Sonali Kolhatkar

Why workers are angry over the rail strike intervention

The United States Senate acted in a show of rare unity recently in voting 80 to 15 to pass a bill forcing rail workers to accept their employers’ contract offer without a strike. There was no such unity to pass an amendment introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have given rail workers seven paid sick leave days. That bill did not pass even though 52 senators voted for it, as it failed the requisite 60-vote threshold.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

According to the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, “Almost every elected member of Congress campaigns on being ‘for the working class.’” But, in response to the failure to pass the sick leave amendment, the Brotherhood pointed out that Congress’s actions “demonstrated they are for the corporate class.”

The Brotherhood is among several unions representing a little more than 100,000 people working in the rail industry. This is more than half of all rail workers in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Because trains operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, railroad workers’ schedules may vary to include nights, weekends, and holidays. Most work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week.” A job so crucial that the entire U.S. economy is dependent on it pays a median salary of less than $65,000 a year with no paid sick leave whatsoever.

Explaining why Congress felt it necessary to pass a bill to make it illegal for rail workers to strike for better conditions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “A nationwide rail shutdown would be catastrophic—a shutdown would grind our economy to a halt, and every family would feel the strain.” President Joe Biden similarly explained that the congressional intervention in averting a rail strike would help avoid “devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country.”

An economy that devastates workers, leaving them underpaid for a high-pressure job with no sick days, is apparently just fine.

Instead of using its power to force the private rail companies to grant paid sick leave to rail workers, Congress used its levers of power to side with corporate forces rather than with workers. It chose to uplift profits over workers’ needs.

The cost of those profits is tangible and minuscule. Sanders pointed out in a tweet on November 29 that, “Guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers would cost the rail industry a grand total of $321 million a year—less than 2 percent of its profits.” Meanwhile, he added, “Rail companies spent $25.5 billion on stock buybacks and dividends this year.”

To help private rail companies secure $321 million a year in profits, Congress and the president inserted themselves into contract negotiations and sold out more than 100,000 workers.

As President Biden said in September 2021, “I intend to be the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history.” But nearly 30 years ago as a U.S. senator—on the matter of the rail industry in particular—he was more pro-labor than he is today, becoming one of a handful of senators to vote against averting a rail strike. Then-Senator Biden, explaining his ‘no’ vote, said in 1992, “I am… concerned that we are rewarding a concerted decision of the railroads [to negotiate in bad faith] that would have caused fevered expressions of outrage by industry had the unions taken a similar step.”

Today’s congressional intervention indeed rewards the private rail industry that has been engaged in a relentless bid to cut costs in the service of profits.

Corporate media outlets, whose business model is in line with rail companies, have disproportionately amplified lawmakers’ pro-industry talking points. But what are worker unions saying?

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, one of the unions involved, said it “does not support the notion of Congress intervening in our collective bargaining negotiations to prevent a strike.”

Instead, the union said, “If Congress truly wants to take action to improve the industry for our members, then we recommend legislation that will work to reverse the devastation of Precision Scheduled Railroading [PSR].”

Buried near the end of one article, Associated Press explained the gist of PSR without mentioning it by name, saying that, “The rail industry has aggressively cut costs everywhere and shifted its operations to rely more on fewer, longer trains that use fewer locomotives and fewer employees.”

According to rail company Union Pacific Railroad (UP), this method “keeps inventory (and supply chains) moving.” UP touts PSR’s “benefits to Shippers and Receivers,” who are the company’s’ primary customers. The company makes no mention at all of the toll this “efficiency” has taken on its workers.

Congress could have used its power to force rail companies to address the impact of PSR on workers. But instead, it used its power to side with corporate rail industry profits. It is an underlying assumption of how our society and government are structured that any intervention in the acquisition of profit is seen as a threat to the economy.

It’s no wonder rail workers feel betrayed. One Chicago worker named Rhonda Ewing told the New York Times ahead of the congressional vote, “We know it’s holiday time, which is why it’s the perfect time to raise our voices. If Biden gets involved, he takes away our leverage.”

Coming so soon after the 2022 midterm elections and far enough from the 2024 presidential election, lawmakers have few worries about losing reelection bids based on their voting record. This suggests that Congress and the president timed the votes to maximize their political leverage.

But rail workers are not likely to forget the government’s betrayal. “The political pandering and showboating by the elected officials in the Railroad’s pockets will not diminish our resolve nor remove the respect each Signalman is owed for keeping the economy afloat on a daily basis,” said the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen in a press release.

And other workers who are increasingly in solidarity with one another in an economy obviously rigged to benefit wealthy corporate employers, are angry too. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, for example, accused Biden of siding with “wealthy bosses,” and reiterated its support for unions saying, “we will always be in solidarity with all workers.”

Unions are drawing battle lines, demanding that the government flip the script of who the national economy is supposed to benefit.

“The Federal Government inserted itself into the dispute between the railroads and the Railroad Workers under the premise that it must protect the American economy,” wrote Tony D. Cardwell, president of BMWED-IBT, one of the rail unions involved in negotiating contracts. “Yet,” he said, “when the Federal Government makes that decision, its Representatives have a moral responsibility to also protect the interests of the citizens that make this nation’s economy work—American Railroaders.”

In other words, we need an economy that works for the people, not the other way around.

Cardwell warned that the lawmakers’ actions are “nothing less than anti-American, an abdication of their oath of office,” and that, “you are deemed, in my eyes, unworthy of holding office.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

The University of California comes to a standstill as academic workers strike

Nearly 50,000 academic workers at the University of California launched a historic strike on November 14 after contract negotiations with their employer failed. Postdoctoral scholars, researchers, trainees, fellows, graduate student instructors, readers, and tutors, who are from 10 UC campuses across the state and are unionized with United Auto Workers, walked out of their jobs.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Such workers are not traditionally associated with militant labor actions as intellectual work has historically been well-compensated in the United States. But, as universities have increasingly adopted corporate models of operation, the same sort of delineation in pay seen in other industries has taken hold in academia, with administrative executives earning top dollar while rank-and-file workers have seen their wages shrink relative to inflation. At the top of workers’ list of demands is better pay, one that is tied to the cost of living, and especially the cost of housing.

“What the UC is proposing in terms of… small percent increases in annual salary, essentially that results in a net loss” to workers, says Joyce Chan, a postdoctoral scholar in neurosciences at UC San Diego. Chan, who serves on the bargaining team for UAW 5810, is referring to the fact that California is one of the most expensive states to live in. She says, “our proposals are not only realistic, but we feel they are necessary.”

The university’s bargaining position can be boiled down to an expectation that its core academic workers simply have to accept a life of hardship. UC Provost Michael Brown, in a letter responding to the union’s demand, wrote, “Tying compensation directly to housing costs… could have overwhelming financial impacts on the University.”

But Chan counters that “30 to 80 percent of our income goes toward making rent alone.” Indeed, Brown did not dispute the fact that rent consumes too much of a graduate student’s paycheck. He only countered that it would be too hard for the university to do anything about it. In other words, if workers cannot afford to live, that’s their problem.

According to FairUCNow.org, a website set up by the UAW unions involved in the UC contract negotiations, academic workers “do the majority of teaching and research at UC, yet UC is refusing to offer us a fair share of the record-setting grant and state funding that our labor brings in.”

Chan points out that “our working conditions are our student’s learning conditions”—a logic familiar to one adopted by unionized school teachers in K-12 public schools. “If the UC meets our demands for fair compensation, we would be far more able to focus on the teaching, on the research, on everything that makes the University of California great,” she adds.

Brittany Drake, a PhD candidate at UCLA, tweeted in support of the strike, saying, “I do not doubt that many brilliant students research, careers, and health are being compromised due to the added financial stress, and hope that they will receive the support they deserve rather than admonishment.” She points out how, during her first two years in graduate school, she slept on friends’ couches, in her office, and even in her car. University administrators “admonished” her for spending nights in her office, but, she said, “No one asked if I was okay or needed help.”

Union members say the university can indeed afford to pay its academic workers more. “As California’s biggest [public] employer, the UC has a $46 billion annual budget,” says Chan, adding that “the [UAW] proposals for graduate workers would end up being less than 3 percent of the UC budget.” That academic workers cannot afford rent on their salaries is tantamount to them paying UC to work, instead of the other way around. In other words, it’s stolen labor.

“We have the right to demand better pay and better working conditions, and also to be able to demand things and to be heard,” says Chan. “We’re united and we’re ready to hold them accountable.”

In addition to sending a message to the university that workers demand better than what is being offered, the strike is also alerting the entire university community to the long-standing plight of graduate students and postdoctoral workers. The sight of thousands of UAW members rallying and picketing at UC campuses has inspired solidarity from faculty members who rely on the labor of their researchers and teaching assistants. James Vernon, chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, addressed a UAW picket on UC Berkeley’s campus, saying, “The system is broken and you’re going to help fix it and we are here as faculty to support you in that effort.”

UC’s academic researchers and workers are responsible for ushering critical intellectual work—not only to California, but also to the U.S. and world. “Our students in the sciences, they go on to become doctors, they go on to become engineers, that contribute to infrastructure, and also medicine,” says Chan. “I think it can’t be understated how important the university’s research is in social mobility, in improving people’s futures, and also in the arts as well, in creating work that moves people.”

The UC strike is also part of a broader trend of labor actions nationwide. In the same week that the strike began, Starbucks workers in more than 100 stores that have voted to join a union held a one-day strike to protest their employer’s refusal to bargain in good faith. UPS drivers, who are gearing up for a potentially major strike of their own next year, have been informed by their union, the Teamsters, that they can show solidarity with UC striking workers by refusing to cross the picket to deliver packages.

“For a lot of the academic workers at the UC, we see this pattern of indignity and unfair wages, unfair contracts, as a sort of universal theme, not only in the States but also worldwide,” says Chan. She cites that UC workers have been inspired by the actions of Starbucks workers in the U.S., as well as other companies and workers throughout the world.

“Not every teaching moment happens in a classroom,” says Chan. “Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Democrats didn’t win the midterms — they simply held the line


Americans invested in the idea of living in a democracy heaved a collective sigh of relief the day after the 2022 midterm elections when it became clear that the dire predictions of a Republican sweep were overblown. Democrats made greater gains than expected, winning races in both the Senate and the House that they didn’t expect to.

It happened because masses of people cast ballots, defying long-standing historical trends of low midterm turnout. Voters almost matched the high turnout of the 2018 elections when outrage over Donald Trump’s first two years in office pushed Congress into the hands of Democrats. Stung by their opposition’s showing and by Trump’s reelection loss two years later, Republicans ramped up voter suppression efforts, hoping to blunt the impact of an increasingly young, diverse, and enthusiastic electorate.

Liberal-leaning voters showed up to the polls during this latest midterm election largely in response to the overturning of abortion rights, but also to stave off right-wing extremism.

Although the worst did not come to pass during the midterms, simply holding the line against a descent into fascism is not enough. Republicans are wresting control of the nation’s steering wheel as hard as they can and forcing it as far right as possible. Their party has divested itself from democratic norms and thrown its weight behind Trump and his lies. They have invested in stripping people of their bodily autonomy and fashioning a dangerous world ruled by force and a riotous mob mentality. Much more is needed in the face of such hubris: Fascists need to be placed on the defensive, and a split Congress is not enough to do so.

Three major factors explain why Democrats didn’t win outright control of both congressional chambers: First, Republicans have aggressively reduced the impact of Democratic votes; second, Democrats were unable or unwilling to articulate a clear message of why their agenda is better than that of the Republicans; and third, the corporate media refused to center people’s well-being in their framing of election-related issues.

Republicans have played the long game on suppressing democracy, redrawing district maps for years in order to favor their candidates and appointing conservative, partisan judges into federal courts to affirm those maps. They have done so in tandem with a slew of voter suppression laws in states they control—which is the majority. Analilia Mejia, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, says in an interview that such efforts are “a strategy utilized to negate the power of a rising Black and Brown electorate.”

The GOP is also terrified (or should be) of young people voting. Recall in the 2016 presidential race when Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump was blamed, in part, on younger voters who weren’t motivated to show up to the polls. Two years later, that trend was reversed in the first midterms of Trump’s presidency. Now, four years after that, young voters have realized the dangers of apathy and showed up to the polls in force, casting a majority of their ballots for Democrats.

Mejia says “the policies that really motivate people” to vote are “the policies that we know will essentially save humanity and the planet and stop climate change; the policies that we know will ensure that our children, that our elders, that those most vulnerable in our communities have the resources that they need to not only survive but thrive—[these] are policies that are supported by the vast majority of people.”

This—including the overturning of abortion rights at the Supreme Court—was precisely what motivated so many young people and people of color to vote in the 2022 midterms. Varshini Prakash, executive director and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate justice organization, told Common Dreams, “For us, it’s never been just about defeating Donald Trump… We turn out to fight for the issues our generation faces every day, like the impending climate crisis, protecting our reproductive freedoms, and ending gun violence in our schools.”

And yet, climate justice, economic justice, and racial justice were largely missing from the story that Democrats told in order to motivate people to go to the polls.

Rather than tout how his administration and his party would ensure a just transition to renewable fuels, President Joe Biden was fixated on gas prices and how to lower them. Instead of showcasing how the 2021 American Rescue Plan was a good example of federal government action on inequality, candidates running for office were on the defensive against Republicans’ and the media’s hammering of inflation as a central election issue. In contrast to their 2020 promises to tackle racist police brutality and mass incarceration, Democrats decided to pass a bill to increase police funding and stave off GOP accusations of being “soft on crime.”

Voters showed up in spite of this. But they may have shown up to elect Democrats in even higher numbers had climate, economic, and racial justice been front and center ahead of the midterms. “These are popular ideas,” says Mejia.

Not only did Democrats refuse to fully articulate these popular ideas, but the corporate media also shaped its coverage to suit the GOP’s agenda. Outlets aggressively played up the Republican Party’s line that inflation was the central issue of the election—one for which, they alleged, Democrats bore sole blame.

Take one New York Times article published on Election Day. “Inflation is almost certainly the issue pushing the economy to its current prominence,” wrote the Times’ economic reporter Jeanna Smialek in a story headlined, “Inflation Plagues Democrats in Polling. Will It Crush Them at the Ballot Box?” Just hours after it was published, such a confident claim fell apart as the Democrats were most certainly not “crushed” at the ballot box.

Mainstream U.S. corporate news media outlets could have taken a page out of their British counterpart’s book, the Guardian, which publishes analyses like that of former U.S. labor secretary Robert Reich. “Corporations are using rising costs as an excuse to increase their prices even higher, resulting in record profits,” wrote Reich, offering an explanation for inflation largely missing from U.S. outlets.

One Wall Street Journal article went as far as explaining quite convincingly that rather than being sparked by Democrats’ policies, inflation was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the U.S. was in line with other nations and with historical trends. Yet the Journal couldn’t resist framing the piece with the misleading headline: “Midterm Election Could Make Democrats Latest Governing Party to Pay Price for Inflation.”

Most U.S. newspapers have spent the past year banging the drum of inflation and exaggerating its impact. They have accepted the dogma that higher wages, lower unemployment, and government assistance are the source of rising prices rather than corporate greed.

Mejia is aghast at the consensus that is emerging to tackle inflation through increasing interest rates and slashing benefits. She finds it “unbelievable that the way we dig ourselves… out of an economic crisis is by inflicting strategic targeted and sustained pain to those who are most vulnerable.”

She says that “the only way out of here, out of this moment, is through investment in people, in civic participation, and increasing our political power and voice.”

Perhaps if the Democratic Party had centered its midterm platform on such an approach, and perhaps if the corporate media had not distorted the truth, victory would not have been defined by simply holding the line against a fascist GOP; it would have been—and could have been—an outright defeat of authoritarianism and injustice. Too much is at stake, and our standards of success cannot be low.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Elon Musk plans to profit from Twitter, not create a town sq​uare for global democracy

The world’s richest man has bought one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is currently worth about $210 billion, and in November 2021 he was worth nearly $300 billion—an unheard-of figure for any individual in human history. Not only does his wealth bode ill for democracy, considering the financial influence that he has over politics, but his acquisition of Twitter, a powerful opinion platform, as a private company also further cements his power.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

To put his money into perspective, if Musk wanted to gift every single Twitter user $800, (given that Twitter has about 238 million regular users) he would still have about $20 billion left over to play with and never ever want for money. Musk’s greed is the central fact to keep in mind when attempting to predict what his ownership of Twitter means.

Musk has shrewdly fostered a reputation for being a genius, deserving of his obscene wealth. But his private texts during Twitter deal negotiations, recently revealed in court documents during legal wrangling over the sale, paint a picture of a simple mind unable to come to terms with his excess. His idea of “fun” is having “huge amounts of money” to play with.

And, he has an outsized opinion of himself. Billionaires like Musk see themselves as being the only ones capable of unleashing greatness in the world. He said as much in his letter to the Twitter board saying, “Twitter has extraordinary potential,” and adding, “I will unlock it.” Such hubris is only natural when one wields more financial power than the human brain is capable of coming to terms with.

Musk has also been adept at cultivating a reputation for having a purist approach to free speech, and diverting attention away from his wealth. Former president Donald Trump, who repeatedly violated Twitter’s standards before eventually being banned, said he’s “very happy that Twitter is now in sane hands.” Indeed, there is rampant speculation that Musk will reinstate Trump’s account.

But, Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of Digital Justice and Civil Rights at Free Press, said in an interview earlier this year that Musk is not as much of a free speech absolutist as he is “kind of an anything-goes-for-Twitter future CEO.”

She adds, “I think that vision is one in which he imagines social media moderation of content will just happen. But it doesn’t just happen by magic alone. It must have guardrails.”

The guardrails that Twitter has had so far did not work well enough. It took the company four years of Trump’s violent and inciteful tweets, and a full-scale attack on the U.S. Capitol, to finally ban him from the platform. In the week after Trump and several of his allies were banned, misinformation dropped by a whopping 73 percent on the platform.

Twitter delayed action on Trump’s tweets only because its prime goal is to generate profits, not foster free speech. These are Musk’s goals too, and all indications suggest he will weaken protections, not strengthen them.

According to Benavidez, “His imagined future that Twitter will somehow be an open and accepting square—that has to happen very carefully through a number of things that will increase better moderation and enforcement on the company’s service.” Musk appears utterly incapable of thinking about such things.

Instead, his plans include ideas like charging users $20 a monthto have a verification badge next to their names—a clear nod to his worldview that money ought to determine what is true or who holds power.

Benavidez explains that “because it has helped their bottom lines,” companies like Twitter are “fueling and fanning the flames for the most incendiary content,” such as tweets by former Twitter user Trump and his ilk, incitements to violence, and the promotion of conspiracy theories.

There is much at stake given that Twitter has a strong influence on political discourse. For example, Black Twitter, one of the most important phenomena to emerge from social media, is a loosely organized community of thousands of vocal Black commentators who use the platform to issue powerful and pithy opinions on social and racial justice, pop culture, electoral politics, and more. Black Twitter played a critical role in helping organize and spreading news about protests during the 2020 uprising sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.

But within days of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, thousands of anonymous accounts began bombarding feeds with racist content, tossing around the N-word, leaving members of Black Twitter aghast and traumatized. Yoel Roth, the company’s head of safety and integrity—who apparently still retains his job—tweeted that “More than 50,000 Tweets repeatedly using a particular slur came from just 300 accounts,” suggesting this was an organized and coordinated attack.

Whether or not Musk’s buyout of Twitter will actually succeed in making history’s richest man even richer by rolling out the welcome mat to racist trolls is not clear. Already, numerous celebrities with large followings have closed their Twitter accounts. Hollywood’s top Black TV showrunner, Shonda Rhimes posted her last tweet, saying, “Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye.”

Twitter also impacts journalism. According to a Pew Research study, 94 percent of all journalists in the U.S. use Twitter in their job. Younger journalists favor it the most of all age groups. Journalists covering the automotive industry are worried about whether criticism of Tesla will be tolerated on the platform. And, Reporters Without Borders warned Musk that “Journalism must not be a collateral victim” of his management.

Misinformation and distrust in government lead to apathy and a weakening of democracy. This is good for billionaires like Musk, who has made very clear that he vehemently opposes a wealth tax of the sort that Democrats are backing. Indeed, he has used his untaxed wealth to help buy the platform. If Twitter is capable of influencing public opinion in order to help elect anti-tax politicians, why wouldn’t Musk pursue such a strategy?

Musk has made it clear that he will not be a hands-off owner. He set to work as soon as the deal was cemented by firing Twitter’s top executives and the entire board. As a privately owned company, Twitter will now answer to Musk and his underlings, not to shareholders.

Benavidez summarizes one of the most important lessons that Musk’s purchase offers: “It can’t simply be that this company or that company is owned and at the whim of a single individual who might be bored and want to take on a side project.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

What Social Security should actually be paying to survive in this economy

Social Security is one of the most popular and progressive government programs in the United States. But Republicans, who try to obscure their real agenda, are bent on cutting it.

Inflation continues to rise in the United States. Although gas prices have recently fallen since their record high over the summer, the cost of groceries rose by 11.4 percent over the last year, and there is no expectation that they will fall back to reasonable levels. Prices overall have risen by 8.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index report covering September 2022 as compared to the same month last year. While most working Americans are not getting hefty wage raises to compensate for inflation, seniors will see their Social Security benefits—which are pegged to inflation—rise next year. Starting in January 2023, beneficiaries will see an 8.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) bump in their Social Security checks.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Conservatives are scoffing at this automated increase, as if it were a special treat that the Biden administration has cooked up to bribe older voters. Fox News reported that there was a “social media backlash” against White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s tweet lauding the upcoming increased COLA benefits for seniors. The outlet elevated comments by the conservative America First Policy Institute’s Marc Lotter, who retorted to Klain, “Nice try Ron. Raising benefits next year does not help seniors with the higher prices they are paying today or the higher prices they’ve been paying since you took office.”

But Social Security benefits have risen automatically with inflation since 1975 by design, precisely so that the livelihoods of seniors are not beholden to partisanship. This is an imminently sensible way to ensure that retired Americans, who spent their working lives paying Social Security taxes, can have a basic income.

If conservatives are complaining that an 8.7 percent bump is not enough to counter inflation, one might expect them to demand an even greater increase to Social Security benefits.

But, as is often the case with conservative economic logic, hypocrisy abounds. Bloomberg Government reporter Jack Fitzpatrick recently reported that several House Republicans who are vying to chair next year’s House Budget Committee if their party wins a majority in the November 2022 general elections are crafting plans for reductions, not increases. They hope to leverage negotiations on raising the 2023 debt ceiling by demanding cuts to Social Security and Medicare—programs that the GOP loves to deceptively label “entitlements.”

Fitzpatrick, using conservatives’ nakedly partisan language, said that Republican negotiators “could subsequently put major entitlement programs in play.” One of the GOP members of Congress eyeing the committee leadership, Georgia’s Buddy Carter, was more forthcoming about his plan, saying, “Our main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary—it’s got to be on entitlements.” Another Republican lawmaker, Jodey Arrington of Texas, also hoping to chair the crucial committee, understood the value of discretion when discussing cuts to programs favored by his constituents. He warned his Republican colleagues against getting too specific because “this can get so politicized.”

But Republicans have been demanding cuts to so-called entitlement programs for at least the past seven years running, in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Oddly, the Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler found no evidence to back up Democratic Senator Patty Murray’s recent claim that “Republicans plan to end Social Security and Medicare if they take back the Senate.” Awarding Murray four “Pinocchios”—the Fact Checker column’s highest possible rating for lies—Kessler assured readers, saying, “Don’t worry, seniors: There is no such plan.” (In the hundreds of comments on the piece, many readers called out Kessler’s obvious service to Republicans in helping to hide their agenda.)

Social Security is one of the best, most popular government-funded programs in the nation. I recently explained its workings to my parents who emigrated from the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. a year ago. The custom they are familiar with in countries like the UAE is that of a “gratuity” or severance, paid to retiring workers—a lump-sum tip—based on their salary and number of years worked.

I explained that in contrast, U.S. workers pay a small percentage of their wages into the Social Security fund their entire working life. Upon retirement, workers draw a monthly sum based on their salary, years worked, and the current cost of living. While this may not sound as enticing as receiving a large sum of money at once, the monthly payments will never run out and last from retirement until death. My parents were duly impressed.

This year, to mark the 87th anniversary of Social Security, Data for Progress found in a poll that the program remains extremely popular and that a majority of voters want to increase benefits.

Those surveyed also worried that Congress could cut current or future benefits, or privatize the program. Most had not heard about Republican plans for cuts, however, suggesting that the efforts to hide the GOP’s real agenda have generally worked.

And, most were in favor of a very simple solution to ensure that Social Security’s funds don’t run out as revenues have dropped due to increasing inequality, and life expectancy has increased: make the wealthy pay their fair share. Social Security payroll taxes are capped at $147,000 in wages currently (and beginning in 2023 will increase a modest 9 percent to $160,200). That means those earning a million dollars a year in 2022 pay the same amount into Social Security as those earning $150,000. Removing the cap ensures that the fund will remain solvent and stable.

Social Security, in spite of some flaws, is also one of the nation’s most progressive programs, helping to further racial and gender justice among older Americans.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), “Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and less opportunity to save and earn pensions, including Black and Latino workers and their families, who face higher poverty rates during their working lives and in old age.”

Furthermore, CBPP finds that “Social Security is especially important for women, because they tend to earn less than men, take more time out of the paid workforce, live longer, accumulate less savings, and receive smaller pensions.”

In spite of enduring Republican desires to cut the program, it is not nearly as generous as it ought to be. A global comparison of government retirement benefits by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2019 found that the U.S. ranked 24th on the ratio of worker benefits to earnings. This is below average for OECD countries, and lower than the benefits paid by countries like Turkey, Greece, Estonia, and Latvia, in spite of the U.S. being the richest nation in the world.

In other words, there is a basis for the conservative critique that an 8.7 percent increase in Social Security benefits slated for 2023 is insufficient. But the solution is to make benefits more generous, rather than to cut the program as Republicans aim to do.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Brazil’s Lula remerges to a very different political world

If Lula wins reelection, he must not only rebuild the social investments that Bolsonaro destroyed, but also restore trust in a nation damaged by fascism’s sophisticated propaganda machine.

Brazil’s first round of elections, held on October 2, yielded a major victory for the man who held the presidency from 2003 to 2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Winning 48 percent of the vote in a multicandidate race, Lula now heads to a runoff against incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, who won 43 percent. It’s the first chapter of a dramatic comeback for a leader who was once hailed as the epitome of Latin America’s resurgent left, who was then imprisoned on corruption charges by a politicized judiciary, eventually was released, and has now emerged onto the political scene in a very different nation than the one he once led.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

A founding member of Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT), Lula ran for president several times before winning in 2002. A year later I recall sitting in a huge stadium in Porto Alegre for the second annual World Social Forum (WSF), getting ready alongside tens of thousands of people to hear the new president speak. The WSF was an organized response to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, where world leaders annually hobnob with corporate executives to explore capitalist solutions to the problems created by capitalism.

In 2003, the crowds that had gathered in a Porto Alegre stadium to explore alternatives to capitalism greeted Lula with coordinated roars of “olè olè olè Lula!” It seemed at that moment that everything could change for the better, and that, in the words of Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who also addressed the WSF, “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.” Indeed, Lula’s rewriting of Brazil’s economic priorities emphasizing benefits for low-income communities was a welcome change in a world seduced by neoliberalism. He went on to win reelection in 2006.

In subsequent years, Lula moved closer toward the political center. Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, says, “I don’t think Lula is this radical left-wing person” today. In an interview she explains, “many social movements had criticisms of the Workers’ Party before because they thought [the party] could move to make structural changes in Brazil.” Still, she maintains that Lula’s changes to Brazil were profound. “The amount of investment that the Workers’ Party did, in education for example, [was] unprecedented.” She asserts that “they really made concrete improvements in the lives of people.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and Bolsonaro swept into power, glorifying the ugliest aspects of bigoted conservatism and making them central to his rule, and decimating Lula’s legacy of economic investments in the poor. Business executives in the U.S. celebrated his win, excited at the prospect of a deregulated economy in which they could invest, and from which they could extract wealth.

Today Latin America’s largest democracy has been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Bolsonaro’s fascist and conspiracy-fueled leadership elevated snake oil cures above commonsense scientific mitigation. The Amazon rainforest has suffered the ravages of unfettered deforestation, and its Indigenous inhabitants have been exploited beyond measure.

Bizarrely, some corporate media pundits in the United States place equal blame on Bolsonaro and Lula for Brazil’s worrisome status quo. Arick Wierson writes on NBCNews.com, “these pressing problems are the result of the policies and actions of Brazilian leadership over the past two decades—inextricably linked to both the Lula and Bolsonaro administrations.”

The Economist advises Lula to “move to the center” in order to win the election, implying that his social and economic agenda is too leftist. A PT spokesperson told the Financial Times that if Lula wins a third term in the October 30 runoff election, he plans to focus on the “popular economy,” meaning that “the Brazilian state will have to fulfill a strong agenda in inducing economic development,” which would be achieved with “jobs, social programs, and the presence of the state.”

It speaks to the severe conservative skewing of the world political spectrum that a leader like Lula is still considered left of center. According to Mendonça, “I don’t think that investing in education and health care, in job creation, is a radical idea.” She views Lula as “a moderate politician,” and says that now, “after a very disastrous administration of Bolsonaro, Lula again is the most popular politician in the country.”

Most Brazilians appear to have tired of Bolsonarismo. A Reuters poll found that Lula now enjoys 51 percent support to Bolsonaro’s 43 percent ahead of the October 30 runoff race. But, just as the 2016 U.S. presidential race yielded a win for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, the candidate who had been widely expected to win, there is no guarantee that Lula will prevail.

And Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” has worryingly taken a page out of the disgraced American leader’s 2020 election playbook in claiming ahead of the first round of elections that Lula loyalists plan to steal the election. “Bolsonaro has been threatening not to accept the result of the election,” says Mendonça. “His discourse is very similar to Trump’s discourse.”

Just as Trump—in spite of damning and overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office—remains disconcertingly popular among a significant minority of Americans, Bolsonaro enjoys a stubborn level of allegiance within Brazil. He has reshaped the political landscape so deeply that the lines between reality and propaganda remain blurred.

“We had years and years of attacks against the Workers’ Party,” says Mendonça. She asks us to “imagine if all mainstream media [in Brazil] were like Fox News.” Additionally, Bolsonaro has built what she calls “a huge infrastructure to spread fake news on social media.” And, like Trump, Bolsonaro enjoys support from evangelical churches.

“The challenge is how you resist that type of message,” worries Mendonça. She dismisses claims that Brazil is politically polarized as too simplistic, saying that it “doesn’t really explain that there was this orchestrated effort to attack democracy in Brazil.” Putting Brazil into an international context, she sees Bolsonaro as “part of this global far-right movement that uses those types of mechanisms to manipulate public opinion and to discredit democracy.”

The nation and the world that a resurgent Lula faces are ones that require far more sophisticated opposition and organized resistance than when he last held office more than a decade ago.

Ultimately, the challenges facing Lula, the PT, and Brazilians in general are the same ones that we all face: how do we prioritize people’s needs over corporate greed, and how do we elevate the rights of human beings, of women, people of color, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ individuals, and the earth’s environment, in the face of a rising fascism that deploys organized disinformation so effectively?

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Why tech billionaires are actually dumber than you think

It turns out that many of today’s billionaires are selfish, lonely men fantasizing about how they will survive the end times they have played a part in creating.

In mid-September, for just a few days, Indian industrialist Gautam Adani entered the ranks of the top three richest people on earth as per Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. It was the first time an Indian, or, for that matter, an Asian, had enjoyed such a distinction. South Asians in my circle of family and friends felt excited at the prospect that a man who looked like us had entered such rarefied ranks.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Adani was deemed the second richest person, even richer than Amazon founder Jeff Bezos! A Times of India profile fawningly quoted him relaying his thought process in the early days of his rags-to-riches story. “‘Dreams were infinite but finances finite,’ he says with engaging frankness,” according to the profile. There was no mention of the serious accusations he faces of corruption and diverting money into offshore tax havens, or of the entire website, AdaniWatch, devoted to investigating his dirty deeds.

Adani made his money, in part, by investing in digital services, leading one economist to say, “Wherever there is a futuristic business in India, I think… [Adani] has a stronghold.”

The moment of pride that Indians felt in such an achievement by one of their own was short-lived. Quickly Adani slipped from second richest to third richest, and, as of this writing, is in the number four slot on a list dominated by people who have made money from the digital technology revolution.

In fact, ranking multibillionaires is a meaningless exercise that obscures the absurdity of their wealth. This year alone, a number of tech billionaires on Bloomberg’s list lost hundreds of billions of dollars as the gains they made during the early years of the pandemic were wiped out because of a volatile stock market. But, as Whizy Kim of Vox points out, whether or not they’re losing money or giving it away—as Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott has been doing—their wealth remains insanely high, and most are worth more today than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are they doing with all this wealth?

It turns out that many are quietly plotting their own survival against our demise. Douglas Rushkoff, podcaster, founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism, and fellow at the Institute for the Future, has written a book about this bizarre phenomenon, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

In an interview, Rushkoff explains that billionaires worry about the end of humanity just like the rest of us. They fear catastrophic climate change or the next pandemic. And, they know their money will likely be of little value when civilizations decline. “How do I maintain control over my Navy Seal security guards once my money is worthless?” is a question that Rushkoff says many of the world’s wealthiest people want to know the answer to.

He knows they ask such questions because he was invited to give private lectures by those who think his expertise in digital technology gives him unique insight into the future. But Rushkoff was quietly studying them instead and has few flattering things to say about these wielders of economic power.

“How is it that the wealthiest and most powerful people I’d ever been in the same room with see themselves as utterly powerless to affect the future?” he asks. It seems as though “the best they can do is prepare for the inevitable calamity and then just, you know, hang on for dear life.”

Rushkoff explores this tech billionaire “mindset” that he says has resulted in a generation of people who are “almost comedic monsters, who really mean to leave us all behind.” Adani is a perfect example of this, having invested in the very fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. He has large holdings in Australia’s coal mining industry and has sparked a massive grassroots movement intent on stopping him.

The admiration that some Indians feel for Adani’s ascension on Bloomberg’s list of billionaires is based on an assumption of cleverness. Surely, he must be one of the smartest people in the world in order to be one of the richest? Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man by far (with twice as much wealth as Bezos), has enjoyed such a reputation for years.

Those who are invested in the idea of merit-based capitalism can justify the unimaginable wealth of the world’s richest people only by assuming they are intelligent enough to deserve it.

This is a façade. Rather than smarts, the wealthiest people on the planet appear to be rather small-minded idiot savants who share a common disdain for the rest of us.

After being around tech billionaires in private, Rushkoff concludes that they are invested in “this notion that they really can, like puppeteers, kind of control society from one level above,” and that this approach is “different than the era of Alexander the Great, or Caesar.” If the question that vexes them most of all is how, in a disastrous future, will they control the guards they hire to protect their hoardings, then our economic system is a farce.

“Even if we call them genius technologists, most of them were plucked from college when they were freshmen,” says Rushkoff. “They came up with some idea in their dorm room before they’d taken history, or economics, or ethics, or philosophy” classes, and so they lack the wisdom needed to oversee their own perverse amounts of wealth.

Having spent time with many tech billionaires, Rushkoff worries that “their education about the future comes from zombie movies and science fiction shows.”

Billionaires are not simply drawing their wealth from a vacuum. According to data from the World Economic Forum, “the world’s richest have captured a disproportionate share of global wealth over recent decades.” This means that, if you were rich to begin with a decade or two ago, you are likely to have seen your wealth multiply by a greater amount than middle-class or lower-income people.

Not only are tech billionaires undeserving of their wealth, but they also are fleecing the rest of us—and fantasizing about hoarding that wealth in the worst-case scenarios while the rest of humanity struggles to survive.

The danger is that if society valorizes such (mostly) men, we are in danger of internalizing their childish, selfish mindset and giving up on solving the climate crisis or building resiliency on a mass scale.

Instead of relating to them, we ought to feel sorry for a group of people so cut off from humanity that their vision of the future is a very lonely one.

“Let’s look at these tech-bro billionaire lunatics. Let’s laugh at what they’re doing… so they look small rather than big,” says Rushkoff. He thinks it is critical to adopt the perspective that “the disaster they’re so afraid of looks entirely manageable by more reasonable people who are willing just to help each other out.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Connecting the dots between climate devastation and fossil fuel profits

As Pakistan drowns, as Puerto Rico is cast into darkness, and as Jacksonians remain thirsty, it’s past time for a climate tax on fossil fuel companies.

What do Pakistan, Puerto Rico, and Jackson, Mississippi, have in common? They’ve all recently experienced climate-related catastrophic rains and flooding, resulting in the loss of homes, electricity, and running water. But, even more importantly, they are all low-income regions inhabited by people of color—the prime victims of climate injustice. They face inaction from negligent governments and struggle to survive as fossil fuel companies reap massive profits—a status quo that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called a “moral and economic madness.”

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Pakistan, which relies on yearly monsoons to enrich its agricultural industry, has had unprecedented floods since June, impacting 30 million people and killing more than 1,500—a third of them children.

Zulfiqar Kunbhar, a Karachi-based journalist with expertise in climate coverage, explains that “things are very critical” in the rain-affected areas of his nation. Kunbhar has been visiting impacted regions and has seen firsthand the massive “agricultural loss and livelihood loss” among Pakistan’s farming communities.

Sindh, a low-lying province of Pakistan, is not only one of the most populous in the nation (Sindh is home to about 47 million people), but it also produces about a third of the agricultural produce, according to Kunbhar. Twenty years ago, Sindh was stricken with extreme drought. In the summer of 2022, it was drowning in chest-deep water.

The UN is warning that the water could take months to recede and that this poses serious health risks, as deadly diseases like cerebral malaria are emerging. Kunbhar summarizes that provinces like Sindh are facing both “the curse of nature” and government “mismanagement.”

Climate change plus government inaction on mitigation and resilience equals deadly consequences for the poor. This same equation plagues Puerto Rico, long relegated to the status of a United States territory. In September 2022, on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people, another storm named Fiona knocked out power for the entire region.

Julio López Varona, chief of campaigns at Center for Popular Democracy Action, spoke to me from Puerto Rico, saying, “the storm was extremely slow, going at like 8 or 9 miles an hour,” and as a result, “it pounded the island for more than three days” with relentless rain. “Communities were completely flooded; people have been displaced,” he says. Eventually, the electrical grid completely failed.

Days after the storm passed, millions of people remained without power—some even lost running water—leading the White House to declare a major disaster in Puerto Rico.

Even on the U.S. mainland, it is poor communities of color who have been hit the hardest by the impacts of climate change. Mississippi’s capital of Jackson, with an 82 percent Black population and growing numbers of Latin American immigrants, struggles with adequate resources and has had problems with its water infrastructure for years.

Lorena Quiroz, founder of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, a Jackson-based group doing multiracial grassroots organizing, told me how the city’s residents have been struggling without clean running water since major rains and resulting floods overwhelmed a water treatment plant this summer.

“It’s a matter of decades of disinvestment in this mostly Black, and now Brown, community,” says Quiroz. In a state run by white conservatives, Jackson is overseen by a Black progressive mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is now suing the state government over inaction on the city’s water infrastructure.

Quiroz says it’s “painful to see how government is not doing what they should, how the state government is neglecting its most vulnerable populations.”

Over and over, the same pattern has emerged on a planet experiencing catastrophic climate change. Setting aside the fact that we are still spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as the world burns and floods, the impacts of a warming climate are disproportionately borne by poor communities of color as evidenced in Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Jackson, and elsewhere.

The UN head, Guterres is doing what he can in using his position to lay blame precisely on the culprits, saying in his opening remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York recently, “It is high time to put fossil fuel producers, investors, and enablers on notice. Polluters must pay.” Guterres specifically touted the importance of taxing fossil fuel companies to cover the damage they are causing in places like Pakistan. According to the Associated Press, “Oil companies in July reported unprecedented profits of billions of dollars per month. ExxonMobil posted three months profits of $17.85 billion, Chevron of $11.62 billion, and Shell of $11.5 billion.”

Contrast this windfall with the countless numbers of people who lost their homes in Pakistan and are now living in shanties on roads where they have found some higher ground from the floods. “If you lose a crop, that’s seasonal damage, but if you lose a house, you have to pay for years to come,” says Kunbhar.

Kunbhar’s view of what is happening in Pakistan applies equally to Puerto Rico and Jackson: Society is “divided between the haves and have-nots,” he says. “The poorest of the poor who are already facing an economic crisis from generation to generation, they are the most vulnerable and the [worst] victims of this crisis.”

In Puerto Rico, Varona sees displaced communities losing their lands to wealthier communities. He says that the local government in Puerto Rico is “allowing millionaires and billionaires to come and pay no taxes and to actually take over many of the places that are safer for communities to be on.” This is an “almost intentional displacement of communities… that have historically lived here,” he says.

And in Jackson, Quiroz says she is aghast at the “mean-spiritedness” of Mississippi’s wealthier enclaves and state government. “It is so difficult to comprehend the way that our people are being treated.”

Although disparate and seemingly disconnected from one another, with many complicating factors, there are stark lines connecting climate victims to fossil fuel profits.

Pakistan’s poor communities are paying the price for ExxonMobil’s billions.

Puerto Rico remains in the dark so that Chevron may enjoy massive profits.

Jackson, Mississippi, has no clean drinking water so that Shell can enrich its shareholders.

When put in such terms, Guterres’s idea for taxing the perpetrators of climate devastation is a no-brainer. It’s “high time,” he said, “to put fossil fuel producers, investors and enablers on notice,” so that we can end our “suicidal war against nature.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Britain's evil empire: Let the monarchy die along with Elizabeth

There is no good reason to allow the evil empire to retain any legitimacy as the British royal family papers over the pillage it continues to benefit from.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch of British royalty, has sparked global fascination and spawned thousands of clickbait reports of the details of her funeral. Americans, who centuries ago rejected monarchy, are seemingly obsessed with the ritualism, bizarrely mourning the demise of an elderly and fabulously wealthy woman who was born into privilege and who died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 96 across the ocean.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Perhaps this is because popular and long-running TV shows about British royalty like “The Crown” have convinced us that we know intimate details about the royals—and worse, they cause us to believe we should care about a family that is a symbolic marker of past imperial grandeur.

But for those who are descended from the subjects of British imperialist conquest, the queen, her ancestors, and her descendants represent the ultimate evil empire.

India, my home country, celebrated its 75th anniversary of independence from British rule this year. Both my parents were born before independence, into a nation still ruled by the British. I heard many tales while growing up of my grandfather’s absences from home as he went “underground,” wanted for seditious activity against the British. After independence in 1947, he was honored for being a “freedom fighter” against the monarchy.

Despite the popularity and critical acclaim of “The Crown” and movies and shows like it, I found a far stronger connection to the new superhero series “Ms. Marvel,” if for no other reason than the fact that it tackles the horrors of partition, a little-known (in the U.S.) legacy of the evil empire.

As Pakistani writer Minna Jaffery-Lindemulder explains in New Lines, “The British changed the borders of India and Pakistan at the eleventh hour in 1947 before declaring both nations independent, leaving the former subjects of the crown confused about where they needed to migrate to ensure their safety.” As a result, 15 million people felt forced to move from one part of the South Asian subcontinent to another, a mass cross-exodus with an estimated death toll ranging from half a million to 2 million.

Today, those contested borders, callously and recklessly drawn in 1947 by British officials acting at the behest of the crown, remain a source of simmering tensions between India and Pakistan that occasionally erupt into full-blown wars.

This is the legacy of British monarchy. The United Kingdom enjoys a hideous distinction in the Guinness Book of World Records, for “most countries [62] to have gained independence from the same country.”

One could argue that Elizabeth, who was gifted the throne and its title in 1952, did not lead an aggressive empire of conquest and instead presided over an institution that, under her rule, became largely symbolic and ceremonial in nature. And indeed, many do just that, referring to her, for example, as an “exemplar of moral decency.”

Rahul Mahajan, author of Full Spectrum Dominance and The New Crusade, has a different opinion, referring in an interview to Elizabeth as a “morally unremarkable person with a job that involved doing extremely unremarkable things.”

Mahajan explains further, saying that this was “a highly privileged person, given an opportunity to influence world events in some degree, which she had to do nothing to earn, who never did anything particularly remarkable, innovative, or insightful.”

While Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne were mostly spent overseeing an ostensible unraveling of British Empire in a world less tolerant of occupation, enslavement, and imperial plunder, just a few months into her role as queen, the British violently put down the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. According to a New York Times story about how citizens in African nations today have little sympathy for the dead monarch, the squashing of the rebellion “led to the establishment of a vast system of detention camps and the torture, rape, castration and killing of tens of thousands of people.”

Even if Elizabeth was not responsible for directing the horrors, they were carried out in her name. Over the seven decades that she wielded symbolic power, she never once apologized for what was done during her rule in Kenya—or indeed what was done in her family’s name in dozens of other nations in the Global South.

It’s no wonder that Black and Brown people the world over have openly expressed disgust at the collective fawning of such an ugly legacy.

Professor Uju Anya of Carnegie Mellon University, who is Nigerian, is under fire for her frank dismissal of Elizabeth after posting on Twitter that she “heard the chief monarch of a thieving and raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.”

Kehinde Andrews, a Black studies professor at Birmingham City University, wrote on Politico that he cannot relate to his fellow Britons’ desire to mourn Elizabeth, a woman he considered to be “the number one symbol of white supremacy” and a “manifestation of the institutional racism that we have to encounter on a daily basis.”

Elizabeth may have appeared a benign, smiling elder who maintained the propriety expected from a royal leader. But she worked hard to preserve an institution that should have long ago died out. She was handed the throne after her uncle, the duke of Windsor, abdicated in order to marry a twice-divorced American. Both the marriage to a divorcee and the fact that the couple turned out to be Nazi sympathizers marked a low point for the royals.

“The monarchy was in a really good position to fade away with this kind of clowning around,” says Mahajan. But it was Elizabeth who “rescued the popularity of the monarchy.”

Further, Elizabeth quietly preserved the ill-gotten family fortune that she and her descendants benefitted from in a postcolonial world. “One thing she could, and of course should, have done and said something about is the massive royal estate,” says Mahajan. Observers can only estimate the royal family’s worth (Forbes puts the figure at $28 billion), assets that include stolen jewels from former colonies, pricey art investments, and real estate holdings across Britain.

Britain’s new king, Charles III, now inherits the fruits of the evil empire. According to Mahajan, Charles “is apparently very bent on taking his fortune and investing it in such a way as to make himself as rich as possible.” According to the New York Times, “As prince, Charles used tax breaks, offshore accounts and canny real estate investments to turn a sleepy estate into a billion-dollar business.”

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2017 found that both Elizabeth and Charles were named in the leaked “Paradise Papers,” indicating that they hid their money in havens to avoid paying taxes.

Fleecing taxpayers and living off stolen wealth—monarchy’s original modus operandi appears to be central to Elizabeth’s legacy, one she passes on to her son (who also won’t pay an inheritance tax on the wealth she left him).

The British monarchy, according to Mahajan, “mostly represents a real concession to the idea that some people are just born better and more important than you, and you should look to them.”

Mahajan adds, “It’s a good time for the popularity of this institution to fade away.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

How author Barbara Ehrenreich exposed the 'positive thinking' industry

We can thank the late economic justice warrior for her groundbreaking contribution in showing that “positive thinking” is part of a whitewashing of economic inequality.

Although the late Barbara Ehrenreich was best known for her 2001 bestselling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, which chronicled the real-life impacts of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, she made an equally great contribution to economic justice with her subsequent book exposing the cult of positive thinking.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Ehrenreich, who passed away on September 1, 2022, at age 81, had started her professional life with a PhD in cell biology. She didn’t relegate her journalism to mere facts. She delved as deep as she could—to a microscopic level—to make sense of the world. We concluded from Nickel and Dimed that people were not making it in America. But we realized through her book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America that the economy was proceeding unimpeded by this fact because we were putting a smiley face on inequality.

The Great Recession began in 2007. Two years later, in 2009, Ehrenreich published Bright-Sided. Two years after that, in 2011, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests began in New York’s Zuccotti Park and spread throughout the country. OWS participants called damning attention to the stark economic split between the haves and the have-nots, in this case the wealthiest “1 percent” of Americans and the rest of us—the “99 percent.” There was no putting a smiley face on the economy in that moment.

It was during this period that I had the honor of interviewing Ehrenreich. She explained that “there is a whole industry in the United States that got an investment in this idea that if you just think positively, if you expect everything to turn out alright, if you’re optimistic and cheerful and upbeat, everything will be alright.”

Ehrenreich, who survived cancer, said she began her investigation into the ideology of positive thinking when she had breast cancer, roughly six years before Bright-Sided was published. That’s when she realized what a uniquely American phenomenon it was to put a positive spin on everything, even cancer.

When she looked for online support groups of other women struggling with cancer, what she found was, “constant exhortations to be positive about the disease, to be cheerful and optimistic.” Such an approach obscures the central question of, “why do we have an epidemic of breast cancer?” she said.

She applied that idea to how positive thinking was obscuring questions of economic inequality. And she found that there was an entire industry built up to assure financially struggling Americans that their poverty stemmed from their own negative thinking and that they could turn things around if they simply visualized wealth, embraced a can-do attitude about their bleak futures and willed money to flow into their lives. Central to this industry are “the coaches, the motivational speakers, the inspirational posters to put up on the office walls,” and more, said Ehrenreich.

She also connected the rise of the American megachurch to the rising cult of the positive-thinkers. “The megachurches are not about Christianity. The megachurches are about how you can prosper because God wants you to be rich,” she said.

Joel Osteen, the pastor of a Houston-based megachurch, is perhaps one of the best-known leaders of the so-called prosperity gospel. In one of his sermons—conveniently posted online as a slick YouTube video to reach a maximum audience—Osteen claims that according to “the scripture,” “the wealth of the ungodly is laid up for the righteous,” and that “it will be transferred into the hands of the righteous.” His congregants may be tempted to imagine bank transfers from wealthy atheists magically pouring into their accounts.

Osteen has been the beneficiary of serious wealth transfers from his own congregants into his pockets, so much so that he can afford to live in a $10 million mansion. There’s no conundrum here, for Osteen is living proof to his followers that the power of positive thinking works.

Ehrenreich pointed out that the whole point of these churches is to create a positive experience for their congregants and to project a notion of exciting possibilities. The megachurch phenomenon is centered on “the idea that the church should not be disturbing. You don’t want to have a negative message at church. So that’s why you won’t even find a cross on the wall.”

Perhaps this is because the image of a bloodied, half-naked Jesus Christ nailed by his hands and feet to a wooden cross is just too painful to bear and might detract from dreams of future Ferraris and private jets. “What a downer that would be!” exclaimed Ehrenreich.

Where did the cult of positive thinking originate? “American corporate culture is saturated with this positive thinking ideology,” especially in the 1990s and 2000s, said Ehrenreich. “It grew because corporations needed a way to manage downsizing, which really began in the 1980s.”

Businesses that laid off masses of employees had a message that Ehrenreich encapsulated as, “you’re getting eliminated… but it’s really an opportunity for you. It’s a great thing; you’ve got to look at this positively. Don’t complain, don’t be a whiner, you’re not a victim, etc.”

Such sentiments percolated into the mainstream. Americans internalized the idea that losing one’s job has got to be a sign that something better is coming along and that “everything happens for a reason.” The alternative is to blame one’s employer, or even the design of the U.S. economy. And that would be dangerous to Wall Street and corporate America.

Another purpose of fostering positive thinking among those who are laid off is, as per Ehrenreich, “to extract more work from those who survive layoffs.” Indeed, we have an ugly culture of overwork in the U.S., with corporate employees having normalized the idea that they need to work insanely late hours, work on the weekends, and take on exhaustive amounts of responsibilities. After all, those who remain employed, unlike their laid-off former colleagues, ought to feel lucky to have a job—more positive thinking.

There may be a breaking point now, one that Ehrenreich thankfully lived to see, as a newer set of phenomena began emerging since the COVID-19 pandemic began. They include the “great resignation,” a term for masses of Americans quitting thankless jobs. And, more recently, “quiet quitting,” which is a new name for an older union-led idea of “work to rule” as workers are starting to only put in the hours they are paid to work and no more. How novel!

We owe Ehrenreich a debt of gratitude for shining a light not only on the perversity of the U.S. economic system but also on the gauzy veil of positive thinking that obscures the obscenity. Ehrenreich may not have lived to see her ideas of economic justice be fully realized. But, as she once told the New Yorker, “The idea is not that we will win in our own lifetimes and that’s the measure of us but that we will die trying.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

UPS risking strikes as drivers collapse in searing heat

As UPS drivers around the country struggle to do their jobs in triple-digit temperatures—literally baking inside non-air-conditioned trucks—their wealthy employer refuses to take action.

In late August, as temperatures soared around the United States, a driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) took before-and-after photos of chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet. The delicious-looking confections were baked on the dashboard of a UPS truck whose internal temperatures shot to dangerous levels—not in an oven. It was an ingenious way to showcase the modern-day horror of the climate crisis intersecting with corporate greed.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Business Insider, which republished the photos, explained that “drivers are documenting extreme heat conditions in their vehicles by sharing photos of thermometers clocking 150 degrees and cooking steaks and baking cookies on their dashboards.”

It’s not just cookies and steaks that are baking in the trucks. Drivers are collapsing and dying from the extreme temperatures.

Twenty-four-year-old Esteban Chavez Jr., who had worked for UPS for four years, died on a hot day in June in Pasadena, California, after passing out in his truck while he was delivering packages. About 20 minutes after he fell out of the driver’s seat, a homeowner nearby noticed and called authorities, but it was too late. Chavez’s family believes he died of heatstroke.

In late August, a UPS driver in Paso Robles, California, had a heatstroke while driving and crashed into a restaurant, causing serious damage to the entire building.

In July, another UPS driver was caught on a doorbell video camera stumbling toward the entrance of an Arizona home to deliver a package and falling down in apparent exhaustion. He eventually managed to stand back up and return to his truck. The homeowner was so alarmed that he called the police. One Las Vegas-based UPS driver, Moe Nouhaili, told the Guardian that the incident was just the tip of the iceberg: “People are just dropping weekly here. It’s not something where that one driver in Arizona is going viral.”

UPS released a statement in response to the Arizona video saying that drivers “are trained to work outdoors and for the effects of hot weather,” as if the company has unlocked a physiological secret and trained its drivers to become impervious to extreme heat. In fact, all it means is that the company has instructed drivers to stop working and seek medical help when they feel unwell.

UPS also told Business Insider in response to the photos of the dashboard cookies, “We never want our employees to continue working to the point that they risk their health or work in an unsafe manner.” Again, such a response is insulting and akin to the company saying, “We want them to work until they can’t work.”

In response to the untenable conditions of driving without air conditioning in extreme heat, UPS drivers are demanding that their employer outfit delivery trucks with air conditioning—a direct and easy protection against heatstroke. UPS ought to be able to afford it. In July the world’s largest transportation company reported nearly $25 billion in revenues, up significantly from last year.

UPS CEO Carol Tomé rightly attributed her company’s massive profits to the hard work of employees, saying, “I want to thank UPSers around the world for delivering outstanding service to our customers.” She added, “While the external environment is ever changing, our better not bigger strategic framework has fundamentally improved nearly every aspect of our business, enabling greater agility and strong financial performance.”

But “every aspect of our business” does not include the most basic one: safe working conditions for the employees who reap those massive profits.

Instead of outfitting trucks with air conditioning, the company used some of its profits to create a slick-looking and condescending training video called “Cool Solutions” that lasts barely more than a minute and offers such basic advice as “getting rest,” “eating right,” “staying hydrated,” and—with no sense of irony whatsoever—“staying safe and cool from the heat.”

The video also suggests that drivers seek out cool spaces like grocery or convenience stores and office or government buildings to bring down their temperatures. “The key is to know your cooldown locations as they will have air-conditioned air where you can pause and cool down.”

Apparently, the multibillion-dollar corporation refuses to consider turning the trucks themselves into cool spaces.

The good news is that UPS drivers have had union representation with the Teamsters for many decades, and the unsafe working conditions of summer deliveries in non-air-conditioned trucks are set to be a central negotiating point in next year’s contract negotiations. UPS Teamsters in August kicked off a campaign on the 25th anniversary of a historic strike in 1997 when nearly 200,000 drivers stopped working.

The campaign kickoff also took place exactly a year before the current contract expires. One worker, Andrew Hancock, said at the campaign launch, “UPS has been making huge profits off of our backs and we are coming to collect what the company owes us.”

This warning shot to UPS’s executives comes at a time when several critical components that can foster the rights of drivers have lined up. Not only are we living through a time of historically high union activity, especially among well-known, name-brand companies like Starbucks, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s, but also the Biden administration has ensured that the National Labor Relations Board is staunchly on the side of unions—as it was meant to be. And, a new Gallup poll has found that more than 70 percent of American support unions—up several points from a year ago, and the highest support since 1965.

Most importantly, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has a new president, Sean O’Brien, after more than two decades—and he’s ready to take on corporate America. O’Brien said in a May 2022 speech, “We’re going to strike hard, we’re going to strike fast… we’re going to demand what we’re worth.”

Like other corporations facing aggressive unionization, UPS already appears to be engaging in union busting, and is accused of firing two New York-based drivers over their labor activism.

O’Brien told CNN.com that while no one desires a strike, UPS needs to “understand we’re not going to be afraid to pull that trigger if necessary.” It is hard to overstate the significance of such fighting words. CNN pointed out, “A UPS strike now would be the largest in decades—and perhaps the largest U.S. strike ever against a single corporation.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Joe Biden could have gone much further on student loans

The president’s loan forgiveness plan is narrow and paltry—and his administration’s preparation to fend off outraged criticism from both sides of the aisle speaks volumes.

President Joe Biden has just launched a plan to forgive a portion of federal college loan debt for millions of Americans. In a speech from the White House, he explained that the Department of Education would “forgive $10,000 in outstanding federal student loans” and that Pell Grant recipients would “have their debt reduced [by] $20,000.” Only those making less than $125,000 a year would qualify for the relief. Given that the average student debt is nearly $30,000, this certainly does not erase the burden that millions of Americans carry with them—some doing so for life, from graduation to past retirement.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

There is a predictable pattern to Democratic leaders taking progressive economic measures. First, make bold promises. Then, delay keeping the promise and eventually land on a weakened version of the promise. Congratulate oneself on taking such a bold stand. And, finally, face a massive outpouring of criticism from conservative and even liberal pundits, and from some Democrats and all Republicans, that would have come no matter what version of the promise was kept. Biden’s journey on student loan forgiveness follows this depressing pattern.

When campaigning for president, Biden promised that he would “eliminate your student debt if you come from a family [making less] than $125,000 and went to a public university,” and that everyone would get “$10,000 knocked off of their student debt.”

It took Biden more than two years to land on a plan that forgives only $10,000 to $20,000 of debt, and that too, for a narrowly defined group of borrowers. During those two years, he resorted to delaying tactics such as punting responsibility back to Congress, questioning his own authority to take the step, and claiming to be reviewing his options.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi played her part in discouraging Biden by claiming a year ago that he did not have the presidential authority to cancel student debt. She said, “The president can’t do it—so that’s not even a discussion,” and added, “Not everybody realizes that, but the president can only postpone, delay but not forgive” student loans.

Still, according to Politico, the White House regularly received so many letters from people demanding student debt relief that staff were eventually asked to stop passing them on to the president for review as he agonized over keeping even a small part of his campaign promise.

When he finally landed on his paltry plan, Biden announced it to great fanfare in a 20-minute speech that began with a meandering dive into his own family background and the story of his father’s shame at trying and failing to obtain a loan so he could fund his son’s college education. Biden reminded Americans that as a presidential candidate, he “made a commitment that we’d provide student debt relief,” but failed to mention that his original promise had extended far beyond what he took two years to deliver. As if acknowledging that his plan is hardly radical, Biden said, “Some think it’s too little,” and added, “But I believe my plan is responsible and fair.”

Cue the outrage from politicians and pundits. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Biden’s plan “student loan socialism” and “a slap in the face to working Americans,” while extremist Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene told Newsmax, “taxpayers that never took out a student loan… shouldn’t have to pay off the great big student loan debt for some college student that piled up massive debt going to some Ivy League school.”

Former Republican lawmaker-turned-pundit Charlie Dent denounced the plan in an op-ed on CNN.com as “unfair and unwise,” while the Washington Post’s liberal commentator Catherine Rampell took a creative approach in claiming it was a “Democratic version of ‘trickle-down’ economics,” because “plenty of other, less-strapped people will enjoy a windfall, too.”

The Biden administration, to its credit, immediately began identifying Republican criticism on Twitter and tagging it with the exact amounts of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that those critics received and were forgiven.

This implies that the president was expecting the outrage. It also means that if he was going to pay a political price for such a small measure of relief, he could have, and should have, gone so much further than he did.

Biden’s plan does deserve criticism, but not because it goes too far—on the contrary, it does far too little, especially for people of color.

Academic, activist, and former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner put Biden’s debt relief program into context succinctly on Twitter, saying, “Canceling $10,000 in student debt when the average white borrower is $12,000 in debt, while Black women hold on average over $52,000 isn’t just unacceptable, it’s structural racism.”

She’s right. A 2021 ACLU analysis pointed out that “Black families have far less wealth to draw on to pay for college,” and therefore, “Black families are more likely to borrow, to borrow more, and to have trouble in repayment.” Such analysis of the loan forgiveness plan appears to be entirely missing from the mainstream debate.

Establishment critics are also failing to point out that the reason so many Americans are burdened with so much college debt to begin with is that there has been a concerted effort over several decades by both liberal and conservative politicians to allow student debt to expand to unsustainable levels.

Chief among this was Ronald Reagan’s push to lower government spending in the 1980s. Black studies professor Devin Fergus explained how “No federal program suffered deeper cuts than student aid,” and that “these changes shifted the federal government’s focus from providing students higher education grants to providing loans.” Fergus’s analysis—so relevant to the current debate over Biden’s debt forgiveness plan—was part of an op-ed that the Washington Post published back in 2014.

Additionally, Democrats are not innocent in creating the problem. The Intercept pointed out in January 2020 how Biden “played a central role” in supporting legislation during his tenure as senator that allowed college debt to balloon. Specifically, “Biden was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the disastrous 2005 bankruptcy bill that made it nearly impossible for borrowers to reduce their student loan debt.”

Today, with college loan debt at an all-time high, and a majority of Americans supporting the erasure of some or all student debt, the supposedly liberal party cannot even coalesce around its own president’s far-too-modest debt forgiveness program, with so-called centrists like Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio claiming it goes too far.

Those who are invested in the upward mobility of wealth will always express outrage against economic justice. Responding to his critics, the president tweeted, “I will never apologize for helping America’s middle class—especially not to the same folks who voted for a $2 trillion tax cut for the wealthy and giant corporations that racked up the deficit.”

Biden could have doubled or tripled the extent of his debt forgiveness plan and made the exact same retort.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

How the Kansas abortion vote is a lesson in economic justice

Using ballot measures and careful, nonpartisan messaging that appeals to fairness, progressives can achieve victories on economic justice and expanded health care access.

Progressive activists and organizers are eyeing lessons from the resounding victory for abortion access in Kansas where nearly 60 percent of voters recently defeated a ban on the politicized medical procedure. Now, the Fairness Project hopes that state-by-state ballot measures can restore the reproductive right to an abortion that the Supreme Court stripped away earlier this year. Such measures can also achieve economic justice victories like increasing the minimum wage and expanding access to paid sick and family leave.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

At a time when the GOP has political control of a majority of state legislatures and has imposed its preference for strict control of uteruses and lax control of firearms, low wages for the poor and low taxes for the rich, the ballot measure process may be a powerful direct-democracy solution.

Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, says that “Kansas is a classic example of the large distance between where the voters and the electorate are, and increasingly where their more extremist legislators are.” It was conservative legislators who placed the abortion ban on the ballot in Kansas—not anti-abortion activists—thinking they could solidify in their state the federal anti-abortion victory won at the Supreme Court in the Dobbs decision. Kansas voters proved them wrong.

“What happened in Kansas could be mirror-replicated in states around the country,” says Hall. Indeed, reproductive justice activists in Michigan are hoping to repeat the success of the Kansas vote. They have gone on the offensive and put a ballot measure to voters in order to enshrine abortion access in their state before a trigger law banning abortion can take effect. Advocates of the measure are counting on voters’ common sense prevailing over legislators’ political theater.

Could the political disconnect between state legislators and voters manifest in similar ballot measures, circumventing conservative, anti-democratic political agendas on other issues? Hall says, “When voters in ‘red’ states have been asked to vote on Medicaid expansion, or raising the minimum wage, or ending predatory payday lending, or things that are often associated with the Democratic Party or the progressive wing of the political spectrum… voters vote yes.”

Recall Florida’s 2020 minimum wage increase via a ballot measure. In the same state where Republicans have strong political control over the legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis emerged as both a supporter of former president Donald Trump and a potential political successor, voters passed a measure increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. Granted, this is a paltry increase. But the fact that voters chose to raise the wage at the same time that they picked Trump for president suggests that on some issues—such as economic justice or even abortion—direct democratic control via ballot measures can be a way to break the political partisan gridlock and further a progressive agenda.

The Fairness Project is “much more focused on citizen-initiated ballot measures” like the Florida wage increase, says Hall, rather than measures put on the ballot by legislators like the abortion ban in Kansas. “We support people coming together, advocates coming together, and doing something that their legislative bodies otherwise will not do,” says Hall.

Already the organization has helped to win wage increases in numerous states. As per a December 2021 news release, “Nine victories raising the wage have come directly from ballot measures or state legislation passed in response to voter-driven initiatives supported by the Fairness Project in the last five years.”

The Fairness Project has also won numerous victories on Medicaid expansion in various states, undermining GOP-led propaganda against President Barack Obama’s 2009 Affordable Care Act. Hall touts the “six successful citizen-initiated ballot measures in places from Idaho, to Oklahoma, to Missouri, to Maine,” where voters overrode their representatives to expand Medicaid access for low-income residents.

It’s not as simple and straightforward as putting matters before electorates and expecting them to vote in their own interests, however. Kansas voters didn’t just pick the right to an abortion because they thought sensibly about it. Advocates of abortion access worked hard to promote messaging they knew would appeal to voters across the political spectrum. “We believe every Kansan has a right to make personal health care decisions without government overreach,” Jae Gray, an organizer for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, told the Washington Post. Gray explained, “that’s obviously a conservative-friendly talking point. We were not just talking to Democrats.”

Hall agrees, saying, “There is a lot of hope to be seen on Kansas.” But she maintains that “we need to be looking at this through a nonpartisan lens, through a bipartisan lens, and have odd bedfellows coalitions bringing together nonpartisan messages to voters if we want to put this stuff on the ballot.” This means progressives should not dismiss those voters who are subjected to aggressive messaging and narratives from conservative politicians and media outlets against basic matters of fairness.

In fact, polls conducted ahead of the Kansas abortion vote did not predict victory for abortion rights. Hall says, “the analysis that was done to predict how voters would vote was based purely on their partisan affiliation and whether or not they voted for Democrats or Republicans in the last presidential election.”

It is indeed possible to convince even conservative voters that wages need to rise and that health care should be accessible to all without government controls. The Kansas victory was achieved because abortion advocates “very successfully separated the issue they were asking voters to vote on from partisan identities,” says Hall. “And that has been the [secret to the] success of many other progressive-leaning issue ballot measures in what are usually considered ‘red’ states.”

There are limits to using ballot measures for change. Not all states offer voters the chance to circumvent legislators, and, according to Hall, only 22 out of 50 states in the nation currently have ballot measure processes. And, as such avenues become more useful in enacting progressive measures, state legislators could limit them. Already Florida’s DeSantis responded to the voter-led increase in the state minimum wage by enacting restrictions on out-of-state contributions and gathering petition signatures for future ballot measures. In doing so, DeSantis has all but ensured that only the state legislature will have the ability to put matters directly before voters.

“There’s plenty of ways to make a difference in this world,” says Hall. Her organization has chosen to focus on ballot measures and is working to “help local advocates at the state level and the municipal level know how the ballot measure works, how they can wield it, and support them.” That support is both financial and advisory so that “when progressives put these issues on the ballot, they win.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

How Alex Jones enriched the elites

Alex Jones’ decades-long career of serving up conspiracy theories cloaked in lies and violent rhetoric may be coming to an end as a jury has just awarded $4 million in damages to the parents of a 6-year-old killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

For years, Jones fueled speculation that a horrific mass shooting resulting in the deaths of 20 children and 6 faculty at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, was an elaborate hoax, and that grieving parents were “crisis actors” paid to help curb gun rights. The latest lawsuit is one of several brought by parents of Sandy Hook victims. The hefty fines he now owes may very well put him out of business, especially considering his admission to the public and his viewers that the mass shooting—contrary to his repeated claims—was “100 percent real.”

It is important to understand that Jones and his media empire, Infowars, have been a central node in the constellation of far-right institutions that eroded an already fragile American democracy, feeding irrational paranoias and subverting the facts that undergird our shared reality. Just as Jones unleashed conspiracies about fake shootings, he egged on millions of former President Donald Trump’s supporters into believing that the 2020 election was stolen.

Amplifying Trump’s Twitter call for his followers to gather in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, Jones said on his show in December 2020, “This is the most important call to action on domestic soil since Paul Revere and his ride in 1776.” He also reportedly convinced one of his fans, Julie Fancelli, a grocery store heiress, to help fund Trump’s now-infamous rally to the tune of $650,000.

Understanding these links, the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol is now apparently seeking Jones’ phone records, which provided crucial evidence during the defamation trial brought by Sandy Hook parents.

Jones’ comeuppance is a long time coming, and understanding his origins helps make sense of how modern-day conservatism took hold. His own lawyer said it best: “Over many years Infowars has become a go-to source for people deeply suspicious of the government, so it should come as no surprise that many of the attendees at the [January 6, 2021,] rally had passed through Infowars’ doors.”

He has spent more than two decades sowing the seeds of suspicion against the government, using various media platforms such as radio, public access television, film, and later, streaming video, weaving wild narratives designed to question institutions. He cut his conspiracist teeth on promoting the so-called “9/11 truth” movement, which paved the way for modern-day misinformation.

Jones’ 2007 film, “Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement,” played on the fears of elites controlling people’s lives. Claiming to reveal a “secret plan for humanity’s extermination,” the film’s website explained that “[f]or the New World Order, a world government is just the beginning,” and that “[o]nce in place they can engage their plan to exterminate 80 percent of the world’s population, while enabling the ‘elites’ to live forever with the aid of advanced technology.”

The film is still available on Amazon. Bizarre and unhinged as it sounds, it convinced many of its viewers that global elites were driving human extermination. Several Amazon users left reviews suggesting that “Endgame” should be “required viewing” for high school students.

Of course, as unfounded as Jones’ claims may be, there is, generally speaking, a vast capitalist cohort of global elites driving human extermination in its thirst for wealth and profits—whether that can be encapsulated as a “conspiracy” is arguable. Americans have been suspicious—with good reason—for years that moneyed elites are screwing over the rest of us.

Fossil fuel companies like Exxon (now ExxonMobil) have known about climate change for decades but allowed the planet to catastrophically warm in order to keep their profits flowing. Billionaires and even many world leaders have hidden their wealth from taxes and public view in offshore tax havens, thereby stealing revenues that could lift up the poor. Multinational pharmaceutical corporations have hoarded intellectual property at the expense of lives—all in the service of profits. The common theme for these very real, fact-based, well-documented schemes is unfettered and predatory global capitalism.

While many are aware of the ways in which wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations are harming humanity and the planet, far too many others have fallen prey to the seductive lies of Jones, Trump, and their ilk.

A 2010 ABC News story about Jones’ Infowars explained aptly that “[w]hile he admits that some people may watch him purely for entertainment, he says the real reason for his recent growth is that the public increasingly mistrusts government. He does seem to have tapped into the dark national mood.”

Jones knows he is preying on his viewers. He once reportedly told a filmmaker he could sell his audience “dick pills” because they would “buy anything.”

Eli Massey and Nathan Robinson, writing in Current Affairs, explained that “Jones’ worldview lacks the specificity and coherence of a Marxist worldview,” and that Jones “is trying to help his viewers understand but in the end they only become more confused and afraid, because the danger is coming from everywhere.”

So, what exactly is Jones’ own “endgame”? The answer turned out to be a viewership angry over global elites, paranoid about dangers from all sides, and confused about how to address these vague dangers—which was perfectly receptive to a con artist cult leader figure like Trump.

In 2015, Jones offered the power of his platform to then-candidate Trump, helping to launch the political career of a man who deeply wounded the nation on multiple fronts and who, like many of his presidential predecessors, further enriched billionaires and hurt middle-class and low-income Americans.

Those Americans who might have been receptive to critiquing predatory capitalism and its very real damage were instead deployed to lift up the people and institutions that are screwing over the planet and its inhabitants. They fell for the lies spewed by Jones and Trump and helped remake the Republican Party into a far more dangerous institution than it already was. It is possible that Jones may fade away, bankrupted, his tail between his legs, forced to admit his own lies. But he leaves behind a powerful and dangerous legacy.

Jones also offers a grim lesson in the power of narrative building and how, when deployed effectively to dangerous ends, such narrative work can erode the democratic institutions that have the power to regulate capital, while preserving and strengthening undemocratic moneyed elites.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Should corporate profits be regulated to combat inflation?

Everyone’s concerned about inflation these days. But politicians are blaming government benefits instead of rising inequality and corporate profits.

“Inflation” is the new buzzword of the year. It is the reason for the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes designed to increase the costs of some loans. It is the excuse given against renewing the expanded child tax credit program that briefly lifted millions of American families out of poverty. It forms the name of one of the key pieces of legislation that may salvage President Joe Biden’s first term: the Inflation Reduction Act. And, it is the basis of Republican complaints against Democrats heading toward the midterm elections this fall.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

With all this concern over inflation, one wonders why so little heed has been paid to another “i” word: inequality.

For decades, government officials, media pundits, mainstream economists, politicians, and others were content to allow and even enable money to flow upward, enriching the already wealthy. They paid little heed to increasing inequality, beyond shrugging their shoulders and lamenting the injustice of it all.

To fiscally conservative politicians, it seems that inflation equates to trouble, but inequality is perfectly tolerable.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last year decided that inflation was the result of the government “flooding the country with money,” via modest benefits to low-income Americans. Interestingly, he didn’t view his party’s massive tax cuts in 2017 aimed at the rich as similarly responsible for unleashing excess wealth.

For years, wages stagnated, and the federal government did little in response. The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage was more than 13 years ago. The Economic Policy Institute in a recent analysis found that, “[a]ccounting for price increases in June, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is now worth less than at any point since February 1956.”

According to EPI, “A national $15 minimum wage would raise the incomes of tens of millions of workers, including servers in restaurants, grocery store employees, and essential health care workers.” But if politicians insist that more money in people’s pockets is the cause of inflation, raising the minimum wage may be the last thing they want.

There has been some state intervention to address inequality, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began. After two years of a devastating pandemic during which millions of Americans suffered in terms of health and wealth, many were able to make ends meet because of policies like the unemployment benefits via the CARES Act of 2020, monthly checks from the 2021 expanded child tax credit legislation, limited student debt loan forgiveness, and a temporary pause in student loan repayments.

As millions of Americans resigned from jobs that paid too little or inflicted indignities upon them, employers were forced to begin offering higher wages—but not high enough to keep up with inflation.

Higher food and gas prices have undercut those very modest gains. Inflation is indeed a serious issue, precisely because it hurts the lowest-income people the hardest—not because they may have had a modest amount of excess cash for a minute.

Politicians and pundits, attributing inflation to the meager rise in people’s financial well-being, are now making that extra cash worth even less by raising interest rates. The Federal Reserve just increased the national base interest rate by three-quarters of a percent to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent.

It isn’t hyperbole to suggest that such policies are designed to keep people poor. For example, a New York Times story earlier this year headlined, “How Do Higher Interest Rates Bring Down Inflation?” gave a clear explanation of how “the Fed sets off a ripple effect” by raising rates. This means that, “directly or indirectly, a number of borrowing costs for consumers go up.”

In real terms, the paper offered examples of how “consumers can expect to pay more on any revolving debt.” Additionally, “[c]ar loan rates are expected to rise,” and “[p]rivate student loan borrowers should also expect to pay more.”

If more money in poor people’s pockets is supposedly the reason for inflation, why is more money in rich people’s pockets not an incriminating factor? In fact, some feared in 2017 that Trump’s tax cuts could spur inflation.

Fiscal conservatives like to see inflation as the natural and predictable outcome of reducing wealth inequality—“too much money in the hands of the plebs!”—rather than increasing it. The conventional economic view is that when people suddenly have more money to spend, prices will rise (magically!). But corporate manufacturers and distributors are the ones setting prices and taking advantage of that excess cash in people’s hands to inflate their profits.

According to EPI, “the already-excessive power of corporations has been channeled into raising prices rather than the more traditional form it has taken in recent decades: suppressing wages.”

Mainstream economists are tiptoeing around the connection between inflation and excess corporate profits. For example, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s website wrote, “market watchers and journalists have wondered if corporations have taken advantage of high inflation to increase corporate profits.” After detailed analysis that repeatedly confirmed the aforementioned connection, they talked themselves out of it, concluding that “profit increases may not be followed by more profit increases.”

Government intervention to relieve inequality works, as the pandemic-era benefits like unemployment checks and child tax credits proved. And similar intervention to relieve inflation can also work, if aimed at the right culprits: corporate profiteers. And politicians know this.

In the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022—most of which is unrelated to inflation but likely allows Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to save face and explain his about-turn on the bill—there is one provision that hints at the government’s power to intervene on inflation: controls on drug prices.

Over the past several years, drug prices have skyrocketed. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Price Increases Outpaced Inflation for Half of all Drugs Covered by Medicare in 2020.” The Inflation Reduction Act, according to a Washington Post analysis of the bill, “caps seniors’ drug costs under Medicare to $2,000 per year, forces drug companies to pay a rebate if they increase prices faster than the rate of inflation and provides free vaccines for seniors.”

This sort of government intervention tacitly acknowledges that corporations can afford to keep manufacturing drugs even when facing controls on their excessive profits.

If prices are rising, stop those setting the prices from doing so—it’s that simple. If such a thing can be applied to drug prices, why not food, gas, and other necessities?

Mainstream economists and politicians rely on public confusion about what fuels inflation. Excess money flowing to the top of the wealth pyramid, not the bottom, is the real culprit.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Why Trader Joe’s employees are fighting to unionize

Workers at two stores among the hundreds of Trader Joe’s locations nationwide are hoping to join a newly formed independent union.

There was a big lie that modern corporations sold to American workers in the late 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st century: It was that profit-driven entities could make both employees and customers happy enough that no interventions like worker unions or strong federal regulations were needed.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Modern companies like Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Trader Joe’s perpetrated this lie, obscuring their business practices with a veneer of progressive ideals and referring to staff with euphemistic titles like “partners,” “associates,” or “crew members.” Indeed, many workers employed within this slice of the American corporate world were often relatively content—until now. Alongside the recent pro-union activity at more than 150 Starbucks cafés across the United States is a newfound awareness among some workers at the Trader Joe’s grocery chain that a union may also be in their best interest.

Unlike corporations like Starbucks or Amazon where attempts to unionize have a long history, Trader Joe’s workers have traditionally been content. In 2003, when tens of thousands of grocery store workers in Southern California—home of the original Trader Joe’s—went on strike for better working conditions and pay, Trader Joe’s workers, who were not unionized, sat out the labor strife.

Indeed, before the pandemic, Trader Joe’s was considered one of the best retail workplaces in the U.S. The employee resource website Glassdoor gives the grocery chain high marks year after year, making Glassdoor’s annual Best Places to Work list for 2011-2013 and 2017-2022. One Trader Joe’s employee told Business Insider that the part of their job they enjoyed most was customer interaction: “As long as I make sure the customer is having a great time, and I’m emphasizing Trader Joe’s values, I can talk to people about whatever I want.” Workers also cited good hourly wages, health insurance benefits, and retirement benefits as reasons to love their employer.

Why then, in 2022, are workers at a Trader Joe’s store in Hadley, Massachusetts, voting to join a newly formed independent union called Trader Joe’s United? And why are their colleagues at a store in Minneapolis looking to do the same?

According to Sarah Beth Ryther, an employee of the aforementioned Minneapolis Trader Joe’s and an organizing member of Trader Joe’s United, the reputation that her employer enjoyed “was once well-deserved.” But, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she explains that “there’s been an erosion of some of the benefits,” and “there’s been a kind of degradation in the situation in the workplace that has led some of us to understand and see that the [company’s] narrative no longer aligns with the truth.”

Indeed, the company began cutting workers’ benefits years ago. In 2013, Trader Joe’s stopped offering health insurance plans to part-time employees. It did so based on the fact that workers could potentially obtain plans through the Affordable Care Act, cynically taking advantage of a government program aimed at helping the uninsured.

Boasting about 530 stores in 43 states—more locations than Whole Foods—Trader Joe’s, like many grocery companies, has thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic, earning $16.5 billion in revenues in 2020. But instead of sharing some of that wealth with workers, the corporate chain continued slashing benefits.

“Several years ago, the benefits were really good,” says Ryther, adding, “There was a 15 percent guaranteed retirement match.” But then in more recent years, she says that coverage was reduced to 10 percent. This past January, workers at the company discovered that their retirement match was further cut by half, to 5 percent. “As of right now,” says Ryther, “there is no guaranteed retirement contribution.”

Wages are also a huge issue. “The pay structure is set up so that some folks who have worked for the company for several years make less than people who are hired now,” says Ryther.

Ryther also takes issue with the fact that there is no job security at her workplace. “Trader Joe’s is an ‘at-will’ company, which means they can let folks go for no reason or small reasons.” Union membership can bring contracts that prevent workers from being fired without cause—a critical protection for those active in labor organizing.

Rather unsurprisingly, Trader Joe’s reportedly began engaging in union-busting tactics as soon as it was clear that employees were agitating for better working conditions. Several workers at the Hadley store who wore Trader Joe’s United pins said they were retaliated against and sent home before their shifts were over, even though wearing pro-union insignia is protected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). There was similar retaliation against workers at a Vermont store, with one worker even being fired. Employees filed a complaint to the NLRB and won.

Ryther, like many young workers around the country who have no direct experience with unions, says it has been a journey for her and her colleagues; they have been working since February to educate themselves “about what unions are, what a union could mean for Trader Joe’s and for our daily work life.”

When the Hadley store’s union election date was set for late July, a Trader Joe’s spokesperson named Nakia Rohde sent an email to workers saying, “We are happy the dates have been set. Trader Joe’s is a great place to work, and we look forward to our Crew Members having a chance to vote on keeping things as they are or being represented by this SEIU-backed group.”

Ryther says she had never even heard of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, a well-established and large union that happens to be a favorite target of right-wing media. Indeed, Trader Joe’s United is not affiliated with SEIU or any existing union. The company’s reference to SEIU was likely a sly bid to undermine the newly formed independent union.

But, like many corporations whose progressive façade is crumbling in the eyes of their young workers, Trader Joe’s may well lose the battle over unions. One former worker at a Florida store, Noella Williams, who resigned in protest of numerous concerns, published a litany of complaints this past June, adding to the company’s eroding reputation and confirming the views of many disgruntled workers.

For most of her fellow workers, “it’s a no-brainer” to unionize, says Ryther, who hopes her Minneapolis store colleagues will soon follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in Hadley, Massachusetts, with a union election date.

“We are very, very, excited to be able to vote in this election,” she says.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

The selfish politics of anti-abortionists

Those claiming to be against abortion often rely on being able to access the procedure when they need it—a common conservative approach to social needs.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was predictable even as it was shocking. Right-wing forces have spent years working painstakingly on multiple fronts in plain sight to ensure that the right to an abortion would no longer be guaranteed, and they have won. Two of the three Supreme Court Justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, who were appointed by former President Donald Trump, stand accused of lying about their positions on abortion. A third, Justice Clarence Thomas, invited challenges to same-sex marriage and the right to contraception as part of his undoing of Roe, hinting at the right wing’s future targets.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Contrary to the idea that men have foisted the abortion ban on women, in fact, the ban is a patriarchal attack by conservatives—men and women—against the rest of us.

So many forces had to align in order to ensure that women (and anybody with a uterus) will be forced into taking a pregnancy to term, that one wonders how—in light of other catastrophic emergencies like climate change and gun violence—could abortions be considered dangerous enough to ban? Are we not toying with death enough in the United States that we have to add to the ongoing tally of preventable deaths, the casualties that will result from botched abortions?

The answer may lie with a general attitude that forms the basis of most right-wing attacks: that the denial of rights will only affect someone else. Conservatives have perfected the art of outsourcing empathy. When others suffer, they must surely deserve it. And, when conservatives are personally impacted, they are the exception to the rule.

Stories abound of conservative women who picket abortion clinics, quietly coming in through the back door to get their own abortions taken care of. One abortion provider told the Daily Beast, “All of us who do abortions see patients quite regularly who tell us, ‘I’m not pro-choice, but I just can’t continue this pregnancy.’” She added, “These are not people who turn anti-choice after having an abortion, but who simply access this essential service when they need it in spite of their personal beliefs about abortion in general.”

The results of a survey of women who had abortions, which was commissioned by an anti-abortion Christian fundamentalist group called Care Net are instructive. Seventy percent of the 1,038 women surveyed claimed a belief in Christianity and 43 percent attended church monthly. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of them worried that fellow churchgoers would negatively judge a single woman for being pregnant and only 7 percent openly discussed their decision to get an abortion.

In other words, those claiming to be against abortion for everyone else, seek it out quietly when they need one. It’s a classic case of, “do as I say, not as I do.”

This sort of logic of selfishness informs most conservative attacks on the needs of human beings and is based on an enduring belief that they are the exception to every rule.

Take gun violence. Those supporting the complete and easy availability of weapons of mass violence have no problem abiding by safety laws that protect the powerful. Armed members of the public are allowed nowhere near Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, or current and former presidents. Guns are also prohibited at National Rifle Association conventions when current or former presidents speak. The rationale is that when certain people’s safety is at stake, it’s okay to prohibit guns. The rest of us—even children and the elderly—have to risk living among armed and dangerous people.

Take government welfare programs. Conservatives love to rail against aid to vulnerable populations. Republican lawmakers have made it their mission to slash what they have dubbed as “entitlement” programs for years. But it’s their voters who often rely most heavily on food stamps and other benefits. In fact, white Americans, who are overrepresented among conservatives, tend to support welfare programs, until they discover those programs might also help people of color.

Take voting rights. Conservatives and Republicans want to make it harder for people to vote in a nation that already struggles with voter turnout. This effort, intended to ensure minority rule, is premised on a false claim that millions of people vote for Democrats illegally. But in fact, most of the very small handful of people caught illegally voting have turned out to be Republicans.

Circling back to abortion, it’s a fair bet that if anti-abortionists had a way to ensure their own personal access to abortion when they needed it, and a ban for everyone else, they might choose such a logical leap.

There was a time when abortion was seen as the first resort of birth control for sex-crazed teenagers. Such visions fueled a fundamentalist Christian worldview of rampant promiscuity among the youthful heathen masses. But today’s typical patient needing an abortion is a low-income woman in her late 20s who has already had one child and cannot afford another one.

In fact, abortions are so common that nearly a quarter of all people capable of pregnancy will have one in their lifetimes by age 45. That percentage may be even higher considering that researchers find people severely underreport their abortions.

Part of the problem is that until recently there has been little narrative work done by organizations supporting the right to an abortion to destigmatize the procedure. Now more and more people are coming forward to tell their stories, most of which are mundane tales about forgetting to take contraception, or finding that their birth control method failed.

Hollywood has been particularly egregious in helping to cloak abortion access in a pall of shame. Recall the wildly successful 2007 film “Juno” starring Elliot Page as a pregnant teen who decides against getting an abortion and carries an unwanted pregnancy to term. The film was typical of how Hollywood treated characters struggling with unwanted pregnancies. Screenwriter Diablo Cody concedes that she wouldn’t write such a plot in today’s political environment, saying, “In a way I feel like I had a responsibility to maybe be more explicitly pro-choice, and I wasn’t.”

Cody is not alone. So-called liberals in Hollywood have written so many anti-abortion tropes into their plot lines that some years ago activist Fatima Goss Graves pleaded with women writers at a conference to begin normalizing abortions on screen. Her exhortation appears to have worked and works of fiction are finally treating abortion as the mundane and shame-free health procedure that it is. But it’s too little, too late and years of invisibility and shame paved the road to Roe being overturned.

There will come a time when anti-abortion conservatives finding themselves in need of abortion services will have nowhere to turn to, becoming the victims of their own wild success. The realization that abortions are part of necessary health care that even they need, will also be too little, too late.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Colombia – a once conservative stronghold – elects a leftist president for the first time

For the first time ever, Colombia has chosen new leadership that is not conservative. Voters in the third-most populous nation in Latin America narrowly elected the former mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, in a runoff election against his conservative opponent Rodolfo Hernández, with 50.47 percent of the votes.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Petro, who ran on a platform to tackle inequality, is a former rebel soldier who, at the age of 17 joined a now-defunct guerilla group called M-19 and was briefly imprisoned and tortured. His election is viewed as part of the ongoing “pink tide” in Latin America where a wave of left-leaning, but not-hardcore-communist leaders have succeeded in taking power through democratic elections.

Perhaps even more impressive than Petro is his running mate, Francia Márquez, the nation’s first Afro-Colombian vice president and a celebrated environmental activist.

No other Afro-Colombian has risen so far up the ranks of the government as Márquez—in spite of the fact that nearly 10 percent of the nation’s population is of African descent—and neither has anyone with the kind of environmental and social justice credentials that Márquez has.

Hailing from one of the poorest provinces in Colombia, Cauca, Márquez was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 for her courageous work against illegal mining. In 2014, she led 80 women on a massive march spanning 10 days and 350 miles and faced death threats for her environmental work.

Janvieve Williams Comrie, executive director of the U.S.-based organization AfroResistance, is a long-time friend of Márquez’s and someone she considers a “sister and comrade.” Comrie traveled to Colombia for the election and in an interview she shared her elation at seeing someone who looks like her rise to the position of vice president.

Márquez “is loved by the whole country,” says Comrie. “She has been impacted by the [civil] war, she is an internally displaced person, and to come from where she comes from and now be the vice president of a nation, it’s for the people, by the people.” She adds, that Márquez’s win, “is the whole community’s victory.”

For a nation that has embraced U.S.-style neoliberal politics and, for years, been a bulwark against leftist leaders in nations like Venezuela and Cuba, Colombia’s election results represent a shattering of the prevailing regional political order in the Americas.

Colombia has been a United States ally for 200 years. The U.S. State Department boasts of the more than $1 billion aid it has given Colombia in recent years, saying on its website that “With the support of the United States, Colombia has transformed itself over the past 20 years from a fragile state into a vibrant democracy with a growing market-oriented economy.”

Already, pro-capitalist Western media outlets are responding negatively to the election results. Barron’s published an article with a headline that read, “Colombia’s New President Moves the Country to the Left. Markets Don’t Seem Enthusiastic.” Bloomberg had a similar response with a story titled, “Colombian Markets Sink After Leftist Wins Presidential Election.” The cryptic desires of “markets” are apparently important enough to warrant strong opinions from media outlets about the nation’s new leadership.

What’s missing from the news coverage is how Colombia “has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world,” and the second-highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, as per the World Bank. Further, more than 40 percent of Colombians live below the poverty line.

To news outlets like Barron’s and Bloomberg, such statistics are unimportant. To the State Department, this is apparently what a “vibrant democracy with a growing market-oriented economy” looks like.

Given how reliably conservative and pro-U.S. Colombia’s leadership has been, how is it that Petro and Márquez won?

Comrie explains the election results saying, “people needed a change.” Petro and Márquez’s “whole platform was around cambio, which means ‘change’ in Spanish.”

Environmental justice is a critical aspect of the change that the new government has promised. Comrie contextualizes how “[Colombia] is really the environmental lung to Latin America,” given that a significant portion of the Amazon rainforest lies within its borders. Colombia’s rainforest has experienced devastating deforestation.

Petro and Márquez, according to Comrie, are, “committed to dealing with the high levels of deforestation,” and to “figuring out how can we restore what has been depleted and what has been exploited from an environmental perspective that is accountable to Mother Earth first, and then to the economy, second.”

A significant portion of the United States’ aid to Colombia has come in the form of mass aerial fumigation of glyphosate, a “probable carcinogen,” to supposedly combat Colombia’s cocaine farming efforts.

Furthermore, the United States’ “Plan Colombia” has centered on a failed drug war that analyst Brendon Lee, in an in-depth report for the Harvard International Review, described as, “largely ineffective, causing drug production to expand into other countries and creating a militarized war on drugs that has victimized countless Colombian citizens.”

Petro and Márquez have vowed to take the country in a different direction, moving away from aerial fumigation and focusing instead on eradicating poverty among farming communities.

According to Comrie, the election results are, “not only about Colombia, it’s about the whole region. And those policies [that Petro and Márquez plan to implement] will impact how other governments behave” elsewhere in Latin America.

She explains that Márquez and Petro plan to create a Ministry of Igualdad, or Equality which, “will propose new policies and new structures,” to address inequality, such as, “giving women heads of households [who] have been excluded from the economy, a base salary so that they can then sustain themselves.” Additionally, there is expected to be an “expansion of social programs,” and an exploration of programs like “education for all.”

Historically, the U.S. has opposed left-leaning governments in Latin America whose focus on eradicating poverty outweighs a desire to enrich industries. The U.S. has instead preferred right-wing authoritarian rule and backed dozens of coups on the continent.

In replacing a pro-U.S. government with one that is focused on progressive solutions to internal problems, Colombian voters face the prospect of American interventionism. Comrie advises President Joe Biden’s administration, saying that if Biden wants to address climate change, “this is really the administration to work with on that.” But, she warns, “it can’t be on Biden’s terms, it really has to be on Petro and Márquez’s terms.”

Ultimately, Comrie thinks, “it’s time to really… shift the power dynamics” between the U.S. and Colombia.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

If poverty is a moral issue, then the United States is bankrupt

Newspaper headlines are warning of rising inflation and the possibility that voters will respond to it by punishing Democrats in the midterm elections this fall. But there are few, if any, headlines about the enormous numbers of Americans who are low-income and poor—a travesty in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The problem of poverty is marked by several factors, the first of which is a deeply flawed government indicator of who qualifies as poor. Measured by the federal poverty line, about 37 million Americans live below the poverty line—that’s about 11 percent of the population.

But this leaves out many millions more Americans who live one emergency expense away from poverty. The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC): A National Call for Moral Revival relies on economic calculations showing that 140 million Americans—which is more than 40 percent of the population—are poor or low-income.

The second factor is mainstream media coverage that routinely skews in favor of wealthy elites by downplaying the extent of poverty. For example, when President Joe Biden cited the PPC’s estimate in an address in June 2019, the Washington Post engaged in a lengthy fact-checking investigation, interviewing numerous analysts who nitpicked over the difference between “poor” and “low-income” people, saying, “The two terms sound alike, but they describe different economic conditions.”

A third obstacle is corporate greed and how wealthy elites are vacuuming up every dollar they can into their own pockets, taking advantage of an economic system they helped to build in order to benefit themselves. For example, the investment giant Morgan Stanley released a report recently complaining about how rising wages were eating into corporate profits.

But of course, any wage increases are dampened by inflation rates rising much faster. This is a decades-long trend, not a new phenomenon, as any honest economist would explain.

But now that inflation is rising faster than it was before, media pundits and news outlets suggest that the fault lies with Americans earning higher wages and spending too much money.

There is evidence to the contrary—that inflation is rising because of bloated corporate profits, not an increase in wages and consumer spending—a point that the corporate media has failed to elevate or investigate with the same enthusiasm with which it has decided poverty is not a serious national problem.

When Biden was running for president, he addressed the PPC in September 2020, affirming the moral necessity of eradicating poverty and promising to do what he could to end it. The message was consistent with his platform to “Build Back Better,” a slogan that became the name of his ambitious anti-poverty legislation.

In December 2020, after it was clear that Biden had won the election, his transition team reached out to the PPC for a meeting and discussed a list of 14 policies that the organization laid out for his first 100 days in office that included COVID-19 relief for low-income Americans, guaranteed health care for all, a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, and more.

In June 2021, once he was elected, Biden once more reached out to the PPC with a recorded message for the PPC ahead of its annual national gathering affirming his alignment with its goals.

But in spite of Biden’s numerous nods to the PPC and its agenda to eradicate poverty, few, if any, of the organization’s demands have been met. Biden’s Build Back Better bill is languishing, stymied by the stubborn refusal of two corporate Democrats, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), to support most of their party’s progressive legislative proposals.

Bishop William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis, the PPC’s co-chairs, recently wrote a letter to Biden requesting another meeting with the White House ahead of their June 18 March on Washington.

In their letter, the two progressive leaders reminded Biden that when he addressed their gathering as a candidate running for office, he “promised that ending poverty would be more than an aspiration.”

According to Barber and Theoharis’ letter, it’s not enough to aspire to enacting anti-poverty measures. They wrote, “We have offered a moral narrative that refuses to accept the lies of scarcity or partisan gridlock as excuses for taking action. We are determined to change the conversation about what is possible, so that we can ensure all of our justice, here and now.”

It’s a call for the president to engage directly with what matters most: not economic phenomena like inflation, not politics and the midterms, but that which impacts more than 40 percent of the nation’s population—poverty and financial precarity.

Rev. Theoharis told me in a recent interview that Biden had made a “commitment to ending poverty, not managing, not ameliorating, to actually looking at the policies that could lift people up.” Still, Theoharis said, “we’ve been pushing and will continue to push Congress because we know that those two Democratic senators [Sinema and Manchin] and 49 Republican senators have stood against living-wage jobs and voting rights.”

Among the anti-poverty measures that the Build Back Better bill would have enacted was the renewal of an expanded child tax credit. During the brief time that an increased child tax credit was in effect, it helped to push millions of American families out of poverty.

Theoharis said that the challenge of making headway on poverty lies in the question of, “how can the president be able to use the microphone that he has to turn it toward poor and low-income people, low-wage workers?” In other words, how can Biden use his bully pulpit to pressure the media and congressional lawmakers into taking seriously the needs of 140 million Americans?

“Any nation that has 43 percent of its population living in poverty or one couple-hundred-dollar emergency away… from absolute economic ruin is an impoverished democracy,” said Theoharis. The PPC has for years been trying to shift the culture and the national conversation away from the pro-business mentality that measures economic health by stock prices and Wall Street’s profits rather than by whether or not most Americans are financially stable.

But Morgan Stanley had it right when it pitted corporate profits against rising wages. There cannot be both rising profits and rising wages. Corporate profits depend on keeping wages low. In order to lift most Americans out of poverty, we need higher wages that will necessarily cut into corporate profits. If Wall Street sees such logic as class warfare, so be it, for Wall Street has been waging just such warfare on the American people for far too long.

“What happens when you actually provide for the people, when you actually ensure that people are making living wages and have housing, is that that actually saves the nation, both spiritually and morally,” said Theoharis, reminding us that what matters much more than the unquenchable thirst of a handful of wealthy elites is the well-being of all Americans.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

'We need to change the rules': Billionaires at the World Economic Forum only pretend to care about inequality

Billionaires and the politicians who enable their wealth gathered for several days at a luxury resort in Switzerland to offer their puzzled concerns about why they keep getting richer at everyone else’s expense.

The World Economic Forum (WEF), which took place this year from May 22 through 26 in Davos, Switzerland, brought together elected officials and corporate executives from all over the world to tackle global problems. The annual meeting was delayed, first by two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then by five more months due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The forum calls itself an “independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world.” WEF attendees are representative of global elites who wield both political and economic power, and, in superhero fashion, seem to have adopted a do-gooder attitude of, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

The last time the group of elites met was in January 2020, at the very start of the pandemic, when Professor Klaus Schwab, WEF’s founder and executive chairman, said, “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world.”

Like most of the words emerging from WEF speakers, such a sentiment, reflecting the deep concerns of civil society, was worn as a cloak to disguise the source of many of the world’s problems: profiteering and obscene wealth redistribution from the bottom of society toward the top.

The advocacy organization Oxfam, which every year is allowed to send representatives to the annual WEF meetings, releases reports regularly highlighting these obscenities and reflecting back to attendees the culpability that politicians and CEOs bear for inequality as they routinely conspire to fleece the world.

Irit Tamir, director of the private sector department at Oxfam America, shared with me in an interview the results of this year’s WEF-related report, which proved that rather than using the pandemic as a way to reset priorities—as Schwab had in 2020 claimed was his intention—wealthy elites used it as a springboard to accumulate heretofore-unimaginable levels of riches.

“Inequality,” said Tamir, is “one of the top problems that they’re looking to solve” at Davos, “which of course is rather ironic because many of the reasons we have inequality today is because of the influence of these very people.”

Still, media outlets have portrayed the sentiment at Davos as one of deep concern over the current situation. “Davos gathering overshadowed by global economic worries,” said one Associated Press headline, while the Washington Post labeled its coverage with the words, “Economic uncertainty and ongoing war cast a cloud over Davos.” But, according to Tamir, “Those that are gathering in Davos this week have so much to celebrate because they are doing very, very well.”

According to Oxfam’s report, entitled “Profiting from Pain,” a million people around the globe are being pushed into “extreme poverty” every 33 hours during the pandemic. And, in roughly that same time period, “a new billionaire has been minted.”

“The pandemic has been very good to the billionaire class,” said Tamir. Oxfam concluded in its report that the world’s 10 richest men owned more wealth than the world’s poorest 40 percent of humanity. Such an absurd global arrangement of wealth ought to be the nail in the coffin of our current economic system.

The key areas of pandemic profiteering that Oxfam highlights in its report are food, medicine, energy, and technology—all basic human necessities.

For example, take James Cargill II and his family, who are majority stakeholders in a global food trading business that bears their family name and made nearly $5 billion in pure income last year alone. Food prices around the world have sharply risen, contributing to the Cargill family wealth.

Moderna, the pharmaceutical company whose CEO Stéphane Bancel was on the speakers’ list at this year’s WEF, has, according to Oxfam, been “immensely successful at converting public funding into private wealth.” Additionally, “The company has created four new vaccine billionaires who are worth a combined $10bn.”

In the energy sector, we see a similar level of unbridled greed as the costs of energy have gone up, which in turn has meant that, as per Oxfam, “Big oil’s profit margins have doubled during the pandemic.”

And, lastly, the technology sector has been a boon to billionaires. Oxfam reports that “Seven of the 10 richest people in the world made their money from technology,” including Elon Musk, who surpassed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest man.

If market capitalism has reorganized wealth so that it flows from the bottom half of humanity into the hands of increasingly richer individuals, there is either a critical design flaw in a system that was supposed to be fair, or the system is working precisely as it was designed to work. WEF attendees have convinced themselves it’s the former. Others, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—famous for his claim that the economy is “rigged” in favor of the rich—believe the latter. Either way, the undeniable conclusion is that it’s time for a new system.

There is no need for the sort of deep introspective panels that WEF convenes as elites pretend to scratch their heads, asking questions like, “How can leaders make ethical decisions in times of crisis to maintain social cohesion and the trust of citizens?” or “How can we include everyone in the conversation for gender equality?

Oxfam points out that the no-brainer solution to obscene global inequality, one that requires no complex analysis or discussions between thought leaders, is this: If there’s too much money at the top, it’s time to redistribute that money to the bottom.

That’s it.

In the United States, home to many of the world’s wealthiest individuals and corporations, there are already well-crafted pieces of legislation like President Biden’s billionaire minimum tax, or tax provisions in the Build Back Better bill—both of which have failed to pass Congress.

“This is not a new concept,” said Tamir of a tax on rich people in times of crisis. “We’ve done this before in wartime. Other countries have also done it with great success. It is time that we get revenue from the excess profits that are being made from crises.”

WEF attendees did not convene any panels to discuss how political leaders—with whom they rubbed shoulders all week in Davos—could make tax legislation a reality. While most agree that inequality is bad for the world, their solution, according to Tamir, is philanthropy, not taxation.

“Philanthropy is at the whim of the individual’s will. It’s whatever they choose to donate to, and when they choose to donate, and how they choose to donate.”

In other words, billionaire philanthropists have not only more money than the rest of us can imagine having, but they also have the power to decide what should or should not receive funding.

“We need to change the rules,” said Tamir. “We need governments to step in, and we need them to do it immediately.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

'We know where we are headed': humanity is sacrificing itself on the altar of corporate profits

Climate change is the result of a deadly calculus: human lives are worth risking and even losing over the profits of global corporations.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently dropped a bombshell announcement that should have garnered news headlines in the major global and U.S. media, but did not. New WMO research concludes that “[t]here is a 50:50 chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level for at least one of the next five years.”

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas explained, “The 1.5 degree Celsius figure is not some random statistic. It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.”

In 2015, the likelihood of reaching that threshold within five years was nearly zero. In 2017 it was 10 percent, and today it is 50 percent. As we continue to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in dizzying amounts, that percentage spikes with every passing year and will soon reach 100 percent certainty.

When average global temperatures hit the tipping point of 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate scientists predict that most of the Earth’s coral reefs will die off. At 2 degrees Celsius, all will die off. This is the reason why United Nations members coalesced around staving off an average global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius at the last global climate gathering in 2021.

The planet has already heated up by 1.1 degrees Celsius, and the consequences are dire across the globe.

India is experiencing its worst heat wave in 122 years, and neighboring Pakistan has broken a 61-year-old record for high temperatures. Dozens of people have already died as a result of the extreme heat.

In France, farmers “can see the earth cracking every day,” as a record-breaking drought has thrown the country’s agricultural industry into crisis mode.

Here in the United States, across the central and northeastern parts of the country, there is a heat wave so large and so severe that people from Texas to Maine experienced triple-digit temperatures in May.

Even the wealthy enclave of Laguna Niguel in Orange County, Southern California, is on fire, and dozens of homes have been destroyed. Although moneyed elites have far more resources to remain protected from the deadly impacts of climate change compared to the rest of us, occasionally even their homes are in the path of destruction, indicating that nowhere on Earth will be safe on a catastrophically warming planet.

Ironically, as extreme heat waves become more likely with global warming, humans will burn more fossil fuels to power the air conditioning they need to cool off and survive, thereby fueling the very phenomenon that leads to more extreme heat waves.

In such a scenario, it is a massive no-brainer for the world to quickly and without delay transition to renewable energy sources. Instead, President Joe Biden in April announced the sale of new leases for oil and gas companies to drill on public lands, reneging on his campaign platform’s climate pledges.

Biden did so apparently in order to increase domestic fuel supplies and thereby lower gas prices. He also raised the percentage of royalties that companies pay the federal government from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent. But no amount of dollars saved by consumers or earned in royalties by the federal government can halt the laws of physics and protect the climate.

The New York Times’s Lisa Friedman explained, “The burning of fossil fuels extracted from public land and in federal waters accounts for 25 percent of the greenhouse gases generated by the United States, which is the planet’s second biggest polluter, behind China.” Here is one area where the federal executive branch has control, and yet financial considerations have been dictating responses rather than existential ones.

After climate activists vocally denounced the move, Biden did finally cancel the drilling leases for Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department cited a “lack of industry interest” and “conflicting court rulings,” rather than pressure from activists, as the reason for the cancellation. Regardless, it is a small measure of relief for a planet that is on its way to burning to a crisp.

While Biden (and other lawmakers) claim they are driven by rising inflation and the impact of high gas prices on voters’ pocket books, it turns out the public doesn’t actually want a glut of oil and gas to help lower costs.

A new poll by the National Surveys on Energy and the Environment found that there is no longer skepticism among the public that the effects of climate change are real, as 76 percent of respondents—the highest on record since the poll started—“believe there is solid evidence that temperatures on the planet have risen over the last four decades.”

The poll also notably concluded that “Americans continue to favor reducing greenhouse gas emissions as their preferred approach for staving off the worst impacts of climate change,” and that they “remain skeptical of any pivot from mitigation toward climate policy that prioritizes adaptation, use of geoengineering or subterranean carbon storage.”

So, rather than invest in mitigating climate change or adapting to it—which is what market-driven economies favor—people, sensibly, want to stop the planet from warming in the first place.

Still, there is growing concern among climate scientists that it may already be too late for a transition to renewables. In spite of energy sources like solar and wind becoming rapidly cheaper and more accessible, overall energy consumption is increasing about as fast, as per one recent study. Mark Diesendorf, the author of the study, explained, “it is simply impossible for renewable energy to overtake that retreating target. And that’s no fault of renewable energy. It’s the fault of the growth in consumption and the fact that action has been left too late.”

Because corporate profit-based considerations have constantly dictated our energy use and climate policies, we have effectively decided that major sacrifices of lives—most likely poor people of color—will be worth the pain of relying on fossil fuels for energy.

There is an analogy to be found in the COVID-19 pandemic. For months, scientists sounded the alarm over prevention, endorsing lockdowns, masks, and vaccines to stop the spread of the deadly virus, just as climate scientists issued warnings against global warming for decades. Both science-based campaigns faced uphill battles, each with its own challenges in recommending the most rational guidelines to maximize public safety in spite of financial sacrifices (closing down most businesses and restaurants and canceling major sporting and entertainment events, in the case of COVID-19; promoting solar power subsidies, switching to wind energy, and manufacturing hybrid and electric vehicles, in the case of the climate crisis). All the while, corporate interests and right-wing political opportunists successfully pushed their own agenda in the halls of power, insisting that economic growth was the most important consideration.

Today, even as COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing, with cases having risen by 58 percent in the last two weeks alone, mask mandates are being dropped all over the country and COVID-19-related restrictions are ending. This is not because the virus is under control—it is clearly not—but because it’s no longer financially viable for corporate America to sacrifice profits for lives. So, it will sacrifice lives for profit—just as is the case with the climate crisis.

It is worth spelling out this equation so that we know where we are headed.

As the climate changes, we begin to see where the bodies are buried—literally. Water levels in Nevada’s Lake Mead have fallen so dramatically that the remains of at least two human bodies were recently discovered. What other disturbing discoveries are in store for us?

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Policing causes violence, not the other way around

What liberal politicians and the media refuse to acknowledge is that crime is linked to the failures of capitalism, not to the lack of police. Indeed, police are part of the problem, not the solution.

The New York City subway shooting in Brooklyn on April 12 miraculously resulted in no deaths, although about 30 people suffered injuries, including 10 from gunshot wounds. Within hours, a massive manhunt for the shooter was underway, but in the end it was the suspect who tipped police off and turned himself in. Still, that has not stopped politicians and corporate media outlets like the Washington Post and others from using the shooting to shore up police talking points and implicitly make the case for more police funding.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, has followed the politics of law enforcement for years. The author of The End of Policing—a book that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) inadvertently helped turn into a bestseller during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson—explained to me in an interview that “we’ve seen a big increase in the number of police on the subway with the new mayor, Eric Adams, and that did not play a role in preventing this [shooting] from happening.”

Indeed, New York police, with all the resources of modern technology, surveillance and weaponry at its disposal, had to embarrassingly turn to the public for help. “We routinely overestimate the effectiveness of policing as a solution to our problems,” said Vitale.

Across the country, Democratic Party leaders like Mayor Adams are taking “tough-on-crime” stances, forgetting the horrors of racist police brutality that had seemed so apparent to the entire nation only two years ago when millions of Americans protested, angered by the videotaped police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who in 2020 suggested cutting $120 million from her city’s police budget, ultimately decided to increase police funding. Earlier this year she again requested millions more in supplemental police funding but then quietly withdrew her request after gleeful coverage by right-wing news outlets about her “stunning” reversal on the issue.

In Los Angeles, mayoral hopeful Karen Bass, known as a staunch progressive, has also decided to change her tune on police funding. Bass is running neck and neck with billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso and may be feeling pressure from Caruso’s overt pro-police position.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot last fall also proposed increased police funding after having earlier taken a position to cut funds.

And, President Joe Biden, who has stated more vociferously than most of his fellow Democrats that he does not agree with the idea of defunding police departments, has unsurprisingly proposed a massive increase in police funding in his federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Biden, Adams, Breed, Bass, and Lightfoot, all Democrats, are citing rising crime levels as reasons for increasing police funding, perplexing left-leaning voters. The Intercept’s Akela Lacy says that this pivot is the result of Democrats’ failure to make progress on gun control.

But there is no evidence that increased policing actually reduces violence. Indeed, it is quite the contrary. Most researchers and journalists attempt to correlate increased policing with a reduction in crime. But few ask whether increased policing reduces violence. If police are the perpetrators of violence, then increased policing results in increased violence, as a 2021 study by Community Resource Hub and Interrupting Criminalization found.

Crime is related to many factors, and policing is not one of them. Vitale draws a connection between wealth disparities and the criminalization of poverty, saying that Democratic mayors “continue to insist that all local government can do is subsidize the already wealthy in hopes that they’ll be competitive on the global stage.” In turn, he says, “this has just produced tremendous inequality and budget cuts for essential social services.” The issues that “have resulted from that have been turned into ‘policeable’ problems, and this has just created a vicious cycle.”

Studies have shown that when there are ample resources for community services such as mental health care, crime goes down. Indeed, in the case of the New York subway shooting, the suspect has a history of mental health struggles. If cities responded to mental health episodes with counselors instead of police, we might well see a reduction in overall violence.

In fact, the city of Denver, Colorado, did just that. Over a period of six months, Denver city authorities dispatched mental health teams instead of police in situations that warranted such intervention. The experiment was judged a success given that 750 such calls resulted in zero arrests. In one incident, a man who was hallucinating had no shoes on in extremely cold weather. The team that was dispatched gave him a pair of shoes as a simple first step toward helping him.

Sadly, the corporate media has relentlessly fed the notion that rising crime is an indication that more police are necessary. The fact that recent robberies of high-end luxury stores have gotten so much publicity—from disproportionate media coverage—has fueled the myth that crime is out of control and that more police are needed, even though overall crime levels are not as high as they are being made out to be. Critics have dubbed this sort of media coverage as “copaganda,” or pro-cop propaganda.

“There are a lot of factors that drive this conflation of policing and public safety” and the idea that “policing is the only tool that’s available to keep us safe,” said Vitale. One factor is that covering crime and policing offers “sensationalism” in headlines that drives up corporate media ratings. Additionally, according to Vitale, “The news media have always cozied up to police to be a source of information.”

But, the most important driver of copaganda is what Vitale calls “a shared worldview” between corporate media, liberal elites, and police. This view is that “the problems of American society… [are] problems of individual and group moral failure that are best addressed through punitive interventions.”

A stark example of this can be found in Politico, once a digital upstart and pioneer of “new media,” today squarely part of the corporate media landscape. A story about the Los Angeles mayor’s race, headlined “Crime upstages progressive priorities in Los Angeles mayor’s race,” featured a large photograph of a homeless encampment by the beach. The photo made it clear that unhoused people, in the outlet’s view, are a source of crime.

Instead of seeing the large spike in homelessness as a symptom of an unequal economy, the phenomenon is being used by politicians and the media alike to justify increased policing. In fact, as Politico points out at the very bottom of its story, “crime rates are far below historic lows and actually dipped in 2020 before the current uptick.” Shouldn’t that have been the story’s leading point?

This sort of coverage is a far cry from the nearly unanimous mainstream media support for the Black Lives Matter movement two years ago. That movement called for, and continues to support, a redirection of police funding toward community services for the unhoused, those struggling with mental health, unemployment, hunger and other social problems caused by the current capitalist system.

“The mainstream media, once they had an understanding of what it was we were really talking about in the summer of 2020,” said Vitale, “quickly realized that they were diametrically opposed to it and have sort of systematically excluded these ideas from mainstream media conversations.”

To admit that social problems are caused by the failures of capitalism would undermine the credibility of the very system that political and media elites rely on. A police-centric worldview preserves a system that is designed to produce unequal outcomes.

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Housing is a human right—here’s how to make it a reality

The federal government has for years enabled the private market to make money off our housing needs. Now, as home prices and rents skyrocket, there is a simple solution: offer people a public option for housing.

Is housing a human right?

Or is it a privilege affordable only to those who have made it under our unfair system of market capitalism?

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

If you read CNBC’s recent financial advice column, you may come away believing the latter to be true. Economist and CNBC contributor Laurence J. Kotlikoff said Americans “are wasting too much money on housing,” and in order to be more financially savvy about housing he offered such innovative ideas as moving in with one’s parents, renting out part of one’s home to visitors through Airbnb, selling one’s home altogether in favor of a smaller, cheaper one, or—and this is my favorite—moving to a cheaper state.

These sorts of ludicrous solutions are typical of the corporate media’s answer to a housing crisis of epic proportions: if you can’t afford to live, just move.

The cost of homes is skyrocketing, putting homeownership out of the reach of most Americans. Reuters described how “strong house price inflation has combined to significantly increase the typical monthly mortgage payment.” And, as the Federal Reserve has started to increase interest rates, homebuyers are being stuck paying an increasing share of their mortgage as interest.

Another corporate media answer to spiking housing prices—one that Kotlikoff took for granted without articulating—is to simply let the market handle the crisis. Reuters quoted a corporate economist named Robert Frick, at Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia, who said, “We may be approaching a pivot point when higher home costs and higher mortgage rates cool both sales and price increases, but given the supply-and-demand imbalance, we may not hit that point this year.” Those waiting to purchase a home must apparently wait for the invisible hand of the market to balance out supply and demand and put their lives on hold in the meantime.

Rental costs are similarly skyrocketing. According to Realtor.com’s latest report, rents have jumped 17 percent from last year. The organization’s chief economist, Danielle Hale, had a similar response to Frick, saying, “With rents up by nearly 20 percent over the past two years, rental prices are likely to remain high, but we do expect some cooling from the recent accelerated pace.” In other words, at some point, rents will increase so much that people will stop being able to rent altogether, which will then lead to lower rents. Some day. Maybe.

Katie Goldstein, director of housing campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), explained to me in an interview that the current housing crisis is the result of “the corporate control of our housing system” where “for-profit investors and for-profit landlords are at the root of our country’s affordability crisis.” The federal government has enabled what she called “speculative behavior” in the housing market.

It’s not simply that the federal government is leaving it up to the private market to ensure all Americans are housed. It is going much further, by intervening to privilege corporate buyers of homes and rental units. For example, when the housing bubble burst in 2008 as a result of predatory lending practices, thousands of people lost their homes to foreclosures. Instead of helping people remain in their homes, the government sold many of these foreclosed properties to Wall Street investment firms at deep discounts.

These firms now control a significant portion of the rental market in the United States, raising rents in the service of turning profits. They continue to receive tax breaks and subsidies that are far greater than the amount of money the government spends on low-income housing. In other words, the federal government has adopted policies to ensure wealthy corporate interests trump housing needs—instead of the other way around.

We don’t have to live like this. And increasingly, government officials and lawmakers are being pushed to embrace the idea long championed by housing rights activists, that “Housing is a human right.”

Marcia Fudge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in a recent address to the National Low Income Housing Coalition declared that “If we are to fully achieve justice in housing, we must fully accept what that means: justice in housing is everyone realizing the fundamental truth—housing is a human right.”

It was the first time that a sitting head of HUD has made such a statement, and it represents a major shift in thinking that has yet to inform government policy or percolate into the corporate media’s worldview.

With “over 500,000 people [who] are homeless across the country,” Goldstein sees every homeless person as “a policy failure.” This is a correct assessment, for if housing is a human right as Secretary Fudge says, the government should be enabling community control of the housing market, not corporate control. The so-called market can only be relied upon to prioritize profits, not human rights.

Although there is a public housing system in the United States, overseen by HUD, and intended to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans have homes, the problem is that “public housing has been underfunded for decades,” says Goldstein, “even though it has been the primary source of housing for low-income people.”

To ensure that the government brings federal housing policy in line with its stated ideal of “housing as a human right,” CPD has released a new report entitled “Social Housing for All: A Vision for Thriving Communities, Renter Power, and Racial Justice.” One prong of a multipronged solution to the nation’s housing crisis, as per the report, is to “provide $1 trillion over ten years to fund the construction of 12 million new social and public housing units.”

CPD wants the government to go further than merely investing in public housing and instead adopt a broader framework of “social housing.” Goldstein says her organization is calling for a “mass social housing program,” that will “not only repair the current public housing that exists, but actually create millions of new units for people… [who] actually need it.” Social housing, as per Goldstein, is “a public option for housing.”

In other words, if the private market is making housing out of reach for increasing numbers of people, there ought to be a public option provided by the government to meet the need that the market fails to meet.

Social housing, as per Goldstein, is “permanently affordable, protected from the private market, and publicly owned or under democratic community control.” CPD’s list of principles of social housing includes “deep affordability,” “tenant unions and collective bargaining,” and “quality and accessibility.” Given that the current housing crisis disproportionately impacts people of color and women, CPD’s vision for social housing is based on racial and gender justice such as requiring that people with criminal backgrounds or immigration violations are not disqualified from accessing housing.

There are existing models we can turn to. Finland has pioneered a “social housing” program, aiming to eliminate all homelessness by the year 2027. It is already on its way, with 16 percent of all housing in the nation being owned by municipal governments. CPD’s report points out that the capital, Helsinki, has “50,000 municipally-owned housing units.” This is much higher than American cities of similar size and population, such as Detroit, which has 3,700 public housing units, and Portland, which has only 450.

If the federal government is currently fueling a system designed to benefit corporate America, surely it can intervene to benefit people instead. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar has reintroduced a bill that invests $1 trillion into the housing system. Her “Homes for All” act is intended to “guarantee safe, accessible, sustainable, and permanently-affordable homes for all, create a true public option and affirm housing as a basic human right for every American.”

Social housing is hardly a radical idea. Goldstein, whose organization supports Omar’s plan, offers a simple basis for social housing, saying, “We think there ought to be an alternative to the corporate and for-profit system of housing.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Here’s why the 'Freedom Convoy' is more American than Canadian

Canadians have a reputation for being polite, nice people. But the high-profile weeks-long civil disobedience actions by some Canadian truckers that began in late January in the capital city of Ottawa has undermined this reputation. Truckers and their allies caused traffic snarls within the city and wreaked havoc along the international supply chains crossing the United States-Canada border.

By many accounts, it seems as though the United States has exported its brand of toxic right-wing extremism across the northern border. Indeed, there are credible reports of Confederate American flags and swastikas being displayed by the Canadian protesters.

Unsurprisingly, the so-called Freedom Convoy has also garnered outsized media attention in the United States, becoming a cause célèbre among domestic conservatives who see it as yet another front in the culture war around which to whip up frenzied hysteria and score political points.

The truckers started out protesting vaccine requirements for their cross-border deliveries, demanding that the unvaccinated among them be exempt from quarantining—in essence asking for special treatment. One truck driver told the BBC, “We want to be free, we want to have our choice again, and we want hope—and the government has taken that away.” That sentiment quickly expanded to a demand to drop all safety standards regarding the pandemic.

How ironic it is that those proclaiming they want “freedom” are protesting against the very thing that offers society a path toward liberation from the pandemic. The protests are taking place around the one-year anniversary of when lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines first became available to residents of Western nations like the United States and Canada. To most of us a year ago, the vaccines offered a tantalizing glimpse of what the end of quarantine and isolation could look like.

If the Freedom Convoy sounds extremist, that’s because it is. Poll after poll shows that a majority of Canadians do not support the protesting truckers. Even most Canadian truckers find the blockade distasteful, with the Canadian Trucking Alliance disavowing the actions and warning that “many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry.” In fact, there is widespread support for vaccines among Canadian truckers, with a whopping 90 percent being vaccinated—a higher percentage than the general Canadian population.

South Asian truckers, who comprise a significant percentage of the truck drivers in Canada, are particularly disgusted. Many are resentful of how the Freedom Convoy is ignoring real-life issues facing truck drivers in Canada that are far more worthy of protest. Gagan Singh, a spokesperson for the United Truckers Association in British Columbia, explained, “It’s all about safety and pay structure for the truckers… people are upset about a lot of other issues and those issues are not being represented by those [Freedom Convoy] folks.” Manan Gupta, who heads a magazine for South Asian truckers, said, “I wish we were talking about congested highways, road safety, the lack of parking spaces, the small number of border officers, and the dearth of restrooms for truckers.”

And yet the Freedom Convoy has captured attention on both sides of the border that is vastly disproportionate to its size. One reason is that it doesn’t take many trucks to block a street or even a border, and therefore a small number of trucks can have a big impact.

But even in areas far from the northern border, the truckers made headlines all over the United States, largely because Fox News has been amplifying their demands in the typically selective manner it reserves for extremist fringe right-wing views. According to the media watchdog group Media Matters, Fox News shows devoted many hours of coverage to the issue and interviewed Freedom Convoy participants who were vociferously denouncing vaccine mandates.

But Fox’s anchors and hosts failed to mention during the broadcasts that their own workplace requires vaccines as part of safety protocols keeping them safe. More than 90 percent of all Fox News staffers are vaccinated.

Similarly, former President Donald Trump has expressed his support for the Canadian antivaxxers, saying that they “are doing more to defend American freedom than our own leaders.” Meanwhile, not only has Trump been vaccinated, but he has also had a booster shot.

In spite of this double standard, Fox News and the Republican Party have fallen deeply in love with the Freedom Convoy. Perhaps that is because the seemingly grassroots protests are in fact bought and paid for by conservative American elites—the core base of both institutions. A Washington Post analysis of leaked donor data from the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo found that “[t]he richer an American community was, the more likely residents there were to donate, and the biggest number of contributions often came from communities where registered Republicans made up solid majorities.”

One analyst told PBS that the Freedom Convoy was simply another opportunity for the GOP to whip up its base ahead of the fall midterm elections. “It’s a terrific [issue] eight or nine months before the election for them,” said Ian Reifowitz, the author of a book called The Tribalization of Politics. He added, “It allows you to bank money, bank volunteers and energize the base, which is what you want to do.”

In other words, the Republican Party may simply be adding the Freedom Convoy to its roster of wedge issues like the attacks on critical race theory, transgender athletes and more.

Love for the Canadian Freedom Convoy runs so deep among American conservatives that Politico’s Rich Lowry found that it has even united the libertarian and populist wings of the GOP. This may be because, ultimately, crippling the ability of governments to impose regulations for the public good is a cause both sides can get behind.

Right-wing wedge issues centered on vaccine requirements aren’t just fueling partisan fundraising in the United States. They are literally fueling death. If this sounds like hyperbole, the numbers speak for themselves. Sixty-four percent of Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to 80 percent of Canadians, even though Americans had more access earlier on to the vaccine than Canadians and vaccine supplies remain abundant in the United States.

The results of this disparity in vaccination rates are stunning. The American death rate from the virus is 279 per 100,000 people, compared to Canada’s 94 per 100,000. In other words, Americans are nearly three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than Canadians. We have right-wing institutions and leaders like Fox News and Trump to largely thank for the American reticence to vaccination, and, by extension, the resultant disproportionately high death rate.

Because right-wing leaders and their allied media platforms like Fox News are so relentless and disciplined in amplifying their favorite causes no matter what the consequences, they have an outsized influence on American politics. In response to their exaggerated importance, U.S. governments and agencies bend over backward to give credence to regressive forces and treat them with kid gloves, from the Bundy occupation in Oregon in 2016 to the violent attack on the Capitol in 2021.

There is now an American version of the Freedom Convoy being organized, which is likely to express the same sort of impunity as its earlier, aforementioned counterparts and to enjoy the same sort of outsized media coverage, donations, and headlines as the Canadian actions.

How ‘Queer Eye’ upholds liberal economic fantasies

When Netflix recently released season six of the popular reality show “Queer Eye,” I eagerly binge-watched all 10 episodes, savoring Tan France’s precise fashion sense, Bobby Berk’s jaw-droppingly elegant interior designs, Karamo Brown’s sage and insightful personal advice, Antoni Porowski’s versatile kitchen skills, and, of course, Jonathan Van Ness’ endearingly quirky makeovers.

The show is wildly popular, earning a whopping 100 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes for season five, which is the latest rating available, and a 97.2 percentile ranking among all reality television shows nationwide. Its five hosts, who are undeniably charming and likable, have been nominated for and have won several Emmy Awards.

The “Fab Five” filmed their latest season in the city of Austin, Texas, a liberal haven in one of the nation’s most conservative states, with each episode focusing on one of a handful of struggling Texans lucky enough to be picked for the show’s personalized and very expensive life coaching sessions. The first episode was filmed in March 2020 just as the initial lockdown sparked by the global pandemic was announced. Filming was suspended for a year and resumed in 2021, and subsequent episodes found many of the show’s “heroes,” as they are dubbed, struggling with the impact of the lockdowns, offering a microcosm of post-pandemic economic inequality in the United States.

While the Fab Five shows remarkable empathy for their heroes—dare we call them “victims” of American capitalist cruelty?—there is no critique of, say, why a small-business owner might be struggling so severely to stay afloat that they forget to shop for new clothes, wash their hair regularly, eat healthy, spend quality time with their families, or have a social life. Instead, there is an assumption that it is simply the way of things for the working poor to exist on the precipice of economic calamity, and if only said heroes could be reminded of the importance of self-love, their lives would dramatically improve.

The fact that the hosts of “Queer Eye” are a diverse mix of four queer men—two of whom are men of color—and one non-binary person fits beautifully into the socially liberal, fiscally conservative ethos of the Democratic Party and its ilk. Indeed, OprahMag.com senior editor Jonathan Borge effusively opined that “Netflix’s ‘Queer Eye’ Is Actually Making America Great Again.” Borge claims that “Queer Eye” provides “the exact thing that Americans from all walks of life are hungry for: hope.” What such hope means is unclear—hope that the nation’s unfair economic system will magically fix itself?

Liberal fans of the show delight in the fact that the Fab Five embody the targets of conservative gender- and race-based hatreds that Democratic leaders pay lip service to defending. The telegenic hosts champion LGBTQ rights and proudly proclaim that Black Lives Matter, while remaining adamantly tight-lipped about the unfairness of the economic system whose victims they routinely encounter.

And while it is absolutely critical to have such diverse representation on screen, the Fab Five appear to have turned into attractive on-screen purveyors of predatory capitalism, helping to preserve the neoliberal fantasies of Clintonite Democrats. Feeling down about your lot in life? Just buy some new fashion products and a built-in sofa and your problems will disappear—especially if Netflix is footing the bill.

Indeed, the hosts have themselves capitalized heavily on the show’s fame (and who could blame them?). The website the Business of Fashion explains that “the TV series takes a head-on approach to issues like LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter, all while selling millions of dollars in product, from makeup sticks to subscription boxes.”

Self-care is incredibly expensive—another fact that remains perpetually unstated throughout the show, but that is screaming out silently at the viewer from every product-filled scene. Although the price of things is never mentioned, we can safely assume it costs good money to shop at bespoke clothing stores, to get one’s hair meticulously cut and styled at boutique salons, to enjoy one-on-one therapy sessions, to shop at health food stores, and to take the time to cook whole-foods-based healthy meals. Most expensive of all are the magnificent home and office makeovers that “Queer Eye” bestows on its heroes that generate breathtaking awe among audiences. Many of season six’s recipients also notably receive brand-new, state-of-the-art Apple computers as part of their fabulously redecorated homes and offices.

Surely any ordinary American’s life would dramatically improve if they were gifted the entire budget of a single episode of “Queer Eye” to spend on their mind, body, and home. The main difference between the before-and-after lives of its heroes is simply money—and lots of it.

Money is rarely, if ever, mentioned explicitly. Instead, “Queer Eye” casts its heroes as being one lucky break away from success rather than constantly on the verge of financial ruin. Before 2020, economic inequality was steadily rising in the United States and was especially stark along racial lines, with Black Americans experiencing the lowest incomes and wealth compared to whites. The pandemic exacerbated this already unfair scenario, with the wealthiest Americans perversely benefitting disproportionately.

But in the world inhabited by “Queer Eye,” there is a meritocracy assumed to be at work, creating a level playing field where those who work hard can achieve the American Dream, and those who fail only do so because they forget to set time aside for self-care. A visit from the fairy god-mothers and -fathers of “Queer Eye” magically wipes away the struggle and perpetuates the myth of self-care-as-panacea in the collective minds of its viewers.

Indeed, “Queer Eye” deliberately promotes the notion of the “deserving poor” (as distinct from the undeserving?). The show’s casting call for season six was specifically aimed at “deserving people, couples, families, friends and coworkers within a 90-minute radius of Austin who could truly benefit from a ‘make-better.’”

The idea that help should only be given to those who deserve it is central to neoliberal economic ideas. While Republicans have championed policies like work requirements for welfare benefits or drug testing for housing assistance, some Democrats have also embraced the idea that those who garner government aid ought to prove they truly deserve it. These are vague standards of morality being set by elites who likely have never had to worry about next month’s rent check bouncing.

Indeed, all of the heroes of “Queer Eye” appear deserving of help. They work hard to a fault, and often need to be reminded of the positive impact they are having on their family or community. Season six’s heroes include an advocate for homeless Austinites, a health care worker running a clinic for low-income communities of color, the founder of a nonprofit shelter for special-needs animals, a struggling rapper whose career was derailed by the pandemic, a cohort of graduating high school seniors at a low-income trade school who barely survived remote learning, and so on. They are people who in a just society would have the kind of support they need from government and social services, or the kind that higher wages can buy, and thus they would not need the aid that “Queer Eye” offers—largesse that is so off-the-charts generous and unlikely that it is akin to winning a lottery ticket.

Many of us can relate to the heroes of “Queer Eye” because we have all been in situations previously or at present, wondering if we can pay next month’s bills, praying that we remain healthy enough to avoid medical bankruptcy, hoping for a job offer with a decent wage, wondering when and how we might pay off student loans, or forgoing vacations because we can’t afford them.

While the problems that the show’s heroes face are all-too-relatable for masses of Americans, most of us will never be lucky enough for a weeklong therapy session and pricey life makeover by the Fab Five. So instead, we fantasize about it while consuming Netflix’s seductive pabulum.

I too have found myself tempted to give in to the fanciful notion that if I could only give myself a fabulous makeover, channeling the charm and self-confidence of the Fab Five while chanting a silent “yas, queen!” at my reflection in the mirror, I would be able to meet life’s demands. It is a tantalizing notion to imagine that we are deserving of success because we work hard and play by the rules of American capitalism. Conversely, if we fail, we must surely be undeserving. And if we are undeserving of help, then we are to blame, rather than the system that perpetuates inequality.

So why is it the responsibility of a reality show, whose aim is to spread heartwarming joy in a bleak world, to shine a light on inequality? In fact, it isn’t. But, in maintaining the myth of the “deserving poor” and of individual and expensive self-care as the elixir to poverty, a popular television show like “Queer Eye” has become part of the maintenance of an unfair status quo.

Here’s a “Queer Eye” Hip Tip: The show’s protagonists would do well to acknowledge and address inequality as a deeply unfair and built-in feature of American capitalism, especially considering that more Americans than ever are aware that the current system is blatantly rigged against them.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Why Xiomara Castro’s win in Honduras could address the country’s endemic corruption and violence

“I am overwhelmed with joy; I just cannot believe it,” says Dr. Oriel María Siu speaking to me from the city of San Pedro Sula the day after Hondurans like herself voted in presidential elections. Siu was ecstatic to learn that Xiomara Castro de Zelaya had an insurmountable lead over Nasry Asfura, the candidate representing the incumbent conservative party. Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, is a democratic socialist and will become the first woman president of Honduras. She triumphantly told her supporters, “Today the people have made justice. We have reversed authoritarianism.”

Castro was referring to the 12 years of repressive rule by the National Party, which took power after Zelaya was ousted in a 2009 military coup that, as per Siu, “the United States orchestrated.” Years after the coup, Hillary Clinton, who was the U.S. state secretary at the time of the coup, justified Zelaya’s removal, saying in a 2016 interview, “I didn’t like the way it looked or the way they did it but they had a very strong argument that they had followed the constitution and the legal precedence.” The Intercept later exposed how U.S. military officers at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies assisted Honduran coup leaders in their efforts.

National Party leader Juan Orlando Hernández claimed electoral victory in 2013 against Castro and then again in 2017 against Salvador Nasralla in the face of credible accusations of massive fraud. The man who has been deeply implicated in narco-trafficking in the U.S. (his brother was convicted in a New York court of smuggling in hundreds of tons of cocaine) used the Honduran security forces as his personal militia during his tenure.

Terror and violence reigned across Honduras, and among the many victims of the post-coup era was prominent environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who led the resistance to a hydroelectric dam and was killed in 2016. Another victim was a 26-year-old nursing student named Keyla Martínez, who died in police custody in February 2021 after being arrested for violating a curfew. Her death prompted fresh protests.

Over the years, relentless state violence and corruption swept thousands of Honduran migrants northward who preferred the callousness of the U.S. immigration system to the barbarity of Hernández’s security forces. Conservatives in the U.S. refused to acknowledge the push factor of post-coup violence as a reason for Central American migration.

Still, resistance continued inside Honduras, and, according to Amnesty International, “the wave of anti-government demonstrations has been a constant in the country” in the face of massive repression.

Castro’s win may finally end this dark chapter, and it’s no wonder that Hondurans like Siu are celebrating. “People were expecting the narco-dictatorship to again steal these elections,” she says.

Castro, according to Siu, rose to prominence after her husband’s ouster and “was at the forefront letting people know, nationally and internationally, what was going on” in Honduras. Castro campaigned on a socialist platform and brought together a coalition of what Siu described as “local youth, Indigenous, Black, Garifuna movements” that, after the 2009 coup, “became a very strong social movement attempting to fight against the criminality of [the] corruption, militarism, police presence in the streets and extrajudicial killings” that occurred under Hernández.

Although Castro is the wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, Siu insists that President-elect Castro “has a brain of her own and has a platform that is beautiful.”

Suyapa Portillo Villeda, a Honduran American and associate professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a transnational studies at Pitzer College, says that Castro won on a proposal of promising “participatory democracy” and that “she is trying to establish a new kind of pact with the people in calling for a national assembly to rewrite the constitution.”

It’s a bold position considering that former President Manuel Zelaya was on the verge of holding a referendum on the constitution when he was deposed in a military coup. “This is the demand that has been there since 2009 that people have been organizing around, to have a new constitution that would get rid of the Cold War anti-communist constitution that was written during the Reagan era,” says Portillo Villeda.

While the conservative backlash to a new constitution ushered in Hernández’s violent tenure, in many ways, Honduras’ democracy may have emerged stronger as a result. A system that Portillo Villeda describes as consisting of two “oligarchic” ruling parties is now a multiparty system, and Castro has managed to build a formidable coalition among several of them. “This was a very Honduran type of win,” says Portillo Villeda, referring to the grassroots organizing around Castro’s candidacy that included a lot of young Hondurans.

Castro’s win also represents a potential end to more than a decade of repression that includes violent misogyny. “Women here die every day and rapes go without any form of justice,” said Siu, who says she doesn’t dare to walk on the streets after sundown. Honduras has been referred to as, “one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be a woman.”

Since 1985, Honduras has also maintained one of the most draconian abortion bans in the world, and under Hernández’s rule, Congress strengthened the ban. Pregnant people are not allowed abortions under any circumstances including rape or incest. Castro has promised to ease the ban.

The coalition that brought Castro to power includes a nascent feminist movement as well as a new queer and transgender movement working alongside traditional activist groups like unions, as well as Black and Indigenous communities. That is a big reason why Hondurans like Siu are hopeful, saying, “she has the support of historically marginalized communities all throughout the nation.”

Taking her broad mandate from a population eager for change and translating that to legitimate power in a nation whose governmental machinery has been decimated will be Castro’s most serious challenge. “Of course, it’s going to be difficult,” says Portillo Villeda, of the task ahead of Castro. “She’s inheriting a broken country, legal system and Supreme Court and is coming into an empty house that has been robbed.”

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Why Amazon is terrified of its U.S. workers unionizing

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just ruled that a historic union vote held earlier this year among Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) was not valid. The highly publicized vote, which took place over several weeks in February and March 2021, resulted in a resounding defeat for the union, with more than 70 percent of those voting choosing against union membership.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, accused Amazon of engaging in “efforts to gaslight its own employees,” and filed a petition in April to nullify the vote. After investigating the union’s assertion, the NLRB decided that Amazon interfered so blatantly in its workers’ ability to vote that a second election is now in order.

The ruling detailed how, in spite of the NLRB denying Amazon’s request to install a mail collection box right outside the warehouse entrance, the company did so anyway, giving workers the impression that it was involved in the vote counting. Additionally, the company distributed “vote no” paraphernalia to workers in the presence of managers, forcing them to declare their support of or opposition to the union. And, Amazon held what the NLRB called “captive audience meetings” with small groups of workers, “six days a week, 18 hours a day,” in order to blast the approximately 6,000 employees who were eligible to vote with anti-union messaging over the course of the voting period.

An NLRB regional director, Lisa Henderson, who made the decision for a second vote, denounced Amazon’s “flagrant disregard” for ensuring a free and fair election and said the company “essentially hijacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”

It’s no wonder that the election turnout was low and that ultimately only about 12 percent of eligible voters cast ballots choosing to unionize.

Anticipating the NLRB decision to allow a second vote, the company has already begun paving the way for interference once more. According to a Reuters report in early November, “Amazon has ramped up its campaign at the warehouse, forcing thousands of employees to attend meetings, posting signs critical of labor groups in bathrooms, and flying in staff from the West Coast.”

This aggressive and repeated pushback by one of the world’s largest employers against a unionizing effort at a single warehouse in the United States is an indication of Amazon’s absolute determination to deny workers a say in their labor conditions. Kelly Nantel, a company spokesperson, said that workers don’t need a union because they benefit from a “direct relationship” with their employer—a laughable notion considering the unbalanced power dynamic between the behemoth retailer and any one of its nearly 1 million U.S. employees.

So invested is the company in maintaining a union-free workplace that the NLRB in a separate decision determined that Amazon illegally fired two employees last year who were agitating against its unfair labor practices.

There is an obvious reason why Amazon has opted to respond so aggressively to unionization efforts in the United States. Its European workers are unionized and are actively demanding better wages and working conditions. For example, in Germany, unionized Amazon workers walked off their jobs for higher pay in November during the peak holiday shopping season. Last year, Italian workers went on strike for 11 days to win an extra five-minute break to ensure good hygiene in light of the pandemic. And, in the spring of 2020, French unions demanded that Amazon suspend all activity at its warehouses in the interest of worker safety during the early months of the pandemic. A French court ruled favorably, saying that the company had to suspend deliveries of all nonessential items.

Further, union leaders and unionized workers from various European nations began collaborating with one another last year in what Business Insider called an effort to “swap notes… on how to pressure the retail giant to improve their working conditions.”

This sort of European union activity and cross-border worker solidarity is exactly the type of scenario that Amazon does not want to see replicated in the United States.

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos responded to the Bessemer vote in April saying that he would ensure his company became “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” the RWDSU took it as an admission that Amazon has indeed been mistreating its workers.

Indeed, there have been numerous studies detailing mistreatment. One investigation by the New York Times earlier this year at Amazon’s Staten Island, New York, warehouse found that the company churned through workers with an extremely high employee turnover rate. The paper also found that although managers keep careful track of nearly every conceivable aspect of how quickly employees work, their efficiency and productivity, there were apparently few records, if any, of worker health including COVID-19 infections.

At the same time that the Bessemer warehouse workers were being bombarded with anti-union propaganda, the company was practically minting money with record profits from a greater dependence on online shopping during the pandemic. Profits jumped 220 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier.

The NLRB ruling for a do-over vote at the Bessemer warehouse comes at a time when American workers are increasingly intolerant of poor labor conditions and low wages. A wave of strikes this fall and mass resignations have also impacted Amazon’s ability to hire more workers. Now, in addition to the RWDSU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has vowed to engage in organizing efforts aimed at Amazon and passed a historic resolution this summer in response to how “Amazon poses an existential threat to the rights and standards our members have fought for and won.”

Still, Amazon’s aggressive efforts at maintaining union-free operations in the United States have continued to bear fruit. In addition to rolling out more anti-union efforts ahead of the second vote at its Bessemer warehouse, Amazon appears to have prevailed against another unionization effort—at the Staten Island warehouse that the New York Times investigated. Just two weeks ahead of an NLRB hearing on whether there was sufficient interest to form a union there, workers mysteriously withdrew their petition.

A Reuters study of 20 years of wage data for the retail industry found a clear and growing advantage for unionized workers compared to non-union workers, with the weekly wage gap between the two groups increasing from $20 in 2013 to $50 in 2019. The outlet explained that “unionized workers tend to work more hours per week and on a predictable schedule, while non-union workers often have a ‘variable schedule’ that depends on how busy management thinks the store might be.” In other words, the rights of non-union workers are subservient to the company’s well-being.

Perhaps this is what Nantel meant by the benefits of having a “direct relationship” with workers. Except, she claimed such a relationship was in the interest of workers, when in truth it is in the interest of employers like Amazon to have no collective power to wrestle against.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How the media covers up for the Pentagon's highway robbery

Intense debate over the Build Back Better (BBB) legislation has triggered stern lectures by fiscal conservatives about government spending. The legislation, which hangs in the political balance between progressive lawmakers and conservative Democrats like Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, costs $1.75 trillion over 10 years in its present form, which is equivalent to $175 billion per year.

Compare this to President Joe Biden's proposed military budget expenditure of $753 billion for the 2022 fiscal year. According to the Security Policy Reform Institute, "This amounts to an increase of well over $12 billion, meaning that Biden boosted Pentagon funding by an amount roughly equivalent to CDC's entire annual budget."

Extrapolating this figure over 10 years while accounting for the projected yearly increases—a good assumption considering that the military budget almost never loses its annual raise—predicts that American taxpayers will be footing almost $8 trillion on the "defense" slice of our budgetary pie in the coming decade.

Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, explained to me in an interview that "it's amazing how hydraulic the system is." By that he meant, "they cut $25 billion for home care" from the BBB bill. Meanwhile, he said, "Congress increased Biden's increase to the military budget by $25 billion at roughly the same time."

While the costs of the newly passed infrastructure funding bill that Biden signed into law and the yet-to-pass BBB legislation have been discussed ad nauseam on the front pages of major newspapers and in passionate debates on television networks, there is nary a peep from those same sources about the bloated military budget whose size continues to balloon year after year.

For example, this Washington Post article in late September headlined, "Biden, Pelosi embark on late scramble to save $1 trillion infrastructure bill" was one of many similarly billed pieces in major outlets through the end of the summer and early fall.

Imagine a headline casting implicit aspersions on the Pentagon's funding. The fact that the size of the military budget is more than four times the size of the BBB legislation ought to be emblazoned across our papers. But we can't imagine seeing such ideas being discussed in mainstream avenues because the military budget is considered sacrosanct—and not just by most lawmakers but also by corporate media outlets.

Semler pointed out that there are "two concepts of spending—social spending and military spending—that play by two separate sets of spending rules."

Coming on the heels of national hand-wringing over the costs of legislation that directly benefits the American people, the tacit acceptance of a military budget many times the cost of the social spending is jarring—but only to those paying very close attention or reading independent media outlets.

An example of fair reporting is Huffington Post writer Akbar Shahid Ahmed's article, whose headline reads in part, "The Pentagon Budget Costs 4 Times As Much As Biden's Social Policy Bill."

Another example is Prakash Nanda's article published in a non-U.S. outlet called the EurAsian Times, and headlined, "Joe Biden's $778B Defense Budget Goes Unnoticed But His $170B Social Agenda Triggers A Huge Debate."

No such headlines appeared in major U.S. news outlets.

It's not as if there is zero debate in the nation over our spending priorities. If corporate media outlets like the Washington Post were taking their cues from progressive lawmakers like Bernie Sanders, they might have reported on the Vermont senator's recent tweet pointing out how, "It is beyond absurd that at the same time as our nation continues to spend more on the military than the next 12 nations COMBINED, we are told over and over that we cannot afford to invest in the needs of working class people here at home."

But instead, the Post and other outlets have continually amplified the desires and demands of conservative Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), in story after story without following up on Manchin's willingness to spend trillions of dollars on the Pentagon. An article pointing out the hypocrisy of fiscal conservatives and their blanket approval of military expenditures would practically write itself. It takes effort to avoid expressing such a narrative.

Even some U.S. residents see the absurdity of the silence over the military budget. Alice C. McCain, living in Washington state, wrote a letter to a local paper called the Kitsap Sun questioning the size of the military budget. She was able to see the clear contrast in priorities, writing, "Some of the same people who denounce the BBB plan as too expensive are eager to pass a bill giving the Pentagon $778 billion for one year, or nearly $8 trillion over ten years."

She asks pointedly, "Why is it so hard to spend money on our country and its people, but so easy to dole out money for our military?" Her question is one that media outlets have judiciously avoided for years.

Organizations and think tanks like the Project on Government Oversight, National Priorities Project, and Semler's Security Policy Reform Institute routinely call out the unjustifiably large Pentagon budget, offering up rich statistical comparisons, none of which seems good enough for major media outlets to highlight in a serious manner.

Ultimately, media outlets appear invested in the same sort of imperialist ambitions as politicians do. Semler pointed out how, "the fear of Biden going into office was that the debate that him and [former President Donald] Trump had over who could be tougher, and more 'manly' over China, during the lead-up to the general election would spill over into Biden's policy."

That fear was justified. In June, Biden signed an executive order citing, "the threat posed by the military-industrial complex of the People's Republic of China," and has continued to drum up anti-China sentiment while proposing a military budget increase. The Post and other corporate media outlets dutifully buttress the logic of increasing the Pentagon budget with alarmist stories about China's expanding nuclear arsenal.

"Social spending could follow the same rules as military spending in that there's always enough money," said Semler. "But because Congress is only choosing to spend a certain amount [on social spending], effectively, military spending is stealing from social spending." Imagine seeing a top story in our major media reflecting such a radical and yet patently obvious notion.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Why the modern economy is to blame for inflation — not government benefits

Headlines are screaming that inflation is here to stay. Consumer prices have risen by an average of 6.2 percent in the past year, the sharpest increase since 1991. Although Americans are supposedly—in the words of the New York Times—"flush with cash and jobs," they are also deeply unhappy with the state of the economy.

It's no wonder Republicans are thrilled and are drawing a line between inflation, public anxiety about the economy, and Joe Biden's presidency.

What is surprising is that President Biden himself is helping them by citing his administration's achievement of putting more money into people's pockets as part of the explanation for the current spike in inflation. In a November 10 speech, Biden said, "You all got checks for $1,400. You got checks for a whole range of things," and with the patience of an academic teaching an Economics 101 class, he went on to explain, "Well, with more people with money buying product and less product to buy, what happens? … Prices go up."

The New York Post, a conservative-leaning paper, jumped on the speech, claiming that the president "concedes his COVID stimulus checks fueled [the] spike in inflation."

The paper downplayed Biden's assertion that, "The supply chain is the reason." In fact, the president led his audience through a fairly clear explanation of how globalization of the economy works, has artificially driven down the cost of goods for decades, and is vulnerable to disruptions such as that caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden said, "Products like smartphones often bring together parts from France, Italy; chips from the Netherlands; touchscreens from New York State; camera components from Japan—a supply chain that crosses dozens of countries."

He then concluded, "That's just the nature of a modern economy—the world economy," as if the massive web of consumer manufacturing was a fact of nature rather than a systematically deregulated system designed by multinational corporations to minimize the cost of materials and labor and maximize their profits.

Recall that this was precisely what the anti-globalization movements of the 1990s were protesting. According to a 2007 essay by Mark Engler, protesters included, "trade unionists, environmentalists, anarchists, land rights and indigenous rights activists, organizations promoting human rights and sustainable development, opponents of privatization, and anti-sweatshop campaigners" from all over the world who claimed that "the policies of corporate globalization have exacerbated global poverty and increased inequality."

When Biden explained in his speech that you "have to use wood from Brazil, graphite from India before it comes together at a factory in the United States to get a pencil," he didn't reveal that pencil manufacturers obtain wood from Brazil because they might be relying on illegal logging of the Amazon that drives down the price of wood. Nor did he mention that the cost of transporting goods from the far reaches of the globe generate massive carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

Rather than blaming globalization for inflation, he concluded it was simply "the nature of a modern economy" that we rely on. Most media outlets missed this connection too. Instead, there is blame on the increasingly rare instances of the U.S. government ensuring people have enough money to live on.

As to why Americans are so unhappy about the state of the economy? Apparently, according to Bloomberg's Ramesh Ponnuru, it is "a frequently recurring" pattern that when wages are rising there is broad pessimism. He rightly points out that, "Wages and benefits have been moving up smartly, but only in nominal terms," and that, "positive trends would have to continue before people began to register satisfaction."

Go back to polls conducted even before the pandemic (such as this one in 2018, and this one in 2019) and one can find widespread malaise about the state of the economy. In other words, Americans have spent decades being disappointed with the sustained suppression of wages and the trend of increasingly insecure jobs in the so-called "gig economy."

This may be why record numbers of people are continuing to resign in spite of their despair over the economy. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that a record 4.4 million workers resigned from their jobs in September alone, continuing a trend from August.

In addition to workers searching for jobs with better wages, the Washington Post concluded that the resignation trend is also linked to "problems finding child care."

But if conservative Republicans have their way, you'll see assertions that Americans are deeply unhappy about the government spending money on them and that child care subsidies and stimulus checks are at the root of the mass gloom—all readymade talking points to win back political power in the next election cycle in order to rein in spending.

This kind of conservative messaging includes claims that Biden "doesn't understand just how bad inflation is hurting Americans," and "[i]f congressional Democrats don't stop Biden and Pelosi's plan, a lot of Americans won't be able to pay their heating bills this winter," as is said in an advertisement by the conservative Club for Growth, aimed at vulnerable House Democrats.

Conservative Democrat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is making similar connections to justify his stymying of Biden's proposals to expand government assistance.

The liberal Democrats' answer to the current economic crisis is not much better, advising either that people wait out inflation, or claiming that demand for better wages fuels inflation.

Larry Summers, former economic adviser to the Obama administration, wrote earlier this year that, "Higher minimum wages, strengthened unions, increased employee benefits and strengthened regulation are all desirable, but they, too, all push up business costs and prices." Summers echoed a Republican assertion that jobless benefits were bad for the economy, saying, "Unemployment benefits enabling workers to earn more by not working than working should surely be allowed to run out in September."

The prevailing message to Americans from political elites across the spectrum is the same one that Biden spelled out in his speech: "That's just the nature of a modern economy," and we have to deal with it.

A better takeaway from our current economic situation is that there is nothing natural about being at the mercy and whims of an economy designed by corporate profiteers for corporate profiteers.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How the wealthiest countries plotted to avoid economic commitments at COP26

Heads of state from the world's wealthiest nations gathered for the first time in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic at the recent G20 summit meeting in Rome, Italy. The two-day meeting culminated in a grand dinner at the Quirinale Palace, where the evening's menu featured salmon with dill, pumpkin risotto, sea bass fillets, tomato and celeriac puff pastry, and for dessert, a "delicate" steamed mandarin cream. Guests sat around a large formal dining table in a high-ceilinged palatial room with an impressive crystal chandelier and window dressings of tasseled red drapes.

The dinner was the modern-day equivalent of "let them eat cake," the phrase (inaccurately) attributed to the epitome of frivolous luxury by the ruling class (and the last queen of France before the French Revolution), Marie Antoinette. The leaders of the G20 nations, who had gathered under the banner of "People, Planet, Prosperity," appear to have disproportionately focused on the third rung of their agenda and limited its scope to the prosperity of elites like them. On the three critical issues of climate change, global corporate taxation, and COVID-19 vaccines, the world's wealthiest nations looked out for themselves at the expense of the rest of the world.

In contrast to the United Nations General Assembly, which represents all the world's nations, the G20 is a self-selected private club of the top tier of global wealth, only one step below the even-more-exclusive G7 club. Its members are mostly economic powerhouses, with a handful of exceptions of developing nations such as India, China, South Africa, Mexico, and Argentina.

Proudly proclaiming that G20 nations "account for more than 80 percent of world GDP" and "75 percent of global trade," the club sets the rules of global finance. Summit host Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, said the 2021 gathering demonstrated that multilateral decision-making is once more possible, declaring, "We have succeeded, in the sense of keeping our dreams alive," with no mention of how self-serving the exclusive club really is.

Although the 26th meeting of the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland, is currently generating more news headlines than this year's G20 summit, wealthy nations made many of their preliminary decisions on climate change at their club meeting before the global climate gathering. While they came to agreement on a handful of issues, such as cutting off funding to coal plants, and getting to "net-zero" emissions in a few decades, climate advocates slammed the pledges as "the bare minimum." Draghi admitted, "It's easy to suggest difficult things. It's very very difficult to actually execute them."

Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA Network, explained to me in an interview that developing countries are suffering from the fact that "their natural resources were taken during the industrialization period that took place in Europe and the United States in the 1800s and the 1900s, fueling the climate crisis."

Most of these same nations were left out of the recent climate discussions by the G20, as they are too poor to be considered members of the exclusive club. It remains to be seen if these nations will be able to extract greater commitments at the COP26 meeting.

LeCompte reflected, "it seems right now that there is a lot of despair among countries in terms of if it's going to be possible to fulfill" pledges like a $100 billion financing pledge to help poorer nations combat climate change. Indeed, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared on Twitter as the summit ended, "While I welcome the #G20's recommitment to global solutions, I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled."

In addition to their shamefully insufficient climate pledges, G20 leaders congratulated themselves on tackling the issue of corporate tax evasion. The grand agreement they came to was a minimum 15 percent tax rate for wealthy companies. Hailed as a historic deal, the goal was to ensure reliable tax revenues from big corporations that chase tax havens offering lucrative terms. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen declared that the agreement would "end the damaging race to the bottom on corporate taxation."

LeCompte commented that the 15 percent minimum rate was "certainly progress but falls short of the more ambitious calls of the Biden administration earlier on of 27-28 percent." And, shockingly, it exempts digital technology corporations largely based in the U.S., like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, from being subject to this bare-bones rate. The U.S. essentially lobbied the G20 on behalf of these major companies to carve out the loophole.

LeCompte explained that "this agreement really only supports and helps the wealthy countries." While the United States would raise an additional $60 billion in revenues if the agreement is actually adopted, developing nations would not see much of an increase in revenues and are particularly impacted by the tax exemptions for digital technology companies. Even the Wall Street Journal admitted that the G20 tax deal "makes rich countries big winners."

The G20 nations are also disproportionate beneficiaries of COVID-19 vaccine technology. Draghi opened the summit's proceedings by acknowledging that the world's wealthiest nations have vaccination rates of about 70 percent while only 3 percent of residents in poor nations have been vaccinated. He called such a gap, "morally unacceptable."

Indeed, LeCompte shared that "the crisis in many developing countries is really horrific," and that "most countries are experiencing economic loss because of not having access to vaccines." Ahead of the summit, he expected the G20 to offer a concrete plan for financing and distributing vaccines to the world's poorest nations. And yet, at the summit, "they didn't do that," said LeCompte. Instead, he said that "they put forward a process in order to do it."

That process was essentially to create a task force, which, according to a statement signed by G20 leaders, is "aimed at enhancing dialogue and global cooperation on issues relating to pandemic prevention, preparedness and response." One advocacy group, Global Citizen, dismissed such demonstrations of lip service, saying, "It's no longer the time for statements of intentions. Now is the time for our leaders to act."

Among the only pandemic-related achievements at the G20 was a deal that the U.S. arranged for the African Union to buy 33 million doses of the Moderna vaccine originally intended for sale to the U.S.—an embarrassingly low bar for success on vaccine equity.

While the G20 leaders and their spouses enjoyed their fine dining experience at the culmination of their two-day meeting, it became clear that the summit was little more than an exercise in grand pontifications of multilateralism. Like the erstwhile top echelons of pre-revolutionary French society, the world's wealthy nations remain out of touch with reality.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for Allproject at the Independent Media Institute.

How Bernie Sanders pierced the conservative propaganda shaping the Biden's Build Back Better bill

The unfolding drama over a legislative battle within the Democratic Party to pass a massive bill encompassing desperately needed social services has revealed the power of narrative in our political landscape. It is not enough to put forward policy proposals that actually help people, paid for by those who can afford to pay (the wealthiest), and then try to pass those proposals into law. Relentless propaganda from conservative think tanks and their partner media outlets against the idea of government funding people's needs has been so successful that it requires equally powerful counternarratives by progressives.

Now, several progressive lawmakers are working on such counternarratives. Senator Bernie Sanders' office recently released a statement pointing out that many Americans know about the cost of the Build Back Better bill—an omnibus piece of legislation that embodies much of President Joe Biden's agenda—but know little about what the bill actually includes and how it would benefit a majority of Americans.

Sanders was likely referring to an October 10 CBS News/YouGov survey revealing that nearly 60 percent of those polled knew that bill was priced at $3.5 trillion but only a paltry 10 percent knew the contents of the bill in great detail. The poll also revealed that those who knew the bill's contents were more likely to support it, and found strong majority support for specific aspects of the bill.

Sanders specifically called out journalists, saying that a top reason for the prevailing ignorance of the bill's contents is that "the mainstream media has done an exceptionally poor job in covering what actually is in the legislation." He said his hope was that "mainstream media will fulfill their responsibilities."

Unfortunately, media pundits continued to make Sanders' point by doubling down on the costs of the Build Back Better bill. Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg responded to Sanders' statement by resorting to a familiar trope with an op-ed whose headline said that "no one really wants to pay for it." Goldberg wrote, "Americans in general don't want to pay much of anything for the stuff progressives constantly say America is demanding."

Another columnist in the Hill, Alfredo Ortiz, made a similar claim, going as far as saying, "the more that Americans learn about this historic tax and spending plan, the more they seem to oppose it." Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network, a conservative pro-business advocacy group.

However, when asked, Americans know exactly who they would like to see paying for the bill—the rich. A Vox and Data for Progress poll concluded that 71 percent of those polled want to raise taxes on the nation's richest 2 percent in order to pay for the bill—an inconvenient fact for the bill's naysayers.

One columnist in a mainstream corporate outlet did respond responsibly to Sanders' demand for better media coverage. Helaine Olen of the Washington Post wrote that "We (the public, journalists and some lawmakers) have focused more on the cost of the package than its contents—even though our society is all but starved of supports that other first-world nations take for granted."

Olen went on to detail how the bill makes permanent the expanded child tax credit that Democrats pushed through earlier this year. She explained in layperson terms how child care assistance would help families and how the government could negotiate down drug prices and fund home health care for the nation's elderly, if the bill were to pass.

In an interview, Olen admits that the criticism Sanders leveled at the mainstream media is, "certainly valid on its face." Although she and others were covering the Build Back Better bill on a daily basis, Americans turning on their television news would "probably hear the horse-race debate" of intraparty battles among Democrats, and "very rarely will you hang around to hear what's actually in the bill."

She too maintains that "what's in the bill is actually quite popular, and a lot of people would actually like it quite a bit."

Like Sanders in the Senate, House Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and her colleagues Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Katie Porter (D-CA) have also been engaged in narrative work, publishing an op-ed at CNN explaining why they're going to bat over the bill and actually laying out elements of the bill.

Jayapal, in particular, has been whipping up support for the bill, arguably working harder than President Biden himself in order to promote and enact his agenda.

But Biden, rather than using his presidential bully pulpit to whip his colleagues into line (as Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump so effectively showed is possible), has already started to cave on the popular bill. He has begun shopping around a much-diminished version of the bill, now priced at a mere $2 trillion, acting as more of a mediator than a leader.

Obscenely, this is a similar amount by which the nation's richest billionaires have seen their wealth increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olen explains that, "for the past several decades, we've been used to this conversation where progressives are considered to be out in the wilderness and people are appealing to some mythical centrist voters." In trying to get opposing sides of his party members to meet in the middle on the Build Back Better bill, Biden is buying into this myth.

Olen says, "We've always had this dynamic where it seems that the progressives need to give and the centrists are 'the reasonable people.'" But, she adds, this is a myth. In reality, "the centrist voter would really like to see pharmaceutical price negotiations and child care support."

Among lawmakers, "the progressives are the reasonable group, and it's the centrists that are out of touch with the mainstream of the Democratic Party," says Olen. She sees so-called centrists like Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) as, "out of touch with a huge chunk of the American public, and [they] are the ones really saying, 'my way or the highway.'"

It is a point that Sanders made in calling out Manchin by name in a recent op-ed in saying that the West Virginian was among those senators who "remain in opposition" to the Build Back Better bill. Manchin shot back on Twitter denouncing Sanders as, "a self-declared independent socialist."

For almost every claim that conservatives like Manchin—and he really ought to be called a conservative, not a centrist—make, there is a strong counterpoint that can and should be raised in defense of government spending on ordinary Americans. For example, while Manchin cited rising inflation as a reason against government spending, think tanks like the Roosevelt Institute, and numerous Nobel Prize-winning economists say that the Build Back Better bill would ease inflation.

Those seeking to squeeze Americans while boosting corporate profits and the wealth of the richest few have for years poured resources into shaping a false narrative that people don't want tax revenues to be used to pay for things that people need. It's time to expose and upend such a regressive theory.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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