Australia becomes first country to legalize therapeutic use of MDMA and psilocybin

After decades of criminalization, Australia's government said Friday that it will legalize the prescription of MDMA and psilocybin for the treatment of two medical conditions, a historic move hailed by researchers who have studied the therapeutic possibilities of the drugs.

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said in a statement that starting July 1, psychiatrists may prescribe MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), commonly called "Molly" or "ecstasy" by recreational users, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin—the psychedelic prodrug compound in "magic" mushrooms—for treatment-resistant depression.

"These are the only conditions where there is currently sufficient evidence for potential benefits in certain patients," TGA said, adding that the drugs must be taken "in a controlled medical setting."

Advocates of MDMA and psilocybin are hopeful that one day doctors could prescribe them to treat a range of conditions, from alcoholism and eating disorders to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

David Caldicott, a clinical senior lecturer in emergency medicine at Australian National University, toldThe Guardian that Friday's surprise announcement is a "very welcome step away from what has been decades of demonization."

Caldicott said it is now "abundantly clear” that both MDMA and psilocybin "can have dramatic effects" on hard-to-treat mental health problems, and that "in addition to a clear and evolving therapeutic benefit, [legalization] also offers the chance to catch up on the decades of lost opportunity [of] delving into the inner workings of the human mind, abandoned for so long as part of an ill-conceived, ideological 'war on drugs.'"

MDMA—which has been criminalized in Australia since 1987—was first patented by German drugmaker Merck in the early 1910s. After World War II the United States military explored possibilities for weaponizing MDMA as a truth serum as part of the MK-ULTRA mind control experiments aimed at creating real-life Manchurian candidates. A crossover from clinical usage in marriage and other therapies in the 1970s and '80s to recreational consumption—especially in the disco and burgeoning rave scenes—in the latter decade sparked a conservative backlash in the form of emergency bans in countries including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies MDMA and psilocybin as Schedule I substances, meaning they have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

Patients who've tried MDMA therapy and those who treat them say otherwise. A study published last year by John Hopkins Health found that in a carefully controlled setting, psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy held promise for "significant and durable improvements in depression."

The California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)—the world's premier organization for psychedelic advocacy and research—interviewed Colorado massage therapist Rachael Kaplan about her MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD:

For the majority of my life I prayed to die and fought suicidal urges as I struggled with complex PTSD. This PTSD was born out of chronic severe childhood abuse. Since then, my life has been a journey of searching for healing. I started going to therapy 21 years ago, and since then I have tried every healing modality that I could think of, such as bodywork, energy work, medications, residential treatment, and more. Many of these modalities were beneficial but none of them significantly reduced my trauma symptoms. I was still terrified most of the time...

In my first MDMA-assisted psychotherapy session I was surprised that the MDMA helped me see the world as it was, instead of seeing it through my lens of terror. I thought that the MDMA would alter my perception of reality, but instead, it helped me see... more clearly... The MDMA session was the first time that I was able to stay present, explore, and process what had happened to me. This changed everything... There are no words for the gratitude that I feel.

Jon Lubecky, an American Iraq War combat veteran who tried to kill himself five times, toldNBC's "Today" in 2021 that MDMA therapy—also with MAPS—enabled him "to talk about things I had never brought up before to anyone."

"And it was OK. My body did not betray me. I didn't get panic attacks. I didn't shut down emotionally or just become so overemotional I couldn't deal with anything," he recounted.

"This treatment is the reason my son has a father instead of a folded flag," Lubecky said in a message to other veterans afflicted with PTSD. "I want all of you to be around in 2023 when this is [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]-approved. I know what your suffering is like. You can make it."

MAPS' latest clinical research on MDMA—which is aimed at winning FDA approval—is currently in phase three trials. The Biden administration said last year that it "anticipates" MDMA and psilocybin would be approved by the FDA by 2024 and is "exploring the prospect of establishing a federal task force to monitor" therapeutic possibilities of both drugs.

Like MDMA, psilocybin—which occurs naturally in hundreds of fungal species and has been used by humans for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes for millennia—remains illegal at the federal level in the U.S., although several states and municipalities have legalized or decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms, or have moved to do so.

There have also been bipartisan congressional efforts to allow patients access to both drugs. Legislation introduced last year by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would permit therapeutic use of certain Schedule I drugs for terminally ill patients. Meanwhile, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) passed amendments to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act providing more funding for psychedelic research and making it easier for veterans and active-duty troops suffering from PTSD to try drug-based treatments.

Progressives warn House new resolution backed by 109 Dems is step toward slashing safety net

More than 100 U.S. House Democrats—including some of the wealthiest members of Congress—joined with Republican lawmakers on Thursday in passing a resolution "denouncing the horrors of socialism," a largely symbolic gesture that opponents warned is nonetheless a step toward slashing Social Security, Medicare, and other safety net programs.

House Concurrent Resolution 9, which "denounces socialism in all its forms and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States," was introduced by Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), the staunchly anti-communist daughter of Cuban exiles who once interviewed then-Cuban President Fidel Castro for Telemundo.

"I think it's the best resolution that has ever been presented before the United States Congress," Salazar told Insider at the U.S. Capitol before the vote. "Our youth are being penetrated by this ideology through media and academia."

The measure—which followed the vote to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee—passed 328-86, with 14 lawmakers voting "present" and six members not voting.

One hundred and nine Democrats—many of them members of the corporate-friendly New Democrat Coalition—joined with every Republican lawmaker in voting to approve the resolution. Prominent Democrats who voted "yes" include: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (S.C.), all of whom played prominent roles in defeating Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaigns, which were based on popular democratic socialist policies and principles.

Many of the Democrats voting for the resolution also rank among the wealthiest members of Congress, including Pelosi, whose 2018 net worth was over $114 million, according to OpenSecrets.org; Suzan DelBene (Wash., $79 million net worth); Dean Phillips (Minn., $64 million); Scott Peters (Calif., $60 million); and Ro Khanna (Calif., $45 million). Khanna along with Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California and Rubén Gallego of Arizona, are either current or prospective candidates for U.S. Senate.

Denouncing the measure on the House floor, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.)—who voted "no"— said that "the socialism resolution is useless. It does nothing. It does not matter. Are we talking about public schools? Are we talking about roads? Are we talking about Social Security? I mean, give me a break."

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, invoked his experience as a capitalist to lambaste the anti-socialism resolution.

"For 35 years now I've owned a small business, giving me significantly more experience as a capitalist than the vast majority of members on the other side of the aisle. So as a capitalist, let me tell you: This resolution is plain ridiculous. It jointly condemns Pol Pot and Norway," Pocan said during floor debate, referring to the former Cambodian dictator, who was supported by the Republican Reagan administration after leading a genocidal regime that killed at least 1.5 million people.

Pocan continued:

Here's what this is really about: More and more members on the other side of the aisle are calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and many have referred to these programs as "socialism" throughout their existence. The other night in the Rules Committee they showed their cards. Republicans refused an amendment to declare that Social Security and Medicare is not socialism. This resolution is little about intelligent discourse and everything to do about laying the groundwork to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), another "no" vote, called out the hypocrisy of Republicans who support corporate welfare or are personal beneficiaries of social programs. Waters took aim at House Small Business Committee Chair Roger Williams (R-Texas), who summarized his support for the resolution as: "Socialism bad. Capitalism good. In God we trust."

"Mr. Williams is my friend," said Waters, "but I do wonder whether Mr. Williams views the $1.43 million he received in debt forgiveness [to be] consistent with his views on socialism? I don't get it."

After Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who voted against the measure, noted during floor debate that there have been numerous democratic socialist leaders around the world who've been "allies of America and NATO," Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) quipped, "If this resolution would just simply draw out my Democrat colleagues to just say, yes, they are in favor of socialism, maybe this is a worthwhile endeavor."

Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), a former organizer from Pittsburgh's Democratic Socialists of America chapter who voted against the resolution, shrugged off Republicans' red-baiting and the New Democrat Coalition's support for the GOP resolution.

"They're going to call you socialists anyways," Lee said.

DeSantis targets diversity programs, tenured professors in 'unhinged'​ attack on higher ed

Taking aim yet again at higher education, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday proposed sweeping changes to the state's university system, including banning state funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and critical race theory education, as well as forcing tenured professors to undergo reviews at any time.

Speaking during a press conference at the State College of Florida in Bradenton, DeSantis said he is asking the state Legislature to cut all funding for programs he believes are "ideological."

Referring to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs—which aim to promote fair treatment and full participation—and critial race theory, a graduate-level framework dealing with systemic racism, DeSantis said that "we're also going to eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies in the state of Florida. No funding, and that will wither on the vine."

Apparently not satisfied with a state law requiring tenured professors at state colleges and universities to undergo reviews every five years, DeSantis also called for legislation that would subject such educators to reviews at any time, at risk of their jobs.

"Yes, we have the five-year review of all the tenured faculty, which is, which is good… and the board of trustees has to determine whether they stay or go. But you may need to do review more aggressively than just five," he said.

"I've talked with folks around the country who've been involved in higher ed reform, and the most significant deadweight cost at universities is typically unproductive tenured faculty," the governor added. "And so why would we want to saddle you as taxpayers with that cost if we don't have to do that?"

United Faculty of Florida (UFF), the union representing college and university educators in the state, said it would fight DeSantis' proposals.

"The United Faculty of Florida stand in lockstep opposition to any and all so-called 'reforms' that will actually destroy our state's world-class degree programs and their ability to serve our students," UFF President Andrew Gothard said in a statement. "We will not allow Florida's future to be sacrificed for cheap political points."

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Francie Diep and Emma Pettit contended that "it's been a dizzying month for higher ed in the Sunshine State."

As the authors explained:

The recent avalanche of activity began in late December, when DeSantis' office requested that state colleges and universities list their spending on programs related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and critical race theory. Florida's Republican House Speaker, Paul Renner, later asked the same campuses to turn over a mountain of additional DEI-related information.

DeSantis' office also requested that state universities report data on transgender students, and he appointed six new trustees to the New College of Florida's board because, according to his press secretary, the small liberal arts institution has put "trendy, truth-relative concepts above learning."

"What I find most troubling is that DeSantis is putting out a blueprint for other governors and state legislatures,” Kristen A. Renn—a professor at Michigan State University who researches LGBTQ+ college issues—told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "He's doing these things in ways that anybody else can pick this up and do it."

DeSantis—a potential 2024 presidential candidate—has also come under fire for other policies and actions including rejecting a college preparatory African-American studies course, banning unapproved books from K-12 libraries, and the Stop WOKE Act, a CRT ban that applies to schools from the primary through university levels and is meant to combat what the governor called "wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism."

Mia Brett, legal historian at The Editorial Board, last week compared Republicans' attacks on education across the country to similar moves by the leaders of Nazi Germany during the early months of their regime.

"I'm not being hyperbolic when I say this is directly out of Nazi laws passed in 1933. Though if this Republican effort is successful, you might not be able to learn things like that anymore," she wrote, adding that the legislation banning courses on CRT and racial and gender identity are a "chilling erosion of academic freedom and a huge step toward fascist academic control in the service of right-wing narratives."

"While it's still legal to teach history, remember where such efforts have led and take them seriously," Brett ominously warned.

Biden restores vital protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forest gutted by Trump

Indigenous and green groups on Wednesday applauded the Biden administration for reinstating protections for millions of acres of wilderness in Alaska's Tongass National Forest that were lifted during a Trump-era regulatory rollback spree.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Wednesday that it has finalized protections for the Tongass National Forest by restoring "longstanding roadless protections to 9.37 million acres of roadless areas that support the ecological, economic, and cultural values of Southeastern Alaska."

The Roadless Rule was established in 2001 to protect wilderness areas in U.S. national forests from roads and logging. The administration of former President Donald Trump rescinded the rule in 2020 amid a flurry of regulatory rollbacks, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of Indigenous, conservation, and business organizations. The Biden administration subsequently committed to reviving the Roadless Rule in 2021.

"As our nation's largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement Wednesday. "Restoring roadless protections listens to the voices of tribal nations and the people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region's economy."

According to the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife:

The Tongass contains rare expanses of pristine old-growth forest and as many as 17,000 miles of creeks, rivers, and lakes. These waters abound with all five species of Pacific salmon, which anchor the economy of Southeast Alaska. Approximately 1 million visitors come from all over the U.S. and internationally each year to see its glaciers, old-growth forests, and abundant wildlife.

The Tongass supports an incredible array of biodiversity and is home to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, brown bears, bald eagles, northern goshawks, and Pacific marten, among others. The Tongass is also one of the world's largest carbon reservoirs, storing the equivalent of about 8% of the carbon stored in all the U.S. forests combined. In addition, a broad coalition of tribal leaders, outdoor recreation businesses, and conservationists in Southeast Alaska have fought to preserve the region's remaining cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees.

"The restoration of National Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest is a great first step in honoring the voices of the many tribal governments and tribal citizens who spoke out in favor of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass," said Naawéiyaa Tagaban, the environmental justice strategy lead at Native Movement. "We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this first step toward long-term protections for the Tongass. We hope that going forward true long-term protections will be established that do not rely on a rule which can be changed at the whim of a presidential administration."

"The administration must look to tribal sovereignty and Indigenous stewardship as the true long-term solution for protections in the Tongass," Tagaban added. "Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people have lived in and managed the Tongass national forest for generations; true protections will look like the restoration of lands into Indigenous ownership."

Kate Glover, senior attorney at EarthJustice, said her group applauds the Forest Service "for making good on its commitment to tribes and to the climate by restoring the Roadless Rule across the Tongass. This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods."

Teague Whalen, who owns Tongass Teague, asserted that "there are two uncompromising realities for the survival of life on this planet: clean air and clean water."

"My hiking tours into the Tongass begin at the literal end of our road, where the Roadless Rule reinstatement will ensure that the Tongass can continue to be a lasting carbon sink," Whalen added.

Students vow to sue DeSantis over rejection of AP African-American studies course

Three high school students represented by attorney Benjamin Crump are planning to sue Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for rejecting a new high school Advanced Placement African-American studies course, the prominent civil rights lawyer said Wednesday.

As Common Dreamsreported last week, DeSantis rejected the pilot course in AP African-American studies being tested by the College Board—the organization behind the SAT exam—as he believes it "lacks educational value" and violates the state's Stop WOKE Act by promoting critical race theory (CRT). There is little to no evidence that CRT—a graduate-level academic discipline examining systemic racism—is being taught in any K-12 school in Florida, or anywhere in the United States.

"Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?"

"We are here to give notice to Gov. DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African-American studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida, that these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit," Crump said during a Wednesday press conference at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, referring to students Elijah Edwards, Victoria McQueen, and Juliette Heckman.

Victoria McQueen, a junior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, said that "there are many gaps in American history regarding the African-American population. The implementation of an AP African-American history class will fill in those gaps."

"Stealing the right for students to gather knowledge on a history that many want to know about because it's a political agenda goes to show that some don't want... the horrors this country has done to African-Americans to finally come to light," she added.

In Florida, those "horrors" include the centuries-long experiences of slavery and Jim Crow, including 20th-century atrocities like the Ocoee and Rosewood massacres and lynchings like the Newberry Six —events that shaped the state's modern history.

Another one of the students, high school sophomore Elijah Edwards, said that "Gov. DeSantis decided to deny the potentially life-changing class and effectively censor the freedom of our education and shield us from the truths of our ancestors."

"I thought here in this country, we believe in the free exchange of ideas, not the suppression of it," he added.

Also present at the press conference were Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-63), Florida Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Dianne Hart (D-61), state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-35), American Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer Fedrick Ingram, and National Black Justice Coalition executive director David Johns.

"By rejecting the African-American history pilot program, Ron DeSantis clearly demonstrated he wants to dictate whose story does and doesn't belong," said Driskell.

She continued:

He wants to control what our kids can learn based on politics, not on sound policy. He repeatedly attacks the First Amendment rights of Floridians with books being banned from libraries and classrooms and now throwing his weight against this AP African-American history course. He is undermining the rights of parents and students to make the best decisions for themselves. He wants to say that I don't belong. He wants to say you don't belong... But we are here to tell him, we are America. Governor, Black history is American history and you are on the wrong side of history.

Acknowledging that the course "will be altered and resubmitted and most likely they'll be able to make enough changes for the governor to approve it," Driskell asked, "but at what cost? Are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America's students across the country about Black history?"

"Accurately teaching our history is not political until others make it so," Driskell asserted. "How is political to talk about the struggles we've endured? How is political to talk about and to remember our history?"

"The truth is the truth; you can't change it, it simply is," she added. "But if you try to sugarcoat it, if you refuse to teach it accurately, then the truth can be suppressed, it can be diminished, and if we're not vigilant, it can even be erased."

DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has backed dozens of right-wing school board candidates while purging education officials who promote or enforce Covid-19 mandates. Last year, he outraged LGBTQ+ advocates by signing into law the so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" bill, falsely claiming that schools were promoting "pornographic" material while perpetuating homophobic and transphobic tropes.

The governor also signed a law requiring "media experts" to ensure that all books in Florida classrooms are "free of pornography," are "appropriate for the age level and group," and contain no "unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination." Violators face felony charges, leading some teachers to cover or remove books from their classroom libraries for fear of running afoul of the law.

DeSantis stridently touts himself as a champion of "freedom."

"Together we have made Florida the freest state in these United States," he said during his 2022 State of the State address. "While so many around the country have consigned the people's rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom's vanguard."

Critics rip McCarthy complacency amid George Santos' increasingly apparent 'lies and misdeeds'

As the spurious saga of U.S. congressman George Santos twisted anew Tuesday with an apparent admission from the New York Republican regarding the origins of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, critics took aim at GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for refusing to take any action against the serial liar.

According to the Daily Beast, on Tuesday, "Santos' political operation filed a flurry of amended campaign finance reports, telling the feds, among other things, that a $500,000 loan he gave to his campaign didn't, in fact, come from his personal funds as he'd previously claimed."

After reviewing the documents, Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The New York Times that "I have never been this confused looking at an FEC filing," a reference to the Federal Election Commission.

"Santos has proven he is wholly unfit for office, and his violations of our laws and public trust cannot go unanswered. Congress should investigate his unethical and likely illegal actions and expel Santos from the House."

From the mystery of how his net worth skyrocketed from near zero to $11 million in less than two years; to demonstrable lies about his education, employment history, residence, and purported Jewish heritage; to allegations of fraud perpetrated in Brazil and against a U.S. combat veteran and his dying dog, few figures in U.S. history have had so much of their personal and political life called into question as Santos.

"Does it surprise me if you told me that a person who had to file this many amendments has now also had to amend his own life story?" asked Libowitz. "Not really."

Sean Eldridge, founder and president of the political advocacy group Stand Up America, said in a statement that "George Santos has lied about nearly every aspect of his life, and as more evidence comes to light, it's become increasingly clear that he violated campaign finance laws."

"Yet, Speaker McCarthy has refused to hold him accountable for his lies and misdeeds," he continued. "Even as McCarthy has blocked trusted public servants from returning to their roles on the [House] Intelligence Committee, McCarthy has empowered Santos by seating him on two committees and gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics that should be tasked with investigating Santos."

Eldridge was referring to McCarthy's removal of Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, from the intelligence committee. Santos, meanwhile, will serve on the small business and science, space, and technology committees.

\u201cIt says a lot about Kevin McCarthy when he thinks Adam Schiff & Eric Swalwell don\u2019t deserve committee assignments when he gives liar George Santos and conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene & Lauren Boebert committee assignments. Truly outrageous on every level.\u201d
— Victor Shi (@Victor Shi) 1674664117

When pressed on what it would take for GOP leadership to take action against Santos, McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that "if... when we go through Ethics and he has broken the law, then we will remove him" from office.

"Once again, McCarthy is putting his personal power ahead of what's best for the American people," Eldridge said.

One of the biggest mysteries currently surrounding Santos involves the statistically improbable number of $199.99 expenses reported by his campaign—a penny below the legal requirement for keeping invoices or receipts.

\u201cThe criminal prosecution of George Santos is not a question of if. It is a question of when. \n\nYet Speaker McCarthy and House Republican Leadership still refuse to call on Santos to resign, despite promising to \u201cdrain the swamp.\u201d\u201d
— Ritchie Torres (@Ritchie Torres) 1674671518

As Politico notes:

Santos, who admitted in December that he faked parts of his biography, already faces a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission alleging his campaign repeatedly reported suspicious expenses. Those included eight charges of exactly $199.99 at an Italian restaurant in Queens and another $199.99 charge at a Miami-area hotel where rooms do not usually go for less than $600 per night. The specific amount matters because campaigns are required by law to keep receipts or invoices for expenses greater than $200.Campaigns rack up millions of dollars in expenses and thousands of line items per campaign, but it is rare for them to notch even one $199 expense, according to a Politico review of campaign finance records. FEC data shows more than 90% of House and Senate campaign committees around the country did not report a single transaction valued between $199 and $199.99 during the 2022 election cycle.
Santos reported 40 of them.

Adav Noti, a former FEC attorney and senior vice president at the Campaign Legal Center, another nonprofit watchdog group, told Politico that "we don't know where the money came from, we don't know where the money went to."

Santos' attorney won't comment on the matter, citing ongoing investigations.

"Santos has proven he is wholly unfit for office, and his violations of our laws and public trust cannot go unanswered," said Eldridge. "Congress should investigate his unethical and likely illegal actions and expel Santos from the House."

'Shocking new allegations' in Brett Kavanaugh documentary spark calls for DOJ investigation

The surprise premiere of a documentary revealing "shocking new allegations" of sexual crimes committed decades ago by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sparked new calls on Monday for Senate and Justice Department investigations.

Doug Liman's Justice premiered Friday as a last-minute addition to the lineup of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. According to Free Speech for People, the film "includes important new details about specific allegations of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh" and "also reveals disturbing new evidence of misconduct by Kavanaugh and his associates" surrounding the right-wing justice's 2018 Senate confirmation hearings.

This includes "evidence that Kavanaugh may have knowingly perjured himself" and that the justice's associates engaged in what his friend referred to as "a cover-up."

Kavanaugh—the second of three right-wing justices appointed to the nation's highest court by then-President Donald Trump—was accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford, who is now a Stanford professor, when they were in high school. Kavanaugh also allegedly exposed himself without consent to Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate, during a college party. He has denied both allegations.

Justice producer Amy Herdy said during a post-premiere Q&A in Park City: "I do hope this triggers outrage. I do hope that this triggers action, I do hope that this triggers additional investigation with real subpoena powers."

To that end, Free Speech for People wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland as well as to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) seeking a probe of Kavanaugh based on details in the film.

"Some of these details were sent to the FBI during its brief, compressed investigation into similar allegations during Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation hearings, although the FBI did not follow up or interview the relevant witnesses," the group said Monday in a letter to the senators.

The letter states:

Most disturbing, however, is new evidence of conduct by Kavanaugh and his associates (perhaps even before his accusers came forward) concerning the 2018 Senate hearing itself. For example, the film shows a 2018 text message discussion amongst mutual acquaintances of Kavanaugh and Deborah Ramirez, regarding Ramirez's soon-to-be-public allegations that Kavanaugh had exposed himself to her. According to the text messages shown in the documentary, Kavanaugh asked a mutual friend to go on the record to defend him. Another friend referred to it as "a cover-up." This indicates consciousness of guilt—and therefore evidence that he may have knowingly perjured himself in the confirmation hearings—and a potential conspiracy to obstruct and defraud the Senate by coordinating a false information campaign.

The Washington Postreports that "the FBI's national press office did not have a comment on the documentary but reiterated that their services in a nomination process are limited to fact-finding and background investigations."

"The scope of the background investigation is requested by the White House," an FBI spokesperson told the Post in a statement. "The FBI does not have the independent authority to expand the scope of a supplemental background investigation outside the requesting agency's parameters."

Speaking about the women who stepped forward to share their stories in the film, director Liman toldThe Guardian: "This was the kind of movie where people are terrified. The people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes."

The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or through chat at rainn.org. It offers 24/7, free, and confidential support.

Scholars, lawmakers outraged over DeSantis' rejection of AP African-American curriculum

Academics and Democratic lawmakers reacted angrily Thursday after the administration of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected a new high school Advanced Placement African-American studies course—without even seeing its syllabus—claiming it violates the state's ban on "woke" education and "lacks educational value."

Some Republican Florida officials said they believe the African-American studies course offered by the College Board—which approves AP courses and runs SAT testing—violates the state's Stop WOKE Act by promoting critical race theory (CRT), a graduate-level academic framework positing that systemic racism is inherent in U.S. society.

DeSantis said the Stop WOKE Act, which applies to schools from the primary through university level and businesses, is meant to combat "wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism."

"Diversity and equity are offensive to the conservative worldview, and they will use whatever tools available to continue enforcing a hierarchy which keeps those they consider the in-group at the top, and the rest of us at the bottom, if they must abide our existence at all."

The law was partially blocked last year by a federal judge who rejected the state's "authority to muzzle its professors in the name of 'freedom.'"

Marvin Dunn, a prolific author and former Florida International University professor who has dedicated his career to preserving and sharing Florida's Black history, told the Daily Beast that the state's rejection of the AP African-American studies course "means an insult to me, it means an injury to me."

"Florida is doing its best to shut down discussions about race, slavery, anything having to do with a challenge to the idea that racism is still a real factor in American life today," he added.

New York University historian Diane Ravitch wrote:

Just in case there was any doubt about what Gov. DeSantis and Florida Legislature banned when they outlawed any discussion of "critical race theory," that doubt has been resolved. They do not want schools and teachers to acknowledge race, racism, or the very existence of people of color in the United States. Sight unseen, the [Florida Department of Education] has banned an AP course on African-American studies. The department claimed that the content of the course is historically inaccurate and violates state law, even though the department has never seen the course syllabus.

DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has backed dozens of right-wing school board candidates while purging education officials who promote or enforce Covid-19 mandates. Last year, he outraged LGBTQ+ advocates by signing into law the so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" bill, falsely claiming that schools were promoting "pornographic" material.

Cassandra Quick, a Seattle-area attorney who is Black and transgender, told Common Dreams that Republicans like DeSantis "seek to silence the stories and histories of Black and Brown people, and of queer people, in a bid to maintain the cultural, economic, and political hegemony they've enjoyed since the inception of the United States and which is threatened by current efforts to shine the light on the realities of those they have suppressed and marginalized."

"Diversity and equity are offensive to the conservative worldview, and they will use whatever tools available to continue enforcing a hierarchy which keeps those they consider the in-group at the top, and the rest of us at the bottom, if they must abide our existence at all," Quick added.

In its brief letter explaining why it rejected the AP African-American studies course, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) said that "as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value."

The letter was issued on January 12, just days before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and days after the 100th anniversary of the Rosewood Massacre, in which white supremacists destroyed the eponymous Black town in Levy County, Florida in a murderous rampage.

Florida DOE spokesperson Cassie Pelelis told the Daily Beast that "if the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the department will reopen the discussion."

In response to Florida's move, the College Board told the Daily Beast that "we look forward to publicly releasing the updated course framework as soon as it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools."

In a separate statement, the College Board said that "like all new AP courses, AP African-American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multiyear pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars, and policymakers. The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result."

Reacting to the course's rejection, political analyst Ameshia Cross tweeted: "Black history is American history. Striking it from [the] curriculum does students a grave disservice, and makes America weaker for it."

Thousands descend on Lima demanding resignation of unelected Peruvian president

Thousands of Indigenous and other Peruvians descended on the capital Lima on Wednesday to demand the resignation of unelected President Dina Boluarte, show support for imprisoned former leftist leader Pedro Castillo, and condemn government forces for killing dozens of protesters over the past six weeks.

The demonstrators—who include Aymara and Quecha people from Andean regions, trade unionists, and other activists—traveled to the coastal capital in caravans during the second week of a general strike as part of a new "March from the Four Corners." The first such march took place in 2000 against then-President Alberto Fujimori, a U.S.-backed right-wing autocrat.

"We are from Chota in Cajamarca. We have come to Lima to defend our country, considering we are under a dictatorial government... which has stained our country with blood," protester Yorbin Herrera toldAl Jazeera.

Another demonstrator, Luis Garro, said: "I am upset. Angry. Traumatized and shocked by what is happening here. I believe that the people are going to force Dina Boluarte and the Congress out."

Florencia Fernández, a lawyer who lives in Cusco, toldthe Associated Press that "in my own country, the voices of the Andes, the voices of the majority have been silenced."

"We've had to travel to this aggressive city, this centralist city, and we say, the Andes have descended," she added.

Alonso Cárdenas, a professor of public policy at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima, noted the significance of protests in the capital.

"When there are tragedies, bloodbaths outside the capital, it doesn't have the same political relevance in the public agenda as if it took place in the capital,” he told the AP. "The leaders have understood that and say, they can massacre us in Cusco, in Puno, and nothing happens, we need to take the protest to Lima."

At least 17 people were killed by state security forces in what human rights defenders called a "massacre" in Juliaca, the capital of San Román province in Puno, on January 9.

Some of this week's protesters traveled to Lima on the tour bus of renowned cumbia singer Yarita Lizeth, who has donated money to cover wounded protesters' medical bills while condemning "this violent repression against my brothers from Juliaca... who were unjustly killed."

By taking to the street, protesters were defying the government's extended state of emergency in Lima and three other regions, a move that suspended constitutional rights including the inviolability of the home, freedom of transit, and freedom of assembly.

A counter-demonstration in support of Boluarte, dubbed a "march for peace," also took place in Lima on Thursday. The de facto president said Tuesday that she would meet with anti-government demonstrators "to talk about the social agendas that you have because you well know that the political agenda that you are proposing is not feasible."

At least 50 people have been killed since the December 7 overthrow and arrest of Castillo—a democratically elected former rural teacher and union organizer—by the country's right-wing-controlled Congress after he moved to dissolve the legislature in a bid to preempt a move to dismiss him for "permanent moral incapacity."

Castillo, who faces charges of rebellion and conspiracy, remains imprisoned by order of a panel of Peru's Supreme Court of Justice.

Boluarte has proposed elections for April 2024. Her government is recognized by the United States, Canada, Chile, and several other countries, while leftist leaders of Latin American and Caribbean nations including Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have condemned Castillo's removal.

A poll published earlier this week by the Institute of Peruvian Studies showed 71% of respondents disapprove of Boluarte, while 60% say the protests against her government are justified.

New study blows up myth that Russian bots swayed 2016 election for Trump

A study published Monday by researchers at New York University eviscerated liberal Democrats' assertion that the Russian government's disinformation campaign on Twitter during the 2016 U.S. presidential election had any meaningful impact on the contest's outcome.

The study, which was led by NYU's Center for Social Media and Politics and published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, is based on a survey of nearly 1,500 U.S. respondents' Twitter activity. The researchers—who also include scholars from the University of Copenhagen, Trinity College Dublin, and Technical University of Munich—concluded that while "the online push by Russian foreign influence accounts didn't change attitudes or voting behavior in the 2016 U.S. election," the disinformation campaign "may still have had consequences."

According to the paper:

Exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated: Only 1% of users accounted for 70% of exposures. Second, exposure was concentrated among users who strongly identified as Republicans. Third, exposure to the Russian influence campaign was eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians. Finally, we find no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.

"Despite this massive effort to influence the presidential race on social media and a widespread belief that this interference had an impact on the 2016 U.S. elections, potential exposure to tweets from Russian trolls that cycle was, in fact, heavily concentrated among a small portion of the American electorate—and this portion was more likely to be highly partisan Republicans," said Joshua A. Tucker, co-director of the Center for Social Media and Politics (CSMaP) and one of the study's authors.

"The specter of 'Russian bots' wreaking havoc across the web has become a byword of liberal anxiety and a go-to explanation for Democrats flummoxed by Trump's unlikely victory."

Gregory Eady of the University of Copenhagen, and one of the study's co-lead authors, cautioned that "it would be a mistake to conclude that simply because the Russian foreign influence campaign on Twitter was not meaningfully related to individual-level attitudes that other aspects of the campaign did not have any impact on the election, or on faith in American electoral integrity."

The new study may boost arguments of observers who contend that Democrats bear much of the blame for Hillary Clinton's 2016 defeat by former GOP President Donald Trump. Clinton's loss, many say, is largely attributable to a deeply flawed Democratic ticket consisting of two corporate candidates including a presidential nominee who, according to former Green presidential contender Ralph Nader, "never met a war she did not like," and an anti-abortion vice presidential pick in Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

"That Russian intelligence attempted to influence the 2016 election, broadly speaking, is by now well documented," The Intercept's Sam Biddle wrote in an analysis of the study. "While their impact remains debated among scholars, the specter of 'Russian bots' wreaking havoc across the web has become a byword of liberal anxiety and a go-to explanation for Democrats flummoxed by Trump's unlikely victory."

Jan. 6 rallies to demand accountability for Trump and 'urgent action to protect our democracy'

Democracy defenders will mark the second anniversary of the deadly January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol with nationwide rallies to demand accountability for former U.S. President Donald Trump and push for "reforms to protect our freedom to vote."

The Not Above the Law and Declaration for American Democracy coalitions will lead the nationwide day of action on the anniversary of the right-wing insurrection by supporters of former President Donald Trump and his "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen."

"Election deniers still threaten our democracy. On the second anniversary of the insurrection, we're fighting back."

"We need all hands on deck to make this January 6th national day of action as big as possible," said the coalition's Jan. 6 Justice: Our Freedoms, Our Vote website.

"We know that even though some of the most prominent election conspiracists lost their midterms, they are already looking to 2024 for ways to overturn the will of voters," the coalitions continued. "They are working to sabotage future elections by changing state laws, threatening election officials, and packing election administration offices so that they can have the final say over election results even when they lose."

Organizers of the #OurFreedomsOurVote demonstrations say the "next phase" in their work involves:

  • Passing local, state, and federal legislation to protect our freedoms;
  • Pushing back against the potential sham investigations the new Congress is planning; and
  • Uplifting the findings of real critical investigations like the January 6th investigation.

Last month, the bipartisan congressional committee probing the Capitol insurrection unanimously voted to recommend that Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department investigate Trump and some of his associates for four crimes in connection with the attack.

"Almost two years after the insurrection, we see our democracy is still in danger from Trump, his allies, and their sympathizers in office," coalition member Free Speech for People tweeted. "It's time to show our political leaders that there are still serious threats to our democracy."

New polling published Thursday by Data for Progress revealed that just 57% of respondents believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election. That figure is dramatically skewed by the two-thirds of Republican respondents who said the election was "stolen" from Trump. Ninety-two percent of Democrats said Biden won the contest fairly.

More than 170 candidates for U.S. House, Senate, and key statewide offices who deny that Biden fairly won the 2020 election were elected or reelected in November.

The survey also found that 59% of voters believe Trump bears "a lot of" or "some" responsibility for the Capitol attack—with 90% of Democrats, 57% of Independents, and 28% of Republicans agreeing. Nearly half of GOP respondents said Trump is not at all responsible for the insurrection.

Additionally, half of all survey respondents said Trump should be prosecuted for his role in the January 6 attack. Support for prosecution soared to 88% of Democrats, while 50% of Independents and just 13% of Republicans believe the former president—who's seeking the 2024 nomination—should face charges.

Noting that the new Republican majority in the House "has made clear that they have no interest in accountability for the attack on our Capitol," the Declaration for American Democracy coalition said that "it's up to us to show our political leaders that we demand urgent action to protect our democracy."

Scheduled speakers at the noon EST Union Square rally in Washington, D.C. include Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.); Martin Luther King III and Andrea Waters King of the Drum Major Institute; Stand Up America executive director Christina Harvey; Sierra Club democracy campaign representative Tishan Weerasooriya; Women's March D.C. spokesperson Noor Mir; and March for Our Lives board member Mariah Cooley, among others.

"The event comes as Trump and extreme politicians continue to spread false claims about the 2020 election results and undermine our Constitution, pass state laws to place new barriers to voting—disproportionately impacting communities of color—and prepare to launch a sham investigation into the January 6 committee so that they can stay in power to push their unpopular agenda: to destroy reproductive rights, steal our Social Security and our Medicare, and stop our ability to access affordable higher education, address the climate crisis, or prevent gun violence, among others," the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said in a statement.

GOP's top priority if they ever get a House Speaker? Protect wealthy tax dodgers

Republicans began their control of the 118th Congress Tuesday with a narrow majority that failed six times to elect a speaker but had in hand "hit-the-ground-running" plans to pass legislation that critics say will "protect wealthy and corporate tax cheats" by rescinding tens of billions of dollars in new Internal Revenue Service funding in the Inflation Reduction Act.

On Monday, Steve Scalise (R-La.), a party leader, said that the lower chamber's first order of business after electing a speaker will be taking up the Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act.

"This Republican bill is ill-named because what it actually does is protect tax cheaters by repealing most of the new IRS funding set forth in last year's Inflation Reduction Act," Mother Jones senior editor Michael Mechanic wrote.

In a December 30 letter to House Republicans, Scalise said the legislation—along with 10 other bills and resolutions he proposed—would let GOP lawmakers "hit the ground running in our first weeks in the majority."

Scalise said in the letter that the Family and Small Business Taxpayer Act "rescinds tens of billions of dollars allocated to the IRS for 87,000 new IRS agents in the Inflation Reduction Act."

Although the "87,000 new IRS agents" claim has been widely debunked, it has nevertheless become a GOP talking point.

Writing for The American Independent, Josh Israel noted: "It has appeared in ads run by the campaigns of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and North Carolina Republican Senate nominee Rep. Ted Budd; it has been used in Senate Leadership Fund attack ads in Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio; and the right-wing Club for Growth Action and Congressional Leadership Fund have run spots lying about the number of new IRS agents. The Senate Republican conference's official Twitter account and those of dozens of other House and Senate Republicans have also tweeted the bogus 87,000 number."

As Mechanic pointed out, "From 2010 to 2018, even as the IRS received 9% more tax returns, its annual budget was slashed by $2.9 billion—a 20% reduction that cost the agency more than one-fifth of its workforce."

"Virtually no partnerships were audited in 2018," he continued. "By then, with [former President] Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the kneecapped IRS was scrutinizing the individual returns of just 0.03% of those $10 million—plus taxpayers, down from a peak of 23% in 2010. Audits of the $5 million—to—$10 million filers fell from just under 15% to a scant 0.04%."

Mechanic added:

A fair subset of superwealthy Americans doesn't even bother filing. The Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration reported in 2020 that nearly 880,000 "high income" non-filers from 2014 through 2016 still owed $46 billion, and the IRS was in no condition, resource-wise, to collect. The 300 biggest delinquents owed about $33 million per head, on average. Fifteen percent of their cases had been closed without examination by IRS staffers, and another one-third weren't even in line to be "worked."

"The recently enacted IRS funding—$80 billion over 10 years—was meant to remedy this shameful state of affairs," he wrote.

Despite the disunity evident in the speaker struggle, House Republicans appear united when it comes to slashing Social Security, gutting ethics safeguards, and pursuing policies like the IRS defunding measure that exacerbate inequality in one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.

House Dems say FDA 'inappropriately collaborated' with Biogen on new Alzheimer's drug

Nearly two years after a leading U.S. consumer advocacy group sounded the alarm on the matter, House Democrats released a report Thursday showing the Food and Drug Administration and pharma giant Biogen "inappropriately collaborated" prior to the controversial approval of a new $28,000-per-year Alzheimer's drug of questionable efficacy.

Originally carrying a $56,000 annual price tag for uninsured patients—which Biogen's then-CEO called "fair"—aducanumab, sold under the brand name Aduhelm, was approved by the FDA in June 2021. The approval came despite concerns that the drug—a monoclonal antibody treatment for patients with mild cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer's—might not work, as well as safety trial data showing that a staggering 4 in 10 participants suffered potentially fatal brain bleeding and swelling after taking it.

"This report documents the atypical FDA review process and corporate greed that preceded FDA's controversial decision to grant accelerated approval to Aduhelm."

The new report, the result of an 18-month probe by the Democrat-led House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, found that the FDA's approval process for Aduhelm was "rife with irregularities," including an "atypical" number of meetings and other contacts between the agency and the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drugmaker.

The panel also found that Biogen and the FDA closely collaborated on a document written for outside advisers during the approval process, with at least one paragraph of the company's submission authored by agency officials.

On pricing, the lawmakers concluded that Biogen gave Aduhelm an astronomical price tag knowing that doing so would place the drug out of reach for many patients—even those with insurance—and would cost Medicare $12 billion per year.

"This report documents the atypical FDA review process and corporate greed that preceded FDA's controversial decision to grant accelerated approval to Aduhelm," outgoing House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a statement.

"While we all support the search for new cures and treatments to address devastating diseases like Alzheimer's, we must ensure that expediency does not take precedence over protocols that ensure the independence and scientific rigor of FDA," Pallone added. "Patient safety and drug efficacy must remain at the core of our nation's pharmaceutical regulatory review process."

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who will leave office when Republicans take over the lower chamber next week, said that "the number of patients and families impacted by Alzheimer's disease will continue to increase, and it is crucial that FDA and drug companies adhere to established procedures and conduct themselves with the transparency necessary to earn public trust."

"I am hopeful these findings are a wake-up call for FDA to reform its practices and a call to action to my congressional colleagues to continue oversight of the pharmaceutical industry to ensure they don't put profits over patients," she added.

The new report comes nearly two years after the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen warned of exactly the sort of questionable collaboration detailed in the publication.

"After aducanumab's two identical phase three trials were stopped in 2019 at the halfway point because a preliminary analysis found that they were unlikely to show the drug benefited Alzheimer's patients, the FDA and Biogen worked collaboratively to salvage the drug," the group wrote in January 2021. "They jointly relied on dubious analyses that over-emphasized the results of one phase three trial suggesting the drug may work at a high dose but disregarded data from the other phase three trial showing no benefit of the drug at any dose. The FDA and Biogen co-authored an unprecedented joint briefing document on aducanumab that was heavily biased in favor of the drug."

Reacting to the new report, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim—a former member of the FDA's outside advisory panel who voted against green-lighting Aduhelm and resigned after it was approved—toldThe Wall Street Journal Thursday that "I hope this inspires a full re-examination of the nature of the communications between FDA and industry."

"Lines of communication need to be at arm's length and transparent," he added, "so that there remains trust in the FDA's decisions."

Citing 'stunning' lies, NY DA launches probe of Republican Congressman-elect Santos

A Long Island prosecutor on Wednesday launched an investigation into George Santos after the Republican congressman-elect admitted to telling a litany of campaign trail lies about his religious background, education, and employment history.

"The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning," Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly, a Republican, said in a statement.

"The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the 3rd District must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress," she added. "No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it."

Santos, 34, is scheduled to be sworn in next week when the House reconvenes—and Republicans take control—after holiday recess. The Associated Press reports he could face investigations by the House Ethics Committee and the Justice Department.

As the AP notes:

The Republican has admitted to lying about having Jewish ancestry, a Wall Street pedigree, and a college degree, but he has yet to address other lingering questions—including the source of what appears to be a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands in back rent.

Santos' lies have drawn scorn from both sides of the political aisle, with Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) tweeting in response to the new probe that "Santos will be gone by the end of his term or well before then. He should RESIGN."

On Tuesday, outgoing Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted that aspiring house speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) needs Santos' backing.

"That is why his lies to get elected will be forgiven," Kinzinger opined. "He literally lied to win. FRAUD."

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San Francisco Macy's workers strike over 'totally unacceptable' contract

Hundreds of workers at Macy's San Francisco flagship store walked off the job Friday amid the last-minute holiday shopping rush for a two-day strike demanding better pay, healthcare, and working conditions.

"Macy's and its CEO have raked in huge profits while the workers have been crushed by rising inflation."

Workers at Macy's Union Square store went on strike after contract negotiations between members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UCFW) Local 5 and the retail giant—which reported $108 million in third-quarter income—broke down Thursday. Strike-breakers kept the store open for the final two days of Christmas shopping.

Union president John Nunes toldNBC Bay Area that Macy's only offered a $1-per-hour pay raise over three years and would not compromise on affordable healthcare, staffing levels, and seniority.

"What the company is offering is completely insufficient to what the workers had to go through for the last three years," Nunes said. "The wages are inadequate. The healthcare is really bad."

Chelsea Thomas, a Macy's employee and bargaining committee member, said in a statement that "nobody wants to go on strike at Christmas time but after six months of management stalling and refusal to make an offer that recognizes the hard work that we do to make the company profitable and successful, we don't have much choice."

"The outcome of our struggle will ultimately impact the workers and the customer experience at our store and at Macy's stores throughout California," Thomas added.

UFCW Local 5 says its workers are striking for:

  • Higher wages that reflect high the cost of living in San Francisco;
  • Improved safety standards;
  • Better store and worker security;
  • Fair and affordable family healthcare; and
  • Appropriate staffing levels

"Negotiations between Macy’s and its workers are underway. It's time for Macy's management to show its appreciation for all of the hard work and health and safety risks that Macy's workers have taken during the pandemic," the union said in a statement. "But instead of recognizing the workers' sacrifices, Macy's is proposing to reduce the full time guarantees and seniority provisions in the contract. This is totally unacceptable!"

"UFCW Local 5 Union Square Macy's workers are standing together for their families and their community," the union added. "Union Square Macy's workers have had a traumatic couple of years between the closing and opening of the store due to the pandemic and civil unrest, and notable incidents of violent thefts at the workplace. All the while Macy's and its CEO have raked in huge profits while the workers have been crushed by rising inflation. Now it's time for Macy's to take care of their workers and the community!