Tag Archive for: labor


Arkansas loosens restrictions on child labor as feds crack down.

Snow covered parts of California now brace for heavy rain

Germany: 7 killed in mass shooting at Jehovah’s Witness Hall.



Arkansas loosens restrictions on child labor as feds crack down

Earlier this week, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the Youth Hiring Act of 2023 into law. This is only the latest in a series of bills floated in other Republican-leaning states to loosen restrictions on child labor, but it may be one of the most extreme. Arkansas’ new law removes all burdens on employers to verify the age of their employees before hiring them. Previously, employers had to verify that their employees were at least 16. Teens of 14 and 15 years of age had to receive a special permit from the Division of Labor in order to be eligible to work. Both requirements are now gone.

Huckabee Sanders defended the bill, saying the previous restrictions were “burdensome and obsolete”. But in recent years, child labor violations across the country have surged by 70%, according to the US Labor Department. In a call with reporters, one US official said, “This isn’t a 19th century problem, this isn’t a 20th century problem. This is happening today. We are seeing children across the country working in conditions that they should never ever be employed in the first place”.

Federal law forbids children under 16 from working in most factory settings, and children under 18 from working in hazardous jobs. The Department of Labor is investigating cases in several states where children as young as 12 were working in hazardous jobs. It’s hard to see how even this essential protection would be enforced in Arkansas when employers no longer have to verify the age of their workers.

The pandemic and the tight labor market after the economy re-opened seems to have ramped up violations. Businesses see child labor as a way to fill positions without having to offer competitive pay or benefits.

Snow covered parts of California now brace for heavy rain

Western and Northeastern states are in for more severe weather this weekend including heavy rain and blizzard conditions. In Southern California, where residents in mountain communities are still digging out from several feet of snow, an atmospheric river will be bringing torrential rain. The rain will make the snow heavier and increase the danger of more roof collapses, which have already been a problem. Heavy rain hitting snow-capped peaks will also speed melting and put communities downslope in danger of flash floods. 

Northern California is also at increased risk of flooding. In Humboldt County, conditions are so dangerous that ranchers are unable to tend and feed their cattle. Since Sunday, CALFIRE and the US Coast Guard have been teaming up to deliver hay to stranded cattle via helicopter. So far, they have delivered about 3 1/2 tons of hay.

California Gov. Gavin Newsome has requested federal help to cope with weather emergencies in his state, which President Biden has granted. Another atmospheric river is likely to hit the state early next week, and two more appear to be forming in the Pacific.



Germany: 7 killed in mass shooting at Jehovah’s Witness Hall

Yesterday, a 35-year-old gunman identified only as Philip F. opened fire at a Jehovah’s Witness meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Seven were killed, including an unborn baby, and the gunman also took his own life.

The gunman was a former parishioner at the hall. Apparently he had left the congregation about a year and a half ago “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms”. In January,  German police interviewed the man after receiving a tip. The tipster said the man had been showing hostility towards Jehovah’s Witnesses and raised concerns about his fitness to own a gun. Police interviewed the man but found no reason to confiscate his weapon, which he legally owned for sporting purposes. 

Germany’s gun laws are more strict than the US but more permissive than most European countries. The country is now eyeing stricter gun laws in light of an increase in activity by political extremists. Last year, German police and intelligence forces rounded up dozens of people who were plotting to overthrow Germany’s democratic government. The plan was to install a minor prince as head of state.



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With child labor violations on the rise, some Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections.

Ohio community urged to use bottled water after toxic train derailment.

Syria: Assad allows more UN aid convoys into rebel stronghold nine days after earthquake.




With child labor violations on the rise, some Republican lawmakers want to roll back protections

Last year, two major companies, meatpacker JBS and automaker Hyundai, found themselves in an unwelcome spotlight for numerous child labor law violations. Hyundai subsidiary SMART Alabama LLC was found to have illegally employed children as young as 12 in its metalworking plant in Luverne, AL. This turned out to be just one of 10 Hyundai and Kia suppliers violating child labor laws in Alabama.

In a separate case, the Labor Department discovered that Packers Sanitation Services, or PSSI, a cleaning subcontractor for JBS, had illegally employed at least 31 minors, aged between 13 and 17, to do dangerous overnight work. The cleaners use caustic chemicals, and at least one underage worker suffered severe burns. The Labor Department also accused PSSI of interfering in the investigation. PSSI allegedly altered or deleted employment records and intimidated underage workers to discourage them from cooperating with the probe.

Republican-led statehouses want more child labor

Republican lawmakers in Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio are now introducing legislation that would relax restrictions on child labor. Wisconsin’s GOP-led legislature recently passed a measure to expand legal working hours for 14 and 15-year-olds, but the state’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed it. All these states are experiencing labor shortages in certain industries as adult workers have moved on to seek more competitive wages elsewhere. GOP lawmakers defend opening the child labor market as a way to fill the gaps without raising wages. 

Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio all seek to expand the number of hours an underage worker can work and relax restrictions on how late they can work. The bills in Iowa and Minnesota also want to lift restrictions on kids working dangerous jobs. The Minnesota bill would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to work construction.

In Iowa, children are prohibited from working in slaughterhouses, meatpacking or rendering plants; mining; operating power-driven metal forming, punching or shearing machines; operating band or circular saws, guillotine shears or paper balers; or working in roofing or demolition. However, Iowa’s new bill sets up a clever workaround to allow kids aged 14 to 17 to work in these dangerous jobs by designating their employment as a “work-based learning” program. The bill would also shield employers from lawsuits if kids are killed or injured doing these dangerous jobs.

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Ohio community urged to use bottled water after toxic train derailment

Officials fear that a Feb. 3 train derailment and a subsequent controlled release and burn of toxic chemicals may have contaminated the water in East Palestine, OH. The train was carrying 6 cars full of vinyl chloride, an industrial chemical known to cause rare liver cancers. Experts say the burn of the vinyl chloride may have also released dioxins. These are long-cancerous environmental pollutants. 

Ahead of the burn, authorities evacuated the surrounding area. Residents got the all clear to come home last Thursday. But since then, at least 3,500 fish have died off in local lakes and waterways. Locals have also reported rescue foxes and cats suddenly becoming sick and dying. Officials have also confirmed contamination of local waterways, though they initially said this wasn’t a concern. However, a 2019 assessment found that local aquifers had a greater danger of contamination because of a lack of protective clay.

Bruce Vanderhoff, the director of Ohio’s Department of Health, has downplayed these concerns. Nevertheless, Vanderhoff urged residents, especially those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or feeding formula to use bottled water until a full contamination assessment can be done. 

The railroad company in question, Norfolk-Southern, has said it will be digging test wells around the area to monitor the groundwater. Initially, Norfolk-Southern, a company worth $55 billion, offered to cut the town a check for $25,000- $5 for each of East Palestine’s 5000 inhabitants. 

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More: How Norfolk-Southern and other rail companies blocked safety regulations before the derailment (opens in new tab).



Syria: Assad allows more UN aid convoys into rebel stronghold days after earthquake

The death toll of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last Monday has risen to over 41,000. The shambolic disaster response by Turkey’s government has been widely criticized. But across the border in war torn Syria, the response has been even slower to materialize. This is in part because of the civil war that has been going on in Syria since 2010. Over the last few years, the fight has narrowed to the northern part of the country. There, the government of Bashar Al-Assad, with support from Russian military and mercenary forces, has been fighting to retake Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold. Four million of the people living in this enclave already relying on aid for their survival even before the quake.

The rescue and recovery process in government-held areas has been arduous. In the rebel-held areas, aid groups and even humanitarian convoys have largely been kept out. The rebels blame Assad for the blockade, while Assad blames the rebels.

It wasn’t until three days after the quake that the first UN aid arrived through the single crossing into the rebel-held area through Turkey. The US and UN have been urging Assad to open more crossing points into the rebel-held areas since the quake happened. Yesterday, the first UN aid convoys finally entered through a newly-opened crossing point. Assad has agreed to open two more crossing points for a total of four.

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Newly-elected Congressman who lied about family, resume now in legal hot water.

Did an employee walkout in Denver contribute to Southwest’s cancellation fiasco?

Israel swears in its most right-wing government in its history




Newly-elected Congressman who lied about family, resume now in legal hot water

Lies are nothing new in politics, but one newly-elected Congressman from New York has shocked even seasoned political commentators with a growing list of falsehoods he told about himself during the campaign. GOP Rep.-elect George Santos recently won an 8-point upset in a wealthy Democratic-leaning district in New York’s Long Island. However, recent reporting has questioned a number of claims Santos has made about his background, education and work experience. Now, reporters and internet sleuths trawling though Santos’ social media history are turning up even more falsehoods.

During the campaign, Santos claimed to have degrees from both Baruch College and New York University. Neither institution has any record of him attending. He also claimed to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup; this claim has also proved to be false.

Padding one’s resume is one thing, but Santos’ false claims have extended well beyond his education and career. Santos claimed to be a practicing Jew whose grandparents fled Ukraine to escape the Nazi Holocaust, neither of which appears to be true. He claimed that employees of his died in the 2015 shooting at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Also untrue

In a Twitter post, Santos claimed that his mother had died in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Another tweet just five months later indicated his mother only died in 2016. Santos has also claimed that his mother “fled socialism” in Belgium, when in fact she was Brazilian.

Authorities probing Santos’ finances, possible campaign fund violations

Even though Santos has admitted he “embellished” his record and biography, he has no intentions of resigning. Other House GOP members have remained silent on the revelations, including the Rep. Kevin McCarthy who is vying to be the next Speaker of the House. Santos has pledged his support to McCarthy, who may be facing a tight contest for the position.

Santos is unlikely to face any immediate political consequences, since it would be up to the House GOP leadership to impose such consequences. It’s equally unlikely that Santos will face legal consequences for misleading voters about his bona fides. Ultimately, this will have to be a lesson in the importance of due diligence for parties and voters when vetting candidates.

Santos’ finances may be a different matter. When Santos first ran for Congress in 2020, he listed no assets and a salary of $55,000 in his personal financial disclosure. By 2022, however, Santos’ fortunes had changed drastically. His 2022 disclosure claimed assets worth between $2.6 million and $11.25 million, including an apartment in Rio de Janeiro. Between 2021 and December 2022, Santos reported earning millions through his firm, the Devolder Organization.

Such rapid upward mobility isn’t unheard of, especially for people willing to shamelessly “embellish” their qualifications. However, the source of Santos’ money is somewhat mysterious. Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York have questions and are probing Santos’ finances. Further reporting suggests that Santos may have violated campaign finance laws during his recent campaign. This is no small feat, as campaign finance laws are so lax, one has to be particularly inventive to find oneself on the wrong side of them.


Did an employee walkout in Denver contribute to Southwest’s cancellation woes?

Southwest Airlines is facing increasing scrutiny over the complete collapse of its services during the recent storms. Of all the airlines, Southwest has canceled the most flights by far, and are continuing to do so even as the worst of the weather subsides. The explanations for this vary depending on who you ask. Corporate spokespeople for the carrier are blaming severe weather at Southwest’s hubs in Denver and Chicago. The president of Southwest’s pilot union cited outdated scheduling software and an overall lack of leadership. All of these seem to have played a role, but another piece of the puzzle has emerged.

Reports have surfaced of a massive employee walkout of Southwest’s ground crew in Denver, which further complicated the situation. Bear in mind, the company claims that these reports are just rumors. But the story begins with a memo (which you can read here) that was sent out to Southwest’s ramp employees on Dec. 21. In the memo, the company is ordering all its Denver airport ramp crew to report for mandatory overtime. The memo also says that any employee who calls in sick must submit a doctor’s note (from an in-person visit; telehealth not accepted) when they next report for work. Failure to comply with either of these “emergency” measures will result in termination, the memo says.

The reporting has it that after receiving that memo, over 100 of Southwest’s ramp employees in Denver walked out. Last Thursday, a Southwest flight from Tampa to Denver abruptly turned back over Oklahoma and flew right back to Tampa. According to reports, the plane couldn’t land at Denver because there was no ramp crew to handle luggage and other ground operations. Members of Congress are looking into these reports while the Department of Transportation is conducting its own investigation into Southwest’s failures.



Israel swears in its most right-wing government in its history

After Israel’s fifth round of parliamentary elections in three years, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to squeeze out a victory after being briefly unseated by a fragile coalition government. In order to form his new government, Netanyahu has formed a coalition with extreme far-right parties. The leader of one of these parties had previously been convicted for inciting racial hatred.

Before taking the helm, Netanyahu sought to reassure international observers that he would not allow his new coalition partners, who are unabashed religious-nationalist extremists, to trample the rights of Israeli Arabs and LGBT individuals. “They’re joining me; I’m not joining them,” Netanyahu said. “I’ll have two hands firmly on the steering wheel. I won’t let anybody do anything to LGBT or to deny our Arab citizens their rights or anything like that, just won’t happen. And the test of time will prove that”.

However, Netanyahu has come in with a series of priorities that will allow him to mold Israel into a more hardline nationalist state. This includes a plan to make it impossible for the Supreme Court to strike down a law passed by the Knesset, Israeli’s parliament. This would include laws the court deems as unconstitutional or in violation of human rights.

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Amazon warehouse workers strike on Black Friday. Trump rape accuser files upgraded lawsuit under new law. Australia: Much-maligned bird may be key to controlling even more hated invasive toad.


Amazon warehouse workers in US, 40 other countries strike on Black Friday

Workers at Amazon fulfilment facilities in the US, UK and 40 other countries planned walkouts, strikes protests and other actions today on Black Friday. Social media groups helping to organize the strikes have dubbed it #MakeAmazonPay day. Activists are also staging protests outside the New York home of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos is no longer Amazon’s CEO but retains significant financial interest in the company. 

The strikers are demanding that the company address unsafe working conditions at many of its warehouses and fulfilment centers across the globe. Workers are also concerned about Amazon’s use of computers to monitor and enforce brutal productivity quotas. These automated enforcement mechanisms dock workers’ pay or even fire them for failing to meet the quotas, regardless of workers’ ages or mobility problems.

The pressure to fulfill these quotas contributes to an unsafe working environment in the warehouses. In 2021, Amazon warehouse workers made up only 1/3 of all US warehouse workers but accounted for nearly half of all recorded injuries recorded in US warehouses, according to the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC). 

Today’s demonstrators are also demanding that Amazon negotiate with unionized workers. An Amazon warehouse in Staten Island became the first in the US to join a union, but the company has yet to acknowledge the union or meet them at the negotiating table. Other Amazon warehouses have tried and failed to unionize, but more votes are coming next year.

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Trump rape accuser files upgraded lawsuit under new law

Columnist E. Jean Carroll has filed a new lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of sexual battery after New York passed a law allowing victims to sue their perpetrators for crimes decades in the past. Carroll has accused Trump of raping her in the changing room of a Manhattan department store in the mid-90s.

When the accusation first came to light during Trump’s presidency, Trump called her a liar and said she’s “not my type”. Carroll then filed a defamation suit against Trump. Then-Attorney General Bill Barr sought to make the federal government the defendant in the case, claiming that Trump’s denial was an official act in his capacity as a federal employee. This would have killed the lawsuit, as the federal government cannot be sued for defamation. A judge recently rejected this ploy and allowed Carroll’s initial suit to go ahead with Trump as the defendant.

As part of the initial lawsuit, Carroll has been trying to obtain a DNA sample from Trump to compare with evidence from her assault.

New York’s new Adult Survivors law allows victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators and those who facilitated the abuse. Facilitators can include institutions like churches, banks and other organizations. For example, victims of deceased billionaire child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein filed a suit today against banking institutions. The victims say JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and others ignored Epstein’s “red flags” to continue benefitting from his sex-trafficking operations.

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Australia: Much-maligned bird may be key to controlling even more hated invasive toad

Foreigners love to marvel from afar at Australia’s weird and wonderful wildlife. But for many Aussies, these animals are little more than an everyday nuisance. From unwanted scraps with marauding kangaroos to close encounters with enormous spiders at inopportune moments, these critters are a, sometimes unwelcome, fact of life.

A white ibis with a cane toad in its beak.

One such example is the majestic-looking white ibis. Aussies have bestowed the inglorious title of “bin chicken” upon the stork-like bird, thanks to its habit of rooting through urban and rural garbage bins in search of food. However, scientists have just uncovered the bin chicken’s saving grace- its valiant efforts to bring down the numbers of the invasive cane toad.

Cane toads were introduced to Australia in the 1930s and have become a very difficult to control pest. The toad emits a powerful and deadly toxin when stressed. As a result, Australia’s typical predators like crocodiles and dingoes have learned to avoid it. Decades of unchecked breeding have brought the Australian cane toad population to around 2 billion. The toad’s habit of eating small native animals means it’s had a devastating effect on native wildlife.

But the ibis has found an ingenious way to ingest the cane toad while avoiding the effects of its toxins. Scientists have recently observed ibises “playing” with the toads, picking them up, tossing them in the air and even playing “catch” with them. The ibis then either scrubs the toad on the grass or rinses it off in a pond, cleaning off the toxic secretions. The bird then swallows the toad whole.

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Thousands of Starbucks workers strike on one of chain’s busiest days. Senate issues damning report on “excessive” gynecological procedures on ICE detainees. Iran security forces kill boys, 9 and 14, in protest crackdown.



Thousands of Starbucks workers strike on one of chain’s busiest days

Today, more than 1,000 union Starbucks workers went on strike at over 100 stores in 25 states. Since late last year, about 260 of Starbucks’ 9000 nationwide locations have voted to unionize. The union Starbucks Workers United (SWU) has formed more new unions in a 12-month period than any US company in the last 20 years. SWU now represents around 7000 workers. Today’s picketing was the largest nationally coordinated labor action by the union since the labor organizing campaign began.

The strikes coincided with Starbucks’ annual Red Cup Day, usually one of the chain’s busiest days of the year. On Red Cup Day, Starbucks locations hand out free reusable cups to customers who order holiday drinks. The cups are also considered collectibles, and Starbucks stores often have trouble staffing on Red Cup Day due to the higher demand. Strikers instead handed out their own red cups with union logos.

SWU says the strike is a “response to Starbucks’ union-busting tactics and refusal to bargain” with union stores. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is openly hostile to unionizing efforts and has adopted illegal union-busting tactics according to the National Labor Relations Board. In the past year, the NLRB has issued 39 official complaints against Starbucks. These complaints include over 900 alleged violations of federal labor law, according SWU.

Pro-labor Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expressed solidarity with striking workers on Twitter today. “I’m proud to stand with Starbucks workers on strike today across the country. CEO Howard Schultz is illegally union busting and firing workers for organizing. Mr. Schultz, it is time to recognize the stores that unionized and negotiate with workers in good faith,” Sanders wrote.

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Senate issues damning report on “excessive” gynecological procedures on ICE detainees

The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has reported the findings of its investigation into whistleblower complaints regarding an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Irwin County, GA. In 2020, nurse Dawn Wooten, who used to work at the facility, blew the whistle on excessive gynecological procedures performed on detainees, often without informed consent.

The Irwin County Detention Center contracted with Dr. Mahendra Amin, who holds no board certifications. Wooten learned that Amin had been performing high numbers of hysterectomies and other invasive and life altering procedures on ICDC detainees. Many of these women spoke no English and did not understand what had been done to them. 

The PSI report says, “ICDC housed roughly 4% of female ICE detainees nationwide from 2017 to 2020. Dr. Amin accounted for roughly 6.5% of total OB-GYN visits among all ICE detainees in the same time period. However, he performed nearly one-third of certain OB-GYN procedures on ICE detainees across the country between 2017 and 2020 and more than 90% of some key procedures”.

PSI committee chair and Georgia Senator John Ossoff said of the report, “This is an extraordinarily disturbing finding, and in my view represents a catastrophic failure to respect basic human rights”. 

Dawn Wooten was fired when she tried to report these concerns to her superiors at ICDC. Dr. Amin continues to practice in Georgia, even though he is under criminal investigation, according to the Senate report.

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Iran security forces shoot boys, 9 and 14, dead in protest crackdown

Iran’s security forces have been unable to contain weeks of protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of the country’s morality police. The state’s violent and deadly crackdowns on demonstrations seem to have only encouraged more people to join the anti-regime movement. Police have detained at least 16,000 protesters and their online supporters. The courts have recently begun sentencing some of them to death

Since the protests began in late September, at least 362 protesters, including 56 children, have been killed by security forces. Yesterday, Kian Pirfalak, 9, and Sepehr Maghsoudi, 14, were among seven people killed by live fire during a protest in one city. At least 13 other people were killed at protests elsewhere in Iran that day as well.

What started as a protest against Iran’s restrictive dress codes for women has evolved into a movement bent on ending over 40 years of theocratic rule in Iran. Iran’s government and state media have attempted to downplay the size and significance of the protests. At the same time, they accuse the US, Israel and other Western countries of stoking the protests to bring about regime change.

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Amid fears of losing Congress, Dems look for lame-duck wins on child tax credits, same-sex marriage. US quietly pushes for Ukraine-Russia talks.



Fearing losing Congress, Dems look for lame-duck wins on child tax credits, same-sex marriage

Most projections for tomorrow’s elections aren’t very sunny from the Democrats’ point of view. Republicans are widely expected to win the House, and control of the Senate is a toss-up. In some of the tighter races, final results may not be available for days. However, even if the Democrats have to hand over the reins in January, they still have a few weeks of legislating to do before year’s end. Here are some things to watch for.

Must-pass funding bill

Back in September, Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the government fully-funded until mid-December. When Congress comes back into session, they’ll only have a few weeks to hammer out an agreement to head off a federal government shutdown just before Christmas. The last time around, there was a considerable amount of drama over a proposal from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to streamline energy production permits, including oil drilling and coal mining. Manchin himself is a coal baron and would have profited handsomely. However, Republicans blocked his proposal in retaliation for Manchin’s support of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. It’s possible this provision will come up again, either as part of new budget negotiations, or as a standalone bill.

Possible train strike

In mid-September, marathon talks with the White House, the Secretary of Labor and the Department of Transportation narrowly averted a major railroad strike. Numerous unions had been in contract negotiations for years with the major rail companies. The companies were offering workers a hefty raise, but refused to budge on workers’ concerns about working conditions and paid time off. The White House finally brokered a deal to head off a major supply chain disruption (which would cost the US economy about $2 billion a day).

However, all this did was keep a lid on things until after the midterms. The individual unions still needed ratify the terms of the deal. Two unions have already rejected the deal and others are likely to do the same. This is setting the scene for another showdown, this time right before the holidays. If the unions call another strike, Congress has the power to put an end to the strike by forcing workers to accept the terms of the deal. Sharp political divisions arose among Democrats and Republicans on the issue back in September before a deal was announced. It’ll be worth watching what happens if the issue re-emerges after elections are over. 

Child tax credits

For just a few months in 2021, an expanded child tax credit lifted millions of American children out of poverty. The program expanded eligibility to families who normally didn’t earn enough income to qualify, and also doled out half the yearly tax credit in monthly payments rather than a single lump sum. When the program ended in January 2022, millions of children slipped right back under the poverty line, just as inflation was heating up and grocery and gas prices skyrocketed.

Now, Democrats are looking to revive a permanent expanded child tax credit in the lame-duck session. If they can get the votes, it’s possible this could be part of that must-pass government spending bill.

Same-sex marriage

Although LGBT rights have been a cultural flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans this year, same-sex marriage surprisingly has at least some bipartisan support, even in the contentious Senate. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, the court’s opinions seemed to leave the door open for walking back other rights whose basis is the 14th Amendment. One of these is the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision which required all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. 

Over the summer, the Democrats crafted legislation to codify a right to same-sex marriage to allay fears the Supreme Court could repeal it in a future decision. They chose not to move ahead before the August recess because they didn’t want the legislation to be front and center before the midterms. After the election, they’ll be looking to bring it up again



US quietly pushes for Ukraine-Russia talks

Confidential sources have told the Washington Post that the Biden White House has been pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to soften his public stance on refusing peace negotiations with Putin. However, the sources say it isn’t Biden intention to actually push Zelensky and Putin to resolve the conflict. It’s more of a public relations move to combat Ukraine fatigue among Ukraine’s Western allies in Europe, Africa and South America which have suffered the worst economic damage due to sanctions on Russia and blockades of food commodities.

In response to these reports, one of Zelensky’s aides stated that Ukraine had never refused to talk with Moscow, but that they would not speak with Putin. Instead, the aide said “We will talk with the next leader of Russia“.

Biden may also be hoping to temper opposition within the US to continual aide and weapons packages to Ukraine. Last month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that he would not “write a blank check to Ukraine” if becomes Speaker of the House in January, as seems likely.



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Why slavery is on the ballot in five states. STL school shooter used rifle previously confiscated by police. UN: World’s efforts to avert climate catastrophe “highly inadequate”.




Why slavery is on the ballot in five states

This November, voters in Vermont, Oregon, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee will decide whether to amend their states’ constitutions to abolish slavery in all forms, including prison labor. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery, with the exception of allowing it as “punishment for a crime”. During Reconstruction, this exception incentivized many states to pass laws now called the Black Codes. These laws enabled states to incarcerate black people in huge numbers for minor infractions and force them to work. The practice of involuntary, unpaid labor still persists in prisons in many states.

Recently, prisoners in Alabama went on strike, refusing to perform unpaid work in prisons’ food services, maintenance and laundry facilities. Prisoners said the strike was to protest inhumane and unsafe conditions in prisons rather than the unpaid labor itself. In response, Alabama’s Department of Corrections cut back prisoners’ daily meals from 3 to 2 and canceled weekend visits. Prisoners said these were retaliation, but ADOC cutbacks were necessary as they couldn’t fully function without the prisoners’ unpaid labor.

In 2017, a Louisiana sheriff infamously complained that parole reforms wouldn’t leave him with enough “good prisoners” to perform unpaid work. “In addition to [releasing] the bad ones”, Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator said, “they are releasing some good ones that we use everyday to wash cars, change the oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money”.

These sentiments are echoed by correction officials who are opposing the ballot measures in all five states. Savannah Eldridge of the Abolish Slavery National Network draws a parallel between these objections and the arguments against ending slavery over 160 years ago. ” ‘We know it’s wrong, but we can’t afford to end slavery,’ ” Eldridge says. “It doesn’t even sound right.”


STL school shooter used rifle previously confiscated by police

The parents of 19-year-old Orlando Harris, who carried out Monday’s deadly shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, MO, struggled for years to get him help with his mental health issues. They’d arranged treatment for him, got him medication and even committed him to a mental health facility. On Oct. 15, Harris’ mother was alarmed to discovered an AR-15 style rifle among her son’s possessions. She called police, asking that they remove the weapon from the home.

Missouri does not currently have a “red-flag” law. Red-flag laws enable police officials to confiscate weapons with a court order. Confiscation can be initiated by guardians, family members, or law enforcement when a person is deemed a threat to themselves or others. But without such a law in place in Missouri, the police that answered Harris’ mother’s call had no choice to conclude that Harris was legally permitted to own the firearm, despite his mental health history. However, police did arrange for an adult third party known to the family to take possession of the rifle.

Unfortunately, this was the very same gun that Harris used to murder a 16-year-old student and a 61-year-old teacher at the school just 9 days later. Police say they are unsure how Harris got it back.

St. Louis Police Commissioner Michael Sack says, “I’ve got to give credit to [Harris’] family. They made every effort that they felt that they reasonably could. And I think that’s why the mother is so heartbroken over the families that paid for his episode”.

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UN: Nations’ efforts to avert climate catastrophe “highly inadequate”

The United Nations Environment Program issued its Emissions Gap report today and the findings are grim. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres summed it up by saying, “Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short. We are headed for a global catastrophe”.

Bill Hare, head of Climate Analytics, says the report, “confirms the utterly glacial pace of climate action, despite the looming precipice of climate tipping points we’re approaching”.

The report finds that the world’s leading climate polluting nations are not doing nearly enough to head off the worst consequences of climate change. Even those nations’ goals are “highly inadequate”. Even if every nation honored their commitments in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords (which they aren’t), average global temperatures would rise by 2.8 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. This falls far short of the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the tipping point at which the planet will experience the worst effects of climate change.

The main culprit is fossil fuels and world leaders’ unwillingness to wean us off of them quickly enough. UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen says that to avert disaster, we would have to reduce current emissions by 45% by 2030.

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Quinton Simon: Police ‘seize evidence’ in missing toddler case. Railroad union rejects contract, renewing possibility of strike. Calls grow in Congress to ban arm sales to Saudi Arabia.



Quinton Simon: Police ‘seize evidence’ in missing toddler case

The search for a missing toddler in Savannah, GA, has entered its sixth day. The Chatham County police today announced they had “seized evidence that we believe will help move this case forward” and that they would “analyze the evidence to see where it leads us”. There was no further statement on where the evidence had come from or what it was.

Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley told reporters yesterday that police and FBI agents had again searched the home where 20-month-old Quinton Simon disappeared. Local media also reported yesterday that there was a huge law enforcement presence at the home and that it appeared they were pumping out a backyard pool. Hadley also acknowledged that there was now a criminal investigation connected with the search for the missing boy. He did not name the persons of interest, but did say Quinton’s biological father, who was not in the area at the time, was not a suspect.

There are several odd details already known in the case which have caused many to speculate that Quinton’s mother, Leilani or possibly her live-in boyfriend, Daniel Youngkin, were involved in the disappearance or at the very least knew more about what happened than they initially let on. When asked yesterday, Chief Hadley would not comment about whether or not the boy’s mother and her boyfriend were still cooperating with investigators. He also didn’t comment when reporters asked if he knew why the boy’s family hadn’t made any public appeal for Quinton’s return.

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Railroad union rejects contract, renewing possibility of strike

A few weeks after fraught White House negotiations narrowly averted a crippling railroad strike, one of the major unions has rejected the terms of the deal that came out of those negotiations. More than half the membership of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division (BMWED) rejected the deal over concerns about insufficient paid time off and sick time.

While the terms of the new contract offer generous increases in compensation, one of the main sticking points has been a decline in workers’ quality of life. Workers are often on-call for extended periods of time and their schedules are unpredictable. During the pandemic, many railroad companies also adopted harsh attendance policies that heavily penalize workers if they have to miss work for a doctor’s appointment or any other pressing personal business.

Despite these concerns, most of the rail unions have approved the new contract, but all the unions must approve it to avoid a strike. For now, BMWED will return to the negotiating table with employers. Unions have agreed to hold off any strike until Congress is back in session in November. If a strike does happen, companies estimate it will cost the US economy billions of dollars per day and compound existing supply chain woes.

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Calls grow in Congress to ban arm sales to Saudi Arabia

Since OPEC+ decided to cut back oil production last week, the idea of banning or cutting back US arm sales to Saudi Arabia has been gaining traction among Democrats. The OPEC+ decision just weeks ahead of the midterms is seen as an attempt to sway US voters to punish Democrats for high oil prices, while simultaneously helping fellow oil power Russia to continue funding its offensive war in Ukraine.

Yesterday, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lent the most powerful endorsement yet to the proposal. Menendez said that has committee chair, he “will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough”. Previously, Democratic lawmakers have penned both legislation and op-eds to very much the same effect.

The US has long been Saudi Arabia’s chief supplier of weapons, a bargain struck to ensure a steady flow of cheap oil. Over recent years, the Saudis have been involved in, among other things, 9/11, rampant human rights abuses in their own country, the murder of a journalist in Turkey, and an 8-year-long war in Yemen that has amounted to genocide. Through it all, administration after administration has continued selling them weapons. But now that the Saudis have broken their end of the oil covenant, Democrats at least think it’s time at long last to re-evaluate the US position.

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Puerto Rico without power as hurricane passes over. Fast food chains fight California legislation giving workers more rights. Gas hike sparks violent protests in Haiti.



Puerto Rico without power as hurricane passes over

The power grid serving the entire island of Puerto Rico went down due to high winds and heavy rains from the slow moving Hurricane Fiona. All 1.5 million households (over 3 million people in total) are in darkness as rains continue pounding the island.

Fiona is a Category 1 storm, much less powerful than the Category 5 Hurricane Maria that devastated the island in 2015. Since Maria, the island’s government has taken some precautions. As part of its weather preparedness plan, emergency supplies such as food, household items and other necessities have been distributed to cities and towns all over the island. This should hopefully prevent shortages in remote areas that may be cut off by flooding and landslides. In 2015, the government had to scramble to get vital supplies to its citizens.

Puerto Rico’s government has also ensured that hospitals and other key facilities have backup generators. They’d also promised to strengthen the island-wide power grid to withstand future storms, but clearly this hasn’t worked.

Despite ongoing work from government agencies and NGOs, many Puerto Ricans still live in homes that were damaged by Maria, and there is great concern for them. The full scale of Fiona’s damage to the island won’t be apparent for some days to come. Fiona is still crawling over the island dumping torrential amounts of rain.

Puerto Rico is not a state but is a US territory and its residents are US citizens. The island’s government has long called for the US government to do more to help shore up the island’s poor infrastructure.

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Fast food chains fight California legislation giving workers more rights

California Gov. Gavin Newsome recently signed a bill into law that grants more bargaining power to fast-food workers. The bill would establish an industry council for the sector with both membership made up of workers, state regulators and corporate leaders. The council would set wage standards and other regulations for the industry, representing about 500,000 workers in the state.

While unheard of in the US, such councils are the norm in other developed countries. In Germany for example, any large company must by law include workers on their board of governors.

However, major fast food chains have come together to oppose the legislation. The corporate leaders argue that the reforms will result in higher prices and other changes that will make the fast-food model unsustainable. The chains have gone to court to demand a referendum on the measure. If the court grants their request, industry groups will have until April 2023 to gather the 623,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2024 state ballot. The court would also delay implementation of the law, which is to take effect in January 2023.

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Gas hike sparks violent protests in Haiti

Haiti’s leadership is appealing for calm after days of antigovernment demonstrations across the island which have sometimes become violent. The protests arose after the government abruptly ended fuel subsidies, causing gas and diesel prices to rise sharply.

Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who took over leadership of the country following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July last year. Some also suspect Henry’s involvement in Moïse’s killing and Henry has been banned from leaving the country.

Just a month after Moïse’s assassination, the country experienced a devastating earthquake. Since then, inflation has reached its highest point since the last horrendous earthquake in 2010. The poverty-stricken island has also been plagued by lawlessness with armed gangs in control over much of the country.

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Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks. Trouble brews between liberal, moderate Dems over must-pass funding bill. US unfreezes billions in Afghan funds to stabilize economy.



Railroad strike averted after marathon White House talks

All week, fears have been building all week of a railroad workers strike over an impasse in contract negotiations. Such a strike would have have snarled freight and commuter rail transport indefinitely. The halt in freight transport alone would have cost the nation $2 billion in productivity per day. Late last night, the White House announced that unions and industry representatives had reached a tentative agreement, heading off a strike that would have begun tomorrow.

Democrats in particular are breathing a sigh of relief, Had the strike gone ahead, it would have presented them with a no-win scenario. Dems would have had to choose whether to allow the workers to strike and risk disastrous economic fallout, or forcibly impose an unpopular contract on railroad workers, thus alienating their union voting block. Neither would be helpful to Dems just weeks ahead of the midterms.

The details of the deal between unions and railroad companies aren’t yet public. A deal that was already on the table would have given workers significant pay increases, but didn’t address workers’ concerns about punishing and inflexible work schedules. It’s not clear how this conflict was resolved or how long this truce between the industry and unions will hold.

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Trouble brews between liberal, moderate Dems over must-pass funding bill

Back in July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in order to pass the major climate and tax reconciliation bill. As part of that deal, Schumer made a controversial promise to Manchin, who’d been withholding his vote on the reconciliation bill for a year. The deal would bring a vote to the floor to fast-track permitting for energy infrastructure projects.

Though nominally a Democrat, Manchin is also a coal baron. He’s long used his power, first as Governor of West Virginia and now as chair of the Senate Energy Committee, to oppose most climate legislation and regulation of carbon emissions and push through legislation to enrich himself.

It recently came to light that Schumer and Manchin agree to push this permitting issue through on the back of an upcoming vote on a must-pass government funding bill. This has set up a clash between progressive and mainline Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has threatened to vote against the bill if it includes Manchin’s permit provision and has rallied other progressives to do the same.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) also claims that his members were completely unaware of Schumer’s side deal with Manchin. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirmed the deal but denies Democratic leadership were kept in the dark about it. Should an impasse occur, Pelosi says they will simply pass a “clean” bill to avoid a government shutdown. They would then bring Manchin’s measure to a vote at another time.



US unfreezes billions in Afghan funds to stabilize economy

When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last year, the US froze $7 billion in assets belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB- Afghanistan’s central bank). The assets had been held in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center wanted to seize those assets as compensation.

Initially, President Biden decided to split the baby, setting aside $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people” and allowing 9/11 victims to try to claim the rest in court. Last month, a federal judge ruled that the 9/11 families couldn’t claim the $3.5 billion. Essentially, granting them the judgment would essentially acknowledge the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan, which is something only the President has the power to do.

Now, the US government has struck a deal with partners in Switzerland to unfreeze some of the Afghan assets and return them to the DAB. The money will go towards fulfilling some of Afghanistan’s international obligations. This will allow them to pay debts, import food and purchase energy assets. The US and Swiss partners will work together to try to ensure the money doesn’t fall into Taliban control.

The money being released now is part of the $3.5 billion for “the benefit of the Afghan people”. The fate of the other $3.5 billion is still pending in the courts.

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GOP recoils from Graham’s national 15-week abortion ban. Nationwide railroad strike looms; could cost US $2 billion per day. Famine fears grow in flood-ravaged Pakistan.




GOP recoils from Graham’s national 15-week abortion ban

Yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed a bill that would impose a 15-abortion ban on most abortions across the country. The bill would leave in place state laws that impose tighter restrictions on abortions but replace laws in states that are more permissive. It also would impose 5-year prison sentences on abortion providers who violate the terms of the ban. Graham’s bill does include exceptions for rape, incest and to save the mother’s life. “If we take back the House and the Senate”, Graham said, “I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill”.

It’s worth noting that just weeks ago, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Graham was among those praising the decision to leave abortion up to the states.

While some abortion opponents celebrated, many of Graham’s fellow Republicans were quick to distance themselves. They may agree in spirit with he proposal, but the timing of Graham’s announcement was less than welcome. Shortly after Graham’s announcement, a more-than-usually grim faced Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that most Republicans wanted to leave abortion to the states.

Unforced error

Graham’s legislative roll-out comes just as GOP candidates nationwide are busy walking back previously harsh views on abortion

Another GOP operative said Republicans focused on tight midterm contests reacted to Graham’s proposal with “disbelief”. “I just can’t believe this happened. I cannot believe this happened,” the operative said. “Surely Democrats are high-fiving across the country. Imagine how much money they’re going to raise, and they didn’t even have to talk about inflation. They had a press conference on inflation today, and they didn’t even have to talk about it!”.

The operative concluded that, “In the history of unforced political errors, this is a first ballot hall of famer”.

Even the right-leaning editorial board of the Wall Street Journal panned the timing of Graham’s proposal. Recent polling shows that most Americans oppose harsh restrictions on abortion and that this will be an important issue for them when they vote in November.

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Nationwide railroad strike looms; could cost US $2 billion per day

The Biden White House has been busy this week trying to head off a nationwide freight rail strike that could begin as soon as Friday. Railroad companies and unions representing railroad workers have so far failed to agree a new contract after three years of negotiations.

US railroads carry about 28% of the country’s freight. That freight includes grain, finished consumer products, raw materials for production, fuel for power plants and industry, and other vital goods. A trade group representing the rail companies says a work stoppage could cost the US economy as much as $2 billion per day.

Biden has said he is looking into emergency powers he could invoke in the even that a strike happens. The rail companies and other industry groups are pressuring Congress to block the strike and impose a contract on rail workers. 

What do the workers want?

A deal currently on the table would give railroad workers a 24% raise over 5 years, $5000 in yearly bonuses, and one additional day of paid leave per year. Most of the unions representing various occupations in the industry have tentatively agreed to the deal. However, the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union, which represents conductors, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), which represents railroad engineers and conductors, wants the railroad companies to address their concerns about harsh “attendance policies”. If SMART and BLET declare a strike, the other unions will join them.

According to BLET president Dennis Pierce, his members are “pissed off”. They haven’t had a raise in three years despite working longer hours than ever before, but Pierce says that’s not the issue. The so-called attendance policies mean that conductors and engineers are on call for weeks on end.  “They do not have days off. They do not have a schedule.” Pierce says.

Michael Lindsey, an engineer for Union-Pacific, says these policies make it impossible to have a life. “You can’t even make a dentist appointment. You don’t know when you’re going to be working. And then when you’re gone, you’re gone 36-48 hours at a time”.

Pierce says conductors and engineers need more predictable and flexible work schedules, and the rail companies can afford it. “Union Pacific reported its best year ever last year,” Pierce says. “And that’s like 160 years-worth of best years, billions of dollars in profits. They can afford everything their employees are asking for. … Like hiring enough employees to cover for employees absences when engineers or conductors need time off on short notice”.



Famine fears grow in flood-ravaged Pakistan

Since mid-June torrential monsoon rains and floods have killed at least 1,314, including 458 children and displaced millions. As of last week more than a third of the country was underwater. People were taking refuge where they could. The lucky ones made it to overcrowded government shelters in towns and cities. Most have camped out on high ground or levies. 

Even when floodwaters eventually recede. Pakistan’s problems will be far from over. Aside from the over 1.1 million homes lost, 800,000 hectares (nearly 2 million acres) of farm land and over 750,000 head of livestock have also been washed away. Flooding has completely removed the top soil in some of Pakistan’s most productive arable land.

Pakistanis in rural areas also now especially at risk for diseases like malaria and cholera. Flooding has also contaminated drinking water in many areas with toxic overflows from industrial pollutants and sewage.

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DOJ subpoenas 30 Trump associates in Jan. 6 probe. Minnesota nurses strike for better pay, staffing. Ukraine’s eastern offensive caught Russia off guard.



DOJ subpoenas 30 Trump associates in Jan. 6 probe

Over the weekend, the news broke that the Justice Department had subpoenaed several current and former associates of Donald Trump. New reporting says that over 30 people were subpoenaed. Among them were Bill Stepien, Trump’s former campaign manager; Sean Dollman, former CFO of Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign; and Dan Scavino, Trump’s former Deputy Chief of Staff. Stepien, Dollman, Scavino and many of the other subpoena recipients figured prominently in Trump’s campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The subpoenas are broad, requiring everything from documents, grand jury testimony and any communications with certain key figures in Trump’s orbit.

The information sought encompasses a wide range of topics including fundraising practices by Trump’s Save America PAC, the scheme to promote slates of fake electors in 6 battleground states, the planning of Trump’s rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, and anything related to efforts to overturn the results of the election.

Analysts say this flood of subpoenas may be a final burst before a 60-day quiet period that DOJ typically observes ahead of an election.

Mar-a-Lago case: DOJ, Trump’s attorneys agree on special master

In another case, Trump’s attorneys and the DOJ attorneys have agreed on an acceptable candidate for a special master to review 11,000 documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. Federal Judge Raymond Dearie was one of two candidates proposed by Trump’s team. Dearie, 78, was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He’s served for many years in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), now as a senior justice. Deary also served a 7-year stint on the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court.

Andrew Weissmann, a federal prosecutor and harsh critic of Trump, tweeted that DOJ “would be wise” to agree to Dearie. Weissmann said Dearie “is a beloved judge in the EDNY – absolute integrity and fairness”.

It’s not clear when the presiding judge in the case, Aileen Cannon, will decide on an appointment for special master. Cannon also has not yet responded to the DOJ’s request to allow them access to the documents for use in their investigation. 

DOJ and Trump’s team also disagree about the timeline for the special master’s review. While DOJ wants the review wrapped up in five weeks, by October 17, Trump’s team wants 90 days.


Minnesota nurses strike for better pay, staffing

15,000 nurses in Minnesota are in the middle of a 3-day strike seeking contracts with area hospitals offering better pay and working conditions. Members of the Minnesota Nurses Association agreed to and announced the strike last month to allow hospitals to prepare. The MNA has been in contract negotiations with two major hospital groups in Minneapolis and neighboring St. Paul. The striking nurses normally work in about 13 hospitals in the Twin Cities area. 

The nurses’ main complaint is chronic understaffing. Understaffing in healthcare facilities has been a problem since before the pandemic. But since February 2020, there are 37,000 fewer people working in healthcare. During the pandemic, many staff nurses left hospital positions to take much better paid work as travel nurses. This has increased pressure on the staff nurses that remain to work longer and less predictable hours, while working alongside higher-paid temporary colleagues who don’t know their way around their workplace.

The nurses also say they want a 30% increase in pay over three years (way less than hospitals are offering). However, the nurses are willing to accept less pay if hospitals work to rectify their staffing issues.

As an indication of how serious the situation is, the striking nurses are going without pay for the duration of the strike because the Minnesota Nurses Association has no strike fund. If their concerns aren’t addressed, we are likely to see many more strikes like this across the country in the near future.

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Ukraine’s eastern offensive caught Russia off guard

Since the beginning of September, Ukraine’s military has managed to retake about 2000 square miles of territory in the east that had been under Russian control. For weeks, Ukraine had amassed troops in the south and advertised an upcoming offensive there. The deception seems to have worked as Russia dispatched a large proportion of its troops to the south. When Ukraine instead moved to the east, they reportedly outnumbered Russian troops 8-to-1.

Ukraine’s successes also seem to have made some impact in Russian attitudes to the war. Commentators on Kremlin-sponsored TV have recently been critical of the military’s prosecution of the war, though not of the invasion itself. Some commentators have even publicly speculated that Putin may be receiving faulty information.

The Kremlin is casting around looking for someone to blame for their losses. They tend to downplay the Ukrainians’ own military and strategic ability and instead say that NATO support has given them an unfair advantage. From the beginning, Putin has portrayed this invasion as a fight back against eastward NATO encroachment. To date, the US has sent Ukraine about $13 billion in military aid and has shared intelligence with them. 

However, it would be unwise to expect Putin to accept defeat and call for peace talks. Instead he’s more likely to mobilize more troops and bring in heavier artillery.

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