– Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 22 Nov 2022 04:10:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 COP27 Climate Summit sparks Action Against Investment Treaties Favoring Fossil Fuel Corporations Over People and Planet Tue, 22 Nov 2022 05:06:55 +0000 By Manuel Pérez-Rocha | –

( ) – Regarding the global climate negotiations in Egypt, several countries announced important actions to curb the power of the fossil fuel industry.

Climate activists are demanding total elimination of the anti-democratic investor-state dispute settlement system.

For decades now, a global web of international investment agreements has given corporations excessive powers to block government policies they don’t like. Through “investor-state dispute settlement” mechanisms, these agreements grant corporations the right to sue governments in unaccountable supranational tribunals, demanding huge payouts in retaliation for actions that might reduce the value of their investments. Corporations are able to file such lawsuits over a wide array of government actions — including actions designed to protect people and the planet.

Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Spain have now announced they will withdraw from one of these anti-democratic agreements: the Energy Charter Treaty, a 1991 pact signed by about 50 countries. The ECT offers special protections to oil, gas, and mining corporations and energy companies, undermining governments’ abilities to address climate change.

These countries’ rejection of the Energy Charter Treaty is welcome, but much more needs to be done. The United States is not a member of the ECT, but the U.S. government has been a major driver of the investor-state system, insisting on including such corporate powers in dozens of trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties and only partially rolling back some of these rules in recent years.

Via Pixabay.

Altogether, the nearly 3,000 free trade and investment treaties across the globe that include ISDS clauses have led corporations to file lawsuits against governments totaling many billions of dollars. And that’s just the cases we know about. Many of these suits remain secret.

With climate negotiators meeting in Egypt, more than 350 organizations in more than 60 countries have issued a joint letter calling on governments to get rid of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system altogether.

As the letter explains, the key risks posed by the ISDS system are: 1. Increased costs for governments to act on climate if corporations are able to claim exorbitant amounts of taxpayer money through an opaque lawsuit system of supranational courts, and 2. “regulatory chill,” which may cause governments, out of fear of being sued, to delay or refrain from taking necessary climate action, a phenomenon seen in the past.

“Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis are often at the heart of ISDS claims through struggles against destructive mining and other extractive projects,” the statement points out. “The evidence of years of damage to the environment, land, health and self-determination of peoples all around the world is stark, and the renewed urgency of the climate imperative is beyond doubt.”

The statement notes that a significant number of governments have already rejected the ISDS system. “Countries such as South Africa, India, New Zealand, Bolivia, Tanzania, Canada, and the US have all taken steps toward getting rid of ISDS.” (Canada and the United States eliminated investor-state provisions between each other in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement while that NAFTA replacement deal left key elements of the system intact with Mexico.)

Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis are often at the heart of ISDS claims through struggles against destructive mining and other extractive projects.

The civil society statement urges governments to stop negotiating, signing, ratifying, or joining agreements that include ISDS clauses, such as the Energy Charter Treaty or the euphemistically titled Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (better known as TPP). Mexico is a party to TPP, which can actually be used by Canada to allow its mining companies to file claims against Mexico.

There are plenty of alternatives to this anti-democratic system. Governments could resolve investment issues between themselves, through state-to-state dispute settlement, rather than allowing private corporations to bring cases against governments to supranational tribunals. An alternative system could also include investment risk insurance, international cooperation to strengthen national legal systems, and regional and international human rights mechanisms.

But will the recent withdrawal of some European countries from the Energy Charter be a turning point? These actions clearly demonstrate how the European Union’s strategy as the main promoter of that treaty has backfired, leading to its own member countries being sued for billions of dollars over CO2 emission control policies.

A report by Lucia Barcena of the Transnational Institute documents how Spain stands at the top of the list of countries facing the most suits, with 50 claims (as of October 2021). But while Spain and some other European countries decided the ECT did not meet their required environmental standards, the EU is aiming to impose these exact same standards in other agreements, for instance through the “modernization” of its free trade agreements with Mexico and Chile.

And so we’re seeing rich countries move away from investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms while intending to keep imposing this system on developing countries. And many developing country governments seem willing to allow themselves to be dragged along. Indeed, several countries in Asia, Africa, and even Latin America are waiting to join the ECT (and other FTAs). For example, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, and Chile are queuing up.

We can hope that the progressive governments of Gustavo Petro in Colombia and Gabriel Boric in Chile will both distance themselves from this system, but it is disconcerting to see Boric already supporting the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Chile. And the AMLO government in Mexico is also upholding its support for free trade and investment protection treaties.

This neoliberal investor-state system is a threat to the future of democracy and the future of our planet. It must end.

Original in Spanish available in La Jornada.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Twitter: @ManuelPerezIPS


Auto Workers, Climate Groups Team Up to Demand Union-Made, Electric Postal Vehicles Sun, 24 Apr 2022 04:06:31 +0000 By Brian Wakamo | –

( ) – After nearly 30 years in the labor movement, Cindy Estrada is well familiar with the corporate playbook. “As soon as wages and benefits are decent, they want to move that work somewhere else.” That’s what happened, the United Autoworkers Vice President explained at a recent rally, after Oshkosh Defense secured a huge contract to build postal vehicles.

The United Auto Workers and climate groups join together to push the USPS to buy electric postal vehicles to replace their old, gas-guzzling fleet.

“The ink was still drying,” Estrada said, “when they announced they were moving the work to South Carolina.”

UAW members had fully expected to build the postal trucks in the existing Oshkosh Defense facility in Wisconsin. After all, the company had won the contract on the basis of their quality work. Instead, Oshkosh Defense plans to convert a vacant former Rite-Aid warehouse in notoriously anti-union South Carolina to fulfill the postal contract, circumventing the unionized workforce in Wisconsin.

Estrada and other UAW officials joined environmental groups and political leaders outside U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington, D.C. on April 6 to deliver 150,000 petitions demanding that the new postal vehicles be built with union labor.

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News 9: “USPS Doubles Order Of Electric Cars”

“We have nothing against South Carolina workers,” Estrada said. “We believe every worker should have democracy in their workplace.”

She was joined by Bob Lynk, president of UAW Local 578, which represents the Oshkosh Defense plant.

UAW Local 578 President Bob Lynk speaks, as UAW VP Cindy Estrada, Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz, and President and CEO of the Hip-Hop Caucus Reverend Lennox Yearwood watch on.

“The new USPS delivery vehicle can be a great opportunity to invest in both a cleaner future and good paying union jobs,” Lynk said. “The company says it values its employees — we are the employees. Invest in us and reward us.”

Fellow activists from the Blue-Green Alliance and the Sierra Club stressed that labor and climate groups need to work together to make a green transition as just and strong as possible and this joint fight over electric postal vehicles is just the beginning.

The UAW has embraced their demands for green postal trucks — not gas guzzlers. Despite urging from the EPA and climate activists, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has refused to commit to having e-vehicles make up more than 10 percent of the new fleet, claiming the Postal Service can’t afford to buy more.

Environmentalists question that claim, pointing out that USPS cost-benefit calculations were based on gas prices staying around $2 per gallon, a deeply flawed assumption given current prices at the pump.

Rep. Gerry Connelly (D-VA) speaks at rally outside USPS headquarters, Washington, D.C.

One sign of hope: Congressman Gerry Connolly has introduced a bill that would provide extra funding for electric postal trucks and mandate that the entire fleet be electrified. In the meantime, environmental and labor groups are committed to keeping up the pressure on Oshkosh Defense and postal leaders to do the right thing.

“We can redefine what it means to be an environmentalist,” UAW VP Estrada said. “Caring about the environment, it means we care about the air and the water we breathe. It means we care about the communities and the community members that live there, what they’re breathing and what they’re drinking. And it means that we have good sustainable jobs.”

Brian Wakamo is an Inequality Research Analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies and a co-editor of Find him on Twitter @brian_wakamo.


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Why Are We Torching Our Best Tool to End Child Poverty? Mon, 21 Feb 2022 05:02:57 +0000 By Clara Moore | –

My daughter and I were on the verge of homelessness before the Child Tax Credit. What’s going to happen to vulnerable families now?

( – I’ve just picked her up from the homeschool co-op that supplements the first-grade lessons we’ve been doing at home, and we’re hanging out at the park. This is my favorite time of the week, watching her play with other kids.

But I’m also remembering my own childhood — cold Missouri winters without boots, hats, or mittens. The grind of poverty was tough on my family, and that trauma pursued me into adulthood.

I would do anything to keep my child from that fate, but we’ve had our close calls.

We were nearly homeless when the pandemic struck. I’d tried to pull myself out of poverty so many times by then — I’d even just finished graduate school. But trying to enter the job market as Covid-19 shut down the economy proved difficult. There wasn’t going to be enough money for rent.

Fortunately, the Covid-19 relief programs Congress passed — like the stimulus checks and those monthly Child Tax Credit payments — helped me keep our apartment.

With this help, I could look for work while homeschooling my daughter. I was even able to put a few dollars into a savings account for the first time in my life, which was a huge relief. My family wasn’t just surviving — we were on our way to thriving.

That’s exactly what a safety net is for. But now what’s going to happen?

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The credit expired last December because Republicans, plus Democrat Joe Manchin, have stalled efforts to extend this tax relief to working families. Millions of families like mine missed our check in January — and we won’t get another unless they’re renewed.

Those monthly Child Tax Credits allowed Ada Mae to attend her beloved homeschool co-op, so necessary for her social well-being. They provided financial stability that helped me be more present with her, when I wasn’t worrying about how the next bill would be paid. And they gave me space to look for — and get — better-paying work in the field in which I’m now qualified.

There are lots of stories like ours. A Columbia study found that the December payments alone kept 3.7 million children out of poverty, reducing the monthly child poverty rate by about 30 percent.

But in the first month without payments, Columbia experts project that the monthly child poverty rate may rise from the current 12 percent to over 17 percent — the highest it’s been in over a year.

As these numbers show, parents weren’t squandering these payments on luxuries. They used them to live less precariously.

A quarter of parents used the credit on child care so they could return to work. A third of the payments went to essential school expenses. And at least 90 percent of families were using the credits on necessities for their families.

Perhaps most dramatically, new research has found that cash payments to low-income families significantly improve infant brain development and learning later in life.

This is the sort of lifeline that changes children’s lives. So why are we taking a torch to it? Why would we lift children out of poverty only to slam them back into it a few months later?

The failure to renew the expanded Child Tax Credit isn’t just cruel and short-sighted — it’s economically unsound. For the economy to fully recover, workers and families must be able to survive inflation and other pandemic-related hardships. The enhanced Child Tax Credit was arguably our best tool for that.

It certainly was for me and my beautiful, confident Ada Mae

All of our children deserve the best chance in life, free from the brutal precariousness of poverty. The enhanced Child Tax Credit is that best chance. Let’s not miss it.

Clara Moore is a researcher and mom who lives in Newark, New Jersey. She shares her experiences in poverty as an advocate with RESULTS Educational Fund. This op-ed was distributed by


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The Year in Inequality in 10 Charts: Our Economic and Racial Divides grew Wider in 2021 Tue, 21 Dec 2021 05:06:02 +0000 Blogging Our Great Divide

by Sarah Anderson Brian Wakamo | –

Why We Can’t Trust the World Bank to Stand Up to Powerful Fossil Fuel Companies Sun, 21 Nov 2021 05:08:45 +0000

While the divestment movement is working to hold fossil fuel companies accountable, the World Bank is protecting and financing them.

By Manuel Pérez-Rocha | –

( – At the international climate change negotiations in Scotland, the World Bank tried to position itself as a global champion in alleviating the climate crisis. In reality, this multilateral financial institution has been promoting and defending extractive and fossil fuel industries.

In a courageous column in the Guardian, one of the World Bank’s own researchers, Jake Hess, criticizes his employer for having spent more than $12 billion to fund fossil fuel projects since the Paris climate agreement in 2015.

“Sadly, I have little confidence that my employer will become a climate leader any time soon,” Hess wrote.

This is hardly surprising, given that Donald Trump picked current World Bank President David Malpass. Like the former U.S. president, Malpass has denied that human-produced carbon emissions cause global warming and climate change.

While the World Bank has continued to fund fossil fuel projects, many other institutions have pulled their money out.

A new report, “Invest-Divest 2021: A Decade of Progress Towards a Just Climate Future,” reveals that there are now 1,485 institutions in 71 countries publicly committed to fossil fuel divestment. The report is co-published by the C40, the Wallace Global Fund, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Stand.Earth and disseminated by the Dutch NGO Both Ends. The divesting institutions represent $39.2 trillion of assets under management.

“That’s as if the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and China, combined, chose to divest from fossil fuels,” the report notes.

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The C40 coalition was founded in 2005 by the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, to build a collaborative network of mayors to deliver the urgent action needed to confront the climate crisis. Nearly 100 major cities now participate, including 14 in the United States, two in Mexico, and three in Canada.

This divest movement also includes grassroots environmental organizations, such as and Rainforest Action, and faith-based groups, including the World Council of Churches. In addition to the Wallace Global Fund, Ford, MacArthur, and other philanthropic foundations are also supportive.

This movement’s efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the true cost of their greenhouse gas emissions and in reducing their political power stands in stark contrast to the World Bank’s activities. Beyond their financial assistance for the fossil fuel projects, the Bank also house the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a tribunal where transnational corporations can file lawsuits against governments over actions — including environmental regulations — that reduce the value of their investments.

In another article, I argue that allowing corporations to keep filing these multi-million dollar lawsuits will potentially undermine the agreement reached in Glasgow.

Claims by extractive industries have increased exponentially during the last two decades. These companies were awarded at least $73 billion since 1995, according to my own calculations based on data available from ICSID and UNCTAD (and there are many other cases for which ICSID and other tribunals do not disclose any information).

Extractive companies are the most frequent users of the investor-state dispute settlement system (ISDS), making up 29 percent of all ICSID claims in fiscal year 2021. They also obtain the largest awards. Of the 14 known rulings for more than $1 billion, 11 relate to the oil, gas and mining industries.

At least 82 lawsuits filed by extractive industries are still pending, among which 42 were filed by companies asking a total amount of $99 billion in compensation, according to the information available ($71 billion from mining companies and $28 billion from oil and gas companies).

It is worth noting that the amounts claimed for the other 40 pending lawsuits are not publicly available, therefore the above figures are merely illustrative of the magnitude of the problem. Notwithstanding the lack of information, it is possible to determine that at least 14 pending cases are demanding over $1 billion, including outrageous claims for $27 billion against Congo and $16.5 billion against Colombia.

Another case involves TransCanada against the United States. The Canadian company is demanding $16 billion in compensation for the Biden administration’s cancellation of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Of course, Mexico is part of the list, facing a $3.5 billion lawsuit by the U.S. company Odyssey Marine Exploration for the denial of a mining permit in marine sub-soils of the Sea of Cortez.

To effectively combat climate change, every government needs room for maneuver to be able to implement sound policies and climate actions without being blackmailed by costly corporate lawsuits. The investor-state lawsuit system must not stand in the way when it comes to addressing climate change and the civilizational threat it poses to the world.

By housing and supporting ICSID, the World Bank further tarnishes its credibility on climate change. But national governments are also at fault. They put the future of the planet at risk by turning a blind eye at climate summits to trade and investment rules (including the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement) that reward polluting activities and protect the interests of extractive industries.

For now, the solution certainly lies in continuing to divest from planet-devastating extractive corporations.

Originally in Spanish in La Jornada


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To Tackle Climate Change, Hold Fossil Fuel Conglomerates Accountable Sun, 14 Nov 2021 05:06:39 +0000

Movements are using this once-in-a-lifetime political moment to mobilize communities against climate change and corporate greed.

By Samantha Garcia | –

( – Since the Industrial Revolution, the United States has single-handedly accounted for a quarter of all CO2 emissions produced. As Congress negotiates the details of a historic budget reconciliation package, lawmakers have an opportunity to reverse course, but large fossil fuel corporations are conspiring with politicians through corporate influence to halt transformative investments in our climate.

And Americans are starting to take notice.

Hundreds of Indigenous leaders and frontline community organizers from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. to hold President Biden and his administration accountable for the climate promises made during the presidential campaign.

Build Back Fossil Free, an environmental justice network composed of national, state, and local organizations, mobilized to convene a People vs Fossil Fuels week of action which commenced on Indigenous Peoples’ Day and lasted from October 11 to October 15.

Water protectors, who risk their lives by using their bodies to block pipelines and stand up to big corporate polluters in their communities, found themselves on the frontlines of the White House, getting arrested for the same purpose — to protect our water. The president and his administration had a choice that week: Meet with us and take executive action to reduce carbon emissions and delay upcoming cataclysmic climate disasters, or arrest people. It chose the latter. On the first day of action, 135 water protectors were arrested for civil disobedience. In total, 655 people were arrested that week.

The organizers, leaders, and protectors who came to D.C. for this event returned to their communities at the week’s end knowing that their local fights — whether it be trying to stop a pipeline in Minnesota, shut down petrochemical facilities in Louisiana, oil drilling in the southwest, or terminating liquified natural gas export terminals in the Gulf Coast — are all interconnected. These regional battles play a key role in the collective war against global warming.

“It is no exaggeration to say that climate chaos is now reality,” said Maya K. van Rossum, the leader of Delaware Riverkeeper network, in a statement. “While politicians are finally starting to acknowledge that the floods, fires, droughts, and catastrophic storms sweeping the nation are a present-day manifestation of climate change, it is of little value if it is not accompanied by meaningful action to end the era of fossil fuels.”

Western droughts in states like Arizona are intensifying while West Virginians and its coal mining communities are dying at alarming rates due to asthma, pulmonary diseases, cancer, and other similar detrimental illnesses caused by polluting industries. But despite this reality, elected officials like Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have stonewalled progressive action on climate change.

Manchin, who owns stock in a coal brokerage company, continues to argue that the cost of the Biden administration’s Build Back Back better agenda is too high and poses a threat to coal industry jobs in his state. Sinema, meanwhile, hasn’t provided any substantial reasoning for her opposition. Her avoidance in the face of questions from reporters and constituents could be linked to the fact that she, along with five other Democrats including Manchin, received $333,000 from Exxon lobbyists.

Progressive Democrats support President Biden’s ambitious goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, while simultaneously incentivizing clean energy usage that would have the U.S. relying on 80 percent clean electricity by 2030 with the Clean Electricity Payment Program. This $150 billion clean energy program would compensate utilities in their energy source transitioning and penalize utilities that don’t. But moderates, Sinema and Manchin are not on board with this foundational component of the President’s climate agenda, with Manchin putting the final nail in the coffin on this climate proposal.

We can no longer afford to allow the power of corporate polluters to go unchecked. Tackling and addressing climatic conditions isn’t just an ethical, moral, or public health concern — it is a global issue that concerns us all and touches every facet of our lives. If we’re going to preserve life, understanding the depth and seriousness of this is eminent. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report: “This is code red for humanity”

None of us are alone in the fight against climate change. The People vs Fossil Fuels actions successfully connected local, placed-based environmental justice struggles to the overall national movement. From ravaging Western fires to wrecking Eastern floods, climate change will only continue to gradually and severely impact people in the United States. We still have time to recognize, develop, and mobilize communities against climate change and corporate greed.

Sam Garcia is a New Mexico fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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DW Planet A: “Why fossil fuel companies should be lawyering up”

The Labor Day Dreams of Black Workers Sun, 05 Sep 2021 04:06:56 +0000

Leading Black labor organizers and policy advocates share their visions for advancing racial equity in the Covid recovery — and beyond.

By Marc Bayard, Sarah Anderson and Rebekah Entralgo | –

As our second pandemic Labor Day approaches, Black worker leaders are determined to never again bear the brunt of a national crisis as they have under Covid-19.

At least four U.S. employees have now been killed as they tried to enforce mask mandates — and all of them were Black essential workers.

Countless other Black Americans, who make up a disproportionate share of retail, food, social service, and other frontline workers, have had to contend with anti-maskers’ racist slurs and other abuse — on top of their relatively high rates of Covid-19 infection.

Black workers who lost their jobs during the crisis have also had a rocky return to employment. As of July, the Black unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, compared to 4.8 percent for white workers.

How can we make the recovery more equitable — and improve conditions for Black workers before the next crisis hits? We asked nine leading Black labor organizers and policy advocates for their views.

“If our work is truly essential, then we deserve the right to negotiate with our employers for better pay and benefits,” said Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs With Justice.

Smiley’s focus on collective bargaining rights was common among our interviewees. This is hardly surprising at a time when CEO pay is soaring as employees are suffering. An Institute for Policy Studies analysis of the 100 largest low-wage employers found that average pay for their virtually all-white CEOs rose 15 percent to $14 million in 2020. That’s 689 times as much as their typical worker pay.

One of these overpaid CEOs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, presided over the blatant suppression of an organizing drive this past spring at an Alabama warehouse where the workforce was more than 80 percent Black. Although the union did not win the vote, Linda Burns, a mother of five who worked at the facility for over a year, told us the “fight is not over” for “better wages, better working conditions, and equal opportunities for all workers at Amazon.”

The workers are getting a chance at a re-vote after federal authorities determined Amazon acted inappropriately to block the union.

Organizers emphasized that the Alabama Amazon battle strengthened the case for the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a federal bill to ensure every worker’s right to advocate for themselves without fear of employer retaliation. Labor advocates, joined by allies in the climate, peace, LGBTQ+, and other movements, are upping the pressure on a handful of conservative Senate Democrats who are holdouts on the PRO Act.

“If our work is truly essential, then we deserve the right to negotiate with our employers for better pay and benefits,”

Erica Smiley, Executive Director, Jobs With Justice

AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs noted that Black workers arguably have the most to gain from the bill because they have “suffered the greatest collapse in their protection of collective bargaining agreement coverage.” The Black unionization rate fell from 17.1 percent in 2000 to 13.9 percent in 2020.

Jonathan Smith, New York Metro Area Local President of the American Postal Workers Union, commented on how labor unions have “showed Black America the power of we over me.” He’s encouraged by the broad public support for protecting unionized postal jobs and making it easier for all workers to join unions and reestablish the middle class.

“This country was made great by men and women in overalls — not men and women in suits,” Smith said.

Black worker leaders also see huge opportunities for addressing the care crisis that has hit their communities particularly hard. Black workers make up 23 percent of all home health care jobs (nearly double their share of the U.S. workforce), which tend to be poorly paid with no benefits. President Biden has proposed $400 billion to support living wage jobs in this sector and billions more to provide subsidized child care and paid family and medical leave.

Josephine Kalipeni, Deputy Director of Family Values at Work, sees such investments as critical tools to “disrupt generational poverty experienced by Black workers.”

Allison Julien, the We Dream in Black organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said these proposals would help both care workers and those who need care. “Many Black families are piecing together care for loves ones with little to no additional financial support,” she said.

Kalipeni and Julien’s organizations are part of a “Care Can’t Wait” coalition that is fighting to keep robust care infrastructure investments in the budget deal as it moves through Congress.

Tanya Wallace-Gobern, Executive Director of the National Black Workers Center, hopes the current crisis will create an opening for expanding workplace health and safety standards “beyond trips, slips, and falls” to include protections against racial discrimination, harassment, and violence. These are hardly new problems, but they have surged in a highly polarized political climate that has empowered white supremacists.

Abusive conditions for restaurant servers have contributed to staffing challenges in many parts of the country. Organizers are working to leverage this to win long-overdue improvements for the restaurant workforce, which is disproportionately people of color.

While these workers have “prepared our food, delivered it to our doorsteps, or brought it to our table, helping our nation to remain safe and healthy while risking themselves, many still earn subminimum wages and have no access to paid leave and health care,” said Dr. Sekou Siby, president and CEO of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United.

The mobilizations sparked by police brutality have also strengthened demands on big corporations to go beyond PR buzzwords when it comes to racial justice.

“We cannot let corporations say Black Lives Matter and then give money to decimate the voting rights of Black and Brown voters or fight against union rights or raising the minimum wage,” said Renaye Manley, who chairs the board of the Worker Center for Racial Justice and leads the SEIU capital stewardship program and shared her personal views with us. “We are in the position to call them out and to change behavior in a way that builds power and respect for our communities, and workers.”

None of the Black leaders we spoke to had any illusion that we can fully achieve Black worker justice without the long-term transformative change of our political and economic systems. But they all recognized the momentousness of the moment.

“We will have to answer to future generations about how we responded when it became inarguably clear that our economy doesn’t work for those whose work makes everything else possible,” said Kalipeni of Family Values at Work. “By solving with and for Black workers, especially Black working women, we will create an economy that works for all.”

The nine labor leaders’ full statements on opportunities for advancing Black worker justice.

Marc Bayard directs the Black Worker Initiative, Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project, and Rebekah Entralgo is Managing Editor of at the Institute for Policy Studies


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CNBC Make It: “How Corporate America Is Failing Black Employees”

Jeff Bezos Should Have Thanked American Taxpayers for Paying for His Space Ride Sun, 25 Jul 2021 04:02:14 +0000

From the very start, the giant retailer’s business strategy has relied on dodging taxes and pocketing public subsidies.

By Scott Klinger | –

( ) – Shortly after emerging from his 10-minute space flight last week, Jeff Bezos thanked Amazon customers and employees for their primary role in paying for his Blue Origin joyride to the edge of space.

The Amazon founder’s comments quickly elicited scorn from many employees who toil in extreme working conditions for little pay and with bathroom breaks half as long as Bezos’s short rocket ride.

But American taxpayers should be just as roiled for not being mentioned by Bezos at all. Commentators pointed to Bezos’s Blue Origin and Sir Richard Branson’s earlier trip on Virgin Galactic’s Unity spacecraft as being privately funded, but in Bezos’s case that is far from the truth.

Dodging taxes and winning public subsidies have been core to Amazon’s business strategy from the start, when its e-commerce sales eluded state and local sales taxes. Later as the retailer expanded its distribution network, Amazon aggressively demanded passes on paying local property taxes in exchange for the promise of bringing jobs to a community.

And when Amazon finally turned profitable, the company used various tax reduction schemes, including paying executives with stock options and running transactions through off-shore tax havens. This enabled Amazon to become one of a number of highly profitable companies that have contributed next to nothing to the costs of the federal government.

Early on, Amazon located its shipping centers in states without sales taxes. It successfully argued that the transaction occurred where the package left its distribution center, not once it was left at the customer’s front door. This tactic saved Amazon customers billions of dollars, and gave Amazon an enormous competitive advantage over brick-and-mortar stores that had to collect sales taxes.

As Amazon evolved, fast delivery became more important, leading the company to rapidly expand its vast distribution network closer to its customers. Recognizing that this would challenge the underpinnings of its sales tax dodging strategy, Amazon began to demand – and most often receive – lucrative tax breaks and other cash subsidies from communities where Amazon opened facilities and created jobs.

Over the years, Amazon has collected nearly $3.3 billion in 200 different tax subsidy deals with state and local governments, according to Good Jobs First’s Subsidy Tracker database. In many cases, that means when an ambulance is dispatched to an Amazon warehouse to tend to a worker overcome by heat, Amazon has left the cost of such services to other taxpayers to pay. Or when Amazon hires an educated worker, it does so knowing that it often contributed little to pay for local government’s investments in schools.

In the three years between 2018 and 2020, Amazon reported $44.7 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits, but paid just $1.9 billion in U.S. corporate income taxes, according to a 2021 analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). These paltry payments gave Amazon an effective tax rate of just 4.3 percent, a fraction of the tax rate paid by typical middle income U.S. families, and only a fifth of the 21 percent statutory U.S. corporate income tax rate.

Bezos claims to have invested $7.5 billion in Blue Origin. U.S. taxpayers have invested many times that amount in Amazon through sales tax loopholes, property tax subsidies, and federal tax avoidance schemes.

If Amazon had paid the full 21 percent corporate tax rate over the last three years, the company would have paid $7.2 billion more in federal taxes, money that could have been used to invest in basic research, education, national security, and COVID aid for struggling families and small businesses.

Bezos’s New Shepherd suborbital flight recreated the historic 1961 flight of America’s first astronaut Alan Shepherd. Back then the U.S. corporate tax rate was 48 percent. If Amazon had paid that same rate on its income in the last three years, the company would have paid an additional $19.5 billion in U.S. income taxes.

Amazon is not alone in not paying its fair share in federal taxes. Back in 1961, corporate income taxes comprised 22.1 percent of the federal government’s revenue. Last year, corporations paid just 6.6 percent of Uncle Sam’s bills, despite U.S. corporations being far more profitable than when Alan Shepherd flew aboard Freedom 7.

Bezos claims to have invested about $7.5 billion in Blue Origin to date. U.S. taxpayers have invested many times that amount in Amazon through sales tax loopholes, property tax subsidies, and federal tax avoidance schemes. It is we, the American taxpayers, along with Amazon’s hard-working, underpaid workers, that made this billionaire’s 10-minute thrill ride possible.

Scott Klinger is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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Around the World, Excessive Corporate Power Breeds Political Repression Sat, 17 Jul 2021 04:01:58 +0000

In the face of extractive industries’ enormous economic clout, Central Americans are facing increasing displacement and threats to their democratic rights.

By Manuel Perez-Rocha | –

Free trade agreements and other neoliberal economic rules grant excessive privileges to transnational corporations, elevating their narrow interests above people’s livelihoods and the environment. Beyond mere economic prescriptions, neoliberalism also embraces repressive and anti-democratic measures.

We are increasingly seeing this in the Northern Triangle of Central America, which includes Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The people of these countries are facing dispossession and forced displacement to clear the way so the extractive and agro-industrial model can thrive.

Global Witness has documented that 14 Honduran and 12 Guatemalan land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 alone.

In Guatemala, a new law would make such activists even more vulnerable. Through a reform of an existing law regulating non-governmental organizations’ activities, the government is acting to protect the interests of economic elites.

As a letter organized by the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) and allied organizations points out, the new law grants the Guatemalan government the authority to permanently shut down any NGO if their activities are considered to violate “public order.” This vague language could be exploited to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful protests.

This reform will also reinforce a clause in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) — and found in virtually all free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties — that requires governments to provide “Full Protection and Security” to foreign investors, including police protection.

The U.S. mining company KCA sued Guatemala for $400 million under this clause, falsely claiming that the government failed to protect its gold mine from the resistance of local communities to protect their water resources and their peaceful sit-in at La Puya.

These repressive measures in Guatemala parallel the repression in Honduras, where communities in the municipality of Tocoa have resisted the mining operations of Inversiones Los Pinares, owned by the country’s elites (like the Facussé family) and fueled by transnational capital.

My organization, the Institute for Policy Studies, awarded in 2019 the Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights Award to Tocoa’s Municipal Defense Committee of the Common and Natural Goods, in recognition of their efforts to defend water against the onslaught of extractive industries. The Honduran government responded to this campaign with repression and militarization of the region and arrested 32 environmental activists. Despite the lack of evidence, eight of them remain imprisoned.

Juan Lopez, receiving the 43rd Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards on behalf of the Comite Municipal de Defensa de Bienes Comunesy Naturales del Municipio de Tocoa, Washington, DC Oct. 3, 2019. Credit: Rick Reinhard.

Juan Lopez, who received the Letelier-Moffitt award on behalf of the Committee, made powerfully clear that his community’s struggle is part of a bigger international story:

Tegucigalpa, Washington, San Salvador, Bogota, Guayaquil, Guatemala, Santiago, Panama, appear day after day on the front pages of conservative newspapers as the political centers where high-level corruption magnates, through privatization or concessions, hand over airports, highways, educational systems, health, territories of high biological value, men and women workers’ pensions. Every day, they are squeezing our throats and the set of rights and guarantees established in our nations’ outdated constitutions that sleep in the drawer of oblivion, while huge armies of white collars and uniformed facilitate the transit of global merchandise. The eye of the hurricane of world capitalism seems to be the great addiction on which agro-industrial plantations, mining, and other extractive projects are built.

A study by the Central American Alliance Against Mining (ACAFREMIN) confirms that the main threat to the region’s peoples and territories is the imposition and perpetuation of this extractive economic model, often without any consultation with local communities — much less their consent. And now in many cases, these destructive projects are being touted as post-pandemic economic recovery.

The alliance also makes clear that excessive corporate power is a key root cause of migration. They report that many people from this region have had to migrate to escape from persecution aimed at protecting the geostrategic interests of U.S., Canadian, and European corporations.

Citing rights established by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the alliance is demanding “the human right to life, food, quality water and sanitation as a key condition for our peoples to live with dignity.”

To secure these basic rights for all, we must undo the rules that put the interests of corporations above those of people and the planet.

Original published in Spanish in La Jornada.

Manuel Pérez-Rocha is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and an Associate of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Follow him @ManuelPerezIPS

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