Jim Hightower

We Need To Help Biden Do Better

Joe Biden looks like he wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t quite know how. Progressives know; let’s help Biden do better.

By Jim Hightower, Common Dreams

For years, as ever-bigger corporate combines grabbed ever-bigger chunks of market power, America’s political, media and academic establishment scoffed at critics, drowning them out with jolly rounds of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” But the concentration of corporate power can no longer be dismissed, for it’s all too real. It wreaks real havoc on entire economic sectors, workaday families, communities and our nation’s essential uniting value of fairness. Pontificators of the status quo can coo all the free-enterprise platitudes they want, but a rising grassroots majority (including supposedly conservative farmers and ranchers) is experiencing corporate repression firsthand. Those families are doing their own kitchen-table tabulations and realizing that the game has been deliberately rigged against them. A mad-as-hell moment is percolating at the grassroots.

Jim Hightower

Biden at least recognizes this, seems to feel people’s pain and anger, and (unlike other recent Democratic presidents) has put it on his national agenda: “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism,” he recently said, “it’s exploitation.” All right, then: You go, Joe!

But he hasn’t. Yes, he’s made some good reform proposals, appointed a couple of top-notch antitrust regulators, issued a few useful procedural changes, held some closed-door White House meetings on the topic, and been willing to call out a few of the worst gougers and profiteers. That’s good. But wholly inadequate. It’s all inside-the-Beltway stuff, and even though Biden has been a consummate, 48-year inside player who promised that his collegial skills would let him “get things done,” the people being run over just see more political talk without action. Supermarket beef prices still rise, cattle prices fall, meatpacker power and profits soar, and grassroots people keep getting bulled. In fairness, Biden has a heavy load: sour old Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Manchin-Sinema blob, the monopoly lobby, milquetoast Democrats, a clueless media corps, etc. But don’t whine; get out of Washington!

Breaking the stranglehold that monopolistic corporations have on our economy and our people is not a job for the politically meek. The establishment’s standard responses of loud denunciation, investigative task forces and regulatory proposals don’t do anything but stall actual change. Rather, asserting democracy over plutocracy is a momentous, brawling struggle for fundamental structural repair, requiring gutsy leaders willing to go right at the bastards with unconventional outsider strategies. The key to winning is not by schmoozing McConnell and Manchin, but by going into the countryside and rallying the majority of people fed up with corporate arrogance and abuse. So, Joe…

  • Go to the people. Embark on a series of whistle-stop tours to excite and enlist grassroots fighters.
  • Join ranchers and workers at the Big Four meatpacking plants to dramatize and protest the abuses.
  • File actions under the Justice Department’s authority to break up anti-competitive combines.
  • Pursue high-profile criminal charges against price-fixing executives.
  • Ban stock buybacks.
  • Deploy cabinet members across the country to publicize local abuses and demand stronger anti-trust laws.
  • Bring small family farmers and ranchers to the White House to tell their stories and personalize the issue.

In short, stop telling people you’re on their side and start showing them that you are. As historian Meg Jacobs recently put it: “Inflation is largely the result of choices that businesses make. And history shows that presidents have the power to stem inflation by taking on corporate power—if they choose.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: we won't use nukes

Lavrov: Russia Won't Use Nuclear Weapons In Ukraine

In an interview with India Today, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said his country’s forces would not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

By Brendan Cole, Newsweek

Moscow is not considering using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

In an interview with India Today, Lavrov said his country’s forces would use “conventional weapons only,” according to state news agency Interfax.

Although he is not directly responsible for military decision-making, his comments are among the most direct so far on the prospect of Russia escalating the conflict into a nuclear one.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: we won't use nukes

Western intelligence officials had warned that Russia might resort to tactical or other limited nuclear weapons if its invasion continues to face setbacks.

Soon after announcing his invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces be placed on high alert. Some Russian government figures also signaled that Russia would be willing to use them in certain circumstances.

However, this was dismissed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov last month when he told PBS that Russia would not use nuclear weapons.

Read our latest original on how nuclear proliferation is not the answer to Russian aggression.

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Starbucks barista Jaz Brisack

Starbucks Barista Jaz Brisack: Union Busting Can’t Stop Worker Solidarity

Starbucks Workers United has now successfully unionized over a dozen Starbucks shops, and about 200 stores have filed for union elections, covering 5,000 workers in 30 states.

By Jaz Brisack & Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

We speak with Starbucks Workers United organizer and barista Jaz Brisack on the growing Starbucks union drive that has swept across 30 U.S. states since she helped successfully organize the first U.S. unionized location in Buffalo, New York, last December. Starbucks Workers United has now successfully unionized over a dozen Starbucks shops, and about 200 stores have filed for union elections, covering 5,000 workers in 30 states. This all comes despite an aggressive union-busting campaign from the Starbucks Corporation that includes firing pro-union workers and forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings — a practice the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has argued is illegal under federal law. Meanwhile, the NLRB says it’s planning to formally accuse Starbucks of illegally firing a group of seven employees who were fighting to unionize their Starbucks store in Memphis, Tennessee. Brisack also talks about Amazon’s first union in Staten Island, New York, saying the move “shows we as workers and as the labor movement can take on 15 baristas in a tiny Starbucks or 8,000 workers in an Amazon warehouse as long as we are standing together.”

Starbucks barista Jaz Brisack

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to get an update on the growing union efforts led by Starbucks workers across the country. The historic movement began when a single Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize in December. Now 200 stores have filed for union elections, covering over 5,000 workers in at least 30 states. Starbucks Workers United has successfully unionized over a dozen Starbucks shops, including in New York, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri. And on Monday, workers at two stores in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts, unanimously voted to unionize. Just last week, workers at the high-end Starbucks Reserve Roastery in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan voted to become the first Starbucks to unionize in New York City. It’s one of the largest Starbucks in the world.

This all comes despite an aggressive union-busting campaign from the Starbucks Corporation that includes firing pro-union workers in retaliation and forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings. The National Labor Relations Board has called on a ban on this practice, arguing it’s illegal under federal law. Meanwhile, the NLRB says it’s planning to formally accuse Starbucks of illegally firing a group of seven workers who were fighting to unionize their Starbucks store in Memphis, Tennessee. Last Monday, Starbucks billionaire CEP Howard Schultz spoke out against the unionization drive during a town hall meeting with about 15,000 employees.

HOWARD SCHULTZ: Now, here’s where it gets a little sensitive, because I’ve been coached a little bit, but I do want to talk about something pretty serious. We can’t ignore what is happening in the country as it relates to companies throughout the country being assaulted, in many ways, by the threat of unionization.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Jaz Brisack, barista at the Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, that was the first location in the U.S. to unionize, with Starbucks Workers United.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Jaz. Talk about this — I mean, you guys started it in Buffalo. Now 200 stores in more than 30 states. Talk about your strategy, and respond to Schultz.

JAZ BRISACK: Thanks so much for having me, first.

It’s been incredible to see this turn into this kind of national movement. I mean, we’ve had support from the beginning from partners across the country. And the first store to file after Buffalo was actually a Mesa, Arizona, store, whose manager was retaliated against for telling us exactly what all of these people coming into Buffalo were actually up to. And when Starbucks retaliated against her and fired her, before she had the chance to finish her time at Starbucks after resigning, they were the first store to petition, outside of Buffalo. But from there, it’s been incredible. I feel like it’s almost — I’m not even able to keep up with how many more stores have been launching. So it’s incredible to see so many folks. And the first store in the South won a few weeks ago in Knoxville, which was really incredible. The Memphis folks are still — not only did Starbucks fire six out of the seven-person organizing committee, but they also have still delayed that vote from actually being scheduled with the labor board. But it’s incredible to see more people joining and this movement growing. And I think we all know that that’s how we’re actually going to get the kind of contract that we can sign and that partners deserve, is by continuing to get stronger and show that, despite everything, we keep overcoming that union busting and standing together in solidarity.

And, I mean, I think it’s ridiculous that Howard Schultz is, first, this threatened by unions, because we’ve said, from day one, you know, we’re not doing this because we’re opposed to Starbucks; we’re doing this because we want to make Starbucks the best that it can be and the most sustainable that it can be. It says it’s a progressive company that celebrates all of these other forms of activism — LGBT rights, environment justice, Black Lives Matter — and then suddenly it’s being assaulted by labor rights. So, that doesn’t make sense. That’s not consistent with what Starbucks says it is. But I think, you know, we’ve seen Howard come to Buffalo and make really inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust, and now we’re seeing him say that he’s being assaulted. So, I think he tries to acknowledge that it’s a sensitive subject, but he’s still really missing the mark on how to talk about it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jaz, what’s your reaction to the news that Amazon workers at the Staten Island warehouse at the start of this month voted to form the country’s first Amazon union?

JAZ BRISACK: Absolutely ecstatic. That was the same day as the roastery win, which was really an amazing thing to have both of those coming together. And I think it shows, you know, we can — we as workers and as the labor movement can take on 15 baristas in a tiny Starbucks or 8,000 workers in an Amazon warehouse as long as we are standing together.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the retaliation against workers? We just have 30 seconds, Jaz.

JAZ BRISACK: I mean, I think it’s been almost a scorched-earth strategy. Not only has Starbucks been firing vocal union leaders, like the Memphis Seven, like Laila in Arizona, like Cassie Fleischer and others in Buffalo, but they’ve been slashing hours across the country to try to purge everyone and force everyone to quit or have to get other jobs, and then telling them, “Oh, suddenly your availability doesn’t meet the needs of the business.” If we — the only — this is all showing —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

JAZ BRISACK: Sorry. This is all showing just how much we need a union, because, you know, together we can fight back against all of these things.

AMY GOODMAN: Jaz Brisack, we want to thank you for being with us, barista at the Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, the first location in the U.S. to unionize with Starbucks Workers United.

And that does it for our show. A very happy birthday to Anna Ozbek, María Inés Taracena, Mary Conlon and David Prude! We have a job opening for a news writer/producer. Check democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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ICE retaliates against prisoner

ICE Retaliates Against Immigrant Detainee for Speaking Out On Abuse

Erik Mercado has been speaking out about the conditions in detention for years. Now ICE is retaliating against him.

By Alexandra Martinez, PRISM

When Erik Mercado was 4 years old, his mother brought him and his older siblings to the U.S. from Mexico in search of better opportunities. But by 2001, Mercado’s green card application was denied after he landed in juvenile hall. The following year, when Mercado was just 18 years old, he was sentenced to four years in prison for burglary charges, which he calls his “worst mistake.” After he was released, he was deported to Tijuana for the first time. Mercado has since spent the last 18 years in and out of immigration detention centers and deportation proceedings, trying to find his way back to his family in the U.S. Over the years, Mercado has become vocal in detailing the abuses and neglect he experienced in Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, where he has been detained on and off for almost two years. Now, he’s told Prism that he is the victim of retaliation for his outspokenness, with immigration officials subjecting him to solitary confinement, unexplained detention center transfers, and the revocation of his $30,000 bond that would guarantee his release pending his asylum hearings.

ICE retaliates against prisoner

“They gave me the bond in December [2021] and took it from me in January [2022],” Mercado said. “That’s retaliation all because I’ve been working with Freedom for Immigrants and letting them know how the conditions are in here.”

Mercado first called the Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) abuse hotline for immigrants in detention centers in August 2020 to report COVID-19 negligence issues and medical neglect, and to request support in finding a lawyer. Since then, he has become an avid caller to the free and unmonitored hotline, and has filed multiple Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) complaints with the Department of Homeland Security.

“Erik has been a frequent caller of ours and has been such an instrumental monitoring advocate inside of detention,” said Amanda Díaz, the national hotline manager for FFI. “He calls us frequently to report abuse and neglect and informs others around him about our hotline and ways to talk about the abuse. Over the years, he’s become a dear friend to FFI staff and many hotline volunteers who are always so happy to receive his call on the hotline.”

Mercado arrived at Otay Mesa in January 2020 when he sought asylum from Mexico at the border. Mercado’s decision to cross the border and seek asylum was an act of desperation. He and his girlfriend, a U.S. citizen, had been living in Tijuana at the time, and on one of their visits to the border they were targeted by a drug cartel who wanted them to act as mules. They refused, and days later, police apprehended Mercado and took him to jail where he was nearly attacked with a “shank” and then was assaulted by an officer.

“[The office] told me the cartel had paid him a lot of money for me to die,” Mercado said.

When he was released from the police station, he immediately ran straight to the border and asked for asylum. He was processed and taken to Otay Mesa Detention Center, where he then spent 15 months in solitary confinement.

While he was in solitary, he began filing complaints with FFI related to the abuse he faced from the staff psychologist. Mercado’s first official complaint was filed in January 2021, detailing medical neglect and COVID-19 negligence. According to the complaint, medical staff dismissed and refused to believe Mercado’s reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. He said she continuously told him that he was making up stories to advance his legal case, and at one point called him “a drug addict.”

The following month, he reported the excessive use of solitary confinement.

“It’s horrible here,” Mercado said.

In March 2021, the month following the consecutive complaints, Mercado was transferred without explanation to Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California, two and a half hours west of his original location. Mercado spent four out of the six months in solitary confinement while at the facility. While there, he filed another complaint recounting the horrible conditions.

“Imperial was a form of punishment,” Mercado said. “I was stuck in the ‘hole.’”

According to Mercado, he was classified as a “high level” detainee despite not having a violent criminal record and was taken into solitary confinement.

“They forcefully had to put me down, handcuff me, and take me to the ‘hole’ because of my classification,” Mercado said.

After six months, Mercado was finally returned to Otay Mesa Detention Center. In December, FFI helped Mercado raise $30,000 to post a bond approved by ICE, but a month later in January 2022, it was revoked due to the “possible existence of an outstanding warrant in Mexico.” While Mercado was subject to a warrant for a non-political crime in Mexico, that bar to his asylum claim has already been withdrawn because evidence proved Mercado wasn’t in Mexico on the date of the crime of which he was accused. Mercado and FFI advocates say the revocation of his bond based on an issue that’s already been resolved is a direct retaliation against Mercado’s outspokenness.

“Retaliation is a really common tactic that is used against people in detention, especially when they speak out,” Díaz said. “ICE thrives in secrecy. Whenever anyone is exposing the truth, they want to try and hide it as much as possible, and that’s also how they build power over people by using fear and retaliation to prevent people from speaking out.”

“It seems evident that ICE staff made the decision to revoke Mr. Mercado Arechiga’s $30,000 bond in retaliation for his longstanding advocacy efforts in collaboration with FFI, a decision that potentially was even made on the day that FFI staff first attempted to post Mr. Mercado Arechiga’s bond,” FFI wrote in a statement.

ICE agents have not responded to a request for a statement regarding Mercado’s complaints.

FFI advocates say this is not the first time that ICE staff has hindered their efforts to post bonds for people who they have supported at Otay Mesa. In February 2021, FFI filed a CRCL complaint for ICE’S refusal to permit them from posting a $10,000 bond for a Nigerian refugee who is no longer in ICE custody. According to FFI, they attempted posting Okunlola Oluwaseun’s bond 10 times before ICE finally reinstated his bond, four days after the complaint was filed.

After finding out that Mercado’s bond was revoked and that he would not be returning home, Mercado’s mother, Berta Mercado, suffered a stroke and had to be taken to the emergency room. Berta said she has not seen her youngest son in five years.

“I just want to see him again,” Berta said. “I know he has made mistakes, but I think he has already paid for them over time.”

Now, Mercado is waiting for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review his opening briefs and determine whether he has a credible fear of persecution in returning to Mexico.

“I just hope that they decide to release me here in the U.S.,” Mercado said. “I hope people see how biased the immigration courts are toward detainees even with evidence. Even when it’s so clear that people’s lives are in danger in their countries, they’ll still order you deported.”

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. We report from the ground up and at the intersections of injustice.

Unequal spying on Americans

Internal FBI Documents Show Double Standard In Spying On Americans

When it comes to spying on Americans, the FBI has found a way to make it racist. Black Lives Matter protests? Spy away. Jan. 6th insurrectionists? No can do.

By Andy Kroll, Rolling Stone

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the FBI told Congress and the American people that the agency had failed to prevent or fully prepare for the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in more than 200 years in part because it lacked the authority and capabilities to more aggressively monitor social media, where much of the planning for the insurrection took place.

As FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress last summer, the FBI had circulated intelligence materials and other resources before Jan. 6, but the agency had limits in what it could and couldn’t gather from social media. “When we have an authorized purpose and proper predication, there are a lot of things that we do at social media and we do do,” Wray said, “but [what] we cannot do on social media is, without proper predication and authorized purpose, just monitor just in case on social media.”

Unequal spying on Americans

Wray added, “Now, if the policies should be changed to reflect that, that might be one of the important lessons learned coming out of this whole experience. But that’s not something that currently the FBI has either the authority or certainly the resources, frankly, to do.” Since Wray’s testimony, the bureau has sought to ramp up its online surveillance capabilities, including by entering into one of the largest social-media monitoring contracts of any federal agency.

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Fossil fuel workers need to be included in the Green New Deal

We Can’t Win A Green New Deal Without Fossil Fuel Workers’ Support

Socialists should build a movement for a sustainable society that makes room for workers in fossil fuel industries that support the change.

By Keith Danner, Jacobin

April 1 marked the one-year anniversary of the Warrior Met Coal strike in Alabama. It’s now the longest coal strike in US history. Worker militancy has long characterized the industry, in this respect the length of the ongoing industrial action is unsurprising. Between 1881 and 1905, coal miners in the United States went on strike at a rate of three times that of workers in other major industries. The causes of this radicalism lay in a combination of factors, ranging from the strategic importance of energy for the reproduction of industrial capitalism, to the sense of identity this leverage gave to the towns and cities coal had erected.

Fossil fuel workers need to be included in the Green New Deal

In other ways the present situation shares little with this militant tradition. Coal, once tied to historic high points of US class struggle like Blair Mountain, has come instead to represent the interests of the most regressive political forces obstructing climate action. This became clear earlier this year when Senator Joe Manchin, himself a Coal Baron, and the leading recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress, blocked passage of Biden’s Build Back Better bill because — even with its minimal climate measures — it would challenge his financial interests and those of his funders.

The sentiment, shared by many on the Left, is not only that coal must go but that its defenders — be they bosses or workers — are on the wrong side of history. Faced with the climate emergency and the likes of Manchin, it’s hard to disagree.

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Senator Manchin, Coal Baron

West Virginians Lead Blockade Of Coal Plant That Made Manchin Rich

“This is what the fight for a habitable planet looks like in real time,” said Jeff Goodell, author of The Water Will Come, of the dozens of campaigners who risked arrest.

By Julia Conley, Common Dreams

Organizers of the “Coal Baron Blockade” protest which targeted right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s coal empire Saturday afternoon reported that state police almost immediately began arresting campaigners who assembled in Grant Town, West Virginia.

“Sen. Joe Manchin’s policies hurt poor people and hurt our environment so deeply that activists are ready to put themselves on the line,” tweeted the Poor People’s Campaign, which joined grassroots group West Virginia Rising and other organizations in the blockade.

Senator Manchin, Coal Baron

Hundreds of campaigners participated in the blockade of Grant Town Power Plant, which receives coal waste from Enersystems, the company owned by the West Virginia senator’s son. Manchin earns $500,000 per year from Enersystems—”making a very lucrative living off the backs of West Virginians,” said Maria Gunnoe, an organizer of the action, this week.

At least 10 demonstrators had been arrested as of this writing.

“This is what the fight for a habitable planet looks like in real time,” said Jeff Goodell, author of The Water Will Come, of the dozens of campaigners who risked arrest.

Speakers and other participants highlighted the need for a just transition away from fossil fuels including coal, carrying signs that read “Solidarity with all coal workers.”

“My dad worked in a chemical plant until he died of the exposure,” said Holly Bradley, a ninth generation West Virginian. “We can all find common ground, but Joe Manchin is making it impossible.”

While profiting from the Grant Town Power Plant, Manchin has obstructed President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda while progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have worked to pass the Build Back Better Act.

The senator refused to back the bill if it included the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), a key climate provision which would have given federal grants to utilities which increase the electricity they get from renewable sources, as well as objecting to the extended Child Tax Credit, paid family leave, and other anti-poverty measures.

About 70% of Manchin’s own constituents benefited from the Child Tax Credit last year, and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy found that an extension of the monthly payments “would drive an historic reduction in child poverty, lifting 22,000 West Virginia children above the poverty line.”

Manchin’s ties to Grant Town Power Plant have only worsened the financial burdens faced by West Virginians, which the senator showed little interest in lessening last year as he refused to back the Build Back Better Act. As Politico reported in February:

By 2006, when Manchin was governor, the plant’s owners went before the West Virginia Public Service Commission and claimed it was on the verge of shutting down.

The commission, then chaired by Jon McKinney, a Manchin appointee, raised the rate that Grant Town could charge for its electricity from $27.25 per megawatt to $34.25. They also gave the plant a way to stay in business longer, by extending its power purchase agreement with FirstEnergy by eight years to 2036.

Those changes still reverberate today. West Virginia has seen some of the highest electricity rate increases in the nation. Its loyalty to coal is one reason for that.

In addition to costing West Virginians tens of millions of dollars for higher electricity, said Appalacians Against Pipelines on Saturday, “the air pollution released by Manchin’s coal company is causing nine deaths per year.”

“Yet it’s the people willing to put their bodies on the line for the world’s future being rounded up and handcuffed right now,” the group tweeted.

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protonmail phone app on table

True To Promises, ProtonMail Defends Freedom Amid War

ProtonMail is a secure email provider. The Russian invasion of Ukraine forced them to ask: what does defending freedom mean in wartime?

By Charles Lenchner

One of my email accounts is with Proton, a Swiss company that offers consumer internet security services. Because they are based in Switzerland, it would be harder for other governments to secretly pressure the Swiss authorities to order the company to grant access to security services. (“Harder” =/= “Impossible”)

Yesterday they announced that anyone in Ukraine who couldn’t pay for their services only had to ask, and the company would waive the fees, indefinitely. This is commendable behavior, and it falls in line with a general worldwide wave of empathy and support for the Ukranian people as they resist the Russian invasion. What I read next was a surprise.

protonmail phone app on table

ProtonMail, the corporation, asked the question: what about our customers in Russia?

Many companies have announced they will no longer serve Russian customers. Proton’s mission, however, is to defend online freedom everywhere. We remain committed to ensuring the free flow of information in Russia for as long as possible, and we will renew Proton subscriptions for people in Russia if they expire due to the financial sanctions. If you are impacted, don’t hesitate to contact us through our support channels for assistance.

The wave of hostility to the Russian government and leadership is well earned. For far too many, this extends to a knee-jerk reaction to demonize the Russian people. After all, don’t polls conducted in Russia post-invasion show a large majority in favor of the war? (68%) Sure that’s what we do here in the United States, we immediately impose the good/bad binary on regular people, far away. Then we realize those people are here too, and let the hate crimes begin. (That said, a more accurate reflection of Russian support for the war is 53%.)

They write: “Proton’s mission […] is to defend online freedom everywhere.” This is what good global corporate citizenship looks like. Companies, like people, have values. We can infer those values from their behavior even if they don’t brag about it.

The war has provoked an orgy of war-fever from arms manufacturers, the corporate media, and just plain folks who aren’t as afraid of Armageddon as I am. Good for Proton for standing up for values that matter.

And to anyone in Russia reading this: I see you. I see the millions trying to stop this war. I see millions more deluded into supporting it. When this nightmare ends, let us be friends and make sure something like this never happens again.

Tax the rich! - Tom Paine

Is Joe Biden Channeling Tom Paine?

The new White House budget plan includes ideas that Tom Paine introduced, over 200 years ago. (He also wanted to tax the rich!)

By Sam Pizzigati, Inequality.org

The great pamphleteer of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, had much more on his mind than mere independence from the British. Paine spent his life, a just-published new analysis of his work notes, advocating for a democratic “commonwealth” that shared the wealth, a new society that freed all people “from domination both political and economic.”

An important step toward that society, Paine believed, would be a wealth tax, a levy on grand private fortune. Today, over two centuries later, we may finally have a President of the United States who’s taking Tom Paine to heart. The newly unveiled Joe Biden budget is proposing that America’s richest start paying Uncle Sam what amounts to a wealth tax.

Tax the rich! - Tom Paine

Amazon has until April 8 to formally submit any objections to the election results, a step the company signaled it may take shortly following news of the union’s victory on Friday, the first-ever vote in favor of unionizing an Amazon warehouse in the United States and one of the biggest wins for the labor movement in decades.

The company, which waged an aggressive union-busting campaign in the lead-up to the election, said it is “evaluating our options, including filing objections based on the inappropriate and undue influence by the [National Labor Relations Board]”—an indication that Amazon management is not prepared to start collective bargaining talks. The retail behemoth is also fighting off a unionization attempt in Bessemer, Alabama, where election results released last week were razor-close.

According to a Bloomberg Law analysis from last year, it takes longer than a year on average for new unions and employers to sign their first collective bargaining agreement. Many unions, due to bad-faith negotiating by employers and other factors, never succeed in securing their first contract.

In a statement on Saturday, the ALU said that “it is in the common interest of both parties to respect the outcome of this democratic election.” The union added in an accompanying tweet that “JFK8 workers denounce any attempt by Amazon to delay our hard-won right to bargain collectively.”

“The workers of JFK8 have made clear their desire and intention to engage in collective bargaining,” the union said. “It is our sincere hope that we can begin a constructive dialogue with our employer, and that the process will result in greatly improved working conditions for Amazon workers.”

“President Smalls has also demanded on behalf of workers that Amazon hereby maintain the status quo with regards to terms and conditions of employment at JFK8,” the union continued, alluding to concerns that Amazon could retaliate against organizers. “Additionally, we demand the employer respect each worker’s legal right to union representation in disciplinary meetings, and the outcome of any such meeting be subject to bargaining.”

The Biden administration is actually calling its proposed new levy a “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax,” not a “wealth tax.” But the administration is most definitely putting forward a tax on what billionaires would all consider their wealth.

The new Biden tax proposal would apply to Americans worth over $100 million. These wealthy — essentially America’s richest 0.01 percent — would be expected to pay an annual tax of at least 20 percent on their taxable income. But included in that taxable income would be any increase in the value of liquid assets — stocks and bonds, for instance — that top 0.01 percenters might own.

Annual increases in the value of these liquid assets — the core of every billionaire fortune — currently go totally untaxed until their wealthy owners decide to sell these assets off. That gives “ultra-high-net-worth households,” the Biden White House points out, the ability to have their gains “go untaxed for decades or generations.”

Under the Biden proposal, wealthy households already paying a tax of at least 20 percent on their “full income” — the dollars they’ve gained from both standard taxable compensation and unrealized gains on their liquid assets — would owe no additional tax. But almost all of America’s super rich would owe additional tax since their fortunes are regularly generating massive annual untaxed gains.

Let’s take the example of a CEO mogul holding shares of stock worth a clean $10 billion. Let’s assume, for the sake of this exercise, a 10 percent annual growth in the value of our mogul’s stock holdings, a conservative estimate given recent Wall Street history. Last year, for instance, the S&P 500 rose 26.9 percent.

Let’s also assume that this same mogul pockets $20 million in annual CEO pay. After taking various deductions, the mogul turns out to owe 20 percent of this $20 million in annual income tax.

But our mogul would also owe tax, if Congress adopts the Biden budget, on the 10 percent annual gain in the mogul’s stock holdings. Adding in this stock gain would bring the mogul’s total taxable income for the year, under the Biden tax plan, to $1.02 billion, with the $20 million from the mogul’s CEO pay package added to the $1 billion the mogul’s shares of stock have gained in annual value.

The mogul would have to pay, under the Biden plan, at least 20 percent of this $1.02 billion — $204 million — in tax. Under existing law, our mogul would owe just $4 million in tax.

Such a tax increase, venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary opined this past Monday on CNBC’s Squawk Box, would be simply “unAmerican.”

Such an increase, retorts the Biden administration, would be simple fairness.

“Under current law, when an American worker earns a dollar of wages, that dollar is taxed as they earn it,” the White House explains. “But when a billionaire earns income because their investments increase in value, that gain is too often never taxed at all.”

America’s over 700 billionaires, the administration adds, last year saw “their wealth increase by $1 trillion.” Yet current law has billionaires paying “just 8 percent of their total realized and unrealized income in taxes.”

“A firefighter or teacher,” adds the White House, “can pay double that tax rate.”

The Biden tax plan is actually taking much the same approach that Tom Paine took with the wealth tax proposal he first put forward in 1792. Paine keyed his tax, as Biden’s proposal does, to the gains the wealthy realize from their wealth, not the total value of that wealth. As a result, observe tax analysts Jeremy Bearer-Friend and Vanessa Williamson in their new paper, The Common Sense of a Wealth Tax, some scholars believe we can describe Paine’s tax plan as either “an income tax or a wealth tax” — the same definitional option we now have with Biden’s new tax plan.

George Washington University’s Bearer-Friend and Brookings senior fellow Williamson have converted the tax brackets and rates of Paine’s plan into 2020 U.S. dollar terms. Under Paine’s plan, they find, households of means collecting just over $15 million from their wealth would pay $1.4 million in total tax. Households making nearly $50 million off their wealth would pay about $23 million in tax. And households gaining more than $50 million from their wealth would face a 100 percent tax on all their gains over that $50 million.

In other words, Paine was essentially calling for a limit on the wealth any rich people could annually add to their fortunes. “Roughly speaking,” Bearer-Friend and Williamson’s research concludes, Paine’s 100 percent tax bracket — if enacted today — would apply only to billionaires.

Under Paine’s plan, the two analysts go on to point out, billionaires who experienced a 5 percent annual return off wealth of $2 billion would owe $73.3 million in taxes, the equivalent of about a 3.5 percent tax on their personal fortunes. That 3.5 percent rate, Bearer-Friend and Williamson note, would run remarkably close to the tax rates that appear in wealth tax proposals that Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have advanced in recent years.

The Biden administration tax plan doesn’t put that big a bite on grand private fortune. But the Biden plan does represent a significant step toward taxing the wealth of America’s wealthiest, says go-to global expert on economic inequality Gabriel Zucman. This University of California-Berkeley economist reminds us that mega-billionaires Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk together paid just $1.5 billion in federal income taxes over the five-year period that ended in 2018. Under the Biden proposal, this trio would pay “at least” 100 times more in taxes over the next nine years.

Tom Paine’s tax policy priorities, Bearer-Friend and Williamson suggest, “speak directly to the 21st century challenges of the rise of oligarchic wealth concentration and the deteriorating conditions of American democracy.” Paine believed that extreme wealth undermines “the ability of citizens to choose their leaders.” Freedom, in Paine’s view, “meant both lifting the poor from penury and dependence” — so they could participate as full-fledged citizens — and eliminating the “vicious influence” of fiercely concentrated wealth.

Tom Paine had it right.

Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. His latest books include The Case for a Maximum Wage and The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Follow him at @Too_Much_Online. Shared under.a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

We can't let the frackers win

Don't Let Frackers Exploit The Ukraine War

More fossil fuel production won’t solve the long-term challenge of energy insecurity. Don’t let the frackers win. More oil & gas = more war.

By Phil Aroneanu & Charles Lenchner

The Biden administration has announced that it is planning to send more than 15 billion cubic meters of U.S. gas to Europe this year, to stave off a massive shortage caused by the Russian war on Ukraine. In a typical year, Russia supplies more than 40% of Europe’s gas, used for heating, electricity, and much more.

Also, the Biden team says it’s planning to increase natural gas exports to Europe year-over-year, which would mean building more liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals, more pipelines, and more fracking wells across the country.

In other words, war on another continent is being exploited to generate windfall profits for the U.S. fossil fuel industry.

We can't let the frackers win

More fossil fuel production won’t solve the long-term challenge of energy insecurity. Instead, it will just lock in more gas infrastructure for decades to come, undermining vital steps toward cutting emissions and addressing the climate crisis. Besides, pipelines, export terminals and fracking wells can’t be built overnight.

What should be happening is an emergency effort to ship U.S.-made, efficient heat pumps to Europe, paired with more investments in renewable energy. Considering the downsides of dependence on petrostate dictatorships, that would be a huge bargain.

Humanity is coming to grips with the desperate need for much more international cooperation to address the climate emergency. We’ve seen the destructive results of fossil fuel dependency – it fuels conflict everywhere, including the war in Ukraine. The answer can’t be more military spending, more drilling, mining and burning. We need a Marshall Plan for clean energy, not a new Cold War. 

Among other things, if the Biden administration tries to build more LNG export terminals, gas pipelines and fracking wells, they will be opposed, delayed, and defeated by communities that don’t want to be sacrifice zones for Big Oil. There’s a veritable graveyard of gas infrastructure projects that have been scrapped due to community resistance in the past few years, including, just to list a few:

A natural gas build-out may sound good to elected officials looking for easy talking points and oil and gas executives looking for a quick profit. But the reality is that communities across the country – from indigenous people fighting Line 3 in Minnesota, to Black folks living in the shadows of oil refineries in Louisiana, to West Virginians living beneath the smokestacks of polluting coal-fired power plants – will do what it takes to protect their families from pollution and environmental injustice.

Another way of saying it is: communities that have been on the frontlines of this crisis know how to resist big corporations and cynical politicians who try to sacrifice them for political points.  We can all do our part to make sure Biden is listening.

Phil Aroneanu is a longtime organizer and strategist who co-founded of 350.org, and currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action