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'We're not going away': Supporters of referendum to nullify permitless carry in Oklahoma rally to gather last-minute signatures

OKLAHOMA CITY — The leader of an effort to repeal a new law that allows people to carry a gun without a permit or training said he is optimistic that enough signatures will be gathered to get the issue on the ballot.

“This has been phenomenal,” said Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City. “This has turned into something totally amazing.”

Lowe is one of three proponents of a referendum seeking to nullify House Bill 2597, also referred to as “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry,” which is set to take effect Nov. 1.

Supporters of the referendum held a press conference Friday at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa trying to rally for last-minute support. The group has until 5 p.m. Thursday to turn in 59,320 signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office.

“I am optimistic we will be able to get it done,” Lowe said.

Moms Demand Action Oklahoma chapter leader Christine Jackson called permitless carry “a dangerous policy that puts all of our communities at risk.”

“We opposed it during the legislative session, and we oppose it now,” said Jackson.

Added Naomi Andrews: “It is so important that we act now. This is the time. We won’t be able to stop this law once it’s in effect, … and our churches, our cinemas, our malls, our Walmarts are going to be that much more dangerous.”

Taylor King of Students Demand Action said: “Some have accused us of trying to stir up disagreements and counterproductive arguments. But how can that be the case when 81% of Oklahomans are in agreement against this dangerous piece of legislation?”

“This does not represent our interests but those of the radicals who are lining our legislators’ pockets,” she said.

Andrews appealed to “responsible gun owners” for their support “to protect the rights you currently have and to continue to protect the children of Oklahoma.”

“Some of us in here don’t really care for guns,” Andrews said. “Some of us in here care very strongly about our Second Amendment rights. The one thing we can all agree on is we all know an individual in our lives who is not a responsible enough person to be carrying a weapon in our churches or in our malls or out in public.”

The Secretary of State’s Office will count the signatures gathered on the petition and report its findings to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, said Amy Canton, director of the executive and legislative division.

She said the protest period ends Friday.

“If someone files a protest with the (Oklahoma) Supreme Court, and the proponents have already filed their signatures, we will probably have to hold off on the signature count until the Supreme Court makes a decision,” she said.

Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, said his organization plans to file a protest.

“My attorneys have told us to hold off on giving any other information other than we will be filing a protest,” Spencer said.

The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association is a strong backer of the law.

“The law needs to stay intact because the poor and minorities that have waited to be able to defend themselves without having to ask or pay for permission from the state of Oklahoma needs to come to an end,” Spencer said.

In addition, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office will have to review the ballot title to ensure it is legally sufficient, Canton said.

Hunter’s office can rewrite the ballot title, she said.

Cacky Poarch of Oklahoma City is with Moms Demand Action and said she has been actively gathering signatures and secured the support of Mayor David Holt to get the issue on the 2020 ballot.

Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce also signed the referendum petition.

“I just feel like a statewide vote makes a lot of sense given the fairly major change in our approach,” Joyce said.

A lot of people in the Stillwater community have expressed concerns about permitless carry, he said.

Supporters of the nullification effort have a Facebook page called “Oklahoma Veto Referendum — Veto Permitless Carry,” Poarch said.

In addition, the Facebook page of Moms Demand Action Oklahoma has information about the effort, said Jessica Saffa, the Tulsa chapter’s group leader.

The Tulsa County Democratic Party headquarters, at 3930 E. 31st St., will have the petition available from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, Saffa said. The group will also be at the Gathering Place on the same days and times.  

“We are going to do everything we can to get this on the ballot,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things about our volunteers. We are committed to keeping Oklahomans safe. We have an impressive group of volunteers. If anyone can get this done, it is definitely us.”

HB 2597 was the first piece of legislation signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Former Gov. Mary Fallin had vetoed a similar measure, Senate Bill 1212.

“Oklahomans made their voices heard about their support for constitutional carry on the campaign trail and through the Legislature’s passage of SB 1212 last year and HB 2597 this year,” said Baylee Lakey, a Stitt spokesperson. “The governor supports the hard work and commitment of our legislators who listen to their constituents and implement legislation that reflects the will of the people.”

Lowe said that even if the referendum fails, the issue is not over.

Critics of permitless carry have other avenues, including a possible lawsuit.

“We are not going away,” Lowe said.

The big shift: 2019 floods moved acres of land, changed landscapes

Correction: Use of the word "hungry" in fluvial geomorphology refers specifically to water released from dams, although it's true all water will pick up sediment based on its velocity and depth.

Russell Dutnell of Riverman Engineering consults on all river erosion issues regardless of value of the assets involved.

This story has been updated.

Water has been the story of the summer of 2019, with floods and record rainfall, but the true subject of a flood is land that has been inundated, scoured away, and sometimes lost.

“Hungry” is the word Russell Dutnell used to describe water released from dams that is free of sediment, and looking to pick up more.

But the same word could be used to describe the waters that ran across an already saturated landscape like Oklahoma had in May and June. Dirt is what the water is hungry for. It picks up what it runs across, over and through, like a snowball in an avalanche.

“Rivers are naturally sediment-moving machines,” said the longtime observer of Oklahoma’s rivers and operator of Riverman Engineering. “They move the mountains down to the oceans; it’s just what they do.”

Fluvial geomorphology is the line of expertise for people like Dutnell. They study the physical shapes of rivers and how their channels shift and how they move and redistribute sediment — and rocks and trees and houses, as the case may be.

He has adopted a matter-of-fact view of the rivers he has watched for so long and says there really is no stopping changes in a river’s course. Dramatic changes will only increase as more land is cleared, more area is covered with rooftops and pavement, and the velocity of “hungry” waters increases.

“What you’re seeing is a natural process. The problem is people like to live in the floodplain, next to the river,” he said. “The floodplain is part of the river; it’s just not usually active — until you have a flood.”

As rivers returned to normal levels and the full effects of the 2019 flood are surveyed, the impacts in some areas are dramatic, less so but still noticeable in others.

Homes that once stood along the banks of the Cimarron River at Crescent are now part of the river bottom. Some farmers in the Arkansas River Basin have lost acres of land, scoured down to bare rock, and others have croplands buried under several feet of sand or silt.

Two suction dredges, one 12 inches and one 16 inches, now are working to clear the route for barges along the silted-in lower stretches of the Verdigris and Arkansas Rivers. Each is working 24 hours a day (minus maintenance challenges) and moving 250 to 350 cubic yards of material per hour. The 16-inch dredge currently in the Robert S. Kerr Reservoir needs to move an estimated 650,000 cubic yards, according to the Corps of Engineers.

The most common dump trucks on the road carry from 10 to 14 cubic yards. So the need at Kerr pool is to move material equal to somewhere between 50,000 and 65,000 dump-truck loads.

The Arkansas River channel also shifted through Tulsa, much of which will be noticed mostly by fishermen. Everyone knows about the sinkholes and erosion through the River Parks, but there is one positive effect.

An experimental structure worked to create a new sandbar island where endangered least terns are nesting. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation project put a V-shaped rock structure mid-stream near its River Spirit Casino Resort. The design, developed by the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at Oklahoma State University, was new in 2016 and is under a five-year monitoring plan to gauge its success. But biologists on the river this week confirmed there is a large sandbar and terns are using it.

“We’ve been there twice this week and counted a half dozen adults, three or four chicks and some fledglings loafing there,” said biologist Stacy Dunkin with the Corps of Engineers.

The structures are designed to create a slow spot in the current where sand can drop out and build up. It’s designed to work at flows around 60,000 cubic feet per second, Dunkin said, but the Arkansas hit 275,000 cfs and the water depth hit 23.41 feet in late May.

“The fact that it persisted given those historic flows and that it didn’t scour out I think is evidence it’s working,” Dunkin said.

The U.S. Geological Survey river gauge in Tulsa that reported those maximum flows in May is among dozens across the state that had to be recalibrated after the historic flood, according to Scott Strong, manager at the USGS Tulsa field office.

“Most of the sites you read about in the news in May and June will need to be recalibrated,” he said.

The gauges measure a river’s stage to 100th of an inch, so physical changes to the river channel width or gradient at the point where the gauge is located can make a big difference, he said.

Accuracy of the gauges is checked regularly, but a historic event like the 2019 flood means all will need a physical site review and testing, he said.

Not just the rivers, but upland areas fell to the appetite of hungry waters. When heavy rain hit already saturated ground, the overland flow took out some pond dams, terraces and other soil conservation measures, said Gary O’Neill, state conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service. The floods hit well into the funding cycle for 2019, so much of the help available for farmers to repair those sites will come next fiscal year, he said.

Farmers along the Arkansas River, particularly in the Muskogee and Fort Gibson areas, have been hit hard and may have to take advantage of federal programs, some of which might be used to create permanent easements with no more farming.

“There is a lot of damage down there; it’s incredible,” O’Neill said. “There are places where everything is gone, hardly any soil left. … The riverbanks changed in places, and some people have lost several acres. The river comes out of its banks and goes to those old flow patterns, the old oxbows.”

While no state or federal agency tracks the amount of land lost to erosion, the state’s most-watched river, the Illinois, has been measured and may be in line for another updated survey to compliment work done by Dutnell several years ago, according to Ed Fite, vice president of water quality with the Grand River Dam Authority.

That work used aerial photography to show the first 21 miles of the Illinois River in Oklahoma expanded from an average width of 148 feet in 1958 to 185 feet in 1991. Lower stretches, near Tahlequah, expanded from an average width of 199 feet in 1979 to 239 feet in 1991.

Urban development upstream and clearing of lands along the river continue to exacerbate problems, Fite said. He said his “windshield view” makes him think the river continues to widen.

“We have a more flashy river. It rises faster, and it drops faster,” he said. “We have removed the land’s ability to capture and slowly release the water. That’s Mother Nature’s way.”

Dutnell said he "stopped fighting rivers" some years back. He said he consults on a wide variety of situations but before tackling an alteration he weighs carefully the value of assets needing protection—be it infrastructure or an archeological site—against the potential impacts to the stream or river.

“I tell people who want to build next to a river to remember, ‘You’re impeding the river; it’s not impeding you.’ If you want to live there, you have to live with whatever the river does.”

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Trump raises tariffs on Chinese goods as trade war escalates

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump angrily escalated his trade fight with China on Friday, raising retaliatory tariffs and ordering American companies to consider alternatives to doing business there.

He also blamed Jerome Powell, the man he appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve, for the state of the domestic economy, wondering who was a “bigger enemy” of the U.S. — Powell or Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Even by the turbulent standards of the Trump presidency, his actions, all done via Twitter, were notable, sending markets sharply lower and adding to a sense of uncertainty on the eve of his trip to France for a meeting of global economic powers.

Trump’s move came after Beijing announced Friday morning that it had raised taxes on U.S. products. He huddled with advisers, firing off tweets that attacked China and the Fed. And he mockingly attributed a Wall Street drop of 573 points to the withdrawal of a marginal candidate from the Democratic presidential race. The Dow Jones average eventually closed down 623 points.

The president attacked the Fed for not lowering rates at an informal gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where no such action was under consideration. Powell, speaking to central bankers, gave vague assurances that the Fed would act to sustain the nation’s economic expansion, but noted that the central bank had limited tools to deal with damage from the trade dispute.

Trump said he would be raising planned tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese goods from 10% to 15%. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also said existing tariffs on another $250 billion in Chinese imports would go from 25% to 30% on Oct. 1 after receiving feedback from the public.

The impact could be sweeping for consumers.

“With each percentage point added to the tariff hikes, it becomes more and more difficult for importers not to pass the costs on to the U.S. consumer,” said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator now at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “And this is not to mention the uncertainty that these increases contribute to the overall business environment.”

Follows Beijing action

Trump acted hours after Beijing said it would hike tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. imports, a move some economists fear could tip a fragile global economy into recession.

The president appeared caught off-guard by China’s tariff increase, and was angry when he gathered with his trade team in the Oval Office before departing for France, according to two people familiar with the meeting who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose closed-door conversations.

Administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and adviser Peter Navarro, discussed potential retaliatory options. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, returning from vacation, joined by phone.

Earlier Friday, the president said he “hereby ordered” U.S. companies to seek alternatives to doing business in China. The White House did not cite what authority the president could use to force private businesses to change their practices.

Trump’s latest escalation will impose a burden on many American households. Even before he announced an increase Friday, J.P. Morgan had estimated that Trump’s tariffs would cost the average household roughly $1,000 a year if he proceeded with his threats.

Businesses large and small joined in a chorus of opposition to the intensifying hostilities.

“It’s impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation. “The administration’s approach clearly isn’t working, and the answer isn’t more taxes on American businesses and consumers. Where does this end?”

Broad effect

If Trump goes ahead with all the tariffs he’s announced, they would cover just about everything China ships to the United States.

China, for its part, slapped new tariffs of 5% and 10% on $75 billion of U.S. products in retaliation. Like Trump’s, the Chinese tariffs will be imposed in two batches — first on Sept. 1 and then on Dec. 15.

China will also go ahead with previously postponed import duties on U.S.-made autos and auto parts, the Finance Ministry announced.

Trump tweets Friday included one declaring, “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing ... your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.”

French, at the National Retail Federation, said it was “unrealistic for American retailers to move out of the world’s second largest economy. ... Our presence in China allows us to reach Chinese customers and develop overseas markets.”

Jay Foreman, CEO of Basic Fun!, a Florida toy company that imports from China, said Trump’s demand to American companies was outrageous.

It was an “unprecedented statement for a president to make to private business when there is no national security issue involved,” he said.

13-month-long feud

The 13-month-long feud between the U.S. and China has been rattling financial markets, disrupting international trade and weakening prospects for worldwide economic growth.

Washington accuses China of using predatory tactics — including outright theft of U.S. trade secrets — in an aggressive drive to turn itself into a world leader in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and electric cars.

Twelve rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse, though more negotiations are expected next month. Chinese leaders have offered to alter details of their policies but are resisting any deal that would require them to give up their aspirations to become a technological powerhouse.

The two countries are also deadlocked over how to enforce any agreement.

China’s announced tariff hikes — and Trump’s response — are the latest signs that both countries are digging in.

“China is signaling yet again that it has no intention of backing off from the trade war, further reducing the likelihood of the U.S. and China agreeing on any sort of trade deal in the coming months,” said Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad, former head of the China division at the International Monetary Fund.

The Chinese said tariffs of 25% and 5% would be imposed on U.S.-made autos and auto parts on Dec. 15. Beijing had planned those tariff hikes last year but temporarily dropped them to keep the talks going.

BMW, Tesla, Ford and Mercedes-Benz are likely to be the hardest hit by the Chinese auto tariffs. In 2018, BMW exported about 87,000 luxury SUVs to China from a plant near Spartanburg, S.C. It exports more vehicles to China than any other U.S. auto plant.

Together, Ford, BMW, Mercedes and others exported about 164,000 vehicles to China from the U.S. in 2018, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Most of them are luxury cars and SUVs with higher profit margins that can cover higher U.S. wages. The exports are down from about 262,000 in 2017.

Tesla, which is building a plant in China, last year got about 12% of its revenue by exporting about 14,300 electric cars and SUVs from California to China, according to Barclays. Most of Ford’s exports are from the Lincoln luxury brand, but most of the vehicles it sells in China are made in joint-venture factories.