Richard Eskow

Trump’s “Harvest Box” Delivers an Empty Promise

“America’s Harvest Box.” That’s what the Trump administration called its plan to substitute prepackaged, low-quality processed foods for some of the food assistance currently being received by an estimated 46 million people (based on numbers for 2015, the last year for which data are available). The term “harvest box” has been used by benign programs that distribute local produce like this one, and for USDA pilot programs in Maryland and Virginia designed to offer “seamless access to locally produced food and products” and to “boost rural economic development.” That’s not the kind of “harvest box” Trump has in mind. People would not receive freshly harvested food under his administration’s proposal.

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Jeff Bryant

DeVos Denies Civil Rights and Stifles Dissent. But She’s a Victim?

A favorite media tactic of right-wing policymakers is to claim they are the victims whenever those who’ve had their civil rights or their political voices stifled by their policies make grievances known, and advocate for change. It’s a clever way to turn blatant discrimination into a rallying cry for “freedom,” and undermine the constitutional right to protest. It appears U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has now been well schooled in this rhetorical trick.

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Leo Gerard

Trump’s Big Infrastructure Con

The administration’s infrastructure proposal, released this week, bears no resemblance to Candidate Trump’s campaign pledges. It shamelessly shirks the funding burden, and stops government construction projects that serve the public good. Candidate Trump boasted that he would double what his opponent Hillary Clinton said she’d spend on infrastructure. But the scheme released by the Trump administration this week not only fails to do that, it would rob vital and cherished social safety net programs to pay for a pittance of improvements. It is nothing but a con. During the campaign, in August 2016, candidate Trump said his infrastructure plan would be bigger and better than his opponent’s. “I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need a lot more than that,” Trump said in an interview on the Fox Business Network.

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Miles Mogulescu

Kim Jung Un’s Sister Crushes Pence for Gold in Korea Peace Olympics

If peace  diplomacy were an Olympic sport, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, won the Gold Medal hands down, while Vice President Mike Pence crashed and burned. And that’s a good thing for the possibility of world peace. It increases the likelihood of an eventual diplomatic solution in Korea and the avoidance of a possible war that could kill millions in a conventional war and tens of millions in a nuclear exchange in a matter of days. The outcome represented more than just media optics. It was substantive. Trump’s position until now is that no diplomatic talks would be permitted with the North Koreans unless the North Koreans first dismantled the nuclear program that North Korea considers vital to protect the regime’s survival—In other words, no negotiations unless North Korea first surrendered, which was never going to happen.

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Richard Eskow

A Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

“Childhood,” said the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, “is the kingdom where nobody dies.” In this country, childhood is something we no longer value. As of this writing, 17 people are dead at a high school in Broward County, Florida. The shooter used an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon. Its manufacturer’s sales reps call it “America’s rifle.” They have a point. It is an immensely popular weapon. As an NBC News report explains, Americans own an estimated 15 million AR-15s. One in five guns sold in the United States is an AR-15-style weapon. As of December 17 of last year, there were more than 1.7 million images uploaded to Instagram with the #ar15 hashtag. AR15s are designed for mass killing, firing bullets at high speed to inflict maximum damage.

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Bernie Horn

Black Families Flee Extended School Year

School “reformers” have, for decades, promoted the idea of extending the number of school days per year, from the current norm of 180 days to 190 or 200. Yet for all their talk, there has been extremely little evidence that two or four additional weeks of school would help children succeed in life. The principal reason for this lack of evidence is that very few public schools have adopted a longer year. Miami-Dade County conducted an expensive three year experiment, but the program was deemed a failure. And whatever might be said about KIPP and other charter schools, there are too many factors in play to single out the number of school days as the cause for any effect. In type and number of schools involved, Washington, D.C.’s current extended school year program is fairly unique. After a small trial run, D.C.

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Sam Pizzigati

What Is the Price of Love?

Valentine’s Day must be former billionaire Tim Blixseth’s least favorite day of the year. The 67-year-old timber baron turned real estate developer has not exactly been, you might say, lucky in love. A first wife came and went. Ditto a second. Wife number three did seem, for a serious spell, to be working out spectacularly well. In the late 1990s, Tim and Edra Blixseth turned their 13,600-acre spread just north of Yellowstone National Park into a member-only, high-security ski club resort for the rich and famous, everyone from Bill Gates to global golfing superstar Annika Sorenstam. Tim and Edra “ran the club together,” notes one media report on their entrepreneurial exploits, even installing a “caviar bar in the clubhouse.” The place enthralled the world’s deep pockets.

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Richard Eskow

Forget Trump; His Party Is the Problem Now

It’s Political Messaging 101: You can’t beat Trump by talking about him all the time. We should be talking about our economic future, but all we’re talking about our 45th president. Look at this chart, which shows the top story on social media accounts by social category for the first year (more or less) of Trump’s presidency: (Source: Echelon Insights) Stunning, isn’t it? Trump dominates the media landscape like some paint-and-plaster Colossus, his conquering limbs striding from news cycle to news cycle. I agree with Ezra Klein on at least one crucial point about this chart.

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Tim Wilkins

Pelosi, Paul and the ‘Return to Regular Order’

Is this what a return to regular order looks like? Really? Many recall the dramatic moment last July when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), with fresh scars from cancer surgery on his brow, scuppered his own party’s efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act with a late-night thumbs-down on the Senate floor. McCain then made a lonely plea for Congress to return to “regular order.” This phrase gauzily evokes bygone days of bipartisanship, when legislators supposedly worked together behind the scenes to advance the national good. To some, this recalls the 1980s, when Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House. To others, it calls to mind the era of cigar-chomping dealmakers like Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson.

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Robert Borosage

The Real Reason Workers Can’t Get A Raise

Wages have been stagnant through two official “recoveries” in this century, under both Democratic and Republican presidents. This week, beneath the stock-market gyrations, the mechanics that shackle the average worker’s wages were exposed once more—not in Donald Trump’s White House or Paul Ryan’s Congress but in the supposedly apolitical operations of the Federal Reserve. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. Photo credit: White House / Andrea Hanks In today’s economy, with weak unions and large, multinational corporations, wages begin to stir only when the economy nears full employment. When labor is in demand, workers can push for better wages and benefits. Companies find themselves under pressure to raise pay in order to avoid losing good workers to competitors. Yet the mere hint of rising wages creates warning flags at the Federal Reserve, America’s central bank.

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Celi Tamayo-Lee

SF Rising Steps Up to Make College For All a Reality

San Francisco is a city of contrasts. Historically, it has been a haven for many seeking a better and more creative life – including immigrants, queers, artists and activists of all stripes. But it is increasingly becoming a playground for the rich; our African-American and working class neighbors are being forced out. Our beloved city is becoming, day by day, less and less of the mix of cultures that makes it unique. From the outside, San Francisco may seem like an exciting hub of technology and innovation, but to those of us who grew up and live here, it’s heartbreaking to see how fast our city is changing. That’s why I joined SF Rising, a coalition of grassroots groups based in the Mission district. We work to unite the city’s low-income and working-class communities of color: African American, Latinx, Chinese, Filipino and more.

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Sharon Austin

Black Americans Mostly Left Behind Since MLK’s Death

On Apr. 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, while assisting striking sanitation workers. That was almost 50 years ago. Back then, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law. Photo credit: United States Information Agency African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only. I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world.

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Jen Herrick

Get Ready for More Voter Suppression

When President Trump created the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” last spring — and put notorious vote suppressor Kris Kobach at the helm — voting rights advocates had decades of good reasons to be concerned. The panel seemed destined to back harsh restrictions on voting rights. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / Flickr The fraught commission was recently disbanded. But while that provides a momentary sigh of relief, it doesn’t mean that this Trump-Kobach crusade — or voter suppression — has gone away. For one, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what information the commission collected and what the administration intends to do with it now. Early reports are troubling. For instance, we now know the commission asked Texas to turn over a list of its voters with Hispanic last names flagged.

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Sam Pizzigati

Plutocrats Want to Raise Road Tolls Astronomically

Early this past December, Virginia state officials opened up their latest “dynamically priced” toll superhighway, a 10-mile stretch of interstate that runs from Northern Virginia into Washington, D.C. Ten days later, commuter Chris Kane looked up at the signage that continually updates the road’s current rush-hour fare. The sign read $44. “That’s insane,” Kane tweeted. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons This stressed-out commuter had a point. But a great many of our elected officials today, in Virginia and around the country, don’t buy it. The incredibly pricey tolls that commuter Chris Kane sees as insane have become our conventional public policy wisdom on transportation. That wisdom in a nutshell: Markets can solve everything. Let’s just sit back and let markets work their magic. Terry McAuliffe stepped down last month as governor of Virginia. He counted on that magic.

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Jeff Bryant

Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

The warnings came right after the storm: Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico would be used as an opportunity to transfer management of the island’s schools to private operators of charter schools, and introduce voucher programs that would redirect public education funds to private schools. Sure enough, with nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools still without power and hundreds more plagued with crumbling walls, leaky rooves, and spotty Internet, Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced he will propose to create charter schools and voucher programs as a recovery strategy for the island’s education system. That announcement followed shortly after a new fiscal plan from Rosselló that included closing over 300 of schools.

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Leo Gerard

Promises, Promises, and More Broken Trade Promises

The U.S. Commerce Department announced this week that the 2017 trade deficit rose to the highest level since 2008, a biggest and best figure that no U.S. President would brag about, least of all Donald Trump, who pledged repeatedly and forcefully that he would slash the deficit – and fast. It would be so easy, candidate Trump told workers in Monessen, Pa., on a June 28, 2016, campaign stop. Repeatedly, he promised those workers he’d get it done quickly. So quickly! “I know you have been through some very, very tough times,” he said, “but we’re going to make it better and we’re going to make it better fast, OK? Just watch.” Steel, aluminum, and factory workers across America are still watching and waiting as their mills close and their unemployment benefits expire, even though Trump promised them quick action.

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Robert Borosage

Can Democrats Catch a Wave in 2018?

As both parties gear up for the 2018 elections, Democrats harbor high hopes for a wave election that will take back the Congress, put the Senate in play, and revive their party’s fortunes in state legislatures across the country. All Democrats agree a clear statement of what the party stands for is vital for success. The question is whether their candidates will carry the populist agenda and message they need and the times demand, in spite of the same old big-money politics the party pros insist they cannot do without. A Tantalizing Possibility Despite a strong economy and low unemployment, the possibility of a wave election tantalizes. Trump is remarkably unpopular, and scholars suggest presidential approval or disapproval is a far more important factor in midterm elections than the state of the economy.

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Jeff Bryant

Black Lives Matter at Schools Rolls Out National Week of Action

Seattle classroom teacher Jesse Hagopian wants to transform the school-to-prison pipeline into a school-to-justice pipeline for millions of Black and Brown students in American schools. He and thousands of his educator colleagues are taking strides toward that goal during the week of February 5 to 9 by staging a Black Lives Matter at School week of action in schools across the nation. According to Hagopian, educators participating in the week of action – this year includes dozens of communities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston – will wear Black Lives Matter shirts to school and teach lessons about structural racism, intersectional black identities, black history, and anti-racist movements. “Too often the issues that matter most to students are absent from the curriculum,” Hagopian tells me in an email.

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Leo Gerard

GOP Tax Break Sucker Punches Wisconsin Workers

Early Wednesday morning, David Breckheimer, a United Steelworkers local union president at a Neenah, Wis. paper factory, was gathering the last of his gear for a snowmobiling vacation. At 7:45 a.m., less than two hours before he planned to leave, he got a call. It felt like a punch to the gut, he told me later that day. Kimberly-Clark was closing its Cold Springs facility in Fox Crossing where David had worked 37 years, where 500 men and women earned a good living. Kimberly-Clark also was shuttering its Nonwovens factory in Neenah, costing another 100 workers their jobs. The closures mean the virtual disappearance of Kimberly-Clark production in Neenah, the town along Lake Winnebago where the company was founded by John Kimberly and Charles Clark 146 years ago. It moved its corporate headquarters to Texas in 1985.

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Jeff Bryant

How Public Schools Became Easy Pickings for the Kochs

Despite his campaign promises to transform American education, President Donald Trump had almost nothing to say about the subject in his first State of the Union speech, and his controversial education secretary Betsy DeVos has not made national headlines for some time. But that doesn’t mean Republicans are pausing their assault on the nation’s public schools. As James Hohmann of the Washington Post reports, GOP fat cats who make up the powerful donor network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch recently met in California and declared their intention to “fundamentally transform America’s education system,” including the K-12 sector.

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