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Fast-Food CEOs Make 1,200 Times as Much as One of Their Workers—and They Want to Keep it That Way

Fast-food workers' strike

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans outside of a Wendy's fast-food restaurant, April 4, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

David Novak is the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the parent company that runs Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. Last year, while Yum! Brands and other restaurant companies lobbied against raising the minimum wage, Novak made at least $22 million—more than 1,000 times what the average fast-food worker makes in a year. In return for paying him so much, Yum! got a tax break.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents Yum! and other restaurant companies, is expected to launch a lobbying blitz in Washington next week against a minimum wage increase. For years the restaurant industry has fought to keep the wage floor low, all while rewarding its CEOs with increasingly large pay packages. As a result, the food industry is now the most unequal sector in the American economy. Thanks to a tax loophole that encourages companies to raise “performance pay” for executives, taxpayers are effectively subsidizing the imbalance.

While inequality between low-level workers and CEOs manifests in all areas of the economy, a new report from Demos concludes that the gap within the food industry is exceptional. Between 2009 and 2012 the CEO-to-worker pay ratio in food services and accommodation was about twice as large as most other sectors. In 2012, fast-food CEOs earned 1,200 times as much as the average employee.


The CEO to worker compensation ratio in the fast food industry reached 1,200 to 1 in 2012, dwarfing other sectors.(Demos)

Why is the gulf between executive compensation and average earnings colossal in the restaurant industry, in particular? One explanation is stagnation of wages at the bottom, abetted by low minimum wage standards. Fast-food workers are paid less than any other employees in the country, and that low floor has barely moved in a decade. The industry’s average hourly wage of $9.19 puts the salary for a fulltime worker below $19,000—poverty wages if she’s supporting a family of three. Most fast-food jobs aren’t even full-time; the average salary for average hours is under $12,000. Last year, fast-food wages fell to levels not seen since 2006.

Meanwhile, compensation for fast-food executives has more than quadrupled since 2000. Those CEOs pocketed an average $23.8 million in 2013, making them among the highest paid people in America.

From 2000 to 2012, the CEO to worker compensation ratio in the fast food industry grew 470 percent. (Demos)

A sizable chunk of their compensation comes in the form of stock options and other forms of “performance pay,” which the IRS allows companies to deduct from their taxes. That loophole “serves as a critical subsidy for excessive compensation,” according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies. “The larger the executive payout, the less the corporation pays in taxes. And average taxpayers wind up footing the bill.”

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In the past two years alone, executives from the twenty largest corporate members of the National Restaurant Association took in more than $662 million in deductible compensation. That cost the government some $232 million, according to IPS—the price of a year’s worth of food stamps for 145,000 households. In the case David Novack, IPS reports that Yum! was able to deduct a combined $23 million from its tax bills in 2012 and 2013 on account of his “performance pay.”

Beyond the obvious hypocrisy of companies who throw millions at their CEOs while saying they can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage, the level of inequality within the food services industry has troubling implications for the whole economy. The jobs created in the wake of the recession have largely been in low-wage industries like food service. In other words, the jobs being added are the most unequal. Economists have pointed out again and again that inequality undermines economic growth, and there are more immediate costs as well, like the nearly $7 billion in public assistance that fast-food workers rely on to make up the gap between rock-bottom wages and the cost of living.

According to Demos the pay gap could hurt fast-food companies themselves, with bad publicity affecting their reputation and low wages encouraging poor customer service. “Consumer are increasingly dissatisfied with their experiences at the biggest fast food companies,” the Demos report found. “In addition to operational issues, the low pay practices of fast food employers have opened the companies to expensive legal risks.” A McDonald’s franchise, for example, settled a lawsuit with employees over uncompensated work, wage deductions and other infractions for $500,000 in March, while class-action suits are pending in at least two states over alleged wage theft.

Read Next: Eric Alterman examines Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

Harvard President Drew Faust Is Still Wrong on Climate Change

Harvard

Students at Harvard University have been calling on President Faust to Divest from fossil fuels for months. (Flickr/Kelly Delay)

As MLK once said: “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.”

On April 7, Harvard President Drew Faust released a statement on climate change and Harvard’s investment strategy. This news came after months of pressure from students, faculty and alumni who were disturbed by her initial rejection of demands for fossil fuel divestment. The demands were first raised in October 2013 by a new student group, Divest Harvard, which was part of a growing national campaign. Faust’s announcement—which introduces Harvard’s creation of a Climate Change Solutions Fund and commitment to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and Carbon Disclosure Project—finally acknowledges Harvard’s responsibility for its investments. However, as members of Divest Harvard, we are deeply disappointed with the university’s continued failure to address the urgency of climate change.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lays out the sobering reality of the climate crisis. By 2100, much of our planet will be uninhabitable if civilization continues on the business-as-usual trajectory. Forget grandchildren, and who knows what kinds of catastrophes we will live through. This is the future we currently face without radical action. We must actively fight for the world we wish to inherit because the stakes are too high to tolerate inaction any longer.

President Faust’s statement only amplifies the moral inconsistency of Harvard’s continued investment in the fossil fuel companies that are devastating the planet and blocking climate solutions. The first part of the plan commits $1 million to investment in climate research. This is an important step forward, but it cannot be taken in good faith while the university’s $32.7 billion endowment is simultaneously invested in the corporations that drive climate destruction, fund science denialism and manipulate the political system. Now that Harvard is committing to investing in solutions, the university must make a simple choice: invest in our future or continue to support its destruction. The science is clear, and the moral line has been drawn.

The second part of the plan is a recommitment to Harvard’s on-campus sustainability efforts, with a focus on the greenhouse gas reduction goals adopted by the university in 2008. The problem is that Harvard is not even on track to reach its 30 percent reduction goal by 2016. The effort is commendable, but not nearly as much as Harvard could do, and reveals an unwillingness to take a critical moral stand when it comes to fossil fuels.

President Faust’s statement also lauded the fact that Harvard has become a signatory of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. This point has come under fire from critics who point out that signing on to the voluntary PRI framework does not require actual change and is little more than a symbolic act. Symbolic or not, this move indicates that Harvard is finally recognizing the ethical and political significance of its investments with respect to climate issues. Thus, we are hopeful that the April 7 statement is an indication that President Faust may be ready to begin translating her words into action.

Lastly, Harvard’s decision to sign onto the Carbon Disclosure Project—which combines shareholder power to push corporations to disclose greenhouse gas emissions—seems insufficent to move the fossil fuel industry. It’s highly unlikely that shareholder resolutions will force these corporations to respond to climate change. Only divestment and political action can achieve this goal. There are multiple examples in the past, including evidence from Harvard’s shareholder votes, that support these statements.

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We are not alone in our dismay over Harvard’s continued inaction. Recently, more than 100 prominent faculty members sent an open letter to President Faust and the Harvard Corporation, deploring the “troubling inconsistency” of the university’s failure to seriously consider divestment. In their letter, faculty emphasize the urgency of divestment, framing it as “an act of ethical responsibility, a protest against current practices that cannot be altered as quickly or effectively by other means.” The letter also challenges President Faust’s argument against divestment on political grounds: “If the Corporation regards divestment as ‘political,’ then its continued investment is a similarly political act, one that finances present corporate activities and calculates profit from them.”

Indeed, the fossil fuel lobby is one of the most powerful political forces in the world, and divestment is a tactic that directly aims to destroy the political influence of that industry. The faculty’s letter has garnered widespread support, including over 20,000 people who have signed a petition asking Harvard to divest.

The motto of Harvard is Veritas—Truth. Fossil fuel companies are waging a war on truth, throwing the full force of their economic and political power into climate denial campaigns and political corruption. We must provide a platform of leadership with which the Harvard community can be proud. We must require that Veritas once again guides our actions and those of the university that we love. Until Harvard divests, we have an obligation to our planet and our collective future to continue pressing. We will escalate the pressure on a scale that is consistent with the urgency of the climate crisis.

Read Next: Students at UC Berkeley create a human oil spill to protest fracking.

And the Lits Keep on Coming!

An &lit clue is one in which the definition and the wordplay, instead of being disjunct, each constitute the whole clue. There is something quite satisfying, and sometimes amazing, when a word or phrase can be described at the semantic level (definition) and at the surface level (wordplay) with exactly the same words.

Because of that, it is traditional among most US cryptic constructors to end such clues with an exclamation point. This is a form of boasting, let’s face it, but since we’re not humble, we adhere to the tradition. (Note, however, that sometimes an exclamation point is just an exclamation point.)

You can read more about &lits in our solving guidelines (links at the end of the post.) Here are some examples from our second year as The Nation’s puzzlers:

ABC’S Basic elements eliminating ignorance at the beginning! (4)

ANIMOSITY ___ is no amity, unfortunately! (9)

ASPIRIN It’s cured pain, sir! (7)

BRIDESMAID Admired sib, potentially?! (10)

CARAVAN Vehicles! (7)

CARGO Primarily cached on a ship! (5)

DECIMAL POINT Remarkably, I’m a pencil dot! (7,5)

DUE PROCESS Criminal course sped! (3,7)

ENRAGED Terribly angered! (7)

GAME Duck, Duck, Goose, for instance! (4)

GLUT Fill belly with victual, ultimately! (4)

GREEN CARD It’s garnered with difficulty, to take first step for citizenship! (5,4)

NASHUA It’s, like, in New Hampshire, near the edges of USA! (6)

PICKETED Chose to surround establishment’s entrance and exit! (8)

RHINO One sporting frightful horn! (5)

RHYME Frost’s utterance! (5)

SPACE AGE It’s characterized by extraordinary escape involving acceleration and gravity! (5,3)

TARANTULA Multi-legged creature amid ultra-creepy arachnids, chiefly! (9)

TERMITE Bug in pursuit of chewed-up tree, for the most part! (7)

TWEET Ultimately, post small bit of text! (5)

WEDGE ISSUE Married gays, initially, beginning to educate children! (5,5)

Admittedly, some are old chestnuts, and some are not as successful as others, but hey, it’s not a bad list!

This week’s clueing challenge: LITERAL. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!

• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog, where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

The Fatah-Hamas Accord Could Rewrite the Rules in the Middle East

Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical, even pessimistic, about the newly announced reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the two main components of the Palestinian movement. After all, they fought a near civil war in 2007, and an earlier unity accord, in 2011, went nowhere. But with the apparent breakdown in the Israel-Palestinian talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry and the United States, whose deadline expires next Tuesday, a Fatah-Hamas accord could rewrite the rules of the so-called peace process.

Since the start of the Kerry-led talks—in which the United States hinted at, but never delivered on, a US-backed outline for what an Israel-Palestine deal should include—it has been Israel, not the Palestinians, that’s refused to budge. That Israeli intransigence, fed by ultra hardliners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, culminated earlier this month when the Israelis refused to follow through on the release of the next round of Palestinian prisoners, and both Kerry and Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister who heads the Israeli delegation, blamed extremists in the Israeli government for scuttling the talks. Their failure, which was widely expected, leaves Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, with several options going forward. The accord with Hamas, which controls Gaza, could be an important first step, especially if it leads the Palestinians to aggressively seek international recognition for a self-declared Palestinian state.

But it’s hardly a silver bullet, and old animosities could easily destroy the fledgling Palestinian accord even before it gets off the ground.

Hamas, badly isolated with its Gaza stronghold under siege, may have felt that it had little choice but to accept a reconciliation offer from Abbas, whose envoys have been in constant contact with Hamas for a long while in search of common ground. The military government in Egypt has clamped down on Hamas, imposing severe restrictions on Egypt-Gaza border traffic, and blaming Hamas for violence in the Sinai peninsula. Worse, Egypt has used Hamas and its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, which ruled Egypt until the 2013 coup d’état by Egypt’s armed forces, as a bludgeon against former President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. (More recently, though, there have been signs that Egypt helped facilitate the Fatah-Hamas accord, including by allowing the passage in and out of Gaza by Fatah officials.) In addition, another Hamas patron, Syria, is embroiled in a civil war, and yet another patron, Iran, can provide only limited help. (Interestingly, Iran’s Press TV, a government-run outlet, seemed to back the Hamas-Fatah accord, headlining, “Fatah-Hamas deal nightmare for US.”)

Iranian officials, long allied with hardliners among the Palestinians, have also consistently said that they’d line up in support of any deal with Israel that the Palestinians—presumably meaning all of the Palestinians—endorse. Meanwhile, Fatah, traditionally supported by the established Arab powers, including Saudi Arabia, will campaign among the Arab states for backing for the deal with Hamas, and one of the more intriguing aspects of the Fatah-Hamas accord will be whether or not Saudi Arabia and Iran join together in support of it. A few years ago, Saudi Arabia and Iran worked together to help stabilize Lebanon when the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement threatened to upend the Lebanese national accord. And the emergence of an eventual resolution of Syria’s civil war, which has devolved into a Sunni vs. Shiite proxy war with Saudi Arabia and Iran supporting each side, will also depend on a Saudi-Iran agreement. In that context, the Palestinian agreement could be a harbinger of an end to the Saudi Arabia–Iran opposition that has framed Middle East politics.

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But that’s getting way ahead of the game. The Fatah-Hamas accord has drawn outraged reactions inside Israel, and it hasn’t exactly been welcomed in the United States, either, what with US threats to cut off aid to the Palestinians. (Washington, of course, calls Hamas a “terrorist” organization and has no contact with the group.)

The accord includes provisions, still not nailed down, to form a unity government including both Fatah and Hamas officials within five weeks and a plan to hold elections in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza by the end of the year. It isn’t at all clear whether Hamas will accept the outlines of Fatah’s existing accord with Israel, or the premise that Israel exists as a state (though, to be sure, one with borders to be determined).

Abbas, frustrated with the lack of progress in the talks with Israel, has lately hinted that he’s considering dissolving the Palestinian Authority entirely and throwing administration of the West Bank back into Israel’s lap, which would truly be a stupid and self-defeating move. Now the accord with Hamas, and the possibility of Palestinian-wide elections, holds much more promise going forward. If it holds.

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on how to break the Israel-Palestine deadlock

Net Neutrality Will Be Saved Only If Citizens Raise an Outcry

FCC headquarters

FCC Headquarters (Flickr/Federal Communications Commission)

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2007, he earned a great deal of credibility with tech-savvy voters by expressing support for net neutrality that was rooted in an understanding that this issue raises essential questions about the future of open, free and democratic communications in America.

Obama “got” that net neutrality represented an Internet-age equivalent of the First Amendment—a guarantee of equal treatment for all content, as opposed to special rights to speed and quality of service for the powerful business and political elites that can buy an advantage.

Asked whether he thought the Federal Communications Commission and Congress needed to preserve the Internet as we know it, the senator from Illinois said, “The answer is ‘yes.’ I am a strong supporter of net neutrality.”

“What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites,” explained Obama, who warned that with such a change in standards “you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you’d be getting rotten service from the mom and pop sites.”

Obama’s bottom line: “That I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

Candidate Obama was exactly right.

So was President Obama when, in 2010, the White House declared that “President Obama is strongly committed to net neutrality in order to keep an open Internet that fosters investment, innovation, consumer choice, and free speech.”

And President Obama certainly sounded right in January 2014, when he said, “I have been a strong supporter of net neutrality. The new commissioner of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, whom I appointed, I know is a strong supporter of net neutrality.”

The president expressed that confidence in Wheeler, even as concerns were raised about an appointee who had previously worked as a cable and wireless industry lobbyist.

Now, barely three months after the president identified him as “a strong supporter of net neutrality,” Wheeler is reportedly preparing to roll out a proposal that our most digitally engaged newspaper, The Guardian, delicately suggests would “axe-murder Net Neutrality.”

Every indication is that the FCC is entertaining a thoroughly misguided approach to issues of Internet access and functionality as a response to a court ruling that upended the FCC’s previous thoroughly misguided approach to the issues of Internet access and functionality.

According to Los Angeles Timestech writer Jim Puzzanghera, the latest proposal “would allow Internet service providers to charge companies for faster delivery of their content.”

Gabe Rottman, an American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel and policy advisor who focuses on First Amendment issues, correctly explains, “If the FCC embraces this reported reversal in its stance toward net neutrality, barriers to innovation will rise, the marketplace of ideas on the Internet will be constrained, and consumers will ultimately pay the price.”

Wheeler claims that criticism based on reports about his initiative are “flat-out wrong.” “There is no ‘turnaround in policy,’” Wheeler said. “The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court’s decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.”

But, after reviewing “the outlines of the proposal released by [Wheeler’s] office on Wednesday,” Puzzanghera’s “Tech Now” report explains:

Although the plan would reinstate the agency’s prohibition against Internet providers from blocking any legal content, it would allow phone and cable companies to charge Netflix and other companies to put their content in a super-fast lane on the information superhighway.

The plan appears to violate a basic principle of net neutrality that all similar content should be treated equally.

Tim Karr, of the media reform group Free Press, says: “All evidence suggests that Wheeler’s proposal is a betrayal of Obama and of the millions of people who have called on the FCC to put in place strong and enforceable net neutrality protections.”

The Future of Music Coalition’s Casey Rae argues that any FCC initiative that establishes a model for speeding up delivery of content for paying customers is “not ‘net neutrality.’”

The risk, says Rae is that, “the Internet in America will now be carved into a fast lane for well-heeled corporations and a dirt road for everyone else.”

“These proposed rules not only don’t go far enough to safeguard consumers, they actively marginalize smaller and independent voices,” explains Rae, who says, “Artists, developers, culture workers, media-makers, nonprofit organizations, community, civic and church groups must tell the FCC that this isn’t good enough. We need real rules of the road for ISPs to guarantee that creative expression and entrepreneurship can thrive in the online ecosystem. FMC and our allies look forward to making this case in the upcoming rulemaking after May 15.”

Rae’s point is an important one. The process is just beginning. It can be influenced by content creators, consumers and citizen activists who understand that in this age of digital communications a broken Internet will lead to a broken democracy. It can even be influenced by the president and members of Congress, who ought to speak up, loudly, in favor of the right approach to net neutrality.

There are two simple steps to take:

1. Recognize that there is a right response to court rulings that have rejected the complex and ill-thought approaches that the FCC has up to now taken with regard to net neutrality. The right response is to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service that can be regulated in the public interest.

When the FCC’s clumsy previous attempt at establishing net neutrality protections was rejected in January by the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the court did not say that the commission lacked regulatory authority—simply that it needed a better approach. As David Sohn, general legal counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, notes, the court opinion laid out “exactly how the FCC essentially tied its own hands in the case, and makes it clear that the FCC has the power to fix the problem.”

“The Court upheld the FCC’s general authority to issue rules aimed at spurring broadband deployment, and accepted the basic policy rationale for Internet neutrality as articulated by the FCC,” explains Sohn. “The arguments in favor of Internet neutrality are as strong as ever, but prior FCC decisions on how to treat broadband have painted the agency into a corner. Those decisions are not set in stone, however, and the ball is now back in the FCC’s court. The FCC should reconsider its classification of broadband Internet access and reestablish its authority to enact necessary safeguards for Internet openness.”

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2. Recognize that this is the time to send a clear signal of support for genuine net neutrality. The FCC has listened in the past when a public outcry has been raised, on media ownership issues, diversity issues and Internet access issues. Wheeler is a new chairman. It’s vital to communicate to him, and to the other members of the commission that President Obama was right when he said that establishing “fast lanes” on the Internet “destroys one of the best things about the Internet—which is that there is this incredible equality there.”

Dozens of public interest groups, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Government Accountability Project to the PEN American Center to Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting and the National Hispanic Media Coalition have urged the FCC to do the right thing. The “Save the Internet” coalition has a track record of rapidly mobilizing Americans to thwart wrongheaded moves by the FCC.

They’re already up and at it, with a petition urging Wheeler and the FCC to “scrap” approaches that won’t work and “restore the principle of online nondiscrimination by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders says, “Our free and open Internet has made invaluable contributions to democracy both here in the United States and around the world. Whether you are rich, poor, young or old, the Internet allows all people to seek out information and communicate globally. We must not turn over our democracy to the highest bidder.”

Sanders is right about that—especially when he recognizes the vital link between technology and democracy. A free and open Internet is essential to modern democracy. But that freedom and openness will be maintained only if Americans use their great democratic voice to demand it.

There is a way to save net neutrality. And if ever there was a time for citizens to urge the FCC to go the right way, this is it.

Take Action: Protect Net Neutrality

John Nichols is the author, with Robert W. McChesney, of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books), and a co-founder (with McChesney) of Free Press.

There’s a Constitutional Showdown in Oklahoma Over 2 Planned Executions (UPDATED)

Oklahoma death chamber

The gurney in the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (AP Photo, File)

UPDATE (4/23/2014, 8:39 pm): The Associated Press reports that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has lifted a stay of execution for Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, rejecting their claim that they are entitled to know the source of the lethal injection drugs being used to execute them before they’re put to death.

* * *

Oklahoma is playing host to a constitutional showdown over the planned executions of two men, pitting the state’s Supreme Court against its Republican governor.

Underlying the debate is whether convicted murderers Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner should be informed of what drugs will be used to kill them before their executions are carried out. Their attorneys argue that shielding the identities of lethal injection drug suppliers violates inmates’ due process rights and drugs procured from unregulated compounding pharmacies could subject them to cruel and unusual punishment. Last month, a district court agreed, declaring the state’s execution secrecy statute unconstitutional.

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court issued indefinite stays of executions for Lockett and Warner on Monday, pending state appeals to the district court’s ruling. The next day, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin asserted that the high court had stepped outside its “constitutional authority” in weighing in on the death penalty case.

She issued an executive order delaying Lockett’s execution by one week; it was originally planned for later that day. As it looks right now, Lockett, and presumably Warner, are both scheduled to die on April 29.

Here’s where things get confusing: the state Supreme Court stayed the exections only after weeks of tussling with the Court of Criminal Appeals over which legal body had constitutional jurisdiction over the case. In Oklahoma’s unique judicial system, the state Supreme Court handles civil cases. The Court of Criminal Appeals, which has refused to address the two death row inmates’ stay requests, traditionally serves as the high court on criminal cases.

“Here, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ refused to exercise its rightfully placed jurisdiction, and left this Court in an awkward position,” the majority justices wrote in their opinion. “As uncomfortable as this matter makes us, we refuse to violate our oaths of office and to leave the appellants with no access to the courts.”

Legal experts argue that Fallin does not have the constitutional or legal authority to invalidate, much less overturn, the Supreme Court. On those grounds, attorneys for Lockett and Warner filed a motion today to quash the governor’s orders.

“The order is a flagrant arrogation of this Court’s authority to say what the law is, and a patent violation of the constitutional separation of powers,” their motion reads.

Eric M. Freedman, a constitutional law professor and death penalty expert at Hofstra University, said the ongoing judicial battle distracts from the underlying issue: the question of constitutionality over Oklahoma’s secrecy statute, one of several laws in the country granting anonymoity to lethal injection drug providers.

“It highlights the desperation of a state trying to justify something unjustifiable,” Freedman told The Nation. “The bottom line is the state is heading for a day of reckoning in the Oklahoma Supreme Court as to whether it can defend this attempt to insulate its own actions by hiding them from judicial scrutiny.”

80 Percent of the World’s Fossil Fuels Must Stay in the Ground to Avert Catastrophe

To prevent the catastrophic scenario of a planet heated by more than 2 degrees Celsius, 80 percent of the world’s current fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. What’s standing in the way of making sure that happens? It’s not climate change denialism—it’s money. Those reserves are valued at an estimated $20 trillion, a number that seems impossible for fossil fuel companies to walk away from. “What does it take to make concentrated powerful interests relinquish their wealth on this scale?” was the question tackled on yesterday’s episode of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, as well as in his new Nation companion piece. The only time business owners have let go of a revenue source on that scale was when the United States ended slavery. It’s a tough mission, but as guest and Gasland director Josh Fox reminds us, “What is money worth when there is no civilization?”
—Corinne Grinapol

Students Mark Anniversary of BP Disaster With a Human Oil Spill

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley students stage a human oil spill to protest fracking. (The Daily Californian/Lorenz Angelo Gonzales)

This article originally appeared in the student-run Daily Californian.

A human oil spill spread across Dwinelle Plaza on Monday—a silent demonstration against fracking that is the first in a series of events to kick-start Earth Week 2014.

The day after the fourth anniversary of the BP oil spill, about twenty students, clad entirely in black, circled and sprawled around a miniature wooden oil rig covered with protest signs. Protesters wanted to illustrate the environmental effects of fracking by using human bodies as symbols of the devastation.

“An oil spill is a very visible and recognizable example of the corruption and destruction wrought by the fossil fuel industry,” said Jake Soiffer, a freshman and an actions coordinator at Fossil Free Cal, in an e-mail. “The details—lying on the floor, wearing all black—bring out the serious, pressing nature of the issue.”

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves extracting natural gas and oil by injecting water, sand and chemicals—many of them toxic—into underground shell rock.

The protest, which was planned and sponsored by Students Against Fracking and by Fossil Free Cal, comes a month after a similar demonstration on Sproul to pressure Governor Jerry Brown into banning fracking in California. Like last month’s protest, students Monday aimed to raise awareness of fracking—but, this time, through a symbolic display.

Suspended from the twelve-foot-tall small-scale oil rig was a list of chemicals involved in fracking operations that are injected into bedrock to break it up. At the foot of the rig were students quietly reclining on the ground.

The protest then kicked into another gear as a student protester wielded a megaphone, chanting, “Leave the oil in the soil” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Keystone XL has to go.”

The protest is the first of many events in UC Berkeley’s annual Earth Week festival, sponsored and organized by the ASUC Sustainability Team. The week—which lasts through Sunday—is designed to spread awareness on environmental issues and is filled with events that promote discussions on ecological issues and teach what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

Founded at the beginning of this semester, Students Against Fracking focuses primarily on leading an educational campaign around campus. The organization will continue to work in solidarity with Fossil Free Cal, a campus group campaigning for the UC Board of Regents to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

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Kristy Drutman, a freshman and co-coordinator for Students Against Fracking, said the organization will begin to take a bigger step forward in their environmental campaign on campus by starting a petition. The petition would pressure Brown to approve a potential bill come November that would pause fracking in California to allow for further scientific research on the cost-effectiveness of fracking.

In addition, Fossil Free Cal is now looking to broaden student support, connect with local environmental groups and pass a resolution through the ASUC.

 

Read Next: Catch up on last week’s most intriguing reads.

This Is How to Create a Green Economy That Works for All

Solar panels

Reuters/Steve Marcus

For most Americans, typically, making sure this month’s rent gets paid unfortunately ranks higher than stopping a future sea-level rise. So in his first term, President Obama framed his environmental messages around “green jobs,” with a focus on the economic benefits of “clean tech,” rather than the less politically popular imperative to curb dirty power industries or avert the impending ecological catastrophe.

But today, with chaotic weather and collapsing infrastructure turning climate change into an immediate social and economic crisis right in our communities, can the economic arguments for a green transition go beyond jobs and toward changing the way our neighborhoods and workplaces operate?

While Washington dithers, a few enterprising towns and cities have been figuring out locally based strategies to decarbonize, and revealing valuable global lessons about reorganizing their economies. In Massachusetts, the Green Justice Campaign, an offshoot of Community Labor United, an alliance of unions and advocacy groups, started with a simple plan: weatherize local homes and leverage public funds to curb carbon consumption and cut energy bills.

The organizers put grassroots muscle behind Washington’s feel-good rhetoric on the green economy and went to people’s doorsteps to recruit households and local workers, negotiated with vendors and pressed state officials to enact broad emissions-reduction standards and support for renewable energy transition. Though it operated on a small scale, the green agenda was ambitious in treating the community like an ecosystem—a collaborative climate adaptation fueled by their own labor and serving families’ material needs.

The coalition’s principles of “green justice” foregrounds economic equity for immigrants and people of color. Working-class communities of color do, after all, have a special stake in the climate change battle, since they are disproportionately burdened by the social and health problems posed by carbon-driven industries.

Under a set of new state policies aimed at promoting energy efficiency and green-technology development, the coalition crafted a weatherization project around a grassroots workforce program to give local workers a deep investment in the energy transition. Advocates worked with communities to push for structural changes in the home renovation sector, which was largely non-unionized and minimally regulated, and rife with abuses such as unsafe working conditions and wage theft.

To ensure decent working conditions, the coalition built solid labor standards into the contracting process, including protections for occupational safety and regulatory oversight of workplace conditions. The coalition also helped broaden access to jobs for poor and disadvantaged workers by pushing strong protections against employment discrimination and the misclassification of workers as independent contractors. The program also included commitments by the firms to subcontract with union workers to help raise wages and job security.

In their evaluation report, the coalition concluded, “the gains we have made will ensure an estimated $14.3 million in collective wage gains for weatherization workers each year.” As more homes get fixed up, they yielded savings on residential energy bills, income gains for workers, and on the environmental side, a cleaner, less carbon-heavy environment for local communities. All that in turn saved the state tens of millions of dollars, the group says, which would otherwise supported benefits like food stamps, Medicaid and, yes, home-energy subsidies.

The big data might not mean much to local families who are more worried about making rent than preserving glaciers, but Green Justice offered them a clear “value proposition:” on top of engaging officials and mainstream environmental groups, the group observed, “We also won credibility by bringing a new dimension to the discussion—equity.”

The project is modest in scale, but stands as a model of a collective social contract that connects the dignity of work and the integrity of the environment. Rational climate policy doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to work within the complexity of human ecology, turning social tension between communities and natural resources into momentum for social change.

Labor is at the center of that equity concept. Environmental-labor coalitions advocate for high-caliber clean energy jobs programs, based on comprehensive training and apprenticeships, which track people into living wage jobs with health and retirement benefits, backed by union representation.

But a job that is labeled “green” is not necessarily better or more secure. According to a workforce analysis by Jobs for the Future, some of the workforce programs created in the wake of the Recovery Act stimulus faltered because training programs were too short-term or inadequate for tracking workers into technology-based “green collar” careers.

An investigation by Good Jobs First on the contracts awarded through the federal stimulus revealed that some companies reportedly resisted workers’ efforts to unionize, or were known to outsource production to low-wage countries. Unionization levels in the new green jobs supported by the Recovery Act are not particularly high. In this aspect, what many activists had hoped would be a Green New Deal contrasts starkly with the original New Deal labor programs, which boosted unionization and incorporated organized labor in industrial planning and regulatory policy.

But maybe the focus shouldn’t be on funneling workers into the green industries, but greening the labor movement. In Europe, where labor institutions wield more political clout, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has campaigned for a “just transition”—a social program that aims to support workers and communities affected by climate policy. While European governments have relatively strong policies on reducing emissions, labor has been a major political champion of social policies that respond to the climate crisis, including job transition programs for workers affected by an energy transition and economic supports for poor households burdened by high energy costs.

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For example, labor groups across Europe have organized campaigns to push for transportation policy reforms. They see this effort as more than just a boost for green infrastructure projects; it will also benefit workers more practically, by alleviating urban pollution, promoting public transit over car dependency, and easing the economic barriers facing poor and marginalized communities that are isolated from local labor markets.

Denis Benjamin, adviser to the ETUC, tells The Nation that as oil, gas and coal facilities are phased out, “we need strong social protection systems… We need also to enhance and enlarge the rights of workers to be consulted on environmental issues, energy issues within companies. We really think that the strength of social dialogue must be a tool of the transition, in order to allow workers to anticipate change, and also to be drivers of this change.”

When workers gain democratic control over their energy futures, they won’t just be trying to cope with climate change, they’ll be overturning entrenched economic structures, and in the process they’ll be resisting the forces that exploit their labor the same way they exploit the earth. A real green energy transition could effectively transfer power from the hierarchy of a carbon-based economy to a new system, from which workers will have a lot to gain.

Read Next: Michelle Chen asks, “Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone?