The Nation

The NCAA Makes Billions and Student Athletes Get None of It

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) celebrates after winning the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against Kentucky Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This opinion piece was originally published in the student-run Daily Targum at Rutgers University.

For many years, the pay-for-play issue in major college sports was a no-brainer to me. A full-ride scholarship—a free education—is an invaluable experience. A college degree is something so many bright Americans struggle to afford, let alone attain. So the idea of athletes getting any kind of compensation beyond a free opportunity to pursue a degree was silly to me.

Not long after coming to Rutgers, I started to realize that student athletes are in a situation the rest of us cannot truly relate to. Universities recruit them to operate within the NCAA—a fully commercialized, multi-billion dollar industry that regulates players to the point of exploitation.

All television revenue, ticket and jersey sales, likeness promotions and other sources of income go to the NCAA, the schools, the coaches, the event staffs and everyone else involved in the business—except for the athletes creating the value. Last year, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament generated $1.15 billion in television ads, well beyond the revenue generated by the NFL and NBA playoffs, according to ESPN.

Despite devoting forty to sixty hours per week to their sport most of the year—more than many full-time jobs—Division I football players aren’t considered employees and lack basic economic rights under the NCAA’s cartel restrictions. That’s what former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is pushing to change in his fight for unionization of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). He wants better medical insurance and academic support for players, and rightfully so.

The NCAA’s exploitative marketing comes in exchange for a scholarship incidental to the industry, and it requires far more time spent playing a major sport than studying for classes. Colter testified that advisors kept him from pursuing a dream of becoming a doctor in favor of easier classes to cater to his football schedule. That’s not putting someone in a position to succeed academically if they aren’t going professional athletically.

Yet somehow, universities paint a picture of student athletes being primarily students. They find it appropriate to use them as a vehicle for institutional promotion during sporting events that have nothing to do with education. The reality is, they care almost exclusively about a football player’s talent and marketability—nothing more, nothing less. The “student athlete” is a false concept.

The National Labor Relations Board’s decision last week to uphold CAPA’s petition carries few short-term ramifications, as the NLRB only affects private schools. But it’s beginning to expose the bigger fundamental issue here.

In response to the ruling, Northwestern appealed and wrote in a statement that it believes its student athletes “are not employees, but students.” That’s nonsense. Since when are money and education mutually exclusive?

There is no other student on scholarship at any university told they can’t be paid while receiving an education, and athletes collectively hauling in tons of money for their schools should be no different.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr found in his twenty-four-page ruling that Northwestern’s football team generated approximately $235 million in revenue from 2003 to 2012. A typical training camp day entails mandatory meetings, film sessions and practices from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm. Sorry, but that is a job, not an extra-curricular activity.

Imagine you’re an English scholar. You write a novel that becomes a best seller, but have to forfeit any profit to the school because you’re already taken care of with paid expenses. Or what if you’re a talented engineering student who builds something as innovative as Facebook in a dorm room, but couldn’t reap any benefits, because you were told the college experience is enough?

The NCAA tags student athletes with the label of “amateur,” but it’s more of an excuse to control the distribution of billions of dollars than an institutional ideal. The notion that college athletes should play strictly for the love of the game is laughable. If so, why give them a scholarship at all? Oh, right, schools need athletes enrolled for revenue and institutional advancement.

To be clear, student athletes do not need salaries or monthly paychecks, even though the NCAA runs just like any other professional sports league. They should simply be allowed to operate within the free market like anyone else in America. Schools can pay what they want, and athletes should be able to sign endorsements for their own likeness and image. It’s fairly simple.

There is no evidence to suggest that athletes being compensated a fairer market value would compromise an educational mission. Ivy League schools don’t award athletic scholarships, but that doesn’t mean their players love the game more than those in the Big Ten. And athletes in the Big Ten aren’t compromised academically by virtue of their scholarship.

Why would going beyond an arbitrarily capped number be any different?

The NCAA and misinformed fans have a myriad of excuses and unanswered questions, as if they are impossible to solve. There isn’t enough money. College athletics will crumble. Athletes already have it great as is. How much will everyone be paid?

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None of those scare tactics is sufficient justification for restricting only one class of people in a booming industry that, oddly enough, has no problem making challenging business decisions with everyone else involved. Coaches and athletic directors can negotiate million-dollar contracts, billions are available for installing state-of-the-art facilities, but the whole enterprise hinges on maintaining an arbitrary benefit to the student athletes.

Please, that’s ridiculous. Billion-dollar industries don’t collapse when their employees receive more than their expenses.

Sometimes life isn’t fair, but the business the NCAA is conducting is unethical.

Read Next: Catch up on the latest in student activism.

11 Years Ago Today: Media Coverage of the Fall of Baghdad Suggested ‘Mission Accomplished’

Ramadi, Iraq

US Marines drive through smoke and dust from a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)

On the morning of this day eleven years ago, in 2003, I happened to be sitting in the ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans waiting for Dick Cheney. This may sound like the beginning of a joke, perhaps with a musical or culinary kicker, but the punch line in this case is quite tragic.

I was covering a newspaper convention as editor of Editor & Publisher and the vice president had been scheduled weeks earlier as the featured morning speaker. We wondered if he’d show up: US forces had just entered central Baghdad and victory had been declared. Now, along with millions of others, I watched as locals, apparently acting on their own, toppled a giant statue of Saddam Hussein. I remember it well. There were two giant, if fragile, screens set up on either side of the stage where Cheney would soon appear—and just as the statue of Saddam was pulled down, live, the screen on the right also started to topple.

I should have known the worst was yet to come right there. Actually, unlike most in the mainstream media, I’d been warning about that for weeks, just the previous weekend on Bill Moyers’s PBS show.

A few minutes later, Cheney arrived and naturally hailed the events of the day. He also told us that critics of our conduct of the war were merely ”retired military officers embedded in TV studios.” Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington, gushed, “The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.”

Okay, we expected nothing less from the architects of the war. But what about our media? Commentators suffered from premature ejaculations. Chris Matthews on MSNBC announced, “We’re all neo-cons now.” Joe Scarborough, also on MSNBC, declared: “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.”

Fred Barnes at Fox News said: “The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war.” Dick Morris at Fox News: “Over the next couple of weeks, when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing, the fact that this war was attacked by the left and so the right was so vindicated, I think, really means that the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years.”

And William Safire in The New York Times:

Like newly freed Parisians tossing flowers at Allied tanks; like newly freed Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall; like newly freed Russians pulling down the statue of the hated secret police chief in Dzerzhinsky Square, the newly freed Iraqis toppled the figure of their tyrant and ground their shoes into the face of Saddam Hussein….

Even in the flush of triumph, doubts will be raised. Where are the supplies of germs and poison gas and plans for nukes to justify pre-emption? (Freed scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.) What about remaining danger from Baathist torturers and war criminals forming pockets of resistance and plotting vengeance? (Their death wish is our command.)

Alas, extensive looting soon began in Baghdad and many other large cities, with prizes ranging from household items to deadly weapons and bomb-making equipment. Rumsfeld explained, “Stuff happens…. Freedom’s untidy.” Mobs were greeting Americans as something less than liberators. On April 18, tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against a US occupation in Baghdad. In late April, in separate incidents in Baghdad and Fallujah, US troops fired on demonstrators, killing more than dozen and inspiring grenade attacks on Americans.

Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times, “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war…. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons.” David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote a column along the same lines. Richard Perle on May 1 advised in a triumphal USA Today op-ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.”

The same day, President Bush, dressed in flight suit, would land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declare an end to major military operations in Iraq—with the now notorious “Mission Accomplished” arrayed behind him in the war’s greatest photo op. Chris Matthews called Bush a “hero” and PBS’s Gwen Ifill said he was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.”

Of course, there is much that can be, and has, been written about the decade that followed in Iraq, the treasure squandered, the media malpractice, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost (see my updated book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long). But on this day, I’d simply recommend a now-forgotten 2011 piece at The New Yorker and Pro Publica by Peter Maass.

He had covered the taking of Baghdad for The New York Times that day as a non-embedded or “unilateral” reporter. His article lays out, in detail, what actually happened that day in Baghdad—revealing the full nature of the media malpractice. The crowds that gathered around the statue of Saddam were much smaller and less enthusiastic than the TV images showed, and US marines played a central role in pulling down the statue. And the images would have profound and long-lasting negative effects in America, he argues. He also quotes from the likes of John Burns of The New York Times admitting that his gratitude toward the US marines that day was explicit. “They were my liberators, too. They seemed like ministering angels to me.”

Maas reveals that two CNN correspondents elsewhere in Baghdad were each ready to go on air with coverage of Iraqis firing on US troops but producers kept the focus on the statue for two hours. One of them, Walter Rodgers, seemed to defend this later: “Pictures are the mother’s milk of television, and it was a hell of a picture.”

Meanwhile, on CNN, Wolf Blitzer described the toppling as “the image that sums up the day and, in many ways, the war itself” and anchor Bill Hemmer added, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history … indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume said, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen…. This speaks volumes, and with power that no words can really match.”

Maass relates that a study found that between 11 am and 8 pm that day, “Fox replayed the toppling every 4.4 minutes, and CNN every 7.5 minutes. The networks also showed the toppling in house ads; it became a branding device.”

Anne Garrels, a leading NPR reporter in Baghdad, revealed that her editors requested that she emphasize the celebratory angle, because the television coverage was more upbeat. In an oral history, Garrels claimed she told her editors that they were getting the story wrong: “There are so few people trying to pull down the statue that they can’t do it themselves…. Many people were just sort of standing, hoping for the best, but they weren’t joyous.”

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Robert Collier, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, “filed a dispatch that noted a small number of Iraqis at Firdos, many of whom were not enthusiastic. When he woke up the next day, he found that his editors had recast the story. The published version said that ‘a jubilant crowd roared its approval’ as onlookers shouted, ‘We are free! Thank you, President Bush!’” Collier told Maass, “That was the one case in my time in Iraq when I can clearly say there was editorial interference in my work. They threw in a lot of triumphalism. I was told by my editor that I had screwed up and had not seen the importance of the historical event. They took out quite a few of my qualifiers.”

Among Maass’s conclusions:

I had little awareness of the media dynamics that turned the episode into a festive symbol of what appeared to be the war’s finale. In reality, the war was just getting under way. Many thousands of people would be killed or injured before the Bush administration acknowledged that it faced not just “pockets of dead-enders” in Iraq, as Rumsfeld insisted, but what grew to be a full-fledged insurgency. The toppling of Saddam’s statue turned out to be emblematic of primarily one thing: the fact that American troops had taken the center of Baghdad. That was significant, but everything else the toppling was said to represent during repeated replays on television—victory for America, the end of the war, joy throughout Iraq—was a disservice to the truth….

The media have been criticized for accepting the Bush administration’s claims, in the run-up to the invasion, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The WMD myth, and the media’s embrace of it, encouraged public support for war. The media also failed at Firdos Square, but in this case it was the media, rather than the government, that created the victory myth.

Among the handful of studies of Firdos Square, the most incisive was George Washington University’s, led by Sean Aday, an associate professor of media and public affairs. It concluded that the coverage had “profound implications for both international policy and the domestic political landscape in America.” According to the study, the saturation coverage of Firdos Square fueled the perception that the war had been won, and diverted attention from Iraq at precisely the moment that more attention was needed, not less. “Whereas battle stories imply a war is going on, statues falling—especially when placed in the context of truly climactic images from recent history—imply the war is over,” the study noted.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “New Surge in Death and Violence in Iraq—Eleven Years After We Took Baghdad.”

Why Is California Penalizing Poor Women for Wanting to Be Parents?

(Shutterstock/Africa Studio)

Update: The bill passed the Senate Human Services committee Tuesday, but narrowly. The vote was three in favor, two opposed.

California is generally thought of as getting reproductive health policy right. In January, the state added abortion providers at a time when clinics elsewhere are fighting restrictions that would have them shut down. But when it comes to poor women’s ability to choose whether and when to grow their families, California has some catching up to do. Since 2002, eight of twenty-four states with a maximum family grant, also knows as a family cap, have repealed the laws that created them, citing concerns that they’re not effective. California—with its progressive image and all three branches controlled by Democrats—is a holdout.

The policy does what its name suggests—caps the number of people in a family who can receive cash benefits through CalWORKS, the state’s welfare program. If a mother already has a child when she applies for help, that child will be covered assuming her application is approved. But if she gives birth down the line, that baby is out of luck. The approximately $120 per month that child would have received if she had already existed at the time of the application is denied the family. (That’s right, just $120 a month. As Grace Meza-Betancourt, a 38-year-old mother whose family has been affected by the cap, put it when we spoke yesterday: “What makes people think you’re having babies just to get aid from the government?”)

In the twenty years since this exclusion of additional children from CalWORKS was put in place, it’s had no impact on the state’s birth rate, according to a 2013 report from the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law. Women receiving CalWORKS benefits generally have one or two children, which puts them in line with other families in the state.

State Senator Holly Mitchell is advancing the fight to repeal the policy. Today, the bill she authored, SB 899, gets its first vote of this year’s legislative session. Today’s committee hearing is preparation for what some see as the real test. On May 1 the bill goes to the budget committee, where lawmakers will take a closer look at the price tag. If it passes, the state could expect up to a $220 million increase in CalWORKS grants in the first year after the cap is removed, according to a legislative analysis. Mitchell introduced a similar proposal last year, and that bill’s death was attributed to its projected costs.

The “how do we fund it?” question has stopped efforts to repeal the cap in their tracks over the past two decades, given California’s long period of fiscal crisis. But now that the state is in the black, advocates think there’s an opening. They want to convince skeptics that failing to invest in families when a child is born means those costs will just show up later down the line. Special education, expensive healthcare and prisons are all places where families denied aid at a child’s birth may eventually depend on state funds, according to Shanelle Matthews, communications strategist for the ACLU of Northern California.

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Matthews and a group of ACLU members from throughout the state met with Mitchell yesterday in Sacramento. They had gone to the capitol to lobby for the bill’s passage and I sat in on some of those meetings.

“Children born into poverty don’t break the cycle,” Mitchell told them. “Our goal is to support them on the front end to give them a chance. This is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

In addition to their arguments related to the budget, advocates list all the reasons why a family cap unfairly singles out poor women and families. Critics often point to the law’s exceptions as proof that its real goal is to force long-term, invasive contraception on certain women. A family can get the additional benefit if a woman conceives while using Norplant, Depo-Provera or an IUD, or if she’s been sterilized and somehow becomes pregnant. A second exception allows the benefit for women who can prove that they’ve conceived as a result of rape or incest. Critics say this is an invasion of the mother’s privacy and could add undue stress to an already painful situation.

I sat in a meeting yesterday as state Representative Rocky Chavez, a Republican who voted no on Mitchell’s bill last year, met with ACLU members who live in his San Diego–area district.

“I have no problem helping anybody,” Chavez told his constituents after they’d pressed him to vote yes on repealing the family cap this time around. “But at some point people have to take responsibility for their next decision.”

In addition to making the argument that the budget can sustain the change, the bill’s proponents still have to convince bootstrap conservatives like Chavez.


Read Next: Jessica Valenti explains why anti-choicers are ultimately fighting a losing battle.

Last Week, Students Struck in California, Walked Out in Newark and Sat-In at Dartmouth. What’s Next?


Newark students walk out. (Photo: Newark Students Union)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10, February 26, March 7 and March 21. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.

Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with any questions, tips or proposals. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Grad Teachers Strike, UC Cracks Down, Thousands Mobilize

On April 2 and 3, UAW 2865, which represents teaching assistants at the University of California, went on strike to protest unfair labor practices. At Santa Cruz, these included intimidation of student workers and threats to withhold future employment for members’ participation in a legally sanctioned strike planned for March 2014. Protesters gathered early on April 2 and were confronted by riot police imported from UC Berkeley. When a union leader announced the picket would soon begin, he was promptly tackled and arrested. Nineteen other student workers were subsequently arrested. The ruthless tactics employed by Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway in keeping one of two entrances open, against the possibility of complete campus shutdown, ignited further response from students, faculty and community members. By the second day of the strike, the protest quadrupled to almost 400—and police repression continued. Early April 3, after being pushed by an officer in the crosswalk, a student was arrested and charged with battery. Riot police interrupted picketing throughout the day, but the protest culminated with high spirits. Defense campaigns and contract negotiations are on the horizon.

—Erin Rose Ellison and Rachel Fabian

2. In the Face of “One Newark,” Seven Schools Walk Out

On Thursday, April 3, more than 1,000 Newark Public School students walked out of class to protest Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. The plan uses rhetoric about “excellence” and “equity” to confuse the public about the district’s deeper plans to close and destabilize public schools—while laying off 700 teachers this year and 1,100 teachers over the next three years. The NSU organized students from seven high schools across the state’s largest school district to walk out of class, into the streets and on to Newark City Hall. From there, we started a “Walk of Shame” where we visited corporations that profit off the privatization and destruction of Newark Public Schools, including Prudential Insurance, a contributor to the One Newark plan and TEAM Charter Schools, and the Foundation for Newark’s Future.

—Jelani Walker and Kristin Towkaniuk

3. At Dartmouth, Freedom Budget Sparks Two-Day Sit-In

On Tuesday, April 1, a group of thirty-five Dartmouth students arrived at President Hanlon’s scheduled office hours asking for a point-by-point response to a Freedom Budget for Dartmouth, inspired by Martin Luther King’s Freedom Budget. Quickly, our visit turned into a sit-in of the president’s office and part of the administrative building, which lasted 48 hours. During the sit-in, students read poetry, danced, planned with students outside the office, coordinated food deliveries and interfaced with administrators regarding demands and rules for sitting-in. Eventually, sixteen students who continued to occupy the office agreed with Dean Charlotte Johnson that they would leave if given only low-level punishment; protection from retaliation; an externally conducted, third party campus climate review survey conducted by the end of 2016; and meetings with decision-makers directly in charge of provisions of the Freedom Budget by May 20.

—Dartmouth Action Collective

4. In Wake County, Jumpsuits Pack the School Board

On March 7, Selina Garcia, a Southeast Raleigh High student and member of NC HEAT, was arrested by a school resource officer for fighting on a school bus. The school police officer said she needed to “learn a lesson.” Garcia, who was living in foster care without a legal guardian at the time, spent twenty days in an adult jail, which was dubbed an appropriate “temporary home” until the county found her a new place to live. NC HEAT, a youth-led group which organizes around education issues, led a campaign for her release, wearing prison jumpsuits as a solidarity statement to a school board meeting, packing the courthouse and the social services office with supporters and calling for accountability in an online petition. On March 27, Selina was released—but as we celebrate her homecoming, NC Heat vows to continue organizing until police are out of our schools and all young people have access to counseling and safe learning and living environments.


5. #not1more x 80

On April 3, the John Jay DREAMers arrived in DC to pressure President Obama to stop deportations and, in particular, the deportations of Ardani Rosales Lemus and Jaime Arturo Valdez Reyes, whose dates are soon approaching. On Capitol Hill, along with the DREAM Action Coalition, the JjDREAMers urged Congress to stop the administration’s record number of deportations. On April 5, the JjDREAMers joined activists from more than eighty cities across the country for a National Day of Action for #not1more deportation.

—Maricela Cano

6. #USMFuture #UMaineFuture

At the University of Southern Maine, students, staff and faculty are battling administrators over the transformation of USM to a business-friendly “metropolitan” university. On March 21, after the administration’s proposal to eliminate four departments, word leaked that layoff notices were being issued to fifteen additional tenured faculty. That day, more than 100 students and faculty gathered outside the Provost’s office, sparking the creation of the student group #USMFuture. Alongside State Representative Ben Chipman, students introduced an emergency bill calling for a retroactive moratorium on cuts and demanding an independent audit of UMaine System finances. Students, staff and faculty throughout the seven-campus University of Maine System, as well as off-campus labor and community groups, are joining in coalition with USM as #UMaineFuture, to demand more state funding and administrative accountability for public higher education in Maine.


7. LA Students—and Unionists Nationwide—Converge

On March 29, more than 100 students from across Los Angeles participated in EmpowerED 2014, a conference focused on education and hosted by USC EdMonth and Students United for Public Education. Throughout the day, students heard from K-12 student union leaders from Chicago, Providence, Portland and Newark about the student organizing currently growing throughout the country in response to the top-down policies of the education reform movement. Students also shared experiences and ideas in open forums, developed leadership and organizing skills in interactive workshops and worked to develop a vision for an education system that serves all students—and incorporates student voices. Some of the issues highlighted were the elevated policing and criminalization of youth; school reconstitutions, like at Crenshaw and Dorsey High Schools; and closings, as in the current case of Roosevelt High School’s Academy of Environmental and Social Policy. By the end of the day, a group of students expressed interest in forming a student union in Los Angeles.

—Hannah Nguyen

8. Michigan Builds a Student Power Network

On Saturday, March 29, fifty activists from across Michigan converged in Ann Arbor for a day of strategizing. Although many were students, the group spanned age groups and occupations. Participants shared stories from myriad struggles, ranging from organizing against Emergency Managers, tuition freezes and university corporatization, to pushing for environmental justice and divestment from Apartheid Israel, to direct action at the Enbridge pipeline, to defending workers’ rights in our communities and overseas. At the end of the day, each person shared one action that they would take in support of a Michigan Student Power Network, making our acts of resistance and our struggle for a more just and equal Michigan seem more hopeful, more reasonable and, with newfound statewide solidarity, possible.

—Duncan Tarr, Mariah Urueta, Gregory Hunter, Cassandra Van Dam, Ian Matchett

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9. When Will Kentucky Stop Privatizing?

At 1 pm on April 1, students at the University of Kentucky interrupted a meeting of the board of trustees with a mic-check and a message: no outsourcing and no Sodexo. While a coalition of students, faculty, staff, farmers and community members have opposed the privatization of UK’s historically public dining services since March 2013, the administration has continued to pursue bids from multinational foodservice companies. Sodexo showed itself to be particularly unacceptable when it cited the Affordable Care Act as a reason for reclassifying all its workers to part time status last December, removing liability for employee benefits. The mic-check kicked off the Campus Worker Justice Week of Action and came alongside USAS campaigns across the country. UK USAS is moving forward by continuing to gather support from students, building the Kentucky Promise Coalition, debating dining privatization on WRFL on April 9 and planning an action later this month.

—UK United Students Against Sweatshops

10. Could College Athletes Be Recognized?

Athletes and advocates discuss what’s next in the wake of the NLRB’s March 26 decision. (Video: ESPN)

—College Athletes Players Association


Read Next: Brown students and workers unite against an exploitative hotel.

America’s Homegrown Terror Threat—and Why We’re Doing Nothing to Fight It

Nuclear power

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1, Middletown, Pa., 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.

The US security complex is up in arms about cyberhackers and foreign terrorists targeting America’s vulnerable infrastructure. Think tank reports have highlighted the chinks in homeland security represented by unsecured ports, dams and power plants. We’ve been bombarded by stories about outdated software that is subject to hacking and the vulnerability of our communities to bioterrorism. Reports such as the Heritage Foundation’s “Microbes and Mass Casualties: Defending America Against Bioterrorism” describe a United States that could be brought to its knees by its adversaries unless significant investments are made in “hardening” these targets.

But the greatest dangers for the United States do not lurk in terrorist cells in the mountains surrounding Kandahar that are planning to assault American targets. Rather, our vulnerabilities are homegrown. The United States plays host to thousands of nuclear weapons, toxic chemical dumps, radioactive waste storage facilities, complex pipelines and refineries, offshore oil rigs and many other potentially dangerous facilities that require constant maintenance and highly trained and motivated experts to keep them running safely.

The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the past sixty years. We don’t have enough inspectors and regulators to assess the safety and security of ports, bridges, pipelines, power plants and railways. The rapid decline in our financial, educational and institutional infrastructure is the greatest threat to the safety of Americans today.

And it’s getting worse. The current round of cutbacks in federal spending for low-visibility budgets for maintainence and inspection, combined with draconian cuts in public education, makes it even more difficult to find properly trained people and pay them the necessary wages to maintain infrastructure. As Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution points out, the 2015 budget fresh off the press includes a chart indicating that non-defense discretionary spending—including critical investments in infrastructure, education and innovation—will continue to drop severely, from 3.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 to just 2.2 percent in 2024. This decision has been made even though the average rate for the past forty years has been 3.8 percent and the United States will require massive infrastructure upgrades over the next fifty years.

The recent cheating scandal involving employees of the country’s nuclear weapons complex is emblematic of the problem. Nuclear officers charged with protecting and maintaining the thousands of US nuclear weapons simply copied the answers for tests about how to employ the complex machinery related to nuclear missiles. The scandal is only the latest in a long series of accidents, mishaps and miscommunications that have nearly caused nuclear explosions and tremendous loss of life. As Eric Schlosser has detailed in his new book Command and Control, we have avoided inflicting a Hiroshima-sized attack on ourselves only through sheer dumb luck.

Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which painted a grim picture. The average grade for infrastructure—covering transportation, drinking water, energy, bridges, dams and other critical infrastructure—was a D+. The failure to invest in infrastructure over the past fifteen years, the report argues, bodes ill for the future and will guarantee further disasters. As political campaigns against “bureaucrats” render the federal government incapable of recruiting and motivating qualified people, these disasters appear almost unavoidable. The weakest links from the point of view of national security are the military and energy sectors.

Bad Chemistry

The problems begin with our weapons. Despite promises from twenty years ago that the Army Chemical Materials Agency would destroy chemical weapons stockpiles, we have finished only fifty percent of the job (whereas Russia has completed some seventy percent), according to Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The process of maintaining and removing dangerous weapons is tedious, labor-intensive and inevitably involves community approval and the rawest forms of politics. The task suffers from an unhealthy combination of secrecy and apathy: the military wants to keep their weapons secret while the general population treats the matter with a striking lack of interest. Although many chemical weapons are stored relatively safely—binary substances are stored separately and are dangerous only when combined—many chemicals related to fueling and other activities are also hazardous. Because they are out of sight and out of mind, they are poorly managed.

Military waste is but a small part of the problem. The United States is peppered with all-but-forgotten chemical waste dumps, aging nuclear power plants, nuclear materials, oil rigs, oil pipelines and mines (active and abandoned) that require an enormous investment in personnel and facilities to maintain safely.

Nuclear Headaches

The United States boasts the largest complex of storage facilities in the world related to civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons programs. This network contains a dozen Fukushimas in the making. The US nuclear energy system has generated more than 65,000 tons of spent fuel, much of which is stored in highly insecure locations. ”Even though they contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet, U.S. spent nuclear fuel pools are mostly contained in ordinary industrial structures designed to merely protect them against the elements,” writes IPS nuclear expert Robert Alvarez. “Some [of the structures] are made from materials commonly used to house big-box stores and car dealerships.” An accident involving any one of these storage facilities could produce damage sixty times greater than the Chernobyl disaster.

The Energy Department, without much regard for public safety, plans to unceremoniously dump in a landfill a ton of radioactive material produced in its nuclear weapons program. Such an approach has precedents. The West Lake municipal landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, harbors highly radioactive material from the weapons program of the 1940s and ’50s. That unsecured material could become a major public health risk due to fire or flooding. More recently, investigation of the Hanford nuclear waste complexin Washington State revealed that “significant construction flaws” exist in six of the twenty-eight radioactive waste storage tanks. One of them has been leaking since 2012. The site dates back to the plutonium experiments of the 1950s, and those flawed storage tanks contain around five million gallons of radioactive material.

The Obama administration has pledged to reduce its nuclear weapons arsenal and envisions a nuclear-weapons-free future. But at the same it is pouring money into “nuclear modernization” through the development of a new generation of weapons and, consequently, even more radioactive waste. Moreover, the administration continues to include nuclear energy as part of its carbon reduction plans, directing federal subsidies to the construction of two new nuclear plants in Georgia.

Despite the enthusiasm for nuclear weapons and power, the administration has turned a blind eye to the disposal of all the nuclear waste that both the military and the civilian sides have generated.

Situation Normal: All Fracked Up

The coal industry continues to slice the peaks off mountains and replace them with vast expanses of barren land that cannot support life. That process fills rivers and lakes with toxic sludge, and regulation is all but nonexistent. From the 1990s on, coal companies have torn up West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee using new technologies that have already destroyed a patch of land larger than the state of Delaware. The run-off from these mining operations has buried 1,000 miles of streams.

The recent contamination of the Elk River in West Virginia with the dangerous chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol used in coal mining left over 300,000 people without safe drinking water. Although storage of the chemicals was the responsibility of the now-bankrupt Freedom Industries, responsibility for the accident does not stop there. In fact, federal officials never inspected the site, and neither Freedom Industries nor local government officials drew up an emergency response plan.

A few weeks later a pipe failure in Eden, North Carolina, dumped 39,000 tons of arsenic-laced coal ash into the nearby Dan River, causing a similar crisis. The situation is growing more serious as state budgets for inspection and regulation are being slashed. Training and preparation for hazardous material disasters is underfunded, and the personnel are unprepared to do their job.

Coal and oil workers are dying in greater numbers as a result of chronic inattention to safety concerns. So bad is the situation that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only ninety-five inspectors to oversee safety rules for all Texas work sites, and few of them have training or experience in the energy sector.

If you like coal mining, you’re going to love fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, the latest weapon in the war on the environment. Fracking extracts natural gas and petroleum from subterranean rock formations by pushing water, sand and a variety of toxic chemicals deep into the ground to fracture the rock and release the trapped oil or gas. The process leaves beneath the surface large amounts of toxic chemicals that have already been shown to contaminate drinking water. The chemicals are so toxic that the water cannot be cleaned in a treatment plant.

Fracking is gobbling up large swaths of the United States because sites are quickly exhausted and the driller must constantly move on, leaving behind toxic chemicals to seep into the water supply. The long-term consequences of leaving extremely toxic substances like benzoyl or formic acid underground for decades are unknown. Without extensive regulation, maintenance and planning for future disasters, the fracking boom is a ticking bomb for US security.

The peril is not just on land. The increasingly desperate search for energy is making extreme measures—like deep-water drilling for oil—profitable for energy companies. The Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 resulted in eleven deaths, affected 16,000 miles of coastline and will cost upwards of $40 billion. That accident didn’t stop the government from granting Shell a permit to drill in the deep waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the Alaskan coast, an effort that has already racked up its share of accidents.

Coming Up: Le Deluge

The unending demand for budget cuts is taking a toll on the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency experienced cuts of more than 6 percent in both its budget and workforce: from a nearly $8.5 million budget in 2012 down to $7.9 million in 2013, and from 17,106 employees in 2012 down to 15,913 employees in 2013. This is happening at a time when environmental issues are growing more critical.

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Cuts in budgets for maintenance, inspection and regulation will all but guarantee further disasters and tens of billions of dollars in damages. The poor state of American infrastructure would be a problem in any case, but the challenge of climate change has thrown a monkey wrench into all predictions. The New York Panel on Climate Change concluded that rising sea levels will turn what was previously a once-in-100-years flood into something that happens once every thirty-five to fifty-five years by 2050 and once every fifteen to thirty years by 2080. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused more than $108 billion in damages, while Hurricane Sandy in 2012 cost more than $50 billion, according to the National Hurricane Center. Climate change combined with poor maintenance is a recipe for massive disaster. Although the costs of the next disaster will certainly exceed the 9/11 attacks in terms of damage, tragically we are cutting back on infrastructure investment at a time we should be increasing it dramatically.

Unfortunately, the constituencies concerned with safety inspections do not hire the most expensive lobbyists and rarely show up in the press. Inspectors and experts cannot, and should not, be expected to defend themselves in Washington. The media-obsessed political culture that rules the capital today makes commitment to low-key support for maintenance and long-term safety the kiss of death for congressmen engaged in an unending struggle to raise funds for re-election.

The strategic foolhardiness of cutting back on low-profile programs has become politically smart. But a few more major industrial or infrastructural disasters will be enough to bring the country to its knees. The American superpower could topple from self-inflicted wounds without a rival like China or Russia even having to say “boo!”


Read Next: Justine Drennan on the ongoing fight for nuclear disarmament.

Presidential Prospect or Not, Elizabeth Warren Has a Lesson for Democrats

Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questions a witness on Capitol Hill in Washington 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Many thoughtful media reports on the remarkable address that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren gave at the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s Humphrey-Mondale Dinner have focused on the fact that she took apart Paul Ryan.

There is no question that the senator from Massachusetts shamed the congressman from Wisconsin.

One report was headlined: “Elizabeth Warren schools Paul Ryan on poverty in 80 seconds.”

Another announced: “Elizabeth Warren Picks A Fight With Paul Ryan.”

Still another reported: “Elizabeth Warren Slams Paul Ryan On Inner City Culture Comment.”

All true. All accurate.

However, what Warren really did in her March 29 speech in Minneapolis was school Democrats with regard to what they should expect from a presidential contender.

Yes, yes, Warren has said that she is not running for the Democratic nomination in 2016. And there are plenty of polls to suggest that, were she to enter the race, she would not have an easy time competing with a prospective Hillary Clinton candidacy—although, notably, Warren’s numbers rise rapidly in hypotheticals that do not feature Clinton.

But let’s put the polls aside for now.

Let’s recognize that a necessary politics does not just reflect public opinion, it anticipates concerns and answers them in bolder and better ways than pollsters and pundits can calculate. Those who would lead the nation ought to offer much more than a set of approved talking points. There must be a vision, a language, that explains the crisis, and inspires a response.

This is a truth that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has brought into his discussions of a possible presidential run, especially when he suggests that any bid by a progressive in 2016 would have to be “revolutionary” in its rejection of the narrow thinking and narrow strategies that have produced low-turnout elections and low-results governance. Sanders gets that the politics of 2014 and 2016 must go deeper—as does Warren.

This has a lot to do with issues.

But it also has to do with approach.

Democrats can’t just talk about inequality. They have to address the economic and political underpinnings of insecurity and injustice. They have to challenge the assumptions of those who argue for the failed strategies of the past.

That’s what Warren did the other night in Minneapolis when she said to the DFL faithful, “So let’s take a look at what we’re up against.”

“Take a look at Paul Ryan, the former vice presidential candidate for the Republicans,” she said. “Now let’s just look at the facts. Congressman Ryan attacked unemployment insurance, saying it is, and I’m quoting here, ‘a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.’ I am really serious: I want you to think about that. If our neighbors and friends who are laid off when a company moves overseas, or the recession shuts them down, Paul Ryan thinks that a little help—to try to help keep the mortgage paid and to put food on the table—will cause them to kick back and live large, with no plans to work again.”

Piecing together her argument, going not for applause lines but for a point, she continued. “While Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and I were working with other Democrats to extend unemployment benefits, Congressman Ryan actually doubled down, saying, and I am going to quote him again, ‘We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.’”

Then she pounced:

Paul Ryan looks around, sees three unemployed workers for every job opening in American, and blames people who can’t find a job.

In 2008 this economy crashed, wiping out millions of jobs. Paul Ryan says don’t blame Wall Street: the guys who made billions of dollars cheating American families. Don’t blame decades of deregulation that took the cops off the beat while the big banks looted the American economy. Don’t blame the Republican Secretary of the Treasury, and the Republican president who set in motion a no-strings-attached bailout for the biggest banks—nope. Paul Ryan says keep the monies flowing to the powerful corporations, keep their huge tax breaks, keep the special deals for the too-big-to-fail banks and put the blame on hardworking, play-to-the-rules Americans who lost their jobs.

Let me tell you: That may be Paul Ryan’s vision of how America works, but that is not our vision of this great country.

The DFL crowd gave her a knowing ovation—not just for a point well made but for a concept fully formed, an argument taken to its logical and effective conclusion.

Whether or not Elizabeth Warren ever runs for the presidency, she is teaching her party a great deal about how to take the events of a moment and weave them into a narrative that addresses the fundamental challenges facing the country.

This is powerful, and powerfully important—especially at a point when the Democrats are wrestling with how to connect with the great mass of Americans who feel insecure economically, who worry about income inequality, but who are not quite sure that either party is on their side.

When Democrats have been at their best politically, there has never been a question of where the party stood.

There was no lack of clarity, when Franklin Roosevelt referred in 1936 to “the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering,” and said, “They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”

There was no triangulation when Harry Truman announced in 1948 that, “On the one hand, the Republicans are telling industrial workers that the high cost of food in the cities is due to this government’s farm policy. On the other hand, the Republicans are telling the farmers that the high cost of manufactured goods on the farm is due to this government’s labor policy. That’s plain hokum. It’s an old political trick: ‘If you can’t convince ‘em, confuse ‘em.’ But this time it won’t work.”

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And there was no mystery when Truman explained, “I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.”

Political parties are at their strongest when their tribunes argue for what they believe.

Elizabeth Warren knows this, instinctually.

And she knows this because she could not have missed the roar of approval from the crowd in Minneapolis when she told them, “I am fighting to level that playing field. I am fighting to build real opportunity—fighting to give every child a chance to build something extraordinary. And I want you to fight along beside me. We are in this together.”


Read Next: Elizabeth Warren steps up for populist democratic candidates.

What’s the GOP’s Excuse for Opposing Equal Pay This Time?

Rosie the Riveter

(Courtesy Wikipedia, CC 2.0)

When Congress considered the Equal Pay Act in the spring of 1963, few objected to the values motivating the legislation. “The principle of equal pay for equal work is one which almost any citizen would strongly support,” wrote the National Retail Merchant Association in prepared testimony for the US Senate that April. Nevertheless, the NRMA opposed the bill “on the grounds that Federal legislation is not needed, that the added cost to administer such a law is unnecessary, and that an equitable law would be complex, confusing and difficult to enforce.”

Fifty-one years later, the conservative, anti-feminist Independent Women’s Forum has this to say about the Paycheck Fairness Act, which expands on the 1963 legislation and will likely succumb this week to a Republican filibuster in the Senate: “Clearly, sex-based wage discrimination is wrong. Furthermore, it’s already illegal…This latest legislation—the Paycheck Fairness Act—won’t lead to more fairness or better pay. It will lead to more lawsuits, more red tape and fewer job opportunities for women and men.”

Not as much has changed since 1963 as one might have hoped, either in the workplace or in politics. Back then opponents of the Equal Pay Act said states were adequately addressing the issue of of equal pay. Others made excuses for the fact that women made fifty-nine cents for every dollar their male colleagues earned, arguing, as Council of Economic Advisers chair Walter Heller did, that the “added costs” of hiring women were to blame. Skepticism about labor protection for women wasn’t strictly partisan; the Democratic chairman of the House subcommittee on labor reportedly kept documents related to the Equal Pay Act filed under B, for “Broads.”

No one says now that the 1963 law was unnecessary or insignificant, though as its supporters acknowledged at the time of its passage, it was only a first step. Today, women make seventy-seven cents to a man’s dollar—or just sixty-four cents and fifty-five cents for black and Hispanic women, respectively—and Republicans are dusting off arguments from last century to block updated legislation, claiming that while they still support its underlying principles, today’s pay really is equal, or else the work is not. (Whether filing methods have changed in the new millennium is unclear.)

Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, for example, called the concern about equal pay a “meme,” and Texas governor Rick Perry dismissed it as “nonsense.” Conservatives who do acknowledge the existence of a gender gap often attribute it to the concentration of women in lower-wage jobs. Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and traditionally female industries—like education, nursing and domestic work—usually pay less than industries dominated by men, like engineering and IT. The fact that women are funneled into lower-paying fields is certainly a problem. But it’s also true that in almost every single occupation for which data is available, women earn less than male co-workers. That’s true within low-wage industries and in those traditionally dominated by women. For example, women make up nearly 90 percent of the nursing workforce, and they collect $1,086 in median weekly earnings. Male nurses take home an extra $150 each week, according to Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Although the Paycheck Fairness Act is unlikely to pass the Senate, President Obama will sign two executive orders today regarding fair pay for women. One prevents federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their wages; the other requires contractors to share information about compensation, broken down by race and gender, with the government. The orders won’t accomplish as much as the PFA, which extends those two provisions to private employers, as well as putting the burden on employers to prove that unequal pay is job-related and allowing workers to sue for damages based on gender discrimination, as they can for racial, disability and age discrimination. Still, joint White House and Senate campaigns on equal pay could have symbolic power as Democrats leverage the GOP’s resistance to bread and butter economic measures to spur turnout in the midterms, particularly among women.

Smartly, the GOP has given opposition to the PFA a new face—a female one, telling women to use their own bootstraps to scale the pay gap. “I would encourage women, instead of pursuing the courts for action, to become better negotiators,” said Texas GOP Beth Cubriel, explaining her party’s opposition to fair pay legislation. Targeting legislation at working women is “making us look like whiners,” Minnesota state Represenative Andrea Kieffer said in March. “All Republicans support equal pay for equal work,” wrote Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski, communications director Andrea Bozek and NRSC press secretary Brook Hougesen in a memo. “And while we all know workplace discrimination still exists, we need real solutions that focus on job creation and opportunity for women.”

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Conservatives have been pushing back against claims that the GOP is anti-women with the argument that it’s Democrats who demean women by focusing on structural disadvantages. The Independent Women’s Forum, for example, says the PFA “perpetuates the myth that all women are workplace victims.” The idea that government action turns women into victims, or makes them dependent, flows through conservative messaging around the Affordable Care Act, the social safety net, really any program that would help the people whose bootstraps have been stolen. “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender,” Mike Huckabee said at the Republican National Committee winter meeting in January.

The basic point here is that government can’t do anything good for women, or for people in general. Only individuals themselves, and an unfettered private sector, can. “Not every problem in America can be fixed by Washington,” Katie Packer Gage, Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager, wrote in opposition to the PFA. This anti-government agenda has nothing to do with women’s equality. It is, however, one of the oldest lines in the book.

Read Next: Katha Pollitt asks why leftists are pushing for sex work to be the “new normal.”

11 GOP Excuses for Not Extending Unemployment Benefits

John Boehner

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

After months of haggling, the Senate finally passed a five-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits on Monday, retroactive to their expiration at the end of 2013.

The lapse has already cost the economy nearly $5 billion in the first quarter of 2014, as 2.4 million jobless struggle without badly needed checks. Long-term unemployment is at all-time highs in forty-one states, while the share of jobless Americans receiving aid is at an all-time low.

But it doesn’t seem the House of Representatives will act any time soon. Speaker John Boehner and his top lieutenants have made it clear they are not receptive to the Senate bill.

Why? Actually, it’s hard to figure out. Republicans have given myriad and evolving reasons for opposing an extension over the course of this debate, from saying the checks were no longer needed, to saying it must be paid for, to claiming the very nature of the program is immoral.

We have compiled a timeline of the GOP’s reasons below. If you have any more—or can actually determine an underlying logic—let us know.

They Just Don’t Want To. (December 3, 2013) “I don’t see much appetite on our side for continuing this extension of benefits,” said Representative Tom Cole, R-OK. “I just don’t.”

The Benefits Actually Hurt the Jobless. (December 8, 2013) “I do support unemployment benefits for the twenty-six weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.” Senator Rand Paul on Fox News Sunday.

It Makes America Vulnerable. (December 23, 2013) “Does it make sense for our country to borrow money from China to give it to the unemployed in America? That is weakening us as a country.” Senator Rand Paul to NBC News.

The Jobs Crisis Really Isn’t That Bad. (January 3, 2014) “But that’s the point, [the program] was meant to cope with an extraordinary situation. But that situation has been dealt with.” Representative Tom Cole, to Buzzfeed.

Because Democrats Want the Extension. (January 7, 2014) “Remember: These are the same folks who gave us the stimulus, who gave us tax increases, and who gave us Obamacare. All of it was done in the name of helping the little guy—in the name of greater equality. And what’s it given us? This mess.” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor.

Whatever This Means. (February 6, 2014) “The perception that I get from the Senate right now is: ‘Times are tough. We should make times tougher on our kids to make it easier on us, and then feel better,’” said Representative James Lankford, R-OK. “And I think that’s just not a philosophy I’m willing to support.”

A Benefit Extension Would Be Wicked. (February 5, 2014) “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployments [benefits] to people rather than us working on the creation of jobs.” Representative Pete Sessions on the House floor.

No, Seriously, Unemployment Isn’t A Problem. (March 13, 2014) “The extended unemployment benefits by the administration were to be in place until unemployment came down,” said Representative Tom Price. “Unemployment is down.”

It’s Too Late. (March 19, 2014) After months of GOP delay in the Senate, Boehner and Republicans on House Ways and Means now argue the extension is “unworkable” and “can’t be implemented,” since states would supposedly have trouble distributing retroactive benefits. House Democrats say these are “relatively minor concerns.”

We Have to Approve Keystone XL and Repeal Obamacare First. (April 8, 2014) “As the Speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs—but, last week, Senate Democratic leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all. The American people are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

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The Fiscal Times: “Steel was apparently citing Democrats’ refusal last week to accept a package of amendments, being pushed by South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune, to the already bipartisan unemployment insurance bill. Thune’s proposal included a veritable laundry list of Republican priorities, from approval of the controversial Keystone pipeline to outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”

Because of Benghazi. No Republican has actually claimed this. Yet.

Read Next: A GOP fundraiser’s push for US military action in Iran

The UConn Huskies Win ‘NCAA Hunger Games Bingo’

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) celebrates after winning the NCAA college basketball championship on April 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Congratulations to the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program, which won its fourth championship in the last sixteen years all while holding up a mirror to the most corrupt, amoral entity in American sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). UConn just absolutely nailed a game we could call “NCAA Hunger Games Bingo” in ways that not even NCAA President Mark Emmert’s Dorian Gray, Kentucky coach John Calipari, could have accomplished.

Just look at the boxes the UConn Huskies have checked off, and keep in mind that this is a basketball program being called a “model” now that the team has won twice as many championships as any other school’s over the last two decades. Get out your Nike-swoosh adorned NCAA Bingo cards and let’s have a look at everything UConn tells us about so-called amateur student-athletics.

Have the worst graduation rate of any school in the NCAA tournament, with only 8 percent of their players (one in twelve who enrolled eight years ago) earning a diploma? Check!

Win your title after two years of tournament probation for your school’s abysmal academic efforts? Check!

Have your star player, Shabazz Napier, speak with pride about how probation motivated their efforts and say on national television at the trophy ceremony, with a figurative middle finger aimed at Mark Emmert, “This is what happens when you ban us?” Check!

Also have your star player, the aforementioned Mr. Napier, tell the world that he is so poor, “Sometimes, there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities?” Check! (Napier even calls his team “the hungry Huskies,” and it is not clear if he means they are hungry for championships or protein.)

While Shabazz and his teammates starve, have him win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player trophy in front of a crowd of 79,000 people paying $500 a pop for tickets, on a network shelling out $10.8 billion to watch him play? Check!

Have commentators speak repeatedly—with ears made out of the purest tin—about how “underpaid” UConn coach Kevin Ollie is since he “only” makes $1.3 million a year and will “only” receive $166,666 for winning the big game? Have them state with relief that Ollie is now in for a big raise? Check!

Now that UConn has achieved the ultimate NCAA Bingo (plus one for good measure), all you need is for the students at UConn’s Storrs campus to have an impromptu, entitled, alcohol-fueled riot and celebrate their school pride by smashing the windows of their university’s buildings and setting fires. Hey! That happened too! (Do we have to mention how different the Storrs police response would have been if, say, it were the student-athletes themselves smashing windows instead of the overwhelmingly white student fanboys?)

So let us recap: we have a team of majority African-American basketball players not getting an education and not getting paid, but generating millions of dollars for their coach and billions of dollars for the NCAA, CBS and the assorted sponsors. We have a state college suffering budget cuts and tuition hikes, that has been trashed by students thrilled that their team of unpaid mercenaries has brought them a measure of reflected glory. All the evening was missing was a war in the Middle East to get everyone truly good and frothy.

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It is difficult to not recall the press conference of NCAA President Mark Emmert over the weekend who spoke out with mottle-faced passion against the mere concept that NCAA athletes should ever form unions. He does not want NCAA student-athletes having any kind of a seat at the table so they can discuss everything that is manifestly and obviously poisonous in the NCAA system of student-athletics. Emmert said that if student athletes were unionized employees, “it would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics.” The response to that should be two simple words: “You promise?”


Read Next: Boomer Esiason, Mike Francesa, and toxic masculinity