Our Mahomet Aquifer

By Jacquelyn Potter, Sierra Club Prairie Group
Jacquelyn Potter is on the Executive Committee of the local Sierra Club, where she is involved in activism with many issues, including water protection, and serves on the Mahomet Aquifer Model group.

Water issues have always been at the forefront of environmental and human rights concerns. This year was eye-opening for many following the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) conflict and its impact upon surface water. However, another critical issue is protection of our vital underground water sources against such threats. Our Mahomet Aquifer, lying right underneath us here in Champaign County and several other counties, supplies over 100 million gallons of water per day to over 500,000 in East Central Illinois.  Just think about that for a minute. Water. Is. Life.

What’s so special about the water from the Mahomet Aquifer? It exceeds other water sources in its purity. When you drink water from the Mahomet Aquifer, you are drinking very ancient water that fell to Earth between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago, well before the contaminants of our recent times. The Mahomet Aquifer is part of the prehistoric Mahomet River Valley, where water flowed upon bedrock and was layered with sand and gravel and buried beneath hundreds of feet of clay, compliments of the glaciers.

One major issue surrounding aquifers is how and where they recharge and how recharge is balanced with withdrawal. This is a complex topic, subject to much ongoing research. Illinois State Geological Survey Carbon-14 analysis shows the water underneath Champaign County is 5,000 to 7,000 years younger than 50 miles west, which reveals the highest amount of recharge is in northern Champaign County. Some researchers believe high withdrawal or over-consumption is a greater threat to the aquifer than contamination, especially in dry years when river flooding (a major source of recharge) doesn’t happen. A report by the Mahomet Aquifer Consortium revealed the highest level of withdrawal from both surface water and aquifer is by far thermoelectric power generation (coal, petro, natural gas and nuclear) with another figure showing it as 74% of total withdrawal: 1,315 million gallons per day. Conversely, the rate of recharge is estimated to be hundreds of millions of gallons per day, a figure thought optimistic by some. Close to half of Illinois’ population depends upon groundwater, and in rural areas, the number is closer to 90%. Therefore, improved conservation and protection of this precious resource is of utmost importance.

Public interest in protecting the Mahomet Aquifer began to increase just over a decade ago. In March of 2007, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued a permit to Clinton Landfill to store potentially hazardous waste (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs) at the landfill in DeWitt County sitting directly above the Mahomet Aquifer. For several years, this was fought, and finally then-Governor Pat Quinn directed the IEPA to stop approval of PCB waste storage at the landfill. By winter 2012, officials petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to designate the Mahomet Aquifer a “sole-source aquifer.” Such designation recognizes how vital the aquifer is as a source of water, giving special protection. The USEPA is required to review federally-funded projects located above the aquifer to ensure no danger to our drinking water supply. Over 400 people attended public hearings on sole-source designation, many expressing support for the designation; none were against it. By spring 2014, the USEPA issued preliminary approval of sole-source, and a year later was approved. Although sole-source designation requires EPA review for federally-assisted projects that would potentially contaminate the aquifer, projects funded by state, local or private entities are not subject to review. Therefore, sole-source designation did not affect Clinton Landfill plans, as it is privately funded. However, heightened attention toward aquifer protection did lead to passage of state law, when Representative Carol Ammons and Senator Scott Bennett introduced bills to protect the aquifer. Specifically, materials containing high PCBs and manufactured gas plant waste are prohibited in landfills above the aquifer. The legislation aimed at preventing Clinton Landfill from continuing plans to accept the toxic chemicals. Recently, another bill was approved establishing a Mahomet Aquifer Task Force to study the water source, develop a plan to maintain the quality of the aquifer, identify current and potential contamination threats, identify actions that ensure long-term protection, and make legislative recommendations to protect the aquifer.

These developments have bearing on the pipeline issue, as it has direct impact on the water sources in Illinois. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) mostly affects surface water; however, the proposed pipeline expansion by Canadian corporation Enbridge to “twin” the Line 61 pipeline running through Illinois from Canada threatens surface water, but also runs directly over a Mahomet Aquifer recharge area. Central Illinois has become a major route for Canadian Tar Sands crude oil, with Enbridge sending up to 880,000 barrels a day through a pipeline constructed above the Mahomet Aquifer. History shows the question is not if a pipeline will break, but when. Sierra Club looked at Enbridge’s history of spills from years 1999 to 2010, finding it responsible for over 800 spills. The 2010 Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo River required massive removal of streambed soil (to recover embedded oil). Because the Mahomet Aquifer is a deep aquifer, it is better protected than shallow aquifers; however, it can be contaminated. Therefore, protective measures are important, as it is extremely difficult to clean up contaminated surface water, but it is near impossible to clean up a deep underground aquifer once contaminated. Considering the Enbridge track record, it is extremely negligent to have the pipeline along the trajectory directly crossing Mahomet Aquifer recharge areas, and to allow for expansion along the same trajectory would be bordering on the absurd.

Pipeline deregulation has amounted to a weakening of the environmental review process, which is of utmost concern regarding sensitive areas such as streams or recharge areas, known as HCAs or “high consequence areas.” Some landowners said they were never informed the pipeline would be for Canadian Tar Sands Crude, which is much more pollutive and caustic due to high levels of volatile organic compounds. Doug Hayes, attorney for the Sierra Club, expects to prove the pipeline violates the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. “We have a strong case that the government deliberately segmented the project to avoid an environmental review.” Hayes said oil corporations saw the controversy of Keystone XL and intentionally planned the pipeline through central Illinois “behind closed doors.”

With this in mind, activist groups have been mobilizing in response to the proposed Enbridge pipeline expansion, informing Illinois land owners about the dangers the pipelines pose and the tactics used by the corporations to take their land.  There have been meetings with local and state government. In fall of 2016, local environmental activists and Native American representatives spoke to the Urbana City Council about dangers pipelines pose to surface waters and aquifers. The Urbana City Council responded, drafting a resolution that stressed the need to protect our aquifers. These efforts, along with the addition of the Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, aim at increasing awareness about the potential threats to our aquifers.

A longer-term viewpoint looks at how they are all connected.  That is, in order to best protect the Mahomet Aquifer, there must also be protection for the streams and rivers that recharge it. There is precedence that addresses the importance of this, as demonstrated when the EPA restored Clean Water Act protections for 48,782 miles of streams in Illinois, protecting against development of wetlands, dumping by coal companies, power plants and meat-processing plants. Both surface and underground water sources are depended upon for drinking water by approximately 1,680,948 Illinoisans. If so many are dependent upon the Mahomet Aquifer and surface waters that recharge it, all being vulnerable to overuse and contamination, then how is it the right of the few over the many to over-exploit and pollute? This question is pertinent to both the Dakota Access pipeline as well as the Enbridge pipeline, and we the people of Illinois must decide what kind of future we want for ourselves and our ancient waterways.

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People’s Climate March: History & Views from the Local & D.C. Marches

By Members of Prairie Group of Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch

Origins of the People’s Climate March
By Alice Englebretsen

Alice Englebretsen has been a member of the Sierra Club for many years, and originally got involved by going on national outings. For the last 16 years she has been on the Executive Committee of the Prairie Group of the Illinois Chapter in many capacities. Currently she is Treasurer and Political Chair of the Prairie Group.

The original People’s Climate March (PCM) was called in May 2014 by 350.org, the environmental organization founded by writer/activist Bill McKibben, and it was endorsed by over 1,500 organizations, including the Sierra Club.  The march was conceived as a response to the scheduled U.N. Climate Summit of world leaders to take place in New York City on September 21, 2014. The months of organizing and the day itself helped to re-boot the climate movement in this country. The march was attended by over 400,000 people from all walks of life.

The work of the PCM is grounded in a set of core principles:

  • Prioritize leadership of front-line communities, communities of color, low-income communities, workers and others impacted by climate, economic and racial inequity.
  • Use the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing to ground our work.
  • Build a coordinated but decentralized structure that lifts up a common platform and message while being flexible enough to create more opportunities for connection to local issues, ownership and engagement in the movement.
  • Work in a way that helps to strengthen and build the capacity of the local organizing.
  • Develop opportunities for a range of organizations and social movements to work together, and to use our joint efforts to give greater visibility to our common struggle. This includes, but is not limited to, putting people into the streets as we demand policy changes and bold action.

In 2015 the Peoples Climate Movement focused its collective energy on strengthening the climate justice movement at the local level. That October we organized 200 actions in 48 locations, mostly led by front-line communities, unions, faith groups, youth, and people of color organizations. These actions highlighted the on-the-ground realities in their cities, and tied those struggles to the national movement.

In addition to the People’s Climate March in New York City, there were many other communities around the world who also hosted marches.

Alarms went off again when the climate-denying Trump was elected President in 2016, along with a right wing congress. Another People’s Climate March was organized for April 29th, 2017, 100 days after the inauguration, to be held in Washington D.C. In addition, many other communities in the United States and around the world organized marches. In Illinois there were marches held in Chicago, Carbondale, Peoria and Champaign-Urbana.

Bus from Central IL to D.C. Climate March

Hiking Boots on the Ground (in D.C.)
by Rachel Vellenga

Rachel Vellenga is a Sierra Club board member and children’s librarian in Urbana, IL. She enjoys hiking, reading and hanging out with her backyard chickens in her spare time. Her newest flock members are named Rea and Zist.

Equally important to the local marches was getting a large number of demonstrators to show up in D.C. to show politicians how adamant people are about the need to act on climate change. Some traveled on their own and some rode on buses organized by various environmental groups and other non-profits from around the country. An estimated 200,000 people answered the call to the national protest, people of all ages and ethnic groups.

I took a bus organized by the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club. The bus stopped in Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, Champaign/Urbana and Indianapolis. We were at capacity by the time we pulled out of Indianapolis, and drove all night to arrive in D.C. Saturday morning.  The march was very well organized, with parking set aside for buses at RFK Stadium and volunteers to direct us how to get to the starting point. You could text a number on your cellphone to get updates about the march and messages from your fellow bus participants.

We had a few hours to explore before lining up in a predetermined order. Our location was towards the end of the march, and therefore we had to wait some time to get started. But spirits were high, and we were eager to show our support for the planet. The weather was a sweltering 90 degrees in April, a tie with the all-time record set in 1974 (appropriate for the cause – where’s James “Snowball” Inhofe when you need him). Some kids got the entrepreneur spirit and sold bottled water out of old shopping carts for the sweating masses yearning to be free (of climate change).  While I am loath to buy bottled water, I am more loath to pass out on the asphalt in front of Trump Hotel from heat exhaustion (although again… appropriate).

We marched peacefully with a great collection of clever signs, costumes (one brave soul dressed in full polar bear outfit), musical instruments and chants. The biggest reaction came when we passed Trump Hotel, where marchers let our displeasure be heard loud and clear. Food trucks lined the avenue when we finished, and then it was back to our bus for the all-night ride home. We were extremely tired and sweaty and in need of a shower, but confident that we had done our part to show our support for combating climate change.

Rachel & fellow marcher in D.C.

Champaign-Urbana March
By Lois Kain

Lois Kain hooked up with Food and Water Watch in the fall of 2012 for the GMO food labeling fight in Illinois, and has been the volunteer local coordinator since 2013. She went to the NYC march in 2014 and wanted to try to bring that incredible experience to C-U.

When details for the 2017 PCM were being worked out for D.C., organizers around the country expressed desires to hold events in their home towns, so, the idea of sister marches was born. Day by day the map of sister marches and events around the country grew in number. While Chicago would be Illinois’ biggest march (5,000 people hit the streets in a cold rain!), a number of other cities across the state joined in to give Illinois activists an option closer to home. Champaign-Urbana got on the map! Local members of Sierra Club and Food and Water Watch, with the help of student groups Beyond Coal and iMatter, came together to create our event.

The steering committee decided to have not only a march but an Earth fair out in the fresh air and sunshine of Westside Park in Champaign. Music, tabling with local organizations, speakers, a march, and a raffle to raise money for our very own Pollinatarium came together over the months of March and April.

Carol Ammons (State Representative) and Scott Bennett (State Senator) headed up our speaker list. Alice Englebretsen (Sierra Club), Carol Hayes (Prairie Rivers Network), Lan Richart (Eco-Justice Collaborative), and Anna Catalina Rosu (iMatter) added their voices in the call for people to WAKE UP! to the impending catastrophe of our warming planet. Environmental and political party organizations, churches, local green energy companies and the City of Urbana tabled with messages and information for us human inhabitants of Mother Earth of hope, justice, solidarity, and solutions for the social and environmental messes in which we had made for ourselves. Even Flat Rodney hung out with us! Meadowhawk provided the welcoming music and Common Ground Food Co-op and Strawberry Fields-World Harvest donated cool, Earth-loving gift baskets for the raffle.

State Rep. Carol Ammons addresses the crowd at the C-U March

As the date approached, the weather forecast became more and more ominous. We had to decide to change our plans or change the venue. We opted for venue and Grace Lutheran Church was gracious enough to provide the new location on such a short notice.

People from all around East Central Illinois RSVP’d on the sister march website from Danville to Peoria, and Watseka to Mount Vernon. The threatening weather and sudden venue change did not dampen the spirits of 300 Earthlings who came to share their concerns and hopes for the future of our only home, Gaia.

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On June 1, 2017, President Trump made it official: the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. The 2015 Accord is an agreement among 195 countries to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2o C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5o C. Scientists believe the earth will be locked into a future of severe droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and food shortages if these thresholds are exceeded.

While not a surprise, given the President’s outright denial of climate change, the decision to leave the agreement outright angered world leaders and the global environmental community. Rapidly-increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have reached levels of 409ppm, dangerously above the 350ppm that is the generally accepted threshold to ensure a livable planet. And while all but two countries are signatory to the agreement (Nicaragua who said it didn’t go far enough, and war-torn Syria), the White House is doubling down on the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels – known to be a primary driver of our changing climate – and turning its back on the rest of the world.

The Paris Agreement would result in “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.”
– Donald Trump on June 1, 2017

In exiting the accord, Trump declared that the U.S was being asked to bear too great a share of the costs for carbon reduction, and that compliance would mean economic loss and diminished quality of life for U.S. residents. It is clear that he chooses to ignore the clean energy industry that is creating U.S. jobs. According to a recent Sierra Club analysis of Department of Energy 2017 Jobs data, jobs in solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology, and battery storage outnumber fossil fuel jobs by a factor of 2.5 to 1. And, when it comes to coal and gas,  clean energy jobs outnumber employment in the coal and natural gas industries by a factor of 5 to 1.

With his exit from the Paris Agreement and a rollback of Obama-era carbon reducing policies, Trump is favoring fossil fuels that produce fewer jobs, pollute our air, poison our water, destroy our land, and contribute to the warming of our planet. Trump’s plan, not the Paris Agreement, is the one that will diminish quality of life for U.S. residents.

And Then … The Amazing Happened

Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the landmark Paris Agreement drew anger and condemnation from world leaders and industry. News reports anticipating the withdrawal claimed the U.S. would fall far short of meeting its pledges, and that Trump’s withdrawal would jeopardize the entire Agreement.

But the day President Trump announced withdrawal, some amazing things began to unfold.

The governors of California, New York, Oregon, and Washington, and the mayors of Austin, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle, issued the following statement on behalf of the Under2 Coalition, a global pact of 170 jurisdictions in over 30 countries committed to limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2o C:

“As United States governors and mayors, we oppose today’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. The U.S. cannot address climate change on its own. Participation in the Paris Agreement, which includes nearly every country, ensures that the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already underway across America’s states and cities are part of a larger global effort. Withdrawal only undermines our efforts.
… We remain as committed as ever to working with our partners around the world to implement the Paris Agreement and achieve our shared goals.  And we will continue to enlist like-minded cities, states, regions and countries to join in this fight.”

Within a week, more than 1400 cities, states and businesses across the country had pledged to meet or exceed the Paris commitments. This includes 247 mayors from nine of the 10 largest cities in the country – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. These cities, large and small, in 42 red and blue states, represent more than 59 million Americans.

We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create the 21st-century clean energy economy. The world cannot wait—and neither will we.”
Climate Mayors Agreement statement in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accords

And on Saturday, June 10, 2017, Reuters reported that German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks announced Germany is teaming up with California to work on tackling climate change. Now Europe’s largest economy and the largest state economy in the U.S. will back the work of the Under2 Coalition, which represents 1.2 billion people and $28.8 trillion in GDP.

At this time in our country’s history, the Paris Agreement could be stronger without the United States. Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil and supporter of Donald Trump’s fossil fuel policies, would have had veto power. And had the U.S. decided to stay, the American public might have become complacent. Instead, state and local governments angered by Trump’s withdrawal, are proactively seeking alternatives to ensure the pledges made by the United States as part of the Paris Climate Accords are met or exceeded.

Closer to Home

Illinois is not part of the U2 Coalition. And as this article is being written, Governor Rauner has not yet signed a statement pledging to meet the Paris commitments, although organizations are now mobilizing to ensure that he does. But last December, Illinois became a clean energy leader by adopting one of the the most comprehensive climate bills in the country, with bipartisan support.

As a result, Eco-Justice Collaborative has teamed with Prairie Rivers Network, Delta Institute, Illinois Environmental Council, and Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter to leverage the resources of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) in central and southern Illinois. This part of our state is experiencing severe job losses due to the closing of coal plants, mechanization of the mining industry, and changes in markets as natural gas, wind, and solar become more cost-competitive than coal.

Not without its flaws (the nuclear energy bailout among them), the FEJA will make available $200 million per year to build new solar, wind, and energy efficiency projects in Illinois. It will create the first community solar program, allowing residents to subscribe to a shared project; establish the Illinois Solar for All program, directing funds into low-income areas for community solar projects and job training; and set new standards for energy efficiency, allocating $25 million per year for programs that help low-income homes become more efficient. Collectively, these programs and financial resources will create good-paying jobs and prepare a workforce with skills that can compete in today’s new energy economy.

Our coalition’s work is just an example of what is taking place across the state as community leaders, faith groups, businesses, and organizations work with the clean energy industry to use this bill as a means to cut Illinois’ carbon emissions in half by 2030.

Trump may have pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, but an energy revolution is underway that even he can’t stop. Take time to celebrate! But in so doing, realize that there are no guarantees that this new revolution is enough to stop a climate catastrophe. We all must continue to find ways to work locally and collaboratively to combat our rapidly changing climate – and protect this beautiful planet we call home.

By Pam & Lan Richart, Co-Directors of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, a local non-profit that uses education, advocacy and action to address urgent environmental issues, while integrating their work with ongoing struggles for social and economic justice.

Posted in Environment, Politics, Politics, Trump | Comments Off on TRUMP EMBRACES 19th CENTURY ENERGY PLAN WHILE THE REST OF THE WORLD LOOKS AHEAD

C/U Voters Value Nursing Home at Polls, Continue Support Despite Overall Outcome and Challenges Ahead

C/U  Voters Value Nursing Home at Polls, Continue Support Despite Overall Outcome and Challenges Ahead

Michael Wilmore

On Tuesday, April 4, voters in Champaign and Urbana voted strongly to support the Champaign County Nursing Home (CCNH) by voting for a modest increase in property taxes, and voting against giving the Champaign County Board authority to sell CCNH. However, turnout outside Champaign and Urbana was heavy due to contested Mayoral and Board seats, and voting there outweighed turnout in Champaign and Urbana, leading to an overall total against the property tax and for giving the County Board authority to sell the home. Continuing the fight to preserve CCNH as a public resource with health care access for the entire community, some County Board members and community activists are pointing to support for CCNH in Champaign and Urbana, while faulting low overall turnout and misleading information regarding finances and quality of care at CCNH for the election outcome.

Strong Support in Urbana and Champaign

Results from the Board Districts 6 – 11 (Urbana and Champaign) were as follows:

District 6: Yes tax 57.9%, No sale 59.4%

District 7: Yes tax 62.6%, No sale 60.7%

District 8: Yes tax 78.3%, No sale 78.5%

District 9: Yes tax 63.8%, No sale 62%

District 10: Yes tax 62.2%, No sale 63.3%

District 11: Yes tax 63.2%, No sale 71.5%

Voters in Champaign and Urbana clearly value the institution that has more than a hundred years of providing health care for the most needy residents of Champaign County.

Faulty Stars

One of the tragedies of the decision made by voters was a mistake in the star rating made by the State of Illinois in grading CCNH. Opponents of CCNH seized on the mistake, as though the star system were as simple as rating hotels.

Cathy Emmanuel, current member of the Nursing Home Advisory Board, describes the problem: “In the last publication of the five-star rating score for CCNH, there was a significant error in one of the three factors that determines that rating. The rating is based on the annual inspection score, staffing levels and quality measures. There was a data entry error by the state which understated the staffing hours for CNAs [Certified Nursing Assistants] by nearly 40%. The state corrected this after it was brought to their attention. The updated calculation and star ratings will be published in May and it is likely it will raise the star rating for staffing and may affect the overall rating.

“The Champaign County Nursing Home has, since 2014 when compared with other homes in Champaign-Urbana, had a higher than average rating for staffing hours and an overall staff rating on a par with other CU nursing homes. Up until February 2016 CCNH had four stars for staffing and two stars for an overall rating. The only nursing home in Champaign-Urbana that consistently outscored CCNH was Clark Lindsey Village, which has a small number of beds—only 25—and accepts no Medicaid patients.”

Scare Tactics?  Vermillion County Privatization

The faults of for-profit privatization are serious, which is why experts in health care support CCNH as a public entity. As Claudia Lennhoff, the Executive Director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, states:  “Selling the Champaign County Nursing Home to a private for-profit company is not something that our organization would want. We know from large national studies that use data from Medicare, Medicaid, and state Public Health departments that for-profit nursing homes have significantly lower quality of care than public or non-profit nursing homes. For-profit nursing homes have to turn a profit for their shareholders, and they do so by cutting costs, usually in the form of staffing. A public entity has greater transparency and accountability, and the organization is more responsive to community needs because it is mission-driven. CCNH provides key services not available at many nursing homes, like the Adult Day-Care option. Taking care of sick and ailing people is time and labor intensive. When we talk about quality of care, we are talking about very measurable outcomes that directly impact residents’ health and at times, death—things like bed sores, infections, falls, broken bones, choking problems, etc.”

Less than a week after Champaign County voters made their decision on CCNH, the News-Gazette reported that in the first quarter of 2017, Gardenview Manor was cited with multiple serious violations by the Illinois Department of Public Health, for “a condition or occurrence at a facility that proximately caused a resident’s death.” Gardenview Manor was previously Vermillion County’s Nursing Home, sold in a decision by the Vermillion County Board four years ago. Staffing levels were immediately slashed. Although advocates for CCNH were repeatedly charged with using “scare tactics” regarding what happens when public nursing homes are sold, there is clearly a comparable example to what might happen to CCNH in our neighbors’ apparently troubled privatization experiment.

The Champaign County Board Consultant’s Warning Against Closing or Selling—The Future of CCNH

In his February 2017 report commissioned by the County Board, Ron Aldrich recommended against selling or closing CCNH. He concluded that in the event that the Nursing Home was closed, “the needy and the ‘at risk’ populations would likely suffer the most,” or if it was sold, there would be “consequences for the needy and ‘at risk’ . . . if all long-term care providers were for-profit.” These conclusions came from careful examination of the population of CCNH and the skilled care options that are provided at CCNH.

Mr. Aldrich pointed to factors which led to financial strain at CCNH: 1) The cost of construction and accompanying problems in building the current location of CCNH in 2005, which (unlike other County entities) are paid for out of the CCNH operating budget; and 2) the unusually long delay in Medicaid payments owed by the State of Illinois for services already provided by CCNH to residents of Champaign County.

Real financial challenges at CCNH have been made even more severe by the repeated assertions that sale or closure are imminent. Decisions made by families are understandably changed by the perception of instability of an institution. So the current census numbers at CCNH are lower than they have been in many years.

All of these current challenges are not because of a failed model or failure of care, but because of a crisis created by Medicaid delays from the State of Illinois, past construction decisions by the Champaign County Board, and a misinformed and low turnout (20%) vote. However, despite the continued drumbeat to sell CCNH coming from some of our elected leaders, County Board Member Kyle Patterson has joined ten other Board Members in continuing support for CCNH by signing a pledge. Patterson promises that he “will explore every possible option to preserve CCNH as a publicly accountable and quality care institution.”

To allow the County Board to sell out seniors for the sake of expediency would dishonor the hundred-year history of this community providing care to the neediest of citizens in Champaign County. It will not be easy, but Champaign County Nursing Home can still find its financial footing as a public institution for the next hundred years.

Michael Wilmore is currently Treasurer of CC-CARE and an AFSCME Staff Representative.

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The Art Theater Coop


By Leigh Stewart Estabrook, President, Board of Directors, Art Theater Coop

The Art Theater Co-op, serving Champaign, Urbana and the surrounding communities, was the inspiration of Sanford Hess, then sole owner of what was the Art Theater, and Ben Galewsky, then president of the board of the Common Ground Food Co-op. In 2011, Galewsky and Hess spearheaded the creation of a co-op able to assume ownership of the theater. In late 2012 the Co-op purchased the business from Hess and assumed his lease.

Cooperative ownership of an art theater is unique. In the U.S., art theaters usually incorporate as “charitable” organizations dedicated to culture and education.

Citizens recognize art theaters as “public goods”—institutions like libraries or schools that benefit all, not just their patrons, even if they cannot sustain themselves in the market. The Art Theater Co-op has been an important experiment for this community: it has changed the way the Theater is perceived and how people engage in its work. But its legal status as a co-op has been frustratingly restrictive.

Most of the capital raised from purchases of shares was used to purchase a necessary new digital projector and make other capital improvements. Only $10,000 of the over $100,000 raised in ownership shares remains, not enough even to cover the remaining debt from purchasing the business. Ticket, concession, and merchandise sales cover basic costs, but are insufficient to provide equipment upgrades, improvements in the building, and special programming. The Art Theater Co-op, unfortunately, cannot operate independent of donations or grants.

Increasingly the Co-op has relied on such things as the annual membership program, sponsorship of the Smart Kids series and the Kickstarter campaign to refurbish the marquee. But as it sought to expand its fund raising, the Theater quickly confronted legal limits to cooperative ownership that affected who could donate and what benefits a donor could receive.

A Brief Technical Aside About the Tax Code and the Co-op

Under the U.S. tax code, the Art Theater Co-op is a not-for-profit, but it is not eligible to receive donations that are tax-deductible to the donor; nor can it receive such status so long as it remains a cooperative. It cannot become a 501(c)(3). Charities like the Champaign Community Foundation can provide grants only to other charities. They cannot support the Art unless it has tax-exempt status of its own.

For the past year, the Art Film Foundation (AFF) has collaborated with the Theater. Founded in 2015 by Dan Schreiber, a former member of the Art Theater Co-op Board, the AFF’s primary purpose is “to promote culture and education through film and cinema, and to foster dialogue through and about film.” It is a 501(c)(3) organization and has been able to support some Art Theater programs from tax-exempt donations; but the AFF can fund programs of the Art, not the Theater as a whole.

Back to the Co-op

After two years of seeking ways to work within the Internal Revenue Service limits, on April 4, 2017, the Board of the Art Theater Co-op in Champaign voted to merge with the Art Film Foundation (AFF). This month Co-op owners will vote on the proposed merger and, if approved, the Co-op will necessarily dissolve: the business will become fully a part of the AFF. Neither one person nor a group of people will own the Art. A not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization will become the owner and thus enable the Theater to become eligible to accept tax-exempt donations directly.

If the merger succeeds, the Art immediately becomes eligible to apply for grants from a wide number of foundations and from the other non-profit organizations. The Art also can hope to raise more substantial donations, both in-kind and monetary, from individuals once those donations are tax-deductible.

The financial challenges for the Art are similar to those faced by other co-ops: the Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago and the local Common Ground Food Co-op are but two that have recently sent out letters of distress to their owners. They, like the Art Theater Co-op, need financial support to augment ownership contributions and patronage.

The Art Board has concluded the Co-op must merge with the AFF if it is to keep up with community needs and desires. The Art’s merger with the Art Film Foundation should have little impact on the theater’s day-to-day operations, and General Manager Austin McCann will continue as its gifted programmer and manager.  Because the change can allow increased fund-raising, the Board sees the reorganization leading to more ambitious plans such as major repairs, finding a way to have a second screen or even acquiring its current or another building—little pieces of a better world.

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Should Champaign County Create a “Public Bank” to Promote Local Economic and Community Development

Born and raised in Urbana, Gary is a retired Dean and Professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS)


A Champaign County Public Bank could receive deposits from county-based residents, businesses, hospitals, institutions of higher education and municipal governments, as well as County government itself, that would be used to help secure loans—including mortgages as well as corporate and public bonds—for beneficial public, private and nonprofit purposes and, in the process, “create new money” to circulate in the local economy and employ more people.

Today, money is created primarily by banks extending loans to borrowers and then managing the new accounts established. When loans are made, a borrower’s account is credited with the amount of the loan. This becomes an IOU (or debt) from the borrower to the bank and, conversely, an asset to the bank. Through this process, new money is created in the form of electronic entries that can be redeemed as cash when needed.

The deposits in borrowers’ accounts are spent on various productive activities designed to bring positive financial returns (or desired capital or consumer goods or services) to the borrowers, either of which typically expands economic activity in the local area. However, the deposits must be paid back to the bank over time with interest. Interest earned by the bank is what makes loans significant assets.

As new money circulates in the local area through the exchange of goods and services, its beneficial effects multiply.  If the loans are mortgages, new homes or business structures are often built—or old ones purchased and improved. If the loans are bonds issued by the county itself or by municipal governments, infrastructure improvements may get made. If the loans are conventional business loans, new or expanded business activity may be stimulated. All of these activities create new jobs!

Before moving on, it should be noted that all banks, public and private, must secure the loans they make by maintaining reserves. Bank reserves are the currency (or bank capital) that is not lent out to a bank’s clients. A small fraction of the total deposits (typically 10 percent) is held internally by the bank in cash vaults or deposited with the central bank. The reserves exist to ensure that assets are available to cover expenses incurred by loans that fail or by unusually high rates of withdrawal of bank deposits (so-called “runs” on the bank).

For public banks, an approach for establishing sufficient reserves to cover the above contingencies is that used by the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the only public state bank in the U.S. The BND was set up as the Bank of North Dakota “doing business as” the state of North Dakota. This guarantees that all the assets of the state (its revenue deposits, real estate holdings, pension funds, investment securities, etc.) and, if necessary, its taxing powers are available to the BND to secure loans it makes. The BND also has an account with the Federal Reserve (central bank) that can be a source of very low interest loans to meet short term emergencies.

Most of the interest income taken in by the BND becomes available to make additional loans for publicly beneficial purposes. A portion could also be returned to the state, however, in the form of dividends. If the state has issued bonds for some purpose, such dividends could have the effect of “balancing out” the cost of interest on the bonds which, in turn, could reduce the state’s need to levy taxes extensively.

There is no reason why a county- or municipal-level public bank could not be established “doing business as” the county or municipality in the same fashion. Thus, a Champaign County Public Bank could be established (perhaps in conjunction with some or all of the municipalities located within it) to do business as Champaign County. This would allow extensive loans to be made which would spur economic growth throughout the County. The interest income generated could be used to bolster the bank’s reserves, extend more loans to the public, and/or pay dividends to the County (and perhaps to participating municipal governments).

Differences between Public and Private Banks

In the case of public banks, surplus income derived from fees, interest, investment securities, service charges, etc. after expenses have been paid can either be retained as reserves or, among other options, be “reissued” as additional loans to stimulate further local development; it would not, however, be treated as profit to be distributed for private gain.

By contrast, private banks, increasingly large national institutions, typically invest this surplus income to generate maximum profit to distribute to shareholders, directors and CEOs who may not even live—and spend money—in the local area.

Private banks usually feel pressure to maximize profits to attract or maintain shareholders and be competitive with other banks. This is often accomplished by investing their surplus income in different ways, including in financial instruments such as derivatives and credit default swaps which can place bank clients at risk unless the banks are deemed “too big to fail” and receive taxpayer bailouts for losses they incur as occurred in 2008. If profits are made from these investments, they are distributed to shareholders, directors and CEOs rather than being reinvested in beneficial local development. In short, they are used to benefit “Wall Street” rather than “Main Street.” The rich get richer; the rest, poorer.

It should be noted that because public banks use their surplus income to address the real economic needs of everyday individuals and of the institutions which serve them, wealth gets distributed much more broadly than it would if money were managed by private banks aiming to serve their shareholders, etc., a small subset of the total U.S. population.

It might be asked whether nonprofit credit unions with their members democratically controlling the organization could not be an attractive alternative to public banks? The short answer is that credit unions often struggle to generate reserves of sufficient size to offer loans supporting large commercial and governmental projects/activities. Their reserves would not include the extensive revenues and other assets of at least one government entity as occurs with public banks. Credit unions are better used for smaller financial transactions like home mortgages, auto loans, and small business loans.

Would a Champaign County Public Bank siphon money away from smaller, locally-owned private banks or credit unions and threaten their survival, or could it cooperate with these institutions in ways that benefit them and the local groups/organizations they serve?

For example, with its substantial reserves backed by one or more unit of government, could a county-level public bank subsidize or otherwise support the activities of locally-owned private banks and credit unions in ways that make them more competitive with large national banks? In exchange for these institutions agreeing to focus their efforts on supporting local economic development, could a public county bank act as a “mini-reserve bank” to these institutions by backing up their financial commitments directly, extending them low interest loans when necessary, or otherwise helping them to reduce the costs of their services (e.g., interest rates charged clients, especially low-income clients)?

Or could a county-level public bank cooperate with locally-owned private banks and credit unions by using the latter’s facilities, employees and/or technologies (e.g., computer hard- and software) to deliver at least some of its own financial services, thereby enhancing, through decentralization, their clients’ access to services? Further, could a few of these institution’s directors serve on the governing board of the public bank, ensuring coordinated communication, planning and problem solving? These forms of cooperation could improve the financial services available to county residents, businesses, and other organizations.

Residents of Champaign County should consider attending meetings being scheduled at the Independent Media Center (IMC) in downtown Urbana to discuss creating a public bank in the area, and/or implementing other economic reforms described elsewhere in this issue of the Public i (see notice).


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Green Bay Packers—A Better Model for Sports Ownership

In the past months, the National Football League (NFL) has been the focus of popular anger from its fans. First, the Rams successfully petitioned to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles. The San Diego Chargers followed suit by relocating to Los Angeles too. Most recently, the Oakland Raiders decided that they will be heading to Las Vegas.

In each case, the billionaire owners of the respective franchises held their fan bases hostage by demanding either significant renovations to their home arenas or the construction of brand-new stadiums with taxpayers covering much of the bill. If the local communities and state would not socialize the cost of billionaires’ private wealth development, then they risked having their team ripped away and sent to another city willing to provide such benefits to the owner.

Similar threats abound in the sports world and are nothing new. This is largely standard operating procedure for most professional sports owners who are eager to generate revenue that comes from having a shiny new arena. But people opposed to this behavior may find a solution with one of the NFL’s own teams, the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers are located in one of the smallest markets in professional sports—Green Bay, Wisconsin. The team struggled economically during its first few seasons. By 1923, the franchise was about bankrupt. The way the team chose to handle this problem was unique, and has not been seen in pro sports since. Instead of selling the Packers to a new investor and uprooting the team to a new municipal base, the owners instead decided to allow local fans to buy ownership shares to keep the team financially solvent. As such, this established the stockholders of the franchise as the collective owners of the team. The Green Bay Packers were the first (and currently only) non-profit, community-owned professional sports team in the United States.

Rather than make demands on the local municipality to spend millions of public dollars on refurbishments to their home stadium, Lambeau Field, the Packers sell ownership stock in the team to finance the costs. Fans and supporters of the Green Bay team are the ones who voluntarily fund these ventures.

Owning stock shares provides no dividends, no equity and provides no privileges to get much sought-after game tickets. Shareholders are afforded the ability to vote for the board of directors and attend the annual meeting. Yet the most recent offering from December 2012 to the end of February 2013 to fund fixes to Lambeau Field saw over 250,000 shares sold at $250 per share. Fans are eager to be a part of this collectively owned franchise.

While many sports team owners consistently levy the threat of relocation to get more money, that is impossible with the Pack. The bylaws prevent any one person from owning such a significant amount of shares. Even if the local fans eventually decided that they wanted to sell the team to a private entity, any greedy motives would not bear fruit. The Articles of Incorporation for the Green Bay Football Corporation explicitly state that if the Packers ever moved out of Green Bay, any profits generated would be given to the Green Bay Packers Foundation solely for charitable purposes in the area. So there is no financial incentive to move the team.

Few fans gripe about the cost of concessions at the games, because they’re aware that 60% of the proceeds are funneled back into funding local charities and charitable causes. Volunteers and organizations are allowed to fundraise by working the concession stands on the Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays when the Packers play at home on the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau. Instead of fattening the pockets of a ridiculously wealthy owner, significant amounts of money are going towards helping the community and making Green Bay a better place for its residents.

While the NFL passed rules in the 1980s that eliminate this kind of ownership, and the ever-increasing valuations of franchises make this a significant challenge, the model of the Packers provides a framework for what sports fans and political activists should clamor for: supporters of the team funding the construction, fixes and refurbishments of their arena. No more conservative, right-wing reactionary owners using fans’ money to bankroll all sorts of noxious political causes. The fans may not become the most successful owners, but they’d never threaten to uproot the team or demand public financing of their private wealth development. After seeing the recent spate of teams leaving host cities or the horror shows of the McCourts’ owning the LA Dodgers, Donald Sterling’s tenure with the NBA’s LA Clippers, Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dan Snyder of the NFL’s Washington football team—can the fans really be any worse? The Packers aren’t just a football team. They’re a model for how we can do sports better for cities, communities and athletics.

— Full disclosure: I am an owner of a share of Packers ownership stock after their 2013 stock sale.

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Worker Co-ops in Illinois and Their Future

Jacqueline Hannah

Jacqueline Hannah has been a manager and organizer in the US cooperative movement for 12 years, merging her passion for local just economies with her desire to empower individuals and communities to create their own solutions. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Hannah has been a C-U resident now for over 20 years.

The future of work is hard to predict, the one thing we know for sure is that it will be changing, fast. Powerful forces are trying to ensure these coming changes of automation and increased globalization benefit the financial elite at the expense of the world-wide working class. While the challenges ahead are uncharted, we do have a powerful tool available to us that have worked in the past through times of great worker upheaval: worker co-ops.

In Illinois, we have a little-known history of worker cooperatives, which are business enterprises owned by the workers, each having an equal stake and vote in the business. While we do know that hundreds, possibly thousands, of worker-owned cooperatives were organized during the early US labor movement in the 1880s, we have little record of their existence in this state.

Many states started putting cooperative business statutes on their books in the early 1900s that dictated what kinds of cooperatively owned businesses could form and under what guidelines. These laws were created state by state, each one different. The Illinois Cooperative Act of 1918, formulated in the early years of the last century, was still on the books, unchanged, until 2016. It had little to recommend itself to forming a worker cooperative, and much to hinder it, and so dampened the development of worker co-ops for many decades in this state.

In 2015, a working group was formed to change the law. “One of the concerns people had was that the existing law did not allow service-based worker co-ops to form under the Co-operatives Act,” says Rebecca Osland, Policy Associate at the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA). Osland formed and headed up the working group that studied the law and how to best change it. “This was a fairly simple fix to the IL statute, and so in 2016, Illinois Stewardship Alliance worked with State Rep. Will Guzzardi and State Rep. Anna Moeller to open the Co-operatives Act to all kinds of business. Previously, the law was restricted to grocery and farming type co-ops, and manufactures of items, such as flour, meal, boots, shoes, and apparel. The 2016 legislation scratched out these specific business types, and simply allowed one type of co-op to be any business operated by its shareholders—worker co-ops!”

While Osland’s organization’s mission is to cultivate sustainable local farm and food systems in Illinois, ISA felt strongly about taking up the work to amend the IL statute to make it easier to form worker co-ops in the state, because of the potential impact of worker owned co-ops on the food system. “We took an interest in making it possible for worker co-ops to form along the local food supply chain, though the new law we helped move forward is not limited to these types of businesses.” While the changes proposed to the Cooperatives Act did pass and go into place in 2016, so far the impact on the worker co-op movement in Illinois is hard to gauge. It turns out there are strong reasons why a group of workers forming or taking over a business might not want to form under the Cooperative Act in Illinois. “Here’s the key: workers in a corporation are presumed to be employees, or at least it’s a big grey area. And there are many burdensome requirements of employment laws,” explains Sarah Kaplan, an Illinois attorney who specializes in cooperative law. Kaplan currently recommends that workers forming a business they intend to run in a cooperative manner not use the IL cooperative statute, but instead form as an LLC so the workers can be treated under the law as the owners rather than employees of the business, which the Illinois Cooperative Act still does not allow.

The legal bramble matters, and likely can be pointed to as one reason the worker co-op movement in Illinois is still “nascent, but it is growing,” according to Brian Van Slyke, worker-owner at The TESA Collective,  a worker cooperative that creates programs and tools for social and economic change. When asked about the growth of the worker co-op movement in Illinois, Van Slyke shares, “I believe I hear about new worker co-ops popping up every couple of months, most specifically in Chicago, where I live.” But while worker co-ops are popping up now in at least the Chicagoland area, Van Slykes says the laws still need addressing to make Illinois conducive to worker co-ops. “There’s actually a push to get legislation passed in Illinois that would make incorporating a new business as a worker co-op easier, which could help the movement boom—but that effort has hit several roadblocks. Also, there’s been efforts in the past to start a worker cooperative network in Chicago that hasn’t quite gained enough traction.” Van Slykes sees positive signs on the horizon, though, for the movement, as organizations like Democracy at Work, a non-profit that advocates for worker cooperatives and democratic workplaces, come forward to support worker co-op organizing in the Chicago region. Kaplan also sees growth on the horizon for the Illinois worker co-op movement, and hopes to take part in helping to make it happen. “The Sustainable Economies Law Center and some partners have created something called Worker Co-op Academy. I’ve been thinking of offering that in Chicago, and hope to take action on that in the near future.”

Outside of Chicagoland there is as yet little stirring of the worker co-op movement in Illinois, but certainly just as much need for worker empowerment. Both in Chicago and nationally, there are trends in the types of businesses that tend to organize as worker cooperatives and they may be a good place for those in C-U to begin the discussion of worker empowerment through worker cooperative formation. “I’ve seen a lot of worker co-ops become established in industries that typically take advantage of low wage workers and freelancers. Two of the biggest examples, I think, are tech collectives (like companies that build websites) as well as coffee shops,” shares Van Slykes. “Worker cooperatives give employees access to a kind of control, stability, and self-determination they normally don’t have in traditionally exploitative industries.” The TESA Collective, Van Slykes’ organization, has also created a number of resources for groups and communities to use to explore how to start worker cooperatives. They offer a free documentary, Own the Change, about starting worker cooperatives, as well as other educational tools.

When asked if ISA could take a role in educating on and supporting the worker co-op movement in the rest of Illinois, Osland was open to the idea, but clear the call to do so would have to come from their members and communities they serve. “There seems to be a lot of interest around the country in figuring out how to remove additional barriers to make it easier for cooperatives to form. Those who are on the ground working to launch cooperatives should schedule meetings with state and federal elected officials and talk with them in their districts about the value of cooperatives and the barriers that they are hitting. Organizations such as Illinois Stewardship Alliance may be able to help, but we rely on our members’ and partners’ participation and input so that we can maximize the impact of our resources and staff. Working together, we can strengthen our local economies and communities.”



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Trump Administration Fascist?

The “highly unusual,” “unprecedented” Trump administration is leading us into “uncharted territory,” but where exactly? Since last November’s election, some commentators trying to understand what happened have used the “F” word, fascism, but without defining it. Many more have avoided it altogether as too toxic and pejorative, preferring instead terms like “authoritarian” and “populist.”

Yet a strong argument can be made that White House Senior Advisors Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, and Deputy National Security Advisor Sebastian Gorka are fascists. Also, that Breitbart and other “alt-right” outlets, such as the Daily Stormer, plus billionaire donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer are fascist. And when Trump channels in tweets and speech Bannon, Miller, Breitbart, and other alt-right sites, he is repeating their fascist sentiments.

In The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton defines it “as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity.” He goes on to identify “a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants” that works “in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites.” This recalls Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics, which he characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”

Paxton’s discussion is important for two additional reasons. Instead of viewing fascism as a binary—either it is or it is not—he lays out five developmental stages. These stages—his second point—can apply anywhere, anytime, and not simply to the classic cases of Hitler and Mussolini. This renders them applicable and useful for the present.

Stage 1 is the creation, and consists of individuals, isolated cells or groups that talk about national humiliation, lost vigor, and the failures of liberalism and democracy. In the U.S. this goes back to the original “America First” movement in the early 1940s of Charles Lindbergh and others, to the late 1950s’ and early 1960s’ John Birch Society, and Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.

During stage 2 these fringe individuals and splinter groups form a larger group or party that takes root in the political system. Stage 2 corresponds to the self-styled “movement conservatism” of the last 40 years. It swept intransigent Tea Party Republicans to power in 2010.

Stage 3 marks the seizure of power over the government. Typically, the takeover is nonviolent; it occurs often in alliance with conservatives. Mussolini was asked to form a government in 1922; Hitler was named German chancellor in 1933. In the U.S. stage 3 occurred November 8, 2016 when Trump took power through the Electoral College but not popular vote, giving right-wing Republicans control over all three branches of government.

Yet it is not during stage 3 but stage 4 that the key break occurs with the previous regime. Exercising power generally entails coordination and discipline. But with Republicans battling among themselves, the question today is: how far down the road of coordination will the Trump administration get?

In stage 5, fascists choose between radicalization and entropy. Although “Fascist regimes have to at least produce an impression of momentum—‘permanent revolution,’” only Nazi Germany pursued radicalization to the point of self-destruction.

What is most worrisome and most dangerous is how the alt-right has gone mainstream and been normalized. It has been brought into the White House with Bannon, Miller, and others, while Trump retweets Breitbart and other alt-right sites.

The extent to which Republicans have enabled Trump and the alt-right is cause for serious concern. In 1920s’ Italy and 1930s’ Germany, political groupings from the center to the radical right went along in lockstep with the far right. Today, Congressional Republicans and their corporate friends are repeating the error.

At the time of writing, Bannon was the key. His worldview consists of what he calls his “three verticals or three buckets.” “The first is kind of national security and sovereignty.” “Sovereignty” puts “America first.” Bannon and Trump’s aggressive “America first” nationalism is the opposite of 1940s’ “America first” isolationism. At its core is white nationalism, or rather white supremacy. White Judeo-Christian civilization is engaged in an epic battle against “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“The second line of work is what I refer to as economic nationalism,” Bannon says. “Economic nationalism” puts “America first” economically. Eschewing free trade, he favors protectionism. Anti-immigration, he bans immigrants and refugees.

“The third, broadly, line of work is deconstruction of the administrative state.”  By “administrative state,” Bannon means both the federal bureaucracy and governmental regulations. Here nothing puts it better than his own language. “I’m a Leninist,” he said in 2014. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too.”   

Lastly, he targets the “fake news” mainstream media. “They’re corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda.” For Bannon and his alt-right friends, reporting by the corporate media ipso facto confirms their conspiracist worldview. Thus, we get Trump, channeling Bannon, attacking the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people.”

Bannon and his ilk personify Paxton’s definition of fascism. Hofstadter termed the Bannons of the world “pseudo-conservatives,” right-wing radicals who sought to deny their radicalism—hence the “pseudo”—but who actually expressed “a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society and its ways.” “They wished to destroy far more than they did to conserve,” another commentator says.

Sounds like Bannon. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Both in his films and his politics, “apparently, Bannon just loves to blow stuff up.”

What about Trump? He happily channels Bannon and Miller’s fascist sentiments. In his inaugural address, written by Bannon and Miller, Trump repeated what they had borrowed from archvillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). “Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”

By the end of January and beginning of February, commentators started referring to “President Bannon.” The New York Times editorialized “President Bannon?” A Saturday Night Live skit featuring Bannon as the Grim Reaper captured this political moment with a pitch-perfect scene in which Bannon took Trump’s seat behind the Oval office desk, relegating Trump to a tiny nearby table.

With the Trump administration, we have begun the fourth stage of fascism, but there are some countervailing factors. “If Trump is a fascist, he may be the most backassward fascist we’ve ever seen,” wrote Corey Robin regarding the late January rollout of Trump’s first Muslim immigrant ban. The Trump administration may get better at handling such matters. But the missteps and demonstrable lies continue unabated. Moreover, Trump has managed to unite all those on the left and center-left, elected Democrats, and brought about an outpouring of grassroots opposition to virtually everything he and his administration do and stand for.

On the other hand, Trump’s February 28, 2017 speech to Congress, despite its lack of specifics, was generally deemed “presidential,” if only in contrast to what had come before. If Trump were to act “presidential,” even desultorily, then not only his rural, white, working class Main Street voters, but also his Wall Street corporate supporters would continue to back him. Key here is Congressional Republicans. It is more likely that they will go-along to get-along than break with Trump decisively. Shudder the thought, but if Trump somehow restrains himself from continually stirring up the opposition, it may well wither.

Yet the bottom line is that anything that anybody says or writes today is even more contingent than usual on future developments. In the Trump era, this means the next couple of days, even hours. Because we simply do not know.

March 31, 2017

This article first appeared at Juan Cole Informed Comment





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50th Anniversary of Project 500 Coming Up, Should Be Celebrated

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy called on the nation to take action to eradicate the interrelated and interconnected social problems of African-American citizens in the United States. The country was in a crisis. Many, but not all, post-secondary schools devoted considerable time and resources to answering the President’s call by, for example, forming general and faculty committees, holding conferences, developing new policies and procedures, and hiring new staff.

In 1966, several universities launched initiatives for “disadvantaged” students, including The City University of New York, University of Wisconsin, University of California, and Southern Illinois University. The following year, similar programs were undertaken at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Many of these programs had started up as early as 1963. Yet, the academy’s deliberately slow way of doing business resulted in actual launch dates years later. The University of Illinois was among the first to launch its initiative to recruit and enroll the “disadvantaged” student. University of Illinois President David Dodds Henry observed in 1963, “I believe that we must take more positive steps to overcome the disabilities that stem from decades of inequality in our society… as we build ramps for our physically disabled students without violating our standards, I believe that we must offset some of the disabilities arising from racial and social inequality by building psychological and special assistance ramps for young people who need them.” President Henry framed the University’s call to action in the light of that of President Kennedy and the mission of the public Land-Grant University to create a “people’s school.” He created the All-University Committee on Human Relations and Equal Opportunity. He appointed new administrative and academic staff.

At the same time, the Governor of Illinois issued an executive order, the Code of Fair Practice. Faculty member Harry Tiebout and student leader Bill “Squirt” Smith were fighting racial discrimination locally in and around the Urbana campus. External stakeholder actions supported the actions of internal constituencies.

On April 4, 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The United States experienced widespread violence and political protest. It was pandemonium! The ferment at the University of Illinois was unbecoming. This was not a panty-raid riot. Demands for more Black students, staff, faculty, and programs from competing stakeholders and constituencies flooded President Henry’s office, and the office of the first Chancellor of the University of Illinois system, J.W. Peltason. In 1961, Professor Peltason had already written and published the seminal work 58 Lonely Men: Southern Federal Judges and School Desegregation. Appointed Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana campus on September 1, 1967, he had been in that office approximately eight months when Reverend King was killed.

At the same time, there was great tension within, between, and among stakeholders and internal constituencies. Eventually, Chancellor Peltason met with Black Student Association (BSA) executive members and Champaign-Urbana Black leaders, some of who were UIUC students. BSA President Dan Dixon observed, “Chancellor Peltason opened the meeting with a question―What do you want? I turned to fellow student leader Boyd Jarrell, who said we want 500 additional students beginning of the fall semester approximately five months away. Chancellor Peltason gave his approval.”

On May 2, 1968, Chancellor Peltason announced the Special Educational Opportunities Program, popularly known as “Project 500.” He stated: “Specifically, every effort is being made to increase enrollment in the Special Education Opportunity Program from the previously planned 189 to at least 500 students at the Urbana campus for the 1968 Fall semester.” On the same day, he wrote to BSA President Dan Dixon: “The draft report circulated by the ad hoc special education committee contains targets for enrollment of Black students, which, in my opinion, must be increased in order for the University to demonstrate its concern for the crisis which now confronts the nation.”

On October 18, 1968, Chancellor Peltason distributed a document entitled The Special Education Opportunities Program (SEOP), at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that outlined:

“General Nature and Purpose:

“The Special Educational Opportunities Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, commonly referred to as “Project 500,” is one of several experimental programs at universities across the country designed to offer young people from disadvantaged backgrounds―those whose class/cultural characteristic and financial need placed them in a disadvantage in competition with the majority of students―an opportunity to continue their formal education beyond high school. A parallel program exists at the Chicago Circle.

“Through SEOP the University is attempting to do several important things. Among them are

  1. To provide educational opportunity for students who might not otherwise be able to receive it or even to consider undertaking a college-level program.
  2. To increase the numbers of minority group students on the Urbana campus.
  3. To develop educational practices and policies both academic and administrative that will assist and support such students and which might benefit other students generally.
  4. To provide and disseminate to legitimate and responsible educational institutions and agencies information to increase their ability to deal with educational and sociological problems that affect students so identified.
  5. To provide for the students in the SEOP the vital cultural and social experience of meeting and living and learning with and from students from cultures different from their own.”

In the technical sense, “Project 500” was not a program, but rather one initiative of several that used existing services, and external resources. The University of Illinois launched other major initiatives during this transformative period in civil rights. The first was the Equal Opportunity Law Program (EOLP), and on the Chicago campus the Educational Assistance Program (EAP), and the Medical Opportunity Program (MOP). The work by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, President David Dodds Henry, and staff assistance William K. Williams, Joseph Smith, Lucius Barker and Clarence Shelly, to name a few, is important to telling this story.

The impetus to solve the national social problem came from President Kennedy. But the Urbana campus initiatives were not out of step with the national crisis. Undoubtedly, the aftermath of MLK’s assassination, coupled with the advocacy of the UIUC BSA, partnering with Champaign-Urbana Black leaders including Steve Jackson, Al Mitchell, Lawrence “Beno” Williams, Bill “Squirt” Smith and John Lee Johnson, to name a few, were the catalysts that motivated Chancellor Peltason to create and enlarge “Project 500.”

In the final analysis, “Project 500” was Chancellor Peltason’s initiative. It will be 50 years old in 2018. The University of Illinois should commemorate and celebrate one of higher education’s finest examples of how the “People’s School” served the public good.

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