Reverse Robin-Hood at HUD: Rob the poor to give the rich tax cuts

Section 8. The name sounds ominous. Is it a secret location near Area 51 where UFOs go to vacation? Or is it next to South Africa’s District 9, harboring aliens desperate for a new home? The answer: neither of the above.

Section 8 is far more benign and greatly beneficial. It provides financial assistance to millions of low-income individuals, allowing them to find an affordable place to live and still have a bit of money left to buy food and other minimal essentials.

Not surprisingly, therefore, this popular and successful program is caught in the cross-hairs of the Trump administration’s shotgun. On April 25, Ben Carson, our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and office furniture bargain hunter, put forward the Making Affordable Housing Work Act. Under his plan, low-income families could wind up paying rent at a rate 300% higher than they now do (an astronomical boost from $50 to $150). The Act would also require recipients to work at least 15 hours per week at the federal minimum wage.

Think $150 per month doesn’t sound like a lot for rent, and that working 15 hours a week is a reasonable request? Carson claims his proposal “encourages work and self-sufficiency” while making the program “sustainable” within the limits of a Trump budget that cuts $1.5 billion from the Section 8 voucher program. Housing advocates, on the other hand, know that the proposal amounts to a “disaster” that could mean the difference between having sufficient food and going hungry — or even having a place to live. When you are so close to the edge, even seemingly small differences are crucial.

Over 20,000 low-income people in San Francisco currently get Section 8 assistance. Many of these people are barely surviving even with this aid. Seventy percent already work — sometimes at two jobs! Others are disabled and can’t work at all. Some are on such tight budgets that they literally cannot afford the bus fare to take the literacy or adult ed classes that could help them get better jobs.

The situation is no better here in the East Bay: Contra Costa and Alameda counties manage over 12,000 people with vouchers. Over 90% of these voucher holders are in the VLI (very low income) category. Unfortunately, qualifying for a voucher does not guarantee you will ever obtain housing. Currently, people issued vouchers in Contra Costa County have to wait an average of 47 months; in Alameda County, the wait is 67 months. And if you are not already on one of these waiting lists, you’re out of luck. The lists are closed until further notice!

Eliminating or reducing Section 8 assistance, as will happen if the new legislation is enacted, would likely push far too many recipients past their breaking point. Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, noted: Making these cuts “just months after giving massive tax breaks to wealthy people and corporations is the height of cruel hypocrisy.”

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, our local Congressional representatives and both California senators oppose the legislation. On April 26, Senators Feinstein and Harris issued a statement and sent Carson a letter expressing serious concerns and “highlight[ing] how these increases would jeopardize Californians’ ability to pursue the American dream, and how their communities are already some of the most cost-burdened in the nation.”

Please call your Members of Congress to stand by their current opposition to this poorly conceived and punitive legislation. What to say to your Senators:

My name is ________. I’m a constituent from [zip code], and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling about HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to add work requirements and raise the rent for people who receive federal housing subsidies. I’m outraged at the continued attacks on the poor from the Trump administration, and I thank you for your public statement and the letter you sent to Carson opposing the proposal. Please continue to fight it and vote against it.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

And your Representative:

My name is ________. I’m a constituent from [zip code], and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling about HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s proposal to add work requirements and raise the rent for people who receive federal housing subsidies. I’m outraged at the continued attacks on the poor from the Trump administration, and urge you to fight them and to vote against any proposal of this nature.

 

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

 

 

Tell Our Senators: Positively No Pompeo, Hell No Haspel

The Senate could vote on Mike Pompeo’s nomination for Secretary of State before the end of April, and if he’s confirmed, would vote on Gina Haspel’s nomination to succeed him as CIA Chief. Both would be disasters:

  • Pompeo is an Islamophobe who hates the Iran nuclear deal. He supports the NSA collecting Americans’ communications data. He has supported torture as an “interrogation technique,” and has expressed openness to waterboarding, though at his CIA chief confirmation hearing he told Senator Feinstein he wouldn’t restart using the techniques. He has lied about the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in our elections.
  • Gina Haspel’s CIA career includes documented connections with torture, including connections with the torture of terrorism suspects in a secret prison and destroying evidence of the torture. She was denied a CIA promotion in 2013 because of her history with torture, in part thanks to Sen. Feinstein.

In an April 17 press release titled “Pompeo Not Qualified to Serve as Secretary of State”,  Senator Feinstein detailed why Mike Pompeo would not be “capable of proudly representing all of America in the pursuit of peace” – citing the exact reasons we’ve been calling on her to bring up.

Feinstein also recently said that Haspel has been a good CIA deputy director, but on March 14, 2018 said that Haspel “was involved in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Senators who will vote on her nomination MUST know the exact role she played in the CIA’s torture program.”

Senator Harris voted against Pompeo in his CIA confirmation hearings, but to date has said nothing about his nomination. Senator Harris, this should not be hard!

What you can do:

  • Please contact both senators.
  • Thank Senator Feinstein for standing up against torture in the past and for speaking out strongly against Pompeo.
  • Thank Senator Harris for voting against Pompeo in the past and ask her to speak out against him now. Tell her you are disappointed that she has not yet spoken out on this crucial issue.
  • Ask both Senators to vote against Pompeo and Haspel’s confirmations. 
  • Tell our Senators that since they stand against torture, they must stand against putting people who condone torture at the head of the State Department and CIA—they must vote NO on Pompeo and Haspel.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email)
(415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Harris (email)
(415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

“Mission Accomplished” in Syria? Tell Trump He’s Not Above the Law

By Alice Towey

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Current Occupant of the White House announced that the United States was launching a missile strike against Syria. Trump said that he had ordered U.S. armed forces to launch strikes on targets associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program. It was the culmination of a tumultuous week in the White House. But the military strike on Syria did not eliminate concerns about Trump and the rule of law; rather, it added to them.

The previous week had been rough for Trump. On Monday April 9, the FBI raided the office and home of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing information that – we later learned – might include recordings of private conversations. Later in the week, it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had evidence that Cohen had visited Prague in 2016, lending credence to the Steele Dossier. On Wednesday House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection. And on Thursday, excerpts of former FBI Director James Comey’s forthcoming memoir leaked to the press, including salacious details about his time working for Trump. By Friday, America was poised on the edge of its seat, and there were rumors that Trump might fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In the midst of the chaos the White House abruptly scheduled a press conference, and Trump announced that the U.S, France, and Great Britain were launching missile strikes on Syria, in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

Make no mistake: the Assad regime has committed repeated atrocities against its own people, and the use of chemical weapons is inexcusable. However, the timing of this action, and Trump’s process for implementing it, are highly troubling:

  • Just last week, Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from Syria. Why become even more enmeshed now? Was the decision to use military force influenced by a desire to distract the country from the ongoing scandals and legal turmoil surrounding him?
  • Trump’s sudden concern for Assad’s victims is highly suspect in light of his repeated efforts to ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering this country. So far this year, only eleven Syrian refugees have been accepted for resettlement in the U.S. (compared to almost 800 by this time in 2016).
  • Trump blatantly circumvented Congress in launching this hostile military act. Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the authority to declare war; not the President. Unless the U.S. is in imminent danger, the President must seek Congressional approval before undertaking military action. So far, the Trump administration has neither sought Congress’s approval nor explained its rationale for bypassing Congress to strike Syria.
  • Trump is not above the law. Every illegal action that he is allowed to get away with sets a dangerous precedent, bringing us a step closer to Mueller or Rosenstein getting fired.

What You Can Do Now:

Our Members of Congress (MoCs) must make sure Trump knows that they hold him accountable, now. They need to assert their role in our government and insist that Trump not launch military offensives without consulting Congress, and they need to press for an actual strategy on Syria that includes diplomacy and real, significant humanitarian aid. And they need to make Trump understand clearly that any action to interfere with or distract from the Russia investigation will not be tolerated. 

Call or email your Members of Congress. The following actions are based on the statements each of our MoCs has made, beginning with their tweets immediately following the bombing:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Thank Senator Feinstein for her statement that Congress “must be consulted about the use of force,” which is an improvement over her statements following last year’s missile strikes. Ask her to insist that Trump come before Congress prior to launching any further action in Syria, and to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy. Thank her for her opposition to Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Senator Harris tweeted from her personal account: “The president needs to lay out a comprehensive strategy in Syria in consultation with Congress — and he needs to do it now.” Please call Senator Harris and thank her for this statement, and tell her you’d like her to make a stronger, official statement condemning Trump for bypassing Congress. And please ask her to vote NO on any authorization for further force in Syria, based on Trump’s demonstrated recklessness and lack of a full strategy, and to vote against Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who does not think Trump needs Congress’ approval to strike Syria.

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095

Representative DeSaulnier penned a very thoughtful piece in the Chronicle about the president needing Congressional approval for further military involvement in Syria. Please call Rep. DeSaulnier and thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661

As ever, Barbara Lee comes through; please thank her for her strong statement criticizing Trump’s use of military force without Congressional authorization. Tell her you agree that only Congress has the power to authorize use of force and that you want her to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Rep. Swalwell also made a strong statement condemning Trump’s action; please thank him and tell him that you agree that we need a cohesive strategy around Syria, and that you want him to push for hearings to assess the U.S. government’s own global war operations and the resulting ramped-up civilian body count across the world.

Concerned About the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria?

Consider supporting a group like the International Rescue Committee that is providing vital support to people within Syria, as well as to refugees around the world fleeing violence. Here is a list by Charity Navigator of charities providing humanitarian aid in Syria, along with their ratings of the charities’ efficacy.

Alice Towey is a Civil Engineer specializing in water resource management. She lives in El Cerrito, where she and her husband are active in Indivisible CA-11 United.

Are You Watching Big Brother TV?

Never heard of Sinclair Broadcast Group before? The largest owner of television stations in the country, Sinclair currently owns or operates more than 170 stations in nearly 80 markets, with affiliate stations on networks including ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Sinclair, which struck a deal in 2016 with the Trump campaign to give it better coverage, has a strong right-wing slant.

If you didn’t already know about Sinclair, we bet you got a rude intro on March 31, when a video by Timothy Burke of Deadspin went viral — the blood-curdling Orwellian mashup shows dozens of local Sinclair affiliate “news” anchors reading in lock-step a promotional campaign condemning national news outlets for pushing “fake stories,” an obvious echo of Current Occupant’s inflammatory tweets and remarks about “fake news.” John Oliver lambasted the move, calling the anchors “members of a brainwashed cult.”

This list of Sinclair stations shows that many are in rural areas which often have no alternative stations for people to choose. And as Media Matters’ Pamela Vogel pointed out in an April 2, 2018 video interview:

For poor, working class folks or black and Latino communities specifically, they’re less likely to have cable which means that the choices for trusted news are very limited to the local stations for the most part, if you’re still using TV to get your news. It really just sort of magnifies the exploitation level, in my opinion, of what’s going on here. And I think what’s also interesting when you tune into– if you’re somebody who watches cable news and you tune into CNN, or Fox, or MSNBC you kind of know what you’re getting yourself into, you know what you want to watch.

Not content with its current monopoly, Sinclair is trying to buy Tribune Media, a merger that would put Sinclair’s right-wing programming, including must-run stories, in front of more than 70 percent of households. Tribune owns 42 stations in many of the country’s largest cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Denver, and reaches more than 50 million households. Their application is currently pending before the Federal Communications Commission. 

House Resolution 3478, introduced in July 2017 by Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA 2) and David Price (D-NC) “would protect local television markets across the country from corporate consolidation by permanently ending the so-called ‘UHF discount,’ an obsolete FCC loophole that the Trump administration wants to revive to benefit right-wing media conglomerates. If the UHF discount is allowed to go into effect, a series of pending corporate mergers, including one with the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, would dramatically reduce competition among local TV stations across the country.” Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA 11) was an early co-sponsor of H.R. 3478, but Reps Lee and Swalwell have not yet co-sponsored.

There are many ways you can help preserve independent media. What you can do:

Call your Members of Congress and urge them to prevent the Sinclair-Tribune merger. Thank Rep DeSaulnier for co-sponsoring H.R. 3478, and ask Reps Lee and Swalwell to co-sponsor it.

My name is _______ and my zip code is ________. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to urge the Senator/Representative to oppose the merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media. The merger would expand Sinclair’s reach to a massive 72% of US households, and threatens the fundamental principles of local broadcasting and independent media. Thank you.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Or send your MoCs the same message through Countable or the Coalition to Save Local Media. They both have great info and talking points, and you can also tweet or post to FB at the Coalition’s page.

File a public comment opposing the merger on the Federal Communication Commission’s website. The proceeding number is 17-179. You can also call the FCC at (888) 225-5322, but you may be directed to the website.

And there’s more!

Read Media Matters‘ Short History of the Right-wing Politics of Sinclair Broadcasting.

Use the cool Sinclair Finder app to find and contact your nearby Sinclair stations: just enter a location and the app gives you the closest stations, their phone numbers, and a suggested script. Pass it on to your friends and family!

We don’t usually include signing petitions in our calls to action, but this Credo Action page gives valuable info and shows the petition it previously delivered to the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. Credo Action told us it hopes to update the petition, but their script is a good concise summary that still works as a quick talking point:

Block Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which would create ‘the largest TV broadcast company in the nation’ and result in unacceptable levels of media concentration.

Listen, watch, support, and donate to progressive media:

  • Progressive Voices provides politically progressive content to consumers via mobile device and online.
  • Free Speech TV is a national, independent news network committed to advancing progressive social change.

Graphic copyright Timothy Burke, Deadspin

Tell Congress: For Students to Prosper, Ditch the PROSPER Act

Not sure who House Republicans had in mind when they came up with the higher-education targeted PROSPER (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform Act) Act, H.R. 4508 – but a close look suggests it might be financial institutions and for-profit colleges, rather than students, who would be prospering.

In December 2017, the 590-page PROSPER Act cleared the House Committee on Education, with NO hearings. The higher education community’s calls for additional time and input went unheeded, and Democrats say they were not included in any aspect of drafting the bill.

The bill is a monstrous overhaul of the existing student loan program. It would end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, under which teachers, social workers, and public defenders who work for the government and other non-profits now can qualify for student loan forgiveness after 10 years. It would also end subsidized student loans that permit low-income students to avoid interest while in school. In addition, it would require a minimum loan repayment, even for students at or under 150% of poverty level, who now have monthly payments of $0. 

The bill’s supporters point to its provisions for using grants to incentivize graduation in four years, abolishing loan origination fees, and expanding the work-study program for low-income students. The conservative Heritage Foundation claims that “[s]tudents and taxpayers win in the scenario where you have private lenders actually competing in the market, and ultimately we would hope that puts more pressure on inflated tuition prices.” However, an analysis by the American Council on Education – the nation’s most influential, respected, and visible higher education association – says an undergrad who borrows $19,000 over four years and makes payments on time would see a 44% increase in the cost of the loan if subsidies were eliminated under the PROSPER Act. A student who borrows $23,000 would experience a 56% increase. Nearly 6 million students would feel this effect.

PROSPER would also eliminate current safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. It nixes the “90/10” rule, which bans for-profit institutions from collecting more than 90% of their revenue from federal aid. It would abolish the gainful employment regulation, which requires for-profit institutions  – like Trump U – to meet established debt-to-income ratios for students or risk losing federal financial aid. And it would remove states’ ability to oversee online schools and hold student loan providers accountable.

You’d think legislation this sweeping shouldn’t be rushed through in secrecy, but should rather be carefully weighed in a bipartisan fashion with expert input, time, and care. But sadly, this isn’t our first Rodeo; we’ve come to expect this rush-it-through bill behavior from the GOP (e.g. the tax scam). But it ain’t over yet.

What you can do:

It’s time for us to get loud about this legislation that would make it even harder for students to prosper. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on March 18 that he has joined the attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia to oppose the bill. Ask your MoC to join the volley of voices opposing the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508).

What to say:

My name is ________________, my zip code is _________ and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay.  I’m calling to express my opposition to the PROSPER Act. It will make it harder for students, especially low-income students, to repay their loans, and would remove safeguards that protect students from predatory lenders. I’m asking you to speak out against this hastily drafted bill that has potential to block access to higher education for millions of students.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Count Every Person

Call us nerdy, but we’ve been worried for some time about the impact of the administration’s apparent plan to under-fund the 2020 United States Census, since that count will be critical in drawing political districts, allotting congressional representatives, and distributing billions in federal funds. Turns out our concerns were justified, and then some.

The Department of Justice has asked the Department of Commerce to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. Many experts, including former census directors, believe that including a question about whether residents are citizens will discourage non-citizens from completing the census, resulting in reduced response rates and inaccurate answers. The likely result: states with large immigrant populations like ours would be under-counted and thus underrepresented in Congress and short-changed in getting state and federal funding for health care, education, infrastructure, and more.

California, which would be greatly impacted if non-citizens were leery of filling out the census forms, is leading the fight. CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra is on the case – literally. Calling the move “an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes,” Becerra filed a lawsuit in the name of the State of California, which 14 other AGs quickly joined on behalf of their states. Experts believe that a citizenship question could intimidate people into not participating in the census. But the U.S. Constitution requires the census to count the entire population every ten years, including citizens and non-citizens alike; non-citizens’ non-participation as a result of a citizenship question could “translate into several million people not being counted.” Such an undercounting of the state’s population could reduce everything from Congressional representation to funding for necessary services, all of which depend on the 10-year Census count. Is it just coincidence that the Administration wants to add a question that could diminish Congressional representation from states with high immigrant populations? Hmmm …

And the Senate is taking up its own attack with S. 2580: “A bill to amend title 13, United States Code, to make clear that each decennial census, as required for the apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, shall tabulate the total number of persons in each State, and to provide that no information regarding United States citizenship or immigration status may be elicited in any such census.” (emphasis supplied). Senator Kamala Harris is one of the bill’s original sponsors.

What you can do: 

Thank Attorney General Becerra for filing the lawsuit, and for his strong public opposition to a citizenship question. Email: attorneygeneral@doj.ca.gov

Thank Sen. Harris for her sponsorship of S. 2580; thank our other Members of Congress for speaking out in opposition to the citizenship question and urge them to support legislation to prohibit a citizenship question.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

Call the Department of Commerce, Office of Public Affairs (202-482-4883) and say:

I’m calling to urge you not to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Adding it will skew the census count by discouraging immigrants from participating, and that will block many states from being fully represented and receiving sufficient federal funding. Please tell Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that it is unconstitutional not to count everyone, everywhere.

Unlikely Allies

By Christina Tarr

March in California is a great time to get out to see the migratory birds who winter here. The Central Valley reserves are full of Snow and Ross’s geese, White-faced Ibis, and Sandhill Cranes. San Francisco Bay is full of ducks soon taking off for the arctic, where they will breed and raise ducklings. The most recent excitement is a beautiful Harlequin Duck currently visiting the San Leandro marina, far from his normal range up the coast. Harlequin ducks like rough water, and ours must have liked this weekend’s hail.

Conservation of migratory birds (ducks, in this case) and the wetlands that support them is an ideal area of overlap with those we may not think of as allies: hunters and organizations that support hunting. It might surprise you to know that some of these organizations have been fighting for decades to preserve and repair the environment, and there are ways we can support their advocacy work.

One way to aid conservation efforts that you may never have heard of is to buy a Duck Stamp. No, it isn’t for sending mail: a Duck Stamp allows you to legally hunt ducks. You don’t want to hunt? That’s ok, you might want to buy one anyway, because for just $25 you can participate in one of the most successful conservation efforts in history. As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service notes:

98 percent of the purchase price goes directly to help acquire and protect wetland habitat and purchase conservation easements for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Wetlands acquired with Duck Stamp dollars help purify water, aid in flood control, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities.

You can buy Duck Stamps at many sporting goods stores, national wildlife refuges, and on the USPS website

Does it seem unlikely that an organization of duck hunters would be an ally in bird conservation? The mission of Ducks Unlimited is habitat conservation, and on that issue they are a powerful ally. Read their info sheet on the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a grant-based conservation program that has conserved more than 33.4 million acres since 1989; learn about the money the NAWCA has brought to California herePlease contact your Members of Congress and ask them to support the NAWCA now: 

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act conserves North America’s waterfowl, fish and wildlife resources while producing a variety of environmental and economic benefits. Every federal dollar provided by NAWCA must be matched by at least one dollar from non-federal sources. Because the program is so effective, NAWCA funds are usually doubled or tripled at the local level. More than $1 billion in federal grants has been allocated for NAWCA projects – a figure that has leveraged more than $4 billion in contributions from partners. Please support NAWCA funding by including it in your appropriations request for Fiscal Year 2019.

Theodore Roosevelt was a famous hunter, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has the mission “to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish.” They’re our ally in opposing the Trump administration’s undermining of the Clean Water Act, and in opposing the proposed transfer of public lands to the states. Use this information, adapted from the TRCP, to write or call your federal and state senators and representatives and your governor: 

My name is _______, and my zip code is _______. I’m an environmentalist [birder, hiker, outdoor enthusiast, etc.], and I value public lands for recreational use. I request that you actively pledge your support for America’s public lands legacy and reject efforts to transfer federal public lands to individual states.

States are simply not equipped to support the enormous costs associated with managing public lands. State ownership would result in the fire sale of public lands to billionaires and foreign companies, where millions of acres would be closed to public access and an American birthright would be lost.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

 

Calling BS On Thoughts and Prayers

There aren’t words for what happened in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day. The trauma inflicted on the students and their families is so unimaginably vast that it may alter the course of American history.

Parkland’s students are forging their heartbreak and anger into action. Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, stood in front of the world’s news cameras and spoke her truth to the nominal leader of the free world just days after February 14:

If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy, and how it should never have happened, and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association. But hey, you want to know something? It doesn’t matter, because I already know: $30 million. … To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you!

Gonzalez and her classmates are calling BS on the fiction that tighter regulation doesn’t save lives. It does. Fewer guns means fewer deaths, every time.

They demand that we take action, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to do so. Here’s where you come in. You can:

Support legislation requiring reasonable regulation of firearms:

Let Your MoC Know How You Feel About Their Track Record:

 

  • Outside the East Bay:
    • Explore this NPR chart to see how your Members of Congress have voted on gun bills.
    • Find out whether your representatives are funded by the NRA.
    • If your MoCs support gun safety, thank them! You can be sure the NRA is getting their members to give them grief, and they need to hear from you.
    • If your MoCs oppose reasonable regulation of firearms or are being bought by the NRA, tell them they’re not representing your wishes; tell them you won’t vote for them and will work against them. This fundraising piece from Gabby Giffords has graphics you can print and make into a postcard or tape to a piece of paper. You can use Giffords’ tweets for inspiration for your message too.

Hit the Streets and Support the Students:

Support and Donate to a Gun Safety Organization:

 

CONTACT YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email)
(415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841

Sen. Kamala Harris (email)
(415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095
Rep. Barbara Lee (email): (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661
Rep. Eric Swalwell (email): (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065

 

Photograph of Emma Gonzalez copyright CNN

Tell Congress: It’s Stupid to Stop Investing in Libraries

Anyone remember a certain Republican Presidential candidate’s claim “I love the poorly educated”? Seems he is determined to Make America Poorly Educated – for the second year in a row, the White House budget proposal eliminates federal funding for libraries. Yup, you read that right. Libraries. Possibly the most popular institutions in this whole country, even in this digital age.

Most federal library funding comes through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent grantmaking agency. IMLS provides more than $183 million for libraries through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), in grants promoting innovation, lifelong learning, research and access to information. For example: over the past few years here in California, LSTA has funded improving access to legal information in Eastern Alameda County; computer training for adults; bringing books to communities without libraries; special needs and inclusive library services; summer tutoring; and so much more. None of these cost much, but they all cost more than the local library systems could afford. And they’d all be gone under the Administration’s axe. The proposal also cuts $27 million in funding for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program, which helps school libraries buy books, materials, and training focused on serving students in underserved communities across America. Does $27 million sound like a lot of money? Consider that a certain someone wants a military parade that could cost even more … for one parade …

LSTA and IAL probably give the biggest economic and social bang for the buck in the entire federal budget. LSTA funds go to every state, every year, according to a population-based formula. Each state contributes matching funds and decides how best to use their grants. Without this funding, Americans across the country run the risk of losing access to valuable services, training and education that are only possible when they’re supported by the federal government.

What you can do:

It’s up to your members of Congress to stop this nonsense. Ask your MoCs to publicly oppose cuts to federal library funding and commit to fighting for libraries throughout the appropriations cycle.

  • Print postcards to mail to your Members of Congress! We’ve designed a sheet with four postcards for you to send to your two Senators and your Representative. Give the extra to a friend! Print on stiff paper, with your document set to landscape orientation.
  • Call or email your MoCs and say:

I am strongly opposed to cutting federal funding for libraries from the 2019 budget as the Administration wants to do. Federal library funding isn’t a big part of the budget but it funds important programs for everyone. These budget cuts would make libraries provide more services with less money, or cut services altogether. Our communities need our libraries and we need you to help save library funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Library Services and Technology Act, and the Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program.

Sen. Kamala Harris (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553; 333 Bush Street, Suite 3225, San Francisco CA 94104

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841; 1 Post Street, Suite 2450, San Francisco CA 94104

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (email): (510) 620-1000 DC: (202) 225-2095; 440 Civic Center Plaza, 2nd Floor, RichmondCA 94804
Rep. Barbara Lee (email): (510) 763-0370 DC: (202) 225-2661; 1301 Clay Street #1000N, Oakland CA 94612
Rep. Eric Swalwell (email): (510) 370-3322 DC: (202) 225-5065; 3615 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley CA 94546

More information here and here.

For the Birds

By Christina Tarr

On February 18, 2018, Indivisible East Bay and Golden Gate Audubon Society held a birding-and-postcard-activism event near the Rotary Nature Center at Lake Merritt in Oakland. We told people about our local avian wildlife and about the 100 year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which proposed legislation and an interpretation of the Act by the Department of Interior are now threatening; and we told them how they can protect the birds by speaking up to protect the MBTA. Lake Merritt, the first National Wildlife Refuge in the country, was an ideal place for our event.

Kingfisher. PhotographyByRex
Kingfisher in tree at Lake Merritt. Copyright PhotographyByRex

We had two scopes zoomed in on the birds hanging out on or near the islands. A kingfisher posed for a long time on a snag, and a red-shouldered hawk sat watchfully above our table, hidden unless you happened to look in the scope. As usual, there were crowds of herons and egrets, coots, a canvasback duck, several scaup and even an American white pelican named Hank. One of our Golden Gate Audubon docents led a group on a bird walk, pointing out white-crowned sparrows, a yellow-rumped warbler, and a western bluebird on the lawn.

Bird walk Lake Merritt. Photo by Heidi Rand
Bird walk Lake Merritt. Photo by Heidi Rand

In all, people wrote 120 postcards! Most (40) wanted to send Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke a piece of their mind, but many also realized that it’s important to write to our Members of Congress even when they’re on the right side of an issue. The grand totals: Senators Feinstein (29) and Harris (23); and Representatives Lee (14), DeSaulnier (8), Swalwell (4), Pelosi (1) and even one to Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) by some tourists from Los Angeles. The front of the postcards showed off original artwork of Lake Merritt birds by local wildlife artist Maddy Donahue.

Bird walk Lake Merritt.
Bird walk & postcards at Lake Merritt. Photo by Heidi Rand

For more information and actions you can take, read Christina Tarr’s article about threats to the MBTA and check out the National Audubon Society’s Action Center’s talking points.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.