Betsy DeVos and Blackwater

devosBy Marc Norton

Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who has been called “America’s most notorious mercenary” by author and journalist Jeremy Scahill, has emerged as an influential advisor to the incoming Donald Trump regime.

Prince is also the brother of Betsy DeVos, who is in the process of being confirmed as secretary of education — and an advocate for the privatization of public schools.

The connection between these two reactionary political players is no secret, but is one of those barely-known facts that has remained mostly hidden in plain sight.  Despite significant press around the confirmation hearings for DeVos, the corporate media has not called the public’s attention to her relationship to Prince.  Plaudits go to the The Intercept for publishing an article on January 17 by Scahill about Prince’s connection to Trump, and highlighting his connection to DeVos.

Prince’s biggest claim to infamy is as the founder of Blackwater, a private security firm that hired mercenaries to augment US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, among many other places.  Blackwater, now transformed into a company called Academi, had an intimate relationship with the CIA, and was regarded by many as one of the CIA’s go to organizations when it wanted to contract out its dirty work.  Blackwater got into hot water more than once, particularly in 2007 when some of its mercenaries gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians, including a 9-year old boy, in Baghdad.

Scahill reports that trusted sources tell him Prince has been giving Trump advice on his staff picks for the Defense Department and the State Department.  Nothing like having friends in high places if you want work.

Prince is close to another Trump advisor, the racist Steve Bannon.  Prince has often appeared on Bannon’s Breitbart Radio.  Last July, Prince told Bannon that a Trump administration could and should create a new version of the Phoenix Program, the CIA assassination program during the Vietnam War that “neutralized” tens of thousands of alleged Viet Cong leaders.  The new assassination program would presumably target “radical Islamic extremists,” and who knows who else. Continue reading

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Unions in the Era of Trump

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Beginning in 1979 in Seattle, WA, Jim Levitt expertly fabricated custom aircraft parts and tools, helping make the Boeing Company one of the most successful businesses in the world. But in 2013, corporate executives issued a threat: They demanded that Levitt and his fellow machinists surrender their pensions, and that Washington State political leaders hand over a record $8.7 billion in tax benefits. In exchange the company promised to keep production jobs in-state. The Democratic governor of Washington, along with virtually the entire political establishment, caved in to the blackmail. So did Levitt’s international union leadership – they had bargained the deal secretly with the company. The capitulation cost 32,000 Boeing workers their pensions.

“We’ve lost collective bargaining, for all intents and purposes,” Levitt observed in the wake of the corporate blackmail.

In recent weeks we’ve seen no shortage of reasons – and excuses – for why Hillary Clinton blew the election and Donald Trump will be our next president: the Russians, an unfair Electoral College system, FBI Director James Comey, xenophobia/racism/sexism, a weak Democratic candidate, Wikileaks, and faked news. Some Clinton backers even blame the “tough” primary run that Bernie Sanders gave their candidate.

What’s barely given any attention in the mainstream media is the role that decades of destruction of union power played in the 2016 election debacle. But it’s no mystery to Levitt, his fellow Boeing workers, and millions of other workers from all walks of life who’ve justifiably grown cynical about a political establishment that repeatedly has failed them over the years.

Today, overall union membership is at its lowest point in more than 70 years. In the private sector, a paltry 1 in 15 workers holds a union card.

Now it will get worse: Public sector unions are bracing for the inevitable Supreme Court decision allowing “freeloading” – requiring unions to let workers avoid paying any dues while still receiving full union representation and protection. The incoming Congress promises to be hostile to worker organizations, eager to do on a national scale what Gov. Scott Walker has done to Wisconsin unions.

Underscoring labor’s weakness, the election results produced the most anemic union turnout for the Democratic presidential candidate in more than 30 years: Clinton won union households by only 51 to 43 percent, an 8 percent margin. In the previous 7 presidential elections, in contrast, the Democrat won union households by an average margin of 22 percent. Continue reading

Unions and the White Working Class Vote

Harold Meyerson

MT. PLEASANT, SC - DECEMBER 7: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission with alternate crop.)  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the crowd at a Pearl Harbor Day Rally at the U.S.S. Yorktown December 7, 2015 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The South Carolina Republican primary is scheduled for February 20, 2016. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

MT. PLEASANT, SC – DECEMBER 7: (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

It is now, as the Post’s numbers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio (where Trump holds a three-point lead) clearly suggest. The decline of white working-class support for the Democrats has engendered a debate as to its causes: whether it’s due to the declining economic condition (and, indeed, life expectancy) of working-class whites, or to their racial and cultural resentment at the rising number of minorities and the programs the Democrats have championed for the past 50 years to help them. Clearly, the cause isn’t simply one or the other. The sense of abandonment that many working-class whites feel is rooted both in economics and culture. It’s worth noting, however, that even at the height of the United Auto Workers’ power in Michigan, as far back as 60 years ago and more, it could persuade its white members to vote for Democrats for state and federal office, where economic policies were formulated and implemented, but never could persuade them to vote Democratic for Detroit city officials, who held sway over policing, school and housing policies—that is, over the policies with the greatest impact on race relations and discrimination.

Still, the presidential contest is for a federal office with huge power over economic policy. Shouldn’t unions be moving their white members toward Clinton? They probably are: The AFL-CIO released survey data yesterday that showed Trump is polling just 36 percent among its members in five swing states (Florida, Nevada and three in the Midwest: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). That, of course, is a survey of all its members, not just its white working-class members, whose level of Trump support is certainly higher than these aggregate totals. But more important than the preferences of these union members is the preferences of non-members who would have been members before the near collapse of private-sector unionism—that is, before corporations abandoned their employees for cheaper labor in China, before American management began to oppose and thwart unionization all across the private sector, and before a number of these states (Wisconsin and Michigan most notably), under Republican government, went right-to-work. In 2015, just 15.2 percent of the Michigan workforce was unionized, just 12.3 percent of Ohio’s, and just 8.3 percent of Wisconsin’s—all states where close to 40 percent of the private sector workforce was unionized in the mid-20th century.

The AFL-CIO’s Working America program, which goes door to door in white working-class neighborhoods to talk with non-union voters, does yeoman work, but there’s no question that unions’ capacity to reach and impact the kind of voters they once had as members isn’t what it used to be. Looking at exit polling since the early 1970s, white working class union members have tended to vote Democratic at a rate 20 points higher than their non-union counterparts—a tribute to the unions’ ability to get its white members to consider economic issues, not just what for some is their racial fear and loathing. Looking at the numbers in the Post’s poll, then, one explanation for the surprisingly high level of Trump support in the Midwest—beyond the purely economic or racial—is the declining level of unionization.
Continue reading

Historic Minimum Wage Hike in California

raisewagecityhallSteven Mikalan
(updated) March 31.
California is on track to become the first state to officially raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. On March 31, California’s official celebration of labor leader Cesar Chavez, Democratic legislators agreed to raise the wage from its current $10 hourly mark to $10.50 beginning January 1, 2017, followed by continuous upticks that will result in the wage leveling off at $15 an hour by 2022. (Businesses employing fewer than 26 workers would get an extra year to institute the increases.) Governor Jerry Grown has said he will sign the bill  on Monday.
After that the minimum can rise – but not fall – according to inflation. The agreement includes a provision giving workers three days of paid sick leave annually; it also permits California governors to freeze the wage in times of extreme economic downturn.
The movement toward a $15 wage has not followed a straight line, with individual city electorates or governments passing ordinances raising local wages higher than the state minimum (which cities will still be allowed to do under the proposed law), but making little headway outside of California’s liberal coastal belt. The issue has recently been complicated by the emergence of two competing union-sponsored measures that have sought placement on this November’s state ballot.
At a media teleconference held Monday afternoon, labor leaders and others hailed the coming pay hike.
“No one who works hard should live in poverty,” said the event’s moderator, Laphonza Butler, who serves as both president of the Service Employees International Union’s state council and as co-chair of the Los Angeles Fight for $15 committee. And, in a sign that labor is not taking its apparent victory for granted, she added that until the legislation passes, unions would not cease their efforts to put the matter of raising the wage before voters. Continue reading

Why Freelancers Need To Get Together

DBAConBy David Bacon

As freelancers, we know we do the work. And while the way we work is what defines us, it’s also the root of many of our problems.

We provide the content, but because we don’t have a traditional employer-employee relationship with the publications that run our articles or photos, we don’t get regular paychecks.

Some of us used to be staff writers or photographers or graphic artists. Maybe we took a buyout, or got downsized and laid off. Others of us are just beginning our careers as digital natives, and never had the chance to work on staff.

We’ve always had to sell what we produce, article by article, photo by photo, drawing by drawing. And at some publications, we have to ask to use our own words or images because we’re forced to surrender all copyright claims in order to work.

Many of us are also living without a parachute. Continue reading

Friedrichs Reprieve, But We Are Not Out of the Woods Yet

NEA Patrick G Ryan - 2016-01-11 SCOTUS demo by Alexandra Bradbury
Yes, we dodged a bullet—for now. But any union that takes the Supreme Court shakeup as a cue to go back to business as usual will be making a big mistake.

Before Justice Antonin Scalia’s abrupt passing, a 5–4 hostile ruling in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association seemed virtually guaranteed.

The decision, expected by June, could have imposed so-called “right to work” on the whole public sector—meaning unions could no longer collect “fair-share” fees from the nonmembers they’re legally required to represent.

Now the court looks deadlocked, which could mean the lower court’s ruling in favor of the union is upheld; more likely, Friedrichs will be reargued after a ninth justice is confirmed.

There’s no question—this reprieve is good news. Losing fair share would be a serious blow.

The evidence is in, from state after state that’s gone “right to work.” Even for a union that’s well-prepared, the loss saps a portion of members, budget, staff time, and strength. For the unprepared, membership goes into freefall. That’s why anti-union forces keep pushing these laws.

So it’s no wonder unionists are breathing a sigh of relief. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Continue reading

California Teachers’ Unions Oppose Vergara

Huerta-SliderCalifornia Unions Appeal Decision in Meritless Vergara Lawsuit
Civil Rights Icon Dolores Huerta Joins Educators and Community Supporters in Urging Court to Overturn Flawed Decision for the Sake of All Students

LOS ANGELES — Attorneys representing more than 400,000 members of the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers appeared in the California Court of Appeal today in downtown Los Angeles, to ask that the June 2014 ruling in the deceptive and meritless Vergara v. State of California be overturned for the sake of California’s six million students.

At a press conference before arguments were presented to the Court, Attorney Michael Rubin laid out the case for reversing the faulty opinion of Judge Rolf M. Treu. Appearing with Rubin were longtime union and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta ( A DSA Honorary Chair), southern California elementary school teacher Gaby Ibarra, and Martha Sanchez, a concerned parent who believes current laws work best for students.

Stating that Judge Treu’s decision striking down five California Education Code provisions “is without support in law or fact,” the speakers predicted that Treu’s numerous errors will be clearly visible to the appeals court, and the earlier Superior Court judgment will be overturned. Treu’s decision was stayed pending appeal. But if upheld, it would cause great harm to public education. Continue reading