.” Several slides are dedicated to the anti-pipeline nonprofit Bold Nebraska, whose parent organization, Bold Alliance, is named in the ETP suit.

Underlying Bold Nebraska’s homespun, grassroots facade is a significant, growing, well-funded and well-organized financial support network originating from wealthy far-left environmental interests thousands of miles away,” one slide states. The language is pulled verbatim from a 2014 report by the Republican minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, titled “Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

TigerSwan claimed that among the wealthy interests behind Bold Alliance was billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett, whose donations to foundations that support environmental causes, one slide states, benefited an oil-by-rail business owned by Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett also appears at the center of a TigerSwan links map, obtained by The Intercept, meant to depict movement funders and influencers.

One of the theory’s most obvious flaws is that Buffett has a significant financial stake in the Dakota Access pipeline. Berkshire Hathaway is the largest investor in the oil and gas firm Phillips 66, which owns a 25 percent stake in DAPL. Buffett did not respond to a request for comment.

Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Alliance, told The Intercept that the group raised money for food and shelter at the DAPL resistance camps. They also had an indigenous staff member on the ground for six months who was involved in organizing protests.


We’d be happy to take Buffett’s millions, but we don’t have any of that money,” she said, noting the organization relies on thousands of small donors. “There’s literally never been a foundation or a major donor that has given us money and said, ‘You have to do XYZ and target XYZ person.’”

It’s remarkable that because we are a nonprofit and because I get paid a salary, and I pay our organizers a salary, that somehow makes us a paid protester,” Kleeb added.


Indeed, according to one of the former TigerSwan contractors, a goal of the firm’s RICO work was to identify “paid protesters.”

Throughout the protests, prosecutors and police also took interest in identifying such protesters, indicating that the oil industry’s hunt for a conspiracy was taken up by the public sector.

Multiple TigerSwan situation reports note law enforcement efforts to follow the money. For example, on March 3, a TigerSwan operative wrote, “Spoke with FBI Agent Tom Reinwart in reference to funds being funneled to protesters.” Another report from February 11 describes the Bureau of Indian Affairs tracking individuals “assessed to be assisting in the facilitation of moving money and supplies to the camps.”

Meanwhile, Lynn Woodall of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department also regularly forwarded a protester social media activity bulletin from a Gmail account to an array of law enforcement officials. The bulletins summarized Facebook and Twitter statements made by DAPL opponents, tracked the progress of various anti-DAPL fundraising campaigns, and at times noted posts made by groups named in the lawsuit — including 350.org, Greenpeace, and Earthjustice — under a category labeled “Protest Supporters and Amplifiers.” In at least one case, the bulletin was forwarded to a TigerSwan operative.

A spokesperson for Morton County told The Intercept that a law enforcement staff member collected the fundraising information for “situational awareness.” Neither the FBI nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs responded to The Intercept’s requests for comment.

State’s attorneys were also interested in funding linked to media coverage of the protests, repeatedly singling out Democracy Now, the news outlet whose footage of private security dogs attacking protesters attracted widespread criticism of the pipeline project and galvanized many to join the opposition movement. In a motion filed last December as part of a criminal case against pipeline opponents, state’s attorney Ladd Erickson repeated right-wing talking points. “Some DAPL protester videos are designed for fundraising, to get actors weeping into cameras,” he said, adding, “Pretend journalists like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now or The Young Turks have published manipulated DAPL social media videos with faux narratives in an attempt to be recognized as a news source by those who are duped by fake news.”

In a November 29 email, the acting state’s attorney of McKenzie County, Todd Schwarz, relayed to a North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center officer a secondhand story he’d heard about someone a colleague sat next to on a flight. “He indicated to Ron that he is a paid protester, $ 3000/day plus expenses. His check comes from Democracy Now who receives their money through the DNC from the Clinton Foundation. I have no way to confirm this but was asked to pass it to you.” Schwarz noted it was “the first time I’ve had it confirmed from the person who actually heard it from the paid protester.” Schwarz did not respond to a request for comment.


These claims are baseless and absurd,” Julie Crosby, general manager for Democracy Now, told The Intercept. “The Young Turks’ Jordan Chariton took six trips to Standing Rock, where he conducted interviews that shined a light on the truth and raced to cover the front lines of the demonstration,” a spokesperson for the network told The Intercept, calling the narrative pushed by ETP “a continuation of right-wing, corporate intimidation tactics.”

Of course, as police and prosecutors searched for the big-money backers of the protest movement, they were receiving their own share of billionaire support. Throughout the protests, police used ETP equipment including ATVs, snowmobiles, and a helicopter. This past October, ETP paid the state of North Dakota $15 million for law enforcement expenses, and went on a tour of pipeline counties in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois, handing out giant checks totaling $1 million — “gifts without condition,” as one ETP executive put it.

Using Lawsuits to Chill Free Speech

When it was adopted, RICO was thought to be a mafia tool,” Jeffrey Grell, who teaches courses on RICO at the University of Minnesota School of Law, told The Intercept. “Now it’s going through a renaissance,” he added, noting that while federal courts tried to limit applications of the law, winning the case is often not the primary motive of those filing charges.

I do not think this pipeline claim is a very legitimate use of this statute … but in legal reality, whether you have a good claim or not does not matter,” Grell said. “If you are an energy company, you have a lot more money than some of these protest groups, so paying a lawyer for two or three years to sue these protesters, who cares? But I guarantee you, the protest groups, they’re going to care.”

If you have got money in our country, you can use litigation for a lot of purposes, and many times those purposes are not to win a court case.”

Marc Kasowitz’s firm was also behind a RICO suit filed last year against Greenpeace on behalf of logging company Resolute Forest Products. That suit was dismissed in October, although Resolute has filed an amended complaint.

Kasowitz attorney Michael Bowe told Bloomberg Businessweek that Energy Transfer Partners and Resolute are not the only companies with an interest in suing Greenpeace. “When Greenpeace directly attacks a company’s customers, financing, and business, that company has little choice but to legally defend itself,” he said. “I know others who are considering having to do so and would be shocked if there are not many more.”


Several states have passed “anti-SLAPP” legislation in an effort to counter the use of lawsuits for the purpose of chilling free speech, but North Dakota is not one of them. “There’s no question that whether it’s a civil damages lawsuit or a criminal prosecution, if part of what’s motivating it is a desire to suppress speech, that it’s a First Amendment problem,” Seth Berlin, an attorney who has defended the First Amendment rights of advocacy groups and political organizations, told The Intercept.


It’s a big threat to the environmental movement,” said Wetterer, the Greenpeace lawyer. “These baseless lawsuits have to be thrown out at the initial stage because the longer they go on, the corporations win.”

https://www.documentcloud.org/search/projectid:33327-TigerSwan


2. Dakota Access-Style Policing Moves to Pennsylvania’s Mariner East 2 Pipeline

(Intercept)

As Dakota Access opponents moved to new pipeline fights in other states, the repressive tactics deployed against the NoDAPL movement migrated too.

After months of employing military-style counterinsurgency tactics to subvert opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota, the private security firm TigerSwan is monitoring resistance to another project — the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Like DAPL, Mariner East 2 is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline is slated to run for 350 miles, transporting ethane, butane, and propane through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to a hub near Philadelphia for shipment to both domestic and international markets. Internal TigerSwan documents reviewed by The Intercept suggest the company has had a presence in Pennsylvania since at least April.

On April 1, the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which runs parallel to the proposed path of ME2, spilled 20 barrels of ethane and propane near Morgantown, Pennsylvania. On the day of the incident, an email provided to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor shows the firm was watching social media for signs the spill would become a rallying point for pipeline opponents.

At this time the incident has NOT gained any public interest,” a TigerSwan 
operative wrote in the email.

TigerSwan founder James Reese replied, “We nees [sic] to monitor social media for blow baxk [sic] on the leak.”

The company had been monitoring Dakota Access opponents’ social media for months and analyzing press coverage related to that pipeline fight, according to more than 100 internal situation reports leaked to The Intercept. The documents routinely referenced counterinformation efforts to produce and distribute propaganda favorable to the pipeline.

TigerSwan apparently carried at least some of these practices to Pennsylvania. It would be weeks before the public learned of the leak of highly explosive natural gas liquids. According to a source with direct knowledge of TigerSwan’s operation, making sure nobody found out about the incident was part of TigerSwan’s mission on the project. Nearby residents were kept in the dark until April 20, when Sunoco, which recently completed a merger with Energy Transfer Partners, confirmed to a local media outlet that the leak had occurred.

As Dakota Access opponents moved to new pipeline fights across the country, other repressive tactics deployed against the NoDAPL movement migrated too. TigerSwan’s entry into the ME2 struggle comes as industry-supported lawmakers in Pennsylvania, a center of the nation’s fracking boom, are advancing legislative efforts to increase fines and charges associated with anti-pipeline direct action protests.

The TigerSwan situation reports show that as early as February, as state officials prepared to evacuate the first pipeline resistance camp in North Dakota, the security firm was monitoring the potential for DAPL opposition to spill over into grassroots struggles against other pipeline projects, including ME2 and Energy Transfer Partners’ Rover pipeline in Ohio. “Recently, Illinois activists have begun to shift their focus in earnest from anti-DAPL to anti-pipeline,” a situation report dated February 21 reads. “They have started sharing information on multiple pipeline projects across the country. There has not yet been any mention of Mariner East or Rover, but there is an active effort to continue their momentum in fighting pipeline construction and operation.”

Public records also show an increased interest by the company in areas through which other Energy Transfer Partners projects would pass.

Last November, TigerSwan obtained business licenses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the three states in the path of ME2. On June 1, TigerSwan also obtained a business license to operate in Louisiana, where Energy Transfer Partners is building the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which would connect to the Dakota Access Pipeline system and carry Bakken shale oil to Gulf Coast export terminals.

At a February hearing held by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, TigerSwan advisory board chair James “Spider” Marks, a retired U.S. Army major general, spoke in favor of building the pipeline — without revealing his association with TigerSwan. He also published an op-ed in the Lafayette Daily Advertiser newspaper decrying the “anti-energy agitators” who oppose the project.

No Louisianan wants to live under the conditions that those unsuspecting North Dakota residents were subject to — with protesters trespassing, interrupting the local flow of traffic, and generally injecting elements of fear and the unknown into their daily lives,” Marks wrote. “A timely approval process of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, however, would prevent the possibility of such conditions arising in this state.”

In May, Marks wrote another opinion piece that failed to disclose his TigerSwan affiliation, this time for the Pennsylvania news site PennLive, warning readers there to “be wary of professional pipeline protesters” who turned Standing Rock into a scene of “hapless violence and bloodshed.”

Many of the same professional agitators who fomented chaos in North Dakota are turning their efforts to the Mariner East II Pipeline in Pennsylvania,” Marks wrote. “These orchestrators make no qualms about their intent to turn Camp White Pine — a small but growing protest area in Huntingdon County — into the next national showdown.”

Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment, writing in an email to The Intercept that it does not “discuss details of our security initiatives, which are designed to ensure the safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work.” In an email sent to The Intercept from a TigerSwan account, an unnamed representative of the firm declined to answer questions about TigerSwan’s work on ME2, but commented on its social media monitoring efforts. “Of course we monitor social media during any type of situation,” the person wrote. “With the advent of so many bots on twitter and those organizations who perpetuate defamatory and outrageous slander against not only American companies but local, state and national law enforcement on the internet, we wouldn’t be doing our job unless we did.” Marks did not respond to a request for comment. Last week, TigerSwan retweeted a comment characterizing his PennLive piece as a “TigerSwan op-ed.”



Opponents of the ME2 project say they’ve noticed an increased security presence around the pipeline’s path in recent months. “They’ve been making us feel that we’re under constant threat and observation,” Elise Gerhart told The Intercept.

Elise and her parents, Ellen and Stephen Gerhart, have campaigned against ME2 for more than two years and currently host Camp White Pine on their 27-acre property along the pipeline’s right of way in Pennsylvania’s Huntingdon County, where they stage tree-sits to protest the clearing of land for construction. As the pipeline’s construction moves closer, Elise said unmarked pickup trucks have parked across the road from their driveway at night, shining their high beams toward the camp. Helicopters have regularly hovered low over their land, a tactic familiar to Standing Rock protesters.

According to StateImpact Pennsylvania, a spokesperson for Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners denied that the newly merged company or its partners had flown helicopters over the Gerhart property.

In southeastern Pennsylvania’s Delaware County, Eric Friedman, president of a local homeowner’s association, said that as resistance to the project has grown more vocal, so has residents’ sense that they are being watched. Friedman’s group is concerned that the pipeline will move pressurized natural gas liquids through a densely populated suburban area, in close proximity to schools and a senior living facility. Last month, one of the schools started practicing emergency drills to prepare for a possible pipeline explosion, and a study commissioned by a local coalition for community safety warned of the worst-case consequences of potential leaks, including the ignition of “a fireball with a blast radius up to 1,100 feet.”

In recent months, administrators of area Facebook groups opposed to the pipeline reported getting requests from individuals they “have questions about,” Friedman noted. “I suspect that they’re here and using the same kinds of tactics,” he told The Intercept, referring to private security agents. “My sense is that they escalate their response in accordance to the resistance that they’re being met with.”

While the unmarked trucks and strange Facebook requests couldn’t be definitively traced to a private security contractor, TigerSwan’s documented efforts on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners to repress the anti-DAPL movement have raised concerns for ME2 opponents.

A year ago, people didn’t realize that the company that was using these kinds of tactics in North Dakota was the same company that’s proposing to build this project here. There wasn’t a lot of awareness,” Friedman said. “Now that’s very much in everybody’s mind.”

In Pennsylvania, as in North Dakota, public officials have also played a role increasing pressure on pipeline opponents.

On May 4, state Sen. Scott Martin hosted a closed-door forum between first responders in Lancaster County and officials from North Dakota who were involved in policing the NoDAPL movement. The next day, citing costs associated with the North Dakota protests, Martin distributed a memorandum seeking a co-sponsor for a bill he was drafting that would hold individuals “civilly liable for response costs related to a demonstration if the person is convicted for rioting,” “is a public nuisance,” or “is involved in hosting the demonstration.”

Martin represents much of Lancaster County, which is home to the Lancaster Stand, an action camp located on private property whose organizers have promised to use the grounds as a base for direct actions against the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline once construction begins.

This isn’t the first anti-protester legislation to be pushed in the state. State Sen. Mike Regan recently introduced a measure defining a new type of felon: the “critical infrastructure facility trespasser.” The label could be applied for as little as “attempt[ing] to enter a critical infrastructure facility, knowing that the person is not licensed or privileged to do so.” An individual who succeeded in entering the property with “intent” to damage or destroy equipment or even simply to impede facility operations would face up to two years in prison and a minimum $10,000 fine, as would anyone “conspiring” with others to trespass. Critical infrastructure is defined in the bill as including numerous types of oil and gas infrastructure. The bill was scheduled for a judiciary committee vote last month, which was canceled at the last minute.

As Pennsylvania’s Raging Chicken Press reported, language in the bill mirrors that of a recently approved Oklahoma law penalizing oil and gas industry protesters. And indeed, it’s part of a trend of anti-protester legislation introduced in more than a dozen states across the U.S., including bills aimed at oil infrastructure protesters in Colorado, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

But even without the new legislation, ME2 opponents have faced stiff penalties for hindering construction.

In March 2016, as contractors for Sunoco began cutting down trees, Huntingdon County sheriff’s deputies arrested Ellen Gerhart on her own property when she attempted to warn construction crews that her daughter, Elise, was in a tree dangerously close to where they were clearing. Two other pipeline opponents were also arrested. One of them, Alex Lotorto, was detained for three days on a $200,000 bail. Gerhart, a retired special education teacher, was later arrested a second time on her property, and according to a public comment she submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection, was held in isolation for three days without access to a lawyer.

Charges against her were eventually dropped, but Sunoco later requested that a Pennsylvania judge allow law enforcement to arrest trespassers on the pipeline easement — even if they happened to own the easement land. On April 28, in a rare decision, Huntingdon County Judge George Zanic complied with the request, ordering what’s known as a “writ of possession” enabling authorities to arrest the Gerharts for trespassing on their own property.

Meanwhile, in Delaware County, disputes between property owners and the pipeline company have also ramped up. In May, after some stakes that a pipeline survey crew had placed along the project site were removed overnight, a project manager representing Sunoco emailed an attorney for the local homeowners association. “Because of this, the survey will have to be done again and further monitoring of the property will be requested from the local authorities,” the agent warned in an email reviewed by The Intercept. The Sunoco agent added that “the professional survey crew staked within the limits of the project and did not trespass on anyone’s property.”

But Eric Friedman disputes that and says the stakes were placed by the pipeline company on the private property of the Andover Homeowners’ Association and private lots within the subdivision. “The very idea that Sunoco’s agents would call upon law enforcement to protect their trespass strikes me as completely backwards,” Friedman told The Intercept.

I took that as a threat to use law enforcement against us,” he added. “It indicated to me that he was at some level in contact with the Pennsylvania State Police and threatening to activate them against us.”

Lt. James Hennigan of the Pennsylvania State Police, which is in charge of the area where the incident took place, wrote in a statement to The Intercept that the agency “responds to all calls for service. Our members take appropriate action if any crime has been committed.”

In North Dakota and Iowa, TigerSwan regularly shared information with law enforcement. The Huntingdon County Sheriff’s Office, in the Gerharts’ county, and the police department in Caernarvon Township, where the Mariner East 1 leak took place, did not respond to requests for comments about collaboration with private security.

Friedman said he hopes local law enforcement will work with residents rather than pipeline representatives. “We live here, we are your neighbors, we are the same as you,” he said. “These people are not, they are outsiders, and you should be working for us. We are your constituents.”



3. Dakota Access Pipeline Company Paid Mercenaries to Build Conspiracy Lawsuit Against Environmentalists

The private security firm TigerSwan worked to build a RICO suit accusing Greenpeace, Earth First, and BankTrack of inciting protests to increase donations.
The private security firm TigerSwan, hired by Energy Transfer Partners to protect the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, was paid to gather information for what would become a sprawling conspiracy lawsuit accusing environmentalist groups of inciting the anti-pipeline protests in an effort to increase donations, three former TigerSwan contractors told The Intercept. For months, a conference room wall at TigerSwan’s Apex, North Carolina, headquarters was covered with a web-like map of funding nodes the firm believed it had uncovered — linking billionaire backers to nonprofit organizations to pipeline opponents protesting at Standing Rock. It was a “showpiece” for board members and ETP executives, according to a former TigerSwan contractor — part of a project that had little to do with the pipeline’s physical security.
In August, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, Donald Trump’s personal attorney for more than a decade, filed a 187-page racketeering complaint against Greenpeace, Earth First, and the divestment group BankTrack in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota, seeking $300 million in damages on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners. The NoDAPL movement, the suit claims, was driven by “a network of putative not-for-profits and rogue eco-terrorist groups who employ patterns of criminal activity and campaigns of misinformation to target legitimate companies and industries with fabricated environmental claims.”

“It was as if the entire campaign came in a box. And of course it did,” the suit alleges. “Its objective was not to protect the environment or Native Americans but to produce as sensational and public a dispute as possible, and to use that publicity and emotion to drive fundraising.”

Among the nonprofit network’s alleged crimes: “perpetrating acts of terrorism under the U.S. Patriot Act, including destruction of an energy facility, destruction of hazardous liquid pipeline facility, arson and bombing of government property risking or causing injury or death.”

“We felt compelled to file the lawsuit against Greenpeace and others because we want the truth to come out about the illegal actions that took place in North Dakota and the funding of these actions,” ETP spokesperson Vicki Granado told The Intercept. “In many cases, the only way the truth comes out is through the legal process.”

The case was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, passed in 1970 to prosecute organized crime — primarily the mob. Greenpeace says it amounts to a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, designed to curtail free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation.

“It grossly distorts the law and facts at Standing Rock,” said Greenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer. “We’ll win the lawsuit, but it’s not really what this is about for ETP. What they’re really trying to do is silence future protests and advocacy work against the company and other corporations.”

“[The lawsuit] had some major racist overtones. They were basically saying that we were not intelligent enough to know for ourselves what the possibilities were in case the pipeline were to leak. They were basically saying we were manipulated,” said Linda Black Elk, a member of the Catawba Nation who lives on the Standing Rock reservation and organized against the pipeline months before the protests began. “I think the whole purpose of it is to scare tribes from further activism when it comes to the fossil fuel industries and to scare these green groups to keep them from supporting us in those future fights.”

 Short-Lived Line of Work
TigerSwan, which got its start working U.S. government contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, was hired by Energy Transfer Partners to coordinate the DAPL operation in September 2016, after dogs handled by private security officers were caught on film biting pipeline opponents. The firm began collecting information on the movement’s funding streams soon afterward, submitting intelligence to ETP via daily situation reports, more than 100 of which were leaked to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor.

But the effort to build a lawsuit began in earnest in January. TigerSwan personnel were tasked directly by lawyers working for ETP with fulfilling information requests, according to two former contractors. Situation reports from the beginning of February note that the company planned to “continue to proceed with the ETP legal team’s requests.”
In response to the requests, TigerSwan personnel sent reports on trespassing incidents and pipeline sabotage, including information about who was suspected to be involved and monetary damages caused by the work stoppages. The firm also compiled descriptions of movement leaders and individuals arrested by law enforcement, and tracked donations to DAPL-related GoFundMe accounts. Much of the intelligence collection was carried out via fake social media accounts and infiltration of protest camps by TigerSwan operatives.

According to the former contractors, the company intended to sell its legal investigative services to future clients. A PowerPoint presentation obtained by The Intercept, which a former contractor described as marketing material to attract a new contract, shows TigerSwan applying its follow-the-money tactics to a new pipeline fight against Pennsylvania’s Mariner East 2 project. The presentation traces nonprofit funds to various “action arms,” which include activist groups — Lancaster Against Pipelines and Marcellus Shale Earth First — as well as a member of the press, StateImpact, a regionally focused public radio project.

“As concerns StateImpact, the TigerSwan graphic is incorrect,” editor Scott Blanchard told The Intercept. “StateImpact, which covers Pennsylvania’s energy economy, is independent of outside influence and is not aligned with any stakeholders.”
While TigerSwan eventually landed security work on the Pennsylvania pipeline, its RICO work for Energy Transfer Partners was short-lived. By early March, the legal team working for ETP had pulled the security firm off the lawsuit. Former TigerSwan contractors speculated the firm’s lack of experience building legal cases made it ill-equipped for the project.

Michael Bowe, the Kasowitz attorney representing ETP in the RICO case, told The Intercept, “We did not retain or work with TigerSwan.” Former TigerSwan personnel agreed that the ETP lawyers working most closely with TigerSwan were not with Kasowitz.

ETP declined to comment on TigerSwan’s work, stating, “We do not comment on any specifics related to our security programs.” A TigerSwan spokesperson stated, “We do not discuss the details of our efforts for any client. We are proud of our work to provide the very best in consultative risk management services to our clients around the world.”
Hunting Paid Protesters Internal documents and interviews with the former TigerSwan contractors display some of the fruits of the firm’s investigation, which include claims that echo prominent right-wing conspiracy theories.

A PowerPoint presentation created in the fall of 2016 describes what TigerSwan dubbed the Billionaire’s Club: “an exclusive group of wealthy individuals, [which] directs the far-left environmental movement.” Several slides are dedicated to the anti-pipeline nonprofit Bold Nebraska, whose parent organization, Bold Alliance, is named in the ETP suit.

“Underlying Bold Nebraska’s homespun, grassroots facade is a significant, growing, well-funded and well-organized financial support network originating from wealthy far-left environmental interests thousands of miles away,” one slide states. The language is pulled verbatim from a 2014 report by the Republican minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, titled “Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

TigerSwan claimed that among the wealthy interests behind Bold Alliance was billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett, whose donations to foundations that support environmental causes, one slide states, benefited an oil-by-rail business owned by Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett also appears at the center of a TigerSwan links map, obtained by The Intercept, meant to depict movement funders and influencers.

One of the theory’s most obvious flaws is that Buffett has a significant financial stake in the Dakota Access pipeline. Berkshire Hathaway is the largest investor in the oil and gas firm Phillips 66, which owns a 25 percent stake in DAPL. Buffett did not respond to a request for comment.
Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Alliance, told The Intercept that the group raised money for food and shelter at the DAPL resistance camps. They also had an indigenous staff member on the ground for six months who was involved in organizing protests.
“We’d be happy to take Buffett’s millions, but we don’t have any of that money,” she said, noting the organization relies on thousands of small donors. “There’s literally never been a foundation or a major donor that has given us money and said, ‘You have to do XYZ and target XYZ person.’”

“It’s remarkable that because we are a nonprofit and because I get paid a salary, and I pay our organizers a salary, that somehow makes us a paid protester,” Kleeb added.
Indeed, according to one of the former TigerSwan contractors, a goal of the firm’s RICO work was to identify “paid protesters.”

Throughout the protests, prosecutors and police also took interest in identifying such protesters, indicating that the oil industry’s hunt for a conspiracy was taken up by the public sector.

Multiple TigerSwan situation reports note law enforcement efforts to follow the money. For example, on March 3, a TigerSwan operative wrote, “Spoke with FBI Agent Tom Reinwart in reference to funds being funneled to protesters.” Another report from February 11 describes the Bureau of Indian Affairs tracking individuals “assessed to be assisting in the facilitation of moving money and supplies to the camps.”
Meanwhile, Lynn Woodall of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department also regularly forwarded a protester social media activity bulletin from a Gmail account to an array of law enforcement officials. The bulletins summarized Facebook and Twitter statements made by DAPL opponents, tracked the progress of various anti-DAPL fundraising campaigns, and at times noted posts made by groups named in the lawsuit — including 350.org, Greenpeace, and Earthjustice — under a category labeled “Protest Supporters and Amplifiers.” In at least one case, the bulletin was forwarded to a TigerSwan operative.

A spokesperson for Morton County told The Intercept that a law enforcement staff member collected the fundraising information for “situational awareness.” Neither the FBI nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs responded to The Intercept’s requests for comment.

State’s attorneys were also interested in funding linked to media coverage of the protests, repeatedly singling out Democracy Now, the news outlet whose footage of private security dogs attacking protesters attracted widespread criticism of the pipeline project and galvanized many to join the opposition movement. In a motion filed last December as part of a criminal case against pipeline opponents, state’s attorney Ladd Erickson repeated right-wing talking points. “Some DAPL protester videos are designed for fundraising, to get actors weeping into cameras,” he said, adding, “Pretend journalists like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now or The Young Turks have published manipulated DAPL social media videos with faux narratives in an attempt to be recognized as a news source by those who are duped by fake news.”

In a November 29 email, the acting state’s attorney of McKenzie County, Todd Schwarz, relayed to a North Dakota State and Local Intelligence Center officer a secondhand story he’d heard about someone a colleague sat next to on a flight. “He indicated to Ron that he is a paid protester, $ 3000/day plus expenses. His check comes from Democracy Now who receives their money through the DNC from the Clinton Foundation. I have no way to confirm this but was asked to pass it to you.” Schwarz noted it was “the first time I’ve had it confirmed from the person who actually heard it from the paid protester.” Schwarz did not respond to a request for comment.

“These claims are baseless and absurd,” Julie Crosby, general manager for Democracy Now, told The Intercept. “The Young Turks’ Jordan Chariton took six trips to Standing Rock, where he conducted interviews that shined a light on the truth and raced to cover the front lines of the demonstration,” a spokesperson for the network told The Intercept, calling the narrative pushed by ETP “a continuation of right-wing, corporate intimidation tactics.”

Of course, as police and prosecutors searched for the big-money backers of the protest movement, they were receiving their own share of billionaire support. Throughout the protests, police used ETP equipment including ATVs, snowmobiles, and a helicopter. This past October, ETP paid the state of North Dakota $15 million for law enforcement expenses, and went on a tour of pipeline counties in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois, handing out giant checks totaling $1 million — “gifts without condition,” as one ETP executive put it.

Using Lawsuits to Chill Free Speech

“When it was adopted, RICO was thought to be a mafia tool,” Jeffrey Grell, who teaches courses on RICO at the University of Minnesota School of Law, told The Intercept. “Now it’s going through a renaissance,” he added, noting that while federal courts tried to limit applications of the law, winning the case is often not the primary motive of those filing charges.

“I do not think this pipeline claim is a very legitimate use of this statute … but in legal reality, whether you have a good claim or not does not matter,” Grell said. “If you are an energy company, you have a lot more money than some of these protest groups, so paying a lawyer for two or three years to sue these protesters, who cares? But I guarantee you, the protest groups, they’re going to care.”

“If you have got money in our country, you can use litigation for a lot of purposes, and many times those purposes are not to win a court case.”

Marc Kasowitz’s firm was also behind a RICO suit filed last year against Greenpeace on behalf of logging company Resolute Forest Products. That suit was dismissed in October, although Resolute has filed an amended complaint.

Kasowitz attorney Michael Bowe told Bloomberg Businessweek that Energy Transfer Partners and Resolute are not the only companies with an interest in suing Greenpeace. “When Greenpeace directly attacks a company’s customers, financing, and business, that company has little choice but to legally defend itself,” he said. “I know others who are considering having to do so and would be shocked if there are not many more.”
Several states have passed “anti-SLAPP” legislation in an effort to counter the use of lawsuits for the purpose of chilling free speech, but North Dakota is not one of them. “There’s no question that whether it’s a civil damages lawsuit or a criminal prosecution, if part of what’s motivating it is a desire to suppress speech, that it’s a First Amendment problem,” Seth Berlin, an attorney who has defended the First Amendment rights of advocacy groups and political organizations, told The Intercept.

“It’s a big threat to the environmental movement,” said Wetterer, the Greenpeace lawyer. “These baseless lawsuits have to be thrown out at the initial stage because the longer they go on, the corporations win.”


4.Dakota Access-Style Policing Moves to Pennsylvania’s Mariner East 2 Pipeline
(Intercept)

As Dakota Access opponents moved to new pipeline fights in other states, the repressive tactics deployed against the NoDAPL movement migrated too.
After months of employing military-style counterinsurgency tactics to subvert opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and South Dakota, the private security firm TigerSwan is monitoring resistance to another project — the controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline.
Like DAPL, Mariner East 2 is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline is slated to run for 350 miles, transporting ethane, butane, and propane through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to a hub near Philadelphia for shipment to both domestic and international markets. Internal TigerSwan documents reviewed by The Intercept suggest the company has had a presence in Pennsylvania since at least April.
On April 1, the Mariner East 1 pipeline, which runs parallel to the proposed path of ME2, spilled 20 barrels of ethane and propane near Morgantown, Pennsylvania. On the day of the incident, an email provided to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor shows the firm was watching social media for signs the spill would become a rallying point for pipeline opponents.

“At this time the incident has NOT gained any public interest,” a TigerSwan
 operative wrote in the email.

“We live here, we are your neighbors, we are the same as you,” he said. “These people are not, they are outsiders, and you should be working for us. We are your constituents.”



3.     UPDATE “How Doug Jones could pull off a stunner in Alabama”
[Politico].
“[Jones] does have a path. Here’s how it looks, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Democrats within and near Jones’ team since Moore was hit with accusations of pursuing — and in two cases abusing — teenage girls. First, create a permission structure for alienated Republicans who are skeptical of Moore — primarily those who voted against him in the GOP primary — to cross the aisle. At the same time invigorate the base, especially African-Americans, who make up over a quarter of registered voters, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. And finally, keep the national Democratic Party and its despised brand as far out of the picture as possible, while still benefiting from its money.” [Naked Capitalism]

    UPDATE “Ballotpedia has had good coverage of the swing districts situation” [bears2267, Reddit] (original). Figures as of November 15: “Currently they have it 49-48 D with 3 races too close to call, officially it sits at 51-49 R with election results certified or ready to be certified. The Virginia Democratic Party is challenging 55 ballots in District 28 (and a potential challenge of 668 votes intended for the 28th that might have been mistakenly cast in the 88th instead). Once those challenges are figured out in the courts, the state board will certify the results and then recounts can begin and the 3 Democrats in the 3 swing districts have all indicted they were request their allowed recount. So a couple of weeks still until we know the final results.” [Naked Capitalism]
    UPDATE “Latest 28th District fight focused on Fredericksburg precincts” [Inside NOVA]. “Now that all the votes have been counted, Democrat Josh Cole fell 82 votes short of beating Republican Bob Thomas in the 28th District race to replace retiring House Speaker Bill Howell. Since then, Democrats have been raising challenges to the results, including a pending federal lawsuit, in the hopes of flipping the race and forcing a tie in the House — Republicans are still clinging to a 51-49 majority following a wave election for Democrats on Nov. 7.” [Naked Capitalism]


    UPDATE “Rural white voters didn’t show up for Virginia’s election” [Vox]. “What fueled Democrats’ victories on Tuesday? A quick analysis from the New York Times suggests this was a “suburban rebellion,” with moderates shifting from Donald Trump to Democrats. A look at the Virginia vote, however, suggests that votes in the most rural, conservative counties may hold the real story.” Readers will have noticed the “suburban rebellion” strategy pre-positioned by Democrats for whom that is the preferred 2018 and 2020 strategy, so this article is a useful corrective. More: “The analysis above suggests that Democrats did well because white, conservative, rural Republicans, — those who gave Trump his victory last year — simply didn’t show up this time.” So, why would that be? [Naked Capitalism]

    UPDATE “Independent upset: Dems crush everywhere—except Charlottesville” [Cville]. “The unprecedented evening continued in Charlottesville, where Nikuyah Walker bucked the Democratic groundswell and became the first independent to win a seat on City Council since 1948. Also unprecedented: It’s the first time two African Americans will serve on council when she joins Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy on the dais in January…. Walker’s win ‘breaks up the total Democratic control on council,’ says UVA Center for Politics’ Geoffrey Skelley. “It’s meaningful in the aftermath of all the terrible things that happened in Charlottesville” with the monument debate and neo-Nazi invasion, which some put at the feet of City Council. ‘Walker was offering something different,’ he says. ‘It’s a reaction locally when Democrats were crushing it everywhere else. It’s a reaction to local issues that have become national issues.'”
[Naked Capitalism]
4. As US Fuels War Crimes in Yemen, House Says US Involvement is Unauthorized
Posted on November 19, 2017 by Jerri-Lynn Scofield


Jerri-Lynn here: This Real News Network interview with Mike Weisbrot discusses the non-binding resolution the House of Representatives passed last week concerning the unauthorized role of the United States in the war in Yemen. This Saudi war has triggered an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe, including a cholera epidemic and widespread hunger and starvation. No end to the crisis is in sight.
Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. and  author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015), co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000). He writes a column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 550 newspapers by the Tribune Content Agency and his opinion pieces have appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is getting increasingly dire every day. On Thursday, the directors of the World Health Organization, WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the UNICEF, and the World Food Program issued a joint statement urging Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade on Yemen. Last Monday, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution with a vote of 366 to 30 calling attention to the U.S.’s unauthorized role in the war in Yemen. The ongoing Saudi war in Yemen has already killed over 10,000 Yemenis. Another 50,000 children could die before the end of the year from starvation according to the organization Save the Children.
Also, about 20 million Yemenis are in the need of humanitarian assistance and over 900,000 have been infected by cholera, the largest such outbreak the world has seen in decades. Joining me now to discuss the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and is the author of Failed What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. He’s also president of Just Foreign Policy. He joins us today from Washington, D.C. Mark, good to have you back.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, you’ve been closely following the House resolution on U.S. involvement in Yemen. What exactly does this resolution do to stop the U.S. involvement in Yemen?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, it was intended to do that. However, the sponsors of the resolution were unable to do that because the Republicans were able to use the Rules Committee to block them from doing that, so they ended up as a compromise, a non-binding resolution. It doesn’t actually cut off the U.S. role, involvement in the war, which is refueling the Saudi planes and helping them target bombing targets with intelligence and so on. What it did do though was two very important things. One, is that they had a little bit of a debate for the first time in the House, and they had also, they were able to force the U.S. military to admit their role there. Then, the resolution declares that that role is unauthorized.

Those were two really big things, and it was as big step towards cutting off this aid. I think the reason that the Republicans agreed to this … As you mentioned, there was an overwhelming vote, was because they really don’t want a full and open debate. They don’t want this to become a real political and possibly electoral issue, I mean a big issue. That’s what they’re afraid of because it’s completely indefensible. That’s very important I think. The details are kind of important for people to know because there’s a real chance of stopping this terrible war, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
SHARMINI PERIES: By adopting this resolution so quickly, which is non-binding from what I understand, this essentially stopped debate and discussion in Congress about this.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, no, because the next step is going to go to the Senate. In the Senate, somebody’s going to introduce a companion resolution, and then they’ll have another fight over this. This has set the stage for that, and that’s very important. The Senate is closer. For example, there was a vote in June on cutting off some of the arms sales through Saudi Arabia and it only failed by a margin of 53 to 47, and there were five Democrats who voted the wrong way. If you could get four of them to switch and you could even pick up, there are Republicans you could pick up like Flake and Corker for example who have been very critical of the Trump administration, extremely vocal. It is possible to have the binding resolution in the Senate.

This is all based on the War Powers Act or the War Powers Resolution as it’s called, which says that a member of Congress when the U.S. is militarily involved somewhere, a member without authorization from Congress, a member of Congress can demand a for vote and get it on this military involvement; a debate and a for vote. That’s the next step in this Senate.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Mark, so we sell arms to Saudi Arabia. We are providing logistical support, which is things like on-air fueling of the airplanes that are bombing Yemen. We also assisting them in terms of targeted bombings and creating this enormous humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Why is this resolution non-binding?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, that’s because they didn’t have enough power in this last week to force the binding resolution. I mean, theoretically, they could have come back over and over again. I think that’s what the Republicans were afraid of, so they reached this compromise in order to get something fast so then they could move on to the Senate. Also, to get it on the record that what the U.S. was really doing there, and that is was unauthorized. You do see some media responses. For example, this week the New York Times had an editorial from its Editorial Board saying that the Saudis were trying to starve Yemen into submission, calling it a war crime and specifying that the U.S. was involved in this war crime. This is something I’ve never seen in the New York Times where the New York Times Editorial Board to say, and I’m pretty sure it’s never happened before. That the U.S. was actually involved, militarily involved in the perpetration of wars crimes while it’s actually happening.
There’s a lot of opposition building. There’s opposition in Congress, and I think this is the way this war is going to end. I emphasize it’s not just because I care about this a lot, but also because historically this is pretty much the main way that foreign policy has been changed. In 2013, you remember when the Congress wouldn’t vote for President Obama’s attempt to bomb Syria. You can go back to the 1980s when the Congress cut off aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. These are the times when you can actually change something. This shows, really it’s amazing, because this is a House of Representatives that’s controlled by the Republicans and still they were able to force this vote and force the military through the hearings to admit what they were doing, and then to push it. Now they’re going to push it further in the Senate.
If people contact their members of Congress and especially their senators now, the members of Congress can also and are going to be trying to persuade the senators, so both of them. I think that could really be the beginning of the end of this war. It’s really urgent, you know, because as you mentioned the humanitarian groups, the UN are saying that really millions of people are at risk and people are dying there every day.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, if the United Nations and so many agencies within the United Nations has come out berating Saudi Arabia for this blockade and not allowing humanitarian aid, stopping the landing of aid, cargo from arriving in Yemen, and if members of Congress are so opposed to the U.S. support for Saudi war in Yemen as the vote we discussed reflects, 366 to 30, why not stop it by invoking the War Powers Act, and how could that unfold in Congress?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think the next place it could unfold is in the Senate, it will be the same strategy, using the War Powers Resolution to force a debate and vote. That’s a debate where in the Senate it’s closer as I mentioned. It could be cut off. I think it’s become much more urgent in the last couple weeks, even more. It was always terribly urgent because as you mentioned, 900,000 people have gotten cholera and now you’re … they’re cutting off, in the last two weeks, they’re cutting off supplies again. Hodeida, which is the port that gets something like 80% of the imports is now blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition again with U.S. help. Food is running short, medicine, supplies. Food prices have skyrocketed because of the cut off in supplies. More people are being malnourished and pushed to the brink of starvation. There’s 7 million people according to the UN that are on the brink of famine right now.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Mark, this issue just begs the question: Why isn’t Senate acting more quickly on this? And if they did invoke their powers and act on this, that just means that they will stop providing logistical support, not necessarily stop selling arms to the Saudis. I imagine the military industrial lobby in Congress is pretty heavy, has a lot to do with why this resolution isn’t binding, has a lot to do with why Congress isn’t invoking the War Powers Act.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, a lot of it is even more than the arms industry. It’s the Trump administration and their geostrategic holds in the region. They’re saying that the people that they’re bombing are the insurgents they’re trying to defeats. The Houthis are aligned with Iran, and they are … so of course they’re getting aid from Iran, so they’re portraying and they’re going to do that when it comes to the Senate as a fight against Iran and Irani interference even thought it’s an indigenous group. For them, it’s a power struggle, and for the Saudis too. The Saudis want the U.S. to intervene, to reassert the dominance of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East against Iran. That’s the real power struggle going on, and that’s why there really has to be a negotiated solution. I think if the U.S. does cut off its refueling and targeting aid, the Saudis could be forced to the negotiating table.
SHARMINI PERIES: If it is what you say, which is partly to prop up Saudi Arabia in the region as the region of power as opposed to Iran, does the administration have the right to go about doing that at the cost of this kind of humanitarian disaster?
MARK WEISBROT: Of course, there’s no right to do any of this stuff. These are, as the New York Times said, these are actual war crimes. They are literally starving the whole population to force the people that they’re opposing to give in. Of course, it’s illegal under international law, but it’s horrific. As I said, it’s the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and this is one of the ways we can stop it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves in the U.S., in the media overall internationally, but it’s getting a lot more. Again, if people, all these groups, you know there’s a lot of groups been working on this. The peace groups, the anti-war groups, the humanitarian groups. Groups like Code Pink, Win Without War, the Friends Committee on National Legislation. People can contact any of these groups and in terms of how they influence their members of Congress. This is I think the best hope of putting an end to this war before thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands and millions of people die as a result.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, thank you so much for joining us and bringing us this resolution to light for discussion.
MARK WEISBROT: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here The Real News Network.


As US Fuels War Crimes in Yemen, House Says US Involvement is Unauthorized
Posted on November 19, 2017 by Jerri-Lynn Scofield
Jerri-Lynn here: This Real News Network interview with Mike Weisbrot discusses the non-binding resolution the House of Representatives passed last week concerning the unauthorized role of the United States in the war in Yemen. This Saudi war has triggered an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe, including a cholera epidemic and widespread hunger and starvation. No end to the crisis is in sight.
Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. and  author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015), co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000). He writes a column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 550 newspapers by the Tribune Content Agency and his opinion pieces have appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is getting increasingly dire every day. On Thursday, the directors of the World Health Organization, WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the UNICEF, and the World Food Program issued a joint statement urging Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade on Yemen. Last Monday, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution with a vote of 366 to 30 calling attention to the U.S.’s unauthorized role in the war in Yemen. The ongoing Saudi war in Yemen has already killed over 10,000 Yemenis. Another 50,000 children could die before the end of the year from starvation according to the organization Save the Children.
Also, about 20 million Yemenis are in the need of humanitarian assistance and over 900,000 have been infected by cholera, the largest such outbreak the world has seen in decades. Joining me now to discuss the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and is the author of Failed What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. He’s also president of Just Foreign Policy. He joins us today from Washington, D.C. Mark, good to have you back.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, you’ve been closely following the House resolution on U.S. involvement in Yemen. What exactly does this resolution do to stop the U.S. involvement in Yemen?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, it was intended to do that. However, the sponsors of the resolution were unable to do that because the Republicans were able to use the Rules Committee to block them from doing that, so they ended up as a compromise, a non-binding resolution. It doesn’t actually cut off the U.S. role, involvement in the war, which is refueling the Saudi planes and helping them target bombing targets with intelligence and so on. What it did do though was two very important things. One, is that they had a little bit of a debate for the first time in the House, and they had also, they were able to force the U.S. military to admit their role there. Then, the resolution declares that that role is unauthorized.
Those were two really big things, and it was as big step towards cutting off this aid. I think the reason that the Republicans agreed to this … As you mentioned, there was an overwhelming vote, was because they really don’t want a full and open debate. They don’t want this to become a real political and possibly electoral issue, I mean a big issue. That’s what they’re afraid of because it’s completely indefensible. That’s very important I think. The details are kind of important for people to know because there’s a real chance of stopping this terrible war, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
SHARMINI PERIES: By adopting this resolution so quickly, which is non-binding from what I understand, this essentially stopped debate and discussion in Congress about this.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, no, because the next step is going to go to the Senate. In the Senate, somebody’s going to introduce a companion resolution, and then they’ll have another fight over this. This has set the stage for that, and that’s very important. The Senate is closer. For example, there was a vote in June on cutting off some of the arms sales through Saudi Arabia and it only failed by a margin of 53 to 47, and there were five Democrats who voted the wrong way. If you could get four of them to switch and you could even pick up, there are Republicans you could pick up like Flake and Corker for example who have been very critical of the Trump administration, extremely vocal. It is possible to have the binding resolution in the Senate.
This is all based on the War Powers Act or the War Powers Resolution as it’s called, which says that a member of Congress when the U.S. is militarily involved somewhere, a member without authorization from Congress, a member of Congress can demand a for vote and get it on this military involvement; a debate and a for vote. That’s the next step in this Senate.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Mark, so we sell arms to Saudi Arabia. We are providing logistical support, which is things like on-air fueling of the airplanes that are bombing Yemen. We also assisting them in terms of targeted bombings and creating this enormous humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Why is this resolution non-binding?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, that’s because they didn’t have enough power in this last week to force the binding resolution. I mean, theoretically, they could have come back over and over again. I think that’s what the Republicans were afraid of, so they reached this compromise in order to get something fast so then they could move on to the Senate. Also, to get it on the record that what the U.S. was really doing there, and that is was unauthorized. You do see some media responses. For example, this week the New York Times had an editorial from its Editorial Board saying that the Saudis were trying to starve Yemen into submission, calling it a war crime and specifying that the U.S. was involved in this war crime. This is something I’ve never seen in the New York Times where the New York Times Editorial Board to say, and I’m pretty sure it’s never happened before. That the U.S. was actually involved, militarily involved in the perpetration of wars crimes while it’s actually happening.
There’s a lot of opposition building. There’s opposition in Congress, and I think this is the way this war is going to end. I emphasize it’s not just because I care about this a lot, but also because historically this is pretty much the main way that foreign policy has been changed. In 2013, you remember when the Congress wouldn’t vote for President Obama’s attempt to bomb Syria. You can go back to the 1980s when the Congress cut off aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. These are the times when you can actually change something. This shows, really it’s amazing, because this is a House of Representatives that’s controlled by the Republicans and still they were able to force this vote and force the military through the hearings to admit what they were doing, and then to push it. Now they’re going to push it further in the Senate.
If people contact their members of Congress and especially their senators now, the members of Congress can also and are going to be trying to persuade the senators, so both of them. I think that could really be the beginning of the end of this war. It’s really urgent, you know, because as you mentioned the humanitarian groups, the UN are saying that really millions of people are at risk and people are dying there every day.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, if the United Nations and so many agencies within the United Nations has come out berating Saudi Arabia for this blockade and not allowing humanitarian aid, stopping the landing of aid, cargo from arriving in Yemen, and if members of Congress are so opposed to the U.S. support for Saudi war in Yemen as the vote we discussed reflects, 366 to 30, why not stop it by invoking the War Powers Act, and how could that unfold in Congress?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think the next place it could unfold is in the Senate, it will be the same strategy, using the War Powers Resolution to force a debate and vote. That’s a debate where in the Senate it’s closer as I mentioned. It could be cut off. I think it’s become much more urgent in the last couple weeks, even more. It was always terribly urgent because as you mentioned, 900,000 people have gotten cholera and now you’re … they’re cutting off, in the last two weeks, they’re cutting off supplies again. Hodeida, which is the port that gets something like 80% of the imports is now blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition again with U.S. help. Food is running short, medicine, supplies. Food prices have skyrocketed because of the cut off in supplies. More people are being malnourished and pushed to the brink of starvation. There’s 7 million people according to the UN that are on the brink of famine right now.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Mark, this issue just begs the question: Why isn’t Senate acting more quickly on this? And if they did invoke their powers and act on this, that just means that they will stop providing logistical support, not necessarily stop selling arms to the Saudis. I imagine the military industrial lobby in Congress is pretty heavy, has a lot to do with why this resolution isn’t binding, has a lot to do with why Congress isn’t invoking the War Powers Act.
MARK WEISBROT: Well, a lot of it is even more than the arms industry. It’s the Trump administration and their geostrategic holds in the region. They’re saying that the people that they’re bombing are the insurgents they’re trying to defeats. The Houthis are aligned with Iran, and they are … so of course they’re getting aid from Iran, so they’re portraying and they’re going to do that when it comes to the Senate as a fight against Iran and Irani interference even thought it’s an indigenous group. For them, it’s a power struggle, and for the Saudis too. The Saudis want the U.S. to intervene, to reassert the dominance of Israel and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East against Iran. That’s the real power struggle going on, and that’s why there really has to be a negotiated solution. I think if the U.S. does cut off its refueling and targeting aid, the Saudis could be forced to the negotiating table.
SHARMINI PERIES: If it is what you say, which is partly to prop up Saudi Arabia in the region as the region of power as opposed to Iran, does the administration have the right to go about doing that at the cost of this kind of humanitarian disaster?
MARK WEISBROT: Of course, there’s no right to do any of this stuff. These are, as the New York Times said, these are actual war crimes. They are literally starving the whole population to force the people that they’re opposing to give in. Of course, it’s illegal under international law, but it’s horrific. As I said, it’s the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, and this is one of the ways we can stop it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves in the U.S., in the media overall internationally, but it’s getting a lot more. Again, if people, all these groups, you know there’s a lot of groups been working on this. The peace groups, the anti-war groups, the humanitarian groups. Groups like Code Pink, Win Without War, the Friends Committee on National Legislation. People can contact any of these groups and in terms of how they influence their members of Congress. This is I think the best hope of putting an end to this war before thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands and millions of people die as a result.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, thank you so much for joining us and bringing us this resolution to light for discussion.
MARK WEISBROT: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here The Real News Network.


5. Mass Turnout at Hillsborough School Board Meeting

Imagine a thousand people turning out for a school board meeting. People are stirred up. They have reason to be. Read League member Pat Hall’s testimony at the November 14th meeting. by Pat Hall

Thirteen hundred teachers, children and others attended this meeting, more than ever in the history of Hillsborough County! Salary negotiations have broken down, promises made and not kept, the budget is strained and nerves are frayed. I spoke because four more charter schools were on the agenda for school board approval adding 4404 students in the next 5 years. We’ve asked for an estimate of FTE (full time equivalent) dollars; approximately $7,178 per student per school year that will fly to these four charters as well as PECO (public education capital outlay) dollars lost to traditional schools by the addition of four more charters.

My goal in this statement was to wake up parents and the public to this boondoggle. “The management company for SLAM (Sports Leadership Management Academy) – proposed to teach 2750 children in two buildings is Academica. Academica is under multiple year federal investigation the last I checked. Eric Fresen was Chair of the Education Committee of the Florida Legislature for 8 years. Fresen is the brother-in-law of Academica owner Fernando Zulueta. Fresen is now in jail for fraud and tax evasion. He did not file returns the 8 years he was in the Legislature. Newpoint Company (for-profit management charter co.) has been indicted in Escambia County on fraud charges including Pinellas, Duval and the closing of Newpoint High in Hillsborough County in 2013.

The charter friendly atmosphere here changed immediately after the firing of Mrs. Elia. Tom Gonzales and Jenna Hodgens (H.C. Director of Charter Schools) had a strong case against Kids Community Charter school in Brandon and it was dropped at the request of Mr. Eakins and the Board (chaired by Susan Valdes in 2015).

Statewide 2.7 million traditional students attend public schools. Hillsborough County has 215,000 students including 22,500 in charters. Charter schools represent 10 to 11 % of school aged children in Florida but have grabbed the lion’s share of PECO funds for years. Most for profit charters have been built in the last seven years. The average age of individual schools in Hillsborough County is fifty years. The dramatic shift to charter schools was orchestrated in the legislature by convicted felon Eric Fresen and his very wealthy pals –Jon Hage, owner Charter Schools USA and F. Zulueta, owner of Academica. Research done by Noah Pransky of WTSP, CBS Channel 10 in August, 2014 proved millions of dollars had been stuffed in the pockets of legislators to influence their votes. Governor Scott took $50,000 in 2014 from Hage. In 2014 and 2016 in election contributions we documented, at least three current school board members have taken money from numerous for profit charter school owners, developers and real estate affiliated companies.

One board member took a five day long trip to Miami to visit SLAM there at taxpayer expense of over $1,200. Why 5 days? Why no limits on school board travel when the budget is so tight? This board member collected $13,000 from charter school operators.

Large for profit managed charters receive millions of FTE dollars as do traditional schools based on enrollment. While 86% of traditional school money is spent on instruction, our investigation has proven that large for profit managed charters spend 45 to 48% of FTE on classroom instruction and teachers. The owners take 42-50% of our taxpayer dollars for management fees and real estate leases and rent fees.

When these schools close or go out of business –these buildings we have paid for remain the property of the charter school owners! In Hillsborough County we have authorized 123 schools since 1997 (under Jeb Bush, Governor). We now have 51 open-7 consolidated like Pepin Academy- but 65 never opened or have closed. What are taxpayers choices?

LISTEN