In April, 2015, thanks to a public records request by the Columbia River Keeper, Washingtonians learned of crude oil refinery proposed on the Columbia River at the Port of Longview.
The documents made available by the Columbia River Keeper include 1) an overview of the refinery project (headed “Riverside Refining LLC”) presented to the Port of Longview, and 2) a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU was dated July 2014 and signed by Lou Soumas. He was identified as the CEO of Riverside Energy, Inc.
According to the documents, Riverside Energy would own and develop a refinery to be supplied from the Bakken Shale oil fields. Crude oil would arrive in 100 to120 car unit trains at the rate one train every three days. The refinery would produce low-sulfur diesel oil, gasoline and jet fuel. The overview named three individuals as the Riverside “Project Team”: Lou Soumas as CEO, Damon Pistulka as Senior Vice President (SVP) and Chris Efird as Chairman.
Under the MOU, Riverside would have the exclusive right for 180 days to negotiate with the Port of Longview for the use of certain premises, with the intent to enter into a definitive agreement including a 50-year lease by December 31, 2014. The MOU was apparently never signed by the Port of Longview and its current status is unknown. Port of Longview Commissioners have not commented directly on the proposal since it was brought to light this past April.
Riverside Energy, Inc or Riverside Energy LLC or ??
Riverside Refining LLC and/or Riverside Energy Inc proposed a partnership with the Port of Longview to site a new crude oil refinery on the banks of the Columbia River. Should the Port agree to this proposal? The answer to that question would require an evaluation of the material facts —something a reasonable person does before entering into a financial transaction.
Is Riverside Energy—or Riverside Refining—known in the energy field? Do the company’s CEO and principals have a track record of success in the refinery sector? Do they have the ability to raise financing for the project? To answer these questions, we need to know something about Riverside Energy, Inc. (Or is it Riverside Refining, LLC?) And what does the Project Team of Soumas, Pistulka and Efird bring to the table that would justify taking their refinery proposal seriously?
Since there was nothing in the published documents nor any of the news articles that gave information about these individuals or about the corporation they headed, I undertook to find out myself. Corporations must register in the state of their incorporation, so I went to the website of the Washington Secretary of State (SOS), which lists registered corporations in Washington.
Nothing called Riverside Energy, Inc.—or Riverside Refining, LLC—is registered in Washington State. News coverage of the refinery proposal said that Riverside Energy, Inc hailed from Texas. I looked at filings with the Texas Secretary of State: Riverside Energy Inc. was there—listed as “inactive” with a status of “forfeited existence.” None of the other names showed up.
Since nearly half of all public corporations in the United States are incorporated in Delaware, I looked there and found them. Riverside Refining, LLC, incorporated in 2014, was listed. A “Riverside Energy, Inc.” was incorporated in Delaware in 1992, but is shown as “Closed Corp.”
Since corporations are persons…
How do Soumas, Pistulka and Efrid relate to these corporate entities—open or closed? Our Washington State SOS shows the “governing persons” for businesses incorporated here. The Delaware Secretary of State doesn’t offer access to such information. According to a corporate registration agent quoted in a Business Day article, Delaware is the state that requires the least amount of information. David Finzer, Chief Executive of Capital Conservator said “Basically, it requires none. Delaware has the most secret companies in the world and the easiest to form.”
Since I was unable to look into the Riverside listings registered in Delaware for the names of the individuals governing them, I started looking up the team members listed on the 2014 refinery project overview: Soumas, Pistulka and Efird.
The project team members
The overview described the experience of the team members of “Riverside Energy” as follows:
Lou Soumas – CEO, 25 years experience building successful business in a variety of industries. Energy developer since 2006. Extensive Washington State experience.
Chris Efird – Chairman, 20 years experience financing major industrial projects with extensive energy industry connections and experience.
Damon Pistulka – SVP, 25 years of building and operating industrial facilities.
It turns out that all three individuals were involved in a joint venture with a subsidiary that briefly ran a biodiesel plant in Eastern Washington. And that’s not good news.
I started with Damon Pistulka. Google linked him to Evergreen Renewable, LLC and TransMessis Columbia Plateau, LLC.
Evergreen Renewable, LLC filed with the Washington SOS in June 2007 and was still active as of June 30, 2015. The form lists Pistulka as the registered agent; and shows Louis Soumas as a governing person. One address given in the listing appeared nonexistent; the only other address turned out to be a single-family residence owned by Damon C. Pistulka. Evergreen Renewable LLC also showed up on-line as a business partner of a non-profit called Climate Solutions, based in Seattle. I found nothing else about the company.
TransMessis Columbia Plateau, LLC (TCMP) also showed up with the Washington SOS, filed Nov. 1, 2013 and then listed as “inactive” as of March 2015. It listed Pistulka as the registered agent. Another governing person was Joseph Rozelle.
An article in Biodiesel Magazine (November 26, 2013) under the byline “TransMessis Columbia Plateau LLC,” describes TMCP as subsidiary of TransMessis Columbia Renewable Energy—its CEO is Damon Pistulka. The final paragraph of the article explains that TransMessis Columbia Renewable Energy is a joint venture of Evergreen Renewable LLC and Access Global Investments LLC.
Access Global Investments turns out to be Christopher Efird, another member of the project team. Efird is shown on the website of Access Global Investments LLC as Managing Director and CEO. Based on Efird’s stated 20 years experience financing major industrial projects—and given the highly regulated financial world—I expected him to show up under the Financial Institutions Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or be listed by a state Securities Board that issues permits to those involved in the sale of financial securities.
Christopher Efird search in FINRA’s Broker Check returned the response “not licensed.” Under “current registration(s) it said, “The broker is currently not registered with any firm.” I did find Access Global Advisors on the form used by investment advisers to register with the SEC and State authorities. Form ADV was from 2012 and contained the following circuitous statement under “miscellaneous” Schedule D:
“Access Global Advisors, LLC is the Investment Advisor to Access American Investments, LLC. Access America Investments, LLC is the General Partner to Access America Fund, LP. Access America Fund, LP is a ten-year private equity fund that has committed capital of approximately $20 (million). Access Global Advisors has no other clients at this time. Access Global Advisors is wholly owned by Access Global Funds, a Cayman Island exempted company, which is wholly owned by Christopher Efird.”
The form was signed by Joseph Rozelle. Rozelle is in FINRA’s Broker Check: “not licensed” and the same for Access Global Advisors: “not licensed.” In conversations with a staff member at the Texas State Securities Board I learned that neither Christopher Efird nor Joseph Rozelle were permitted by the State of Texas to sell securities in Texas. In addition, I received a packet from that office containing information on the employment histories of both Efird and Rozelle. Neither history has any obvious “extensive energy industry connections,” as suggested in their presentation to the Port of Longview.
Only Louis J. Soumas remained. As a director of Evergreen Renewable LLC, he participated in the joint venture with Access Global Investments to create TransMessis Renewable Energy Inc.—the parent of TransMessis Columbia Plateau LLC (TCP). As signator on the MOU for the proposed crude oil refinery in 2014 he was Louis J. Soumas, Chief Executive Officer of Riverside Energy, Inc. But as noted above, Riverside Energy Inc. is listed as inactive with a forfeited existence in Texas and as a “Closed Corp” in Delaware.
In addition, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, there is no record of Louis J. Soumas as “the registered agent, officer, director, member or general partner for any entity on file.”
Members of the team do have a track record in Washington State
In November 2013, the Odessa Record reported that officials of TransMessis Columbia Plateau had closed on a $6 million deal to restart a biodiesel plant in Lincoln County. The plant would crush up to 300 tons of canola seed and produce up to 10 million gallons of biodiesel. Damon Pistulka was quoted in Biodiesel Magazine: “We are excited to be able to bring the facility back on line and ultimately live up to the expectations of the community. This facility will be a source of 30-plus jobs and markets for the local economy. This is a unique opportunity to start up a facility with a tremendous wealth of knowledge in place from day one.”
The plant apparently opened early in 2014, but TCP officials closed the plant again in July with a promise to open it back up in September. When I asked about this, a reporter at the Record informed me that the plant remains closed and that TCP and its officers are being sued in Lincoln County Superior Court.
On April 2, 2015, Wolfkill Feed and Fertilizer Corporation, a Monroe, Washington company filed suit against TransMessis Columbia Plateau, a Delaware LLC. (Court Case number: 15-2-00023-4).
The complaint states that Damon Pistulka is the CEO of TransMessis Columbia Plateau (TCP), Louis Soumas is the CEO of Evergreen Renewable, LLC and a Director of TCP, Joseph Rozelle is the Chief Financial Officer of TCP and Christopher Efird is the CEO of Access Global Investments, LLC and a Director of TCP.
The complaint alleges that, based on a false credit application signed by Damon Pistulka indicating that TCP had a annual gross income of $49 million dollars and annual net income of $3.8 million dollars, Wolfkill entered into a credit relationship to supply canola seed to the Odessa facility. In April 2014 TCP ceased paying Wolfkill for the seed it received and processed. By the end of July 2014, TCP owed its supplier $1,685,928.64 on unpaid invoices.
The complaint also alleges that, rather than paying its unpaid invoices, TCP diverted revenue to pay compensation to its officers, including Pistulka, Rozelle, Efird and Soumas. The complaint argues that these individuals should not be shielded from liability by their corporate structure.
The Odessa Public Development Authority received a $4.2 million loan from the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture for building, land and equipment. They continue to search for a tenant.
Although the Lincoln County lawsuit has not yet gone to trial and counsel for TransMessis Columbia Plateau LLC denies the allegations, you might think that this record would prompt Longview Port Commissioners and state officials to direct some serious questions to the individuals promoting a new refinery project for Longview. None of this questioning seems to had taken place by April of this year.
Making a crude oil refinery green: From Riverside to Waterside
What is even more extraordinary is the appearance of a more recent document relating to a proposed oil refinery at the Longview Port.
A March 18, 2015 letter from Lou Soumas to the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) and the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance announced that Waterside Energy, Inc. through its subsidiary Riverside Refining LLC, plans to build a refinery to process 30,000 barrels/day of crude oil and—this is new—15,000 barrels of “sustainable seed and vegetable oil.” He also states Waterside Energy, Inc. will be looking for permitting through EFSEC.
First of all, who or what is Waterside Energy Inc? We’ve been down this road before. The March 18 letter from Soumas to EFSEC and the Governor is on stationery that’s blank except for the words “Waterside Energy, Inc.” No address, no contact information, no website. Nothing…just Lou Soumas. Waterside Energy, Inc is not filed with Washington, Delaware, or Texas Secretary of State offices. There is a Waterside Energy, LLC but it was incorporated in Delaware on May 6, 2015 two months after Soumas’ letter.
And just as the corporate name has morphed, so has the description of what the oil refinery will do.
Adding the production of “sustainable seed and vegetable oil used cooking oils” is an obvious attempt to make the proposed crude oil refinery “green” in order to gain the support of the Inslee administration and environmental groups.
This raises the question. How could Mr. Soumas—who as a participant in a joint venture that closed a biodiesel plant in July 2014 and in the same month as CEO of Riverside Energy, Inc with no active corporate status in Texas, propose a crude oil refinery to the Port of Longview, and then in March 2015 as CEO of an unidentified Waterside Energy, Inc—possibly propose a crude oil and cooking oil refinery to State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, the Governor, and the Port of Longview?
What happened to due diligence verifying corporate and leader backgrounds?
Recently released emails indicate that in February 2015 Governor Inslee’s Commerce Department Director, Brian Bonlender, was introducing Soumas to state officials, Inslee’s Executive Policy team and to leaders of the non-profit group Climate Solutions so they could learn about the refinery.
On February 26, 2015, Commerce Director Bonlender set up a meeting at his Seattle office for Lou Soumas. The subject of the meeting was “Riverside Energy Project.” Port of Longview officials were invited as well as Inslee policy staff members. On February 27, Keith Phillips, Inslee’s Special Assistant on Energy and Climate invited Soumas to brief “the state’s clean fuels team.” March 18, 2015, as we have seen, Soumas, sent his letter to EFSEC about his oil refinery, now including a bio fuels component.
It’s quite possible that the Inslee Administration is in full support of this oil refinery proposal indicated by the high level of legitimacy given to Lou Soumas by Director Bonlender and Special Assistant Keith Phillips. While Bonlender and Phillips’ direct communication with the Port of Longview officials is unknown at this time, their legitimating of Lou Soumas must send a strong signal to the Port’s Commissioners.
On May 29, 2015, Port of Longview spokesperson Ashley Helenberg revealed in The Daily News press story that Riverside had passed “an initial review” and could move to the negotiation stage.
While Ms. Helenberg mentioned Riverside rather than Waterside in the article, it seems any corporate name, fictional or otherwise, will do.
Either way, due diligence isn’t necessary when the (fuel) fix is in.
Dan Leahy is Chief Executive Officer of Westside Refining LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of CEOsComeFirst. He knows Bakken crude is green and BNSF oil trains are safe. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If the email doesn’t work, just ask Director Bonlender to set up a meeting. More importantly, Dan has very cool stationery.
A festive event (on multiple occasions)
During Evergreen’s commencement ceremonies this year, I happened to be seated next to a young Italian mother, her two kids and her South-American husband. It was her first time observing an American college graduation and she was surprised by the festive tone of the event manifested in the funky music played by the band, the multiple food stands touting hot-dogs, lemonade, or healthier vegan edible merchandise, as well as the casual irreverence of the sartorial statements of some of the graduates. Not willing to engage too much in a cultural studies type of conversation I offered a blanket evasive statement: “Hai ragione, ma questa é l’America.” (You are right, but this is the United States).
Of course she knew our geographic location and the cultural implications of the territory; nonetheless, she continued to point out the differences between the unctuous formality, or in some cases complete lack of eventfulness (some universities just mail your degree on completion) of European or Latin American institutions versus the casual cheerfulness we were witnessing at Evergreen’s Red Square. But most importantly, besides the celebratory elements of American graduations, our European observer was shocked by their frequency. Just the previous week she had attended her own daughter’s kindergarten graduation ceremonies, as well as another graduation ceremony for a junior high class in Seattle.
Commencement ceremonies from kindergarten to advanced degrees do seem to occur in the United States at a more frequent rate and at shorter academic intervals than in other countries around the world. Perhaps this cultural need for continuous celebration—or ‘acts of nurturing’—as noted by the New York Times critic Heather Havrilesky discussing Julie Lithcott-Haimes’ “How to Raise and Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare your Kid for Success”, is due to the tremendous insecurity of “global capitalist culture, with its unbending fixation on prosperity and the future”. Americans, according Havrilesky, seem to understand success in life as one continuous chain of tangible accomplishments. If these events do not happen, then life will culminate in failure. Consequently, we do celebrate graduations in America as often as we can, as if each ceremonial act, independently of the age of the student or academic complexity of the degree, will provide us some reassurance that a new accomplishment is in place, paving the way to financial prosperity and therefore the avoidance of what is perceived as an existential catastrophe. This delusion is aggravated by an educational system that particularly from grades K-12 presents no major difficulties for continuous promotion to the next grade regardless of academic qualifications.
Plastics and the end of poverty
In 1967, the year the iconic American movie The Graduate was filmed, Lyndon Baines Johnson, then president of the Unites States, noticed in his Economic Report to Congress that “in purely material terms, most Americans are better off than ever before”, and in the section called “Helping the Disadvantaged” he pointed out that “The United States is the first nation in the history of the world wealthy enough to end poverty within its borders”. Needless to say, within the current optic of massive inequality in the nation, neither of those two statements holds true. 98% of Americans are in a precarious condition especially when compared with the wealthy 2%. Although it is true that the Unites States remains wealthy enough to end poverty within its borders (and beyond), poverty has not ended but continues to grow as does economic and social inequality in the nation.
The optimism of American capitalism during the Johnson administration is pathetically reflected in one of the scenes of The Graduate when the character (Benjamin) played by Dustin Hoffman, after finishing college, is given a welcome home/graduation party by his upper middle class parents. Mr. McGuire, a close family friend and business partner, offers the perplexed Benjamin the following unsolicited advice about the future post- graduation:
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly what do you mean?
If plastics symbolized the favorite child of technology at the time, and also the materialist values transmitted from one senior member of a class to an upcoming junior, then, in as a point of reference, what where the values transmitted by the Evergreen Authorities and keynote speaker to the large group of Evergreen Graduates during this year’s commencement ceremonies? What ideological messages were permeating their speeches?
The Evergreen College as reality
It is safe to assume, although there may be significant exceptions, that the latest cohort of Evergreen Graduates is less perplexed and disoriented about the future than Benjamin was in 1967; if anything, first due to their economic background (68 percent of students during the academic year 2013-2014 received some form of financial aid in the form of loans, scholarships, and grants), added to the factor that a large number of students belong to the Evening Program (near between 400 and 500 students who work during the day and/or have family responsibilities) and therefore have eaten of a different tree of knowledge; and finally, the academic experiences like the ones described by professor Lawrence Mosqueda in this issue. All these place Evergreen students in a more advantageous position to understand social reality and elucidate their future—to the extent that the future allows itself to be elucidated.
Parallel to this, nationwide, those who graduated from college in the last decade or so lack the ‘cultural optimism’ of previous generations regarding the possibilities of getting hired in their area of expertise and being paid accordingly. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Class of 2014 has the ‘discouraging distinction’’ of being the “most indebted class ever”, having to pay back an average of $35,000. This fact acquires a deeper and gloomy dimension when the same journal reports that currently over 70% of students nation wide are taking on debt in order to afford the costs of higher education. Overall, student debt has increased by 40% when compared to graduates in 2005, while the average income of graduates compared with the same group has fallen by 5 percent. If there is any perplexity and disorientation among our new graduates it may be about how this democracy—‘wealthy enough to end poverty within its borders’—does very little to solve the entwined problems of student debt and under-employment.
There is a tendency to ‘idealize’ higher education institutions as if they exist beyond the ‘good and evil’ of the rest of society. Quite often they are described as possessing ‘unique’ attributes that set them apart. In fact, each higher education institution is unique by definition—just as is the case for individuals. Yet it is more important not to focus on the real (or imaginary) unique attributes of colleges and universities, but to try to understand them as part of the vast network of ideological apparatuses of the state (and in this sense responsible for reproducing the hegemonic ideology of society), susceptible to conflict, struggle, and social resistance. In other words, educational institutions represent the plurality of situations present in society and are shaped by human action. Within educational institutions, the critical demarcation lies between those who consciously or unconsciously perpetuate the dominant ideology and those willing to challenge it. What this means at present is that students, faculty and staff adopt particular positions with respect to neo-liberal cultural politics in higher education, subordinating themselves to or opposing the logic of submission and consent favored by the system.
Kshama Sawant, socialism, and the austere silhouette of life
It is not accidental that Kshama Sawant was the guest speaker at Evergreen’s commencement ceremony. Her presence represented the tendencies of social resistance and challenge to ideological submission actually present in a certain number of students at Evergreen. Ironically, the speeches of both the president (Thomas L. Purce) and the provost (Michael Zimmerman) were closer to irrelevancy, the former acting as a perky MC with pointless cheerfulness, and the latter as a disaffected cultural producer interested solely in counting degrees.
It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time that Evergreen has invited guests identified with radical politics. (Last year the guest speaker was environmental activist Winona Laduke.) Besides being a member of the Seattle City Council, Kshama Sawant is a member of Socialist Alternative, a national organization fighting in work places, communities, and campuses against exploitation and injustice. She was a former computer software engineer in India and earned a Ph.D. in economics after immigrating to the United States. According to the official Evergreen program “she accepts only the average worker’s salary, and donates the rest of her six figure salary to building a social justice movement.”
As expected, Kshama Sawant’s message to the new graduates did not portray the future nor the present of American society as a pastel colored existential canvas in which having a degree is somehow a guarantee of success, or a passport to the safe arrival at the soporific American dream. Hers was a sobering message that described America as a nation marked by racism, social asymmetry, and economic inequality. She illustrated this last point by indicating that the average CEO makes $7,000 an hour compared to the national average minimum wage for workers which fluctuates between $7.25 and $8.25 dollars an hour. Her message to the graduates was also posed in the form of a question and a call to action: What would you do to change the world? Kshama Sawant highlighted among other things the importance of getting involved in the Black Lives Matter Movement, with Climate Change actions, against the de-humanization of the poor and minorities, and the struggle for $15 dollars minimum wage.
Sawant was also critical of romantic ineffectual solutions for change such as the political futility of shopping choices or writing letters to your congressperson. For Kshama Sawant the difficult social conditions (the austere silhouette of life) currently experienced by most Americans under the actual circumstances of capitalism can only be changed by building a successful movement. If ‘plastics’ was the code message given to the upper middle class graduates of 1967, socialism and building the party of the 99% was the message delivered to the Evergreen Class of 2015.
Enrique Quintero, a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.
Constitutional law looks fine on paper…
I was attacked by two members of a biker gang outside the Olympia Police headquarters this past December. It wasn’t a particularly severe incident and thinking it was over, I returned to my home. Where I was attacked by two more members of the same gang. I returned to the Olympia police to report the incident at which point I was arrested. After the second beating, my first two assailants called 911 to claim I had assaulted them.
I proceeded to spend fifteen days in jail without access to an attorney for almost the entirety of that time. My first court appointed attorney was replaced without ever contacting me and my replacement was brand new and hadn’t even moved to town yet. Initially he indicated that I had a good case, however that didn’t last long. And in addition to spending Christmas and New Years in a room without a clock where they never turned the lights off and I wasn’t allowed outside of, while I was incarcerated my landlady illegally evicted me so when I was released, it was to a life on the streets.
Meanwhile, my attorney has been assigned 150 cases, well above the maximum recommendation for public defenders of 33 cases a month. He uses this violation of his rules of professional conduct to explain why he is unable to dedicate the time to prepare my defense. And while initially he informed me I had a good case, this quickly devolved to it being their word against mine and because my accusers are female, my case does not look good. This is without investigating any of my statements regarding the situation, considering my recommendations for possible directions for my defense or even informing me that a plea deal had been offered.
After he had filed two continuances citing failure to make progress and still not making progress, I pushed for a change of counsel. The judge initially said no but after taking up the matter with the Olympia Public Defense Coordinator and the state bar (who is declining to investigate the matter), it looks like I may finally get a new attorney.
While I have a Constitutional right to counsel and fair trial, the rules look good on paper but are a far cry from reality in this country. And we all know this. The rules, quite simply, work differently for the poor than they do the rich. But for it to require so much effort for there to be even a glimmer of justice in this matter is an outrage.
Much of this has to do with our legal system, however the police are supposed to be the front line of protecting the populace and enforcing our laws and in this matter they have failed miserably.
To hear my attorney explain it, we have done away with any presumption of innocence in this country. And for the police in this matter, this has been carried to willful ignorance. Despite the fact that I had substantial physical injuries at the time of my arrest and had just called 911 to report being the victim of an assault, because my accusers are female this was ignored. I filed a formal complaint in writing with one of my arresting officers who took photos of my injuries but despite following up repeatedly, no investigation has been made into my complaint and the photos have not been made available for my defense. And not only did they not investigate my complaint but they never investigated the claims against me except to interview my two accusers.
But the attack against me took place outside of the police headquarters, right in front of a battery of surveillance cameras. My attorney requested the footage from the prosecutor who said she didn’t have it and he ended up issuing a subpoena to the police to turn it over. The police reviewed the footage, said there was nothing on it and then destroyed it, citing protocol.
So not only is there no evidence against me in this matter beyond the claims of my assailants but to the extent the Olympia police have investigated this matter, they have concluded that it simply did not happen. And yet, there is no effort to either acknowledge the mistake or simply let the matter go. For them, the wheels of “justice” have begun and there is no point reviewing the matter.
And over and over, that has been my response from the criminal justice system and those tasked with overseeing it—not our problem, if it’s actually an issue someone else will catch it.
So while we live in a country where police shootings and school shootings are hardly news, I think it’s worth stepping back and asking—how did we get here? The sad reality is that we live in a world where the rules simply are not followed. People are happy to jump behind them to defend themselves but the real protection comes from money and power. If you do not have those advantages, justice is simply not for you.
The following is a speech given by Dr. Mosqueda, Faculty Emeritus, at The Evergreen State College graduation ceremony, June 12, 2015.
First I want to congratulate the graduating class and their families. You should all be proud of your accomplishment in graduating from college.
But you, your family, and friends should also be proud of not only the type of person you have become in the past four years, but also the type of person you were when you arrived here.
We faculty certainly believe that we have had an impact on you, but we had excellent material to work with.
Surveys done of Evergreen students show they are three times more likely to have discussed politics than students at other colleges. As freshman, Evergreen students predicted themselves seven times more likely to be involved in political protest and demonstrations.
This is good. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” I have had the honor of meeting more than a few “creatively maladjusted” people here at Evergreen, so I know that we are in good hands.
It is a cliché in commencement speeches to say that you are our future. Of course you are! And just as importantly, you are our present. It is not only what you can do in the next 40-50 years that is important; it is also what you have publicly done in the past 4 years, and what you can do in the next few years.
One of the events that many of you participated in, Olympia or elsewhere, was the Occupy Movement in 2011, when you were freshmen. This demonstrated a class-consciousness and awareness. The 1% now knows that many of the educated class, which now includes you, and those of us in the 99%, are not going to be easily bought off.
Struggle is good. As the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, stated- “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
I have been at Evergreen long enough to know that many students here are strongly anti-racist and will act, if need be, in this new period of a third reconstruction. The Black Lives Matter movement has captured the attention of the current generation. We now know that Olympia is not immune to racist acts by police and that we will not submit to the continuation of police oppression, which has been around since the end of slavery and which rears its ugly head on a regular basis. Whether you stay here in Olympia or move elsewhere, I encourage you to stay involved in anti-racist work.
Racism is not an issue that can be ignored. By the year 2050, when most of you will still not be old enough to be senior citizens, the current projections are that the United States will be over 50 percent people of color. Racism is not only a problem for people of color, it is an American problem.
At this time of global crisis, the actions of thinking people are needed now more than ever. As college educated people, we have a privilege and a duty to use that education for the public good. That is another value that is also shared by most evergreen students and graduates.
Many of you have read the works of Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn and many others, and know they argue that current and past U.S. war policies only create more “terrorists.”
Many of our graduates have understood the need for major change in U.S. foreign policy at a young age, and you are to be commended for that.
“No justice, No peace” is more than a slogan to be used in a march. It is an observable historical fact. We need clear, critical thinking on how to achieve self-determination for Palestinians, and people elsewhere in the Middle and Far East to name just a few spots—if we seriously want to have peace.
There are many roles that you can take to impact social change. In addition to protesting and direct action, which I mentioned earlier, you can also vote, or as Kshama Sawant has done, you can run for office—and win.
In your working life, you can work with integrity, organize with integrity, and even consume with integrity. As George Orwell noted, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Keep on telling the truth.
What are some possible, positive, long-term solutions that people can work on, whether you stay in the Olympia area or move elsewhere? The late Howard Zinn noted a few years ago: “Take the money allocated for our huge military machine and use it to combat starvation and disease around the world. One-third of our military budget could annually provide clean water and sanitation facilities for the billion people in the world who have none.” That is even more true today. There is plenty of money and resources to fix the physical problem of the planet. It is just concentrated in the wrong hands, and in very few hands.
The concentration of wealth is not just a problem for the poorest of the poor, but impacts us all. Take, for example, the fossil fuel industry. Climate change is real and will have profound impacts on all of our lives, not just the poorest in India, but those of us who live near the oceans—the seas will rise—and those of us who live in the middle of the country—there will be more massive storms and floods. I salute all the graduates whose education focused on the environment, whether at the masters level or the bachelors level—but this is an issue not just for the experts, but for all of us who care about current and future generations.
Lastly on a profound issue on how Evergreen students and graduates can have an impact on world peace. The United States is the main funder of the state of Israel. We can insist that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories, something that many Israelis also think is right, and will make Israel more secure than it is now.
As many of you may know, in 2010, 80 percent of students at this college voted to have Evergreen divest from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Seventy-two percent also voted to ban the use of Caterpillar equipment from the campus. Caterpillar made the weaponized machinery that was used to kill Evergreen student, Rachel Corrie, in 2003. These votes were perfect examples of students using the current system in an educational, non-violent manner to have their voices heard. Then the college ignored them.
Current Evergreen campus groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, MEXA, and other student groups continue to fight for justice. The recent vote by the University of Washington board of trustees (joining others, such as Stanford University) to divest from coal as a fossil fuel, sets an example and a precedent that divesting for socially responsible reasons is both economically wise and morally correct. The UW has previously divested from apartheid South Africa, tobacco, and the Sudan.
We can make direct connections between the need to divest from fossil fuels, to the current wars, to climate change and the exploitation of indigenous rights of the people of Palestine and elsewhere.
Wherever we are in the next few years, we can call on our institutions to disinvest from nations and companies that exploit people. We have done this in the past.
In 1986, Evergreen divested from apartheid South Africa. At that time, only about 120 other United State colleges had done so. Evergreen used to be a leader in the social justice movement—it can become so again.
Despite slanderous accusations to the contrary, many Israeli and Jewish and non-Jewish groups support BDS-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel—such as Jewish Voice for Peace, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Rabbi Brian Walt, the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and many, many other civil rights and human rights activists and organizations.
I leave you with the words of George Bernard Shaw—“reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
For the sake of the planet and your future, I hope that you will continue to be unreasonable to those in power.
In Ecuador, right now, the wealthiest 2% are engaging in organized protests aimed at undermining a democratically elected government. Some think they intend an illegal seizure of power—a coup d’etat—and the president of Venezuela has called upon leaders in the region to guard against this newest challenge to democratically enacted change.
The nature of the change? As Matt Willgress, writing for the UK publication Morning Star, puts it, what’s happened over the past eight years in Ecuador has been a steady, legislatively enacted shift from corporate regulation of public policy to state-regulated public policy, and now the government, led by President Rafael Correa, is proposing to institute two taxes: an inheritance tax, and a tax on capital gains.
Republicans in Washington oppose capital gains taxes too
Presented with the opportunity to institute a capital gains tax in Washington to address inequities in basic education funding, state Republicans also revolted. Senate Democrats proposed taxing capital gains over $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for couples at a 7 percent rate. The proposal would have applied to roughly 7,500 people in Washington State, about 0.1 percent of the state’s residents. The House Democratic proposal called for taxing capitals gains over $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for couples at a 5 percent rate. This proposal would have affected about 32,000 people, roughly 0.5 percent of state residents.
In an op-ed column supporting the Democrats’ capital gains proposals, the Editorial Board of the Seattle Times pointed out that our lack of a capital gains tax makes us an outlier in our region. California has a 13.3 percent capital-gains tax. Oregon has a 9.9 percent capital gains tax. Even Idaho, our nominally less progressive neighboring state, taxes capital gains at a rate of 7.4 percent.
Neither of the Democratic proposals was acceptable to Republicans, who insist that capital gains—the income generated not by work through wages and salaries, but by wealth through dividends and interest—remain untaxed. The likely consequence is that troubling inequities in basic education funding in our state will not be addressed this legislative session, by-stepping the directive of the Washington State Supreme Court.
Why are Washington State Republicans, and the wealthiest 2 percent in Ecuador, so worked up about taxing sources of income other than work?
Redistribution or personal accumulation of wealth: what’s the top priority?
In Ecuador, President Correa asked how a country can be called a democracy if fewer than 2 percent of families own 90 percent of big businesses. How, he asked, in a speech earlier this month, is it really a “meritocracy” when banker and former presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso “earned” 15 million dollars in one year, which is equivalent to 3500 years worth of work for an average worker? How can the work that one person does in a year be worth thirty-five centuries of another person’s work? In what system is that reasonable?
We might ask the same questions about our democratic system. A new report from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) shows the gross bias towards the wealthiest families in the U.S. Currently, the highest income tax bracket and the highest capital gains tax bracket, starts at just over $400,000. The 14,000 tax filers who earned more than $12 million in 2012—the best paid .01 percenters, were taxed at the same rate as those earning $400,000 although they earned 30 times as much. The 1,360 individuals who made more than $62 million were taxed at the same rate too, although they earned 155 times as much as those at the bottom of this high income bracket.
Moreover, Alan Pyke explains in a June 2, 2015 post on Think Progress.org, the richest people in the U.S. became richer in the years between 2003 and 2012, while the middle class got poorer, creating a huge disparity between the .001-percenters who earned at least $62 million, the one-percenters who were making $435,000 or more, and workers paying federal income taxes on earnings as low as $36,055.
The key difference between Ecuador and the U.S. is not the distribution of wealth—in both countries, very small groups of people control most of the wealth. Instead, what makes Ecuador different is that its president is leading the charge to change the tax system as part of a wider plan to implement Article three of the new Ecuadorean Constitution, which reads, “The primary duties of the state are planning national development and eradicating poverty, promoting sustainable development and equitable distribution of resources and wealth in order to bring about Good Living.” As Susanna Ruiz Rodriguez wrote in a policy brief for Oxfam in 2013, “Ecuador is proof that tax systems are above all the result of political will.”
Political will in the U.S.
The strongest political will in our state right now aims to protect the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, including our state’s Supreme Court. By the time you read this article, the potential government shut-down in our state will likely have been averted, thanks primarily to Democrats’ willingness to “compromise”, which to say, to acquiesce to the Republican’s insistence that the wealthy have the right to benefit from any and all state-supported services while contributing as little as possible. Those who can get the most from our shared public by paying the least have the right to do so. No protest or organized public outcry is expected.
On the other hand, Senator Bernie Sanders is gaining credibility as a contender for the Democrats’ presidential nomination, and he supports taxing income from capital gains at the same rate as we tax income earned from work. Moreover, unlike any other candidate, Sanders is clear about the links between our economic policies, including our tax policies, and pernicious racism and inequality. Rather than getting tangled up in slogans—whether to say that black lives matter, or all lives matter—he explained on NPR’s “It’s All Politics”, “We need a massive jobs program to put black kids to work and white kids to work and Hispanic kids to work. So my point is, is that it’s sometimes easy to say — worry about what phrase you’re going to use. It’s a lot harder to stand up to the billionaire class and say, ‘You know what? You’re going to have to pay some taxes. You can’t get away with putting your money in tax havens, because we need that money to create millions of jobs for black kids, for white kids, for Hispanic kids.'”
President Rafael Correa is adhering to the values laid out in Ecuador’s new Constitution that put the well-being of people and of nature ahead of corporations. Spending on healthcare and education has doubled since he took office eight years ago, and the percent of people living in extreme poverty has declined from 16.5 percent to less than 8% (Matt Willgress, Morning Star Press, UK). The elites are rebelling, however, and in that rebellion, they are trying to enlist the support of elites in other countries including our’s.
Search U.S. media for “citizens’ revolution in Ecuador” and you will discover how quiet our press is about the profound changes going on just south of us. In the absence of public discussion in this country about the positive changes occurring in that country—“hope at the ballot box”—U.S. official policy towards Ecuador continues to be hostile, so hostile that Correa and other Latin American leaders warned of a potential U.S. backed coup. President Nicolas Maduro, of Venezuala, called on the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in June to discuss tensions and possible coup plots against the government of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (www.teleSURtv.net/english).
Fortunately, the political will of people in the United States appears to be changing. The Occupy Movement helped crystallize a common vocabulary for talking about economic inequality—and the surprising support for Bernie Sanders’ candidacy suggests a clearer focus, perhaps a wider coalition, on the left. Nonetheless, the events occurring in Ecuador right now are instructive: change won’t happen easily. It isn’t easy to organize a citizens’ revolution using electoral processes and policy making, and when it really starts to work, the 2 percent begin fighting back.
Emily Lardner lives in Olympia, where she teaches and writes.
Un evento festivo (en múltiples ocasiones)
Durante las ceremonias de graduación de Evergreen, por casualidad estuve sentado al lado de una joven madre italiana, sus dos hijos y su esposo sudamericano. Esta era la primera vez que ella observaba una graduación en una universidad americana y se encontraba sorprendida por el tono festivo del evento manifestado en la música ‘funky’ interpretada por la banda, los múltiple kioscos de comida pregonando hot-dogs, limonada, o mercancía comestible vegana como alternativa mas saludable, así como la informal irreverencia del modo de vestir de algunos de los graduados. Poco dispuesto a participar en un tipo de conversación tipo estudios culturales ofrecí una declaración general evasiva: “Hai Ragione, ma questa é l’America” (Tienes razón, pero esto es los Estados Unidos).
Por supuesto que ella sabía nuestra ubicación geográfica y las implicaciones culturales del territorio; sin embargo, ella continuó a señalar las diferencias entre la untuosa formalidad, o en algunos casos la falta completa de reconocimiento (algunas universidades se limitan a enviar por correo el diploma de graduación) de las instituciones europeas o latinoamericanas, frente a la alegría informal que estábamos presenciando en la Plaza Roja de Evergreen. Pero aun más importante que los elementos celebrativos de graduaciones norteamericanas, nuestra observadora europea estaba sorprendida por su frecuencia. Apenas la semana anterior había asistido a la ceremonia de graduación de kindergarten de su propia hija, así como otro acto de graduación del segundo año de secundaria en Seattle.
Ceremonias de graduación que cubren desde el jardín de infantes a niveles de post-grados parecen ocurrir en los Estados Unidos a un ritmo más frecuente y en intervalos académicos más cortos que en otros países del mundo. Tal vez esta necesidad cultural de celebración continua—o “actos de apoyo’—como lo señala la crítico del New York Times Heather Havrilesky cuando discute el libro de Julie Lithcott-Haimes’ ‘Cómo Criar Adultos: libérese de la trampa de sobre-paternidad y prepare su niño para el éxito’, se deba a la gran inseguridad gestada por la “cultura capitalista global, con su fijación inflexible en la prosperidad y el futuro.” Los estadounidenses, según Havrilesky, parecen entender el éxito en la vida como una cadena continua de logros tangibles. Si estos eventos no ocurren, entonces la vida culmina en el fracaso. En consecuencia, en América, celebramos las graduaciones tan a menudo como sea posible, como si cada acto ceremonial, con independencia de la edad del estudiante o complejidad académica del grado, nos proporcionará cierta seguridad de que un nuevo logro está en su lugar, allanando el camino a la prosperidad financiera y por lo tanto la prevención de lo que se percibe como una catástrofe existencial. Esta ilusión es agravada por un sistema educativo que en particular en los grados K-12, no presenta grandes dificultades para la promoción continua al siguiente grado independientemente del esfuerzo académico del estudiante.
Plásticos y el fin de la pobreza
En 1967, el año de filmación de la famosa película estadounidense El Graduado, Lyndon Baines Johnson, entonces presidente de los Estados Unidos, señalo en su Informe Económico al Congreso que “en términos puramente materiales, la mayoría de los estadounidenses están mejor que nunca”, y en la sección llamada “Ayudando a los de Escasos Recursos Económicos”, señaló que “Estados Unidos es el primer país en la historia del mundo lo suficientemente rico como para poner fin a la pobreza dentro de sus fronteras.” Huelga decir que, dentro de la óptica actual de desigualdad masiva en la nación, ninguna de estas dos afirmaciones es verdad. El 98% de los estadounidenses están en una condición precaria especialmente cuando se la compara con la opulencia del 2%. Si bien es cierto que los Estados Unidos sigue siendo lo suficientemente rico como para poner fin a la pobreza dentro (y fuera) de sus fronteras, la pobreza no ha terminado sino que continúa creciendo en igual medida que lo hace la desigualdad económica y social de la nación.
El optimismo del capitalismo estadounidense durante la administración Johnson es reflejado en forma patética en una de las escenas de El Graduado cuando el personaje (Benjamín) interpretado por Dustin Hoffman, después de terminar la universidad, es objeto de una fiesta de bienvenida y graduación ofrecida por sus padres miembros de clase media alta californiana. El Sr. McGuire, amigo y socio de negocios de la familia, ofrece al perplejo Benjamín el siguiente consejo no solicitado, como guía para el futuro después de la graduación:
Sr. McGuire: Sólo quiero decirte una palabra . Sólo una palabra.
Benjamín: Sí, señor.
Sr. McGuire: ¿Me estás escuchando?
Benjamín: Sí, lo escucho.
Sr. McGuire: Plásticos.
Benjamín: Exactamente ¿qué quiere decir?
Si plásticos simbolizaban el hijo favorito de la tecnología de la época, así como los valores materialistas transmitidos por un veterano miembro de una clase a un joven y potencial aspirante a la misma; entonces, como punto de de referencia, vale la pena preguntarse cuales fueron los valores transmitidos por las Autoridades y los oradores invitados a la ceremonia de graduación de Evergreen? ¿Qué mensajes ideológicos permearon sus discursos?
Evergreen College como realidad
Es seguro asumir, aunque de hecho pueden haber excepciones significativas, que el último grupo de graduados Evergreen es menos perplejo y desorientado sobre el futuro que Benjamín fue en 1967 debido a la su situación económica de la mayoría del alumnado (Durante el año académico 2013-2014 el 68% de los estudiantes recibió alguna forma de ayuda económica en forma de prestamos o becas), sumados al echo de que un gran numero de estudiantes que participan en el programa nocturno (alrededor de 500 que tienen otras ocupaciones familiares y de trabajo durante el día) han ya saboreado el fruto de otros albores de conocimiento provenientes de la producción y el trabajo. Finalmente a esto debemos añadir que el tipo de experiencias político-académicas como las descritas por el profesor Lawrence Mosqueda en este número. Todo esto coloca a los estudiantes de Evergreen en una posición más ventajosa para comprender la realidad social y dilucidar su futuro—en la medida en que el futuro se deja dilucidar.
Paralelamente, a nivel nacional, los que se graduaron de la universidad en la última década en general carecen del ‘optimismo cultural ” típico de las generaciones anteriores con respecto a las posibilidades de conseguir empleo en su área de experiencia y ser remunerados justamente. Según el Wall Street Journal, la Clase del 2014 tiene la ‘cuestionable distinción’ de ser la “clase más endeudada que nunca”, pues tiene que pagar un promedio de $ 35.000. Este hecho adquiere una dimensión más profunda y triste cuando el mismo periódico informa que en la actualidad más del 70% de los estudiantes de todo el país se endeudan con el fin de pagar los costos de la educación superior. En general, la deuda estudiantil ha aumentado en un 40% en comparación con los graduados en el año 2005; mientras que el ingreso promedio de los actuales graduados en comparación con el mismo grupo del 2005 se ha reducido en un 5%. Si hay alguna perplejidad y desorientación entre nuestros recién graduados puede ser acerca de cómo este democracia ‘lo suficientemente rica como para poner fin a la pobreza dentro de sus fronteras’—hace muy poco para resolver los problemas de la deuda estudiantil y el subempleo.
Hay una tendencia a “idealizar” instituciones de educación superior como si estas existieran más allá del “bien y del mal” del resto de la sociedad. Muy a menudo se las describe como poseedoras de atributos ‘únicos’ que los diferencian del resto. De hecho, cada institución de educación superior es única por definición – como es el caso de los individuos. Sin embargo, es más importante no centrarse en los verdaderos (o imaginarios) atributos de los colegios y universidades y tratar de entenderlos como parte de la vasta red de aparatos ideológicos del estado (y en este sentido responsables de la reproducción de la hegemonía la ideología de la sociedad) que es al mismo tiempo susceptible al conflicto, la lucha y la resistencia social. En otras palabras, las instituciones educativas representan la pluralidad de situaciones presentes en la sociedad y son formadas por la acción humana. Dentro de las instituciones educativas, la demarcación crítica es dada entre aquellos que, consciente o inconscientemente, tienden a perpetuar la ideología dominante y quienes están dispuestos a desafiarla. Lo que esto significa en la actualidad es como los estudiantes, profesores y personal adoptan posiciones particulares con respecto a la política cultural neoliberal en la educación superior. Si se subordinan o se oponen a la lógica de sumisión y el consentimiento favorecida por el sistema.
Kshama Sawant, socialismo, y la silueta austera de la vida
No es casual que Kshama Sawant fue la oradora invitada a la ceremonia de graduación de Evergreen. Su presencia representa las tendencias de resistencia social y desafío a la sumisión ideológica presente en un cierto número de estudiantes de la institución. Irónicamente, los discursos tanto del presidente (Thomas L. Purce) como del Provost (Michael Zimmerman) estaban más cerca de la irrelevancia, el primero actuando como un entusiasta MC con un regocijo sin sentido, y el segundo con el desafecto de un productor cultural interesado exclusivamente en el conteo de grados .
Vale la pena mencionar que esta no es la primera vez que Evergreen ha invitado a personas identificadas con políticas radicales. (El año pasado el orador invitado fue la activista ambiental Winona Laduke.) Además de ser miembro del Consejo de la Ciudad de Seattle, Kshama Sawant es miembro de Alternativa Socialista, una organización nacional que lucha en los lugares de trabajo, en las comunidades y en los campus universitarios contra la explotación y la injusticia. Sawant era ingeniero de software en India y obtuvo un PhD. en economía después de emigrar a los EE.UU. De acuerdo con el programa oficial de Evergreen ella “sólo acepta el salario de un trabajador medio, y dona el resto de su salario de seis cifras para la construcción de un movimiento por la justicia social”.
Como era de esperar, el mensaje de Kshama Sawant a los nuevos graduados, no presenta el futuro ni el presente de la sociedad estadounidense en colores pastel, sobre un lienzo existencial en el que tener un diploma de alguna manera es una garantía de éxito, o un pasaporte de arribo al puerto del soporífero sueño americano. El suyo fue un mensaje aleccionador que describió Estados Unidos como una nación marcada por el racismo, la asimetría social y desigualdad económica. Ella ilustro este último punto, indicando que el CEO promedio gana $7.000 por hora en comparación con el salario mínimo promedio nacional para los trabajadores que fluctúa entre $7.25 y $8.25 dólares por hora. Su mensaje a los graduados también se planteó en forma de una pregunta y una llamada a la acción: ¿Qué haría usted para cambiar el mundo? Kshama Sawant destacó entre otras cosas la importancia de involucrarse en la vida Movimiento ‘Black Lives Matter’, en acciones por Cambio Climático, en contra de la des-humanización de los pobres y las minorías, y a favor de la lucha por $ 15 dólares de salario mínimo vital.
Sawant también fue crítica de las soluciones ineficaces y románticas para el cambio, como la inutilidad política de opciones selectivas de consumo, o el escribir cartas a los congresistas. Para Kshama Sawant las condiciones sociales difíciles (la silueta austera de la vida) actualmente experimentada por la mayoría de los estadounidenses en las circunstancias actuales del capitalismo, sólo pueden cambiarse mediante la construcción de un movimiento social exitoso. Si ‘plásticos’ fue el mensaje del código cultural dado a los graduados de la clase media alta de 1967, el socialismo y la construcción de un partido representativo del 99% fue el mensaje entregado a los graduados de Evergreen en el verano del 2015.
Enrique Quintero, un activista político en América Latina durante la década de los 70, enseñó ESL y adquisición de segundas lenguas en el Distrito Escolar de Anchorage, y español en la Universidad de Alaska Anchorage. Actualmente vive y escribe en Olympia.
Just as long as the icing remains sweet at the top
Let the cake rot
The middle class will police the poor
There’s no more room at the top
Let them eat cake
Let them all rot
Bread is king
Martin King was shot
Dreaming of icing being equal with the lot
But the one percent are not
They’re willing to let the cake rot
The police protect us but they’re still below us
So let the ninety-nine eat pork, why not?
It’s not who rules but what haunts
What’s missing from the world is nuance
Kenneth is an Evergreen grad. He spends his days sleeping, reading outside with cat in lap when weather allows, buying records at Rainy Day, and working on art projects. He spends his nights stocking products at a convenience store.
Courts and Religion
From the beginning of the first Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it was nearly impossible for most of us to predict what claim would land in our laps next, or what claims would dominate. Except for the conservative Christians, whose agenda keeps popping up through the policy and RFRA thicket.
When RFRA began its journey through our society in 1993, the conservative Christian agenda was so deeply buried that the “Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion” included the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People for the American Way. President Clinton proudly signed it.
To this day, conservative Christians like to describe the RFRAs as “bipartisan” as they point to Clinton’s and the ACLU’s support, because that gives them cover for their extreme conservative agendas. No more. The anti-progressive agendas slowly leaked out, and now all of those liberal groups have some explaining to do, but more importantly, battles to wage, and to their credit they have stepped up.
But the real folks at fault are the legislators who have been willing to accept faith and faith alone as a reason to pass laws…
To read the remainder of the article go to the following link.
On Thursday, June 25 a coalition led by Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ), delivered over 300,000 petition signatures to Costco’s Issaquah headquarters, demanding the retail chain reject genetically modified seafood. Representatives from CAGJ, Loki Fish Company, and UFCW Local 21 met with Costco COO of Merchandizing Doug Schutt, who accepted the signatures, and hosted a demonstration outside of Costco’s headquarters following the delivery.
Earlier this year, on March 7, the coalition attempted to deliver over 40,000 petitions to the Costco store in Downtown Seattle, where store management refused to accept the signatures. In response, allied groups across the nation, including Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now!, Sum of Us, Community Alliance for Global Justice, Campaign for Safe Food, and Organic Consumers Association, collected more than six times the amount of signatures originally delivered.
Nearly two million people — including scientists, fishermen, business owners and consumers — have written to the FDA in opposition to their likely approval of genetically engineered salmon due to the risks it poses to human health, environment and wild salmon populations. Despite this outcry, the FDA is in the final stages of approving GMO salmon. If approved, this would be the first genetically engineered animal allowed by regulators to enter the U.S. food supply. At least 35 other species of genetically engineered fish are currently under development, and the FDA’s decision on this genetically engineered salmon application will set a precedent for other genetically engineered fish and animals (including cows, chickens and pigs) to enter the global food market.
In response to the FDA’s likely approval of GMO salmon, Friends of the Earth has been leading a national campaign calling on grocery stores to commit to not selling genetically modified seafood, even if the FDA rubberstamps GMO salmon. The hope is that massive pre-emptive rejection of genetically modified fish will demonstrate that there is no market for modified meat and dissuade the FDA from approving it. To date more than 60 retailer chains, including Safeway, Kroger, Trader Joes Whole Foods, Kroger, and Target, have committed to not selling genetically modified fish. These chains comprise over 9,000 stores. Although Costco is one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., it has yet to make a similar public commitment.
At the June 25 petition delivery CAGJ Organizing Director Danielle Friedman explained these concerns to Costco Merchandizing COO Doug Schutt, who said that although Costco currently has no plans to purchase GMO salmon it would be “disingenuous” to agree never to sell it. He reiterated that Costco is committed to doing the “right thing”, and that there are a lot of “unknown’s” regarding GMO’s. What is known about the species of GMO salmon under FDA review, AquaAdvantage Salmon, is that it combines DNA from three fish species and grows twice as fast as natural Atlantic salmon. Compared to non-modified salmon, the AquaAdvantage breed have 40% higher levels of the hormone IGF-1, consumption of which has been associated with various forms of cancer. Engineered fish are also more susceptible to disease than their natural counterparts. Factory fish farms tend to rely heavily on antibiotics and other chemicals to control disease in their populations. Chemically treated fish are proven to adversely impact human health. An increase in diseased fish is likely to cause wider use of antibiotics and other harmful toxins.
Researchers have concluded that 60 GE salmon could displace a population of 60,000 non-modified salmon in a span of 40 generations. They have further potential to reduce biodiversity through breeding their modified genetics into natural populations, thereby eradicating the gene pool of local species. This could have devastating impacts on our environment and global food supply.
“Genetically engineered salmon are a threat to the Pacific Northwest,” said Dylan Knutson, General Manager at local Loki Fish Company and one of the participants in the June 25 Costco petition delivery. “On top of the documented issues associated with farmed salmon — escapement, pollution, and a net loss of protein per pound of fish produced — introducing a frankenfish opens Pandora’s box of probable environmental catastrophe. We need to be restoring native habitat and nurturing a properly managed wild fishery, not perpetuating the problems of the farmed salmon industry with genetically engineered salmon.”
Following the rally, Costco released this statement to Kiro 7 News: “Currently pending before the United States Food and Drug Administration is a request for approval to import to the United States-farmed salmon that is genetically modified. This species is said by its proponents to be more efficient in converting feed to gain. Efficiency in aquaculture is a factor that we consider in our sourcing, particularly reliance on forage fisheries for fish oil and fish meal. Based on the information available to us at this time, however, and the absence of regulatory approval, we do not plan to sell GMO salmon. We will continue to monitor development.”
This statement demonstrates that as Costco internally deliberates its stance on GMO salmon, consumer health and safety is taking a back seat to efficiency. To persuade the retail chain to truly do the right thing it’s imperative to continue letting them know that we do not want modified fish on our dish. Please sign the petition demanding Costco reject GMO salmon at CAGJ.org/food-justice/solidarity-campaigns/gesalmon, and call Costco’s headquarters at 1-800-955-2292 to give them a piece of your mind. By swaying Costco we can convince the FDA that frankenfish is not okay!
Jordan Beaudry, a CAGJ volunteer, has a pen in his pocket and a passion for social justice.
Bias against those homeless is fought by recognizing their inherent dignity
After almost 70 years since its adoption, the moral influence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has been reluctantly accepted by the governments of the world. Even though the chair of the draft committee of for the UDHR, Eleanor Roosevelt, went to great lengths to remind people that the document was only a moral document and not a legal text, she also recognized that the document may become “the international Magna Carte of all men, everywhere.” To a limited existent, she has been right. There are few corners of the earth where the UDHR’s articles are outright ridiculed. Unfortunately, one of those few corners is here in the United States.
For many American policymakers, the sticking point of the UDHR is Article 25(1) which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” So far, the political culture in the United States has been divided into to two anti-Article 25 wings.
On one side are those who share the views of former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who described provisions in Article 25 as “a letter to Santa Claus” that “Neither nature, experience, nor probability informs these lists of `entitlements,’ which are subject to no constraints except those of the mind and appetite of their authors.” On the other side is the view articulated by the Clinton Administration. The economic rights described in Article 25 may not be a “letter to Santa Claus,” but they are not important. Civil and political rights take priority. Economic rights could be granted as long as they do not burden governments or markets. In other words, they are not really rights at all, more like thoughtful suggestions.
Fortunately, this is changing. Over the years, it has been accepted that in order to correct grave economic injustices it is essential to codify certain basic necessities as rights. One of the most significant of these is the right to shelter and housing, which—in the landmark case Callahan v. Carey (1979)—has been legally recognized by the Supreme Court of New York. Even though, the enforcement of the right to shelter has been lackluster, its recognition is a watershed moment in the struggle to end homelessness, and its approach should be brought here to Olympia, Washington.
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2014, the Thurston County Homeless Census reported approximately 599 living on the street. The overwhelming majority resided somewhere in Olympia. Of those, only 26% of the population had regular shelter. The remainder was either considered in transition (approximately 30%) or had no regular means to protect themselves from the elements (approximately 44%, the largest margin). Often there is an implicit assumption that people on the street are somewhat deserving on their condition, but the data shows otherwise. Only 3% of the homeless population in Thurston County listed criminal conviction as the reason for homelessness. Far more common sources of vagrancy were job loss, sudden economic instability, family break-up, and domestic violence. All factors that would be considered “circumstances beyond (one’s) control” if a common sense reading of the UDHR was taken seriously.
At the heart of this issue is an awareness of other’s dignity. Communities recognize human rights in order to ensure that their members form empathic connections with one another. Considering the intense prejudice that homeless people face, it is only fitting that we fight this bias by recognizing these people’s inherent dignity. Indeed, that was what Eleanor Roosevelt understood as the original purpose of the UDHR. Shortly after its acceptance by the UN General Assembly, she told the American press that it was the obligation of every nation to “give people rights and freedoms which gives them dignity and which will give them a sense that they are human beings who can walk the earth and look all men in the face.” It is time for Olympia to live up to that obligation.
Marco Rosaire Rossi, a graduate of the University for Peace in Costa Rica, is a resident of Olympia.
Investigation reveals contract between Port of Olympia and ThurstonTalk When the Port of Olympia put out an article on May 5 by Kate Scriven for ThurstonTalk called, “Port of Olympia: Snapshot of Current Projects, Recent Changes, Plans for Future,” via the Port’s list serv, I read it. The public and the media are invited to subscribe to this list serv in order to keep up on Port activities. The article was an interview with Port of Olympia executive director Ed Galligan and read like a one-sided industry puff piece, so I discredited it, but then, I became curious… http://janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com/2015/05/port-of-olympia-and-thurstontalk-when.html
Re: latest issue, page 12 photo caption; “The only known photo of the…blah, blah….”
Come on guys, do your homework.
First, the pictured crowd, estimated then at about 3000, is seen in the Legislative Building rotunda the afternoon of Tuesday, January 15, 1991. The so called “take over” came a while later when someone opened a door to the floor of the House chambers (the House was not in session at the moment) and a large part of the crowd poured in to “take over” the Leg. The Senate side went untouched. There was a debate for some time over how the crowd was able to throw open the door allowing the group to flood through. Generally, the doors were not well guarded at the time and security was pretty lax as compared to current practice.
There are scores of photos in State Archives of the crowd in the House chambers taken by then House Democratic Caucus staff photographer Randy Wood. These are public documents anyone can ask to view and copies obtained. Maybe that’s something of interest for a future issue. Just ask to see House photos on and around that date. They’re all on black and white proof sheets printed from 35mm negatives.
Someone in the crowd carried in an Iraqi flag and hung it over the railing of the south gallery. In the collection of pictures Wood took that night the flag shows up in the background in some. An ultra conservative House member, Rose Bowman of Lewis County, went on something of a rampage trying to obtain copies of the photos that showed the flag, presumably with which to make some kind of political hay. She never got them. House Chief Clerk, Alan Thompson, immediately confiscated the proofs and negatives (black and white back then) and locked them away in his office for a few weeks as the nonsense blew over. They were eventually returned to the photo staff, then eventually were committed to State Archives.
The crowd decided it was going to stay all night. State Patrol showed great restraint through the event. They simply stood by to make sure no one got hurt or damaged property (one drinking glass was broken; someone left $3 and a note of apology) and turned up the lights and heat as high as they’d go to make things uncomfortable for the protesters. By about 8:00 a.m. next morning all but five had left. Patrol simply carried the few stubborn ones out of the chambers and gently set them down outside the building. No one was arrested. The chamber doors were, of course, locked for a while and extra security was posted outside both chambers for a few days to prevent another take over event.
A few legislators met with the crowd in the House chambers that evening. One, I believe, was State Sen. Karen Frazier, then a member of the House, representing Olympia and much of Thurston County. She shows up in Wood’s photos. There perhaps were others showing in the pictures.
How the hell do I know all this? I was there. Well, sort of. I was working as a session employee in the photo lab shared by Democratic and Republican staff photographers (yes, there were both at the time, another long story) and processed and proofed most of Wood’s film. I probably made a few prints too. I don’t think I went into the House chambers that night but certainly knew first hand from Wood and others the blow by blow recitation.
“Most demonstators leave statehouse” archived Associated Press story can be found at the web address:
Suggest you call up Sen. Frazier and ask her about her experience with the event. Bet she would think it pretty funny someone would be asking after all these years.
State Archives, call and make an appointment to see the photos.
Paul Peck, Olympia