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The Majority of Us Don’t Believe in the American Dream

August 20, 2014  ·  Posted by Carlos Ballesteros

A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll asked its respondents to choose between the following statements:

1) The United States is a country where anyone, regardless of their background, can work hard, succeed and be comfortable financially.

2) The widening gap between the incomes of the wealthy and everyone else is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity to move up to a better standard of living.

More than half (54 percent) chose the latter, meaning that a majority of Americans think that income inequality is killing the so-called “American Dream.” These results match up with a June poll conducted by CNNMoney in which 59 percent of respondents believe that the American Dream is “unachievable.”

Both polls also asked their respondents about the prospects of their kids’ future. The results were equally daunting; the NBC-WSJ poll found that 76 percent of Americans “do not feel confident that life for [their] children’s generation will be better” than their own, while CNNMoney’s poll showed that 63 percent of its respondents didn’t believe their kids “will be better off” than themselves.

Essentially, two independently conducted mainstream media polls have both showed how the vast majority of Americans are becoming distrustful of longstanding American ideals. While both of these polls might not cause revolutionary fervor among America’s weakening middle class, they do speak volumes about the changing tone of a country that, not too long ago, proclaimed itself as the greatest triumph in the history of mankind.

Wall St. Journal →

Bank of America to Pay Record Settlement Fee for Bad Mortgages

August 20, 2014  ·  Posted by Alex Kogan

In the largest-ever settlement between the U.S. government and a single company, Bank of America is expected to pay $17 billion in fees to settle accusations surrounding the sale of toxic mortgages before the financial collapse of 2008.

The settlement comes after a judge ruled against the bank in a separate case, ordering the company to shell out nearly $1.7 billion for selling defective loans. That ruling undermined the bank’s legal standing and negotiating leverage, rendering it costly and likely futile to fight take the other charges to court.

Bank of America has expended massive amounts of effort and money in recent years attempting to settle a host of legal woes lingering from the Great Recession. Wall Street Journal reports:

“The settlement is also a fresh reminder for the bank of the costs of its 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp., a deal that rocketed Bank of America into a major player in mortgages but also hamstrung it with exotic loans. Most of the mortgage securities made in the years immediately before the financial crisis, and now credited to Bank of America, came from Countrywide.”

The settlement amounts to three years' worth of profit for Bank of America.

The Wall Street Journal →

Powerful Hollywood Studio Sells Internship for More Than 26 Grand

August 15, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

The Weinstein Company, the film production corporation behind such major motion pictures as The King's Speech and Silver Linings Playbook, recently sold an unpaid internship through auction for at least $26,000. The internship was intended for United States-based college students to learn “all the ins and outs” of the movie industry, and the winner’s money will go to Boston’s American Repertory Theater.

The auction was run by CharityBuzz, that there were seven bidders who made 13 bids; the final amount was not released. The Guardian reports that there has been controversy behind CharityBuzz in the past: 

CharityBuzz, founded in 2005, has frequently auctioned off internships to raise mone—perhaps rather controversially given the easy accusations of nepotism and abused privilege. A six-week stint at the UN went for tens of thousands of dollars earlier this year, while a recent week at InStyle UK and a London PR firm was valued at $2000 ahead of bidding. 

Also according to The Guardian, the most money ever paid for an internship was $85,000, given in exchange for six weeks with music mogul Russell Simmons and six with billionaire businessman Richard Branson.

The Guardian →

In Light of Violence, New App Grades Police Interactions

August 14, 2014  ·  Posted by John Michael Davis

A new app, Five-O, would allow users to rate their interactions with law enforcement officers and store the "grade" in an online database.

Caleb Christian, a 14-year-old student at Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, had been moved by the recent surge in news coverage of police violence. In response, he wanted a way to know which communities had trustworthy law enforcement officers and which didn’t. In July, Christian founded the app development company Pinetart Inc., along with his two older sisters Ima and Asha. From there, the three teenagers created Five-O.

According to For Harriet:

Five-O allows citizens to enter the details of every interaction with a police officer. It also allows them to rate that officer in terms of courtesy and professionalism and provides the ability to enter a short description of what transpired. These details are captured for every county in the United States. Citizen race and age information data is also captured. Additionally, Five-O allows citizens to store the details of each encounter with law enforcement; this provides convenient access to critical information needed for legal action or commendation.

... “In addition to putting more power into the hands of citizens when interacting with law enforcement, we believe that highly rated police departments should be used as models for those that fail at providing quality law enforcement services,” says Pinetart Co-founder Ima Christian.

Pinetart Inc. already has two more projects in production: Froshly, a an app that allows freshmen to meet each other before the first day of school, and Coily, a crowdsource hub for tips on hair care. Five-O, however, is still in alpha testing, and is slated for its debut on August 18. It will be available for download on Apple and Android products.

For Harriet →

New California Legislation Would ‘Free Willy’

August 14, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

SeaWorld Entertainment has made millions attracting families to its marine parks in Florida, Texas and California by putting on marine shows featuring trained orca whales.

But now, many are beginning to realize that capturing and displaying animals frequently referred to as "killer" whales might not be a brilliant idea. In 2010, for example, an orca trainer at SeaWorld’s Orlando park drowned after one of the animals dragged her underwater, prompting the acclaimed 2013 documentary Blackfish.

Captive orcas aren't just more likely to display aggressive behavior; they also have significantly shorter lifespans and increased health problems. In light of this, California state legislator, Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), has introduced the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, which would prohibit orca shows and captive breeding of the whales with the end goal of eliminating killer whale captivity in California.

USA Today reports:

"There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes," Bloom said in the release. "These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives. It is time to end the practice of keeping orcas captive for human amusement."

As Bloom points out, captive orcas are confined to tanks less than one ten-thousandth the size of their habitats in the wild. They are also forced to perform abnormal behaviors in front of loud, cheering crowds -- devastating practices for the highly intelligent creatures.

"They simply do not belong in captivity,” Bloom told ABC's Sacramento affiliate.

SeaWorld has also reported a 6 to 7 percent drop in revenue this year as a result of decreased park admissions, which the company blames on a combination of bad publicity and the growing popularity of the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios.

Stockholders are jumping ship in response to the news, with shares sinking 33 percent on Wednesday, according to CNN Money.

For their part, SeaWorld spokesperson David Koontz attacked Bloom for allegedly associating with “extreme animal rights activists” and claimed SeaWorld’s businesses practices were “responsible, sustainable and reflective of the balanced values all Americans share,” USA Today reports.

Many of those Americans, it seems, are finding their entertainment elsewhere.

USA Today →

Michelle Rhee To Step Down as StudentsFirst CEO

August 13, 2014  ·  Posted by Carlos Ballesteros

The Huffington Post is reporting that StudentsFirst, a pro-charter school education reform non-profit organization, will see its founder Michelle Rhee step down from her CEO position later this year.

The move comes after four years of lackluster fundraising for the organization. Initially setting a $1 billion fundraising goal over the course of five years, SutdentsFirst only managed to obtain $62.8 million since its founding in late 2010. 

A source close to StudentsFirst told HuffPo that Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and fervent advocate for privatized public education, was disappointed with her organization's overall performance:

"She's been really brutally attacked personally, and StudentsFirst has not been as effective as she wanted," said a former prominent StudentsFirst staffer, who declined to be named, wanting to preserve relationships in education reform. "It's been frustrating. It's not totally shocking that eventually even she would decide to step away."

StudentsFirst has received much criticism ever since its inception, most visibly over Rhee's refusal to disclose some of the nonprofit's donors. Furthermore, many prominent high-profile Democrats broke ties with Rhee in 2013 due to her support of right-to-work laws in Michigan and StudentsFirst's often combative "approach toward [teachers] unions."

Huffington Post →

Obama Administration Reverses Part of Lobbyist Ban

August 12, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

After four years out in the cold, lobbyists are heading back to the White House.

Politico reports that the Obama administration plans to reverse part of a 2010 policy prohibiting registered lobbyists from serving in government positions. Lobbyists will now be able to serve on policy-making boards and commissions in a “representative” capacity—i.e. as agents of their employers—but not as private citizens or representatives of the government.  

The policy reversal comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by a group of lobbyists alleging that the ban violated their constitutional rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declined to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this year and remanded the case to a lower court.

Charles Rothfeld, one of the attorneys representing the lobbyists, told Politico that he considered the administration’s about-face a victory for his clients.

Government transparency advocates, however, are less pleased:

“It really shows OMB backpedaling on Obama’s policies dealing with ethics and lobbying activity,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the government watchdog group Public Citizen.
 
Holman said that while the panels were designed to give corporations and unions a voice in policymaking, lobbyists simply tended to use their role to benefit themselves.
 
“What registered lobbyists tended to gain out of this was primarily that they could really boast about their special access to government officials and tout that on their résumés—and up their fees,” Holman said.

During his first presidential campaign, Obama pledged to keep lobbyists out of the White House, telling an Iowa crowd in 2007, “their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.”

Politico →

Riots Follow Police Shooting of Teen in St. Louis Suburb

August 11, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

The predominantly African-American St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, is on edge after a policeman shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown after an apparent struggle on Saturday, August 9. The officer has not yet been publicly identified, though the department says he has been put on “paid administrative leave.” St. Louis County police chief John Belmar claims Brown ran at the officer while he was in his squad car and tried to take the officer’s weapon.

Brown’s grandmother found his body less than two blocks away from her house immediately after the altercation. Both the police and witnesses say that Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting. 

In response to Brown’s killing, residents of Ferguson rioted and looted after a peaceful candlelight vigil on Sunday, with widespread property damage and theft reported. Police have said that the FBI will now head the investigation into the shooting.

Al-Jazeera America reported on the riots, describing the public’s frustration with the police:

The shooting sent hundreds of angry residents out of their apartments, igniting protests and a confrontation that lasted several hours.

On Saturday night dozens of police cars remained parked near the shooting scene as mourners left votive candles, rose petals, a large stuffed animal and other remembrances at a makeshift memorial in the middle of the street.

At the height of the post-shooting tensions, police at the scene called for about 60 other police units to respond to the area in Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 residents.

Al Jazeera America →

Rupert Murdoch Rescinds Time Warner Offer

August 7, 2014  ·  Posted by John Michael Davis

Media conglomerate 21st Century Fox, headed by Rupert Murdoch, went public on Tuesday with the news that it has revoked its offer to “acquire” Time Warner, Media Matters reports.

The original July offer, a sum of $80 billion, was rejected by Time Warner, ending a potential merger which would have given Murdoch “control of 40 percent of the cable market,” as well as nearly a third of the movie market, according to Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone.

Media Matters reports that they:

urged Time Warner shareholders and its Board of Directors to oppose the sale, arguing that the combined company, which would have created the world's second-largest media conglomerate, would reduce the viable options and options available for consumers.

As it stands, 21st Century Fox announces they will instead buy back $6 billion in Time Warner shares, but speculation has begun to mount over the possibility that Murdoch's mission to acquire the company hasn't ended.

Media Matters →

UIUC Revokes’ Anti-Israel, Palestinian-American Prof’s Job Offer

August 6, 2014  ·  Posted by John Michael Davis

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has “revoked” its offer of an associate professorship position to Palestinian-American professor Steven Salaita because of the latter’s anti-Israel views, Inside Higher Ed reported today.

The university cited Salaita’s vocal opposition on Twitter to Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza as the reason behind the decision to not hire Salaita as associate professor of Native American studies. UIUC claims students taking Salaita’s class with pro-Israeli views would feel uncomfortable.

Inside Higher Ed writes:

The sources familiar with the university's decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel's policies in Gaza. While many academics at [UIUC] and elsewhere are deeply critical of Israel, Salaita's tweets have struck some as crossing a line into uncivil behavior. 

Other sources maintain Salaita was technically fired as he had already been hired as a faculty member. If he had been hired by UIUC, Salaita could have greater legal resource should he choose to appeal the decision.

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Higher Ed →

UPDATE: Alabama Court Strikes Down Abortion Clinic Restrictions

August 6, 2014  ·  Posted by John Michael Davis

On August 4, Alabama district court judge Myron Thompson ruled unconstitutional a law which would have made getting an abortion in the state more difficult. The law was put on hold since its being targeted with a lawsuit.

 

Similar to the federal Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, the axed Alabama state law would have shut down abortion clinics by introducing additional, often unattainable regulations for clinics and physicians. Advocates contend these restrictions would have closed three of Alabama’s 5 remaining abortion clinics by requiring they obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. Judge Thompson's decision took the state's active pro-life movement into account when determining the feasibility and legality of the requirement. 

According to Alternet: 

It is very difficult for physicians in Alabama that perform abortions to get hospital privileges because hospitals are wary of making themselves a target of the state's notoriously violent protestors. Most that do provide abortions in the state live outside of it and fly in because of the danger to themselves and their families – which then disqualifies them from obtaining local privileges. As Thompson noted, the law would have thus closed three of the state’s five clinics.

 

The decision has gained the attention of Alabama’s Gov. Robert Bentley, who stated he was “extremely disappointed” and would support an appeal to the ruling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternet →

NYPD’s ‘Broken Windows’ Policy Disproportionately Targets Minorities

August 6, 2014  ·  Posted by Kevin Solari

Last month, father of six Erik Garner died after being put in a chokehold, use of force explicitly prohibited by the New York Police Department patrol guide, by an NYC police officer. Garner’s death, and its subsequent ruling as a homicide, has brought new attention to how the NYPD enforces its “Broken Windows” policy, which focuses on the aggressive enforcement of relatively minor infractions—public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, or bicycling on the sidewalk, for example. Garner, an African-American man who was tackled by police for trying to break up a fight, was just the latest victim of these regulations.  A new data analysis shows that Garner wasn’t alone, though; “Broken Windows” disproportionately targets the city’s African-American and Latino residents.

The New York Daily News reports:

The number of summonses issued each year has soared since “broken windows” was implemented in the early 1990s — from 160,000 in 1993 to a peak of 648,638 in 2005. Although that number has fallen in recent years—to 431,217 last year and down an additional 17% so far this year—writing out violations still remains the most frequent activity of the New York City Police Department, far surpassing felony and misdemeanor arrests combined.

Roughly 81 percent of the 7.3 million people hit with violations between 2001 and 2013 were black and Hispanic, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union calculation of available race data on summons forms. Current Police Commissioner Bill Bratton first implemented the policy when he was head of the transit police in 1990, and expanded it citywide during his first tenure as police commissioner from 1994 to 1996. Raymond Kelly was the commissioner from 2002 to 2013.

In some precincts, the rate of summonses was more than 1 in 10 residents last year, such as the 25th Precinct (East Harlem North), which is 90 percent black and Hispanic, where there were 18 summonses per 100 residents; the 40th Precinct (Mott Haven, Bronx), which is 98 percent black and Hispanic (16 per 100 residents); and the 41st Precinct (Hunts Point, Bronx), which is 98% black and Hispanic (16 per 100 residents).

Officials claim that a zero-tolerance policy regarding the more minor offenses outlined by "Broken Windows" will prevent major ones from occurring. While the theory has gained traction since it was first publicized in an Atlantic Monthly article in 1982, it does have its detractors. Dr. James Q. Wilson, one of the original authors of the 1982 article, said, in a 2006 interview with the New York Times, “I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime … People have not understood that this was speculation.”

New York Daily News →

University President Cuts Salary To Raise Wages for Workers

August 5, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

The lowest-paid employees at Kentucky State University (KSU) in Frankfort will be getting a raise this year from the minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.25. This is thanks to the university’s interim president Raymond Burse, who announced that he would cut his roughly $350,000 yearly salary by 25 percent to pay for the raises.

President Burse, a former executive with General Electric, took the interim position of president back in July. He says that his background, which includes a previous stint as KSU's president in the 1980s, allows him to make decisions like these that might not be accessible to his peers at other institutions. Speaking to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Burse claims that this isn’t a publicity stunt, nor an attempt to shame other universities into adopting similar measures:

"My whole thing is I don't need to work," Burse said. "This is not a hobby, but in terms of the people who do the hard work and heavy lifting, they are at the lower pay scale."

The raise, which is estimated to affect about two dozen KSU workers, will still apply when a new president takes over from Burse’s interim term; the revised wage will be the starting rate for new hires. While the cuts in the president’s salary will remain for Burse’s contract term, it is unclear whether the salary will remain at the cut rate. 

Lexington Herald-Leader →

Deputy Speaker of Israeli Parliament Calls for Complete Eradication of Gaza

August 5, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament and a leading member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, posted an open letter on his official Facebook account calling for the conquest of the Gaza Strip and the complete removal of its current inhabitants.

“There are no two states, and there are no two peoples. There is only one state for one people,” Feiglin wrote in the letter.

In the letter Feiglin outlined a six-point plan, under which the entire civilian population of Gaza would be evacuated to encampments on Israel’s border with Egypt and the former territory of Gaza razed to the ground. At that point, the former residents of Gaza would be deported abroad or required to sign loyalty oaths to the Israeli government, and the former Gaza Strip would be incorporated into Israel proper and redeveloped as an Israeli city.

The letter reads, in part:

a) The IDF [Israeli army] shall designate certain open areas on the Sinai border, adjacent to the sea, in which the civilian population will be concentrated, far from the built-up areas that are used for launches and tunneling. In these areas, tent encampments will be established, until relevant emigration destinations are determined.

The supply of electricity and water to the formerly populated areas will be disconnected.

b) The formerly populated areas will be shelled with maximum fire power. The entire civilian and military infrastructure of Hamas, its means of communication and of logistics, will be destroyed entirely, down to their foundations.

[…]

f) When the fighting will end, Israeli law will be extended to cover the entire Gaza Strip […] and the city of Gaza and its suburbs will be rebuilt as true Israeli touristic and commercial cities.

The United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.”

As of August 5, the post had received over 8,000 likes on Facebook.

The Independent →

After Two Days, Drinking Water Ban Lifted from Toledo

August 4, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

On early Monday morning, Toledo, Ohio Mayor D. Michael Collins informed the city's 500,000 residents that their water is now safe to drink again after a two-day ban. After high levels of the toxin microcystin were detected in the city's water supplies, officials warned Toledo locals that consuming the water—or using it for washing dishes—could cause vomiting or diarrhea in addition to potentially causing long-term damage to their liver or kidneys. Though no serious illnesses had been reported, Toledans said that bottled water supplies had dipped around the city.

The microcystin surge was likely caused by a blue-green algae bloom in Lake Erie. This isn’t the first time such algae blooms have affected water supplies; last year, 2,000 residents of a township east of Toledo were given a similar water restriction because of the presence of microcystin.

In recent years, the levels of algae in Lake Erie have grown increasingly high due to farm and industrial chemicals that wash into the lake, according to researchers. The Associated Press reports:

Amid the emergency, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people.

"People are finally waking up to the fact that this is not acceptable," Collins said.

The toxins that contaminated the region's drinking water supply didn't just suddenly appear.

Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.

Though pressure is being put on farmers to reduce their pollutants, government regulators may eventually step in to prevent the danger from another algae bloom in the future.

ABC News →

New Senate Legislation Creates ‘Enforceable Bill of Rights’ for Campus Assault Survivors

July 30, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Joined by a bipartisan group of senators and activists, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced legislation Wednesday morning with the potential to transform how colleges and universities respond to sexual violence on campus.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which comes in the wake of a report released in April by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, includes a number of key provisions, such as new resources and support services for survivors of sexual violence, minimum training standards for campus personnel, an annual comprehensive campus climate survey and, most significantly, new enforceable penalties for violations of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education and legally requires colleges and universities to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct on campus.

Previously, the Department of Education could only penalize schools for failing to fix Title IX violations by completely cutting federal funding—including funding for financial aid programs like Pell Grants and Stafford Loans—which would harm students more than the schools themselves. As a result, the Department of Education has not invoked such a punishment in the 42-year history of the law, opting instead to negotiate with schools to bring them in compliance with the law. Critics have argued that this allows institutions to violate Title IX with relative impunity. The new penalties will allow the Department of Education to fine colleges up to 1 percent of their operating budget if they are found responsible for violations of the law.

Unsurprisingly, higher education lobbying groups are already pushing back against the legislation. Of particular concern to school officials is the campus climate survey. Under the new legislation, schools would have to survey students (anonymously) each year about their experiences with sexual assault and post the results online for the public to see. Proponents of the measure say that it will allow parents and high school students to make informed decisions when comparing schools. Additionally, Dr. David Lisak, a well-known sexual violence researcher, told the Huffington Post that climate surveys would provide valuable data to further improve how schools confront sexual violence. School officials, however, claim that the requirement would put an undue burden on colleges and universities and require them to create new administrative positions to conduct the surveys.

Sen. McCaskill told reporters at the press conference that she and other sponsors are “optimistic” for a September vote on the bill. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce an identical bill in the House of Representatives later today. However, the bill has not yet made it on the agenda for the September session, which typically lasts less than four weeks, complicating hopes of passing it before the inauguration of the new Congress in January.

Meanwhile, Politico higher education reporter Allie Grasgreen reports that the Department of Education has placed Pace University under investigation for alleged violations of Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Act, increasing the list of colleges and universities under federal investigation to 72.

Senator Claire McCaskill →

Undocumented Immigrants Demand ‘No More Meetings About Us, Without Us’

July 29, 2014  ·  Posted by Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff

Immigrant activists, many of whom are undocumented, picketed the White House on Monday, publicly calling for advocates to stop meeting with President Obama about his immigration policies until undocumented people are given a voice in the discussions.

"We are among the millions of people who will either benefit or be harmed by the decisions the president makes, and we are here to represent ourselves in any future negotiations," said Rosi Carrasco, an undocumented leader from Illinois, in a press release provided to In These Times. She continued, "It simply makes no sense to for the president to convene meetings about us without us. If the president is committed to advancing a path to citizenship and political equality for immigrants, he must start by involving undocumented immigrants' participation in policy decisions affecting our lives."

According to Politico, though other groups were sensitive to the cause, they hesitated to sign on to the protesters' proposed boycott:

The campaign, organized by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, underscores a split in the advocacy community on its dealings with the White House. There are concerns that Obama wants to lower expectations for what he can do with his executive authority, and that the advocacy groups will fall in line.

... 

The immigrants then moved on to the Center for American Progress, where they asked to see to Marshall Fitz, the director of immigration policy. An employee said Fitz was not in the office.

“I can actually see him through the window,” one immigrant said.

“Oh, I thought he was out,” the employee responded as Fitz came out of his office.

Fitz spoke with the immigrants for about 10 minutes, saying he would advocate for them but couldn’t commit as an institution to refusing meetings with Obama.

“You are the big guys in the city,” an immigrant said.

“I don’t feel like the big guy in the city,” Fitz responded.

Fitz met last week with White House counsel Neil Eggleston and chief domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz as part of a series of listening sessions organized by the White House.

The White House has not yet responded to the group's requests, though the president has met with family members of undocumented immigrants in the past.

Politico →

Fast-Food Workers Vow To Stage Civil Disobedience for Rights

July 28, 2014  ·  Posted by Stephen Quillen

More than 1,000 fast-food workers from around the country traveled to Chicago last weekend to attend one of the largest labor conventions in the country. Backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the event underscored a renewed campaign to secure lasting rights for low-wage service workers.

Some civil activists, such as Rev. William Barber from North Carolina, have framed the movement, particularly the push for a $15 minimum wage and collective bargaining, in the larger context of social justice. “You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality," Barber said in a speech to convention attendees. "When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed.”

The New York Times reports: 

Throughout the convention, one overarching strategy was to say the fast-food movement was an economic justice movement comparable to the civil rights movement—a strategy the service employees used to unionize tens of thousands of cleaning workers in its "Justice for Janitors" campaign. Inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the fast-food workers debated and discussed using nonviolent civil disobedience to step up pressure on the fast-food companies.

"They’re already slowly killing us with the way they’ve got us living,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King worker in Kansas City, Mo., who served as M.C. for much of the convention. "Are we going to stand up?" he asked. "I want to see who is willing to do whatever it takes, who is willing to get arrested."

After his pleas, the workers voted unanimously to conduct a wave of civil disobedience actions.

Whether the campaign will succeed in its ultimate goal of "$15 and a union" is yet to be seen. But the movement is gaining momentum—and if civil disobedience is the next step, more widespread attention is sure to follow.

New York Times →

Judge Suspended After Effectively Sentencing Rapist to Month in Jail

July 25, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

In August 2013, Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh effectively sentenced a man who raped a 14-year-old girl to a single month in prison. Now, the state Supreme Court has censured Baugh and suspended him from the bench for 31 days. 

Although Baugh technically sentenced perpetrator Stacey Rambold—the girl’s former teacher, who was in his late 40s at the time of the rape—to 15 years in prison, he suspended all but 31 days. The judge also said the victim was “as much in control of the situation” as the convicted rapist. Shortly after the ruling, Baugh publicly apologized for comments made about the victim.

The judge’s decision was more than just controversial; it was also illegal. Montana requires a minimum of four-year sentences for rape cases in which the victim is younger than 16. The victim, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide before her teacher was sentenced.

The Supreme Court also overturned Rambold’s sentence in April of this year. The resentencing by a new judge is scheduled for September.

Raw Story →

Walmart CEO Jumps Ship

July 25, 2014  ·  Posted by Carlos Ballesteros

After a four-year stint as CEO, Walmart’s chief U.S. executive Bill Simon will be stepping down. According to the Huffington Post, Simon will be replaced by Walmart’s president and Asia CEO Greg Foran.

While there is no official statement regarding Simon’s departure at this time, many analysts have speculated that Walmart’s spiraling U.S. sales may be a primary factor in the decision.

Walmart’s image has also taken a major hit in the last decade, particularly since Simon took over as CEO in 2010. The company has seen a rise in worker protests in many of its stores across the country, with labor organizing groups such as Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) organizing in-store protests and wildcat strikes over the company’s low wages, short hours and poor working conditions. Such claims were emboldened by an April 2014 report from American for Tax Fairness, which found that Walmart’s low wages force its employees to go on food stamps and other social services, costing U.S. taxpayers $6.2 billion a year.

In an effort to mitigate the negative sentiment towards the company, Walmart has pushed for more of an online presence (a fight it has been losing against Amazon); it also plans on opening smaller stores this year.

Simon, who’s worked with Walmart since 2006, will remain on as a consultant for six months before leaving the company.

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