A protester in Seoul, South Korea at a rally Thursday to demand higher wages for fast-food workers.
On Thursday, the fast-food strikes that have been spreading around the country are going global.
Workers at restaurants like Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, and KFC are walking off their jobs in 230 cities around the world to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Strikers will protest in 150 US cities, from New York to Los Angeles, and in 80 foreign cities, from Casablanca to Seoul to Brussels to Buenos Aires.
The wave of strikes—which began in November 2012, when hundreds of workers walked out of restaurants in New York City—has grown quickly over the past year and a half. The idea behind this coordinated international protest was not just to further raise the profile of the fast-food workers' movement. With labor unions declining in clout at home, organizers hope that the powerful international unions can help pressure US-based companies into making changes. Last week, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations—a labor federation composed of 396 trade unions that represent 12 million workers in 126 countries—held a summit in New York City where fast-food workers and union leaders finalized plans for the global strike.
The massive fast-food protests come a few weeks after a recent report on the industry by the left-leaning think tank Demos found that fast-food CEOs are paid a thousand times more than the average franchise worker, who makes about $8.69 an hour. Fast-food wages have dropped by 36 cents an hour since 2010. More than half of the families of fast-food workers rely on public programs like food stamps and Medicaid. (Check out our calculator to see if you could live on a fast-food wage.)
Though the industry has not yet raised wages by any significant amount, the strikes are having an effect. In a March filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force the company to raise wages this year. And as Salon's Josh Eidelson reported earlier this month, the National Restaurant Association, the industry trade group, is growing increasingly worried about the fast-food protests, closely monitoring social media for plans of future actions.
And while Congress is unlikely to raise the federal minimum wage any time soon to the $10.10 an hour wage President Obama proposed in his 2013 State of the Union speech, states are taking up the fight. Over the past year, seven states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wages, and 34 states are considering bumping up pay for their lowest-paid workers. In late April, the mayor of Seattle proposed a $15 minimum wage.
Scott DeFife, an executive vice president for the National Restaurant Association, dismisses the movement's potential. As he told the New York Times on Wednesday, "These are made-for-TV media moments—that’s pretty much it."
Image from a video released Monday by Boko Haram claiming to show about 130 of the schoolgirls the group kidnapped in mid-April.
Last week, the United States dispatched a team of military and law enforcement officials to Nigeria to provide advice and surveillance technology to aid in the search for the nearly 300 schoolgirls the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has held hostage since April. In the coming weeks, as the United States and Nigeria hone their strategy to locate and rescue the girls, the United States might supply equipment or funding to the country's security forces. Human rights groups, though, are concerned that increasing US aid to the Nigerian government could backfire.
According to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram has infiltrated his security forces. If so, sensitive intelligence data could end up with Boko Haram sympathizers, undermining the effort to rescue the girls, says Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on insurgencies at the Brookings Institute. And if material support is provided to the Nigerian military, human rights activists are concerned it could wind up in the wrong places. "There is every likelihood that US aid could… eventually land in the hands of the insurgents," says Hamsatu Allamin, a regional coordinator with the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program, a conflict management organization funded by the British government.
Even if it doesn't end up in Boko Haram's hands, US intel and training could fuel abuses. The Nigerian military has been implicated in torture and rape, as well as thousands of extrajudicial killings of detainees over the past year, according to an analysis of mortuary records by the Associated Press. Last week, the advocacy group Human Rights First sent a letter to the Pentagon and the State Department urging the US government to ensure that any aid directed to the search for the girls "does not support individuals within the Nigerian security services who are themselves complicit in the victimization of... civilians." The group raised this concern because the rescue operation the United States is helping set up does not fall under US laws designed to keep American resources away from human rights abusers.
The Leahy Law, passed in 1997, bars the United States from providing assistance or training to units of foreign military forces that have committed human rights abuses. But that law can be bypassed: The search team that US operatives are setting up with the Nigerian government is a new unit, meaning that it will not have a record of abuse, and will not be subject to the Leahy Law, explains Heather Hurlburt, a research fellow at Human Rights First.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Myles Caggins says that the DoD is "committed to upholding the letter and the spirit of the Leahy provisions" by providing plenty of oversight and imposing restrictions on US search assistance in Nigeria. But it is unclear how effective that oversight is, Felbab-Brown says. The US-backed search unit—which will help plan rescue and hostage negotiation efforts, provide satellite images of sites where Boko Haram is suspected to be, and intercept the kidnappers' communications—could include people who were complicit in past human rights abuses, Hurlburt warns.
"There's never a full guarantee where US aid ends up in a country like Nigeria," Caggins says. For instance, he explains, if the Nigerian military needs more trucks for the rescue effort, "who's to say [the Nigerian military doesn't] end up with a bad sergeant behind the wheel or a good sergeant behind the wheel." (The United States does not currently provide weapons or other such "lethal aid" to Nigeria.)
More United States involvement in Nigeria could also prompt Boko Haram to ramp up attacks on US targets in the country. For years, the US has provided non-lethal aid behind the scenes to the Nigerian military to combat the Al Qaeda-linked group, which has killed roughly 5,000 Nigerians over the past five years in its effort to take down the pro-Western government. Increased United States involvement in Nigeria via the search operation could "cause Boko Haram to focus more on US interests," Retired Gen. Carter Ham, who until last year led the Pentagon's Africa Command, told NPR last week.
It's a catch-22. "The girls have become such an important issue," Felbab-Brown says. "It's easy to be tempted to say, 'Ok, let's do more, let's do more.'" But if the United States rushes in with additional assistance, she says, it could lead to "a very counter-productive counter-insurgency."
It looks like a new front has opened up in Cliven Bundy's war against the US government.
This Saturday, angry residents of San Juan County, Utah, plan to illegally ride their ATVs through Utah's Recapture Canyon—an 11 mile-long stretch of federal land that is home to Native American archeological sites—because they don't think that the federal Bureau of Land Management should have designated that land off-limits to motor vehicles. The protest was meant to be a local affair. But on Thursday, Bundy, the rancher who wouldn't pay the feds grazing fees and sparked a gun-drenched showdown in Nevada, called on his supporters to join the anti-government off-roading event, E&E Publishing's Phil Taylor reported. Bundy, whose crusade against the federal government became tainted by his racist comments, is looking to spread the cause from cattle to cross-country cruising.
"We don't expect any violence," San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge told the Denver Post last week. Others aren't so sure, especially since the out-of-staters in attendance could help rile things up—which is what happened during the Bundy stand-off. "This may blow up to be significantly more than they thought," Bill Boyle, a resident of San Juan and publisher of the San Juan Record newspaper told the Post. "I think there are those who would like everyone with an AK-47 to be here."
San Juan County residents who plan to attend Saturday's event are Bundy supporters and Ted Nugent fans, according to an analysis of their Facebook pages by the Denver Post. They also hate President Barack Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, according to the newspaper, which reports that "BLM employees in San Juan County have had windows shot out of their homes and their yards torn up by ATVs in the middle of the night."
The BLM made the Recapture Canyon land off limits in 2007 because ATVs were damaging the land and folks were vandalizing Native American sites. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who is organizing Saturday's protest, does not believe the feds have the authority to protect cultural resources. He says the goal of the ride is to reassert county jurisdiction in the face of federal "overreach," according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Federal overreach was the theme that Bundy's champions in the national conservative media repeatedly pressed—until Bundy's racist comments became news.
Local officials do not have a good estimate of how many mad-as-hell ATV riders will show up to zoom through sacred Native American land on Saturday. But the BLM has decided to stand back and avoid a conflict for now, as it did several weeks ago on the Bundy ranch in Nevada. Utah's BLM director Juan Palma, however, said there will nonetheless be consequences for the anti-government activists. "The BLM-Utah has not and will not authorize the proposed ride and will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who uses a motorized vehicle within the closed area," he said in a statement.
Democrats plan to use a student loan bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as a wedge issue in the 2014 midterm elections, forcing Republican candidates to either support it or explain why they don't. Dem strategists think Warren's legislation—which would lower interest rates on most federal student loans below 4 percent, reducing millions of Americans' bills by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year—could help turn out young people, who tend to vote for Democrats. Fifty-seven percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 say student loan debt is a "major" issue for them, according to a recent Harvard poll.
Senate Democrats plan to hold a vote on Warren's bill, or a version of it, it early June, and to hold Republicans who vote against it accountable. The bill, which would be funded by eliminating tax breaks on millionaires, is one plank in what Democrats have dubbed their "Fair Shot Agenda," an election year slate of proposals aimed at highlighting Republican opposition to politically popular legislation. (The Fair Shot campaign also includes raising the minimum wage and equal pay legislation, measures Senate Republicans have blocked.)
Some Dems are already on the attack. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), as well as Shenna Bellows, who is running against Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, and Rick Weiland, who is hoping to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in South Dakota, are holding events this week aimed at pressuring their Republican opponents to support Warren's legislation—or embarrass themselves by publicly opposing it.
Warren's student loan bill "is a perfect messaging item for the Democrats," says Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. He expects Democrats to continue to use the student debt issue to hammer Republicans, who generally oppose debt relief, over the next six months. "Republicans, in general, will oppose [Warren's bill]," Baker adds, which he says could raise the ire of young voters—a large portion of whom are currently expected to sit out this election—and push them to the polls.
Adam Green, the cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal PAC that supports progressive candidates and calls itself the "Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party," says that Warren's bill is already having an effect. His group has launched a national petition in support of Warren's bill, which the group is sending to all Republican Senate candidates this week. The progressive PAC is also organizing events aimed at pressing four more Senate GOP candidates on the student loan issue.
The PCCC is not the only outside group hoping use student loan debt to take down GOPers. In April, Student Debt Crisis, a group that advocates for student loan interest rate reform, nominated Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) for television host Bill Maher's "Flip-A-District" contest, a campaign Maher launched to find the worst member of Congress and boot him from office. The group chose Kline because he is one of the few members of Congress who has proposed raising student loan interest rates.A few weeks after the group entered Kline in the running, he shot from 75th to first on Maher's list of terrible lawmakers.
Last year, GOP senators filibustered student interest rate relief before acquiescing to a compromise bill at the 11th hour. That legislation prevented interest rates on new federal loans from doubling to 6.8 percent. But the law didn't do anything to help the 40 million Americans swimming in existing student loan debt, some of whom are paying back loans with rates of up to 10 percent. Warren's bill—cosponsored by 23 other Senate Democrats—would reduce most of these Americans' federal student loan interest rates to the current rate on new undergraduate loans: 3.86 percent.
Even if her bill is approved by Congress this year, Warren says she will keep pushing for further debt relief for students. She says she'll only stop when the government no longer profits off student debt. The feds will rake in $66 billion in revenue on the federal student loans the government doled out between 2007 and 2012. As Warren said on the Senate floor Tuesday, "Those are the kind of interest rates that would make a Fortune 500 CEO proud."
Watch Warren's full floor speech on the bill here:
Update, Thursday, June 5, 2014: On Tuesday, Boko Haram killed scores of villagers in four different northern Nigerian villages, CNN reported Thursday. Officials are still working to tally the total number dead, but residents fear it could be more than 100.
Update, Monday, May 12, 2014: On Monday, Boko Haram released a video claiming to show about 130 of the schoolgirls it kidnapped on April 15. In the video, the leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau says that the girls have converted to Islam and will not be released until Nigeria frees from prison all Boko Haram members. Via the BBC:
In mid-April, more than 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok boarding school in northern Nigeria by gunmen from the Islamist sect Boko Haram. Three weeks later, most of those girls are still missing. More than a week ago, a group of Nigerians launched the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls, sparking global outrage over the attack. And on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry offered to send a team to help rescue the children. Meanwhile, Nigeria's nightmare gets worse by the day: On Monday, the leader of the group, which has terrorized the country for years, threatened to sell the girls off as slaves, and on Tuesday, Boko Haram kidnapped another eight girls. But let's back up a minute. What is Boko Haram, exactly? And why do its members kidnap schoolgirls?
What is Boko Haram? Boko Haram is a group of Islamic fundamentalists based in northern Nigeria that has been terrorizing the country since 2009. The group believes Western culture is sinful and wants to return the country to the pre-colonial era of Muslim rule. To that end, Boko Haram has attacked government targets, including military checkpoints, police stations, highways, and schools, as well as churches, mosques, the UN building, and, recently, a bus station in the capital city of Abuja. Over the past five years, Boko Haram has slaughtered roughly 5,000 Nigerians whom the group viewed as pro-government. Here is a map of Boko Haram attacks over the years, via Business Insider:
What gave rise to the group? Boko Haram has roots in the 1970s-era Islamic revival in the region, but was founded in 2002 by a Muslim cleric named Mohammed Yusuf, shortly after Nigeria's transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1999. The Boko Haram ideology—disseminated through a mosque and Islamic school Yusuf set up—gained traction in post-dictatorship Nigeria because many northern Muslims saw Western-style democracy as a scheme to disenfranchise them; voter turnout is higher in the Christian south than in the Muslim north. Persistent extreme poverty in the region has reinforced the notion that the government, which the group believes has been corrupted by Western values, cares more about enriching itself than helping Nigerians, and it has helped drive Boko Haram recruitment over the years. It's hard to say how many Nigerians the group counts as members, but the Nigerian security forces claim to have killed thousands of them.
Nigerians have labeled the group Boko Haram, which loosely translated means "Western education is a sin." But that's not what Boko Haram calls itself. Its official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad."
Boko Haram is an Islamist terror group. Any links with Al Qaeda? Yep. In many of his sermons, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau pledges allegiance to Al Qaeda. And Boko Haram has reportedly adopted many of Al Qaeda's terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings. Last year, the Obama administration officially designated Boko Haram a terrorist organization.
Why did the militants kidnap the schoolgirls? In an effort to scare Nigerians away from Western education, Boko Haram and other militants have attacked 50 schools over the past year, killing more than 100 schoolchildren and 70 teachers. Thousands of students and teachers across the northern part of the country have been forced to flee their schools because of the violence.
This is not the first time Boko Haram has kidnapped girls, either. Just two weeks before the Chibok abduction, 25 young girls were kidnapped by the Islamist militants from the northern town of Konduga. Those girls are likely still being held captive. And Boko Haram abducted handfuls of children last year, as well as Christian women, whom the group converts to Islam and forces into marriage. But the Chibok kidnapping "is the largest number of children abducted in one swoop in the country," Nnamdi Obasi, a senior Nigeria analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Mother Jones this week.
Some of the girls have reportedly been married off to the militants. On Monday, the leader of Boko Haram threatened in a homemade video to sell some into slavery:
She says that when the gunmen came to her dormitory, they were sleeping. This is before dawn. These men came in, they had uniforms. They said, "Don't worry. We're soldiers here to help you." And she said it wasn't until that they were outside and…started setting fire to the school and shouting…"God is great," that it suddenly dawned on them these were not soldiers. These were Boko Haram.
You can imagine the conditions that they're in [now]. They were taken initially to the Sambisa forest, dense forests, humid heat, blocks of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. They're probably drinking water from rivers and streams that [are] not clean. We're told they're kept on the move. Every couple of days, they're moving.
Have any of the girls escaped? Nigerian police report that 53 of the girls have escaped, but 276 remain missing. Here is the AP's Faul again, explaining how some of the girls managed to flee the terrorists:
The girl I spoke with was able to escape on the first night. She said that they were loaded onto trucks. It was dark. In the dark, some of the girls clung to low-hanging branches overhead. This was an open-back truck. She said she hesitated. And then one of the girls said, "Me, I'm going. If they shoot me, they shoot me, but I don't know what else they might do to me if I don't go." So this girl jumped down, and the girl I spoke to jumped down. She said she ran into the bush, and she said, "I ran and I ran." And she said, "That's how I was able to save myself."
What is the Nigerian government doing to rescue the girls? The Nigerian government claims that it has deployed aerial surveillance over the forest and that it has soldiers on foot searching for the girls. But from the start, Nigerian security forces made a pretty weak effort to find the girls, Mausi Segun, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in northern Nigeria, told Mother Jones last week. She says the military did not make use of information provided by parents and locals in its rescue efforts. Desperate parents took to the forest themselves to search for their daughters.
Meanwhile, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan waited three weeks before publicly acknowledging the abductions and admitting he had no idea where the girls might be. The tepid response by the government has sparked a string of protests in Abuja. (First lady Patience Jonathan recently alleged that women protesting in Abuja against the government's weak response to the Chibok abductions had fabricated the kidnappings.)
What is the rest of the world doing to help rescue the kidnapped girls? On Tuesday, the Nigerian government accepted a US offer to send a team of military and law enforcement officials to help the search and rescue effort. The United Kingdom will send a similar team. China and France have pledged assistance, too.
In the wake of the kidnapping, the rest of the world was slow on the uptake. Only after Nigerians criticized the international media's initial indifference to the massive kidnapping did the foreign press start covering the attack. Since then, global outrage has grown by the day. The Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted more than a million times. On Wednesday, First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted her support.
How is the Nigerian government fighting the broader Boko Haram insurgency? Jonathan has vowed to defeat Boko Haram, but the insurgency is deadlier now than at any point in the group's history. In the the first few months of 2014, the Islamist militants have already killed 1,500 people.
As Mother Jonesreported last week, one reason the Nigerian government has not been able to stem attacks by the group is that the military does not coordinate with security forces in the countries that border northern Nigeria—including Cameroon, Chad, and Niger—where Boko Haram hides out. And the military's expenditures are not tracked, so it's hard to tell how much of the $6 billion a year the country spends on defense actually goes toward fighting Boko Haram.
Human rights advocates charge that Nigerian security forces' response to the insurgency, which often includes the indiscriminate killing of northern Nigerian men, has aggravated Boko Haram violence.
Update 2, Wednesday, May 21, 2014: On Wednesday, President Obama notified Congress that he has sent approximately 80 US military personnel to Chad to aid in the recovery of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls.