Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

The Colorado Shooting and the Recent Rise in Anti-Abortion Violence

On Friday, November 27th Robert Lewis Dear, a 57-year-old white man, entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire. It took more than five hours for Dear to surrender to the police, and when he did, the police found nine injured, and three killed, including one police officer. The following night, The Washington Post reported that when discussing his motives for the shooting, Dear said, “no more baby parts”—a reference to the highly-edited videos released this summer by an anti-abortion group. The videos purported to show Planned Parenthood selling “baby parts” illegally. Though they were discredited, the videos energized the pro-life movement nonetheless.

Abortion providers have always been subject to threats and harassment, but observers agree there’s been an uptick in such provocation over the past several months. In September, the FBI released an Intelligence Assessment that reported an increase in the number of cyber attacks and incidents of arson on abortion clinics. The FBI predicted, “it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.” More serious attacks have indeed continued in the wake of the FBI report.

“The escalation has been alarming and frightening, to the extent of nothing I have seen in 20 years,” Vicki Saporta, the president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, told The Nation. Some critics have alleged that these incidents are mere anomalies, and do not represent any kind of systemic pattern within or inspired by the anti-abortion movement. In response, feminist activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns began tweeting a list of 100 violent attacks on abortion clinics over the past 40 years, with the hashtag #is100enough.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has been pushing the Obama administration to launch an investigation into these clinic attacks, and will be delivering a petition with more than 60,000 signatures this week to the Department of Justice.

The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic reopened the day after the attack. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, sent an email out that day declaring, “We will never, ever back away from providing safe, reliable care to the millions of patients who are counting on us to be there. These doors stay open, no matter what.” While she acknowledged concerns that anti-abortion extremists are “creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism” she made clear that Planned Parenthood’s commitment to providing care has not wavered.

When reports first emerged that there might be an attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, some conservatives tried to argue that the shooter was actually targeting a bank, and pro-choice activists were just being conspiratorial. As ThinkProgress reported, “Initially, when police officers were involved in a stand-off with Dear and information about the event was murky, early reports from Fox News quoted a witness who suggested that the first shots were fired from a bank. The anti-abortion website LifeNews picked up that story, spurring the bank robbery narrative.”

Anti-abortion groups have since moved to publicly distance themselves from the Colorado shootings, insisting that Deal’s attacks do not represent the values of their movement. But many pro-choice activists have argued that such rhetoric rings hollow, given the pro-life movement’s support for Planned Parenthood harassment.

It took Republican presidential candidates several days to condemn the attacks. However Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump still doubled down on Sunday with rhetoric that Planned Parenthood sells “baby parts.”

This week, Senate Republicans are expected to vote on a bill that includes a measure to defund Planned Parenthood. The bill is "fast-tracked"—meaning Republicans only need 51 votes, as opposed to the 60-vote hurdle Senate Democrats could have normally imposed. Democrats are expected to tie the upcoming vote to the recent Planned Parenthood shooting, and President Obama will surely veto the bill if it passes.

Pro-choice activists are mobilizing to fight back. Tonight, Reproaction, a reproductive rights group, will be holding a vigil outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to honor the victims and to call “for an end to anti-abortion terrorism and harassment.”

Report: Gender Wage Gap Shrinks Because Men Earn Less

The wage gap between men and women is finally starting to close—but only because male wages are falling, according to a new briefing paper released Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute.

“No one in this country should work full-time and live in poverty,” said Massachsetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren at a Capitol Hill press conference to release the report, which sets forth a policy agenda for both closing the gender wage gap and boosting bargaining power for low- and moderate-income workers. Also on hand were House Democrat Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut, and labor organizers with the AFL-CIO and the SEIU.

Dubbed “Closing the Pay Gap and Beyond,” the EPI white paper and manifesto found that despite a shrinking gender wage gap, wage gains have remained stagnant over the last decade. In 1979, median hourly earnings for women were 62.7 percent of men’s hourly wages. That gap narrowed in the two decades that followed, but since 2000 it has hovered in the 80 percent rage. In 2014, women’s median hourly earnings were 82.9 percent of men’s.

The wage gap is more severe for women of color, the report found. On average, white female workers make 81.8 percent of a man’s hourly wage, compared to 65.1 percent for black women and 58.9 percent for Hispanic women.

“The problem we have is not just in one little area or one specific group,” said Warren. “This is across education levels, this is across occupations, this is across income levels [where] women are persistently paid less than men.”

The EPI paper spells out out a dozen policies aimed at closing the gender wage gap by promoting broad-based wage growth across the board. These include increasing the minimum wage, restoring collective-bargaining rights, and expanding access to paid family and sick leave.

Raising the minimum wage is of particular importance to women, the report argues, because women make up the majority of the largest low-wage professions, which include child-care work, cashiers, bartenders, and food preparers.

Participants, who included AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and SEIU Executive Vice President Rocio Saenz, also spelled out a political strategy to achieve their goals. Tuesday’s event came just a week after a string of nationwide strikes by Fight for $15, the minimum wage campaign organized and partly underwritten by the SEIU. The campaign has been credited with local victories in Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and state-level proposals and executive orders in California, New York, and Oregon.    

“The commitment to continue building this movement will stay all the way to 2016, from the streets to the ballot box,” declared Saez.

The report also found that productivity and wages, which grew in tandem from the middle of the last century until the mid-1970s, are no longer linked. Between 1979 and 2014, productivity grew 62.7 percent, while hourly compensation only grew 8 percent.

Interestingly, though, the only earnings gains in that time period were for women. While white women saw a 30.2 percent increase in hourly median wages, between 1979 and 2014, white men saw their wages shrink by 3.1 percent, according to the report. And while black women saw a more modest increase of 12.8 percent, black men saw an alarming 9.8 percent wage decrease.

“The truth is that the policy agenda we’ve outlined is good for women and men,” said Valerie Wilson, Director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.

The report estimates that 40 percent of the progress made in closing the wage gap since 1979 was due to men’s falling wages.

“It didn’t have to be this way and it doesn’t have to be that way moving forward,” said Elise Gould, an EPI senior economist who coauthored the paper. “It’s clear that gender wage parity does not improve women’s economic prospects to the greatest possible extent if wages for men and women remain equal, but stagnant into the future.”

It remains to be seen whether calls for a minimum wage increase, for one, will translate into policy action. Though Saenz stressed the importance of a higher minimum wage, the SEIU recently announced its support for Hillary Clinton, who has demurred from supporting a federal minimum wage of $15, instead advocating for $12. This move and other Clinton endorsements by large unions have caused some consternation among rank-and-file members. 

Republicans Call Bernie Sanders Absurd for Agreeing with the Pentagon

During last Saturday’s Democratic debate on CBS, the moderator asked Bernie Sanders if he still believed that climate change is the greatest threat to national security—and he said yes. Republican senators scoffed at his claim that climate change could lead to destabilization and more terrorism, calling it “unrelated,” “disingenuous,” and even “absurd.” But what the GOP fails to realize is that even the Pentagon has acknowledged the very real threat climate change poses to our security.

The 2014 Department of Defense Climate Change Adaptation Road Map report details all the ways our changing climate will impact international conflict and military operations. Sea level rise and more extreme weather events will exacerbate ongoing global conflicts. The effects of climate change will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic diseases, as well as disputes over refugees and dwindling resources.

The Pentagon report does not just allude to terrorism—it mentions it by name:

“We refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today—from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.”

The report goes on to explain how climate change could topple fragile governments by creating an environment that fosters extreme ideologies and terrorism.

But Republicans on Tuesday (the same day the Senate voted to undo President Obama’s power-plant regulations) treated Sanders as if he had made a ludicrous claim. “There is a ballot initiative in Arizona concerning the substance that he must have been consuming,” Senator John McCain said, referring to a measure that would legalize marijuana.

The people at the Defense Department must have had a great time writing that report.

The Koch Brothers' Political Surveillance

Just how influential are the Koch brothers? It’s common knowledge that the billionaire industrialists have funneled hundreds of millions into American elections via a broad network of conservative tax-exempt groups. The Koch network’s estimated $889 million budget for the 2016 election rivals what will be spent by the national political party committees. 

But the true scope and aggressiveness of the Koch political operation is only now coming to light, thanks to a series of investigations by Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel. Most recently, Vogel has pulled the curtain back on a vast conservative surveillance network that uses “competitive intelligence” to target liberal groups. In the context of the questions bubbling up over stepped-up government surveillance in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the news that the Kochs are running what amounts to a a sophisticated private sector intelligence agency  is sure to raise eyebrows. 

As Vogel reports:

The competitive intelligence team has a staff of 25, including one former CIA analyst, and operates from one of the non-descript Koch network offices clustered near the Courthouse metro stop in suburban Arlington, Va. It has provided network officials with documents detailing confidential voter-mobilization plans by major Democrat-aligned groups. It also sends regular “intelligence briefing” emails tracking the canvassing, phone-banking and voter-registration efforts of labor unions, environmental groups and their allies, according to documents reviewed by POLITICO and interviews with a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the group.

The story comes on the heels of two prior reports that paint the most detailed picture yet of the Kochs’ shadowy, free-market movement. On Tuesday, Politico provided fresh details about the Kochs’ political influence in 2014. That piece casts the Kochs as a political ATM of sorts for such conservative groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth, and the National Rifle Association, reportedly doling out $88 million in grants to these and other right-leaning groups. Much of that money boosted conservative primary candidates running against opponents who were backed by the Republican Party establishment.

As the Kochs and their allies gear up to spend record sums in 2016, both Democrats and Republicans will be watching. Charles Koch recently announced that he will not back a Republican in the GOP primary. But the Koch network’s general election spending is set to break records. The latest Koch disclosures send a signal to Democratic donors that they had better be ready. They also suggest that liberal activists had better be on their guard. 

Casino Capitalism, Part II

In olden times, when you read about the Nevada Gaming Commission looking into the ownership of Las Vegas casinos, the story was always about the commissioners sniffing around for evidence of organized crime’s hidden interests. As anyone who’s watched Martin Scorsese’s Casino (which sticks fairly close to Vegas’s actual history) can attest, the Mafia families that owned the hotel-casinos on the Vegas Strip had to find fronts—obliging attorneys, developers and the like—to serve as the ostensible owners and executives for the Sands, the Flamingo, the Stardust, the Tropicana, and so on. The agreed-upon fiction was that by enforcing a rule that convicted felons could have no role in owning or running the gaming tables, the Commission would keep Vegas clean.

Today, the Mafia is more a memory than a going concern, and its control of Vegas has long since ended. Recently, however, the Commission has been asked to look into the ownership of some Vegas casinos by a new shady character: the global financial behemoth Deutsche Bank. The Vegas local of UNITE HERE, the hotel workers union—a local I profiled for the Prospect back in 2004—has asked the Commission to determine whether Germany’s largest bank is a suitable owner for the city’s Station Casinos, a company that has thwarted its employees’ attempts to unionize, and in which DB has a 25 percent ownership share. As the union’s complaint correctly notes, DB paid a $2.5 billion fine this spring for its role in illegally manipulating the LIBOR interest rate on inter-bank loans to its own advantage and to the detriment of virtually everyone else. Its co-CEOs were compelled to resign as a result of the scandal. 

Out goes the Mafia, in come the banks. Won’t Vegas ever clean up its act?

The Mizzou Scandal Shows Why Black Colleges Are Still Vital

University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s resignation Monday underscores how even in 2015, majority-white institutions remain potentially unsafe places for black students.

The events leading up to Wolfe’s resignation—the racist verbal assaults on campus, the swastika written in feces in a residential hall, and ultimately the administration’s inadequate response to students’ concerns—are all too familiar to longtime advocates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

As Darrick Hamilton argues in the Fall issue of The American Prospect, tenacious campus discrimination demonstrates the ongoing and urgent need for HBCUs. Such institutions offer students an environment free both from institutional biases and overt hostility, Hamilton and his coauthors note. Yet HBCUs face the danger of extinction amid mounting financial strain.

“Despite the promise of integration, black students frequently report feelings of isolation and the burden of representing their race in alien spaces,” Hamilton writes. “Some spaces are not only alien, but explicitly hostile.”

In “Why Black Colleges and Universities Still Matter,” Hamilton and his co-authors describe recent incidents at other college campuses that, in the context of the recent Missouri scandal, have an eerily familiar ring. In December of last year, he notes, “members of the Clemson chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity threw a gang-themed ‘Cripmas’ party. The university placed SAE on probation in April 2015 for two years.”

In March at the University of Oklahoma, the same fraternity made headlines after, as Hamilton describes it, “video surfaced of University of Oklahoma SAE chapter members singing, ‘There will never be a nigger at SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE.’ The chapter was immediately shut down, but the damage from this egregious case, which just happened to be caught on video, is done.”

Tensions at Missouri had been brewing for a while (for a timeline of the events, see here), but a catalyzing event was a September Facebook post from Missouri Students Association President Payton Head, written after passersby had called him the n-word.

It wasn’t the first time. A similar incident during Head’s sophomore year was what galvanized him to first seek student office.

“I realized I had a decision to make,” Head told the student news source The Maneater after the Facebook post went viral. “I could go back down South to the historically black college that was still offering me a scholarship, but then I realized, what would I be doing if I left?” he wrote. “This place is my home, but I want my home to be better.”

Only about 7 percent of Mizzou students are black. However, as Dave Zirin pointed out in The Nation, more than two-thirds of the school’s beloved football team, the center of a loyal sports culture and a huge cash cow, are black. It was those athletes who ultimately forced administrators to respond.

At historically black colleges and universities, discrimination takes a financial, if not a social toll. Loss of state support and declining revenues for public and private HBCUs are putting their existence at risk, Hamilton and his colleagues note. Private HBCUs received far less revenue per student than their traditionally white counterparts, and HBCUs rely more on government funding. Black students in turn rely more heavily on loans, many of them predatory or risky.

While the postwar GI Bill infused unprecedented amounts of money in higher education, blacks were still shut out of many historically white schools and had far more limited access to federal aid. The student group behind many of the protests at Missouri in the past few months is Concerned Student 1950, a reference to the first year the university admitted a black student. Sixty-five years later, disparities still exist.

On Minimum Wage, Put Hillary Down for $12 (Nationally)

At a campaign event in Iowa on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton officially established a clear difference between her and the two remaining Democratic presidential contenders. She declared her support for raising the federal minimum wage to $12. “That would be setting it at a level that would be equivalent to the point in our history where the minimum wage was at its highest,” (which was 1968) Clinton said.

Her rivals, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, both support the labor movement’s call for a $15 federal minimum, which has already taken hold in a number of big American cities.

Clinton’s support for a more modest minimum wage hike is not surprising. She has long said that she thinks a national $15 standard isn’t flexible enough to work in rural areas and cities with lower costs of living. She backs a higher wage in more high-cost locales.

Her plan fits into—and helps define—the Democratic mainstream. As I’ve previously reported, a $12 federal minimum wage has emerged as the Congressional Democrats’ plan. In early summer, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Robert Scott introduced legislation for a $12 minimum, which garnered support from such prominent Democrats as Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. (Pelosi, however, has since come out in support of a $15 minimum).

While most labor unions publicly call for a $15 minimum wage, it has not been a deciding factor in the endorsement decisions of the major unions that have already thrown their support to Clinton. The most notable union that has so far withheld an endorsement is SEIU, which has invested huge sums in its nationwide Fight for 15 efforts. The union says that it’s still conducting its endorsement process and hasn’t been clear on what policy factors will be considered.

Clinton’s minimum wage policy decision may be indicative of her looking ahead to the general election. According to a recent survey, there’s broad support for raising the minimum wage to $12.50 by 2020. It polls well across party lines, too: 92 percent of Democrats support it while 73 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans back it as well. And in Tacoma, Washington, on Tuesday, voters approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $12, while rejecting a competing measure to up the minimum to $15 for employees of bigger businesses.

Though a $15 minimum enjoys 63 percent of national support, the move is riskier politically. Economists are divided over how high a minimum wage the economy can handle. There’s rather strong evidence that the economy can handle incremental increases to something close to $12. A statement released by a group of 200 economists, however, discounted the risks of raising the standard to $15.

While Clinton’s campaign has been tacking to the left on a number of issues in response to the surging popularity of Sanders’s progressive policies, it seems that her team is confident that staking out her support for $12 is not going to hurt her in the primaries. 

Labor and Climate Groups Blast TPP as Full Text is Released

The United States Trade Representative released the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership today, one month after negotiators finalized the massive 12-nation pact in Atlanta. The release kicks off a 90-day window before President Obama can sign the deal and turn it over to Congress for approval.

In a statement released today on Medium, Obama said the deal “puts American workers first,” and claims it represents “the strongest labor standards in history” and “the strongest environmental standards in history.” Supporters like Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, have pointed to provisions like the bilateral labor rights agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam as proof that TPP puts workers first. The agreement would purportedly ensure basic workplace standards and organizing rights among Vietnamese workers.

But experts and activists on the left have had a somewhat different first impression. Within hours of the text’s release, leading environmental, labor, and civil liberties groups blasted the deal for its lackluster provisions on workers rights, climate change, and human rights.

“We now have concrete evidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens our families, our communities, and our environment,” said Sierra Club President Michael Brune in a statement released today. In its initial review of the pact, the Sierra Club pointed to the pact’s failure to outlaw illegal trade in plants and animals, illegal fishing, or commercial whaling, all of which remain critical conservation issues for TPP signatories Peru, Vietnam, Japan, and Singapore. At the same time, the TPP gives corporations the power to roll back existing environmental regulations through the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, the group added. The statement from Sierra also noted that, amazingly, the final text does not once mention climate change.

Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org, went further. “The TPP is an act of climate denial,” he said today in a statement. “While institutions across the planet are divesting from fossil fuels, the TPP would double down on the industry’s destructive business model.” Like Sierra, 350.org also expressed alarm at what an expanded ISDS system could do to local environmental regulations. “In short, these rules undermine countries’ ability to do what scientists say is the single most important thing we can do to combat the climate crisis: keep fossil fuels in the ground,” Kowalski said.

Experts like Human Rights Watch’s John Sifton have also cast doubt on provisions like the labor rights agreement with Vietnam. “It is not enforceable in practice,” he told The New York Times today. Sifton pointed out that, unlike corporations, workers in Vietnam will have no rights to bring complaints against countries or companies to the newly-empowered investor-state dispute bodies. He also alluded to the U.S. Trade Representative’s poor record on workers’ rights in previous trade pacts.

The view from the American labor movement has been no rosier. The Communications Workers of America, one of the first major unions to respond publicly to the deal, expressed concern today about what the ISDS process could mean for labor and environmental laws in the U.S. The CWA also noted that while hundreds of official trade advisers—mostly representing business—had a direct hand in the TPP’s six-year negotiation, the public is given just a 90-day review.

On Twitter, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters noted that the TPP includes no penalties for human trafficking, while also pointing out that Vietnam has a full five years to implement its much-touted labor policies, and that enforcement will likely be minimal.

This sentiment was echoed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who also lamented the “expansive new legal rights and powers” corporations may soon use to challenge existing workplace, environmental, and financial protections. Trumka also noted that as the TPP was being negotiated, “our policy recommendations and those of our trade reform allies in the environmental, consumer, public health, global development, and business sectors were largely ignored.”

As The Washington Post has reported, the TPP’s negotiation process has long been heavily lopsided toward major corporations and away from labor, environmental, and citizen’s groups. Out of 566 official trade advisers, 480 have represented corporations and trade groups while less than 30 have represented organized labor. Over the past six years, the AFL-CIO alone has requested more than 100 specific changes in the TPP’s wording, but has little to show for it. As the AFL-CIO put it in a 2014 statement, “because the U.S. government treats trade deals differently than all other policies—it is allowed to negotiate rules that affect our lives in these areas behind closed doors. This is undemocratic.”

All that being said, TPP is far from a done deal. With the pact headed to Congress it will face an uphill battle from populist wings in both parties. At the same time, the TPP has also faced strong criticism from leading White House contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, who may help shape the conversation as Congress prepares to vote.  

The Keystone Effect

Just hours after the White House indicated it would make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline by the end of Obama’s second term, TransCanada made a sharp left on its years-long effort to quickly secure approval. Perhaps sensing that the Obama administration was poised to kill the project (turns out, they were probably right), yesterday TransCanada sent a letter to the State Department asking that it suspend its review of Keystone and instead wait until the next administration takes office in 2017. The move has been widely interpreted as a punt, intended to stave off a decision in case a friendlier president takes office—like, say, a Republican.

Keystone opponents, from 350.org to the Sierra Club to Bold Nebraska, were quick to declare a hard-won victory in the fight to stop a project that James Hansen famously warned would mean “game over for the climate.” But, as activists like Bill McKibben have long been stressing, this decision is not just about Keystone. It’s about a dramatic change in the public perception of fossil-fuel projects and their impact on the planet.

At an event held by America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) this past May, ANGA President Marty Durbin outlined a new and growing problem facing his industry: grassroots opposition. “Call it the Keystone-ization of every pipeline project that’s out there,” he said. “These are things that pipeline developers have had to deal with for a long time. But we’ve seen a change in the debate.”

The difference, added Dominion Energy President Diane Leopold, has been the rise of “high intensity opposition” to pipeline projects. “It is becoming louder, better funded, and more sophisticated,” she said.

At the time of the event, ANGA and its supporters were under a lot of pressure. Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a $5 billion project crossing three states and 550 miles, had inspired a uniquely diverse opposition of climate activists, conservative landowners, and prominent Republican officials. As Politico reports, the anti-ACP campaign includes heavyweights like former Bush 41 staffer Tom Harvey, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, and financial services lobbyist Phil Anderson, along with climate groups like 350.org and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Such a diverse alliance has a direct parallel in anti-Keystone activism, particularly in how Bold Nebraska has built a broad-based campaign of conservative landowners opposed to eminent domain and climate activists opposed to dirty tar sands. And that opposition has only grown. With the ACP far from finalized, local opposition has pushed Dominion to sue dozens of landowners who wanted no part in the project, while also adjusting its route a number of times due to environmental concerns.  

Proposed projects in the Northeast and upper Midwest have met similarly stiff opposition from climate groups and landowners. In Minnesota, Enbridge’s $2.6 billion Sandpiper Pipeline, slated to snake across the state’s northern region, has run into hard resistance from landowners, environmental activists, and tribal groups, particularly the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Opponents have cited a lack of formal hearings in the pipeline’s development as well as Enbridge’s decidedly poor record of oil spills in the region. The pipeline remains about a year behind schedule.

As Elana Schor reports for Politico, “Keystone has changed the politics of pipelines nationwide, offering a template that activists from New England to Minnesota and Wisconsin are using to grind projects to a halt.”

And of course companies like Dominion and Enbridge are far from the only targets. In fact, the same week Durbin warned about “Keystone-ization” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the government body in charge of issuing permits for new pipeline projects, was forced to reschedule its annual meeting in Washington after warnings from law enforcement about impending protests.

To be sure, the battle over Keystone isn’t over. As activists acknowledge, even if Obama rejects the pipeline, TransCanada can resubmit its application under a new administration. But it does seem like the ground underneath projects like this has begun to shift.

Judge Issues Restraining Order After an L.A. Charter Network Interfered with Teachers Union Drive

Drama has escalated for teachers organizing at the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter network in Los Angeles. Since the teachers, organizing with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), first went public with their union drive in March, they allege the administration has erected illegal barriers to organizing, including intimidating their employees. (Alliance denies these accusations, though some of their leaked internal communications certainly suggest they are opposed to the effort. For example, one memo instructed management to keep their statements focused on “the potentially negative effects of UTLA and any union on fulfilling the school’s mission.”)

Union leaders have filed four unfair labor practice complaints against Alliance, claiming that that administrators have sought to spy on teachers who are organizing, and block UTLA organizers from coming on campus, among other things. Teachers also took issue with Alliance using “funds that could be used for student education to hire high-priced PR consultants, to create an anti-union website.” Towards the end of the 2014-2015 school year, the California Charter Schools Association started to pay Alliance alumni to call parents at home, in order to help galvanize them against the union effort. Part of the script that alumni were asked to read said, “We are asking parents to sign a petition in support of the Alliance as it is today…without UTLA. Will you please sign our petition?”

“Paying alumni to read a script designed to get parents to sign a petition against their own students’ teachers infuriates me,” said Michael Letton, an Alliance teacher, in an UTLA statement.

Alliance’s spokesperson, Catherine Suitor insists that everything the charter network has done in response to the union effort “is to the letter of the law” and says they would not seek to create a coercive or hostile environment.

Two weeks ago, California’s state labor board announced that it would be issuing an injunction, calling for Alliance administrators to quit interfering with the organizing efforts. Then on Friday, in a surprising move, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a restraining order against the Alliance administrators. The order says that Alliance cannot coerce or ask teachers about their positions on unionization, must allow organizers to come onto school grounds, cannot block emails from the union, and must stay 100 feet away from UTLA organizers.

This restraining order will remain in place until November 17, when the judge considers the state labor board’s injunction request. Union organizers will now be allowed to enter into school buildings after school hours.

In March, 70 teachers first announced their intent to join a union, and by June, 146 teachers had signed on in support. Shaun Richman, AFT’s deputy director of organizing, says the current number stands at 124 teachers, after losing some supporters over the summer who no longer work at Alliance. Forming a union will require 50 percent-plus-one of the charter’s roughly 600 teachers to sign on in support.

Earlier this fall, news leaked that the Broad Foundation seeks to enroll at least 50 percent of L.A. public school students in charter schools over the next eight years. Currently, about 16 percent of students in the district attend charters. Such an expansion would undoubtedly threaten the jobs of many unionized teachers in the district.

While the Broad Foundation’s charter expansion plan would require about 5,000 teachers, their documents make no mention of recruiting from teachers already working for L.A. Unified. It does discuss recruiting from Teach for America and other alternative teacher training programs. “While TFA is important, we predict they can provide just 15 percent of our total need,” the report stated. “In order to significantly narrow the teacher recruitment and training gap, we will need other providers like the Relay Graduate School of Education or TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project to come to Los Angeles.” The report estimates that training for new teachers for their charter expansion plan will cost about $43 million over the eight-year period.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the number of teachers in the district has shrunk to about 25,6000 over the last six years, down from about 32,300. The district says that half that decrease is due to the growth of charter schools.

Pages