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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In the early morning hours on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, nearly a thousand hotel workers went on strike July 1 against the Trump Taj Mahal after negotiations broke down over night. The strike entered its sixth day on Wednesday.

In front of the hotel were two strikers, Kaushik and Bina Vashi, both immigrants from India and housekeepers in the local union, UNITE HERE 54. For eight years, husband and wife Kaushik, 62, and Bina, 49, have kept the beds clean at the Trump Taj Mahal. For them, immigrant networks have bolstered the power of union organizing.

Like many unions today, UNITE HERE is increasingly reliant on immigrants like the Vashis for strength. In New Jersey, 10 percent of UNITE HERE 54 is Indian, and many more are Latino. Union president Bob McDevitt announced in 2013 that the union supported rights for undocumented immigrants, quite the change from the days when unions fought for racial immigration quotas.

At stake in the current strike is healthcare. In the fall of 2014, workers at the Trump Taj Mahal lost their healthcare, union spokesman Ben Begleiter said. The company is not owned by Donald Trump, but by billionaire Carl Icahn. Other union workers at the Caesars, Bally’s, Harrah’s, and Tropicana hotels reached an agreement on healthcare before the Fourth of July weekend. Workers are looking for pay raises above their current rate, which is just below $12 an hour, the union said.

I first met Kaushik and Bina at a 2014 march against Icahn, shortly before they lost their healthcare. The pair invited me to their home after the demonstration. The two work the same shift, the same floor, sometimes even the same rooms. Somehow they manage to not drive each other crazy.

Many on the Boardwalk are scared for their jobs and have been for some time, Kaushik said. He took a drag from his cigarette as he and his wife drove home from work. He joined for the benefits, and definitely not for the wages, he said.

The giants of the Boardwalk have been dying since competition from the 20 casinos or slot parlors in neighboring states chopped profits, with four casinos closing in recent years.

They used to get $200 a week in tips, during the good days, Kaushik said. Now, they’re lucky to get one ­third of that. As we talked, Bina received a text message about a friend and co­worker whose response to the uncertainty was heading back to Bangladesh.

The Vashi’s car came to a halt near the Vaikunth Hindu­ Jain Temple of South Jersey. Every Monday and Sunday, Hindu workers from the casino come here, Bina told me. They come to pray and to eat, and talk about work and the union. At times, the immigrant hub becomes a space for impromptu organizing. “A lot of our coworkers cannot speak English,” Kaushik said. “Everyone knows me. They come to me.”

Unions today are staunch immigration supporters, even for undocumented rights. In a poll conducted in 2012, nearly two thirds of AFL­CIO members favored a law offering a path to citizenship. In Atlantic City, the union hall has hosted health and safety programs in Hindi, Gujarati, Chinese, and Spanish.

It’s quite a change from in the past, when unions believed every immigrant was further competition for jobs. From the late 19th century through the 1980s, unions were consistent in their opposition to immigration. During this period, led early on by leaders such as Samuel Gompers, the labor movement in America backed such measures as banning Chinese immigrants and supporting racial quotas on immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

Since then, unions have had less to lose. Unions in America have undergone a decline that can only be called a crisis. In the heydays of labor, almost 35 percent of workers belonged to a union. In 2015, only 11 percent did, labor’s lowest level since the Great Depression.

Even Local 54 has lost 35 percent of its members since 2004, Kaushik said, with many current union members near retirement age.

After work, Kaushik maintains a strict routine of watching Jeopardy and sleeping early. But when it comes to the union, he is outspoken, saying of his co­workers are immigrants living on the knife blade of poverty. “What kind of life do you want to live?” he said.

He turned on the TV news, and he and Bina watched a news report on continuing labor strife at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Photo: For immigrants like Kaushik and Bina Vashi, housekeepers on strike at the Trump Taj Mahal, the immigrant networks and union membership bolster each other in mutually beneficial ways. When it comes to the union, Kaushik is outspoken, knowing that many immigrants live on the knife blade of poverty. “What kind of life do you want to live?” he said. (Photo by J.p. Lawrence.)

Democratic nominee Joe Biden

If you were a Trump supporter anticipating a ruinous assault on Joe Biden's integrity during that final debate, too bad. What you got instead was a series of incomprehensible outbursts from Donald Trump, who seems to assume that everybody believes whatever nonsense they hear on Fox News, just like he does.

The day after the debate was even more disappointing. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch himself, dropped a front-page investigative report that directly contradicted Trump's accusations about Biden and China. The only candidate with unseemly business over there is Trump himself, whose secret account in a Chinese bank was just exposed.

For months, Trump and his minions have hyped allegations of financial corruption against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump got himself impeached, with the help of legal genius Rudy Giuliani, over his attempt to force Ukraine's president to open a fake corruption probe of the former vice president and Burisma, the energy firm that once employed Biden's son Hunter. Their deception collapsed when Trump and Obama administration officials testified – with ample documentary evidence – that Biden had done nothing to protect Burisma and only carried out United States and European initiatives against corruption in Ukraine.

But that failure didn't discourage Giuliani, former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon, or the other fabricators in the Trump entourage. In recent days, they have unveiled a mysterious laptop computer that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden and reached Giuliani and then the New York Post through a series of implausible events. There are clues that the electronic data on the laptop was invented or altered. Who might do that? Let's see: The Kremlin is seeking to harm Biden politically, and Giuliani has openly welcomed the assistance of Russian intelligence assets, so the answer is fairly obvious. Especially because Russian agents provided similar services for the Republican candidate four years ago.

When the laptop gambit flopped, the Trumpsters still didn't give up.

On the eve of the debate, a Wall Street Journal columnist published a claim that Joe Biden personally profited from investments in China fronted by Hunter. Her column was based on assertions by a shadowy but euphoniously named businessman, a certain Tony Bobulinski. In a move worthy of that old pardoned felon Roger Stone, Bobulinski actually attended the Nashville debate (after staging a "press availability" where he refused to answer any questions.)

Unfortunately for both Bobulinski and that eager Journal columnist, her newspaper on Friday published the investigation that cratered their nefarious tale. After months of actual reporting, the Journal's real journalists found that the venture cited by Bobulinski "never received proposed funds from the Chinese company or completed any deals." Moreover, corporate records reviewed by the Journal's reporters "show no role for Joe Biden."

So far the Biden "scandal" most closely resembles Whitewater and the entire panoply of Clinton finance scandals that never revealed any wrongdoing whatsoever. Whatever Trump may spew and sputter, there is no plausible evidence that has been subjected to examination by journalists of integrity.

And fortunately for Biden, the nation's traditional news outlets are approaching the allegations against him with a cool and appropriate skepticism. That wasn't the case in 2016, the last time Steve Bannon played the same games. For Bannon and Giuliani, as well as their echoes across right-wing media, the objective was always to launch their false narratives into the mainstream. They succeeded brilliantly in 2016, with the assistance of the New York Times and other news organizations that should have known better and done better. This time they are failing.

In promoting these serial smears, the risk for Donald Trump is always that someone competent will inspect his record. That's what should have happened four years ago, when he and Bannon falsely attacked the Clinton Foundation while concealing the sordid truth about the Trump Foundation, a brazen criminal enterprise.

That 2016 frameup was a classic instance of projection – and we can assume the same dynamic is at work today. So now is the time to scrutinize all of the Trump Organization's crooked, conflicted deals overseas – and how he and his family have profited from his presidency.