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.

Congress Slapped With 10-Day Ban on Editing Wikipedia Entries

July 25, 2014  ·  Posted by Stephen Quillen

With approval ratings at staggering lows, Congress has even managed to aggravate Wikipedia. For 10 days, edits will no longer be permitted from a particular IP address from within the U.S. Congress building. The ban comes amid a flurry of edits from that source, including ones that dubbed the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld an "alien wizard" and attributing wild conspiracies to the Cuban government.

However, the United States government is not alone in its tampering. The Guardian reports:

In early July, [journalist Tim] Scott created Parliament Edits, a Twitter account tracking anyone making edits to Wikipedia from a parliamentary computer.

Scott's creation followed in the footsteps of numerous news stories of embarrassing edits to Wikipedia coming from within the House of Commons.

Someone added information about MP Mark Pritchard's divorce; someone excised a "controversy" section from Andy Burnham's page entirely; and someone cleared references to Lord Razzil's shareholdings in an African mining company.

There have been at least 5,900 edits from parliamentary IPs in the past decade.

Scott also released the code to the Parliament Edits bot, allowing similar accounts to be set up for other nation's legislatures.

Those led to their own stories: In mid-July, the Russian clone, RuGovEdits, discovered that someone inside the Russian government was editing the Wikipedia pages referring to the attack on MH17, changing the text to accuse Ukrainian soldiers of downing the Malaysian Airlines plane.

In the U.S., recent edits appear less nefarious, and users can traverse the block by creating an account. Still, Congress is not pleased with Wikipedia's censure. In fact, one defector, writing from a Congressional IP address, denounced the decision on Wikipedia: Out of over 9000 staffers in the House," the user wrote, "should we really be banning this whole IP range based on the actions of two or three?"

Perhaps not, but then again, Congress should be well acquainted with unjust rulings.

The Guardian →

Alleged Labor Violations Lead to Class-Action Suit Against Apple

July 23, 2014  ·  Posted by Carlos Ballesteros

On Tuesday, the California Superior Court certified a case filled by four Apple employees in 2011 as a class action, potentially affecting 20,000 current and former Apple employees in the state.

The plaintiffs, represented by the firm Hogue & Belong in San Diego, claim that the tech giant did not provide its employees in California “timely meal breaks, timely rest breaks, and timely final paychecks according to California’s Labor Code and Wage Orders.”

As reported by TechCrunch, the accusations made against Apple vary in degree and magnitude:

One person cites a five-hour working stint without a break, for example, while another refers to a 72-hour notice period and getting a final paycheck two days after that ended (two days late).

This is not the first time Apple has been hit with a class action lawsuit. In April, the company, along with Silicon Valley brethren Google, Intel, and Adobe, settled a case for $324 million in response to accusations from high-tech workers that the companies conspired to hold down salaries by agreeing not to poach each other’s employees. Meanwhile, the company continues to prosper: It reported $7.7 billion in net profits during the third quarter of FY 2014 alone.

TechCrunch →

Florida Town Threatens Jail Time for Sagging Pants

July 23, 2014  ·  Posted by Stephen Quillen

The city of Ocala, Florida recently voted to criminalize "sagging pants," officially defined as wearing trousers "two inches below [the] natural waist," local ABC-affiliate WFTV reports. While police must give warnings first, two-time "offenders" could face a hefty $500 penalty or even six months in prison. City Council member Mary Rich, who championed the new restriction, claims the measure will help improve the city's image. However, critics fear the law is simply the latest attempt to profile and harass young adults, particularly black youth. Several residents voiced their concerns with WFTV on Thursday: 

"I think this is a form of harassment," said resident Curt Brown. "[It] gets you pulled to the side, [so they can] harass you, search you and have a right to do whatever they want to."

"It just makes no sense whatsoever," said resident Adia Crumley. "It's another way to lock people up and put them in jail so the city can make money off of that."

Various cities throughout the country have passed similar ordinances in the past, such as Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish, which ruled in April to issue fines or community service to people wearing sagging pants. That law also prompted public opposition, especially from civil-liberties advocates who pointed out that law enforcement have "bigger concerns."

Indeed, they do, especially in Ocala, Florida, which faces disproportionate levels of violent crime. But the latest measure deals solely with legislating apparel, making it hard for many activists to see it as anything but a pretext for increased profiling.


NHL Releases Sustainability Report

July 22, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

On Monday, the National Hockey League released a report addressing growing concerns regarding the NHL's environmental changes, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity.

“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity,” the NHL report reads. “The purpose of the 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is to address our recent efforts and the challenges we face from an environmental perspective.”

In addition to identifying the league’s concerns for sustaining both the NHL and the environment, the report reveals the league’s current operational carbon footprint, shares updates about the NHL Green Initiative, establishes resource management goals for the future and briefly lays out the game plans to reach those goals. The report also details the league’s partnerships with environmental organizations, as well as the environmental programs of the NHL’s corporate partners.

The report also found that there are an average of 408 metric tons of CO2 emissions released per game, and powering the arenas and league offices make up 80 percent of the league’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

To counteract its own contribution to climate change, the league is working to grow its own initiatives, but clubs within the league are also getting involved. The Chicago Blackhawks host annual Go Green Games, “during which all electricity used is matched with an equivalent investment in renewable-energy credits, enough to avoid approximately 63 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (or roughly the equivalent of burning 146 barrels of oil).” 


Fewer Americans Support U.S. Military Intervention Abroad, Poll Shows

July 21, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

In a poll released today, a majority of American voters are opposed to U.S. military intervention abroad that is not related to direct threats to national security. The poll, conducted by Politico, shows a decline in support for intervention after over a decade of U.S.-led conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. As Business Insider reports:

“Only 22 percent [of those polled] agreed with the statement that the United States, ‘as a moral leader,’ has a ‘a responsibility to use its military to protect democracy around the globe.’ Around 66 percent of respondents said the U.S. military should be ‘limited to direct threats to our national security.’”

In addition, around 75 percent of survey participants supported a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, while in a separate poll, only 17 percent support further U.S. action against Russia. The poll numbers were not divided by partisan affiliation and thus show a growing consensus of U.S. voters on both the left and the right against military incursions. 

Business Insider →

How Standardized Tests Are Rigged Against Poor Schools

July 16, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Critics of high-stakes testing often argue that it leads to a single-minded focus on “teaching to the test,” emphasizing not general knowledge or understanding of a subject, but mastery of the very specific set of skills and knowledge that will show up on the exam.

But as Meredith Broussard writes in The Atlantic, for many schools, teaching to the test isn't even possible. That's because that specific set of skills and knowledge measured by standardized exams happens to only be available in textbooks written by the same companies who make the tests. If your school can't afford those textbooks? Well, you're out of luck.

As Broussard reports, the tests that states use to measure students’ progress (and often to set teachers’ pay) all come from one of three companies: McGraw-Hill, Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Not-so-coincidentally, these three companies are also the three largest manufacturers of textbooks, a fact which is reflected in the content of their tests:

If you look at a textbook from one of these companies and look at the standardized tests written by the same company, even a third grader can see that many of the questions on the test are similar to the questions in the book. In fact, Pearson came under fire last year for using a passage on a standardized test that was taken verbatim from a Pearson textbook.

The result is that schools that can’t afford to buy the right textbooks are bound to see their test scores suffer. And according to Broussard’s research, this is an all-too-common problem in America’s chronically underfunded public school districts.

Focusing on Philadelphia Public Schools—the eighth-largest district in the country—Broussard found that the average school had only 27 percent of the books recommended by the district’s curriculum, and as many as 10 schools had none of the recommended books at all. Making matters worse, many of the schools that did have books didn’t use them, due to mismanaged inventory systems and inaccurate records.

As Broussard notes, this is largely a money problem. During the 2012-2013 school year, the district allocated $30.30 per student for middle-schools to buy new textbooks—a mere quarter of the price of just a single textbook. And in 2013, the district eliminated funding for textbooks completely after a $300 million budget shortfall.

If that’s not depressing enough, consider this: Even when schools have the money to buy new textbooks, they become obsolete fast. According to Broussard, state testing standards change nearly every year, requiring schools to buy new textbooks to meet the new standards. In other words, textbook companies profit while underfunded schools suffer.

The Atlantic →

Oops! Top 1% Even Richer Than We Thought

July 15, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

By now, everyone knows the wealthiest 1% of Americans have a lot of money. From the Occupy protests to presidential speeches on economic inequality, many Americans recognize inequality as "a fundamental threat to the American Dream," to quote President Obama.

A new report from the European Central Bank (ECB) suggests, however, that wealth inequality might be even worse than previously thought. While prior estimates had pegged the top 1%'s share between 30 percent and 34 percent of all wealth in the United States, the actual figure might be closer to 37 percent, writes Philip Vermeulen, a senior economist at the ECB

That might not sound like a huge difference, but even this revised estimate still might understate the severity of wealth inequality in the United States, Bloomberg reports:

“Our knowledge of the wealth distribution is less than perfect,” Vermeulen wrote. “The results clearly indicate that survey wealth estimates are very likely to underestimate wealth at the top.”

Richer households have a lower response rate to surveys measuring their assets, so holdings are undervalued, Vermeulen wrote. He uses data from Forbes billionaires lists in his analysis to provide new wealth distribution estimates for the U.S. and nine European nations.

The ECB also measured other countries' wealth gaps, and some, such as that of the Netherlands, rose even more significantly. Accounting for billionaires there boosts the estimate to somewhere between 12 and 17 percent, far more than the previous estimate of just 9 percent found by earlier surveys—though still far lower than the United States.

Bloomberg →

Poll: Chicagoans Say They Want Rahm Emanuel Out, Karen Lewis In

July 14, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

For the past three years, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis  has been a constant source of headaches for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, even (allegedly) causing the mayor to drop the f-bomb during one of their first meetings.

Polling data released by the Chicago Sun-Times will likely have Mayor Emanuel again reaching for Excedrin Extra Strength (and calling up his wealthy donors). In a hypothetical head-to-head match-up for the next mayoral race, Lewis beat Emanuel by a 9 percent margin. According to the Sun-Times, 45 percent of the roughly 1,037 Chicagoans surveyed say they would vote for Lewis, while only 36 percent expressed support for Mayor Emanuel; 18 percent of voters remain undecided.

Although Lewis has not declared her candidacy, she has told several media outlets that she is "seriously considering" a mayoral run, and this new data will likely bolster confidence among Lewis' supporters.

However, the Sun-Times cautions that the results only offer a "snapshot" of voters' opinions:

Lewis admitted she was surprised by the findings. And the pollster cautioned that the results are a snapshot in time — arguably taken at a time when Emanuel has been taking a beating in local and national media coverage.

But the poll underscores two political realities: Emanuel is vulnerable as he gears up for re-election next year, and voters are assessing the strength of various potential rivals.

For his part, Mayor Emanuel claims to be unconcerned, calling the poll results "laughable" in response to a request for comment from the Sun-Times, but one can only guess what words (possibly beginning with "f") he may be using behind closed doors.

Chicago Sun-Times →

Abortion Rights Take Another Hit in Mississippi and Florida

July 14, 2014  ·  Posted by Elias Kuhn von Burgsdorff

Last week, Mississippi and Florida became the latest states making it harder for women to access safe abortions.

The new law in Mississippi, frequently called the "20-week ban," forbids abortion 20 weeks after a woman's last period. Twenty-one other states in the country have enacted similar legislation; however, as RH Reality Check reports

Mississippi’s version of the legislation contains no exceptions for rape or incest, and only a limited exception for the health of the pregnant person or for fatal abnormalities in the fetus. ...  Like in Missouri,  Mississippi’s governor and state lawmakers have been targeting the state’s lone abortion clinic with restrictions and regulations. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said that it is his goal to “end abortion in Mississippi."

In Florida, the new law imposes additional restrictions on third-trimester abortions, banning them outright once a fetus is deemed viable.

RH Reality Check →

‘Princeton Mom’ Tells Fox Viewers To Forget Feminism and Satisfy Their Husbands

July 11, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

Susan Patton, who earned the nickname “Princeton Mom” last year when she wrote a letter to her alma mater advising young university women to “find a husband on campus before [they] graduate,” has wrestled herself back into the spotlight. Patton was the focus of a Fox & Friends segment on Monday morning dubbed “The Good Wife: How to Keep Your Husband Happy.”

Patton, who also wrote a book earlier this year called Marry Smart, says American society has become too focused on women, and it's up to wives to make men feel important again. On the segment, Patton preached “respect” as her key to a healthy marriage, but her definition of the term seems to reflect a patriarchal 1950-style approach to heterosexual marriages. (To be clear, there was no mention on Monday’s show of how husbands can keep their husbands happy.)

According to Patton, a woman who is fortunate enough to marry and have kids should count herself lucky and “stop acting like such an entitled princess.” She claimed many married women aren’t nice enough to their husbands—that they are “dismissive” and disrespectful—and that there’s no way they will ever find another man should such behavior render them single.

Among Patton’s other suggestions: Make your husband a drink when he returns home from work, offer to cook him dinner, and ask, “What can I do that would make your evening more enjoyable right now?”

In Patton’s view, the women of today have been “emboldened by … antagonistic feminists” and have “overcorrected” American culture to concentrate only on women’s needs, desires and priorities.   

The hosts steered clear of asking Patton about her other well-known contentious opinions, such as her suggestion to rename date rape. “Rape is rape,” she told Maureen O’Connor for New York Magazine in March, but sex with someone too drunk to consent is “mistake sex.” 
Fox News →

Uber Driver Kidnaps Passengers in Attempt To Avoid $2,000 Fine

July 10, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Some trepidation is natural when getting into a car driven by a stranger. But few people expect to be kidnapped and embroiled in a high-speed pursuit across state lines by an improperly licensed driver.

Unfortunately, that’s just what happened to New York businessman Ryan Simonetti and two co-workers on a recent trip to Washington, D.C. when they attempted to catch a ride from Uber, a controversial and largely unregulated ridesharing service competing with established taxi companies nationwide.

As Simonetti tells it, he and his coworkers called Uber for a ride to their new office after a long day of meetings. As they approached the car, they saw the driver talking to a D.C. taxi inspector, who walked away after the driver handed over his license and registration.

As soon as they got in the car, however, the driver began to speed away, with the taxi inspector in hot pursuit.

From the Washington Post:

“That cop’s following you. What’s going on?” Simonetti said he asked the driver. He said the driver told him not to worry. “Oh no, he’s not a real cop,” the Uber driver replied. Simonetti said the driver then told them: “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to run this red light.”

The driver didn’t have the proper license required to pick up passengers in the District of Columbia, reports the Post; he was fleeing the inspector in a mad attempt to avoid the $2,000 fine. Simonetti and his companions begged the driver to slow down so they could jump out of the vehicle, but the driver refused. The chase continued onto the highway, crossing state lines into Virginia.

After Simonetti resorted to threats of violence to escape the situation, the driver eventually stopped and allowed his captive passengers to exit the vehicle before speeding off in the opposite direction.

A spokesperson for Uber told the Post the driver is no longer with the company. So far, no criminal charges have been filed. This isn't the first time, however, that the safety of the Uber system has been called into question. In a much more tragic incident last year, an UberX driver with a reckless driving record hit and killed a 6-year-old in San Francisco, leading the corporation to announce an expansion in their background-check process.

The Washington Post →

Walmart and Amazon Sorry for Stocking Concentration Camp Poster

July 10, 2014  ·  Posted by Dan Staggs

Walmart has publicly apologized for including a poster in its online inventory depicting the gates of the Dachau concentration camp and its infamous slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei," translated as "Work Makes You Free." The Nazi prison camp was the site of ghoulish conditions and thousands of executions before Allied liberation in 1945, and the grim implications of the phrase still resonate for many. The company was quick to explain that a third-party retailer had been selling the poster and that the product will no longer be listed. ABC reports the Walmart statement:

"We have shared our disappointment with them and have learned they are removing the publisher of this item entirely from inventory," Walmart said, though the name of the seller was not disclosed.

Sears and Amazon also pulled the product from their digital stores.

ABC News →

Federal Workers Lose Their Desks in ‘Cost-Saving’ Measure

July 8, 2014  ·  Posted by Ethan Corey

Having a desk of one’s own was once a staple of American office culture, an opportunity to indulge in a modicum of decorative self-expression in the otherwise monotonous workplace setting. But for the 3,300 employees of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), personal workspaces have become a relic of the past after an “innovative” cost-cutting measure replaced them with an office-wide desk-sharing program known as “hoteling.”

Employees now must reserve a workspace on a weekly or daily basis in advance through an online booking system. Employees can also book shared spaces for meetings and group projects, and a new instant-messaging system helps displaced workers stay in touch with former cubicle-mates.

Proponents say that the change could save the federal government millions in real estate costs and boost productivity by encouraging more employees to work from home.

But not everyone is thrilled with the change. The New York Times reports:

Some employees—none of whom wanted to be identified complaining about the changes imposed by their superiors—said they found the new system inconvenient, cumbersome or bad for morale. Without a permanent desk, they said, they feel less connected to the agency and their co-workers.

For the moment the jury is still out on the program’s success, but other federal agencies are watching closely, according to the Times. The Department of Homeland Security, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have similar pilot programs or are considering implementing desk-sharing themselves.

The New York Times →

Appeals Court Rejects Arizona’s Attempt To Deny Immigrants Rights

July 8, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked an Arizona state policy prohibiting certain immigrants with work permits from obtaining state driver's licenses. In 2012, President Obama issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, which allows young immigrants to live and work in the United States if they meet certain qualifications, such as attending high school or serving in the Armed Forces. Governor Jan Brewer countered with an order two months later requiring Arizona agencies to deny licenses to those immigrants. 

In its Monday decision, the court argued that Arizona’s policy violated equal treatment of certain residents. As Al Jazeera reports

The three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit said in its ruling that "it could identify no legitimate state interest that was rationally related to defendants' decision to treat DACA recipients disparately from other noncitizens."

This isn't the first time Gov. Brewer and her team have enacted immigration policies that have conflicted with the Obama administration. SF Gate notes that "federal courts have also struck down Arizona laws establishing criminal penalties for illegal presence in the state, and banning the harboring or transporting of undocumented immigrants."

Al Jazeera →

Ras Baraka, Radical Poet’s Son, Sworn In As Newark Mayor

July 7, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

On July 1, Ras Baraka, a former high-school principal and the son of the late radical poet Amiri Baraka, was sworn in as the 40th mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Elected on May 13, Ras Baraka ran on a progressive platform of finding work for the chronically unemployed, promoting research institutions in the city and supporting micro-loans for small business. He also opposes privatization of public schools.

Baraka will take the helm of a rapidly gentrifying city that has seen downtown renewal while outlying neighborhoods and infrastructure continue to be neglected. He plans to tackle such unbalanced economic development by seeking city authority for a local sales tax that would target goods and services used primarily by commuters who live outside the city. He is also considering regional job programs by partnering with small towns around Newark such as Irvington and Paterson.

Baraka can count on the backing of the Newark City Council, thanks to the victories of five supporters in June runoff elections. His support among labor, youth and the poor in Newark has also given him the markings of a rising progressive star in New Jersey politics. 

The Nation →

Canadian Court Calls Foul On Walmart Closing

July 1, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

Canada’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that Walmart violated Quebec labor law when it closed a Jonquière, Saguenay store in April 2005. The company is now facing fines as a result of the controversial closure, which came just six months after that location’s employees voted in favor of joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. 

Walmart announced the closure in February 2005, claiming financial concerns the company says would have arisen from the unionization were behind the closure. Walmart said it could not reach an agreement with the union that would “permit it to operate the store in an efficient and profitable matter."

Though the court has already sent an arbitrator to determine the compensation Walmart will be required to award its former employees, the ruling’s impact on unionization efforts in Canada may be limited. 

The New York Times reports:

“[The ruling] took issue with the timing of the closing, in 2005, not the company’s right to shut operations. …Friday’s ruling found that Walmart had erred in closing the store during a freeze period, which starts when workers file to unionize and ends when they get a contract, go on strike or are locked out. Quebec law limits employers’ ability to change working conditions during the freeze.” 

More than 20 groups of Walmart employees in Canada have applied to join UFCW, and some have been successful, but unionization remains a contentious issue among Walmart employees across North America. In the U.S., workers have yet to successfully unionize a single Walmart store, despite protests and strikes.

Last November, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board investigated Walmart in response to the flurry of allegations regarding labor rights violations. The NLRB Off found that Walmart stores in 13 states—including Illinois—had “unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”

Think Progress →

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Victory in New York State

June 30, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

New York State’s Court of Appeals upheld a ruling Monday that allows municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at a local level. 

At the heart of the debate, two central New York towns—Dryden and Middlefield—banned the practice within town borders in 2011, using local zoning laws. The tricky policy change triggered lawsuits from the gas and oil industry.

Following Monday’s ruling, the Dryden Town Supervisor office released a statement:

Dryden’s story began in 2009, after residents pressured by oil and gas company representatives to lease their land for gas development learned more about fracking, the technique companies planned to use to extract the gas. Residents organized and educated their fellow citizens for more than two years under the banner of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), ultimately convincing the town board to amend its zoning ordinance in August 2011 to clarify that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were prohibited.

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Legal experts say the decision made by the state of New York Court of Appeals will have ramifications for more than 170 towns and cities in the state that have banned or enacted moratoria on fracking, according to FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that monitors gas drilling.”

By contrast, the AP reports that 40 New York towns have passed resolutions in favor of fracking.

A statewide moratorium on fracking has been in effect since July 2008. The state Assembly voted to extend the measure by three years, but the bill did not pass the state Senate before the legislative session adjourned in mid-June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will not issue a decision about the lifting the state’s moratorium until the health impact review—launched in 2012—is complete.

But even if the state ban is lifted, local governments can now ban fracking within town or city limits, thanks to Monday’s ruling.

In the Court’s majority opinion, Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote,

These appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits. … These are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve. The discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, whether the State Legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities.

AP →

CTU President ‘Seriously Considering’ Bid for Mayor

June 27, 2014  ·  Posted by William A. Hudson

As unrest simmers in Chicago over the gradual privatization of city services, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis stated on Thursday evening that she is “seriously considering” a run for the mayor’s office in 2015. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, this wouldn't be Lewis' first time facing Emanuel head-on:

Lewis has been Emanuel’s chief adversary throughout his administration. And she has not only stared him down, she has defeated him. He raised the strike threshold, and she and her members blew past it. She took her members out on strike for first time in 25 years—and got the better of the deal that ended the walkout.

Lewis had previously stated that she would support Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for mayor, but Preckwinkle reportedly intends to run for re-election to her current position. Meanwhile, the mass public cutbacks becoming typical of Emanuel's leadership have continued: Earlier on Thursday, Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs of more than 1,000 teachers and staff. 

Chicago Sun-Times →

New Super PAC Has Ties to Koch Brothers

June 24, 2014  ·  Posted by Jessica Corbett

Charles and David Koch, leaders of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the country, are financing the creation of a new super PAC in preparation for the midterm elections.

The Freedom Partners Action Fund, launched by the Koch-backed Freedom Partners, plans to spend more than $15 million in campaign financing leading up to the November 2014 election, part of a greater spending goal of $290 million, Politico and The Daily Beast have reported. The super PAC hasn’t yet announced its support for specific candidates.

The brothers are infamous for pouring millions into a network of political nonprofits such as Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Generation Opportunity, Concerned Veterans for America and The LIBRE Initiative to further issue-based campaigns that promote free market policies. Federal laws prohibit these tax-exempt nonprofits from campaigning for or against specific candidates, which didn't stop the network from raising $407 million during the 2012 campaign cycle. But this new venture will be a departure from past tactics in that it will be more transparent (donors’ names will be reported to the Federal Election Commission), as well as more candidate-focused. 

Previously, these groups’ classifications as nonprofits and trade associations have allowed them to keep their donors’ identities secret, though that status also kept them from using more than half of their funds for political activities, thereby curtailing the impact the network could make politically.

Marc Short, the president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which will work in association with the Freedom Partners Action Fund, spoke with Politico about the intentions of the new super PAC:

“The Freedom Partners Action Fund will support candidates who share our vision of free markets and a free society and oppose candidates who support intrusive government policies that push the American Dream out of reach for the American people,” Short told Politico after a presentation to donors at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort in Dana Point, California.

Twice each year, the brothers host donor conferences for members of the trade association, primarily business executives. As Politico described the event:

“The gathering is the latest in a series of twice-annual so-called seminars that the Kochs started holding in 2003 to raise cash from wealthy donors after treating them to a series of slickly produced presentations from handpicked politicians, conservative media stars and operatives from Koch-backed groups.”

Politico →
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