Sonali Kolhatkar

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.

Why record numbers of workers are quitting and striking

On September 14, a young woman in Louisiana named Beth McGrath posted a selfie Facebook video of herself working at Walmart. Her body language shows a nervous energy as she works up the courage to speak on the intercom and announces her resignation to shoppers. "Everyone here is overworked and underpaid," she begins, before going on to call out specific managers for inappropriate and abusive behavior. "I hope you don't speak to your families the way you speak to us," she said before ending with "f**k this job!"

Perhaps McGrath was inspired by Shana Ragland in Lubbock, Texas, who nearly a year ago carried out a similarly public resignation in a TikTok video that she posted from the Walmart store where she worked. Ragland's complaints were similar to McGrath's as she accused managers of constantly disparaging workers. "I hope you don't talk to your daughters the way you talk to me," she said over the store intercom before signing off with, "F**k the managers, f**k this company."

The viral resignations of these two young women are bookending a year of volatility in the American workforce that economists have branded the Great Resignation. Women in particular are seen as leading the trend.

The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing that a record 2.9 percent of the workforce quit their jobs in August, which is equivalent to 4.3 million resignations.

If such a high rate of resignations were occurring at a time when jobs were plentiful, it might be seen as a sign of a booming economy where workers have their pick of offers. But the same labor report showed that job openings have also declined, suggesting that something else is going on. A new Harris Poll of people with employment found that more than half of workers want to leave their jobs. Many cite uncaring employers and a lack of scheduling flexibility as reasons for wanting to quit. In other words, millions of American workers have simply had enough.

So serious is the labor market upheaval that Jack Kelly, senior contributor to Forbes.com, a pro-corporate news outlet, has defined the trend as, "a sort of workers' revolution and uprising against bad bosses and tone-deaf companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff." In what might be a reference to viral videos like those of McGrath, Ragland, and the growing trend of #QuitMyJob posts, Kelly goes on to say, "The quitters are making a powerful, positive and self-affirming statement saying that they won't take the abusive behavior any longer."

Still, some advisers suggest countering the worker rage with "bonding exercises" such as "Gratitude sharing," and games. Others suggest increasing trust between workers and bosses or "exercis[ing] empathetic curiosity" with employees. But such superficial approaches entirely miss the point.

The resignations ought to be viewed hand in hand with another powerful current that many economists are ignoring: a growing willingness by unionized workers to go on strike.

Film crews may soon halt work as 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced an upcoming national strike. About 10,000 employees of John Deere, who are represented by the United Auto Workers, are also preparing to strike after rejecting a new contract. Kaiser Permanente is facing a potential strike from 24,000 of its nurses and other health care workers in Western states over poor pay and labor conditions. And about 1,400 Kellogg workers in Nebraska, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee are already striking over poor pay and benefits.

The announced strikes are coming so thick and fast that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has dubbed the situation "an unofficial general strike."

Yet union representation remains extremely low across the United States—the result of decades of concerted corporate-led efforts to undermine the bargaining power of workers. Today only about 12 percent of workers are in a union.

The number of strikes and of striking workers might be far higher if more workers were unionized. Non-union workers like McGrath and Ragland hired by historically anti-union companies like Walmart might have been able to organize their fellow workers instead of resorting to individual resignations. While viral social media posts of quitting are impactful in driving the conversation around worker dissatisfaction, they have little direct bearing on the lives of the workers and the colleagues they leave behind.

One example of how union organizing made a concrete difference to working conditions is a new contract that 7,000 drug store workers at Rite Aid and CVS stores in Los Angeles just ratified. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 negotiated a nearly 10 percent pay raise for workers as well as improved benefits and safety standards.

And when companies don't comply, workers have more leverage when acting as a collective bargaining unit than as individuals. Take Nabisco workers who went on strike in five states this summer. Mondelez International, Nabisco's parent company, saw record profits during the pandemic with surging sales of its snack foods. So flush was the company with cash that it compensated its CEO with a whopping $16.8 million annual pay and spent $1.5 billion on stock buybacks earlier this year. Meanwhile, the average worker salary was an appallingly low $31,000 a year. Many Nabisco jobs were sent across the border to Mexico, where the company was able to further drive down labor costs.

After weeks on the picket line, striking Nabisco workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, returned to work having won modest retroactive raises of 2.25 percent, $5,000 bonuses and increased employer contributions to their retirement plans. The company, which reported a 12 percent increase in revenue earlier this year, can well afford this and more.

Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers' rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.

But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.

In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.

Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which is a business lobby group that wants anything but democracy in the workplace, is deeply concerned about these proposed changes and sent a letter to lawmakers to that effect.

It remains to be seen if corporate lobbyists will succeed this time around at keeping labor laws toothless. But as workers continue to quit their jobs, and as strikes among unionized workers grow, employers ignore the warning signs of rage and frustration at their peril.

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.

The child tax credit is a proven boost to families — so why are conservative Democrats trying to gut it?

American families have struggled for decades to make ends meet with wages simply not rising as fast as the cost of living and a government social safety net that has been so deeply decimated that the U.S. now spends less on children than nearly any other wealthy nation.

This year there was a small glimmer of hope that such a trend might be halted and even reversed. Democrats, using their razor-thin control of the Senate and marginal control of the House, passed an expanded child tax credit (CTC) in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan that not only increased the tax refund received by families with young children but also began sending them a monthly advance instead of making them wait until they filed their annual tax return.

By any measure, the amounts are embarrassingly modest and only offer an increase of $1,000 to $1,600 over the entire year. Families whose incomes are low enough to qualify and have children aged 6 through 17 are now receiving $3,000 a year instead of $2,000, while those with children younger than 6 are getting checks that add up to $3,600 a year.

Putting cash, however small an amount, into the hands of ordinary Americans is a win-win proposition for all but the most conservative pundits. As the 2020 CARES Act unemployment benefits—amounting to a $15 an hour wage—demonstrated, the economy as a whole is buoyed when people have more money in their pockets to spend on basic necessities. And, just as importantly, the benefits helped the most vulnerable, particularly Black and Latino workers, to stave off financial ruin.

Now, the monthly CTC payments are already showing similar promise. The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University documented "a notable drop in child poverty" after just the first month of payments. Additionally, the benefits are particularly helpful for Black and Latino children, who the center estimates have twice the poverty rate of white children. Still, because the CTC relies on tax returns filed in the previous year, white children benefited more than children of color as their families were "more likely to have filed taxes."

The U.S. Census Bureau also found that after just one month of payments, food insecurity among vulnerable families dropped significantly, and families receiving checks also had less difficulty paying for weekly expenses. So convincing are the expanded CTC's proven benefits that nearly 450 economists wrote an open letter to Congress urging them to extend the program.

The CTC payments benefit roughly 39 million American families who are currently receiving monthly checks of up to $300 per child per month. Meanwhile, the cost of child care in the U.S. is exorbitant, averaging at about $1,300 per month for infants and nearly $900 per month for preschool-aged children. For families with multiple children and parents in low-wage jobs, child care is simply out of reach, and the modest CTC payments don't even come close to covering the costs.

At the same time, child care workers are so underpaid that in the wake of the pandemic, more than 120,000 have simply quit their jobs nationwide. Even the U.S. government is so concerned that the Treasury Department issued a report admitting that "the existing child care system in the United States, which relies on private financing to provide care for most children… fails to adequately serve many families."

This is not a new problem. In a 2014 speech at the White House Summit on Working Families, former President Barack Obama acknowledged that, "in 31 states, decent childcare costs more than in-state college tuition," and that "there are other countries that know how to do childcare well."

Child care is such an important factor for families with young children that the latest Harris Poll survey found that 76 percent of working parents felt that child care decisions were a major factor in their employment decisions.

The cost of raising a child is estimated to be nearly a quarter of a million dollars—a sum that is wildly out of reach for low-income families. Combined with persistent wealth and income inequality, it is no wonder that, as per a recent CDC report, 2020 was "the sixth consecutive year that the number of births [in the U.S.] has declined."

One 2009 study concluded that cheaper child care is the key to reversing falling birth rates. There are two simple ways to make child care cheaper: heavily subsidize the child care industry (the U.S. government, after all, subsidizes fossil fuel and agricultural industries), or put more money into the hands of parents with children.

Currently, the expanded CTC benefits are valid only for a year, and some Democrats want to make them permanent. But President Joe Biden wants them extended for only four years via a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill called the Build Back Better Act. And some conservative Democrats want to roll back the expanded benefit right away. Accountable.US identifies nine House Democrats and two Senate Democrats opposing the extension of an expanded CTC. Of these 11 naysayers, eight are millionaires.

In spite of its clear benefits, the CTC is in very real political danger of being rolled back. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is one of its biggest proponents, said, "There's nothing bigger than this… if you just want to look at the impact of a child's life, this is the biggest thing that we're doing." Indeed, it's hard to argue against helping vulnerable American children, but some Democrats like Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are managing to do so as they stand in the way of the current iteration of the CTC.

Manchin in particular has adopted a posture far closer to the Republican way of thinking: that benefits aimed at wealthy interests are good for the nation, while benefits to vulnerable individuals are effectively "entitlements." Using Republican-favored buzzwords, Manchin recently said that while he supports the CTC in theory, "anything that can be added should be means tested," and that it is important that the U.S. not turn into an "entitlement society." One critic explained that "'Means testing' is just a nicer way to say, 'We want people to jump through more hoops, so fewer people can get help.'"

The West Virginia senator exudes such hubris in opposing his own party that in a New York Times interview earlier this year, he essentially dared Democrats to try to oust him, saying, "What are they going to do, [are] they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything." With friends like Manchin, Republicans can sit out the discussion and have no clear policy position on the matter.

With many progressive Democrats going on the defensive to protect the expansion of the CTC, some are going on the offensive in trying to get money into the hands of low-income and middle-income Americans by other means. Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar in July introduced a guaranteed income bill that would ensure individuals making up to $75,000 a year receive $1,200 monthly checks. The SUPPORT Act, backed by progressive stalwarts such as Cori Bush (D-MO) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), includes running a pilot program initially to prove that monthly payments would have a positive impact on families.

Such approaches embody the opposite of the trickle-down economic model long championed by many establishment economists in the face of progressive opposition. Now, the trickle-down model is so discredited that even Biden has explicitly rejected it. Rather than infusing the top tiers of society with money, tax breaks and subsidies, based on a fantasy that those riches will eventually reach the bottom tiers, policymakers are getting on board with direct benefits to vulnerable Americans. Whether or not the CTC survives Washington's political wrangling remains to be seen, even as tens of millions of Americans rely on it.

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 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made all sides mad — and got her point across

New York's Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's recent Met Gala dress caused a stir for sporting the bold message "Tax the Rich." The progressive lawmaker, who is known for being media-savvy, donned a simple white gown with the blood-red wording emblazoned across the back, designed by a Brooklyn-based brand called Brother Vellies.

Attending the gala on a free ticket (wealthy elites usually pay tens of thousands of dollars to be seen at the annual event known for its outrageous and eye-catching fashion), Ocasio-Cortez seized the opportunity to amplify her simple, yet powerful, political message. She explained to the press, "When we talk about supporting working families and when we talk about having a fair tax code, oftentimes this conversation is happening among working and middle class people (on) the senate floor."

She added, "I think it's time we bring all classes into the conversation." In other words, she was aiming her message of higher taxation of the wealthy directly at the faces of those elites, with the press as witness.

The congresswoman's dress, however, was criticized not just by the right—Donald Trump Jr. called her a "fraud" because she wore, "[t]he 'tax the rich' dress while she's hanging out with a bunch of wealthy leftwing elites"—but by liberals too.

CNN host Chris Cuomo bizarrely ranted that because "she is a member of Congress for a poor district," she should "be fighting their fight all the time." He added, "I think she was having it both ways. I think there's a poser aspect because she likes to be with those people," implying that Ocasio-Cortez likes to hobnob with wealthy elites while ignoring the fact that it took courage for her to confront those same elites with a bold call to tax them.

Some on the left balked at the dress for similar reasons, such as John Ganz writing for Gawker. Ganz, who called Ocasio-Cortez a "working-class hero" and ostensibly supports her, critiqued her Met Gala dress as "lame. And juvenile. And sad."

His appraisal, which appears to reflect much of the liberal and left-wing critique of the congresswoman, is based on the question of "whether it makes sense to demand taxation of the rich while evidently enjoying the celebration of glamour and wealth."

Had Ocasio-Cortez showed up at the Met Gala with her complimentary ticket making a fashion statement based purely on apolitical theatrics (like other celebrity attendees), she likely would have received even more criticism from all sides. Perhaps her critics would have been happier with her forsaking the opportunity to make a political statement altogether by refusing to attend.

If Ocasio-Cortez's Met Gala stunt was performative, it was by design and at the very least consistent with her political persuasion as a democratic socialist and her support of bills and proposals to levy hefty tax rates on millionaires and billionaires.

Recall the Kente cloth scarves that liberal Democrats wore while they knelt for cameras at the Capitol to mark a moment of silence for George Floyd whose police killing sparked a national uprising. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who were among those kneeling, subsequently failed to introduce or even support the BREATHE Act championed by the Movement for Black Lives that was meant to hold law enforcement accountable for racist police brutality. Instead, Schumer, Pelosi, and other Democrats backed the reformist Justice in Policing Act, indicating that their support for Black Lives Matter has been largely performative.

Meanwhile, for an example of right-wing performative fashion that was just as sincere as Ocasio-Cortez's (albeit appallingly callous), one need look no further than former First Lady Melania Trump. Her infamous green jacket worn during a 2018 visit to an immigrant child detention center sported the sentence, "I really don't care, do u?" The message on her jacket, clear as day, was an intentional performance that reflected her lack of concern about the optics of family separation.

Regardless of whether or not Ocasio-Cortez's dress was appropriate, she provoked a strong reaction, which in turn sparked a discussion of the words adorning her dress. Coming at the same time that Congress is considering a massive $3.5 trillion spending bill that includes a modest rewriting of the U.S. tax code to garner more revenues from the top earning tiers, the message on the dress was apropos.

It was also fitting that Ocasio-Cortez donned the controversial dress right around the 10th anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which aimed a razor-sharp focus on the world's wealthy. That movement sparked a new level of class consciousness among the American public using language such as "we are the 99 percent" to identify the obscenely rich as the source of unequal power and wealth and put them on the defensive.

The right-wing pushback against taxation of the rich has been relentless, eager to cast the wealthy as benevolent caretakers of the economy. Fox Business echoed a popular statistic, saying, "The richest households paid 40.1% of all federal income taxes in 2018," adding that, "[t]he share of taxes shouldered by the nation's richest individuals has climbed over time," as if to suggest that wealthy Americans are becoming more generous.

That assessment conveniently plays down the critical fact that the rich suck up a disproportionate (and increasing) percentage of all earnings. The mistaken notion of the wealthy as generous revenue generators, as Jonathan Chait explains, "turns the fact that rich people account for a massive share of the income pool into a reason to see them as mistreated." Chait also reminds us that the statistic that Fox Business cited focuses only on federal taxes, not all taxes. When accounting for all taxes, the rich pay a much lower percentage of revenues.

Increasingly, higher taxation of the rich is a very popular proposal, rejected by only the very wealthy and their allies, which is why the reactionary responses to Ocasio-Cortez's dress are so puzzling.

When put into the context of the modest proposals to restore the tax code to pre-2017 levels, the message is hardly radical, and indeed, some on the left have used the "tax the rich" message as a jumping-off point to pithily demand it's time to "eat the rich."

Others have expanded the conversation to remind us that the Met Gala is an opportunity for wealthy Americans to write off donations, suggesting that Ocasio-Cortez's dress could have sported the (somewhat less catchy) slogan, "This Event Is a Tax Loophole for the Rich."

USA Today used the story of Ocasio-Cortez's dress as a jumping-off point to identify who qualifies as wealthy enough to face higher taxation and to clarify that "[m]ost U.S. households will not see a tax increase." This is an important counterpoint to head off the standard right-wing argument against higher taxes, which plays on fears that taxes will rise for all Americans.

The dress also sparked a conversation around the fact that the U.S. tax system has become regressive over time and that the Democrats' modest proposal to increase the top marginal income tax rate and add a surcharge on incomes of over $5 million, "will barely dent America's long slide from progressive taxation."

Ocasio-Cortez herself has continued the conversation, explaining in her Twitter post about the dress that the increased tax revenues are necessary for funding bread-and-butter progressive policies. She wrote, "The time is now for childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all. Tax the Rich."

The dirty secret behind Texas' anti-abortion law

Texas, with the help of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, has made abortion all but illegal for most pregnant people living within state borders. Republican state legislators passed a draconian and diabolically innovative bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in May ensuring that all abortions after six weeks of gestation can be subject to lawsuits brought by any individual anywhere against anyone involved in the procedure. That includes the patient, their medical provider, or even their Lyft driver. Those seeking abortions will likely need to leave Texas, effectively making the procedure out of reach of the poorest residents of the state.

Blair Wallace, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told NBCNews.com, "We know the brunt of this will fall on our Black and brown communities and our poor communities the most." Only those with the financial resources and ability to take time off work can travel to neighboring states to terminate a pregnancy. Already abortion providers in Louisiana are fielding calls from desperate Texans seeking abortions, leading to longer wait times.

Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst for RewireNewsGroup.com, explained to me in an interview that the Texas law is "really, really pernicious," because it is "using taxpayer dollars to provide a bounty for bounty hunters to go attacking or harassing abortion providers."

In fact, the hundreds of Republican-led state-level legislative attacks against abortion have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees of both pro-choice and anti-abortion forces. According to the Washington Post, "states have paid at least $9.8 million in abortion providers' [attorney] fees," in the last four years alone. This is money that could be put to better use—such as providing health care to low-income residents that includes abortion and other reproductive medical care.

For a party that has been railing in favor of "individual liberties" when it comes to lifesaving masks and vaccinations during a pandemic, asserting that a series of electrical impulses between newly formed cells are more important than a person's bodily autonomy is the height of hypocrisy and reeks of performative politics.

Indeed, Republicans may be victims of their own success, having relied on the Supreme Court for years to preserve the seminal Roe v. Wade precedent against most egregious anti-abortion laws in order to score political points with evangelical voters. According to one legal analyst for Slate.com, Mark Joseph Stern, "it seems undeniable that Republicans did not anticipate this abrupt triumph over Roe, instead assuming that the Texas law would be blocked by the courts."

Gandy called the Texas law "patently unconstitutional," and pointed out that "no federal appeals court has upheld" it, which is why pro-choice activists and legal scholars had expected the nation's highest court to intervene. Except that the Supreme Court is currently, as Gandy described, "hyperpartisan and captured by conservatives."

Of the five justices who chose to let the ban remain, three were appointed by former President Donald Trump as a gift to evangelical voters. Robert P. Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, wrote a year ago that "white evangelicals' political behavior is animated by racial resentment," and that this demographic "will be the most powerful force in hindering this work for racial justice and reconciliation." Given that low-income people of color are likely to be the most impacted by the Texas ban, this prediction appears prescient.

It isn't solely Trump's fault that the right to an abortion is on its way out. Maine's supposedly moderate and pro-choice Republican Senator Susan Collins in 2018 cast a deciding vote for Trump's anti-abortion nominee for the Supreme Court. In voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was one of five justices choosing to let the Texas abortion ban stand, Collins now bears partial responsibility for beginning the end of abortion rights in the United States.

Even Democrats bear some blame. A party that has upheld the right to an abortion as the centerpiece of its feminist agenda has done remarkably little to ensure the law is preserved from the Supreme Court's increasingly activist conservative justices. In the nearly 50 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, Democrats have enjoyed political power in the House, Senate, and White House simultaneously four times—under Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and now Joe Biden—and could have passed legislation protecting the constitutional right to an abortion so that it didn't hinge on the Supreme Court's political makeup.

In the short term, corporations like Uber and Lyft have offered to pay the legal fees of any of their drivers who might get sued for transporting a pregnant person to get an abortion. Some celebrities are announcing their own boycotts of the state of Texas, and the city of Portland, Oregon, is also considering a boycott.

But none of these commercial responses are a substitute for decisive government action ensuring that all Americans, especially low-income communities of color, have an equal right to access abortion care. In the wake of the Texas abortion ban taking effect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would soon take up a vote on the Women's Health Protection Act, which, if passed, would ensure that the right to an abortion was cemented in law.

While Gandy denounced Democratic inaction, saying, "we've had Democrats in office that have not bothered to codify Roe," she added that the lawmakers' inaction "really underscores how powerful the anti-abortion lobby is." A majority of Americans support the right to an abortion, and yet the demands of the anti-abortion minority have held the nation hostage to its whims.

Although Biden's Justice Department has filed a lawsuit and is seeking an injunction to stop the law from being enacted in Texas, critics point out that it is a long shot. Now, six other states, including Florida and Mississippi, are hoping to follow in Texas' footsteps and pass similar abortion bans. The train has left the station, so to speak.

In addition to legislation like the Women's Health Protection Act, activists want Biden to use his executive powers right now to protect abortion access. Kristin Ford of NARAL Pro-Choice America said, "The White House should make clear their commitment to this critical legislation to ensure no other state has the opportunity to follow in Texas' footsteps."

According to Gandy, "the bottom line is, there will always be abortion." In light of the Texas ban, the questions center on "how people are going to access it, and who the lack of access is going to affect most—which is poor people, and people of color."

Nations like Poland and Nigeria offer a glimpse of the mental and physical toll in store for Americans if the Texas ban were to take hold nationwide. Polish women are suffering from a mental health epidemic as a result of their nation's abortion ban. In Nigeria, dangerous back-alley abortion procedures are endangering lives.

Other nations offer a different path. Shortly after the Texas ban took effect, Mexico's Supreme Court decriminalized abortion, setting the stage for a nationwide legalization of the procedure. And, in France, where abortions are legal for pregnancies up to 12 weeks of gestation, the government says it will begin offering free contraception for everyone under the age of 25.

Here in the United States, California is bucking the terrifying state-by-state anti-abortion trend by considering a bill that will make the medical procedure cheaper, and even free of charge. Already it is one of only six states that require health insurance plans to cover abortion care. California State Senator Lena Gonzalez said, "We're taking a stance, not just to make abortions available but to make them free and equitable." Indeed, if such a trend were pursued nationally, the right to control one's body would not be relegated to the privileged among us.

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.

A climate disaster is unfolding before our eyes — but politicians won't heed the warnings

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall off the coast of Louisiana, triggering a slow-moving disaster as floodwaters breached the levees around New Orleans. Nearly 2,000 people were killed over several weeks, hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed, and the city was left in ruins. Environmental scientists warned that Katrina was a taste of what was in store for the Gulf Coast region if climate change continued unchecked.

But greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, and exactly 16 years after Katrina, Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana as a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 miles per hour and up to 10 inches of rain, leaving more than 1 million households in Louisiana without power. The remnants of the storm traveled up the East Coast with flash floods killing at least 15 people in New York and damaging homes and public transport infrastructure.

While some media coverage celebrated the fact that the post-Katrina levees around New Orleans remained intact, the real story is that Ida's behavior fits the profile of storms fueled by a rapidly changing climate, and no levees will be strong enough to provide enough protection against such relentless hurricanes year after year.

For Kali Akuno, co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, the wreckage of Ida is a surreal reminder of what he and others in the Gulf Coast region experienced 16 years ago. In a recent interview, Akuno shared that "it unfortunately brings back some painful memories." As the former executive director of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF), which was founded in the aftermath of Katrina, Akuno has experience witnessing inept government responses to such disasters.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under President George W. Bush's leadership, spectacularly failed to address the needs of Katrina's victims and survivors, mutual aid groups like PHRF stepped in. Today, the same appears to be happening, and Akuno's newer, Mississippi-based organization Cooperation Jackson is scrambling to aid evacuees.

"The worst effects of climate change are here now, and we have to build the systems and infrastructure to be able to deal with this," says Akuno. But he admits that "Whatever we can amass is only going to scratch the surface of the overall need, and there has to be broader systemic change in order to deal with these crises in the future."

Satellite images show the shocking extent of devastation in the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Ida. Whether or not President Joe Biden's administration responds more efficiently to the needs of Ida's survivors compared to Bush's response during Katrina remains to be seen. But government responses to climate-related disasters, while necessary, are part of the "downstream" solutions that center on the symptoms of climate change.

The multiple "upstream" solutions to climate disasters include building resiliency before storms hit, and, most importantly, require swiftly mitigating the causes of climate change. Few political leaders since the 2005 Katrina disaster have been willing to take strong action on that critical front.

At the same time that residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and New York are facing the horrors of damaged homes, flooded streets, and no power, Indigenous communities in the Midwest are fighting against a pipeline that will transport climate-change-causing fuels across their lands. The Enbridge Line 3 pipeline is being upgraded in order to transport tar sands—which are considered the "dirtiest fuel left on the planet"—across pristine lands where the Anishinaabe people grow wild rice.

The state of Minnesota's estimate put the social and climate impacts of the completed project at $287 billion over 30 years. The last thing our rapidly changing climate needs is yet another oil pipeline, and yet few leaders appear willing to stand in the way of fossil fuel company profits.

"President Biden can suspend Line 3 right now," says Tara Houska, founder of the Giniw Collective, in an interview. "All it would take is the stroke of a pen." Houska has been part of a years-long resistance movement against the pipeline that has been calling on Democratic Party leaders like Biden and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to stop the pipeline.

In spite of their stated acknowledgment of the dangers of climate change and the need to mitigate it, neither the federal nor state leader has taken action against Line 3. "They say they get it. It's a lot of talk, and very little walk," says Houska. "They're still allowing the [fossil fuel] industry to continue to build and expand."

Akuno worries that the Republican Party, which has an even worse record on climate change, will try to exploit Democrats' failures in their bid to resume political control of Congress in 2022. "We're already hearing signs in some of the local right-wing media trying to make this [Hurricane Ida] an 'Afghanistan.'"

In just a few months, national leaders and civil society members will convene in Glasgow, Scotland, for the next United National Climate Change Conference known as COP 26. Akuno has been involved in social movement responses to the conference and says without hesitation that the Biden administration has simply not done enough as a global participant. "We've been deeply dissatisfied with the approach and orientation that they're taking toward the mitigation aspects of climate change," he says.

A press release for the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which was released in early August, spells out deeply ominous warnings:

"Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years."

Hurricane Ida is clearly illustrating the climate devastation we face, and the Line 3 pipeline offers an equally clear opportunity to do something about it. Yet, a Democratic administration that has a stated commitment to "tackling climate change" and a Democratic governor who has made a similar pledge are both refusing to act.

Gov. Walz in defending his support of the Line 3 project said, "I've made the case and shown policies that we need to move away from fossil fuels but, in the meantime if we're gonna transport oil, we need to do it as safely as we possibly can." It is not clear why Walz feels such a strong obligation to ensure the transport of fossil fuels in the face of massive opposition and against his own stated desire to address the sources of climate change. "Do we really need to allow a fossil fuel company to do this?" asked Houska. "This oil is meant for foreign transport; it's not meant for Minnesota's energy security."

She's right. Neither Biden, nor Walz, and certainly not the people of Minnesota nor the United States as a whole, gains anything of value from the Line 3 project. Instead, at stake is—in the words of Enbridge CEO Al Monaco—"lots of free cash flow" to the company's shareholders.

Even in the infrastructure bill that lawmakers are currently debating and that is a centerpiece of the Biden administration's legislative agenda this year, few climate-mitigation aspects have survived the aggressive deal-making between the two major parties. In other words, as the nation is ravaged by floods, droughts, wildfires, and other real impacts of climate change, our political leaders have no plan to immediately do something about greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

As corporate profits continue to be valued more than our climate and our species, Houska urges us to have, "a radical shift in the way in which we view our place in the world." Taking the long view—which our politicians appear unable or unwilling to take—she reminds us of what is far more important than corporate profits: "There has to be a recentering of nature in who we are as people and the centering of basic truths: that we cannot live without clean water, clean air, and clean soil."

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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