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Yemen war: Progressive activists get a big foreign policy win. It’s been an uphill battle.

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The House passed a resolution Wednesday, February 13, to end US support for the war in Yemen. It’s the culmination of a years-long effort by progressive activists and lawmakers to claw back war-approving authority from the president and end US participation in a war that has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

The war in Yemen, directed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS, as he’s commonly referred to in Washington), has killed more than 50,000 people, according to one independent estimate, and has left more than 20 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance.

The US helps the Saudi-led coalition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates and several other Gulf Arab and African countries, by providing them with intelligence, selling them arms and ammunition, and, until late last year, fueling war planes. That means the US is partially culpable for the death and destruction of Saudi’s enemies in the war — the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels — and even civilians. In fact, a coalition warplane bombed a school bus full of children last August with an American-made bomb — killing at least 40 of them.

The Yemen resolution invokes the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR), which gives Congress the power to direct a president to remove troops involved in “hostilities” abroad “without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization.” Not only does it serve as a clear rebuke of Saudi war efforts, but it’s also a clear check on executive power; if the US wants to be involved in a war in Yemen, Congress has to declare it.

But the final resolution that passed did not carry the full weight that its original progressive authors intended. Late Monday night, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), who co-sponsored the resolution, offered an amendment to ensure the resolution would not “disrupt … the sharing of intelligence between the United States and any foreign country if the President determines such sharing is appropriate.” The Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote to Democratic lawmakers instructing them to vote against it. But it wasn’t enough. The amendment passed, with the support of 57 Democrats — mostly national security-friendly moderates.

Democratic leaders have generally been supportive of the Yemen resolution (Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is a co-sponsor, as was Nancy Pelosi last year, before she was speaker). Hoyer accidentally voiced support for the Buck amendment in a private meeting with Democratic lawmakers, and then later clarified that he did not support it. The final vote has made progressives, who say Democratic leaders have tacked to the right on foreign policy, skeptical of the enthusiasm leadership had toward the resolution.

“There is a difference between leadership being supportive and leadership leading,” Stephen Miles, the director of Win Without War, a progressive group that advocates against military intervention abroad, told me.

Just last year, they let the same Yemen resolution fail on the House floor, seemingly unnecessarily (although a similar measure passed in the last GOP-controlled Senate). Pelosi also voiced support in January for Trump’s call for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to step down. And more recently, Democratic leadership gave a strongly worded condemnation of Minnesota progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet about the influence of domestic pro-Israel lobbying groups on US views toward Israel.

There are a lot of unresolved tension points in the Democratic Party on foreign policy, and while progressive grassroots energy has gone a long way toward helping define the domestic agenda it would like to see from Democratic leaders, a clearer progressive foreign policy agenda is now beginning to emerge as well. But getting there is proving to be a tough fight.

Progressives are still skeptical of Democratic leadership on Yemen

On Tuesday, progressive groups Demand Progress, Indivisible, MoveOn, and Win Without War sent Democratic leadership a letter calling on them to be more aggressive when it comes to keeping Democrats in line on supporting the resolution and voting against the Buck amendment.

“Better safe than sorry, given [Democratic] Leadership’s failure to whip during other recent votes on US involvement in the Yemen war, recent Democratic alignment with Trump and Bolton on matters like Venezuela, and the influx of new members who might not be thoroughly versed on the Yemen dynamics,” David Segal, the executive director of Demand Progress, said.

As of Wednesday morning, though, Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-SC) office had not clarified how aggressively they would push to keep Democrats in line on this issue. The Congressional Progressive Caucus tried taking up the mantle to whip votes — but it proved not enough.

Progressives wanted to see House Democrats stand united behind the Yemen resolution, not only to influence a strong vote in the Senate but also to send a clear signal to the White House on Congress’ position on Saudi policy in Yemen. Something like Buck’s amendment blows a major hole in their push to fully cut US-Saudi ties over Yemen.

That said, that the war powers resolution is getting a vote at all signals a significant shift within the Democratic Party — one closely tied to the shock and outrage over the death of Saudi journalist, dissident, and American resident Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi was murdered and allegedly dismembered last October inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. Lawmakers, many of whom have historically backed the US-Saudi relationship, are angry about the killing. In October, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a staunch Trump ally, said he felt “completely betrayed” by Riyadh.

Since then, the White House, top administration officials, and Saudi lobbyists, who are well established in Washington, have been working hard to build support for continued US involvement in the Yemen war.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis claimed that stopping US support “could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism, and reduce our influence with the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.” However, last October Mattis also pushed for a negotiated peace deal to end the fighting — a peace deal that remains elusive.

And Washington foreign policy experts continue to argue that the United States should use its support for the Yemen war as leverage to convince the Saudis to change their policies — a strategy that has failed since the beginning.

Democrats, generally, don’t have as much focus and unity on foreign policy as they do with domestic issues like immigration or gun control. US involvement in the Yemen war, though, may be a rare rallying point.

“We saw muddled messaging on Venezuela, we saw muddled messaging on North Korea. Unfortunately, some folks in leadership coopted a little by Kevin McCarthy and others on the case with Ilhan Omar,” Miles said. “Where we are on Yemen is that we have created the conditions that they are on the side of right.”

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Oakland teachers strike: Union calls strike for pay, smaller classes

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Teacher frustration keeps spreading.

Public school teachers in Oakland, California, said they will strike on Thursday, following 18 months of tense negotiations with district officials over pay raises and classroom sizes.

“We have had it. Enough is enough, bargaining with our school district has not worked,” said Keith Brown, a middle school teacher and president of the Oakland Education Association, during a press conference on Saturday. “Our schools have been starved of resources for years.”

If they don’t reach a deal before Thursday, about 3,000 teachers won’t show up to work in one of the state’s largest school districts, which has struggled from years of budget cuts and poor student performance.

Teachers say the lack of investment in city schools is hurting student performance. The cost of living in Oakland has also skyrocketed in recent years, due to an influx of high-skilled workers unable to afford housing across the bay in San Francisco, making it impossible for teachers to live there on their current salaries, Keith said. Teachers want a pay raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses.

The strike in Oakland would come a month after teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job with similar demands — and ended up getting a lot of what they wanted. At the time, LA officials said the same thing Oakland officials are now saying: We just don’t have the money.

Oakland schools are facing a $56 million budget deficit in the next two years, so the school board wants to cut school spending, not increase it. School officials are trying to get more money from the state, but teachers are ready to walk out. And they know they have leverage.

It’s just the latest strike in what’s becoming a national trend. More than 100,000 public school teachers in six states have walked out of class in the past year, rebelling from years of stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, and deep budget cuts to education. The strikes in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado had broad public support, forcing state lawmakers to raise pay and fueling a national movement to boost investment in public education.

So far, that momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Funding for public schools in California is a mess

Oakland teachers share a lot of the same frustrations that led LA teachers to walk out of class in January. They say school districts are spending too much money on privately run charter schools that have little public oversight. They also believe they are paid too little working in a state with much wealth.

California is among states spending the least on each student (adjusted for the cost of living), largely because of the state’s strict limits on property tax rates.

The Oakland Education Association, a labor union representing 3,000 educators, has been trying to negotiate a new contract since the last one expired in 2017. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over three years, smaller classes, and more support staff. One school counselor for every 600 students is not conducive to a student’s success, says Keith Brown, the group’s president.

The district has offered a 5 percent raise over three years.

Teachers rejected the offer.

“Unless there are dramatic changes to the district’s approach, including spending more money on students and for nurses and counselors, lower class size, and a living wage that will keep Oakland teachers in the classrooms, we will strike,” Brown said.

The school district has said it is willing to keep negotiating for a better deal to avert the strike, and would consider some recommendations from an independent panel, which found that low teacher pay, large class sizes, and school privatization were hurting Oakland schools. The report also acknowledges the state’s “complicated, flawed” system for funding public education.

“Despite our challenges, we are prepared with a comprehensive proposal to reach an agreement. If both sides are committed to settling the contract before a strike occurs —and we are — an agreement can certainly be reached without disrupting the educational experience for students, families and staff,” Oakland Schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said in a statement Saturday.

They have three days to try and reach a deal.

Teachers are leading a national workers revolt

A record number of US workers went on strike or stopped working in 2018 because of labor disputes with employers, according to new data released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 485,000 employees were involved in major work stoppages last year — the highest number since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job.

Frustrated public school teachers were behind the year’s largest walkouts, but hotel housekeepers and steelworkers also organized strikes that lasted for days.

There are no signs that worker angst has subsided. So far, in 2019, teachers in two major cities have launched their own strikes. And in January, the Los Angeles teachers strike shut down the nation’s second-largest school district for more than a week.

As part of their deal with city officials, teachers agreed to a 6 percent raise and slightly fewer students in each classroom, according to Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a labor union that represents about 34,000 public school teachers, nurses, librarians, and support staff in the city.

Last week, more than 2,000 teachers in Denver went on strike for three days. The school district ended up giving educators and extra $23 million in pay and agreed to overhaul the compensation system, which relied heavily on annual bonuses.

Now Oakland teachers are prepared to walk out, and Sacramento teachers may follow.

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Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign: news and updates

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