March 2021 Live Report

March is almost gone, but the madness doesn’t end with it nor does COVID 


YET -- States like Mississippi and Texas are ready to allow business to reopen at 100% capacity -- and Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, is ready to sue ANY local public official that dares to publicly defy the state’s moratorium on mask mandates… 

Yeah, you heard right -- The latest high-profile clash over local control is unfolding in Austin and surrounding Travis County, which are together fighting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s move to open the state “100%” and prevent jurisdictions from imposing their own mask mandates to control the spread of the coronavirus.

At the same time, Texas is still getting over 7,000 new cases per day and just 12 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, putting Texas among the lowest vaccinated of any U.S. state, according to Post tracking.

Governor Abbott and his minions are clearly showing their true colors -- putting corporations and profits over the wellbeing of the public. But what can you expect from Abbott, the guy that welcomed Elon Musk after the second richest man up and moved much of his business operations from California to avoid paying taxes -- even though Musk’s businesses rely heavily on public subsidies. All while Musk seriously squeezed CA government officials for every last dime. 

And on top of that, Musk had the nerve to accuse CA of complacency and to whine about health orders meant to save people’s lives.

Unsurprisingly… recently more than 400 of Tesla workers tested positive for Coronavirus after Musk reopened a plant in Fremont, CA. 

Musk played down the severity of the pandemic and reopened this plant, back in May, defiant of guidelines issued by local public health officials.

I assume these are the kind of “freedoms” Musk and his companies will enjoy now in Texas -- a state that has no personal income tax, ranks 40th in environmental protections, and has very lax workers’ rights!

And as we learn from local sources, the particular region in South Texas that Musk chose for his SpaceX launch site has a long history of corruption by local and state officials.

So, the tweet Musk made yesterday, about his “Philanthropic” $30Million donation, $20M for the local school district and $10M for revitalizing Brownsville’s downtown area -- *cough - GENTRIFICATION - cough* -- raises suspicion whether the money will actually trickle down to the people. 

Because, as various local activists point out, the Mayor and many of the City Commissioners own business and buildings in the downtown area that Musk intends to revitalize. We will have to wait and see how events unravel (but my money is on this being a hugely hyped kickback for city leaders).

But for now we can only raise concern and share what we have learned as Californians who are all too familiar with the hazards of living amongst the very rich tech barons, and we know this particular billionaire pretty well -- there’s nothing philanthropic about this donation, or him -- this is more like his way trying to buy some good PR for him and his company, which is causing damage and exploitation of the land down there.

All while exploiting a capital gains tax loophole for investing in “economically disadvantaged” areas, which we previously discussed.

And speaking about the environmental impact -- they are not just local as astronomers think that the streaking light seen over the states of Washington and Oregon came from the Falcon 9 rocket, launched by SpaceX on March 4, reentering Earth's atmosphere.

But turns out tax evasion and polluting the environment and space are not the only wrongdoings Elon musk has been up to -- 

The National Labor Relations Board (or NLRB) says Elon Musk threatened workers and fired Richard Ortiz for union organizing back in 2018.

Musk made a tweet that sparked an investigation into the company by NLRB into union busting tactics employed by the company -- and now, 3 years later -- the NLRB found that not only did Musk violated federal labor law with the tweet, but that he also illegally fired Oritz for protected union activity. 

The NLRB ordered Tesla to offer Ortiz his job back and compensate him for lost earnings, benefits, and any adverse tax consequences that resulted from his firing. 

Tesla is also required to revise their confidentiality agreements that are given to employees to take out a section that bars workers from speaking to the media without explicit written permission from the company. 

National labor law “protects employees when they speak with the media about working conditions, labor disputes, or other terms and conditions of employment.

This is an important victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers --  and it’s also a great segue for our next corporate rule story:

About the employees of the other richest man in the world -- Jeff Bezos. Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama are fighting for their right to unionize and they are in the final stretch, votes were cast this week and the tally is underway. A victory would not only be one of the biggest labor victories in the U.S. in decades — the facility would be the first U.S. union organized within Amazon.

The mail-in ballots were due this past Monday, and federal officials began tallying the votes yesterday in what has been the most closely watched unionization drive in the US in years. 

There are numerous things working for the union, like: the employees are unhappy with the fast, stressful pace of work, and many complain they have too little voice on their job. And about 85% of the Bessemer workers are African American, and Black workers tend to be more pro-union than white workers.

At the same time, many factors are working against the union. The organizing drive is in a deep red state where the business community and many politicians vigorously oppose organized labor. Amazon is a hugely powerful, vehemently anti-union company and is carrying out a fierce and expensive campaign to defeat the union. 

So far the count is still under way -- but even when it ends -- the chances that either party challenges the results are high, so a clear outcome is not expected soon. We will continue to follow the situation...

It is truly disheartening to see Amazon’s former CEO Jeff Bezos, who saw his personal wealth increase by $65 billion during the pandemic alone — more than $7 million every hour -- put so much money and effort into busting union busting. 

But clearly Bezos was not the only one that benefited from the pandemic conditions by having, essentially, their competition shut down -- or like in the case of the Tennessee's billionaire Frist family—from being the leading shareholders in the nation's largest private healthcare conglomerate!

Yeah -- This Hospital-owning family made a killing during the pandemic more than doubling their wealth (from $7.5 billion on March 18, 2020 to $15.6 billion on March 8, 2021 - or $8.1 billion in 1 year!!!!!!)

To put it into perspective -- the Frists have accumulated more wealth during the pandemic than any of the nation's 27 healthcare sector billionaires, who include Big Pharma and biotech owners and shareholders.

But while the Frists may rank first among profitable medical industrial complex billionaires, they are far from the only plutocrats enjoying stupendous gains during a pandemic. 

A January report by IPS and Americans for Tax Fairness revealed that the nation's 660 billionaires added a combined $1.1 trillion to their fortunes since last March.

And as the Billionaires’ wealth multiplies during the pandemic -- a new report shows that about ⅓ of  all covid deaths in the US were tied to a lack of insurance 

This report comes as Democratic Congress Members Pramila Jayapal (our amendment lead sponsor) and Debbie Dingell are introducing the Medicare for All Act of 2021 -- a bill we at Move to Amend absolutely support, but as we always point out: this kind of legislation needs our We the People Amendment to actually be effective, otherwise Bills like Medicare for All will likely fall victim to a gutting in the courts after they pass. 

And speaking of Corporate-friendly courts -- In April, the Supreme Court will hear a case that has been turned into a bit of a punchline: The story of the foul-mouthed 14-year-old cheerleader burdening the judiciary with her insistence on a constitutional right to curse out her coach on Snapchat.

In case you have not heard this story, here’s the gist of it-- In 2017, ninth-grader Brandi Levy said on Snapchat some version of what stressed-out students have been saying on the back of the school bus since the invention of buses: “F*ck school f*ck softball f*ck cheer f*ck everything.” 

The post was shared on a Saturday afternoon during a trip to the local convenience store, disappeared from Snapchat by Sunday afternoon, and caused no disturbance at school whatsoever—except to irritate the cheerleading coach, who banned Levy from the squad for a year. 

Levy filed suit, and in June 2020, a federal appeals court ruled that school authorities violated the First Amendment by disciplining her for the off-campus speech. Now, the Mahanoy district is asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.

Sure, it makes sense that the school has more authority over speech on school grounds, during school time -- but off campus when no one is compelled to listen, and the audience is anyone with internet access things begin to get tricky.

Political and social advocacy sometimes involves using harsh language. Outside of school, it’s well-established that flipping a middle finger to a police officer to express contempt is constitutionally protected speech --thanks to the enduring pillar of the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, Cohen v. California -- but if the Mahanoy district prevails, a social media photo showing a student wearing her anti-Trump jacket would become a punishable offense if it caused even one classmate to complain.

We will definitely keep a close eye on any developments regarding this SCOTUS case because of all the huge consequences for Free Speech that it may bring...

Just like this other case we’re closely monitoring -- a clash between Union Campaigns and Private Property at the Supreme Court.

This week, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a case brought by a strawberry plant nursery in Northern California arguing that the access representatives of the United Farm Workers get to meet with workers and urge them to consider unionizing amounts to a government taking of private property without compensation.

The case, is the court’s first major encounter with a labor dispute since the arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and it has the potential to define what union organizers can do on California farms. But it could also have far-reaching consequences beyond such campaigns, including limiting the government’s ability to enter private property to conduct health and safety inspections of facilities like coal mines and pharmaceutical plants and to perform home visits by social workers charged with ensuring child welfare.

There are reasons to believe the court will be skeptical of the access regulation. The court has in recent years dealt blows to public unions and limited the ability of workers to band together to take legal action over workplace issues. At the same time, the court has been protective of property rights.

We will keep you informed of the implications for this case as well. 

There sure is no shortage of high-profile cases -- but as our final story, we want to talk about a case that shook the whole nation: the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer charged with murdering George Floyd.

Most are already familiarized with the events surrounding Floyd’s death after a bystander video went viral showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest attempt.

Well, Chauvin is denying the charges of murder and manslaughter against him -- and instead, the defense team is trying to focus the jury on irrelevant aspects such as the fact that the opioid fentanyl was found in Floyd’s system, as well as methamphetamine, and that he had underlying health conditions.

Though, the official autopsy concluded that Floyd’s death was a homicide.

And so far -- 6 bystanders testified on the second day of Chauvin's criminal trial: a 9-year-old girl, three high school students, a mixed martial arts fighter and a Minneapolis firefighter -- all sharing the feelings of horror and fear as they witnessed George Floyd slowly die under the knee of former police officer Derek Chauvin last May.

Today, Genevieve Hansen, the Off-duty firefighter who witnessed Floyd's death when she was out for a walk, resumed her testimony -- she was the third person to call 911 to report what police had done.

Donald Wynn Williams II, the Mixed Martial Arts fighter that witnessed Floyd’s death, said that Chauvin performed a "blood choke" on Floyd and adjusted his positioning several times to maintain pressure on Floyd's neck. But despite Williams’ and others pleading with the officers to let Floyd breath they were directed to stay away by Officer Thao, who will also face trial along with 2 other former officers later in the summer. 

So what’s next? -- 

Witness testimony in the trial is expected to last about four weeks, followed by jury deliberations where the anonymous jurors will decide whether Chauvin should serve time in prison or be acquitted. Mr Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, which means causing death ‘without intent’. The maximum sentence is 40 years

A third-degree murder charge was also recently added. Experts say the new charge is easier to prove in court, but carries a lesser penalty.

According to Minnesota state law, the maximum penalty for third-degree murder is 25 years.

This is without a doubt one of the most important trials in America and anything sort of a conviction might lead to more protests all around the country… but we’ll continue to monitor this trial closely and report any updates whether on Making Sense this Friday or in the coming weeks, or on the April live report (depending on how long the case takes).

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