Welcome to Truth Against The Machine

In October 2015, I was ready to call it quits. On year 10 of dead-end, soul-sucking corporate media jobs, I realized I couldn’t lead a fulfilling life making so little impact and simply serving as part of the problem.

I’d worked inside the belly of the beast, having booked guests and produced segments at RNC television—I mean Fox News (one day I’ll write a book)—followed by a year-long stint at MSNBC. After three-and-a-half years in cable news, I knew I couldn’t spend the next 20-30 years pushing false narratives and substanceless drivel.

After a 2-year-hiatus in the non-profit world (hence my distaste for all things meetings and bureaucracy), I took a major risk at 27, leaving a comfy digital producer position in favor of becoming a full-time writer.

The $25,000 pay cut was a tough pill to swallow, but it was now or never.

Over the next two years, I wrote about media and politics for TVNewser.com and then TheWrap.com, but again, I was trapped in the bullshit-substanceless-clickbait-drivel vortex.

I knew I had a unique voice and determination within—I just couldn’t find the platform to unleash it.

Then one November night in 2015, I pushed through the flu to go watch Cenk Uygur give a talk about his career in New York City.

We spoke after as I groveled at his feet for a janitor job at The Young Turks.

As if the universe was finally ready to stop fucking with me and throw me a bone, Cenk called me a month later to offer me a first for The Young Turks—a reporter job, covering the presidential campaign.

A year and a few months later—and a whirlwind campaign mixed with witnessing corruption and searing injustice nationwide—I can honestly say I’m the luckiest journalist in America.

In a country with very few left.

What drapes TV screens and fills up newspapers and websites on a daily basis isn’t journalism—it’s infotainment (and frankly, not very entertaining).

I remember spending a day in a Portland, Oregon houseless community, covering the growing population of working people who get paid such poverty wages, they can’t even afford to put a roof over their head.

But when I turned on the TV in the hotel, CNN was having a “debate” over the latest series of tweets from then-candidate Donald Trump.

Yup, I know.

This plays out every single day: real issues, real struggle, REAL stories lay silent as overpaid, glorified PR-spinsters put on makeup, hold up a microphone, and claim to be “holding the powerful accountable”.

The only thing they are holding is a fat wallet and a meaningless career.

And when I say real stories, I’m not simply talking about what I personally think is important.

I mean life and death situations that without the proper spotlight, can get people killed: faulty big oil pipelines; communities with toxic water they don’t even know about and the media ignores; banks STILL illegally tossing families on the streets; politicians voting against making life-saving prescription drugs cheaper.

The list goes on (and doesn’t even touch on the military industrial complex and total propaganda “journalism” that launches us and keeps us in perpetual war, crippling our families, economy, and very way of life).

So, if you’ve read this far, you probably agree with me (or at least have an open mind).

Experiencing all this injustice up close and personal has both drained me, at times depressed me, and at times—made me extremely hopeful.

The hope appeared from the dozens of aspiring, fearless independent journalists I’ve met: in Standing Rock, Flint, East Chicago, and dozens of other cities and communities I’ve covered over the last year or so.

These folks have the potential to do great, impactful things, but due to the digital diarrhea we currently live in, they’re often crowded out or have their work buried underneath all the clutter.

So why not bring everyone together in one place?

That’s my concept for Truth Against The Machine.

The name is simple. Everything in me starts with truth. I’m a no bullshit, keep it real kind of guy. I don’t believe in talking or acting one way when the camera rolls and another when it’s off.

I also believe that if we’re going to be depended on for facts and truth, we have to make sure we have the facts right. Sure, sometimes we’ll mess up. We’re human. When it happens, we will correct it and move on.

Against the Machine represents my healthy dose of anger and determination toward the revolving door that has hijacked our country: the corrupt cabal of banks, big corporations, lobbyists, corporate media, and politicians, all working together in one, big, corrupt circle-jerk.

Together, through a collection of independent journalists telling the stories happening in their communities—ones the local and national media won’t touch with a 10-foot pole because it might make the powerful or moneyed interests look bad—I truly believe we can create a thriving journalistic platform that creates the REAL journalism stars of today and tomorrow.

And if we do it right, maybe even change.

Because make no mistake about it: makeup doesn’t make you a journalist. An iPhone or a microphone doesn’t either. And having a nationally popular media outlet behind you doesn’t mean you are some type of journalistic icon.

To me, a journalist is everything those old, stuffy journalist 101 professors told you NOT TO BE.

I’m NOT neutral. I’m a progressive who believes rich people should not run our country and money should not be hoarded by them. My BIAS is for justice, truth, and equality (economic and social).

I didn’t get into journalism to simply tell you what one side says vs. the other. Find a stenographer for that.

I got into journalism to CREATE CHANGE.

And if this site does anything, my hope is it gives other talented, hungry journalists the platform to do so.

This will be a total community effort. If you believe in our purpose and the stories that are being told, please DONATE what you can!

With my full-time reporting job keeping me very busy, I’ll have dedicated folks running the website, editing, vetting stories, doing social media, etc.

Also, call me old-fashioned, but I believe in paying folks. Won’t be much (unless you surprise me and donate millions!), but I’d like to contribute to the journalists contributing here.

In the end, this country has a very long way to go and it’s not going to get turned around by faux progressives tossing out platitudes. It’s certainly not going to be turned by corporate media giving them the endless platform to do so unchallenged. And, of course, those super duper awesome “job creators” Republicans love to fantasize about aren’t running toward us with relief.

It’s going to get turned around by you, me, and us.

Today is a bit of a soft-launch. Click on dispatches and video to see what we have so far and some of the faces who’ll be bringing stories to you.

Please join me to wage Truth Against The Machine.

Sincerely,

Jordan Chariton

Democracy Under Attack: Media Screens Residents for Politician

A photo from May 15 of protesters outside the Storer Auditorium on the Onondaga Community College protesting Rep. John Katko (R-Camillius)
A photo from May 15 of protesters outside the Storer Auditorium on the Onondaga Community College protesting Rep. John Katko (R-Camillius)

In Syracuse, if you’re a politician in Upstate New York and you don’t want to deal with people requesting an open conversation with you, turns out you can just ask the media to run interference and they will gladly oblige you.

A little over a week ago, This Week Tonight host John Oliver talked about the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a very large and very conservative media organization on the threshold of acquiring untold influence over the country’s local TV news market.

In the Syracuse area, there are two local news channels: WSTM-TV and WTVH-TV, and they’re both owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. About two months ago, they screened constituents looking to attend the town hall meeting of the congressman representing New York’s 24th District in the House, Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus).

Oliver’s segment outlines the extent to which Sinclair likes to sprinkle hard-right views into local news broadcasts to unwitting viewers. He also emphasizes how Sinclair is set to acquire another network, Tribune Media, in a merger that would give them full control over seven out of the 10 major markets across the country.  

While Oliver does a great job illustrating why having a powerful media organization inserting propaganda into news reports is as dangerous as it sounds, at least in Syracuse, the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s local affiliates went a step further.

Finally a Town Hall

In May, it was announced Rep. Katko would finally hold a long-awaited town hall at Onondaga Community College and the event was to be hosted and moderated by anchors from WSTM-TV and WTVH-TV.

To be clear, this town hall was sorely needed. It was the first time residents had a chance to talk directly with Rep. Katko in this type of venue since January 2015, so his constituents really wanted to sit down and have a lengthy chat.

Almost as ridiculous as not meeting with your constituents in over two years is the reason why he said he wouldn’t meet with them — seems he’s scared of progressives. Particularly, members and affiliates of a national grassroots group called Indivisible.  

To let Rep. Katko tell it, people who disagree with him are so much of a threat, he needed to have a severely limited and carefully-screened town hall event; lest the lowborn come in with their signs and loud noises to ask him really, really tough questions.

It’s also important to remember conservatives have (unsuccessfully) tried to convince us the angry people showing up at town halls are plants sent there to make them look bad. Ask Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) about that. While you’re at it, look into what happened to Iowa Rep. Rod Blum (R) when he tried this screening nonsense. Spoiler alert: people were still really pissed.

Rules of the Town Hall

According to the rules of admission for Rep. Katko’s event, people had to email the stations their home and email addresses after which 150 people selected through a “lottery” would be notified that they had been granted the privilege of being in the same room as the guy the put in office.

On the night of the town hall, participants had to show a valid license or ID before admittance to make sure the addresses matched what the TV stations received via email.

Wait a minute. Is this a town hall or happy hour?

Unless they plan on having strippers and $2 shots in there, there is NO good, legitimate reason to ask for identification from anyone who wishes to hold their representatives accountable. We’re talking about the people coming to peaceably assemble to ask an elected official some questions. It’s that simple.

Plus, what if someone doesn’t have a “valid” ID? Does that mean they don’t have the right to ask questions of their representatives? To some people, this might sound like suppressing free speech. You would think a news organization, an entity that is supposed to have a healthy respect for the First Amendment, would be more sensitive to that sort of thing.

Also, for the record, the town hall went pretty much as expected: only a handful of carefully-screened constituents were allowed into an event where Rep. Katko largely gave vague, non-answers to questions, dozens of people protested outside for the duration of the event, and afterwards, Rep. Katko dashed out the backdoor.

It’s no secret that the mainstream media have been known to placate politicos for access in order to keep ratings high and profits soaring at the expense of real journalism, but the idea of having the media directly working on a politician’s behalf is dangerous.

After the Town Hall

Consider the aftermath of the Rep. Katko town hall. As of right now, the two area TV stations – and by extension, Sinclair Broadcasting – have the addresses and contact information for a countless number of people in the Syracuse area, because while about 150 people were let into the event, who knows how many people sent in their information.

Imagine this: much like what happened with CNN and the Trump wrasslin’ GIF created by a guy on Reddit, some people express some pro-choice views in the comments section of one of  WSTM-TV’s ridiculously slanted pro-life segments. Their “investigative journalism team” finds out who those people are and threatens to expose their identity in a “follow-up” on the “intolerant left” unless they “show remorse.”

Or maybe that info just finds its way to the Internet regardless. You know, because the TV station has it anyway, and the people who own that station seemingly have no boundaries.

What’s more, if the media is given authority to screen constituents on behalf of a politician, what’s to stop a TV channel from coercing apologies from its viewers, or reporters from checking ID near voting booths; or asking that immigrant interviewees show them their papers before guaranteeing anonymity as one of their on-background sources? Where’s the line?

It’s Not Supposed to be Like This

In college, we learned that a journalist’s first obligation is to the truth and our first loyalty is to the citizens. It’s clear the higher ups at the Sinclair Broadcasting Group did not get that memo.

As previously mentioned, there are plenty of journalists out there fully willing to bend to the whim of a politician to enrich themselves in some way – or simply just because they’re afraid to not rock the boat. However, it takes a special kind of monster to do so to the disadvantage of their fellow citizens and democracy.

What’s scary is given how the Sinclair Broadcast Group clearly gives little to no fucks about honesty or transparency, this is likely to happen again and again all across the country.

With this merger likely to go through, it looks like any cowardly politician, corrupt journalist, or feckless media organization will have a solid platform from which to distort the truth, intimidate the citizenry, and straight up dismantle the First Amendment called the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

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Illinois Governor Cashes in on Top Officials for New Alt-Right Staff

Gov. Rauner
Gov. Rauner

Days following the outcome of the historic Illinois state budget crisis, Governor Bruce Rauner remained closed off from the public. After the devastating result that his Turnaround Agenda had failed in the Springfield sessions and overtime sessions, something was cooking in the governor’s office. With his campaign already in progress for re-election next year, he has decided to switch gears and attack from a different angle by removing some of his top officials and replacing them with a new alt-right conservative team.

On July 10, the first off of his list was his former Chief of Staff, Rich Goldberg, who has aided the governor since he began his first term on January 12, 2015. Goldberg was Rauner’s top aide to the governor’s administration as well as his top campaign advisor. However, there are contradicting sources that announced whether he was fired or he voluntarily re-assigned himself to national security and consulting. Among the officials removed was Rauner’s former Communications Director Brad Hahn, and Catherine Kelly who was Rauner’s spokesperson and Deputy Director of Communications.

New to the governor’s team is former Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) President and Chief Operating Officer, and former Breitbart columnist, Kristina Rasmussen. The IPI is Illinois’ most conservative think-tank that has received hefty donations from Bruce Rauner while he was a member of Golder, Thoma, Cressey, Rauner, Inc. (GTCT LLC). The funding to IPI was between 2009-2013 at the approximated amount of $525,000 in donations. Rauner was one of the founders as well as the Chairman of the Chicago-based private equity firm that is worth $11 billion.

Follow the money and you will find the corruption. Now, within his last year of his first term, he’s cashing in on his investment and bringing in assistance from the far right. Although Rasmussen called the Governor out on his leniency towards income tax hikes a few years ago, it appears that they’ve quickly reconciled and are now setting the layout for hard-hitting new tactics. Upon her leaving at the Illinois Policy Institute, the staff published a farewell address for their President:

“The 32 percent tax hike without reform that the General Assembly just passed illustrates the imperative to win the fight to put the people of Illinois first. We must reform the system that has allowed House Speaker Mike Madigan and his political machine to create such hardship for working families. With the governor’s decision to add Kristina to his team, Illinois taxpayers and families have an effective and proven champion on their side.”

Although, not everyone is convinced of Kristina’s intentions as the governor’s new chief of staff. His opposition running for the 2018 election for Governor is State Senator Daniel Biss from Illinois’ 9th District. His bid is supported by 2,700 small donors and is leading in the progressive grassroots communities. Senator Biss expressed serious concern about the former Breitbart writer joining the governor’s administration, his website declared:

“And today Kristina Rasmussen, a former Breitbart columnist and most recently president of the Illinois Policy Institute, a right-wing organization hell-bent on destroying Medicaid, unions, and the minimum wage, was just hired as Rauner’s chief of staff.”

However on July 10, Rasmussen did not waste any time on her first day as chief of staff as she sent a memo out to the governor’s administration about four key areas that she wants to focus on. The first point is to address ideas for transforming Illinois and to refer to the Completed Staff Work. She said, “Please share with me your best ideas for transforming Illinois through better public policy and improved operations by Friday at 3:00 p.m. I follow the approach of Completed Staff Work; this will give you guidance on how to present your ideas.”

The second key area is to get stories from the public to ensure their normalcy as Illinoisans. The memo continued, “We’re going to share incredible stories of the men, women, and children who deserve a revitalized Illinois. More information will follow, but here’s a good overview of where we are headed.”

She then goes on to encourage ideas for excellence and having a mutual respect paired with radical candor, “I’m looking for your excellence. How can you approach an aspect of your work in a new and better way today? Mutual respect paired with radical candor will make this an even greater place to work.” I attempted to follow any responses on her social media pages but her Twitter account is blocked from public access unless given approval.

Amongst the newly hired staff members, the administration brought in three more members from the Illinois Policy Institute. The new Deputy Chief of Staff for policy is Michael Lucci, the former Vice President of IPI. Next is Laurel Patrick as the new Director of Communications, who previously worked as the Press Secretary for Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker’s from March of 2014 to April of 2016 after he gutted public sector unions. Lastly is Jean Hutton who was the former director for IPI and her responsibilities included financial management, payroll administration, human resources, compliance and office administration and is now Rasmussen’s special assistant in the Rauner Administration. On Monday, July 17, the newest member is Matthew Besler, the President of the Illinois Opportunity Project, who has been hired as Rauner’s chief strategist advisor.

Tension is certainly rising as opposing officials make their plea for Governor in 2018. Bruce Rauner has already committed $70 million towards his re-election campaign and others are stepping up to the plate to take on one of the nation’s most critical positions. Another contestant is J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who is the co-founder of the Pritzker Group that is a private investment firm, worth roughly $3.4 billion. He has already spent $14 million on his campaign for 2018. Politico reported Pritzker’s statement on the Governor’s new chief of staff, “Rasmussen has a radical conservative record, signaling that stubborn Rauner is [in] no way ready to compromise.”

The upcoming election for governor is speculated to be one of the most expensive races at the approximate amount of $300 million in a time where Illinois taxpayers are being squeezed for every dime they have left.

The currents are shifting farther right on the governor’s team and it seems that once again, money is being dumped into campaigns instead of the communities that have been suffering for decades, especially these last two years. The new staff we see developing in Bruce Rauner’s administration is linked by a history of donor contributions, and now they will set a new approach that may indicate questionable motives for the future of Illinois in the upcoming election year.

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Firefighters Battle Houston for Equal Pay and Benefits as Police

Houston Fire Department Houston PD Differences

Houston’s firefighters currently are paid on average 60% less than police and are working on a petition that needs 20,000 voter signatures by July 21, 2017, to get fair pay issued on the November 2017 ballot.

Firefighters will be submitting 32,000 validated signatures to the City after collecting 52,000 signatures with more pouring in.

“Election experts tell us that this is one of the most successful and fastest petition drives in Texas history,” Patrick M. Lancton, president of Houston Professional Firefighters Association, said.

Aside from getting fair pay on the ballot, the petition calls for an election to amend the Houston City Charter to also protect firefighters and their families from City Hall politics.

“The City has destabilized the wages, benefits, working conditions, and retirement security of Houston firefighters – at the state capitol and in Houston City Hall,” Lancton said.

Back in 2005, Houston voters approved collective bargaining for the city’s firefighters which allows the representatives to negotiate the salary and benefits of the firefighters. Their last budget was approved two years ago and expired this year.

Local firefighters have been urging Houston leaders to negotiate a new contract, suggesting using a neutral third party, and the City has refused arbitration forcing a lawsuit to be filed by the Professional Houston Firefighters Association.

“Let’s be clear now: This petition drive was necessary because Houston firefighters are at a breaking point,” Lancton said.

“Our fleet and facilities are declining. Our wages, benefits and working conditions are no longer competitive. We’re losing firefighters to other departments. We now are asking the voters to help Houston firefighters because the City refuses to do so.”

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Houston Firefighters

Prison Profiteering: In Person Visitation Replaced by Pay-Per-Minute Video Calls

One recent trend in American prisons is that many are replacing in-person visitation with video calls. In some of the locations where this reform is implemented, prisoner’s families must pay up to $1.50 for each minute they spend on the call, enriching the private companies that operate the video hosts and burdening poor families.

Inmates often have a hard time maintaining a connection to their family while they serve their sentence, as it is inconvenient for family members to travel to the jail to visit. This is problematic, as maintaining connection to family and friends is a key factor in reintegrating with the world once a person is released. One potential solution to this is to utilize new technology to provide video visitation options to supplement in-person visitations, thus enhancing the ability of prisoners to contact their loved ones.

Unfortunately, the adoption of this new form of visitation in US prisons has been hopelessly entwined with the profit motive. As reported by Vice News, of the 600 facilities in the USA that currently have video visitations, 74% eliminate in-person visitation, forcing prisoners to rely entirely on the new system to contact their family. Not only does this completely eliminate the ability of families to have actual face-to-face interactions, but it gives private companies who provide the video chat systems a captive consumer base to charge for their services. These calls can cost up to $1.50 per minute, which is divided between the prison and the video streaming company.

Just to put this into perspective, imagine that a man with two kids is sent to jail for two years on a minor drug charge. His girlfriend is living as a single mother on a fixed income, barely scraping by, and is now expected to pay $1.50 per minute for her children to see their father. If he wants to have one half-hour video call every two weeks, the annual cost to his girlfriend would be $1,170. Obviously, this is well beyond her means, and the end result is that his visitation rights are ended for most of the two years he is incarcerated.

The companies behind this type of prison profiteering are virtually anonymous (e.g. you probably have never hear of Securus Inc.), and use this anonymity to push for contracts that mandate the elimination of in-person visitation and freeze out any competitors. In effect, they create a monopoly in the prison where anybody who wants to see their family needs to go through them, and pay out the nose for doing so. Prisons benefit from this arrangement in several ways, including a cut of the profits and reductions in labor associated with in-person visitation (e.g. searching visitors and controlling the visitation room). Additionally, the elimination of in-person visitation reduces the risk that prisoners will use family members to smuggle drugs and contraband into the prison.

This shift towards video-based visitation in many prisons is extremely troubling and will fall the hardest on the poor. White collar criminals can easily pay the cost of visitation imposed on these calls, while the poor bear the brunt of the hardship. As the prison population in the United States is disproportionately poor and minority, the actual impacts of these shifts in visitation are widespread and significant.

Prison Profiteering

Revenues are being extracted from prisoners in the USA through a variety of financial arrangements. At the most basic level, these arrangements are designed to extract money from one of three sources: 1) the state, 2) prisoners, or 3) prisoners’ families. These funds are funneled to private interests who contract with the state, or to the state itself.

The most direct of these arrangements is the private prison, where the state pays a private company to operate the prison and give them a fee on a per-prisoner basis. Profits are made through cutting prisoner services, reducing staff costs (e.g. lower salaries, no unions, few benefits, etc.) and sometimes reducing maintenance and security in the facility.

A second direct form of prison profiteering is the use of prison labor to provide services at well below market rates—this can benefit either private companies or the state. Private companies can contract with prisons in many states to supply them with labor (e.g. telemarketers, food preparation, and furniture making), paying mere cents an hour to the prisoners and a fee to the prison itself.

This dramatically reduces their costs, eliminates labor relations and benefits fights, and lets them circumvent wage and worker protections. Similarly, states will use unpaid prison labor to replace unionized public workers, eliminating the need to pay decent wages and provide benefits to those who work on public lands. The public jobs these prisoners are expected to perform vary, from road-crews picking up trash to firefighters dealing with wildfires.

Aside from these direct forms of prison profiteering, there are numerous, smaller, forms of extraction that target prisoners and their families. These include charging prisoners for making phone calls, operating prison stores to sell extras to prisoners (e.g. coffee), and even creating an option where prisoners can pay extra money to the state to get a better cell. The central purpose of these forms of extraction is to sell goods and services to the captive prison population, at a significant markup, in order to recoup some of the costs of housing them.

Because prison labor doesn’t pay, the money being extracted is almost always from the families of those convicted. Ironically, some prisons will also take money off of the top of these accounts, forcing families to pay a transaction fee every time they put money into their loved one’s account.

While these various forms of prison profiteering are commonplace in the United States, a new form of exploitation is becoming more common and must be directly addressed. Some prisons are reducing or eliminating prison visitations and replacing them with video call, very similar to Skype, which charge the families on a minute by minute basis. This is not only extremely regressive and inhumane, but it is also counter-productive.

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Corporations & Internet Users Rally Today in Support of Net Neutrality

https://www.fightforthefuture.org/news/2017-07-11-heres-how-you-can-participate-in-net-neutrality/
https://www.fightforthefuture.org/news/2017-07-11-heres-how-you-can-participate-in-net-neutrality/

A coalition of activist organizations including Fight for the Future, Freepress Action Fund, and Demand Progress have organized websites including Amazon, Netflix, Kickstarter, Pornhub, reddit, and dozens of others to place banners that look like error messages on their homepages. These banners aim to give a teaser of what the internet will be like if net neutrality is ended by prompting users to “upgrade your plan” or informing them that the site “has been blocked by your ISP.” Below, the banners urge users to contact their congressman as well as the FCC to voice their support for net neutrality.

This is a response to new efforts by the Federal Communications Commission, spearheaded by chairman Ajit Pai, to dismantle net neutrality regulations and enable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to give preferential treatment to websites that can afford it.

As with most things Republicans try to do, the logic behind this is that of “deregulation” which, they assure us, is in the customer’s best interest. In reality, the end of net neutrality means more power and more money for ISPs, companies which already function as monopolies in most markets (51% of Americans have only a single broadband provider in their area). By allowing ISPs to charge more money for internet “fast lanes,” huge companies that can afford the cost will pay to have their content seen, while smaller sites who cannot afford it are strangled to death or forced to pass on the cost to their users.

The FCC proposal takes aim at undoing the 2015 Open Internet Order, which it states:  “[applies] utility-style regulation to the Internet” and “…has put at risk online investment and innovation.” Its justification is that “investment in broadband networks [has] declined” since the 2015 Open Internet Order, but as USA Today and others have already shown, this conclusion relies on intentionally misreading the data.

FCC chairman Pai, who was first appointed to the commission by Barack Obama and promoted to chairman by Trump, has been an outspoken critic of net neutrality rules for many years now. He voted against the Open Internet Order, which sought to secure net neutrality regulations. Shortly after Trump’s election (and before he was appointed chairman) he stated that net neutrality’s “days are numbered.”

This history makes the FCC’s new measures against net neutrality more egregious. The purpose of releasing a proposal for public questioning is to explore whether or not the proposed regulations have popular support, and are in the public’s best interests. However, it is clear that Pai has already decided to end net neutrality and that to him, public opinion is an afterthought.

His FCC may complain about a “utility-style regulatory approach” but the fact is that in 2017, the internet is a utility and should be treated as such. For vast numbers of people, especially students, millennials, people who work in tech, and people who live in urban areas, the internet is an economic necessity, just like gas, electricity, and running water. Far from bringing “freedom” to the internet, ending net neutrality does nothing but squeeze average people to give more to gigantic corporations.

To join the fight for net neutrality, go here and follow the instructions to contact the FCC and your congressperson.

Free Press Pics via Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Free Press Pics via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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Missouri Blocks Economic Relief for Low-Wage Earners

Gov. Eric Greitens
Gov. Eric Greitens

In St. Louis, a pending bill is set to slash the salaries of low-wage earners in the city by almost 25%, a move the Governor of Missouri literally said should help them, “keep money in their pockets.”

One-term Republican Gov. Eric Greitens (who, for the record, was a Democrat before switching parties to run for office) said as much in a statement earlier this week while announcing he did not plan on signing a bill preventing the city from setting its own minimum wage.

In Missouri, the governor not signing a bill is the same as signing it – the only difference is that Gov. Greitens apparently doesn’t want his name on a law that will mean workers in St. Louis earning the city’s minimum wage of $10 will see that rolled back to the state level of $7.70 on Aug. 28. This means for the roughly 35,000 residents will not get that $2,400 pay raise some were desperately hoping for.

St. Louis initially passed an ordinance granting higher base wages back in 2015, but according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the city’s law had been tied up in the courts by business interests in the state.

It wasn’t until May when an injunction placed on the law by the St. Louis Circuit Court was lifted by order of the Missouri Supreme Court. The Republican-controlled state legislature then proceeded to fast-track another bill that would outlaw the ordinance immediately.

Despite past attempts by state representatives to get the city’s ordinance nullified, and the fact the wage-cutting bill was passed on the state level, Gov. Greitens said low wage earners in St. Louis looking to hold someone accountable should direct their ire toward their local elected officials.

Why? Because they apparently forgot to take into account the interests of the state which, “needs more private sector paychecks and bigger private sector paychecks.”

Think about that for a minute: the state has to stop municipalities from making the private sector pay more people higher wages, because the private sector needs that money to pay more people higher wages. Gov. Greitens keeps going.  

“It will kill jobs and despite what you hear from liberals, it will take money out of people’s pockets,” Gov. Greitens said. “This increase in the minimum wage might read pretty on paper, but it doesn’t work in practice. Government imposes an arbitrary wage, and small businesses either have to cut people’s hours or let them go.”

Here’s the problem: all of that is flat out untrue.

On Thursday, the Labor Department released its jobs numbers for the month of June and, at the risk of getting too wonky, there are takeaways from the report that run counter to Gov. Greiten’s argument.

Namely, how while about 222,000 jobs were added last month and unemployment is stupid low at 4.4 percent, economists and other experts say wages have not increased as much as they should have. Hourly earnings have increased a mere four cents, or 0.2 percent, in June. In May, workers earned 0.1 percent more.

Experts say the issue is that while there are more jobs, employers are having a difficult time finding qualified employees to fill them. To fix this, some economists suggest paying people higher wages.

“The pace of job growth is expected to slow as the labor market hits full employment,” economics reporter, Lucia Mutikani, reports for Reuters. “As a result, companies are gradually raising wages in an effort to attract and retain their employees.”

Clearly, paying workers a bit more isn’t the cure for an ailing economy in Missouri or in the rest of the country from having a booming economy, but experts say it’ll sure help. And to think: Gov. Greitens could veto the wage-cutting legislation and help the private sector he says the state so desperately needs.

Not to mention, the St. Louis ordinance would’ve affected businesses either netting more than $500,000 annually, or those employing more than 15 workers.

It’s unclear how many businesses exceed that $500,000/year sales limit, but according to the federal Small Business Administration, firms in Missouri employing between 1-19 workers make up 17 percent of the private workforce in the state.

That’s 187,000 people, and remember: St. Louis officials figured around 35,000 residents would have been helped by a minimum wage increase. Run the numbers, and you will find Gov. Greitens and the state legislature argue giving 0.0031% of the state’s work force a raise will tank the economy.

Also, the state is about to deliver massive tax cuts to its wealthiest residents and tax deductions for businesses that could be as much as 25%.

As reported by the Associated Press in the Springfield News-Leader, this is will happen thanks actions by legislators in 2014 when they decided to build the cuts into the state budget which were designed to kick in once the state reached a certain threshold for revenue.

Officials are still running the numbers, but it looks as the fiscal time bomb is set to blow. It’s estimated the cuts would cost the state $620 million a year in tax revenue once fully implemented.

So just to recap: the state can’t risk businesses paying workers $84 million a year in increased wages, but it will clear the way for those same businesses – and the wealthiest among them – to get $620 million a year in tax breaks – at a time when the state is under enormous fiscal stress. Whose pockets is Gov. Greitens looking out for again?

And one more thing: A study released by the National Employment Law Project released last year looked at 22 minimum wage increases at the federal level from 1938 to 2009. They found there was NO CORRELATION between increasing the minimum wage and job loss. Instead there was a 68% increase in jobs across the board.

In fact, this was even more true for leisure/hospitality jobs and retail jobs; occupations where an increased minimum wage was expected to decimate employment. According to the study, the retail sector saw a 73% increase in jobs whenever the minimum wage went up and the leisure/hospitality sector saw an 82% increase when that happened.

The bad news is that no matter what the studies or the numbers say, it looks like Missouri seems hell bent on enriching the few and keeping profits fat for businesses at the expense of the workers and residents bearing the brunt of true fiscal hardship.

The good news is that the workers and residents in St. Louis and elsewhere know all of this and the same math and studies their representatives seem to ignore or reject indicates they will most likely get what they want.

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VIDEO: Indigenous Communities Fight Mining of Uranium Ore

Indigenous communities and non-profits fight to stop corporations from mining uranium ore out of Canyon Mine and creating toxic waste.

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Class War: Teachers Turn Sharply Against Charters

Class War

Teachers turn sharply against charter schools as politicians try to grant them sweeping new powers. Over the 4th of July weekend, the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher union, held its annual Representative Assembly, where some 1,700 members gathered to toughen the NEA’s official position on charter schools. At the same time, New York State policymakers were quietly advancing bold new policies to free charter schools from teacher certification requirements.

Unions Unite Against Charters

The NEA assembly in Boston began with a fiery speech from NEA President Lily Eskelson-Garcia marking Donald Trump’s untrustworthiness by the appointment of Betsy DeVos, a US Education Secretary who “has made a career trying to destroy neighborhood public schools.”

“I do not believe their alternative facts. I see no reason to assume they will do what is best for our students and their families. There will be no photo-op,” Eskelson-Garcia added.

Next, the NEA released an official statement, calling the 25-year history of charter schools a “failed experiment” which has only compounded the problems of segregation and inequity in education. They called for basic monitoring for transparency and civil rights compliance and a ban on all for-profit operations and financial conflicts. Perhaps the biggest change was the call to place charter schools under the supervision of the same democratically elected school boards as public schools.

The statement was the product of a year-long, multi-state NEA task force who also recommended that teachers in charter schools be allowed to organize for collective bargaining. They stopped short of calling for a national moratorium on new charter schools, however they did say charter schools must change to address the unmet needs in a district rather than compete for resources.

Hearing this, the NEA teachers in attendance wanted the union to go even farther. Member items were introduced seeking an all-out moratorium on new charter schools. They eventually passed  “New Business Item” number 47 committing to help local school boards and parent groups pass moratoriums on charter schools in their area.

Charters Strike Back

Meanwhile, concluding a special legislative session in Albany, Senate Republicans – who took in over $3M this year from charter school supporters – passed Senate Bill (SB) S6965 looking to give new powers to charter schools to hire uncertified teachers and let the charter industry train and certify them instead of accredited teaching colleges such as those within the State University of New York (SUNY).

The “backroom” bill also included new tax credits for private religious schools and passed in the NY State Senate only because of support from the IDC, the rogue Independent Democratic Conference (recently branded “Trump’s NY Democrats”) whose eight members received $677K this year from pro-charter PACs. During tense budget battles last month, the GOP/IDC coalition delivered for their donors, expanding per-pupil funding for charters while the most needy public school districts were denied the basic court-ordered minimums the IDC specifically promised them in January.

Though GOP and IDC Senators don’t have charter schools in their own districts, they want more to open in NYC. Charter schools now occupy virtually all of New Orleans and large percentages of Detroit, Chicago, Philly, Los Angeles, DC, and Flint – but NYC has remained an elusive prize. It was Speaker Carl Heastie and the Democratic supermajority in the NY State Assembly who held the line, preventing the statewide cap on charter schools from being lifted and stopping the “uncertified teacher” legislation.

But then, it re-emerged.

SUNY Insurgents

New York teachers found out over the holiday that SUNY’s Charter School Committee scheduled a vote to allow non-certified teachers at 167 SUNY-authorized charter schools (which includes the DeVos-friendly Success Academy network). Amazingly, New York’s highly regarded public college system is proposing an alternative to it’s own teacher certification program, allowing charter teachers to skip the Master’s degree in Education all classroom teachers currently must have. Instead, candidates would get about 30 hours of classroom training with outcomes measured by…you guessed it, test scores.

Bleeding Teachers

This certification waiver is exactly what charter schools need to fill the incredible shortages created as 41% of charter teachers citywide leave their schools each year, compared to 18% in public schools. The “churn and burn” of high teacher turnover in charters was recently spotlighted by NY Daily News editorial writer Alyssa Katz who removed her daughter from her local charter school. So the charter model of running teachers ragged to boost test scores was already unsustainable, resulting in violations of current law, but with 40% less teachers projected to enter teaching programs in coming years, the situation is quickly worsening.

Dramatic video captures public education defenders from NYC reminding the SUNY trustees that moving ahead on this proposal was a top-down decision that mostly affects lower income black and brown children, but no parents or students were invited, nor were the unions, the press, or elected officials. The SUNY vote was convened during a holiday weekend with only three days notice (full video here).

Speaking Up

Maria Bautista, with Alliance for Quality Education, and NYC teacher, Aixa Rodriguez, rushed to the scene, noting the hypocrisy and inequality as children of color are already less likely to have highly qualified teachers. There was also pushback online, including elected officials, as a panel of all white, affluent appointees moved forward without answering questions of institutional racism – or the most basic question of all – would you want this for your own child?

“The proposal undermines our belief in the professionalism of teaching and most importantly, threatens the quality of teaching for black, brown and poor children across the state,” Bautista said.

Rodriguez noted the silence from the critics who erupted in April when one literacy exam was eliminated from traditional certification requirements.

Instant Backlash

Upon hearing the news, reaction was swift and negative – the State Education Commissioner and the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents both called the proposal “cause for concern.” The state teachers union NYSUT lambasted the last-minute “backdoor” plan, as did Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, the nation’s second largest teacher union. United University Professions, representing 42,000 SUNY faculty called the proposal “gibberish for lower standards.”

The Who

The next question is who convinced this panel to have such a controversial vote so quietly without stakeholders present? Although the 45 day period to comment on the proposal has already begun, the official website has no instructions, links or forms to submit comments, so New Yorkers must use the general email address, charters@suny.edu, call (518) 445-4250 or write SUNY Charter Schools Institute, 41 State Street, 7th Floor, Albany, NY 10227.

Tell SUNY – should charter school administrators have special powers to hire and certify teachers without an education degree?

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Illinois School Districts Continue Fight for School Budget

It has been a week since the passing of Senate Bill (SB) 6 and SB 9, and the overwhelming concern for the future of schools in Illinois are still on the table as a school budget has not been implemented. The Illinois Governor and the state legislators volleyed the state budget back and forth in overtime sessions in Springfield past their 10 days of assigned special sessions. On Sunday, July 2, the House passed a 5% tax hike with 72 votes, with the help of Republicans. The IL Senate and House prepared the budget for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Tuesday morning, which was then vetoed due to the lack of his pro business agenda reforms. Shortly after, the Illinois Senate and House voted to override his veto for the $36 billion budget, making this the first budget since 2015.

The people of Illinois are getting anxious as the sessions continued, but no resolutions were really being made. With Gov. Rauner avoiding any questions from the press, it was difficult to determine what was being negotiated behind closed doors. As we entered the third consecutive year without a balanced budget, people are losing theirs jobs, children are at risk of their schools closing, people are fleeing the state, and the people are mad as hell.

Amongst the people, three Administrators from their District Board of Education, joined the House Elementary and Secondary Appropriations Committee hearing to give their testimonies about the detrimental effects that the lack of a state budget has caused. One of the Administrators is Tony Sanders, CEO of District U46, who presented his Boards’ Fiscal Year 2017-2018 (FY18) proposals that thoroughly hypothesized the implications necessary if they were to reduce their expenditures.

“Like the hundreds of other school districts across the state, we are once again trying to plan for the coming school year without all the information, without any idea if and when we’ll see a state budget or the $24 million owed to us this school year,” Sanders said on the U-46 website. “That said, we are plotting out some possible reduction scenarios while continuing to put the majority of our limited resources into the classroom to serve our nearly 40,000 pre-K through twelfth grade students.”

The demand for a full budget is high and this current budget will place immense pressure on school districts to make serious sacrifices on programs and infrastructure maintenance because the education appropriations are still on the table.

U-46 is currently the second largest unit school district in Illinois, located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, headquartered in Elgin, IL. The district administrators presented their FY18 budget proposal to the Board of Education last month before heading to Springfield. The budget weighed out two options if any budget passed. On the U-46 website, the Board’s letter also included, “The State of Illinois has been funding K-12 schools under a stop-gap budget but has failed to pay districts all they are owed, including $1.1 billion for critical student services such as transportation, special education and bilingual education.”

The areas with the most potential to save money are far from eliminating all equipment spending, reducing school and department supply budgets in half, and this could provide an estimated savings of $13 million. As of these current budgets, all potential state funds could still stop flowing into the district and they would then need to levy taxes in the early school year. To ensure payroll at the end of February, they would need to borrow funds in order to finish out the school year, the district will require about $84 million through a line of credit or tax anticipation warrants.

The second possible scenario is getting stuck with another budget with only one categorical payment. Since the state will not pay for four categorical payments, the Board of Education would have to budget one within that single payment. This would mean that the district’s revenue would be reduced by an estimated $27 million and they would also have to levy taxes in the fall. Services like activity buses, buses to athletic events, the closing of swimming pools, reduce staff, eliminating all equipment spending, and cutting the school budget by at least 50%. This could include a reduction of non-union personnel and placing a hiring freeze into effect in order to save an estimated $1 million.

During their Board of Education meeting on June 19, they proposed their five-year plan at the Educational Services Center, located in Elgin, IL. In the proposal, they included the expenses for all counts of running the schools.

With transportation, they have 468 vehicles that need to be maintained, and buses make 350 of that total. The cost to keep up with maintenance is about $4 million a year. As far as the 1,952 classrooms within U-46, the average age of the school furnishings pass 25 years, all would need to be replaced within the next 20 years.

27 out of 68 buildings are older than 50 years and many are costing more in energy to run because of the lack of funding to restore the buildings. They would also need an additional $984,000 for equipment and vehicles, $1.7 million for classroom and office furnishings, about $25 million to go into infrastructure, and $3,053,000 for buses.

If the current budgets that passed can’t allocate an efficient amount to the IL school districts, they may be forced to use any of their district’s reserves and would have to deplete it entirely in order to remain open for the 2017-2018 school year.

The U-46 Board of Education predict that at that point, they will run a deficit next year as they have this year, the amount is approximated to be around $15 million.

“As we learned this year, a stop-gap budget for K-12 is meaningless when the state has no resources to pay schools,” Sanders concluded on the U-46 website.

The next Board of Education meeting for U-46 will be held on July 24, 2017. As of today, education funding is still tabled for future consideration. It remains possible that the schools in IL will still suffer catastrophic consequences for the actions that have taken place in Springfield even with a new state budget.

As the budget enfolds, this story will be updated.

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Progressives Should Welcome Senator Gillibrand’s Endorsement of Single-Payer

Kirsten Gillibrand Single Payer Healthcare

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand made waves last week when she endorsed single-payer health care via Facebook Live. This announcement came shortly after Senator Elizabeth Warren made a similar declaration, calling on the Democrats to turn left. The news has prompted speculation as to what it could mean for the future of the New York senator as well as that of the Democratic Party.

That said, Gillibrand’s team has eschewed the idea that this position is a new one. In response to media inquiries by Vox‘s Jeff Stein and others, they have been quick to point out that in 2006, she advocated for a Medicaid and Medicare buy-in program.

Her team is misleadingly calling this “Medicare-for-All” despite the means test. In fairness, back in April, the centrist firebrand did tell New York Magazine that she was excited to co-sponsor Senator Bernie Sanders’ upcoming “Medicare-for-All” bill. However, that legislation has not yet been announced.

Still, many progressives are wary of Gillibrand because of her misleading responses and history. After all, the New York senator has made a career of standing with one foot on the stump and the other in corporate board rooms.

Notoriously close with Wall Street, Gillibrand can also call the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries old allies. In 2012, the senator received $72,750 from pharmaceutical manufacturers and $20,000 from health insurers. Between then and now, she has taken an additional $12,700 and $7,000 from those groups, respectively.

With speculation swirling around a potential 2020 presidential bid for Gillibrand, many feel her commitment to single-payer is less ideological than it is political. This is worrying for progressives, even as Republicans gear up to replace the Affordable Care Act with something jaw-droppingly worse. The ACA offers important protections for many vulnerable populations but has already left roughly 30 million Americans without adequate coverage. Fed up Americans—and especially the Democratic base—are looking to single-payer as the answer.

As Matthew Rozsa of Salon reported:

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 33 percent of Americans favor a single-payer health care program, including 52 percent of Democrats/Leaning Democrats and 64 percent of liberals. The total number who favor single payer has risen by 5 percent from its total in January and a whopping 12 percent from where it was in 2014.

Overall 60 percent of the people polled said that the government is responsible for guaranteeing that all Americans have health care coverage, compared to 39 percent who felt that it did not. That number reached 85 percent for Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, while 68 percent of Republicans said the government should not have that responsibility.

This news signals progress for advocates of single-payer, and some have given the thumbs up to the public support from Gillibrand:

At this point, Gillibrand’s ideology might not matter as much as what her support means in terms of messaging. While most House Democrats have endorsed Rep. John Conyers’ “Medicare-for-All” bill, H.R. 676, very few Senate Democrats have openly called for a single-payer system. The stark reality is, as The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported, Republicans are already unified in trying to sway public opinion against the plan:

On Wednesday, the GOP’s Senate campaign committee launched Web ads against the 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection in Trump-won states, warning of “government health care” if they win. The same day, the National Republican Congressional Committee gleefully highlighted the CNN interview with Bryce. White House press secretary Sean Spicer has also chimed in.

Journalist Andrew Perez pointed out that one-sided narratives defined by the GOP have hurt the Democrats in the past:

As such, progressives in favor of single-payer would do well to welcome all the help they can get to challenge Republican attacks—even if that help is coming from someone who is likely the wrong candidate to run for president in 2020, and even if it is someone they would like to see face a primary challenge from her left in 2018.

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