Truthout Stories Sun, 25 Sep 2016 06:28:49 -0400 en-gb Will the Biggest Generation Seize the Day November 8?

Compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump and Clinton haven't had the easiest time connecting with millennials Compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton haven't had the easiest time connecting with millennials (Photo: Theresa Thompson / Flickr)

To say the 2016 presidential election is full of surprises is an understatement, but the biggest surprise yet could be who turns out to be the kingmaker. In a race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that's so close even Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine is refusing to forecast the outcome, the deciding votes could be in the hands of millennials.

Americans age 18-32 are now the largest living generation. But to be the game changers of this election, millennials have to show up at the polls. A just-issued report by Common Cause highlights the problem:

In every election, young Americans arguably have more at stake than any other group of citizens, simply because they have longer to live with the choices we all make. But throughout our history, including in every election since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971, voter turnout among younger Americans has lagged well behind that in every other age group. Worse yet, with just a few exceptions, youth turnout has declined steadily.

It was considered a big deal when a bare majority of that age group -- 51 percent -- showed up at the polls for President Barack Obama's historic 2008 election. Four years later, slacker syndrome started to creep in: The percentage dropped to 45.

This year, however, the percentage of young voters showing up for the primaries was equal to or greater than in the 2008 nominating contests.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

That's probably because, in the spring, a large percentage of millennials were "feeling the Bern." But compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent whose insurgent bid for the Democratic nomination ultimately failed, Trump and Clinton haven't had the easiest time connecting with millennials -- at least, judging by what some from New York City are saying.

"I think I'm going to be moving out of the country to be honest with you," said Matthew Mateo, 19. He's not planning on participating in his first presidential election because he doesn't like the leading candidates. "If Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton become president then I'm going to be moving out regardless."

While Crystal Castillo, 24, is planning on voting, she's not too excited about her choices.

"I know I need to pick a lesser of two evils because either way it's going to be picked for me," she said.

So it seems that for some young voters, this election reminds them of one of their favorite TV shows, South Park, and the poorly choice school mascot contest. But there are others, running the gamut from Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on the left to Eli Nachmany, recent past chairman of the College Republicans of New York, who beg to differ.

"Every election is not about four years, it's about the next 40 years," said Nachmany. "Because the policies that a president puts in place, the judge that a president appoints to the high courts -- these are things that will affect us, and if we don't have a say in the things that will affect us then essentially we're kicking the can down the road and letting other people whose interests may not align with ours make those decisions for us."

For a clearer example, just look across the pond. In June, in what was known as the Brexit vote, British citizens were asked to decide whether the United Kingdom should remain part of or break away from the European Union. Many young voters wanted the UK to remain, but a 52-48 percent vote in which there was a significant generation gap changed young citizens' futures. That led to "Bregret" among some young voters who expressed surprise at what their votes had wrought.

Are millennials in the US aware of the similarly very high stakes this November?

Nachmany worries about his cohorts' lack of knowledge of the issues.

"Usually you'll find that they don't understand that the people they're voting in are advocating for something that's against their economic interest," he said.

To counter this, the New York College Republicans offer an academic fellowship in which students write papers and publish research on policies the party and its candidates are tackling. This initiative gives college students the chance to explore whether the candidates for whom they advocate are pushing policies they can get behind.

Another opportunity Nachmany touts: the National Training and Simulation Association's annual Capitol Hill and Modeling & Simulation Expo, where electronic simulations are used to let users experience hypothetical situations that might confront law- and policymakers. "[It's] everything from simulating a response to a terror attack to help urban planning officials be more ready and prepared for that terror attack to performing a response to a natural disaster with just simple urban tools, and you can model that based on the resources available to you," Nachmany said.

Thomas Palumbo, vice president of New York's College Democrats, works on getting students more involved in political conversation by having them talk to candidates -- focusing on those whose campaigns don't always get a lot of media attention.

"We always talk about how the president is so important -- they are the most important politician in the country and obviously that's true, but there usually isn't that follow-up that 'oh but for most of your taxes or your roads or where you live, you should really be voting for your town councilperson, your city councilperson, your state senator,'" said Palumbo. "There's so many other elected officials who have more of an impact on people's day-to-day lives [and] you never hear about those elections."

Palumbo's Fordham University chapter of College Democrats is close to District 15's City Council office, where New York City Council member Ritchie Torres briefs students on the political scene.

At 28, Torres is the council's youngest member. He says he sees hope when it comes to millennials getting involved in politics.

"Millennials have a keen sense of what is ailing the world," Torres said. "And even though a millennial doesn't know the details of every policy prescription, there is a general sense of what is ailing society and what we need to do to fix it."

Knowing how to fix what's ailing the world means being informed, and young voters can suffer from an information gap: the lack of coverage of local elections in news media and lack of online resources in low-income communities. As a city council member for the Bronx, Torres is pinning his hopes on virtual democracy.

"Even though there are signs of civic decline in various parts of American life, I do see hope in social media and the ability of social media to empower the grass roots to the extent we never seen before," he said.

Apathy and lack of information isn't all that's hindering young voters from coming out.

For one thing, Election Day occurs on an inconvenient weekday when many people are at work, and young people, being the lowest on the totem poll, are likely to have the hardest time getting off or having time to commute while at school to the nearest polling center.

For another, there are legal hurdles, made steeper, Common Cause reports, by "laws being advanced almost exclusively by Republican lawmakers."

For instance, students who go to school in a different state from where they live need to apply for an absentee ballot. That said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, whose research focuses on turnout issues.  After registering to vote, the student then must fill out a request for an absentee ballot, send it to a designated state election official, wait for all the appropriate forms to get sent back, and then, finally cast a ballot.

Although students have the right to vote in their college towns, local officials have sometimes told them otherwise.

"That's kind of troubling when the barriers are already steep for young people to engage, and then we're adding additional burdens that make it even more difficult to engage in the process," said McDonald.

According to McDonald's research for his United States Election Project, the habitual voter falls under a specific profile.

"They tend to be older people, they tend to be better-educated people, wealthier people, whiter people," he said. "Younger people don't fit the profile of a habitual voter."

McDonald notes that young voters do better when they are in school.

"You'll actually find that college students vote at rates that look like people who are middle-aged," he said. "Where you have young people congregated, in easy-to-reach places for voter mobilization activities to happen you actually do see higher turnout levels than elsewhere."

Common Cause suggests a number of reforms to encourage younger voters to participate in democracy, including pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds so they are added to the voter rolls automatically on their 18th birthdays; allowing registration portability, which would eliminate paperwork hassles for young voters who tend to move often; same-day voting registration; and convenient polling sites on university campuses for state and local elections.

In the end, new voting reforms can be in place, knowledge of the issues a click away on smart devices, but it's really up to millennials to weigh the costs of voting versus the costs of not doing so. If young voters don't think it's worth taking the time to get informed and show up at the polls, Sanders suggests: "Ask them how much they're going to leave school in debt with. Ask them about that."

News Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Charged With Being Alive: Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott

As violence against Black people at the hands of police continues to escalate, it's necessary to understand that the answer to the question of "why" lies in anti-Blackness. Calls for less lethal shootings, better training and cameras all miss the point. This is about anti-Blackness.

Protesters in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, demonstrating on September 22, 2016 after the police killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott.Protesters in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, demonstrating on September 22, 2016, after the police killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. (Photo: Andy McMillan / New York Times)

Whenever someone is murdered by the police, the question of why quickly arises. The answer to that question is always intertwined with the race of the victim. In the United States, race is a decider. Your race can decide where you live; your race can decide how you eat; your race can decide what your values are; your race can decide what you did; and your race can decide that you're not worthy of being alive. It's unfair for something completely out of one's control to decide if one should live or die, but it does.

The extrajudicial killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are -- accurately, unfortunately -- described as "the latest" in the regular onslaught of violence against Black people. This violence, which has started to feel primordial through its regularity, is not simply a "senseless" fact of life. It is actually explainable. Black people in the United States are often charged with being alive and sentenced to death without a courtroom, because Blackness is rooted in associations that are contrary to living.

Therefore, the solution to this excruciatingly regular violence will not come without some upheaval. It's pointless to think that a society which has never been removed from its disdain for Black people will change overnight through the whims of politicians or piecemeal "reforms." Everything that's killing us is embedded into the culture that is American.

The murder of Black people -- with or without supposed provocation -- is inextricably connected to and aligned with what is understood to be normal. Therefore, details of who, what, when, where and how often become irrelevant once Blackness is mentioned. The initial fresh announcements of new Black deaths are regularly welcomed and not necessarily mourned in many imaginations across Middle America.

There is just about nothing a Black person can do right to avoid dying if the state or its hands decide it should be so. This much was most recently shown when Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer Betty Shelby decided to take the life of Terence Crutcher. Shelby's attorney, Scott Wood, has spoken publicly, describing her account of what happened. After stating that she gave numerous commands to this man who was having car troubles and claiming suspicion that Crutcher was possibly intoxicated or armed, she ultimately decided to kill him. She didn't decide he should be shot in the leg or that tasering him was enough, he needed to die according to this officer's reasoning.

Shelby was not alone in her decision; Crutcher's Blackness helped her make this final choice. Crutcher's race is one already associated with drugs, intoxication and weapons; he didn't actually have to be any of the things she imagined to be worthy of death just because.

The same applies to Keith Lamont Scott who was shot by a police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 20. Scott may or may not have been armed, according to police statements. ABC News reported a comment on the possibility of a weapon at the scene: "Police Chief Kerr Putney said the footage he has reviewed does not provide definitive, visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun."

"I did not see that in the videos that I reviewed," Putney said at a news conference on Thursday. "So what I can tell you, though, is when taken in the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we've heard and the version of the truth that we gave about the circumstances that happened that led to the death of Mr. Scott."

While the police department is working to accommodate the Scott family's request to see the body-cam footage, Putney reiterated that he has no plans to publicly release the videos, arguing that it would "jeopardize the integrity of the investigation."

Yet again, uncertainty reigns, crowned by anti-Blackness. When all else fails and nothing is certain, it is a person's Blackness that determines the decision as to who will live and who will die. We should not lament Blackness as a cause of fatality, of course; rather, fatality is copied-and-pasted onto Black people's bodies from the TVs, phones and computer screens of a society driven by racist perceptions that have been recycled over the generations.

Here we can revisit James Baldwin's infamous question, "Who is the nigger?" A short clip of Baldwin pouring out his understanding of the "necessity" of what this country calls "the nigger" appears in the 1964 documentary film Take This Hammer. Here Baldwin deliberates on the word "nigger," as well as the charge of being considered such in everyday life. "What you were afraid of was not me. It has to be something else ... something you were afraid of -- you invested me with," Baldwin states. He ultimately concludes by explaining that racism is not our problem (though we bear the brunt of its violence) and closes saying, "So I give you your problem back. You're the nigger baby, it isn't me." Baldwin's eloquent explanation also applies here; our dying, our murders and our disposal have been far removed from us within a society that criminalizes our being alive. Unfortunately, Black people become seen as worth even less, based on gender, disability and impoverishment, among other things. This is the unbending truth of being Black in the USA, reinforced by statistical evidence, history and the observation of the willing.

Some have proposed that police simply need "sensitivity training" or "anti-racism training." But police do not need more "sensitivity" to understand what's glaringly obvious. It's not that police are insensitive to Black people or are not understanding; it's that perceptions of Blackness regularly cancel out understanding and sensitivity.

Transparency and cameras, too, can only do so much. Black America has been aware for centuries that police have been a threat to us, along with other white supremacist violence. It's naive to think that people's ability to watch killings or record them on video guarantees that the police will feel less sure of their impunity.

"Diversity" is no solution, either: Even if police were all Black or non-Black people of color, the problems ingrained in the lifeblood of a white supremacist society would not disappear.

Popular requests for Black people to be shot less lethally or to be treated the same as terror suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami often completely miss the point. This is about anti-Blackness, not better police work, not training, not cameras, not diversity.

Reforms like these -- adjustments to the existing system -- will not shift how Blackness is seen, perceived, responded to and attacked. This country is in dire need of a transformative and revolutionary reconceptualization of how we see and perceive Black people -- not just how we train police or what weapons we give them. The need to transform this country's poisonous outlook on Blackness stretches from the outermost peripheries of this empire to its innermost entrails.

When or if we start seeing a movement away from the anti-Black tendencies of the world we live in, things might begin to change. We should keep this in mind, amid the impending chaos of a new president -- and the hope that people will attach to their respective political choices. Change will not be delivered by the promises and posturing of those who must lie to be selected for office.

We can start with the realization of what Blackness is and what it means, going beyond trying to reason with oppressors who are determined to maintain their power. For Black people, this has nothing to do with us being careful, more obedient, or more attentive. Being Black rules out all reason, rules, regulations and laws.

It's crucial to comprehend this in the United States. Without a massive, structural transformation, Black people will continue to walk around expecting to possibly be killed for living.

News Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
All Aboard Trump's Death Train ]]> (Khalil Bendib) Art Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400 Protests Over Tulsa and Charlotte Police Killings Stem From Economic Policies That Perpetuate Racism

The police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have drawn attention to policies backed by Republicans that have perpetuated racism and voter suppression, says our guest Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays leader.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Speaking on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that because of the unrest in Charlotte, quote, "the country looks bad to the world." He again used the events to appeal to black voters.

DONALD TRUMP: The people who will suffer the most as a result of these riots are law-abiding African-American residents who live in these communities where the crime is so rampant. It's their jobs, housing markets, schools, economic conditions that will suffer. And the first duty of government is to protect their well-being and safety. We have to do that. There is no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct. Crime and violence is an attack on the poor and will never be accepted in a Trump administration. Never, ever. Our job -- thank you -- our job is not to make life more comfortable for the violent disruptor, but to make life more comfortable for the African-American parent trying to raise their kids in peace, to walk their children to school and to get their children great educations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Well, for more, we're joined by the Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Monday leader.

And I wanted to ask you, the impact -- Trump, in his remarks, never mentions the violence being perpetrated on African Americans by some of these police officers. I'm wondering your sense of the impact of his words, because he's sounding more and more like a reversion back to Richard Nixon and "law and order" as his campaign theme for the presidency. His impact on the African-American community, especially on African-American youth, of Trump's words?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you just hit the nail on the head. It's a hypocrisy, and it's revisionist history, and he's reaching back to the strategy that Kevin Phillips gave to Richard Nixon on how to hold onto the South and win the country. It's called the Southern strategy: use all kind of code words and misdirection. But it's full of hypocrisy, and it's full of untruthful things.

First of all, Donald Trump is running to be-divider-in-chief, suppressor-in-chief, hater-in-chief and reverser-in-chief. No matter what he says in his cute teleprompter speech, we have to remember what he said with his mouth, and, more importantly, his policies. Now, let's listen to what his policies are. First, he is for voter suppression. When the Supreme Court said that North Carolina had engaged in surgical racism against black people in voting laws, he came to North Carolina and said that that decision would open up fraud. He joined with those who perpetrated racism and surgical voter suppression. Number two, Donald Trump is for reversing Medicaid expansion, which would hurt 20 million Americans -- many, many, many white Americans, but 3 million African Americans alone. He is -- he believes that we have -- number three, he believes we have too high of a minimum wage and is not for living wages. There are 64 million Americans -- black, white and brown -- who make less than the living wage, and 54 percent are African-American. He is not for raising the living wage. He's for the proliferation of guns, the very cause of much of the violence in our community. He is for tax cuts on the wealthy and raising tax and fees on the poor and the working poor in ways that would take us back to the kind of recession policies that we saw under George Bush and the false notions of trickle-down. He is for the kind of policies that could possibly proliferate war, which will be negative to poor whites and blacks who end up fighting the wars often that rich people engage in. He is for taking money from public schools, which black, brown and poor white people need, and giving it to private schools that can segregate and that most black, brown and white people cannot go to. And so, over and over again, what he says on his teleprompter and what his policies actually show us are two different realities.

And he's not talking to black people. If you listen to him or some of his campaign people, this is the narrative. And it's a shrewd and sinister narrative out of the Southern strategy. "Black people will not let us help them," he's saying, "will not trust us," the very people who since 1968 and the Southern strategy have been against everything that benefited the progression of black people. Number two, "Black people are their own problem. They are their own problem." And number three, "Black people are the cause of your problems," saying that to white people, "particularly in all of the money we've had to spend on welfare," which, in fact, most of the welfare is actually used by black people -- white people -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and social safety net. It is a hypocritical argument, and it is a dangerous argument and is a sinister argument, because it is not a serious conversation about race and racial disparity.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, I wanted to play for you the comment of Republican Congressmember Robert Pittenger, whose district includes parts of Charlotte, who said demonstrators were upset because, unlike North Carolina's white residents, the African Americans are not successful. He made these comments on BBC.

JAMES O'BRIEN: With respect, Congressman, I don't think the people on the streets last night and the night before were protesting against Lyndon B. Johnson's almost half-a-century-old policies. What is their grievance, in their mind?

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER: Well, no, the grievance in their mind is that they -- the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they're not. I mean, yes, it is. It is a welfare state. We have -- we have spent trillions of dollars on welfare. But we've put people in bondage so that they can't be all that they're capable of being.

AMY GOODMAN: Hours later, Congressman Pittenger apologized in several posts on Twitter, saying his anguish about what was happening in Charlotte prompted him to respond to a question, quote, "in a way that I regret." But I'm wondering if you could respond to this. And also, talk about North Carolina, your state. I mean, right now, people are voting for president, is that right? Or people are engaged in early voting. But first respond to Congressman Pittenger.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, he had to say he regretted, and what he really probably regrets is the first part of what he said. See, in this white Southern strategy, you're not supposed to say, "They hate us because we're successful." You're not supposed to be that overt in your racism. You're simply supposed to say "welfare state" as a code word for racism. You're supposed to say "tax cuts" or "entitlement programs," that we need to get rid of, as code words. He blew the code, and he was out in the open.

Because what he said -- racism, as you know, is not rooted in fact; it's rooted in fear. It's not rooted in truthfulness; it's rooted in foolishness. His history is wrong. We know that the Great Society programs, many of them work, especially for white people. Many of the programs now that he and others demean are the very programs that helped lift many whites, particularly in the South and in other areas, out of poverty.

We know, when you look at that particular congressperson and look at his record, if we -- if the country follows his voting record, we would have less voting rights, because he has refused to sign on to restoring the Voting Rights Act. We'd have less healthcare, less wages. We would have less love and less mercy.

And many of the very people that are hurt by the policies he promote are white. We have 1.9 million poor people in North Carolina. The majority of them are white. Three hundred and forty-six thousand of the 500,000 people being denied Medicaid expansion are white. What he and others are afraid of is what we've seen in the Moral Monday movement and what I'm seeing as I'm going around the country in "The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution": black and white and Latino people coming together and forming fusion coalitions and understanding that all of this divisive rhetoric and these divisive policies and this white Southern strategy was designed to keep the very people apart from each other that need to be allies, who need to change this country. You know, lastly, Amy, if you look at the stats on Politico, PolitiFact, the majority of the states that -- counties -- are the poorest are those that have states that are so-called -- led by so-called red states or people who claim to be Republican. The very policies that they promote hurt the people that they sell this false narrative.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend Barber, we've been talking about the situation in Charlotte, but I'd like to also bring in what's happened in Tulsa, where police officer Betty Shelby has been booked at the local county jail and released on $50,000 bond. On Thursday, Shelby was charged with felony manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher. The criminal complaint says Shelby's, quote, "fear resulted in her unreasonable actions which led her to shooting." She is accused of, quote, "unlawfully and unnecessarily" shooting Crutcher after he did not comply with her "lawful orders." If convicted, Shelby faces four years to life in prison. Could you talk about the difference between what happened in the situation in Tulsa versus what's happened so far in Charlotte, and what you would hope to happen in Charlotte?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, first of all, you did not have the context like you've had in North Carolina in the kind of regressive, violent policy attacks that we've seen over the last three years by this governor. So there's already a lot of unrest, hurt and pain in North Carolina. You know, we even have been a state that has launched the worst attack on the LGBTQ community, the living wage, people fighting for living wage, and even persons who wanted employment discrimination in the state courts. You also have in North Carolina a state that's had the highest number of African Americans exonerated from death row in the last 10 years of any state in the country. You also have a state where we have innumerous people who are incarcerated -- African Americans -- for crimes they did not commit, and the governor has refused to pardon them. In fact, I have a press conference about two of them this morning. You also have a place where the crime lab was found to -- abused over 200 cases, and people have -- in terms of the way they dealt with DNA evidence. You also have a city where you had Jonathan Ferrell, and, even though someone was indicted, it ended up with a hung jury, and people said a hung jury was a spoken jury, when we know that's not true. A hung jury is a hung jury.

So, you have to understand all of that, the context of all of that, all of the attacks on the poor, all of the attacks on healthcare and voting rights. And then you drop this situation in. And unlike Tulsa, where they had transparency, and they now have an indictment, we've actually had -- we've not had transparency, and we've found out more and more evidence that points against the police narrative -- which also proves something, too, that black people, as you said, are not just against cops or against white cops, because in this situation the chief is black and the alleged shooter is black. Black people are saying, whatever it is, we want transparency. And it's not just black people; it's black and white people saying it together. We want transparency. And that is the number one problem here in Charlotte. There was not transparency. And the police overreacted, did not listen to the community leaders that were on the ground, and exacerbated a problem that did not have to go this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain the governor of North Carolina, your state, the stance he has taken right now, where you see things going, his relationship with the governor -- with the mayor of Charlotte? She did impose a curfew but said they wouldn't enforce it if people were peaceful. And the people were peaceful.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain who gives the governor his power, and the movement that you've been leading, the Moral Mondays movement, and the effect you think it's had.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Well, you know, supposedly, the people give the governor the power. But let's look at the governor's rhetoric, because my deep suspicion is there is some pushing around all of this to try to create some political movement, because, you know, he's in trouble. So, my understanding from the clergy is that there wasn't even a great desire by the City Council and other persons to create the emergency -- state of emergency in the first place. Remember, we're in a state -- and God knows we are against any form of violence. Those officers that were hurt the first night, the young man that was killed, and we don't know how he was killed -- we do know that we have a lot of conflicting accounts of that. But, Amy, we understand the governor pushed for this emergency piece. Now, we're in a state where we -- for instance, UNC wins the championship, and we've seen cars overturned, bonfires started in the middle of the street, and we don't have an emergency state. In fact, they open up the burn unit. So, how do you move from 99.9 percent of the protesters doing the right thing, a few dozen doing the wrong thing, and suddenly there's an emergency state in a city that's already prepared to handle even a presidential convention? That's number one.

Number two, this curfew, we don't know where it came from and what pressures were put on to have the curfew, and we saw that it was totally unnecessary. And the police and the community leaders could have handled legitimate discontent and anger and nonviolent justice protest.

Lastly, this governor has been a source of division throughout the country and here in North Carolina. And he actually has lied. And I don't normally say that like that. But I heard him the other night say on CNN -- he claimed his love for Dr. King, which all people -- which they tend to run to every time people express legitimate discontent. Well, remember, Dr. King was called a militant. He said that he respected nonviolent protesters. Well, we protested for 21 weeks, were arrested, and he never met with us. He has refused to meet with clergy. As late as two weeks ago, clergy of all different faiths attempted to just deliver a moral declaration of values to his office, and they would not receive it. So, this governor is saying one thing for a political reason, but the political reality is something very different. He, like Donald Trump, has been a divider. He has helped to stir more division. He has dishonored the nonviolent tradition and now does not really have the credibility to challenge what's going on, even in terms of the violence, because he has passed policies that has cost people their lives. You know, when a state denies 500,000 people Medicaid simply because they don't like a black man in the White House, that means about a thousand to 1,500 people die every year, which means somewhere upwards of 5,000 people in North Carolina have died since this governor and Legislature has denied Medicaid expansion.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Reverend Barber, for joining us. I also wanted to point out the lawyer for the Scott family, Justin Bamberg, is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, also represented Alton Sterling's family in Baton Rouge, African-American man gunned down by police, as well as another Mr. Scott, Walter Scott. People may remember in North Charleston, South Carolina, Walter Scott gunned down by a police officer after the officer stopped him for a taillight being out. We'll --

REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah, Amy, if you would, I know you've got to run, but please -- as people said, this man was not even the suspect. And also remember, the Walter Scott case, there was a plant. There was a plant, shown on the video. We are convinced that if this video was about a citizen shooting a cop and it showed it clearly, that the video would be out. And if the video was conclusive, it would be out. Something is wrong in the reason why they will not release that video, and we need to listen to the experts and the family and have it released.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, Moral Mondays leader. His most recent book, Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. Thanks so much for joining us from North Carolina.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a fiery session of the US Senate. It was the Senate Banking Committee, and it was Senator Warren of Massachusetts grilling the CEO of Wells Fargo. Why were over 5,000 low-level employees fired, she asked, and not him? Stay with us.

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Boehner Joins the Not-Quite-a-Lobbyist Ranks

Count former House Speaker John Boehner as the latest not-quite-a-lobbyist.

For nearly a decade, the number of registered lobbyists has slipped each year. This summer, the figure finally dipped below 10,000 -- the lowest it's been since the Center for Responsive Politics began keeping track in 1998. And that drop in lobbyists has been accompanied by a dropoff in revenue, painting a numerical picture of an industry seemingly in pronounced decline.

But the numbers ignore the hearty portion of Washington's influence industry engaged in what's sometimes referred to as "shadow lobbying," unreported to the agencies that gather quarterly filings from those trying to bend federal policy in their clients' favor.

That's where, from all appearances, Boehner -- who's barred from having lobbying contacts with his former colleagues until he's been out of office a year -- could be a great fit.

Lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs, currently the sixth highest-earning lobbying firm in the nation with over $9 million in billings in the first half of this year, announced this week that Boehner will be joining the firm as a strategic adviser on global business development in the public sector. After representing Ohio for almost a quarter century, the last four of those as speaker, Boehner resigned from the House last October after struggling to resolve conflicts between conservative and centrist elements of his Republican party.

From Riches to … Less Obvious Riches

Lobbying was very much a growth industry in the early years of the millennium -- revenue doubled from 1998 to 2007, and the number of registered lobbyists grew more than 40 percent. But 2008 brought a reversal that has only continued: The most recent count puts the number at just over 9,700, compared to the 2007 peak of more than 14,800. Revenue topped out at $3.5 billion in 2010, while the 2015 figure was $3.2 million. The trend line for 2016 points to another modest decrease by year's end.

What happened?

The recession and its aftermath are typically blamed, bringing tighter wallets all around. Another factor often mentioned is worsened congressional gridlock -- if bills are less likely to be passed, organizations may not invest in trying to make that happen. 

But many experts insist there's not less lobbying going on. It's just that much of it is unreported. 

Increased regulation is one reason. In 2007 -- the year the number of registered lobbyists peaked -- Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which required lobbyists to disclose far more information about their work and included measures to slow the "revolving door" between government and the influence industry.

The legal definition of "lobbyist" remained the same: An individual must register if more than 20 percent of his/her working time is spent advocating to government officials; other guidelines exist around income and contacts with executive and legislative branch personnel. But with a new disclosure regime, and new sanctions for violators, some lobbyists began claiming their work did not meet the threshhold and unregistered.

Until HLOGA passed, "there was no downside to being a registered lobbyist -- the best practice was to err on the side of over-registration," said Caleb Burns, a partner specializing in lobbying law at the Washington law firm Wiley Rein. "Being a lobbyist now has serious potential legal consequences."

President Barack Obama clamped down further. In his first full day in office, Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential directives curbing the work that former lobbyists could do in his administration -- including on federal advisory boards and commissions, areas previously open to those in the influence game.

The orders "had a chilling effect" on the industry, said Paul Miller, president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics. "It caused people to think, 'I've got to find a way around this.'"

Thus the proliferation of the shadow lobbyist. People who have unregistered in each year since 2007 include those whose jobs have changed, or those who might not have needed to register in the first place but were playing it safe. But they also include those who do their fair share of lobbying work, but classify it as something different.

A 2013 study by found that more than 46 percent of lobbyists who were registered in 2011 but not 2012 were still with the same employer, suggesting that they were continuing to contribute to lobbying efforts while avoiding the reporting limits. Industry leaders suspect this has become increasingly common in recent years.

And some, including former lawmakers, don't have to unregister, since they never registered to begin with.

"There's a very easy way to define yourself as a strategic adviser or someone else who, quote, 'doesn't lobby'… and get away with this," said James Thurber, founder and former director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. He cited what is frequently referred to as the Daschle loophole, named for former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (D), who lost his re-election bid in 2004 and pushed through the revolving door to become a "senior policy adviser" at the law and lobbying giant Alston & Bird. After holding similar titles at several other firms and doing work that looked and sounded much like lobbying over more than a decade, Daschle recently registered as a lobbyist for the first time.

Then there are those who aren't simply traditional "walk the halls" lobbyists who deliberately maneuver around reporting thresholds, but also people taking advantage of the ways in which technology has opened up the influence industry, Miller noted. Advocating for legislation via electronic communications, think tank support, social media and survey research often overlaps signficantly with old-school lobbying -- and much, if not most, of that goes unreported.

"There are too many people doing this job and not registering," Miller said.

Using a broad definition of shadow lobbying that includes the above activities, "there can be maybe twice or three times" the industry-reported 2015 revenue of $3.2 billion, Thurber said. 

Boehner won't be the only former lawmaker at Squire Patton Boggs, whose extensive client list includes firms ranging from Airbus and Amazon to Wake Forest University and Walton Enterprises: Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) have been there since 2005 and 2010, respectively; they are both registered lobbyists. Boehner's former top advisors David Schnittger and Natasha Hammond are there, as well, as "senior policy advisers."

Boehner's new employment was announced just days after tobacco giant Reynolds American announced he'd be joining its board.

Patton Boggs, which was among the top three earners in the industry every year from 1998 until its 2014 merger with Squire Sanders, has long been a K Street revolving door hub, boasting a big concentration of former occupants of congressional office buildings. And it's no surprise to see that firm or others snatch up newly available former lawmakers, who can command the highest billing rates when clients ask for their help. Of the 75 House members and senators who left the Hill at the end of the 113th Congress, at least 48.8 percent went to work for lobbying firms.

What's Ahead

Many are trying to anticipate how the next president will interact with the industry -- particularly whether or not she/he will keep Obama's restrictions, and how much their repeal might actually matter. Obama has issued waivers to allow certain former lobbyists to take positions, so it's not as though the revolving door was slammed shut.

A new president trying to staff an administration from a limited pool of qualified individuals might not want to deal with the restrictions, which have unquestionably complicated the process. The head of the nonprofit helping the presidential transition process has urged Obama to rescind the provisions himself to remove the burden from his successor.

Donald Trump's views on the issue remain muddy, although some of his campaign staffers, like Paul Manafort, his campaign chairman, certainly have worked in the influence industry. But there has been "a decent amount of speculation" in the lobbying world that a Clinton presidency would bring a repeal, Burns said. Clinton, after all, is staffed by people with strong connections to the industry -- such as her campaign chair, John Podesta, who helped found one of Washington's top lobbying firms. His brother, Tony, still is chairman of the Podesta Group and has bundled funds for Clinton.

Still, even if the next administration proves kinder to lobbyists, it's not necessarily likely that many will come out of the shadows, said Wright Andrews, a lawyer-lobbyist of nearly four decades who is best known for representing the subprime mortgage industry in the early 2000s. 

"That's the way the game is played, unfortunately," Andrews said.

News Sat, 24 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The State of the US on Wealth Inequality

The release of the 2015 poverty and income data was met with enthusiasm from most media. However, the rich are still getting richer and the rest are getting poorer since the late-1970s as the top one percent of families have been steadily accumulating a larger share of the nation's wealth.

(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Quinn Dombrowski; Edited: LW / TO)

At one of the many high-dollar fundraisers Hillary Clinton held during the month of August, a personal-check donation of $100,000 would get an attendee a photo with Hillary, according to a recent New York Times article. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul McCartney at a waterfront Hampton's estate fund-raiser, Hillary "joined in a sing-a-long finale to 'Hey Jude'."

The release this past week of the 2015 poverty and income data was met with enthusiasm -- witness headlines such as the one in the New York Times, "The Economic Expansion is Helping the Middle Class, Finally" or the conclusion of Matthew Yglesias on the Vox website that "the bottom line of all of this is that as good as the 2015 census report was, the reality is probably even better. . . the data shows pretty clearly that despite those problems, we are currently living through the best of times."

The report was certainly good news. But as other commentators observed, incomes have yet to return to the levels they were at the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Moreover, although everyone enjoyed rising incomes in 2015, the income inequality gap did not narrow. And, as Eduardo Porter points out in the New York Times, with the economic expansion "getting long in the tooth. ... the punch bowl may well be taken away again before the party really gets going."

As I wrote at Jewish Currents last week, income inequality is approaching historic highs. Yet, as skewed as income inequality is, wealth inequality is more concentrated and deepening.

Drawing on the work of the Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, I have created the following five charts that show not only substantial growth in wealth inequality, but an even more lopsided distribution than that for income inequality.

The rich get richer, the rest get poorer: Since the late-1970s, the top one percent of families have been steadily accumulating a larger share of the nation's wealth (total assets people own net of their debts), recessions notwithstanding. In 2012 (the most recent available data), the top one percent of families (1.6 million families, each with at least $4 million in assets in 2012) held about 42 percent of all the wealth. Although still below the 1928 peak of 51 percent, the growth has been spectacular, almost doubling in close to 40 years.

As large as income inequality is, the 42 percent wealth share held by the top one percent of families far surpasses the 22 percent income share held by the top one percent in the income distribution (see my Jewish Currents article).

By contrast, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90 percent (almost 145 million families) has been depleting steadily, falling from a high of 36.4 percent in 1984 to 22.8 percent in 2012. The income share of the bottom 90 percent is less, but still severely, skewed, standing at almost 50 percent in 2012.

Wealth and Income Share of the Top 1%, 1913-2012

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

Wealth and Income Share of the Bottom 90 Percent, 1913-2012

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

The rich are entrenching their wealth.

The wealthy are growing their wealth by more than their income as they pull even further away from the bottom 90 percent. Since 1979, the real average wealth of the top one percent of families has grown 245 percent -- from 4 million dollars, on average, to almost 14 million dollars (in 2010 dollars) per family. Over the same period, the income growth of the top one percent of families, although impressive, has not been as spectacular, increasing by 178 percent.

The real average wealth of the bottom 90 percent, by contrast, fell dramatically after the Great Recession, plummeting from the 118 percent growth mark reached in 2006 to a 40 percent increase in 2012. The real average wealth of the bottom 90 percent of families, which was $60,000 (2010 dollars) in 1979, rose to a peak of $130,000 in 2006, before falling to almost $84,000 in 2012. Over the same 1979 to 2012 period, the bottom 90 percent of families also saw their real average incomes decline by 9 percent.

Change in Real Average Wealth and Income of the Top 1% Since 1979

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

Change in Real Average Wealth and Income of the Bottom 90 Percent Since 1979

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

The dramatic increase in wealth inequality is also illustrated by the stunning growth in the ratio of wealth held by the top one percent to the bottom 90 percent of families. In 1979 the real average wealth held by the top one percent was 67 times larger than the bottom 90 percent. By 2012, this ratio had increased to 165 times, while the disparity in real average income between the top one percent and the bottom 90 percent expanded from 14-to-1 to 42-to-1.

Wealth and Income Ratios of the Top 1% to the Bottom 90 Percent, 1979-2012

(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)(Source: The World Wealth and Income Database and Gabriel Zucman)

Although the reduction in poverty and the increase in incomes should be welcomed, it should not distract from the tremendous wealth and income inequality that still exists and continues to deepen. As Bill Moyers points out: "an ugly truth about America: inequality matters." Quoting Louis Brandeis, he writes: "we may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Joe Biden: Ramming TPP Through in Lame Duck Session Is "Our Only Real Shot"

Vice President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd in Merrimack, New Hampshire, on September 22, 2012. (Photo: Marc Nozell)Vice President Joe Biden speaks to a crowd in Merrimack, New Hampshire, on September 22, 2012. (Photo: Marc Nozell)

Vice President Joe Biden said that "our only real shot" of Congress approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a vote during the upcoming lame duck session.

Biden made the remarks on Wednesday at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, while conceding the agreement has a "less than even chance" of passage.

"Sometimes when there's no election to face and people are leaving and others who are staying, they may see the wisdom of TPP," said Biden, according to Reuters.

One consideration might involve post-Congressional employment, for ousted and retiring legislators. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, there are currently 431 former US lawmakers now working as lobbyists.

The TPP has been heavily favored by corporate influence peddlers, including the US Chamber of Commerce. Silicon Valley, agribusiness, and Wall Street trade associations also back the deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last month that the TPP won't get a vote, while President Obama is still in the White House.

"But it will still be around. It can be massaged, changed, worked on during the next administration. So, I hope America will stay in the trade business," he said.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), meanwhile, said that TPP would not get enough votes to pass.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also said on Wednesday that the agreement wouldn't be considered during the lame duck session -- the time between the election and the next president's inauguration.

Both major presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are on the record opposing the agreement.

Clinton, however, touted it while serving as President Obama's Secretary of State, and she has supported free trade agreements on numerous occasions throughout her career, raising doubts about the credibility of her opposition.

Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton -- who has been touted by the candidate as a potential economic adviser in her White House -- said on Wednesday that he understands the "geopolitical rationale" for the TPP. He did not, however, say that he supports the agreement.

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Apped to Be Screwed: Workers Reckon With the Gig Economy

(Image: David Hollenbach)(Image: David Hollenbach)The profile photos at will feel familiar to anyone who has ever used Facebook. But the people in them aren't looking for friendship, but rent money. Prices per hour are listed beside each person's beaming face, followed by the percentage of positive customer reviews they have received. Most of the cheery people are pitching their services -- whether it's doing laundry or, as Taskrabbit advertised ahead of Fashion Week this month, being your Instagram husband -- in the $20 to $30 range. But the company, which describes itself as "revolutionizing everyday work," takes a 30 percent cut.

Not all revolutions are for the better.

If Silicon Valley has its way, this is what the proletariat -- or, as some put it, the precariat -- of tomorrow will look like: No uniforms. No hard hats decked out in union decals. No set workplace, really. Just a roving mass of underemployed laborers, recruited to advertise their smile online. Digital binders full of workers.

It goes by a few different names -- sharing economy, on-demand economy -- each of which tend to emphasize a different relationship in a triad among consumer, software platform and worker. For simplicity's sake we'll call it the gig economy, but it's really just plain 19th-century-style exploitation dressed up in techie garb, harkening back to ye auld days before the labor movement won things like the eight-hour work day, the right to unionize, pensions, health care benefits, workers' compensation, unemployment benefits and job security.

"Nearly 35 percent of today's total workforce is composed of non-employee workers," found a February survey from researchers with Ardent Partners and Fieldglass, which designs vendor-management systems (a fancy way of saying software used to hire temp workers). That figure includes freelancers, independent contractors and temporary workers.

The financial software company Intuit predicts that the number of contingent workers in the United States "will exceed 40 percent of the workforce by 2020," and that it will also increase worldwide.

Silicon Valley is taking advantage of the 2008 recession that pushed workers off payrolls and into a precarious job market where there is less work to go around and wages aren't close to what they used to be.

"Part-time and contract jobs in the past tended to rise during recessions and recede during recoveries," the Associated Press noted in 2014. "But maybe no longer: Part-time workers have accounted for more than 10 percent of US job growth in the years since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Meanwhile, union membership has been sliding steadily since the mid-1980s."

In order to get by, today's labor force has to take what it can get. More and more, they're turning to the gig economy.

survey conducted last year by Intuit found that 3.2 million people are currently working in the gig economy. It estimated that number will reach 7.6 million within the next four years.

"The typical workweek includes a mixture of: on-demand work (34 percent), a traditional full or part-time job (30 percent), contracting and consulting (19 percent), and running a business (14 percent)," the researchers noted.

"The on-demand economy is reshaping the way people earn a living, take control of their careers and support their families," Intuit vice president Alex Chriss, general manager of Self-Employed Solutions, expounded in a press release. "[P]eople have more opportunities than ever to supplement existing income streams or to take the leap into being their own boss. But we must also recognize the shadows that have emerged. The benefits infrastructure of a generation ago was not built to accommodate the reality of work today."

You Are a Commodity

Silicon Valley has become adept at sucking value out of nearly everything. Ebay was an early pioneer of this business model. Got a box of old GI Joes in your basement? Sell 'em on eBay. Airbnb applies this concept to your home. Got an extra room in your house? You can become a freelance hotelier. Uber does the same with cars. Become a taxi driver and pay off that loan on your Mazda. It is as if Silicon Valley can allow no commodity to exist without every possible penny being squeezed out of it.

Now it is applying this model to people.

"I'll go and do a task for Taskrabbit on my lunch break, and then I'll go back to work," Niyya, a Brooklyn native in her twenties, told The Indypendent. In addition to holding two steady part-time jobs, she is also going to school, and fitting in gigs through the hiring platform. "My mom has worked two jobs for like 20 years each. But I feel like, for our generation, there are very few jobs to go around. There are no long-term possibilities. You have to find something else to supplement your income, because the wages aren't stable."

Whether it's by performing previously professionalized jobs like providing taxi rides or hammering shelves to a wall, many workers in today's economy cannot allow their free time to go by without turning it to dollars. Silicon Valley is there to help, provided it gets to wet its beak.

The hiring platform Thumbtack inverts Taskrabbit's business model. Freelance workers, not the consumer, pay to use it, purchasing credits that they use to apply for mostly temporary, menial tasks -- which they will not necessarily be hired to perform.

As cultural commentators such as Douglas Rushkoff have pointed out, despite claims of being part of a sharing economy, many of these companies have actually usurped platforms that provided their services for free. Before Taskrabbit and Thumbtack began connecting cash-strapped freelancers with gigs for a profit, there was Craigslist, which has never charged users a dime. Before there was Airbnb, there was, a social network that connected millions of travelers around the world with places to crash. Once a nonprofit, eventually tried to follow Airbnb's path. It raised $25 million in venture capital and changed its domain to

Gig-economy platforms pitch their services as digitally innovative, providing flexibility to workers and greater convenience to customers. But as modern as the CEOs of billion-dollar startups want the gig economy to appear, it is actually turning back the clock on the gains workers fought for and won over the past 150 years.

Conquering the World on Workers' Backs

(Image: Gary Martin)(Image: Gary Martin)

"They want all the benefits of being a service provider without any of the responsibilities of being a service provider," said Tom Slee, a software engineer and author of What's Yours Is Mine: The Dark Side of the 'Sharing Economy.'"Uber is taking 30, 35 percent of the amount of any fare. Airbnb takes about 13 to 15 percent of any rental. They're involved in every transaction. They take a significant amount of money from every transaction. Yet when push comes to shove, they want to say, 'This is not our responsibility and we want nothing to do with it if anything goes wrong.' A well-presented platform can be quite useful to people who have skills to promote, but these current ones end up being [based on] a largely exploitative model."

Uber, valued at $68 billion -- more than any other privately held company in the world -- sets the standard in the gig economy. It has argued that its drivers are not employees, but independent contractors using its network. This allows them to evade taxes, licensing laws in most areas, and a whole slew of labor regulations.

"If you call your workers contractors and they believe you, you're denying them access to rights as an employee," said Zubin Soleimany, an attorney with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which is pursuing several legal claims against Uber for violating basic workers' rights.

The alliance filed a class-action lawsuit against Uber on behalf of its 35,000 New York City drivers in June, accusing it of failing to pay minimum wage or overtime and not reimbursing drivers for expenses such as tolls or the high-end vehicles the company pushes its workers to purchase upon enlistment.

"Behind every customer seeking a fast ride is a worker, often working 60 to 80 hours a week, who is denied the basic rights of being an employee," the suit states.

One such person is D., an Uber driver about 60 years old who also works for several other platform-based cab services, and declined to be identified for fear of retribution from the company.

"We don't get no job protection," D. said, speaking in Lower Manhattan. "We don't get no retirement. We don't get no bonus. What we get is a lot of work. A trip from here to Williamsburg in a yellow cab costs $10 to $15. On Uber, it's $7. I will start work at two in the afternoon, and by midnight I will have $300, not including payment for tolls, not including gasoline, not including payment for the car, not including Uber fees. But by then, I've got to keep working because people are coming out of the bars. And I need the money. All told I put in 16- to 18-hour days. I live in the car."

The cash-flush company's low fares have helped it undercut competition, giving it a near-monopoly among app-based car services (89 percent of US market share) and making it increasingly difficult for traditional cab companies to get by. Having essentially cornered the market across the US, Uber is expanding globally. It now operates on five continents. Its cheap rides allow it to conquer competition, and its empire is built on the backs of workers who are scrimping to get by.

What's more is that once drivers are kicked off of Uber's network -- typically, for failing to meet the company's secretive and largely arbitrary star-rating standards -- they are "left to hang out to dry," as the Soleimany put it.

The Taxi Workers Alliance also filed a complaint in July against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Labor on behalf of two former Uber drivers who have waited months to receive unemployment benefits. Though the handbook for claimants says that it takes three weeks to six weeks to settle an unemployment claim, the department has refused to inform the drivers whether or not they are eligible. Instead, they were told by email that all unemployment claims by Uber drivers are under "executive review" and cannot be processed. The complaint charges the department with refusing to investigate Uber's misclassification of its employees as independent contractors.

Cuomo denies playing a role in the department's policies, but it is under his authority, and the governor has praised Uber as "one of these great inventions, start-ups, of this new economy." He backs legislation that would erase a ban on private "transportation network companies" outside New York City. Uber and Lyft have lobbied heavily for the bill, as it would let them expand their business model to upstate.

The Price of Convenience

Though premised on exploitation and a Randian quest for world domination, the gig economy does offer consumers greater convenience -- assuming they can afford surge rates for taxis whenever it rains, and are fine with a housing shortage that increases rent for vacant apartments in their neighborhood because landlords are operating illegal hotels for Airbnb tourists.

The gig economy is great for consumers, unless you are a person of color, rejected because of your profile picture -- a problem Airbnb only announced it has begun to address this month. Or if you are disabled, as Elizabeth Ramos found out after repeatedly trying to hail a wheelchair-accessible Uber ride last summer.

"Uber is known for being a little more economical," Ramos, who has severe scoliosis, told the NY Daily News. "Not having them defeats the purpose for people like myself, for people in a wheelchair, to live a normal life."

Ramos is suing Uber, arguing that the app is a public accommodation like any other taxi service, and is thus subject to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Even assuming the gig economy makes consumption easier for those who can afford it, it is almost as if consumers are being asked to take Jello Biafra's 1980s quip, "Give me convenience or give me death," literally. What price does this new world of having goods and services at our fingertips come at, if it unravels our basic social fabric?

The real cost of the gig economy, if we are to believe those who see its share of the overall workforce growing perpetually over the coming decades, might not be fully apparent until Taskrabbit workers like the Niyya reach their seventies. What will happen to millions of workers who reach retirement age without funds to cover living and health-care expenses? Will they still be hopping here and there performing low-paid tasks until they need walkers?

Lessons of the Past

The gig economy's prophets say they are concerned about the workers of the world, too.

"[W]e must find a path forward that encourages innovation, embraces new models, creates certainty for workers, business, and government and ensures that workers and their families can lead sustainable lives and realize their dreams," reads a statement on "principles for delivering a stable and flexible safety net for all types of work" signed last November by several Silicon Valley CEOs, including those for Lyft, Handy and Etsy, along with leaders of the Service Employees International Union, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the National Guestworker Alliance.

The letter lists some lofty-sounding principles, but it raises more questions than it answers:

Who should contribute financially (and how much)? What type of organization (or organizations) should administer these benefits and protections? What type of legislative or regulatory action is required to create or enable this model while allowing for experimentation and flexibility? We believe these issues are best pursued through policy development, not litigation, with an orientation toward action in the public, private and social sectors.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, however, perhaps gig workers stand to gain the most the way the labor movement always has -- by organizing.

The Taxi Workers Alliance has made inroads in organizing Uber drivers in New York and staged a one-day strike in February, but so far, Silicon Valley has been successful in using America's weak labor movement to its advantage.

When, in May, Uber announced it would grant its drivers the option of joining the new Independent Drivers Guild, the New York Post editorial board worried that unionized cabbies could lead to the company's downfall. But the Post has little to fear. As Taxi Workers Alliance executive director Bhairavi Desai observed, the guild, though organized through the Machinists Union, receives the bulk of its funding from Uber.

"It's essentially just an old-fashioned company union," she said.

There are some success stories.

Bikers with the London-based food delivery service Deliveroo managed to fend off wage cuts last month with a six-day strike. They used a crowdfunding site on the Internet to solicit contributions for their strike fund.

Workers' movements in the past have sought to own the means of production. Today, that includes owning the software. Visitors to will find a global database of service platforms that offer ownership and work-related democracy to their participants, an emerging movement known as platform cooperatism.

Gig-economy workers are up against billions of dollars in capital and the political power that comes with it. Yet, their success might just depend on something for which there is no app: building collective power.

"There are ways for people to push back, it's the same old ways as before," said Tom Slee. "It's acting together, acting collaboratively, whether through unions or otherwise. It's a combination of direct means and lobbying for regulatory protection as well." 

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World's Existing Fossil Fuels Set to Exceed Its Goals

On September 21, 31 countries, including Brazil and Mexico, ratified the Paris climate agreement at a United Nations event in New York City. They joined the U.S., China, and 27 other nations which had previously committed to the agreement, bringing the total to 60 and surpassing the first of two thresholds, requiring 55 nations to ratify it. In addition, their combined greenhouse gas emissions represent 47.76 percent of the needed 55 percent of global emissions for the agreement to enter into force.

But, practically speaking, what did the now 60 countries actually agree to when they said they would limit warming to "well below 2°C" and strive for 1.5°C? 

A new report from Oil Change International calculates that, in order to accomplish those goals, governments need to stop permitting and building all new fossil fuel projects and retire early some existing oil and gas fields and coal mines. 

Entitled "The Sky's Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production," the report says that just burning fossil fuels from projects presently in operation will produce enough greenhouse gas emissions to push the world well past 2°C of warming this century. Limiting warming to 1.5°C calls for even larger closures of existing operations.

"If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry," Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International, said in a statement. "The industry has enough carbon in the pipeline -- today -- to break through the sky's limit."

The report's findings call attention to the uncomfortable contradiction between the global climate goals set through the United Nations process and the reality of fossil fuel reserves that are being exploited. 

This week's event in New York is part of a larger push for nations to ratify the Paris agreement ahead of the next major UN climate summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November.

"The evidence is clear: to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need our political and financial leaders to stop any further fossil fuel development and start scaling back," said Amanda Starbuck of Rainforest Action Network, whose organization endorsed the report.

The report's authors point out several recommendations for aligning climate policy with these goals, first and foremost by moving away from investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure. 

They reason that any new coal mine or oil field or natural gas pipeline would need to be shut down early to avoid emissions that would go beyond the agreed level of warming. 

That would translate to no small amount of wasted money. The report argues that over the next 20 years investments in new fossil fuel extraction and transportation projects are forecasted to be about $14 trillion.

"Once an extraction operation is underway, it creates an incentive to continue so as to recoup investment and create profit, ensuring the product -- the fossil fuels -- are extracted and burned," commented report author Greg Muttitt in a statement. 

"These incentives are powerful, and the industry will do whatever it takes to protect their investments and keep drilling. This is how carbon gets 'locked-in.'"

Indeed, the report begins with the words: "If you're in a hole, stop digging." 

Yet even if, for example, the world completely stopped digging up and burning coal, the projected emissions from oil and gas fields already in production would warm the climate more than 1.5°C. 

Not that such a halt in coal production would be insignificant, especially coming from the world's major coal producers. Both China and Indonesia have announced a freeze on developing all new coal mines, while the United States has applied this only to federal lands. 

Furthermore, citing Denmark, Germany, and Nicaragua as proofs-of-concept, the report concludes that scaling up renewable energy for electricity generation is feasible on the same timescale needed to move away from fossil fuels.

The report doesn't pretend, however, that fossil fuel use will completely end or that the burden of responsibility for this "managed decline" of fossil fuels and "just transition" toward clean energy falls evenly among nations:

"Some fields and mines -- primarily in rich countries -- should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries. Additionally, production should be discontinued wherever it violates the rights of local people -- including indigenous peoples -- or where it seriously damages biodiversity." 

In addition, the report says, governments will need to take the lead in retraining and supporting both the individual workers and communities currently relying on fossil fuels for jobs, which is a tall order. 

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a $30 billion plan to transition away from coal in the United States while "ensur[ing] that coal miners and their families get the benefits they've earned and respect they deserve."

Politico quotes experts, including mining engineer and consultant Andy Roberts, on the feasibility and timeline (years-to-decades) of such a plan, in light of the dedicated cooperation and funding it would require from Congress. 

"It would be unrealistic to believe that you could, overnight, transform an industry into something different," Roberts told Politico.

This report builds on the work, dating back to the 1990s, of other scientists and environmental advocates, who have analyzed global greenhouse gas emissions as a finite "carbon budget." Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action group, helped bring this work to light in his 2012 Rolling Stone article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math." 

Jamie Henn of, another organization endorsing the report, commented on this latest analysis.

"This report takes the carbon math into the hot, dangerous present," said Henn. It "arms activists with a clear set of facts that they can use to oppose new fossil fuel projects across the board. Any new pipeline, any new gas plant, all of these projects have become a frontline in the climate fight."

News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Higher Ed Class Struggles

This episode of Professor Wolff's radio show discusses the tight partnership between top corporate leaders and top government officials. The show also discusses Goldman Sachs, British wages and Brexit, and includes an interview with Professor Michael Pelias on the Long Island University faculty lockout.

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News Fri, 23 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400