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What's the reality behind Walmart's 'Made in America' claims?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

LauraClawsonWalmart is making its annual push to get credit for its self-proclaimed massive investment in U.S.-made products, which means it’s time for a reality check. The Alliance for American Manufacturing, which put together the infographic below, has the facts:

 When Walmart claims that its American-made goods initiative will create 1 million new American jobs, it fails to mention that Chinese-made goods entering the United States through Walmart totaled at least $49.1 billion in 2013 alone.

It also doesn’t mention that the combined effect of imports from and exports to China through Walmart accounted for about 15 percent of the growth of the overall American goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013.

Or that the Walmart-based Chinese trade deficit eliminated 400,000 American jobs during that time.

Walmart’s rosy claims are on the left; the AAM’s reality check is on the right.

infographic highlighting distance between Walmart's claims about buying American and the reality.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Brexit and the New Global Rebellion

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Things are changing. A major crack has appeared in the edifice of globalization, and the neoliberal order that has dominated the world’s economy since the end of World War II is now in danger.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by any means. But poisonous weeds are just as likely as green shoots to grow up through those cracks. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Those who make constructive evolution impossible may be making destructive devolution inevitable.

We now know that Great Britain, itself an amalgam of older nations, is divided. England and Wales voted to leave Europe, while Scotland, Northern Ireland, and ethnically diverse London voted to remain.

This vote was a stunning rejection of Great Britain’s political establishment. “Leave” prevailed despite opposition from all three major political parties. Prime Minister David Cameron, who will now step down, called on voters to “Remain.” So did socialist Jeremy Corbin, the most left-wing Labor leader in a generation. Barack Obama crossed the Atlantic to stand beside Cameron and offer his support.

Voters rejected all of them.

The uprising has begun. The question now is, who will lead it going forward?

Globalism’s Shadow Self

The world’s financial and political elites must now face the fact that resistance to their economic order, which has shaped the world since the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, is a major phenomenon. These elites are apparently more out of touch with the citizens of the industrialized world than at any time in modern memory.

Make no mistake: The “Leave” vote was a rejection of globalization, at least as it’s currently structured. This was a revolt of working class Britons who have seen their postwar prosperity erode around them and their social contract eviscerated by the corporate and financial oligarchy.

But it was also the sign of a darker and more sinister worldwide phenomenon: the resurgence of global nativism and xenophobia. This worldwide turn toward fear of the Other is globalization’s shadow self.

Revolt of the Powerless

That’s not to say that there wasn’t a legitimate left-wing case to be made for leaving the European Union. The “Left Leave” movement, or #Lexit, had its own advocates. “Why cling to this reactionary institution?” asked one.

But this near-victory wasn’t won with leftist arguments about resisting the global oligarchy. The left was too divided to make that case clearly or forcefully. It was largely won by stirring up bigotry against immigrants, cloaked in flimsy arguments about excessive regulation. Legitimate economic grievances were channeled into nationalist hostility.

Many “Leave” voters felt powerless, that they no longer had much of a say in their own destinies. They weren’t wrong. The European Union was largely a creation of transnational financial forces driven by a self-serving neoliberal ideology of “free” markets, privatization, and corporate economic governance.

But ,even at its worst, the EU is a symptom and not a cause. Great Britain’s citizens haven’t been losing control over their fate to the EU. They’ve been losing it because their own country’s leaders – as well as those of most other Western democracies – are increasingly in thrall to corporate and financial interests.

The British people have lost more sovereignty to trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP then they could have ever surrendered to the European Union. Their democratic rights are trampled daily, not by faceless EU bureaucrats, but by the powerful financial interests that dominate their politics and their economy.

Low Information Voters

This vote won’t help the middle class. British workers will no longer be guaranteed the worker rights that come with EU membership. British corporations will be less regulated, which means more environmental damage and more mistreatment of employees and customers. They will not, in the words of William Blake, “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.”

Most “Leave” voters probably don’t know that, because the media failed them too. Instead of being given a balanced understanding of EU membership’s advantages and disadvantages, the British people were fed a constant diet of terror fears and trivial anti-government anecdotes meant to reinforce the notion that EU was needlessly and absurdly bureaucratic.

As Martin Fletcher explains, Boris Johnson played a key role in degrading the performance of Britain’s corporate press back in his days as a journalist. Other outlets were all to eager to mimic his anti-government and anti-Europe stereotypes. And now? It’s as if Sean Hannity’sdeceptive sensationalism had made him a top presidential prospect.

Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage played the same role in the Leave campaign that Donald Trump is playing in US politics. Like Trump, they have used economic fears to stoke the anti-immigrant fear and hatred that is their real stock in trade. Their slogan might just as well have been “Make England Great Again.”

The campaign’s fearmongering and hate has already claimed a victim in Jo Cox, the Labor MP who was violently martyred by a white British racist. Tellingly, her murder was not described as an act of terrorism, which it clearly was. The decision to restrict the “terrorist” label to Muslims, in Great Britain as in the United States, feeds precisely the kind of hatred that fuels movements like these.

Great Britain’s immigrant population grew by 4.5 million under EU membership. But in a just economy, that would lead to growth for the existing middle class. Britain’s immigrants didn’t wound that country’s middle class. They’re scapegoats for rising inequality and the punishing austerity of the conservative regime.


What happens next? Markets are already reacting, retrenching in anticipation of new trade barriers and political uncertainty.

Before the voting, estimates of a Leave vote’s effect on Britain’s economy ranged from “negative” to outright “calamitous.” The outcome will probably fall somewhere between the two.

Will the reprehensible Mr. Johnson, who pushed aggressively for Brexit, now lead his party -perhaps even his country? How much will this boost UKIP? By rejecting the EU, will Great Britain soon experience even harsher economic austerity measures than Cameron’s?

Scotland may once again pursue independence so that it can rejoin Europe. Sinn Fein is calling again for the reunification of Ireland. Suddenly anything seems possible.

There are already calls for a similar referendum in France.

British workers are likely to be worse off without EU protections, especially if the far right prevails in future elections as the result of this vote.

Trade deals will need to be negotiated between Britain and the EU, along with the terms of separation. Judging by its behavior toward Greece, Germany prefers to punish any nation impertinent enough to try guiding its own economic destiny. These negotiations won’t be pleasant.

The New Resistance

The current order is unstable. The uprising has begun. But who will lead it?

All over the world there are Boris Johnsons and Nigel Farages poised to capitalize on the chaos. The US has Trump, who was quick to tie himself to the vote. Greece has Golden Dawn. Germany has the far-right, anti-immigrant AfD party. Scandinavia has the Sweden Democrat Party and the Danish People’s Party. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, itself nationalistic and totalitarian by nature, is in danger of being outdone by the racist and anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

Hungary is already building a Trump-like wall, in fact, a barb-wired fence meant to keep Syrian refugees out of the country and Jobbik out of political power.

There is also also a growing democratic counterforce, poised to resist both the global elites and the nationalist bigots. It includes Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and the Corbin movement in Great Britain (although Corbin’s fate is unclear in the wake of this vote). In the US it has been seen in both the Occupy movement and, more recently, in the newly resurgent left inspired by Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

The global financial order is fracturing. But will it fall? It’s powerful and well organized. Even if it does, what will replace it: a more humane global order, or a world torn by nationalism and hate? Should these new progressive parties and factions form a transnational movement?

That’s the goal of economist Yanis Varoufakis, among others. Varoufakis confronted the EU’s economic leadership directly when he negotiated with them as Greece’s first Finance Minister under Syriza. They prevailed, and Varoufakis is now a private citizen.

The Greeks chose economic autonomy when they voted for Syriza. They didn’t get it. The British aren’t likely to get what they want from this vote either. No matter what happens, British citizens will still be in thrall to corporate financial forces – forces that can rewrite the rules they go along.

Greece’s fate has been a cautionary tale for the world, a powerful illustration of the need for worldwide coordinated resistance to today’s economic and political elites. We can vote. But without economic autonomy, we aren’t truly free. In the months and years to come, the people of Great Britain are likely to learn the truth: We are all Greece now.

The question is, where do we go from here?

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on June 24, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

People’s Summit Seeks To Take ‘Political Revolution’ To The Next Level

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Isaiah J. PooleIf you actually read Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speech to his supporters Thursday – rather than the news coverage of it – you will immediately grasp the importance of this weekend’s gathering in Chicago of about 3,000 progressive leaders and grassroots activists.

Sanders is not expected to appear at the People’s Summit, which starts Friday night and concludes Sunday morning, but his speech Thursday was a manifesto for what that summit, and the progressive movement generally, should be devoted to in the months and years ahead.

“Election days come and go,” Sanders said at the very beginning of his address. “But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end. They continue every day, every week and every month in the fight to create a nation of social and economic justice. … And that’s what this campaign has been about over the past year.”

Change, he went on to say, does not take place from the top, such as in the White House or in “the living rooms of wealthy contributors,” but from the millions of people at the bottom “who say ‘enough is enough’ and become engaged in the fight for justice.”

Rallying a core group of Sanders supporters and allies and stepping up their engagement in the “political revolution” that Sanders stoked is the stated goal of the People’s Summit.

“Sen. Sanders has electrified the nation, inspiring millions to stand up for a bolder and better future,” said George Goehl, co-executive director of People’s Action, a new national grassroots organization. “At the People’s Summit, people from across the country are gathering to plan how they can continue to fight big campaigns around bold ideas, elect progressive champions to office up and down the ballot and build new people’s organizations across the country.”

People’s Action is one of the organizations that has affiliates in states around the country that will be represented at the summit. The summit will feature a number of high-profile speakers – among them Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-Hawaii); RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United; CNN commentator and Dream Corps founder Van Jones, and Rev. William Barber, architect of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina. But there will be workshops, training sessions and networking opportunities.

Much of the news media will be looking for tensions between the “Bernie or Bust” faction of the progressive movement that is not prepared to support Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee, and those who see a Clinton victory in November as a necessary step toward the more important, long-term objective of transforming our political and economic structures. But those tensions should not be the story. Something transformative could potentially happen in our political system, in which the fading of a presidential campaign gives birth to a political force that could have far more impact than a single presidency. this will be worth watching.

You can follow the People’s Summit through its website (where the event will be livestreamed; look for the menu option at the top of the webpage), on Facebook and on Twitter (@pplsummit).

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.

This Year's Top Five Reasons They're Attacking "Greedy" Trial Lawyers and "Frivolous" Lawsuits

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Arthur BryantWhen corporations or the government value money over lives and safety, injure people, or discriminate against them, the courts are where they can be held accountable. But corporate and government wrongdoers don’t want to be held accountable.

That’s why, for decades, they’ve been waging a massive propaganda campaign to demonize trial lawyers, litigation, juries, and our system of justice. They’re trying to poison public perception by attaching toxic adjectives to everything that could make them pay. They attack “greedy” trial lawyers, “frivolous” lawsuits, “runaway” juries, and “jackpot” justice— and call our legal system a “lottery”—because they don’t want justice to be done.

Each year, Public Justice counters this self-serving, corporate PR campaign by making sure people know the truth. We recognize the lawyers who made the greatest contribution to the public good by trying or settling a case as finalists for our nationally-prestigious Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.  This year’s finalists, listed alphabetically by case name below, will be honored—and the winner will be announced—at Public Justice’s 34th Annual Gala & Awards Dinneron Sunday, July 24, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  Their cases show what trial lawyers and lawsuits can do — and why they’re really being attacked.

Andrews v. Lawrence Livermore National Security

In 2008, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was taken over by a private company, Lawrence Livermore National Security (LLNS), controlled by the Bechtel Corporation and the University of California. LLNS promised to save the federal government $50 million annually. To do so, it then fired more than 400 of the lab’s most senior workers, including many top scientists and researchers. It gave them one hour to pack up their belongings and return their badges before they were “perp-walked” out of the lab.

Gary Gwilliam and his team at Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer and Omar Habbas of Habbas & Associates would not let this stand. They sued on behalf of 130 workers, litigated for more than seven years, and won a $2,728,327 jury verdict for breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for five test plaintiffs. They then negotiated a $37.25 million settlement for 129 of the 130 plaintiffs—the equivalent of over three years’ salary for each. When the defendants insisted that the settlement be confidential, the plaintiffs’ counsel refused—because the public had a right to know the disastrous effects of the government’s attempt to privatize a national lab.

Fox v. Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is famous for its healthcare and hygiene products, which have become staples in American homes. Consumers trust that J&J will ensure that its products are safe and alert them to any potential dangers it knows. A deadly breach of that trust led to the death of Jacqueline Fox, who used two of the company’s talc-based feminine hygiene products—J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Body Powder—daily for over 35 years.

Jere Beasley and his colleagues at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, along with attorneys from Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson, LLC, The Smith Law Firm; and Ferrer, Poirot & Wansbrough proved J&J knew that long-term use of talc had been linked to ovarian cancer, but never disclosed that fact—even after the company’s talc supplier began warning of its dangers.  In the first case holding the company liable for talc-caused injuries, the jury awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages. The case laid the groundwork for the 1,200 similar suits J&J is currently facing.

Jones (Varden) v. City of Clanton
and similar cases

Every night in America, about 500,000 people sit in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail—the largest pretrial detainee population in the recorded history of the world. These detainees, who have not been tried yet and are often held for minor, non-violent offenses, constitute 60 percent of the U.S. jail population and cost counties $9 billion in 2011 alone. While they’re held, they can lose their jobs or homes, be beaten or attacked, or simply fall prey to unsanitary and depressing conditions. So many plead guilty, regardless of whether they committed the crime, just to get out and go home.

Alec Karakatsanis of Equal Justice Under Law in Washington, DC, along with counsel from Dawson Law Office, McGuire & Associates, ArchCity Defenders, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and William P. Quigley used litigation to start ending this practice. In a series of lawsuits first filed on behalf of Christy Dawn Varden, a mother of two held in jail because she could not afford to pay bail, they argued that keeping a person in jail because she could not pay bail—without an inquiry into her ability to pay—was unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice agreed. Their lawsuits stopped unconstitutional poverty jailing practices in Clanton, AL; Ascension Parish, LA; Velda City, MO; Moss Point, MS; Similar lawsuits have been filed in dozens of other cities.

Linde v. Arab Bank

The Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1990 allows people who were injured by acts of terror abroad to bring civil suits in federal court. Linde was a mass tort consolidation case with 117 plaintiffs who were injured in suicide bombings and attacks in Israel, 40 wrongful death cases, and 440 family members of those injured or killed. The plaintiffs charged that Arab Bank administered a Saudi-funded universal insurance plan for the benefit of Palestinian terrorists killed, injured, or apprehended by Israeli security forces. For years, branches of the Saudi charity authorized payments ranging from $140 to $5,316 to terrorists and their families.

Michael E. Elsner and two of his colleagues at Motley Rice, C. Tab Turner of Turner & Associates, and lawyers from Osen LLC; Sayles Werbner;Stone, Bonner & Rocco; Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik; MM-Law; Kohn, Swift & Graf; Zuckerman Spaeder;  AG International Law; and Peter Raven-Hansen worked for over a decade to bring the case to trial.  In September 2014, a federal jury held Arab Bank liable. In August 2015, three days before the trial on damages was supposed to start, the parties reached a confidential settlement. This is the first case to hold a financial institution liable under the ATA. It and related cases aim to curtail the flow of money to terrorist organizations by holding financial institutions that aid them responsible.

Reckis v. Johnson and Johnson

In 2003, seven-year-old Samantha Reckis came down with a fever that her parents treated with over-the-counter Children’s Motrin, made by J&J and its subsidiary, McNeil-PPC. After two doses, she developed a rash that spread from her face to her trunk. After several more doses, Samantha’s body was covered in blisters and she was diagnosed with a potentially deadly adverse drug reaction called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). The affliction left Samantha legally blind and in need of a lung transplant. She suffered moderate brain damage and was left unable to bear children. When she was discharged, she weighed just 30 pounds.

Bradley M. Henry and his co-counsel at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, along with Robert S. Peckof the Center for Constitutional Litigation, helped the Reckis family get justice. They sued J&J, proving the company had known since the 1980s—and failed to warn customers—that Motrin and other ibuprofen-based products were causally linked to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a life-threatening skin condition, and TEN, which has a 40% mortality rate and almost always leads to blindness and other severe life-long ailments. The jury awarded Samantha and her family $63 million, which grew to $112 million over three years as J&J fruitlessly appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Public Justice honors these lawyers because of their extraordinary work fighting injustice, taking great risks (trial lawyers don’t recover any fees unless they win), and accomplishing great things. The short paragraphs above are just summaries of these teams’ incredible work. Fore more details, including the names of all the finalists, click here.

But let’s be clear. These cases exemplify what lawsuits and trial lawyers do. That’s why Corporate America and irresponsible public officials keep talking about “frivolous” lawsuits and “greedy” trial lawyers. It’s a lot easier than talking about their outrageous misconduct, their fear of liability, and their hope for immunity for their wrongdoing.

Don’t let them get away with it. Share this with others. Spread the word.

The problem isn’t “frivolous” lawsuits or “greedy” trial lawyers. The problem is the injustice we need lawsuits and trial lawyers to expose, remedy, and prevent.

This blog originally appeared on Public Justice on June 13, 20016. Reprinted with permission. 

Arthur H. Bryant, Chairman of Public Justice, has won major victories and established new precedents in several areas of the law, including constitutional law, toxic torts, civil rights, consumer protection, and mass torts. The National Law Journal has twice named him one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in America.

Consumers are getting new protections from predatory lenders, and the lenders are outraged

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is cracking down on some of the payday lending industry’s most abusive practices, and boy are payday lenders getting whiny about it. So very whiny—and all kinds of poutraged.

“The CFPB has made eminently clear that it cares little for preserving consumers’ ability to access credit, or conducting a rulemaking process grounded in sound data,” said Jamie Fulmer, the spokesperson for lender Advance America, in a statement Wednesday.

Fulmer called the rules “a direct threat to millions of Americans’ access to affordable, transparent and reliable credit” and said that for smaller lenders, “they are a death sentence.”

Ha ha ha ha. “Affordable” credit being threatened by rules targeting payday lenders. Tell me another one! What’s the CFPB proposing that’s so awful?

The first measure requires lenders to assess if the borrower has the income to fully repay the loan when it is due without reborrowing. This idea, known as “ability to repay,” targets at the cycle of debt that unaffordable payday loans can trap people in.

The proposed rule also prohibits lenders from making more than two unsuccessful attempts to withdraw money from borrowers bank accounts. Repeated debit attempts cause consumers to be hit with overdraft fees from their banks. Such fees hit half of all online borrowers, costing an average of $185.

Additionally, there would be limits on how often the borrower could go back to the well for another loan if their financial situation hadn’t improved, which would further help prevent situations where people take out one loan after another to repay earlier loans, leading to giant pile of interest and fees after giant pile of interest and fees.

In contrast to the payday lending industry’s whines, consumer advocates called on the CFPB to go further, with the National Consumer Law Center calling it “a strong start” but saying that “the proposal has worrisome loopholes.” Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch, meanwhile, called on members of Congress “to speak up and let us know where they stand”—a relevant question given that not only do Republicans love to go after any advance proposed by the Obama administration, but even Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz co-sponsored a bill to gut the CFBP proposal before it was even released.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on June 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

First Women Graduate from Fort Campbell Welding Program

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Kenneth QuinnellOne of the great benefits of joining the military is the opportunity to learn skills that benefit a soldier after their service is completed. Some soldiers, such as Specialist Tanya Preddy and Sergeant Alyssa Tamayo, prepare for careers that provide good jobs while breaking ground at the same time. Preddy and Tamayo just became the first women to graduate Fort Campbell’s Veterans in Piping program in Kentucky. Veterans in Piping is a program of the United Association (UA).

Preddy said: “I was pretty excited going into this, to be honest, because I mean, who wouldn’t be excited about making stuff with fire,” she joked. “That’s awesome to me. I’d never welded before this class, ever. I just thought it would be really cool and fun.”

“I think the guys were surprised to see us [in the classroom],” Tamayo added. “A lot of people think welding is just for men and with us being the first two females at Fort Campbell ever, in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘I have to beat everybody in here.’ I just felt like I had to be perfect.”

Read the full story.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Vouchers Subsidizing Education Failure

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

poole-60x60The false god of school vouchers has been unmasked once again, this time by a Brookings Institution study that says students in Louisiana and Indiana using vouchers to attend private and religious schools ended up doing worse on reading and math scores than their public school counterparts.

“The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large,” said the study on “The Negative Effects of School Vouchers,” written by Mark Dynarski, a fellow with Brookings’ Center on Children and Families. They also could not be explained away by the nature of the tests the children were taken or by some notion that some of the voucher children had been pulled away from above-average public schools.

Rather, the conclusion that these results point to is that “our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate,” Dynarski writes.

The facts in this report strike at a core argument behind the conservative drive to defund public schools and to promote “school choice” to parents, using taxpayer dollars to pay some or all of the costs of a private, often church-based, school. Sometimes invoking the language of the civil rights movement, these voucher programs are defended as ways to liberate students from the mediocrity of public schools and give them the opportunity to get higher quality schooling that equips them to succeed, including if they face barriers of race or class.

Here’s the reality, according to the report: “In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia has school voucher programs. The District’s program is unique in that it is a federally funded (and for many D.C. results, unwanted) intrusion into the city’s affairs. Vouchers have recently made news in North Carolina, where the state legislature is considering a $10 million increase each year in its $12 million budget for the program. That would in 10 years increase the school voucher budget to $135 million.

As Dynarski notes, comparisons of how well students using vouchers to attend private schools in all of these states have done to public school students “have reported mixed results on scores.” But what is remarkable about what the Brookings study saw in Louisiana and Indiana is that earlier studies have not reported “significant negative effects on test scores.”

“In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle,” Dynarski concludes. “A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction.”

But perhaps what is also being unmasked here is that the school voucher movement is not all about academic excellence, at least as education policymakers and experts think of it. Jeff Bryant exposed this several weeks ago in his extensive review of voucher programs and the instruction that gets subsidized by them. An editorial published recently in The Washington Times offers a window into what’s really driving the voucher movement, as it touts vouchers as a way for parents to avoid schools with such mandates as allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that conform to their gender identity. Instead of having to send their children to “schools which they believe promote unsafe and immoral behavior” – presumably such as respect and understanding for people who are different from themselves – the government can instead subsidize “the freedom to choose” a “morality” of intolerance.

But tax dollars should not be subsidizing ignorance of the basic facts of life – whether that ignorance is of how to solve a math equation or how to deal with children who don’t fit our false notions of a gender binary. At the very least, parents should have a fact-based debate of what we’re actually buying with school vouchers, not one argued on faith without evidence.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 26, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.

The New Agenda For Taking On Wall Street

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

poole-60x60More than 20 progressive organizations representing millions of voters are putting their weight behind a five-point agenda for the next stage of Wall Street reform. What these groups will formally announce Tuesday, in an event featuring Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, sets a high but practical standard for what a candidate would have to embrace to be considered a progressive on reining in the financial sector.

The Take On Wall Street campaign says it intends to ensure that the voices of working people and consumers are heard above the power and influence of Wall Street. The Washington Post reports that Take On Wall Street will combine the efforts of “some of the Democratic parties biggest traditional backers, from the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO to the Communications Workers of America.”

The campaign is pressing five changes that the coalition says would lead to a fair financial system that works for Main Street and working families, not just Wall Street billionaires. Most are embodied in legislation that is currently pending in Congress:

? Close the carried interest loophole. That’s the tax code provision that allows hedge fund and private equity managers to pay a lower tax rate on their earnings than what ordinary workers pay on what they earn. The Carried Interest Fairness Act (H.R. 2889) would end this inequity.

? End the CEO bonus loophole. That loophole allows corporations to write off a large share of CEO pay as a tax deduction – by calling it “performance-based” pay. The result is that taxpayers are subsidizing CEO pay to the tune of $5 billion a year. That amount of money would cover Head Start for more than 590,000 children, or pay the health care costs of more than 480,000 military veterans, or fund full scholarships for more than 600,000 college students. The Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (H.R.2103) would end taxpayers subsidizing CEOs and allow those dollars to be used for such priorities as education and health care.

? End “too big to fail.” Both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, say they agree with the principle that banks that are “too big to fail are too big to exist,” but Clinton is adamantly opposed to the one thing many economists and banking experts believe would help avert the need to bail out a “too big to fail” bank: a legal wall separating consumer banking from high-risk investment and trading activity. The Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2015 (H.R.381) and 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act (H.R. 3054) would bring back a version of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton.

? Enact a Wall Street speculation tax. It’s not right that consumers pay a sales tax on most things they buy, but traders don’t pay a sales tax on the stocks they buy. A tiny tax on the sale of Wall Street financial products – like the one envisioned in the Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2015 (H.R.1464) would raise billions of dollars for critical public needs, and could serve as a brake on high-speed computerized speculation that risks destabilizing markets. This tax would go farther than a narrowly targeted tax that Clinton has proposed.

? End predatory lending and offer alternatives for the “unbanked.” The coalition is throwing its support behind efforts by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enact tough new regulations against payday and title lenders, which frequently entrap low-income borrowers in a quicksand of debt through sky-high, often three-digit interest rates and exorbitant fees. It also champions such “public option” alternatives as allowing the U.S. Postal Service to offer basic banking services.

All of these ideas have been proffered by progressive financial reformers even as the Dodd-Frank financial reform law squeaked through Congress in 2010. But this promises to be the broadest effort yet to combine these proposals into a singular reform push, and it comes as jockeying begins to shape the Democratic Party platform. As The Post notes, “Unlike previous anti-Wall Street campaigns such as Occupy Wall Street this group hopes to organize a campaign that will span state houses and as well as the halls of Congress, potentially forecasting a big fight on financial reform in 2017.”

It also comes as many in the Wall Street financial community turn to Clinton as the sane alternative to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the general election campaign. These money interests will want Clinton to assure them that her get-tough rhetoric is nothing more than political red meat to assuage an angry populist electorate; their hope is that if the pivot to a centrist posture doesn’t happen in the general election, it will surely happen once she secures the presidency. But broad support for the Take On Wall Street agenda will limit Clinton’s ability to pivot, especially if this agenda helps elect new Senate and House members committed to not allowing Wall Street to keep rigging the economy against the rest of us.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 23, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.

The Flint Effect: Will One City’s Crisis Spark A National Awakening?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Jeff Bryant

When news about lead contamination in the water supply of Flint Michigan made headlines across the nation, many compared the crisis to Hurricane Katrina. Even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder called the disaster “his Katrina,” comparing the failure of government leadership in his state to the failure of public officials who left Katrina victims stranded.

But while Katrina was a singular event with a tragically long legacy, Flint is proving to be the beginning of a story playing out over a much longer time period and in more than one place.

It’s the difference between a blockbuster movie and the season opener of a TV serial.

In an update on Flint from the New York Times, we learn the crisis is anything but over. “Reports of rashes, itchiness, and hair loss” are making people fearful of using the city water to bathe in. “Families are going to extraordinary lengths to find places where they can bathe without fear,” the report says

And of course what’s yet to come is evidence of the irreversible damage done to the developing brains and nervous systems of Flint’s children due to the exposure to lead.

But what makes Flint more of a presage is the realization it’s sparking around the country about the conditions being inflicted on our youngest citizens.

Flint Is Everywhere

When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “America is Flint,” he branded the crisis a “wake-up call” to address the national problem of lead toxicity in children’s environments.

Now we know some public officials indeed stirred. As the Associated Press reports, Flint prompted school officials in many places to test classroom sinks and cafeteria faucets for lead.

What they found was alarming: “Among schools and day care centers operating their own water systems … 278 violated federal lead levels at some point during the past three years. Roughly a third of those had lead levels that were at least double the federal limit.”

The reporters found an elementary school in Wisconsin with pipes, buried in the concrete foundation, leaching lead into the tap water and a Head Start center in Missouri whose relatively new building showed up with high levels of lead in the water. These facilities have switched to bottled water at considerable cost.

“No state is immune to the problem,” the article states.

The AP story follows other disturbing reports from big-city school systems plagued with lead in school drinking water. As Mother Jones reports, schools in Boston, Baltimore, Camden, and Newark “have been drinking trucked-in water for years due to lead concerns.” (The writer could have mentioned Philadelphia, too.)

The article calls schools with verified lead levels “the lucky ones” because officials at least know the water is toxic and have taken steps to address that. The much bigger problem is that many school systems simply don’t know the danger flowing through their pipes.

The article quotes a university professor who studied lead contamination in Flint, who observed, “It’s definitely the schools that you do not hear about” that are the most concerning.

It’s The Aging Infrastructure, Stupid

A significant part of the problem is that, according to Mother Jones, “roughly 90 percent of the nation’s schools aren’t required to test their water.”

But the issues go way beyond testing. As the AP reporter explains, in “almost all cases” of lead contamination, “the problems can be traced to aging buildings with lead pipes, older drinking fountains, and water fixtures that have parts made with lead.”

So even when municipal water supplies show no contamination with lead, that’s no assurance schools are lead free. Lead pipes weren’t banned until 1986, AP explains, but the average age of school buildings in America “date to the early 1970s.”

Some communities have addressed their aging school infrastructure by simply closing old buildings down. But taking that option can result in a number of potentially negative consequences.

First, after closing school buildings down, students still need somewhere to go to school, and again school buildings can often be a systemic problem. There are other problems as well.

As Rachel Cohen explains in a report for The American Prospect, closing down school buildings, even aging ones, has proven to be a very controversial issue in communities across the country. Cohen points to a number of cities where school closings have destabilized neighborhoods, devastated small businesses, and lowered local property values.

“Public schools have always impacted communities in ways that go beyond just educating young people,” Cohen writes, citing the benefits of “well-maintained school facilities” to economic vitality and civic life.

Also, old school buildings that are poorly maintained and in need of repair are located disproportionately in low-income communities of color, which has prompted education and civil rights advocates to connect school closings to charges of race and income discrimination.

Further, a majority of schools that are closed aren’t really closed for good. In fact, most find a second life as charter schools, and the problems don’t go away; they just change hands.

“Rather than shutter schools,” Cohen explains, “residents argue districts should reinvest in them.”

The Investment We Need

Where will the money come from?

“Increasing state and federal spending could both help struggling urban schools, and also help fortify communities more broadly,” Cohen says. She quotes an expert on school infrastructure spending who suggests the federal government “start contributing at least 10 percent toward district capital budgets” to low-income communities to Title I funding.

Much better still would be a national program addressing our aging education infrastructure. Congress is currently engaged in budget talks, but so far rescuing school children from their increasingly unsafe learning environments hasn’t been on the agenda, with one exception.

The exception comes from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose People’s Budgetincludes an investment of $1 trillion to “transition to 21st Century infrastructure, which ensures our roads, bridges, railways, and facilities are strong and that no town experiences the devastating effects of crumbling infrastructure we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan.” The CPC also calls for “greater investments in K-12 education.”

What better investment is there than making sure school buildings are safe and healthy?

The fact that Flint is not only staying in the news, but is also still in conversations in Congress, is testament to how disturbing the story is. But now that we know that Flint is really everywhere, it’s time to go beyond merely being disturbed to taking specific actions. Millions of school children are relying on us.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on April 14, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Labor Notes Conference Gathers Over 2,000 ‘Troublemaker’ Workers and Organizers in Chicago

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Every two years since 1981, the Detroit- and Brooklyn-based monthly newsletter Labor Notes has rallied union members and wannabe members, as well as some union staff and elected leaders, to join in a long weekend of sharing stories, strategies and wisdom gained in their workplace skirmishes.

They are the sort of people that bosses everywhere—and a few union officials—might call “troublemakers,” and they have adopted the moniker as a badge of honor (including holding “troublemaker schools” and producing tactical handbooks for do-it-yourself organizers).

Last weekend, around 2,200 labor activists, from diverse age groups, industries, personal experiences and nations (about 150 visitors from 22 countries), gathered in Chicago for a packed line-up of workshops and plenary sessions in the largest of these conferences.

Some workshops focused on learning skills (such as how to figure out the cost of a contract to employers) or tactics (including such oldie-but goodie actions as “salting,” that is, getting pro-union workers hired at businesses that are organizing targets). Conference panels also discussed strategies for particular employers or industries, such as the auto industry or postal service, and how to make the best use of different kinds of strikes and resistance inside the workplace, such as “working to rule,” which effectively slows down production.

Other discussions examined the promises and perils of unions forming broader alliances or incorporating social goals in their bargaining and other campaigns (such as teacher unionists opposing privatization or high-stakes testing). Other panels examined global labor developments and socio-economic changes shaping the world of work and new challenges for organized labor, such as climate change.

There were opportunities to gain energy, inspiration and a tingle of solidarity with other struggles in even more difficult circumstances than one’s own. Fiery speakers took the stage on behalf of ill-paid ($6 a 12-hour day), frighteningly abused indigenous workers from the southern part of Mexico, who have migrated to work in Baja California, California and Washington state, picking strawberries that are eventually sold under the Driscoll label. And one of the troublemaker awards went to hunger strikers from the community and teachers’ union who went on a hunger strike to prevent the closing of their neighborhood-based Dyett High School.

Although the Labor Notes conferences rarely discuss union political strategies, this year more than 100 conference-goers attended each of two meetings discussing  the “Labor for Bernie” organizing that is independent of the official Bernie Sanders for president campaign. The Sanders candidacy has generated hope and energy among many unionists, even though many more unions have officially endorsed his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Labor for Bernie tries to maximize grass-roots support from union members, regardless of the official position of their unions, and to block moves that would increase union support for Clinton.

For example, the electrical workers union (IBEW, or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) has remained neutral, largely as a result of pro-Bernie advocacy by Carl Shaffer, a former international union representative who returned to his local union in Indiana to seek elected office. In turn, IBEW’s neutrality, according to some labor movement political organizers, played a significant role in blocking an endorsement of Clinton by the AFL-CIO executive council earlier this year.

Sanders stirred enthusiasm not only because of his longtime ardent support for unions but also because most of the people in attendance would probably call themselves “socialists” or “democratic socialists,” as Sanders does (and roughly 40 percent of voters under 30 years old). Like him, they were mostly not the doctrinaire ideologues who reject a socialist candidate running in one of the two “bosses’s” parties, rather than in some wisp of an organization that calls itself a “labor party.” (However, the idea of forming a labor party drew significant support in Labor Notes circles until the latest effort died a few years ago.)

Indeed, many in the group of young workers/intellectuals who started Labor Notes came from the International Socialists, one of the many left splinter groups that identified with the legacy of Leon Trotsky. More than many contemporaneous small left group members, IS members were grounded in significant work within unions (including building one of the more successful union reform groups, Teamsters for a Democratic Union), comparatively open to collaborating with others, and both thoughtful and realistic.

Their relative openness made Labor Notes and its gatherings a common ground for independent-minded leftists and workers seeking to be better troublemakers for a boss that was already making trouble for them. Although often shunned or attacked by some union leaders (such as during the 2008 meeting when Michigan Service Employees International Union [SEIU] brought busloads of members to break up the conference awards banquet), other union leaders have worked with them, including the late Tony Mazzocchi; the immediate past president of the Communications Workers, Larry Cohen; and Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley.

Mark Brenner, the current director of Labor Notes, is both a realist and an enthusiast regarding the prospects for unions.

“We’ve been on the losing end of the class struggle all my life,” the youthful-looking Brenner told the Labor Notes crowd, ruefully noting the spread of right-to-work laws. “Our labor movement can’t keep going the way it’s going. We’ve got to talk about power.” Yet, he says, “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been, since a long-time subscriber to Labor Notes is running for president.”

Later, as we chatted in the hallway, Brenner expounded: “What I think is that a couple of things are converging. The institutional labor movement recognizes their misplaced confidence in both ‘Change To Win’ and winning the Employee Free Choice Act, whether the plans came from [former SEIU and Change to Win leader Andy] Stern or [former AFL-CIO president John] Sweeney. These grand plans were flawed partly because they were “hatched in headquarters,” he says, not involving members in their design and execution.

By contrast, he puts hope not only in members who are educated and mobilized but also in the rise of new leaders at various levels in several unions, from the Teamsters and communications workers to teachers’ and nurses’ unions. Many more people have been coming to their schools, and he is especially pleased that “people who have been coming to Labor Notes are running for office and taking over unions,” such as many leaders in the Chicago Teachers Union.

“Our focus,” Brenner continues, “is that we want to build powerful movements” where leaders of unions must answer to the members.

Labor Notes has always strongly advocated union democracy, rank-and-file direct action and more progressive leadership of unions. But Brenner says the goal of Labor Notes is transforming the labor movement, not electing top officers.

“If I could, I would spend all of my time with stewards and local officers,” he says. “It’s hard to transform the labor movement from an elected position.” But it’s also hard to change it when elected leaders are hostile.

The goals Labor Notes sets for itself are admirable and necessary for the labor movement. But they are interrelated in ways that often generate tensions that are difficult to resolve (and Labor Notes does not always acknowledge). For example, sometimes members are less progressive than leaders, who may in some cases want to educate the members to be more assertive and militant (even if the opposite situation is more common).

And even though conditions for elections in unions often offer less than laboratory-perfect democracy, union members sometimes do elect conservative leaders or are reluctant to take direct actions against employers. Also, unions are both institutions and movements, or at least ideally part of both the labor movement and progressive social and political movements. But tensions easily arise among different needs that reflect these varied roles of unions.

Likewise, union staff are often pulled between obligations to the union’s president and to its members, and within all organizations there are different degrees of

access to information. For example, Bill Parker, a Labor Notes stalwart and former Chrysler union local president, described how union staff had much more access to crucial information and discussions between management and union officials than the local elected officials on the bargaining committee that he chaired during national contract negotiations. That imbalance, he said, helped to make it possible for a two-tier wage agreement to be included in a contract even though he and the bargaining committee opposed the two-tier arrangement (which will finally be phased out under the current contract).

The history of unions suggests that organizers with the democratic ambitions of Labor Notes often persevere for long periods with little progress, then surge forwards episodically. But that’s not very helpful as a guide to what to do in the interim. It’s much like the answer Kim Moody, one of the founder of Labor Notes who decamped to England to teach labor history, gave to the question posed for his workshop about how general strikes can be started: “When they start, they start,” he says.

Since he last visited the United States two years ago, he thinks that “the difference is recognizable, more a feeling of desperation, polarization.” He takes heart from the support for Sen. Bernie Sanders, even the apparent lack of voter discomfort with his defining himself as a socialist, and is appalled at the rise of Donald Trump.

“Trump is almost as much a fascist as we’ve seen here, without the funny uniforms,” he says. “The guy’s a thug.” America is beginning to look more like some European countries with political clashes between an anti-immigrant right and populist left movements, like Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, he suggests. And Bernie is America’s counterpart to the new Labour Party leader in the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn. Yet much more is happening in a “subterranean” form in labor and other movements.

“This is the time to do things like [that subterranean organizing],” he says. “We are not on the verge of a major move to the left, but things are changing, and unions have a role to play in it. … We have to deal with race up front. It’s a problem for U.S. labor because of deep-seated racism in American society as a whole.”

Like the Highlander Folk School (now Research and Education Center), founded  in the South by Myles Horton in 1932, or the Brookwood Labor College, founded in 1921 in New York state under the leadership of A. J. Muste, Labor Notes and its conferences are part of a small, almost subterranean effort to educate workers to create a militant and democratic unionism. The labor movement can only benefit from its work and, one can hope, from others taking up the same cause.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

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