PNN - Ain’t no Cure for the Summertime Views
Jennifer Rubella - Environment Florida
Anna Eskamani - Planned Parenthood
Kim Ross - ReThink Energy
Bryan Thompson - Sueno - Dreamers
1. Debbie has a Change of Heart
After months of public pressure and a stiff primary challenge from her left, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) reversed her position on payday lending Thursday.
Hours after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unveiled first-ever federal rules for the loans on Thursday, Wasserman Schultz issued a written statement praising the agency’s work on Facebook. “I stand with the CFPB in its efforts to protect Americans from predatory lending,” she wrote. “After reviewing the proposed rule, it is clear to me that the CFPB strikes the right balance and I look forward to working with my constituents and consumer groups as the CFPB works towards a final rule.”
Wasserman Schultz has been a close ally of the predatory industry for years, dating back to her time in the Florida statehouse around the turn of the century. But it wasn’t until this spring, when the official leader of the Democratic party used her heft within the caucus to urge other Democrats to help ensure payday lenders could evade regulation nationwide, that her long advocacy for 400 percent interest rates and endless debt traps for the working poor became a political liability.
In December, Wasserman Schultz signed onto legislation that would have cut up the CFPB’s rules before they were even issued. The influential Democrat went further, circulating a memo urging other House Democrats to support that same bill.
The premise of H.R. 4018 was that the CFPB rules should not be allowed to trump existing state legislation. Leading proponents of the bill argued repeatedly that Florida’s own payday lending law was a “gold standard” for regulating payday lending. It is nothing of the sort, as the data about consumer outcomes in Florida proves. Borrowers face average costs twice as high in Florida as in Colorado, where rules are more strict but payday lending is still allowed. Floridians face an average annual interest rate of 304 percent, compared to 121 percent since Colorado’s reforms.
Wasserman Schultz’s Thursday statement tried to bury her very recent history of seeking to pre-empt the CFPB’s rules. “From the outset of this process, I have said that I trust the CFPBto do what’s right for consumers,” the statement says.
As of Friday afternoon, Wasserman Schultz is still a co-sponsor of the legislation that was explicitly premised on the idea that the CFPB rules would be less good for consumers than Florida’s law. While the law has not moved in committee and is likely functionally dead, it could still theoretically be revived late this year as part of widely anticipated Republican attacks on the agency and the rules. The chairwoman’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Between her work on H.R. 4018 and her tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the payday lending industry, the six-term House veteran has been feeling the heat back home. TV and billboard advertising labeled her “Debt Trap Debbie.”
Bernie Sanders helped raise money for Tim Canova, who is the first primary challenger Wasserman Schultz has ever faced. Canova faces long odds of unseating the powerful chairwoman. But he’s won high-profile union endorsements, and Sanders’ fundraising support has given him a large campaign war chest.
Prominent progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also appeared to take shots at the Chairwoman, both when the news of her support for H.R. 4018 broke and when the CFPB rules dropped Thursday.
2. KAYAKING Shell’s BackSide
We just kicked Shell’s butt with an armada of activists in kayaks that successfully blockaded Shell’s Puget Sound tanker terminal for 3 days.
Shell wants to build one of the largest oil train tanker terminals on Earth at its Puget Soundrefinery, bringing mile-long trains full of explosive crude and dirty Tar Sands up along the shores of the Puget Sound. Shell admits it expects at least 1 derailment every few years.
Just last month, when hundreds of kayaktivists took to the water to block Shell's oil tankers at their Puget Sound refinery, Shell freaked out; cancelling every single oil tanker coming into their refinery for three days. That’s the power of kayaktivism.
3. Whistle Blower using them, protecting them… not so much
The irony is the FBI relies on informants to fight crime.
Yet when it comes to in-house wrongdoing, the nation’s most celebrated law enforcement agency too often punishes its own whistleblowers.
Legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee aims to fix that. A committee report issued last week outlines how an agency charged with capturing the bad guys can take action against employees who expose bad deeds within the organization.
“Whistleblowers play a critical role in keeping our government efficient and honest, yet they also risk retaliation from their employers, sometimes being demoted, reassigned, or fired as a result of their actions,” says the report issued in support of the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
The legislation seeks to expand reporting opportunities for whistleblowers, improve what the committee calls “the lengthy and opaque adjudication process” and strengthen protection for employees who expose agency waste, fraud and abuse. They need protection from managers seeking revenge.
The uninitiated can be excused if they think managers always welcome those disclosures. While Uncle Sam talks a good game about combating waste, fraud and abuse in his operations, stories about management reprisals against those who report internal wrongdoing abound across the government. The situation at the FBI is compounded because its limited list of appropriate and protected places for employees to report issues includes the attorney general, but not their own supervisors. In a rational world, they would be the first to be told.
“This has left protections for FBI whistleblowers inferior to those of other Executive Branch employees …” the report said. “Unlike all other Executive Branch employees, including employees in the intelligence communit … FBI employees enjoy no legal protection for making reports of wrongdoing to supervisors or others in their chain of command.”
The legislation would correct that.
The FBI apparently is fine with including supervisors, now. The report says FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice Inspector General “endorsed providing protections for employees who report wrongdoing to their supervisor.”
But that wasn’t the story when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a report last year on the need to improve retaliation complaint procedures. It found the FBI did not include supervisors on the list in part because of “concerns about the additional resources and time needed to handle a possible increase in complaints if DOJ added supervisors.”
At the same time, the agency encouraged whistleblower complaints to supervisors, according to the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Judiciary Committee.
“FBI employees have long faced vague and confusing rules for how to properly disclose problems because of the FBI’s unusual exemption from the normal whistleblower protections for other federal employees,” Grassley said. “The confusion and lack of an independent process has landed too many people in hot water for simply telling the truth.”
One of those employees is Darin Jones. He said he was fired from his supervisory position after his whistleblower disclosures on improper procurement and other issues. He fought his termination, but because his disclosures were to his supervisor and not to one of the nine individuals or offices on the approved list, Jones was not protected from management retribution. His appeal continues and he hopes this new legislation will benefit his case, which has dragged on for almost four years.
The report “plainly and unambiguously provides Congress’s intent that disclosures made to supervisors are to be protected,” Jones said. He pointed to report language that says the legislation, upon enactment, “applies to pending complaints.” That should include his.
The FBI would not comment on the legislation or individual whistleblowers. “The FBI will not tolerate reprisals or intimidation by any FBI employee against those who make protected disclosures, nor tolerate attempts to prevent employees from making such disclosures,” an agency statement said.
In an earlier interview, Grassley said Jones is “a perfect example of what’s wrong with the FBI whistleblower regulations and the fact that we need legislation so that FBI [workforce] is protected just like every other whistleblower in the executive branch of government.”
Members of that workforce now get little protection, if statistics in the GAO report are any indication. If they get any, it can take a long time.
GAO reviewed all 62 complaints about retaliation against whistleblowers closed from 2009 through 2013 “and found that the Department ruled in favor of the whistleblower in just three instances,” less than 5 percent of the cases, the Senate report said. “These three cases lasted from just over eight years to 10.6 years.”
“We have heard of numerous instances in which FBI employees who report waste, fraud, or abuse were not afforded whistleblower protections,” Leahy said. “This has to change.”
4. Planned Parenthood - PUSH’m Back, PUSH’m Back… Way Back
Planned Parenthood asks court to block Florida abortion bill
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a federal district court to block restrictions on abortions signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Rick Scott.
The bill is similar to legislation being challenged in court in other states, including Texas. State and federal laws already prohibit public money for abortion, but Florida's bill goes a step further by preventing any state funds from going to any service by an organization that also provides abortions. It also requires that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, or that the clinic have a patient transfer agreement.
Planned Parenthood officials said in a statement that the restrictions, which are scheduled to go into effect July 1, would bar access to birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and other care for thousands of patients, including a large number of low-income and minority women who have historically faced systemic barriers in accessing quality health care.
The law is expected to affect a half-dozen clinics, including Planned Parenthood facilities that serve the poor under Medicaid and other federal programs.
"We are in court because everyone deserves access to quality, affordable, compassionate care no matter who you are or where you are from. Let's call this what it is: an attack on people who already have the least access to care, all in the name of politics," said Barbara A. Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
The organization said it's the 16th lawsuit it has filed across the country in an attempt to protect care at its health centers, saying it provides services for more than 67,000 patients each year, including more than 11,000 Latinos.
The lawsuit comes as more than a dozen states have sought to halt or reduce public funding for Planned Parenthood.
Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said they were reviewing the lawsuit.
5. A former senior U.S. general again calls for abolishing the nuclear forces he once commanded
President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima on Friday—in a symbolic effort to close some very old wounds from America’s first nuclear detonation. In a much-anticipated speech, Obama declared that “we have a shared responsibility to look directly in the eye of history," learn from it and “pursue a world without” nuclear weapons.
But for 76-year-old retired Air Force General George Lee Butler, a country boy from rural Mississippi who once had his finger on the trigger for thousands of nuclear warheads more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, Obama and the rest of Washington are moving far too slowly towards a denuclearization; indeed, he believes the devastation that unfolded there is still a haunting vision of what could happen in the future.
Butler is a former bomber pilot who in 1994, after retiring from a position as commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, made the highly unusual and controversial decision to renounce his lifelong profession of preparing for cataclysmic conflict and publicly embrace the abolition of nuclear arms on the grounds that they are “immoral and therefore anathema to societies premised on the sanctity of life.”
Butler says that while he is cheered by Obama’s rhetorical embrace of denuclearization and by the agreement to cap nuclear arsenals that the president reached with the Russians in 2010, he is generally chagrined that the two largest nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, have missed opportunities to move towards much smaller nuclear arsenals and to limit the risks of a surprise or accidental nuclear attack.
In a new memoir, Butler writes that “any sense of urgency for further reductions has been lost” in part because the United States has mishandled its relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin, he writes, “is the thuggish and entirely predictable embodiment of a Russia wounded badly in pride and stature” due to some mistakes Washington has made. Russia is still far from “a great rather a feared nation, and like my own country, it is still held in thrall by nuclear weapons,” he says.
6.Ferguson Protesters Being Arrested Under Unconstitutional Law
Worse: No Notification Is Given So They May Face Re-Arrest
ST. LOUIS — Officials in St. Louis County have issued warrants for the arrest of at least 47 individuals charged in connection with the August 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, a Huffington Post review of court records has found. But the law that county officials are using to prosecute those protesters — some of whom were originally arrested while standing on the sidewalk — should have come off the books in 1987, when the Supreme Court struck down a similar ordinance as unconstitutional.
It gets worse: Because St. Louis County doesn’t notify people in person that they’ve been charged with municipal violations — it simply mails letters to their last known address — many of the protesters likely never learned they had been charged and will have missed their court dates. Now they could wind up in jail the next time they encounter a police officer.
In the nearly 22 months since a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, St. Louis County has changed — a bit. Municipal courts, many of which served as major revenue generators for small municipal governments, have come under closer scrutiny and face a new state law that limits the amount of money the cities can collect. Ferguson reached a deal with the Justice Department to help bring an end to unconstitutional abuses that plagued its police department and municipal court. The city’s police force is now led by the first permanent African-American chief in its history. And Stephanie Karr, a Ferguson official who aggressively pursued questionable cases against protesters in Ferguson Municipal Court, recently resigned her post.
But the county’s decision to issue arrest warrants for dozens of protesters charged under a law that’s probably unconstitutional shows that it still has a long way to go.
During and after the 2014 protests sparked by Brown’s death, St. Louis County arrested a number of people under Missouri’s “failure to disperse” law, which forbids knowingly failing or refusing to obey a lawful command to leave an unlawful assembly or riot. Over the course of 12 days that August, at least 125 people were arrested on that charge, according to records provided by St. Louis County authorities at the time.
Many of the situations in which protesters were arrested, however, did not meet the legal standard for an unlawful assembly or a riot. Officers threatened to arrest individuals who stood peacefully on sidewalks during daytime hours, a federal judge found in October 2014 in a case that challenged the practices used by law enforcement agencies in Ferguson. The judge said that policymakers knew that such people couldn’t lawfully be arrested and that the policy “was being used against peaceful citizens,” but officials “did not stop the practice.” Law enforcement agencies, including the St. Louis County Police Department, lost that case, leading to an injunction against unlawful arrests and putting taxpayers on the hook for more than $152,000 in attorney fees.
It was an expensive lesson — though not one fully learned. Instead of backing down from those protester cases, St. Louis County officials pursued a perverse response.
Like Karr, the former Ferguson prosecutor and city attorney, officials in the St. Louis County Counselor’s Office play two sometimes-conflicting roles: They protect the local government from lawsuits, but also prosecute low-level cases in the equivalent of traffic court. That creates an incentive to bring low-level charges against people who might sue the county — charges that the county can then drop when plaintiffs agree not to sue.
The failure-to-disperse law was no longer going to work for that purpose. So the county changed its strategy. Last summer, just before the statute of limitations was set to expire, it issued new charges against at least 95 protesters under its “interference” statute, which makes it unlawful to “interfere in any manner with a police officer or other employee of the County in the performance of his official duties or to obstruct him in any manner whatsoever while performing any duty.”
The county also charged two reporters — The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and The Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly, one of the authors of this story — with trespassing and interference in connection with their arrests inside a McDonald’s in Ferguson. The county dropped those charges last month — after Lowery and Reilly promised not to sue. Officials in the St. Louis County Counselor’s Office have made similar agreements to drop charges in exchange for commitments not to sue in at least two other cases.
The interference law, which is the target of an ongoing lawsuit, is almost certainly unconstitutional. It is strikingly similar to a ordinance struck down by the Supreme Court in 1987, when the high court ruled that the freedom to verbally oppose or challenge police action without risking arrest “is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”
Other courts have enforced this precedent. Nevada’s Supreme Court, for example, recently ruled that Carson City’s interference ordinance was too broad and therefore unconstitutional, and a federal judge struck down a similar Columbia, South Carolina, ordinance in 2013.
The interference statute isn’t the only problem with St. Louis County’s strategy. It’s also charging many of the protesters in the wrong court.
People arrested in Ferguson should have been charged in the city’s own municipal court. But the county is prosecuting many of them in the St. Louis County Municipal Court, which has jurisdiction only over ordinance violations committed in unincorporated parts of the county.
St. Louis County has argued that the lawyers in the County Counselor’s Office have “special skills or training that are needed to provide services during an emergency or disaster” and can therefore bring charges they would not normally bring — even months after an emergency ends. Part-time judges like Craig Concannon — who was appointed by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger after donating over $20,000 to Stenger’s campaign — have bought that argument.
Despite these constitutional and jurisdictional problems, St. Louis County officials have pressed forward — first with the interference charges, and now with arrest warrants. One of those protesters, Rashaad Davis, was the subject of an award-winning photo taken just before his arrest as he backed away from heavily armed officers, who had their weapons pointed at him (see another angle on that moment above). Authorities alleged in a court document that he “interfered” with the police officers who took him into custody when he repeatedly “failed to comply with officers’ lawful commands to dispurse [sic] from the area.” A college student who caught her own arrest on video as officers unlawfully told her to “keep moving” along a sidewalk in Ferguson during daylight hours is also still facing charges.
St. Louis County officials are reluctant to answer questions about their legal strategy. St. Louis County Counselor Peter Krane, who said he would get back in touch with a HuffPost reporter who called more than a week ago, has not responded to several additional inquiries about the ongoing cases.
And the St. Louis County Municipal Court, which seems to operate more like an executive branch office than an independent judicial agency, made a HuffPost reporter submit written public-records requests in order to review filings in court cases. Court records are typically open for public examination. Court officials also made it difficult to access court dockets for individuals arrested on interference charges and withheld the full dockets in some cases, obscuring what actually happened in court.
As with other overly broad interference laws that give police too much discretion, the St. Louis County ordinance will likely be struck down eventually. But Maggie Ellinger-Locke, a lawyer suing on behalf of individuals charged under that ordinance, said arguments in the case, which the county has already been dragging out, will not take place until Sept. 1. That will allow the county, she said, to “continue enforcing their unconstitutional ordinance through summer” while facing “no penalty for their significant delay.”
In the meantime, Ferguson protesters who have warrants out for their arrest and are worried they may be jailed have another option: They can pay St. Louis County to recall the warrants. That’ll be $300, please.
7.Anti-Fracking Day 6/7/16
8. Poroshenko appoints anti-Russia NATO fanatic as special advisor
Ukraine’s president has appointed a former Nato secretary general as a special adviser, drawing a derisive reaction from Russia. Petro Poroshenko announced on Friday the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark who was Nato secretary general from 2009 to 2014.
MPs in Russia, which has viewed Nato’s eastward expansion as a security threat, were quick to speak out against the appointment. “This is of course in large part a gesture, but it’s a gesture that will be backed up by actions. And it’s a hostile gesture,” Leonid Kalashnikov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, told Interfax.
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, called Rasmussen’s appointment a “ostentatious show” with no “military or even practical purpose”. He likened it to Ukraine’s appointment of the former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now governor of Odessa, and other foreigners.
“All this buffoonery serves one goal: to keep Ukraine in the centre of attention with its western partners at any cost,” Kosachyov said. “Because if this attention weakens, and they suggest that Ukraine engage in solving its own problems and no longer blame Russia or the ‘difficult legacy of the past’, it will be like death for the Kiev regime.”
Kosachyov added that it “isn’t pleasing” that Kiev would consult such an anti-Russian figure as Rasmussen.
On Saturday Poroshenko shared on Facebook an article quoting Kosachyov that was headlined “Russia isn’t pleased with the appointment of Rasmussen as Poroshenko’s adviser”.
On Thursday G7 leaders at a summit in Japan said sanctions against Russia would not be lifted until it fully implemented [sic] the Minsk peace plan for eastern Ukraine.
On Friday Vladimir Putin said Russia could target Romania and Poland for hosting US-led Nato missile defence bases.
“If yesterday in those areas of Romania people simply did not know what it means to be in the crosshairs, then today we will be forced to carry out certain measures to ensure our security,” Putin said at a news conference in Athens with the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.
It is not clear what Rasmussen will focus on in his new position. He said in a Facebook post that he would do his “utmost to promote security and reforms in Ukraine”, including in the fight against corruption. He also called the security situation in eastern Ukraine, where a ceasefire with Russia-backed separatists has been frequently violated, “alarming”. More than 9,300 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2014.
Rasmussen’s appointment in Ukraine and the Russian reaction comes days after the two countries cooperated on a high-profile prisoner exchange. Putin pardoned a Ukrainian pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, while Poroshenko pardoned two Russian soldiers captured in eastern Ukraine.
9. WikiLeaks Exposes Text From Secretly Negotiated TISA Trade Deal
The website WikiLeaks released on Wednesday classified documents from the Trade in Services Agreement, or TISA, which is a huge trade agreement being negotiated in secret by the United States, the European Union and 22 other countries.
The documents include a previously unknown annex to the TISA core chapter on "State Owned Enterprises," which imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and will force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses.
The leaked documents show how stipulations outlined in the TISA documents advanced the "deregulation" of big corporations entering overseas markets.
According to the leaked documents, the TISA rules would also restrict governments’ ability to determine the size or growth of certain economic activities and entities, preventing nations from limiting the size of foreign companies in the market.
"The TISA provisions in their current form will establish a wide range of new grounds for domestic regulations to be challenged by corporations – even those without a local presence in that country," WikiLeaks warned on Wednesday.
The whistleblowing website went on to note that the proposals and language contained in the text promotes what it described as “the corporatization of public services.”
There is growing evidence that the privatization of state-owned companies leads to an increase in costs for consumers. In the 34 OECD countries, for example, the average price for energy charged by private companies is 23.1 percent higher than the price charged by public companies.
Despite these alarming tendencies, the corporatization of public services is justified in the name of improving efficiencies, especially by introducing competition, WikiLeaks wrote in it’s analysis of the TISA annex.
If the proposed TISA measures are approved, several civil society organizations have warned of the potential impacts they may have on national sovereignty and public safety.
The secrecy around the deal and the negotiating process, which gives access to large corporations but largely excludes civil society, has been criticized as an assault on democracy.
The TISA documents are supposed to remain secret for five years after the deal is finalized.
The TISA is one of three international trade deals being negotiated in secret, along with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, trade deal. Collectively, these agreements encompass 75 to 95 percent of global GDP.
10. CCR at 50: Challenging impunity for private military contractors?
Last week we told you about ongoing efforts by CACI Premier Technology to prevent a court from determining its legal responsibility for its role in torture at Abu Ghraib. You may recall, CACI is not claiming it played no role in the “sadistic, blatant and criminal wanton abuses” of our Iraqi clients, but that it cannot be held accountable for its documented role in them. This is hardly the first time a private military contractor has attempted to violate human rights with impunity. In 2007, under the leadership on Michael Ratner, CCR represented Iraqis in two cases against the government contractor Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince for two mass-killings in Baghdad in September 2007. (Watch Michael explain the case and discuss the role that war-time outsourcing had in furthering U.S. imperialist interests, particularly in the absence of a draft.)
Within weeks of the notorious Nisoor Square shooting, in which 17 civilians were killed and more were injured when Blackwater shooters opened fire on civilians, Michael and co-counsel had filed a case, arguing that “Blackwater cannot be allowed to continue operating extra-legally, providing mercenaries who flout all kinds of law.” In both cases Blackwater argued that, because they are not “state actors” they cannot be bound by international law. Just as in Al Shimari, this would mean that private corporations have more leeway to commit serious human rights violations than governments do. The cases further alleged that Blackwater had created and fostered a culture of lawlessness amongst its employees, encouraging them to act in the company’s financial interests at the expense of innocent human life, and routinely deployed heavily-armed “shooters” in the streets of Baghdad with the knowledge that some of them were chemically influenced by steroids or other judgment-altering substances. If Blackwater—and CACI—had its way, these killings would be untouchable by courts because they were committed by a private corporation. Blackwater’s claims of immunity in its quest for impunity were unsuccessful, and the cases were settled in 2010. The survivors of Nisoor pressed on for more accountability, leading to the successful prosecution of four of the shooters in 2014 and one guilty plea.
In Al Shimari, the appellate court has previously rejected every one of CACI’s attempts to have the case dismissed, and we are optimistic it will reject its latest argument for corporate impunity as well.